The Power of a Reset

I’ve written before about my dog Zoe, who has been having a hard time ever since we moved this summer. Despite our new condo being a major size upgrade from our little apartment, with big bright windows and lots of space to sniff around, I’m pretty sure Zoe misses her old neighborhood, old friends, and old rhythm. The way she’s expressing this lately is in a newfound reactivity to other dogs. She’s always been a little “iffy” with meeting new pups, something I attribute to her suspected year or so in dogfighting before she was rescued. Never humans – she loves ALL of those – but frequently dogs, and it’s markedly worse since our move.

We work hard on this, all the time. And I’ve tried lots of strategies – we cross the street when we see other dogs we don’t know, I distract her with treats to stop any staredowns (from either side). We’ve learned some adorable and useful tricks, like standing in between my legs, or spinning in circles, or shaking my hand, to get her mind off the other dog and her stress level down.

I’ve also tried yanking her leash, pulling, yelling, scolding – you name it. Not that these “techniques” have helped at all – and I certainly don’t rely on them anymore, but sometimes I get frustrated and they come out too.

But as I’ve learned more and more about dogs experiencing reactivity, I have stumbled upon really helpful resources and suggestions.

The latest was this: when your dog gets triggered into a big reaction while out on a walk, consider ways that you can help them reset. Dogs can do this on their own, through behaviors like giving a big shake or stretching their body out in a play bow. Or you can do this simply by heading home, resting, relaxing, and trying that walk again another time or even another day.

Well, this morning it happened again. We were reintroduced to a dog we’ve encountered several times before, and while Zoe took some time to sniff him and think about it, the situation ended with her lunging and snarling. I was devastated. Sad for us, that we’ll continue to struggle meeting new doggie neighbors as long as this persists. Sad for her, because she’s such a sweet, snuggly pup around humans or at home. Sad for all of the work we’ve put in that doesn’t seem to help. Wondering where to go next and what to try differently.

We went home, and I put on some coffee, made a few calls, did some work. Zoe climbed up next to me on the couch, and snuggled right in. There were lots of pets, lots of hugs, lots of quiet time.

And after lunch, we tried again.

I kept a careful eye out as I usually do for oncoming dogs, but this time when I turned a corner to evade a black lab and his owner – they followed us. And came right up, asking for an introduction. My heart sank, and I tried to explain that Zoe was quite selective – only to watch her sniff this puppy, jump back, and then exuberantly start to play with him.

And five minutes later, a couple blocks from home, she met another dog – and did the same.

I was so excited, so proud of her, so relieved – and Zoe was so happy, too – that we ran most of the way home.

I will never again doubt the power of a reset.

Not for my dog, and not for me.

Not for any of us, really.

It’s been a hard couple of years, since March 2020. We’ve been through the mill a couple of times, particularly as a church, and it can be hard to remember what brought us together in the first place. All of those long-simmering disagreements and festering resentments can combine, like Zoe, to keep our stress levels up and our patience with each other down.

But I wonder how we might reset, even as we’re likely to experience more interruptions to our life together as we continue to live through a pandemic.

How do we find spaces and times where we can simply be and have fun together?

We have hard work to do, and we’ve spent so much of our time lately doing it – through business meetings and discernment sessions and open forums. Through boards and committees, through listening sessions. But what about the fun of being a church family? What about singing in the upper room, watching our kids dance, sharing a cup of coffee, playing in the gym? What about gathering on Facebook to bake something delicious, or bringing flowers to someone in Brandel?

We need those things, too.

We need our resets. Moments to remind ourselves what we love about each other and what we simply enjoy about each other too.

Our God is a God of delight, and we were created (among other reasons) because God delights in us, and wants us to delight in each other.

Let’s not forget that, in a difficult season. Let’s not forget that we need each other, not just for wisdom and help and courage, but for love, for laughter, for joy.

So as we continue in a difficult moment, let’s also remember to take our pauses, our resets; to find our refreshment and seek our joy – together.

-Pastor Jen

The Blessed Sacrament

I’m of the opinion as a struggling preacher that the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament — whatever name you’re familiar with — is the best sermon ever preached! Every time it’s the gospel strained clear, good news for every poor soul who comes.

For all the good the Protestant Reformation did now five hundred years ago, I often have sensed, and do now more than ever before, that when we replaced the communion table with the pulpit at the center of worship, we got it wrong! Up until that time, for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, the Eucharist was the primary means by which people encountered or experienced God. It was only after the Reformation that the locus of God presence (at least for us protestants) was transferred to the Word.

The results of this move are worth considering. When we elevate the pulpit at the expense of the altar, it’s easy to cease being “friends” who share the same experience, and instead become “students” with “teachers” who teach us varied and different interpretations of the Word. This is at the heart of so much of our debates and schisms in the Church today, our loss of the Blessed Sacrament and our blessed Savior’s love as our primary and shared experience. Further, when the pulpit takes primary place, we become spectators, consumers of a Word directed at us, rather than participants who come to a feast of grace. Worship is to be primarily evaluated, along with us preachers and teachers, and none of us can preach or teach better than Christ Jesus, who spreads a table, and says with love, “My body, my blood for you.” Love of all loves.

Gerard Straub writes: “Saint Francis of Assisi experienced the Eucharist as a Sacrament of Love in which God became his spiritual food. He needed the refreshment of Love’s presence the way his lungs needed air. Nourished by Love, Francis was able to love in turn all of creation. As Christ’s Body and Blood became one with Francis’ body and blood, Francis was able to become Christ to everyone he met.” (The Sun and Moon Over Assisi).

I am grateful that our own sanctuary space has the pulpit, albeit a bit elevated, off to one side, letting the altar remain in the middle. Maybe it’s time the Word and its telling, the sermon, fully point us and lead us to the Sacrament again. Maybe it’s time to share the sacrament every week, because we know that we can never get enough of the redeeming love and presence of Christ — and because we know that with that taste of grace in our mouths, leaving, we can’t help but love each other more.

What do you think?

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson

Jesus People, Jesus Church

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

As you likely know or are experiencing these days, many, many Christians in America are de-constructing and hopefully reconstructing their faith. This is most true for us who have called ourselves evangelical Christians. There’s an endless abundance of criticism, much of it warranted. The most unifying theme is that the church has wandered away from Jesus, who embodies and acts out the love of God. The call is for the church to come back to Christ and seek to follow Jesus into a radical life of loving.

The other day two other writers gave me words for what I feel but find it hard to say, regarding this reformation going on right before our eyes. The first comes from pastor and blogger Judy Howard Peterson, who envisions the Church coming to a renewed life in this way:

“The life of Jesus, as recorded in the biblical text, clearly reveals a way of living that preferences mercy over judgment, inclusion over exclusion, and radical love over lines drawn by religion. As followers of Jesus, I am convinced these must be our ways.

So simple yet profound, so disarming and inviting is this description of how our ministry might collectively embody the ministry of Jesus. Such good news the gospel will be if we are able to embrace these ways of Jesus.

Tension comes though as many of us, and a part of each of us is resistant to Jesus, just as the religious community was back then. To locate holiness and Godliness in love and mercy still gets the same indictment from much of the religious community that called Jesus a blasphemer. As soon as we sense a call to open up and welcome all people, our fear takes over and we exclude. It’s all so tough for us to move out and away from our religion into the radical life of following Jesus.

In Richard Rohr’s book “The Universal Christ” which I’ve marked up all over– the sign of a good book — Richard comes at it this way:

“What are we to do with such divine irresponsibility, such endless largesse, such unwillingness on God’s part to build walls, circle wagons, or create unneeded boundaries?…we need to look at Jesus until we can look out at the world with his kind of eyes. The world no longer trusts Christians who “love Jesus” but do not seem to love anything else. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive world view is made available to us.” (pp. 32 and 34).

As with just about everything, it comes down to love, and indeed the particular love of God which see on full display in Jesus. As painful as the process is in the Church in the world is these days, I believe we are gaining on the courageous love of Jesus that turns the world upside down. In that I rejoice, even though it’s a painful journey along the way.

God bless us, one and all!

Peter Hawkinson

Water and Wine

Last night, as I was doing some Bible and Baking on our church Facebook page with a dear friend and colleague of mine, she said something that surprised me – something I’ve never thought about before.

We were talking about the story of Jesus at the Wedding in Cana, while we mixed together cake batter; the story of Jesus’ first public miracle where he turns water into wine at a wedding reception that has run dry.

It’s a text that I’ve studied a lot, from my very first preaching class in seminary right up until now, and I’ve considered a lot of aspects of it. I’ve looked at it from Mary’s point of view – she who tells Jesus pointedly that “they’re out of wine,” and clearly expects him to do something about it. I’ve considered the disciples, the steward, the servants who fill these giant jars with water and then watch, dumbfounded, as it gets turned into really good wine.

But I haven’t ever really thought about it from the perspective of the water turned wine.

Maybe that’s silly, you think. It’s just an object. An inanimate thing without feelings.

And you’re not wrong. But it’s a thing that Jesus works on, and displays his power through. A thing that he changes from commonplace, ordinary water into (the story suggests) some really spectacular wine.

As my friend Sarah pointed out, Jesus can do the same with us.

He can take commonplace, ordinary us, on days when we don’t feel like much at all, and he can turn us into something incredible.

It took my breath away for a second – because these days, if I’m honest, I feel a LOT like water; like nothing all that special. I’m worn down, like the rest of you, from COVID; sick of watching numbers rise and swapping out my mask for the latest recommended model; exhausted from staying away from my friends so we can all stay healthy. I don’t have a lot of energy or imagination. It’s all of the normal post-holiday, midwinter slump, exacerbated tenfold by a long-drawn-out pandemic.

So the idea that Jesus can take my tired, depleted self and turn that water into wine – well, it’s extraordinary. It’s something I needed to hear.

And as I have thought about it, I have realized that I believe it’s also deeply, powerfully TRUE.

When I think about the witness of scripture, all these remarkable people in the Bible who did amazing things; most of them started out pretty ordinary too.

A shepherd in a field.

A teenage girl.

The youngest among a bunch of talented, strong, older brothers.

These people became leaders who brought God’s people out of Egypt, or led them as King, or carried Jesus as a baby.

God took them and turned them into wine, so to speak, and God can do the same with us.

Not to say that we all need to rise to such publicly acclaimed heights. Being turned into wine, I think, can be a lot smaller and still be really powerful. It can look like showing up to a hurting friend and being the one who gives witness to their pain. It can mean solidarity and presence with someone who is lonely. Healing to someone who feels broken.

All it takes is the willingness to show up, and to let God shape and mold us. Allow God to work through us and in us.

And we, too, can be turned from water into wine. Maybe for just one person – but isn’t that enough?

It’s a small thought, but one that gives me hope. And on days like these, perhaps hope is just what we need.

With love,

Pastor Jen

P.S. If you didn’t get a chance, watch Bible and Baking here!

A Reminder on the Wall

I’m sitting on the red couch that is old and sags in its middle. I look west at the setting sun out the window, past the artificial Christmas tree. The ornaments are gone, but it remains there, stubbornly lit up to face the winter ahead. Battery lit candles light the window panes. the setting sun shines gold through the bare branches of the big locust tree in our from yard.

I have that heavy feeling in my chest. A new worry saturates my spirit. It’s been a tough day.

Watching the turning world do its thing settles me, along with the quiet and what I see hanging on the wall to the left of the window — the baptismal cloth belonging to my grandmother, Lydia, safely encased, entombed almost in a clear glass case. Its faded fabric still shines a bit with ornate gold crosses threaded in. My guess is that it dates to the year 1900, when she was born and surely baptized by her father, Ole, who was the pastor.

One hundred twenty-two years of life’s twists and turns, ups and downs, sorrows and thrills. I wonder how many homes the case has hung in, and what was going on in the lives of those who were coming and going from wherever it happened to be. Now, finally, it stays with us. Wonderful.

I’m reminded as the sun sets and the tyrannies of the urgent moment rage, that the God of all life is present, still as ever. I’m brought back to the words of the Psalmist:

“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time and forevermore.”

I’m contemplating how issues and problems of the moment pale when compared to the realization that “My help comes the Maker of Heaven and Earth.” Though there are so many unknowns for us to face, we face them in touch with the Holy One, the Lord who will not let your foot be moved, and doesn’t slumber, and who promises to keep us.

It’s enough! And I’m looking forward to the sun rising on another day after slumber.

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson

Baptism’s Wonder

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43)

“And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3)

Today (January 6) The church season of Epiphany begins. The word means “Revealing”. We begin to understand through the ministry of Jesus some of what it means that the God of all things is walking among us, on the earth as a human being. That ministry begins with Jesus’ baptism, which always we remember and reflect on the first Sunday after Epiphany. No act could be more rooted in incarnation, this real sense that God is most certainly with us! There is no more crucial aspect of our faith in these desperate days than this, that we trust and experience that in Jesus God comes to identify with us in every way God can.

The late author Rachel Held Evans gives us these wonderful words: “We all long for someone to tell us who we are. “The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough…baptism reminds us that there’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair…In the ritual of our baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.” (Searching for Sunday, pp..18-22).

Jesus stands in line with sinners and is baptized with them, an inaugural moment of profound identification with the wounds and sorrows of humanity. In this Holy moment Holy Spirit comes along with a word from heaven to bless him: “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” And the wonder of our faith is that in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are forever God’s beloved sons and daughters too.

So remember your baptism, and give thanks for the One God sent to journey into all your sins and sorrows, who is with you even as you read this. It is this Christ Jesus who will in due time, in short order, lay down his life to set you free from sin and death. What amazing, wonderful and transformative good news!

Peter Hawkinson