A Word From Pastor Sloop – One Last Time
There are a few poems I like to keep handy, actually deposit them in the back of my calendar. That way they are close by. Sometimes I intentionally seek out a verse, and the fresh rereading is pure gift, again. Sometimes I go looking for something else and find this jewel, this exquisite word picture (the pearl of great price?) again. I’m in heaven.
Some of the poems I keep close
Sweeney’s by Brian Doyle
It’s about a shirt from a bar by that name. Doyle needs that shirt. Why? Because his older brother, whose dead, gave it to Brian when a boy. Every time he pulls out that shirt he’s back there, a boy receiving that coveted shirt.
“….I’ll always have his shirt in a drawer. If I touch it, here he
Is in the room with me, smiling at how a shirt can make a kid
speechless with astonishing joy, even forty years later. Isn’t that
amazing?……A snatch of song, a scent, a battered collar, a ratty
old pub jersey. So many time machines. Yes, time wins. My
brother withered and vanished. Yet here he sits on the edge of
the bed snickering at me as the shirt hangs way down past my
knees. No religion owns resurrection.”
I cry or come close to doing so. Those of us who’ve lost a sibling or anyone close, we can relate.
To Be of Use by Marge Piercy
With directness Piercy wages war on sloth. She praises common, useful work.
“…I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who
go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags
along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in
common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put
out…..Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn,
are put in museums but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is
Thank you Grace Lutheran Church for giving this retiree ‘work that is real.’ I hope at some level my time as your interim pastor has been helpful to you. For certain it has been helpful to me. To come out of retirement and to ply the pastoral calling one more time submerged me in the task I love. Thank you! These 16 months afforded me much joy in the Lord through you! I will miss you!
You have a great staff! You have a great new pastor! You have great facilities and location! You have great, willing servants! You have a great future under a great Lord!
When I pull out that God’s Work, Our Hands tee shirt with Grace Lutheran on the back side, man alive, I’m right back here at 5010 Six Forks Road—a church seeking the fullness of life in Christ for all people.
May You Go in Peace and Continue to Love & Serve the Lord,
Pastor David Sloop, Almost Re-Retired
A large bouquet of balloons! Every now and then someone is trying to transport multiple balloons in their car. It’s quite a sight. Taking 25 large helium balloons and stuffing them into a small cab can be an exercise in frustration.
Churches need balconies. Balconies are a way for certain people to be present and not be ‘too’ present. Youth. Youth in the balcony have opportunity to be ‘there’ without being ‘there’. A balcony becomes an excellent way to distant yourself from the older set.
A tip of a hat, a wave, a wink—these are gestures. They carry much freight. Gestures can shape our living. A Mom and Dad’s good night kiss brings assurance of parental love. When a kiss is absent or withheld from the bedtime ritual children may wonder about that love.
Gestures Carry Much Meaning
Those of us who lived during the Vietnam War may remember a picture of American POWs sent by their captors. In this photo several soldiers held up a raised middle finger. Their captors did not understand the gesture. We did. That picture conveyed great assurance of the unbroken imprisoned.
Take note of the gesture of the third base coach. With rapid motion that coach’s arms communicate clearly to the batter. These same gestures disguise a message intended to throw off the opposing team. In no other sport is the art of gesturing so perfected.
Sharing God’s Peace
Of singular importance in Christian worship is the gesture of sharing the peace. Before we come to receive the peace of Christ through communion, we first reach out to each other in peace.
This gesture is always significant and more so when we have lived with tension or discord towards another person. Peace carries the hope of a new, different future.
The peace of the Lord be with you always…
In an increasingly casual culture gesturing is diminished. We who bear the mark of Christ are encouraged to retrieve it for the sake of Christ. When on those occasions I mark the foreheads of young children at communion with a cross, I ask if they can feel that cross on them. It is a gesture.
It is a mark of life.
May our gestures convey our heart.
Come to the table, for all is now ready…
Grace Lutheran Church welcomed a number of our youngest members to the Lord’s table this past week.
Congratulations to all of our first communicant families!
It’s not a bad idea to have a few pseudonyms. One of my favorites is Rotsap Pools (Pastor Sloop backwards). I turn to it during times I mess up. Self talk goes something like this, “Well that was a real Rotsap Pools move!”
When our daughter Elizabeth passed through the teen years at times we would address her as “Complainabeth.” Needless to say, while descriptive of her mood, this name served only to amplify complaining.
Neither identifiers is particularly positive. Over time they would begin to wear, and not comfortably. Hopefully a voice would emerge, perhaps an internal voice, protesting.
What’s In a Name?
One of the most critical times for our spiritual ancestors was their exile in Babylon. They had no reason to speak of themselves in the affirmative. Many were complaining, many were pointing the finger at each other. Given their lot they would have answered to the name Hopeless or Powerless or Worthless. A bully would not have made them feel lower. They were already there.
Along came a voice from within their community. Someone home grown. This voice refused to allow the present to define. Up on tiptoes this strong presence offered a counter-identity. Not one that had any substance based on circumstances.
Rather a strange and potent message: You Are Oaks of Righteousness
Sturdy • Tall • Expansive • Unmoved • Reliable • Worthwhile
This imaginative voice is Isaiah, specifically Isaiah of Jerusalem. His words, poetic words, are preserved as scripture. He spoke for God.
I dare you to speak as did Isaiah
To turn to another, to someone languishing in self-disgust or lamenting a former life, a failure that holds sway and say directly to them you are an oak of righteousness.’
And mean it. To do so is to live toward the fullness of life in Christ.
So Great a Love,
David A. Sloop, Interim Pastor
I was once accused of robbing the Walmart on Glenwood Avenue. That day I was casually walking toward the store from my car when suddenly people flooded out of Walmart’s main entrance. They were all pointing and shouting,
“They are over there! There they go!!”
I looked where this crowd pointed and saw two men on foot, holding a large package, running toward the Glenwood Avenue Chick-Fil-A.
Here’s where I come in
A Raleigh Police Cruiser came next to the two men (the actual robbers), and they, instead of sticking up their hands, point the officers to me!! Then the police came speeding across the parking lot…after me!!
“Officer,” I shouted, “turn around! Those two men are the ones who robbed Walmart!” And they high tailed it after the real robbers.
I admit to being dumbfounded by those robbers. Who in their right mind would steal a large package in broad daylight, in a large parking lot, flee on foot and expect to get away? Apparently, running away was not their intended plan. They had a getaway car. Only problem, when most needed, the car failed to start!
A True Lenten Experience
This parking lot fiasco has touch points to Lent. A true Lenten experience won’t let us say, “The real problem is over there, running away.”
What can sting with these 40 days is the freight of complicity. What holds us is the firm recognition that every getaway car gets us nowhere. We participate.
The opening salvo from our mouths as Lent begins:
“We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.”
That’s Lent. Recognizing again our carrying off a package, and the burden it brings, what it exposes.
The older I become, the more I want of Lent
To welcome Lent is not to wallow in self-hatred. To live a good Lent is not to be dour and despairing. To embrace this season with passion is not about full time remorse. Rather it’s more about staying alive, about receiving and recognizing grace, about openness to the ongoing promise of Christ amidst the tragic realities of life.
Lord, have mercy,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
P.S. This year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
According to the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) about 40% of college freshmen will attend a campus ministry at least once. By junior year only about 20% of college Christians are participating in campus ministry. Why the drop in participation? The top reason is that many students see themselves as spiritual but not religious. They can live their faith without being part of a faith community. They may want God, just not the church.
Do You have a Faith Community?
Living without a faith community is not just a campus phenomenon. It’s in the very air we breathe. Much has been made of the consumerism which pervades our living. Wherein the operative question can become What did I get out of that?” From such a perspective being in a faith community must service some felt need. Couple this perspective with those siblings of individualism and anti-institutionalism and you have a recipe for persons devoid of established community. Here’s one example which may seem counter-intuitive: people approaching the church for a baptism but finding no reason to grow that child’s faith through a church home.
This context, which I am overstating, presents the church with a great opportunity. Our Lord Jesus was born in a family, among a specific people. He lived and grew up as part of a particular community. Our Lord Jesus chose disciples whom he formed into a community. He stuck by this band in spite of their insolence, their egos, their quirks. He chose them.
Living as a Christian – Four Pillars
Roland Rolheiser suggests that four pillars are essential to living as a Christian: personal prayer; concern for justice; joy filled living; and a concrete community. Of the concrete community Rolheiser writes:
“The grounding, earthiness, and necessary pain that only real involvement with a concrete community is what a parish family can give. In parishes we don’t get to pick who we will be standing beside as we worship. A parish family is a hand of cards that is randomly dealt to us… and will include persons of every temperament, ideology, virtue and fault. Church involvement does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant community, like a marriage, and binds us together for better or worse.”
Keep Hold of the Christ Child
Everyone snuggles up to the Christ child. Today this snuggling pictures families adoring Jesus. Missing from the picture are the very real, concrete people, beyond our own family, who populate the church. Could it be that part of the true meaning of Christ coming in flesh is that through the very en-fleshed reality known as church he comes?
Don’t miss out.
Together in Christ,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
For several years a large sign by 1-85 near Hillsborough advertised the opportunity to purchase SHELL gasoline. This one word sign towered over nearby trees. However, the S was missing, so the sign read HELL.
I once came by that intersection at night and from a distance could see this illuminated announcement. One wonders how first time travelers responded:
“Do you know something I don’t know?”
“See, I told you Hell was near Chapel Hill and Durham!”
All Joking Aside
All joking aside, we might benefit from such a sign above our community. Imagine the impact on us if high above Grace Church was the sign HEAVEN, illuminated day and night. Wanting to live up to this claim just might enlarge our living!
In what sense will people see heaven through seeing us?
I do wonder what message we give. Our baptism sets us on a singular path all about life together around word, sacrament and community, around life together for this needy world. That’s enough for a life time, several. To live individually and collectively our Baptism is to live a well centered life.
In his Testament of Devotion Thomas Kelly writes:
“We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of selves within us who does not integrate the many into one but who merely counts the votes at each decision. We are not integrated. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all…Life is meant to be lived for a Center, a living Center.”
May God give us the reorienting power of Advent to re-center us and all our selves.
HEAVEN is coming among us!
David A. Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
Sally and I once ran a week long camp at Camp Agape where NC Lutheran youth gathered with adults with developmental delays who lived at Murdoch Center, near Butner, NC. Since the camp convened in August we regularly visited the camp pond each afternoon. This was before Camp Agape had a swimming pool.
A Man of Few Words
One of our guests from Murdoch, a young man named Brisker, did not express himself verbally. While we were at the lake, Brisker started walking on the dock toward deep water. When the dock ended, Brisker just kept on walking. He immediately sank beneath the pond surface. Several of our youth went in after Brisker and brought him to safety.
Upon gathering himself, Brisker finally spoke. “That’s cold!” Immediately many of us dove head first into that section of the pond. We hoped that Brisker spoke the truth. He did! Thanks to Brisker we were refreshed by cool stream of spring water!
That was a long time ago (1981). I don’t recall anything else said at that camp – just those two, well timed words from Brisker. They stuck. When you’ve been hungry for someone to speak and they finally do, their words resonate.
What Do Your Words Really Say?
They have staying quality. Our words are to have efficacy. They can cause others to dive in.
I’m sorry – I love you – I forgive you – Thank you
Some of the most important words we can utter. To speak them with proper intent, to embody with urgency and sincerity, to back them up with appropriate behaviors, carry a new and enhanced future. Portals. Portals for a new beginning. Amidst all the noise-incessant breaking news, distracting gibberish — there is the thoughtful gift of a well timed word.
As we head into Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent may we all be so alert, so aware. And my God give us space to offer that good word. It may be for you and for others like coming up for air!!
Eager for Such Opportunity,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim