Thursday, July 20, 2017

Actions of Note

By the time you read this, I will be gone, or nearly gone, on my way to Nicaragua for our fifth Region-sponsored mission trip to partner with the Parajons in their medical ministry to the most
isolated communities in Nicaragua.  Our Nicaraguan Hosts, Felicia and Jilmer are awaiting our arrival.

I have my packing list and have collected most of what I will need--most important are sturdy waterproof boots and good socks.  I have learned if you take good care of your feet, there is little you cannot accomplish.
I will be taking a few extra things with me this time.  I will be carrying a check for $250 that someone gave me to give to ministry there.  This faithful New York Baptist could not go this year.  The past year was a difficult one financially for this generous soul, but they wanted to do as much as they could.  They unexpectedly received this money, and their first thought was to give it to the Parajons’ ministry.

I will also be taking a box with a pediatric stethoscope, gauze bandages, band aids, and assorted hand tools.  We published among our churches a list of things the ministry was requesting.  The First Baptist Church of South New Berlin collected these items and brought them to the office to go with us to Nicaragua.

Neither of these acts of generosity will make the news; practically no one will notice them.  In a nation where everything needs to be grander and louder and more shocking than ever before to get attention, this kind of thing goes unnoticed.  Even in the church, acts like these get little mention.  I receive mail every day from ministries and conferences and religious promotions that is hard to tell from the launch of the latest IPhone.  Pastors push and shove to get themselves behind some pubic official for a good photo op.  Many individual Christian lobbying groups raise tens of millions of dollars apiece each year promoting some agenda.  One could get the feeling that a modest check or a box of supplies don’t really matter much. One would be wrong.
Jesus was sitting in the Temple one day watching well-off  people give their offerings, and a widow came by and deposited the smallest of coins in the offering urn (Luke 21:1-4).  Jesus observes:  Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;  for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on. The Kingdom of God has always moved forward principally by small acts of faithfulness by ordinary people. As an army travels on its stomach, so the Kingdom is built by people who never make the news or rent stadiums to promote their organizations or get buildings named after them or their faces splashed on brochures. These Kingdom-building people pass through their lives mostly without being noticed, much like the widow in the Temple.  One person notices them: God. 

All things considered, I think that is sufficient.
Jim Kelsey-Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain-A Novel by Garth Stein has all the makings of a great story.  It involves a devoted but underestimated father, sports car racing, Ferraris, and an old dog named Enzo.  In fact, Enzo narrates the story.  Enzo, as he contemplates his death and reflects on what he has learned through his life, observes:
I know this much about racing in the rain.  I know it is about balance.  It is about anticipation and patience.  I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain.  But racing in the rain is also about the mind.  It is about owning one’s body. About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the track is an extension of the rain.
Enzo knows that all the necessary driving skills will not get you around a corner fast in the rain.  To go fast in the rain, one must be centered, read all the inputs as a single symphony of connectedness.  You feel your way in the rain; this is not a matter of practiced technique.  This is a matter of experience—of mistakes made, survived, and learned from.  We can call this intuitive competence.  It is earned not just learned.

Racing in the rain is a bit like growing in faith.  We feel our way through it, synthesizing what we know and what we have experienced to develop this intuitive competence.  In the words of Frederick Buechner, we listen to our lives.

Recently I had to initiate a difficult conversation where there were competing interests and claims and values, each one worthy of respect.  How could one honor all these pieces in a creative tension that did not discount or favor one person over another?  I asked myself:  What would Jesus do? I had no idea.  Sometimes the answer to that question is clear.  Other times, it is not.  It is in these other times that we hone our intuitive competence.  We center ourselves by trusting in God’s presence, and we pay attention to the responses and nuances of those around us in that moment.  Then, we see where the road takes us.  In this case, the people came out the other side of the corner better connected to one another and with a clearer path forward.

Discipleship is about having a center to our lives and then seeing the single symphony of connectedness between us and God and others and creation.  We feel our way through it sometimes.  Therefore, we embrace the curves because each one is different and has something new to teach us.  Between us and the finish line there will always be new challenges.  The question is not have we arrived but are we learning anything along the road.  In a way, we are all racing in the rain.

Jim Kelsey—Executive Minister American Baptist Churches of New York State