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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Looking Back With Fondness and Gratitude.

It's been almost a month since we moved from our office space on Main Street in Northampton, the location where we prayed we'd be once we made the trek north from Simsbury. Almost a 2 months before, we moved from the apartment above our office space. Two moves, both stressful -- and for me, disorienting. Disorder loves to dance with my ADD; I'm just left overwhelmed.

As things have settled for the most here in Shutesbury, I've had a chance to start reflecting on what it meant to be able to live in the center of town on Main Street for five years. While folks have heard me say before this church planting adventure we embraced was one of, if not the most challenging, exasperating, even bewildering (at times) ministry effort we've ever been a part of, it also was exciting, fulfilling and full of delightful surprises. They demonstrated God's blessing to us. We had the privilege of experiencing new ways of connecting with folks, new ways of serving others and getting to meet lovely people who express pleasure with what imagine was about.

While I have some regrets and realized how frightfully naive I was about the challenges I'd face, I want to celebrate some things we did as a church plant which were very meaningful. I'll talk about the regrets in my next post.

Here are a few of the most notable to me.

1. Feast: Feast was the first major event we did to connect to the community. Our idea was to connect with townsfolk, especially those who wouldn't have the opportunity for an Easter dinner. We wanted  it to be extravagant so people could experience the lavish love, grace and hospitality of the Resurrected Christ. So Tricia came up with an exquisite menu. We raised funds from folks mostly not from our church, and received all we needed to put on a magnificent spread. We had many volunteers from other churches to serve food and take care of our guests. They did a marvelous job. Chef Eslie made exquisite desserts. We had gifted jazz musicians Kris and Jen Allen join Jim and I to play as people were eating. Then, Michael Kelly Blanchard shared his unique style of musical story. People feasted and were blown away by the beauty of the tables, the remarkable quality of the food, and the way they were treated as honored guests. The volunteers serving were astonished by how well it was done and they had the chance to be a part of it. The Lord was very good to us.  

2. Halloween: This was an unexpected surprise for us. We figured we'd have a few kids and parents trudge up the stairs 4 years ago for our first attempt at connecting with families this big way. I thought all the businesses on Main Street would be pulling out the stops to give kids a fun time, so we had loads of candy to give, took free pics of the kids in costume, had a crafts table as they waited to get their picture to take home, and offered various refreshments for the parents. We were mobbed! People were telling others they had to go to that imagine place because we were doing way more than any of the other establishments in town. We ended up doing 2 more Halloween events just like the first, and people remembered. Some even brought the pictures they'd had on their fridge to show us. It was just a fun time for everybody, and again people who volunteered made it a special time for the families. We'll miss that, but are grateful for "stumbling" into another means of being over the top to open people to God's unmerited favor.

3.The imagineART Gallery: What unanticipated pleasure and joy it was for us to launch and do the imagineART Gallery. We'd never run a gallery before. I was especially taken by how good Tricia was at creating the atmosphere for the space, getting the artists, hanging the work and putting on, by far, the best fine dining spread on Arts Nights Out that anybody had experienced - we know because so many told us that was the case. Some people were actually astonished! God allowed us to become a destination with a reputation for outstanding art. We were able to support the artists by having some of their work purchased. Most importantly, the gallery was by far the venue where we connected with people from Northampton and beyond. They knew or quickly found out we were Christians and our space was also a church. It made for conversation, a few uncomfortable moments and the meeting of many wonderful people, artists and otherwise. Most delightful for us was the fact we got to give some of the art its their first individual show and it inspired them to press on as never before! While it was very sad to have to say goodbye to the entire adventure, but are grateful for the opportunity.

4. Meeting and getting to know some remarkable young women at Smith College: Another very pleasant surprise has been the opportunity to meet, get to know and even baptize 2 Smithees. Many of them belonged to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Smith, but not all. Remarkable about them is how bright and vibrant many of them are. They have a can-do attitude. One of them (Crystal) even served on our Leadership Team before going off to grad school. Some have helped with worship (Hannah, Angela and Angelica); and others have joined us serving at the Interfaith Shelter. Others (Nhung and Angelica) participated in our first Cohort. Getting to know these young Christian women as they prepare for careers and service has been a unique delight. We're not sure it will continue as we have no permanent home right now, but if it was merely for a season, we were blessed just the same.

5. Making friends with vibrant people in town: Because I was "cloistered" at a retreat center and most of the folks I knew were involved with the church where the retreat center was, or people who came for counseling etc. I didn't connect very much with anyone else for the most part. When I came to Northampton, I began to get to know people of different spiritual views or no such views at all. I got to know Christians with differing theological bents. Most were much more political than I. Regardless of all that, I was graced with new friends; many of them uniquely interesting, funny, kind, brilliant, creative, quirky, even fascinating. Their thoughts and opinions challenged me to contextualize what I hold to be fundamentally true in the world of ideas and beliefs around me. All of them are engaged in what matters to them. They have integrity. A few are very funny which always draws me. Some have become friends we don't ever want to lose.

6. Working with talented, loving and gracious Christians: Whether it was an arts event, a project to serve the poor, or people who have graced the doors of imagine and hung around for awhile, we had and still have the privilege of working with Christians of substance. They tend to be full of grace; people of goodwill who are dedicated to serving others. Beginning with the team of folks who came up here from Simsbury and people who joined us later, we have been loved well. God has sent smart and gifted people to our community, whether they stuck around for long or not. Also, I need to say we've had faithful donors who have for years always cheerfully and with grace given to our work. We have an accountant who is generous and smart as a whip. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us. We've had a Board who've always been willing to help and have graciously put up with my introverted quirkiness by offering counsel and help when we asked. and I can't say enough about the current Leadership Team of Tricia, Jim LaMontagne, Kevin and Janet Williams all of whom are dedicated to imagine/Northampton and it's Christian life and Kingdom mission. Each one is a treasure. I need also to not overlook Karin LaMontagne who pulled up stakes with Jim to come up here and has made many sacrifices to stay the course. Her friendship, gifts and influence are of the kind that doesn't seek the spotlight while blessing others, which she does in her own gracious way.

7. First times and new experiences: Some of this I have written about, but I need to mention it again in hindsight because, in hindsight, I saw each one as as gift even if they ended in loss or failure. Here are just a few:

  • Launching a missional church.
  • The privilege of leading imagine's first person to Christ.
  • Doing my first baptism, participating in another, and observing another.
  • Participating in co-officiating my first wedding.
  • Meeting and serving homeless people and chronic addicts.
  • Helping Tricia launch and operate an art gallery.
  • Being a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Working at the Interfaith Shelter.
  • Helping plant and cultivate the FOG Garden.
  • Speaking to a Town Council Committee about the Open Table.
  • Playing with One Flight Up.
  • Handing out Christmas gifts to homeless on the streets.
  • Being seen as a pastor by others. 

9. My spiritual growth: If you've followed the blog, you've read about the challenges and hardships I've had to face. They increased with each year we were in Northampton with the last two being the toughest. I could actually write a book about how I've grown through it all, but it will have to wait. For now, I want to mention two of the most important ways. They are related. They are faith and trust. So much of what we've experienced has been exasperating, even bewildering at times. I had very high hopes which seemed to be frustrated increasingly as the years went by. Certainly, I was naive about the substantial spiritual and practical obstacles we would face, but believed deeply, and still do, that we have an important mission to accomplish concerning grace, forgiveness and navigating mutual brokenness with love because of what Jesus did for us. In fact, as I've become aware, the result of having experienced all of it has yielded a more robust trust and faith in God's love regardless if I end my days in failure. I abhor failure, but I trust God's wisdom about what He asks me to endure, let die or persist through. I have a more vigorous faith if I can say it that way. I'm grateful for His love toward me through training me to believe and trust regardless of the messages to the contrary my experiences were sending.

For awhile now, the enduring question I hear from Him in the quietness of my heart is: "Will you trust Me anyway?" I have so far answered "yes." May He help me keep it that way rain or shine; life or death. Sometimes His love comes in ways we prefer to dash past but might cause us to rejoice in when our world is finally set to right.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Last Tuesday morning was one of those alive-feeling Fall days with a rich blue sky, a brilliant morning sun, and air refreshing with little humidity. We were headed for work in Northampton. The day held preliminary preparations for our move from the imagine/Northampton offices we'd occupied on Main Street for a little over 5 years.

Our drive in from Shutesbury was what it's been just about every day since moving there: we'd start from Pine Brook for a relaxed drive past Lake Wyola and wind down throughout woods, pastures, homes and hills until we reached Route 47. The pace into Sunderland would pick up a bit what with folks driving to work or heading to school. But it was still a pleasant drive. We'd even pray during the trip. We passed the James Taylor house in Sunderland, the first house we lived in when we moved here, and we greeted it as we always did heading into Noho. It still has our green church pew benches on the front porch. We had no place to bring them to.

Once on 91 south, the traffic and pace would pick up, but I took it easy... no hurry, most days. When we took the first exit into the city it was now time to watch what others were doing because the traffic can get crazy as you get closer to Main Street. Tuesday was normal in that regard. We went through the 5-6 lights on King Street and slowed to a stop at one of four busiest intersections in the heart of the city. There were 5 or 6 cars stopped in front of us.

We couldn't have been sitting there more than 45 seconds when it happened.

I'd turned to say something to Tricia when we heard the violent screeching of tires almost like a roar and then a terrible BAM!!! like something big, metallic and heavy had been dropped onto something else big, metallic and heavy. As we heard it, we were violently thrown forward for no more than a second. It was incredibly fast and disorienting. There was no time to brace, although our bodies tried. I remember instantaneously moving forward and being restrained by the seat belts, but from the instant of the impact, through being catapulted forward and then jolted back into the seat, my sight was scrambled and out of focus as it happened.

Then it was silent.

It took a few seconds to orient and realize we'd been hit from behind. I think I said something and then immediately turned to see if Tricia was ok. We were in shock realizing what happened to us. Tricia was holding her head which scared me because she's had head and neck issues beginning in the first month of our marriage with two surgeries since. She's also been complaining of neck pain the last few months.

So I was like "oh no!" She said she was ok, so I got out of the car to assess the damage and talk to the man who hit us. He was very upset holding his head in his hands actually saying "oh no! What have I done?" He was shaking and I was shaking. He told me he was late for a training session he was attending and got turned around, so he was looking at his GPS to get his bearings and when he looked up it was too late to avoid us. At one point, he started to cry. He asked how my wife was doing and apologized over and over. I actually put my hand on his shoulder and told him everything will work out. We'd get through it, and it could've been any one of us.

That entire exchange was a just was just a minute or so. I went over to Tricia's side the car again to check on her. She said her head and neck hurt. By then, literally just a few minutes after it happened, guys from the Sheriff's Department, the Northampton Police, a Northampton fire truck and ambulance materialized. As soon as I mentioned what was going on with Tricia these guys attended to her immediately, including putting a neck brace on her and taping her head to the board she was lying on. She was in the ambulance and on her way to Cooley-Dickenson in just a few more minutes.  I had to stay because the police had our licenses and registration with accident reports to fill out and give us. All the responders were amazing and Tricia remarked later the guys helping her were utterly kind and gentle the entire time.

When we were hit, we collided as well with a car in front of us driven by a young woman on her way to work in CT. She never saw it coming either. She seemed ok. It took about 20 minutes for all the paperwork to be completed and I was on my way to the hospital where I found Tricia in the Emergency Room section. She'd been attended to and was waiting to go for X-rays of her neck. She was uncomfortable, but calm. 45 minutes or so later, the doc told us there were no fractures in her neck, but there was evidence of arthritis, not severe, but there. Tricia was complaining about her mid-back hurting so they got her in for more X-rays and they too confirmed no fractures. A little later, we  consulted again with the doc who mentioned that if her headache persisted or she had a change in the pain in her neck or back we'd need to come in right away. So they gave us a pain-killer prescription, and after about 5 hours since the accident we were on our way home and relieved.

I titled this blog BAM!!! because it replicated the sound of impact when we were hit, but it also describes what happens when life is suddenly and radically interrupted outside of our control. Our day was going to be accident free. The drive into town would be normal. We'd go to our offices and take a chunk out of packing for our move. After that, we'd head back home just as we always do. Minor scrapes perhaps; a few unexpected interruptions, maybe a visit from someone we didn't schedule, but not BAM!!!

BAM!!! as I'm using it is chaos in one form or another. It substantially alters the course of a day or a month or a life. Injuries, death, accidents, sickness, violence; anything which intrudes and forcibly changes what you're doing or expecting to do all qualify as BAM!!!. BAM!!! also brings with it a persisting unease, even deep fear. Life is not 100% predictable and comfortably routine. BAM!!! can steal a person's sense of peace or safety or the ability to control things. BAM!!! is a thief and can turn into a cruel task master.

Interestingly enough, Tricia reminded me tonight that on Tuesday when we were driving into town,  we were praying for and talking about trusting God no matter what. In the cohort, we decided to read Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust as a group so it'd been on our minds. Therefore, remarkable to us in hindsight, was our trust seemed quickly BAMMED!!! to the test, and yet, we both felt an abiding peace very quickly after the accident happened. You know, the "peace that passes understanding;" the species of peace that makes no sense in the chaotic or frightening situation within which you're soaking. We experienced it. It was almost as if whatever was designed by the adversary and his lot for our  dis-ease or harm would not infect our well-being with terror, or grumbling in disbelief just because it happened. We didn't like having the experience, but it was a lesson given by God's grace providing trust and peace in chaos and disruption.

It's taking a few days to recover. BAM!!! can be emotionally, physically, mentally, relationally, even spiritually exhausting. Sure, we were set back timewise in our progress to prepare for the move. Yup, it was unsettling, even scary. Tricia's had to take it slow physically and she still has some pain. Much is just now getting settled about where we'll counsel and do our work. We have to go through the rigamarole of getting insurance appraisals, filing accident reports and then getting repairs made to our car, but normal life has all sorts of interruptions which lead to unexpected, even unwanted chores. So even in this accident, BAM!!! does not have to prevail. As we invite trust and gracious order to take over, our recovery will settle in.

Although, I have to add...a generous dollop of normalcy, and abiding stability would feel darn good right now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Here's What imagine Will Look Like Going Forward.

Last Sunday, I presented and explained the outline below. In it I lay out a rationale for how imagine as a small, missional church community will seek to REDUCE (our costs), REFOCUS (our potential and resources) and RE-LAUNCH (our mission in Northampton and wherever else God summons us). The 3-R's are necessities for getting back on our feet so we might press on in a healthy, vibrant way. 

I began by reminding folks imagine’s mission remains: Helping People Discover and Follow the God Who Is More Than They Imagine. Since we came here that mission has not changed. We've had varying degrees of effectiveness executing it, both as individuals and as a group, but we've never jettisoned it for some other mission. Helping anyone we encounter to discover Jesus beyond their stereotypes or ignorance of Him remains our "prime directive." Walking alongside those who join our Christ-loved and loving community becomes our opportunity to help each person follow him through their gifts in his redemptive Kingdom work wherever he sends us -  individually or as a group.

Next, I fleshed out the following:

I. We’ll seek for our Kingdom life with God and one another to be lived through 3 interweaving expressions:
  • Spiritual Formation: Training the life of heart, the life of mind, and the life of the spirit: teaching, retreats, spiritual direction (learning the disciplines), healing. I reiterated intimacy with Jesus was the wellspring from which fruitful Kingdom work flows. 
We'll continue to train the minds of people to think from a Scripturally-informed, practical and spiritual theology which helps each one know why they believe what they believe and are convinced it's the way, truth and the life in a world of competing spiritual/cultural world views.

We'll continue to train the heart of a people to love God and know his love. The heart pursues what it has passion for; what it loves, desires and cherishes. In turn, because God so loved the world that he gave it his son, we want people to love what is good and beautiful and worthy of cherishing. Ultimately, we'll work  to train the heart so its deepest desire and joy is what God wants. A heart captivated by God because it knows him can become full of peace, passion, and joy through all of life's vicissitudes.

We'll continue to train people's spiritual vision to discern, reflect on, and follow the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. We'll encourage everyone to become more aware of the handiwork of God in their lives; how he reveals his Presence in the ordinary and the extraordinary. We'll encourage the spiritual disciplines of spending time on retreat, listening, reflecting, journaling, studying the Scriptures, reading the great writers of the spiritual life, prayer walking - all practices which lend themselves to such training in deepening a person's openness to the Holy Spirit. 
  • Connecting With One Another: worship, teaching, getting together to build relationship. 
W'll keep encouraging imagine folks to form deep filial friendships: spiritual bonding, shared interests and passions, helping one another practically; just spending time with each other. So we get together for worship and teaching on Sundays and sometimes in workshops. We'll have meals together; go to events together. We have also formed cohorts from the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Workshop where we seek to know how each off us actually engages and walks with Jesus in everyday living. We;ll continue to do that also so we can help create life-giving spiritual and practical connections.
  • Connecting With and Serving Others: the missional way of life to the community and surrounding culture. (The imagineART Gallery, Interfaith Shelter meals, Feast, Halloween, Christmas Giveaway bags, Winter hats giveaway, sending boxes of diapers to poor mothers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in ND, cultivating the The Florence Organic Garden, etc.)
We will still see ourselves as a community in the midst of a larger community we are called to serve. We'll also see ourselves called to be of help to our neighbors beyond our neighborhoods. We have embraced the missional way of life as the normal Christian life and will not abandon it. Listed above are some of the efforts we have made to connect with folks in Northampton over the last 5 years. It's all about building relationships by loving and serving people that they might come to realize God knows and loves them; in fact, he made the ultimate sacrifice for them. We'll not leave that aside.

II. We'll adjust our structure:

The Leadership Team decided we needed to change our rhythm of life together in order to reduce, refocus and re-launch. Some of that had to do with leaving our current worship space because of the cost.  Some of it had to do with better integrating the facets of our life together so we were connecting internally and externally. Therefore:
  • 2 Sundays/month we’ll gather for worship in Northampton or in homes. 
  • 1 day/month (could be a week night) we’ll gather for an event of interest or refreshment: art, hiking, movies, plays, canoeing, concerts, dinner/brunch, bonfires at camp, day trips, sports events or activities, wine tasting, (all are invited to suggest an opportunity) etc.
  • 1 day/month we’ll gather for a service project to bless our communities (all are invited to suggest an opportunity) helping the poor, joining a multi-church effort, helping a town effort, helping a neighbor in need, etc.
We want each month to reflect such a rhythm so we'll have regular opportunities to connect with each other, serve together, and grow spiritually in friendship with God, one another, and folks he puts in our path.

III. We'll express these values:

Core values animate any group, whether embraced formally, or inferred from corporate mindsets and behaviors. So does imagine.

  • Creativity (art, ministry, worship). We still want our life together to reflect creative sensibilities whether in and through worship, events, service or community life. We'll seek to harness the arts and creative thinking as a way of being. We need to get back to that.
  • Deepening community and friendship. We'll continue to work to experience life together as communitas: communally shared Kingdom values, and the passion for that which we've been given in one another. We have an abiding passion to live for the greatness and glory of God and his Gospel of grace. We recognize such communities of spiritual friendship can change the world and we want to be one of them, even if in a small way.
  • Growing habits of outward missional service reflecting love for God and people. We still want everyone who comes to imagine for any duration to develop and embrace a life habit of outward missional service. By use of the word habit we're describing an unfolding mindset and spiritual attitude, a growing habit of looking at the Christian life as a combination of intimacy with Jesus out of which flows the missional way of living day to day. 
  • Building up one another (and others) in the way of freedom, grace and sacrificial love. People have remarked spontaneously over the years that we are a church which extends grace to others. While perfectly, we've wanted to be such a community and still do. We'll remain committed to the notion that everyone who joins our community will experience freedom to work out their life with Christ without pressure to be perfect. We've always said we're a community of the redeemed broken. We still want our way of life to be one of building up anyone in the way of freedom, grace and sacrificial love. The sacrificial love part enables us to be sure that in our freedom we give our lives for others with increasing frequency, individually and together. Therefore, grace for us is not the freedom to do as we please no matter who suffers, but to do as God pleases in and through our lives.
Our hope in all of this is to carry-forward rather than give up or merely carry-on. As I've written many times, the challenges and difficulties we've faced since coming here have been formidable. But we love each other and want to keep our hats in the ring until God says we've completed our mission, if he does.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Path For imagine Comes Into View.

I'm someone who experiences deep soul refreshment and lightness of being when I come into a clearing such as when walking through the woods and suddenly happening upon a meadow or a lake where the sun fills the space, and I can see across the expanse and well up to the sky. It's always been that way for me.

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of my favorite short trips was to travel by car up the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains to the Sandia Crest at the top (almost 11,000 feet) and gaze for miles to the west or north to Santa Fe, or south toward Socorro. I would feel a bright sensation of having my spirit open and feel fully alive, almost joyous; a kind of a soaring of the heart experience. I was in no way Christian yet, but such an experience would open me easily to a sense of the unseen, gracious REAL I now recognize as Jesus Christ.

For those of you who've been following along with my my last 4-5 posts, you might remember they've been about challenging chaos, moving toward hope, grace trumping stress, leaving Northampton, finding a new rhythm, etc. I've attempted to express what the changes and pressures in our lives have felt like as we journeyed with God through all of it. In my last post, I wrote of waiting. Well, it appears some of what we've been waiting for has arrived.

Last week, after our Sunday meeting time we had a bite to eat together. LT member Kevin Williams gave everyone the lowdown on changer which need to be made in order for imagine to sustain its life together.

First, and foremost, the high cost of having a space on Main Street in Northampton (even though our landlord offered to lower the rent by $350/month) was not doable for us anymore. We'd fallen behind in rent and understood it was not fair to him, or OK with God to keep the space and not be able to pay for it. As it is, we've worked a plan to pay him back over time. So our path forward means giving up our worship space, counseling offices, and the imagineART Gallery. For Tricia and I there is sadness in having to do so, but we're also very weary of the stress attached to falling and being behind. If you've not been there for any substantial length of time, you can't appreciate what that feels like and being our age doesn't make it easier.

(In later posts, I'll write more about what being in Northampton at all has meant to me. I will have much to emotionally and spiritually sort through. I promise I'll not be maudlin about it.)

After Kevin talked and made a clear case for leaving, we had a good discussion. People were in support of the move and we talked of how we wanted to continue a presence in Northampton by perhaps renting less costly spaces for worship or events we might offer in the future. The energy in the room was about continuing to be imagine and imagine in Northampton in some way. We also talked of meeting in our homes and deepening our community, including with the Smith students we've gotten to know and love.

At the same time, none of us want what used to be termed the "holy huddle"; the idea that everything is about our little community and we like it that way, thank you very much! We came here to walk the missional Kingdom way of being church. We've made some progress and had a modest impact in that regard, but we know we have a ways to go. We all want to continue heading down that path.

With the pending move, there are challenges for Tricia and I, one of which is (as I mentioned) we lose a centrally-located office for counseling. As of the end of September, the only office we have available is on the lower floor of where we're living in Shutesbury. While it should open access to folks in that part of Massachusetts where we're told there's a dearth of Christian counseling, we'll more than likely lose most of our clients from CT and south central MA where most of them have come, especially south central MA. There is a possibility of having an office in a church in Sunderland, or an office in Agawam, but the details have not been worked out. So unless God brings this part of the path into view we'll lose a substantial portion of our income.

Second, the way imagine will function as a church community is about to change - we think for the better. I won't say much about that in this post because I will flesh it out tomorrow at imagine worship, then blog about it. I can say we'll have a presence in Northampton, but not exclusively so. Our small band of believers will not call itself imagine/Northampton once we move from the office at 70 Main Street.

Lastly, those of us who came here in 2008-9 have learned there seem no tried-and-true formulas to doing what we've tried to do. Church planting is not plug and play. While any enterprise needs plans, values and structures to exist, a good bit of what we envisioned has not coalesced like we envisioned. There have been many surprises (not all of them negative by any means), disappointments (some excruciating), even desolating turns of events (especially regarding relationships). There've been some sorrowful days, but also many happy days because of wonderful new relationships (and some life-giving enduring relationships) with lovely people, and the continuing support of friends who've not given up on us. For instance, the imagineART Gallery wasn't on the radar screen when we sat dreaming, conceiving, praying about and dialoguing over in Simsbury what imagine would be and become. In my opinion, it's been the most effective means of connecting with folks here. We've met so many interesting and gracious people through that work. We've made real friends through it as well.

In reality we've stretched and grown because of necessity. Our faith has become enduring and more resilient (especially mine, never been a strong suit) because God held us near while he's put us to it. I cannot recall being tested this severely in my Christian life as I've been, particularly in 2014.

But gladly, tomorrow I will get up and talk to our small band of imagineers about how we'll regroup and work to continue the mission we were called to here. Yes, as I said, Tricia and I are sad about leaving this way, but our story is not finished, nor is imagine's.

Hope lingers. Grace abides.

Similar to standing on Sandia Crest and beholding the expanse of Albuquerque over to the West Mesa  I've experienced moments of the lightness of being I mentioned because a path appears to be slowly coming into view and I can see out of the struggle. It's not solidly so from one day to the next, but it lingers too.

More after tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Not Waiting For Godot, But Waiting Nonetheless.

 Transitions can be short; they can be long, but all transitions involve some period of waiting for the
unfolding of what can, might or will be. Everyone experiences this, and many times in a lifetime:
  • Waiting to be accepted to a college you've chosen.
  • Waiting for that job offer you really, really want, or waiting for your period of unemployment to be over.
  • Waiting for Christmas morning to finally come.
  • Waiting for the medical test results and a call from your doctor.
  • Waiting for healing.
  • Waiting for your house to be sold or your new mortgage to be approved.
  • Waiting for Mister or Miss Wonderful to share your life journey.
  • Waiting for your prayers to be answered.
  • Waiting for the pain to ease.
  • Wait for things to change for the better. 
Waiting which stretches on is rarely easy for most of us; sometimes it's exciting; sometimes it's frustrating; sometimes its down-right excruciating. Prolonged waiting is not for the faint of heart or happily acclimated to the hurry and buzz. Waiting tests. Waiting exposes. Waiting humbles. Waiting prunes and cures (as in preserves).


For this post, I borrowed the first half of my title from Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting For Godot where the two main characters, Estragon and Vladimir wait on and on for someone named Godot who never shows up and they stay frozen in that waiting, an endless cycle of futility. I picked the title to state up front that, while I am waiting and have been for a number of months, mine is not a futile wait. I'm always waiting for God to do what He desires in and through my life (including my dreams and desires) and for various lengths off time. Some longings I've waited on for years with no end in sight. Even despite that,  I've become convinced with age and experience, being in God's will is the truest, realest life. Waiting for the revelation of His will is always a proper wait for every follower of Jesus.

It's LIFE within life. LIFE before and after life. LIFE animating all of life.

So what what am I waiting for? Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, we're finding a new rhythm and settling into a new groove which began with relocating to a new place to live 35 minutes northeast of Northampton. But the move hasn't finish the waiting. There've been new developments just since I wrote my last post. With them are unknowns needing to be clarified. For instance, we still don't know the full-shape of what our work-life is going to look like or where it will settle. There are opportunities not yet in place. Imagine/Northampton is heading is also into change which will became clear yesterday. That change effects us as well. We're waiting to see the full picture. There are questions still needing answers and until they do, we wait.

For the last 6 years, we've been on a particular trajectory. It looked clear even though it took time to coalesce. All that began to unravel for us this summer. After reflecting on the higgledy-piggledy, we experienced, I attribute the shift to the unseen hand of God creating change sovereignly. He's changed where we're living from Northampton to Shutesbury. There will be other changes as well. We're waiting to walk into them.

I am fully aware when the waiting has big, even life-altering implications, anxiety and confusion become unwanted intruders whispering a slew of "what-ifs." Depending on what's at stake, they can bring a fair amount of dis-ease, even downright terror. The waiting we're experiencing now has some relief from our dis-ease in the midst of the unknown. 2014 has been a tough row to hoe amidst all 6 challenging years. Our current waiting feels a beginning of the next chapter. We hope what we're waiting for will bring stability, a shape and rhythm which fits where are on our journey together. We want to finish well according to God's standards.

What unfolds for us and imagine is in His good, strong, and wise hands. Godot doesn't need to show-up. God will. Our waiting is not in vain at all.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finding A New Daily Rhythm; Settling Into A New Groove.

Over the last few weeks as I have been mentioning to folks about what we're experiencing in the transition from residing in Northampton to residing in Shutesbury, I've frequently used two words to describe some of what it feels like: rhythm and groove. Most of you know I'm a drummer so it mightn't be surprising I'd pick those two to explain this change. 

If you're not a musician you might be asking right now: "so what's the difference between rhythm and groove?" Well, it is one of relationship. Rhythm and groove are related, but subtly different. Both are needed to create a certain movement and "feel." Rhythm is a basic musical building block; it creates a sense of momentum. Feel is how the rhythm is interpreted and played to make it feel good, or alive, languid or compelling. Rhythm is an engine in the car; groove how pleasant it is to drive it.

Let me begin with a simple example which should be easy to see related to this idea of finding a new rhythm and settling into a new groove.  Since 1990, Tricia and I have virtually lived where we worked. In the case of the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury, CT, we lived in the same building as we worked: upstairs was our apartment and downstairs was the retreat space. Similarly, in Northampton, until 10 days ago, we lived on the third floor and have been working on the second floor. In both cases, we merely walked down the stairs to go to work, and back up the stairs to go home--different location same rhythm and groove.

Now, we do this weird thing many of you do called "commuting." We drive to work and drive back home and it takes 35 minutes rather than 35 seconds. That's a different rhythm, and it's not become a groove yet. But, our drive back and forth will soon become a groove when it's established or habitual; it's just part of our usual routine. It feels normal. Normal carries with it a steady predictability that doesn't have to be thought about; it's just normal. Sometimes it does feel good.

There are other parts of our life which still need to settle into a groove as we negotiate this new daily rhythm. We live again in the country and not the city. While living in Shutesbury is much more country than living in Simsbury, living at the retreat house on a 40-acre farm-turned-church surrounded by trees, next to Hop Brook, and with hills to the west, still felt like living in the country. While Northampton is a small city, we've lived right on Main Street at one of its busiest intersections and have seen it get busier and busier over the years, and well into the night, especially on the weekends. The rhythm of Shutesbury is slower, less cluttered, and at the pace of the pastoral. Settling into a groove there has already begun since it fits naturally with our sensibilities and temperaments. Stress subsides in such settings; noise abates, and quiet pervades; (especially at night, most nights). The ancient rhythms of New England woodlands still dominate as the groove.

Not only is our our working finding a new daily rhythm. By living in a quaint manse next to a small 19th century Methodist Church, we feel we're in a home, not a living space. We loved our apartment on Main Street for most of our stay, but it felt less and less a home toward the end. The groove became tired and stale. While we don't own the manse and have no idea how long we'll be there, Tricia has made it a home. She is happy there (she said as much a week ago, and I've not heard her say that in a long time), and the groove she has created reflects a rhythm of sanctuary, welcome, and a fitting design. I feel it too. I'm not displaced or a tenant. I don't and won't own it, but the Holy Spirit has given it for a time of stabilizing and I think healing as well. May it settle into a deep groove.

I feel it important to tell you our move doesn't signify that finding a new daily rhythm will be complete in the next week or two. There are other potential changes on the horizon involving how we and imagine/Northampton move forward. I will not say anything more about that now, but I will write about it soon after the picture takes shape. I know settling into a new groove ministry-wise will take some time. Stay tuned.

Lastly, I need to say something about living on the grounds of Pine Brook Camp. The ministry rhythm there is truly a camp rhythm, It has a robust ministry to kids, teens, church groups, men's and women's groups, etc. Kevin and Janet Williams are the gifted and dedicated leaders of this work (along with an able and dedicated staff, plus volunteers (some long-term), and they are more and more looking at the potential missional opportunities for working with kids who've never had the chance to experience the manifold blessings of a camp with Jesus at the center because of poverty and lack of exposure. We love that groove! 

Also, living at camp not only calms our spirits, but it puts us back in a space where the "unforced rhythms of grace" can linger for awhile, whether through the primordial beauty of God's creation, the abiding presence of prayer, worship, or by reflecting on the Person and ways of God. Just being in such a rhythm has invited us to settle into the groove which has shaped our spiritual our lives since 1985. There are an abundance of places to pray, listen, and contemplate on the 120 acres full of waterways, paths, and even an Adirondack hut or two. We'll take full advantage of that abundance this fall.

In sum, it feels like we're where we're supposed to be presently  It took awhile to get there this trying year. But being "in place" seems to me to manifest rhythm and groove at it's most fulfilling.

So while we have a way to go, we are getting used to the new rhythm and look forward to settling into a groove which will carry us forward into a deepening life with Jesus and the Kingdom mission we are responsible for.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Move: Grace Trumped Stress In The End.

For most people, I'm sure, moves are stressful. Perhaps the exception are folks with the deepest pockets who have the luxury of paying for every bit of their move from the packing to the setting up in a new home. For the rest of us, stress is a co-pilot at least for some part of the moving ordeal.

I have to say this one is the most stressful I've ever been through, and we've moved many times in our 41 years together. We've also had loads of help at every phase, including packing, although Tricia did the lion's share of that. Age is a factor as well. Moving at 20 is felt differently than moving at 65.

In the midst of the stress was amazing grace.

To begin with, as it became clear we had to move to rebuild a financially sustainable life, we had no idea where we were going to go. We didn't have the money to just rent the next place that seemed agreeable to us. Buying was just not an option either. One option before us was to move back to Farmington, Connecticut where Tricia's mom lives and be closer to care for her. There were a number of problems associated with that, not the least of which was we'd be making an hour and 20 minute commute back and forth to Northampton. We decided we didn't want to leave our office at 70 Main Street so we could continue our missional work there, especially the imagineART gallery and imagine/Northampton Church.

The next, and least plausible option, was to move to the my Mother-in-law's summer house in Ventnor, NJ. We would move her there with us to care for her. I would have to find some sort of job because there'd be no possibility of carrying on with imagine/Northampton. That ministry would be over for us. I could possibly build a Klesis counseling and spiritual direction ministry there, but it would take time, and we didn't have all sorts of time financially.

A third option was offered by a Christian brother, friend and Klesis Board member. He would give us an office to use in a town south of here, help me re-launch the PLAYMAKER Profile work I've done for 25 years, and make it easier for us to live in CT if that was our option. While I was intrigued by his offer, I still couldn't shake the spiritual sense we weren't supposed to leave our ministry in Northampton. In fact, every time I'd think about all of the options to move away from here I was unsettled -- not at peace whatsoever. It felt persistently out of sync with our mission even though this has been the toughest thing we've ever done, and at multiple levels. Inside me I kept hearing that something was wrong with packing up the tents and leaving completely.

Somewhere also during this time of trying to discern what the Lord wanted us to do, our friends, imagineers and co-leaders, Kevin and Janet Williams, suggested the option of living where we do now. They are the directors of Pine Brook Camp in Shutesbury, MA. On Wednesday, we moved into a lovely and remodeled (due to a burst pipe in February) manse on the property. The setting is beautiful: soaring pines, wetlands and trails crisscrossing the 120 acre camp. It's similar to where we lived in Simsbury only more rustic and country. It feels like home. God used Kevin and Janet to get us there. It fits for such a time as this.

So last week was moving week. 11 days ago today, we rented a UHaul truck and moved all our boxes to hold down costs. Seven of our friends came to help us move, imagine and non-imagine folks, including a young homeless man we know. We were stressed because we had very little money. We were moving on faith with a budget cut to the bone, not counting pennies, but we were both paying close attention to every dollar. Everyone worked really hard schlepping moderate to heavy boxes and large plants down three flights of steps. There was sweating going on. Boxes were still being packed as we were loading. After about 3 hours we headed to Shutesbury and unloaded. That part of the process was easy.

Phase One accomplished.

Phase Two commenced on Wednesday the 13th. Similar to the financial concerns we'd had with the box move, we knew this leg of our move would be expensive because we'd hired a local moving company, and up until the day before we didn't have the money at all. Grace would not be deterred by our lack, however. A few weeks earlier a dear couple we've come to know and love as friends since moving to Noho, mentioned they'd be blessed to help us financially. We accepted the idea of it being a loan, and let it sit there until we had a clear idea of how to accept their kind offer. The Sunday before the move, I felt the Spirit prompt me to ask for a certain amount to pay for the truck and related expenses. I contacted my friend, and he responded with great grace and encouragement. Not only that, but he and his wife invited us to a delicious French toast and bacon breakfast on the patio at their home in Connecticut the next day. Here's where grace silenced our stress and fear. When my friend handed me a check he said firmly to "consider this a gift and not a loan." Grace blew us away and lightened our load. We did not expect it. God's friendly graciousness is always far more than I imagine.

As some of you might remember, on the 13th it was raining to beat the band, one of those tropical downpours we get occasionally. Stress reared its ugly head through the storm because of our concern for the furniture getting wet and the logistics of the day. It was a true gullywhomper! While we assumed they'd take precautions for the weather, our furniture would not be hermetically sealed. Fortunately, these guys were professionals and did a great job protecting our stuff. A team of 4  arrived on time and began the substantial task of climbing and descending 38 steps to fetch our furniture and bring it to the moving van parked around the corner on Pleasant Street. They were coordinated and it only took a little under 2 hours. When they arrived in Shutesbury to unload, the rain was beginning to subside, and with the exception of a short climb up the stairs to our bedrooms, the way into the house was on level ground. Again, they were efficient and thorough; the only breakage we experienced was with stuff we'd moved ourselves a few days before. At the end of the day, we felt relief; grace stubbornly abided.

Perhaps most stressful was the unexpected news we'd receive early the next morning. Where we live there is no cellphone service so we were out of touch. We didn't have internet yet either. On Thursday, our plan was to head back to Northampton to clean up the apartment for the landlord walk-through. As we were on our way, Tricia was looking at her text messages and she gasped. Her mom had a stroke the previous night and was in Hartford Hospital. Stress and fear returned with a vengeance. Her plans changed immediately. She dropped me off at the apartment and headed for Hartford where she'd spend the night with her mom in the hospital. But grace would not be silenced or deterred. On Tricia's end, it would come in the form of the news it was a minor stroke related to medication, and her mother could go home. On my end, it came in the form of imagineers Emilia B., Karen P., and Karen S. who showed up to help put our vacated apartment in shipshape for the new tenants who we thought would be moving in the next day. I was told the landlord would do the walk-through in the afternoon, so we had to keep a good pace in our cleaning. We pulled it off; grace silenced my stress.

The walk-through ended up not happening.

By 4:30 I was shot and overwhelmed by the abundant disorder -- which seems to always pervade moving -- magnified by not knowing if we'd have the financial resources to cover everything. I've mentioned before my ADD and introversion which persistently makes even normal life an adventure (ask Tricia), so all my emotional, relational, and spiritual circuits were blown. Wonderful friends earlier in the day had offered to take me back to Shutesbury, or spend the night with them. I just couldn't do either. I was spent. I just needed to hole-up in solitude to unwind so I chose to sleep in Tricia's office. Tricia had graciously left stuff for me to clean up in the morning in the office. It would work out fine. So, I watched a movie and went to sleep with a towel as a blanket.

Stress hadn't left the building just yet, however. I woke up before sunlight, and decided it would be a good idea to check the 3rd-floor apartment one more time. So up I went. It looked fine, back down the stairs I went and as I heard the apartment door close behind me, I had that terrible  "Oh no!" feeling overtake me. I realized I'd left my keys upstairs and now not only could I not go get them, but I couldn't get back in the office to clean up. A friend of mine was meeting me at 8 to bring coffee and a donation. So, I would greet him wearing the wrinkled clothes I'd slept in, a 3-day stubble, greasy hair matted to my head, and the fact I'd not showered since yesterday morning and had sweated all day cleaning. So, I sat at the top of our landing for an hour and a half. I was stressed and self-conscious, but grace prevailed.

Our talk was pleasant. He laughed with me at my predicament. After he left, another friend brought over bread and homemade soup. I know she's never seen me like that, but it wasn't awkward or weird. After she left I called my landlord who was coming into town and he gave me the keys so I could get back in the office. By mid-morning, I heard from Tricia that mom was recovering almost back to normal, and she was coming to get me so we could go home. While stress intruded, grace remained.

Stress is a bully; grace is astounding and freeing. It prevails because God is good and kind and caring. Grace dissipates stress if we let it, but even if we don't, it shows up to make a level playing field, untie the knots, release the captives, and restore God's order. Grace causes us to breathe easier and return to faith-infused hope.

Stress steals; grace restores.

As I mentioned earlier, while a fair amount of our experience in Northampton (especially the last 2 years) has been fraught with troubles, worries, and frustrations, grace has never abandoned us because Jesus has never abandoned us. Moves are stressful for most people, but when I think of the forced diaspora of entire people groups around the world today, our moving troubles were "light and momentary."

Grace trumped our stress in the end. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

T-minus 5 Days Until Moving: Some Thoughts.

I'll bet you've noticed during certain moments of clarity that life can have an unexpected, unforeseen symmetry sometimes. Things line up just so; the end of something fits its beginning; what you experienced in one context you experience exactly again later, as if bookends.

In five days, Tricia and I will move out of our 3rd floor apartment at 70 Main Street never to reside there again. But we will still keep our offices and the imagineART Gallery at 70 Main Street on the 2nd floor. When we came to Northampton we began in an office on Armory Street owned by the same landlord who owns the 70 Main Street building, but we lived in Sunderland for the first year. Now, we will live in Shutesbury but remain at our office in Northampton.

It's as if God sees it as more vital we work in Northampton than live in Northampton. Our work is not finished here (sometimes it feels it's barely commenced).

Truth be told, we loved living in Sunderland. Living on Main Street in Noho also has had it's benefits, for sure: close proximity to interesting stores and restaurants, having the freedom to walk rather than drive everywhere, getting to know people who live and work in town, and being able to experience some of the life that comes from living in such a vibrant place.

Reality is we've lived half of our married life at a retreat center on the lovely grounds of a church before we headed north to plant imagine/Northampton. The grounds maintained a pastoral feel and pace, at least for us residing toward the back of the property. So going to live on the grounds of Pinebrook Christian Camp will offer a similar pastoral feel. We'll be in the country for sure! Yeah, there'll be 35 minute drive to the office; we'll have to manage our schedules, pack a lunch, stay late for meetings and gallery duty...wait a minute, that sounds like what normal working folks do every day. Hmmm. We've rejoined the "great madding crowd!" We'll negotiate the change.

There'll be adjustments, I know -- some pleasant, some not so. We'll get used to a different rhythm and pace. There'll also be some lovely blessings like Fall in the woods, not being awakened at 3AM by someone saturated with alcohol and "good times" had, not listening to ambulance, firetruck or police car sirens blasting 3-5 times per day (I know they are necessary), and being able to walk in the woods for exercise and communion with God.

Just living in a house again will be refreshing and welcomed. While we've enjoyed our Main Street-in-the-center-of town apartment, and prayed we'd live on Main Street before we came to Noho, we are ready to leave it for someone else to enjoy. We won't own the house, but it will give us a sense of sanctuary and peace because of where it is and because it will be our home for a time. We get to leave the hustle and bustle of our small city for a setting which will bring a needed measure of balance and internal quietness. We might even normalize a bit. Well, that maybe going too far, but we'll find another rhythm to offset our Northampton rhythm.

I think we both look forward to that.

Also, multiple thank you's to Kevin and Janet Williams for offering the possibility in the first place, and the Pinebrook Camp Board for supporting it! And thanks for folks who got the place spruced up after substantial water damage last winter, especially Janet, and Kevin's dad, Dick Williams. I also heard a rumor some unnamed folks chipped in to help as well. Wow! Lastly, we want to thank beforehand the people who'll help us move boxes tomorrow. We are wonderfully graced by your generosity to us!

Five busy days more and the next chapter of our Kingdom journey will begin to be written!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rounding The Bend Toward Hope.

Proverbs 13:12 avers plainly: "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." I have experienced the first half of the text excruciatingly in my early 20's, and less so, but still painfully, since the turn of 2014 when it felt the bottom began to drop out of our lives in Northampton.

While certainly not a "perfect storm," the collusion of paying work slowly, but steadily evaporating leading to a deepening debt, and imagine/Northampton not growing - in fact losing folks - made our welfare increasingly worrisome and clearly in jeopardy. With each month, we fell further and further behind financially. Pressure mounted, joined by a growing anxiety, even terror in the deep of the night when we couldn't sleep. When challenged to look at other strategies for solving our problems, I could settle on no consistently clear direction forward given the abiding sense in my spirit we were not to call it quits completely in Northampton.  And the spiritual warfare was fierce: obstruction, confusion, accusation, intimidation, feeling adrift and alienated, fatigue, thoughts of ruin, deep shame, spiritual dryness to the point of disengagement and despair. Some days it was just one thing; other days we were bombarded; sometimes there were brief oases of relief, but not for long. We cried out to Jesus often and prayed consistently for solutions.

The worst of it really has been miserable and frightening...and very lonely. Unless you've been there, it's hard to relate. When the slope turns increasingly slippery, whereas before it was moderately challenging, i.e., you still felt your footing was sure, your heart can begin to listen to the sickening insinuations of despair/ radical heartsickness. Those vile thoughts will come. When they pick up the pace and persist, hope can be snuffed faster than you might realize; it depends on how much stability you've gotten used to, even taken for granted. When despair-laced heartsickness settles in because your desire (or even just being able to keep on top of the ordinary responsibilities and routine obligations of life) is increasingly frustrated or turned aside, fear can sink into terror late at night, and despair can endarken even the most intrepid of souls.

However, to give perspective,, I'd be woefully remiss if I overlooked certain friends and brethren who reached out to us in support, counsel, commiserating, prayer and bolstering. The imagine Board met more than once, but also spent personal time walking with us as we wrestled with what frequently felt like impending disaster and ruination. One in particular, has been willing to go many extra miles with me to make a straight path forward. And the Leadership Team of imagine/Northampton, all of whom are also friends, have walked closely with us. Even some pastoral friends in the Pioneer Valley have consistently been available to talk and pray with me; they've initiated contact. Even today I got a phone call from a man of God checking in; yesterday as well. People have let us know through phone calls, emails, unexpected financial gifts, and words of encouragement that we're not forgotten.

So while our 8-month long, dark night of the soul has enshrouded us in spiritual feelings of intense isolation and bewilderment (when people ask what we're going through, I'll often use the word surreal to describe our experience) at times, we have not been isolated.

Thanks be to God and His servants!


The above serves as a long-winded preface to say Tricia and I feel we're beginning to round the bend toward hope. I have to express a little bit of caution in saying so, however. Since this has been one of the toughest legs of our life journey together, I do not want to assume it's going to be smooth sailing from here forward. It won't be. We still have problems to solve regarding more paying work, cutting costs, and working smarter, but we have reason to hope because we are slowly, sometimes painfully slowly (65 is not the new 35 I'm here to tell you), carving out a path forward.

One great to gift us has been our new intern, Emilia Bauer. She's been asking astute questions and putting solutions in place as to how we can be more efficient organizationally, particularly as the ministry of Klesis. It's through Klesis that we will get back on our feet, especially with PLAYMAKER. If imagine grows, we may receive a full salary, but we shouldn't depend on that happening soon. I think it can grow, but that's for later blogpost. Emilia has helped folks grow their business or ministry, and she has experienced personally the ministry God has given us to share. She wants to learn and grow and be effectual in helping the work move forward. We are very grateful for her (and her husband, Ian, who is on-board with the internship arrangement).

A second great gift is our moving to Pinebrook Christian Camp at the invitation of imagine leaders Kevin and Janet Williams and their Board. While we'll have some minor logistical challenges not living very near where we work, they are doable. And living in the country at the camp will be similar to the living at the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the 40-acre property of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury. We will be able to decompress from the "urban" life on Main Street, and get back to having a place where we can heal plus regain focus. I have loved much of the experience we've had here on Main Street in Northampton. We've met and befriended some lovely people (who we will continue to see) like Bruce and Tamar, or the folks who keep showing up to the imagineART Gallery, and the artists who've graced it's walls. Living on Main Street was right for the time we've been able to do so.

Heading toward hope very much means getting on our feet financially. As digging holes go, we've dug a whopper. We didn't want to. And in hindsight, I think God has been letting us arrive at Desperation Gulch to say: "Enough is enough! Wake up!!!" I realize we let things slide way too far thinking some sort of grand gesture from God, or the miraculous big breakthrough would show up just in the nick of time to set it all to right. Our magnificent Lord is gracious and merciful, but He's a consummate Realist also: to turn things around you need to roll up your sleeves, while trusting Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then hold fast to the hardscrabble faith  to get to work!

While we have not had our desire fulfilled such that we're looking at a robust tree of life right in front of us, we can spot a tiny seedling pushing up through the ground as we make changes in some areas of our journey, and stay the course in others. The stifling feeling of being isolated as you drown is not pervading.

So if it makes sense to you and the Holy Spirit:

We need your prayer and any other way you can support our work through imagine and Klesis.

We need you to hire me for a PLAYMAKER, or tell others about it.

We need you to come on a Klesis Listening in Christ Retreat, or better yet, bring a group to do that.

We need you consider joining the mission at imagine/Northampton for at least a year, and help us Help People Discover and Follow the God Who is More Than They Imagine.

We need you to become a patron of the imagineART Gallery. Ask Tricia what that entails:

Thanks for reading this. Thanks for praying, supporting us, and reading this blog. It all matters.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Challenging the Desiccating Higgledy-Piggledy.

I've been meaning to write for awhile. But writing at all takes presence and peace of mind which has been hard to maintain in the unrelenting higgledy-piggledy. My mind quickly fogs in the stress which has inhabited most of 2014, much of the time. To write, at least for me, requires stress be held at bay. Otherwise, my ADD hitches to the stress train and into the fog we race.

Our scenario for weeks been set by 2 questions: Will we be able to stay here in Northampton, or will we be forced to go?" Every day presents differing degrees of confusion regarding those questions from experiencing brief respites to "it's all over; let's get packing and cut our losses while we still can."

Both of us hate the emotional turmoil to be honest.

There is some clarity. We will move out of our apartment on Main Street by mid-August. The plan is to move to a house on the property of Pinebrook Christian Camp in Shutesbury about 40 minutes away. Kevin and Janet Williams who've been directors of the camp for 18 years and are members of imagine/Northampton (and the Leadership Team) have graciously offered it to us, and their Board has agreed. We will be able to catch our breath, have some room to get back on our feet financially (a great need as it's been really scary) and refocus our energies toward rebuilding.

The above move presupposes we keep the imagine offices and the imagine ART Gallery on Main Street so we're not completely displaced from the city. That way we can maintain our presence in Northampton and pursue the Kingdom mission we were called to. Our new living arrangement will be temporary until we've stabilized financially and regained our bearings. We want to come back and live in or near Northampton, but not on Main Street.

The option we're undertaking also presupposes:

1. The imagine/Northampton Church grows numerically. If it does, it will need to leave the offices and find another space. That's good, especially if we stay in Northampton. There is commitment to do so on the part of the leadership.

2. Klesis must grow and expand the ministries it offers to support Tricia and me financially: more PLAYMAKER Profiles of Motivational Design; more Listening in Christ Retreats for Groups and Immersion Retreats for individuals and couples; more counseling and spiritual direction sessions. We can also take pressure off our small church to support us. It has not really been able to since the beginning of 2014.

3. Develop Patrons for the imagine ART Gallery so we can expand the gallery's outreach and better meet it's costs, especially rent of the space. Maybe some of you would be interested; let's talk.

4. Expanding our donor base for the church, as well as for Klesis.

5. Cutting and holding down costs across the board.

If we can do all of those things by God's grace and supply we have a fighting chance of sustaining and growing the ministries. It would be fairly easy to call it a day given what we've endured. A trusted friend of mine and a Klesis Board member has graciously offered office space in another town. But each time I've considered it, my heart struggles. So much of what has been happening feels as if we're being forced from here against our wills. Sure, we've made mistakes, been dreamers sometimes, and not been as proactive as we've needed to be at times -- especially me -- but my heart kept saying "no" as if I'd stepped out of phase with my purpose for a minute. I've not fought hard enough in the places where I'm uncomfortable, but that shouldn't determine whether we leave or stay.

So I'm beginning to fight. The way I'm doing it is by leaving my comfort zone and advocating for what we need in a way I never have. I did it twice last week and plan to do more this coming week. We won't have if we don't ask. If I venture little, I gain the same - unacceptable.

Also, our landlord has graciously offered to lower the office rent by 25%. That's substantial. He wants us to stay, especially after he attended the last Arts Night Out and saw the space teeming with guests. In his own words: "I want to see the church survive in Northampton. I think it is a fine addition to the downtown." He is not a Christian.

Some friends of ours in the area will be providing monthly support which will help take the edge of. And, we are waiting for tax money our tax preparer found we are entitled to, but had not taken previously. We are also waiting for a state tax refund which will help.

We could really use your prevailing prayer on our behalf, but also your considering giving to the mission, either Klesis or imagine, if you haven't. Contact me and we can talk about it. If you are giving, stick with us until we clear these hurdles. If there are others you think would support what we're about, let them and me know so I can tell them about what God is up to here. I'd love to do that.

There is much more to do; the imagine/Northampton folks need to step up, and Klesis needs to step up. Of course, unless God builds the house we labor in vain, but I'm not convinced He has left us to our own puny building skills.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Experiencing The Fine Freedom Of Listening Yesterday.

I have been practicing listening prayer for almost 30 years. Twenty of those years were at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT where we lived, raised a family and served the Kingdom of God. Yesterday, I was once again at the CFR co-leading a Klesis Listening in Christ Immersion Retreat with Tricia.

In the morning I took time to listen and journal; the two spiritual disciplines go hand in hand as far as I'm concerned. I've made it  practice to do so every time we've led a retreat since moving to Northampton in 2008.

Yesterday while journaling what I was hearing God say to me, I noticed something striking about a difference between practicing this most intimate spiritual discipline here and when I'm so doing in Northampton. Let me give you a little feel for what listening prayer is often like for me in Northampton with a few notable exceptions. Most of the time, I feel as though the "spiritual air" is jammed with static; not much is getting through without patience and persevering. It's often just a struggle to focus enough to detect the "still, small voice of the Spirit. Having fairly challenging ADD doesn't help, but I brought that deficit with me from Simsbury. I didn't "contract" it in Noho.

Occasionally, what God says to me flows rather smoothly sans the struggle, or I'll have a short season when the dissonance seems at bay. More often, I begin a time of listening not knowing if I'll be able to hear from God because it's just a struggle here. I know God will speak as He will speak, and when He chooses to do so; I don't assume He's at my beck and call. But a consistent difference between what I experience here and in Simsbury at the CFR exists.

Specifically, the last few years while leading retreats there I begin with a question for God and it feels as if the pipeline just opens. I don't have to labor-- His words seem to flow freely and the gaps are few. God speaks to me there not as a flood, but as a steady stream, recognizable s from Him and without me having to labor.

As I thought about it I wondered if perhaps my apparent "ease" of listening has to do with the CFR's decade's-long focus on  prayer, contemplating who God is; seeking Christ and His ways, listening to Him in the Scriptures and the Spirit, and last, but not least, consistently desiring and teaching intimacy with Jesus. I know this of folks still there who carry forth this work with passion and dedication. I've been privileged to serve with some of them as friends and gifted partners in this work. Such a desire to know Him intimately as much as we can, and serve His Kingdom ways appears to influence the producing of spiritual fruit and life.

I realized yesterday as well when praying has settled over a particular location for many seasons, peace and passion for praying abides. It's as if prayer "saturates" the spiritual atmosphere much in the same way that for rain to fall in a particular place, it has to saturate the air with moisture. Then, there is the notion in communities around the world that God seems to set apart certain places as wellsprings of prayer and Presence. While I know His ultimate abode is not settled here and will not be until the new heaven and the new earth are joined once and for all (Revelation 21 & 22) after Christ puts all dominion under His sovereign rule, there is consistent evidence of what the Celtic Christians termed "thin places" where it seems His Presence lingers and fructive spiritual life springs forth for a period, maybe even decades. Whatever the true dynamic proves to be, I find a consistently settling of mind and spirit when I'm at the CFR Retreat House and sojourning alive and well without dissonance, drag, and struggle for a bit.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Spring of "Awakenings" in the Barren Higgledy-Piggledy.

(definition: higgledy-piggledy in a confused, disordered or random manner.)

Those of you who've been reading my sparsely posted of late blog will recall I have been going through a pretty rough patch spiritually and emotionally. In spiritual direction terms it has felt a time of desolation with small oases of consolation to varying degrees. Tricia and I have not liked it to say the very least. I have lived a higgledy-piggledy existence since late January because a variety of problems and pressures crowded in. We've had to walk through maddening confusion, and wrestle with a forlorn barrenness pervading and interrupting our peace. And our hope endured a persistent whittling. At the same time, I must say this barren higgledy-piggledy caused us to fight back with prayer, talking to people we trust, and grasping onto faith as if a life raft. We weren't passive, we were just plain worn down by the relentless dissonance and building uncertainty.

To my delight, last night I experienced a fresh spring of awakenings liberating me spiritually! This unbinding refreshing came in the form of Linn Bower's Artist Reception at the imagine ART Gallery and Northampton's Arts Night Out. I knew her work was special as Tricia hung it masterfully in the gallery, and we could live in its midst for a few days. There is a gravitas to her paintings, a settled "Old World" feel lending a serenity to our space.

Linn calls her exhibit Awakenings. Without overstating the case, I think, both Tricia and I realized as we were talking about what happened at the end of the evening that our resolve to keep the gallery rather than leave Northampton was awakened. I haven't been able to embrace God wanted us to close up shop and head out from here. What helped spark our awakening was when our landlord and his wife came into the gallery (I had invited him because he's an art collector and Linn's work fits genres he collects) and was blown away by the number of people there: what he heard them say about the gallery, including the professional quality of Tricia's and Eslie's food; the sheer energy in the space as it filled, and the quality of the art. People without prompting often say not only this is their favorite gallery, but it consistently, in their opinion, has the best art in town. He left saying we must keep this space, and he would help us find a more affordable space for us to live. What landlord does that?

Both Tricia and I could see through the barren higgledy-piggledy at the end of the night. The imagine ART Gallery is the most impacting missional "outreach" imagine/Northampton currently offers here. There were a few people short of 200 guests with us last night. And, even better, more of them are asking what kind of church we are. Jim LaMontagne was "corralled" by Linn and a few of her artist friends. They peppered him with questions about the church.  Another friend of Linn's told Tricia he was amazed by the sheer grace and hospitality he saw poured out, including how she handled an inebriated and homeless man we know who came up for the food. He saw Tricia treat him gently and respectfully, but with authority as well.

You really would have to hear what we hear now all the time about the imagine ART Gallery. It's unlike anything we've ever experienced. Remember, many if not most of these folks would not call themselves Christian. Many are spiritual, but do not embrace Christ as their Savior or Lord. Yet, He is moving them in the space through art and His Presence. They know it's different and they know we believe. It blesses them because they tell us; they don't it's Him. Sometimes this all feels a little surreal to us, but we are excited by the possibilities which seem to be opening

In sum, I can't say with absolute assurance the joyful awakening we clearly felt last night is truly a Kingdom breakthrough, but we know we felt a subtle and palpable shift forward as if a spiritual barrier had been breached and our many, many prayers for deliverance since January were beginning to be answered. I certainly hope so because we've been pretty tired and discouraged feeling as if we were going to have to endure a substantial and costly failure at this stage of life. We long to stay the course with this mission in Northampton. I have never felt right about leaving now. I've told folks I feel as if I'm being forced by an unseen and evil adversary, and against my will. Imagine's Leadership Team  has had consistent dialogue over what to do. I have felt something is just not right even when a reasonable assertion  would be "it's time to scale down, cut back, and move on." Inside I'd being screaming "NO!" No one else on the team really wants to have no presence in Northampton. We're all just trying to discern the handwriting on the wall if it's there. I don't believe it is, but I know we must grow and become sustainable practically.

The barren higgledy-piggledy stems form the stress, frustration, and confusion which abides as a result of imagine's recurring need for more income to flow in consistently, i.e., more billable work for me (double it), and more imagine donors, including patrons of the imagine ART Gallery (triple it). The church needs to grow to triple it's size as well to be consistently sustainable in Northampton.We have had very faithful donors since we've been in town, even before, but they can't uphold this mission on their own. Also, if Tricia and I can't pay our bills our entire lives would be about stress, even terror.

At any rate, it feels wonderful to feel fully alive and last night awakened us a bit to just that. Yup, there is much to do, but we have renewed energy to do it. Especially if God has opened a way to proceed. I earnestly desire it to be so.

Friday, May 23, 2014

More Questions Than Answers Right Now And That's Not Good.

If you read this blog regularly you'll have noticed I'm not writing much these days. I'm experiencing a stubborn bit of writer's block. I have little passion or ideas for it.

I know why.

It's because things have been radically out of whack since early January. I'm convinced the whole experience is a spiritual issue, but also related to a stubborn problem we're dealing with which threatens to upend our lives here.

I've tried three times to write about what this block feels like, but the words clot and my mind fades to blah. I feel constipated emotionally. I'm confused, sometimes bewildered by the unwelcome experience, and fear creeps in unwanted although less so than a few months ago. The future right now is more uncertain than I ever remember. And there's an unnerving "quietness" pervading my psyche when I pay attention. It doesn't feel good like the "peace that passes understanding" might. It feels like the cruel calm before our lives are utterly upended and changed against our will; like the bottom is going to fall out from under us and we'll be engulfed to be no more - when we are deep in the fear part of it anyway.

Curiously, though, I'm not depressed. I know what that vile "black dog" feels like having been enshrouded for 5 months in the middle of 1995. This 5 month experience feels more like "get ready to go through the toughest thing you've ever faced." It's eerie as if we're living on borrowed time before being overrun. I've never felt as such before because I've never walked this particular emotional landscape before where no real shape is in view except a looming deadline.

At the same time, I'm not sitting around passively waiting for disaster to overtake us like a tsunami. I'm working harder than I have in a long time to turn things around, stabilize, and get back on Terra firma. Because of the nature of our struggle I have to do everything I can, as much as I can, as often as I can. So far my efforts are not turning much around, but there are bits of progress. Just nowhere near enough. And I can't just do nothing. I'm trying new things and going back to work I'd begun a few decades ago. That part feels good, but is not substantial enough to be a solution ...yet anyway.

Sometimes it feels to both Tricia and me as if God is testing us more deeply than ever our ability to trust him where we are most vulnerable and the stakes are the highest. Other times, the whole experience feels surreal as if our lives are just out of phase existentially and we don't know how to get them back in phase. We have no means to do so. Something is just off; just not right, and we can't put our finger on exactly what it is. It's stubbornly illusive. At the same time, one way or another we're holding fast to God: praying much with vehemence, and working all the time to believe He is not leading us into ruin. Where else can we go?

Sadly, I'm not doing justice to what this dilemma is like. I'm just not able to capture here in words what our current experience feels like. But I'll tell you I never want to be here again that's for sure. The stakes are way too high and so far we appear to have very little substantial influence over our circumstances. There's too much coming at us from too many directions.

And we're running out of time it seems. If the problem doesn't turn around and soon our lives will change beyond our control or so it very much appears right now.

Who knows...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On A Path Back To PLAYMAKER.

If you live long enough so you've had the blessing of learning the spiritual disciplines of noticing and reflecting, you'll recognize this life of ours can take peculiar twists, switches and turn-backs. There seems no straight line from birth to death for many of us, if not most of us.

In my case one of the most unforeseen is a recent mini-turn-back to a previously well-worn path called PLAYMAKER. Over three decades ago at the leaving of my stalled career as a professional jazz drummer, I was within days invited onto the path culminating in PLAYMAKER. Working for a company called People Management, at the time headquartered in Simsbury, CT, I would embark on a new journey learning how to recognize people's MAP (Motivated Abilities Pattern), and help them make informed decisions about career choice, career path, or job fit. I'd never been in the business world before, but had the ability to analyze, see patterns and write MAP reports. I also found on this path the ability to help folks interpret and apply the MAP to career or job fit.

I traveled the MAP path for 10 years working with many hundreds of clients from all walks of life and all over the country.

At the terminus of those 10 years, I was summoned onto another, albeit similar, path I'd just traveled. I (with Tricia) discerned a call to full-time ministry we'd call Klesis. As part of that call, I'd continue to offer gifts analyses, but would call it PLAYMAKER Profile. In fact, I focused primarily on PLAYMAKER in the first months. As the path unfolded with clarity, it would include making PLAYMAKERS for people in addition to counseling, leading retreats, and offering spiritual direction. I'd traverse this path for 17 years, and did more than a few PLAYMAKERS along the journey.

In 2007, the path took a turn toward Northampton where we'd plant a small church called imagine/Northampton. In order to support the effort and help provide for us, I'd continue on the path of offering counseling, leading some Listening in Christ retreats, and offering spiritual direction. This leg of the path would include doing 10-20 PLAYMAKERS, but with no real momentum in that direction. Although I have to admit I rarely talked about them to anyone, even in counseling, or in the church. Not sure why, save my central passion was imagine.

Just recently, we (Tricia and I) discerned signs our path is veering back toward doing more PLAYMAKERS; in fact, perhaps as a central focus or at least a major focus. It's been said necessity is the mother of invention, but in my case necessity now is the mother of returning, at least partially. Because of the persisting and serious financial challenges we're wrestling with, my focus has to change toward widening the path to do this kind of work again. The Holy Spirit seems to have opened the way recently with 6 new opportunities to do them. Such a cluster of opportunity has not happened in many years. Therefore, I see it as a beckoning. I'm also talking with someone who has offered to help me think with a more business perspective about it. I'm very open to the proposition fully recognizing I'm not a businessman, but if this is part of, or all of the path I'm to journey in conjunction with imagine/Northampton or apart from it, I have to be seriously professional. I've never really tried business-wise.

After tomorrow, I hope to have a clearer view of the path to which I'm being summoned. One way or the other, it seems I'm stepping back on a path to PLAYMAKER.

These last 6 months have been trying and unsettling as if the ground is shifting increasingly under the path we've been on; no longer does the way forward look clear and sure. I don't like this feeling at all, but it's hard to shake given the abiding, foggy uncertainty we've lived with since the turn of the year. Our current path has to change in some way.

Stay tuned.