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Rob Merola
Updated: 3 hours 29 min ago

Eternally Grateful

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 11:07

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"Would you like me to take your picture?" I asked the young woman.  She was taking a picture of her friend, and I thought maybe she'd like a picture of the two of them together.  "No," she replied, "We just wanted a picture of the donuts.  We waited an hour for them!"

They had arrived at the donut store--Duck Donuts, as I trust you have gathered--at 6AM...

She went on.  "Some guy ordered 16 dozen."

"Uh, that would be me..."  I admitted sheepishly.  And then  quickly added, "But I did order them a week ago." 

"Oh," she said.  "So you waited a week for them?  I guess an hour wasn't so bad!"    We laughed.

And the donuts?  Holy cow--they were every bit as good as everyone says.  Maybe better even.  Especially the ones with maple icing and bacon.

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But you know what was even better? Being  able to do something nice for the folks at St. Matt's who do so much for  others.    For each and every one of the folks I am privileged to serve, I will be eternally grateful.

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A Bust With A Nice Payoff

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 11:11

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"Blue lining" is a term for finding unnamed, unexplored steams that are basically just a blue line on a topographic map.  It takes a lot of research, but the rewards are worth it.  They just don't always include finding fish.

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I recently hike about three mile pretty much straight down only to find a shallow stream that quickly went underground.  Dang--not what I was looking for.   All that was let to do now was the brutal three mile hike that was pretty much straight up.  Turned out, though, that it was worth it. I saw a scarlet tanager just as I reached the top.

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There were also lots of interesting--and beautiful--wild flowers.  And lots of solitude, always a plus in my book.  After climbing back out, there was still time to hit another stream close by.  It had a few fish.

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What Not to Do

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 01:10

At church this evening I was walking down a hall and heard voices of couple young ladies in the ladies.  I just assumed it was a couple of our youth group members, and it sounded like they were approaching the door.  So I hid around the corner and figured I'd play a little joke and jump out at them.

They came out the door and around the corner.

I jumped out.

They threw up their arms, screamed, and said "ACK!!!!"

But it was not teenagers from the youth group.  They were not members of the church at all, but from an Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a room in another building.  This was bad.  Very bad.  And though I don't embarrass easily, I was quite embarrassed.    Beet red, I think.  Mortified.

As quickly as possible I began apologizing profusely, explaining I was the pastor of the church, I thought they were teenagers in our youth group, and thought I'd play a little practical joke.  They were both very gracious and laughed.  One even said (when she caught her breath), "Oh, I do things like that all the time."

I was still mortified.

The Incredible Mr. Fox

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 11:15

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With my newly resurrected camera, pictures are again possible.  Like this beautiful red fox in a classic pointing pose.

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I have no idea what he is digging. for; earthworms, maybe?

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Eventually he had enough, trotting back into the woods.

Back from the Dead

Sat, 05/02/2015 - 11:34

Sunrise

Crossing a stream earlier this spring, I heard a splash right behind me.  Then I saw it:  down under the water, bumping along the bottom in the current, was my good camera.  It had fallen out of my back pack.  And no, it is not waterproof.

Sunrise1

The camera spent the next three weeks in a sealed Tupperware container of rice.  Occasionally I'd pull it out, but you could still see water deep inside the lens structure.  Looking through the viewfinder, all one could see was a grey cloud.

Sunrise trees

But then, one day, the cloud was gone.  And in its place were all the glorious colors of a new sunrise.

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Focus returned.

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Unaffected, the cat simply said, "Will  you put that camera down already and FEED ME!"

How Rude!

Sat, 03/28/2015 - 12:27

I had an official function at a house last night.   I knocked on the door of the house, where I was greeted by a man I didn't recognize.  I figured he was a guest, and waited for him to ask me in.  Instead, he took his time putting a coat on the small child in front of him.  "How rude, " I thought.  "Doesn't he see I only have a suit on when it's so cold outside?  How impolite not to ask me in."   But I stood there and smiled while he finished dressing the child, who then went outside to play.

We looked at each, both smiling awkward smiles.  Still he didn't ask me in.  "Enough of this," I thought.  I opened the door and squeezed past him (I think our chests just about touched as I did so) to step inside.  There was only a woman there, who looked to be his wife.  No other guests. 

Now I had been to this house before, so this was rather confusing.  "Is Sally here?" I asked.

"Sally?"  the man said, clearly just a confused as I was, and perhaps a bit alarmed.

"Yes,"  I said.  "Sally.  She lives here.  I have a service to do in just a couple minutes.  Will you please tell Sally I'm here?"

"There's no Sally here,"  he said.  "We live here."  

I felt like I was in the twilight zone.  And then it dawned on me, slowly from somewhere in the back of my mind.  Sally had moved.  I had just barged into someone's house.

Mortified, I apologized profusely.  Though I did not feel comfortable laughing at my mistake, I was glad they did.  It turns out they were not rude at all, but exceptionally gracious. 

Fading Away?

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:52

As Christianity has lost its influence, days like Good Friday have faded from our cultural consciousness. For most people, April 3, 2015, will be a day like most other days. We will go to work, exercise, eat and drink, read and write emails, give and receive constant input from our mobile device, and so on. But this is quite a recent development in western culture in general and in Christian practice in particular.

Once, for instance, most Christians regarded Good Friday as a “Fast Day”.   This practice is now left largely to the Roman Catholics, and the rest of us have little familiarity with fasting at all.     Fasting on Good Friday generally meant that  those who were able  refrained from food from sunrise to sunset. Another way of fasting is to eat only one full meal and two smaller meals being (say, an apple or an orange) with no food consumed in between.  

Good Friday was also known as a “Day of Special Devotion"  (and still is in some churches.)  The Book of Common Prayer, for instance, say this means that it is to be “observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial.” So it may be that whatever we decide to do about food, we choose to abstain from other comforts such as email or our cell phones/computers.

Attending church was also an essential part of devout observance.   It used to be that from noon until 3pm, everything closed. This was the time when Jesus hung on the cross. Many would spend this time in church,  using this time to pray, meditate, and reflect.  

Whatever we do on this day, the idea is that we really do think deeply about the life and death of Jesus. We ponder the things he said and did. We contemplate our sins, the fact that God loves us anyhow, and what it means  to be redeemed from them. We consider what we are really saying when we say Jesus gave his life for the world, and what our part is in making what is wrong in the world right.

For those of us who observe these days, I pray that we might approach Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter in such way that they give us a greater appreciation of God’s love for us, and that they so inspire us to show greater love and appreciation to the people and world around us.

Family Time

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 12:51

Bbs

Several summers ago, a skunk family made its summer home under our deck. There were six babies, all of them cute as can be. People ask us if it was hard living with a family of skunks. Yes. It was hard not to pick up the little fluff-balls or at least try and pet them.

One morning the skunks remained active later than usual.  Linda, my daughters, and I sat on the grass and watched the skunks shuffling and snuffling as they searched for food. Just like kittens or puppies, they played and fought and romped and stomped and sniffed and snipped at each other. For our part, we just laughed and laughed and laughed. Two families together having a great time.

Babies

Eventually  most the skunks retreated back under the deck. The runt of the litter, however, took that as an opportunity to feed more freely now that his pushy ol' big brothers and sisters were no longer present. He ventured further and further out into the yard.

Skunks have very bad eyes, so it wasn't until he was just inches in front of us that he saw us (and Christine in particular). He was shocked! He arched his back like a witch's cat, stood up as straight and tall as he could, tail erect. He stomped menacingly, coming even closer.

Baby

We all tried not to laugh as we didn't want to surprise him further. To this point his tail was still turned away from us, so we weren't worried--but we didn't want that to change. He stomped again, just to make his point, and then took several steps backward. He repeated this action, wanting so badly to look fierce and intimidating but somehow only managing to look all the more adorable in the process.

"Awwww. Please can I pet him?" one of my daughters said. Fortunately, at that point he too disappeared under the deck.

Sunshine on My... Feathers?

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 13:51

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A good breakfast is important on a cold day.

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There's quite a selection for even the most discerning diners.

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The guests arrive.

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It's always nice when a friend can join you.

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You can even get breakfast to go.

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Maybe my favorite picture in the series.  It's hard to catch them taking off.

Have peanut, will travel.

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Blue Jays in the White Snow

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 00:10

Bj

In he comes...

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Away he goes...

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Sometimes it's easier to take little hop than to take flight.

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Back for more.

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Off again.

Demon bird.

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Joy Found Here

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 22:29

Delight

My personal list of people I most look up to and would like to emulate has just grown by one.  This little girl is now on it.  

Arms raised, a huge smile on her face, both feet off the ground as she literally jumps for joy--such utter delight in another person's success!   There is absolutely no sense of self-consciousness or self-importance here, only pure elation in the triumph of someone else. 

There are a lot of people who spend a lot of money to convince us that we need beer, a big house, fancy car, or exotic trips to be happy. Personally, I think we need moments like this. And the simple truth is, without them, nothing else will make much of a difference.

A Hospital Fantasy

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 00:24

Did you know that out of 141 people questioned in an unofficial poll,  almost half of them said they had a "hospital fantasy?"  Katrina Alcorn  describes a hospital fantasy as  the hope that a person will be in a minor accident so they can rest up for a few days in the hospital.    One woman lamented, “I don’t want any permanent injuries. I just need a break. Just a couple days in the hospital. No work, no kids. Can you imagine? I could catch up on sleep. I could read a magazine. I know, it’s ridiculous, right? But doesn’t it sound great?”

Apparently they are pretty common.  I've talked to a few people this week in my own informal poll.  When I told them what a hospital fantasy was, they almost all said, "Oh yeah, I've had one" in a tone that suggested  this is pretty much par for the course.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that only 17 percent of adults report that they are flourishing.  The vast majority of us feel like we don't have time to do everything we want to do  (frankly, I can't imagine anyone saying otherwise),  and most parents don't feel like they are able to spend enough time with their families.

All of which is to say that apparently it is pretty rare for people to feel like they have found their "sweet spot" in life.   But here we have some good news:   that is exactly what we'll be talking about this weekend (and throughout Lent) at St. Matt's.  So--if you feel like you could use a little help finding and living from your Sweet Spot, please join us.

Please Inspire Me

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:48

Underachievement

We live in a world that all too often is anything but inspiring. Our culture excels at promoting such negative emotions as fear, anger, and distrust. People find themselves demoralized, discouraged, frustrated, disappointed--anything but inspired.  Internet sites encourage us to "Share the despair" (as I have done above!)  The message is funny, in part because we see the truth in it.

And yet...  

Inspiration is necessary for people to make the most of their lives. It creates joy by bringing out the best in us. People who are inspired find the motivation to stretch beyond was is comfortable, and so are more satisfied with there lives.

That means it is very important we discover ways to be inspired.  I consider myself fortunate in this; I have a job that most everyday lets me see people at their finest.   But here's the best part: you can put yourself in situations that bring you into contact with such people too.  You can embrace environments that by their very nature bring out the very best in people.

Berkeley prof and happiness expert Dr. Christine Carter writes (from an entirely secular perspective):  Once you find sources of inspiration and awe, connect to them regularly...  If it is your church, make sure you show up on Sunday..."   Good advice, I think.

Thankfulness and... Sacrifice?

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 12:30

Want to be more deliberate in practicing gratitude?   Then give up—or change up—what you really love.

Yep, you read that right.  That's what Dr. Christine Carter, and Berkeley prof and author of Raising Happiness, suggests.    "I know," she writes, "that depriving yourself doesn’t seem fun, but entitlement and adaptation undermine appreciation."  She then goes on to point out that   "research shows that we enjoy things more when we give them up for a little while. For example, people who gave up chocolate for seven days enjoyed it more at the end of the week than people who indulged all week."

Interestingly, she then concludes that "This might be why Lent is a common religious practice!"

So... want to be more grateful to God for what you have?  Give up something you love for Lent!

The Mighty Potomac, Frozen Solid

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 00:29

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Whether it's the cold grey winter, enjoyable work in which there is always more to be done, or a late-onset of sluggishness, I have never in my life been as sedentary as I have been the last few months.   Because at my age such lack of activity can be lethal, this Lent  one of my disciplines is to exercise.

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Though the morning was a bit cool, the sun was bright.  Linda and I decided to take our first walk of the winter.  We decided to go down to the Potomac River to see if it was frozen.  It was.

From behind I heard my name being called.  I turned around and thought Linda had fallen in (the shore ice is the most unstable.)

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But no, she was just lying down to get some interesting pictures.

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The patterns of the snow drifting over the ice was very cool.  Literally.

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Every season has its beauty.

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Yep, that's the Potomac.

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After taking a few more pics, it was time to wave good-bye to the river and head home.

Anti-aging or Pro-truth?

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 15:00

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  --Mary Oliver

In a world that is decidedly anti-aging, that hates wrinkles and sags and bodies that bulge in places youthful bodies do not, the words of Ash Wednesday are radical words:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust shall you return.

Our culture wants us to believe we can stay young forever, that we never have to get old. But here is the simple truth friends: We do get old. And one day, we die.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of this. It is meant to be a gift, because in so doing it asks us to see how much this moment matters. Too often we live like we have all the time in the world, like what I do today is no big deal because there is always tomorrow. But what Ash Wednesday lovingly but firmly reminds is this:

There is not.

The Luckiest Guy in the World

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 11:27

Apart from being a film franchise that went on for far too long, Friday the 13th is actually a superstition that has its roots in Biblical history. Though the combination of Friday and 13 as a negative omen didn't appear until the 19th century, it is a reference to Good Friday, and the 13 attendants of the Last Supper.

Despite the notion that today is an unlucky day, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world! All of you at St. Matt's have made me feel overwhelmingly welcomed. Since working here for the summer of 2011, no other Church has felt like home -- and for good reason: there's something special here. No congregation has made me feel more at ease, and given me more of an opportunity to brighten the lives of our congregation and beyond, they way they have brightened mine.

I couldn't be happier to see kids so dedicated to faith and fellowship already, and to see so many who seemed to be just waiting to get involved. I am excited to continue to be a part of a healthy, vibrant, growing, wacky, and inclusive Youth program.

The program's next big event is this coming Tuesday: the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, from 5:30-8pm in the Parish Hall. The Youth, volunteers, and I will be putting on a breakfast feast for all on the last day before Lent begins. We will be happy to see you all there for fellowship, pancake art, pancake relay races, and plenty of food. Donations will go to support the Youth mission trip.

Coming up at the end of the month we also have a Lenten WatCH starting on the 25th, when the Youth and I can dig into a deeper study of the season, and Tacky-Wacklemore Ice Skating on the 27th when we will take Reston Town Center Pavilion by storm in the craziest clothes we can find at Goodwill.

See you all Sunday, and God bless! -Trevor

A Celebration of Clouds

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 01:15

Billowing clouds

Apparently, the atmosphere was pretty active today.

Cloud fingers

Looking in different areas of the sky, the clouds were doing different things.

Cloud folds

They looked almost like the northern lights in black and white.

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And then the sun began to set...

Cloud colors

So many colors at the same time!

Storm clouds

A plane rises above storm clouds to the west.

Plane clouds

And flies off into the sunset.

Making the Season Bright!

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 14:01

There is so much to love about Christmas, but one of the things I love best is simply seeing all the people. And some of the people I look forward to seeing most are those I only see this one time of year. Many of these are folks who are visiting from out of town. That they take the time to include us in those visits means the world to me.

Others are folks who only come to church once or twice a year. I am so glad they do. Lord knows, and He does, that it would be far easier for them simply to stay home. The season is certainly busy enough to provide ample excuses to do so. But they don't. They take the time. They make the effort. They make a Holy Night even holier by their presence with us, a night unlike any other night of the year.

But perhaps my favorite group of all are those who have been away from church for a long time. In my experience, people generally have good reasons for this. But though they gave up on the church, underneath it all they've never quite been able to give up on God, or to shake the sense that God hasn't given up on them. And so, when they are ready, they come home. What a joy that is!

Maybe that's you this Christmas. Maybe you've been away from church for awhile. Probably you have a good reason for that, one I'm sure not going to argue with. Maybe you wonder if anyone even missed you, and if they didn't, what's the point? Maybe you decided you don't believe, but deep down inside there is still an awareness that Something is out there greater than you are, you are wondering what to do with that, and you know something will always be missing until you do.

We've missed you. Believe me when I tell you every night there are names and faces of people I still think of, I still miss, I still long to see again. Won't you come home this Christmas?

Choose Well...

Sun, 12/21/2014 - 00:42

David Foster Wallace has been described by secular sources as "the most brilliant American writer of his generation."  Read the following and you'll understand why.

"...Here's something that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things - if they are where you tap real meaning in life - then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

On one level, we all know this stuff already.  The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart - you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings.  And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self...  But the kind of life that is most precisous involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

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