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Monday
Jan232012

Post Number Fifty-Two: A Day to Remember

Courage

On Friday afternoon I submitted my resume for consideration in the search for the new Executive Director of the Lake Louise Christian Community. I did so only after telling my District Superintendent that I would continue with my plans to retire from active appointment as an ordained elder in the Detroit Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The previous Tuesday she told me that she needed to know my intentions because she was ready to appoint me to a new church if I wished to rescind my retirement and ask for an appointment.  

Under my present circumstances foregoing retirement and taking a new church for another three or four years represented the familiar and comfortable direction.  I know how to be a pastor.  I am comfortable in the role.  On Tuesday night I went for a walk down by the river under the Blue Water Bridge.  It has become my place for prayerful contemplation.  I thought about how a new appointment would be an easy way to fill up the time until I reach full retirement age. I thought about the hundreds of sermons already on file and how easy it would be to tweek them for a congregation that had never heard them.  I thought about how much more money I would have in retirement if I would just stay with the status quo for a few more years and delay retirement for a while. I also thought about how risky it would be to apply for the position with the Lake Louise Christian Community being vacated by Vaughn Maatman.  What if I retire as a pastor and apply for the position with Lake Louise and then someone else is selected?  What if I am selected for the Lake Louise position and then I discover that I lack the skill needed for the position?

I walked along the edge of the river offering up this "What if..." kind of prayer.  I stopped for a moment to watch as a late season freighter cruised under the bridge.  Then I heard a voice within me call my name.  I accept that it was the voice of God.  The answer to my prayer came as a gentle scolding.  "David.  Terry would expect more courage from you than this."  I returned home and called my District Superintendent and told her I would retire as planned and I would be applying for the position with Lake Louise.  I also told her that no matter what the result I would be OK.  On Friday I submitted my resume.  Now I wait.

Readiness

Later on Friday I met for coffee with a friend who also lost her spouse.  Her story is different from mine.  Her husband died suddenly as a result of a fall accident while he was at work.  She started a normal day three years ago and half way through the day her world was turned upside down.  A few days later he was gone.  Different circumstances.  Same loss.

I told her the story of my struggle over staying in pastoral ministry or striking out in a new direction and of my coming to believe that courage and trust was the quality called for by my faith.  I asked what learning had come to her in the terrible experience of loss that she suffered.  She gave me a two word answer. "Be ready."

I think that the words that came to me,"courage and trust," and the learning she received, "Be ready." are two sides of the same coin of faith.  Is not courage and trust justified if we are those who live with confidence in the love of God?  Why is my spirit so timid if I truly expect that all things work for good for those who love the Lord? Likewise, why do I hesitate to answer God's call as though I have all the time in the world.  Why do I waste a single day nurturing hurt and resentment when today may be my last chance to work for peace, reconciliation and hope.

Friday was quite a day.  I let go of one direction and embraced another.  I met with a friend who helped me see things more clearly.  Its a beginning.

Friday
Dec232011

Post Number Fifty-One

Plodding Through Christmas

December 23, 2011 - Today I busied myself with our family traditions of Christmas.  I baked oatmeal bread.  We always have oatmeal bread.  This was Terry's specialty, but I knew I could do it. Embracing another tradition, I prepared the sweet refrigerated dough that tomorrow I will turn into Christmas morning coffee cake baked in the shape of a wreath. Terry taught me to do this years ago and it has been my thing now for years.  Terry's cousin, Rick, is visiting and together we finished wrapping presents and placeing them under the tree.  

In years past these activities served to enhance the anticipation and appreciation of the holiday to come.  Terry did her part.  I did mine. Together we were a team in charge of the family gathering and celebration.  It was a shared experience. This year the experience is solitary - even when there is someone here to help.  This year the experience feels heavy.  This year I am plodding through Christmas.

Christmas can be no other way for me this year.  I am not dreading the experience.  I will not abandon the holiday.  I can even imagine a future Christmas when joy returns and lightness fills my heart. But that cannot be this year.  I accept this reality, and that is why I bake and wrap and plan menus in defiance of my broken heart. This year I embrace these traditions and the hope and joy they represent as an act of will.  I have come to think of them as sacramental, a means of grace, a way for the Holy Spirit to find a way through my grief to heal my heart.  This year I am plodding my way through Christmas.

Dave Gladstone

Saturday
Nov192011

Post Number Fifty

Terry Kay Niles Gladstone

October 27, 1949-November 6, 2011

Terry died at 12:55 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, 2011. Her final day was spent surrounded by her family gathered from as far away as Germany.  Hospice was called in on Monday, October 31 and her condition worsened rapidly over the course of the week.  I have been unable to offer an entry in this journal until now.  

Terry's memorial service was held at First United Methodist Church in Port Huron on November 13.  In that service Rev. Jeff Nelson offered the following poem as a tribute to her life and ministry.  I can do no better than this poem.

It Only Takes a Spark

(for Terry Gladstone: friend, colleague, co-conspirator, fellow dreamer, arsonist)

by Jeff Nelson on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 2:23pm

one wooden stick

red topped
white tipped
ready to strike
dragged with intention
across the edge of inspiration
pushed into place where heat and heart and hope and home hover waiting for air to breathe its breath into being

until at last there is flicker
and flash and flame

she was matchstick

sent here to burn, to blaze, to heat things up to keep us warm

she walked this earth with gasoline in her fingertips searching for sparks smoldering in faint glows
of future sparkling in the corner of old church parlors

anything she touched might ignite
just combust in spontaneous explosions of chaos

shoot, ya’ll
every time she walked into a place
she threatened to burn the whole place down

My God,
is there anybody left who might burn this whole place down?

the red sash
draped from her shoulder to waist
covered a heart not a afraid to bleed
a heart broken for lost sheep and lost coins and lost kids
a heart curled up like fist protesting death
she taught us what was worth fighting for
and then turned around and taught us how to make up when the fight was over

hers was a heart that pumped with passion, pulsated with possibility pounded to an beat once lost in time
now found again in rhythm and rhyme
popping the locks off closeted doors

setting dead bone free so they might dance again
pulling one humped camels through needles’ eye
capturing rainbows in mud puddles and finding forgiveness in fallen leaves

mending broken fences with buckets of what others had left behind daring to live in the crosshairs that
the connect sanctuary to seminary to the street corner bakery

towel and basin
the tools of her trade

a brown bag lunch that might feed the world the seed of her deepest hope

the scars of a cross carried the sign of a job well done

from generation to generation
no failure of nerve
avoid triangulation through self-differentiation
bringing oneself into the presence where anxiety simply slips into nonexistence sitting in sharing circle until truth finally whispers.
“listen....”

Terry
earth-stained mother, theological animator, flaming spirit, laughing jackal, rising bird,
knowing shadow, inner light

where is your flame? I see it everywhere

I see it
in the eyes of a poet, pastor partner
for whom Kenosis is no theological abstraction
but a radical trust that even when the glass appears empty it is still completely full
even if the thing that fills it is something you cannot see

I see it
in the eyes of your children
who sing and dance
and dream and hope and live and love as if doing so will roll stones away

I see it
in the eyes of an order
deacons prepared to shut down the church in order that it might become the church

I see it the eyes of young people who spent summers feeding the hungry

and clothing the naked
and welcoming the children
because you told them it was the closet they would ever get to God

I see it in the wide eyes
of open mouthed teens
who sing as if it might be the only thing that will save the world

And I see it today
in the eyes of your church
in the spirit of a denomination that refuses to believe it best days behind it a people who wants to still want to set this world on fire

Terry
you burned
so that all might share in your light
knowing all along that is was never your light in the first place

this is your legacy
understood best in four-part harmony:

Be present at our table, Lord;
be here and everywhere adored;

thy creatures bless, and grant that we may feast in fellowship with thee.

Amen. 

It Only Takes a Spark

Sunday
Oct302011

Post Number Forty-Nine

 

THROUGH THE FOG

It started out with the feel of a mini vacation.  Terry and I at our beloved home on Lake Louise; she keeping her daily schedule at the camp; me taking advantage of the glorious October days to work outside on projects I have long planned to do.  Then things began to change and change rapidly.  First we met with our new oncologist and confirmed that chemo treatments were no longer effective.  Then the pain medication was increased to help Terry through the day.  Now the confusion associated with the medications has taken hold.  Terry now moves through each day as though she is occupying a different world.  She speaks to people who are not present.  She conducts class in the middle of the night and asks me when the students will finish their assignments.

This is most difficult for me - to see this beautiful and creative person be unaware of her surroundings.  How can it be that this disease and its treatment can change Terry in this way?  My task for this situation is to see past the fog of Terry's confusion and embrace the unchanged person obscured by present conditions.  That is the nature of fog.  It hides a solid reality that remains behind the veil.

There are other more positive qualities to fog.  It possesses a beauty of its own.  It softens the harsh edges of reality and quiets the noise associated with the light of day.  Terry's medically induced fog allows her to dwell for a time in the beautiful places of her memory.  It takes the edge off the harsh reality that is now our daily routine.  I am trying to cultivate an appreciation for these qualities.  

Dave Gladstone

 

 

Wednesday
Sep212011

Post Number Forty-Eight

Philippians 2:1-13

On the Sunday when I preach for the last time before beginning a six month spiritual leave in order to take care of Terry I find the lectionary passage for the day is the famous Kenosis hymn from Philippians.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross." 

Encountering this scripture has set my mind to wondering.  Can I empty myself of all the things that have meant so much to me and to my sense of who I am?  Can I be completely obedient to the mission of this leave - the taking care of the one I love?  Can I maintain my focus even if the outcome proves to be the very thing I dread the most?  It is one thing to admire Jesus for his servant heart.  It is quite another thing to accept that heart as my own.

I cannot answer these questions in advance.  I accept them as the necessary challenge of this moment in our lives.  I intend to give it my all and to count the opportunity as a holy time.  Since I understand faith as living with a radical trust in God, I accept this situation as an act of faith - an act of trust.

Others might strive for a more complicated theological understanding of this moment.  Complication is little comfort to me.  Emptying is something I understand.  Whether it is also something I can do waits to be discovered.

Dave Gladstone



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