Pastor Dee’s Letter, Echoes, January 2011
In 2009 I had the opportunity to be a part of something the denomination is providing for a few of their pastors. I participated in a program called CREDO. Many of you know and heard of my experiences there. While I was there, something extraordinary happened. In fact, it was unusual by the assessment of the faculty who facilitated this weeklong reflection time. All of a sudden we realized, we were not on call, not needing to take care that everyone felt welcome, not needing to lead a meeting; we realized we were there to reflect on our own lives and this provided a profound freedom and a profound reaction. In realizing this dynamic, there were a handful of us that well . . . we played. Hmm—I can hear some of you thinking is that what our pastor does on retreat? Is that a good use of time and money? And I can affirm loudly yes!!! What we realized was that in playing, we lowered our defenses and guards, and in lowering our guards we were more open to each other, ourselves, and to God!! And in that openness came healing. And then from those deep places of healing, playfulness returned reminding us all of our whole selves, not just the injured or wounded selves. It seemed this was quite remarkable for this CREDO and they are seeking to recreate it as it created an extraordinary natural sense of community. This started my own journey of thinking how important is play in our spiritual development? And I believe it is essential.
I started reading and watching videos of how play transforms our lives, enhances creativity, and provides a profound connection with others. I thought maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said be like one of these small ones. Now I am not suggesting we revert to infantilism; but I do believe we have become extremely too serious about ourselves, our faith and our lives. In letting down our guards, we open ourselves up even more to a loving compassionate God who is desiring to delight in this world with us. So these thoughts and experiences were the catalyst of my Sabbatical topic and study. I realized that I think to play with children we often still revert to an adult playing with a child. What I have observed is that when people play with animals, they lower any pretenses and truly engage in that place of essence. So I made a proposal to travel around the world, to study the impact and essentialness of play with animals, and have been awarded a grant through the Lilly Endowment.
Many animals have been orphaned or wounded and (like humans) stopped playing. There are refugee centers around the world that help these animals learn to play again for survival and for their own health and well being. Some of the places then take these animals after they have relearned the joy of play and actually are used to help children, who have been wounded, to play again.
My journeys will take me from South Africa to Oregon, from the Dominican to California to work with animals and experts in this study. Next summer marks my 15th year in ministry, my 50th birthday, and the 5th anniversary to serving at such a wonderful church family! I have never taken a Sabbatical so it feels like this is the marking point in time. As well, to celebrate my 50th I am hoping to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I will have dear friends traveling with me through this exploration.
I truly hope that my sabbatical is not just about me; but that you will enter into this adventure with me. The Sabbatical Team has planned many wonderful events, sermon themes, hands on experiences that you can walk with me as we engage in this part of our spiritual development. We hope to take a field trip to Bailey, CO to do this work with wolves, here in our own backyard. The grant we were awarded provides means for both my journey and the assurance that the church will be held in fine hands. It truly is an adventure of a lifetime. And an opportunity for us all to open ourselves to our loving God in a unique and creative way.
Keep your eyes open to the information you will be receiving throughout the year!!
Light, Laughter, and Love