Whoever you are,
wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!
Business Office Hours
Tues. - Fri.: 9am - 2pm
We strive to apply Jesus’ teaching by recognizing that every individual is a child of God and we welcome all to join us on our faith journey in providing guidance, love, and hope to our community and the world in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
993 Main Street, P.O. Box 165
South Windsor, CT 06074
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Business Office Hours -
Tues - Fri. 9am-2pm
We joyfully announce our resumption of in person worship services on Sunday May 30, 2021 with no reservations required. We will continue to be mindful of social distancing and masks will be required for those unvaccinated. We plan to also continue streaming our services. If you are interested in joining us for online worship, please email the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
The church office reopened on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 and hours remain Tuesday - Friday 9am - 2pm. Should any need arise, Rev. Nina is also available by phone or email. Please call the church office at (860) 528-7992 and your call will be returned as soon as possible. Have a blessed day!
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 8, 2021
The Good News!
Friends, this is good news: The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is once again going to be shared with our children via in-person Sunday School! Sunday, October 31 in Metzger Chapel during worship, under the excellent guidance of our new Christian Education Director, Mrs. Vicky Margiott and the CE Team, will mark the resumption of FCCSW’s in-person program since the pandemic locked us out in March, 2020.
During this hiatus, Mrs. Edie Starr, now-retired former CE Director extraordinaire, Mrs. Margiott and yours truly, made sure to stay in touch with families, offering and delivering support and ‘care packages’ of crafts, messages during Easter, Advent, Christmas, etc.
As resumption of Sunday School has been considered, the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team has taken great pains to insure the safety of everyone, especially unvaccinated children, the best they can by following COVID protective protocols.
Parents were invited to a socially-distanced and masked informal meeting in our sanctuary on September 24 to ‘meet them where they are’ and listen to any concerns and determine their willingness to have their children attend. Praise God for all those who continue to support their church and the program here at FCCSW and explore this adventure together!
The history of Sunday School, Church School, or whatever moniker is used is interesting. While I am not an expert, I am told that Sunday School wasn’t always a ‘thing.’ In the days when our church (1694) and others were founded and thereafter for a long time, church services (and sermons!) were very long – hours, in fact. In some places, church was excused for mid-day meal and folks (adults and children) returned for more worship in the afternoon! (So, sitting through a 35-45 minute service these days with an average sermon length of 10-12 minutes is a streamlined version!).
What we know as Sunday School today which evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries did not always exist for what are called ‘mainline Protestant churches.’ Christian education and modeling of values began and were taught in the home with the whole family participating. Home was where Bible study took place, morning and evening prayer, and other opportunities for learning about God, faith, etc. This was a mainstay.
Some faiths made teaching children about God and enhancing their relationship and understanding a priority thousands of years ago, - the Hebrew tradition, for instance. The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament aka the Pentateuch) repeatedly emphasizes the life-giving and essential instruction of children – and adults – in the lessons of God’s word, beginning with what is called the Shema: express instructions on how to ‘instruct.’ Christians share this Judeo-Christian heritage:
Deuteronomy Chapter 6:4-9 (NRSV) says this: 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem[b] on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
As Christians, the primary goals of our program are to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nurture our children’s relationship with God, teaching them how to put God first in their lives and to be kind and loving members of the human race. Hopefully, when the going is good, they will give thanks to their God, and when the going gets rough, they will have God to lean on.
Another goal is to make sure children feel as welcome and comfortable as possible, sharing with them the rituals of worship, such as baptism, communion and prayer, to name a few. That means including them in church services as much as possible.
We all learn by using whatever five senses we have been blessed with - seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling – even in church. Watching the movements, listening to the music, tasting the bread and juice, holding a hymnal or candle, and smelling the candles burning, etc.,….are included as much as possible. Even babies do this!
‘Faith formation’ – the latest buzz word for learning relationship with God – is for all of us – adults and children. However, it is our duty and belief that if we “teach our children well,” as Crosby, Stills and Nash wrote, they will have the tools of spiritual self-care to help make the world a better place, and take care of themselves along the way.
In the meantime, let us know if and how you might want to contribute to this endeavor – perhaps volunteer to come in and describe your career and what it is like to be retired, talk about a favorite hobby or craft, or maybe, best of all, how your faith has seen you through difficult times and how good God has been in your life.
Thank you, Mrs. Starr for almost 50 years of service and to Mrs. Margiott for picking up the torch and running with it! This is a most noble and needed vocation, as Deuteronomy tells us! God bless you both!
Our church is registered for CROP Walk once again on Sunday October 17th. The walk is two miles from Wapping Church to Evergreen Walk and back. Please consider walking and/or donating. This is an opportunity to support the main fundraiser for Church World Service. Twenty Five percent of the money raised at this walk goes to MACC (Manchester Area Conference of Churches). The rest helps fight hunger, provide water and resources for people in need. Your donation may help disaster relief in the US or provide seeds or chickens for a family abroad. Please support this interfaith effort.
The link below will lead you to our team. You can also search for Manchester CROP Walk online. We are registered as First Congregational Church of South Windsor.
If you want to donate but do not want to do it on line, you can send a check to the church made out to First Congregation Church of South Windsor with Crop Walk in the memo line. Mail it to the church at PO Box 165 South Windsor, CT 06074.
Below please find the livestream link provided by Samsel and Carmon funeral home for viewing the Rev. Arthur H. Dunham's Celebration of Life on Monday, September 20, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
If you cannot view it in real time, it will be recorded and posted to their website for 90 days.
The Rev. Arthur H. Dunham died September 7, 2021 at St. Francis Hospital following a valiant struggle with cancer.
That which he most reverently believed about the “Father’s Home” on the far side of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” and saw with the eyes of faith is now revealed to him in all its spender … home.
Art was born in Quincy, MA March 27, 1934, to Arthur H. and Elsie Korpi Dunham where he attended Adams Grammar School, South Jr High Middle School and Quincy High School, graduating in 1951.
From age 15 thru 18, Art worked as a layer and finisher of hard wood floors. One Sunday the Pastor’s at Bethany Congregational Church took him aside and asked, “Have you ever given thought to entering the ministry?” He had not but they saw something in him. This led to a 7-year pilgrimage from New England College in Henniker, NH to the Hartford Theological Foundation in CT and back to Bethany Church, where on September 20, 1959, a Service of Ordination Into the Christian Ministry was held.
This 7-year journey was full of surprises, challenges, hardship, gifts out of the blue, and the times as Art would say “I was hungry, broke, tired and tried to keep up”. Whatever work could be found, Art did. He earned his way through. From chicken coop cleaner and egg gatherer, milker of Holstein cows, dish and pot washer, steam oven cleaner, fish and chicken and vegetable prepper, rubbish collector, handy-man, short-order cook and stacker at lumber mill, just to name a few - “any job to keep body and soul together”, he said.
Also in those 7 years, Art taught and advised young folks in the Henniker United Methodist Church and served the Church families in the Wilmot Center Church and Danbury Congregational Church as Student Pastor and Guest Preacher on Sundays. Art always considered Wilmot Center Congregational Church a blessing. He said that was where he learned how to be a “true pastor” to all (no matter religion, personal beliefs, economic status, or cultural differences) from this church family as opposed to “just being a minister”. He knew and believed there was a real difference between the two.
In 1957 he began student preaching at Groton Congregational Church and Rocky Hill Congregational Church in CT. It was in Rocky Hill that he met and married is life partner, joy, best friend, wife Leona Cook Griswold on June 20, 1959. A co-ministry that spanned 58 years, a home in 4 parsonages, the creation of a wonderful family as well as the ebb and flow of folks who looked to Lee or Art with a need to be met.
Newfields and Stratham Community Churches in NH were the first 1959 teachers. Then came Taftville Congregational Church from 1968 to 1973. The First Congregational Church South Windsor from 1973 to October 30, 2000, was his last stop home.
Aside to the parish duties in So. Windsor, Art tucked in serving the Town’s First Responders as their Chaplain for 25 years where he became known as R-1 or Rev. Art, responding to fires, car accidents, medical calls, or any other service in Town where his presence was needed. “It was a pleasure to stand next to them – the Town Police Officers, Volunteer Fire Fighters and Volunteer Ambulance Corps servants to the community.” Art was so proud of them and of the opportunity they gave to him to be their Chaplain. Even Lee was titled “Mrs. Minister” as her prayers were sought when he was unavailable.
Across the years, Art was honored by awards recognizing his ministries outreach – “ Good Samaritan” by the Roman Catholic Deices of Hartford for work with the Catholic Boy Scouts, the Paul Harris Award from the South Winsor Rotary for service to his community, citations by the CT State Legislature for Ministry Above and Beyond, 50 years active ministry award from the CT conference of the United Church of Christ, Honorary Alcoholic Plaque for work with AA, along with cherished “Dad” notes and pictures from his children and extended family.
Through 62 years, Art and Lee sang a song of their Saints of God. Nearly all the saints in Art’s pastoral journey from Henniker to So. Windsor preceded him to the Father’s House, including Daughter Sandra Hart, Grand Daughter Melinda Hart and Great Grand Daughter Rowan Leona Hart.
He leaves to care for and to love each other his wife Lee of 62 years, 3 children - Phil (Alison) Dunham of Tolland, CT, Tricia Dunham Russo of Manchester, CT, and Keith (Chelle) Dunham of Birch Bay, WA, 2 Grandsons Wallace and Malachi, 4 Great Grandchildren Caleb, Collin, Casey and Dustin, his 2 sisters Marcia Creighton of Weymouth, MA and Verna Durling of Hingham, MA, cousins, many nieces and nephews, and what he always called “are the ornaments on all trees of life” – good, dear friends.
Family will greet guests at calling hours at the Samsel & Carmon Funeral Home at 419 Buckland Road, So. Windsor on Sunday, September 19th from 2 to 5 (covid protocols observed, facial coverings are required)
Celebration of Art’s life service will take place at Wapping Community Church on Ellington Road, So. Windsor on Monday, September 20th at 10:00 am. Burial will be in Center Cemetery on Main Street, So. Windsor immediately following the service near all his friends and family whom he commended to Gods care and keeping over 27 years.
Memorial donations in Art’s name may be made to South Windsor Congregational Church, 993 Main Street, South Windsor, CT 06074 or South Windsor Volunteer Fire Department, 1175 Ellington Road, South Windsor, CT 06074.
Please visit www.carmonfuneralhome.com for online condolences.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
2:00PM - 5:00PM
Samsel & Carmon Funeral Home
419 Buckland Road
South Windsor, CT 06074
Monday, September 20, 2021
Wapping Community Church
1790 Ellington Rd.
South Windsor, CT 06074
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 3, 2021
Really? There have been so many reasons to cry in recent days; so many things to bring us to tears in the past weeks and months, how in the world are we to muster the spirit and time to smile or laugh? It is easy to get caught up in the doldrums of grief and despair. It is much harder to smile or laugh when things seem like they are ‘in the toilet,’ to be metaphorically graphic.
I have heard it said, however, that in the world of acting, drama and comedy are very much interwoven. To be a good comedian, you must have experienced the drama of life, and be able to wrestle with it, portray it, interpret it, walk with it, to a new place; a place of laughter.
One of my mother’s favorite songs was Smile, (melody by Charlie Chaplin/lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons; popularized by Nat King Cole in 1954). I knew it was her special song, but I suppose I never personally connected to it’s meaning and what it might have meant to her, until I experienced my own trials and tribulations in life, when things seemed hopeless.
I’m guessing many of you reading this remember it, but if you don’t, please google the lyrics and/or listen to the song (can’t include lyrics here due to copyright); you’ll see what I’m driving at. I can say the basic idea is that no matter how awful things may be, if you can manage to put a smile in your heart, it will give you the strength to face the music. No guarantees on ultimate outcome, of course, but a smile in your spirit, in your heart and on your face has magical qualities that can lift you through and to the next thing, which just might be better than you ever imagined.
So many times, at our wit’s end during a series of difficult personal and/or world events, it seems impossible to smile about anything; impossible to think about putting one foot in front of the other. We often hear the question, “What is there to smile about? I’d rather cry.”
Certainly, there is a time for everything, as the wisdom words of Ecclesiastes 3 tell us, specifically Verse 4 that tells us there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh.” Can’t have one without the other, right? Nor should we ignore pain, grief, fear. loss and despair. The only healthy thing is to work through all of those emotions. It is important for our well-being and our understanding of life’s rhythms.
However, there is always a time to smile, too. And, the very idea of a dormant smile making its way slowly across your lips, or bursting forth in exuberance, may be the one thing that gets you to the next thing; moves your feet ahead, along with your spirit and heart.
A smile may be the one thing that blesses your friend, or a stranger; that changes a potential conflict into a peaceful exchange. Or, gives hope to a crying child or to someone’s broken spirit – hope to your own broken spirit. You’d be surprised what a smile – your smile – can do. And, there is always time for that, too, as Ecclesiastes tells us.
Here is the link to Nat King Cole singing Smile. Please take the time to listen closely. The lyrics are simple, but the message inspiring and enduring, as enduring as the ancient words of Ecclesiastes:
A little sappy? Sure. You may just find yourself weeping a little, and smiling, too. Try it. It’s good for your soul. Bless your weeping and smiling hearts.
P.S. Thanks, Mom, for giving me one of the most valuable lessons you ever taught by simply smiling through whatever life threw at you. Smile on.
WEEKEND OF AUGUST 20, 2021
Pandemics, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes…humans have no choice but to cope with these natural disasters. Wherever we are, whoever we are, nobody is excluded from the many hazards of life on Planet Earth, which has no difficulty with being all-inclusive on that count. There is always something dire happening somewhere. We have no choice but to deal as best we can with whatever Mother Nature or Father Nature deals out.
On the flip side, we DO have a choice about being hateful. War, killing, humiliation, bias, disrespect, disparagement – you get the idea – are NOT natural disasters, but they relentlessly cause unnatural disasters of death and human suffering on many levels. Some might argue hatred is part of human nature. Perhaps. But that is not the focus of this message. The idea here is that whatever evokes hatred in human behavior does not give humankind carte-blanche to act it out.
Acting out hatred, whether human nature or not, is the focus of this message. Acting out hatred, living hatefully, ‘hating’ on each other, is a choice. The vagaries of the natural world do not cause humans to choose to hate – we humans choose to hate all by ourselves. No matter the influence, no matter the circumstances, no matter the reason – hating is a choice.
The human tongue is often the tool with which to express hatred. Vitriolic, condemning, alleging, indicting – in every form of hateful - the tongue is the weapon of choice which all too easily is allowed by humans to pollute the world with words of hatred. While there are many other tools - psychological, physical, economic, social, etc. - words are used as weapons all too often, and have been throughout history. The power of words is beyond – well, words.
Words, both spoken and written, have especially been ‘lifted up’ to a new level of acrimony offered by the antithetical ‘freedom’ of choice on social media and other venues where people feel entitled to spout off whatever comes to mind, with seemingly no thought to how it may affect others.
The prospect of being able to comment, rant and rail without perceived consequence is a present-day, ENORMOUS apple on the Tree of Knowledge! The temptation to instantaneously text, tweet, email or whatever is clearly out of control. It has taken on gargantuan implications for human relationship. Maybe the current hate-state of affairs is what God was trying to warn us about way back when, along with a multitude of other things!
The Book of James attends to the subject of the tongue and its deleterious effects quite well in Chapter 3. Here is the text, Verses 3-12, as translated by the late Eugene Peterson in, The Message:
“A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?”
Let us make it a commitment to examine ourselves, thoughts, words and our actions privately and in the public square; to be cognizant of our own small and large hatreds, which fester and balloon into unnatural disasters; which support evil in all its forms.
Let us pray on it for ourselves and others; for the good of this aching world. Each and every day, we must monitor our thoughts, tongues and ‘send’ buttons. Everyone has good and bad, yin and yang, male and female, dark and light within. Now, more than ever, each one of us – God’s creations - have a responsibility to access the good and only the good within, get on the stick and stop hating, so help us God!
Maybe instead of saying “I hate that” we can say, “That’s not my favorite.” Let’s take the word right out of the vernacular! It’s a discipline; a practice. Hatred is life-threatening. Think about it…
WEEKEND OF AUGUST 12, 2021
The phrase ‘making do’ may be one that has fallen out of common usage in the English language. Language is constantly changing, as reflected in yearly updates of dictionaries, and other sources of etymological information which add new words and delete those that have become obsolete. Typically, this is done because they are no longer relevant. ‘Making do’ may, in many ways, no longer be relevant in our ‘get it, grab it and go,’ instant-arrival-order-it-on-Amazon-consumerist lifestyle.
Basically, ‘making do’ refers to using whatever you have on hand to accomplish a task if a specific ingredient or needed item isn’t available; or, letting something be ‘good enough;’ or to push through a situation which challenges our patience, resourcefulness or even survival; living with or through conditions that are less than optimum; sometimes life-threatening.
‘Making do’ isn’t all bad. On a non-emergency basis, it can be something as simple as creating a recipe or dish out of what you have on hand in the pantry, fridge and freezer. This is actually a fun and creative exercise; it shows us that we don’t always have to run to the grocery store for the exact ingredients – instant gratification. A new version of mac/cheese without your favorite sharp cheddar can turn into a new delight made with several kinds of cheeses. No cheese? No problem! Make do! Or, make new!
In other times, not so long ago, such as WWII and the Depression, ‘making do’ was the only ‘do’ there was. Whether dealing with shortages of steel, sugar, gasoline or not having enough food at all, ‘making do’ was the mantra. The Victory Garden, the saving of every little bit of tin foil and rubber; all of that is ‘making do.’
Early in our marriage, back in the 1970’s my former husband and I lived with his mother in her apartment. I remember how she saved little bits of tin foil and paper towel. Little tin foil packets abounded in the junk drawer, and sheets of paper towel could be found hanging on the dish rack or faucet to dry so they could be used again. At the time, I thought it was amusing or cute; I now know that having lived through the Depression and WWII, she was an expert at conserving, recycling and ‘making do.’ God rest her. Lots to be learned from those qualities, as we well now know with climate change breathing down our necks.
This concept is not only practical and sometimes necessary for survival, but it also inspires and teaches us how to be resourceful; not to be wasteful. The axiom, “Necessity is the mother of invention” also reflects this concept. Many common-place and not-so-common-place innovations have been born through the ingenuity of ‘making do;’ pushing through; employing some other ingredient, item or process to accomplish one’s goal suddenly opens a new avenue of usefulness, perhaps life-changing or life-saving.
Rather than giving up, whining or throwing one’s hands up in despair, one ‘makes do.’ The result may not be perfect or what is desired (no cheese in mac cheese?!?!?), but it is good enough for the moment; it satisfies, maybe even more-so because there was sacrifice involved; giving up what one ‘wants’ for what one ‘can have.’ ‘Making do’ helps us to learn to be frugal, appreciate privation, and use the wonderful brains and imaginations that God has given humans.
This COVID Pandemic resonates with ‘make-do.’ Everybody has had to ‘make-do’ in more ways than one as we persevere through these times. Young or old, poor or rich, COVID knows no boundaries in disrupting our lives – sometimes literally. While some have access to far more resources than others and some feel the effects much more deeply, basic daily life as we know it has been disrupted. We have been forced to ‘make-do.’
Surely, there are many lessons being learned that our children and grandchildren will carry forward. “Hey, remember when Mom made all those masks and we had to stay at home for school? Yeah, and there were shortages of all kinds of things – computer chips (essential ‘food’ for many technologies and products), sanitizers, PPE, even pork and bacon for a while.”
Whether making masks out of left-over fabric, cooking with substitutes because of fear of going to the grocery store, working at home while home-schooling your children, not being able to go to a restaurant; no way to visit loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, saying good-bye; everyone has had to ‘make do.’
You could say we are ‘making do’ at church, too. We are running the gauntlet, worshiping as best we can in new ways and for the protection of others. We ‘make do’ with masking, pre-packaged communion, space use (or not) and other adaptations. We are resourceful and we persevere through all of this together.
My guess, if I may be so arrogant to say what God might think, is that God is proud of us for caring for each other by masking, showing up, learning how to attend Zoom church and for a whole bunch of other things! God IS the Great ‘Make-Doer!’
Fellow. Human ‘Make-Doers:” the good news is that we never have to ‘make do’ about God. The supply never runs out. There are no substitutions we have to think about using because there is only one Authentic God who is with us always. We can ‘make-do’ through anything with that knowledge!
WEEKEND OF AUGUST 6, 2021
Stickers on Fruit???
So…this is totally un-called for frivolity in the midst of more COVID-19 STUFF! However, considering all the duress everyone has already been through and now re-visiting, frivolity is allowed – BIGTIME! We need to keep our senses of humor in light of the latest Delta variant uptick and accompanying controversies. May God be with us.
In the meantime, here is a somewhat ludicrous topic of conversation: Did you ever wonder why there are stickers on fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, but not when they are hanging on trees and bushes, or dug up from the ground? Try explaining that one to your kid! Chances are if they live in the USA and are privileged enough to live near a grocery store and accompany their parents there, they think that’s just how produce grows – stickered!
It is probably a good bet that many children – and people – in the world who have not had the opportunity to know where their food comes from in our industrialized planet, (unless they are raised gardening, live in an agricultural area, work in food production or are farmers themselves) also may not know that bananas are not born with a sticker on their lovely, green skin.
Basically, being able to shop in a grocery store is a privilege. Not everyone has that privilege. Though commonplace in this country, most of us do not consider it a privilege, but it is. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘food desert,’ you know that means there isn’t a full-service grocery store or other source within walking distance in an area, or even busing distance; one that sells fresh stuff. Chances are there are convenience marts and bodegas selling lots of junk food, but no fresh stuff. Consider that. But, on with the sticker conversation.
If you have ever been to a beautiful open-air market in another country or a farmer’s market or roadside stand in this country, produce and wares are displayed artfully in all their God-given glory – without labels!
Think about it. Why do we have them? Why do we need them? DO we need them? This all somewhere started in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Those little stickers are called ‘Product Look Up’ stickers. Supposedly, they were devised to help register, identify and market old and new varieties of produce.
I bet you didn’t know that producers pay money for the opportunity to have a sticker put on a new variety of something, so that it can be recognized, marketed and tracked. Don’t growers know how much they sell??? Why the stickers? The PLU code gets scanned and the cashier doesn’t need to know what it is – only the computer knows.
That’s another thing. The cashier doesn’t need to know what it is they are scanning; they just scan it. The created glory of an artichoke or avocado may pass them by simply because they don’t know and don’t need to know what it is! Or how it tastes! Or, where it comes from and how it grows – without a sticker! The sticker knows all.
I wonder that if there had been a sticker on the apple Eve picked, would she still have picked it? Or, would she have taken it off before biting into the succulent fruit of sin or just gobbled the sticker up, too? Talk about ‘sticker-shock!’
Supposedly, according to an on-line article by Dave Dormer of CBC News dated March 12, 2018, PLU stickers are not digestible. Not only that, they are a threat to the environment because they do not decompose. Who knew? So, fruits and veggies will decompose, but the sticker won’t. Was that in God’s plan?
Granted, this is sort of a non-problem; a ‘first-world’ problem, as is often said; a problem of privilege. Why even talk about this when there are way more serious and critical problems in the world, like famine, war, hatred, racism, poverty, violence, and COVID?
Well, for one thing, it’s not how God created all those beautiful things. Just like it’s not how God created the beautiful world and all of us. Might it not cause one to take a pause and ponder how we can preserve the natural beauty in the world, rather than taint or destroy it all for some humanly-engineered plan; to cherish and treasure all manner of God’s natural gifts, and. each other, not mar them?
Actually, maybe this subject isn’t so frivolous…but, food for thought.
WEEKEND OF JULY 30, 2021
Where do you find rest? Not sleep…not the-sitting-down-after-weeding the-garden-kind of rest…but, rest?
There is an old family photograph that shows my mother, my father and a six-year old me napping outside on a summer’s day in the lush grass of our expansive lawn. Most likely it is a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Though it is a black and white photo, the colors of life pop.
One can imagine the steamy summer-ness and green-ness; soothing shade, gentle breeze. Not sure where all my siblings are, except for whoever took the picture. The photo is a commentary on another time, another place, another pace.
My father lies on his side, sound asleep in his t-shirt and khakis, capped head resting on a mat. My mother sits cross-legged, lovely skirt and sleeveless blouse, gazing sweetly down at yours truly, resting peacefully in the cradle of her lap. Her hand rests on my flowing, white-blonde hair. My eyes are closed in peaceful repose; my arms folded, my legs straight-out, with bare feet tickling the grass. The overall sense is one of peaceful, sanctuary - sweet rest in the bosom of God’s creation.
The poses are evocative of a scene worthy of being painted: the Madonna-like gaze of a mother upon her child; the complete peace of closed eyes and relaxed limbs; the lushness of the grass, trees and hedges. Bucolic, for sure; sacred, even. I am guessing my oldest sister, who became an artist, captured the moment.
This photograph is kept in a place of honor on a bookshelf, the only copy, to my knowledge. It is precious simply for being singular. More importantly, however, is the fact that whenever I look at it, I immediately feel a sense of complete peace and rest pour over me. There are no problems.
Summer laziness and laconic peace descend upon me; free of earthly worries in my six-year-old, life; a mother and father beside me. I cherish the precious gifts of this domestic gathering; of my mother’s abundant, unconditional love and protection, a moment where nothing could hurt me, and the steady, if often a bit too gratingly firm, guidance of my father.
I am reminded of God’s abundant, unconditional love and protection for all of us, where nothing can hurt us. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;”
Though there is no water in this picture, the knowledge that the lovely Lieutenant River, flowed serenely through the salt marsh just a few hundred yards away, provides continuity and comfort, just like God’s love. Home of egrets, herons, blacksnakes, blue crabs, bait fish, reeds, red-wing blackbirds, mallards and swamp-mallows, this too is a restful sanctuary for God’s creation: “he leadeth me beside still waters, he restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.”
I don’t know what particular scene or event inspired the psalmist’s words in Psalm 23, but I find rest in them. Praise God for the moment of the writer’s inspiration; for all moments of divine inspiration. Praise God for the promise of rest in God’s loving lap forever! Praise God!
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”- Psalm 23 KJV
Where do you find rest?
WEEKEND OF JULY 16, 2021
Have you ever heard about something that you wish you had thought up? The idea, phrase or word is so perfect and so effective; so appealing to your particular sensitivities that you say to yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?!?” Well, “newstalgia” is a word I wish I had thought of myself. What a brilliantly coined word!
I first heard it in an NPR interview with R&B Pop music producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. “Who?” you might ask. Right. I had never heard of them either. But I have heard of Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Patti LaBelle, the Spice Girls, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson. The list of top-billed musicians and performers with whom they have collaborated, and even launched, goes on and on.
Just to give you an idea of the extent of their success, Jam and Lewis have produced 26 R&B No.1 hits,16 Billboard Hot 100 No.1 hits, and have received many Grammy Awards, among many others, over the past forty years.
My understanding of “newstalgia” is that it touches upon treasured memories and emotions, which make us feel comfortable and happy, while using a new vehicle to get us there. “Newstalgia” was mentioned by Jam/Lewis as a way to introduce their own, new, compositions by appealing to what is beloved in the genre of earlier and familiar tunes over the decades of the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.
According to Jam and Lewis, their newly released album of their own music, titled “Jam and Lewis Vol I,” employs this concept of “newstalgia,” which is defined as “the use of nostalgia in the marketing of a new product” in the online Collins dictionary (www.collinsdictionary.com). So, in creating their own new musical compositions, they hope to inspire the feeling and elements of previously beloved genres by appealing to the “newstalgia” of the listener.
“Newstalgia!” I love it! What a perfect avenue of thinking for church-folk to be able to treasure certain aspects about church from the past as we knew it and loved it, while adapting and growing in new ways spiritually, ritually and even in ‘delivery methods,’ – (live/on-line ‘hybrid’ via Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, upticking audio/visual during services, etc.).
Protestant, main-line churches, and other denominations as well, have been undergoing deep change across the board for the last 30-40 years for reasons from changing demographics, economy, and lack of trust in institutions, among other things. Consumerism has topped the list for displacing God in our lives, causing many to question their own spirituality and religiosity, rather than directing one’s attention to our Creator.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused church to radically adapt or be left behind in these past 15 months and going forward. We are nostalgic for that which went before, while we must remain open to inspiration in the movement of the Holy Spirit and where God is leading God’s church. This is where “newstalgia” comes in to play.
We can openly acknowledge the comfort of the before but also acknowledge the uncertainty, yet sense of exhilaration and hope of the now, which leads us to the future. Based upon our love of certain feelings evoked by past church life experiences, we are being equipped to go forward to embrace the new – to listen for the new compositions of church-life which will integrate with time-honored traditions, some of which we can keep, and some of which we have had to or will have to forego.
No one ever said Christian discipleship – life itself - would be easy. There has never been a promise that we would not experience pain, suffering or disappointment. However, in God’s infinite and unconditional love, we are promised that God is present, in all times, through all things. God is a Resilient God, and has created us as a resilient people.
Look out, world, because here we are! Resilient and embracing the ever-changing world of worship and church life. Let us welcome it with “newstalgia!”
WEEKEND OF JULY 9, 2021
Just When You Think…
…all is lost…it’s not. Just when you think you are on your own, God reminds you, you are not. Just when you think you can’t take another piece of bad news, or you’ve run out of money, or your relationship(s) are all screwed up, or someone else you love dies and your dog dies, too; or you are tired of being alone, or the septic tank overflows right before the party, or you are addicted to something – food, drugs, alcohol; or the physical therapy isn’t working or you are tired of taking care of parents and kids; that client you counted on bailed; the senior barely graduated by the skin of their teeth due not to their inability but to nothing but a good case of senioritis; maybe your grandmother just got killed in a building collapse…on and on it goes, right? So does the stress and strain of life - it gets to you.
Even worse, you’ve been evicted, or are close; you don’t have much money or food, you can’t even get to the store because you don’t have a car, the kids can’t get online for summer school. And you have to spend the day in a cooling center, and, you’re hungry. What will you eat? Where will you sleep tonight?
Whatever roads life takes us down, when the going gets tough, it is all relative. Suffering is not a hierarchy – no one person’s suffering is more important than another’s; there are no rungs to a ladder of suffering, or levels of suffering; it’s not vertical, it’s horizontal.
Life’s suffering is a circle of suffering – everyone on the same plane, just in different scenarios – none is more or less important. It is all suffering. Your own suffering is relevant to you – your own suffering is your own suffering – it’s not measurable by someone else’s standards. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come in varying degrees of awfulness. We know it does and our compassion is a by-product of human suffering – an unfortunate, but necessary, glue it seems.
Yes, the countless valleys of life; the hauling and straining and worrying and living, can bring us to our wit’s end. And, “our wit’s end” means something different to everybody. How we deal with those “wit’s end” moments is different for everybody, too.
Crying, yelling, denying, taking it out on other people, not being able to sleep, overeating-drinking-partying, spending: “Oh, I’ll just order something on Amazon;” being depressed, feeling sorry for ourselves, letting the laundry pile up, saying to hell with the neighbors and the climate crisis and the inhumanities and injustices. We cry out, “God! God! I can’t take it!” How much can one person take????? We can lose hope.
Maybe some of you remember MGM’s 1976 movie Network. Actor Peter Finch played Howard Beale, a TV anchorman having a progressive meltdown. At one point, during Beale’s rants which his network promoted to get ratings, he starts yelling, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Anybody ever feel like that???? Hope was not springing eternal for Beale.
We can rant, too, of course. Just when you can’t take it anymore, when your down to the wire and you’re not going to make it to your best friend’s funeral because of history’s longest traffic jam caused by a serious accident; when the sirens are blaring and your tired of caring – when you are at your wit’s end and giving up hope, there is something else you can do besides all those other things we tend to do first. Wait for it….you can get on your knees and pray…remember that?
If you can’t get on your knees, you can kneel in your mind, or sob into your handkerchief or sit in your car and bow your sorry, suffering heart before God! You can just pray, dammit! Pray for a miracle. Ask your God for help! Not because miracles are a dime a dozen, or they are guaranteed, but because you are at your wit’s end. Because you can ask! Because you can’t take it anymore, dammit!
You are hurting, you are desperate, you are struggling and you need to let God know! And God wants you to let God know! And prayer is the best way to do that – shout it out like Howard Beale (in private of course, or you might have more trouble!), sing it, say it, bang your fists together and pray it! Pray it! Ask God for that miracle….pray it, dammit! Put it out there – put your trust in God when all else fails. BELIEVE! That is what God wants us to do – to trust that God is there, in good times, but especially in bad.
By the way, that person who couldn’t get through to their best friend’s funeral? A prayer went up in desperation to God that this person deeply needed this closure, to be there to say goodbye. Guess what? The policeman let them through – within 2 minutes of the prayer. They made it to the service. It was a miracle.
So when you can’t take it anymore; when the hope is bleeding from your heart and soul; just when you think all is lost. Just pray, dammit! You never know what could happen. What have you got to lose?
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”- Psalm 46:1
WEEKEND OF JULY 2, 2021
Hunting For Photos; Re-living Memories
Have you ever had the experience of trying to find a particular photo, in whatever hard-copy photo-filing ‘system’ you have (if you have one!) or on your cellphone, laptop or other device? Depending on how you organize them, it can be easy or a real pain in the neck.
Either way, the process inevitably inspires a walk down memory lane, no matter how you save them. “Gosh, there’s Gram on a horse.” “Look at my hair!” Or, “I really miss them.” You know what I mean – emotions and memories flood the heart - the past comes alive.
This morning on National Public Radio, there was a piece about those who lost their homes last year in Oregon’s wildfires. One woman who was interviewed said that she and her husband were rebuilding their house on the exact same spot, in the exact same style with all the identical colors, inside and out.
The woman said that at first, she was afraid that rebuilding in the same spot where they lost everything they owned (gut-wrenching), including family photos and memorabilia, might feel like living on a gravesite, with all her “stuff,” as she called it, underneath them.
Ultimately, it sounded like the decision to do so would honor those memories beneath, which were part of the fabric of their family story – the tapestry of their life. It would be a comfort, somehow, to be undergirded by all those memories – good and bad, horrible and wonderful at the same time, just like life – a memorial to it all.
Clearly, anyone who has lost their home and belongings to natural disaster or man-made causes, knows the terrible rupture between the tangible and the intangible. Not being able to see objects and photos; to touch them; to recall the meaning as it relates to one’s life is painful – a different type of grief all its own. If you are home-less, one or two special things mean the world.
Granted, in our consumer-based world ‘stuff’ has become overly important (illustrated by the number of storage facilities that exist; do we even remember what is in there???), the acquisition of which nudges much of what is truly important way down the pecking order.
However, there is a sacredness to our beloved objects, especially when there isn’t much to treasure materially. An object can become a sacred artifact. If we truly reflect on meaning, often one or two items are the ones that ground us the most. It’s the getting hung up on quantity that can be the problem.
You know the old adage: what one thing would you choose to take with you if you knew you were going to be stranded on a deserted island? It might be a mirror, a teacup, a photo, an antique oil lamp from the Holy Land, or a book. I heard one writer say they would take a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
We’ve all heard stories about people in the Holocaust who were able to hold on to one treasured item, a doll, a handwritten note from a relative which sustained them. Or, more recently, at the tragic condominium building collapse in Surfside, FL: a man who was waiting to hear about his beloved, missing grandmother, found beneath his feet at the site, a birthday card she recently received from her best friends, along with a photo of her, his grandfather and his father. Tangible comforts can provide hope.
Meaning can be born both from the tangible and the intangible. What we can hold in our hands can also be what we can hold in our memories. Especially when we are unable to grasp things physically, a new experience of hope can come from the grasping of the existential, the memorial, the remembered. And when we can no longer remember on our own due to aging and memory-loss, being reminded by someone is ok, too.
I guess you could say the quest to find a photo is also a quest to find the memory. It becomes sacred because it is part of the sacredness of life created by God for us to share with each other. Artifacts can be come sacred because of the memories they hold or evoke. The key is not letting our temporal stuff and life overrule our spiritual reality and memory – that God knit us in our mother’s wombs and knew us before anyone else. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” - Psalm 139:13
Now, that’s a memory worth hunting for in the trunks of our spiritual attics!
WEEKEND OF JUNE 25, 2021
“Kum Ba Yah – Come By Here”
Kum Ba Yah, somehow, has become connected with camping over the years. Is it the words, the tune, the unity it encourages? Is it just the peace? As campers return to many places this year, it will be good to know that much-needed Kum Ba Yah moments will be happening all over the place!
Yes, it’s summer camp time! Yes, camps are able to receive campers this year after the moratorium caused by COVID-19. Silver Lake Conference Center, our very own, historic UCC camp program located in Sharon, CT, is up and running, too, with adaptations such as two-week long conferences to eliminate the number of comings and goings. Camps have had to struggle to stay afloat during this difficult time instituting many adaptations, but patience and resilience are paying off as they welcome their first ‘load’ of eager campers.
Kum Ba Yah is a classic folk song now connected to the generic camp experience and campers of all ages around the world. The bucolic image of campers singing Kum Ba Yah around a glowing campfire is almost an automatic association. What is it that makes this song timeless and relatable, even now?
It is well worth reading about the song’s varied history and origins, according to the Library of Congress (LOC) website: https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2018/02/kumbaya-history-of-an-old-song/many of us remember singing Kum Ba Yah.
Research has found that the version we sing from our Chalice Hymnal, dated 1938, is credited to Marvin Frey. It became popular as an African-American spiritual in the 1940’s. Kum Ba Yah was adopted as an anthem by the folk music leaders and activists of the international social justice movement of the 1950’s-60’s and on, made famous by such talents as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, among others.
However, one of the more interesting things on the LOC website is that you can listen to what is believed to be the oldest recording of the song sung by an H. Wylie and recorded by a collector of folk music, Robert Winslow Gordon in 1926 using the old-style cylinder method. It is sung in the “Gullah” or Sea Islands, Georgia, Creole dialect.
What may make the message of this song timeless, is its universal message that at any given moment, someone somewhere, or a lot of someones in a lot of somewheres, are singing, crying, praying or any number of other emotions and praisings – struggling through the sufferings and celebrating through the joys of life. The universal human experience of suffering and joy speaks clearly and loudly across all lines of personal context – race, location, economic status, etc.
Sadly, Kum Ba Yah, became branded by sarcastic American humor in recent centuries. A “Kum Ba Yah moment” is to be described in business and other settings as when everybody drops the divisive conversation at the table, sets aside their differences, joins hands and starts singing the song. We’ve all said it at one time or another, “Oh, they’re having a Kum Ba Yah moment” or, “What do you expect us to do, gather around the campfire and sing Kum Ba Yah?
Well, ok, now that you’ve asked, YES! It would be a darned good idea if we gathered wherever we can and let the message of this song pour over us! Gather around something – campfire or whatever – the conference room table, the sanctuary table, the park bench – and open ourselves to the peace and unity that the words to Kum Ba Yah evoke: “Someone’s crying, Lord; Someone’s praying, Lord. Help! Be with them! Be with us! Kum Ba Yah – Come by there! And, by the way, please come by here, too!
What better way to remove the hatred and divisiveness that permeates our hearts than to recognize the power of this song’s words; to give in to the simple message of human unity expressed in its poetry? What better way to raise awareness of far too many iniquities and injustices in the world? If singing isn’t in the picture just now, then listen to the song and read, speak and hear the words together!
Let’s get out the graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows and glue ourselves together in a spirit of sticky unity that acknowledges both our joys and our sorrows! Let us reclaim that healthy wonder at something greater than ourselves – and admit we need help! Let the Holy Spirit and God’s love flow over us and wash us clean of the hatreds and biases we all carry as human beings. And let the people say, Kum Ba Yah and Amen!
O, Lord, Kum Ba Yah!
WEEKEND OF JUNE 18, 2021
The incredible Isley Brothers did a song in 1959, titled Shout!* Some of you may remember this hard-driving song of joy, some may not. Whether you do or not doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the sentiment – the guy in the song is so happy that his childhood sweetheart still loves him now they have grown up. He is so joyful and in love, his body and voice explode into song and it makes him “wanna shout!”
If you have ever been to a wedding or party and this song is played, you know what I mean. It inspires even the faint-hearted to get on the dance floor and move their body at unheard of speeds and in unfamiliar gyrations and uninhibited dance moves, even by those who aren’t dancers. It takes every ounce of your body and energy to dance to this song. The spirit definitely moves! And its fun! It makes you wanna shout!
Lately, there are a lot of things that should make us wanna shout as loud and gyrate as much as the Isley Brothers roaring anthem of love! Going somewhere without a mask – makes ya wanna shout! Eating dinner with friends in a restaurant – makes ya wanna shout! Hugging and kissing your grandkids – makes ya wanna shout! No ‘Wrong Way’ signs in the grocery store – makes ya wanna shout!
Graduations with all the graduates there – makes ya wanna shout! Going to anything with everyone there – makes ya wanna shout! Being vaccinated – makes ya wanna shout! How about getting on an airplane again? Makes ya wanna shout! Going to school or church in-person – makes ya wanna shout! Going to a baseball game – makes ya wanna shout! There is so much to be joyful about; so much that makes us wanna shout! And, as we should. And if you’re not shouting yet, what are you waiting for?
We are so lucky to be gathering together again. How about just being alive? Makes ya wanna SHOUT! As we remember all those who have not been lucky enough to make it through COVID, and as tired as we all are of thinking about this past 18 months, going forward, let’s savor every single thing that makes us wanna shout!
What makes YOU wanna shout? Think about who or what you’ve missed the most, and how it makes you wanna shout that you can see them or do whatever it is again! Shout! Shout! Take your cue from the Isley’s and SHOUT! Get out on that dance floor of life and SHOUT! If you are unable to dance on your feet, dance with your heart, your head, mind, body and soul! Dance like you’ve never danced before!
There’s one more thing that should really make us wanna shout. That is the love that is promised to all of us by our Lord Jesus Christ, forever and ever, Amen! Now there’s something worth shouting about – that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, that unconditional, unfathomable, infinite love is yours for the taking! Shout it from the rooftops to the high heavens!
I hope that all you hold dear makes ya wanna shout! I pray that the knowledge that you are held dear by God in heaven makes ya wanna SHOUT! I invite you to offer up the life-giving, soul-shaking joy that lives in each and every one of us – let it out! Doesn’t that make ya wanna SHOUT???
LOUD AND CLEAR,
*Written by Isley; O'Kelly, Jr., Rudulph, and Ronald. RCA Victor: New York City. Released August, 1959.
WEEKEND OF JUNE 11, 2021
How Has Your Spirituality Been Impacted By This Time of Pandemic?
This week in the worship bulletin for Sunday, June 13, 2021, keep an eye out for a paragraph printed in red following the musical citations. It starts with the words “Food for Thought: How has your spirituality been impacted by this time of pandemic?” Feels like a loaded question, right? What is meant by it? Who has the answer at their fingertips? What exactly, is “your spirituality”?
Be not afraid, friends. The question has no right or wrong answer. Consider it an exploration; a taking stock of where you are now and where you were spiritually when this pandemic began. Even if one is unaware of the answer to this question, the reflection and assessment time involved are well worth the effort. Again, there is no wrong or right answer.
There are a zillion explanations of spirituality. Here are a couple that might be helpful. One definition of spirituality offered at the website of Dr. Maya Spencer reads as follows:
“Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature. ... An opening of the heart is an essential aspect of true spirituality.”*
In addition, Daniel L. Migliore, in his seminal book “Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology,” reminds us that spirituality consists of “practices that cultivate and strengthen Christian life.”**
Some of the practices which ‘exercise’ our sense of the holy are praying, going to church, serving others, worshiping God in and out of church, meditation, yoga, and other contemplative practices. Spiritual practices are not limited to the Christian denominations. They exist across the board in most all faith traditions: Buddhist, Judaism, Baha’i, Shintoism, Protestantism, Muslim, and multitudes of others. ‘Contemplative’ simply means giving something continued, thoughtful consideration; reflecting on, and applying learnings which enhance our spirituality.
You might be thinking, “Whoa, this sounds heavy duty.” Well, in essence exploring our spirituality is a serious endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be daunting and it happens all the time, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Most spirituality is built on the simplicity of everyday things, not some scary, mystical, Hollywood dramatization, although life does hold dramatic moments, of course and who knows how the Holy Spirit will move!
Think about it: have you ever lit a candle in memory of someone during a ritual, or for the peace of watching the flame flicker and glow? Certainly, even the shortest or most spontaneous prayers or queries to God, like “What’s going on, God?” are spiritual offerings from your spiritual self to your Divine One and the Cosmos. Even those are acts of exploring your spirituality.
Certainly, most of us have walked through a beautiful garden or stretched ourselves in a yoga position or tennis game that opens the body to the spiritual effects of exercise. If unable to move physically, through whatever senses we possess, we can still explore our spirituality. Peace and calm, or perhaps, stimulation and energy, result from practices of spirituality and open our hearts, minds, body and spirits to the Divine.
At our monthly Church Team Meeting the other night, I asked those attending to start thinking about the question, “How Has Your Spirituality Been Impacted By This Time of Pandemic?” over the summer. I invite you, too, if you weren’t at that meeting, to take some time over these summer months and consider where you are spiritually now, following these 18 months of pandemic turbulence and wonder.
Did you start any rituals that helped you through, such as more outdoor time, or more prayer? Listening to old music, helping people, exploring and explaining things to your children or grandchildren? Sorted through those old photos or papers? Whatever you did, how has it enhanced your experience of the world as one of God’s children? What have you learned? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. Maybe your spirit feels fuller and more vibrant, closer to God. Or, perhaps you feel empty and lost and are searching for words and answers. Maybe your spirit is in need of some practices that will restore and refresh.
As it says in this week’s bulletin in the red print, there is no wrong or right; no proper or improper way to answer the question posed. There is, however, an opportunity for discourse and discussion; to get closer to each other as members of the body of Christ, involved in the work of Christ in the world; to wake up our spirits together, with joy and delight, contemplation and discussion.
Let’s walk together on this journey of spiritual learning and see what kinds of fun we can have with it in the fall, as we aim for higher ground and new horizons. Should you have thoughts or experiences you would like to share, feel free to write them down and keep them ready for some excellent conversations to come! Be not afraid!
**Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. Second Edition 2004. 425.
WEEKEND OF JUNE 4, 2021
The Already and the Not Yet
Yes, folks, we’re in it. The ‘already and the not yet’…a time of wondering, when we can look back over our shoulder and see where we’ve been, then turn forward again and wonder where we are going; the sacred pause; the in-between. Humanity has experienced the fire and is beginning to pick up the detritus of this pandemic, holding it in its hands, sorting out the threads and pieces.
This ‘already and not yet’ time is not new. Scripture – history – life- are all filled with what theologians call these eschatological moments; both present and future on the horizon in which both future is born from ending and realized – fulfilled - from history in God’s time and God’s ways.
I remember meeting a German woman who was a patient where I once served as a chaplain. Her story epitomized this ‘already and not yet’ time of life in an excruciating way. I will call her Helga. She was in her eighties at the time I met her about five years ago.
During WWII, Helga was a teenager and became an orphan due to her village being bombed and completely destroyed. She lost all thirteen of her relatives, including her mother. Her father, a soldier, had been killed in the German North African campaign.
Helga was assigned to a German orphan work camp. She recounted what her daily life was like. The children were woken up at 6 a.m. every morning. After a meagre breakfast, they were loaded onto trucks, where they were taken to bombed-out villages to dig through the rubble to collect bricks that were still usable. After working until 6 in the evening, they returned to the camp.
Then Helga told me something that stopped me in my tracks. Helga told me that she would never forget digging through the rubble in her very own village – the very village where her mother and thirteen loved ones were killed. Brick by brick, she turned over pieces of her past life to face her present life which was now her future life.
When Helga told me this, I was struck dumb. My imagination ran wild picturing a young girl, winsome and persecuted, suffering under forced labor conditions. Bending down, over and over again to lift up the bricks of her life, remembering, wondering; looking over her shoulder and ahead to…what? Surely, her heart must have cracked a thousand times. I was overcome with grief at the very thought of her suffering soul.
Helga survived. She met and married an American GI and came to the U.S.A. with him after the war. They raised a family. Now, a widow, she faced the waning years of her life with the wistfulness of a young, hopeful girl and the wisdom of an elderly, faithful woman. She told me how wonderful their life had been. It was miraculous how her life had gone from horrific to happy; from the in-between unknowable, to the now.
The moment begged to go deeper. Though hesitant, I couldn’t help but ask her how she overcame such a horrible experience that put her life on pause; surely, a moment that embodied the horror of the ‘already’ – those terrible conditions she experienced – and the ‘not yet.’ There was wisdom there to be shared.
Surely, she must have wondered what could possibly lie ahead for her? How did she slog her way through that mud of inhumanity and tragedy and come out the other side, an intact, feeling, loving, human being, with hope to go on? Helga’s answer was: “You just have to keep going. You keep going, that is all.”
The simplicity and profundity of her answer bowled me over almost as much as her excruciating story. At once, Helga had looked over her shoulder, acknowledging the past, while standing what had become her future. The holiness of that sacred ground was heart-stopping. What lessons it held! What fullness and fulfillment it offered! How inspiring and yet, tiring, to face backward and forward at the same time!
Friends, that is what we are doing now. May we do it with the hope and faith of Helga, as we recover the threads of the fabric of life we once knew, hold it in our hands, in the present while looking backwards and forwards at the same time. There is much wisdom and grace to be gained in this ‘already and not yet’ moment. May we all seize it with everything we’ve got, as Helga seized those bricks, and made a new life.
Our faith requires that we “just keep going” and Jesus leads us on through ‘the already and the not yet’ to the present future – hope in the unseen; hope in the unimaginable. Yes, it is hard. And, yes, it is possible. Fulfillment awaits to spring forth and amaze us all.
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.” – Psalm 130:5-6
Remember what Helga said: “You just have to keep going.”
WEEKEND OF MAY 28, 2021
“Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As God has sent me, so I send you.” John 20:19b-21 (Adapted)
“PEACE BE WITH YOU”
Memorial Day Weekend honors those who have given their lives in military service to their country. This year, we can add the names of Capitol Police Officers Brian Sicknick and Howard Liebengood, who, though not in the armed forces, died serving their country at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 or as a result of that incursion…peace be with you.
These two particular gentlemen came to mind on this Memorial Day Weekend because the events that caused their deaths (Liebengood was off duty and later died by suicide) were a result of defending this country not on foreign soil, but on its own soil, from its own citizens… peace be with you.
From a non-military point of view, there are many others lost across this nation who could be included in this Memorial Day’s tributes, whose service and/or loss of life occurred on U.S. soil, including those who were victims of racism and so many other travesties…peace be with you.
Wednesday, May 26th, this country experienced its 232nd mass shooting in San Jose, CA. According to a May 26, 2021 article online at thedenverchannel.com: “The FBI says a mass shooting is any incident that involves multiple victims of gun violence. It defines victims as both people who are killed and those who are injured by gunfire. Three people must have been injured or killed for the incident to qualify as a mass shooting”…peace be with you.
Rather than approaching this discourse from a political or “us vs. them” attitude, let us simply ponder the reality that ‘peace is not with us,’ at least not in a secular or temporal way; in other words, it ain’t happenin,’ friends. At least, it doesn’t feel like it. Though there are many peaceful moments, personal and worldly, private and public, which we are to be grateful for, the idea that peace reigns is, well, rather absurd, don’t you think? Peace be with you.
We are all elated to be able to “get out of the damn house,” as CT’s Governor Lamont recently proclaimed, to have picnics, gather for parades where permitted, and simply take a walk outside without having to mask up if we are vaccinated; to enjoy life! Thanks be to God! Peace be with you!
However, there is still far too much that is not right with the ‘house’ of humanity. It is way past time to put this house in order. We rightly should ‘go for the gusto’ and soak up all the goodness we are blessed with in this second summer of pandemic, in far better shape than last year…have fun, let our hair down, let the “lazy, hazy days of summer” begin, as Nat King Cole sang! Let them begin in a new way that proclaims life, not death! Of course, we would much rather not even be reading this, or thinking about it. God knows we’ve had enough serious stuff to think about the past 16 months! Peace be with you!
That said, this extra-special Memorial Day Weekend, it is all too easy to sweep the lack of peace in the world – rather, vicious hatred and its results - under the rug, hidden by the joy of feeling human again. Well, we can try it; but I bet it won’t all fit under that rug. It will continue to seep out and dust everybody up until we are able to truly say to one another as all God’s children…peace be with you…and mean it, and live it. Granted, it’s a tall order. Granted none of us are perfect. God made us human, thus and so. No one is expected to do it all or do it alone. No one can do it all or do it alone. Thus, the plea.
In this appearance after his resurrection, Jesus stands, wounds visible. He sends the disciples out into the world to teach love and forgiveness. He assures them of his holy peace, that it has been breathed upon them in the form of the Holy Spirit, directly from him. All they have to do (right?) is receive it and it will live in them. And, offer it to others. He blesses them with peace and directs them to go into the world in confidence of that peace. He allays their fears, telling them his peace is with them.
This is such a pure peace that it eludes our sense of human understanding. It is beyond anything we know. Jesus shows his wounds as signs. I can imagine him saying to his disciples, “Look I’ve done this at God’s will; now, go. I have received God’s true peace for the world. I am God’s peace for the world! All you need to know is that my peace is with you. True peace! The only peace! Receive it into your spirits! Harness it! Make it work for you! Make it work for humanity! This divine gift is yours for the taking! Yes, there will be much work and difficulty. But, in the end; no, in the new beginning, peace will be with you. Peace is with you now. Now, go, and be fishers of all people. Go, practice peace. Peace be with you.”
This Memorial Day Weekend, please get down on your knees if you can, or however you do it, and offer the deepest prayer to God that you can muster, for peace. Ask God to continue to show us how to do better. Say it every day from now on, not just this Memorial Day Weekend, please.
Along with that, say “Peace be with you” to all the people you meet from now on. Think it if you can’t say it. You will be surprised how it will become second nature over time, if it isn’t already. You will be amazed at how it empowers love, not hate. It’s not just a Christian thing, it is a Godly thing. It is a gift for the universe we inhabit. It is, as Christ tried to tell us, a real thing!
What if we all greeted each other inside and outside of church by saying “Peace be with you.” And if we answered each other, “And also with you.” And meant it. What if….? The possibilities are endless…this is what Jesus offers us! As God sent Jesus, so Jesus sent the disciples to do the job; and…us. After all, who else is going to do it? God help us.
Peace be with you! Amen!
WEEKEND OF MAY 21, 2021
One of the most common interactions between human beings is the experience of inadvertent incursion. In other words, people do things to each other, and have things done unto them, on many levels, but without realizing or worse, acknowledging it. Inadvertent incursions in daily life have been the basis for many ensuing disagreements or quarrels - even wars.
The key ingredient here is that the damage, wound, misunderstanding, insult or injury is not something the perpetrator intended. It does not involve an intentional act. Inadvertent incursion can occur verbally, non-verbally, physically, emotionally and other ways. The resulting perception, real or not, of feeling ‘incurred upon’ usually involves some sort of hurt, anger, resentment or misunderstanding. There exists also the imagined incursion – a close relative.
These unintentional infractions are typically undergirded by some form of ownership, literal or otherwise (psychological, emotional, physical, etc.), on the part of both the offender and the recipient – the ‘incurred upon.’ The very fact that most of us feel that we have dominion or ownership over things, both tangible and intangible – whether it is ourselves, our yards, our house, our feelings, our children, our pets, our cars, our shopping carts, our beliefs, friendships, or many other things, creates invisible boundaries.
When these boundaries are crossed, intentionally or not, it can be problematic, with potential for lasting damage. Even more problematic are unexpressed, or improperly expressed, feelings resulting from an incursion. Or, an offender may be unknown, as is the case when we walk out into a parking lot and see a dent in our car, no note attached. Hmmm…
Everyone treads on another’s sphere of influence at one time or another. It is pretty much unavoidable. Raising our awareness in a situation, thinking before we speak, considering the other – all of these are ways to avoid being an offender. We are imperfect human beings, after all. Things happen.
I remember one instance when I was in seminary. Every year, students were invited to take part in some sort of contest to enlighten the student community. The winners were awarded prizes and typically there was a keynote speaker. This particular spring, the subject was student loan debt. The contest venue was crockpot cooking. The hope was to demonstrate economical ways of cooking for those struggling financially with the exorbitant costs of higher education. That struggle usually involves student loan debt. The speaker that day was there to explain the pitfalls of long-term student loan debt and ways to live smarter.
Well, several of my friends and I entered the fray. One friend, my next-door-apartment- neighbor, happened to have the exact same, no-frills crockpot as mine, both which were vintage 1975 wedding gifts. This was 2013 and they were still going – 28 years - no planned obsolescence there (although both the marriages had ended – unplanned obsolescence!).
At any rate, we proudly went about our preparations excitedly in the midst of heavy course work, welcoming the diversion. The event was to take place in the dining hall across the campus. We had to get our loaded pots in place late one evening, then get back over there around 6 a.m. the next morning to check on our masterpieces. I was making a Mediterranean chicken stew. My friend was making a no bake, blueberry cake (she was a Maine girl) and in another pot, a main course. The cake was in the pot that was identical to mine.
Next day, I rolled out of bed in my PJ’s, and shuffled over to the dining hall in the early morning darkness. I was the only one there. Half asleep in the dim lighting and without my glasses, I went over to what I thought was MY crockpot. I lifted the lid. I peered in. It seemed like the contents had shrunk quite a bit. I remember thinking, “Wow, this really cooked down. Oh well, hope it tastes good.” I gave it a good stir, put the lid back on and went back to my apartment.
A few hours later we all arrived to set up for the presentation. As we went about our preparations, I heard a good amount of cursing coming from the other side of the room. It was my Maine friend. She was hovering over her identical crock pot, lamenting the implosion of her no-bake blueberry cake! When I went over to help her, I saw what had happened in the wee hours of the morning. I had stirred the blueberry cake, not my Mediterranean stew! It was now a blueberry buckle instead of a nice, rounded cake!
Abashed and greatly afraid of this disgruntled chef’s wrath, I tried to explain to her that because our crockpots were identical, I never even realized what I did. She looked at me in utter disbelief. I was sure she was thinking I was very stupid or not telling the truth. It seemed like she thought I had sabotaged her blueberry cake on purpose!
I can’t blame her. A stream of pathetic utterings flowed through my lips. “OMG! I am so sorry. I would never! Gosh, you would think I would have smelled the difference? It was so early in the morning. I was exhausted! I was in a hurry! There were a million smells in here. I should have turned on more lights! I should have worn my glasses! I should have, I should have!” Excuses, excuses, excuses. With a look of one utterly betrayed, she turned away. I felt terrible. The show continued, both of us angst-ridden: the incurred-upon and the incurr-er. The worst part is that she didn’t believe I had done it by accident!
Here’s the fait accompli: my Mediterranean stew won first prize! OH NO! And, my friend’s now blueberry “buckle” won second! Talk about adding insult to injury! It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I don’t remember how I made it up to her, but I did. It was incumbent upon me, the inadvertent incurr-er, to own up, apologize and try to make it right. Ultimately, she believed me. We don’t see each other very often due to geographic location, but when we do, we laugh about it. Thank goodness!
What is the point of this story? Mostly, that we can avoid the resulting pain of unintentional, incursive behaviors if we make it a practice to raise our awareness of how our actions affect – or could affect others - beforehand. If we do end up as party to an inadvertent incursion, we must ask ourselves how we can transform it into a grace-filled encounter, rather than a war-starter.
Holding ourselves accountable, even when we didn’t mean to hurt someone; reflecting upon a better way, provides a grace that may not have existed in us before. It provides grace for the other party, and God’s grace-space for all. But, it isn’t always that simple. Our personal needs and desires can often overrule our sensitivity to possible outcomes. Making it a point to practice becoming more conscientious about our own boundaries and others’, we can lessen our incursive impacts on each other, Creation and the universe.
This may sound like a silly incident, but it truly illustrates how inadvertent incursions can happen, and how we can try to be more sensitive to others. It was eight years ago, and I still remember it. Ultimately, we may have to be accountable, even if it was an accident in our eyes. Being accountable and grace-based, even if we feel hurt too, is essential. It provides the basis for being the body of Christ, and living as the community of God. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of restorative strength. God’s grace enables us to offer grace to others and ourselves. We all want – no, need – God’s grace. Praise God for God’s grace to us. Amen.
“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9-10
Grace and peace,
WEEKEND OF MAY 7, 2021
Going the Extra Mile…
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. – Matthew 5:41
These words of Jesus from the Beatitudes exhort us to the lofty ideal of giving of ourselves in even fuller measure when we would prefer otherwise. We are encouraged to dig deeper; to stretch ourselves by giving more; doing the right thing for the sake of somebody, some cause, or the common good.
Certainly, we can all identify with feeling care-worn, but grateful, as we forge ahead navigating necessary pandemic prohibitions and protocols. COVID-19 has robbed many folks of many things and required much sacrifice on everyone’s part.
“Going the extra mile” is a common phrase which denotes exactly that: doing more; continuing ahead with something, even when it may not be our choice. It mean giving more when it may be inconvenient, or we feel like we don’t have a lot left to give.
Truly, this concept is not unfamiliar to us as Christian people. The hospitality we are to show to our neighbor is our credo. It is alive and well at FCCSW because of our diligence and commitment to going the extra mile. Though a less familiar form of hospitality, it is life-giving,
This past Sunday, after having been forced out of our sanctuary by the pandemic for thirteen months, we joyfully resumed in-person worship at First Congregational Church of South Windsor. What an historic occasion!
This homecoming inspires great excitement and acclamation, but it also requires acclimation – being in church in ways that we just aren’t used to doing with rules that are new to us. We are asked once more to adapt to the situation; to go the extra mile – for each other, the community, and the world. Together, we have made this commitment.
While this adaptation process and the protocols may feel uncomfortable and inconvenient, that’s all they are: an inconvenience. When considered at face value, inconvenience for those of us well enough to attend is a small price to pay temporarily, when over 3.8 million people have died world-wide from this pandemic: 579,000 in the United States alone.
We should all be proud to be a part of this time of going the extra mile and proud of our Ad Hoc Pandemic Team whose members have worked tirelessly since October, 2020 to be able to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our congregation. Please take the time to offer your thanks to your fellow members for their endeavors.
We shall continue to be required to practice patience, get acclimated, adapt, and adhere to rules as they evolve and change, while respecting each other and our fellow human beings by doing the right thing – the Christian thing. We do it with the special knowledge in our hearts that we are digging deep, as Jesus asks of us; going the extra miles until we can be sure everyone is out of harm’s way.
May Jesus walk with you on each and every mile, no matter when or where.
Announcement of Resumption of In-Person Worship
It is with great joy and gratitude to God that the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team and Rev. Nina announce the resumption of in-person worship starting Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. We will continue to provide Zoom services for those who choose to worship from home. Even with Gov. Lamont’s most recent updates, there are still state guidelines which we have to follow to allow us to meet inside. There is no distinction in the state guidelines for vaccinated or unvaccinated people so we will follow the guidelines for all congregants. The highlights of the process are detailed below.
You will have to make a reservation. Reservations and seating are by family group of the people you share a household with. See below for the required information to make a reservation which is the same as it was for Easter Sunday.
Church seating is limited due to social distancing and you will be directed to a pew upon entering and released by an usher upon departure.
Masks will be required inside the building.
Attendees will have to follow the temperature checks and questionnaire guidelines upon arrival.
Air flow is required so we will have windows open in the sanctuary and the front door open throughout the service. You may wish to keep your jacket on depending on the weather.
Expect the service to be modified: shorter, with no singing and other adaptations as needed.
The Church's offering plates will be provided on the way out of the Sanctuary.
We will all be very happy to be together again! However, we still need to keep post-service chat and visiting to a minimum.
If there is a change in the COVID situation in Connecticut, we may have to adjust our in person worship accordingly.
You can email (preferred) or call the church office to make a reservation after noon on a Sunday for the following week (email@example.com)
All requests prior to 10 am on Tuesday will be treated as occurring at the same time. There is room with the required spacing for 14 family groups.
The last time to place your request is 10 am on Friday. After that time, it will be walk-in only if there is room.
The following information is required for contact tracing and seat planning:
I/we want to come to in person worship on (Date)_____________
The total number of people in our family group is __________________
The first and last names of all attending are :________, _________, _________, etc.
The contact phone number for this group is _______________________________
I/we am/are aware of the health questions and will not attend if we do not meet the criteria.
I/we understand that our temperature will be checked and mask and sanitizer use is required.
WEEKEND OF APRIL 30, 2021
The Power of Story
Everybody loves a good story, right? A novel, a film, a piece in the newspaper or on-line, heard around the firepit; a good story never fails to entertain, touch our hearts, make us cry or laugh, ponder or wonder. Stories can be spoken, sung, rapped, tapped, drummed, danced, woven, sewn, drawn, dreamed, schemed or memed!
Stories have power and they elicit power; the power that can take us to other lands, other dimensions, through a myriad of emotions and experiences without ever actually having the experience ourselves. The power of story transcends limitations and transports the hearer or reader to new places: “speeding us on to fresh and newer spaces.”*
What is wonderful is that we all have stories to tell. Our lives are one, big, constant stream of stories, connected by the very fact that we are all in this humanity thing together. They are gathered into a tapestry that makes up our life-story. All of us are living, walking stories! Stories connect us with each other – often in ways we could never even imagine.
Another wonderful thing is that you don’t have to be an accomplished writer or story teller to share your story. Story-telling is not reserved for published authors writers or professional story-tellers only. Anyone can share their story!
It is in the sharing of our stories that we enter into true human communion with each other. A person is invited to participate in a story in whatever manner they are inspired to – or not. The magic of story meets the imagination. Hand in hand they stride the open road of life, death and everything in between. Eyes and hearts are opened. The possibilities are endless.
The Bible is a perfect example of the power of story. It is chock full of life-changing stories told by those whose lives were changed – for better or for worse! Think about all those we meet in the stories from the canonical works – Adam, Eve, Moses, Pharoah, psalmists, Kings David and Solomon, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jonah and others; Ruth, Hannah, Esther, warriors like Samson and evil ones like Herod; Mary, Joseph, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus – a cast of thousands!
In fact, if it weren’t for these stories, which began as oral history and then were written down by scribes, the authors themselves and others, think of all that would be lost to us and to the world! There is much to be learned from them. It is the sharing of these stories which inform our very being as Christians and members of the human race.
The tellers and writers of these stories were no different than we are, except for the times and contexts in which they lived. They were humans living their lives, seeking God, sinning, fighting, loving, dying. The memorializing and sharing of stories by those having lived experience is essential to the historical understanding and perspective of human history – each other.
Our shared humanity compels us – exhorts us – to share our stories with each other before they are lost forever. What would we do without the stories of the human and divine Jesus, the Christ and those he came to save – all of us? What would we do without the stories of those who lived out the annals of biblical times?
Everyone - grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, children, friends, strangers, siblings, teachers, mentors, enemies – all of us have stories just bursting to be birthed into the cosmos! The stories of our COVID experiences alone are priceless.
The power of story lies within all of us. Think about taking the time to share yours with those you love – with the world. They are God-created and God-given from the One who knew us before we were even born. Let us honor God by sharing our stories with each other – they are like the wine of life, waiting to become the vintages of the future, for those who won’t have known us personally, but will through our stories.
Adapted from the poem “Stages” by Herman Hesse.
WEEKEND OF APRIL 16, 2021
Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer
Junk drawers are ubiquitous. Most homes have one or something akin to one, where the flotsam and jetsam of daily living gets stored or accumulates over the years. A good junk drawer usually has a plethora of one-off useful and useless items, like those hotel sewing kits or half-used note pads; maybe a battery or two – how long have they been in there? Pencils, leaky pens, a dried-up Sharpie, match books, old business cards from now-defunct entities, that Chinese restaurant menu from the last town you lived in – they had the best dumplings! – forgotten decks of cards from Disney World that were going to be stocking stuffers, an antique Ballantine Beer bottle opener, Grandma’s broken teacup that needs mending with that now petrified Super Glue and, oh yeah, there’s that ‘missing’ Allen wrench and oh so many more wonderful treasures!
A good junk drawer can inspire a walk down memory lane. Moving to a new home can inspire that perusal. A lot gets chucked, a lot just can’t be let go. I remember one time when I moved, I just left the junk drawer as is in the sideboard it lived in, and it arrived intact and ready to serve at the new place! It was just too taxing to sort through once I started, so I took the whole thing, as ‘was.’
There was that little red plastic wind-up chicken that laid mini-yellow eggs when it walked; the old leather collar of a beloved family dog; a wooden bird-call whistle that made chirping sounds when you twisted the tiny metal handle; old brochures about a historic house I loved; twine and colorful ribbons awaiting re-purposing; a leftover plastic egg full of my son’s Silly Putty; a few antique marbles, including an agate “shooter” (that’s a larger marble used to hit the smaller marbles, in case this is out of your area of expertise – chuckle, chuckle); one of those tiny hurdy gurdies, a colorful stone that must have been kept for some meaningful reason, an expired ID card from an extinct library and oh, so many semi-discarded things that evoked a mixture of emotions.
We human souls carry many ‘semi-discarded’ things within our personal ‘junk drawers,’ our hearts and memories. These inhabitants of time can evoke a mixture of emotions when we pull out our ‘mental’ junk drawer and start sorting. Some things are delightfully recalled from the land of memory – oh, how lovely. Others are too painful to think about and get stowed once again under that protecting rock – too painful! Quick, put it back! Either way, we carry them with us forever, which can be both a comfort and a burden, the warp and woof of our personal life-story tapestries; the stuff of our earthly life.
Though meaningful material reminders, this seemingly incidental stuff can become overly important, overshadowing our spiritual lives. Hopefully, we all will wisely come to know that ‘things’ are not the stuff of life, but that which connects us to each other is the stuff of life – God, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the ‘super-glue’ of the Trinity); relationship and life together as an Easter people.
We will recognize that it is ok to turn our junk drawers over to God; to re-purpose all the various foibles, tribulations and joys into the universe for safe keeping in eternity, the Great Junk Drawer in the sky; to let go of that which is intrinsic, and yet not truly necessary for a happy life.
When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and “preach the kingdom and heal the sick,” according to Luke 9, he commanded them to “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” All they needed they had, in the very stuff of which they were created by God. No junk drawers here.
How preciously God has woven each of us with our very own knots, dropped stitches, smooth, silken ribbon edges or stiff, scratchy fibers, raggedy holes, exquisite threads and textures beyond our imagination. God’s holy work. Friends, this is all we need to wrap our souls in and carry with us, not our junk drawers, as fun and special as they may seem.
As wonderfully and frightfully full as our junk drawers can become, there comes a time to dump them out with gusto and release your inner junk to the Holy One! Take nothing with you but your very bless-ed holy self and share it with the world!
WEEKEND OF APRIL 11, 2021
“The Scattered Church”*
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, M.Div., R.N., is the Acting Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ’s national organization. She is also Senior Pastor at Christ the King UCC of Florissant, MO, a neighboring city to Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was shot by police on August 9, 2014.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ informs Blackmon’s work on behalf of racial justice, all social justice issues, and spearheads her intentional and passionate efforts to exhort solidarity among Christians and people of all faiths to care for the least of these. She is a gifted and impactful, front-line spiritual leader.
Blackmon was a guest panelist recently on a virtual forum for Eden Theological Seminary’s Spring Convocation, 2021. The subject of this particular session was “Launching Into Solidarity: Community Partnerships & Congregational Purpose.” Blackmon, as always, named some concepts which are well worth noting and sounded quite rich with possibilities for congregations everywhere – not only UCC Protestants, but all “gathered/scattered” communities of worship, no matter what the denomination or faith.
The first is visualizing the church as a “launching pad” rather than a destination; a beginning place rather than an end or culmination of congregational mission or purpose; a space where ideas are born, flourish and are relevant to present action needed in the world; a place of active-inspiration, as opposed to passive waiting to be inspired. Just the term “launching pad” inspires!
Two other very pertinent concepts are what Blackmon called “the gathered church” and “the scattered church,” terms especially apropos during this time of COVID, where congregations surely have been and are still scattered, but gathering as best they can.
Unable to meet in-person for some time, houses of worship have had to learn and adapt to worshipping via on-line platforms, some in-person, some via ‘drive-in church,’ and many other ways, eventually perhaps offering a combination of applications: ‘hybridization.’
These phrases “the gathered church” and “the scattered church” can be seen as their own hybridization of the manner in which the body of Christ has taken shape and been transformed most recently by the events of the pandemic.
Surely, we have had more than our share of being scattered from one another bodily, emotionally and spiritually, whether as worshiping companions or family members. Unable to hug each other, have dinner, collect offering, share communion or receive the words of a sermon in-person with our whole selves, scattering has affected all of us across the globe in all settings, secular and religious. Though we are “gathered” in some ways, we still feel “scattered.”
But wait! The good news is that “scattered” can and should be seen as a positive opportunity to relate to the church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in new and life-giving ways! A “launching pad!” Being scattered throughout the world with an agenda of compassionate caring and justice for all allows for renewed commitment to discipleship across the board. A new chance for solidarity!
Granted, Christians are scattered all over the globe and have been for centuries, but Blackmon’s concept of it as a tool with which to renew the church is refreshing, to put it mildly. As a matter of fact, it just might be the fresh perception we need right now – the new thing that God is doing for the church and the world.
After all, is not the church “scattered” anyway – meaning spread around the globe? How many times does Scripture name the gathering of nations and peoples? Soon Pentecost will be here – May 23rd – the spiritual birthday of the church. If that wasn’t a gathering of the “scattered,” what is?
Even though we are scattered physically, we are still gathered in the eyes of God, and are offered incredible opportunities to re-examine how we do church; “launching pad” or resting place or both – a holy union of commencement. Why not?
Being scattered does not have to mean that we are shattered as a church. Yes, our emotions or well-being are greatly impacted by this pandemic, some shattered, most certainly. However, being shattered does allow for the re-gathering of the pieces in new and healing ways. Might it not be wise and wonderful to follow Blackmon’s lead and let this “gathered and scattered” theme inspire us to new and greater heights – perhaps that which we’ve never envisioned before! Being scattered places us in the perfect situation to be in the world, enacting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as his followers.
In these minus-50 days of Eastertide and counting, let us be vigilant to the spirit as it moves among “the gathered and the scattered.” Let us prepare ourselves for a Pentecost on May 23rd such as the world has never seen since the very first Pentecost and going forward!
Come; rest; be renewed and go out into the world as church that matters in new ways. Be launched by the Holy Spirit “launching pad!” Are we not all the scattered seeds of God? Wouldn’t we rather be remembered as a church that mattered in a new way, even though scattered?
Blessings and thank you, Rev. Blackmon!
Thanks be to God,
*Eden Theological Seminary. Spring Convocation, 2021. April 7, 2021. “Launching Into Solidarity: Community Partnerships & Congregational Purpose.” These are paraphrases and a few quoted words of the Rev. Traci Blackmon, Panelist, heard and noted as important ‘take aways’ by this writer.
EASTER WEEKEND - APRIL 2, 2021
An Easter Streaker
Bet you didn’t know there is a streaker in the Bible? And during Holy Week, no less! Yes, Mark 14:51-52, The Message, says this: “A young man was following along. All he had on was a bedsheet. Some of the men grabbed him but he got away, running off naked, leaving them holding the sheet.”
The Gospel of Mark is the only one of the four that includes this… incident, event, sighting? Some commentaries suggest Mark was an eyewitness, thus the reason it is included in his version only. It takes place after Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested, and everyone has deserted him, including his disciples.
There are, of course, many interpretations and much conjecture out there about the meaning of these verses. No one is certain of the man’s identity. There are some who say perhaps the “bedsheet”, or “linen cloth” was the one they ultimately used to wrap Jesus’ body.
Some posit that the man was the only truly authentic disciple, because he was following Jesus’ directions literally as spoken in Luke 9:3: “And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” It is obvious this guy had none of those things, and he certainly didn’t have two tunics! He didn’t even have one tunic! All he had was that cloth!
Remember the streaking fad of the 1970’s which originated on college campuses? Usually, one person would disrobe and ‘streak’ through a spectator-filled baseball stadium or other public venue for the satisfaction of the shock value. Mobs of streakers would also congregate for communal ‘dishabille.’
Think of flash mobs of the 21st century, where large groups of people orchestrate some activity, whether musical, social justice-oriented, or just for fun, to ‘pop-up’ as though spontaneous in the public square (with clothes on). You may have heard of the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma blessing his vaccination station with a one-man, spontaneous mini concert a few weeks ago; that sort of thing.
Was our young man’s act only for shock value, to emphasize the enormity of the situation? Somehow, I doubt it. God was about to provide that cataclysm herself, in the act of Jesus’ crucifixion. Something else had to be going on…in fact, it was…of a much more serious note, the persecution, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We can only endlessly conjecturize what his role was or was meant to signify in the midst of such horror. Was he a lost soul? An outcast of society, perhaps another also to be punished only to escape? If not, why did he run away? Why was he unclothed? Though, the social norms regarding nakedness at that time are unclear, surely if everyone else was dressed, he would stand out.
All notions of streaking fads aside at this most holy time for Christians, perhaps his nakedness is a symbol of encouragement for us to bare ourselves down to our very souls before God, as God made us? Right now! Maybe the very idea of that is so terrifying, we might run away, too! After all, everyone else ran away at Jesus’ greatest time of need – even his closest friends and followers, the disciples. “All of them deserted him and fled.” – Mark 14:51.
Friends, no matter whether we are naked or clothed, God knows us inside and out, before we were even conceived. Be not afraid. Now is the time…God implores us to take note and come clean with God, right down to our bare-naked skin and our bare-naked souls, for Christ’s sake.
Remember, Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, naked and afraid and made themselves loin cloths from leaves because they now knew shame. Better clothing of skins was then provided by God to protect them in what became a wily world after the Fall. “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife and clothed them.” (Gen 2:21) – God’s shameless, protective love.
All we have to do is show up and follow the Son’s example of everlasting, unconditional love for everyone – the New Commandment: “Love one another,” naked or not. All we have to do is clothe our spirits in God’s armor – God is doing the rest. Now is the time, if ever there was one. May you experience the naked joy of a Savior who loved us enough to die for us.
In Easter reverence and Christian love,
WEEKEND OF MARCH 26, 2021
“From Here To Eternity”*
Yes…From Here To Eternity is the title of the 1953 Oscar-winning Best Picture set in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, surrounding the infamous December 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese. The film highlights the WWII life and times of base personnel, interweaving military life, war, romance, cruelty and passion. It has a jam-packed, star-studded cast: Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra (Best Supporting Actor), Donna Reed (Best Supporting Actress), Montgomery Clift, Ernest Borgnine, Deborah Kerr and many others.
What resonates about this title as we enter into Holy Week is it’s metaphorical meaning as a literary bridge from the now to the forever, not unlike what we are about to experience in this liturgical leap from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what happens in between now and forever? Palm Sunday and Easter? If we didn’t learn about Sgt. Warden, Prewitt, Maggio, Alma, and the other characters’ lives in between the ‘here’ and the ‘eternity,’ would it be the same experience? Without the beginning and the ending would we get the whole story?
We know in the movie a lot happens to the main characters which embeds them in eternity from a historical standpoint. The same applies to Holy Week – a lot happens to the main character, Jesus, from a historical standpoint – but more importantly, from a religious and spiritual perspective – the holy, sacred moments that produce an earthquake of eternal proportions; to get him – and us – from here to eternity; from the inhumanity of humanity in this earthly life to the promise of eternal life.
These days, much of the ‘holy’ has gone out of our traditions. Church-goers attend Palm Sunday to cheer Jesus’ parade through Jerusalem on a cute donkey, palms in hand, while anticipating Easter Sunday services for jubilating in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the season of Spring.
That’s not to say there is nothing to cheer about or that there is no personal meaning in our experience, but we all know religion and church have taken a back seat to a lot of other things. Jesus’ triumphant and some say, foreboding, procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, culminates in his resurrection on Easter morning. But wait – what about the rest of the week? What about the dying part? What about getting from here to eternity? A lot happens in between these two feast days!
There is much more to this world-changing story. It’s not called Holy Week for only those two place-holder Sundays, as meaningful as they are. The build-up to ‘holy’ continues through Holy Week.
Theologically, if we do not attend services on Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper and Good Friday, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death at Calvary, or at least read about them or recall them in communion together, along with Palm Sunday and Easter, we are completely missing the theological and literary ‘bridge’ of that leap ‘from here to eternity.’
This bridge, like any well-written epic, contains the meat: the gut-wrenching, horrifying, abusive, power-mongering, spectacle-causing, heart-breaking, “what you are about to hear or see contains graphic language and depictions and may be offensive to some” disclaimer for the scourging of Jesus the Christ. My fellow Christians, this bridge is the Passion!
There is the Anointing, the Last Supper, the Arrest, the Denial, the Garden, and the Betrayal, etc. – these are the scripture headings from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is also silent on any recounting of details of that grievous Holy Saturday.
The Passion also includes moments of human compassion, to name a few: Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross to Calvary along the “Way of Sorrows,” the Via Dolorosa; the crucified thief to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom;” and of course the women, his mother Mary and other grief-filled witnesses who helplessly attempted to minister and pray for Jesus throughout.
Without sharing it, we miss out on the communal grief and joy and everything in between; the relational nurturing; the main course or the main event; the play-off, if you will; “the rest of the story” as journalist Paul Harvey used to say.
Yes, we can still wave palms on Palm Sunday and shout “Christ is Risen” on Easter but how much more meaningful it can be if we at least attempt to grasp what the experience must have been like for all those watching over 2, 000 years ago and what it means to us as Christians today?
We all have different learning styles. If you are less prone to attending Zoom services or church in general, read the stories in the Bible. If the language throws you off, Google The Message, written in common English. If you prefer visuals and music, watch one of those old epic films like The Robe, The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, Barabbas, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus Christ Super-Star or Jesus of Nazareth. Some are corny; some are well-done and others not so much. National Geographic Magazine usually publishes an overview this time of year which you often see in the check-out line at the grocery stores.
Take what you will from them and consider the source of everything you watch or read, but hear the stories. There are lots of ways to connect to and experience Holy Week, in addition to church. Most of all, pray.
This year, of all years, are we not deeply and desperately in need of hearing every detail of this story more than ever?
It is epic. It will take you from here to eternity. Let it. For Christ’s sake.
*www.imdb.com. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Lenten Worship Schedule 2021
LENTEN WORSHIP AND PRAYER SERVICES SCHEDULE
First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021 – Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Still Seeking Easter…
Last year, our Lenten journey, “Seeking Easter,” was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an ‘exile’ from our sanctuary amidst much uncertainty on March 12, 2020. We continue to walk this wilderness with God’s help. We have learned that we can worship God in many places, including on Zoom, all year long!
Easter still happened in 2020 and will this year, too, praise God! Jesus’ time in the wilderness; his persecution, crucifixion and resurrection once again lay before us. In this second pandemic Lenten season we are, “Still Seeking Easter…”
This year, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, was celebrated on-line, with two services: one brief prayer service at 6 p.m., followed by an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. with the Congregational Churches of Vernon, Broad Brook and Griswold. Though unable to distribute and receive ashes, we remain, “Still Seeking Easter…”
PLEASE JOIN US FOR THE SERVICES LISTED BELOW VIA ZOOM INVITATION AT 10:00 A.M. ON SUNDAYS, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Sunday, Feb. 21 1st Sunday in Lent The Beginning Mark 1:9-15
Soloist: Bradford Wright
Sunday, Feb. 28 2nd Sunday in Lent The Foretelling Mark 8:31-38
Sunday, Mar 7 3rd Sunday in Lent The Truth-Telling John 2:13-22
Sunday, Mar 14 4th Sunday in Lent The Life-Light John 3:14-21
Sunday, Mar 21 5th Sunday in Lent The Glorification John 12:20-33
Sunday, Mar 28 Palm Sunday The Procession
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11
Thursday, Apr 1 Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Prayer 7 P.M.
Friday, Apr 2 Good Friday Meditation Time Noon
Sunday, April 4 Easter Sunday The Resurrection! John 20:1-18
“HOW DO WE WELCOME EACH OTHER?" -
2021 LENTEN SPEAKER SERIES via zoom
Wednesdays - March 10, 17 & 24th - 6:30p.m.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Matt 22:39
Humanity continues to struggle with true acceptance of others unlike ourselves. We all have moments of uncertainty when we meet people unfamiliar to our ways of thinking and being and who look and believe differently than us. Devastating effects of hatred and rejection in all forms have existed throughout human history to the present-day. As human beings and Christians, it is our responsibility to welcome and steward all peoples, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
The Diaconate and Rev. Nina are pleased to announce the 2021 speaker series which picks up where we left off in 2020. The focus will remain on encouraging openness and unconditional welcome through understanding of differences, with practical nomenclature and behaviors to support that welcome.
The awareness that all people possess visible and invisible uniqueness is essential for the enactment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Open and Affirming status ‘affirms’ that credo.
Please come join us in sharpening our welcoming skills as we learn together. This year's presenters are:
March 10 – Ms. Liz DeRosa, Director of Institutional Development
American School of the Deaf, West Hartford, CT
March 17 - Mx. Elliot Altomare, Organizational Consultant
March 24 – Ms. Barbara Bergren, Award Winning Author
“Witness For My Father”
During this time of Lent, we reflect upon the many ways in which God can be found in our world around us.
Near the River by Lilly M.
Sunset on Christmas 2020 by VIcky M.
Prayer Place by Adrienne A.
Peace by the Pond at the Park by Lee and Rachel A.
Welcome to Our Lenten Speaker Series for 2021
Wednesdays March 10, 17 & 26 at 6:30 pm via zoom
Join Us on Wednesday March 26th at 6:30 pm for a special presentation by Award Winning Author, Barbara Bergren.
WITNESS FOR MY FATHER is a true story of the worst and best of humanity where two men are touched by war, discrimination, and —through acts of kindness—recovery. In history’s unending struggles illuminating the cruelty and horror of war, based on a belief in nation and race over people, this is one story where hope prevails.
Please join us for this zoom event with award-winning author Barbara Bergren to discuss her book, Witness for My Father. Published one year ago on International Holocaust Remembrance day, Barbara will share her father’s experience, and honor survivors, liberators, and those who perished during WWII.
This story is one of devastating loss, but also one of hope, heroism and the triumph of human kindness. Learn how a Jewish survivor and a Black lieutenant prevailed against genocide and racism.
You can purchase Witness For My Father from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or independent book stores.
*If you would like to be included in our zoom invitation list for our Lenten speaker series or our Sunday worship service, please contact the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-528-7992.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 19, 2021
Are You Historic?
The other day in a meeting, I heard someone mention they work for an organization that provides assistance to congregations and houses of worship whose buildings are historic. Services range from financial advice and grants for maintenance, supporting the yoking process between two churches, credentialing and preserving their historic status or all of the above.
What struck me was that they indicated that a building could qualify as historic if it is at least fifty years old. Fifty years? Here in New England, that is just a drop in the bucket! In other parts of the world, fifty years of history is laughable when held up against 1,000-year-old temples, ancient ruins and a recently discovered ‘intact’ basket believed to be 10,000 years old.
This same person offered that they had just turned 63 years old, to which another person quipped, “You’re historic!” Needless to say, this garnered a good laugh from all of us.
Later that day, I started thinking about people being “historic” as opposed to aging. People have done and do historic things, and are part of history, but the notion that we as individuals can also be seen as “historic” intrigued me. Are we not witnesses of history if not vessels of history?
We nominate buildings to the National Historic Register. Historical societies exist to preserve historic buildings and artifacts. Shouldn’t our lives be registered as “historic,” too? Young and old alike, why not name our life and aging process a ‘historic’ process, rather than a denouement from youth to old age? If buildings can be considered historic, certainly we are, too!
We are conceived, born, and raised. We learn, work and contribute. Some are taken care of, and some do the caring. We suffer and cause suffering. We spend time isolated or in community. We live on the streets and in some of those historic buildings! We traverse the mountaintops and the valleys. We grieve and we exult. We laugh, we love, we live. We run our course. We die. We stand as part of history, like a stately old building. This is all historic!
However, sometimes we don’t feel grandly historic, like a stately old building, standing graciously in our space. We don’t feel part of a grand plan in life, especially in these continuing pandemic days. We may simply feel lost, despairing, worn out, sick and tired – maligned. I am reminded of the suffering and exasperated Job, who after much misfortune and illness, queries his God: “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every minute?” (Job 7:17-18). In other words, “Really, God?” Is this all there is?” Job challenges God.
Let us not forget: no less historic, and amazingly miraculous, sacredly historic, even, is that we are created by God and honored as God’s beloved children – yes, honored. As the psalmist writes: “What are human beings, mortals that you care for them? Yet, you have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps 8:4-5). Did you know your very creation and existence is an honor from God and honored by God?
Yes, God cares for us! Yes, God created us and honors us as God’s beloved children. We are the pride and joy of our Creator. We are God’s historic human edifices! For that very thing, we need to glorify God in everything we do. As we stand tall or short, slender or stout, crumbling or bursting with new life, we are beloved to God.
As we approach this Fifth Sunday in Lent, we recall Jesus’ speaking of God’s glorification through Jesus’ very existence, death and resurrection. Let us remember Jesus’ words in John 12:23: “And Jesus answered them, “‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”’ Jesus’ historicity is about to be established in the world.
Jesus then speaks specifically of his coming death to his Heavenly Parent, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘“Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven and said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (12:27-29)
We, too, search for our purpose in God’s sight, and though perhaps not as evident as Jesus’ purpose, we do have one. As we lean-in to our own historicity, how about instead of saying “I’m getting old” we say, “I’m becoming historic?” Perhaps, in that way, we can honor God in return and live in to our historicity, with grace, laughter and love. May it be so.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 12, 2021
Beneath the Snow
Many grew up being taught that it is our responsibility to care for the needs of animals within our personal purview as best we can, before we tend to our own needs; to aid the least of these, those who depend on us, and especially those who cannot fend for themselves. Before we feed and water ourselves, we feed and water them. So, when we turn off the light at the end of the day, we know we have been good stewards of God’s creatures, as Genesis tells us.
It is important to tend to them when food is scarce, such as winter and before or during a storm. This especially applies to our wild-bird friends. Earlier this winter, during one of our heavier snow storms, I ventured outside to refill the metal suet holder that dangles from a tree in the backyard with one of those bird-ready, seed-coated suet blocks. The snow was coming down pretty good. There was already about seven inches of fluffy, “poor man’s fertilizer” on the ground, but out I went anyway.
I made my way over to the tree and reached up, fitting the block into the holder. When I went to shut the little door that holds the suet in, I realized it was missing. “Drat,” I thought. “This suet is just going to fall out into the snow without that little door.” I started rummaging all around in the white stuff for it in a wide circle beneath the tree.
I spent a good 20 numbing minutes up to the elbows, but to no avail. I never found it. Finally, I said to myself, “Well, I’ll find it when the snow melts.” I hoped the suet would stay in the holder, and left things to the birds to figure out.
The snow has melted. Harbingers of spring are all around: delicate and brave white starflowers; green grass shoots; red buds up high in some trees, bird calls and sunshine. I stood, one day, peering out the window at the tree where the suet holder hangs. As my eyes moved down to the ground, behold, I saw the missing piece! It had been lying on the ground all that time beneath the snow. It had surfaced at last. Gratified, I went out to put it back. All was well.
This discovery, simple and uneventful in the overall scheme of life, sparked some wonderings and wanderings in my soul; this finding of the ‘hoped-for’ after the storm, out from beneath the snow. Might it be seen as a metaphor for this pandemic that has subsumed our living – and the lives of so many? This overspreading of the familiar, concealing our hopes and all we knew in a storm-cloud of loss? This fog of grief.
What hidden gifts might lie beneath the snow of this pandemic, blanketed, yet awaiting re-discovery? What shall we reap after this tempest? Will there be surprises? Affirmations? Miracles? Will we locate the missing piece(s) amidst the flotsam and jetsam of disaster….or will there be things we expect to find that just aren’t there anymore? Things we must let go of forever? When all is said and done (not to be misconstrued as “getting back to normal;” that is no longer an option; more like embracing the new), what shall we reap after this storm?
There are losses, no question. There will be missing pieces, for sure. But, there will also be that which we didn’t expect; renewed revelation at the goodness and mercy of God, who never leaves our side, even though at times, perhaps obscured from our senses, we doubt and long for God’s presence. Surprises will abound!
Just like the missing piece beneath the snow, God’s love will spring up in overwhelming acclimation that we are God’s beloveds. God’s assurances are ever-present, whether beneath the snow, the pandemic, whatever storms come our way. Our Creator tends to us first, keeping us fed and watered during the tempest. Let us embrace this new time and go forward in love and peace. We’re going to find just what we need in the snow-melt of this pandemic; in God’s unconditional love. You can count on it.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 5, 2021
Shutting Off Our Thinkers
So much to think about, so much time! Certainly, the ongoing Great Pandemic of 2020 has given us more opportunity and time to ponder the state of humanity, what the ancient Greeks might call “navel-gazing.” We think about everything under the sun and all manner of possibilities, both concerning and hopeful, probably ad nauseum to ourselves and others. Navel-gazing, or omphaloskepsis, by the way, was a real method of self-absorbed meditation employed by the ancient Greeks. The modern reference has morphed into a description of a way of thinking that is focused exclusively on the self, at the expense of others.*
We think and think as we try to solve the many-layered problems presented by this new way of living in these COVID-19 times, personally and collectively. We think about solutions in our minds, at least, if not in reality. I am reminded of what A. A. Milne’s gentle honey-eating bear named Winnie the Pooh always utters when faced with a problem: “Think, think, think.”
Isn’t it wonderful that we have been given such wonderful brains to do the type of thinking that is our uniquely human attribute? The kinds of brains that can figure out how to crawl, speak wisely to a young child’s confusion, or design a spacecraft capable of landing on Mars! Kowabunga!
Of course, there is productive thinking and non-productive thinking. Productive thinking is creative, calming, inspiring, maybe agitating – many things. Productive thinking ultimately bears some form of fruit; even fruit which is still in the ripening stage. There may not be a concrete solution or outcome, but the process of thinking affords a benefit of some sort. Productive thinking leads us somewhere.
On the other hand, non-productive thinking is the kind of thinking that sets us going in circles. It can confound and lead us nowhere except to being more worried, excited, frustrated, anxious or whatever the case may be. This way of thinking may involve worry about family, job or no job, loss, fear, grief, health, safety, preparation for a presentation, vaccines, and on and on it goes. It is safe to say that most people have experienced times when their ‘thinkers’ just won’t shut off, no matter what they do. It can happen any time whether under duress or surrounding good events, too. For many, it happens in the middle of the night, when things seem more unsure, impossible, perplexing and yes, scary.
If you’ve had it happen to you, you know what I’m taking about: tossing and turning relentlessly until we are forced to resign ourselves to being wide awake, as the non-stop movies continue playing in our heads, most of which are unsolvable anyway. We grab our phone to read the latest newsfeed, blog or music; read a book; maybe turn on the TV. Finally, as the thoughts swim in our heads and it is obvious the solution is not immediately at hand, or is completely out of our hands, we give in and get up, maybe go get something to eat. Our thinkers just won’t shut off!
While these times can be trying, they are also opportunities in and of themselves to welcome the fodder of nighttime wondering which can foster sacred moments of quiet and solitude. Moments of unrest can be a perfect time to cultivate spiritual practices that bring us closer to God; that bring us peace.
Restless times are perfect times for exploring and honing spiritual tools which can relieve the anxiety that accompanies the cycle of overthinking and sleeplessness; to ‘shut off our thinkers.’ Rather than resorting to human distractions, it is helpful to embrace other methods which lessen the alarming-ness of these moments. If we develop a couple of rescue aids for our anxiety and use them, they will become part and parcel of our spiritual and emotional coping mechanisms – an automatic spiritual practice, rather than just more noise in our psyches.
Some of these are as simple as praying silently or aloud, all or part of the Lord’s Prayer; maybe a passage from Psalm 23: “He leadeth me beside still waters; he restoreth my soul;” repeating over and over again, “All shall be well” or “Lord, have mercy.” Choosing a word which is connected to a comforting pastime, such as ‘ocean’ or ‘pasture;’ laying out your flower garden in your head, or imagining a crackling hearthside fire. Imagine sitting with Jesus in front of that fire, giving him respite from his lonesome, wilderness journey; letting his overwhelming love pour over you. Perhaps, you pray together.
The Book of Job, 7:3-5 identifies the plight of the sleepless, suffering Job: “So I am allotted months of futility, and nights of misery are appointed me. When I lie down I think: ‘When will I get up?’ But the night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.”
Psalm 130:5-6, offers this: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
Wait for the Lord; let the Lord’s peace be with you; let the Lord “shut-off your thinker.”
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 26, 2021
Spiritual Grocery Shopping List
How do you shop for groceries these days? Do you choose to go physically to the store or not? Does someone go for you? Are you an on-line shopper with a delivery to your doorstep? Maybe you order on the phone and do curbside pick-up or go to a food bank.
There are lots of options. Isn’t it wonderful that one of the weird side effects of this pandemic nightmare is that in some ways, customer service in the retail realm has improved greatly?
First of all, how grateful we all are if we have the means to shop in any form: the money, the transportation, the time, the ability. And God bless the food banks and co-ops of all shapes and sizes that are working tirelessly to fill the gaping hunger in this land. God bless and keep them and all whom they serve in these desperate and hunger-filled times.
Whatever way you shop, it is helpful to make a list first. Hmmm….let’s see…milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, TP, PT, meat or not, detergent, toothpaste, etc., etc. Then, there are the things that we are finding great comfort in these days - the ‘non-essentials’ – Mounds bars, Pascki donuts, chips, dip – you know what I’m talking about – junk food, not a necessity or good for us, but a treat. Some things besides our bodies and spirits get fed with food.
That said, how do we feed our spirits, not only during Lent, but regularly? Do we make a ‘spiritual shopping list’ of needs? Are we aware of our spiritual needs? Do we do the shopping? Just like the lists we make for bodily sustenance, there may be some things on our spiritual shopping lists that are not good for us (the ‘Mounds bars’ of the spiritual list) or we do not even know are spiritually nutritious (moments of quiet, lighting a candle, etc.). Our spiritual shopping list, if we have one, may range from having no spiritual shopping list at all to one overflowing with entries.
Some things that might be on this list are praying, actually asking God to spend time with you, reading Scripture or other sacred texts and writings, experiencing nature, meditating, lighting candles, exercise – running, walking, other sports, fly-fishing – using natural oils, fasting, sleep (love that one!), listening or making music, reading fiction, dancing, yoga, tai chi or sitting quietly in a favorite spot contemplating the universe. These are all things that help us access our inner selves, as God created us.
These are just some of the spiritual practices which feed the spirit. You may have or find rituals of your own. Though the awareness and act of spiritual feeding may not be an intentional priority, making it intentional proffers gifts from the universe that are not yet visible to us; not yet known or experienced; gifts beyond our wildest imagination – connection with God in new ways. God loves us to connect!
Why have a spiritual shopping list? A grocery list accomplishes the goal of feeding our bodies. The goal of a spiritual shopping list is to help us connect with the spirit of God and our own spirits; to expand our awareness of what our inner being yearns for and isn’t receiving; to feed the aching hunger that material things and substances, like food, alcohol, drugs and ‘stuff,’ do not: the burning grief and hunger for love that leave holes in our psyche: the times when there is no human we can trust or want to trust; the times when we are completely alone…
Spiritual feeding also helps us be more present for God, ourselves and each other. If our own spiritual houses are in order, we are that much more receptive to living the life we are instructed to do as Jesus taught: to love our neighbor as ourselves. We then have fuel for the journey, and enough to share – reserves. Individual and communal spirituality are the lifeblood of a worshiping community.
Spiritual practices are not usually complicated. They are not just for those who study religion, or are authorized ministers. Spiritual practices benefit all and can lead us to fuller, richer, holier lives. Spiritual practices are not spooky or scary; the negative connotation of negative reference to ‘spirits’ in literature, movies and modern culture can often get in the way of the true meaning of life-giving spirit from God – the Holy Spirit.
Awareness, feeding and growth of our spirituality is not a competition. There is no judgment about being more spiritual, less spiritual or spiritual but not religious. There are no requirements. A simple longing to be with God, for that inner peace feeds us and fulfills our place in the world as a spiritual being. Whether very spiritual already or just starting to wonder and learn, the practice of spirituality is a gift which enhances our bodies, minds and you guessed it – our spirits!
We are all God’s children on this spiritual journey, whether we are aware of it or not. Why not bring food for the journey?
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63
“Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1Peter 2:2-3
P.S. Let us pray for our grocery workers, many of whom have been at the frontlines since the early beginnings of this pandemic, and who now may have been bounced to the back of the vaccination line in CT, along with others.
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 19, 2021
Did you know that tulips, when cut and put in a vase, continue to grow, even though they are no longer part of the bulb that gestated the stem, the leaves and the flower? Sure enough, if you buy or cut your own tulips, stick them in a vase with some water and watch them over a few days, you will see how they bend gracefully as their stems elongate. This beautiful tulip ballet takes place right before our eyes, though we might only notice it upon closer inspection. Supposedly, they can grow up to six inches while in water.
This profound miracle of nature doesn’t seem quite believable, but it is the truth. A general perusal of several websites explains that this phenomenon is attributed to something called “auxin,” which is a hormone in tulips that promotes this magical growth. It also is the catalyst for phototropism, the process in which plants grow in the direction of a light source.*
It doesn’t seem logical that tulips can continue to grow, even when cut off from their main source of nourishment, but they do. However, they don’t grow indefinitely. Supposedly, they can grow up to six inches while a cut flower. Then, like all things disconnected from their source of life, they die.
Sometimes humans can be fooled into thinking that we, too, can continue to survive and grow indefinitely without being connected to our main source of life – God. However, like tulips, we can only last so long - metaphorically, six inches worth – until we wilt and die from lack of sustenance.
Wilted tulip blossoms fade, wither and die, literally. Wilted ‘people blossoms’ will fade, wither and die spiritually, and sometimes, literally, when cut off from God. Though we may feel as though we can handle this distance from our Creator, in reality, our spirits grow weak and tired; our spiritual ‘stems’ grow limp.
The burdens of earthly life become more than we can bear. We search for relief in all the wrong places: things, wealth, greed, power, addiction of all sorts. The fleeting sense of satisfaction which tempts us at the time may seem right, but in the end, it is an empty vase, with not even a drop of water. No matter how one might try, tulip stems can’t be reconnected to the bulb they were cut from. Despite taping, gluing or stapling it to its mother bulb, no tulip is going to keep growing.
However, our deep spiritual connection to our Mother Ship is not that easily defeated. Our bodies are created from the cosmic stuff of the cosmos, just like tulips. What is different is that humans have spirits, born on the breath of God, blown upon and into us. It is life – ruach, in Hebrew. It is resilient. Our stems may be hanging by a thread, but never disconnected completely from God. They cannot be. We are God’s and God’s alone. We still have a chance to keep going – and keep growing.
People, we must never forget that we can recharge our wilting spirits even when the conscious thought of God is buried under the entrapments of our earthly life; when we are lost in a wilderness, consciously or unconsciously wandering; spiritually or physically depleted, or both; at the end of our ropes. We may forget God, but God never forgets us. Unlike the wilted tulips, we can still grow.
This is especially important to remember during this time of Lenten repentance, and always. God’s forgiveness is an ever-gushing source of life.
“I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
Just look what God is about to do…a new thing! By Easter, we will have received that message again. Prepare to keep growing; for new life - fresh water - the living water. Amen.
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 12, 2021
A Change …
… has begun …in the light…and the birdsong. Yes, it is happening. A subtle movement towards spring is afoot. Spring? Yes, spring! As far back as a month or so, the plaintive sound of a tufted titmouse’s mating call wafted in on the breeze. Other bird friends are making their spring songs known, too. Spring, Lent, Easter – they are on their way. The first official day of Spring is March 20…only 37 days!
There is a difference in the intensity and brightness of the light. The grapevine reveals that new lambs are being born on Main Street – two sets of quadruplets, even! In spite of the heavy snowfall, and more to come, the harbingers of spring are decorating our doorsteps with hope!
Along with seasonal hope, there is another phenomenon happening all around us – a perceptible lightening of mood that has sprung up in those who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations. Though many have yet to receive this blessing, there seems to be an expectation in the air of better days to come. Let us be grateful to the creators, distributors and dispensers.
Surely, we are much better off than we were last February at this time. Little did we know that we would be exiled from our place of worship for going on a year now; that our lives would be so devastatingly impacted. And that so many would be lost. May they rest in God’s peace. This somber sky still hovers over us despite the arrival of the vaccine. Though we must continue to mask, distance and sanitize, the step is a little lighter; a future is a little more visible; there is a ray of hope.
What a different perspective we have now as compared to last year! How do we navigate this both-and of expectancy and loss? How do we honor the grief and still carry the birdsong of spring in our hearts? It is one of the challenges and mysteries of life.
Ecclesiastes tells us: “To everything there is a season.” We are meant to be born, and to die; to laugh and to cry, to honor the purpose in every phase of life, no matter our inability to understand or change that which is out of our control – and that is mostly everything, despite our staunch belief we humans are at the helm! Hope in all seasons of life can sometimes feel out of reach. Hope is a word we need more than ever.
Every year, Lake Superior State University makes a list of words/phrases called the “Banned” list that the ‘deemers’ deem subject to “Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” The intended consequence is that they should be ‘banned’ from the English language. W.T. Rabe of the University began this exercise in 1975 at a New Year’s Eve party, so much of this is probably tongue-in-cheek, fun, but relevant.*
Here are this year’s top ten words starting with #1: “COVID-19” and all related-abbreviations; social distancing (Oh yeah!); We’re all in this together; In an abundance of caution; In these uncertain times; pivot; unprecedented; Karen (had to look that one up); Sus (that one too) and ta-daa: “I know, right?”**
Of course, a top ten list of overused or misused words can be amended and amended and amended. Here are a few more that come to mind: ‘iconic’ (#1 in my opinion!), ‘beloved;’ ‘Zoom;’ ‘quid pro quo;’ ‘normal;’ and “absolutely.” Of course, I am guilty of using many of these words out of habit or need, but the one I REFUSE to use is ‘iconic!’
Thankfully, the word hope, and all things related to hope, aren’t on a banned list, nor should they ever be. We need hope! We must enact hope. We must hope for hope. And, to quote Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Let us continue to gratefully receive the harbingers of spring and the harbingers of hope; to seek and pursue the word in all its forms, meanings and effects. Most of all, let us place all our hope in God, who is and was and ever shall be, our One and Only Hope. Amen.
Alright…one more time…hahaha…
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 5, 2021
Blinded By the Light*
The combination of pristine, white snow covering the ground, the brightly beaming sunshine reflecting off of it, can be hard on the eyes; blinding, in fact. The usual reflex is to blink repeatedly and turn away, as our vision adjusts.
Brilliant sun broke through the wintry cloud cover for a few minutes this morning, launching my eyes into a split-second of that snow blindness. Then the sun receded once again behind the clouds. How lovely to catch a glimpse of that golden orb after several days of stormy and cloudy skies!
I was struck by the combination of emotions which accompanied this bursting of vivid light: elation at the sight of the blue sky and sunshine; the surprise of being taken aback by such brilliance, avoiding looking directly at the snow, which reflected that brilliance, yet being drawn to it again and again – a mixture of joy, challenge, a little uncertainty, caution, and again, joy – blinded by the light.
This Sunday, February 7th, is the last Sunday of Epiphany – the season of light in the liturgical Christian calendar when it is revealed that God is made manifest in the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us. This ends the celebration of the Magi having located where Jesus lay after their treacherous and almost-disastrous encounter with Herod. They deposited their gifts, offered their praise and went home by another road in secrecy and jubilation.
The Magi might have experienced a similar roller-coaster of feelings, as they asked questions and directions, spotted the pulsating star and ultimately arrived at the site of the Holy Babe’s birth: joy at the good news, uncertainty and challenge at the task, then caution and again, hope and amazement - the brilliance of it all – blinded by the light.
The season of Epiphany may come to its conclusion on the liturgical calendar, but this theme of blazing light will remain prominent in the scriptures. Next Sunday, February 14th is Transfiguration Sunday. This is the commemoration of Jesus ascending to the top of a mountain (Mount Hermon) with Peter, James and John, as described in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
There, Jesus is suddenly and brilliantly “transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Gotta love that clever literary tool which points out the inferiority of ‘earthly-launderers’ to come anywhere close to ‘bright-white,’ and then lifts us up again to the transcendence of Jesus, who can brighten like no one before or after Him!). We are mere earthly beings who could never possibly whiten garments such as Jesus’ – now that is a bleach commercial if ever there was one! Clorox should change their name to “Transfigured!” (Wasn’t there a bleach called “Dazzle” once???).
Moses and Elijah make their appearances, then a voice booms from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah are gone, and the disciples stand, with the countenance of Jesus still before them. Scripture tells us they didn’t know what to say, “for they were terrified,” - struck dumb by this holy light show! Blinded by the light.
In the Gospel of Mark, this event follows on the heels of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, which is barreling along at full bore after calling the first disciples. Before and after this Sunday’s scripture where he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, on through the many healings and miracles, including but not limited to Jesus walking on water and the feeding of the thousands, the amazing stories abound. Many are blinded by the light; astounded, excited, frightened, doubtful, mouth-droppingly astonished – hopeful.
So, you see, just as Jesus came to earth in the light of a brilliant star, so too does his ministry evolve in a dazzling succession of acts and messages to humankind, specifically his call to us to, “Follow me.” There are choices to be made by all of us as the dust settles (if you can call it that – maybe it is stirred up!) after Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Hermon. But, the brilliant light continues.
At times, this dazzling light may seem to waver or appear faint in the shadow of Jesus’ persecutions and trials. The call to follow him continues. We enter the Lenten time of repentance and discernment on February 17th. Wouldn’t it seem that now, more than ever, we must grasp with everything we’ve got, the unfathomable and disruptive love of Christ in and for the world? That every ounce of our beings be dedicated, avowed, committed to enacting love in this world?
Doesn’t it seem absolutely right that we, in this 21st century, are bowled-over once again with mouth-dropping amazement at God’s love for us? Despite all the darkness that surrounds, the imperative is that we touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, in faith, and pray for healing; for us and the world. Isn’t it simply a no-brainer that we become blinded by the light – again and again and again – until we get it right! Amen!
*Reference to the phrase/song-title: Blinded By The Light. Bruce Springsteen. Columbia Records. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Released 1973.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 31, 2021
The Sign of the Covenant
New Revised Standard Version
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19 God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22 And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; 27 and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
The Covenantal Life – Has It Been Forgotten?
Covenantal relationship is the basis for our ministry together in the United Church of Christ. Article III of the UCC Constitution reads: “Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the Church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole Church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission…”*
Though covenant is a basic tenet of our denomination and biblical grounding, it seems as though it is forgotten. How often do you hear anyone say within the church community, ‘This is the covenant between us” or, “We are all covenanted with God to do God’s work in the world;” Another thought might be, “Oops, we’ve forgotten our covenantal and covenanting relationship!” Using the word and knowing what it means is vital. It is time to reclaim ‘covenant’ within the body of Christ; the church.
The Old Testament is loaded with covenants offered by God to Abraham, Noah and others. For instance, in Genesis 17, God tells Abram (soon to be Abraham – his new ‘covenantal’ name), that he will be “exceedingly fruitful,” fathering nations and kings. God also promises Abraham that 90-year-old Sarai (now Sarah), will bear a son! This covenant requires Abraham to be righteous and follow God’s ways, including the circumcision of all males. Abraham obeys.
What is covenant? Unlike a contract, someone promises to do something not because they have to, or are being paid in a pre-meditated benefit, but in a way that is gift and grace, promise and oath; because they can and will, freely. Covenants are agreements made with boundaries of love and spirituality, unlike other kinds of agreements, such as contracts. Covenants are promises.
Covenant and covenantal relationship require keeping promises, committing, living out faith and works between everybody, resulting in love. ‘Everybody’ is subject to the church’s covenant between God and us, with Jesus at the head of the Christian faith. It includes covenant with each other, our denomination (the United Church of Christ), neighbors, community and the world.
Coming from a place of covenant creates an atmosphere of kindness and compassion, honor and respect, consideration and awe of God’s work within us and the world. Open hearts, minds and spirits allow God’s covenantal work to take place between all parties. The results are spiritual growth in the Lord and within ourselves and fruitfulness in the world. Covenant should feel good, unlike other behaviors. Covenant isn’t always easy. But, it is always beautiful. God’s words from Genesis like, “between me and you” and “with you,” are assuring and sweet with future.
Scripture such as Genesis 17 certainly brings the word ‘covenant’ into focus, ‘Covenant’ is used four times in the first seven verses. Beyond verse 16, ‘covenant’ appears nine more times. Typically, repetition in the Hebrew Bible is a signal to pay close attention to the meaning behind the repeated word or phrase. Take a moment to read it over and count…are we paying attention yet?
Abraham and God covenant to accomplish God’s work on earth based on God’s leadership and Abraham’s trust in his Creator (Trumpets blaring!). They join in covenantal relationship, a two-way street. Though, rightly so, God’s street is on much higher ground. Sweet, sweet, covenant. Might we remember covenant and do the same?
Let us re-remember covenant and become re-educated about what it truly means. Let us continue to be brave, like Abraham and Sarah, falling flat on our face, astounded and amazed at God’s promises. Let us renew true covenantal relationship on every level, that two-way street, rather than follow that one-way street which can tear down and destroy. May we remember and re-enact our covenantal relationships with God and each other; as individuals and, as the Body of Christ.
“Between you and me,” as God says in Genesis 17; it’s the only way to go.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 22, 2021
There Is A Tree Across the Way
There is a tree across the way. Writhed and twisted, it stands to the southwest of here, a dark countenance rising up stoically still from the naked winter pastures and fallen trunks; the wizened briars and dried grass windrows that know time as it passes. Surely, it has stood for a hundred or two years. Its trunk tells that story.
Though not a close friend, it is one of many arboreals that dot the landscape, a distance from the river, but close enough to be called ‘near’ the river. I did not make its acquaintance until this year – this God-awful, unraveling and impossibly possible year. I do believe it found me - not me, it.
This tree is not one that would be noticed for its spectacular foliage or blooms anymore, though it once may have worn that crown. Surely, I never noticed it in the days of summer fruitfulness. Rather, the scourged trunk stands out in its stark blackness against any sky – billowy blue or fading evening. As a matter of fact, that is when it made itself known to me, silhouetted against the molten canary satin and strawberry bedclothes of the setting November sun. That sunset took my breath away.
Already in awe of the scene before me, I was suddenly startled by that singular, stark silhouette, rearing up from the landscape; two long, sinewy ‘arms’ arched fully out and down, elongated woody fingers sweeping the earth. The tree appeared to be gracefully straining to embrace its surroundings; posed in a holy invitation for all to come within its sphere.
The sun and sky continued their dramatic dance. The light changed. The form darkened. There was a sense of things slipping away, yet things moving closer. At once, the arms and trunk bespoke their purpose in the night: “I am The Tree.” The Tree.
Shadows lengthened. The outline of the head and neck-shaped zenith of the tree’s peak remained upright and sure; or, did it? In the deepening shadows, was the neck bent with its head drooping in the throes of death between those weary
arms? Bowed down in righteous suffering, calling in the night? Were there tears flowing in the dark for me, for all of us? Was this Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” with hands outstretched in compassion rather than hands clutching the head in agony? Which way, O Lord, which way?
The Tree beckons. The Tree assures. The Tree is there always. The Tree brings us closer to God and sustains us in our despair. The Tree, though its surroundings are fickle and unsure, is a certain promise on the landscape of our souls.
When darkness falls and worry beckons, invite The Tree into your heart. Watch it become the dominant silhouette in the darkness, as it was on the hill at Calvary. Take in the fading light and the brilliance to come. Wonder, “Is the head drooping in sorrow and pain, or lifted up in light in love?” Is it not both? Let the soothing balm of its promise pour over you in your times of grief and joy.
Somewhere, just as The Tree stands across the way, it also stands in the landscape of your heart and soul. No matter the time of day, it is always there, light or dark, stormy or calm; steadfast and true – the Resurrection Tree. Hold fast to it.
Weekend of January 15, 2021
When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit and the leadership of our Church had to make the decision to temporarily discontinue use of the building on March 12, 2020, the decision was difficult and came with much uncertainty. Ten months later here we are, along with many other worshipping bodies, still unable to resume in-person worship. It is an unhappy but necessary reality.
Along with that decision, came many challenges for ministers. One of the major ones was, and still is, being unable to provide in-person pastoral care to those in need. Not being able to stand vigil by an ill or dying person’s bedside, hold someone’s hand, give a supportive hug, dry someone’s tears or just sit together is a painful thing for a pastor. It is the key tenet of care for others and how many pastors and congregants are fed spiritually. Much sacred ground is shared in those moments.
A facet of this pastoral care at First Congregational Church of South Windsor has been Wednesday morning drop-in hours over the past four and one-half years. This was a time to visit the pastor without an appointment. Wednesday morning drop-ins were always such a joy for me as your Pastor because the potpourri of people who stopped by offered a wonderful opportunity to catch up on a casual basis. Folks wandered in and out of the church going about their business. Some visits were intentional; some spontaneous.
COVID-19 arrived and changed everything. Ministers had to scramble and become creative to continue pastoral care in new ways. One of the new ways this minister came up with was to offer a Wednesday morning on-line hour called “Chapel Chat” from 9 to 10 A.M., along with creating a volunteer “Care Team” headed by Moderator Terry Belknap to minister by phone, packet deliveries, etc., to those who cannot or prefer not to take advantage of on-line worship.
I would like to update the congregation on what a rich and meaningful time Chapel Chat has turned out to be for all of us, if I may speak for those who attend. A few have mentioned how much they look forward to this time every week to ‘see’ fellow members and friends. New folks arrive looking for connection. The flow of visitors, along with the solid core-of ‘every-weekers,’ is fun.
When we first started this COVID journey, the Chapel Chat time was basically a check-in time to catch up on how people were coping, feeling and understanding this pandemic and its effects. Then, as the Holy Spirit tends to inspire, gradually our conversations have morphed into something unexpected and uplifting.
Along with a basic show and tell about our previous weeks, we pray together, read and connect with scripture and its relevance to daily experiences, tell funny or poignant stories, hear about friends and family in distress, discuss how our relationship with God has been affected by this time of duress, hear excerpts from various spiritual and secular writers and even sometimes have a story read aloud.
This combination of participants being willing to share personal feelings and thoughts, fears and sorrows, and joys and griefs in a safe and respectful place has offered spiritual nourishment and deeply relational connection beyond what the name “Chapel Chat” implies.
What a joy it is to see those faces pop up on Zoom, and see the reactions of all of us as we share this stimulating and sustaining time together. So, if you have been wondering what Chapel Chat is all about, come find out! It is more than a ‘chat.’ It is human relationship with God and each other in the time of COVID.
It would be lovely for your fellow members and friends to have more of you visit during this special time if you are able. All are invited! If you are unable to do so, please know you are prayed for and held close by this group, as is all of our congregation.
On another note, we all must pray without ceasing for God to be placed above all else; for an end to violent unrest; that peace may come to this country and the world, for COVID to be harnessed, and that love wins.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 08, 2021
Changing The Station
Recently overcome by nostalgia, I purchased a “new” vintage radio/CD player, designed like an old car dashboard; the kind where you had to turn dials to get a station (called a ‘site’ now), not push buttons or digital indicators, or, give it a voice command. The needle points to the numbers on the display. I know – pretty sad, right? Is this a regression? It’s the 21st century! The 21st year of the 21st century, in fact! (For any of you who are truly bemoaning any lack of sophistication, it does have Bluetooth capability!).
Well. The first time I hunted for a favorite station on this ‘device,’ I was a little annoyed and thought maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all. I realized I had to pay attention. It took patience; something not in great abundance these days. To my dislike, the needle didn’t line up exactly where it should have to the station numbers. Finally, turning the knob v-e-r-y slowly, I zeroed in on my target. A jiggle here; a jiggle there and voila, there it was! The goal was reached…my favorite music broadcast. It just took a little longer and required a bit more focus. Efficiency and new ways were traded for nostalgia; some harmless comfort, no less, but food for thought.
It might be that this simple little exercise carries some hidden wisdom below the surface; a metaphor for obtaining balance in life, in particular, church life. There is nothing wrong with reaching back with heart and mind to days gone by. Even preserving, yes, definitely preserving history, artifacts, old ways. It is meaningful to revere that which has gone on before, as long as it doesn’t render one ‘stuck’ in the past, or obscure the new path ahead. There is power in changing the station.
A balance must be reached. Life is about balance, as much as possible, although we have all been struggling to keep our footing during these truly uncertain and upside-down times. Between the pandemic and civic unrest alone, we’ve been knocked for a loop – bigtime. It seems balance is a precious commodity.
Bravely, we have adapted on many levels because there is no choice. This forced adaptation has brought new things we can see and will bring that which we cannot see. Think about what possibilities lie ahead, if we but intentionally focus on willingly adapting beyond what we have already been forced to do; really stretching the fabric of our beings to welcome even greater newness, while holding the nostalgic dear. Changing the station.
The unknown can be frightening, but it can also be thrilling and invigorating…just like the push it takes to accomplish a new thing: finish a race, try a new hymn, worship on Zoom (really?), envisioning the role this church can play out there in a staggeringly suffering world not just within the walls of our building! How can we shape who we are now into how we become the requisite church of the future; support the way we feel called by God to be in the world as a church first, which will then feed this church. What is God calling this church to be in the midst of this chaos?
“Really?” one might ask. “We are already stretched dealing with this pandemic: energy-wise, people-wise, financially, and whatever other things we can come up with. How can we possibly change more, or do more?” Yes, it seems impossible; not even desirable. Maybe it isn’t doing more, but changing the station. Doing things differently. It would be wise to ponder these things while we wait out the storm.
As a member of this church over the next few months, invite yourself to diligently and seriously pray over these questions: What does God mean to me, or not? What does Jesus mean to me, or not? What does God-in-the world mean to me, being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ? What do I put first? What do we hold dear as a congregation? What inspires us? What can we do without? What might we try? What gifts might arrive when we clear the “but we’ve always done it this way” path and embrace the “let’s try this new way” path? Am I willing to truly embrace new possibilities? To embrace the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the storm, which shall someday be calm.
Ponder the unknown gifts that may lie just beyond our reach – not for us first, but for our calling as a church in the world. Then, yes, gifts from the universe will arrive for our church, too. Ponder changing the station, to listen for that newness, while enjoying the time spent finding it.
Friends, I exhort you. Let us stretch ourselves to look beyond the here and now to the unknown so pregnant with possibilities. Let us change the station together, in unity and love. Let us tune in God’s radio waves loud and clear…let us strain with all our beings to hear that message…that heavenly music of the Holy Spirit which will lead us to our destiny if we only listen. Let us engage in changing the station together in this 21st year of the 21st century! Ready, set go, start your engines! (and don’t forget to tune your radios, no matter what ‘vintage’ they are!).
Christmas Week, 2020
Happy Christmas Week To You All!
There are many ways to offer greetings of the season: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! God bless us, everyone! Have a Holly Jolly Christmas! God Rest Ye Merry Everyone! You get the picture – you can come up with some of your own.
It could be said that the Angel Gabriel offered the first greeting of Christmas when he announced to Mary that she would bear God’s gift to the world, the Christ Child. In the Gospel of Luke, New Revised Standard Version, Gabriel says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Then, “Do not be afraid, Mary…” and goes on to disclose the great surprise. In Matthew, Joseph gets the tidings (a little more patriarchal!).
I like what the late Eugene Peterson wrote in his translation of the Bible, The Message. His version of Angel Gabriel’s greeting goes like this: “Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.” Isn’t that just the loveliest?
Friends, please remember that you are all beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! Though it may be something we don’t think about that often, we are created in God’s image – with God’s beautiful intentions for us. Each and everyone of us is a work of art in God’s cosmos.
It is good to recall this; not in a self-centered sort of way, but in a way that is healing, soothing and encouraging. For, if we can see ourselves in that light, no matter what our quality of life or our abilities, we reflect that image of inner beauty to all we meet and to the world. Recognizing that quality in others is mirrored from us to them to God and back again.
Why don’t we acknowledge our goodness in the world this Christmas? It honors God’s gift of life to us. It honors all of creation. It honors the Christ Child who comes to lift goodness up and overpower evil. Perhaps the best Christmas greeting you could give is one to yourself, with all the beauty it holds for the betterment of each other, as the energy of that beautiful affirmation radiates throughout our souls and the souls in and of the world.
Speaking of the world, by the time you read this, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will have ‘conjuncted;’ that is, it is the first time they will have passed each other so closely while visible to the human eye in about 800 years. What a cosmic event!
It is said that this type of visible conjunction may have been what appeared to the shepherds, watchers and all of Earth’s unsuspecting humanity as a Christmas ‘star’ on the night Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago. Though these two planets do not actually touch each other (still remaining eons apart), when they cross each other’s paths, it looks like one brilliant and mysterious star-message from heaven!
Please know that as this portentous and highly unique event unfolded, I will have hopefully been outside viewing it (if it was clear!), while praying for all of you, for healing, the end to suffering, an end to hatred and all ills that humanity afflicts upon itself and are afflicted upon humanity. I will have prayed especially for this planet Earth and the Universe God has created and that there may truly be, someday, peace on earth and good will towards all.
In the meantime, we continue to miss all of you who cannot join us on Zoom. May you enjoy yourselves as best you can and give thanks for all blessings, in whatever form they come. May you revel in yet another Christmas-tide, and find peace despite life’s crushing blows. May God’s beauty shine through on Christmas Day, and all days! Amen.
JOY TO THE WORLD! FEAR NOT! CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT EXPECT CARE TEAM PACKETS FOR THE WEEKS OF DECEMBER 27TH AND JANUARY 3RD. Dedicated church staff and volunteers will be receiving a much-needed break from worship service preparations for those two Sundays.
The congregation will be treated to two recorded services developed by the SNEUCC and the national UCC for the purposes of providing this respite on December 27th and January 3rd, respectively. Links will be sent out via email blast as the times draw near. January 3rd service will include Holy Communion. Live Zoom worship and Care Team Packets will resume for Sunday, January 10, 2020 at 10:00, when we will greet the New Year.
Yours truly will be on break following the Christmas Eve service through January 4th. For any true emergencies or pastoral concerns, please call the Church Office at 860-528-7992 and you will receive instructions on how to contact our Deacon Chair, Lauren Horsfield, so she can respond appropriately.
Carrie, our Administrative Assistant, will be off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of course. The following week, continued remote coverage of the office will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, December 29 through Thursday, December 31 and closed New Year’s Day.
Thank you to the Trustees and all of you for caring for your Team!
Weekend of December 18, 2020
On The Brink
Yes…with almost a year of pandemic living, it may seem we are on the brink...of dealing with even more suffering, loss and pandemic punishment. On the brink of being more disheartened, frustrated and at a loss for words to describe the experiences we have all been sharing. On the brink of not being sure where we are headed in this season of deep darkness.
Being ‘on the brink’ typically means teetering at the edge of pending disaster; on the verge of falling off the metaphorical cliff, so to speak. Here’s a thought: what if we took the phrase, ‘on the brink,’ and thought of it as being about to experience something wonderful and miraculous, rather than something terrible…on the brink of receiving goodness and mercy, peace, love and joy?
This Fourth Sunday of Advent, we may still be teetering on the brink of a lot of things unknown. Yet, there is one thing that is not unknown. It is the knowledge that come one week from the day I am writing this, the Christian world will be reminded that we are no longer on the brink, in spite of what our current circumstances seem to indicate.
We shall be gratefully and joyfully on the brink of welcoming the birth of the Christ Child, and all the glory that surrounds the arrival of the Son of God incarnate on earth; the divine and human being who gave up the glory of remaining in the divine realm to join humanity in its struggles and suffering; on the brink of salvation, redemption and hope.
This march through the four weeks of Advent allows us the opportunity to relive what it must have been like for those who resided in the darkness of the world prior to the coming of Christ; the same, but different, uncertainty, fear and wondering of what was to become of the world, for it surely seemed to be in trouble then, as it does now.
The oppressive Roman government ruled with force and terror. Taxation was heavy. Conquered lands and peoples were forced to be allegiant. Slavery was rampant and the empire was built and maintained on the backs of those slaves and the poor. The wealthy grew wealthier, and the poor grew poorer. The sick got sicker, the lonely got lonelier and the weak got weaker. Perhaps it seemed there was no hope. Perhaps they felt they were on the brink of permanent darkness.
Friends, let us look to the promise of Christmas to remind us that the darkness is not permanent. Though there is still struggle, sickness, poverty and oppressive governance in the world, there is also hope. Hope in the Light of the World for whom John the Baptist prepared the way, and for whom we are to prepare the way.
Let us throw off the shields of fear and want and put on the armor of God, as we commemorate the birthday of Jesus. Let us receive the gift as we are meant to do; with hearts full, fears released and faith unleashed; arms open wide to welcome that which is the greatest gift to humankind in history.
Let us recognize that we are to prepare now, at this moment, to receive and love, with all our heart and all our soul and all our might, Emmanuel - God with us. Let us trust that, yes, we are surely ‘on the brink’…of rejoicing in the most miraculous gift ever given! Amen!
WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 11, 2020
Shout for Joy! (Or, You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!)
The United Church of Christ’s theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is Shouts of Joy. The lectionary selections featured in the bulletin today lean towards a more positive bent following the despairing, then somewhat hopeful, readings of the First and Second Sundays’ titles of Where Are You God? and Messengers of Hope.
This joy is also a reflection of Gaudette Sunday, or Laetare Sunday. Gaudete in Latin means, ‘rejoice.’ Laetare Sunday signifies movement towards the light; a ‘lightening up’ of the darkness of Advent as we approach Christmas. The lighter pink or rose-colored candle of joy we light Sunday is a symbol of these ideas.
The phrase Shouts of Joy may seem peculiar as we continue towards the darker days of Advent, winter and a prolonged pandemic. Shouting for joy is something that, right about now, sounds alien. “Shout for joy? Why? I am still burdened, exhausted, worried, uncertain and grumpy (out of work, quarantined, grieving, and so on). It’s Christmastime and I don’t feel one bit Christmas-y. Shout for joy? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
According to on-line etymologies, the phrase ‘to kid somebody’ supposedly derives from treating someone jokingly, to look down on them as child-like; as though they wouldn’t understand; treating them like they are a kid. In other words, in a sarcastic and derogatory manner. Certainly, when we say, “You’ve got to be kidding me” it has those overtones.
We are not the only ones in history to be feeling ‘kidd-ed.’ Perhaps Mary and Joseph thought God was kidding them, too, when God said they were going to be the parents of God’s son. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” they might have exclaimed. Then, when they had to trek to Bethlehem for the census: “Really, Joseph? I’m about to have this baby! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Mary may have exclaimed. In return, maybe Joseph said, “I get it. I’m flabbergasted, too. You’ve got to be kidding me!” The circumstances are, in some dramatic/comedic way so ridiculous, they are laughable and cry-able at the same time.
Circumstances surrounding our current plight reverberate for us in similar ways. Getting through the simplest tasks can seem monumental. People are dying by the hundreds of thousands. Folks are afraid to eat out or hug a family member. No Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings? No church? No singing? We might rather shout, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Certainly, none of us is faced with the daunting task Mary or Joseph had before them. Definitely, we are not shepherding the literal birth of the Christ child. But, let’s stop and think for a minute. What we are being asked to do is to shepherd His metaphorical re-birth and ultimately, do what Mary and Joseph and the whole world eventually did: shout for joy! Rejoice! “Look, Joseph. He is fair and mild. Yes, Mary, the King of Peace. It was all worth it!” Rejoice!
Yes, friends. Our task is to re-birth and welcome this child in the midst of a pandemic, the likes of which no one has witnessed in a hundred years! Our task is to be the Mary’s and Josephs of 2020, clearing our hearts no matter what, to receive Jesus in even greater earnest than 2000 years ago. Just as the pains of the world in those times were excruciating, the pains of the world in our times will bind us together as we experience the labor of birth together. A birthing that is a re-birthing.
Our task; no, our faithful response to God, is to shout for joy, no matter what! Light that pink candle of joy! For, Jesus is coming, no matter what! God’s not kidding you! Amen.
With deafening shouts of joy,
DECEMBER 4, 2020
Feeding The Spirit
Spiritual practice is an important dimension of growing our faith and being church. Just like other practices, medical or law practice, basketball practice or practicing the piano, spirituality takes practice, too. Toddlers practice walking and teens practice pushing back on boundaries. Learning about things takes practice. Our spiritual well-being and growth takes practice.
A question might be, “How do you practice spirituality? Isn’t it a feeling or experience, not a tangible thing to be practiced?” Well, yes and no. Actually, all of the above. And, another question often asked is, “What is spirituality, anyway? Don’t you have to be involved in the religious life to be spiritual – like a minister, rabbi or imam? Isn’t it a mystical or ‘come to Jesus moment’ that is a revelation – it only happens to certain people?”
According to on-line definitions, ‘spiritual’ means “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; relating to or religion or religious beliefs.” So, the spiritual is accessible via practices, some of which we call religious.
Interestingly, some scholars believe the word religion evolved from the Latin root word ‘ligare’ which is also the root of ‘ligament’ – “to bind.” “Re-ligare, therefore, would mean to bind us again, perhaps in a ritualistic manner, or in meaningful practices.”*
The ligaments of our body connect bones to other bones. Religion connects souls to other souls through spiritual beliefs and practices. Thus, we become the body of Christ - church. What a powerful metaphor! God’s children are already bound to God – God created us. Therefore, if we are connected to each other through our religion and spirituality, we are re-connected, re-bound and hopefully, stay connected, to God and each other.
A saying often heard in the past couple of decades is the statement, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Whatever someone’s preference and/or definition of that is, the question then becomes, “How do you practice that? Do you practice that?” It isn’t necessarily about what you believe, but how you practice it; how is your belief (or non-belief) given the chance to grow within your heart and spirit, so that it feeds you and others, connecting you and them to the Divine?
One of the Christian traditions in Advent is to read a devotion based on Holy Scripture every day to deepen our connection with God, the impending birth of God’s Son, and all the surrounding darkness that descends, only to burst forth on Christmas morning in the light that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
Each week of Advent, you are receiving either via email or hard copy, a set of seven daily devotional readings published by The Presbyterian Outlook and purchased by the church for your reading pleasure and reflection. I encourage you if you have not already, to set aside a time each day to read them. This, friends, is a spiritual practice. There will probably not be any singing angels, banging gongs or bright stars that appear, but who knows? There isn’t anything wild or exotic about it, but it could be revelatory! You may find you are more spiritual than you realized, after all, and just didn’t know it!
Don’t feel like you have the time or interest in this or any spiritual practice? A wise thing to do is to schedule it on your calendar. Give it a space in your life that you commit to every day, just like tennis practice, working out, making sure you watch your favorite news or TV show, getting the kids ready for school or an appointment with your doctor. Read it with your morning coffee, at the end of the day before bed or maybe at the dinner table aloud.
Some of you may already take part in certain practices to celebrate Advent. Some of you may not. If you have never before read a devotional, you may be pleasantly surprised at the respite it gives your soul, the stimulation it gives your mind and the questions, reassurances, and longings that might come up that you can ponder and discuss with others. Then you can graduate to devotionals for other seasons, like Lent, and all year through!
We are created as relational beings. It is good to nurture your connection with your spirit and the Divine during this Advent season and always. Even though we may not like to admit it, we are all spiritual beings, because we come from God.
Spiritually and religiously,
*www.ourmidland.com. February 23, 2013. Accessed December 4, 2020.
“CHRISTMAS UNPLUGGED: LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT”
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS SERVICES OF WORSHIP FOR 2020
(All services will be conducted via Zoom for everyone’s safety)
November 29th, First Sunday in Advent: “Where Are You, God?” – 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
December 6th, Second Sunday in Advent: “Messengers of Hope”
– 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 85:1, 8-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
December 10th, Christmastide Service of Reflection - Christmas Unplugged
- 5 P.M. Zoom
(This is our annual quiet time for everyone who is feeling overwhelmed – or underwhelmed - by the season. That may be all of us this year! Though there is much to grieve, there is also much to lift up in gratitude and hope to God.)
December 13th – Third Sunday in Advent: “Shouts of Joy”
– 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 20th – Fourth Sunday in Advent: “Birthing A Promise” – 10 A.M. Zoom
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Luke 46b-55
December 24th – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols
– 5 P.M. Zoom
“For Unto Us A Child Is Born”
Guest Musician: Ms. Debbie Vinick, Harpist
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 27, 2020
The First Christmas Wasn’t Any Joyride Either!
It is hard to believe Advent begins this Sunday, November 29th and Thanksgiving, such as it was, is already behind us. One comfort of these crazy COVID pandemic times is that time has flown by as we ride the roller coaster of mutating information and adaptations required to help us cope the best we can.
Current challenging circumstances remain in the forefront of our days. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, changed and are changing every day. Heaps of grief on many levels greet us at every turn, whether we are mourning those unknown to us, loved ones, the loss of a job or every day occurrences, like going out for coffee with friends or attending functions of our choice.
As the economy struggles under the weight of thousands of businesses closing or cutting back, the spectres of hunger and homelessness have been elevated to a national crisis. The sad truth is that hunger and homelessness existed prior to the pandemic, but are now off the charts in the richest country in the world. Even sadder is that it doesn’t have to be that way if food was resourced and distributed properly. These are just a few of the real-time conditions people are facing.
All of this certainly poses the question, “How we are to celebrate a joyful Christmas on this juggernaut of a journey, with its dire predictions of spiking COVID cases and deaths, new restrictions on gathering and general inhibition of the flow of daily life?”
This question, though valid, should kick us in the shins of our Christian biblical and historical sensitivities and memories! It should raise another, perhaps more profound question in our hearts and minds about another “juggernaut of a journey!” “How did Mary and Joseph face making their treacherous journey to Bethlehem under such dire circumstances?”
“Dire?” one might posit. “But, it was the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior! A brilliant star appeared. Angels sang in the heavens and played their harps. Animals, shepherds and kings gathered to pay homage, bringing gifts of all sorts, from humble to high-end. The world was transformed! Now, we put up Christmas trees, sing carols and give each other presents to celebrate. What is so dire about that?” ….pregnant pause….
Let’s think about it: if we ‘zoom’ back in time to the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, things were far from great. Mary, unwed and a teenager, was pregnant, though still a virgin (you can imagine the talk that went around about that!). Joseph, also subjected to societal scorn, almost deserted her, but decided to do the right thing (yay, Joseph!). It wasn’t a good idea to mess around with the Angel Gabriel’s prediction, which had come directly from God, as true as the swelling of Mary’s belly.
All of that said, the Roman Empire, Emperor Augustus, ordered a census to be taken of all citizens. Rome needed to assess how much tax revenue would be forthcoming from their already oppressed citizens. Approximately 70-80 miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem had to be negotiated on foot and donkey in frigid winter temperatures and weather. (Mary was nine months pregnant, no less…picture that ladies, who have experienced the discomfort and urgent calls of pregnancy!). Food was scarce, as were warm clothes. Life was hard.
Then, because of the swarms of census travelers like themselves, Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a room in the house of a relative, which would have been the custom, and ended up in a cave, stable, or underneath the house where livestock were kept; no one really knows for sure. Mary labored. Jesus was born, praise God! But, this was no easy journey to what we now call Christmas.
When we consider the bumps and roadblocks set before us with this pandemic, things can seem insurmountable. Our spirits are tired. We are facing the shorter, darker days of winter and its icy weather, the predictions for a let-up in this pandemic still uncertain. It appears there is more darkness to endure before the light prevails.
How will we celebrate a joyful and light-filled Christmas commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago, when we are dispirited and fearful of what is to come? Sing carols? Put up the holly and greens and lights? No Christmas parties? Limited shopping and gathering? Really? How do we have any Christmas spirit?
Friends, let us remember that those things, as wonderful and traditional as they are, are not what bring us the true Christmas spirit. Though they represent that which make us comfortable, festive and merry in our current traditions, they are not the end-game. They are not the be-all and end-all. Hard, yes. Reality, yes.
When you find yourself feeling at a loss or down, wondering how to be ‘merry’ in a not-so-merry-time, please give yourself permission to weep, listen to sad music, talk with someone you trust, write a poem or just sit with your thoughts. Pray! Allow yourself to lament the challenges and losses of this unusual Christmas season.
Most of all, I invite you to take an armchair journey in your imagination with Mary and Joseph as the icy rain fell and the snow crunched, the donkey braying, treading carefully; Mary’s swollen belly bumping, in pain and great discomfort. Both of them, wanting to bring this child into the world safely, as God had charged them. Recall them searching for a safe place to lay their heads and the head of the babe to come; the cold…the lack of food…the darkness…the fear of unjust governmental powers…the fear of the unknown. When would it all end? Would they make it?....then what?
Friends, do not despair! That first Christmas was not birthed easily. Nor will this one be. The good news is that we know they made it; the Christ child was born! The star shone in the sky! The angels sang! The whole earth cried out in jubilation!
Surely, despite everything, we can muster the strength and faith to do the same! Let us not let the loss of earthly and temporal trappings and traditions weigh us down, when the First Christmas was a tender burden carried by Mary and Joseph and a donkey through the cold and dark for all of us. But, they were not alone. God guided their every step, just as God guides ours.
Soon to come, is the light burning brightly we so desperately seek. Just as we searched for it at Eastertime and our lives were so devastatingly interrupted by the pandemic, let us continue the search for that light we know will arrive on Christmas Day. Glory be to God in the highest! Thank you, Mary and Joseph for persevering! We can do this! Whatever it takes! Holy! Holy! Holy Child! Emmanuel! God-with-us! Amen.
In fellowship and hope,
WEEKEND OF THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2020
Let’s Not Beat Around the Bush!
Www.theidioms.com indicates the saying “Let’s not beat around the bush” derives from the medieval custom of servants beating around the bushes to flush the game birds out so their wealthy masters could hunt them. So, to not beat around the bush would imply not getting to the job at hand – getting done what needs to be done right now. To not beat around the bush avoids the task at hand, apparently much to the hunters’ dissatisfaction! The idiom has grown conversationally to mean “Get to the point!”
It follows that the sentiment of this message should not “beat around the bush” either. Rather, let’s name the un-nameable! This is not a normal Thanksgiving week coming up, nor is it a normal day, month or year! All of us are still reeling, adapting, grieving, wondering, grappling, worrying, masking, distancing and a multitude of other adverbial expressions as we navigate this pandemic.
The guidance is clear: we should not be gathering…period. For those who do not understand why, all you have to do is ask someone who has had COVID and survived, or ask those who have it right now, who have experienced the loss of a loved one from this deadly virus, or a medical professional on the front lines. It is nothing to mess around with. We can ‘unmess’ this mess by following the guidance.
In order to do that, we are being asked to curtail our Thanksgiving activities and limit gatherings to 10 or less. “Wahhhhhhh! Wahhh! But that’s not what we want or Thanksgiving is supposed to be!” we cry. No, it isn’t. However, this year we just don’t have much choice in the matter. No beating around the bush – this is reality.
The question then becomes, “How can we adapt to make this as enjoyable a Thanksgiving as possible under the circumstances?” There are families meeting via Zoom, Facetime, teleconferencing and in person in two by two’s or a few more.
These technology fixes are wonderful innovations, for those who have access.
But whether we meet via technology or in tiny groups, it does not remove the ache in our hearts to welcome in the stranger, that daughter or son we see once a year or others who are apart from us; to share a meal, shoulder to shoulder, with all the lovely smells, conversations, over-eating and napping. No “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” this year!
For some, this alone-ness at Thanksgiving is not new. Many will remain alone, are alone for the first time or experience loneliness, even when with others. The phenomenon of alone-ness occurs with and without others in our presence. People of all ages long for that which once was, or was never. The ache goes deep.
There is, however, another way to view these interruptions of heart. Did anyone ever tell you as a child that the best way to take your mind off your own troubles is to help someone? Or, at the very least, think about others who are alone, hungry, homeless, ill in mind, body or spirt, or simply lost in life?
We cannot know all who suffer or solve all the suffering in the world by ourselves. Certainly, God does not expect us to be able to help every single person on earth by ourselves. However, God does instruct us and hopes that we will not turn our hearts and minds away from those in need when we can turn to them, either by thought, word or deed.
This time of thoughtful Thanksgiving is a time when we can spend more time reflecting upon and praying for the suffering in this world. As we forego special festivities that are traditional to our families, we can apply some of that aching we have in our own hearts to the situation of others.
One of the ways we can do this is by intentional prayer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, long or clever. It doesn’t have to be words, even. It can be as simple as breathing in and out slowly for 15 minutes, eyes closed, sitting with God in silence with the intention of offering healing into the world. It could be a prayer of gratitude for what beauty surrounds you, and offer that energy up to the Universal God-Creator, to be spread through-out the universe in joy and true thanksgiving.
Another way is for us to join in prayer together, even if we can’t be ‘together’. In that light, you are all invited to join in a communal time of prayer at 12 Noon on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26th, either privately in your own homes or via a special Zoom time led by yours truly.
We shall light a candle, pray and visit for half an hour or so. This gesture is offered to all - those who may be physically alone, alone in spirit or just in need of a distraction from this highly unusual Thanksgiving time, even if gathered with a few family members or friends (emphasis on the word few).
For those of you on-line, keep an eye open for the Thanksgiving special Zoom invitation. For those of you not on-line, know that at that hour we shall all be joined in prayer, and you shall not be alone in spirit. We shall be praying for all the peoples of the world, and, for each other. May the light of thanksgiving burn brightly in all hearts, no matter what surrounds, as we take stock and realize things are as they are, and let the freedom of acceptance and peace surround instead.
Attached is a profoundly beautiful poem by the French 19th-20th c. idealist philosopher, geographer, paleontologist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It speaks to the state of waiting and “to trust in the slow work of God” which we shall read on Thanksgiving Day. May it be so.
Prayer by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
To reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
Unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
That is made by passing through
Some stages of instability
And that may take a very long time.
And so, I think it is with you;
Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
As though you could be today what time
(that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
Will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
Gradually forming within you could be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
That his hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
In suspense and incomplete.
First Church DRIVE THRU Food Collection for South Windsor Food Bank
In keeping with our Thanksgiving Food Ingathering Tradition, the Missions team is holding a Drive Thru Food Collection to benefit the SW Food Bank on Saturday November 21, 2020 from 10:00 am – 12:00 noon in the church parking lot. Please place items for donation in a bag in your trunk prior to your arrival. Once you arrive, you will be instructed to pop your trunk and your items will be removed for you. PLEASE do NOT exit your vehicle. We All Want To Stay Safe! We will take care of everything for you! The food items will be loaded into waiting vehicles and transported to the community center at the conclusion of the event.
Thank you in advance for sharing with those less fortunate.
Your Missions Committee
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 13, 2020
Being A Bridge
PBS is currently airing a four-part series titled Primates,* including all the members of the family (of which we are also members) from monkeys to apes to lemurs. Perhaps you have been able to view it. It is a remarkable culmination of 2 years and 28 treks around the world, capturing primates on film in all their flamboyant and ingenious God-given glory.
The most recent episode, titled Family Matters, is an in-depth examination of the meaning of family relationships for these animals. The tenderness and vigilance with which these primate parents instinctively and tenderly tend to their young is beautiful to glimpse, and important. One is reminded of our very own caring instincts as human primate parents.
The last few minutes of this episode focus on a newly discovered species, the Tapanuli Orangutan, one of three Orangutan species which resides on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Tapanuli species was designated as such as recently as 2017.
One scene in particular is moving and amazing to watch. The narrator is describing the dedication Tapanuli parents have for their young, right down to ‘being a bridge’ when your youngster needs one. You see a bright orange Tapanuli mother, stretched out across the wide expanse of the lush green canopy, holding on to a branch of two separate trees on either side of the chasm, while the baby Tapanuli climbs across the limbs and back of the mother to reach the other side. The mother becomes a living bridge! It is quite a sight to see; a sight that set this minister’s heart a-glowing and prompted thoughts of the metaphorical message being sent by God, Creation and Nature.
Just this past Sunday I preached on how we need to reach out to each other with new hopes for unity amidst continued division in our country. Although I hadn’t yet seen the Tapanuli Madonna and Child (my words), the metaphor is all too clear. Why not reach across the divide and become living bridges ourselves, not in the trees (unless that’s your thing!), but as human messengers of reconciliation. Why not invite someone to tell you their side of the story; to become a living bridge of healing?
It would seem the message is this: an active effort must be made by all of us, no matter what side of the ‘tree’ we are hanging on to. We must encourage healing conversation and acts. For instance, saying to a friend, neighbor or family member, “I know you are deeply disappointed..grieving…angry…at the outcome of the Presidential election. I’d like to hear more about that; to try to understand.” Or, “Congratulations! Your candidate won. I know this means a lot to you. Even though we disagree, I can appreciate how happy you must be!”
Right? Ok – this is hard. No doubt about it. And, risky. There is no guarantee anyone would be receptive. But, where else do we start if not with each other? I can hear the groans and disgust now – “Oh, sure; a conversation is going to solve everything.” No, of course it won’t. But we can strive to become living bridges for each other, crossing back and forth upon each other’s shoulders to view the other side.
Will we resolve every issue? No. Should we expect to be able to change people? Definitely not. Will we go away infused with love and becoming living bridges to all we meet? Probably not. But, it’s a start. No pain, no gain. The late Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman, also a family therapist and leadership consultant, said something about not being able to change people, but changing how we react to them.
I see this as an opportunity for room to promote dialogue and disagree with respect and mutual learning. The alternative is to remain a deeply divided people down the middle, with no hope for reconciliation and rebirth, or take a chance on empathy, compassion, understanding and love.
Good people: Love is not only a physical entity. Love is a way of living. Love is what Jesus teaches us and we are still learning. Love wins. If we could simply agree to disagree in civilized ways, with love as a peace offering, what a wonderful example we could be of primates who are willing to become living bridges, like that Tapanuli mother.
Pie in the sky? Tapanuli in the treetops? Yes, all of the above…and more, if we are willing to live out the Gospel. Why not shoot for the sky and the treetops?!?
*All references to the Primate series and information accessed November 12, 2020 at https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/family-matters-primates-ybqlz3/23344/.
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 6, 2020
The Blank Page
One of the things that can make a writer squirm with dread is the blank page. Whether someone is a student, an amateur, a professional, volunteer, or a person writing a simple letter to a friend (anyone still writing letters???), the vast wilderness of an unfilled sheet of paper or whitespace can send a person into a spiral of self-doubt, panic and fear, even if writing is the be-all and end-all; someone’s calling or passion.
Where do I start? What will I say? How many re-writes? Am I getting my point across? What exactly is the point? And, of course, will it be good enough? These are just a few of the thousands of apprehensive queries that can plague a writer at the get-go. This unknowing can paralyze the best of them. We’ve all heard of writer’s block. The blank page…..
Out of fairness, there are likely many disciplined writers who did not or do not have this experience. However, by and large, of the majority of amateur and professional authors who have spoken up, whether obscure or unknown, this sometimes debilitating, but also creatively stimulating angst comes with the territory.
The late, 20th c. Chilean author Isabel Allende, (House of the Spirits; Island Beneath the Sea), once described this relationship with writing as something like this: Writing is like being in love with the wrong lover.
Wow! If you’ve ever been in love with the wrong lover - someone who didn’t love you back, or with whom you discovered star-crossed love with fireworks a-cracking, only to find out after you are well-entrenched that it is all completely, excruciatingly wrong, you get this. Remember the song by Gladys Knight and the Pips, If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right?” – you know what she’s talking about. Ouch! Long or short-term ouch!
Well, the blank page and writers often exist in that space. It is blessing and curse; joy and anathema; muse and muse-less; a state of being that tortures and lifts up. Still, as in any process or journey, the ultimate destination is likely unknown.
In thinking about the blank page and the inability to see where things are going, 2020 thus far has been a blank page. The pandemic has wrought an environment in which we cannot know the outcome until we get to the end – or what might be called a type of ending, only to lead to more adaptation. Just as we await the outcome of the Presidential election, we won’t know till we get to the end of the process. Every day we are living with a blank page. We join the writer in the unknowing, and if allowed to get out of hand, paralysis, of the blank page.
All of this talk inspires the question, “Is this a new phenomena for humanity?” Obviously, it is not. Not knowing what is going to happen next has always existed. “If I only knew that” or “If we only knew this…” Humans have always lived in a decidedly uncertain state. What might ebb and flow more excruciatingly are the emergent times like 2020, when there is a desperate desire to know.
Thoughtfully speaking, who, in recorded history, has ever known their fate? Not many. There have been those who have said they have an inner knowing of their life’s path exactly. There are those who are clairvoyant or have a connection with the cosmos that they are born to listen to and use for the good. Some can predict the future, and others are just plain conjurers out to make a buck.
If we think about it, the Gospels are about one who knew without a doubt what would happen next in his life – God’s Son, the human and divine Jesus, the Christ. Jesus tells us repeatedly in various scriptures that he will suffer, die and be resurrected. He predicts his own death. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
(Mark 831-33)…definitely not a blank page before him.
Jesus had divine knowledge of his story and things to come. Even though Jesus shared much of what he knew, and exhorted the love of God, the Holy Parent who wrote Jesus’ and writes all of our stories, no one else truly knew the portent of his words except him. Even though Jesus’ life was definitely not a blank page, he also experienced anguish. The knowing didn’t eliminate the anguish.
Doesn’t this encourage us to accept the blank pages we have been given – whether writing a book or living? Isn’t it wiser to embrace the present and the unknown, as difficult as it is? To look for what is between the lines and fill our blank pages with love, hope and trust in God, rather than desire knowledge of outcomes that only our God knows? To pay attention to the already, and not fret about the not yet?
There is much richness and gift in welcoming the unknown. The blank page awaits. Let us go forth trusting in the lessons of Jesus Christ’s knowing, and loving our own unknowing, despite the tangles and snares along the way. It is a gift to not know. I invite you to embrace the blank page with everything you’ve got! Amen.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 30, 2020
REMEMBRANCE, GRATITUDE, EXPECTATION and PRAYER (RGEP)
October is coming to an end, ushering in the secular tradition of Halloween and the commemoration of All Saints Day this Sunday, November 1. We will be marking it with a special Remembrance Day and Holy Communion during Zoom worship at 10:00 a.m. We shall honor of all those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and others lost to members and friends of our church community. We will read their names and ring a chime after each one, with a special time of silence for COVID victims.
November is a season pregnant with remembrance, gratitude and expectation. We honor all those who have gone on before, who shine their lights to guide us onward. The days become shorter (remember to set your clocks back this Saturday night!) and we begin the journey towards Thanksgiving, Advent and the birth of Christ. Advent begins on November 29, in just one month. This particular November, 2020, we face what is the most contentious and historic election in the history of our country. (Remember to vote on November 3!).
We are doing all these things in the midst of a pandemic. Our collective expectations are mounting to new levels of angst. We hold in our hearts the hope of a return to a semblance of order or normalcy, or if not a return, a healthy re-working and re-consideration of how we do things, revere God, take care of each other and this planet and of what is truly important.
As we do this remembering, thanking and expecting, a key word and action to employ is prayer - prayer, a spiritual practice which can sustain us in all times and affords us the opportunity to be with God. When was the last time you prayed, not asking for something, but on bended knee, either in body or spirit as you are able, with a heart full of gratitude and love in thanks for all God has enacted in your life? Even expressing thanks for what we call the bad things? Perhaps embracing everything. Maybe you can’t get down on bended knee, but the spirit of humility resides within you as you consider the marvels and wonders of God’s creation. Acceptance is powerful.
Someone, and I don’t know who, once said, “I surrender to achieve victory.” This doesn’t mean giving up as in all is lost; packing it in. And, it doesn’t mean victory in the sense of winning over someone or something with violence or gloating. Surrendering “to achieve victory” is about apprehending that which we are wrestling with, and giving it rest within ourselves; offering it up to the Universe for resolution with love and peace.
It means accessing the grace that we are all given through Jesus Christ; releasing the pride, fear, ego and angst; the victory is in the surrender, which empowers that which is good and right, even if we cannot fully grasp it at the time. Someone else said, and I think this comes from the tradition of Buddhism: “The greatest victory one can ever achieve is victory over self.”
How difficult that ‘self’ can make our lives! How many roadblocks we put up for ourselves, as we wrestle, lament and search for what we want, not what we need! What if we ultimately expect the good outcome, rather than the bad? What if we trust someone, rather than assume they are out to get us? What a relief to be able to bless ourselves and others with a grace of surrender and victory over self and the things we hold within, which can lead us to a peaceful path.
RGEP (REMEMBRANCE, GRATITUDE, EXPECTATION AND PRAYER) can help us do this; remembrance of all those who have gone before and their legacies; gratitude for them and everything in our lives, no matter what; expectation that surely God will make good out of whatever comes along, but that we need to help! Expecting the best outcome and the unexpected and rolling with it as best we can; and of course, prayer, prayer, prayer! Prayer that is spirit-filled. Time with your God, who knows you inside and out. Precious rest-time to refuel and set aside those distractions. Prayer that sustains, emboldens, soothes, stirs you up, energizes, gives you peace and brings you to that home-light that burns within everyone.
And, let us not forget WONDER! The WONDER of God and God’s presence in the world! The WONDER of life in all its forms. The WONDER that the mystery continues, and yes – yes – we surrender to achieve victory over ourselves, so that we can be open to what God, grace and the Holy Spirit have in store for us. Hold fast to your God, grace, and love. Do not be afraid, for you are not alone. Let us all unify and enact RGEP and – W – in earnest!
For all of you and all the Saints, with RGEP, and W!
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 23, 2020
THE LESSON OF THE BROKEN BLUE JAY
It is no secret that if we pay attention, Mother Nature (or Father Nature, if that is your preference), has valuable lessons to share with us. The key is paying attention, of course. Sometimes, the message is so clear that we are bowled over by it, or so subtle, it takes time to dawn on us. This story of the Broken Blue Jay is one of those slow, but profound messages.
Late this spring, I began hearing a strange-sounding birdcall I could not identify. I am no expert, but I am familiar enough with most of the birds in our area to recognize who is around. This particular call was what I would call “truncated.” It felt abbreviated and left you waiting for more. Sometimes, it was soft and sometimes loud, but never did it seem complete. It intrigued me…who was it?
Every once in a while, I would hear it in the morning off in the trees, or sometimes near the bird feeder in the bushes, but I could never spot it, as hard as I tried. Soon I forgot about it.
Then, one day this summer, that truncated call caught my ear again. I saw a flash of blue over in the corner of the yard, and sure enough, there was what turned out to be a Blue Jay, squawking in its own unusual way. Blue Jays usually have a raspy, two-beat call described as a “loud jeer” on one birding website. You’ve heard it, for sure, whether you know it or not. There are lots of them here in New England.
I was so delighted to discover the source of what I thought were weird little jeeps and squeaks! As I watched the Blue Jay, it would stand up proud and strong on a branch, singing its heart out with what looked like a whole lot of effort and joy.
What struck me was that the bird seemed to be so proud, despite its ‘broken’ song. It gave its all, no matter that its song was different from the other Blue Jays. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how we are all broken in some way or another.
The beauty of this Blue Jay was that it kept singing – singing its heart out, despite
the fact it was different. Brave and true, it never gave up. It trilled and squawked to its heart’s – and my – delight. What a wonderful lesson provided by Nature. What a revelation to realize that broken-ness is beautiful – as it should be, because we all have something broken about us, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or psychological.
The metaphor is powerful – sing if you’re broken! Everybody sing in a chorus of creational cacophony! Sing however you are able. Sing whatever song is in your heart. Sing the song God has given to your soul! Sing it! Sing it!
Because, no matter what the shape or sound of your song, in God’s eyes you are loved! Just like The Broken Blue Jay, who knows no difference, and sings its most beautiful song always: no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are loved by God.
“Broke, busted and disgusted,” as the Mamas and Papas sang, however you are abled or whatever state you are in, you are a beloved child of God!
This is the lesson of The Broken Blue Jay, who isn’t broken at all. Amen.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 16, 2020
“What Is An Ad Hoc Pandemic Team???!!!??”
It has been said that a good idea often dies in the process of “death by committee.” In other words, original energy and creativity gets lost and dies by the human habit to question it to death before it gets a chance to be born; mostly because of subconscious fears like, who will lose power and who will gain power if this is done? Is it in the best interests of all? Is it benefiting a particular special interest or group? Should we be afraid of this? If not, let’s come up with a whole bunch of reasons why we should be afraid! (Ha, ha – human nature again!).
Flourishing conversations can be weighed down by over-emphasis on the unnecessary. Ordinary, but time-consuming discussions that lead down rabbit holes (which we know go on and on….and on) are common. Right now, there are no ordinary decisions; everything is extraordinary. Don’t we wish we were only worrying about ordinary things like what dishes to make for Thanksgiving?
Cooperative, timely discussion begets good results. However, an awareness of keeping the focus on task is essential, with a nod to life-giving, rather than life-draining, energy. If the small stuff gets in the way and becomes large stuff, with unnecessary diversions or divisions along the way, a project has the potential to derail due to lack of support and trust.
All that said, most of you are aware of the emergency-based committee in our midst – “The Ad Hoc Pandemic Team.” Many versions of pandemic committee titles are being used by churches – ‘Re-opening Committee; COVID-19 Guidance Committee; Up and Running Committee; Resumption of In-person Worship Group; We’re Not Closed, Just The Building Is! Committee;’ you can imagine the variations.
In today’s world, institutional committees and guidance groups are faced with a serious element of mistrust by others. This is partially due to a corrosive and gradual erosion over decades in this country regarding institutions and governing bodies in general and a tendency to put special interests above the common good.
Questions such as, “Why am I not on this committee?” or “Doesn’t my voice count?” are commonly posed, mostly within oneself rather than out loud – left to simmer on the back burners of our prideful selves. Some say with great relief, “I’m glad I’m not on that committee!” So, in case you have simmering questions, are feeling left out or are just curious, it is the hope the following information will be helpful.
As you were notified in May, 2020, the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team was formed due to the very pressing matters facing the church regarding the pandemic and how the church acts responsibly to protect as many people as possible. Ask any Team member; the available guidance information is voluminous. At that time, the Team voted to close the church buildings and resume in-person worship in January/2021, with staff working remotely from home.
Their charge is: “With Jesus Christ at our head and the Gospel teachings at our side, the stated goal of this team should be to guide the congregation through this time of pandemic going forward; to make recommendations based on information presented as it pertains to the ongoing life of this worshipping community for the common good of all including our greater community, by first honoring public health guidelines, while maintaining worship, spiritual care, pastoral care, partnering and care of the building and the financial implications of same” (May 20, 2020).
FCCSW’s Ad Hoc Pandemic Team is made up of the heads of these committees representing our congregation: Moderator Terry Belknap; Trustee Chair Carroll Stearns; Deacon Chair Lauren Horsfield; CE Chair Edie Starr; Missions Chair and UCW Co-Chair Rachel Anderson (wearing two hats); Treasurer Lee Anderson; Document Writer/Alternate CE Rep Vicky Margiott (two more hats) and yours truly. Jean Jackson graciously serves as recording secretary and a guiding hand.
Friends, your fellow members have stepped forward to serve YOU and keep you safe. They are faced with much research, reading, formation of guidelines based on many resources, and discernment, as we look forward to resumption of in-person worship in January, 2021 (Only 75 days away!).
Your help will be needed later! There will be an opportunity for volunteers to execute the tasks and duties required to provide a safe church environment once the guidance is written for our church community, so keep your eyes out for the recruitment and mobilization effort. You will be needed, if willing and safe.
The good news is that this Team effort is alive and well and will remain so with your trust and respect. It is with deep appreciation for these volunteers that I, as your Minister, ask for all of you to pray for your Team, respect them and their decisions and most of all, TRUST them. They are your very own – God’s-own very own, as are all of you.
The Team has everyone’s best interests at heart. Not all decisions will be popular, but they will be prudent and carefully decided. This plea comes to you sincerely and openly for unity. We cannot afford to have petty or major differences at such a time.
Remember: This is not about planning a church social event; this is about planning resumption of in-person worship in January, 2021, during a global life and death health emergency.
Please know that the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team thanks you in advance for your loyalty, trust and as ever, your steadfast cooperation. Questions are always welcome and updates will be issued periodically.
We have been a very lucky congregation, thanks be to God. And, we are in this together! This is hard, but we can do hard things!
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 9, 2020
If we were to try to find the meaning behind everything that has been happening in 2020, from the pandemic to the political landscape, continued racial injustices to natural disasters and compounding events, we would probably need several centuries of concerted research and reflection.
Along with a multitude of descriptors we can come up with like weird, frightening, portentous, grievous, egregious, apocalyptic, disastrous, end-times, frustrating, opportune, unifying, horrible, enlightening, disheartening and so on, the word ‘puzzling’ persists.
I have mentioned from time to time, that puzzling over it all and attempting to assign meaning to all things can be an exercise in folly. As comforting as it is to repeat some of the more oft-spoken aphorisms such as, “God only gives God’s strongest soldiers the most difficult tasks;” “God is angry at us;” “What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger;” “Everything happens for a reason;” “God gives never gives us more than we can handle;” “We are being punished by God,” “God is angry,” and so forth – you get the picture – most of these sayings have been dredged up over time to provide some form of comforting explanation for the inexplicable; what is beyond explaining; what scares us; what is truly happening; what we cannot fathom, no matter how hard we try. Why, even Albert Einstein is attributed as saying, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”* OK – Albert was a genius – and a believer – but, how did he know?
Just like we tell our children that the bogey-man has come out from underneath the bed and gone downstairs to have cookies and milk, we tell ourselves things to relieve the angst of the moment. Sometimes they provide momentary conversational relief; sometimes they are truly believed. Other times, they are written off as blather. This is not to say that this custom is wrong or right; simply that if we really stop and ‘puzzle’ over our puzzle-ment, it is even more puzzling!
What is interesting is this proclivity to speak for God. Many of these sayings involve “God” and they involve humans attributing, rightly or wrongly, what humans think God might be doing, meaning, trying to say, acting out or dealing out. How dare we? Some might consider this arrogant – how can a human possibly know what is in God’s heart and mind? If we did, we would be God. As I heard someone say the other day, “I’m so glad God is God!”
Of course, if someone has a direct link to God, like an Old Testament prophet of old who is told by God what to say on God’s behalf, who are we to question? “Thus sayeth the Lord!” However, suggesting, lightly or otherwise, that we know what God is up to because of what we think or want to believe, that is another. We all have our own personal concepts of God and how God operates. Even a profession of non-belief, whether atheism or agnosticism, is a relationship with God, of sorts, which involves speculation.
To get back to the puzzling part, it is clear that humankind is not meant to know, nor can it handle knowing, the reason for everything. It’s rather confounding, isn’t it? Human minds yearn for and are equipped for wondering, but we remain puzzled about many things, all the same; God’s intentions and actions included.
The fact of the matter is: God and God’s nearness, yet distance, is puzzling to us. The very act of attempting to grasp the enormity and simplicity – is puzzling – majestically puzzling, like imagining Moses and the Burning Bush, or rolling away the stone to find an empty tomb on Easter. Now, those are puzzling!
The mystery and wonder of God would not be so mysterious if it wasn’t so mysterious. (Huh?) If we didn’t wonder about God, we would be less in relationship with God. The very beauty of the concept of God is exactly that unknowing, which keeps us faithful, questioning, striving, yearning and – making up human explanations for that which is Divine – and that which may have nothing to do with the divine. So, keep the puzzlement coming, the aphorisms flowing and the wondering going – live your faith with gusto, in all its questions and comforts. Amen.
“Oh Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
My soul is like a weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” – Psalm 131.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 2, 2020
The peace of Christ be with you…
As I wrote this message, September 30th turned into October 1st. The calendar beckoned to me to be brought up to date. I turned the page to the new month (which happens to have TWO full moons – one on the first of the month and one on the 31st – great fun for Halloween!).
The particular calendar I refer to is put out by Dave Raymond and Jessica Glass, who operate the sheep farm on Main Street, South Windsor. The photographs are idyllic – sheep grazing at sunset; new lambs frolicking; Colossus the Former Lamb, now Sheep, surveying his realm. (Many of you met Colossus the Lamb at Easter/2019 on our church lawn). It is always fun to see what the photo is as the month turns.
Along with sheep photos, each day’s ‘square,’ has a bit of trivia. The notation for October 1st is: “Edgar the Peaceful becomes King of England 959.” Edgar the Peaceful – I greeted this historical tidbit with a sigh of relief and envy - “Ahhh, a peaceful ruler” - just as I imagine that perhaps his subjects may have received the information that Edgar was a peaceful king.
I found that the sense of well-being and peace that came over me by just reading and imagining a peaceful leader resonated meaningfully for me, albeit momentarily. As a matter of fact, I found myself yearning for a peaceful king, queen…. Aslan the Lion! Hmmm….
Granted, this event was centuries ago and times were quite different. I took it upon myself to google Edgar the Peaceful to find out how peaceful he really was, and, what was going on during the Year of Our Lord 959.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_the_Peaceful).
As it turns out, Edgar himself was not as personally peaceful as his name implies but he became known as such because “his reign was peaceful.” According to the website, though he carried on in the typical robust manner of a 1st century king at times, he did reconcile the conflicted previous reign of his deceased brother, Eadwig, by recalling their exiled adviser Dunstan and making him Archbishop. (Of course, the conflict under Eadwig involved the Church, which is a common power struggle known by any of you who are history buffs). King Edgar’s act of reconciliation established unity in England, bringing a significant period of peace to a now unified Kingdom of England.
Yearning for a peaceful king is not a new idea, of course. The Bible speaks often, especially in the Book of Psalms through what are classified as ‘Royal Psalms,’ about what constitutes a true king. Some well-known examples are Psalms 93-99, but there are many other scriptures and psalms with important references to this theme.
A true king is described as a spiritual king who is loyal to God first; a king who provides for and protects their people; compassionate, caring, equitable; righteous, ruling with justice and promoting peace among the nations.
Another important characteristic is making sure people have enough food; that the powerful don’t hoard it, along with money, goods and land, etc., while others starve or have no homes. Clearly, a good king is to rule peaceably, fairly and wisely.
Yearning for peace and leaders who lead equitably and compassionately may resonate with many of you. It is good to remind ourselves that our leaders need to fulfill these obligations described above, but so should we, as good people and Christians, promote and work towards the well-being of all – the Kin-dom of God.
It is a good thing to remember that choosing competent, just leadership is important. More important, however, is putting faith in God before all else and realizing that no one human being is going to solve our problems.
Working together for a just and peaceful world will bring forth God’s kingdom on earth. We pray this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Choosing leaders imbued with a sense of something greater than themselves is essential.
After all, Jesus was sent to show us how to love beyond all understanding with justice for all, compassion, and forgiveness. When I yearn-n-n-n for a peaceful leader, I realize we have one in God; we simply have to turn our eyes and hearts to the goodness of God first, above all else; the true King/Queen/Lover of All. Psalm 97:1 reads: The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice! Amen!
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
Do you remember the children’s program, Mr. Rogers? One of the most meaningful quotes from Fred Rogers, the show’s creator and host, is as follows:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”*
Surely, “the helpers” are everywhere during this pandemic – from medical professionals to the local librarians offering curbside pick-up of most-coveted reading adventures. Helpers have always been everywhere, as Rogers’ mother points out.
Being a helper is a key tenet of living a good life, not only as a Christian, but as a member of humanity and God’s Creation. The Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Moslem, Native American and many other faiths and belief systems subscribe to being helpers to Creation and each other.
It is one thing to be a helper – to be willing to give, and to put others’ needs before your own. To paraphrase words attributed to the remarkable Howard Thurman, doing what is needed at the time it is needed most is the closest thing to redemption.
We know helping each other is vital. Helping ourselves is vital, too. We feel strong, confident, in control of our destinies. However, it is one thing to be able and independent enough to help ourselves thrive and survive. It is another to have to accept help from and depend on others, especially at times when we are vulnerable.
As much as we might grouse, our injured pride and egos kicking and screaming all the way, there are times everyone needs help, whether getting a ride from a friend when our car breaks down, or being the recipient of the beneficence of a kind nurse when we can’t raise our head off the pillow.
This brings me to the grace of accepting help. Accepting help is one of the most precious gifts we can give to others and ourselves. Rather than writing off someone’s act of kindness by saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” or, “I don’t need any help,” accepting help with grace can be a freeing and life-giving gesture. When we realize we are in situation where we truly cannot make it without assistance, whatever it might be, we own up to reality and are able to free ourselves of the trappings of human hubris.
The Henri Nouwen Daily Devotional for today reads: “Our weakness and old age call people to surround us and support us. By not resisting weakness and by gratefully receiving another’s care we call forth community and provide our caregivers an opportunity to give their own gifts of compassion, care, love, and service. As we are given into their hands, others are blessed and enriched by caring for us. Our weakness bears fruit in their lives.”**
Surely, whether we are old, young, or in-between, on a personal or worldwide level, in whatever situation we might find ourselves, “looking for the helpers,” acknowledging their help and accepting that help with the grace it is given is creational and relational…the Gospel of Christ Jesus in living color.
So, the next time you are about to say, “You shouldn’t have” or, “I don’t need any help,” it might be harder, and grace-filled to say, “Thank you. How thoughtful of you” or, “I don’t want or like getting help, but I need it.” This harder, grace-filled way opens us to giving and receiving…a mutuality of spirit. May you receive the help you need when you need it, and accept it with grace. Amen.
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 18, 2020
I hope this finds you well and sustaining all the possible measures for success in your bodies, minds and spirits. Whoever you are or wherever you are on life’s journey, in whatever circumstances surround you, may you be hopeful and well.
Though the pandemic marathon is not yet over, and we cannot see the actual finish line, I encourage you to be hopeful and present in the moment. Do not despair. If you must despair, which we all do at times (tears and lament lead us closer to God and the physiology of crying sends out calming hormones), despair knowing that, as Julian of Norwich stated, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
For truly, is this not the same strategy in which we run the race of life? How often do we wish we knew outcomes for sure? Isn’t it commonplace for us to wish we could see the future and be sure of this or that? As Christians, our whole journey is based on faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
The United Church of Christ writers offer a UCC Daily Devotional (ucc.org) based on daily scripture readings that provide comfort and words of wisdom, along with opportunities to question and wonder. I found the entry for September 15 by the Rev. John Edgerton, First United Church of Oak Park, IL titled, “Would Paul Wear A Mask” to be particularly compelling and enjoyable. I hope you do, too. It is offered below.
In the meantime, things or people, even ourselves, may not be ‘well’ in the way we need, want or envision. Let us remember, however, that they are well across the continuum of God in the universe in ways we cannot see or imagine. Take comfort. Trust. Have Faith.
May the comfort of wellness to come be yours,
“Would Paul Wear a Mask?"
September 15, 2020
Written by John Edgerton
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If one of your kindred in Christ is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. - Romans 14:14-15 (NIV)
What Christians could and couldn’t eat was a divisive question in Paul’s time. Some felt that the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible were still binding. Others felt those peccadilloes were just for those who lacked faith. Paul, for his part, was adamant: Christians were free to eat whatever they chose. Bacon. Lobster. Bacon-wrapped lobster. Bon appétit!
However, Paul said, some of the “eat what you want” types went too far. They were eating foods that some people considered unclean, and they were doing it in front of those same people to make some kind of point. It was the first-century equivalent of bringing a rack of ribs to a vegan’s housewarming party just to prove how tasty ribs are. Or of entering a business, refusing to wear a mask, then screaming about “rights.”
Paul’s point was simple: If I distress other people because of how I’m living, then I’m making the wrong choices. What I’m free to do and what I ought to do aren’t always the same. Being Christian means willingly giving up some freedoms in order to better care for my neighbor.
Paul would not need a primer on microbiology before deciding whether to wear a mask. Paul would wear a mask because if he refused to wear a mask, he would cause people distress and risk. Paul would wear a mask because it’s the Christian thing to do.
"Help us love our neighbor at least as much as we love our own freedom.”
PASTORAL MESSAGE - WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2020
The date of today’s pastoral message is an evocative one – September 11th. We remember the 19th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and crash of Flight 93, which will stand etched forever in our memories