Dear Sacred People! Happy New Year–almost….
I have never been one to come up with New Year’s resolution, let alone follow them. I think it’s mostly a result of my religious upbringing that demanded giving things up or making significant changes for Lent, without any kind of follow up or theological backdrop as to why we would choose to do this for only 40 days and not as a regular spiritual practice. This isn’t to say that intentionally choosing to commit to making life giving changes, i.e. focusing on family, friends, self, God, needs of others, etc , aren’t good or necessary resolutions to make. I’ve just not been very good at it.
Still, this morning, as I was thinking about next Sunday’s service and sermon, I found myself going through old pics on Facebook and changing my profile picture. The picture I put up is about 8 or 9 years old and it is one of me atop a 20 foot fence and wall in Agua Prieta, Mexico. This was taken during an immersion trip to the border so as to become more educated about the plight and flight of our neighbors in the south. For me, reposting this timely pic is less about resolution and more of a reminder to do what I have already said I would do: continue to stand up for those who are persecuted and for whom justice is seemingly out of reach. Talking about it is the easy past, but getting in the muck is critical for change to really occur.
I am not sure what this will look like, with regard to taking action, but I do promise that I will always extend the invitation to you, as a reminder of whom we are, to Whom we belong and for Whom we live and have our being. We are a church of compassionate people, which means that we hold ourselves and each other accountable to live out that compassion. Perhaps that’s the resolve to which we can all strive: we will continue to be a compassionate people, seeking justice and proclaiming the Good News in our actions and words.
Have a happy, and sacred new year dear ones. I am looking forward to what awaits and calls to us all!
Dec 17 – 30
“There is no biblical mandate demanding deportation, demanding documentation. Our God tears down walls. We welcome the stranger, give food to the hungry,” Pastor Caleb Lines, of the University Christian Church, had told this crowd the previous evening, when hundreds crammed into his place of worship in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego to kick off a week of national actions around the human-rights crisis on the border. At that kickoff event were rabbis, imams, priests. All were in San Diego to disavow the actions of the US government on the border. In an extraordinarily powerful speech near the end of the two-and-a-half-hour service, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a St. Louis–based minister with the United Church of Christ and a steering-committee member on the Poor People’s Campaign, talked of how the “brown-skinned Jesus, seeking refuge in a foreign land,” would not have been admitted into Trump’s America. How “his family might have been greeted with tear gas or rubber bullets, or, worse yet, he might have been taken from his mother’s arms.” Blackmon told the gathering that they were “compelled to show up and guide this country to our moral selves. When laws are co-opted for greed and political gain, and used as weapons of disenfranchisement, then people of faith and of moral character are compelled to resist in the interest of preserving our humanity.” (Shasha Abramsky, in ‘The Nation’)
Hello Dear Ones,
The above excerpt was written after 30 faith leaders were arrested this past week, at the CA/Mexican border, for peacefully protesting the inhumane policies our country has implemented. The underlying question is ‘Why is it that we are so threatened by those who seek what we hold so dear–safety, food, a job, a family, etc.? There are many answers to this question. However, while it is critical for us to understand what informs and directs how we feel about issues such as this, it is more important to first recognize that our faith demands that we respond as our God would have us respond. We await the coming of the One who was born into our midst to teach us how to respond as God would respond. We say that we want to follow, to emulate Jesus. We say that we wish to be disciples. We say we are willing to be challenged and pushed and compelled to do as he taught us. Perhaps, the season of Advent is less about us waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ child as it is about our Beloved waiting for us to finally ‘arrive’. Perhaps after the gift of the Incarnation, Advent is the opportunity for us to be born again into a world so desperate for the arrival of the presence of God’s hope, peace, joy, and love. Perhaps, in the depths of this season’s darkness– the literal season, and the season of darkness in which our country seems to have sunk– perhaps we are the light we have been waiting for…
Dec 3 – 10
“Jesus was born in a manger to a family fleeing harm. He took on flesh to show us how to make more room at the table. Jesus was killed because his divine love for marginalized people always put him at odds with the rules of the state. We can’t align with Jesus and support the atrocious violence at the U.S border” (Marchaé Grair) or anywhere else God’s creation is being marginalized or oppressed.
Dear Jesus Loving People,
Well, here we are in the first week of Advent, actively awaiting, once again, for the sign our Hope is dwelling in our hearts and souls.
If we look around, we can always find signs of where we are called to be demonstrative of our Beloved’s hope. Places desperately seeking God’s comfort and compassion. I am always humbled by the realization that the Holy One has so much faith in us to entrust us with the needs of the world. The birth of the Christ Child reminds us of that. It is a reminder that our salvation, if you will, is tied with our cooperative work with our Beloved. Our purpose, our connection with the Divine, our consummate commitment to follow Jesus, is demonstrated in our willingness to show up at the stable and the cross and offer whatever is needed, in either place, so that the kin-dom may be evident.
Rev. Dr. Chris Davies form the UCC national office offers the following piece. (partial) While it was penned specifically in response to the crisis at the border, it speaks to all of those for whom justice is elusive. It also reminds us that we are connected to a larger body who seeks to do the same work that we have committed ourselves to do.
“Sweet Baby Jesus is in a caravan of travelers, heading north. He is tiny, carried by his tender mother, fleeing from a country with no space left for growing. Or Jesus is walking barefoot as a toddler, wearing through shoes in route and feet burning in deserts. Jesus is hungry, terrified and crying. His parents do what they can, pushed by the promise of hope, the allusive caring that perhaps, maybe… maybe… pulled by the stories that come and the meager help already offered from family in the north, and the jobs that may have already been promised.
Over his head, the many forces of government speak of census and how many people can be where and whose job it is to bring them there. They note that there is no room at the inn or the town or the city or the county or the country or the world for their kind of refugee-seeking. They note that if they stay, the tiny one will be murdered. They note all this in the guise of security and in the guise of maintaining allusions of power for the wealthy.
This, this; is Christ the child who will grow to call the world into justice. This, this; is Christ the child who will grow up to invite the welcome of stranger, the hospitality of many. This, this; is Christ the child who will grow to paint a vision of a world where no human is illegal, there is enough and more for all, and the righteous and just rule in alignment with the [kin-dom] of God.“
Nov 26 – Dec 3
An Advent Prayer (Rev. Bret Stuart Myers)
We are called to have faith and to prepare for the coming of Christ in our world. But we too often imagine a babe in a manger than a true commitment to repenting of our lifestyles of wanting and having more than enough. You would have us make a path that we may not want to walk on – one that leads us out of the deserts of delight and the wildernesses of waywardness.
In this season of consumerism and extravagance, we too often prefer luxuries over love, jewelry over justice, and parties over peace. Goad us to true faithfulness, where we forgive those who have wronged us, restore those who we’ve alienated, and give to those whom we don’t think have earned it. Help us to clear a path for you to come into our hearts and souls. Transform our spirits to abide by your virtues and values in all we think, say, and do. May we unlearn the rules of our society as we welcome in your ways of loveliness and grace. Remove from our way the boulders of apathy, the briars of self-centeredness, and the quagmires of acquisitiveness.
Inspire us to imagine your better world, and to live in the way that would make it real; as did the Prince of Peace whose coming we honor. Amen
Hello Dear Ones,
I’m sure many of you have already seen the news from yesterday regarding what is happening at our border. Our US policy allows those seeking asylum to enter the US and remain while their case is being reviewed. This policy is being ignored, and there is “miscommunication” about Mexico having agreed to let folks there while the US reviews these asylum requests. As such, tensions and fears are rising with those exhausted people who have traveled thousands of miles to seek a place of refuge and safety. I encourage you all to read those reports offered by reputable news sources to get more information. I could spend a lot of time doing this here but I will leave it to you to research in your own time.
I’m doing this because I am aware, that in order for us to be open to what is happening; in order for us to be effective in our acts; in order for us to be prepared to deal with the injustices of our world, we need to first ground ourselves, spiritually in our Beloved. I invite you, then, to find a quiet place to meet our Beloved. A place that is safe and warm and allows for a moment or two to settle into the presence of God. A place where that still small voice can reach you and quiet your soul and give you peace. You may have your own practice to get you there. You may have your own prayer or you may want to use the prayer provided above. But no matter how you do this, I really encourage you to settle your soul as you go forward ‘preparing the way.’ The work we are called to do is frustrating and exhausting. We need to be able to take care of ourselves in order to be available for those in need. Take care, dear ones. Be gentle with yourselves.
Hello Dear Ones,
I am once again grateful for the opportunity to gather yesterday and celebrate our abundance of generosity and hospitality for which Vista Grande is known. It was wonderful to spend time in good conversation with one another, celebrating our love and care for each other. Thank you for a wonderful celebration.
It doesn’t surprise me that we celebrate Thanksgiving just prior to the season of Advent. It’s as if the gratitude we have on Thanksgiving is designed to propel us into a season of then sharing those things, for which we are grateful, with our larger community. Harvest time has historically been a time of abundance and sharing. It makes sense for us to carry on that tradition.
This of course brings us to the giving we are asked to do to ensure the vision and mission of our Beloved Community. There are so many ways many of you give so that we can continue the work of our Creator in this place and time. We have been able to do so much with regard to those missions to which we are committed. And we have even been able to extend our relationships beyond what we do in house, as it were. Thank you for all you give and do. And thank you for your willingness to further commit to our vision and ministries.
There are numerous ways to get involved with Vista Grande: mission, social justice activities, facilities, worship, community life, faith formation… And we also need to pledge our financial support to the work we do. There is a temptation to just give from our tangible abundance–that is a place of comfort and extras– thus ‘tipping’ instead of ‘tithing’. But when we can embrace the reality that our abundance comes from the abundance of love and faith that God has for and in us, we can give from place of gratitude and not from a place of obligation or as an afterthought.
I invite to think and pray with intention about how you will give this year to support the work we all do, and to support the impact we make on those who need a safe and sacred spiritual home. I am so excited about what we have been able to do together as a community of faith. And I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this small but mighty church!
Dear Holy People,
I was reminded today that the phrase ‘never forget’, as it pertains to the sacrifices of war made by our veterans, carries with it a wish for something greater than the scars which many of our soldiers carry with them. This phrase is not just a reminder of what our soldiers have done for their country and for all of us who live in it. Nor is it just a reminder of past wars as an attempt to avoid these horrors in our collective future. It is also a ‘here and now’ reminder– that is a reminder that we, who have stayed home, are responsible for the care and healing of our soldiers when they return.
Years ago I was privileged to visit for a number of weeks with a retired army chaplain as he was going through hospice. He carried with him the scars of Vietnam, memories that still haunted him and a deep shame having never been properly welcomed home. He has seen friends die and been wounded himself with resulting hearing loss. On top of that, he was one of the many who was spat upon, called names, threatened, and rejected after having returned from a war not of his making. For the first time since returning, he told me, he felt he could finally talk about what happened and come to some kind of peace. And this was literally on his death bed.
The topic of war and military and pacifist and peace seeking church seem to run contradictory to one another. But the charge for all of us from Jesus remains the same: comfort those who suffer; welcome all who come to you; love as you are loved; and reject no one. Nationally we seem to do a better job at least giving lip service of support to our returning vets. Though time and time again we fail in providing the care they need, an ear to tell their stories. We can show up, to listen to the stories without judgement. We can show up, by demanding better care for our vets from our government. We can show up, by inviting those who fell alienated into our community. And by showing up, we will truly never forget.
Nov 5 – 12
“A tribal leader of the Yakama Nation in Washington state was not allowed access to a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday that involved the tribe, because he refused to remove his traditional headdress. According to KomoNews, Yakama Nation chairman JoDe Goudy was told he could access the Supreme Court if he removed the headdress. In a Facebook Live video shot during the incident, a guard explains to the chairman that the headdress might influence the court.” (by KIMA-TV News Staff & KOMO News, Wednesday, October 31st 2018)
Hello Dear Ones,
It takes an incredible amount of courage to share one’s story with someone we know well and trust. It is even more courageous to share part of one’s story in front a group of people, some of whom are complete strangers. Yesterday’s service was a reminder of this and so much more. In order for someone to feel comfortable sharing their story they have to at least trust that they are in a safe place, without judgement and with those who love deeply. Please realize that in order for a worship such as yesterday to have occurred, a table of welcome and inclusion, hospitality and humility had to be present. I am grateful that Vista Grande continues to be a place of radical hospitality so that all have an opportunity to share their stories.
Another major component of creating such a space, must include the willingness to suspend all preconceived understanding and certitudes about a topic. In other words, we must exude humility and a willingness to listen learn and ask questions. Again, you offered this.
And finally, for a service such as yesterday to be a success, we must recognize that this was just the beginning of a long commitment to seeking justice for all creation. The above quote came from a CBS affiliate in Washington state on October 31, 2018. This is just one incident of the continued oppression and discrimination we heard about yesterday. This might be considered a microaggression (“a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority)”, but it has wider implications with regard to historic precedence and mis-representation and understanding of Native culture. We were fortunate to have Mel and Sebrena and Kathy share some of those stories to help make us aware of the ways oppression continues today. To be clear, we can’t solve all of the world’s “ism’s”, but we can be more sensitive and confrontative when we see another person marginalized.
Do justly, now;
love mercy, now;
walk humbly, now.
It’s that simple.
Oct 22 – 29
Hello Dear People,
Yesterday was an exciting day for us for a number of reasons. First off, the Gazette offered a wonderful article about Vista Grande becoming a Just Peace Church and the implications for our community and for those we serve. It’s imperative that our immediate and city wide community know of our inclusive presence in our part of town, especially given the hostile climate which affects so many folks on the margins. We saw that just this weekend with the administration’s threat to eradicate the identity of transgendered people. We will not stand for such an attempt to further marginalize our LGBTQIA neighbors, but will remain open and welcoming to all who seek love and acceptance.
We further demonstrated our love for all of creation by celebrating our Blessing of the Animals Sunday. We were graced with the presence of some of our beloved family members who joined in the worship with yips and yaps, wags and wiggles. While this was certainly fun and uplifting, yesterday’s service was also a reminder of how we are called to be in relationship with all of creation: with love, with gentleness, with respect, and gratitude for all creatures. May we care and love them as they so willingly and unconditionally love us.
And finally, yesterday was the Southeastern Association’s annual meeting. Aside from the hosting church, Vista Grande had the largest continent of representatives (8) in attendance. In addition, during our communal conversations about what it means to live up to the Three Great Loves of neighbor, children and creation, it was apparent that VG offered many, if not most, of the innovative and relational examples. I was so proud to listen to those there, share the ways we continue to demonstrate what it means to be followers of Christ in a world which so desperately needs to know we are here, representing the love of our God.
I am so very proud and grateful for all you do and all you are.
Oct 15 – 22
Good Morning Dear Ones,
This morning, I am still in awe of the workshop some of us attended with Rev. Love this past weekend. This workshop was attended by 16 Rocky Mountain Conference UCC churches, a Disciple church and a Quaker meeting. It was a wonderful display of a group of folks being willing to be held in the tension of wanting to be good and yet being complicit in a system of injustice. I admit that even though race has been an obvious injustice to me over the years, I continue to be humbled by how I am challenged and stretched each time I am confronted by my own racism. And such is the case after this encounter. We have so much work to do around this ‘ism’ and its implications. And we will do so with integrity, courage, and authenticity. We will also do it with truth.
On a more personal note, you all need to know that as we were making out way back to DIA, Velda shared how wonderful she thought our congregation is and how she regretted there wasn’t time to visit. She then suggested that she come back some time when we can sit and have a meal and discussion! I want you to know how potent this statement is as I had heard some pretty sobering stories about her experiences in other churches. You, my friends continue to exude radical hospitality. This was further exemplified by the non-judgmental way you welcomed our visitor. Thank you all for making him feel welcome.
Below is an excerpt for Rev Love’s article in Sojourner”s magazine, “We Must Have Truth Telling to Have Racial Justice”. There is also a link if you’d like to read the whole article. Join me won’t you, on the continuation of this sacred journey to end racism. (https://sojo.net/articles/faith-action/we-must-have-truth-telling-have-racial-justice)
“Throughout my professional life, comments from white women and men in the academy and in churches would leave me speechless. I would remain silent when their comments regarding my black skin color and female presence were offensive. At times, they would give a follow up comment regarding their ability to not see color, as if I was supposed to ignore the slights and nod in agreement that colorblindness was the way to encounter people of color in general and people of African descent in particular.
Their verbal racial microagressions angered me, and still do. Surely I am not invisible. My gender and skin color is on display for the world to see. Racial microaggressions  are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial or ethnic minorities.
The history of verbal, physical, emotional, and spiritual assaults on black women in particular — and people of color in general — has caused me to preach and teach a countercultural narrative that deconstructs whiteness and its Western ideology of supremacy. I use a concept called Sankofa  in order to correct, reeducate, and reconstruct a humanity that is full and complete, with all cultures and ethnic groups equally occupying the margins of our civilized world. Sankofa literally means, “Go back and get it: It’s not wrong to go back and get what you have forgotten.” The word comes from Akan, the language of 18th and 19th century Ashanti Empire, in what is now Ghana and Ivory Coast.
A Pursuit of Truth Is a Pursuit for Justice
So he said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The African American is a whole person, utilizing intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual practices that honors God. I continue to read and study the Bible from an African-centered perspective. The journey toward uncovering the truth calls me to get to the bottom of the colonial education I received as a youth. Those who conquer lands and peoples control the narratives and historical documents. The name Africa came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name “Africa terra” — “land of the Afri” — for the northern part of the continent.
I believe truth is transformational. Therefore, uncovering historical truths about the intentional construction of race and racism  — and Europe and the United States of America’s obsession with conquering, dominating, exploiting and colonizing other established people groups and their lands — must be explored and taught to everyone if we are to dismantle and eradicate racism.”
Oct 8 – 15
Good Morning Dear Ones,
I have been pondering about how to approach this morning’s blast. I opted to come at this from two perspectives. Hold them in the tension they illicit.
Yesterday I offered a sign that I found posted at my bank which was letting folks know that today they would be closed because of ‘Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day”. And of course we were, and remain, horrified at the way our society attempts to mollify those who have been on the receiving end of centuries of injustice, by offering a lame compromise/excuse for the injustice. I did some more research and found some specifics on the horrors perpetrated by Columbus on the Tainos people, who are so long forgotten that my spellchecker didn’t have a record of the spelling of their name. In this way, they have been twice decimated as a people. We need to know this history as a part of our own: acknowledge it; honor it; reconcile it; and be humbled and haunted by it.
(There is an article found on the Common Dreams website that offers a more comprehensive history. I encourage you to read the article “Whose history matters students can name Columbus most have never heard Taino people”)
I was going to elaborate more, but I am aware that you may feel as overwhelmed and exhausted as I do, by all that has been in our immediate view regarding where our attention and energy is needed–especially in the way of Justice. Yes, we are called to be aware. And yes, we are called to action. But we can’t do any of this if we don’t first take care of ourselves. This link contains a piece written by Stephanie Reeds. (Signs you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted)As you move through your day(s) of doing the work we are called to do, be aware of yourself and of what you need to do to rest and re-energize. We are of no use to ourselves or others if we do not first hold ourselves with the same gentleness we seek to offer everyone else.
Oct 1 – 8
#believe the women
Hello Dear Ones,
You may have noticed that this was the new phrase on our marque. This morning I got an email from an anonymous person telling us how disappointed they were in our sign, offering information about Dr. Blasey Ford I hadn’t heard about (nor could I find in Snopes), and also calling us political because of this message. I suppose one could make the assumption that this is a political sign because it references a current event that has been politicized. But let’s be clear: this is not any more political than any statement which opposes abuse of any kind, towards anyone. This week it just happens to be that we are focused on sexual assault of women and the pain and harm it cause all of those involved, including the abuser. Two weeks ago it was about all of those survivors of abuse perpetrated by the Catholic church. I doubt if we had put a sign up about that it would have received the same email. Which begs the question who is doing the politicizing and why?
As I explained to our detractor:
“We are a Just Peace Church which is simply defined as “Alleviating systemic injustice through nonviolent means”. As such we are very active in calling out those systems which oppress the other, namely in this case, a system that encourages women who are abused to feel shame and stay quiet for fear they will be further demeaned, humiliated and shamed. And who are further subjugated to a system that continue to rewards men regardless of their offenses. What you see as political, we see as standing up for the least of these, just as Jesus calls us to do. As such, you will see a rainbow flag flying for our queer neighbors; a black lives matter flag flying to stand up and against violence and oppression for people of color; you will hear sermons of immigration and the plight of the immigrant; you will encounter our missions caring for the homeless and others who are economically oppressed; you will hear and see our advocacy for Native peoples; you will see a recognition for those who are discriminated against because of abilities or age or mental illness. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, a call to be proactive for those who are oppressed and marginalized. I invite you to join us some Sunday and get a feel for who we are before passing judgment on us.”
It is very easy to fear those who would call us manes and diminish the work we do. It would be easy to choose the path of least resistance, to be so passive in our responses that we never have to deal with recriminations for those who find offence at our work and our mission. But then what good would we be? What kinds of followers would we be of the One who was willing to go to the cross for the least of these? Do not be afraid to stand for those who need you. Remember, you are in good company!
Sept 24 – Oct 1
if by chance you forget where I am,
do not rush around here and there.
If you want to find me,
seek me inside yourself.
you are my room,
you are my house,
you are my dwelling.
If, through your distracted ways,
I ever find your door tightly closed,
do not seek me outside yourself.
To find me,
it will be enough simply to call me,
and I will come quickly.
Seek me inside yourself.
(Saint Teresa of Avila).
Dear God Infused People,
Teresa offers this beautiful poem as a reminder of where our Beloved dwells. Most of us have come from places where the image of God doesn’t fit with how we experience the Divine. Or we have been taught that God is available only under certain circumstance and with specific conditions as Mallory reminded us yesterday. Very few of us were given a theological starting place which recognizes the indwelling of the Divine. As such we tend to look in obscure places for God, or try to make deals in order to obtain God’s favor when all the time our Beloved has been but a thought away. I wish I could remember word for word Mallory’s benediction as it so beautifully offered a great blessing to you all. It was something like this: may you have an experience today and everyday where you are held in the presence of our God, so that you may know how truly loved–without condition– you are.
Sep 17 – 24
Good Day Sacred people!
I want to again thank all of you who made yesterday’s worship so wonderful: Crystal led the worship team in the planning of set up, break down, food and decorations. A great big thanks to Crystal, Carol Wisely, Carol and Dick Burbank, Carolyn and Lyn Gunning, Deborah Tinsley, Lori Gardner, and Mallory. Another huge thanks you to David Hudson for getting that amazing band together, organizing the music and leading the choir–some listed above and including Phil ‘Garth’ Puterbaugh, Jan Morgan, Nancy Morlock-Hollins, and Anna Salmela! yea!!– in wonderful songs and lots of fun!
It is so GOOD and Necessary to find joy in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Being together, singing, dancing and laughing is the best antidote to lives that are otherwise distracted or fearful or laden with concern and anxiety. My heart was filled and my soul leapt with the joy of yesterday. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!
“Standing in gratitude, living in joy,
we reach beyond old wounds and pain.
The waters have parted,
and we have crossed over to new life,
leaving our fears on the distant shore.
Standing in gratitude, living in joy,
we move forward into abundant new life.
God has parted the seas of fear and doubt.
Let us raise tambourines to dance and shout,
giving thanks to our God.
Standing in gratitude, living in joy,
we build a community of trust and love.
God is with us in our falling and rising,
in our living and dying,
in our growing and healing this world.
Standing in gratitude, living in joy,
we dance and sing our praise to God!
(Tina Datsko de Sánchez , Poet in Residence at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach)
Sep 10 – 17
Hello Dear Ones,
I am excited to announce that the Rocky Mountain Conference has the registration up and running on their website for the Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) facilitator training. You may be thinking that you are interested in the conversation but not in becoming a facilitator. After having been part of this training this summer, it has become very clear that we are all called to be facilitators in this conversation. Obviously, not everyone wants to lead a group, I get that. But what is necessary is our willingness not only to challenge our preconceived ways of thinking about race and the systemic implications, but our willingness to engage in conversations with friends, and family. In this way, this training can be very critical in helping us to be more prepared and confident for the difficult conversation that may arise in our lives.
So, you have some choices! First, after this training in completed on the conference level, Vista Grande will engage in more in depth conversations for anyone who would like to participate. Since there are other folks going from many of our sister churches these kinds of classes/conversations will be happening Association and Conference wide. This is very exciting as so many of us will be engaged in this important work.
The other choice is for you to participate in this facilitator training Oct 12th and 13th in Denver with other folks from VG. The church will cover the cost of the registration–all you have to do is let me know and then go to the RMC website to register. Please see the attached flyer for more information and feel free to contact me with any questions.
Let’s commit ourselves to ending systemic racism in our quest to create a Just World for All.
Sep 3 – 10
Happy Labor Day Dear Ones!
I hope you can enjoy an extra day of celebration, rest, and might I add, reflection.
Labor Day is, after all, the day we are reminded of all of those who risked their jobs, their meager financial security and even their lives, to ensure that all who labor would receive a just wage. We tend to forget the meaning of this day, reducing it to picnics, hot air balloon festivals and the invitation to mourn summer’s end. But it is a day that reminds of the sacrifices those seeking justice for workers, (usually the working poor) were willing to take in order to assure that that who worked to support their families, their homes and themselves would have safe and secure working condition, reasonable hours, just treatment, and fair wages. This doesn’t sounds unreasonable at all. Nor does it sound like something we need to fight for in the 21st century. And yet…
This morning as I searched for some profound quote that expressed the true meaning of this day, all I could find were snippets extolling the virtue of hard work, or the inane reminders about when to wear white! I was looking for something that addressed the fact that there are people who today work 40-75 hours a week and still have to have food stamps to feed their families. Or those who can’t afford rent because they have to choose b/t rent and food or, as has happened in this city, affordable housing doesn’t exist. Or, still others, who are on the street because one medical bill stole their mortgage. We have not only forgotten what this day represents, we have sanitized the sacrifices made by those who have given of themselves to assure that these things wouldn’t happen to those who worked hard.
And so we find ourselves at another example of why we are striving to be a justice seeking people, just as those who fought for just labor laws did before us. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when we realize there is still work to be done. Or we can realize we are in good company with those who have gone before to assure that all workers be treated fairly and given a living wage.
It’s good to rest; to enjoy a day off; to play! And then we get back to work–for ourselves and for the good of others.
Aug 20 – 27
Good Morning Earth Loving People,
What a beautiful morning! Cool, fresh and a reminder that my favorite season is around the corner! It is also a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a place that has clean water, fresh air and a healthy environment. Well, mostly…
We have reminders that we too are affected by an environment that has been compromised. Fires rage north and west and we can see the haze over the mountains. The community of Fountain has had to deal with contaminated water. And the Fire department in Hanover has been providing water to ranchers because of the persistent drought conditions. The hope for our world, local and global, is in our hands for sure. And, as usual it is important to realize that we are not alone in our desire or our work to “make all things right”. We are part of a larger community whose covenant with one another makes all things possible. The following is an article by one of the Rocky Mountain Conference’s own, Peter Sawtell, (Executive Director of Eco-Justice Ministries in Denver), posted on the UCC website.
“For more than a decade, I have rooted my life and my vocation in a five word summary of the teachings of Jesus: “Love God; love your neighbor.” These words serve as a short-hand summary of what Jesus declared to be the two greatest commandments. While love of neighbor is not typically understood through an environmental lens, I see three important ways in which an expansive definition of neighbor is relevant and much needed in the work of eco-justice today:
1. We are neighbor to people all around the world.
- That globalized definition is essential in the presence of a globalized economy and world-wide environmental impacts. Most of the products that are on store shelves are made in some far-off land with cheaper labor and less stringent laws. The carbon pollution that drives the climate crisis and ocean acidification spreads around the planet, impacting us all. Every day, our choices and our actions have direct impacts on people in every country. It is not an abstraction to see a neighbor in a Bangladeshi garment worker, a Mexican worker assembling electronics, an Indonesian whose native forests are being replaced with palm oil plantations, or a resident of Tuvalu whose island nation is disappearing under rising seas.
2. We are neighbor to future generations.
- Our choices today also ripple through time. What happens this year will effect—and probably constrain—the lives of our children, grandchildren, and many generations beyond. The climate change that we are creating is damaging the world of the future. Depleted resources—fossil fuels, topsoil, rare minerals, freshwater aquifers—provide fewer opportunities for those who are to come.
3. We are neighbor to all species, to the entire web of life.
- As humanity’s numbers and impacts have increased in recent years—and as our knowledge of ecological relationships has grown—there’s a new importance in seeing the rest of creation as part of the moral universe of “neighbor.” Trees and grasses and ocean algae provide us with the oxygen that makes life possible, and they soak up carbon in ways that stabilize the planet. They are good neighbors to us. As
I have discussed elsewhere
- , modern fishing practices are devastating and destabilizing the oceans. Experts tell us that we are in the midst of a great extinction event, with a diminishing of species and biological diversity similar to the end of the age of dinosaurs — driven in large part by direct and indirect human impacts. Within the complex web of life, we are related as neighbor to all things.
Stretching the definition of neighbor to include all people, future generations, and all species makes a simple Bible verse into a comprehensive eco-justice principle.
The expansive definition of neighbor has been an important guide for me through a decade of political and cultural twists and turns. Within the last year, though, I’ve been deeply troubled by the very explicit narrowing of moral responsibility that is shaping US politics and policy. An “America First” agenda is an explicit statement that other countries, other peoples, will not be a priority, and may be written off as subjects of our concern. Plans for border walls clearly announce very clear limits to neighborly relationships. An energy policy which places a high “discount rate” on the social cost of carbon denies that our use of fossil fuels will have a meaningful impact on future generations—as does the blunt denial that climate change is even taking place. Efforts to undo protections for endangered species, or to exploit essential habitats (marine monuments, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and more), deny the neighborly relationship that we have with other species.
“Love God; love your neighbor” seems like a friendly little lesson to teach the kids in Sunday school. When we really understand the need to stretch the idea of neighbor, though, those five words shape a challenging and comprehensive eco-justice perspective. And when we take those words seriously, we’re called to active resistance against all policies and practices—and our own personal behaviors—which do not try to embody love within that vast moral universe.
In the turmoil of daily (and hourly) headlines and a flood of always-urgent action alerts, I find it necessary to remember the foundational principles that define my eco-justice theology and ethics. Five simple words keep me grounded. I invite you to claim “Love God; love your neighbor” [and obviously, love children] as a centering message.”
Go forward, my friends, remembering that we are all co-creators of this gifted world.
Aug 13 – 20
Good Monday Dear Ones,
I’ve had a few request for this quote from Palmer Parker’s book, A Hidden Wholeness that I read yesterday during worship.
Often we are diverted from our relationships with each other and with our Beloved because, first and foremost, we are avoiding a relationship with ourselves. How can we maintain a sacred covenant with God and Community if we are afraid of our own souls? We have be inundated with falsehoods which convince us that we are less than or that we are damaged and not worthy of being cherished. These tapes that we replay over and over keep us from ourselves, from one another and our God. And yet our very beings are equipped with the gift of Spirit, the sacredness of our Souls, designed to bring us back and provide a way to be grounded. Our Souls remind us what our hearts already know: we are loved.
“The soul wants to keep us rooted in the ground of our own being resisting intellect and ego which works to up root us from who we are… The soul wants to keep us connected to the community in which we find life because it understands that relationships are necessary if we are to thrive. The soul wants to tell us the truth about ourselves, our world and the relation between the two, whether that truth is easy or hard to hear. The soul wants to give us life and wants us to pass that gift along, to become life givers in a world that deals too much death. All of us arrive in his life with soul in perfect form but from the moment of birth onward, the soul or true self is assailed by deforming forces from without and within. By racism, sexism, economical injustice, and other social cancers. By jealously, resentment, self-doubt, fear, and other demons of the inner life. Most of us can make a long list of the external enemies of the soul, in the absence of which we are sure we would be better people. Because we so quickly blame our problems on forces out there we need to see how often we conspire in our own deformation. For every external power bent on twisting us out of shape there is a potential collaborator in us. When our impulse to tell the truth is thwarted by threat of punishment, in is b/c we value security over being truthful. When our impulse to side with the weak is thwarted by social standing it is because we value popularity over rejection and being seen as a social pariah. The power which principalities weal, holds less sway over our lives if we refuse to collaborate with them. But refusal is risky, so we deny our own truth take up lives of self-impersonation and betray our identities. And yet the soul persistently calls us back to our birth rite. form. Back to lives that are grounded connected and whole.”
Aug 6 – 13
Good Morning Justice seeking people,
Yesterday’s affirmative vote to become a just peace church is a pivotal point in the life of our community at Vista Grande, United Church of Christ. Not only have we further bonded with the National Church in terms of denominational unity, we have become (only) the sixth church in the Rocky Mountain Conference to achieve this designation at this time. During these overt tumultuous times in our nation, it certainly would have been more comfortable to remain in the shadows and not publicly profess that we desire to live out the call to be disciples of Jesus in a way that is proactive, compassionate, and just seeking for all humanity and creation.
I realize that this is a decision that has come with much thought, discussion and discernment and will require even more as we identify specific ways we will demonstrate our commitments to justice and peace. As Kayan reminded us yesterday, each day will ask of us to choose how we will focus our energies with regards to whatever presents itself. The objective is not that we all get out and protest every single issue and cause but that we agree to support those in our congregation who do. It is about committing ourselves to difficult and even contentious conversations about our role as a community in the world. It is about committing ourselves to the Divine desire for all to live in abundance and quality. Some things will be realized in our time and most will come to fruition long after we are gone. Our commitment is about recognizing that every gesture, conversation, relationship and action that moves us closer to a Just World For All, is just as vital and transformative as were the gestures, conversations, relationships and actions of those who first followed Jesus.
Thank you for your thoughtfulness in wrestling with this decision. Thank you for your courage in taking this step towards Justice. Thanks you for your commitment to the Divine Vision that informs and directs us. And thank you for trusting your fellow congregants to be there for support and understanding as we go forward.
Wishing you all much peace.
Jul 30 – Aug 6
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”( Melody Beatie)
Hello Dear Ones,
During trying times it can often be difficult to trust that we have just a bit more to share with another: more time; more energy; more patience; more money; more compassion. We can grow tired, believing that we barely have enough to sustain what we think we need to get us through whatever we thinking we need to get through!! The fear of scarcity, of any personal ‘commodity’, not only increases our anxiety, it also keeps us from engaging authentically with each other. If I’m short on time or patience, I will cringe when the phone rings. If I an suffering from compassion fatigue, I will balk at the invitation to participate in a rally or prayer service. If I am struggling with making ends meet, I avoid those situations where I know a donation will be expected, or at least I think it will. And the list goes on.
One way to move from this fear of scarcity is a simple exercise I’m sure you’ve heard of and may have already tried. During a very difficult time in my life a friend gave me a book (forgive me I can’t remember the author). In the workbook version of this book were dates and blank lines waiting for my pen. The assignment was simple: Fill each of the 8 lines with something for which I was grateful that day. Let me tell you, on really crappy days it’s hard to name two let alone eight! But the task demanded that I slow down and breathe. It asked me to think, meditate, recall, whatever it took to name eight things for which I was grateful each day.
I would do this before bed each night. And I kid you not, within a few days I was anticipating the exercise as a way to move me from anything negative to at least something positive on which to rest my head. My grief still needed to be tended to. During each day I had to cope and make the appropriate changes to get through. But the task of intentionally seeking and expressing gratitude was more healing than I expected.
I encourage each of you to give this a try. It doesn’t have to be eight things. It doesn’t have to be on paper. It can be something you share with a loved one or include in your prayer each night. But try it. I think that in the midst of everything else in life, you will also experience abundance of gratitude.
“The Tantric sages tell us that our in-breath and out-breath actually mirror the divine creative gesture. With the inhalation, we draw into our own center, our own being. With the exhalation, we expand outward into the world.” ― Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga
Good Morning Dear Ones,
This is my last blast for a few weeks as I prepare for my vacation. I am looking forward to a break so as to have some rest, fun and revitalization. I don’t know about you, but I can become so involved with the crisis of the world that I forget to breathe. When we are stressed or anxious we are usually encouraged to slow down and focus on our breathing. When we are wound up or ready for a fight, we are usually told to “take a breath”. Our very life force is determined by our ability to breathe. Our brains and hearts demand that we breathe in to the extent that our bodies do it naturally. And, I don’t think it is a coincidence that from the earliest biblical description, the Spirit of God is described as the ‘breath of God’.
Slowing down, taking in air, relaxing, allows us the opportunity to take in quite literally all that we’ve been missing. Focusing on our breathing can help clear our vision, notice the beauty in the world, even listen more clearly to the music and voices which surround us and the Voice that speak to us from the depths of our beings. I forget, sometimes, that I don’t actually have to be a prescribed vacation to breathe! Spirit of life abounds and sometimes we just need to stop. Take a breath. And let the Spirit of our Beloved heal our tired souls.
Happy July everyone. I hope for you rest, a joy and blessed infusion of God’s Spirit!
Jun 25 – Jul 2
Dear Called People,
I call this intentionally as Crystal reminded us yesterday, we are all called and we all have within us the spark of the Divine. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that God has called us. We think that this is reserved for only a few. And while I will say that we are called differently, and perhaps more specifically, I do hold the understanding that we are all called; Who we are and to whom we belong. Crystal explained at her Ecclesiastical Council, the sacrament of communion as that which reminds us who we are and to whom we belong.
Richard Rohr offers a further look into this as a reminder of how we are grounded in the Divine. It is from this place we begin any journey, any work. And it is to this place we return to be reminded of who we are, and how we are called to be in this world.
“You are the ‘Imago Dei’ ” –Richard Rohr
Searching for and rediscovering the True Self is the fundamentum, the essential task that will gradually open us to receiving and giving love to God, others, and ourselves, and thus to live truly just lives. Grace builds on nature; it does not avoid or destroy nature. You are created in the image of God from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis for God’s justice: Since everyone is made in the image of God, then we need to recognize, honor, and respect the image of God in everyone. No exceptions.
You (and every other creation of God) begin with your unique divine DNA, an inner destiny as it were, an absolute core that knows the truth about you, a true believer tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself. “You were chosen in Christ before the world was made—to stand before God in love—marked out beforehand as fully adopted sons and daughters” (Ephesians 1:4-5). This is your True Self or soul.
Jesus revealed and accepted a paradox: human and divine are not separate, but one! Why do we resist this destiny? For most of us, this seems just too good and too dangerous to be true. There is so much contrary evidence! Are we afraid to bear the burden of divinity? It is precisely the divine part of you that is great enough, deep enough, gracious enough to fully accept the human part of you. If you are merely human, you will tend to reject your embarrassingly limited humanity.
Maybe we realize subconsciously that if we really recognized our True Self—which is the Divine Indwelling, the Holy Spirit within us—if we really believed that we are temples of God (see 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16), then we would have to live up to this incredible dignity, freedom, and love.
Paradoxically, immense humility, not arrogance, characterizes the True Self. You simultaneously know you are a son or daughter of God, but you also know that you didn’t earn it and you are not worthy of it. You know it’s entirely a gift (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and throughout Paul’s writings). All you can do is thank Somebody Else, occasionally weep with joy, and kneel without any hesitation.
The single and true purpose of mature religion is to lead you to ever new experiences of your True Self. If religion does not do this, it is junk religion. Every sacrament, every Bible story, every church service, every sermon, every hymn, every bit of priesthood, ministry, or liturgy is for one purpose: to allow you to experience your True Self—who you are in God and who God is in you—and to live a generous and just life from that Infinite Source.
Message from Pastor Clare
‘O my God, why have you forsaken us??’
The words which have imprinted themselves
on the hearts of those whose children are stolen,
Those who have put their trust in your mercy and compassion,
Seeking a place where all shall be well.
How easy it is
to hold You responsible for the fate of your children,
While we sit in the comfort of our homes,
While technology and bias plague our abilities to hear you.
‘O my God, why have you forsaken us??’
The words of those who feel abandoned
to the machinations of a despot and his ilk.
Why don’t you do something?
Why don’t you send a sign
calling on those who would oppress your people?
Show them how wrong they are,
make them listen to our strong arguments
and our righteous indignations so beautifully worded on the ethernet.
‘O my children, my have you forsaken me??’
The voice responds to the multitude of pleas.
I have put my trust in your mercy and compassion,
So that all may be well with my creation.
I have held you responsible for the fate of humanity,
Given you comforts and security to share with others.
I have shown you what is required.
Listen! to your own arguments and indignations
And make right what is happening to my children.
How long must I wait for you to show justice and mercy on My people?
When will you be the salvation for humanity?
When will you do what is required: justice, mercy, humility?
Thus says our God:
I have made a covenant with you, my people
To hold you in my heart,
To love and care for you,
To provide for you and make you my own.
And you have promised to go and do the same.
Dear Passionate People,
During the Rocky Mountain Conference Annual Celebration, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ essay was incorporated into every aspect of our days at La Foret. It provided grounding, direction, validation and balance for those of us attempting to do our Beloved’s holy work in a world which so desperately needs God’s presence. I needed to hear it many times and continue to hear something new each time. I am including it here with the hope that you too find it grounding and hopeful.
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
By Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Hello Dear Ones,
This morning is was announced, that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of allowing a cake making business in Denver to discriminate against making a wedding cake for same sex couples–citing that it was favoring ‘religious’ freedom’ over and against equal rights and justice. My words here, but I stand by my interpretation.
In 1992, Amendment 2 in Colorado stated that members of the Queer community were not justified in seeking minority status which would assure that queer folk could not be discriminated against in the public market: jobs, housing, business, etc. This amendment made no provisions for the queer community to seek legal reparation or justice against discrimination because they/we did not have the equal rights provide under minority status.
On May 20, 1996, the court ruled 6–3 that Colorado’s Amendment 2 was unconstitutional, stating:
“It is a fair, if not necessary, inference from the broad language of the amendment that it deprives gays and lesbians even of the protection of general laws and policies that prohibit arbitrary discrimination in governmental and private settings” and “[Amendment 2] is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.”
And, yet here we are…again.
I am already planning my sermon for Sunday and will pursue the ramifications of this ruling on the Queer community then. I am a bit beside myself this morning. What I can say here, is that Citizens Project was started as a direct response to the original ruling in 1992. This organization continues to fight for equal rights for all God’s people. And so I once again extend the invitation once more to join me at their breakfast this Thursday morning to support their work and to be with others in are community who seek justice for all. I have seats at my table, just let me know…
Good Morning Spirit Filled People,
And to be clear, we are indeed infused with the Divine Spark, the Creative Spirit of our God!
The Spirit moves through us and among us, filling us with the potential and energy to spark changes in this world. This Spirit is directed simply by the love of our Beloved. And just as a small spark can ignite a huge conflagration, so can the Spirit of our God ignite our hearts and propel us into action. It is no coincidence then, that our being moved by the Spirit opens us to the ability to approach all of creation with love. Whether you heard the words of Bishop Curry regarding imaging the world when we approach with love, here is the most potent part of his sermon. Enjoy and be transformed!
“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”
“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.” ― Marcus J. Borg
Dear Justice seeking people,
This Justice work is hard. Let’s just put that out there.
It’s especially difficult for those of us who have not been dramatically affected by systemic issues like gender disparity, race, orientation, religion, disability/ability, mental illness and all of the other ‘isms’ that exist. If we are lucky enough to have not been oppressed or marginalized it is nearly impossible to truly understand another’s experience as one who has experienced oppression. This is further complicated when we benefit from those systems which oppress another. Even this past statement is uncomfortable to read, let alone acknowledge that it might be true. We want to be like the nice guy Jesus who has been misrepresented in Christian culture for eons as the he guy who was nice, kind and always gentle and never made waves.
But this is not a complete representation of what it means to be ‘peaceful’. Yes, he advocated for non-violence, but he was not silent. Jesus was a voice for those whose voices has been quieted by the empire. He was an ally for those who were alienated and excluded by his own community. He was a risk taker, annoying everyone from his closest friends to the powers that be because he would not allow the status quo, or the safety of complicity, or the comfort of silence, to distract him from ensuring that all of God’s people knew peace, knew justice, knew shalom, and knew love.
I picture Jesus, with the woman who was brought to him to be stoned. He was obviously not female and therefore could not understand her shame. He knew that if he had been found committing adultery this would not have been an issue because he was male. He benefited from a system that diminished women and empowered men. He could teach, preach, and walk around freely because, while oppressed in other ways, his gender gave him some element of authority. And yet he risked his position by standing in solidarity with her. He didn’t know her whole story, he just knew that she was seen as ‘the other’ and was treated as such. He chose to stand by her side choosing to be her advocate rather than to allow her to be killed because of whom she was, or better, of whom others thought she was.
We are soon going to be asked to make a similar choice as we move to voting in the future on whether to become a Just Peace Church. We will be challenged to think outside the safety of our ‘boxes’. We will be tested beyond our comfort zone as we learn about, and are called to face our complicity in oppressive systems. We will be asked to put aside judgements based on stereotypes. And perhaps the greatest challenge? We will be asked to walk in the shoes of the one who wished all “Peace be with you”. What a challenging and exciting time for us!
“You people come and follow me. If you follow and love you’ll learn the mystery, of all you were meant to do and be.”
Apr 30 – May 7
Dear Loving People,
Richard Rohr offers, “Your True Self is who you are, and always have been in God; and at its core, it is love itself. Love is both who you are and who you are still becoming, like a sunflower seed that becomes its own sunflower. Most of human history has referred to the True Self as your “soul” or “your participation in the eternal life of God.” The great surprise and irony is that “you,” or who you think you are, have nothing to do with your True Self’s original creation or its ongoing existence. This is disempowering and utterly empowering at the same time. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more; and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. All you can do is nurture your True Self, which is saying quite a lot. It is love becoming love in this unique form called “me.”
Switching up how we see God’s love for us– from that which we must earn to that which has been and continues to be freely given –empowers us to recognize that we are called to do the same thing. Typically, when we think we are not loved, or deserving of love, or just not lovable, we tend to withhold love from those with whom we are in relationship. It is difficult to give and share when we think there isn’t enough to go around. The life of Jesus exemplifies this in that his awareness of the love the Divine had for him allowed him to risk everything in order to share that love, even when the odds of making it out alive were obviously terrible.
We are often afraid of our own annihilation: be it rejection, loneliness, illness, shame, even death. The flames of this fear is often fanned by the belief that we can never be loved the way we want. That fear keeps us from recognizing that not only are we already loved but we have the profound power to then love others in return, bringing them into the awareness that they too are precious.
Ask yourself this: At the end of the day, when all our toys and fears and anxieties are put to rest, what if our true purpose on this planet is to just love one another?? That’s it. Love. Period.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Good Morning “Green” People,
I know many of you have heard me say that one of my favorite, old school bumper stickers is “Think Globally, Act Locally”. Hearing about all the needs and yearnings our world has can, indeed, be daunting. While it is critical that we are informed and moved by the needs which exist, we cannot solve all the issues nor can we assuage everyone’s suffering. But we can do something.
As far as creating a green space here at church, we are limited because of our uncertain future regarding where we may be after 2019. However, we do have some things we can take care of now. There are things that need our attention with regard to the stewardship of our building and grounds which can also be applied to our homes and daily living.
- Make sure all light s are turned off when leaving the church or home. Everyone needs to take this on as their responsibility.
- Make sure the doors to the fellowship hall are closed especially during the cold months. The difference in the utility bill is drastic when either one of these is forgotten even for a day.
- Make sure the water is turned off in the bathrooms and that the toilets aren’t running–again everyone’s responsibility.
- Use only organic, non-environmentally toxic products for eliminating weeds, cleaning, dusting, etc. This means that we may be choosing more time consuming work than using toxic chemicals.
- Car pool every opportunity.
- Be intentional about how much water we are using to rinse dishes before they go in the dish washer. This may mean filling the sink to dip and rinse instead of running water for each plate.
- Recycle, recycle, recycle. And ask how to help with regard to taking items to be recycled.
- Reuse plastic containers to store food instead of plastic bags and wrap.
- Purchase biodegradable dishes and cups when an event calls for disposable ware. We did this at the Seder with our cups. It is more expensive but more responsible.
These are just a few choices we can make at church and at home. And I’m sure there are plenty more.
Yesterday, after fellowship I took home, some of the delicious dessert Maggie had made. I was uncomfortably aware that I was using plastic wrap to take it home after I had just preached about our need to be more intentional about out Love of Creation. This is an ongoing conversation that will fit in perfectly with our quest to be a Just Peace Church. And it is a commitment we need to make together, more than just one day a year…
Stay Green my Friends
Good Morning Dear Ones,
I was reading a few more things this morning on the sacred act of eating and I have found so much! It’s one thing to talk about how it is that food and meals are sacramental and another to have actual ‘action items’, if you will, on how to regain the sacred when we are preparing, sharing and eating together. I have included a part of an article I found this morning which speaks to the sacred nature of food. And I’ve included the link to the entire article and encourage you to read it in its entirety.
From, The “Sanctity Of Food: Conscious Eating As A Spiritual Practice”, By Carolyn Baker
The sacred within us instinctively resonates with the sanctity of food. Therefore, the growing, transporting, distribution, and consumption of food are sacred acts that deserve ritual and reverence from the moment the seed is planted in the earth to the moment we have washed and put away the plate on which our food was served.
How then specifically do we respond when we return to the reality of food as sacred?
Peter Bolland in his article “The Sacrament Of Food,” says that “Maybe the most sacred space in your home is not the yoga room, or the altar with the candle, or the chair by the window where you meditate and pray. Maybe the most sacred room in your house is the kitchen.” But our interaction with food begins far in advance of preparing it in the kitchen. Here are some suggestions for cultivating more mindful reverence in our relationship with food:
- Know exactly where your food comes from. Read labels, ask questions, and research sources for whole, organic foods in your region.
- Consider becoming a community supported agriculture (CSA) member which allows you to buy directly from the farmer or grower.
- Give thanks when you shop—thank the food you purchase, thank market staff, and give thanks that you can afford to shop.
- Commit to purchasing 10% or more of food that is grown locally.
- Mindfully plan your meals. Perhaps it won’t be possible for you to eat at home today or tomorrow or the next day because you are traveling or because of time constraints. Plan a strategy for eating in places where nourishing food is served or plan to bring healthy snacks with you.
- Take a moment or two to stop before eating and give thanks for your food. Remember to thank the people who grew, harvested, transported, and distributed your food. Thank plants and animals for their lives and the sacrifice they made with their lives so that you can be fed.
- Regularly enjoy food with family and friends. Cook and eat meals together. Share the sacrament of food with each other in potlucks or other gatherings.
- Occasionally share extra food or leftovers with neighbors or people who are not in your family or circle of friends. In a world of skyrocketing food prices and climate change, food “security” may become increasingly “insecure,” and sharing food with others communicates a subtle message that you are concerned about their well-being in hard times. Reaching out in this way encourages reciprocity around food so that when someone has little or no food, others are more motivated to share.
While eating is a political and an economic act, it is also a sacrament. How we eat matters not only to ourselves but to everyone else, or in the words of Peter Bolland, “The way we eat is the way we live. How we eat is who we are. Let us affirm that which is best in us and in each other through the sacrament of food.”
Good Morning Curious People,
I’ve been thinking that in the midst of the celebration that is Easter, we often overlook the grief that permeates the season. Yesterday’s conversation about Thomas’ courage and questioning originates from the place of disbelief and disillusionment amidst the grief of losing his closest friend and mentor. While we can appreciate his transformative experience and be encouraged by his willingness to seek some kind of understanding, we have to also recognize that grief is still part of this story and experience.
We are invited to doubt, to question, to seek understanding especially when it comes to our spiritual journeys and explorations. After all we are desiring that intimate relationship that brings us closer to our Beloved. New understanding and discovery can be exhilarating and promising, but we have to also tend to the fact that as we discover news ways of being we are often called to let go of the old.
Those ‘old’ ways of thinking, of understanding, of ‘knowing’ God have been with some of us for a long time. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect some fear in letting go of those ways of thinking and being as they have offered a familiar way of understanding God. Letting go of what is familiar and what we think is expected of us to “believe” is difficult and can be painful. And leaves us with another set of questions: Will I find another way? Will I be accepted if I question? Will God still love me if I argue? Letting go of old ways requires that we grieve. Thomas may have recognized that the presence of Jesus and the love of God would forever be with him, but he still had to mourn the loss of his expectations, of what he thought he understood and of his friend as he knew him. During this time of Resurrection don’t be surprised if you find yourself a bit off center. A bit sad. A bit disillusioned. It’s to be expected that we struggle and grieve before we are transformed. Just look around! This is happening to every tree and flower, coming back from the ‘dead’, pushing through the soil, leaving the comfort of the dirt and seed. And the results are magnificent!
Stay by Jan Richardson
“I know how your mind rushes ahead, trying to fathom what could follow this.
What will you do, where will you go, how will you live?
You will want to outrun the grief.
You will want to keep turning toward the horizon,
watching for what was lost to come back,
to return to you and never leave again.
For now, hear me when I say all you need to do is to still yourself,
is to turn toward one another, is to stay.
Wait and see what comes to fill the gaping hole in your chest.
Wait with your hands open to receive what could never come except to what is empty and hollow.
You cannot know it now, cannot even imagine what lies ahead,
but I tell you the day is coming when breath will fill your lungs as it never has before,
and with your own ears you will hear words coming to you new and startling.
You will dream dreams
and you will see the world ablaze with blessing.
Wait for it.
A few years ago I was spending Easter at another UCC church. The pastor took great pleasure in greeting every person in his congregation with the salutation, “He is Risen!” on Easter morning. It sounds innocuous enough, except if the person being greeted failed to respond in the way he expected, “He is Risen, indeed!” If one did not respond with these words they would get a brief reprimand and lesson on how to respond accordingly.
I was put off by this ritual as demanding a specific response seemed contrary to the message of Easter: the love offered by one who would go to the cross in the pursuit of justice for all. Shouldn’t we be kind and gentle in our interactions with one another, especially on this day?
While I still would argue that his punitive-like response to those who didn’t do what he wanted was inappropriate, I can’t help but reflect on the idea of being “risen indeed”. The oxford definition for ‘indeed’ best fitting its use here would be: “indeed- used to emphasize a statement or response confirming something already suggested”. In other words, a way to make the obvious more apparent! But after further refection, it dawned on me: wouldn’t a more accurate response to this salutation, (either out loud or to oneself) be ” He has Risen, In Deed!” ?
Truly, resurrection isn’t realized by just because we acknowledge the day, or a belief or because we share a specific response. It is realized when we, WE, respond, not in words but ‘in deed’. As someone stated yesterday during worship, ‘resurrection means that there is so much more work to be done’. In other words, the Lenten journey was just the prologue to the story, and Resurrection then not a nice, happily ever after ending. Rather, we called back to where it all began, and we are to begin, again, the work of the risen Christ.
An Easter Sunday Prayer by Roger Cortney
I’m a scientific kind of guy and to tell you the truth
I find the stories of the empty tomb hard to take in
The gospels don’t help much because each of them tells
A very different story, with very contradictory details.
Which should I believe?
If any…Can we really know for certain what happened?
What we do know is that a frightened & demoralized
group of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth
Who had just been brutally executed
experienced something so momentous that they realized
That Jesus was still in their lives and hearts –That it was now up to them
To carry on the work that Jesus had started
So convinced were they of the essential truth of this experience
That many of them, in their turn,
Were prepared to go to their death rather than deny
their commitment to Jesus as their risen Lord.
Help me to experience The living presence of Jesus and to follow in his footsteps. Amen
Mar 26 – Apr 2
Dear Protesters and Marchers,
There is actually a third category of those who showed up for Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem: Watchers, all along the parade route. They may have been watching the Roman version: Pilate and his minions, showing their might and daring anyone to cross the empire. They would have cowered in the crowd, perhaps both entranced with the pomp and circumstance and infuriated by Roman occupation and oppression. Perhaps they were equally frustrated by the complicity by those in their community who could actually work toward changing things for the better but, instead, chose to benefit from staying quiet and being rewarded for their loyalty and complacency. The watchers at this parade probably seethed with anger, plotting how they could lash out at a symbol of the oppressors. Maybe they would attack a small contingent of soldiers or seek a leader in their midst who would try to organize a revolt. Or perhaps they would sink into a hopeless depression, believing that there wasn’t a thing they could do that would make a difference.
Then there were the Watchers who were at the other gate, watching as Jesus rode in without the pomp but sitting on the back of a donkey. It may have even looked comical, this grown man on such a small animal. There were no horns or streamers, adorned horses or the imposing presence of military might– just the available accouterments: palm branches and pieces of clothing to welcome his entry into the holy city. Perhaps they watched in awe as this holy man made his way into the city, grateful that there was someone who demonstrated love and acceptance for them. Someone who would stand up for them against the bullies of the world. Maybe he wasn’t what they were hoping for in terms of a messiah, but at least there was someone to do what needed to be done. They could get behind a kind man of God since attacking the enemy wasn’t really their cup of tea.
I think we like to believe that we would have chosen the second parade. Obviously, as followers of Jesus, we would emphatically say ‘yes’ to parade number 2! But, no matter which parade they (we) watch the truth remained: they were Watchers. No matter which parade they attended the outcome was the same, Jesus would be abandoned, be arrested and executed alone. Except for the few that had remained with him from the beginning, his mother, a few women and one disciple at the foot of the cross, he would be abandoned by all Watchers.
The call to protest Holy Week is a call to watchers. Watchers are just that: those who stand on the sidelines with opinions and attitudes, suggestions and loose plans of change, gratitude that there is someone to do the work. And then when the parade is over, they go home. We are not supposed to be watchers. We are supposed to literally follow and march with him, even if that means to the cross. That’s a heck of a parade to attend. We should protest the potential ambivalent nature Holy Week can take on. It is a time of quiet introspection and, of course, we want to be silent and pray, and be introspective and repentant. And come Easter we will want to rejoice! But that’s only a part of it. Remember, when the parade is over we don’t get to simply go home. Rather, we get up the next day and the next and we march. We march against injustice, against oppression of the marginalized, for those who have no voice. We march because our savior, the man who would show us what it means to be God’s presence in this world, has called us to march with him. And our marching assures that Resurrection will indeed happen over and over again.
Mar 19 – 26
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” (Brene Brown)
Dear God Infused People,
Well, we did it! We got through a full sermon series on a very difficult topic. And for many of us, we realize that the work we need to do to free ourselves form the shame we carry, continues. Sermons may be great (I’m optimistic!), but the work that follows can be challenging and overwhelming. We are a community of God and as such we have chosen to be in relationship with each other. Authentic relationships imply that we seek to be courageous enough to be vulnerable and empathetic with and towards each other. Today’s note is simply to remind you that my door is always open.
”The simplest spiritual discipline is some degree of solitude and silence. But it’s the hardest, because none of us want to be with someone we don’t love. Besides that, we invariably feel bored withourselves, and all of our loneliness comes to the surface.
We won’t have the courage to go into that terrifying place without Love to protect us and lead us, without the light and love of God overriding our own self-doubt. Such silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world, yet it’s not a technique at all. It’s precisely the refusal of all technique.”(Richard Rohr)
Mar 12 – 19
Dear Joy-filled People,
“If part of being human includes having a sense of humor, and if Jesus was “fully human,” as Christians believe, he must have had a fully developed sense of humor. Indeed, his sense of humor may be one unexamined reason for his ability to draw so many disciples around him with ease. It’s time to set aside the notion that Jesus was a humorless, grim-faced, dour, unsmiling prude. Let’s begin to recover his humor and, in the process, his humanity.” James Martin, S.J.
Let’s face it, Scripture can be dry and boring. We have heard the stories so many times that we hardly listen when they are presented again. After a while, the various sermons and interpretations we have heard through the years, get mushed together to the extent we think that they are part of the original story. While we have an entire library in our grasp which can draw us into exciting, funny and provocative stories, we tend to take it all too seriously. How can we trust that God has a sense of humor if we read/hear our texts as if Alexa or Siri are reading them!?! Can you name any stoic, dry, serious, boring, personality who has had a profound effect on your life? Why would we think that Jesus was as dull as we make him out to be when we read the gospels? How could he have been so compelling to so many if he didn’t have a sense of humor or could laugh at himself at times. What kind of story teller keeps the interest of their audience if they aren’t dynamic and invitational?
This lent we have spent a lot of time examining difficult topics and how the shame we carry can literally weigh us down. And this coming Sunday we will further explore ways to set ourselves free of those things that keep us from ourselves, one another and our Beloved. AND, yesterday we were reminded that even in the most difficult times, we can be surprised and delighted even with what we think is familiar and dull. Lisa and Chad Siebert offered entertaining and theologically sound interpretations of how it may have been that Jesus shared his message. We laughed. We cried. We were refreshed. We were moved and comforted. And this is the point of the ‘Good News’. Thank you Sieberts!!
So why not re-visit that book collecting dust on your shelf. Allow yourself to ‘hear’ it again for the first time. Be entertained, delighted and surprised. Laugh. Cry. Be refreshed. Be moved. Be comforted.
I’ve come to this belief that, if you show me a woman who can sit with a man in real vulnerability, in deep fear, and be with him in it, I will show you a woman who, A, has done her work and, B, does not derive her power from that man. And if you show me a man who can sit with a woman in deep struggle and vulnerability and not try to fix it, but just hear her and be with her and hold space for it, I’ll show you a guy who’s done his work and a man who doesn’t derive his power from controlling and fixing everything. (Brene Brown)
Dear Beloved People,
Whew. Shame. Tough topic and conversations these past few Sundays. You are probably thinking “I know the Lent is a time for introspection but really Clare, enough is enough!” I agree this is a difficult and prolonged conversation. And I know a break is in order. It would be nice if we would could just bring up a topic, wave a magic wand and have it be done. Yet, we all know this isn’t the case and, more often than not, while awareness is half the battle when dealing with important issues, the rest of the work comes in fits and starts and usually takes an unmeasurable amount of time.
This can sound overwhelming, and if we attempt to deal with our hurts and shame alone it can bury us. During this season of introspection, it is vital that we remember that the story ends with Resurrection. Resurrection is not an obscure topic or myth that happened some 2000 years with little or no direct connection to who we are today. Rather, Resurrection offers us an opportunity to see, understand and experience, that all of us, while subject to the struggles and pain of the human condition, are offered a profound invitation to be lifted up! Salvation comes in the form of hard work, introspection, ‘death’ of those ways that have entrapped us, and ‘new life’, a life that calls us into being closer to our full humanity.
It sounds strange to be invited to embrace our struggles and yet, in so doing, we are compelled into understanding the struggles of others. Our empathy and compassion is born out of our vulnerability and willingness to share our stories. Sharing inevitably causes us to become light to those around us. We become, quite simply, Resurrection incarnate.
And a break is a good thing! So next Sunday be prepared for a wonderful foray into scripture in a way you have probably not experienced. I promise fun and laughter and the remarkable talents of Chad and Lisa Siebert– wonderful balms for the difficult sermons we’ve had. I hope you will join us!
Feb 26 – Mar 5
Dear Loving People,
Yesterday, Judy offered a poignant story regarding how we can make a difference in a world in need. Throwing one small seahorse back in the ocean makes a huge difference to that creature. If often is the culmination of small acts of love that inevitably make a difference. However, we are often overwhelmed by the enormity of all that this aching world needs to the extent that we ignore our own needs or become frozen, thinking that what we have to offer is either too little or unimportant.
It is not uncommon for us to think that what we do is insignificant because we think we are insignificant.
We can fall victim to the notion that we are somehow not able–either because of our limitations or because of how we view who we are. Shame is often the obstacle that keeps us from realizing who we are and who we are meant to be. It can, at best, keep us from action or, at worst, have us working from an operating system of obligation, fear, and the feeling of being unworthy. We get caught up in the cycle of shame: believing our ‘dirty little secrets’ are true; that if anyone really knew us they would reject us; that we are the only ones feeling as we do; that our fear and shame are so excruciating and debilitating that no one could ever understand; that our overwhelming desire to belong is in constant battle with our fear of being found out.
Just like the one small act of taking care of one seahorse makes a difference (especially if others witness the act and join in !), one small act of taking care of our own pain can begin a cascade of self-care and understanding. Taking care means sharing the narrative, the pain that has bound us to this silent hell of isolation. In the sharing, another is set free. And so the work of empathy and compassion is extended beyond ourselves.
Dear Ones, I hope for you the opportunity to share your beautiful, sacred story; that you find and become a compassionate listener for one another; and that you know the peace that comes from recognizing you are cherished and beloved.
Feb 19 – 26
Dear Holy Ones,
Rev. Jane Vennard, (author, mystic, professor) once told a group of us attending one of her classes, that she was teaching a group of seminary students when they heard about the shooting at Columbine. She said no one knew what to do or say so they joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer together, over and over. It was in this common prayer, which has been said throughout the millennia, that this group found some comfort. They found some way to feel united with all who were experiencing the same sense of grief and helplessness. It seems so small and yet sharing in a common exhortation to our Beloved binds us together in ways inexplicable.
We say this prayer every week and, no doubt for many of us, its comfort is in the familiarity as we often become numb or distant from the meaning(s) it carries. Bottom line, whether we are fully intentionally in listening to the words or completely disconnected, we still join as a blessed community through our recitation.
As we go forward in our discussions on shame, and as we are constantly bombarded with the perpetual chaos that seems to swirl around us, I offer another translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Neil Douglas-Klotz is World renowned scholar in religious studies, spirituality and psychology, Sufi Founder of the worldwide network of the Dances of Universal Peace and Co-chair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion. He has researched and translated the Lord’s Prayer for the original Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken. This translation offer richness and depth to the original meaning that we sometimes don’t always grasp. It is not my intention to replace that which provides you comfort and familiarity, but to offer additional possibilities and meaning to our understanding of the power of this payer. I hope it wraps itself around you and holds in you a loving embrace.
Aramaic Lord’s Prayer:
(Transliteration from the Syriac-Aramaic version by Neil Douglas-Klotz,
personalized by Virginia Melroy.)
O Thou, The Breathing Life of all,
In the roar and whisper, in the breeze and the whirlwind, we hear your name.
Help us let go, clear the space inside,
Creating a holy place within for your light to shine.
Unite our “I can” to yours,
So that we walk as kings and queens with every creature.
Nehwey tzevyanach aykanna d’bwashmaya aph b’arha.
Your heart’s fervent desire then acts with ours.
As in all sound and light, so in all creatures on the earth.
Havlan lachma d’sunganan yaomana.
Give us the food we need to grow through each new day.
Produce in us the wisdom and understanding we need at each new stage of our lives.
Washboglan khaubayn (wakhtahayn) ayakana daph khnan shbwogan l’khayyabayn.
Help us to let go of our past, the hidden guilt of our failures,
Just as we consistently release others of the knots of their guilt.
Wela tahlan l’nesyuna
Ela patzen min bisha.
Let us not become lost in busyness, in the surface appearance of things.
But free us from what holds us back.
Metol dilakhie malkutha wateshbukhta I’ahlam almin. Ameyn.
May abundance, fertile power, and glorious harmony return again and again, in each new age. May this be the ground from which all our actions grow. Amen.
Feb 12 – 19
Dear Joyful People,
WOW! What a soul lifting celebration yesterday was! David Hudson organized a wonderful event which left me quite speechless (don’t say it!) and with a joyful heart! And our choir, once again, demonstrated the breadth and depth of their talents as they invited us into the song! It is amazing how music can lift us out of the deepest places and connect us with something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes I honestly forget that music, which is everywhere, is right here! Right here in front of me, ready to lift me away from the intensity of the world to a place a peace, calm and joy. And what a very appropriate way to usher in the season of Lent.
“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.” (Marcus Borg)
As I’ve mentioned before, this upcoming season has often carried the insistence, thanks to really bad theology that we see ourselves as less than, as needing salvation in the form of a blood sacrifice because of our sinfulness. The notion that God’s only way out for us was to allow a child of God’s to be executed in our name and because of our depravity is a set up for all of us. How can we ever believe that we are loved unconditionally with that guilt and shame hanging over our heads?! It speaks of a very limited deity whose only choice was to send a loved one to his death. It does speak of not ‘love’ but rather a repugnance for God’s own creation. This doesn’t make sense if we hold that our Beloved, our BELOVED, loves and cherishes us.
So what is this season about? Well it is about redemption for sure. But like music that is always available to us, ready to lift us up and holds us in the midst of all of our everythings, Lent is about recognizing that God is before us always, ready to do the same: Lift us up in the midst of all our ‘everythings’. It’s about remembering and returning to the Love of our lives.
For those of us who have been raised with a theology which demands that we feel so deeply ashamed of our humanity, its’ difficult to think believe and feel any other way. But there is another way…
This Lent, the theme is “The Sin of Shame”. During this time, sermons will examine how it is that shame keeps us bound and from truly experiencing our Beloved. It is my hope that we can all experience this season as it was meant to be: a freeing of all that keeps us from the embrace of our God.
Feb 5 – 12
Yes, it’s complicated–Rev Kathyrn Matthews
“Complicated, and moving quickly, moving right along: Deborah Krause says, “The spirit of God is on the loose, and Jesus and those who follow him are awash in its promise and demands” (New Proclamation Year B 2006). Jesus, with his reputation–and followers–growing, was surrounded by those who were undoubtedly in need, in pain, hungry for his healing touch…
Mark goes on, though, to show the other side, to paint a fuller picture. This Jesus was no celebrity-of-the-moment, any more than he was a magician (like some) or a rebel leader (like others). And, to him if not to the crowds or even to his closest followers, his purpose was clear. He was not about being a “sensation,” or a success, or even popular. What he “came out to do”–his whole purpose–was to proclaim a message, the Message: The Reign of God at hand. Jesus will push his disciples, then as now, taking them in new and unexpected directions, moving on in ministry to do what he came out to do, even if it’s not the most popular thing to do, even if it’s the very thing that will lead to his death.”
Dear Holy People,
This time of year often seems like an opportunity for some down time. Holidays are over, annual meeting behind us, football done, and according to Punxsutawney Phil, we have 6 more weeks of winter. Of course, I’m not so sure that winter has shown itself yet! Yesterday’s reading from Mark, with its frenetic presentation of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, seems counter to the slow, potentially restful opportunities this time of year may offer. “The spirit of God is on the loose, and Jesus and those who follow him are awash in its promise and demands”. So do we actually get a rest, a time to regroup and prepare for the work at hand?
The simple answer is yes. The reading in Mark, prior to what we explored yesterday, shows Jesus taking a retreat of sorts, in the desert. A time to discern the life to which he was being called. During this ‘down’ time he was being called into the story of working towards the kin-dom at hand. So, while there was no doubt some rest before the undeniable fast pace ministry that was forthcoming, there was also some thoughtful, difficult, and even painful decisions to make for him. Theologian Paul Tillich offers, “Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.” I think this describes what Jesus’ experience must have been like in the desert. Before saying yes to a call to service, he struggle with what that could mean in the long run. And we all know what he chose…
We are about to enter the season of Lent. One could argue that it is our invitation to enter the story in the exact place Mark has Jesus doing the same. This invitation, this upcoming forty days, gives us an opportunity as individuals and a community to discern and recommit ourselves to the purpose of our lives. So get some rest. Wrestle with some questions. Identify your purpose and call. Figure out what stirs you to love’. And then enter the story.
Peace in your hearts and souls dear ones.
Jan 29 – Feb 5
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”
Hello Sacred People,
‘Unity is hard work–Are we sure we want it?’ Where have we heard this before??
A few years ago I served in a church where the congregation was so afraid of conflict that they were frozen in their ability to engage with the world in productive, God driven way. All of their energy was focused on ‘keeping the peace’ in their community and as such they were, ironically, detached from each other and the community at large. They avoided all conversations that could be potentially contentious, thus stifling their relationships with one another and creating an atmosphere of fear of each other within their beloved community. After years of living in this ‘make believe’ concept of unity, they were faced with a conflict that almost cost them their church. It did cost some the loss of relationship with those with whom they had gathered and worshiped for years, simply because they didn’t know how to really talk with one another. They had lived in fear of authentic relationship with one another and when faced with a crisis, they came close to imploding.
We do not have this problem!
I know that folks left with a myriad of emotions yesterday. I know some of you had much more to offer with no time to do so. I know that this process was new and frustrating to some of you. I know that for a lot of us, we don’t feel satisfied until the solution reflects our specific ideas. I know that the presentation of a perfect, finished product allows for more confidence in our decision making. All of these offer legitimate concerns and ways we can strive to do better. But at the end of the day, I want you to recognize that, while not perfect, yesterday was brilliant!
Truth be told, we will never have enough time to have all the discussions we want to have about anything of substance. We will never all walk away feeling satisfied by a particular process, regardless of how ‘perfect’ that process is. We will not all feel heard or understood, though this should be a definite growing edge for us if this happens. All solutions will demand compromise, give and take. And unanimous decisions about anything tend to be exception rather than the rule.
All this being said, yesterday was a beautiful example of authentic relationship in an equally authentic community. Many of you were very open with your thoughts and feelings about major and minor points in our by-laws. Differing ideas were shared with passion but also with respect. While we may not have always agreed, we listened and requested clarification from each other. And in the end, we came to a consensus which will allow us to go forward while still recognizing that, as Jud suggested, our by-laws and our church itself, is a living entity–always open to change, necessary alterations, and input from those who make up this beautiful mess we call church!
I stand in awe of your passions and engagement in the life of this community. I request that you stay involved, and even get more involved with this, and every other conversation pertaining to the life of this church. I ask that you stay authentic and remain fearless in our relationships with one another and the world at large.
And it is with immense gratitude that I thank you for your willingness to engage with one another respectfully, lovingly, and authentically yesterday. This is what unity looks like.
Peace to you all.
Jan 22 – 29
“[Dietrich] Bonhoeffer says that to be disciples of Christ, to follow after Christ, we are called to act vicariously on behalf of others. This idea has both a theological component and a moral one. In other words, it is not limited to the work of a Christian in the church community but refers to a way of being and acting in the world that is applicable to all people; it is a way of living that defines one’s humanity. In a beautiful twist on the classical theological dictum that God became human so that humans might become divine, Bonhoeffer argues that God became human so that humans could become truly human, and humane.” (Lori Brand Hale, Reggie L. Williams Sojo magazine)
Good morning Dear Ones,
I am so grateful that we could enjoy the prophetic preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose in yesterday’s worship! Besides the obvious, of having an ecumenical voice at Vista Grande, I find it particularly hopeful that her words speak to the same concerns and passions we have as people who are called to do the work of our God. Often, we can feel isolated when we are overwhelmed by all that has to be down in the name of justice. We forget, like in many other areas of our lives that we do not have to do anything on our own. The beauty of being a part of the human family is that we are bound together by the nature of our creation. Our Beloved may call us to difficult work, but never expect us to act alone.
Yesterday’s Women March is a perfect example. So many people, so many signs, so many issues. There were chants that focused on women’s rights and to end abuses against women. There were calls to support DACA. There were songs of resistance and chants of Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, Immigrant rights and on and on and on. These chants were never in competition with one another, but rather in solidarity. We shared common desire for equality and justice and we did so with love and a basic understanding that we are in this together.
This was the joy of resistance. We enjoyed each other while marching in freezing cold weather. We laughed with each other while recognizing that the neo-Nazis who tried to silence us had no power, and their signs were trivial in the face of our resilience. We sang with each other, giggling that we didn’t always know what the crowd in front of us was chanting about. We marched with solidarity knowing full well this was the beginning of great possibilities. We marched with a desire to be fully human and to call for humane conditions for all God’s people.
We all march in different ways but keep marching with joy, Sacred People. Let us remind one another of our common purpose so that justice might roll down like a river for all.
Jan 15 – 22
Hello Dear People,
I’ve just gotten back from the MLK All People’s Breakfast this morning and it was a blessing to be with a sold out crowd, gathered in solidarity, for the purpose of remembering the life and work of Martin Luther King. It was also a great reminder that we still have much to do with regard to ensuring equality for all God’s children. As I’m sure you can hear, I’m about to break out into another sermon! But instead, let me give you a break and offer this from the man himself. This speech pertains to a specific time on our nation’s history, yet its parallels are disturbingly familiar. Yet his words continue to be just what we need to inspire and remember who we are and to whom we belong…
From “Beyond Vietnam” April 4, 1967
“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; [Audience:] (Yes) the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to [Humankind] as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man [and woman]. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, (Yes) for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. [He] that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and [his] love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”
We are now faced with the fact, my friends that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men [and women] does not remain at flood it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers [and sisters] wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men [and women], and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message: of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history…
…And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood [and sisterhood]. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Jan 8 – 15
Dear Sacred People,
I miss you! It feels as if I haven’t been there in weeks–oh right, I haven’t!
Yesterday, three of us, from the Southeastern Association, made the trip to Creede Community Church (CCC) to install their settled pastor, Sarah Linn. What began, for me, as a ‘part of the job’ function, became a reminder of how critical the mission of the church is in a world where hope and love and radical justice seems fleeting or elusive. I was humbled by the outpouring of love and support for Sarah from the community at large. A good two-thirds of folks who celebrated her installation, are not members of CCC. They included firefighters and search and rescue people; theatre and community choir folk who offered their talents; members of other faith communities; and the executive director of the chamber of commerce! It was the perfect example of a modern day epiphany showing up to celebrate a world of possibility.
The Magi, who represented other cultures and theologies, experienced some kind of transformational awareness and arrived up at the stable, recognizing the unexpected brilliance of extravagant love embodied in the Christ child. My own Epiphanic moment reminded me of how critical the church community is for the extended community of Creede. The Church provides space and support for many community events and groups. It is a progressive voice and safe haven for those who are seeking unbridled and radical hospitality and acceptance. It also reminded me of how critical Vista Grande is in our community at large.
The season of Epiphany is like that. It is an opportunity for those ‘ah ha’ moments. It calls on us to be aware of where insights and revelations show up, reminding us of our individual and congregational responsibilities to our neighbors and one another. The Magi were as likely recipients of the message of the manger as the shepherds. Both were outsiders, neither considered to be part of the in-crowd. And yet, they are the ones we point to as those who were invited to the revelation of God’s incarnation. If we are to keep the spirit of Christmas alive; if we are to be the manifestation of God’s love and radical inclusion; if we are to be a relevant and vital representation of Jesus’ life and message in our world, then we must stay awake for those moments that reveal themselves to us. Those God moments. Those moments of invitation to be part of the miracle of Christmas. This is what it means to Be the Church, to be love for all, in a broken, hungry world.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart. (Howard Thurman)
Jan 1 – 8
Dear Sacred People,
A Happy New Year to you all! Even as I say these words I cannot believe I’m saying them! But then I say that every year as I recover from the letdown of the holiday season. It seems that while this time of year is often cold and gloomy, there is at least the excitement and fervor of Christmas and New Year’s to ‘distract’ us from the shorter days and colder nights. And then we land here, somewhere between relief and disappointment, trying to discern whether we had a good time, or ‘got the season for the season’, or survived or recovered from the stress and emotional upheaval the past 5-6 weeks may have brought. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we wait for something for an extended period of time and then, a lot of the time, can’t wait until it’s over?! I suppose that giving birth can be equated to that.
My son just turned 23 years old this week and I remember that the week before he was born, (not to mention the labor that went on forever!) I was so ready to be finished with this thing called pregnancy. Yet, when I look at him now, I am reminded of the complete joy I had holding him and wondered what the neat part of the adventure might be. In that moment, and everyone since, all things are possible for him. His birth was just the beginning and every turn has been a surprise–sometimes exhilarating and at other times devastating. And isn’t this also the miracle of Christmas?
We wait for the coming of the promise of love and liberation from all things which deaden us and which leave us in a place of despair and hopelessness. And when the season is over, we treat it as such, as if we cannot hold onto the promise until next year. We rob ourselves of wanting and longing, celebrating and grieving, labor and delivery, often waiting for another year to pass before we embrace the meaning of Christmas.
I have never been one to set forth resolutions at this time of year. For many the notion usually starts out with a bang and then fizzles in a month or two, leaving a sense of failure or whatever. This year, however, I am suggesting that we all resolve something. I am suggesting that we allow ourselves to sit in that suspended state of longing and receiving, of waiting and arriving, of labor and delivery. It is in that place that every possibility exists. That place of desire and exhaustion. The place of joy and grief. All hope and potential comes from the recognition that from a meager place of unlikely grandeur, God made all things possible I with the birth of one child. Hold onto that my dear ones as we make our way into a New Year where everything is possible!