Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"And on earth, peace..."

(from Suzanne)

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Luke 6: 27-28

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

As Love Would Have It

A modern-day Christmas story...

It was raining that night when she got the call from the hospital. She had fallen asleep on the couch listening to the radio. She didn’t know what time it was; she didn’t care. She just did as she was told—come and identify the body. Her son’s body.

As she rode on the subway she remembered the night he was born. It was a long difficult birth, and she had been alone through most of it. An old woman from next door had heard her cry out and came over and stayed until he was washed and clothed and asleep on her breast. He was beautiful, as all babies are. His eyes were warm and brown. He had her smile and his father’s high forehead. And he was big—over nine pounds. His body was perfect then. Now it was dead and cold, its beauty warped by some violent act. She stared out the black window looking for his face, trying to remember its features. Instead she saw her own reflection but the smile was not there, would not come again for a long time, and so she could not see him even in her own face.

It was hard raising the boy on her own. He had colic the first three months, soothed only by the rocking motions of her body as she carried him in a sling made of tattered red cloth. In the wee hours of the morning she would nurse him in the sling as she glided about the small living room that was also their bedroom.

Then there was the problem of money. She wrote stories for small magazines but they didn’t always pay enough. Her parents had disowned her when they found out she was pregnant. The father had run off before she had even missed her period. As Love would have it, she had started attending a storefront church nearby when her son had started to kick. The people opened their arms like a warm quilt and welcomed her in. They dropped by with food and clothing, things they had trouble getting themselves. She cleaned apartments and babysat children. She did whatever she could to keep the life within her.

And by some miracle her son grew healthy and strong. He wrestled his way out of the colic into a colorful streak of a toddler. Oh what a lovely boy, they all said at church. He would get restless through the service but someone would always seek him out and pull him onto their lap or give him crayons and paper. Now the smile rested weakly on her face but faded as she came back to the clacking of the train and the jostling motion that rocked her toward sleep but jarred her all the same.

She remembered another time she felt her heart rising in her throat, when she lost him in a department store. At Christmas they would always go to one of the big stores and look at all the displays. The boy loved to go from one beautiful display to another, looking for that one that meant Christmas to him. When he was little, the boy would sit on Santa’s lap, asking what Santa wanted for Christmas, for the boy knew not to hope for much. The year he was 12 he wandered off, not telling his mother first. She searched frantically for him, for her baby son almost a man, enlisting a police officer, the floor manager, and a sympathetic sales clerk.

She found him out in front of the store with a Salvation Army volunteer. The volunteer was enjoying a hot cup of coffee while her son was ringing the bell, smiling from ear to ear as people put money in the red bucket. It was hard to be mad at him then but she put on her mom face and said as sternly as she could, “Don’t you ever run off like that again!” His reply stunned her: “Oh, Momma, it’s gonna get a lot harder to love me.” She thought he was talking about being a teenager and all that comes with those tumultuous years. She had no idea. As she stepped off the train and walked toward the hospital, his words stabbed at her chest.

The past ten years or so he had been homeless. Every now and then he’d show up at her apartment for a meal or to wash his clothes. But he would never take any money from her. He said he was checking up on her to see how she was doing. Truly it was a gift to her so she could see him and make sure he was okay. Now she wished she had locked him in the apartment, made him stay with her, taken care of him, done anything to keep him alive as she had done when he was little.

She passed through the automatic doors of the emergency room and the antiseptic smell washed over her, as if to make her into someone else. She took the elevator to the basement and followed the signs to the morgue. A young woman greeted her and gestured for her to come to the table. The lab nurse pulled back the sheet and revealed her son lying on cold metal. Yes, it had gotten a lot harder to love him, but she still felt the same way she did as when she first saw his face. She kissed his brow, brushed back the hair from his face, and caressed his cheek.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

“The police report says he came upon a couple of punks arguing over a woman’s purse they had just taken,” the lab nurse replied. “Your son tried to break up the fight, but then one of them pulled a knife and stabbed him and the other thief.”

“Is he also…?” she choked.

“No, he’s gonna be okay,” she answered. She paused. “I’m sorry about your son. Would you like to be alone with him for a few minutes?”

“Yes, thank you,” his mother whispered.

She held his face in her hands as she wept over him, her tears falling on his cheeks, his lips, his eyes. She wiped them with her sleeve, cleaning the blood and dirt off his face. As she gently pulled his head to her breast, a mighty roar welled up within her and gushed out of her like liquid fire. The lab nurse did not come rushing back. She was not the first mother to lose her son nor the last. She carefully laid down his head on the table and took one last look before she pulled the sheet over his head.

As she stepped out into the cold and damp, she saw that it was almost dawn. The rain had stopped and the sun was just beginning to rise over the receding clouds. She looked up at the street lamps, saw the banners, colored lights, wreaths, and realized what day it was.


There was only one place to go. She got on the subway and headed back to her neighborhood, to the storefront church where there would be a free dinner and children and old friends. There she would see her son, running through peoples’ legs, reading comics with friends, serving a hot meal, warming frozen hands over the steam of good food, singing, praying, smiling, alive again in those who loved him. She ran to meet him, the life quickening inside her.

May the Christ be revealed in you this holiday season.
Peace be with you in the New Year.

(c) Cynthia E. Robinson

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Peace of Someone Else Be With You

The Kotel - Western Wall- Old City of Jerusalem

Psalm 122; Matthew 24: 36-44
First Congregational Church of ******, CT
December 2, 2007

Note: This was my last Sunday at a church I had worked at for six months as Interim Minister for Pastoral Care.

My friend and colleague, Suzanne, is spending a year in Jerusalem—a sort of self-imposed sabbatical and study year. In her blog she writes about her observations and experiences. In her strolls through her neighborhood, during the day or at night, she has witnessed a man on the third floor of an apartment building on his balcony, sitting at a small table with a book, presumably the Torah, facing the Old City of Jerusalem.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

She goes on to say that the apartment building adjacent to hers “is adding an outside elevator and refurbishing the front entrance with walkways and a patio out of golden Jerusalem stone. The men who are constructing the elevator start very early in the morning; often it’s a noisy wake up call. In the same vicinity of the worksite there can be found foam rubber pads that are used to stop and pray throughout the day as Muslims are called to do. The noise stops when the men pray.

Dome of the Rock

“A Christian congregation, who worships in the bottom of a building on Yaffo Road, also has offices on the 14th floor of that same building. Right next to the offices is a chapel with windows that overlook Jerusalem. They have a prayer watch wherein an individual or group takes a one hour watch and prays. There are twenty-four watches, seven days a week. Each one of the watches is filled.

“Jews come to the Kotel, the wailing wall, to offer prayers of the heart and written prayers in the holiest of holy places. Muslims prostrate themselves in prayer in unlikely places: outside of their cabs, in a small corner of a plaza. Nuns pray the rosary inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.” Suzanne writes that she is “confident that at any time of the day or night in Jerusalem, prayers of the people are being offered to the Holy One, God, the Beloved.”

And some, if not all, of those prayers I am sure are for peace: peace for their beloved city, Jerusalem, spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims, ancestral home to Israelis and Palestinians. Its name contains the Hebrew root for ‘shalom’: Jerushalem. It means ‘possession of peace’ or ‘foundation of peace’.

This morning’s Psalm adjures those making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pray for the peace of this holy city, which implies that it is far from peaceful. Not much has changed, has it? One scholar has calculated that from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 CE, over 200 military campaigns were fought in and around Palestine, against or in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It has been, and continues to be, one of the most contested and conflicted cities in the world.

Yet for the Psalmist, Jerusalem is the beginning and the end, the desire and the fulfillment, the inspiration and the destination: it is the home of God and of God’s realm. It is the place of God’s judgment, justice and peace. Because of the way the city was designed and constructed, Jerusalem has the power to bring people together. To enter Jerusalem is to enter a new world, where humankind lives for God’s sake and for the sake of others, where past, present and future exist at once. Woven into the fabric of this ancient city, within its hotly contested present, are the threads of the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God, the righteous kingdom where justice and peace reign forever and ever.

The Puritans of the 17th century looked upon the New World as their New Jerusalem. New England was to be their ‘city on the hill’, the chosen land for the new Zion. A great and holy commonwealth would be founded. They saw themselves and their faith as a shining example. Whenever a people are persecuted, it is invariably assumed that the end of time is near. With tribulation comes redemption. The Puritans believed that the second coming of Jesus the Christ would occur in their lifetime.

Cotton Mather, the preacher of First Church of Boston from 1684 to 1723 tried to predict the ‘end times’ by interpreting current events through the Book of Revelation and the prophets. In fact, he attempted to calculate a precise date. First, he declared that Christ would come in the year 1697. When that date passed, he was sure that it would be 1736, but then recalculated to the year 1716.

Many in Boston were expectant and anxious that year, trusting in their beloved pastor and teacher, a man of more letters and learning than the common person. 1716 passed uneventfully. So, it was to be 1717. Still nothing.

Finally, in 1727, just before the death of the Rev. Mather, Boston suffered an earthquake. Mather declared that ‘this is it’.

Even Jesus says that he does not know. ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’. Will knowing make us any more ready to meet our maker? What is it that will make us ready, that will keep us awake?

The apocalyptic furor of the 17th century acquired an attitude of religiosity and moral fiber during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. Revivals sprang up throughout the colonies, attempting to recover the energy of the authentic religious experience. There was a sense of living in declining times, of not living up to the founding fathers and mothers who left family and home to find God in the wilderness.

Jonathan Edwards was one of the early New England ministers who was able to bring to his listeners a sense of their own sin, of being dead to Christ. In 1741 at Enfield, CT he preached his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, declaring the just wrath of God yet also God’s desire to bring humankind into the kingdom. Though Edwards and his contemporaries were rather fire-and-brimstone, they also saw the possibility of conversion, new birth and new life. They also reawakened the sense that the citizens of this New World would have a vital role in God’s last days, that we were still a privileged nation, God’s New Jerusalem.

As colonies became states, as states became a nation that declared its independence; as territories were acquired, frontiers explored, industry expanded, the mid-19th century brought us to division and civil war over the issue of slavery and the rights of states to determine themselves. In Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address he endeavored to placate the southern states, saying that he would not interfere with the institution of slavery in those states where it existed. He guaranteed the right of each state to govern itself and its domestic institutions exclusively. In effect, he attempted to keep the peace rather than make peace. And there was no making peace with slavery; despite his promises, war broke out a month after Lincoln was inaugurated.

The Civil War brought America up short. It shattered our idealized view of ourselves, as being a favored nation in the eyes of God, as having a redemptive role in history. This was not a war of revolution against tyranny. Though slaves were freed, it was through the bloodshed of brothers, citizens of one nation. New Jerusalem indeed. It seems that wherever Jerusalem is declared, even the Church itself, there are those who will fight over who will determine its future and who will make peace difficult to achieve.

In his second inaugural address, Lincoln got it right. This time he preached how to make peace rather than just keeping it. He reminded his listeners that they read the same Bible, that they prayed to the same God. Those present were rapt in profound silence, their faces and eyes damp with tears, responding at times with applause and cheers.

A journalist present, Noah Brooks, witnessed that “chiefly memorable in the mind of those who saw that second inauguration must still remain the tall, pathetic, melancholy figure of the man who, then inducted into office in the midst of the glad acclaim of thousands of people, and illumined by the deceptive brilliance of a March sunburst, was already standing in the shadow of death”. In six weeks Lincoln would be assassinated at the Ford Theatre. Lincoln closed his address with these stirring words:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.

America as the New Jerusalem carries through today, as part of our civil religion, sometimes with the explicit apocalyptic language that passes for political rhetoric these days. It is true: the end may come at any time, for any of us and for all of us. We lull ourselves to sleep with our comforts. We seek refuge from our fears by reacting with our propensity toward conflict, individualism, and competition. How are these manifested in our daily lives, in our own little Jerusalems?

If we had known that war only leads to death, destruction, and disease among nations and that the death of an enemy is no different than the death of a loved one in the eyes of God, would we have stayed awake and kept watch with our adversaries, seeking what would make peace for them, caring for their widows and orphans?

If we had known that a child would grow into an adult in the wink of an eye, a spouse would change and grow over the years, a parent would get older and not as able, would we have stayed awake and kept watch with them until we found a way to keep our temper, give thanks for their love, accept them as they are, seeking their peace rather than competing with our own?

If we had known that we were only given so many years on this earth to give, to love, to see, to smell, to touch, to hear, to taste, to know, would we have stayed awake and kept watch, seeking the peace of each moment, ready for God to break in at any time? We would have known our life here is far too precious for conflict and competition.

To be ready, to be awake, is to seek the peace of the other, with acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness—to inculcate an inclination toward community and cooperation.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good. Psalm 122: 6-9

With the first advent of Christ the age of the last days began. It is long past time to get ready. It is time to be ready. We who confess that Christ has come into the world, continues to come into the world, that this Christ is Jesus, born of Mary, the Savior who is Christ the Lord—by this we declare that we have received revelation from God to know how to live and how to love in God’s light until the close of human history.

And we do this by seeking the good, the peace of someone else: the peace of a family member or neighbor or co-worker; the peace of sister or brother in Christ or the community of faith as a whole; the peace of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians; the peace of the earth, its water, its air, its trees, its soil, and its creatures; the peace of those with AIDS and HIV; the peace of the hungry, the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the migrant worker, the illegal immigrant, the battle-worn soldier, the widow and the orphan.

Christ was born. Christ lived and loved among us. Christ died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. The peace of someone else, which is the peace of Christ, be with you. Let us pray:

O God, who has come into the world and continues to come into this wild, wide-open world, surprise us once more. May this congregation be taken: taken with your Christ and your way of peace; taken with their pastors, with one another and with the poor, the lonely, the lowliest among them; taken with the Holy Spirit and her prophetic voice, her prodding, noodging ways, her sweet comfort. Continue to bless their days with the peace that seeks the good of the other. All these things I pray in the name of the One who was born to save, Amen.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Shades of the great Satchmo

My favorite part is the small hand reaching for the adult one.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You dropped this

I love this commercial! I am always picking up litter and trash and I drive a Honda Civic hybrid. Habits do make a difference. What are some good habits you've developed lately?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Get a jump on the junk

from the NY Times as seen in The Grist:

Unclog your mailbox

Soon 'twill be the season for the annual mailbox clog, when retailers begin their more-than-earnest marketing push for holiday shopping. Lately I've been calling individual companies requesting that I be removed from their mailing list, getting into each phone queue with varying degrees of hassle. Now there is a service called Catalog Choice that will do it for you. It's simple: register with your name, address, and e-mail, then start typing in the names of catalogs you want to get rid of in your mailbox. Catalog Choice takes care of the rest.

Catalogs promote greed and the desire for more in such a quiet way. Looking is harmless, we say. But even Jesus realized this was dangerous when he said we should cut out our eyes if they cause us to sin. Most of us can do with so much less of what we already have. Keep your eyes; get rid of the catalogs; save the trees.

19 billion catalogs are mailed each year, made out of 53 million trees. That's 358 catalogs for one tree. Personally, I'd rather have the tree.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Losing Control, Having Faith

The Prophet Habbakuk

Ps. 37: 1-9; Habbakuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4; 2 Tim. 1: 1-14
First Congregational Church of ******
October 7, 2007 (World Communion Sunday)

Pastor and author Max Lucado tells the story of a parakeet named Chippie. Chippie was like any other parakeet: she sang, she preened her beautiful green and yellow feathers, and she brought much joy to her owner. One day all that changed, when Chippie’s owner decided to clean out her cage ....

With a vacuum cleaner.

She was almost finished when the phone rang, so she turned around to answer it. With a thwup, Chippie was gone. Frantically she ripped open the vacuum bag. There was Chippie, stunned, her bright feathers coated with thick dust, but still alive. She carried the poor bird to the bathroom and gently rinsed her off under the faucet. Poor Chippie was wet and shivering, so, trying to be merciful, her owner took hold of the hair dryer and blew Chippie away with a gust of hot air. A few days later, a friend asked her how the little parakeet was recovering. “Well”, she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore.” (1)

Have you ever felt like Chippie? Have you ever felt like life sucked you in, left you washed up and blown away? I know I have. We can’t always see what’s up ahead of us. And no matter how hard we try to eat right, live right, do the right thing, say the right thing, be the right person, our lives can change in a heartbeat. It only takes one phone call from the police about one of our children or our spouse, one messenger delivering the divorce papers, one pink slip from work, one meeting with our boss or supervisor, one bad test result or mammogram or biopsy, one misplaced footstep or turn of the steering wheel, to leave us feeling like poor little Chippie. Some of us have survived one Chippie episode only long enough to be hit by another.

We like to kid ourselves that we are in control of our destiny, yet we know in one moment it can all change. I myself am a self-avowed control freak. I take great comfort from this morning’s psalm from the lectionary: Psalm 37, the psalm for control freaks. I call it this because not only does it tell the reader to wait, to not fret, to refrain from anger, to trust in the Lord, but it does so over and over again. We who need to have the world, or even the church, ordered according to our own specifications cannot be told just once to trust in the Lord. We need to be told again and again for we have repeated difficulty keeping our meddlesome ways out of the way of the Lord.

But not only do we suffer from the unfairness of our own lives but also from the injustice we witness in the lives of others and in the world around us. We see friends divorce and the effect it has on the children. Many of us live in the ‘sandwich generation’: caring for our children as well as our aging parents. Military families dread the telegram, the knock on the door, the phone call from a commanding officer. Some of us are living long enough to lose our siblings, spouse and friends, one by one, to old age, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and stroke, some not receiving the medical care they need. This past week we were reminded of the violent reality of domestic abuse by the display of 104 purple ribbons around town, representing the 104 domestic abuse calls made to the local police in the last year.

Buddhist monks and nuns protesting in Burma.

And in this Internet age, with high speed communication, we hear of the catastrophic effects of global warming, infectious disease, famine, war in Iraq, violence in Burma, Afghanistan, and many other places, and genocide. In the media-forgotten province of Darfur, 300-500,000 black African Muslims have been killed by the Sudanese army and police. Another 2-3 million have been displaced within the region.

Surrounded by all this bad news, by the seemingly inevitability of injustice and evil, like Chippie, it can be difficult to sing, to be joyful. Our faith wavers. In one of the lectionary readings not read today (because of its violent content), Psalm 137, the Israelites in their Babylonian exile are goaded by their captors to sing the Lord’s song. But how can they sing, they lament, in a foreign land? At the close of the Psalm they rage against God, wishing the same violent end upon the children of their enemies that they witnessed against their own children: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (v. 9). Believing themselves to be abandoned by God and isolated from his mercy and justice, the Israelites, these oppressed victims, become the new oppressor, meting out their own brand of justice.

It is easier for us as human beings to take matters into our own hands, to act on our fear and anger, rather than to wait for what God will do, to wait for what God would have us do. Like Habbakuk, we cry out to God but God seems silent. We look around us, we witness the terrible violence of this world, the evil that human beings can do, and it is tempting to despair, to allow our unbelief to overwhelm the faith that we have been given. Archibald MacLeish, in his adaptation of the book of Job, wrote “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good, He is not God.” How can God be God while so much evil exists in the world? If God is good and loving and just, then this God is not in control.

Scholars and theologians have long debated this issue of theodicy, of the existence of evil in a universe created by a loving God, and it is still unresolved. Many atheists have used this problem as proof that God does not exist. Over the past few years I have been in and out of this place of unbelieving, struggling with these hard questions, not wanting to be faithful simply out of duty but with my mind and heart deeply engaged. But I was also becoming increasingly grouchy and irritable. How can I sing, how can I be joyful in this foreign land of violence, evil, and injustice?

The answer to this question came in the form of a poem:

‘God’s eye is
on the sparrow’
the sparrow
This is how I
experience God

The Word made flesh
This is how I
experience God

Do not
hope for more
for God will
break your heart
This is how I
experience God

And yet
my husband made
me laugh tonight
from the belly
to my eyes
brimming with black
rivers down my face
My side torn in two
where the despairing
wound had been
And this is how I
experience God

In a recent interview, Garrison Keillor said that “gloom and self-absorption are for teenagers. Once you pass a certain point—and I passed it a long time ago—you’re supposed to be cheerful.” Asked if he was a cheerful person, he replied, “Yes, I am, but I have to work at it. I come from dark people, people who were always expecting disaster.” (2)

The question is, to what do we want to give our hearts and minds, for that is what faith is all about. Ironically, what we don’t hear from atheists is a word of hope or joy. (If you do hear a good word from an atheist, let me know, because I would sincerly like to hear it.) In the second letter to Timothy we read of encouragement, to remember the faith given by those who have gone before us, to not be ashamed of believing and the suffering that comes with it, but to persevere in the faith.

Jesus promised to save us from sin, but as blogger Stan Wilson writes, where did we ever get the idea that Jesus would save us from suffering? (3) We know that bad things happen to good people, yet we do not have to let our joy be taken from us. We possess a larger vision of the way things ought to be. I quote from the church’s website: “The avowed purpose of the First Congregational Church of ******, UCC, is to worship God, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to celebrate the Sacraments; to realize Christian fellowship and unity within the church and Church Universal; to render loving service to all; and to strive for righteousness, justice and peace.”

In the face of all the bad news of human living, you, First Congregational Church of ******, UCC, have good news, a treasure to share: a loving community that strives not for itself or for its own profit but for the kingdom of God, that kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace. You belong to a living tradition, alive for 272 years and still going, not by your own merits, but by the Holy Spirit working through you. You follow one who abolished death and brought life and light to those in darkness. The faith that has been passed down to you is not merely personal but intensely communal, intended to build up the faithful and transform your life together. This church does not live out its faith in isolation but as one of many UCC churches in this area and as part of the witness of nearly 6,000 congregations in the whole United Church of Christ

Vietnam protesters

On this World Communion Sunday, when not only the United Church of Christ, but millions of other Christians around the world gather about the table of Christ, I invite this congregation to rekindle its faith in the living God. I urge you to sing of God’s love and justice in an unjust world. I exhort you to be, in the words of Wendell Berry, “joyful though you have considered all the facts”.(4) To be joyful, even cheerful, in the face of evil is a true act of rebellion, of civil disobedience. Christ is calling us to reflect in our lives and in the life of this congregation the compassion, justice, and faithfulness that our world so desperately needs, especially when it is difficult and inconvenient to do so.




1. Story about Chippie taken from Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), 11.
2. Interview with Garrison Keillor was aired on public radio show Here and Now, October 3, 2007.
3. Stan Wilson, Theolog: Blog of The Christian Century, October 1, 2007.
4. Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”, The Country of Marriage (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1973).

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mom's Overture by Anita Renfroe

As she says, "Fasten your seatbelts!" All the stuff most moms say in a 24 hr. period, crammed into just under 3 minutes, with some help from William Tell.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wearing out our welcome

from The Christian Century:

Tax dollars at work

"According to Chalmers Johnson in his book Nemesis, officially the U.S. has 737 military bases located in 132 of the 190 countries belonging to the United Nations. But the official count fails to mention bases in Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq and several other Middle Eastern countries. ...Johnson concludes that the total number of overseas bases is over 1,000 and that even the Pentagon doesn't know how many there are for certain."

COMMENT: No wonder our status as a nation is at an all-time low. If citizens of this country do not believe that we are truly an empire, they are deluding themselves. But no big surprise--look at our leader.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blog: Prodigal Aspersions

Found another poet named Cynthia and her treat of a poem, Sandwich Generation. For those us old enough to know or who are approaching the age, you'll know what she means.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Can you argue with this?

You can still be a naysayer yet agree with this argument about global warming.

Thanks to RealLivePreacher for this one.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sabbath Work

Isaiah 58: 9b-14; Luke 13: 10-17
First Congregational Church of ******, CT
August 26, 2007

Poet Wendell Berry is a lover of the Sabbath. In his book of poetry entitled Given he includes several sets of poems he wrote on the first day of the week, on this Day of Resurrection on which we are gathered, a day when he would find a quiet place outdoors to write, to rest, to observe the world, free from the tyranny of time. He writes of his love for stillness, beauty, for the sound of birds and of the Kentucky River near his home, for the eternity of trees, for the cycle of work on his farm; he records his griefs and joys and how all of this has shaped his soul. He names the Sabbath “the timeless we pass through”.

When I read his Sabbath poems I sigh and wish for a day like his: contemplative, quiet, restful, but also creative, imaginative and deepening of purpose and meaning. We dream of such a Sabbath yet we also struggle to give ourselves over to such a Sabbath. We feel the pull of tides within: the yearning for peace and the cessation of work; the revulsion of guilt and the compulsion to finish a task; the narcissism of entitlement, the rebellion against rules, and the comfort yet also gatekeeping of tradition. It seems there has always been a contest for the Sabbath and today’s gospel lesson is no different.

The division that Jesus said he would bring in the previous chapter of Luke is present in this morning’s reading. He is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath; he is at the center of the practice of his faith. To practice the Sabbath is to practice the way of God, to participate in God’s rhythms. A woman with, in the Greek translation, a ‘spirit of weakness’ enters, presumably to worship God. She is unable to stand up straight, only able to focus on the small square of floor her circumscribed vision will allow. She does not call out to Jesus, she probably could not lift her head to see him, let alone know he was there. Jesus is the one who calls out to her. Without asking permission of anyone, without changing any laws, without organizing a committee to talk about it first, he heals her and creates a crisis for the leader of the synagogue and his colleagues yet an occasion of praise for the crowd.

This healing on the Sabbath is meant to carry us back to the last time Jesus healed on the Sabbath in chapter 6 and further to the first time we read of him teaching in the synagogue in chapter 4. When he healed the man with the withered hand Jesus asked the scribes and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” When he teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, he reads from Isaiah and we hear echoes of the lesson from this morning: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In the eyes of Jesus, the Sabbath had become a system of rules rather than the gift of God it was meant to be. Jews were enjoined to refrain from 39 types of labor, not to ‘legalize’ the Sabbath but so that on that holy day the people of God would alter their hearts and minds from their agenda to God’s agenda. Human beings of recorded history have an apparent difficulty with an imposed communal day of rest; it does not seem to come naturally to us in our industrialized, individualistic age. So laws, both religious and secular, have been enacted to steer us toward a time of not just rest, but also toward moral behavior.

The blue laws, those that govern activity on Sundays, were written for those purposes. The Blue Laws of Connecticut and the Colony of New Haven date back to 1655, appointed by Governor Theophilus Eaton with the help of Rev. John Cotton. Though these laws were not actually on the books, they can be inferred from other statutes and codes of conduct. Here’s some idea of how the Puritans lived out not only their Sabbath but their daily lives in the Colony of Connecticut:

  • Each freeman shall swear by the blessed God to bear true allegiance to this Dominion, and that Jesus Christ is the only King.

  • No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from Meeting.

  • No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave, on the Sabbath day.

  • No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day.

  • The Sabbath shall begin at sunset on Saturday.

  • Every rateable (or taxable) person, who refuses to pay his proportion to the support of the Minister of the town or parish, shall be fined by the Court £2, and £4 every quarter, until he or she pays the rate to the Minister.

  • Married persons must live together, or be imprisoned.

  • A wife shall be deemed good evidence against her husband.

The drinking of alcohol was allowed so long as it did not lead to drunkenness. To be considered a freeman, and in order to vote, one had to be a member in full communion and in good standing in one of the churches of the colony. These laws strongly restricted behavior but for the purpose of aligning that behavior with God and God’s ways.

What is left of these blue laws is not much, and there is controversy over that as well. Retail laws were declared unconstitutional but we cannot buy liquor on Sundays in the state of Connecticut. Most of us can remember when all the stores were closed on Sundays. I myself learned to drive on Sundays, when there was not as much traffic on the highway, and I could practice in empty parking lots. I doubt if my mother got much of a rest on those Sundays (!) but it was a quieter day, a slower time, a permission given to put one’s feet up and refrain from the marketplace and the world’s sense of duty.

More and more these laws governing Sabbath are being repealed. One reason is because there is more than one holy day in our pluralistic society. Muslims observe Juma on Friday, Jews keep Shabbat on Saturday, and the majority of Christian churches worship on Sunday, with Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists worshipping on Saturday. In some areas there is the feeling that the government is intervening unnecessarily in people’s lives by requiring a day of rest. Also, with many professions and low-paying service jobs being 24/7, when a day off is taken is up to the individual.

Ironically, there is no dispute among Jews and Muslims as to whether the Sabbath should be observed, law or no. It is only Christians who seem to have need of a law in order for the Sabbath to be obeyed. Author Christopher Ringwald, in his book A Day Apart, says that “we’ve converted a blessing into a burden.” Often I have heard grumbling about the length of Sunday worship services. Our Puritan forebears went to Meeting in the morning for about 2-3 hours, returning in the afternoon for another lengthy assembly. My response has been, “This is the day for praising God in the company of one another—I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. God is not ‘on the clock’.” But then clergy are considered part of the establishment, hence the guilt we encounter when meeting absent church folk in the grocery store.

The Enlightenment had its blessings but one of its curses was its effect on the Christian Sabbath. Somewhere along the way it became optional. Modern-day Protestants have often scoffed at the Roman Catholic Days of Holy Obligation. The Code of Canon Law states that “the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”

In fact, the word ‘obligation’ leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We want to come to God out of free choice; we don’t want to be coerced into worship nor the Sabbath. Indeed, Ringwald says that the Sabbath is “an experience, not a creed.” This is God’s desire as well, but knowing human nature, we need to be told to take a day off, to focus on God’s desires and purposes rather than our own, so that perhaps one day, the other six days of the week might start to resemble the Sabbath day, that is, God’s day.

We keep the Sabbath day holy as a poignant reminder that all days are holy, given to us by our Creator. We may be endowed with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but it is only because we draw breath from and have our being in that which made heaven and earth. Jesus loosens the bound woman on the Sabbath so that she might give God what is needful: worshipful, unbounded praise. And we are given a vision of our Sabbath work: to give justice wherever, whenever it is needed, to not hinder or burden others in the worship of God, and by so doing offer God our praise.

The Sabbath is a day for community, community that sustains and challenges us toward honest, humble living; community that builds justice and speaks peace to the world; community that strives to be the kingdom of God, God’s beloved community, which is the ultimate rebellion against the ways of empire. And as we participate in the Sabbath more and more, as our sense of community grows, we will surely come up against the ways of empire and all its seductions to leave behind our Sabbath work of justice and peace. But God promises us, that when we feed the hungry, fill the needs of the afflicted, when we honor the Sabbath and refrain from our own interests on the holy day, that our light shall rise in the darkness, that our needs will be satisfied in parched places and we shall be like a watered garden, a spring of water, whose waters never fail. We will take delight in the Lord and God will make us ride upon the heights of the earth, that earth which was created for us and hallowed with the Sabbath.

And so, First Congregational Church of ******, how is this Day of Resurrection a day of rebirth for you? How do you prepare yourselves to alter your agenda in order to follow God’s agenda? Sabbath and worship are to be directed within and beyond the self—is there a balance of Sabbath work within the congregation and beyond the congregation? What sustains you as a community? Are there any traditions or tenets that might hinder someone from worshipping here? When was the last time you ate together as a congregation with no other purpose than enjoying one another’s company? What are some social justice issues you would like to focus on as a congregation, as part of your Sabbath?

In the words of Wendell Berry:

Teach me work that honors Thy work,
the true economies of goods and words,
to make my arts compatible
with the songs of the local birds.

Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of Thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest.


Friday, August 24, 2007

"Oh, say can you see..."

On Sunday afternoon Aug. 26 I will be singing the National Anthem for the Bridgeport Bluefish. I have done this every summer for the past six. Friends from church buy a block of tickets, cheer me on, then we kibitz and watch the game. It's a wonderful park, a good seat anywhere you sit, with lots of families. I made this recording so I could send an audition CD to the Boston Red Sox, but no word yet. Someday...

Though it's a war-based anthem, with a strong sense of religiousity about our flag, it's still a thrill to sing it in front of a large crowd. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


You're The Hobbit!

by J.R.R. Tolkien

All you wanted was a nice cup of tea when some haggard crazy old man came into your life and told you it was time to do something with yourself. Now you're all conflicted about whether to stick with your stay-at-home lifestyle or follow this crazy person into the wild. While you're very short and a little furry, you seem to be surrounded by an even greater quantity of short folks lately. Try not to lose your ring, but keep its value in perspective!

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I thought the questions in this quiz were a bit limiting (this or that), so where I felt divided about the answer, I kept getting some pretty strange books (Love in the Time of Cholera, Lolita). So I gave different answers until I got a book and the description I liked and thought was most accurate. It was between this one and Babar the King. I object to the 'furry' comment, but otherwise I thought it suited me, especially about being called into the wild by a crazy person. Never a more concise description about what it's like to be called into parish ministry by Jesus.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dick is a liar

...but we already knew this. Here's living proof. Good grief, you'd think he had a crystal ball.

What's in your wallet?

The Onion

Churchgoer Tips God For Excellent Week

CHARLESTON, SC—Churchgoer Brad Thaden, 48, reportedly tipped God a little something extra Sunday, claiming that the Almighty had done a...

Now I hear, though, that 20% is the new 15% for tips, which is much higher than tithing. I wouldn't want to wait on this guy's table.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Price of Peace

Jeremiah 23: 23-32; Luke 12: 49-56; Hebrews 11:29 – 12: 2
******** United Church of Christ
August 19, 2007

This morning’s lessons from the lectionary are not easy ones to hear nor are we to shy away from them. Jeremiah speaks the word of God to the priests and rulers of his time, warning them that they are propagating the lies of false prophets, that there are no secrets to be hid from God, and that all this can only lead to ruin. In Luke we see Jesus on fire with righteous anger, declaring that he came to bring division, not peace, imposing a choice upon his followers, calling the crowd hypocrites. In the letter to the Hebrews we are given a brief history lesson of those who suffered for their faith and service to God, who did not receive what was promised yet still witnessed with their lives to the real presence of God.

I included all these passages because I think it is high time, actually past time, that the prophets are preached from the pulpit with renewed vigor, that the Church risk peace by exposing the lies and myths we live by and its complicity in them, that we make the choice to live by God’s truth, that we remember the lives of those who told the truth before us, so that we might be healed and able to run that race that God has set before us.

The main reason we avoid doing any of this in the Church is the risk of conflict and upheaval. But we all know that a peace that subverts conflict is not really peace at all; it’s a crisis waiting to happen. And crisis is pervasive in nearly ever corner of the Church.

In the Catholic Church there is the sex abuse scandal and the payouts of huge sums of money to the victims, plus the questionable accountability of priests. There is also the Pope’s latest statement reinforcing the doctrine that salvation can only be found in the one true Church, creating conflict between Protestants and Catholics. In the Anglican and Episcopal churches, as in many other denominations such as the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and the Evangelical Lutheran churches, there is conflict over homosexuality and whether the communion of Episcopalians and Anglicans can remain as one. At General Synod this summer the delegates of the United Church of Christ voted to take no action on two resolutions, a Reaffirmation of Marriage based on the Word of God and a Reaffirmation of the Historic and Ecumenical Christian Perspective on Marriage, rather than bringing them to the floor for what would hopefully be a resounding ‘no’ vote to the restrictive underpinnings of those resolutions. And there are local churches that are at a point of crisis in their finances, in their overall ability to function as a church, and in their identity as a UCC church.

Within the past ten years or so, a positive spin was put on the word ‘crisis’. The Chinese language was brought into play, showing the two characters that comprise the logograph for ‘crisis’: danger and opportunity. Many business analysts, executives, and pundits seized on this interpretation of crisis. Many self-help books were written on the subject. Recently I came upon an article written by Victor Mair, a professor of language and Chinese literature at the University of Pennsylvania, who exposed the untruth behind this positive spin.

The first character does indeed mean danger but when the second character, opportunity, is linked with danger, it no longer means opportunity but “an incipient moment, a crucial point when something begins or changes.” Mair writes, “[It] is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. [This word for crisis] indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one's skin and neck! Any would-be guru who advocates opportunism in the face of crisis should be run out of town on a rail, for his/her advice will only compound the danger of the crisis.”

Jeremiah prophesied to the kings and priests of Judah that they were indeed at a crisis, an incipient moment, a crucial point for change, a tipping point toward danger and ruin. For all his faithfulness to God, Jeremiah was at best ignored and at worst he was imprisoned, thrown down a well, beaten, given death threats, and declared a traitor. In the end, though, Babylon conquered Jerusalem and Judah, despite Jeremiah’s warning, because of the comfort of lies that were fed to the people.

Every organization, every group of people, has some basic myths to it, some hidden secrets within it, a shadow side. A webzine article by Daniel Clendenin entitled “False Hopes, Bad Dreams, and Reckless Lies” talks about the false hopes, dreams, and lies we tell ourselves, that guide our living and our organizations.

Here’s a short list of my own personal false hopes and reckless lies that I have told myself over the years:
  • My husband should be able to empathize and understand all my struggles.
  • My children will learn to like a clean bedroom and keep it that way.
  • I should be able to not exercise as much and not floss my teeth, yet live as long as I want and keep my teeth.
  • I work better under pressure.
  • Somewhere, out there, the perfect church for me is waiting.
  • Now that I’m making a little more money, it’s okay to spend a little more. I deserve to have what I didn’t get when I was growing up.
  • God has the future under control OR God isn’t there—he’s an idea we’ve become addicted to, to avoid responsibility for our personal and collective realities.
  • God knows what I’m thinking and feeling, so why do I have to pray?
I hope you were also making your own list in your head while listening to mine. These false hopes and reckless lies tell us that it’s okay to put ourselves, our worries, anxieties, and fears first. In his article Clendenin quoted St. Augustine’s definition of sin: ‘the heart curved in on itself’. When the heart is curved inward, it makes it difficult to act in a crisis, to read the signs of the times, to make a choice to live the costly truth, which is what was making Jesus so hot under the collar.

The false hope of Jesus’ time was that the Messiah would bring peace; a peace that would still allow the status quo. Jesus decries this bad dream, filled with fire, baptism, and the Holy Spirit, saying that he has come to bring division, that is, he is imposing a choice: will we, God’s people, live by our lies and the lies of empire or will we live God’s truth? Living God’s truth does not create inclusivity, not at first. Author Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”

Some of you already know this. You have paid a price, perhaps a high one, for choosing to live God’s truth rather than a safe, comforting lie. Some of us are considering the price and wondering if there is enough in our spiritual savings account to survive. Yet we cannot serve the reckless lies, the false hopes, the bad dreams and serve God at the same time. We cannot serve the many voices in our heads telling us what to do, how to behave, what is acceptable in society, and serve God at the same time. We cannot serve both the lies of empire and the truth of God. Our society, our nation is at a crisis, an incipient moment, a crucial point of danger where change can begin, for better or for worse. It is past time to be safe, to be peaceful, to be politically correct. Jesus is righteously angry and demands of us, “Why aren’t YOU?”

Every day we encounter the false hopes, bad dreams, and reckless lies that are setting the course not only for our nation but also for the world. Here are, in my opinion, the three big lies of the United States:

  • Everyone can achieve the American Dream, that is, home ownership, if they just work hard enough.
  • We can win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and we can win the war on terrorism.
  • Global warming is a hoax, due to natural climate change, and it is nothing to worry about.

Jesus says to us, you are frauds! You know how to forecast the weather but you cannot tell a lie from a truth, the truth that the Christ is in your midst.

For Jesus, the dividing issue, the truth of God, was this: have we fed the hungry, quenched a thirst, welcomed outcasts and strangers as though they were family, have we clothed the naked not with our hand-me-downs but with our best, have we visited the sick and the imprisoned? The ministry of Jesus, which is beloved community, is juxtaposed against the supposed values of the world of empire. We cannot live with one foot in the witness of our faith and the other in the comfort empire gives us. Jesus cries out to us, I am here-and-now, when you do these things, I am in your midst, the beloved community becomes reality, and the reckless lies begin to fall away.

Christ is in our midst in the illegal immigrant, the migrant worker, the working poor; in the child without health care, a home, good nutrition or an education; in the insurgent, in the soldier, and in the civilian; in Christians, and Muslims, and Jews; in Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs; in the detainees at Guantanamo and all those in prison; in the refugee camps and killing fields of Darfur; in hospitals and clinics, nursing homes and hospices; in heat waves and floods, forest fires and hurricanes, drought and rising sea temperatures, in every creature, in every growing thing, in the very earth itself.

The price of peace is our sweet safety but also the comfort of our lies. In Hebrews we hear of the suffering of those who lived out the truth of God, that though they were commended by God, they did not receive what was promised. Joy was coming but not in their lifetime. The price we pay today for tomorrow’s peace is that we may not live to see the fruits of our sacrifice. And this is the highest price, that like Moses, the promised land may be in our sight but it will be our descendants who will inhabit it. It took thousands of years for empire to become entrenched in our world. It will take a gargantuan effort on the part of humanity working together to uproot it.

So let us pray, and pray hard, for faith, faith that is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We are promised a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us, God’s witnesses who, though dead, still speak to us of God’s strength and enduring love; who speak to us of Jesus who endured the cross for the joy to come; who speak to us of the Holy Spirit who comforts us yet also baptizes us with fire and with power that we might persevere in our faith and not surrender to the false hopes and reckless lies of our time. Perhaps we ought to also include St. Augustine’s prayer: "Lord Jesus, don’t let me lie when I say that I love you…and protect me, for today I could betray you." God knows that the price of peace has become increasingly steep but through Jesus, God has promised to be with us through it all.

And so, ******** United Church of Christ, what are some of the false hopes, the bad dreams, the reckless lies under which you presently live? What makes you angry about the world we live in and what are you doing with your anger? And if you’re not angry, why not? What scares you most about living out the truth of God? How do you acknowledge conflict in your midst? How do you handle crises as a congregation? What choices has your belief in Christ imposed upon you? Who are the powerful witnesses of faith who speak to you and give you courage? There is a cost of discipleship—what gives you joy?

Thanks be to God for those prophets and truthtellers who risk danger and violence to dispel our reckless lies and encourage us to do the same. Thanks be to God for righteous anger that fuels our ability to survive division and to be faithful witnesses to God’s truth of peace and justice. Thanks be to God for the promised land to come and for the blessing of working for its reality. We are being called to be the answer to our own prayers. God grant us courage for the living of our faith. Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

She's better, stronger, faster...

...and a lot more human and vulnerable with even more superhuman strength. Plus, she's got the eye now too, besides the ear, right arm and both legs.

What can I say? I'm a sci-fi geek, through and through.

Bionic Woman (circa 1975)

I loved this show when I was a young girl. Jaime Sommers was beautiful, strong, funny, and very human. The show could be really campy at times (remember the Fembots?!) but then what TV shows weren't back then? And I'm looking forward to the new version coming this fall.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Directing traffic in the hereafter

from Newsweek:

Dalai Lama won't reincarnate in Tibet.

Apparently the Chinese government won't allow Buddhist monks to reincarnate in Tibet without permission. I LOLed when I read this one. As if this is something we mortals can regulate. I suppose, though, the Chinese could make it difficult for the monks to engage in the search in Tibet or for a hiding place to be kept safe for the young 15th Lama. I see shades of Herod, Rome, and magi from the East. Neither God nor the Compassionate One will be thwarted by some puny law.

If you're curious about this whole reincarnation thing and the choosing of the next Dalai Lama, see the movie Kundun. It's excellent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


For several years, a man was having an affair with an Italian woman. One night she confided in him that she was pregnant. Not wanting to ruin his reputation or his marriage, he paid her a large sum of money if she would go to Italy to secretly have the child. If she stayed in Italy to raise the child, he would also provide child support until the child turned 18.

She agreed, but asked how he would know when the baby was born. To keep it discrete, he told her to simply mail him a postcard, and write "Spaghetti" on the back. He would then arrange for the child support payments to begin.

One day, about 9 months later, he came home to his confused wife. "Honey," she said, "you received a very strange postcard today."

"Oh, just give it to me and I'll explain it later," he said. The wife handed it over and watched as her husband read the card, turned white, and fainted.

On the card was written: "Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti. Three with meatballs, two without. Send extra sauce."

Guess who's going, like uh, green?

After her recent stint in jail, Paris Hilton has decided not only to brush up on her Bible but also to throw her lot in with the environment. And she sounds sooo convincing...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Vacation--sort of

For the next two weeks I'll be out of the blogosphere and away from any computer screen, which is a good and necessary thing for me right now. This coming week I'll be assisting two of my colleagues at Silver Lake Conference Center, a UCC camp in Sharon, CT. We're leading a confirmation camp for 63 eighth graders entitled "Confirmungo!". I'll be teaching Bible class, the whole enchilada divided up into five chunks: history, wisdom, prophets, Jesus and the early Church, and Paul's (and others') letters. Whew! I'll have three different groups each morning, teaching the same day's lesson plan three times. My goal is to have them connect their own story with the big Story and with the stories in the Bible in some meaningful way. Please, light a candle and say a prayer.

The second week I'll be on Cape Cod celebrating my birthday with family and I do mean family: my husband and two daughters, my mother and her husband, my father- and mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law and her husband. I'm going to try to relax and just be me, and not all those other me's that are coming along for the ride. Or, as Bette Davis said in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts--it's going to be a bumpy night!". A therapist once told me that a vacation with family is a business trip. Yes, indeed. Yet I do intend to enjoy myself as much as possible, especially with my husband and the girls.

Hope all is well with those who visit here and that you are making time for rest and play.


Friday, July 27, 2007

The collection plate

The presidential candidates--19 so far--will collectively spend at least $1 billion for their campaigns. Here are some alternative uses for this amount of money:
  • Treatment and prevention for more than 150 million cases of malaria in Africa

  • Basic health insurance for 250,000 Americans

  • More than 415 million school lunches for poor children in the U.S.

  • Nearly 6,700 new, fully armored Humvees for U.S. troops

  • Hurricane relief (foreign nations offered nearly this amount in aid after Hurricane Katrina)

--Parade (July 1)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Alas, earwax!"

You scored as Albus Dumbledore, strong and powerful you admirably defend your world and your charges against those who would seek to harm them. However sometimes you can fail to do what you must because you care too much to cause suffering.

Albus Dumbledore


Sirius Black


Hermione Granger


Harry Potter


Remus Lupin


Severus Snape


Draco Malfoy


Ron Weasley


Ginny Weasley


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com

Thanks to PJ for this one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thought for the day

Is a covenant still a covenant if it excludes in any way?

Does theology define a covenant or does behavior? Or both?

If a covenant is about right relationship, what makes the relationship right?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Better Part

Mary and Martha, He Qi (China), 2001.

Genesis 18: 1-10a; Luke 10: 38-42
First Congregational Church of ******

Each of us has in our memory someone who was the one who made everyone feel at home. It could be a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, or a family friend. I say these are women because usually they are. But they could also be men or couples—people who make it their mission to fill their homes with yummy smells, home-cooked food, comfortable places to sit, and the aura of conviviality, that of in the act of joining together for a meal, life and spirit are increased. In short, they are gifted in the art of hospitality.

Giving hospitality and serving others can often put the host of the party on the outside. It is difficult to be fully invested in the conversation while thinking about what needs to be done next or what had been forgotten. We can be so focused on the preparations for the meal that we forget the reason why we were cooking so hard in the first place: to welcome guests and to create a space where something special can happen. I know I can get a little testy myself when dinner is about to be served on a weeknight. I have given the five-minute warning and have called three times for everyone to come to the table; still there are times I am (or my husband and I) the only one standing by the plates on the counter, ready to take them to the table. I get frustrated when here I’ve spent all this time making this delicious dinner and there’s no one coming to eat it when it’s hot. I’m more focused on my efforts rather than on my family’s enjoyment of them.

Martha seems to be in a similar frame of mind in this morning’s gospel lesson. Now we’ve all probably heard this story before. Those of us who are like Martha (Martha Stewart notwithstanding) feel rather singled out as being obsessive-compulsive. Those of us who are like Mary know that we really should get up and help, but God love him, we have Jesus on our side. This story is not intended to be a judgment tale but one of the nature of God in the person of Jesus and how he relates to us. In this story Jesus is pulling the focus off of us and onto him.

In a way Martha reminds us of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, or of the early workers in the vineyard who got paid the same amount as those hired at the end of the day. “Hey,” they say, “I’ve been here all day, I’ve been here all my life, I’ve been in the kitchen all day, I’ve done what I’ve supposed to, and this brother, this sister, this Johnny-come-lately gets all the goodies?! Why, God?” Those of us who are older brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, long-time employees or church members, we hear ourselves in those words of justifiable complaint and resentment.

Let us remember though what the “goodies” are: forgiveness, love, compassion, and in this Scripture lesson, Jesus and the gospel. It’s not Mary’s behavior that Jesus justifies; it is himself. In Eugene H. Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, Jesus says: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Jesus isn’t only the better part but the main course, one part of an entire meal. The point here is balance rather than judgment or which way is better. We need to balance our Christian doing with Christian being. We need to learn again and again from Jesus and the gospel what it means to be loving, forgiving, and compassionate so that we are strengthened in our service to others.

In Giuseppe Belli’s 19th century sonnet about Martha and Mary, Martha snaps back at Jesus after he tells her that Mary’s choice is more important: “So says you, but I know better. Listen, if I sat around on my salvation the way she does, who’d keep this house together?” Those of us who are like Martha might be chuckling to ourselves at the sound of this. She’s right; we can’t just sit on our salvation. We have to get up at some point and do what is necessary.

In our society, though, get up and do is more than it used to be. We are overwhelmed with choices as to what we can do in a brief 24-hr. period. Work (including commute time), pick up dry cleaning, drive children to and fro, take the dog to the vet, take an exercise class, go grocery shopping, cook dinner, weed the garden, mow the lawn, fix that hanging gutter, read the paper, check e-mail, open the snail mail, call the doctor to make an appointment, call the pharmacy to renew a prescription, volunteer at church, at the hospital, at the local food pantry, at the senior center, and on and on. Oh, and eat three meals and sleep. In recent years it has been suggested that married couples schedule a night for sex because otherwise it might get forgotten in the midst of all this doing. We even have to schedule church because of Sunday morning sports and the need to have just one day to sleep in and spend the day with family. While resting and being with family is in keeping with the biblical understanding of Sabbath, when we miss worship, we miss the opportunity to rest at the feet of Jesus in the company of our sisters and brothers in Christ.

A few years back my home church had its very first adult mission trip. Six of us traveled to Pipestem, West Virginia to work for a week at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center. We were sent to Miss Margaret’s house that needed scraping and painting, a new set of stairs and stoop at her back door, and a new tarpaper roof on her garage. The first day we started it was about 85 degrees. The air was also a bit thinner at about 3000 feet above sea level, and I had forgotten that I need time to adjust to it. I wound up on the ground under a tree trying to slow my breathing. After resting for a while I was feeling rather useless and somewhat guilty because of it. I should be up and doing. But we weren’t there just to slap on some paint and then go home. So I went over to where Miss Margaret was sitting and sat with her and listened to her tell stories about her family and the places where she lived.

I could have just stayed under that tree. But then I would have missed out on the main course: what Jesus had to teach me through Miss Margaret. In the story about Abraham, Sarah, and the visitors, Abraham could have served his guests the best that he had and then left them alone, but he stayed while they ate and heard the better part, that he and Sarah would have a son. With God’s commandments, as in “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”, there comes a promise. Obey the Sabbath, worship the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you shall be rooted in Christ and thus be more able to serve, to love, to forgive, to be compassionate, to serve your neighbor and the stranger.

I once saw a poster in an elementary school that read, “The more you read, the more you know; the more you know, the smarter you grow; the smarter you grow, the stronger your voice when speaking your mind or making your choice.” The more we spend time with Jesus in the company of one another, the more we know about love, forgiveness, compassion. The more we know of these things, the more we will become these things. The more we become these things, the stronger our voices will become when speaking our minds or making our choices, especially the choices about how we spend our time and what kind of people we will be, what kind of church we will be. Jesus is the main course of our lives and won’t be taken from us if we would but choose it above all else.

Not only can we choose to sit with Jesus but the wonderful thing is that Jesus chooses to sit with us. Jesus chooses to sit and listen to what we have to say or not. When we have suffered long enough under the oppressor’s voice of perfectionism, of having to do in order to be worthy, Jesus grants us permission to just sit and be with him, to unload our guilty burdens, and leave the chaos alone for a little while. It isn’t going anywhere. But for the time being, neither is Jesus. He stays with us until we have what we need from him.

So, First Congregational Church of ******, who are the people ‘behind-the-scenes’ in this church, who make much of its ministry, including hospitality, possible? What are some ways of being hospitable as a church that you would like to see develop here at 1st Church? What kinds of hands-on mission would spark your interest and your participation? What do you feel you would need, both as a church and as faithful persons, to be able to engage in mission activity? When was the last time you spent some time in quiet with your Bible, learning at the feet of Jesus? In what ways do you as church and as Christians need to have the focus pulled off you and put onto Jesus? What helps you to feel peaceful, open, and loving? What makes it difficult to slow down? And if you are slowing down, whether by choice or not, how does that feel to you? How could your relationship with God and with each other help you?

We who have been tempted to think we must do in order to secure our salvation and that of the world have been reminded by Jesus that he is the One who saves. We join in his work and ministry as his Body but the Body needs nourishment in order to serve. Jesus is the host of this holy banquet who has become the main course. In the words of the theologian Gerhard Forde to his students, “What are you going to do, now that you don’t have to do anything?” Now that we do not have to serve and work in order to be considered good and worthy, we are free; free to not be frantic, frustrated, or resentful. We are free to worship, to praise, to give thanks, to receive what we need in order to serve what is needful. And what is needful? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Amen.