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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.