How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
~ Thessalonians 3.
Some days the best thing to do is to open ourselves to feeling pure, unadulterated joy.
Like the day we took a ferry across the Straits of Magellan to an island full of penguins. Spending an hour strolling about watching these fascinating creatures was pure joy.
It’s hard to get to Magdalena Island, where we saw the penguins. Not something we will do more than once in a lifetime.
But my life has been full of joyful moments. It usually takes some effort, but I appreciate the surprises we find along the way.
WATCH: Look for joyful moments today. Let joy surprise you and come bubbling up when you least expect it.
You lead the humble in what is right, and teach the humble your way.
~ Psalm 25.
Humility can be so delicious, especially when traveling. Some of my favorite moments have happened because everything didn’t go according to plan. We’ve made mistakes and had to adjust. We’ve even decided to cut trips short.
One time we shortened a bike trip, it meant we skipped riding in a deluge and instead spent extra time in Bryce Canyon. Where we felt humble for yet another reason…
WATCH: Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes it is easy to say “I’m sorry” after we make a mistake or do something wrong. Sometimes it is harder. Making mistakes and having to face what comes after is a part of life. If we are honest about our feelings and apologize when we hurt someone, we will learn how to be humble. Watch for how people are humble today. Watch for the people who help others, who say they’re sorry, and who don’t brag. Tell them you are glad to see them being kind.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
~ Psalm 25.3
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I learned it is pointless to wait for the weather when planning activities. That philosophy has worked out well in adulthood as well. I would have missed many hikes and bike rides and camping trips over the weeks if I let the rain deter me.
The thing about riding in the rain is that it eventually stops. And when it stops, the clouds part. And often when clouds part, when the air is washed clean, and the sun sets, the scene is spectacular.
Some things are worth waiting for, like this sunset in western Montana.
SHARE: Waiting can be hard. As a child, if you must wait for 5 minutes, it is a much larger fraction of your life than when you are an adult waiting for 5 minutes. Talk to someone you love about waiting. What is easy about waiting? What is challenging about waiting? What are some things you must wait for? What makes it easier to wait?
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
~ Psalm 25.4
Sometimes it can be difficult to see a path ahead.
At other times, even if the path is obvious, as it was in this river valley in Chile, we may not be too keen on following it for some reason. Is it really safe?
I hesitated a bit to follow this particular path, but we had to. Our lodging and food for the night lay along it.
We got to the lodge just fine. And the next day we saw some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
ACT: Today, pay attention to your path. Do you always go the same way to school and sports practice and ballet? What path do you follow when you are sad or mad or frustrated or worried? Jesus invites us to follow in his path, not being afraid to try new things if it means helping others. Follow the path of kindness today.
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and she shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
~ Jeremiah 33.1
What is this cow waiting for? Justice?
Perhaps, but my guess is she’s waiting for the rain to stop. It was raining when I took this photo in Ireland, as it did nearly every day we were there riding our bikes.
We could have waited for the rain to stop, but we wouldn’t have seen much of the country. And I guess we could wait for justice to come, but chances are it will never show up if we just wait for it.
Justice is something we must do. We must make it happen.
REFLECT: Kids are often concerned with what is fair. They have an understanding of justice that is often straightforward and rooted in love and treating people well. As we grow older, we unlearn these basic instincts towards compassion and equity. But the kids are right. Treating people well is the root from which justice springs forth. It’s something we do. How do you know something is fair? How do you treat people fairly? What do you do if you witness someone being treated unfairly?
By Jim Segaar
Some days our path in life seems straightforward. We get up, we do what we planned to do, and at the end of the day we feel good about it.
I haven’t had many days like that recently. Have you?
Take this week. On one hand there is news of yet another mass shooting, more hate crimes, more obscene fearmongering dressed up as politics as usual. On the other, more personal hand, my siblings and I are still coming to grips with the recent death of our brother Dave. Lucy, our sweet rescue dog, apparently has a truckload of emotional baggage which is manifesting itself through some very smelly behavioral problems. And Jim G is visiting his family in Missouri, leaving me on my own with two needy dogs, wet piles of fallen leaves, and an increasingly messy house. I haven’t even pretended to have a plan for each day.
This morning was going to be different. I was going for a long bike ride. I know from past experience that nothing helps me cope with life better than a few hours on my bicycle. First thing this morning I checked the weather – my app of choice predicted clouds but only a 20% chance of rain and temperatures close to 60 degrees. So I walked, fed and medicated the pooches, ate breakfast myself, tucked Lucy into her kennel, dressed in my biking gear, and headed for the garage. As the door rolled up I heard an unexpected sound. Rain. Crap! But I was desperate. I pulled on a raincoat, got on my bike, and pedaled off into the rain. I figured it would just be a shower – that pesky 20% chance of precipitation.
I was wrong.
I rode for nearly three hours – that’s how long it takes me to go 28 miles these days – and it rained nearly constantly. Droplets covered my glasses, and every time I stopped at a traffic light my lenses fogged up. It was one of those days when the wet from the inside – sweat – and the wet from the outside – rain – met in the middle and made me completely soggy.
And I loved it.
It reminded me of the years when I usually rode my bike to work. In sun, rain, even in snow one time, I’d ride my bike for 7 miles or more, depending on how indirect the route was that I chose to take to the office. I’d leave the house in a mental fog and get to work with a clear head and fresh air in my lungs. In really wet weather I’d be one of the few riders hardy enough to still bike in, and that made me feel extra good – even a little macho.
For me, riding my bike, rain or shine, helps me find some peace in the world. It helps me cope with life, on personal and communal levels. I know this about myself. I know that as long as I can ride safely (riding on ice is not recommended – my pride still hurts from that time I fell in front of 10 people on First Avenue) I will feel better following a ride.
I believe that life in general has some similar rules. We can rarely control the news. We can’t personally fix our hate-filled, greed-motivated, power-obsessed world. But we can choose how we respond to whatever happens.
Around 700 BCE the prophet Micah confronted a world gone very wrong, and rhetorically asked, “What should I do?” And here is how the prophet answered that question:
Listen here, mortal:
God has already made abundantly clear
what “good” is, and what YHWH needs from you:
simply do justice,
and humbly walk with your God.
(Micah 6.8 - The Inclusive Bible)
We can’t personally fix the world. We can’t stop the violence that rampages around the globe. But we can decide how we will live our lives each and every day.
Personally, I know one thing I’m going to continue doing as long as I am able. I’m going to keep riding my bike, even in the rain.
By Pastor Anita Peebles
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “Sticks and Stones” considering the challenging Scripture of James 3, which exhorts us (especially those of us in authority) to be mindful of our words ... because our words matter. That oft-used adage “sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us” is simply not true. And whether it is words, or more, we must be mindful of the collective pain that any community holds. A lesson from the author of James 3 is that we must be accountable for our own words and actions, as well as hold others accountable for their words and actions.
Right now, our national community is holding a lot of pain, specifically related to sexual violence in the news. And within Washington and within Seattle and, yes, within our own congregation, there are surely far too many stories related to what we are receiving from national news media regarding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s personal experience. Though we as a congregation strive to be welcoming and inclusive and know no circles of exclusion, we also must recognize that the Church is not exempt from dangerous and violent behaviors. All too often, it is the site of violence. And far from providing respite, churches can even be places where survivors are dismissed from sharing their stories. We must be honest about this. I gained this wisdom from another young clergy woman recently: “Yes, all are welcome. But not all behaviors are welcome.” And this is true, because harassment, assault, and violence of any type is not welcome here.
The past few weeks my heart has been breaking hundreds of times every day as I see the #metoo and #churchtoo and #whyididntreport hashtags in almost every post on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. As a young woman in this world, I know what it means to be sexually harassed, to have my personal boundaries not respected, to have people look at my body for a little too long and catcall me on the street and force hugs on me, among other things. The experiences shared in thousands of #whyididntreport posts illustrate how survivors did not believe any action would be taken against the person who harmed them. And it breaks my heart. #believesurvivors #believewomen
It also breaks my heart to know so many (SO. MANY.) of my women-identifying and transgender and non-binary friends’ stories of harassment, assault, and physical violence. I am holding these people in my heart every time I read that Senator Someone excused sexual violence as “boys being boys” (with no thought to how teenage boys of color are not given the same breaks as white teens). I am holding the stories of people in my own family, people who raised me in my home church, clergy women assaulted in the course of their work caring for their flocks. And I have to note that I am also holding the stories of men and boys who are survivors of abuse. Though they are often left out of the conversation about sexual violence because their experiences are different than those of women and transgender people who are targeted in systemic ways, they are no less important.
A post on Facebook recently said “Most of the women and survivors I know have been on the edge of crying or screaming for the past two weeks, and they probably will be in the weeks to come. So don’t play devil’s advocate, don’t talk over people trying to tell you their experiences, don’t minimize someone’s hardship. Shut up and listen. We all have a lot to learn from these brave people who are sharing their stories.” So friends, do what you need to do to take care of yourselves. It’s OK to take a break from the news, from social media, from interactions with people that can be triggering. It’s OK to cry. If you have people who form a safe(r) space for you to share your truth, access them.
At a recent meeting of Seattle-area clergy, I heard a local pastor talk about how hearts break. They can break by shattering, she said, so that a heart is unrecognizable and the parts are disparate and seem irreparable. Then she shared that her hope is that our hearts always break open, so that we do not shut ourselves off from the world in fear and apathy and weariness, but that we are open to receiving stories that help us stretch and learn and grow. It is my hope that our collective heart does not shatter under the pressure of all of the stories, because each story is unique and must be honored. I hope our hearts break open to teach us about our own behaviors and the ways we uphold systemic violence against women and nonbinary people, that we might repent and go forward in our lives as accomplices in the fight against sexual harassment, abuse and violence. I hope our hearts break open enough to maintain healthy boundaries and call out abusive behaviors. I hope our hearts break open to teach mutual consent to our children and respect children’s physical boundaries. I hope that our hearts break open enough to take each other seriously, to listen with non-judgment and to respond with grace. I hope our hearts break open, so that we receive what we need in order to grow towards witnessing God’s love and justice for all people. As the Sanctuary Choir sang in the moments before I preached on James 3, “we can do better.” And better we must. There is no other way forward.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
By Jim Segaar
Fall seems more beautiful in Seattle
Brighter than it used to be
Simply having time to appreciate it?
It could be my age
I’m 60 now
The golden years
And my brother just died
Death is getting more personal
Colors mean more to me now
Riding bike in 60-degree weather
I don’t care if it rains tomorrow
Temperatures are fresh
The sun is a spotlight
Leaves dress in garish shades
They’d never wear before Labor Day
Fall might be the beginning of the end
With cold, quiet Winter just around the bend
Or is it just another step
Along the path
Fall seems more beautiful this year
Brighter than it used to be
By Jim Segaar
My brother Dave died suddenly last Sunday. Dave had many medical issues, and had been close to death several times before, so his passing was not a surprise. But it is still a shock. A shock that is morphing into a reminder, perhaps even a lesson.
Death is not a new experience for me. My parents died a decade ago. I’ve lost most of my aunts and uncles. I’ve been in the hospital room when dear friends died. I lived through the early years of HIV/AIDS when so many others around me did not. And yet Dave’s death is different. Each has been different. But this one feels more personal.
Maybe it’s more personal because my older brother was my hero when I was a kid. I was a scrawny fifth grader, one of the smallest kids in the class, and he played linebacker on the high school football team. When he met his future wife Kris, I tagged along with them fairly often to softball games or on errands. But as I grew older I moved away from Lynden, and they stayed. The path I found into adulthood took me further and further away from Lynden, from my family, from Dave.
Maybe it’s more personal because this is my generation, and we are all getting to be an age where “natural causes” is a valid cause of death. It’s hard to not speculate. Did Dave open the floodgates for the passing of my siblings, for me? Who’s next?
Miraculously, my siblings and our partners in life gathered for a reunion two weeks ago. We met at the little house the Jim Ginn and I have been building in Methow Valley, and we had a good time together. We laughed. We prepared way too much food. We ate. And as our family does, we sang together. Old hymns that we (mostly) knew the words to by heart.
One of those hymns was “It is Well with My Soul.” We forgot a few of the words in the middle verses, but sang lustily on verses 1 and 4. “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight…” In the quiet after singing, Dave spoke up.
“You all know I’ve done some things in my life,” he began. We’d been ribbing him earlier about some of his more notorious youthful pranks. He continued in a faltering voice. “But I want you to know, if anything happens, it is well with my soul.”
My sisters, who’d been weepy during the whole reunion, bawled out loud, and we guys joined in. And then we went on with our reunion, most of us knowing that for some reason this would be the last time we’d all be together in this life.
And now Dave is gone. We are seven instead of eight.
So what’s the reminder or lesson that I mentioned? Death is not the end of life, it is part of life. If we spend all our time and energy trying to avoid death, we will never really live. If we avoid getting close to people because we don’t want to risk losing them, then we will miss out on the riches of their love completely.
My sister-in-law Kris had to beg the emergency room medical staff to stop CPR on Dave on Sunday. They’d been at it for 40 minutes when she intervened and told them to “Just stop.” Only then could there be peace.
And so goes our twisted culture. Two things are true about all of us. We were born. And we will die. And as a culture we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to avoid the latter. I’m not in favor of suffering. But neither am I in favor of extending “life” at any cost.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is credited with a magnificent final opus. It includes the following:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live… (Deuteronomy 30.19 – NRSV)
Choose life, knowing that life includes death.
By Jim Segaar
Until recently the concept of a “fire season” was rather abstract for me – something in the news that other people cared about. But recently it has been looming large in my consciousness and subconscious.
Fire Season is one of the semi-official seasons that define life in the Methow Valley, where Jim Ginn and I built a country home. In this valley in the North Cascades, we definitely have the traditional four seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall - but we also have some extras. In March and April comes Mud Season. That’s when the snow melts and mud of varying depths covers everything and everybody for a time and long-time residents plan vacations to other parts of the world. And there is Fire Season, which begins some time during the summer and lasts until the first big rains of Fall.
We had a taste of Fire Season last year while beginning to build our house, but I don’t remember a lot of impact. It was hot and dry and we worked hard in the heat. Some days were smokier than others, but they didn’t leave much of an impression.
This year was different. In July a fire started burning one valley to the south of us along the Twisp River. In the early days our neighbors worried that it would cross the ridge and come down the Wolf Creek drainage right to our doorsteps. Another fire started to the northwest in August, but no one seemed too concerned that it would reach any houses.
And then the smoke came – from Siberia, British Columbia, California, and our own neighborhood blazes. Air quality became very bad, so bad that we had to cut back on working outside and stop bicycling altogether. At one point in August the air actually made us sick with scratchy throats and nausea. We finally fled back to Seattle so we could breathe some relatively clean air.
Some days this fire season have been downright depressing – like the day when I looked out at the smoke and wondered aloud how, if fire season is part of the “new normal,” what difference does anything else I do make for our environment? Other days the effects were more subtle, but an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty never leaves. It’s made me think about how one lives positively through Fire Season, or other seasons that seem to set our lives ablaze.
Finally an answer came: Awe and Gratitude.
I’ve been awed by clear mornings when the air is suddenly clean again and we are free to enjoy our beloved valley for a few hours, by nights when the stars twinkle through a hole in the smoke, and by sunrises and sunsets set ablaze by the fumes.
And I am grateful. For the thousand firefighters, most living in tents, who have kept the local fires from spreading into occupied areas. For the table full of forestry and national park managers eating pizza next to us the other night, who came from all over the country to fight the fires. That we were able to pay for their pizzas. And for the continuing gift of our country home, the fruit of our labors both metaphorically and literally, but also a great gift that we hope to share with friends and family for years to come.
In a way Fire Season is teaching me how to survive and thrive through the chaos of our times. It is guiding me to move beyond anxiety and fear and to live each day, each moment, to the fullest. To stop staring at the ground, to look up, and to see the riches all around us. To be in awe of them. To be grateful.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist