Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Beginnings and the Seeds that were Sown . . . by Heidi Jakoby and Kari Henkelmann Keyl

Seeds of possibilities!
The past four weeks by the way has been celebrating four years of walking together as an ever-changing community of faith. Feel free to scroll down past this post, to find some of btw’s bloggers reflecting on how God’s grace has been flowing through by the way. This blog posting marks our official point of closure, but the blog will remain online as an ongoing resource for you and others who may be stopping by.

As we close this blog we are reminded of the many seeds that have been sown, those known and unknown. We’ve heard many of your stories of seeds planted, eyes opened wide, walls crumbling down, God’s growth happening in so many ways. The two of us also have grown greatly through this ministry and we have all of you to thank: All 1000 plus of you! We are so grateful for all of you who have taken the time to read what we have written, those who’ve come to chat and/or worship in person, those who skyped with us, those who supported us financially, and those who prayed faithfully for the btw community. Thank you!

It’s been quite a trip to see by the way morphing into different shapes, according to the way we all felt the Spirit leading us. We have the sense of what it is like to be “transfigured”, re-shaped and re-energized for God’s mission to reach out to those needing faith community.

This Sunday is known by many around the world as “Transfiguration Sunday,” and the story told in Matthew 17:1-9  will be the primary focus. Take a look at that story to see a group of disciples invited to go with Jesus to a high mountain top where Jesus was then transfigured before their eyes.

Transfiguration is a marked change in form or appearance, a metamorphosis that reveals something BIG. Can you imagine witnessing something like this? What would a modern day transfiguration look like? How would being present for such an event change your life? Have you ever had a “mountain top experience” an experience that was so profound it forever changed you… as the experience with Jesus changed the disciples with him?

We have had a number of “mountain top experiences” throughout the journey of by the way. Here’s a peek at a few of our peaks:
  • whenever we tried out a new public location, and there was a “moment” when this new space truly felt like God’s “sanctuary”
  • whenever we met together to hash out our seemingly insurmountable challenges and ended up transformed by a surprising new insight and direction
  • each time we gathered for Bread for Your Journey and found that a unique group of individuals was being shaped by God into a community where meaningful encounter was exhilarating
  • the first time we had over a thousand hits on our blog
  • when we changed from meeting in-person to meeting on audio-skype, and we realized that God could open us up to each other in new ways through this medium
  • the times that our ministries led to someone being baptized
You may have noticed that as Jesus and his followers were coming down off the mountain Jesus asked them not to tell anyone until after he had risen. They were asked to wait until the appointed time, when the glory-story would make sense. We, too, need to listen carefully as God guides us to know when to speak and when to be silent. Today we are clear that this is the time to share our ending and our thankfulness.

Telling a story well is like blowing the seeds of a wild-flower into the air, not knowing where they will go or how they will take root. Today we let go of by the way and we pray for the many seedlings we trust God is still tending, that they may grow to help people know the love of God.

We hope that the ways we have shared God’s love has touched you in some way and that you will continue to feel God’s embrace. Please feel free to let us all know how what’s on your mind at this time of closure. And if you have any blogs or websites that have provided faith community for you, please share them in our comments below.

You are most welcome to stop by by the way’s last audio-skype conversation this Thursday (March 3) at 7pmEST, when we’ll be journeying into Jesus’ transfiguration story and praying together for the world God so loves. You need to have downloaded the program from skype.com and have a microphone with your computer (as most laptops do). Notice that you don't need a webcam, since it's not a visual call. Add "bythewaycommunity" to your contacts list on skype, and call in on Thursday.

We’ll close with these words of spirited poetry:

Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be;
 let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee:
 Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
 till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise!
 ~ from Love Divine, All Loves Excelling  by Charles Wesley  

Walking with you in the way of Jesus,

Heidi and Kari

(One of btw's bloggers wrote this this amazing piece on the importance of by the way's insights for the whole Church.  Don't miss it!)

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dancing, by the way, with God

Sometimes the song that’s playing in the back of our minds is a gift, if only we will stop to listen.

Right now the words and melody of Donna Summer‘s Last Dance , is the gift that I’ve been trying to ignore but now have turned around to embrace. It’s not that the lyrics  are especially rich. It’s just the sense of the song that’s appropriate: the sweet mood of moving to the music one last time before the festive event comes to an end.

Heidi and I offered the invitation to our past bloggers to connect with the by the way community one last time before our closing next week. Dustin Wright responded with his images of God acting though by the way to provide a shelter from the storm  when he needed it most. Bill Petersen offered his take on living in the perfectness of God's love for us  rather than the perfectionistic goals we tend to pursue.

This week we have two more btw bloggers joining in the dance. And then next week Heidi and I will together compile our last reflections, on how God has indeed been dancing with us these past 4 years… as we’ve tangoed with the texts of God’s Word and the contexts of God’s world, through God’s dancing partner known as by the way.
Kari Henkelmann Keyl

To Linger Along the Water Way  by Elisabeth Aurand
The name “By the Way” and the blog’s attendant publicity cards had caught my attention, yet it was some months before I felt I had time… to explore this new “congregation via Skype.” I appreciated the empathetic and wisely reflective voices on Thursdays at 7pm, enough that I wanted to “meet them further on up the road,” (as Bruce Springsteen would sing it ).
I think my image… is “The Way”, a dusty way, tapering into the horizon where it now joins a way of waters. This water “way” still invites one for a journey –past the dusty road and on into the regular current. This is the river with us in our baptisms and it keeps rolling. I hope we who have gotten to know each other here can continue to linger along the water way together now and then.

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Where do you see God?  by Anne Roser

How amazing it is when God’s loving and healing presence is recognized in the world! As I have read the bytheway blog through the years, I have seen others point to the holy in new and exciting ways.

Isaiah 43.19 offers these words to us: “I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

Who could have imagined that when the internet took hold many years ago, that it would become a tool of faith? Or that social media via Facebook, originally geared for college students, would explode into use by many ages, groups, and organizations for their communication needs? Not to mention other social media inventions!

The science world is always on the fringe of new and exciting discoveries as well. A former college classmate of mine, Dr. Leonard Zon (read more about what he does here ) was recently featured on National Public Radio’s program Science Friday on his amazing work with stem cell research.  Do check it out!

God uses what is common to reach us, and that includes the wonders of science and technology. The gifted people of this world point out to us the wonders of life around us. They use what is common to bring new life. And we as well can use what is common to point to the Christ, the light of the world, using our gifts as God intends.

God is ever deepening our desire for what is holy. In ways old and new, God is reaching out to restore, renew, and nourish the world. We are all invited to new life, new possibilities, new futures – and the darkness of alienation, illness, injustice, despair and suffering do not have the final word upon the nations, cultures, and peoples of the world.

Where do you see God? Through invention, science, technology…as well as mutual dialogue, relationship and community, the power of the holy is revealed. New things indeed springs forth, do you not perceive them? Thanks be to God!

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Thank you, Elisabeth and Anne!  And thank you to the entire by the way community for joining in the dance.  Please add your reflections by commenting here, so we can all sway to the music of your dance with God.

(And if anyone has a link to the song Dance With Me, the one that starts with, "This is holy time", please do share it.  The lyrics fit with what we're talking about here, but I'd love to share the music as well.)

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perfect Retaliation = Love for Your Enemies (including yourself)

Today's post is from Bill Petersen, whose spirited imagination was vital at btw's beginnings as well as at other points along the journey. This being the last few weeks that by the way will be blogging (see the post from Feb. 2), we're hearing from those who have been central in btw's organically-growing life. On behalf of the btw community, I'd like give thanks to God for Bill's gifts and his enthusiasm for coloring outside the lines!   ~ Kari Henkelmann Keyl 

Is it really possible to love your enemies?  Can we really be so perfect?  It's a tall order, but it's a challenge that Jesus puts in front of us in Matthew 5:38-48, the big climax of Jesus' collection of teachings often called The Sermon on the Mount (from the 5th chapter of Matthew's Gospel).

In these teachings, Jesus moves from words of blessing to declaring an end to vengeance. Jesus tells us that God’s law (including the command to forgive and love our enemies) is based on God’s unlimited love.  Because of God’s love for us, we are not to respond to evil with retaliation, rather love and forgiveness. Jesus goes on to say that living in perfection is to live in the power of God’s abundant love.

Unfortunately many of us see perfection in a less than godly light. We have expectations of perfection demanded of us by our parents, friends, bosses, and if we truly admit it… ourselves. Even Jesus' words at the end of the passage from Matthew can add pressure: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect, a word that I mutter as a curse more than I give as a compliment to myself, or anyone else for that matter…  perfect :(

I am reminded of Alanis Morissette’s song Perfect from her 1995 album ‘Jagged Little Pill’ is all about the pressure of perfection that can be piled on children by parents. The song has haunting, pressure filled lyrics that opens with:  Sometimes is never quite enough. If you're flawless, then you'll win my love. Don’t forget to win first place, don’t forget to keep that smile on your face…

It goes on with messages for sons: Be a good boy, try a little harder. You’ve got to measure up and make me prouder. How long before you screw it up, how many times do I have to tell you to hurry up. With everything I do for you, the least you can do is keep quiet.

And equally pressure filled words for daughters: Be a good girl, you’ve gotta try a little harder. That simply wasn’t good enough, to make us proud. I'll live for you, I'll make you what I never was.

And ends with the bottom line of: We'll love you just the way you are if you’re perfect!

How can a son or daughter live with that kind of far from perfect pressure…? I think Jesus recognized that there is pressure to be perfect and that as humans we can never measure-up. The law is a gift that isn’t meant to remind that we have to be perfect, but that as people, we can’t be. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it, but admit and ask for forgiveness when we screw up knowing that God loves us in all our perfect and less than perfectness.

There is a current song Perfect sung by P!nk, a singer influenced by Alanis Morrisette by the way, that confesses imperfection and reminds in the refrain that God see’s us as we are, loves us anyway and calls us to live awash in God’s perfect love. The refrain (the clean version here) are words that could be sung by Jesus to remind us of who and whose we are, children of God, made in God’s image…

Pretty pretty please, don't you ever ever feel,
Like you're less than, less than perfect.
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you're nothing,
You are perfect to me!

The P!nk Perfect video shows the less than perfect life of a girl growing up and the challenging struggles she faces as she tries to be perfect. It is raw, it is hard to watch, and it reflects the difficulty many experience trying to live-up to expectations of perfection. As I watched it and reflected on it, I recalled Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbors, many of whom struggle with perfection, and how we are called to live in the love of God.

The video, and uncensored version of the song uncensored version of this song  will probably never be shown in schools or churches due to its “R” rated material and sensitive subject. But I recommend it because the beautifully crafted video shows a young woman who grows up facing the very real issues of bullying, drugs, self harm and theft in a world that is far from perfect. I also think that P!nk’s song is a reminder that one doesn’t have to live up to any of our worldly expectations of perfection, because to God you are perfect.

No matter what your emotional experience around perfection is, or was… you are made in God’s image. Yes you are flawed, but you are still given life and forgiven your mistakes by God who loves you. God knows every hair on your head, your deepest secrets, and all your imperfections but gave you Jesus to show us what perfect love is, to bring forgiveness, and to remind you that you are accepted with open, loving and welcoming arms by the One who sees you as perfect!

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Bill Petersen serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church  in East Hartford, Connecticut and blogs at Signs Along the Way: At the Intersection of Grace + Reality

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shelter from the Storm . . . by Dustin Wright

Today's post features Dustin Wright: blogger, worshiping member, and leader in the by the way community.  This being the last month that by the way will be blogging (see the post from Feb. 2), we're hearing stories from those who have been central in btw's organically-growing life.  Thanks, Dustin, for your insightful words here, and for all you have given to this community!    ~ Kari Henkelmann Keyl

As by the way continues its journey, entering into a season of change and evolution, I'd like to reflect on how this community's ministry has been important to me, in light of the Bible reading that many Christians around the world will be focusing on this Sunday, Matthew 5:21-37.

At first glance, Jesus seems to be speaking here in very plain language. He tells us to reconcile with others, or we will "pay the last penny".  He tells us not to look at others lustfully, or we will be “thrown into hell.” He tells us that all oaths come “from the evil one.” Once some of his prescribed actions are considered however, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is doing more than simply giving commands. Instead of commanding us to gouge out our eyes or cut off our limbs, Jesus is instead teaching us how important our thoughts are instead of simply our actions.

When we lust over wealth, prestige, or indeed another person, we’re already loosing focus on what God is trying to tell us. When we give into anger and dismiss the concerns of a spouse, a parent or even a close friend, we end up violating God’s intention for us to be in community with others. Whenever we lust or don’t work to release anger from our hearts, whether we act on such emotions or not, we’re already distracted from our relationship with God, and life can indeed become a living hell.

Of course, it’s so easy to get distracted! In world that is constantly trying to pull us in different directions, we all need a place that is a “shelter from the storm” so to speak, a community where we know there are loving people that care for us and want to walk with us as we get back on track. The by the way community provided that shelter for me, in a time when I needed it the most.

When I first came to by the way I was in the midst of a great period of loss in my life, and I was grasping at almost anything that I thought might keep me afloat… having recently graduated college into a well paying but life-consuming job, I was living a pretty hedonistic lifestyle in the little spare time I had, longing for wealth and relationships in a vain attempt to fill all that was missing. Every time I took that long drive to Nashua, NH however and participated in by the way’s "Bread for Your Journey" gathering, I briefly had a chance to refocus on my relationship with God. As I got increasingly involved with the by the way community, I was empowered to listen to God’s call, and now only a couple years later, I am beginning my second semester at seminary, on my way to -- with God’s help -- becoming an ordained pastor.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned how by the way is entering into a season of change… and that’s exactly what it’s doing! As much as it might seem like it, by the way is not ending, not at all! Instead, through the ministries of all whom it has touched over the years, by the way is evolving into what it was always meant to be. Through all of us, by the way will continue to have a lasting positive influence on others, be a ministry centered on learning and growth, and most importantly, be a way for individuals to feel part of the body of Christ who wouldn’t otherwise.

God’s peace,

Note:  For some insight into Jesus' challenging words on divorce, see this translation: Matthew 5:21-37 - The Message    ~ Kari

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by the way

listening and exploring faith together