February 26, 2016
Looking Ahead on the Pathway
Pathways have always fascinated me, especially when I can’t see around a bend. There is something to be discovered. There is something awaiting me, at least if I am adventuresome enough to look for it.
Pathways often make me think of the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” I spoke about that in my message in church last Sunday. There is something about the poem that invites us in, I believe. All poetry and art is inviting us in, but this poem in particular speaks to us because we do each come to forks in the road of our life, and we are faced with making a choice as to which road to travel. Frost speaks of choosing the one less traveled, and of that choice having made all the difference.
The challenge though is that the less-traveled road can be so uncertain as to make us timid or fearful, or merely unwilling to experiment. The road which invites us into a new job, or a new home, or a new relationship can bring with it great risks. If we are the only one affected by a choice, perhaps we are more willing to make it. If our choice will affect others, especially people close to us, we may be less willing to go that way.
The questions I try to ask at such times are, “How is God leading me in this moment?” and “Where is God trying to guide me to go?”
I remember asking such questions when I was considering whether or not to move to my current church. I went away for three days to pray, meditate and attempt to discern the answers to those questions as they spoke to that fork in the road. The time spent struggling with the answers was what convinced me to make the choice that I did.
Whether we choose the less-traveled road, or the one more clearly marked, we will find adventure and new life if we are open to all that there is along that road.
February 19, 2016
The Lake Shrine
The Self-Realization Fellowship has a Temple and Lake Shrine on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. I have not been to the Temple itself, but the Lake provides a beautiful place for walking, reflection, drawing, prayer and meditation. I have visited the Lake several times, and one year we took a group of our youth there as part of a photography project that they were working on with a photographer, who was himself displaying his work in an exhibition as part of our annual performance series. It is a fascinating place, and is so popular that parking is often a challenge.
Last Sunday afternoon, as a part of the Lenten season activities that we offer at our church, we made a trip to the Lake. The parking lot was indeed full, although we were able to park up the hill by the Temple and then walked down a long flight of winding stairs. And, to be honest, I love that the lot was full. It says that people find something in visiting a religious site, a place of reflection and peace, and likely for some of them this is their only connection to anything religious.
As I was standing and soaking in the beauty of the water and the glory of the flowers, I overheard a man say, “Why is there a plaque for Christianity here?” Perhaps it just seemed out of place at a Lake Shrine of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Perhaps he just wasn’t fond of Christianity. I don’t know. But his companion replied, “There are plaques for all the religions.” And as he looked around he said, “Oh yeah.”
There are indeed plaques for five of the world’s major religions - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. There is nothing more on the plaques than the name of each religion and symbols that signify the essence of that particular religion. Each is at the beginning of a planted garden, and the five emanate out almost like five spokes on a wheel, so that if one stands at a certain point then one can see all five of them.
For me, it is a beautiful expression that says that the Self-Realization Fellowship is about people making connections with God, no matter what their religious tradition may be. It is an inclusion of everyone from those five traditions, and by extension I am sure the welcome of people from all religious traditions. It is, for me, a way of saying that our connections to God, while they may be founded in our particular religious traditions, those connections also transcend the traditions. And, if you have no tradition that you claim, the whole of the lake and trees and flowers and wildlife stands ready to welcome you.
It is a beautiful place, that is open to all, and there is no entrance fee. There are certain hours when it is open to the public, and I imagine it is available to people on retreats or to members of the Temple at other times. But if you are in Los Angeles, and have already seen some of the glitzy sites, then set aside an hour or two to visit the Lake Shrine. You will discover a different kind of treasure.
February 12, 2016
Marked with Ashes
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the six-and-a-half weeks that will culminate with the celebration of Easter. This is the season of Lent, and in my congregation we started our journey together with a soup supper and a time of worship. This is something that likely happens in many churches, but I like to think that our homemade soups, this year brought by four different individuals, set up apart. They were delicious.
But what I enjoyed even more than the soups, accompanied by salad and rolls, was the conversation we shared toward the end of the meal. Ash Wednesday has not always been something that Protestant churches have observed, and the rituals and traditions of the day can seem unusual. So we reminded ourselves about the season itself, the forty days (and their connection to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness), the six Sundays that are part of Lent and yet not part of the forty days, the significance of the ashes and the tradition that the ashes come from burning the palm branches left from the previous year’s Palm Sunday observance. For some of our folks, memories came flooding back from previous year’s soup suppers and similar conversations. For others, it was their first experience of Ash Wednesday and this was their introduction to something that has become significant in our church. It was a time filled with questions, answers, energy and fun. I am grateful to all who participated.
And then we moved into our worship time. For those who desired it, ashes were available to be placed on the forehead. Not everyone chooses to share in that tradition, but there is a sense that just by participating in the evening that each person has been marked by the ashes. For the ashes, while they symbolize several things, are a marker of the beginning of a journey. It is a journey that we will walk together. It is a journey that is familiar for most because we do it each year. And yet, it is a totally new journey, for we have never been who we are right now, and the pathway we walk has never been here before. It is an opportunity to experience this walk with Jesus in entirely new ways.
Where will the road lead us? Who will we become? The answers await us if we are open to them.
February 5, 2016
In last week’s blog post I reflected upon the relationship between the Church and the arts, with a desire to see greater ways in which the Church can reinvigorate its role as a patron of the arts. It is an exciting partnership when it happens, and it touches lives in ways that other offerings of churches may not do.
I have a vision for an arts program for West Los Angeles / Santa Monica that would draw upon the resources of two churches, and invite the involvement of the community in both funding the venture and celebrating the arts through the programs that would be offered to both youth and adults. This is a vision that the other pastor and I share, and one that we are exploring with our congregations. There is not yet a commitment to proceed with the project, in part because there are so many unanswered questions about how to turn the vision into reality.
So, I am looking for help. If you are an artist, or work in an arts organization, I would love to talk with you. I need to learn about the needs of artists and the workings of an organization, from budgeting to administration to fundraising. If you love the arts like me, and would be interested to share in funding the venture, I would enjoy talking with you as well. Let me be clear though, I am not asking for money. At some point we will need to do that, but for now I am only seeking input, guidance and interest. If you have other skills, such as knowing how to network within the communities of the arts, I would love to talk with you as well. Finally, if you would be interested in arts classes, workshops, drama presentations, or anything else in the realm of the arts, I would like to hear about those interests.
If you choose to contact me, you can do so through the Contact tab of this website, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for sharing in the vision through reading the above, and thanks for considering responding to my “Help Wanted” post.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.