Monthly Archives: March 2013

Marlyn – no “i”

My mother-in-law, Marlyn Buehler, died this week. I loved my in-laws and back some 20 years ago suggested that when they came to a place where they were going to make a “last” move that we should be considered an option. A little over 8 years ago they took us up on that. I guess they thought I meant it.

One thing I always appreciated about my mother-in-law was her name. Having lived an almost daily habit of reminding people that there is a “G” and an “o” in Geoff, I found myself acquiring the habit of reminding people there was no “i” in Marlyn and Buehler was pronounced as if there were no “u”, just a long “e” sound.

No “I” or “You” is a good way to enjoy my mother-in-law’s memory. With her there was just “us.” She invited you into life with her. She created hospitality, and through her buoyant, creative reception to living and others she opened her shy husband to a world (and truly a world) of friends. Her quick wit was an expansive good humor that blended grace, candid insight and honest expression. Mirthfully blunt wouldn’t miss the mark.Mom

One of my favorite stories of this woman was that of her seated at the organ in her church playing the postlude of a worship service. There was no back to the seat, no cover hiding the organist and the door to the rest of the church building was beside her. Half the congregation would exit the sanctuary walking past her and saying “hello” or “great job” and then making the mistake of asking “How are you?” She always answered. As a woman who wrote family Christmas letters expressing the height and depth of her experience with menopause, people who walked past received answers like “sweating like a horse” or “having a hot flash” or “Oh, I could be better.” For people expecting Sunday morning, Baptist pleasantries, she was a hotspot of sheer reality with complete confidence that God was on her side.

As in-laws, she and I had our differences but there was a similarity between us. She and her husband took me up on an earlier offer I made to paint and wallpaper the entire upstairs of their home, a bedroom, a study, a bathroom and the master bedroom and bath. I came for a week and the first day we went out and picked out the colors or paper for each room. We were home in two hours. My father-in-law was dumbfounded. “How did you do that? We have a two hour discussion over a new lamp. How did you pick out all the colors and everything in that time??” All I could say was that we just talked over what would look best. In two moments of discussion over choices I said, “Trust me on this,” and she did.

She took over (in the best of ways) when we visited or when she visited us. Cooking, grocery shopping, watching children… it all fell into her capable reach bringing waves of assurance and relief. She was a writer, a conversationalist, a devoted believer in and follower of Jesus, a teacher and a fine storyteller… but deeply, sincerely, cleverly, buoyantly and lovingly a Mom.

It has been such a gift to be alongside her in these last years and hours. I’m so glad we got to honor her life with part of our own.


40 Days to Ponder – Safety

We’re flying down to Tampa for the week. It would be great to think that this is vacation, but it is to meet the movers, sort every belonging and send whatever is remaining off to Lancaster.

Yesterday was an enormous day. Along with the three morning services, we held the third of four new member classes, hosted (with other church staff) the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, then hosted a presentation by Rev. Doug Baker, Presbyterian Missionary to Northern Ireland, and then held an evening Celtic Vespers where we celebrated Patrick of Ireland (as it was his day, after all) and worshipped the God he and we serve. Doug also gave a homily as part of our time.

It was full or E. Nor. Mous. depending on how you best receive that thought.

Sunday felt like I meandered through a spiritual smorgasbord. But it didn’t leave me feeling full of too many things or unsatisfied from not being able to taste enough. I left needing to imagine and to “taste” again” the spiritual meals I was offered.

The best part of the assortment was that it all shared a theme. Like an ethnic feast, there was a variety but there was something that held it all together. It all revolved around understanding and following Jesus. Three large elements of this, for me, were non-judgment, peace-making and openness to others. Not hard to tie those together, and for me they come down to applying safety.

When Jesus talks of loving others I am drawn, more and more, to the practical expression of that and I see it as applying safety. From the most intimate to the most distant of relationships, I am finding that the application of safety leads me into Christ’s companionship. When Adam and Eve stood before each other “naked and unashamed,” they were in a deeply extravagant place of safety. One of the most helpful tools of discernment in sexual relationships is asking the question, do I provide the other with complete safety in this time, place and expression? If, on the other hand, as I consider the lives of people from the other side of the world who work at making the clothes I buy, I ask the same question, I find I am moved to change my purchases or the way I purchase. Applying safety near or far moves me to follow Jesus more closely.

I move from the position that God’s law, as interpreted by Jesus, was to be experienced as a source of Joy, as life-giving. Jesus’ movement, which we face with this coming Maundy Thursday, to the active expression of God’s law – Love one another as I have loved you – teaches me that the application of safety is a deeply practical expression I need to inhabit. I need to learn what it means and how to live into it daily.

Now… it’s off to packing.


Patrick – 2… Heartier and Stronger than Green Beer

“You gave away girls like prizes: not yet women, but baptized. All for some petty temporal gain that will pass in the very next instant.” Patrick of Ireland

Soldiers of a man named Coroticus in Ireland raided a community there and killed or carried off a host of people who were newly baptized by Patrick. He wrote a letter to these men that we still have, addressing Coroticus and all of them as gangsters. And in the early 400’s, Patrick spoke to the issue of sexual trafficking that still plagues our world.

One striking element of Patrick’s letter is, I understand, that it is the first written voice against slavery in history. It’s the first clear statement made by a human being that slavery is an abomination. I also understand that, Patrick’s letter and his confession are the first Christian voice after Jesus to speak and demonstrate the worth of women plainly.

The experience of Patrick, who relates how his father’s home was attacked and that he along with others from the household were taken and made slaves, gave him the first-hand knowledge of despair. He would understand the person taken from another country, that is brought to America and placed in a brothel, a strip club, a mansion and forced to sell their bodies. Today, the average life expectancy for someone who is stolen and confined in such a situation is 7 years from the time of their capture.

This plagues my thoughts. I wonder how we can still allow it but I know I live in a world that can easily avoid such things. Because I don’t visit such places and I’m not the kind of person with friends who would invite me to them, I can easily get on with my life and not pay attention. But God’s Spirit places them on my heart and so I pray for those who are trapped and I support those that I discover who are doing something about it. With “enough to do” in my life, I still cannot escape the gnawing reality.

There are people who are doing something. “Created” – a ministry in Tampa, “Northstar” – a ministry I’m just learning about up here in Lancaster, and I’m excited to learn about them and to support them as I can. Check out “Northstar” at

Patrick is someone who did something. He sent an envoy to ask the war band soldiers to respond. He says the envoy got laughed in the face. You can tell he feels like he is flailing as he writes to men he knew, directly. And he speaks to them as human beings. We don’t know if this letter made a difference, but we do know it was saved.

Someone in the community of Coroticus thought it should be saved… that suggests that it caught someone’s attention. It suggests that someone may have responded. Maybe, someone back 1700 years ago could not escape the gnawing reality that God knows the names of those who are trafficked and that they have worth.

We can do something.



“But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.” Patrick of Ireland

As part of my own Lenten study and worship I am reading again the confession of Patrick of Ireland. It’s a personal thing. I just like Patrick a lot.

There are some very special things to relate from his story, but I’m regularly taken by his humility. Like the quote above, he takes nothing of credit for himself and lays every gift he receives before God. He went to the people who enslaved him and gave them his life because of the calling of Jesus, he says. He just came back as a servant to them but a slave of Jesus. And what also is remarkable is that he returned there looking for God.

“I ought not to conceal God’s gift which he lavished on us in the land of my captivity, for then I sought him resolutely, and I found him there, and he preserved me from all evils (as I believe) through the in-dwelling of his Spirit which works in me to this day.”

He didn’t show up to bring the people religion. He didn’t show up to make them Roman citizens or educated or cultured. He showed up because they were human beings God loved. And, starting with what they already perceived of God, he sought to expand their trust in the God who loved them

“As well as to the heathen among whom I live, I have shown them trust and always show them trust.”

He lived in trust of God and as both trusting and trustworthy toward the people around him so that they could see the kind of life God creates through his people as they follow him.

Life just comes alive when you live like this, doesn’t it. You make much of God and not so much of yourself. You expect God will be ahead of you and you’ll find him. You live that trust out and live in a manner that tells people around you that you look at them as having worth. Sometimes you can get hurt living this way. Patrick knew that too. But he says it is still the only way to live and to be alive.

Pastor Geoff

40 Days to Ponder – sinless

Jesus was without sin.
That’s an interesting thought because for many people who have a list of rules that make up the essence of what is sin and what isn’t, Jesus may not toe the line. Certainly, he didn’t for the Pharisees. He gave them all sorts of problems with the lines he crossed and they, in turn, gave headaches to Jesus’ disciples. “Why does your teacher do this?” Think of the defensive posture the disciples took or had to take as they tried to explain the difference Jesus was from the rules of a society that was based on rules of sin. The reigning power over life that Sin took on in lives then and now, the Rule of Sin, made people cower. It taught them from birth that they were destined for hell, God’s hatred and eternal despair. It’s not surprising that some people gave up or give up ever living a life that includes God.

But Jesus was without sin.
As we move through Lent and consider our own sins, and deal with the ache of not including the things we “gave up for Lent,” we need to consider the sinlessness of Jesus. How does sinlessness work? Perfect, good, stalwart, thrifty, brave… what does it look like?face

Jesus was without sin.
What if it meant that Jesus was never separated from God? There’s a phrase I’ve learned, a Latin phrase, “coram Deo” which means in the presence of God. I think that Jesus lived a life that was completely coram Deo, always in God’s presence. It is the distinctive difference between us and Jesus that leaves room for him to fully human and fully divine. It wasn’t discovering the divine within himself, as some might turn this idea. It was always being in relationship, friendship, community with the Creator of all. Jesus is the practical and visible expression of Trinity to which we can point. We see community within the choices, nature and goals of Jesus. He was never separated from God. Living one’s life never separated from God looks like Jesus.

Jesus was never separated from God… even on the cross.

And that’s another thought for another day.