“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19a)
Canal-side in Buffalo has become a gathering place for tens of thousands of people who come to relax and play and within a few years live in a re-created neighborhood that pays homage to the past. It goes without saying that the opening of the Erie Canal made Buffalo, and its fortunes and misfortunes played a corresponding role in the city’s history. As part of the ongoing renaissance of Buffalo, Canal-side is taking a page out of the history books to reinvent itself going forward.
In the past few years, the original canals have been located and unearthed and rewatered. The original street grid has been put back in place as well as the “Commercial Slip,” It’s recently been announced that soon apartments and stores will grace the the street grids and re-watered canals creating a new community that pays homage to the old. And from the look of artist renderings, it appears it will do just that.
But just exactly how much of the past do we want in our future? A recent article in the Buffalo News tells of a less than romantic account of what the past at Canal-side was really like:
From the Buffalo Evening News in 1903:
The extent to which vice flourishes at the Canal street region, or the “infected district,” as it is called, is pointedly shown in a large wall chart just issued by the Christian Homestead Association, which is doing mission work in that district. Staff Captain Cox of the Salvation Army, who has been in the slums in all the large cities in the world, says the district is the worst he ever saw, with the single exception of a street in Bombay. The chart shows the location of 108 saloons, 19 free theater saloons, 75 houses of ill-fame and 75 second-hand clothing stores, barber shops, restaurants and other legitimate places. It is issued for the purpose of bringing forcibly to the attention of the people of Buffalo the iniquity of that district, and to get them interested in the work of the Rescue Mission, which is maintained entirely by subscriptions. (August 21, 2018 Buffalo News)
Now I know it goes without saying that its not the intention of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to set about re-creating the “infected district,” but there is no denying the fact that this was life at Canal-side that point in time. And to just forget about the fact that it was an infected district is to deny the work of those who worked so hard to overcome it.
So just what are we supposed to do with a past that cannot be forgotten? I again refer to Laurence Stookey’s book, “Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,” where he states; “Christians are called to assume the cruciform posture: Standing upright with feet firmly planted in the present, we stretch out one arm to grasp our heritage and the other arm to lay hold of our hope; standing thus, we assume the shape of our central symbol of faith: the cross. If either hand releases its grip, spiritual disaster threatens as the sign of the cross becomes misformed.” (p.22) It is in this position that we can be grateful for what was good, repent of what wasn’t and trust in a God who is sovereign over all of it.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1 NIV)
1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”
dictionary.com Unity: a state of being one. A whole or totality as combining all its parts into one.
It’s interesting to see what we can accomplish when we all come together as one. This beautiful cross was conceived in the mind’s eye of one and was the product of many coming together for an all ages Lenten Sunday School event. People aged 5 through 80’s came together and each one contributed based on the skills they possessed. I remember participating in the event surrounded by people with much greater art skills than myself. After a few moments of questioning as to whether my art was worthy of the project, I settled down and just started to color. At the end of our time, I submitted my work and promptly forgot about it.
On Easter Morning, I couldn’t contain my joy and excitement when the cross was “presented.” It’s truly beautiful isn’t it? I was surprised to see my contribution on that cross along with everybody else's. That elevated my spirit tremendously. It really got me thinking about what we can do when we put our minds and talents to a common goal. A vision was brought to reality by bringing together the various “parts” of the body into one integrated whole. Each one had a hand in bringing the vision to reality. And questions of worthiness were long replaced by the joy and excitement of the finished product.
Celebrate Baker 360 is an opportunity to bring together various “parts” of the body of Christ that is Baker Memorial United Methodist Church. Our time together will offer us an opportunity to experience the continuing narrative that is our past and present, as well as anticipate and have a hand in creating the narrative that will drive our church into the future. I hope to see you there.
CB 360 #2
Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things God does for me. (Psalm 103:2 NLT)
Commentators believe that David was the author of numerous psalms and they attribute psalm 103 as being one of them. Acts 13:22 tells us that God testified David was a man after God’s own heart and said David: “Will do everything I want him to.” David felt that it was a good thing to never forget the good things that God has done for us. But he also knew our propensity to forget those good things (Psalm 73, 103, 106, 107, 137 Yikes!) and the peril that seems to result when we do.
It does seem like a good thing for Christ followers to remember the good things the Lord has done for us doesn’t it? It would seem to go without saying but with all the worldly pressures upon us to YOLO (you-only-live-once) and “live in the present moment,” we sometimes forget that we live at the intersection of time and eternity (Stookey: “Calender: Christ’s Time for the Church,” p.19-20).
Stookey tells us that the past, present, and the future are not separate containers isolated from one another. The present is actually a moving edge from the past to the future in the time continuum. In simple terms he shows us the past influences where we are in the present and our choices in the present have an influence on a not-yet future. Living at the intersection of time and eternity is to acknowledge the need to integrate all three holistically. To put our
greatest emphasis on the present without regard for where we’ve come from or where we’re going is like a sailing ship set adrift at the mercy of whatever way the wind happens to be blowing.
Celebrate Baker 360 (September 28 and 29th) is a proactive approach to
remember (past) the good things the Lord has done for our church and give thanks, see where the moving edge currently stands (present), and anticipate a not-yet future, discerning where the Lord is leading and having a hand in creating it. It is to acknowledge that we really do live at the intersection of time and eternity. It’s the realization that this church has been given to us, and we have the responsibility to care for it in such a way that we can hand it over to
future generations so they too can be God’s grace instruments in God’s world.
CB 360 Blog #1
On a recent trip to Buffalo General Medical Center I came upon this beautiful church on a busy street corner in a very beautiful section of the city. It was a long red light so I had ample time to gaze upon the beauty of this church and to consider its plight. It didn’t make much sense that it was closed. The area around this church was vibrant indeed. There were no indications that the building had been sold or that future development would be taking place. As the light turned green and I moved along, I noticed the beautiful windows that graced the sides of the sanctuary. Many were still in place except for a few that were boarded up due to vandalism. It seemed like such a shame that such a beautiful church in such a vibrant neighborhood could be closed.
As I made my way back to Baker, I couldn’t stop thinking about that church. My mind began to wonder as I considered what may have happened. Was it possible the congregation just became too small for the church to continue? Did the church lose its way by not anticipating the changes in the neighborhood it resided in? I wondered about the people that made up the body of Christ in that place. Did they stop caring for each other? Did they get so caught up in themselves that they lost their sense of purpose? Did they become so tired of doing church that they forgot how to be church? I’m guessing that the people of that church and the people of that neighborhood never thought that this beautiful house of God would become derelict in their corner of the city. Yet there she sits far from being the body of Christ she once was.
My mind turned to thoughts of Baker and the similarities we share with that church in Buffalo. We too have a very beautiful building in a beautiful part of a vibrant community. We too have very beautiful windows gracing the walls of our sanctuary. I’m guessing none of us currently nor our neighbors in the community could ever imagine that this wouldn’t be a house of God forever. There is no way this place could become derelict in our community, but could it? Ultimately we too, just as they did, have a choice to make concerning the future of our church. Thank God we still do have a choice for what the future holds for Baker Memorial UMC. We still do have an opportunity to anticipate that future and have a hand in creating it. The time is now to open our hearts and minds to the leading of God’s Spirit in these days leading up to Celebrate Baker 360.
“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96:12)
There is nothing that quite stirs the soul like an early morning stroll through Knox Farm State Park. This was a particularly beautifully morning as the high humidity and the cool night air created a fog that blanketed the meadow. As I slowly rode my two wheeler along taking it all in, the sunrise burst onto the scene flaming red. I’m not sure that the fields were jubilant but I know I sure was. And as far as the trees of the forest singing for joy? Again I have never heard a tree sing but I sure had a song in my heart. The beauty and movement of God’s creation can do that to you.
A moment such as this is good for the soul. It’s good for our souls as we carve out such moments in the day. As I contemplated that blazing sunrise, my initial reaction was praise to God, who is the author and creator of it all. Then thanksgiving to God for the gift of noticing, as well as realizing the importance of living in the moment and taking time out of a busy day strictly for the purpose of tending the soul. I felt so blessed. And my heart is still singing!
Last Thursday I experienced my first real East Aurora snow storm. From the comfort and warmth of my office, I had a front row seat to observe the unfolding drama. Minutes gave way to hours as the snow fell heavily, without pause. It piled up 14 inches before my very eyes before finally stopping. By the time it was finished our village was transformed into a winter wonderland.
With a travel advisory in effect in the village, the streets were mostly void of traffic. And due to the depth of the snow in the streets, the stray car would be virtually silent as it made its way along. These observations were made from the comfort of the parsonage living room as I contemplated going to sleep, being it was near midnight. Yet as I made my way up the stairs, there was this strong pull on my heart to go outside and experience this wonderland up close. I thought to myself, “Really, a walk in the snow at Midnight?” This thought after watching the 11 oʼclock news and seeing people still stuck in their commutes hours after they left work and hearing of students stuck at school? Yet the pull was undeniable. I decided to heed the call.
One thing I have learned over the years is to pay attention to the “pull on the heart strings,” but did it really have to be at Midnight after a long and busy day in the snow and cold? Couldn't I go out in the morning and experience whatever God had in store for me to experience? I relented to the “pull” in that moment, went back down stairs, put on my gear and headed out into the night.
One word described what I saw. Glory! It was glorious everywhere I looked. A deep, white blanket of snow covered everything. Being close to the holidays, the Christmas lights were on everywhere I walked and even more beautiful covered in snow (see below). But the thing that really grabbed me was the silence- the stillness that blanketed the village as well. There were no snowplows, no traffic and no noise. Just peace and quiet and beauty in the midst of our village that was brought to a halt due to a snow storm. And it was in the midst of this silence that I sense Godʼs presence. It was in the midst of that beauty I sensed Godʼs presence. I felt so blessed that I payed attention to the pull on my heart and took that Midnight walk. It seemed as though heaven and earth were one in that moment.
As I proceeded up Grove Street towards Main Street, the moment passed into oblivion. Two huge snow plows breaking the silence and intruding on my bliss as they dutifully did their jobs so we would be able to live our lives the next day without interruption. While I am thankful we have such snow removal capability and folks who are willing to work such odd hours for our benefit, I felt a touch of sadness for that shattered moment when peace and quiet and beauty gave way to the utility of living life the way we live it. Yet I am forever grateful that God gives us these glimpses of glory and for the opportunities to “Be still, and know I am God.”
I recently found myself taking an early morning stroll down Main Street with my dog, Wallace. I was blown away by the beautiful glow of the rising sun against the cloudy skies (see photo). My first thought in encountering this scene was gratitude to God for
this “painting.” My second thought strangely enough was that age old adage, “Red sky in morning sailor take warning.” Somehow this old adage has become so ingrained in the recesses of my mind that it just spilled out in that moment. No doubt about it, it
would probably rain later today. The sky was loaded with clouds and my I-Phone Weather App concurred. Rain was in the forecast for East Aurora that day. As the day unfolded, a funny thing happened. The clouds moved out and it was the
most glorious Autumn day imaginable. Could my I-Phone Weather App had made a mistake? And what about the age old adage? Could that be wrong too? The two things
weʼve come to learn to trust and count on- modern technology and age old wisdom were both incorrect that day.
For the most part, we can count on age-old adages; their reliability is how they become
age-old adages. For the most part, we can count on technology too. It helps to unravel
mysteries. As the Everyday Mysteries Website from The Library of Congress tells us:
A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already
passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east.
A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in
the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.
In the end, does anyone really know what the day will bring or what the future holds?
We love certainty. We seek knowledge to explain away mystery. We love to control our
lives and our destiny, but we can never fully know or control life as it unfolds before us.
Could it be that the better approach is to put our trust in and count on the “One” who
holds the future?
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in
the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to
interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matt
XVI: 2-3 NIV)
What a beautiful day September 11th was. The sunshine was absolutely beautiful blue
skies with big puffy white clouds. Temperatures in the Seventies- the kind of day
that I love so much. On days like today, it is easy to thank God for the beautiful world
that has been given to us to live in. How ironic that on this day 15 years ago, on a
carbon copy weather-type day such as this one, the beauty of that day was completely
shattered by the violence and hatred of humanity against itself. Who can forget the
horror of that day?
Not long ago, I found myself in New York City helping my son and his family move
into their new digs. As I entered his apartment for the first time, I was blown away by the
view that greeted me. Nine foot floor to ceiling glass windows gave way to an
unimpeded view (see below) of the sparkling new Freedom Tower rising above Ground
Zero only three short blocks away! It was almost too overwhelming to behold! I found
myself strangely attracted to the view, yet needing to close my eyes or just look away to
get back to a sense of my own self in the midst of that very BIG place.
In the evening, as I readied my bed which looked out over that view, the very last
thing I saw as I closed my eyes was the Freedom Tower. As I awoke in the morning, the
very first thing I saw was the Freedom Tower. As we spent some free time together, we
walked next to the colossus that is the Freedom Tower on our way to the 9/11 Memorial.
As it turns out, you canʼt go many places in Lower Manhattan without the Freedom
Tower looking back at you.
Michael Arad, the architect who designed the 9/11 Memorial challenged himself to
create a “living moment of silence” in the design and build out of that space. Quite a
challenge when one considers that this memorial was to be built smack dab in the
middle of the hustle - bustle that is New York City. I believe that he was wildly
successful in doing just that. I would go on to say that this place is sacred ground. As I stood
in that place where the water falls into the footprints of the original towers, surrounded
by beautiful trees and people from all races and stations and religions from all around the world,
all respectfully taking it in, I wondered. Can a place where such horrific bloodshed, death, and
destruction took place be the place where a new peace is born as people from around the world come
and visit this “living moment of silence?”
Oh donʼt we long for the day when justice shall roll like the waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5:24) When nation shall not lift sword against nation- neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4). Maybe, just maybe . . .
God Is Love
“Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the
Spirit into the wilderness.” (Luke 4:1)
Scripture is loaded with stories of events that took place in the wilderness. The word
“wilderness” conjures up images of a wild and uncultivated land, like a desert where
only wild animals live. Its not typically the kind of place where one would want to be led
by the Spirit. And yet, thatʼs exactly where the Spirit leads Jesus after he is baptized in
the Jordan River.
Last year I took a trip to Arizona and spent some time in the desert wilderness. It was a
stark, remote place that was stunning and beautiful in its own right. It is a risky place
where one can get into trouble if certain precautions arenʼt taken. One must literally pay
attention to each and every step you take as you journey through it. But as you get to
that place of keen awareness, you are opened to a truly glorious place where you sense
the closeness of God. There is something about the stark, isolated nature of the land
that just makes you feel closer to God.
The Hebrew word for wilderness is midbar. The root meaning of midbar is “speakʻ or
“word.” Most who has been through the wilderness experience will share that the
presence of God seem close in the midst of that experience. One could easily conclude
that God speaks to us through the wilderness experience. The writers of our sacred
scriptures sure felt so.
My wilderness experience last year brought me up close and personal with this prickly
pear cactus in the high Sedona Desert. It was truly amazing to stumble upon this
“disfigured” cactus in the midst of my desert sojourn. I felt so loved by the “One” who
created it all. As the journey of life unfolds, I pray that you have the opportunity to spend
some quiet time in the “wilderness” with God. You never know what you might stumble
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words;