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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.