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On Not Rushing the Ending

One of my favorite books is William Bridge’s book, Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes.  I love his book because he wrote it first in his 40’s and rewrote it in his 70’s when as he says, “I actually had learned something about how transitions work!” It’s a book that has helped me identify my particular passion and call to work with communities and individuals in times of transition and change as an interim pastor.    

One of the most challenging parts of transition is the “neutral zone” – that time between what has been and what will be. As this can be an uncomfortable time for many of us, sometimes we choose to just get it over with and leap to a premature “ending”. Bridge’s cautions against such jumping ahead and notes that the time in the “neutral zone” has its own sense of time.  Instead of rushing it and reacting to our discomfort, we need to trust in the “neutral zone” in order to fully ingest its gifts, to let it transform us and find the next step that is truly life-giving.  

I’ve been reminded of this reality as I read this morning’s “Portland Press Herald” and the CDC report that on Tuesday Maine had 571 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily total since late January.  Two additional deaths; hospitalizations on the rise.  We are seeing similar spikes around the country as well.  

“Don’t declare victory prematurely, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Monday.  “We’ve got to wait a big longer until we get enough vaccine into people that will clearly blunt any surge.”

We are in the time of in-between.  We are excited and expectant, impatient and ready to move on. And yes, amidst the sobering news of today, there is good news with the number us of who have had one or two vaccines on the rise.  

The preacher in me is reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

What if now is an opportunity to not rush but reflect?….

What does it mean to come through this time wisely?

What lessons have we learned from this past year that we don’t want to forget?  

What practices do we want to continue?  

What might a new normal, a new ethos, look like when we gather together again?  Go well, be well.

And So, Let Us Rise

Thirty six of us gathered early this morning for our first public worship service on Sunday in over a year. It was wonderful to be here together to wait for a sunrise, celebrate Easter morning.  

This year, the Resurrection feels like perhaps it might be possible.  For some of us one, two vaccinations. On Wednesday, all Maine residents will be eligible to receive their vaccines.  Some of us are planning summer trips.  Gatherings with family and friends.  We are planning a return to public worship on May 30.  Checks are in the mail. Hopes for a summer season that might be a bit more like normal.

Last year we were weeks into a pandemic, in lock-down.  9,500 had died in the US. I preached about celebrating Easter in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1997 and how strange it felt to be celebrating Easter in a bleak and desolate time in Russia. It reminded me of life here last year.  

And as we gather today, there is a surge in new COVID cases in Maine and elsewhere.  

New scary variants.  

This month our children have been out of school due to a COVID exposure, some in quarantine, worried about getting sick.  

8.5 million of us don’t have jobs that had jobs last year at this time.

Over half a million Americans have died.  Over 2.8 million world-wide.

On this Easter Sunday we proclaim the mystery of a Christ who rises – and who rises with his wounds.

This year wounded us.  And some of us and some in our nation and world particularly and will continue to long after others of us have moved on.  Wounds that no vaccine will cure – systemic racism, a broken healthcare system, job loss, anxiety, addiction, violence…..

And the Christ who rises, rises in a new body.  Unrecognizable to his closest friends.  

Last March I felt fear of this unknown plague and what it might cost. The scars have been great.  

And I had a great hope that this virus might awaken us to see – to call us out to be a new people, new community in new ways.  

This Easter we need to rise as a wounded people whose wounds have called us to live and see in new ways for the sake of community and creation.

The world we rise into has great challenges – 

A creation in turmoil. We gathered for the sunrise service on the Gulf of Maine – the second fastest warming body of water in the world. 2020 gave us not just the pandemic but the West Coast’s worst fire season and the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.  Near record-lows in Arctic sea ice, shattered heat records.

We saw systemic racism in George Floyd’s death and see it in Derek Chauvin’s trial. In voter suppression bills in 43 states.

See our addiction to violence in the killing of a Capitol Hill policeman, in three mass shootings in past weeks.

Broken economic and healthcare structures. A pandemic of loneliness, depression, isolation.

As the pandemic has worn on the desire for us to get back to normal has increased and I worry that the hope for radical positive change has subsided.  

But we can’t let it dissipate, we need to imagine a new way of life beyond this one – not a new normal but a new way of life to meet the chaotic world we’ve created.  To rise with Christ wounded, yes, and with a new body, new heart, mind, soul and strength to live in new ways.

In the words of Amanda Gorman,

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left….

We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West.  

We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.  

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.  

We will rise from the sun-baked south.  

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.  

When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.  The new dawn blooms as we free it.  For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.  

Excerpts from “The Hill We Climb”

Put Down the Story

It’s Holy Week and a good time to put down the stories.  I mean the small stories we get caught in all the time.  The kind of stories that run through the story of this week, they’re all there.

The small stories guilt and shame we know, that Peter knows in his fervent denial around the campfire that night, “I do not know him!”  

The stories we share with Jesus in our longing for a different story, “Let this cup pass from me!” 

There again in his cry of rage and desertion that we have known as well, “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me!”  

It’s there in all that makes us afraid and has us tearing off with the women from the tomb in fear and terror at the news we did not expect.

It’s there in all that makes us afraid and has us tearing off with the women from the tomb in fear and terror at the news we did not expect.

Our small stories are the same stories we hear echoed in the news. There in the aftermath of the third mass shooting in the past weeks. There in the trial of Derek Chauvin. There in Andrew Cuomo and Matt Gaetz. There in Brandon Elliot’s assault on Vilma Kari, a Chinese woman, on the streets of New York.  There in the silent onlookers.  There in the legislators who support and pass legislation that restricts voter access.

All small stories born of rage, fear, anxiety, our small ego needs and desires. The same small stories that live in us, our communities and institutions.  Sometimes its easier to see them in others.

We all have the small stories that keep us small.  Some we chose, others chosen for us.  But our choice about what to do with any of it.  

What we know is that these small stories become deadly stories. Become systemic stories of racism, violence, greed. Live in the back story to the great challenges of our time – climate change, racial injustice, a broken politics and a broken life together. 

We all have the small stories that keep us small.  Some we chose, others chosen for us.  But our choice about what to do with any of it.  

The good news of Easter is that our small stories are not the only stories.  Easter reminds us that we live in a bigger story of Life, Possibility and Hope.  

The bigger story is carried in the perseverance and persistence of the women to stick with this Jesus who has always been about opening up the stories that they thought were closed.  The small stories that trap us in definitions of who is in and who is out, who matters and who does not.  

The bigger story is there in those last words of Jesus from the cross, after all the other words, the final word, last breath, something more than giving up but a giving over to whatever is to come in this unknown, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”  

But to get to the bigger story you need to go through this Holy Week.  To pull out the small stories that we have been holding for far too long.  To pull them out and look at them so we can let a bigger story hold them, hold us.  

And like on Maundy Thursday, so there in the stories of Easter, when we take out the small stories we find Jesus there meeting us.  

Meeting us not with closed hands but outstretched hands.

Not with empty hands but with the gift of bread.

Not with crossed arms but with a invitation to come to a table and meet other broken souls whose lives are trapped in small stories who need to hear the bigger story.

Here he offers this bread.

Here this cup.

Here meeting our guilt with grace.

Turning our gaze from what keeps us from each other to the discovery of one another.

Come, open your hands.  All they are and all they have known.  All they have done and left undone. 

Open your hands and receive. 

Awakening

The earth is waking up.  I see it in the little green shoots by the front stoop, hear it in the singing chickadees. Smell it in the piles of composting leaves, the ice and mud along the trail.  Yes, know it in my sneezing through this change of season.  Something is in the air.  The earth is waking up.  

And yes, around town see this awakening in the smiles and sparkling of those who are receiving their vaccinations. Hear it in the sound of their stories – tears of gratitude, the lifting of a weight they didn’t even know they were carrying.  

It’s been a long winter. 

It’s been a long Lent since last year when we turned from worshipping in person to connecting with each other in ways we never could have imagined – in live-stream worship and zoom meetings and conversations.  Our community has grown and changed through the challenges. 

This Lent, as I’ve been pondering and wondering on the healing ministry of Jesus with you, I have felt more viscerally than I have before how much we need this healing, how much we long for it.  And so, what a good time for Easter to come – a reminder, a sign, an ancient story and present celebration that we are getting there, we are finding our way through.  That out of the loss of what was, a new and unexpected life is rising.

Our Easter celebrations this year reflect our experience of the awakening this spring.  The earth is waking up, the world is opening up to a new day.  And yes, we’re not quite at all the ways we long to be quite yet. Some of us will gather in-person for our Sunrise Service.  Others of us will tune-in on line.  Many of us will take part in live-stream Easter morning service at 10 am.  Plans are being made for more public worship opportunities in the months ahead.  

I smile as I think back on where we were last year.  If you had told me that we would we gathering for worship on-line for the next year, that we would be gathering for Bible Studies, Support Groups, Conversations and Committee Meetings on zoom, I might well have argued with you about what a bad idea that was!  But this year changed me.  It changed us.  I’ve experienced the wonder of the church growing in such miraculous, unbelievable ways as we’ve made connections with people that never could have taken part before in the church’s ministry.  I witness the church getting bigger, its imagination growing.  

This new world we rise into will need our imaginations, our wonder, our prayers for possibility.  And the good news is, we don’t have to figure it all out alone. Together with the Spirit of the Living God around us, within us, among us, it is already happening, the earth is waking up.  Let us give ourselves to the slow turning and awakening of the world and take in the wonder of it all.


Testing the Wind

The other night I had a chance to talk with my family about what we have been learning through this past year.  One nephew shared that he discovered that small daily routines can get you somewhere.  

Another nephew talked about the importance of making good memories in everyday activities.  

I shared that I’d discovered that it is not about being perfect. Every week our AV Technician Tom reminds us as we gather for recording our live-stream worship that perfection is not what we are about but that it is through sharing our vulnerability that we create a connection with God and one another.

Week by week over the past year I have been learning that perhaps, yes, it really is true.  That in putting down the impossibility of perfection, that it makes room for something else — vulnerability, authenticity, that grow our connections with one another.

What have you learned over this past year? What do you want to remember?  

Another family member shared that this past year she’s become a better cook.  While I, like you perhaps, had many things that I thought of doing that I never did do this year, I did do one significant thing, I finished a small book I had been working on for the past 7 years.  

It’s a memoir called Testing the Wind about my tumultuous journey of learning to sail a little boat as I reflect on my growth through the ups and downs of life.  It will be coming out by Coffeetown Press next month.  

I’d never written a book before and I’ve learned a lot about how small steps can get you somewhere if you keep at them. I’ve stepped into so many good memories in making new friends in writing classes and workshops.  And yes, now in putting this book out, stepping away one more time from perfectionism and sharing a vulnerable story and imperfect book. 

And maybe there is our hope. As we step through this time of crisis and into the spring before us, may we have the faith and courage to step out in vulnerability and authenticity and make the kind of connections and reconnections we’ve been longing for.  

Mud Season

It sure feels like March in New England.  

In between, as winter turns to spring.  The driveway thaws and turns to mud.  The snow melting, birds singing.  And what’s that I see on my weather app on my phone – snow next week on Wednesday and Friday?!  We’re getting to spring – and not quite there yet.  

A community in-between as some of us have had one and even two vaccines while others won’t have our vaccines for a while yet.  

And yes, we are so looking forward to gathering again in person at church.  We’ve missed being together a lot.  A small task group made up of the Trustees and Deacons are beginning to investigate what it will take to return to public gatherings.  

Amidst the planning, the schools are shut this week due to a Covid-19 exposure.  Some of our children and church families are in quarantine.

These in-between times can be challenging for all of us in different ways. 

I wonder what difference it might make if in our own ways we kept our loved ones, our church family, our community, our leaders, our country in our prayers each day as we make this turn from what has been into what will be. 

I wonder what difference it might make if in our own ways we sought to bring extra understanding and curiosity with one another as we are and will be in different places and of different minds of how we’d like this transition to play out.  

I wonder what difference it might make if we listened to one another with care as we all discover our way to again do something we’ve never done before.  

In this in-between time, Easter comes as it always does with the promise that despite any evidence to the contrary that a surprising, unexpected New Life is before us. 

And yes, truly, in its many ways Easter is before us, Easter is coming. 

My thanksgiving, hope and prayers are with you!

Peter 

Snowflake Bentley

After church this morning, after lunch and after an afternoon nap by the fire, I went to Oak Point Preserve and met Snowflake Bentley.  

One of my favorite things about Boothbay Harbor is how close I live to the Oak Point Preserve and how much I enjoy the Storybook Trail. 

After a morning sermon in which I shared my struggles that we all know about sometimes being able to see all is well and sometimes not seeing that at all, I was inspired by what Snowflake Bentley teaches about seeing.  

As a young boy his utter joy and delight was in the wonder of snow. He followed his joy into the discovery of noticing, seeing, recording and sharing the gift of snowflakes.  No two alike.  Each a wonder.    

Though not completely understanding, his parents nevertheless supported his quest and invested their savings in buying him a special camera to record what he saw.  Taking pictures of snowflakes is not easy.  It requires a cold barn, lots of patience and slow work. And he believed, work that mattered.  

I love what he wrote about his life’s work of sharing what he saw, 

“The average farmer gets up at dawn because he has to go to work in the cow yard.  I get up at dawn, too. But it is because I want to find some leaf, hung with dew; or a spider web which the dew has made into the most delicate ropes of pearls….I take my camera with me, get down on my knees in the wet grass, and photograph these exquisite bits of nature.  Because I do this I can show these lovely things to people who never would have seen them without my help.  They will get their daily quart of milk, all right.  Other farmers will attend to that.  But I think I am giving them something which is just as important.”

It makes me wonder, what is something that we might share with others that they might never see without our help?  

What is our bit of noticing that we can help each other notice?  

What if we believed like Snowflake Bentley that the sharing of what we see and the wonder of what we love is one of the greatest gifts we can offer one another.  

Open

(Last Friday night was “Open Mic” night at the downtown Opera House here in Boothbay Harbor. I wrote this up to share but the event was cancelled due to an ice storm.Who knows? Perhaps next month I’ll try sharing it again.)

It took me nine months and 19,586 miles to get here.  

No, I didn’t take the short route.

Instead, nine months ago I threw my bike, tent, sleeping bag, bag of clothes, a box of post-it notes, a couple of books and my journal in the back of my Honda Fit and took off from Seattle and what had been home for the past 25 years.

Sometimes life empties you down to just what you can fit in the back of a Honda Fit.  

And sometimes opens you up as broad as a country as I drove East through mountain passes and out through a wide horizon and an endless sky. On through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. On through Ohio and upstate New York, back west and up to Wisconsin, and down through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, south to Arkansas and across the Mississippi Delta to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Up through the mountains of Tennessee and hills of Kentucky into the Midwest, the mid-Atlantic, and north to New England. Its been an amazing adventure.  

Along the way, so curious, so curiously open, to new connections, new people, new discoveries. Trying on new work, doing new things, being in a different way.  

A week ago I arrived here in Boothbay Harbor, Maine where I’ll make my home for a little while. I pulled off the road, got out of my car and turned with my car keys in hand and pushed the lock button. 

“No one does that here,” a voice said behind me.  

No one does that here?  Lock their car? Something I’ve done every day, many times a day without ever thinking about it? 

No one does that here?

I’m reminded of moving to Seattle and learning that no one flicks their umbrella down and pops it open in a drizzle for hardly anyone walks around with an umbrella in Seattle. Instead, I too would discover how to embrace the rain and walk around open to the drizzle and pretend that I wasn’t getting wet.

In this past week, I’ve been trying to find my way in this place that’s so different from any place I’ve ever lived. So far from Seattle, from urban America where I’ve lived most of my life.

I’ve been reminded numerous times that the ocean is on the other side but it seems to me like its on every side. Water at every turn, bend, fork in the road.  

I’m still getting used to the different scale of life in a small town. Like I’ve been used to doing, I keep taking off 15 minutes ahead of time to make it across town for an appointment only to keep arriving 10 minutes early. (I’ve heard that changes in the summer.)

Last Friday night I arrived at the movie theatre in town 15 minutes ahead of time because that’s what I’ve always done. Besides, it was opening night and an Academy Award nominated movie. I was sure the theatre would be packed and I wanted to get a good seat. There were lots of good seats for the seven of us who were there. 

On Tuesday I turned on the TV at 6pm to watch the State of the Union because that’s when the State of the Union always starts. I was relieved when I couldn’t find it on any channel and figured that it must have been cancelled.  

I’ve invited several people for coffee only to wonder afterwards, where would we go to find coffee? In Seattle, the next cup is a mere half bock away.

I got out of bed early yesterday morning scanning the horizon for the low flying plane only to look out and see it was not a plane but a boat passing outside my window.  

I was shocked to meet someone the other day who commented that they went to Whole Foods for the first time. In Seattle, the question is not the first time but how many times do you go to a high end grocery store?

Am I settling in? Am I unsettled? A little of both.  

And yes, I’m learning. The other day I learned that the snow that would have shut down Seattle for a week I can navigate quite nicely through in my Fit. 

And I was delighted to see a “Seahawks” sign outside the High School. I thought I was in Patriot’s territory. Maybe I’m not so far from home.  

Yes, even though Open Mic was cancelled due to freezing rain, I learned I can make is safely home in it as well.  

I guess I’m open. Open to discovery.  

Like being here talking with you tonight. For while I’ve spent my career speaking at microphones I’ve never spoken at an Open Mic.

“How you get there is how you’ll arrive”, the Maine poet Philip Booth wrote.  

I guess I’ve arrived, Open. 

A New Year’s Gift

As this New Year begins, I’m looking back with heart full of gratitude for all the amazing people I got to meet last year. My 8 month road trip of conversations and connections opened my life, deepened my faith and clarified my call to support and empower individuals and communities in times of change and transition.

As the New Year begins I want to express my thanks and offer a free half-hour coaching conversation with you to hear what’s stirring for you as you begin this New Year.

Just text or call me with a time that works for a half-hour call – 206-484-9814.

I look forward to hearing where you are going in 2020!

Happy New Year!

Peter Ilgenfritz
206-484-9814
Navigatingthroughchange.com

Christmas Eve

I pull aside the white linen drapes here by the side of the desk. Outside a few brown leaves scattered on crusty smooth snow. Trails of animal tracks I do not recognize. Golden oval leaves draping from a jagged dark limb. Brown leaves nestle at the base of a small fir.

On the desk here by the window a pile of scattered white lined paper. Lists of things I have done crossed out in dark lines amidst scribbles of book titles, calls to make, projects to complete.

A small black and white pocket notebook, my brown billfold, and a set of three keys for my locker room padlock, my bike lock and car placed inside my upside down Center for Wooden Boats green ball cap.

A paperback novel with a yellow and orange cover, an early Christmas gift from my niece.

The sun rises over the hill. Golden light streams through the gray trunks of trees.

It’s been 25 years since I haven’t been working tonight. 25 years since I wasn’t trying to stay awake in my office waiting for the 11pm service to start going over yet one more time the Christmas sermon or prayer. 25 years since I haven’t rehearsed with my colleagues how it was that we passed the light as the congregation began to sing Silent Night. Who is it that goes to the Advent wreath with their candle? Who do they pass the light to and where do we stand to light the candles for the choir as they process down from the chancel to surround the congregation with light? How is it that we cue them to begin to pass the light down the rows for pews packed for the late night service.

It’s been 25 years since I haven’t gotten home long after midnight this night. The exuberance of greeting children I have watched grow up into adults with children of their own.

25 years of holding space for so many others so that they could receive this gift of Christmas, and now, this year others who hold the space for me.

Twilight at the Church in the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire a dozen of us in a circle of plastic chairs in the small barn surrounded by candlelight, two dogs lounging by the wood stove. Later that night at my parent’s church in Sanbornton candles, red poinsettias and greens on the sills at the base of the dark stained glass windows. The white pews full of other visiting family and friends, several generations of the Mormon family from the farm down the hill joining the congregation in the white pews as they do each year. It’s the first time I’ve been here for Christmas Eve in decades.

I used to give everything for this night. The weeks and hours to craft the sermon. The planning and shaping of how the services would play together – the interplay of music and words, rehearsing the reading of the lessons with the liturgists, college students returned home for the holidays. Trying to remember the choreography for the passing of the candlelight at the close of the late night service, just before midnight. My parents welcoming at the door, passing out bulletins, coming forward side by side to pass the offering plates. Lingering to pick up bulletins left in the pews after the service.

Especially this year the promise of the coming light in the darkness means so much to me. I so wanted this year to draw to a close with some kind of completion, a meaning, a story and sense to make of it all. I wanted this year to end with an offering of myself, a giving myself again to a community, a project, a place – a pouring out of my imagination, a sharing of my gifts. And this year, instead of offering, I am here to learn again to receive.

I’m amazed how ignorant I am of this receiving. I wonder how I embody it, hold it. I sit back in my chair. Is this it? I open my palms. This? I am not as attentive to names. I drift off during the sermon.

The memory of this mornings image of the light on the desk recalls me to the way of receiving. Remember how I pulled aside the curtains, golden light and shadows over all this working and doing and proving and showing. All this that is still in process and incomplete. The to-do lists of things I wanted to do, the wallet with the money running out, the keys to my Honda Fit which has faithfully taken me these 18,000 miles over the past seven months, the shadows on my ball cap wondering still what clothes it is I will be wearing – how I will inhabit this new place and role and way in life. The longing for it to be meaningful, to make sense, to be a fitting next step along the way. And a reminder the steps along this way were born of invitations and from connections. A presence that I opened myself to receive.

The light comes in and for a moment, I stop and wonder – the play of dark and light, the grace of imagining that this soft light is a caress of care, of hope, of grace. Perhaps it is.

I want to believe the story. I want to know it is true. And yes, sometimes do. Know that whatever else is to come it is here and I need to be open to receiving it. This birthing of Christ, this God with us, here and now. I open wider the shades.