Pastor's Blog


Festival of God’s Creation

One of my fondest childhood memories is hiking with my dad and his Boy Scout troop with my older brother into Havasupai. I was seven years old. My father carried my sleeping bag and everything else I needed. I carried but one thing: a half-gallon tin can looped with a rope handle. Maybe a few smooth, river-polished stones or a disgruntled toad – my dad’s nickname for me as a boy was “Newt,” probably for that very propensity – I don’t remember what I collected and carried in the can, but that childhood memory has come to symbolize for me an unquenchable curiosity, a desire to know all about the wonders around me.

Rachel Carson captures the awe we all felt as children when she writes:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that . . . vision . . . is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

The United Methodist Church has invited each local congregation to celebrate God’s Creation on April 22, in keeping with Earth Day. While we are called to live each day in harmony, as part of God’s interconnected creation, the UMC dedicates one Sunday every year as the “Festival of God’s Creation.” The Rev. Michael Dowd will be with us this year, preaching in the morning and offering an afternoon lecture (learn more). Let’s join together to celebrate the wondrous gifts of the creative Spirit and reflect anew on our vital responsibilities as faithful stewards!


Spring, Lent, and Easter

A popular camp song contains the line,

“What a wondrous time is Spring, when all the trees are budding . . .”

Spring has sprung early this year. It has been marvelous watching the three ash trees we had planted in front of our house a few years ago leaf out. Being young trees, we are able to get up close and personal with them, as I do almost daily. Beholding the mystery of growth and renewal at eye level.  Since spring has come early and Easter will be here in the blink of an eye, I can’t help but re-think Lent. I remember theologian Matthew Fox re-imagining the Lenten season as a time to take up something – rather than give something up. (Most “sacrifices” are rather inconsequential, anyway: chocolate, coffee, etc.) Why not try a new spiritual practice or creative outlet? Watercolors, photography, scrapbooking, writing poetry, sculpting, sketching, hiking . . . or an ancient Christian spiritual practice like walking the labyrinth or contemplative prayer?

We’ve begun a new cohort of Covenant Groups on Sundays from 11:45am-1pm. Each week a different traditional practice is introduced and experienced. In addition, on Wednesday evenings during Lent, I invite you to dinner at Wednesday Evening Fellowship, followed by a choice of two amazing classes. Hopefully these opportunities, too, will be sources of growth and renewal, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of
new life and resurrection that is Easter!

And speaking of Easter, we will be celebrating our 6:00am Sunrise Service at Kiwanis Park this year! Plan to support the youth Sierra Service Project mission trip by joining us for breakfast at Dayspring following that service – or before our regular 9:00 and 10:30 worship celebrations (breakfast will be served 7:00-10:30am).

Here’s to growth, new possibilities, and new life!
Pastor Jeff


Lenten Reflections

The season of Lent will soon be upon us. The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, happens to fall on Valentine’s Day this year. That’s poetic, I suppose, since Lent is a time to examine our hearts.

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen,” and refers to the lengthening of those long-anticipated days of spring. The forty-day period before Easter offers Christians pause to reflect on our spirituality, examine our hearts, and take an inventory of our lives. Why forty days? The number forty is derived from the traditional forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. His desert sojourn was a time of solitude and self-examination, quiet prayer and meditation.

We are offering several such soul-nourishing opportunities during this season, including Sunday covenant groups (a new five-week session begins Feb. 25th), Wednesday Evening Fellowship meals and classes (starting Feb. 21st) and “Christian Mindfulness,” a seven-week Lenten experience facilitated by Joseph Lambrecht and myself, utilizing spiritual practices of centering prayer, lectio divina and contemplative prayer (begins the week of Feb. 5th, offered at three different times: Mondays from 6:30-7:30pm (Adult Room), Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30pm (Friendship Village) and Thursdays from 10:00-11:00am (Adult Room).

A Lenten devotional based on the poetry of Mary Oliver will be available to help enrich your journey to Easter. I hope to worship with you on Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, at 7pm as we commence the season of Lent.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Happy New Year

Philips Brooks, who gave us “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for Christmas, has given us another gift for the New Year. Discovering in his own experience that life was too short to nurse grievances, harbor grudges, remain resentful, he made this confession to his congregation:

 

You who are letting miserable misunderstandings run on from year to year, meaning to clear them up some day;

you who are keeping wretched quarrels alive because you cannot quite make up your mind that now is the day to sacrifice your pride and forgive;

you who are passing someone. . . not speaking . . . out of some spite, and yet knowing that it would fill you with shame and remorse if you heard that the other died this morning;

you who are letting your friend’s heart ache for a word of appreciation or sympathy which you mean to give someday;

if you only could know and see and feel, all of a sudden, that time is short, how it would break the spell! How you would go instantly and do the thing which you might never have another chance to do.

 

Here’s to a New Year and a New Slate. An opportunity to start afresh, mend bridges and heal rifts. “Behold,” says the Spirit of Life, “I am making all things new!”

 

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Christmas Blessings

A number of years ago, Janice and I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam. It was April and the tulip fields were in full glory! Another highlight was a tour of the Anne Frank House. As you know, that courageous youth left the legacy of a journal that continues to inspire new generations of readers. She has fast become a hero to our daughters. May her words bring fresh meaning to your Christmas:

Give of yourself, give as much as you can! And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!

If everyone were to do this and not be as mean with a kindly word then there would be much more justice and love in the world. Give and you shall receive, much more that you would ever thought possible. Give, give again and again, don’t lose courage, keep it up and go on giving! No one has ever become poor from giving!

As we find ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle of what the Christmas season has come to mean for so many of us, we would do well to consider gifts of love, gifts that need not be bought or even wrapped. As Anne Frank reminds us, abundant life cannot be found apart from giving of ourselves.

May this prayer by DeWane Zimmerman (my pastor growing up) help guide us in the coming days:

O God, lest I come to Christmas
over-committed and under-nourished,
more pressured and less prepared,
more filled with Christmas shove than love,
trying to buy what can’t be bought,
help me each day to take time:
to look often and long
at the marvelous earth
and all that lives upon it,
to be with heart and soul
a friend with all I find.

Merry Christmas, Pastor Jeff


Gratitude

What are you grateful for? Last month we had our annual church conference, which is always an important time to reflect on the past year of ministry. I am so grateful to serve this amazing community of faith. Consider a few of the highlights from the life of our community this year:

In January, Dayspring was honored by the City of Tempe with a Diversity Award at its annual M.L.K. Jr. Breakfast.

Our campus restoration efforts began in January and are nearly complete, thanks to the hard work of our Trustees, along with Dayspring members’ generous ongoing commitment to our All Things New capital campaign.

In addition to our enduring support of missions, as a result of the capital campaign we gave $25,000 to UMOM for its new women’s shelter, $15,000 to our medical and dental clinic in Tochi, and $10,000 to our local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. I’m grateful for Dayspring’s heart for missions!

And I’m grateful for the broad menu of opportunities for spiritual formation for all ages, as well as the exceptional music program that also spans the generations.

Our first community “Giving Garden” was planted late spring, with over forty people – including many from beyond Dayspring – involved in this new ministry.
Dayspring’s 50th Anniversary on May 7th included a combined worship service led by ten present and past clergy, followed by a wonderful catered lunch in the courtyard and fellowship hall. I’m grateful for the five decades Dayspring has provided hope and healing in Tempe.

I believe Dayspring United Methodist Church wonderfully embodies its core values:

· Welcoming, Nurturing, Empowering
· Progressive, Thinking Christians
· Compassionately Serving All People
· Emotionally Stirring Sacred Music
· Committed to Youth and Children

I am profoundly grateful to serve with such a talented, mutually supportive and committed professional staff. And the level of commitment, capability and devotion displayed by our lay leadership never ceases to amaze me.

It is a high privilege to serve such an inclusively minded, Spirit-infused and mission-driven church, and I look forward to another rich and meaning-full year.

With a grateful heart,

Pastor Jeff


Tide Pools

When I was a boy, long before high-rise condos lined its beaches, my family would visit Rocky Point. At low tide I’d scuttle across the rocks like a crab, looking for wonders left by the sea. Then and now I’m fascinated by the microcosm of life that is a tide pool. At once serene and then, with the return of the waves, turbulent and chaotic. There can be found the starfish and sea urchin. The graceful anemones continue to capture my imagination. And the hermit crab. Who isn’t fascinated by the hermit crab?

Like the tide pool, life is always changing. That is why an apt metaphor for human life is a journey. We are always on a journey, moving and changing. If we don’t change, life will do it for us! That’s when it especially hurts. To be wrenched out of the life we have grown accustomed to. For some it’s easier than others. I just love how hermit crabs know when it’s time to find a new home. They literally cast away the comforts of home for a shell that will give them room to grow.

John Gardner was asked why he had so many jobs in his life. “I believe in re-potting,” he said. “I am an amateur gardener, and I noticed that when a plant reaches a certain growth, the pot becomes too confining for it. If you don’t re-pot it, it will stunt its growth, and maybe even die.” He said that he looked at life that way. There would come a time when he would see a broader vista, bigger challenge in his life, and he would re-pot himself. In Bob Dylan’s famous words, “If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.”

We are on a journey and the Spirit blows where it will. Life is a journey and sometimes it’s mild, and other times we feel uprooted. In his spiritual autobiography, Robert McAfee Brown writes how, in retrospect, the times of significant growth in his life were times of great upheaval, what he has come to call “creative dislocation.” The Spirit isn’t going to let us stay where we are — either as individuals or as a church. May we be open, responsive, courageous and hopeful on this adventurous journey of faith!

Pastor Jeff


Painting the Stars

Vincent van Gogh was a P.K. (preacher’s kid) who reckoned he would follow in his father’s footsteps. A missionary stint among the working poor in Belgium occasioned a crisis of faith. He also grew disillusioned with the Church, which seemed to him cold and uncaring toward the hungry and despairing.

Van Gogh found solace in painting. And in the immersion of oneself in Creation. He would write, “Whenever I have need of – dare I say, religion? – I go outside at night and paint the stars.”

A few years ago my friend and colleague David Felten and I produced a video curriculum that celebrates the communion of science and faith and contemplates what a meaningful faith might look like today. Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith explores the promise of an evolutionary Christian spirituality that offers direction and purpose for 21st century pilgrims. Featuring over a dozen leading theologians and progressive thinkers, the seven-session program includes a participant reader by evolutionary theologian Bruce Sanguin, author of If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics. The session titles are:

Toward Healing the Rift
A Renaissance of Wonder
Getting Genesis Wrong
An Evolving Faith
Evolutionary Christianity
Imagining a Future . . .
An Evolving Spirituality: Mysticism

Dayspring member and biologist David Harbster and I will co-facilitate the study at Dayspring and Friendship Village beginning the week of September 11. It will be offered at three different times during the week: Mondays 6:30-7:30pm (in the Adult Room), Tuesdays 1:30-2:30pm (at Friendship Village) & Thursdays 10-11am (in the Adult Room). I hope you’ll consider joining us!

Learn more at paintingthestars.com

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff


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