Friday, May 26, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation – Log #10: “Passing the Peace” Is Much More Than A Salutation

In the Lutheran tradition, with which my wife and I are becoming more familiar, we often “pass the peace.” It is a warm greeting in which we simply say to one another, “Peace be with you”.

But I’ve discovered that “passing the peace” is a lot more than just a friendly salutation.

Through the years I have thought of “peace” mostly in the sense of “absence of war”. I grew up with the "Peace-nik” generation. Their primary concern was the elimination of war (no matter what the cost to freedom, unfortunately).

So in my normal idiom, the concept of “peace” mostly connoted a state of tranquility that we should strive for but that would be virtually impossible to attain.

I must also admit that I often wondered how just “declaring” a desire for peace (as the “Peace-niks did) would keep the bully away, but that’s another issue.

In a similar sense, I also wondered how wishing peace to or for someone would do anything to actually bring peace. To me, that usually came off like a non-actualizing but nice sounding greeting – mostly around church people.

But I’m now coming to appreciate something much more encompassing. When Christ himself appeared to his disciples – sometimes suddenly and out of nowhere – his first words often were “peace be with you”. He calmed their anxieties without them even asking.

Of course Christ was the personification of peace, and in fact, he was the “prince of peace”. So it seemed relatively easy to understand his greeting in that context.

But, as I said, there’s more. In John 14, at the last supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give (peace) to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”

A little later in that fateful evening meal he continued, “I have told you these things so that in me (italics mine) you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What an empowering declaration!

At the core of our understanding of peace, then, should be the particular and distinctive peace that only Christ can provide.

The peace of Christ is calming. The peace of Christ relieves anxiety. The peace of Christ rises above trouble. And the peace of Christ enables us to overcome the difficulties we may face in our world.

It is no wonder that the rite of benediction with which we are blessed at the close of each worship service (and which, I believe, is rooted in the ancient Aaronic or priestly blessing) includes the words, “the Lord…. be gracious to you…. and give you peace.”

Now, when I have the privilege of “passing the peace” I do so knowing that our Lord himself did it and that it has been practiced by his church ever since the first century. And I do it with the knowledge that its power and blessing is embodied in everything Christ is as the Prince of Peace.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Piscatorial Fortunes Change Overnight

It’s amazing how different fishing can be from one day to the next.

Early yesterday morning my son Doug and I headed east over the Cascades into the Okanogan country, in the northern sector of central Washington.

Our destination was Conconully Reservoir, adjacent to the little town of Conconully, which in turn is about 10 miles northwest of Omak which is…. Best to just look on a map if you really care. It’s 235 miles and almost 5 driving hours from Seattle.

We heard on the car radio about the incredible Spring runoff going on from the rapidly melting snowpack – especially the Wenatchee River near Leavenworth – but we paid little attention because we were only going to pass through the area on the way.

The Wenatchee River was as predicted – a roiling torrent, like as not seen in many years, but that’s another story.

Rain hit the windshield all the way over Stevens pass, but the weather cleared as we neared Conconully. We “fished” from about 3 pm until dark – with little action and no fish. A skunk!

The resort owner had warned us on arrival. “Fishing’s been slow this week,” she said. The town is in near flood stage from the runoff, and the reservoir is totally full with the discolored water gushing over the spillway of the earthen dam.

The fish were scattered and the water was cloudy, but we gave it a try because we had had very good luck there last summer, as Doug’s 3+ pound rainbow had attested.

But it wasn’t to be this time. What to do now? How could we salvage the trip?

No problem, try Fish Lake which is between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass and where Doug, at least, has never not limited out. Besides, it was on the way home, anyway.

We got up at 5 this morning at the Omak Inn, packed up and began the 2-1/2 hour drive back to Fish Lake. We were on the water well before 9:00.

I don’t think my F6 flatfish even got thoroughly wet before my pole tip throbbed from an attack by a hungry rainbow. And so went the day.

They hit and hit and hit, more than making up for yesterday. We probably caught over 30 fish between us, and Doug brought home a really nice brown trout which he and Jamie broiled for dinner.

If there’s a moral to this story, heed weather reports and don’t fish where they’re not biting. The best part for me, though, was getting to spend most of two days with my otherwise busy son, satisfying, temporarily, our mutual piscatorial addiction.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mom. Grandma and Wife – She’s the Complete Package

Today is Mother’s Day – the day we set aside to remember and honor the one who gave us life, (with incidental help from Dad, of course).

My mom has been gone for 47 years come next month, and I still think of her frequently – especially on days like this.

In his providence, God gave me another incredible Mom with whom to share life’s journey – my wife, Kay Lynne. In my eyes, she’s a mom who has few, if any, equals. Have you met our two sons?

She’s also a mind-boggling Grandma. All you have to do is ask any of our three granddaughters, like almost four-year-old Aubrey, above left, with her Grandma a few weeks ago at Disneyland.

My wife has given all of herself to her family. It’s the most noble quality, and there is not a higher compliment you can pay a person. She has a seemingly infinite and unconditional love for her family.

She’s the complete package.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Island Lake – Not What It Once Was, But Still Pretty Good

Yesterday I finally got a chance to fish at Island Lake in the Silverdale area while my wife took care of other business in the shopping center.

I had first heard about this lake from my California bud, Ed Wall, who in his younger days lived in 15 different houses in the nearby Port Orchard/Bremerton area. The house thing is another story.

Ed used to go to Island Lake as a teen-ager where at that time (the mid-1950’s) there was an establishment somewhere on the Lake that hosted weekend dances. Seems this popular gal from East (Bremerton) High named Darlene was known to cut a sassy swath on the dance floor there.

Ed didn’t (and doesn’t) know how to dance much, but he’d “hang” there on Saturday nights in his white T-shirt with sleeves rolled up and low-slung Levis, hoping to catch Darlene’s eye.

I guess it must have worked. They’ve been married almost 45 years. (The photo shows Ed and Darlene with their five grandchildren, taken just short of two weeks ago.)

But yesterday, hard as I looked, I saw no dance hall at the lake. In fact, I saw no island either. The sleepy, now darkly-hued but still quite clear body of water is surrounded by hills, homes, cabins, trees and a couple of outlying middle-class real estate developments.

I found a fishing dock at the County Park that has been nicely developed there with a playground, rest rooms, and improved shoreline. They stock the lake each spring with a few thousand catchable-sized rainbow trout, including some larger triploids. With a few even better-sized carryovers always around from the previous year, it offers a nice recreational challenge.

Six of us were on the dock for the two hours I had my line in the water. That’s 12 fisherman-hours. Three rainbows were caught. That means, on average, it takes four hours to catch a rainbow there.

Unfortunately, you know how short a time I had to soak bait. You can make your own conclusion as to whether or not I caught fish.

The best part of being there, however, was getting to see a spectacular Washington wild life "happening". The guy next to me hooked a fish, but it shook the snare and disappeared in the murky-bottomed drink before he could get it in. Soon the fish could be seen floating belly-up on the surface about 50 feet out.

In less than 10 seconds from the time we spotted the fish, two giant Bald Eagles swooped down from the treetops about 150 yards away. In no time the birds were skimming along like gliders, a foot or two off the water, heading straight for the gasping fish.

While still moving very fast, the lead bird effortlessly snatched the fish from the water with its sharp talons and aerobatically soared upward and back toward the lair with the fish continuing to struggle in the deadly grip.

A perfect precision-like maneuver by the once-endangered eagle resulted in life likely continuing for the pair’s young. I had witnessed a snapshot of nature’s indiscriminate life cycle.

And all of this occurred just a 20-minute drive from home. Is this a great State, or what?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An Airline Who’s Quick On The Tarmac As Well As In The Air

It’s been quite a while since I had made a one-day business trip to another city. Of course that always means getting up at the crack of dawn and getting to bed very late the same night with a whole lot sandwiched in between.

Yesterday I had to fly to Spokane to take care of some pressing things, so I decided to make the trek in just a day. Southwest Airlines has a senior fare (cheapest fare out there) that you can buy with no advance purchase, so I took advantage of it the day before.

The low, easily available fare had, this time at least, offset the airline’s lousy boarding and seating procedures (I HATE waiting in a line to fight for a seat location someone else likely has already taken).

I arrived, finally, at Seatac about 7:45 a.m. for a 9:00 flight to GEG. Twenty five minutes later I had skated through check-in and security and was waiting for the plane to arrive. Being Southwest, the plane arrived exactly on time. Wow, I thought, this is great.

Until, at 9:05 after we had boarded, the captain announced that we would be going nowhere on this particular aircraft due to a sensor malfunction in the right engine.

Usually, this would send me to “ruinsville”. Reason is, I'm aware that most airlines would take at least two or three hours to get you re-routed and to your destination, and I had a late morning meeting.

But Southwest to the rescue.

After we deplaned, they simply moved us over two gates, and we waited ten minutes for the plane from Sacramento to arrive. Normally, it would turn around and go back to Sacto, but because there were far more passengers waiting to go to Spokane than back south, they did what I think NO other airline could do on the spur of the moment.

They made a decision to put us on the arriving Sacramento plane and then sent us off to Spokane within 20 minutes. They called up mechanics from Oakland to fix the disabled plane, and put the southbound passengers on the next plane going south, hardly missing a beat in the days’ routine.

It was poetry in motion by an airline. And the quickest thinking and acting by airline operations people I’ve ever seen. We arrived in Spokane barely 30 minutes later than originally scheduled – an unbelievable accomplishment.

KUDOS TO SOUTHWEST, as they “saved” my day. I even returned home feeling rested because I accomplished what I had set out to do, even though it was a long day.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation – Log #9: Trying to Grasp Luther’s Double Negative

Worshipping in a mainline Church for the first time in my life and trying to absorb the meaning relating to same are causing me to stretch the conventions of my spiritual thought processes.

Late last week my wife and I had dinner with two of the Pastors on our Church’s staff. They are the Revs Kent and Alison Shane, a unique husband and wife team who job-share one full time position but each with different portfolios. Both hold M.Div. degrees in theology, and both are ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Our discussion soon headed into the aspects of Luther’s thought with which we were less familiar and about which we had questions.

After sharing our diverse backgrounds we began to discuss the predictable. What were Martin Luther’s views on sin, the depravity of man, grace, redemption, salvation, etc., etc.? Of course to deal with all of this would have taken years more than the couple of hours we had available.

We ended up kind of focusing on God’s grace and mercy and on how undeserving we are of them. In fact, we discussed how humankind is incapable of doing anything that could earn us even a part of salvation.

I happened to mention that I had found John Wesley’s concept of “prevenient grace” quite satisfactory in this regard; that is, in Wesley’s view God provides even the grace needed before we are even capable of asking for it or experiencing it.

Pastor Alison spoke up and said, “Luther goes even farther than that.”

“Luther believed that we can’t not sin,” she interjected. And by that he believed we could do nothing in and of ourselves to earn or gain salvation. According to the church’s tradition, Luther may have even believed that to ask God for salvation was itself an act of works.

Carried further, Luther believed that when it came to behavior, we humans really have no choice at all. According to the book of Romans we have no free will in this regard. Therefore, God alone could, and must, provide salvation, and in this there is total freedom.

On the way home, with what I’d been taught as an evangelical admittedly lingering in my thoughts, there was one looming question: What, then, is the responsibility of the individual, if any, with regard to pardon, salvation, and attaining the Kingdom of God?

O, I know the easy evangelical answer. But now I’m contemplating these notions from a new angle.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation – Log #8: New Discoveries In An Ancient Faith

During my 50-plus years as a Christian, for a myriad of reasons, I had never given much thought to nor thoroughly investigated “mainline” denominational faith practice.

O, what I have missed out on.

I am so reminded each Sunday as my wife and I continue to worship in a “mainline” church, First Lutheran of Poulsbo.

What is apparently happening, little by little, is that I’m beginning to encounter aspects of the faith that either had little or misconstrued meaning before, or were missed altogether.

How could this be true, you might ask? Where have you been for all these years, you might inquire?

Rather than passing judgment on what has been before, I’d instead like to focus on the emerging nuggets of the faith that I’m experiencing.

In this post I’d like to spotlight just one – liturgy. In the past I was led to believe that such consisted mostly of “vain repetitions” and was “lifeless” or lacked "vitality". So I discounted it out of ignorance.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the Lutheran tradition, at least, I’m learning that the liturgy leads us through several key elements of worship and faith practice. And because it is rehearsed in one form or another at virtually every worship service it gradually imbeds itself in our innermost being (the transforming and motivating use of the Gospel, as we learned in last Sunday’s sermon).

And I’m now beginning to feel the sustaining effects throughout the week.

I am also confounded as to how I could have been so blind all these years. Unexpectedly, my lifelong quest for a personally meaningful and sustaining faith is now finding location in the elements of faith practice that, in my experience at least, were largely overlooked.

Much of the liturgy is a recitation of scripture – hardly a thing that should not be repeated. Much of it is also a summary of the key creeds and confessions of faith that are the bedrock of Christianity. And much of it is “guided” prayer – making sure that we commune with God not only in the ways we have been instructed but also with a proper attitude.

It all sounds so elementary, but I somehow didn’t connect with it. I regret that. But I’m making up for it as quickly as I can. Thanks be to God.