Giving Thanks

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

And so the strangest thanksgiving time comes. Many of us are grieving how splintered things are. My own daughter Hannah was exposed to someone positive for the virus and so needs to stay in Indiana and sit alone on a grand family day. This pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost a loved one, and millions who are worried for those who are sick.

The looming question that is the elephant in the room is how in the world, in this world right now can we authentically tend to the will of God and give thanks?

Well,, one way to begin is to notice that this text doesn’t use the word FOR, but IN. That’s a big difference. The “IN” encourages us to consider our options just now. The first choice we have is to sink into our bitterness and fears, find our victimized identity, and wail away at God in this time of scarcity. The second choice is to locate in the scarcity a more pristine gratitude, strained clear as we reflect on all that we have and experience normally, even though not now. Health and strength, community, abundance, joy, family and friends, school and work, travel and adventure….this list is large!

I was reminded of the power I have to choose to give thanks (or not) when a friend said to me on the phone yesterday, “It’s strange. This thanksgiving, as difficult as it is, I find myself feeling more grateful, because I have a chance to reflect on all I take for granted.”

And choosing thanks is in no way a denial of the need for honest lament. In fact, lament, as we find it in the psalms, lays out complaints and questions, but does so along side the language of faith… “But you are with me”….”you are my my rock and my refuge”…in other words, lament itself expresses gratitude for God’s presence and promises.

And this, in the end, is what really matters, whatever the tyranny of the urgent happens to be. God is with us. God will see us through this. The future is bright, though the present is bleak. I’m inviting you as I am trying to keep the faith, and to give thanks, even now, especially now. Take some time to reflect and choose gratitude! Choose the “IN” and not the “FOR”.

Peter Hawkinson

Holidays and Heart Needs

The holidays are such a funny time; every year, they surprise me.

This is the sixth year that I’ve been away from home in the leadup from Halloween to Christmas Eve, and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now. In recent weeks, when my family was anxiously trying to coordinate ways to be together, and whether my sister could come out to visit me in November, I felt compelled to remind them that I’m used to being away from them on Thanksgiving.

It’s ok, I said. You all be together and let’s spend our energy on Christmas.

And I wasn’t just saying that…for a while now I’ve been a Thanksgiving floater, just looking for good friends that I can spend a happy, cozy day with cooking and watching the parade and nibbling on food well before we actually sit down to an official meal. I’ve actually enjoyed some lovely and surprising holidays that way: a cabin in the North Carolina mountains with a dear colleague friend and her kids; a huge southern feast with so many casserole dishes we could barely fit them on the table; a quiet Cleveland celebration last year with seminary friends.

So I was ready, I thought, for 2020. Ready for another year away from home, with a little added anxiety about infection protocols. And my two friends, my quaranteam, who I will be with this week, proposed ham instead of turkey. Why not? I thought. Less leftovers, less mess, and since I won’t be cooking it – who cares?

Turns out, though…I care. In a way that caught me off-guard and frankly irritated me a little.

I started thinking about the lack of thanksgiving leftovers, the lack of gravy to put on my potatoes, the lack of turkey smell for hours in advance…and I got a little squirmy.

Truth be told, this is a year when a lot of traditions have simply had to go out the window, and it has left me a little less flexible when it comes to what’s left.

When I called my friends last night to make the menu plan, they heard it in my voice – that need for something familiar; in this case: turkey. (Long story short: we are going to eat the bird. I have terrifically understanding friends.)

But it brought up a good point for all of us: what is it that you need – which we can achieve together?

For my one friend, it’s pumpkin pie. No frills, no cheesecake swirl or praline topping – just simple, classic pumpkin pie. That will make her feel cared for and content.

And we can do that.

The truth is, there is both a lot of loss this year when it comes to the holidays, and a lot of opportunity. Because it’s simply not wise, or safe, or possible, to do everything we normally do, we are in the unique position of having to re-examine how we gather and celebrate, and to reconsider what’s most important to us. And many of us might well be surprised, like I was, when we try to find answers to those questions.

We might find that what we need is actually radically simple, in contrast to what we thought we needed: all of the glitter and bustle and busy-ness.

I firmly believe that God does not intend bad things to happen to us, like a pandemic, but that God will always show up in the midst of them and be at work. That God will find ways to make something out of nothing, to bless us in the middle of great hurt. And I believe that as we reimagine our holidays, God might be inviting us to reconsider what we really need from this time, and what our hearts really long for.  

Maybe it’s turkey. Or (more likely) it is people who care enough about you that they’ll make a turkey happen if that’s what you say you need.  

So here’s my invitation to you: join me in thinking and praying about what matters most to you this season, what you need and what the ones you love need. Try to find safe ways to accomplish those things – and just watch to see what God can do in the midst of the mess; how God shows up; how Immanuel really is God with us, even in these days.

-Pastor Jen

You Never Know!

A little over a year ago a call came, one afternoon, out of the blue, from a stranger. A woman’s voice on the other end of the line said, “Hello pastor. I’m Susan Elizabeth Morrison Boatman Garland, and I’d like a visit from you.” Well, how can you say no to a name that! So off I went.

Sitting around her kitchen table, she told me an old story I can now only dimly remember, about a time in the early seventies, almost forty years ago, when as an accomplished pianist she found herself without a piano to play, and contacted our church, to see if she might be able to come and play, which she did for a brief season.

Now, all these years later, she expressed through some emotion the meaning of that hospitality during what she called “a painful time” of life. She remembered the kindness of Art Nelson, pastor at the time, and she said, “I want to thank your church now, again, at the end of my life.” Leaning a bit more toward me, she told me that upon her death a gift would be coming to the church, the amount of which could underwrite a new grand piano. “But”, she said, “Knowing your church as I do, I’m sure you already have a very capable instrument. So use it as you see fit, to the glory of God.”

Well, this week the fed-ex truck came with a check for 40 thousand dollars, along with a letter from Sue’s niece and trustee. “I wish to give thanks for my beautiful, beloved, philanthropic and eccentric aunt Sue. Thank you for being a happy and wonderful part of Sue’s life. She was very proud to be a part of yours.” Sue died on May 1 tragically in a fire at her home.

I’m left reflecting on her intentionality and memory of a brief interaction long forgotten by our Church, and this brings me again to the power of a moment, or a season, to how we never know how God’s Spirit is at work through our hospitality to others.

Thank you to pastor Art, and whoever the secretary and custodian was at that time, for welcoming Sue and helping her to make music. Thank you to Sue for her generous and kind gift. May she rest now in peace and rise in glory!

You never know!

Peter Hawkinson

The Womb of God

Exodus 34:5-6 

“5 Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh.[a] 6 The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh![b] The Lord! 

The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger  and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

Hello Winnetka! My name is Joshua Crozier, and I’ve had the privilege of serving as the senior high youth ministry intern for this academic year. Although youth group has looked very different like everything else this year, it’s been an honor to teach, learn from, and build relationships with all of your incredible students this Fall. I am humbled that Joel asked me to write a blog post for today, and I am excited to share as I continue to learn more about Scripture and the God whom it’s from and for!

Here in the chaotic wilderness of the Isrealite Exodus, God who abundantly desires to know and be known by His creation describes Himself for the first time in the Old Testament Scriptures. We serve a God who is compassionate, merciful, slow to anger, and overflowing with loyal-love and faithfulness. 

I have recently been inspired by the podcast BibleProject, a nonprofit animation studio that is currently releasing a video series on the character of God. In episode three of their series, Tim Mackie, Jon Collins, and Carissa Quinn discuss the Hebrew word ra.chum (pronounced ra-HOOM) meaning “compassion.” I think it is incredibly profound that directly after the Isralites break their covenant promise with God by building a golden calf idol, the first word Yahweh uses to describe Himself is “compassionate.” God will get righteously angry with and discipline His people for their wrong doing as a parent reprimands their wayward child, yet lovingly forgives them still. 

This Hebrew word is derived from re.chem (pronounced ra-HEM), which means “womb.” God is literally describing Herself as “womb-like,” having a deep sense of connectedness to Her children much like the biological bond of a mother. During my time as a psychology major at North Park I have been learning about the neurobiological changes that occur when a woman forms an attachment to her child. Just as God created the entire universe from a formless and chaotic void, we were literally formed in the darkness of our mother’s womb and carry Her attributes wherever we go.

Scripture clearly states that both males and females were made in the image of God, and the necessary description of God using more feminine characteristics is reflected throughout the Bible. In Isaiah 49 for example, God is compared to a nursing mother; even if a human mother may forget her child while feeding them (which is unrealistic), God will never forget us and always provide what we need. However grateful I am for having spent my childhood learning from the Evangelical Church tradition at Jesus People USA, it is shocking to me how little I have heard God described in comparison to women. Compassion is a very emotional word, and we serve an emotional, parent-like God who is deeply stirred by the cries of Her children. In Genesis 4, God responds emotionally to the blood of Her son Able which cries out from the ground. Israel betrays God several times in the Old Testiment even after being delivered from Egyptian slavery, witnessing several miracles, and being provided for in the desert for forty years. Yet every time Her people cry out, God is stirred by a womb-like compassion and delivers them. 

Re.chem is an emotional characteristic not in the sense of inconsistent or rash decision making. Compassion is an emotion felt deep within the gut; compassion moves us to action. I am reminded of the story of Lazerus, when Jesus’ close friend dies and his sisters are grieving. Even though Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus to life again soon, He was deeply moved to mourn with the women who were crying out. The compassion that Jesus felt deep in His gut moved him to action. 

We carry this attribute of compassion from our Divine Parent, and are called as Christians to be deeply moved by our neighbors crying out. We are called to provide a home to refugees, to amplify the voices of the marginalized, to give our resources to the poor, and to visit those in prison. We are called to mourn with our black brothers and sisters who continually experience their lives be taken by overt and institutionalized racism across our nation. We are called to also care about what happens in the world outside of our country, because we pledge allegiance to a kingdom that is not of this world. And we are called not only to feel compassion, but to allow this emotion to compel us to concretely love our neighbors through our actions

I hope that this is an encouraging message for you, and perhaps a convicting one. These past four years of college have been incredibly formational in all facets of my development, including the disillusionment and re-learning that I’ve experienced in my faith journey.

Although I have made many mistakes in loving my neighbors as we all do and will, I have been doing my best to implement what I’ve been learning about God’s compassion as I listen to marginalized voices here on campus and in our nation. I hope that this post invites you to do the same. Thank you so much for including me in Winnetka’s mission and service to the world as we bring the Kingdom of God a little closer to our messy world. I appreciate you all greatly! 

Say So!

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3)

This morning I opened up an old worship book and found yet another poem of my father’s. I’m learning as the years go by how prolific he was in this, and not with any will of publishing them — no, they’re just tucked into bibles and books and picture frames and boxes I open, as if to be holy companions. This one is taped inside the front cover, as if to be reminded again and again that God is good:

I’m also working through his memoirs and finding out more about his journey, which often was plagued with troubles and sorrows, stresses and disappointments. Though dad praised God freely and often, this was not a denial of life’s twists and turns. Maybe instead it was his kind of defiant and stubborn clinging to hope in the presence and promises of the Holy One in the midst, and his ever new experiences with the love of Christ Jesus.

His spirit lingers. Just last week when a long putt unexpectedly fell, Curt smirked and said, “Well, if Jim were here he’d force you to sing!” True enough. My dad would often break into the doxology on the course, much to the chagrin of others longing for quiet to concentrate on their next shot. His was a spirit of faith, of optimism, of praise. This sustained him, and invited, sometimes cajoled those around him to join in. This is dad’s lingering witness, like that of the psalmist, who wants the redeemed of the Lord to say so, that the LORD is good.

Not long before my mom died, I was asking her about the prospect of heaven’s glory, and some kind of reunion with dad. She smiled, laughed a bit, and said, “My biggest concern is that he’ll make me sing the doxology!” and then she followed, “But there it will be ok I think.” Indeed!

This Sunday’s sabbath day to come will give us the chance to read and reflect on the haunting and beautiful words of Psalm 90. Take a look! In the meantime, in the midst of all the sorrows and challenges, anxieties and angers you have just now, find praise, and invite others into your strange peace and joy:

Praise God from whom all blessings all wonders all moments all breaths all surprises all glories all friendships all kindnesses and all good gifts flow and flow and flow.

Say So!

Peter Hawkinson, in memory of my father, James R. Hawkinson (1930-2011)

On Neighbors

Last week’s election held a lot of meaning for a lot of people – on that much, I think we can all agree.

To some, it was a referendum on our sitting president; to others, a fight to keep the person in power who they feel, unlike any previous executive, has represented them best.

I heard people call this a battle for the soul of the nation; and a campaign to keep America great.

And no matter what side this language was coming from, the implication about the “other” was always the same: they’re wrong. They’re dangerous. Stupid, selfish, hypocritical, homophobic…you name it.

Our side is right, and we have to win…or else.

It was hard to swallow, and it still is. No matter the results of the election, whether they turn out to confirm President-elect Biden or to re-elect President Trump, the fact remains: we are a deeply divided nation.

And these divisions don’t merely have an impact on the church, they exist just as deeply inside of the church. Our faith doesn’t seem to give us all clarity on who to vote for or how to vote, but the same scriptures have led us to diametrically opposed positions, held tightly.

Disagreement is ok, but demonization is not. And that’s what I worry about most these days. That we’ve lost sight of the command of scripture: to love God and our neighbor. To love God through loving our neighbor.

Through loving the Democrat, or the Republican; through loving the conservative or the liberal; through loving the white and the black, the rich and the poor, the young and the old.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminded me this morning of the words of the disciple John, who said “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

That’s a hard line, for those of us disagreeing vehemently with our neighbors these days. But it is clear, and firm, and echoed throughout scripture. Love of God and love of neighbor are wrapped up together, part and parcel. We can’t truly love God without loving our neighbor, even the neighbor who is most unlike us, whom we disagree with on almost everything, whom we don’t even like. We have to love them, too.

We can talk about how it is that we love our neighbors; what it means to love them. How can love call us to hard conversations about issues we disagree on? How can love guide us through conflict? How can love reconcile us to each other?

That’s worth thinking on, today and in the days to come. We need each other, on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the issue – whatever it is. We were made, in the image of God, for community with one another. Community is complicated, and messy, and uncomfortable sometimes, but it is necessary.

Let’s not forget that, today, or tomorrow, or ever.

-Pastor Jen

Rising Sun

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD. Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised. The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.” (Psalm 113:1-4)

I fell asleep on the couch last night looking for answers from the news, exhausted. My back is a little sore this morning, and with you I’m still waiting, writing this note Wednesday morning at seven. The couch was worth it for one good reason, and that was my chance to wake up to the rising sun.

This has been a year like no other. This week I shared a thought about 2020 with a friend who’s grieving the loss of a child that I dare not share here. The pandemic surges, as if to stick its chest out. 68 friends died overnight in our state, and thousands have become sick. Our own WCC family is surging with the virus too, as we pray for Arnie Bolin, Carl and Joni Pence, and Bruce McClellan, who are all fighting for health. Our isolation wears on us, bringing exhaustion. We’re anxious about our jobs, the security of them and how to best work in the first place! Add also our worry for our children, our parents, our siblings and friends. We worship at a distance, isolated, but it’s not the same as gathering together. And our national political process comes to a head, revealing mostly that we are a divided people. Many of our own primary relationships are strained for this reason. Our Church community is splintered by all these things. AARRGGHH!

And then the some comes up as the starry night fades. I watch it move along the wall in front of me, making it hard to see the numbers on the TV. What comes to mind is the song we sometimes sing that goes like this:
The Sun comes up, its a new day dawning It’s time to sing your song again Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me Let me be singing when the evening comes Bless the Lord O my soul, O my soul Worship His Holy name Sing like never before O my soul I’ll worship Your Holy name (10000 Reasons, Matt Redman)

It’s as if the new day says, “Why not make a cup of coffee, come outside and face east, and feel the warm new November day!” In times like these, when the tyranny of the urgent threatens to overwhelm, creation’s rhythms call us home to our God, who is “High above all nations” and whose “glory is above the heavens.” No damned pandemic (forgive me!), and no worldly politic does impinge on these greater realities.

We need to remind each other of these deeper truths that can hold us in all the unknowns about the present and the future. We need to recover the words of the 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich, who had troubles a plenty of her own, but wrote defiantly, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I wonder if the rising sun inspired her to say it. We need to say it to ourselves and to each other in times like these.

Jen and Joel and I, we miss you all so very much, we feel deeply the strain of these days for all of us, along with a longing to be together and embrace one another. Someday soon! In the meantime, know that we are longing to hear your voice and journey with you. Be in touch. We are praying for your health and strength, for your faith to give you perseverance. We ask too for your prayers!

Find the Sun sometime today. Feel it’s warmth as a holy reminder that our God is faithful, and holding the whole world in his hands.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.

Peter Hawkinson

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on