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Friday, December 27, 2013

Wandering From My Comfort Zone Last Week.

I mentioned before about my being an introvert: church planting wisdom might question the advisability of introverts being church planters because of the amount of initiating connecting with folks is necessary. I get it, believe me.

But in the last few weeks God has been ramping up putting me in unfamiliar situations where I'm on point. Last week was no exception. It began with my speaking to folks on the Town Council about The Open Table model for helping poor folks transform from being homeless to having a productive life:

Then, early Tuesday morning God woke up Tricia and brought 1Corinthians 1:10 to mind: "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers." He told her to tell folks also that we needed $10,000 to overcome a deficit and get even. It's always been financially tough here, but the last quarter of 2013 has proven particularly so. Tricia told me she sensed the Holy Spirit was saying that in folks praying for us and asking others to, they would see the faithfulness of God in how he answered this prayer from all of us.

It's always been hard for me to ask for money; some of it comes from old patterns of shame and all-too-familiar feeling a failure at the core, mixed with liberally anxiety I've battled for most of my life. Some of it's never feeling the opportunity to let people serve God by supporting the Kingdom work he's given us to do. Mind you, folks have been consistently and wonderfully generous to us since we began fill-time ministry in 1980. So it's not as if I've often experienced folks criticizing us when we've made the ask (with a couple of quite painful exceptions). It's just been hard for me to do from the git.

Well, I forwarded the email Tricia sent to me and received all sorts of encouragement. One in particularly was amazing. A friend we're praying will join us next year with her husband in our mission responded with an outline of a strategy for helping people see a way for them to do their part. It was quite creative and essentially noted if 100 people gave $100 we'd reach reach the goal. She outlined it this way:

"What this request looks like to me, is this: 100 of us sends $100.00."

$100.00 = 3 meals out.
4 trips to the movies (without popcorn).
3 months of Netflix or 1 month of cable? (I don't have a TV).

I loved she took the time to think about it, then exhort others to view it this way.

Anyway, to date through his people God has sent over $9000! If I'd've guarded my comfort zone, I'd've balked at sending the email to protect my pride. Glad I didn't! Thank you, Lord, and thank generous and faithful brothers and sisters!


A week ago Thursday, I had a conference call with Jon Katov, the Founder and prime mover of The Open Table ministry for transforming the poor. He asked a couple of folks who had experience with OT and would be of help in the conversation to join our conference call. We talked of how I conceived what I needed to move forward, and a little about who imagine/Northampton is, plus the culture of our small city. By the end of our conversation it was clear we were moving forward, and after the first of the year would begin the process to form a table. As I mentioned in my last blog, I will be meeting with someone in the Mayor's Office to get connections for populating the table. Jon suggested for a first candidate we work with a young man or woman who's "graduated" (I forget the official term for it) out of foster care. That's makes great sense to me.

What ended in frustration last year will begin anew in 2014!

I include this in a blog about my comfort zone because God continues putting me into situations where I've never been. They are more stretching than the ones before because I have either no actual expertise in the task or new adventure I tackle, or I feel exposed because doing so increasingly puts me in circles of relationship new or foreign to me. Looking back over five and a half years, I recognize coming to Northampton has been one continuing series of new encounters and endeavors involving all sorts of folks I've never really been around. Remember, I lived for 20 years at a retreat center on a 40-acre church property where I interacted almost exclusively with Christians. I marvel at how far I've wandered from all manner of comfort zones in the task of planting imagine/Northampton...and for the better. I've thought about it more than once, but never took the plunge.


Last Friday night, I loaded up the car with my smaller drumset and made the short trek to the Unitarian Society of Northampton to be a part of the monthly jazz jam held there. For some reason, I'd been on a mailing list inviting me to come and play. I'd never taken them up on it, but I decided to give it a shot.

The sad fact is, since 1FlightUp flamed out unexpectedly over a year ago, I'd played no creative music beyond a couple of short-lived attempts to re-form. In fact, I hadn't touched the drum set pretty much since then. Jim, Eslie, and I had talked of looking for other musicians to form a band, but no one has taken the lead in that, so Friday was my first foray into re-igniting my creative musical side, at least a little bit.

I didn't know what to expect and I did know what to expect. I was pretty sure the folks doing the jam would represent a number of skill levels and experience; their age range was from the 30's to the 70's. I was right. I knew that we'd be playing standards from the jazz canon, more than likely using The Real Book (a compilation created in the 70's of mostly well-known tunes). I was right again. I also expected everyone there would be so because they loved this music and enjoyed playing together. True as well. There were a lot of smiles, friendly encouraging and just plain enjoyment. No one was trying to show off. At the same time, those who could play demonstrated it.

We played for about two and a half hours. I started playing and practicing at 15 so as soon as we began the first tune, my body and creative sensibilities just kicked in. Muscle memory from literally thousands of hours practicing and playing for 50 years took over. It also didn't hurt that I listen instinctively to other musicians to support them as well. Jazz musicians know to do that as requisite for the art form.

I include this in a blog about wandering from my comfort zone because, for me, there's always a little uncertainty about how well I'll do individually, and in the mix of new musicians. I haven't gotten out there for a while as I said. The musicians will be unfamiliar. Playing improvised music always entails a risk:

  • Will I make good musical choices?
  • Will the other musicians like what I play, or will I not be able to play something?
  • Will I get lost or make a rhythmic mistake which throws off the other players? 
  • Will I enhance the collective music-making?
  • What if I can't really play anymore?
Irrational I know, but this musical format is "in the moment" with no rehearsing. It's dive in and see if we all get to the end at the same time and in the same direction. The happy reality about this group of folks is they love playing the music, and enjoy being together, no matter the wide range of ability. You could tell there were friendships and support in the room. If egos were on display, I wasn't aware.

I plan to play again.


Finally, last Sunday, I preached at imagine. I do so occasionally. It's never been very comfortable to me. I feel the weight of the responsibility, and again, I'm an amateur. While I've probably preached 30-40 times since I became a Christian, it's not natural to me. I'm a communicator, but I don't have a  preaching gift. Because of my ADD, there is a good chance I'll say something spontaneously (and not Spirit-inspired) which would have been better left unsaid, particularly using humor - nothing inappropriate, just lame or distracting.

But last Sunday, I wandered furthest from my comfort zone by leading an a cappella Advent hymn sing. I come from a family of singers, my daughters are singers; Tricia loves to sing; I can sing in tune and my voice quality reflects the family I came from. I sang in bands, but...standing up in front of the church and leading an a cappella hymn sing is another story entirely. For instance, you have to begin in a key where the high notes are not to high or the low notes too low for most if not everybody to be able to sing. I had one shot at it. Also, I needed to make sure I started the tune confidently so people could follow and not be awkwardly tentative. Again one shot. Not to be overlooked, I needed to begin a tempo, neither fast nor too slow, so folks could be comfortable with getting the words out. Good song-leading helps people feel unself-conscious thus enabling them to open their hearts to God in the singing.

God was very good to all of us in that I was able to (other than stand alone up front) lead both hymns inconspicuously, and people were able to sing, including harmonize. So while I wandered away from my comfort zone, no one else seemed worse for the wear because of it. Mission accomplished and it was lovely.


I don't expect 2014 will allow me to be holed up in my zone of comfort much. I do hope for the increasing freedom to follow Christ beyond timidity, awkwardness, self-consciousness, laziness, and hesitation in the mission he's given us. Boldness is not a comfort zone essential, but boldness harnessed to faith, grace and love yields life.

I'd like an extra helping of such boldness in 2014. Pray for me that it may be so, and while you're at it, pray it be so for yourself in your Kingdom mission.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meeting With Northampton City Council Members Last Night About The OPEN TABLE Opportunity.

In October of 2012, I wrote a blog called imagine/Northampton's OPEN TABLE Opportunity: In it, I expressed my excitement over the possibility we could learn and employ an innovative model for helping homeless transform. We'd had the opportunity to have the Founder, Jon Katov spend a weekend with us to explain what the Open Table model was, and how it might work in our neck of  the woods. When he left, we were pumped.

So I and Dave Sweeney began to brainstorm what needed to be done. I did the lion-share of the footwork contacting people to see if we could form a table with imagine folks and others sympathetic to the model. I was able to do so fairly quickly. The harder part was finding the right person who'd benefit from the Open Table. This was all new to me. I connected with a whole bunch of folks in town from ServiceNET staff to city government representatives, as well as other agencies working on the tough and growing problem of homelessness. The initial footwork was tedious in that my gifts are not a great fit for such work. I was an introverted fish far from the water, but I gradually made contacts and talked with people. Everyone I talked was intrigued and very supportive.

Eight months in, I ran into a wall where I felt no momentum, and began to let frustration discolor the picture. Without getting into the details, I pulled the plug on the project last summer. I told Jon it just wasn't going to work and I'd done run out of steam. He tried to exhort me to hang on, but I just had no remaining fire in my belly for it. In reality, I was naive and immaturely impatient, feeling I was letting everyone down on this side, and I couldn't bear the weight of it. I let a false sense of shame lie to me. Pride was whispering also.

With the phone call to Jon, I assumed the deal was done and moved on. I wasn't happy about it, but resigned. of the people I'd contacted was a woman in the Mayor's Office who has responsibility for housing and  community development planning. She'd graciously given me an hour plus of her time earlier this year before I pulled the plug. She was excited by what I explained, even moved by the graciousness of the model. At one point she had tears in her eyes. She said I needed to present it to the Town Council. We tried to make that happen in the Spring, but scheduling prevented it. So, she scheduled it for this December.

I thought it wouldn't happened. When she made contact to let me know it was on, I told her I'd not been able to get the thing going, therefore it seemed pointless for me get in front of the Council. She disagreed vehemently saying that even if it was not operating I needed to tell them about it. She was insistent. I heard God in that.

So last night, I met in Council Chambers with Bill Dwight, the City Council President, Councilor At-Large, Marianne L. LaBarge , representing Ward 6, and Peg Keller, the Housing & Community Development Senior Planner in the Mayor's Office who'd encouraged me to stay the course. I laid out the values, principles, and process of the Open Table model. It took about 20 minutes. They asked intelligent questions which I very much appreciated. I recognized they'd had a long history dealing with housing and homelessness problems.

I was heartened by how encouraging they were especially since we'd be volunteering to do this, using volunteers from the community to share skills and build a team around someone until they were able to get on their feet. One of them mentioned it was gracious, kind and courageous to do what we were offering. The fact we weren't looking for money or being paid was notable. Another said it was clear we were doing it from the heart, the most important reason.

Bill asked what we needed from the Council. Immediately, I responded, "connections!"; particularly with folks who'd be willing to be on the table based from what would be needed for the particular brother or sister. He was pleased with my response and said they could be very helpful with providing contacts. I felt God was opening a door I thought sadly closed, a failure because of me.

As I started to walked out of the Chambers, Peg told me to give her a call right after the first of the year and she'd be able to provide me with all the connections I'd want. Again, I felt God giving me the green light; opening a door I closed because I'd run out of options or so I thought. He had not closed the door apparently.

But I had one more thing to do.

You'll remember Jon challenged me to not give up but I didn't listen to him. I know I'd let him down because he'd lined up some coaches for us to really get things moving and I bailed. I felt convicted I'd done him wrong so right after I returned from the meeting last night, I sent him an email telling him that I'd spoken to City Council members and the door seemed to be re-opening. I asked for his forgiveness in stopping the project. He was very kind and gracious in responding saying we'd both needed to slow it down. Wow.

We'll be talking on the phone this Thursday. Please pray God directs us into his will, and gives me the ability to do my part lacking nothing necessary to making me able.

So apparently, the Lord is giving us another chance to make this happen under His unction. He's giving me a second opportunity to actually launch a major resource in New England to help alleviate poverty and homelessness in our city and beyond. What an opportunity I almost squandered!

I'll let you know how it goes after the first of the year.

Merry Christmas! 



Pilgrimage: St. Peter's 1 (2011)
Michelle Arnold Paine

When we look at the first two chapters of Luke we see the story of Jesus’ birth introducing us to people who are waiting: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna.

In our culture, waiting is often seen as a waste of time. When we find ourselves in the experience of waiting our restlessness pushes us to want to do something, get going, or try to make something happen. We question Why are we just sitting here waiting?

Waiting can be for some of us an isolated desert experience. We tend to keep our attentions confused between where we want to go and where we really are. We are restless and preoccupied and often find ourselves trying to do something to get out of waiting.

What often fuels this unwillingness to wait is fear. When we are fearful we have a hard time waiting because when afraid we want to get away from where we are.

Yet, what do we see in the beginning of Luke’s gospel? We see people who hear the words “do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.” What is established is the truth that they are waiting for something new and good to happen. These are people who trust and count on the word of God. They are able to wait and be attentive and expectant in their waiting.

What is the nature and practice of waiting?  How does God want us to understand the importance of waiting? LUKE 1:13, 31 “Zechariah…your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “Mary… Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son.” There is something happening here that is a key to understanding what waiting is all about. It is that they have received a promise that within them they sense that something is at work. 

Waiting has to do with having what we are waiting for already begin in us.We do not wait in a place that moves from nothing to nothing more. Rather, we move from something toward something more. In this place of waiting we see Zechariah, Mary and Elizabeth inspired to wait because of the seed of God’s promise planted in them. They are able to let this seed grow and nurture and feed them…to be birthed in them
Waiting is not passive, but active. We might view it as a hopeless state, but we see in scripture that waiting more about being alive and present to the moment at hand. The splendid reality remains something is happening where you are, and you are wise to be attentive to such moments. What is being birthed in you?

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patient means:  the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out in the realization that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.

An impatient person is always expecting the real thing to happen in some other place.
Mary and Elizabeth modeled what waiting is all about. They were able to pay attention, and be alert and patient in the waiting so they could hear the voice of the Lord. Even when they doubted at first, they waited to hear God’s response.

Waiting is also where we need to give up control because to wait is often open-ended. We want definite, clear-cut, concrete answers. We cannot stay in the place of waiting because we get wrapped up in wishes instead of living in a place of hope. Wishes tend to have attached to them the need to control the future. We want to do the thing that will make the desired result take place. Our wishes also can be tied to nagging fears.

The difference with Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah is they were not filled with wishes, but with HOPE.
Henry Nouwen describes hope this way: “Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not according to our wishes.

Mary was in the place of open-ended waiting. Her words “I am the handmaiden of the lord … let what you have said to me be done,” are words that speak of trusting good things will happen even when we don’t know what it all means. Our waiting, like Mary’s, should be open to all possibilities. For when we listen carefully, we can trust in letting God define our life according to His Love for us and not according to our fears. Henry Nouwen defines spiritual life as, “a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.”                                                            

In this beautiful, effulgent season, we are reminded to wait for the one who is our hope. Not based in positive or negative thinking or as a matter of chance, Jesus is our hope and our hope in Him is based on the God who will be with us at all times, in all places, whatever happens.

When we wait where Jesus is our hope, we are in an active movement of God leading us. Mary was in a posture of actively waiting for God to fulfill what He promised her. It was letting God be God and letting the Lord speak forth life into her waiting.


Often we are unable to wait because we don’t know how God is showing us how to wait or where it will lead us, if we do manage to wait.

Truth be told, the Christmas star is an invitation to each of us to follow, a calling forth from God to go where He is. The star is God’s finger pointing to where we can find Him. The star points to Jesus, Jesus points to who and what God is; we can find Him in the midst of our searching and our waiting.

God is asking us to live in the movement of God leading us as we follow the star put before us. We are waiting for what is to come, but engaged in God leading, guiding us. We wait; listening to Him who is there with us in the waiting. Our waiting becomes more familiar and still, and we realize that who we are waiting for is with us, here to speak to us in the middle of the waiting into the silence of our hearts.

The star is the symbol to follow the light in the places of darkness. We may not know where, or how, or which way to go in the darkness, but the finger of God is pointing the way for us to follow.

Look at the paintings on the walls. Are you drawn toward any one of them? Spend some time gazing at a painting or more. Ask God to reveal something about who he is or who you are in him? Stay in this listening posture until you’ve sense God is finished speaking to you by what you’ve seen.

Now reflect on the questions below. Listen for his response to you:

1. Lord, how do you want to best prepare my heart in this time of waiting?

2. Father, how do you want me to follow your light that points the way you set before me?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Lunching With New Members At The Northampton Chamber Of Commerce.

Since we've been living on Main Street, we've seen it essential to connect with our neighbors who make up a combination of business folks, apartment and condominium dwellers, community service folks, and homeless/poor people who spend the day selling homemade crafts or asking for money. We are a part of the Main Street community, and as such, we support businesses near us as much as we can, and we've gotten to know many of the street folks, some of then quite well.

A year or so into being here, God seemed to nudge me about imagine becoming a part of the Chamber. I didn't move on it until Dave Sweeney who is a part of imagine and a member of the Chamber even though he lives in Agawam, invited me to an Arrive@ 5 meet and greet event  a few months ago. I'm an introvert, so it was with some trepidation that I went. The folks I met were warm and friendly: I had a chance to chat a bit with Jasmin, the Member Services Manager who was very helpful in explaining how the Chamber might fit us and we them.  A month or so after, Tricia and I joined Dave again for another meet and greet. We met a few more folks, and the door opened to joining which we did 4 months ago.

Today, Tricia and I went to a New Member Orientation at the Chamber offices.The room was packed with folks who'd recently joined. The meeting's purpose was to introduce ourselves, and then hear a presentation about the benefits of being a Northampton Chamber of Commerce member. It was informal and over a light lunch. Suzanne Beck, the Executive Director of the Chamber gave a helpful presentation, and then opened the floor to questions or comments. A little later, she asked if anyone wanted to comment about the benefits they'd experienced from being a member or any other thoughts. After a couple of folks talked, I explained that being a Chamber member, given we were a church, was a kind of "pioneering" act in that we were the only church in Noho who were members, and none of the pastors I knew in the outlying areas were members of their Chambers. Given that we aren't a business (the Chamber does serve a small percentage of non-profits) it might appear, on the surface, there was no benefit to anyone. I then noted we moved onto Main Street for the express purpose of becoming part of the community; to know and be of service to our neighbors because we cared for the community and wanted to benefit it. On the contrary, I asked why wouldn't a church want to be a Chamber member so as to know the business community and be of help where we were needed.

imagine/Northampton's stated mission has always been to: "help people discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine." To do so, we have to build relationships; real, genuine friendships with our neighbors, loving and serving them as they have need that we might show Christ's love to them which is the Treasure of all treasures. We've done so in a number of ways since moving here; a Chamber membership is another avenue of knowing and caring for people near us. Whether it's through the imagine ART Gallery, FEAST, the Florence Organic Community Garden, serving a meal at the Interfaith Shelter, giving out Christmas Gift Bags to our homeless neighbors, supporting Safe Passage, working in Hospice, or serving children and families at Halloween, or anything else, our goal is to serve with Jesus as he works in our Northampton community to open hearts to freedom and joy.

Happily, I've been very impressed by the passion, warmth, friendliness and dedication I've seen in the staff we've met at the Chamber. They are full of enthusiasm for their mission and I think we have something to offer our neighbors in the business community through our passion for imagine's mission. We'll see how the relationship unfolds. I hope it enfolds.

This Friday morning, Tricia and I will sit down with Jasmin to go through something they call a Game Plan to help new members get really connected.

Looking forward to it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Brothers Listen, Forgive and Reconcile There Is a Kingdom Sweetness Present.

Sometimes Kingdom ministry makes all the effort you put into serving and trying to do some good worth every bit of it. Yesterday in the afternoon after our gathering, I had the opportunity to sit around a table at a local eatery with two brothers who were taking the chance to overcome some hurts between them. Hurst which had broken their relationship.

Two weeks prior, I'd sat with one of them and we talked of how I'd hurt him and he'd hurt me.  Jesus engineered the opportunity by bringing us together at a funeral of someone we both knew. Later, at a coffee place in town, we talked of failure and missed opportunity. The hurting was not premeditated on either of our parts. As we headed into the dialogue, there were nerves present, sure; a year ago our attempts to work out things had gone badly; the relationship was in effect deceased. But at that table two weeks prior, there was a desire in both of us to listen and reconnect. It was strong. We'd shared all sorts of life together before, and because of what happened between us, lost a year until finally being able to sit down, and try to make things right, which is the way we're supposed to live in the Kingdom together. All of us know "supposed to's" aren't necessarily always "will do's."

We did work it out and recognized there was a second conversation needing to be had with another brother  we were both in relationship with. His was pretty much severed with this brother; mine was not.

So yesterday afternoon, we braved the cold wind, trudged up Main Street, and sat down over coffee at a different coffee place. I was not on the receiving or giving end of this discussion. I was there to listen, and pray, and help if things began to run aground. I supported both these men because they are my brothers.

For much of the next two hours they talked over what had happened. Both men were humble, willing to hear, and open to reconciling. The younger man did more talking than the older, but both were very engaged. Pain was shared and sometimes with tears not far away. No rancor nor defensiveness was present, only trying to understand and forgive ... genuinely forgive. I saw much grace and wisdom in how they talked with one another. The tone of their words and willingness to reconnect built a bridge over which they could cross toward the others side. There were times when we all laughed heartily, and there were other times sprinkled in the conversation where listening well and opening to the other's point of view was fully present.

As an interesting side note, there were folks sitting near us and could hear our conversations. The same was true when I had the dialogue with this young brother earlier. In each instance, people looked at us and heard us talk of tough things, yet remain gentle and willing to change. They knew we were Christians involved in church together. It was obvious by the words we used and the issues we worked through. I have to say, what they heard would in no way have disgraced our witness to the fact we are Christ-followers. I think they heard something different, very real, but full of grace from both sides of the table...the way the Kingdom does and should work when we actually live it.

I don't know if the others guys felt it, I didn't ask, but I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in both conversations. There was a palpable peace, openness, and order, instead of offense, and vitriol, or rigid defensiveness. In the title of this blog, I used the word sweetness. I mean it in the sense of a masculine gentleness and kind forbearance with one another; working well to keep the bonds of filial peace and love; being malleable in relationship to the truth, even that which convicts; and showing forth the heart of God toward one another, realizing all of us were once blind sinners far from God, and needed a cross to make the relationship with him (and one another) right. The Scripture also says where the Spirit is there is freedom. There is a sweetness in being free to forgive, make real peace, and be willing to restore brotherhood in Christ. It's not being weak or nice or feckless. This sweetness is inhabited by the Presence of Christ; it's a fierce love which overcomes our blinded brokenness, and frees us to be human as he lived what true masculine humanity looked like.

If you've read this blog regularly you know I've mentioned before that the Kingdom works when its values, truths and principles are actually applied to real life. More often than we'd like to admit, they're not applied very well, especially when the going is consistently uncomfortable, frustrating, costly or tough. Two weeks ago, and yesterday I saw them applied in two very human brothers, and it left me with quiet joy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

It Was a Heckuva of Crazy-Busy Week!

As I wrote on Facebook, last week was an almost overwhelmingly busy week for me:

Crazy busy week coming: finish 2 Playmakers, prepare next Sunday's teaching; help take down October's art exhibit; attend cohort Tuesday; attend 2 Chamber of Commerce gatherings, participate in imagine's first funeral,  submit my next blogpost for Paradise City Press; finish blogpost for Old Men Planting Churches; advertise for Jim Zingarelli's new exhibit on Arts Night Out this Friday; help host it, see various counseling clients ... oh yeah: eat, sleep, and be merry!

Here's a recap:

1. Finish 2 PLAYMAKER Profiles: For the uninitiated, PLAYMAKERS are a tool I adapted and created from SIMA Motivated Abilities Patterns I'd had the privilege to write for 10 years in the 80's for People Management in Simsbury. I got their permission. The first PLAYMAKER was for a young employee of a company called Microtools, a Systems/Software/Hardware Engineering Firm in Simsbury owned and operated by two friends from The Barn, a church where Tricia and I were members. I'd already done the Achievement Interview and needed to analyze the data, then write the Profile Report itself. I've done a number of Profiles for them over the years.

The second PLAYMAKER was for the leading pastoral candidate for the Senior Pastor position at The Barn in Simsbury. They've been without such a person for a year or so, and they've done hard work to narrow down the field. My job was to confirm this candidate was a good fit or not. I did a long distance phone interview, transcribed the recording, analyzed the text, wrote an Executive Summary to be read in chuech last Sunday, and wrote the Profile Report. I'll give the feedbacks to each person in the next couple of weeks.

Each report takes 10-15 hours from interview to feedback for me to complete.

2. Prepare and give last Sunday's talk at imagine: This is never an easy task for me. My ADD always proves a challenge to my ability to concentrate for long periods of time. This time was no different; in fact, it was very frustrating due to fatigue built up over the week. Even into Saturday, I was struggling to find a handle on what God wanted me to bring. I was doing the entire service in that both Tricia and Jim were gone. I knew I'd be able to do that, but I needed a clear message. At almost the last minute, God showed me what to do, and I was able to deliver what I'd been given. I did the entire service from soup to nuts and had very able help from imagineer Kristen Hastings in the set-up hospitality and clean-up chores. Sunday began for me at 4AM, and I locked imagine's door at 1PM.

3. Help take down October's art exhibit: Two Mondays ago, I helped Tricia take down Bella Halsted's paintings and Ben Westbrock's sculptures, some of which were also hanging on the walls. We had to prepare for last Friday's new Arts Night Out and Opening Reception for painter/sculptor Jim Zingarelli. He was coming to hang paintings and place sculptures on Tuesday. Both the taking down and putting up meant schlepping plus loading and unloading artwork down and up the stairs. Both went wonderfully smoothly!

4. Attend the imagine cohort Tuesday evening: The cohort is a relaxed group of 8 imagine people who gather to talk about our life as Christ-followers in mission. We meet in our apartment for an hour and have refreshments and conversation. A different person in the group leads it each week so we have maximum participation. We might pray, do some listening prayer around a piece of music or a video, respond to a spiritual direction question, or a portion of Scripture or passage from a book. The point is to connect and be real. We are getting to know one another in a fresh and deeper way.

5. Attend 2 Chamber of Commerce gatherings: One of the ways and means we've engaged people in our small city is to join the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. Imagineer Dave Sweeney introduced us to the opportunity. We've been slowly engaging folks by attending what are named Arrive @ Five gatherings which is a meet and greet at different locations in Noho. Last Tuesday the 5th, I attended a noontime brown-bag lunch of solo entrepreneurs gathering at the Chamber offices. Someone I met a few months back at the gallery moderates them. So I and seven others gathered to hear a gentleman talk about his career in the media, and how it had taken interesting twists and turns. I got to tell people who I was and who imagine/Northampton was. We are the sole church in the Chamber of Commerce so people are a little curious of why we're there; they have no neat business category to pit us in.. I also added to the conversation about adapting and responding to change in career. I contributed.

On Wednesday evening, Tricia and I attended our third Arrive @ Five event, this time at the World War II Veterans Club.There were probably 50 people in attendance. The Membership Service Manager, Jasmine let us in for free as we were still new members. We stood around a bit, then Sandra, a woman I'd been unable to connect with as she was supposed to be our "Ambassador" to help connect us with others in the Chamber, recognized me and introduced Tricia and I to other folks, including an interesting writer who publishes a monthly blog on books she reviews. We stayed for about an hour and made a quiet exit. The important thing is we are getting known in town. Even our "Ambassador" remarked on our Halloween event and how she'd been told by folks in the Chamber. We're going to keep trying to participate to build relationships for the Gospel.

6. Participate in imagine's first funeral: In 2012, I received a call from a woman who I could tell on the phone from the timbre of her voice was older. She was looking for a church in Northampton and wanted to know about us. Her name was Pauline Margaret Peterson. We'd come to know and love her as Polly. Later in the week, I met her and she was interested in checking us out. Which she did. Over the next year and a few months she was in and out of the hospital and rehab many times to recover from her various and serious ailments, some she'd endured for a long, long time. Many of us spent hours with her either at her home or in a care facility. Polly was tough, funny, opinionated, and full of spit and vinegar. She lit up a room as the saying goes. She died in her sleep on October 19th. 

When the arrangements were finalized -- most of the work being done by Karin LaMontagne and Janet Williams -- we held her Celebration of Life Service. College Church in Northampton graciously let us use a space there and provided hospitality to our guests. They even provided the musician through Dr. Don Lundgren. Her celebration was lovely with prayer, the singing of hymns, Scripture reading (I read John 11:21-44), open sharing of friends and family, the reading of an excerpt from C.S. Lewis's "The Last Battle" by Karin, and a brief message from Jim. From there, we headed to Wildwood Cemetary in Amherst for her interment. It was brief, but sweet.She won't be forgotten

7. Submit my next blogpost for Paradise City Press: Recently, Ian Bauer, the Project Coordinator for Northampton Community TV, invited me to write a blog for the Paradise City Press, NCTV's community blog. I wrote and published my first one in October:, and one late last week: It's been fun to write a second blog about my experience living in Northampton. I'm writing one about every three weeks or so. I may increase the output or not; I don't know yet. I was able to get it in last week after doing a little final editing amidst all else I was doing!I like knowing I have a different public forum and I want to be of benefit to this community such that some will come to know the King of Kings who turned this place upside down 250 years ago.

8. Finish a blogpost for Old Men Planting Churches: I also finished
a blogpost I'd begun earlier about the wonderful exhibit we had in October with painter Bella Halsted, and sculptor Ben Westbrock. I was two-thirds done, but I needed to complete it in the midst of all the other projects and tasks I had to complete as well. Glad I did. I enjoy writing about these arts events because they're so full of life , beauty and community.

9. Advertise for Jim Zingarelli's new exhibit on Arts Night Out last Friday: Part of my role as Assistant to the Curator (the Curator being Tricia), was to handle getting the word out about our exhibitions. I do and did a number of things to advertise Jim's "The 4/4 Series": email announcements to our growing imagine ART Gallery mailing list, plus our imagine/Northampton mailing list; announcements on Facebook, the Northampton calendar on American Towns, putting up flyers around town, writing a press release, even standing in front of our door on Arts Night Out and inviting people to come and see; putting an ad on the Valley Art Share website, etc. It takes time and I've had to learn how to do it. I'm still learning!

10. Help host Jim Zingarelli's new exhibit on Arts Night Out: A very major event happened in the life of the McDermott family: Our son, Dan's wife, and our daughter-in-law, Lindsay, just before last weekend went to the hospital to deliver Brody Elliot McDermott, our fifth grandchild. That meant Tricia had to leave on Friday for Hopkinton to pitch in with caring for our other grandchildren as the baby was born and Lindsay would be in hospital. That meant I would be responsible for making sure all the sumptuous food and drink we serve at every Artist Reception  would, that evening, be put out attractively, and replenished as needed. Logistics and details of event execution are not my "strong suit" let's just say. 

Tricia was well aware of my "event execution deficit disorder" so she prepared what would be put out, plated or labelled how to plate it, and asked imagineers Jenn Swick and Kristen Hastings get stuff ready and keep it replenished. As one of them remarked later, "Tricia has trained us well." Indeed she has! I didn't need to think about it because they were on top of it, including clean up. So I was able to talk with artist Jim and his wife Kathy, and some old friends and new folks who dropped by. I also spent a good bit of time handing out flyers on Main Street and enticing people upstairs. One very encouraging reality is many people showed up and remarked they had been to all our shows, or said "This is my favorite gallery." Some people noted they didn't know we were here, but were glad they found it. The night was a success with 60 folks visiting the gallery and interacting with Jim as well as his three sculptural "stations" which can be interacted with to create new forms by anyone visiting .

11. See various counseling clients: Last, but never least, and as with every week, I see various clients for counseling here and in Greenfield. It can be as few as six, and as many as fifteen, mostly in person, sometimes over the phone. I saw nine, including over the phone. Notable about that is each day is sprinkled with sessions which means I must detach from other stuff and be fully present to folks who come into my office. Then, I must detach from each session and re-engage other work.I have a natural ability to do so, but I also have ADD and I'm getting older rather than younger (except in heart and spirit). It's normally all doable, but last week seemed to be especially "heckuva crazy-busy!"; at least in my estimation.

By the time, Sunday afternoon came around I was bone tired. I don't get that way often, but that way I was. I was so glad I could rest in the quiet. We took out our television a number of months back and it's been wonderful; no inane distractions from that thing. I went to bed very early and slept in on my day-off ; for me that's 7AM.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Of Light and Dark and Reveille: Opening Reception for Artist Bella Halsted and Sculptor Ben Westbrock.

On Friday, October 11th ,  our imagine ART Gallery hosted the Opening Artist Reception for Amherst painter, Bella Halsted, and Northampton ceramic sculptor Ben Westbrock. We met both Ben and Bella when they, at different times, traipsed up the stairs into the gallery to see what there was to see. I was the first to meet Ben. He stopped by in the summer and after a conversation at one of the ARTS Night Openings, returned a few weeks later to bring me a packet of pictures showing his work. they sat around for a month or two and Tricia contacted him after she's talked to Bella and they thought it right to do a joint show with Ben. One cool thing about this show both Ben and Bella are in their 70's and they are local. Ben is the shorter gentleman with the beard on the right in the first picture. Bella is the lady with the turquoise jacket in the second picture:

As with all opening night receptions for a new show, we're never quite sure who'll be showing up. What we can say is the numbers are increasing steadily since we began! We noticed a bit of a difference with this show. The pace of guests coming to see the exhibit was steady once it began. The gallery was full until right up to the end. Even after I closed up shop, a father and his two kids knocked on the door saying they'd heard they needed to see this exhibit so he wanted to know if I'd open up. Of course, I did.

As she has done before, imagineer Jenn Swick stood out front telling folks about the exhibit. Many of them hadn't been up to the gallery before, so she single-handedly was responsible for introducing all these new folks to the space. A number of the guests were friends or family of the artists. It seemed many of them came too. Some of our friends were there as well, including Bob and Barbara Japenga who we served with in the retreat ministry with at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury. It was a lovely surprise to see them. It was also lovely to see and visit with Bruce Mills and Tamar Shadow. Tamar was a key exhibitor and instigator of the very well-attended TWINE show we did last spring. They were out and about and stopped in. It's always great to see them. Scott Jackson and Leah Gregg also stopped by as they have at more than a few of our shows. We've known them since almost the beginning of being here.

I also recognized faces of people who've been to our other shows. There were some wonderful comments about the peace and "specialness" of the space and  how calm it feels. One faithful supporter said it was her favorite gallery (a couple of others said that too) and she's been to all our shows. She had tears in her eyes and apologized for getting emotional. People all raved abut the food calling it the best gallery food in the city. That happens every time because Tricia takes such care to make it wonderful, not just snacks. All in all, I counted 200+ by the end of the evening, Ben and Bella sold some work. We pray for that.

If you came into the gallery you'd have seen a combination of Ben's and Bella's work. What you'd notice would be all the vibrant color and interesting shapes on display. Tricia has a knack for hanging pieces; she's affirmed all the time about that by the artists. Bella's paintings are abstracts with bold colors and shapes of landscapes. With some, she does watercolor studies first so you would've seen seen both. Doing it that way helps you see into how she sees. And she tied many of them to a poem; something she's written or something by famous poets such as Wendell Berry or William Blake. Having a light on her work made the colors pop with strength and vibrancy.

Ben's ceramic sculptures also popped with color, texture, and with movement. Many are whimsical. All are abstracts, but not unrecognizable as something familiar. They have substance and clear form. Some look like sea creatures or cartoon characters. Some look like tools or body parts or knights. Others are abstract designs to be hung on a wall. They are well-made, evocative and you'd want to touch them. They catch your eye right away and you'd wonder what they are:

We are now a year into this and it feels like we are just getting anchored in the town. People often say, I didn't know you were here, even though we have been showing up almost every weekend since a year ago in September. There is much we still have to learn about being more public as a church and a gallery. We'll get there. I remember, we knew nothing about how to do most of this when we came to plant imagine/Northampton. The imagine ART Gallery was not even a thought. But here we are after a years and artists are beginning to ask if they can bring their  work in. Recently, I had two folks tell me we have a great space and this is a great exhibit. They both are connected to galleries one in Holyoke and one in Watertown. Some are fascinated we are a church.

May God accomplish all he desires through the gallery and the church we were inspired by him to start. I can imagine it. His being glorified by what we do here would be an exquisite joy for us.

If you haven't come out this Friday or Saturday to see Gordon College Professor of Art, Jim Zingarelli's "The 4/4 Series" of paintings and sculpture:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

imagine/Northampton's Halloween Community Event, 2013

The imagine/Northampton Halloween Team
(not pictured, but present earlier: Kristen Hastings, Trey and Amelia McCain, and Emma Olson - Hannah Sachs' roommate at Smith)

In 2010, we offered our first imagine/Northampton Halloween Community Event in response to a comment a mother of one of us made: . What she said made sense to our ever-present missional mindset so we dove in. The day  was a resounding success way beyond our expectations. We weren't sure anyone would trudge up our apparently foreboding stairs. But they did! The place was packed. It was something to savor and remember, especially for a first time.

In 2011 for some reason we decided to forgo the opportunity.

In 2012, we got ready but a huge, heavy, wet snowstorm (Hurricane Sandy) blew in shutting down Northampton and surrounding towns for 4+ days. What a mess and disappointment.

But undaunted, we decided to take a crack at it again this year. We're glad we did. The day was damp and light-rainy at times, and the crowds took awhile to gather, but gather they did in waves. Main Street was jammed with kids and parents all heading into the participating establishments displaying the orange sign on the door to get candy. The street was alive with wonderful energy from all the colors and shapes of the costumes and the excitement of the kids.

As we did in 2010, we decided to go over the top with a photographer, craft table, snack and drink table, and, of course, a bag of candy. Our friend for many years, Larry White, graciously volunteered to take the pics, and he reported somewhere in the vicinity of 119 when it was all said and done. He was both professional and warm. We also gave out 260 bags of candy; Tricia estimated with adults present, the attendance was 390. We had @350 in 2010. Some of the folks told us they had also come in 2010.

(Just a tiny sample of what was available to folks throughout the night!)

My job was to stand at the door to let people know we had free photos, crafts and candy for the kids, and hot cider or chocolate for the adults. Manning the front door lets me connect with folks on the street; it tugs me out of my introversion ... and the engaging ends up being fun. While out there, I noticed two reactions I got when telling people to head upstairs. First, when I mentioned there were free pics for the kids, the women would often say, "Really?" It seems to blow their categories because no one on the street was doing this. The opportunity changed some folks minds. The men mostly seem to be enduring the whole thing, but there were exceptions--they really get into it.

The second reaction also came from the adults: I'd invite them and they'd often look up our 20-stair staircase, crinkle up their faces and say, "Up there???" Some would blurt out, "I'm not going up there," and wouldn't. Others couldn't stop their kids from insisting to go up, or just bounding fearlessly up the stairs alone or way in front of a scrambling mom or dad. The funniest reaction was the "no way" response of adults with the "you gotta be kidding me!" look on their worried faces. I have to admit when it sunk in we'd be living on the third floor (20 stairs added to the first 20), I was wondering how I was going to manage that every day. Interestingly, if it a dad didn't want to venture up period, he'd just grab junior's little hand, look resolutely forward, and say, "Nope, we're not going up there," and off they went.

I need to mention how great the team was. Larry was a trooper, taking photo after photo, good-natured all the way. Tricia set up and orchestrated everything to keep it all flowing. Jenn and Karin greeted people and helped Larry so we could get the processed photo to each family in 5 minutes or so. Janet manned the craft table, and kept it all flowing there; Amelia helped. Trey and Kevin joined me manning the front door downstairs and inviting folks upstairs. Hannah and her roommate, Emma, welcomed and handed out the candy to the kids. Tricia and Karin replenished the food table often. Then went it was all over, Jenn and Kristen took food upstairs, and vacuumed the place of straw (we had 2 bales of hay and pumpkins), leaves from outdoors, and spilled food. I have to say, we know how to do this stuff!

Most importantly, we all had a grand opportunity to love and serve people because we are followers of Jesus. Halloween for us is a Kingdom mission to be outrageously generous, kind, and hospitable; to go beyond people's expectations; to surprise them with love and warmth. More than one happy mother and  father wanted to know why we were being  so nice; why were we offering what others weren't? Most of you realize we wanted them to know the Lover of their souls, Jesus Christ. He's the point, the only point for everything we try to do. We think helping them "see" him comes through genuine encounters and relationships which go above and beyond what people are used to from "strangers." They grow curious because they're surprised by delight, and it didn't cost them anything, but trudging up some stairs.

To top it off, yesterday, an employee I've recently met at the Northampton Chamber of Commerce (of which we're a member), sent me an email reporting a couple of families had shown up at their office that same night and mentioned what they'd experienced at imagine. We also heard folks were telling others on the street to come to our place because of what we were doing. I like that and want more. I want more because I want people to discover the deepest delight for their souls is Christ who is more than they imagine, and then some.