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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.