Informal Musings
Over Coffee

James Rissler

James has served as pastor to Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship since October of 2006 and was ordained in May of 2010. In what seems like a prior life, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from the University of Notre Dame. So he can be called Rev. Dr. James Rissler, but that sounds ostentatious. The only people who call him that are public officials responding to letters advocating for greater justice for all, which he signs with those titles, hoping they’ll be impressed :-) James is married to Christina, and they have two boys, Andrew and Peter.

James emphasizes the love of God and the importance of loving relationships with God and with all persons. He believes that relationships take precedence over doctrine, and that, almost always, people can find common ground that is wider and deeper than our theological differences. His enduring optimism is grounded in God's creation of us in God's image, a creation that God called very good.

Observations while Hiking

“Hiking invites presence. After about half an hour, I stop noticing the beeps and vibrations of my cell phone.”

(as remembered afterwards while again comfortably ensconced at Starbucks with a Passion Iced Tea - no sweetener)

I went hiking today. Often, when I don’t have meetings during the school day, so that I can stay up in Marietta after dropping Peter off, I go hiking. I work for a couple hours, then drive to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and hike for a couple hours, then come back to Starbucks and work a couple hours more. Some observations:

  • Hiking uphill takes a lot more steps than walking. My fitbit, which measures distance based on an average stride length for someone my height times the number of steps I take, said I’d gone 2.5 miles. The trail markers said 1.5. Fortunately, the next 4.5 miles weren’t nearly as steep.
  • The short level stretches of path feel sooo good for leg muscles after the work they’ve been doing climbing, or even descending, over rocky terrain.
  • Hiking invites presence. My mind tends to wander over whatever I’m thinking about at the time. But as you get tired, if you’re not paying attention to the path, your feet might not lift themselves sufficiently high to step on that next rock. My fitbit also says I climbed 108 flights of stairs today. Stairs are generally a lot more regular in height.
  • Hiking invites presence. After about half an hour, I stop noticing the beeps and vibrations of my cell phone.
  • Hiking invites presence. You see more that way. Today I saw five deer - two doe, two fawns (almost grown now), and a 4pt. buck. He was the most skittish, so no picture of him, but here’s one of the doe. I also saw lots of butterflies, lizards, and squirrel. And I was struck by the shadows made by leaves twirling as they fell.
  • For some of us, it’s hard to slow down. For some of us, it’s hard to keep up. I saw a husband and wife, with him about twenty yards ahead, and overheard him saying that they’d stop to rest up around the next bend. I saw a father and son, with the father about twenty yards ahead, calling over his shoulder for his son to catch up. Hiking alone is a different experience from hiking with others.
  • I wonder if I would use the trails often if I lived in a house that abuts the park? I think I would. I think I might also tell the kids they have to go out and walk to a certain point and back when they seemed to have too much energy to be inside.
  • People are generally kind. The house over the fence in the prior picture? Here’s what’s just around the bend on the trail. A hose draped across the fence for people to fill dishes for pets to drink from, or their water bottles. And even governments can sometimes be kind. Below is a picture from an earlier hike a couple weeks ago. Someone decided that since the path came close enough to the road and its infrastructure of water pipes, they might as well put in a water fountain. Considerate!
  • Wearing a dark colored shirt helps the sweat not show quite as much. At least that’s what I tell myself as I sit at Starbucks (not too close to anyone).
  • Peanut butter and honey sandwiches are a very good hiking food. The honey oozing through the bread is in cosmic harmony with the sweat soaking through one’s shirt.
  • I always feel better after hiking. A good tired, and more present to the rest of my day.

I had other thoughts while being insufficiently present to avoid stumbling over rocks, more serious thoughts about a spirituality of seeing ourselves as part of creation, tieing in with David’s reflections on Sunday on Psalm 104 and Luke 12: 22-31. But they’ll have to wait for another post. Happy hiking!

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