One of the most meaningful elements of belonging to a faith community is the chance to share in one another’s stories and lives. FBC McMinnville hopes to foster that sharing and the connections it creates through this devotional, with a reflection from a congregant each week.
october 21, 2020
GRATITUDE IS THE GATEWAY TO JOY
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie
I was first introduced to the practice of keeping a Gratitude Journal around 2002, by the author Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book, “Simple Abundance.” She writes about being in her car one day, listening to Kathy Mattea singing “Standing Knee Deep in a River (Dying of Thirst),” and she had to pull over the car, because she was sobbing. It was a turning point in her life. She realized how blessed she was, every day of her life, and had not taken notice of those blessings. Thus, the practice of keeping a Gratitude Journal was born.
She suggests getting a beautiful journal to write in, and every night before you go to bed, you write down five things you are grateful for, that you noticed that day. For some important reason, naming what you are grateful for makes you aware every day of all the many blessings around you. I have tried through the years to remember to do this, and when I do, it makes a huge difference in my life.
In 2007, the year Victor died, I started the year diligently keeping the journal. Thank God I did, because when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in March and died in July, it kept me focused and sane. When I look back and read the Gratitude Journal from that year, I am amazed that each day I was able to find 5 things every single day I was grateful for.
This year, 2020, has been very challenging for all of us. I have found myself fighting depression, feeling sad and hopeless at times. This month, I started keeping a Gratitude Journal again. Already, I feel my Spirit lifting. If you have never thought about starting this practice, I would encourage you to try it. Some days, you may only think of the big ones: your health, your family, your home, etc. But some days, it is amazing and exciting, the little blessings you notice, just by paying attention all day. Gratitude does bring you to Joy.
Gloria LaFata has been a member of FBC since 2003, saying, “I love our church and her people.” She’s been retired for four years, and loves that, too. She has served on the Church Board, the Social Team, and the Faith Formation Ministry Team. She is happily married to Danny and enjoys their life together. She loves hiking, reading, and exploring beautiful Oregon.
october 14, 2020
There is an old saying that goes, “this too shall pass.” Wikipedia has this to say about the well-known phrase….
“This too shall pass” is a Persian adage translated and used in multiple languages. It reflects on the temporary nature, or ephemerality, of the human condition. Its origin has been traced to the works of Persian Sufi poets, such as Rumi, Sanai, and Attar of Nishapur. Attar records the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. After deliberation, the sages hand him a simple ring with the Persian words “this too shall pass” etched on it, which has the desired effect to make him happy when he is sad. It also, however, became a curse for whenever he is happy.
Ironic, huh? Something so simple that could make the king so happy and lift him from despair, could also remind him that sadness would not be forever banished… it would visit again. That is life. It is cyclical.
While making our bi-weekly grocery run to Winco, I looked around at all the other masked faces roaming the aisles around me. I’m sure that – like me – many of them were frustrated and worried by all that has gone on this year. The virus has impacted all our lives in far-reaching ways. Many have lost their jobs, or have been forced to quit or take reduced hours to home-school their kids. Entire industries have found themselves on the brink of collapse because of this invisible threat. And nearly 220,000 families across this country of ours have paid the ultimate price – having to say goodbye to loved ones stolen from them by this illness.
At times like this, it is hard to remember that “this, too, shall pass.” In time, Covid-19 will be just another of a centuries-long list of illnesses, famines, and wars that have left their scars upon our world and filled the pages of our history books. The singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
All the negative things that this virus has brought, all that it has taken away and disrupted in our lives has made me so much more aware of how wonderful all the many daily blessings in my life really are! For one, I AM ALIVE!… I have a roof over my head! I have a loving partner to share in the journey! I can afford to fill my cart at Winco with groceries! I am blessed to belong to a very special church, and to live in a very special town!
I look forward to when we can all worship together again. But, in the meantime, I will seek to find joy and hope in each new day, to FULLY live in the present moment and to always remember…. “this too, shall pass.”
Mark Bolden is a native Oregonian who is recently retired and lives in McMinnville with his partner, Liz, and their terrier mix rescue dog, Euri. Along with Liz, he is a strong advocate for the environment, the homeless, and groups that have been marginalized by society. He splits his time between house projects, writing and performing music, and enjoying the great outdoors.
october 7, 2020
I will sing this day a new song unto you… -Psalm 144:9
I’ve always loved the singing. In eighth grade I sang my first solo in church. I loved the sound of my voice reverberating off the walls of the little Quansett hut church as I sang “There is a Balm in Gilead.” Later I heard George Beverly Shea sing “How Great Thou Art” with the Billy Graham Crusade and that became my song. When I went to college, my songs became the songs of protest and cultural change as we sought justice and peace. Then when I became a youth minister and was leading camps and doing a lot of hiking the tune and words of “I am a Happy Wanderer” seemed to express the essence of my soul and spirit. As my life has progressed new songs have emerged as expressive of who I am and where I am going.
This is not to say it’s always been a smooth and easy progression. There have also been times when it seems as though the music has dried up and died—when there are no tunes and no lyrics that will touch, lift, and express the spirit. Lately my favorite song has been a combination of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “It’s a Beautiful World.” Anyway, I find it interesting that as I move through life new songs appealed to me while the old songs fade away and drop off.
Howard Thurman, who I encountered in Seminary, once wrote, “The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift my spirit….The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old song is meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies…. The work of the old song, perfect in this place, is not for the new demand!
I will sing a new song… As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth in my life, my mind and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God.” (Meditations of the Heart p.206)
New times require new music! During these difficult times of Covid-19, economic turmoil, and political dissension it’s hard to not let the cacophony of the times drown out the music of the soul. The opportunity is to be present and listen to the new untried harmonies that surround us and to discern which ones lift the spirit and speak to the soul. It’s to be open to new untried melodies that can meet the needs of our present todays and our unlived tomorrows.
How Can I Keep from Singing:
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?
Kerslake, Hedges, Lowry, Herbert
Mike Burr is a retired American Baptist pastor who lives in McMinnville with his wife Barbara. They have three children and four grandchildren. He chairs the Pastoral Relations Committee, works with the STAR room, and serves on the Matthew 25 committee.
September 23, 2020
Since I was in college, I have kept quotes posted on a board. I refer to them when I need a lift, a laugh, inspiration. I’m copying some of them here in the hope one may give you a lift, a laugh, inspiration.
“Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?”
“A haze of gray had settled over her once dark hair like the bloom on stale chocolate.”
“…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him….if you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”
-Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; read at David Lett’s memorial service
“Man is man, the world over. This fact is affirmed and admitted in any effort to deny it. The sentiments we exhibit, whether love or hate, confidence or fear, respect or contempt, will always imply a like humanity. A smile or a tear has no nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.”
Cherie Walker was born in Nebraska and has lived in Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, New York, Illinois, and Minnesota. She and her husband, Charlie, have been in Oregon for 45 years. They joined FBC in 1975 but had a 22-year break when they moved to the coast after Charlie retired from Linfield. Cherie has a BA from San Francisco State, an MA from Columbia University, and worked as a District Director for the Girl Scouts until she was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home Mom with their two children.
September 16, 2020
All the long, bright plague summer my youngest daughter and I have read together. We’ve read many different things, old familiar book series and new, and more than any other one thing the Who Was?/Who Is? series of biographies. Who Was?/Who Is? aims their work squarely at smart, curious, older children with surprising skill; the life stories they tell are rich, and complicated, and real, not dry lines of facts or just-so morals with the messy bits left out. That makes them fun, and my daughter seems to have even more fun with them than I do, lapsed historian that I am.
After a run of distinguished women – Sacagawea, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julia Child – we lit on the volume about Jacques Cousteau. Just over midway through we reached Cousteau’s “Conshelf” experiments of the 1960s. On three separate missions, Cousteau and his merry band, with the help of their sponsors, built different kinds of living and working arrangements in which they lived for weeks at a time at different depths along the continental shelves of two continents … underwater. It seemed a bold, wild, weird thing to do, so my daughter – the youngest of four therefore a buoyant agent of chaos – asked why they did it.
That got me thinking. I answered her, “different things, I guess. But one important one is that they dreamt big. They’d lived through a lot. Just in Jacques Cousteau’s own lifetime two World Wars, the Depression, France invaded by the Nazis. Lived through so much. So after all that they wanted – needed – to dream big. Go forward. Start anew.” I hadn’t thought much about the question she asked, at least not in a long time, but in the moment of her asking that came to me.
It was barely half a notion from there, with all Cousteau and his “manfish” had been through and all they reached for (womenfish too, Jacques’ wife Simone swam in the first rank), to here, now. The cascade of disaster on disaster that compounds around us, bears us down, smothers us with danger, confusion, misdirection, pain, grief.
That struck me too: breath, the chance to breathe at all much less the right, binds so much of this together. The pandemic that, among its other deeds, consumes the lungs of its worst sufferers and steals the breath right from them. The lack of protective equipment for the medical workers and caregivers who face this plague tide with too little help (an old friend, a professional student of disasters, remarked back to me how that lack of gear condemned many of the brave souls who worked the rubble after 9/11, too, as the violence of inequity finds ways to rhyme.) The monstrous fires, unbound and unmatched in millennia, that pall the skies, remake the world, invade landscapes, homes, breath itself. The distance from all that to the last moments of George Floyd, and with the terrible unnumbered ranks of men, women, and children who for four centuries have met that same fate, is no more than a heartbeat.
At the same time there’s what breath is, what it can be. In the mishnah of Genesis, the mythic teaching-story the Hebrews used to explain even a glimpse, a notion, of how God made, well, everything, breath animates the whole. In some of the oldest versions of the Torah, God breathes on the face of the formless waters and makes substance. When humanity joins the picture, from the common earth God breathes life into these new-formed, perfectly imperfect children. God’s breath has cosmic substance and mystic power. Breath is the stuff of life – when stolen life goes with it, when Jesus heals the sick or even raises the dead breath brings life, Creation, and everything back with it. Every mystic tradition worth its salt centers in the breath, that central act of our existence, and with it in the present where we are, from which we move into the future with things to do.
So maybe in this suffocating moment, where breath itself is endangered, we can glimpse a little light ahead. If in God’s company, with God’s imparted strength, and in God’s service we can, together, find a way through this, we might come at last into some breathing space. Where, together, we can join in the act that makes Creation and then make it over again. Start new. Dream big. The Easter promise in a Good Friday world is that if we keep God and one another close, we can reach the time when we might breathe some new life back into the world as God’s kids ought more often to do. Now, when we center on the breath just to keep breathing at all, remember a little of what hasn’t been yet. Dream of some breathing space, so that when we reach it, we’ll know what to do.
Geoff Clayton is a longtime member of FBC Mac and for ten years has been the church accompanist. He loves his role as the father of four remarkable daughters and three incorrigible pets.
September 9, 2020
IT JUST KEEPS COMING
When my grandchild, then about 4 years old, came and met us at the Pacific Beach, he exclaimed, with eyes the size of saucers, “It Just Keeps Coming!” He had seen lakes because he lives near one at his home, but had never encountered the tides. He returned to the edge of the water, where he again could feel and see the constancy of the water’s movement.
It truly amazed him and made me think, then and now, that this is a good description of God’s Love. “It Just Keeps Coming.” There is no end, no way to make it stop, no way to earn it, discourage it, or make it appear only at our command. It is God’s precious gift, experienced often when we are lonely, defeated, fearful, discouraged, or out-of-sorts. It is there, too, when all is well, we are happy and aware of what we should do. It is all encompassing and often overwhelming. We may feel that we do not deserve it, but that has nothing to do with the fact that it is still there!
The challenge, of course, is to try to express that love from God to all creation. Do it in baby steps: smile at others, say hello and mean it, think of others, laugh and weep with others, and love others.
As Scripture says in Corinthians, “Faith, Hope and Love abide, but the greatest of these is Love.”
Prayer: Gracious Spirit, please make us able to accept the gift of your love as we try to give that neverending gift to others. May we help others to feel that amazing gift that “Just Keeps Coming.” Amen.
Muriel Dresser enjoys organ playing, reading, and knitting.