WHY Have Rituals?

“The WHY . . . ? . . . Series”

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers; WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

“WHY have rituals?”

A couple, who have been living together for quite some time, came to their Pastor and asked her if she would marry them. The Pastor’s curiosity got the best of her and she had to ask, “Why? Why do you want to get married?”

An older person, still quite healthy, came to his Pastor and said, “When I die, I don’t want a funeral. Just bury me and don’t waste the time with a funeral. I’m dead and gone and just let people get on with their lives.” The Pastor’s curiosity got the best of him and he had to ask, “Why? Why don’t you want us to have a funeral for us?”

Those who know me have heard me quote a colleague of mine, about weddings, “I hate weddings but I love marriages.” I really don’t hate weddings; I would prefer the wedding service would be kept simple so the focus is on the transition from being single to a couple. I would prefer that couples focus on the vulnerability which comes from the vows they make and to be open to the gift of love God wants to bless inside of them.

Those who know me have heard me say, when it comes to people not wanting to have a funeral- to just be buried, that it’s OK to “punch them in the face for their ignorance and their self-centeredness at not wanting to have a funeral.” Funerals are for the living, never for the dead. We need to gather and share our stories to help us move forward.

WHY are rituals important?

– Rituals remind us that change is a part of life and we can invite the ritual shared with others to help us learn through the changes we’re experiencing.

– Rituals remind us we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. The wedding is a reminder we are better when we give ourselves over to God first (which is what the Priests and Nuns do) and to another person, if we decide to get married.

– Rituals help us face up to the difficult realities of life (none of us will live forever- all of us will die) and how our story needs to be shared and learned from.

– Rituals expose us to God’s expansive desire to work in and through us.

– Rituals invite us to experience life in all it’s fullness as we realize we’re better as a community.

– Rituals give us permission to talk with each other about the transitions of life.

– Rituals challenge us to be vulnerable as we trust God’s help through the promise of prayers, like the Serenity Prayer: “Serenity to accept what we cannot change; Courage to changes the things we can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

– Rituals remind us we’re not the center of the universe- God is and God wants to help us live life to the fullest while also helping us know we don’t have to know it all or face life on our own.

What daily rituals do we or don’t we pay attention to?

– Wake up, (until we don’t): What attitude’s nurture or bark at us as we look at the new day?

– Cleanse ourself; shave; shower/bath; clean clothes; brush our teeth; other rituals. How do these help us let go of (or hold onto) what isn’t helpful to us now?

– Feed ourselves: Do we eat or not- if we do is it healthy or something we shove in our mouths? How much do we notice about our food and do we appreciate the gift of food?

– Connect with the bigger world: Do we pray; read a devotion; speak kind or angry words at those we share our space with? What thoughts take up space in our heads whether we alone or not. Are they helpful; negative; a repeat of the past? In what ways do we make love or war, connect or ignore the world we live in?

– Find energy to head into the day: Caffeine; energy drinks; a sense of purpose in the day; same stuff, different day? What do we do to help us see a reason to be alive?

– Do we plow through the day like a run away train in a blizzard; do we stop and smell the roses; do we pause and notice our blessings while learning from our mistakes?

WHY do we or don’t we pay attention to the rituals which make up our lives and how does where we focus our attention help or hinder us?

May the struggles Jesus went through from Maundy Thursday until Easter morning invite us to pause and learn from the rituals of: Baptism, 1st Communion; Confirmation; Graduation; Weddings; and Funerals. May these “bigger” rituals help us to grow through the “daily” rituals which are the building blocks for a better life. May our rituals be good soil helping us to love, forgive, and serve one another as God through Jesus taught us.

May God’s peace become an important ritual in all our lives,

Pastor Jim

“WHY Count Our Blessings

“The WHY . . . ? . . . Series”

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers; WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

“WHY count our blessings?”

After rinsing out the coffee pot I saw one of our sinks wasn’t draining very well. Not sure what was causing the problem, I went to look for some liquid drain cleaner. Not finding any, I noticed when I returned how the drain wasn’t 100% plugged- just draining very slowly. “Now what?” I thought.

Looking around I noticed in the area where our foster grandchildren do their artwork, we had the inner tube for a paper towel roll begging to be used. (Lots of things in my house talk to me- discussion about that is for another time). I brought the tube over to the sink, put some more water in the sink so I’d have more liquid to force downward, stuck the tube into the drain (it fit perfectly) and (no surprise here) used my considerable hot air to blew into the tube . . . and . . . the water drained immediately like it is supposed to! Success is a wonderful thing- especially when I realize the problem wasn’t insurmountable and the solution was fairly simple.

What problems in our life, at first glance, feel insurmountable? Do we quickly feel stumped and overwhelmed? Do we believe, without investigation, that the solution will be complicated and well above our pay grade?

I could be a whiney child and quite a complainer when life seemed all plugged up in my youth. My mentor and spiritual director as a child, which I learned in hindsight, was my Grandma. With only a 6th grade education but a Doctorate in Life Long Learning and another Doctorate in Keeping it Simple, she would tell me “Why don’t you count your blessings!” It wasn’t a question or a request. Granted, she could have said, “Why don’t you shut your mouth and open your heart to God!” I wasn’t receptive to wisdom (and can still be quite stubborn and ignorant to simple solutions) because I seemed to love to whine even though it never produced a bit of good in my life- still doesn’t!

What has produced good in my life is realizing how plugged up I can become when I’m so full of myself and my limited view of life. I’m no different than a sink which won’t drain. My thoughts can stink and my view of the world can become quite stagnant and putrid . . . and what has been most helpful? Counting my blessings.

If you looked at the April Newsletter- printed inside are a variety of blessing suggestions to help navigate this “Sheltering-In-Place” lifestyle we now face. Is this a time when we feel all plugged up and stagnant? Is this a time of looking at life in a more simple way? Can we discover new ways of thinking, speaking, and acting which can help us flow better in our connection with God, ourself, and others?

One of the options in the newsletter to help our flow is the page with “Shelter-In-Place” Bingo. One of the options under the letter “I” (for Investigate) is to “Write out 100 blessing you have in your life.” Notice it doesn’t ask for the blessings you “might have” or “hope to have” or “should have”; it asks you to write out the 100 blessings you do have! The 100 blessings which, if appreciated will greatly help the flow of life and to guide us to keep it simple and to become more alive in a positive way.

WHY count our blessings?

– To really see life as having more good in it than we traditionally realize.

– To counter our whining and complaining with the fact we do have a lot of good to be thankful for.

– To give us strength and courage to trust God is living and active and helpful right now.

– To connect us with God in foundational ways as we connect with God in the times of blessing and the times of struggle- appreciating how faithful God always is.

Also on the “Shelter-In-Place” Bingo sheet- at the bottom of the “B” (for Bible) column is “Read a book of your choice from the Bible” you could choose to read Job- at least chapters 1 & 2. After Job has literally lost everything and everyone but his wife and his health (which will get attacked in chapter 2), he states in Job 1: 20-21: 

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

God willing, none of us will have to go through all that Job went through, however, the gift Job invites us to look at is how keeping an inventory of how God has blessed us and is blessing us reminds us to keep life simple and to trust God will continue to provide guidance and wisdom in ways far better than whining and complaining and giving up ever could.

God’s peace as we learn to continually count our blessings,

Pastor Jim

“Why is Play Important?”

“The WHY . . . ? . . . Series”

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers; WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

“WHY is Play important?”

One of the things I don’t like about serving a multiple point parish is the lack of connection with the Sunday School kids. I’m always heading to the next service and I don’t get to spend time getting to know the students- especially their names. 

While knowing names is important, I really miss what the kids can teach me about how they see the world and the wisdom they bless me with, which is why being a part of VBS is essential to my calling to the parish. In VBS I typically get to float around and spend time with the different groups, learning names, and listening to their wisdom. One of the best gifts is how they show me the importance of play.

One of the biggest mistakes adults make is discounting the importance of play. Here are some of the lies we tell ourselves about play? (Other examples? Please share with me!)

* I’m too old for that? (Is anybody growing younger? Why did we ever stop?)

* I wished I had their energy (how much energy could we gain by playing?)

* What would people say if they saw me? (One of the most crippling excuses we use!)

WHY Play?

* Play helps us focus. Watch a child play- they lose themselves in one thing at a time. It’s impossible to really play if you have too many distractions.

* Play helps with problem solving. Play removes the “one right answer” mistake as we give ourselves permission to explore all options- even the outlandish ones.

* Play teaches us how to trust ourselves and others. Play is about connections and it’s impossible to feel connected if there isn’t trust.

* Play only uses the past as a teaching moment NEVER as a weapon. Mistakes are made, learn from them and move forward. Don’t let the past hold you hostage.

* Play helps us to live in the here and now. What other time zone is there but NOW?

* Play helps to show the world we feel safe. It’s difficult to play if theirs danger or if the people around us are abusive. Kids who don’t feel safe have a hard time playing

* Play is a gift from God. Why wouldn’t God want us to play? Can God’s commandments be invitations to play? Does God play?

WHY don’t people Play? It depends on:

– What is your definition of play and is it limiting or expanding?

– Do you need an excuse to play? Is alcohol or some other mood changer needed before you can play? 

– Do you limit yourself because of painful memories of the past or that you have to wait for “someday” before you can play?

– Is pain an obstacle to being able to play? Have you ever asked your pain for a playdate?

– Have you ever prayed to God for help in learning how to play?

DID YOU EVER NOTICE: Pray and Play are only one letter different from each other? Coincidence? I think not! The “R” stands for “Reflection” which praying can help us do; the “L” stands for “Living” which playing can help us with! Don’t take my word for it- pray about it; play with it and see WHY play is important in our lives!

God’s peace,

Pastor Jim

“The WHY . . . ? . . . Series” – part 3

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers because WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

“WHY have Holy Week?”

My oldest brother, Jerry, died on a Saturday. As it was becoming evident he was in the last stages of his life, his son Ryan, who lived 300+ miles away was called home for this last part of the journey. Amazingly, on the Wednesday of the last week of my brothers life, he was able to sit in the living room and had a really nice visit with his Ryan. When we talked after Jerry had died, Ryan said he was grateful for that Wednesday and had even thought, “For someone who’s dying, you sure look pretty good!”

A hospice nurse shared, and this information is in the booklet they give to families who are a part of hospice care, that it’s not unusual for a person in the last stages of their life to have a “rally” and a period of clarity. The nurse said, “it’s like they get a shot of adrenaline and are themselves for a period of time . . . and then they return to the dying process.”

Palm Sunday is a “rally time” for Jesus- and for us. Jesus is quite coherent and is making it very clear he has some last minute things to share with the world before he dies, so this bears asking: “Are we listening?” While we know Jesus didn’t disappear or do nothing between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, in the worship world we appear absent until Thursday.

Maundy Thursday is Jesus giving his parting blessing. “Wash each other’s feet and love one another as I have loved you.” One of the ways we honor our loved ones who have died is to take their best attributes and pass them on while adding the spice of the best parts of our story. At times we wish our loved one could still be with us, but one of the reasons we have Holy Week is to remind us, since we will all someday die, learn to really live in the time we have.

Good Friday is a visible reminder that death is a part of everyone’s journey. On Maundy Thursday it’s a tradition to strip the altar at the end of the service just like a person would be stripped by the funeral director in order to prepare for burial. Good Friday is how Jesus’ death invites us to strip away every distraction and false god we have in our life and to pay attention to and learn from Jesus’ last words. The “Good” isn’t in the dying, it’s in what would be coming next. When we die we get a new address; for those who remain we get help in this life because of the creative power God passes on to us through the resurrection.

WHY have Holy Week?

– To remind us that death is a part of the journey, so live fully in the here and now.

– To help us know death is not the final word, so live fully by learning from Jesus’ example.

– To strip away all our pretenses and to serve and love one another as Jesus showed us.

May our Holy Week observances guide us to let go of the thoughts, words, and actions which don’t help us as we let them die; to rally in our faith journey by letting God lead; and to trust God to help us in this life until we come face to face with God in the next.

God’s peace,

Pastor Jim

The WHY . . . ? . . . Series” – part 2

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers because WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

“WHY are people angry?”

Dear Wonderful People,

Our vehicles are becoming smarter and smarter. We have all sorts of warning signals which light up to alert us of problems. Once, when the Low Tire Pressure light went on, I immediately got out and looked at all four tires- didn’t notice any significant deflation in any tire, nor did I see anything sticking out of a tire. It wasn’t until I had it in the shop that the technicians found a nail on the inside of my back tire. I couldn’t see it but there was a problem.

Anger is like a warning light alerting us to typically one of two problems. Either something which isn’t supposed to be there is poking us or something we’re supposed to have is leaving or being taken from us. Anger, in it’s most primitive state comes from noticing something is a potential problem and  anger wakes us to either fight or flight.

The reason I use the phrase “primitive state” is it points us back to a time when the only options we felt we had were fight or flight. One part of the WHY question is: “Is fight or flight the only options we have anymore?” The answer is a resounding NO! We have lots of options- yet, WHY are people angry? Because we too often aren’t practiced in the art of see options in life. 

Seeing and exploring options in life can become one of the joys of life; exploring options is an art form. One of the greatest gifts given to artists is the option to write, draw, paint, sculpt, dance, or act “badly”. BADLY? Isn’t our goal to strive for perfection? WHY try to do anything if we don’t do it perfectly? (Exploration of “WHY strive for perfection” is for another time). When we give ourselves permission to do something “badly”, we develop our child like ability to see the options we have. Notice how children are often not afraid to explore choices in a responsible, fun, and funnier way instead of a fight or flight reactionary way.

We are given millions of examples of how to be reactionary in our anger. One sided and poorly thought out comments on Social Media; attacks in the question and answer time on the news channels; panic shopping and the attacks by others on those who panic. It’s much easier to express reactionary anger- because it fools us into believing we’re doing something- than it is to take a breath and explore helpful options – even the bad ones.

WHY are people angry? Because:

– They don’t realize they have options

– They aren’t practiced in the art of exploring options in the non-crisis as well as crisis times of life.

– They worry more about how others will perceive them then knowing in their hearts they have a connection to God who is always working behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.

– They believe they know exactly how others think about them and believe that life would be a lot better if others could figure out how to live as wisely as “we” do.

WHY are people angry isn’t about trying to figure out what makes other people act the way they do. Instead, this WHY (as are all WHY’S) is to invite us to look at how we think, act, and speak. We can’t control what other people do nor can we fully understand what makes them tick; so we need to learn from what we see and experience to help us explore and expand on the options we have.

What are some words or actions by others which have made you angry? What was it they said or did which poked you or got you to believe something important to you was going to be taken away? Was it real? Did you find yourself wanting to fix or change them or did you pause and look at what you could change in you? 

What are some everyday things you do which you’d be open to seeing yourself do differently- just for the fun of it? What are some things you have wanted to do that you could do “badly” so you could at least get started? What are some things you could stop doing which have caused you problems and aren’t your responsibility anyway?

What if we thought of the name GOD as someone who loves us and who give us: “G”reat “O”ptions “D”aily? Realizing GOD is here to help us learn through our WHY’S doesn’t mean we won’t get angry. May we learn to realize GOD is always within our heart, soul, strength, and mind to guide us through the varieties of options we’ve always had but didn’t notice- until anger woke us up. May we all wake up and enjoy the great options God provides us daily- and to continue to explore all options for the rest of our lives.

God’s peace as we explore anger and all the options anger helps us to see and use.

Pastor Jim

The WHY . . . ? . . . Series

Dear Readers,
We have been asked to provide devotional thoughts on the website. I have nothing against devotionals, I read several each morning, however, I feel led to do something a bit different. It’ll be a series of articles based on the question “WHY?” WHY is one of my favorite words, partly because it can be dangerous. Sometimes when we hear “WHY?” it can feel like an attack- “WHY did you do that?” (which actually means: “HOW could you be so stupid?”) 
I want to reclaim the question “WHY” and use it as a tool to open myself up to the childlike sense of wonder God blessed all of us with- and to re-energize myself through exploration of questions without judgement. This is a work in progress and the longest journey begins with the first step. No matter how clumsy the first steps maybe, the joy is always in the journey. 

God’s peace as we journey together,

Pastor Jim

“The WHY . . . ? . . . Series”

“The Why . . .? . . . Series” is not about answers because WHY’s intention is to help us explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call our lives.”

The first “WHY” question: “WHY . . . ASK  WHY?”

There is a knock on your door and, due to the COVID-19 Crisis the delivery person leaves the package outside your door.

You don’t remember ordering anything. It’s not your birthday, anniversary, or any holiday. WHY have you gotten a package?

You bring it inside, notice it was your regular mail carrier who had dropped it off, and you puzzle as you look at the package. WHY? No return address. No identifying marks on it of any kind. It’s addressed to you but your name and address are all that is on it- there aren’t even any stamps on it. So, you get whatever you normally use to open a package, you open it and discover the exact thing you needed is right inside the box.

What is the exact thing you need right now? How would you answer that question? Do you feel you need anything more than what you have right now?

Each day is a gift which comes to us. It doesn’t have a return address on it because we can’t return it even if we wanted to. This gift is ours and its exactly what we needed. I’m not talking about what might or might not happen today. The gift isn’t in what does or doesn’t happen- what’s important is the fact that TODAY is the exact gift we need. Yesterday is done; tomorrow hasn’t showed up yet; all we have is the gift of TODAY

WHY is this important?

In “The WHY . . . ? . . . Series” I’m going to invite us to explore, expand, and accept the courageous invitation that the package of TODAY gives us. (The question mark in the title will be filled each time I write with whatever will be the focus for that day- today the “?” is “ask why?” – which is why Today’s title is: “WHY . . . ASK WHY?”

WHY is a wonderful invitation to explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow, but before I say more on this, we need to look at some of the ways we have asked the question “WHY?”!

When we open the gift of TODAY and ask WHY, what instrument do we use to open the gift of today with:

Is it a dagger: “WHY did I do that? WHY was I so stupid? WHY didn’t I make a better or different choice?” or a variation on those questions with the belief the box we opened held only accusations, attacks, and guilt/shame at what we did or didn’t do!Is it a scalpel used to cut away the parts which are poisonous and not helpful: “WHY would I continue to think, speak, or act this way? If it’s not helpful and nobody benefits from this, WHY continue to think, speak, or act this way? I need to make some changes and I can only change myself!”

Is it a letter or package opener: “WHY, would you look at this! How wonderful this is! How can I best use this gift of TODAY?”

The goal of “WHY” is to use it to fuel our journey and to explore what is unknown; expand our knowledge as we turn it into wisdom; and to accept the courageous invitation from God to grow in our actual life- because we’re living life on life’s terms- not trying to avoid, distract, or isolate ourselves from our lives or from other people.

WHY ask WHY? One reason is because we see life as an unopened gift given each day- even if the events of this day don’t unfold the way we want them to.

Pay attention to our “WHY’S”. Are our “WHY’S” like a dagger which hurts; a scalpel which is meant for healing; or a device which invites us to explore, expand, and to accept the courageous invitation to grow through the actual journey we call the gift of this day in our life?

God’s peace as we explore the WHY of each new day,

Pastor Jim

P.S. Please notice I didn’t write anything about trying to open another person’s package. How many times have we wondered WHY other people have or haven’t done what we think they should. That’s not for us to decide. Everyone get’s their own package called TODAY. We can only open our package and explore, expand, and grow through our lives- never through someone else’s. That’s a rule we can’t change- and we can ask WHY this rule exists and is true at another time.