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Sunday, August 21, 2011

It Took A Little While To Get To Yesterday: imagine/Northampton's First Baptism.

It's taken a little while to get to yesterday - three years and a month to be near exact.

But to yesterday we arrived. God gave the momentous day to all of us.

I have to admit, I'd wondered before about when such a day would actually come to imagine/Northampton. I always thought it would, even though much of how we thought things would occur (and when), as we dreamed and discussed in Simsbury how this church planting business was going to unfold, hasn't . . . and consistently so.

Nonetheless, we deemed it eventual yesterday would come.

So a number of imaginati gathered mid-morning at Jim and Karin LaMontagne's to joyously celebrate Jon Hill's baptism! His is also our first - imagine/Northampton history was made.

While important his was made in our life together, the most important reality was Jon symbolically died with Christ and rose with Christ yesterday, and he knew it. He was ready to leave behind attachments to his past and take on a primary new one: Jesus-follower. Jon is a serious man. He understands the meaning of taking on a commitment, including the cost. He's not a "go at it halfway" kinda guy, most likely never has been. He understood it was time to throw his lot in with the Lord Most High.

Yesterday came also because he is an observer, communicator and an asker of substantive questions. So I, Jim and other imaginarians had all sorts of opportunities to explore how we understood the way of following Jesus: on Sunday morning, at Monday night trio (Jon, Jim and I have been playing jazz together for 9 months), on the phone, on the deck at Bishop's Lounge, at picnics, imagine events, hanging out listening to other musicians play, even exercising together. We did this for months and never tired of it. In fact, we all were uplifted by the dialogues. They untangled and clarified and opened truth.

So there we were in the pool. Our ritual was simple and straightforward. Jim talked briefly of the meaning of baptism and shared his heart about his delight in walking with Jon and becoming friends, that Jon had taught him the meaning of friendship. I also talked of the wonder I felt seeing what God had done in a year's time to bring all of us to this place together, of getting to be around Jon, and experiencing the joy of getting to be a part of actually baptizing him.

Jon then talked of his journey and what Jesus had done to free him to this Saturday morning in the company of his wonderful family (Amy, Iris and McClellan), and imagine/Northampton friends. His words came deep from a heart that knew something profound had happened to him to arrive here. But, perhaps the most beautiful part of it for me was when Jon read the Lord's Prayer in Cherokee. There was astounding existential meaning in his doing so, and the beauty of the language brought tears even though none of us knew what any of the words were as he said them. It was a holy moment, the uniting of shared experiences, histories, families, and cultures into a common identity and Kingdom mission in Christ.

When he finished, Jim asked two questions for Jon to affirm his belief, then simply said we "baptize him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." We put him under the water then quickly back up. There were "Yay's!" all around.

Happy was the mood.

Happy was the day.

Happy was our breakfast afterwards..

I've learned so much from walking with Jon over the months, more than I can write about here. But one thing is I've come to understand God works uniquely and mysteriously in the regeneration miracle. In the enticing, awakening, re-orienting, and summoning miracle of becoming alive to/in Christ there is no formula - one size does not fit all. Sure, we serve, and talk and preach and counsel and comfort and challenge people in this journey to Love, but he makes spiritually alive what was walking yet wasting silently below the surface. I'm aware afresh it is God alone who quickens and animates the new birth to eternity.

I've also come to accept the continuing need for patience, settled-in hope, faith which sees what seems pretty much not there, and a perseverance that would make a Navy Seal envy. You have to keep going with this Kingdom mission stuff, no matter the sacrifices, setbacks, rabbit-trails, disappointments, stresses, confusions, obstacles and demonic harassment. God wants the redemption of Creation more than all of us combined in all of history, and he ain't throwin' the towel until the job is finished with the last straggler home. So I shouldn't either.The first Sunday Jon came through our door with his family we had zero idea we'd be baptizing him yesterday. We'd have missed the miracle if we'd packed up and headed for gentler parts.

Lastly, I realize Jon's baptism is not the end of his journey. Its another threshold he walked through to find and shoulder the work God has with his name on it .And we at imagine get to walk beside him as we do all our missional work together, blending gifts and facing challenges for as long as he has us sharing the same path.. That excites me more than a little. I plan to be here to see it and live it.

Thanks, Jon.

Thanks, Amy.

Thanks, Iris.

Thanks, "Clellan."

And thank you, Jesus, for getting us all up here in the first place!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

When My Good Morning Failed Its Blessing.

One of the ways we try to connect with Northampton, especially from a spiritual perspective is by prayerwalking. I've mentioned this before on Facebook and here.

In our walking with praying, we prefer the early morning when we and the day are fresh. The city is waking up, but there is still a feel of peace and calm. Most the time, though, we encounter other people: joggers, walkers, dog-strollers, Pedal People, cops, people getting coffee and going to work, sanitation workers, young mothers with strollers, and homeless folks. There isn't a throng of them, but they're out with us.

Over the last few months we've made it a point to say "Good Morning" to folks walking past us from the other direction or sitting near us as we walk by. Not everyone "telegraphs" they are ready for a "Good Morning," so we're sensitive, but if we err, we err on the side trying to brighten a day. We see the unadorned, cheerful little greeting as a blessing; that people we pass by would encounter good as they wend their way through their mornings. So many people's days are filled with anxiety, frustration, boredom, hurry-up and less than pleasant encounters with all sorts of other people. Greeting strangers with blessing feels worth doing for its own sake. Perhaps it will be the only pleasant words someone will hear said to them all day.

As we've done this, I've noticed we almost always get a reaction. For many, it is surprise. Perhaps they were lost in thought, or they're just not used to people on the street offering a greeting. It jolts them like: "Did you really say that to me?" For many, as well, the next reaction is a smile and a returned "Good Morning." It's pleasant and seems received in the manner it was intended. Although, I'll also admit a few folks respond with a flat affect as if they know the routine and need to be polite. There's no heart in it- almost like an autonomic reaction. That's OK. They got chance to practice their humanity.

Sometimes we get no response at all. The person looks resolutely ahead sending a clear message they are not interested one wit. That's OK too.

Today, however, I (Tricia was not with me for this leg of the morning's p-walk), got a response unlike any other to date. I'd just begun to head up Finn Street, and noticed to my left, a women in her mid-60's sitting on her porch. She was smoking and looking to be getting some air or just relaxing. As I walked close to her house, I made my greeting to her. She actually grimaced, and then slightly shook her head no. She then said, turning her head away from me, "You have no right to say that to me." She said something right after, but because I kept walking I couldn't make it out. Clearly, she felt deeply troubled to me, and it was more than annoyance. She was in pain somehow. Her life was hurting her because of death or betrayal or illness or loss or stress too much to bear. It was palpable, all in a just few seconds. It was almost as if my "Good Morning" was a kick to the stomach or adding insult to injury.

As I kept walking I was a little stunned by what I'd witnessed. Such a response had not happened on any of our walks and greetings. I also felt a surge of sadness and compassion for her. I didn't turn around and go back because I, in no way, wanted to cross her boundary. I wish I could've heard her story and offered help, comfort or encouragement. I prayed God's blessing and care over her and her family. It's all I could do.

As I thought about it further, her instantaneous and pained look and firm gesture of "no" revealed a depth of wounding which seemed to have crushed her life. If you could have seen her expression, you would have recognized she was not merely being cantankerous. It felt as if my words were more than she could take at that movement.

But it was what she said that stuck me most. What did she mean I had no right to say "Good Morning" to her? What was she associating me with? Granted, I was a stranger initiating an exchange she'd not invited, but why did she see it as so offensive?  I touched a raw nerve having never meant to and she felt I'd exercised a right I'd not been given. As I said, it made me sad she was offended by me. I meant no harm; I meant good.

More than likely I'll not see her again. I will go back to Finn Street, however. I 'd love the chance to apologize to her, but I'll be very sensitive to walk by if she at all signals to be left alone.

You just never know what a prayerwalk and offering "Good Mornings" will surface.