Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Home from our travels...

We had a wonderful trip to Northfield, Minnesota to spend time with friends Heidi and Alan and their new baby, Addie, and to Fargo, North Dakota, where we had a great time with Sara's sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and Greg. If you're interested, there are lots more photos...

On the plane I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne - a book I've been meaning to read, and which I've skimmed around, for quite some time. (Yes, I know, the rest of you read this book eons ago.) Wow. Powerful stuff. I have a lot to process, and a lot to examine about my life. If you haven't read it yet and you want to be serious about living a Gospel-centered life, it is an absolute must-read.

After 13 hours of traveling - rental car from Northfield to Minneapolis, plane to Milwaukee, plane to Boston, bus to Portland, and cab to our house - Rachel was very tired, and so were her parents. It was a great trip, but we're glad to be home!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

WOW - 2008 School of Congregational Development

I'm on the planning team for WOW: The School of Congregational Development for The United Methodist Church in New England - November 6-8, 2008.

It's going to be a great event!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Overheard on the plane

Just a couple of rows ahead of us on the plane, there was a young mother with two sons, maybe 3 and 4 years old. She spent a considerable amount of time getting the two boys situated in their seats on one side of the aisle - seatbelts on, snacks out, toys to keep them occupied available - and her seat was to be on the other side of the aisle, next to a woman with white hair.

Son #1: Mommy, where are you sitting?

Mother, pointing to her seat on the other side of the aisle: I'm sitting over here.

Son #1: Over there with that old lady?

Everyone nearby: embarrassed laughter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Best Care in the Air

We're in Northfield, Minnesota tonight, where we're staying with friends Heidi and Alan and their new baby, Adelaide. Tomorrow we'll head to Fargo, North Dakota for several days with Sara's sister Elizabeth and her husband Greg. We are really looking forward to the time with them.

For tonight I just have to say Midwest Airlines is the best! They call their signature service "the best care in the air." Three things did it for me:
  • extra wide leather seats, making for plenty of room
  • Dr. Pepper on the menu
  • complimentary ooey, gooey, warm chocolate chip cookies, baked on the plane! Does it get any better than that?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Called to Ministry

Almost two and a half years ago, the established church we serve sold their enormous facility - a sanctuary with seating for 850 people, 44 rooms, a full-sized gymnasium, several apartments, and a separate office building with a chapel - to a developer who built a six-story condominum complex in the parking lot. The small remnant congregation has been meeting for worship in a synagogue on Congress Street, at the invitation of that congregation, while undertaking an intentional process of discernment. Although there has certainly been plenty of nostalgia about the past, this new building-free identity has also opened up lots of new possibilities! Without an aging, outdated building tying up all its time and financial resources, the congregation has felt a refreshing freedom to focus on ministry, and to consider an entirely new identity apart from its physical structure.

Since last fall, we've been meeting weekly with a group of leaders of the congregation, to continue this discernment process and to get serious about articulating a vision for a new and very different kind of ministry in Portland. We've met with city leaders, pastors and leaders of other churches, and leaders of social service organizations. We've gone on several field trips to visit the sites of other organizations doing work to care for people in need, both within and beyond Portland. It's been an exciting process.

After months of researching needs and opportunities for ministry within the city, in February we identified the neighborhood where where we feel led to sink down some roots. It happens to be the most densely populated square mile in the State of Maine - a neighborhood of mostly several-family homes and apartments, some of them in serious need of renovation, many of them rented out by landlords who live in other parts of the city or even out of state. It's a neighborhood with a reputation for drug use and trafficking, as well as prostitution and domestic violence -- all of which are still present, but expressed in more subtle ways than they used to be. Since it is the most affordable neighborhood in the city, it tends to be one of the places where recent immigrants and those who are recently homeless settle, but residents also tend to be very transient, moving on when they can afford to go elsewhere. It's also a neighborhood where students and some young professionals have chosen to live, and where a neighborhood center and a community policing program have had a very positive impact. Our vision for ministry in this neighborhood is taking shape, and although we have a lot of work to do to implement the vision - including talking more with people who live in the neighborhood to determine if our vision really meets a need they feel - we are hopeful and excited to get on the ground.

Yesterday at our weekly meeting of the team, an 82-year-old woman who's a relatively new member of the church and an active member of this team, said, "I've been praying that I live long enough to see this vision become a reality, because this is the first time in my life that I've ever felt called to something."

How powerful is that? We had a great discussion about that sense of being called, and I've been living with that comment ever since. Wow. God is good!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rude friends stink.

Erica's been giving me crap about the fiddleheads post. I think her exact words were, "You did NOT just post that thing about fiddleheads. What a dork!"

Someone make her stop.

At least Krista appreciated it.

Monday, May 12, 2008


In honor of Sara's mother's arrival on Saturday evening, we made a classic Maine dinner: baked stuffed haddock, thanks to a trip to Free Range Fish and Lobster on Commercial Street; purple mashed potatoes that came from the Wednesday farmers' market at Monument Square; and fiddleheads that we bought out of someone's trunk on the side of the road Friday afternoon.

Yes, fiddleheads - a Maine tradition! Not quite Maine lobster, but almost as popular with some people! Here's what VeganYumYum has to say about fiddleheads:
Fiddlehead ferns are one of spring’s most elusive goodies. The are available for about three weeks in May (as in right this second), and are generally harvested in the northeastern United States. A fiddlehead is the tip of an unfurling Ostrich Fern frond, quickly snapped off with the flick of the wrist by professional foragers in the wild. If you see some growing in the woods near you, take care. There are many other ferns that resemble the Ostrich Fern, some of which are considered to be carcinogenic, like the Bracken Fern. Unless you have a guide with you, leave the collecting to the professionals and pick some up at Whole Foods. They cost $6 a pound in Boston.

Their flavor is mild, and perhaps most closely resembles asparagus, and asparagus is the best substitute for the ferns. Some also say they are similar to green beans and
artichokes. They are pleasently crunchy with a nutty, slightly bitter bite, which is why you’ll see so many fiddlehead recipes calling for butter and salt. Treat the fiddleheads like asparagus tips and you can’t go wrong. If you really want a treat, serve them up with some morel mushrooms; their season coincides almost exactly with the ferns and they pair well.
I wish I liked fiddleheads more. They're okay, but I'm not one of those people you'll find scouring the sides of roads this time of year. But then again, they're only available during a short window of time each year, and once a year is just about perfect for me...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Today I am thankful for my Mom, Jeanne Merrill, shown here... with my Dad and my older brother Brian and me when I was 10 days old... with my whole family, including Brian and my younger sister Karen, when I was 6... on Thanksgiving 2007 being a little bit silly at the dessert table... and opening a funny gift on Christmas Day 2007.

I'm thankful to have a mother who is loving and generous in every way, and who has passed on her crazy sense of humor to the rest of our wacky family!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A different kind of church - YES!

On IM tonight, Sara was chatting with Erica, a member of our New Light community, who was telling her about an experience at work today. Another member of the community, Carlie, had stopped by to see her at work, and they were talking about some of the things we've been doing lately, like our Cinco de Mayo party. Afterward, a friend and co-worker (whom I've met a couple of times) said, "I'm starting to think more and more that this is a different kind of church you go to."

And I just have to say, that is the best thing I've heard all day! Music to my ears!!

Words to serve by...

The Earth and the Poor
Leonardo Boff

Is it possible to live in peace and happiness when you know that two-thirds of human beings are suffering, hungry and poor? To be human we have to have compassion. This solidarity is really the defining factor of our humanity and is gradually being lost in a culture of material values. It's not only the cry of the poor we must listen to but also the cry of the earth. The earth and human beings are both threatened. We must do something to change the situation....

There won't be a Noah's Ark to save only some of us. To meet people's fundamental concerns, change is needed. The world as it is does not offer the majority of humanity life but rather hell. I believe that change is possible, because I cannot accept a God who could remain indifferent to this world, but only one who cares about the poor and the suffering.

Source: Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor
with a tip of the hat to Inward/Outward, a project of Church of the Saviour

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clearing Committee

Today I participated in a day-long retreat, "The Heart of Leadership: Leading with Spiritual Awareness," at Rolling Ridge, our United Methodist retreat center in North Andover, MA. The retreat leaders were Margaret Benefiel, Quaker, professor at Andover Newton Theological School, CEO of, and author of Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations; and Larry Peacock, United Methodist pastor currently serving as executive director at Rolling Ridge.

One of the most meaningful exercises, for me, was time spent in a group of three, reflecting on an issue we're dealing with in our leadership, through what is called a Clearing Committee - a Quaker tradition. It goes like this:
  • Silence (1 min.)
  • Focus person speaks (4 min.)
  • Clarifying questions - focus person responds (1 min.)
  • Silence (1 min.)
  • Questions and comments - focus person does not respond; someone in the group records (7 min.)
  • Prayer (2 min.)
  • Transition to the next focus person (1 min.)

I found it incredibly helpful to reflect in a very focused way, confined by clear parameters of time within a prayerful, supportive, reflective space; and then to receive not suggestions or advice, but questions and comments, to which I could not respond, but which invited me to further reflection. The idea is that the wisdom comes not from those in the group who have advice to share, but from within the person dealing with the issue, and from God.

I need to spend some time thinking about how this exercise might have application in my ministry. I think there are some real possibilities. The Clearing Committee -- sometimes called Circle of Trust -- invites spiritual groundedness when dealing with leadership issues.

How could you imagine utilizing the Clearing Committee in your ministry, workplace, church, organization, or family?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo!

We had an awesome New Light Cinco de Mayo party at our house tonight, complete with (virgin) Margaritas, a huge spread of Mexican food potluck style, Mexican music, cheesy decorations (including a five-foot inflated cactus and strings of red pepper lights, thanks to the leftovers from Fiesta Vacation Bible Camp!) and lots of wacky games -- games that included things like Sprite and gummy worms, sombreros, Bible verses in Spanish, jalapeno peppers, maracas, balancing cups of water on heads, and singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" while gargling. Not all at once, of course.
Oh, it was great fun. Someone commented, "It's like Youth Group for adults!" Oh, wait -- that was me. But everyone agreed.

I'll try to post pictures soon -- especially the one of Sarah (the other one, not my wife) with a gummy worm sticking from each nostril.

What's the purpose of events like this in the context of a newly forming community of faith? Well, one thing I know for sure: laughter is an important spiritual practice. And besides that, it was wonderful to see community being strengthened and relationships being sealed across the two small groups. We do lots of things that have a stronger spiritual component, of course. We're intentional about engaging in acts of devotion, worship, compassion, and justice. But it sure was fun to hang out, eat good food, and laugh hard tonight.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday Night

  • Sara and I spent a good part of the day outside. We raked the back yard (last week I raked the front) and uprooted a few thousand tiny maple trees that have sprung up everywhere. Then we spent a couple of hours removing sod and tilling soil, preparing some spots to the left and right of our front walk where we'll eventually plant some flowers and herbs. It feels really good to get your hands in the dirt!

  • I've been watching pieces of the live stream of General Conference now and then, and I have to say, I find the whole thing quite puzzling. Petition 81,000-something-or-other... Calendar item 1100-and-then-some... page 2,149 in the DCA... I'm sure all that is really important stuff, but I do have to wonder, did God intend for the church to become a bureaucracy? And I wonder.... Whom would Jesus exclude, really? Is there hope for our church? What would we need to do differently to truly focus on being the Body of Christ, seeking first the Kingdom of God?

  • Tomorrow we're participating in a Potato Planting Party, sponsored by Cultivating Community, an organization that uses gardening to empower youth and then donates the vegetables it harvests to low-income families and elderly persons living in public housing, who otherwise might not have locally grown, organic produce.

  • Sunday is my grandfather's 92nd birthday, and we're headed to his birthday party following worship. I don't recall that I've ever been with him on his birthday. Should be a good time.

  • We went out for ice-cream tonight with friends. Mmmmm...