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January 2017
Pastor’s Perspective. . . 

For almost 15 years, my wife Betsy has created a Bellavia family calendar to give to family members at Christmastime. Born of the new world of internet specialization and multimedia functionality, the personalized calendar has become a 21st Century tradition in our house. The calendar is populated with pictures of our family, including grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course; the children. Thumbing through the old calendars brings with it mixed emotions. A flood of memories. Joy and grief perfectly mixed to reflect the joys and losses of life.

The calendars reveal a certain sameness to my life. Birthdays, vacations, reunions, and holidays. Pictures taken with the catch of the day, playing ball, and lined up in front of fireplaces. Photos taken at weddings and funerals, in good days and in bad ones. All chronicled month by month and year by year.

Our family calendars reflect what has been, but whether we acknowledge it or not, we all live in thrall to the calendar. School and Church work tends to add emphasis to the metronomic consistency of the seasons. Holy days (holidays to our secular friends) mark our seasons, and when you are constantly planning for the next holy day, they can swallow up all of your focus. Like clockwork the seasons arrive and then depart with the time marked by holidays and celebrations. Spring arrives with the celebration of Easter and a trip to a warm place; and before you know it summer is punctuated by the Fourth of July fireworks. Then you send the kids back to school until we celebrate Christmas and the beginning of another new year.

Over the years I have discovered that travelling through the seasons is akin to photographing a child on a ‘time-lapse’ Merry-Go Round. The same background continually presents itself with slightly different expressions marking the passage of time. Laughter can give way to tears often in the course of this ride that we call life, but the background remains remarkably consistent. As I look at the calendars I see the pictures of the past, as children rise up to dwarf their parents. Meanwhile the parents shrink, seemingly compressed by time itself into shorter, squatter versions of their (dare I say ‘our’) younger selves.

I have spent five decades rotating and revolving around the sun. Each year celebrating Christmas and Easter, the 4th of July and New Year’s Day. I have the photographs to prove the passage of time and to affirm the events as they occurred. Each year has revealed a slight variation on the previous one, until the changes that seemed so slight, have created great transformations in the family that we thought was so constant.

Time causes both increases and decreases to our community, as those not yet met or born slowly but surely usurp the positions and places of once cherished friends and family members. The places of the dead silently become occupied by newcomers with nary a change in the overall picture. The family photographs remain oddly consistent, yet remarkably distinct, as babies morph into parents and once-central elements of the family go unnoticed by their absence.

My family gathered, over the summer, to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. As usual we took a picture. This time I was seated in the front row. In a chair. Where the elders typically sit. I asked if there were any other adults that could sit in this honored position, as I am used to standing the back or kneeling on the ground. The sobering truth is that I now sit in the seat of the elders. The changes happened so quickly, or perhaps so slowly that I never noticed. I now occupy someone else’s chair. And soon another will take my place.

With a new year once again upon me, I realize that the merry-go-round has once again begun. Gone is the fear of the future that is so typical in those of a younger set; the anticipation embraced by those who stare from the base of the mountain and look amazed at the peak. Too much time has been wasted in anticipation and preparation. Too many years spent waiting for tomorrow to rise. Age and experience have taught me that living life amidst future expectation can rob us of the beauty of the journey. Goals and destinations, though appropriate and often wise, can also dull our awareness of people and places.

I do not miss the places, nor do I have a desire to escape to the past. I love those who have entered my life far too much to desire a return to the days of my youth. I do, however, miss the people from those old photographs; those from my past who are gone from my life due to distance and death. Facebook cannot replace their presence, and the promises of heaven doesn’t eliminate their absence. I must both mourn the loss and embrace the present. I now understand that being present today, loving the people who I am with, is not only the best way to live life, it is also the best way to honor those who are no longer with me.

Time marks the changes in our lives and over time the changes will persist, but time is not our master. Time is not the prime mover of life and the universe. God is. We serve a God who loves people and values relationships. A God who calls us to gather in groups and celebrate God’s work in our lives. A God who calls us to remember the past in order that we might continue in relationship with God and each other. A God who embodies Godself in the community of believers; the family of faith.

The family of faith is still growing. It continues to change and adapt to the new generations that are received into the Kingdom of God through the saving power of Jesus Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The family has suffered loss and many people have changed seat over the years, but God is still urging the Church to embrace those who are with us today. They are growing and changing, becoming the new leaders and the new elders. Different, but strangely similar to those who have once occupied their chair.

I have another picture in my office. It is a family picture, but this one is of my Church family. It was taken for the purposes of our new pictorial directory. It is a photo of the Church as it stands today, or to be more precise yesterday. It is a great picture of great people. Some are new and some are veterans, but all are the people of God. The family is always changing, sometimes through loss, other days through addition. We will change; and God will help us through.

I intend to embrace 2017. To embrace those whom God places in my orbit. To love those whom I work with and those who I minster to. To recognize that this is the day that God has given to me and these are the people who God has blessed me with. I will live in the present, building on the future, and with my eyes focused on the Kingdom.

Join me in this sacred task. I pray that this year you will enjoy the fresh and hopeful spirit of life in Jesus Christ. For until that day in which all of us are gathered together in the Great Hall of Heaven, we will only have these moments to sustain us through love and life.

May your New Year be filled with God’s presence and joy!

Pastor Dan