Dec 16 – 23
“You cannot worship the child at the manager while caging the child at the border”
(Used with permission for Vista Grande from the artist, Kelly Latimore)
Good Morning Dear Advent People,
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who spent his last days during the Advent season of 1944 in a German prison for being a part of a plot to remove Hitler from power) offers, “He comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor.”
I imagine we would all like to sit in the fairy tale like, sentimentality of the modern Christmas season. Aside from any baggage we may have about the holidays, the desire to truly be immersed in feelings of joy and happiness, family and peace, is quite normal. Who wouldn’t want to experience the idyllic notions of sugar plums and sounds of hooves on the rooftop bringing long awaited surprises? Or family gatherings filled with laughter and PEACE-FULL!! conversations? Or the Hallmarkian romantic expressions of love and …OK maybe not that!
While we may seek our definition of a peaceful holiday- that is one of comfort and joy- the reason for the season is quite the opposite. Everything about Advent, right up to the birth of the Christ child, is about disturbing the sense of false peace we seek. It is about calling us into the story to the extent we are rattled to our core, our complacency called into question, and our narrow vision exposed.
You see, we were never supposed to view the manger from the comfort of our recliners. Instead, we were and are called to stumble through the desert and over the rough terrain, seeking a place to lay our heads. We are to travel in the dark and at the mercy of marauders and a vile, murderous king. We are to enter the story as seekers so that when we arrive, we may fall on our aching knees and recognize the Divine in the most unlikely of places.
Dec 9 – 16
Hello Dear Advent People,
Just a small blessing to start the week. Take a moment or two. Breathe deeply. Listen for the still small voice from the depths of your soul. And remember: be gentle with the heart that is yours.
Blessing When the World Is Ending by Jan Richardson
“The sun will be darkened . . . and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” —Mark 13: 24– 25
Look, the world is always ending somewhere.
Somewhere the sun has come crashing down.
Somewhere it has gone completely dark.
Somewhere it has ended with the gun,
Somewhere it has ended with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.
Somewhere it has ended with the utter quiet that follows the news
from the phone,
the hospital room.
Somewhere it has ended with a tenderness
that will break your heart.
But, listen, this blessing means to be anything but morose.
It has not come to cause despair.
It is here simply because there is nothing
a blessing is better suited for than an ending,
nothing that cries out more for a blessing
than when a world is falling apart.
blessing will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you false comfort;
it will not talk to you about one door
when another one closes.
It will simply sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction from which the light will come,
gathering itself about you
as the world begins again.
Richardson, Jan. Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings
Dec 2 – 9
Good Morning Advent People,
I was reading an Advent devotional this morning which offered the reminder that this season of waiting is one of both joyful hope and painful longing. We try to be patient, waiting for something better than what exists now. And yet we recognize that for some, “waiting” is painful. It is a longing: for liberation; relief from physical or spiritual or psychic pain; from the grief of loss; for a healthy diagnosis; safety from violent circumstances; for a warm place to tuck in. For those who are waiting is more that anticipation, and excitement, but is about the agony of waiting for so long just for the experience of hope itself.
We all know various experiences of waiting. We all know what hopelessness can feel like on some level. And yet we all continue to show up, trusting that in all of what is and what can be, the Holy One will meet us there. What brings us together is both the desire to know what it is to hope, and the trust that we will find it in the stable. And in that coming together, we actually realize that hope abounds in our gathering.
Prayer(Michael T. McRay)
Jesus of the vigil,
you told us to keep watch,
to stay alert for what is coming.
Bless us with the strength
this Advent season
so that your kin-dom may be realized in its fullness.
Because if we do not keep watch, we may actually miss it…Amen.
Nov 11 – 19
“The evoking of tradition and memory are important. These are places where faith is solidified amidst life’s challenges. The church can stand firm or risk being anxious, shaken in mind and alarmed by what they see, hear and experience. There is a big difference between those experiences of life and standing firm in faith. “( Rev Dr Karen Georgia Thompson)
Good Morning Faith-filled people,
I should remind us that when I refer to the idea of faith I am referencing the original translation of faith which is closer to ‘trust’ than ‘belief’. And as a faith-filled people, what we are really saying is that we trust that our Beloved is ever present, traveling with us on life’s journey. Our worship and dedication yesterday reminded us of this: that in the midst of confusion, false prophets and messages, and fear of not knowing what comes next, our God has never left our sides. In fact, when we hold one another in our all of our diversity, we remember that our ancestors struggled with a lot of the same anxieties we have. When we remember together and celebrate together, our relationships and community remind us of our history. This history of what it means to be the church as it was intended, working toward the realization of the vision of God for all creation.
Vista Grande has rich history of trying to live into what it means to be authentic disciples of Jesus. Even in the midst of uncertainty this community has remained faith-filled in its call to be the church, standing firm in the conviction that it is working with God to create a more just and equitable world for all. We can do this because we recognize the need to both honor our traditions and ancestors while remaining proactive in our ministries. Simply stated, we are the church, the instruments of God’s vision, and the hands at the feet of the one who has shown us how to be compassionate, loving and just.
As we remember our traditions and purpose and as we consider how to respond to our stewardship drive, I invite you to prayerfully discern how it is you can contribute to this mission of being the presence and the sacred work of God in the world. As a community we have done great things. And only as a community can we do even more!
“The church, sure of its unique identity, must engage fully with the world—showing the world what God destines it to be. The church witnesses to Jesus as a peaceable, virtuous, ethical, just, serving, and diverse-but-unified community. God calls the church to be an alternative society. The church is a parallel and distinct community, subverting the present powers and age, providing a standard and vanguard for the world as a foretaste of the age to come.”(Grace Ji-Sun Kim)
A Veterans Day Prayer–Rev Tom Williams adapted
We pause to remember those who go to war in our name and we give thanks for courage, for love of country, for those who work to bring peace to our world. We give thanks, Gracious God, that you remain with us as we honor the service of all who dared to go forth in our name.We seek to comfort and bind up the wounds of those who served, holding them in gratitude and offering a safe haven for their pain. Remind us, Dear God, that the widow, the orphan, the widower, and the veteran – all know the cost of war. Challenge us to love the warrior but hate the cost of war. We pray for a time when peace will reign and swords become plowshares once more, that war be known only in history books. Remind us that such service is not a movie, an adventure, nor something to be glorified. Remind us that war is a failure by us to overcome hatred with love, injustice with righteousness, violence with peace. We give thanks for those who protect us from such failures. Give us the determination to bring them all home. May we truly be Your people and be makers of peace. AMEN
Nov 4 – 11
“Power, advantage, and privilege come in many forms, and we often hear those words used in discussing our political differences. I think we should also focus on vulnerability, powerlessness, and need, not as a matter of pity but as a way to adjust our perspective. God’s perspective, it seems clear from Scripture, is a compassionate gaze upon those most in need, those most vulnerable, those without the power to improve their lot.” (Katheryn Matthews)
Good Morning Blessed People,
We are a fortunate group of church folk. We are blessed and privileged. I am using these words-fortunate, blessed and privileged–intentionally, knowing full well that many of us don’t feel as if we are any of these things.
How can we feel fortunate when we are in the depths of grief or struggling with the stranglehold of anxiety or depression? How is it we are blessed or favored when it feels as if we are alone, as if God loves everyone but me. That God–if there even is a god– just doesn’t seem to care about our lives or circumstances? And Clare, please! explain how we are privileged when we have worked all our lives to get ahead, to prove ourselves in this world, and still have to wonder if we will ever feel financially secure? Or that we will have a job next week, or that the social security on which we’ve depended, will still be accessible?!?
I know–I know, these opening comments seem problematic at best or insensitive at worst. And you’d be right if we understood that to be fortunate, blessed and privileged meant that we were also to be free of struggle and suffering. But that isn’t the case. Fortunate, blessed, privileged, struggle, uncertainty, doubt, and everything else, co-exist. It can be very confusing when we think dualistically.
But what if we tried to adjust our thinking a bit?
We are fortunate: because in the midst of our uncertainty and depth of emotions and experiences, we have a community to whom we can turn and find solace.
We are blessed/favored: because even when it seems as if our Beloved is absent, we have our community to remind us that our Beloved shows up each week, each day for us in each other.
We are privileged: because the relationships we have within this community, remind us that all of our experiences in this world allow us to be in solidarity with those who do not have a job, or the same opportunities, or a home to even worry about.
This life has never been an ‘either/or’ premise either in terms of ‘joy vs suffering’ or ‘us vs. them’. It has always been an “all of us, in all of this” kind of thing. We are literally and, get this-Biblically- expected to do whatever we can when we can, and allow our community to be there for us when we can’t. Both are hard work and both vital for our humanity.
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” (Jane Adams-Social reformer, pacifist, noble prize winner)
Oct 28 – Nov 4
Good Morning Covenanted People,
Yesterday was truly a sacred day. It was a privilege to honor our ‘retired’ clergy, Faye Gallegos and Sara Weatherman, reminding us all of how we are bound to the promises we make to one another as a covenantal community. Both of these women have served the UCC with a passion for both the national church and for all of its people. But even more evident, is the profound commitment they have demonstrated in their work for our Beloved. Thank you again for your example of what it means to be engaged in the life and message of Jesus!
The afternoon was equally as scared as we installed another formally ‘retired’ clergy as our Minister of Vision and Support. While her call to VG was made official yesterday, Deborah Tinsley has been diligent in her commitment to this community for the past few years, working tirelessly in assuring that our church remain relevant in the 21st century. She has done this with grant writing, serving on various ministry teams, participating in planning and implementation of church revitalization, and has been an invaluable support of this pastor. It is right and good that she was installed to this vital call for Vista Grande!
Perhaps one of the most important take aways from yesterday (besides the fact that clergy really never retire from their call!!), was the message in the sermon given by Kayan Cross. All of us, all of US, are called into convenantal relationship with our Beloved and with one another. AND in this relationship, ALL of US are called to the ministry of living into and working toward the vision our Beloved has for all creation. As this is truly the case, perhaps we should all be installed as ministers of ‘What it means to be the church in the 21st century’!? Think about this possibility as we go forward. Think of what it could mean if we all realized what our specific calls might be?! And then lived into them! The possibilities are endless!
Oct 21 – 28
Good Morning Dear Ones,
What a wonderful celebration of Children’s Sabbath we had yesterday! A big thank you to Sara Weatherman and Donna Bristow for organizing the service and assaying the kids. And another thank you to all of the kiddos who participated in the service!
Many of you many ask, ‘Why children’s Sabbath?’ In 1973, lawyer, educator and children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund, ” as a voice for poor, minority, and disabled children. She served as a public speaker on behalf of these children, and also as a lobbyist in Congress and both president and administrative head of the organization. The agency served not only as an advocacy organization, but as a research center, documenting the problems of children in need and searching for ways to help them. To keep the agency independent, she saw that it was financed entirely with private funds.”
Each year, Ms. Wright invites all faiths to celebrate together Children’s Sabbath to remind us all of the crisis many of our children face daily in this country. Her dedication to the rights and welfare of all children remind us of Jesus’ repeated exhortation “Let the children come to me”. We are mandated to assure that all children have the opportunity to flourish.
There are so many ways to be involved with the welfare of children. ALL of our missions have a focus on the needs of kids. Attend a Mission Ministry team meeting to find our how you can get involved. (VG’s next Mission Meeting is Sunday Oct 27 at 11:15 a.m.) If you are interested in becoming more engaged with CDF and its work check out Ms. Wright’s annual letter.
Oct 7 – 16
Dear Faith-Filled People,
What do you think of that salutation: Faith filled–faithful? ‘Faith’ is often a word that evokes a mess of questions: Do I have to believe in certain things to be faithful? Do I have to have a blind faith, that is, believing without questioning? Am I allowed to doubt? Can I get angry or disillusioned at this God in whom I am supposed to have faith???
When we read or hear something that talks about faith it can leave us confused. The notion that a strong faith–as defined by our questions above– is something unwavering or without doubt is not useful. But if we understand that faith is better described as having ‘trust’ then suddenly we are talking about something dynamic, something which demands that we are actively involved and not just blindly accepting. Trust demands relationship and all those messy things that are necessary for authentic relationships. Relationships demand vulnerability, acceptance, conversations, some arguments, a honeymoon and its end, disillusionment, questions with some answers, trust and doubt, joy and frustrations,–and then rinse and repeat, again, again and again.
This idea of faith as trust certainly removes any sentimentality we may have about faith. Paradoxically, it offers the comfort of knowing that we are actually invited into the messiness of what this trust brings, while at the same time demanding that we be more actively involved in its process. But the bottom line is this: we really can’t mess this up. While most of us have all been on the receiving end of that person who judges us by our lack of faith, God does no such thing. In 2 Timothy, we hear that we are called to re-kindle the gift that is within us, the gift of God’s spirit which gives us courage and a peace of mind. That re-kindling has to happen throughout out lives. But never is that gift taken from us. We just have to do the work. This is indicative of the trust our God has for us. And so the sacred relationship goes on.
Sep 30 – Oct 7
“Think about this: the words “generosity” and “generate” share the same root word – they both have to do with bringing new life. God has generously given us life, our lives and the life of this beautiful creation, an abundance with far more than enough for everyone…”(Rev. Kathryn Matthews)
Hello Dear Ones,
There wasn’t a class in seminary that addressed the topic of stewardship. Everyone agreed that asking for money for the sustainability of a church would be difficult, but there was very little offered on how to assist ‘would be’ pastors to do this. There were classes on justice, history of Christianity, biblical proficiency, pastoral care, even a class on why churches die. But nothing specifically on stewardship. I think the idea was that if we could tackle the rest, money would flow. Or, maybe no one really wanted to deal with the discomfort of asking for money! it makes sense really, since there are so many scriptures that warn us of the lure of money, and we see greed everywhere in our world. How do we ask for that which gets such a bad rap in the book we use to guide our lives?!? What’s important to remember is that it isn’t money itself that is problematic, but the ‘love of money’. So before actually asking you for money, we need to ask: How do we use our money?
Vista Grande is very intentional about how we use our money. We are a congregation that has chosen to be a force in the world that offers comfort to those in need. Our missions are a vibrant example of this. We have said we want to be, and so we are, a congregation of radical hospitality, opening hearts and arms to all. We have chosen to be a visible and vocal example of what it means to demand justice for all of God’s creation. We have created a space of beauty and inclusion. We have opened our doors to groups who are also seeking justice for all. We are a spiritual force in this world. And in this world, this takes money; it takes sacrifice of time and talents; it takes a commitment to prioritize the work of this church as something critical and not the last line of our budgets.
I invite you to really enter a time of discernment over these next two months. Ask yourself how it is you want to contribute to the work of this community–the work of our Beloved. What are those things you’d like to see continue with confidence or those things you’d like to see started? What are you willing to give to help sustain the work we do? How are you going to assure that this small and mighty church continues to be relevant in a world so desperate to know that our Beloved is present?
Rev. Matthews challenges, “What if we turned ourselves over to the imagination of the kin-dom of God, an imagination that leads to empathy, to feeling with others who are suffering and in need, and then, to acting on their behalf?” This Divine Imagination which we have embraced and to which we have already said a resounding “Yes”!
Sep 23 – 30
Happy Fall Dear Ones!
This morning I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for Community. This past week certainly was a challenge with regard to what it means to live into our commitment to pursue a ‘just world for all’. There was some push back (some in the form of emails and others in more a aggressive manner) for being bold by flying our BLM flag in order to publicly demand justice and lend our voice for those in our broader community. And yet, let’s be very aware of how many visitors we had yesterday who showed up to lend their support and to show their gratitude for our actions. I can recall at least 20 people who came because of the Gazette article and TV spot, including people of color who showed up for us because we decided to show up for them–and the community suddenly became that much richer. Church was defined by our work and our relationships, not just to the building in which we gather. It was, and remains, a partnership in seeking justice for all God’s people.
It is also reassuring when we realize that we are not alone in the work we do. It can become lonely at best, frightening at worst, when we think we are in this difficult work by ourselves. But we are not. Yesterday demonstrated this. Not just because of what happened at our church but what happens in other UCC communities around Colorado who are also preaching and working for justice. My colleague Rev. David Bahr, pastor of Park Hill UCC, offered the following from his sermon yesterday –which I (conveniently) found this morning online. His words reinforce our conversation about ‘privilege’ informing and directing the lens by which we question (or don’t) from where wealth may come and how it is used. He actually expands quite profoundly those places where we haven’t asked from where our ‘wealth’ may have come, and in so doing, aptly ties our sermons and therefore our communities together.
“All of us benefit to some extent from wealth gained by dishonest practices. After all, we live on land that was stolen from indigenous peoples. Every time we travel to the Pine Ridge Reservation, we are reminded that the United States has never kept even one treaty in order to get wealthy from mining gold and silver and every other mineral we wanted. As the gold on the dome of the state capitol glimmers in the sun, it should serve as a reminder of the benefits we receive from dishonest wealth.
We have to ask how much of the wealth of our country was derived from slave labor? The South is rightly excoriated for their practice of owning slaves and then losing a war for the right to keep human beings enslaved. But the earnings of plantation owners filled the banks and increased the bottom line of the whole country. Unpaid labor made cheap goods possible for everyone. Wealth grew. People made rich off slave labor didn’t have to give any of that up. Inheritances grew, except for those upon whose backs this wealth was made. Given our history, I don’t know why reparations is even a controversial issue. There are debts to be paid.”
Flying our BLM flag, creating space in our sanctuary where we proclaim our acknowledgment of whose land we may occupy, recognizing our commitment to remain inclusive and invitational to ‘all who enter here’, supporting those missions whose wider ministries are to assure the dignity and quality of those who are marginalized, participating in the dismantling of systems which oppress others, using our wealth to ensure justice and compassion rule the day–all of this is an expression of Beloved Community, community which is realizing the kin-dom of God , HERE and NOW!
This morning I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
Sep 16 – 23
Good morning Sacred People,
I woke up this morning to a wonderfully cool and overcast day, reminded of how good the cool air feels after a number a hot, stifling days. There have been more of those days this summer, as we still sit 10 degrees hotter this time of year than is typical. Here in Colorado, we are truly fortunate to not be threatened by hurricanes or tropical storms, and in the Springs we are still safe from the increase in tornadoes felt by those on the plains and further east. We have even had a pretty wet summer, giving our rivers and lakes a chance to replenish our watersheds and helping to alleviate some of those pesky signs of drought. It would be very easy, seeing the beauty and grandeur of our surroundings, for us to forget how sick our planet, our mother, the body of our God, truly is.
While I was driving home last night I was listening to NPR as a spokesperson for the current EPA and administration was singing the praise of the US as being the #1 leader in the world confronting climate change. I was so shocked at what she said that I was sure I had not heard her correctly. She said that the “conversation around climate change is hyperbolic…and not an existential threat” requiring us to do something drastic today. But she continued to hold the line that we were the best and that the “latest and greatest science led by those who think most critical about this”…is proof that climate change is not as catastrophic as we have been led to believe. (listen at KRCC, “Reveal”, 9/14/19)
And seriously, isn’t this what we want to hear??
Like any justice issue which causes us to cringe and want to turn away, don’t we just want someone to tell us that ‘it’s not that big of a deal’, that it is ‘someone else’s fault or responsibility’ so that we don’t have to put in the emotional and physical sacrifices it takes to make things better???
But our faith demands otherwise. We have been blessed with hearts to feel, minds to question and problem solve, and souls which remind us who we are and to whom we belong. We do not have the luxury of sitting this one out as ours and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on our actions.
And so ‘do not be daunted by the enormity of this task’, but rather open your eyes to the reality of our world. Read what you can. Listen to the science. Use resources with intentionality and purpose. Eat with gratitude and an understanding of how our habits effect our planet. Vote for those who would put the care of God’s body ahead of greed and economic power. Recycle, reduce, reuse. Take care of your body and the bodies of those who depend on us. Feel the air, taste cool clean water, smell the signs of fall, bite into an apple, watch the squirrels prepare for winter, and listen to the sound of crunching leaves–let your senses be filled and give thanks. Now go and preserve this sacred body we call home.
Additional current resources and policies requiring our action:
- 85 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump
- Trump Administration Officially Revokes Obama-Era Clean Water Protections
- ‘This Is Eco-Apartheid’: Post-Dorian Refugees Fleeing Bahamas Ordered Off Ferry Bound for US
- True Climate Justice Is Impossible Without Racial and Economic Justice
Sep 9 – 16
Good Morning Holy Ones,
It was so good to be with you yesterday! I so appreciate your graciousness that gave me the space to rest before hitting to ground running into a ‘new’ church year. I am excited to see where it will take us!
And of course, part of what it means to find our way is it is critical that we stay aware of who we are and who we wish to be in this world. As we explored yesterday, as the world around us changes, as its needs become more demanding and as creation herself cries out for our attention, we must be ready and intentional about examining our identity as Christians. We must recognize that we are first and foremost called to do no harm AND to work toward correcting harm that interferes with or damages human flourishing and all of creation.
While the link below from Sojourner magazine is form 2016, it is apropos to our discussion. The questions it asks challenge us to re-examine where we are and we we ought to be as Christians in the 21st century. I hope it is as useful to you as I have found it.
Aug 12 – 19
Good Morning Dear Ones,
I want to leave you with a reflection from Rev. Dr. Georgia Karen Thompson, Associate General Minister of Global Engagement, UCC. It is lengthy but apropos to our time together yesterday. Read at your leisure, and use it for your comfort and healing. Peace.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim
and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your strong hand planted.
They have burned it with fire,
they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke
of your countenance.
But let your hand be upon the one
at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O Sovereign God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Where is God now?
I want to know where God is amidst devastation of flood, famine, violence and industrial accidents. I too want to cry out asking for Divine intervention for communities that are broken in heart and wounded in spirit. I want to write my own words of lament to God on behalf of those who seek to understand and want to know: How can God be present amidst the hurt, pain and suffering of entire communities? I too want to cry: Restore us, O God! Let you face shine that we may be saved! In those moments I know my soul is not well. I experience a sense of loss, pain and even anger. My soul is not well. I want to know: Where? Where is God? Where is Divine presence?
The psalmist offers a place to question and wrestle with the juxtaposition of caring God and community devastation, shepherd God and injured sheep, vine-keeping God and broken vines. The psalmist does not end by naming an absent God who is uncaring, but instead rests in a hope that God who was deemed present in a turmoil-filled, change-driven past, can be counted on to be present in every situation.
The psalmist understands that life happens. The walls are broken down. The enemy is laughing. The people are eating bread of tears and drinking tears to full measure. The boar from the forest ravages the vine. The vine is vulnerable to all that can devour it. Return O God; take care of your people. Return O God; protect your people. Return O God; heal the brokenness of your people. Return O God, come back, help, save, restore your people. Do we dare write our own psalms of lament in our contemporary setting, where we live our lives now? Does our theology leave room for imploring God’s presence on behalf of those who suffer?
Well with my soul
I must confess that I am the product of a Christian tradition that has left me with a long list of “old’ hymns that come and go at will depending the occasion. Among my favorites is Horatio Spafford’s “It is Well with My Soul.” The first stanza of that hymn is familiar to many of us:
When peace, like a river, attends my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
The story is told that Spafford wrote the hymn following two major traumatic events in his life. The first was the Chicago Fire of 1871 which brought him to financial ruin. The second was the death of his four daughters who died at sea when the ship they were on with his wife collided with another ship as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. It is said that Stafford wrote the hymn as his ship passed the spot in the Atlantic where his daughters lost their lives. I am of the opinion that this is Staffordís own version of the psalm of lament. Stafford does not question, he manages to find peace in knowing God is present even in his moment of grief and suffering.
There are those moments when we rant and rave and express the sickness that we feel when we view injustice and devastation in our world. When we cry out for justice on behalf of people and community because our souls refuse to be well amidst the devastation and injury we see that is the psalm of lament. After the lament, maybe, just maybe we too can sing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul,” as we appreciate the presence of God with us in time of trouble.
Aug 5 – 12, 2019
My dear people,
I imagine that you do not need for me to remind you of who we are and what our call in this world is. You know that. I imagine that you do not need me to call you to action in some way or another, to confront the evil and injustice we have once again witnessed this weekend. You know that. I imagine that you don’t need me to further expound on those who would ignore the obvious injustices that we stand against as a community of faith. You know this, too.
Perhaps what you do need is a few reminders of how to deal with the depth of grief, fear and hopelessness which you may be feeling.
First, feel. Allow the pain that grips your heart to be felt and heard. It may feel overwhelming, but it will not destroy you. Honor your grief. Cry. Yell. Fall to your knees. Know your Beloved community is there with you in the midst of despair.
Next, recognize that the heaviness you feel, the dark looming sense of not knowing what to do, comes from a place of a beautiful and loving heart. You would not know these depths of grief if you didn’t have compassion and desire to comfort others.
Then call someone. Call a friend, another partner form VG, family, your pastor, your Beloved Creator, and share your grief. Hold one another. Cry together. Sit in the silence with another who ‘gets it-gets you’.
Find something to laugh about or at least something that reminds you that you can still feel a moment of joy in the midst of despair.
And if necessary–and it will be necessary–do it all again, in whatever order helps.
I am holding you all. I am holding on to knowing the depths of which you feel and love and care for one another and the larger global community. I am praying that even as we grieve, we know the peace of our Beloved.
Jul 29 – Aug 5, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
Yesterday was a grand example of the commitment of this Covenantal Community to Be the Church in this world! I continue to be delighted by your willingness to remain faithful to the mission and ministry of Vista Grande, UCC. And how exciting to have so many new faces join in our enthusiasm! Thank you all for your participation and ideas! Already you are contributing to this small but mighty community!
I am personally and professionally grateful for the love and support you demonstrated in your unanimous vote to call Rev. Deborah Tinsley to Minister of Vision and Pastoral Support. Deborah has been, and remains, dedicated to the sacred vision this congregation has in terms of our mission, our ministry and our commitment to creating a just world for all. In addition, we as church are once again demonstrating innovative ways to be ‘real’ church in this ever-changing world. Congratulations on your courage and dedication to this endeavor!
Of course, there is a lot to do. Of course we have some challenges, specifically with regard to the overall church property and our financial needs. And I am confident, that given the level of participation and excitement of yesterday’s meeting, we will rise to these challenges and use our creative imaginations to find sustainable solutions. We can begin by taking part in our new fundraiser and encouraging others to do the same. We can also take Jan Morgan up on her invitation to be involved in the care and stewardship of the church property. The folks who have been preserving the integrity of our grounds have gone above and beyond to take care of our property. They have cleaned up the grounds: weeding, and cutting the grass and trimming the overgrowth, with the intention of preserving this holy space. They have re-sealed the parking lot and re-created a beautiful garden space out of an overgrown mess. And they need some help, so join in! There are a lot of ways to help out!
There are also other ministry teams: Worship, Mission, Faith Formation, Vision and coming soon Stewardship and Fundraising. Ask yourself, “What speaks to me? Where am I called to use my time and talents? How can I use my financial resources to ensure the vitality and sustainability of the sacred work this church does? How can my imagination and creativity to assure our presence and ministry in this and the broader community?” Take some time to pray and discern the role you can and will play in the future of this Beloved Community. We will revisit this in the near future and plan together for all that can be!!
Jul 22 – 29, 2019
Good Morning Holy Ones,
Vista Grande continues to be on the cutting edge of ministry in the 21st century. We are truly fortunate to have in our midst a multitude of people with diverse gifts and talents. We also have a number of “retired” ministers who continue to do ministry, either out in the community or within the context of our church. We will address each one directly by formally covenanting with them in the coming months, recognizing their time and talents to both VG and the larger community.
Deborah Tinsley has been extensively involved in the ministry of Vista Grande over the past 4 years, serving on the Vision ministry team, Executive Council, and has written grants which have led to over $30,000– which we have used to expand the ministry of Vista Grande. Her extensive ministerial activities with our community have been recognized as a Call to ministry by the Executive Council and as such we will vote to call her as Minister of Vision and Pastoral Support on Sunday. While this is a non-compensatory position, we as a congregation benefit greatly from the addition of an additional minister as we move forward to do great things! It is with great pleasure and excitement that I endorse this Call!
Jul 15 – 22, 2019
Good Morning Queer Allies!!
Does it make you a bit uneasy to read/’hear’ the identifier ‘Queer’?? That’s ok. It is a term that has been used to diminish and hurt the queer community in all its splendor. But we have reclaimed it, redressed it with sparkles and love and have chosen it to be a word of diverse identity and power. If you are a true ally, we are not offended when you use it too. But if you’re not sure, then just ask those with whom you are in relationship.
The Gazette reported that yesterday was the largest PRIDE day celebration since its inception in 1976. And it was also the first time four UCC churches in the Pikes Peak region marched together! What a marvelous example of the evolution of our churches to be allies in the fight for justice for the Queer community. I am professionally and personally grateful for all of you.
This past UCC synod, it was explained that only 31% of our churches are ONA. In addition, not all of those ONA churches are Trans welcoming. It made me wonder if we remain as welcoming as we think given the expansion of what it means to be Queer in 2019. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of our radical hospitality–that is never in question. I am just asking “Do we really understand or are we aware of the extensiveness of the Queer designation?” I am including a video presented on the Progressive Christianity site. It is Brilliant. It is expansive. It will make some of you uncomfortable or make you squirm a bit. It has some grownup language–read, cussing! And it begs the question, ‘Do we remain as ONA as we think we are?” This will spark conversations and some examination of our biases. Look for the opportunity for more conversations coming soon. And remember, the adage “no matter who you are…” refers to all of us, even in our discomfort!.
Check out this YouTube “The LGBTQAlphabet” video
Jul 1 – 14, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
How are you?
I am aware that yesterday’s sermon may have left some of you in a place of frustration and confusion, trying to reconcile what seems to be a departure from what we think the UCC stands for. You may be asking how it is that our beloved denomination has somehow let us down by not insisting that a group, which seems to have obviously chosen a path of exclusion, be allowed to stay in community? I don’t need to tell you how complicated this is. You already know. However, I do want to share a few more things with you:
- The Rocky Mountain Conference sent a delegation of about a dozen folks, in addition to those who attended as visitors, from the RMC. And we struggled. The conversations about this resolution began at RMC annual celebration weeks ago and continued with passion and anguish after we got to Milwaukee. (These conversations also continued with our Western caucus–those from UCC churches west of Colorado to Hawaii). There were 2 of us from RMC that identify as Queer–my colleague David Bahr and me. (David’s sermon from yesterday is available below. He is the pastor of Park Hill UCC, in Denver) And all of us, when it came time to vote, who would have voted down the resolution–that is, voted to keep the Faithful and Welcoming churches at the table–if it had gone to a synod vote.
- The Western delegation constructed an alternate resolution, that never got to the floor, outlining the need for more conversation and deliberation over the next couple of years. This would include folks from all groups including the UCC board to come to some kind of understanding. It didn’t come to the floor b/c the delegates voted to table the original resolution first which ended conversation on the floor.
- While tabling a resolution can often mean that it will enter a black hole for however how long, the UCC board announced their intention to stay around after all business was finished so that all those who hadn’t had a chance to speak to the delegations could be hear by the group who would be going forward on the business of how to resolve the resolution! Everyone had a chance to speak their hearts and plans were made on how to go forward. in other words, no hole!
The UCC is a sacred and flawed institution, as we all are. And as such they will continue to amaze and disappoint as we navigate the rode to justice. And while there is so much work to do, they, no we, still lead the planet in becoming a denomination which accepts and holds as beloved, the queer community. Breathe, and know we are not alone in this venture. One thing that was beyond clear was the love and support David and I felt from our delegation and our denomination. And how brilliant it is that we as a denomination are not afraid to engage in these difficult conversations. It is the only way to be in authentic relationships.
Do not lose hope. If anything, know that hope abounds! Of this I am sure!
Jun 17 – 24, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
I am finding myself in a bit of a fog this morning and not just because of the weather! In preparing and participating for our weekly Sacred Conversations studies, the Rocky Mountain Conference Annual Meeting and this year’s UCC Synod as a delegate, I find that my brain is scattered. I know this sounds either impressive or ridiculous in terms of trying to ‘do it all’, but let me explain my process.
I am a nerd in many ways. I am a bible nerd-utterly fascinated by the contextual meaning of each story offered and the ancestral ties to those who were also trying to understand the relationship between our Beloved and creation. I am a church nerd– believing in my core, that the ‘answer’ to realizing the vision our Beloved has for the world rests in our creation centered community. And I am a God nerd–trying desperately to ‘listen to the still small voice’ which calls each of us to actively participate in co-creation of a just world for all. This last one is the biggest challenge–trying to do the work, while at the same time trying to discern what is my agenda and what is our Beloved’s vision. And I admit, this is not always a simple task.
I like to think that over the years, I’ve gained some wisdom with regard to all my nerd centered loves. One major conclusion: I so trust that we are responsible for the well-being of each other and for assuring that all of creation can flourish. It is why I do what I do with great passion. And it is what we have identified as our mission as a faith-filled community.
As such, it is time to participate in some intentional introspection and ask ourselves how it is that we are going to assure the vision this community has in our world. How are we going to participate and offer our support so that the work can continue? What gifts do you bring: time talents and money? What sacrifices, compromises, offerings can you commit to in order for this small, but mighty, community to be sustainable and to continue to be a visible, and active presence of our God in this world?
I invite you to try on some ‘nerdiness’! Listen for the small voice inviting you to go beyond what is comfortable and engage in the imagination of the Holy One.
Jun 10 – 17, 2019
Hello Dear Ones,
Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I attended Catholic schools from first grade through my first graduate degree. My high school experience was one I treasure for numerous reasons. I attended an all girls school and was taught by a religious order of sisters whose goal it was to assure that young women were provided with a competitive and equal education to their male counterparts. We were encouraged to be curious about our world, to feed our imaginations and to explore our potentiality. Advanced classes in science and math encouraged us to push ourselves the boundaries of what was traditionally expected of women and opened up possibilities many of us didn’t think were an option. I will always be grateful.
And yet, even with all of this, we were discouraged from, if not completed cut off, when asking any questions that challenged or just explored our religious tradition. And here is where the church universal has done so much harm. It was considered a measure of our faith to just accept what was offered. Orthodoxy ruled the day.
We have been given the gift of intelligence, curiosity, reason, imagination– those things which have the amazing capacity to bring us closer to our God. Those gifts which spark our creativity and unleash the potential to live into the vision our God has for this world. And if ignored or stifled, denies us the potential to use the gifts, with which we are blessed, to do great things.
Perhaps we need a different framework when we ask those deep theological questions. Rather than thinking we are somehow demonstrating a lack of faith in our questioning, we should see our questions as the opportunity to be in dialogue with our Beloved. A chance to deepen our relationship with the Divine and a way to demonstrate our gratitude for being endowed the ability to be curious, creative and imaginative. Keep questioning, my friends.
Jun 3 – 10, 2019
Good Monday Dear Ones,
What a robust dialogue we had yesterday in worship regarding the upcoming UCC Synod and the resolutions that will be discussed and voted upon. Thank you for being willing to participate in the conversation! The overarching question yesterday was is it possible to be invitational and inclusionary to all when some of those invited fundamentally reject others who are also invited? Can justice be achieved if anyone in the final resolution is left feeling rejected?
Sometimes, we can be frustrated by the seemingly lack of progress or resolution in such conversations. Often this is because we are hoping for definitive answers to difficult questions. We strive to come to a solution on which we can agree. For the sake of unity, we may avoid making tough choices because we are afraid of upsetting others. Justice may be sacrificed for the quest to reach a false sense of peace and inclusion. And yet, while all this is true, I want to make sure we recognize the brilliance of what can occur when we choose to participate in the conversation.
When we can be vulnerable, honest and willing to be in conversation with each other, we allow for the Spirit to enter the space. We make room for potential relationships and transformation. We’ve all heard the cliché, “it’s the journey not the destination”. Sometimes we can be so focused on outcome that we miss the creative energy of our Beloved in the process. It is in this process of discernment and vulnerability that the real work happens and that co-creation is potentialized.
Thank you for your passion, courage and honesty yesterday. I will carry that with me to Synod as we gather, in your name, to continue the work to be the loving presence of the Divine in the world.
May 27 – Jun 3
On this day of remembrance, I find myself in the swirling muck of being pastor and activist. As pastor I offer my deep, deep gratitude for those who felt a call to protect and sacrifice themselves for the ideal of liberty and freedom. Those who gave selflessly gave their lives for the promise of something better for all of us.
As an activist, I continue to hold out for peace. I believe in the necessity to recognize our own sins and work toward restorative justice in our own country before projecting our sense of righteousness on other lands.
I do not have any specific answers on this beautifully bitter sweet morning. What I can suggest is intentionality in how we go through this day. Remembering with gratitude those who have died, while at the same time committing ourselves to working for a world where sending our loved ones into battle is not an option.
On this day and every day may you find and enjoy the peace that comes in the struggle for justice.
May 20 – 27, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
This morning brings sadness and gratitude for the end of the ministry Mallory shared with us for the past 10 months. I am obviously sad that we will not have her with us each week sharing her gifts and her grace-filled demeanor. Yet I am also immensely grateful that she was with us for this past year. I am also grateful that Mallory will continue her Friday evening outreach ministry. This ministry provides a safe place for those who find comfort in a non-traditional spiritual community which carries on the values and mission of VG: simply, that All are welcome here.
It is a true gift for a congregation to have the privilege to support an intern whose innovative spirit which can and has ignited possibilities and potential for Vista Grande. I also want to remind us that this would not have been possible if not for the generous donations of two individuals who made it financially possible for us to have Mallory here. It is a reminder of how our financial gifts make great things possible.
There is little I can say about what Mallory offered yesterday in her sermon as what she said was beautiful and gracious. I invited those of you who could not attend to listen to her sermon when it is posted on the website. Until then, some of you have asked for the reading by Pincola-Estes.
Mallory, I have been transformed by your presence here with us. I am personally and professionally grateful for your wisdom and ministry. Your passion and your call bring the possibility of hope and transformation in a world so desperate for both. You are truly a Pastor, a minister whose call is to be the presence of the Divine in this world.
May 13 – 20, 2019
I woke wondering if you are as tired as I am. Is seems that every week our emotional and spiritual resources are pushed and pulled as we try to process our worlds: the personal world of our hearts and souls; and the larger one which, at times, appears to be in dire need of a holy intervention.
Yesterday, we confronted the desire to run from our grief and instead, delved into that place that feels like it will swallow us whole. That place that requires that we feel the heaviness of our souls. I know it seems counter intuitive to stay in that place for a while. One would think that running away, as fast as we can, would save us from the hurt and sadness. However, it just prolongs the inevitable collapse and causes us further exhaustion and separation from those who understand our grief. We all know this place. We’ve all been in this place. This means that we are able to be there with one another, in the ebb and flow of our grief and our celebrations. This is the nature of our community. It is the sacred ground on which we gather and live. It is our sacred bond with one another.
Blessing for a Broken Vessel For Holy Saturday (Jan Richardson)
I have become like a broken vessel. —Psalm 31: 12
“Do not despair.
You hold the memory of what it was to be whole.
It lives deep in your bones.
It abides in your heart
that has been torn and mended a hundred times.
It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again.
I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you
but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges
to meet each other
in some new pattern that you have never imagined,
that you have never dared to dream.”
May 6 – 13, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
I wanted to include in today’s message the original prayer which we used yesterday for our call to worship. It is a reminder of the hard work of moving into a place of reconciliation and right relationship with our Beloved, creation and one another. It is my intention that we hold for ourselves reminders of how we can create the sacred space, both in our community and our hearts, where Right Relationships can flourish. Remembering the mantra: Repentance (transformation), Reconciliation, Restoration and Reparations, can be one way. Another is in this “creed” offered below. Be brave and humble, my friends, with each other, with our God and our larger community. And I will attempt the same.
‘Creed for Healing Transformation’ (Richard Holdsworth)
I believe in a mysterious impulse, where the essence of peace restores what is good
I believe in healing love that grows through faith to create joy
I accept that serenity rises when its insights set us free
Denial destroys understanding, evasion slaughters compassion and guilt nurtures revenge
Healing brings forgiveness of self and others
As we make amends, acceptance ascends
We can find wisdom from what went wrong
I believe that faith transforms us
I confess to commitments that nurture trust
I believe in one universal family
I revere those symbols that draw us to reconciliation
I believe in life’s revival, enlivened by gratitude and generosity
Always triumphant, devoid of time
April 29 – May 6, 2019
Happy Monday Dear Ones,
This morning, as I check the local and national news, I am reminded of a colleague who posted this question this past year, “I’m running out of things to preach about–anyone have any ideas?” I was floored by this question as all one had to do was ‘listen’ to what is going in to know that as followers of Jesus, there was and is plenty which needs our attention.
I know this sounds a bit judgmental, however, I am also reminded of a quote attributed to theologian Karl Barth: “Preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” By this directive, there is always something which requires our theological attention and action.
What can happen is we are ultimately so overwhelmed with what appears to be unending tragedy and trauma that we stop moving. We can develop a sense of hopelessness or helplessness and instead lock ourselves away, much like the first followers of Jesus did when they feared retribution from the empire as followers of the Christ. But the Resurrection reminds us that hope is tied up with our ability to act in the face of fear and tragedy. Just as those Disciples found courage in the ever present Christ, we called to do the same.
This coming Sunday, we will begin the Sacred Conversations to End Racism study. This is a profound, difficult journey which calls us to be courageous in the midst of necessary conversations and action. This is also a never ending journey as most of our systems are directly linked to the myth of race. And action, well, action is what brings hope in the midst of despair. I invite you to strongly consider participating in this study. It is an opportunity to ‘be called to the change you wish to see in the world’. This is a way to continue the work we are called to do.
April 22 – 29, 2019
This Easter Monday, there are no sermons or benedictions this morning. Just this wonderful poem from Jan Richardson. This blessing, for us, after a long Lenten season filled with grief and gladness. May you know the mystery of this Easter season deep in your souls.
The Magdalene’s Blessing For Easter Day (Jan Richardson)
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” —John 20:16
You hardly imagined standing here,
everything you ever loved suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye and calling your name.
And now you do not know how to abide this hole in the center of your chest,
where a door slams shut and swings open at the same time,
turning on the hinge of your aching and hopeful heart.
I tell you, this is not a banishment from the garden.
This is an invitation, a choice, a threshold, a gate.
This is your life calling to you from a place you could never have dreamed,
but now that you have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine choosing any other way.
So let the tears come as anointing,
and then let them go.
Let this blessing gather itself around you.
Let it give you what you will need for this journey.
You will not remember the words— they do not matter.
All you need to remember is how it sounded when you stood in the place of death and heard the living call your name.
April 15 – 22, 2019
Good Morning Holy People,
Here we are, entering the Holiest of weeks of the Christian calendar. It is an opportunity to be in prayer, contemplation, introspection. It is a difficult invitation to grieve if we need, reconcile if we are compelled, and repent–that is allow for transformation–so as to re-commit ourselves to what it means to be a Christ inspired disciple. It should be a difficult week, one which asks us to be in the sacred space of truth and sorrow. It should be a week that calls back into relationship with our God, with creation and community. It should be a week which challenges and inspires us to pursue Resurrection as a Divine possibility and not a frivolous gift just handed out. We are called yet again to be co-creators in this world and this is where Resurrection will, (or won’t, without us) be realized.
A former classmate of mine and current UCC minster, Sara Rosenau, offers this commentary.
“This expresses what has been stirring in me for the last six months or so. And especially in these last weeks as Easter season and Earth Day approach together.
This writing was substance for me today: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well,” Czech dissident, writer and statesman Václav Havel said, “but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”
Isn’t Palm Sunday all about something that is worth doing no matter how it turns out? Isn’t Easter about keeping vigil for signs of Life in the face of (brutal state sanctioned) death.
But what is the hope of resurrection in the face the sixth mass extinction, brought on by the destructive practices of humans?
Resurrection is reclaiming a way of life, known by our deep ancestors, that is rooted in friendship, community, and communion with creation.
“Here is the realm of healing, reparation (spiritual and psychological, among other ways) and collaboration. It is strangely rich with a new brand of fulfillment and unprecedented intimacy with the Earth and one another.”
Hope is living in this reclaimed way, no matter the results. That is what it means to dance in the face of death. It will require fierceness and courage that Spirit is now luring us toward. “There is time left for amends, honorable completions, and the chance to reconnect to this Earth with the utmost respect, and in the gentlest of ways.”
If there is a task for the 21st century progressive mainline church (which is rich in resource, and poor in mission) it is this.”
May you, Dear Ones, have the courage to confront this Holy Week with your entire Being. May you know that you are held in your despair just as our Beloved despairs our grief and God’s own grief for this world. And may you know–eventually– the peace and comfort which comes in returning to The One who waits for us.
Apr 8 – 15, 2019
Good Morning Creation Lovers,
We speak a lot of critical happenings in our world and yesterday was no exception. I want to remind us all that even when it seems that there is too much to do, we are never alone. This is not a platitude nor hollow theology. We do know that our Beloved depends on us to be co-creators in this world. But we aren’t supposed to do by ourselves. We have the communities, the tools, and the information to do this. It takes work and determination, but again, we are not alone in out attempts. We are in the company of our entire denomination and faith-filled people who seek justice for our planet. For example, Rev. Allyson Sawtell, the author of the poems in yesterday’s worship, and Rev. Peter Sawtell, live in Denver and are very actively involved in UCC eco-justice.
The UCC has been in the fore of eco-justice for decades. The following is an excerpt from the UCC, tracking a bit of this history:
“In 1982, the State of North Carolina chose a poor predominantly African American community for the placement of a toxic waste landfill to dispose of PCBs illegally dumped along the roadway of fourteen counties. Residents of Warren County, North Carolina enlisted the support of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ) to engage in a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience.
In response to this experience, and from others across the nation, the CRJ commissioned a study to examine what was perceived at the time to be the intentional placement of hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators, and polluting industries in communities inhabited mainly by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, farm workers and the working poor. These groups were, and still are, particularly vulnerable because they are perceived as weak and passive citizens who will not fight back against the poisoning of their neighborhoods in fear that it may jeopardize jobs and economic survival.
In releasing the findings of the 1987 study written by Charles Lee, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, CRJ Executive Director, referred to intentionally selecting communities of color for wastes disposal sites and polluting industrial facilities – essentially condemning them to contamination – as “environmental racism.” He called on the United Church of Christ to be a champion working for environmental justice across the nation and across the world.”
As we head into Holy Week we will be focusing on the sacred trust we have been given to care for our Mother Earth. It is imperative that we understand our role is caring for the only home we have. When we can embrace that role of being co-creators in this work , I truly believe we will experience Resurrection as it was meant to be: the respect and equality for all creation, destruction of greed and empire, and the restoration of life, everlasting.
Mar 31 – Apr 7, 2019
Good Morning Prodigal People,
Sometimes it’s difficult to know just how we are supposed to respond to those who are on the margins. Taking liberties with yesterday’s iconic parable, called to our consciousness, those in the story those who were both compassionate with what little they had (the farmer and the pigs) and yet left behind when the young man returned home to privilege and abundance. It’s one thing to become aware and yet another to know what to do to help. After all, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
This year, at the UCC Synod in June, the keynote speaker will be Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”. We, who are attending, are encouraged to read in advance. And so I am putting this info out there for you so that we can all connect with the larger church while also gaining more information.
All of the missions with which we are involved, attempt to stem the effects of poverty and possible homelessness with a variety of populations. I want for you to know just how extensive this issue is; to be inspired on how to be more effective in our missions; and to know how much this community does in order to meet those who have been pushed to the margins.
We will embark on the Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) study in May. After that, it is my intention that we engage in robust conversations based on this book later in the summer. Get the book, Read the Book, and Look for upcoming opportunities for discussions!
click on book to get guide
Mar 24 – 31, 2019
Good Morning Justice Seeking People,
This morning as I write this blast I am also crafting the sermon for Sunday. The text is the infamous story of the Prodigal son with all of its interpretative manifestations. I offer this small preview for two reasons: First- Now you can think about it and be prepared for all of the possible ways I might go with the sermon 😝; and Second- this story is one that leaves us hanging in that there is no definitive ending. Review it, you’ll see what I mean.
It is this second reason that informs what I am sharing with you today. I have a story whose ending is not yet known. I shared with you yesterday that I have been asked to participate in a prayer breakfast at the Governor’s mansion this coming Wednesday. I was told that this was a opportunity for religious diversity. This was a invitation for different religions and denominations to come together and share how prayer influences our traditions and our practices. I was also told this was a non-political event designed to maintain a desirable outcome.
Yesterday, I submitted the title of my presentation ” Prayer as the Precursor to Justice”. Last night I received a call from the Governor’s brother concerned about what I might be suggesting given my title. After a pretty intense conversation, I half expect that I will be dis invited from this event. That is the rest of the story I will share with you when I know the ending. But what I really want to put out there this morning is the fear the word ‘Justice’ carried and carries. Remember, this is an event that is planned by our more politically liberal representatives. And yet just hearing the word Justice has caused a flurry of reactions including calling me to ‘man-splain’ how my choice of words could cause some tension, and perhaps I should use the word ‘charity’ instead. ‘Charity is less controversial and will reach more people,’ so I’m told. But charity and Justice are not synonymous. Charity offers the giver an opportunity to feel good about their own actions while Justice demands that systems that create the need for charity in the first place, be dismantled. (This is the statement I made last night that I think will be the demise of the invitation!)
When we became a Just Peace church we set out on the path that Jesus took before us. The path which causes those in privilege to shudder and try to divert us from our call. It is a path which has many demands and sacrifices including sacrificing our own desire to avoid conflict at all times in the name of ‘false’ peace. This desire and ability to avoid conflict, is one of privilege. When our lives do not depend on staying on this uncomfortable path, when we can take a break for the discomfort that seeking justice creates, when we can opt out of difficult conversations, we must recognize that this is a function of our privilege. I write this as much for me as for you as I have been wrestling with the idea of just bailing on this entire venture. But that option to bail to avoid discomfort, rejection, or maintain peace so I can sleep tonight, is a privilege.
I thank you for listening to my process, for being the praying community that supports one another in all we do. I will let you know what happens…
Mar 17 – 24, 2019
‘If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.’ Meister Eckhart.
Hello Dear Ones,
Today I have to share that I am beyond grateful for all of the love and support you shared with me and Liz this past weekend. We were both so touched by your willingness to celebrate our life together and even more overwhelmed by your generosity and party throwing skills! We both hope you had as much fun as we did!
This brings me to one of the most obvious, and yet most overlooked, of spiritual practices available to us: Gratitude. In a world that is at times, so distracting by its divisiveness, hatred and fear, it is often very difficult to remember to be thankful. Expressing gratitude, however, helps to divert our attention on what is going right in our lives. It helps acknowledge that in the midst of all that we think is wrong, there is so much that is good. I had a friend once tell me that she was so grateful for every feeling she had because she could simply Feel. Rather than run from her negative feelings she first offered thanks that she could experience the fullness of her humanity. This isn’t about wallowing or avoiding, but rather recognizing just how much we can experience our lives.
Giving thanks also helps us to think outside of ourselves, helps us to turn our attention to the One who is the giver of every breath we take. It reminds us that we are in the unique position to not only experience the fullness of our lives, but we can also respond with understanding to others in their joy and suffering. Just by our humanity we are beautifully connected, if we can just take a moment to recognize.
For this practice, see if you can start your day with one thing for which you are grateful. And as you close your day, do the same. You may find that there are too many to count, or you may find that it is the same thing each time. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that in that moment you give thanks.
With that said, on this day I give thanks, once again, for all of you.
Mar 10 – 17, 2019
Good Morning Dear Ones,
This morning begins our Journey into Lent, a spiritual journey which invites us to find ways to our Beloved. Over these next few weeks I will provide some examples of practices you may find helpful. Today, ‘Entering the Silence’, my personal favorite, it requires intentionally finding a quiet place and allowing yourself to surrender to the ’empty’ space. May you find a path that leads you home.
Silence: The Basic Practice-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Silence is often referred to in terms of space: the immensity inside, the cave of the heart, the oasis of quiet, the inner sanctuary, the interior castle, the sacred center where God dwells. For centuries, people have used this practice as a resting and renewal stop on the spiritual journey. It provides a way to periodically withdraw from the world. You may go into silence as a prelude to prayer, or you may seek it as the place where through meditation you can contact your deeper self and Spirit.
How can you find this inner quietude, tranquility, and calm? You must make room for it — literally. Find a space of physical silence where you can sit quietly, away from distracting demands, voices, and sounds. Go there every day. It is the gateway to your interior silence.
Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing
- Turning off a television, a radio, or a portable media player is my cue to practice silence.
- Seeing someone meditating is a reminder that I must incorporate silence into my daily routine.
- Noting the silences in my conversations with others, I vow to use silence as a bridge rather than as a barrier.
- Blessed is the Most High who meets us in silence.
Mar 3 – 10, 2019
Good Morning Sacred People,
I am offering yesterday’s reading as a Lenten point of reference as we go forward in the season of Lent.
Yesterday I spoke briefly about what it means to fast with intention and from a place of abundance as opposed from a place of obligation or scarcity. The season of Lent offers us a time of reflection, a time for repentance –that is, turning back and returning to our Beloved. Fasting from those things which keep us from reaching our Home is both an invitation and a means to return. But fasting isn’t the only spiritual practice in which one can participate. We will be exploring a multiple of ways to engage spiritual practices during Lent to nudge us back to our God. Hopefully, you will find at least one of these practices something you can carry over afterwards.
In the meantime, for the purpose of the practice of fasting, I’m reminding you of the challenge I presented yesterday. Even with our concerns over ‘having enough’, many of us always have enough for extras: eating out numerous times during a week; coffee from a specialty café; an extra pair of shoes; a sweet treat; even driving when we can walk; are all examples of our abundance. I am challenging you to ‘fast’ from some of these ‘extras’ throughout Lent, and put aside the actual cash money you would have spent. You will have a visual example of your abundance. I then ask that you intentionally pray over this gift before giving it towards missions. This is in addition to your pledge and will be applied to a specific need of one of our current missions. (The mission team is discerning the best place for this gift to be applied.)
This is how giving becomes a spiritual practice: intentionality; from a place of abundance; a recognition of all we do have; fasting from excess; prayerful offering; a loving sacrifice, devoid of obligation. As we move through Lent, let this practice remind you of how we are all called to follow the example of Jesus: A willingness to return to our Beloved while also extending God’s blessing to others–even as it demands that we sacrifice some of our own excesses. Simple, yet profound. Kind of like the life of the man we profess as our spiritual leader and redeemer…
Feast and Fast : From Jim Burklo’s Book of Common Prayer
So let us feast on simple pleasures, and fast from all that gets our bodies and souls out of balance.
Let us feast on kindness, and fast from sarcasm.
Let us feast on compassion, and fast from holding grudges.
Let us feast on patience, and fast from anxiety.
Let us feast on peace, and fast from stirring up needless conflict.
Let us feast on acceptance, and fast from judgment.
Let us feast on joy, and fast from jealousy.
Let us feast on faith, and fast from fear.
Let us feast on creativity, and fast from all that deadens our souls.
Let us feast on social justice, and let us fast from negligence of the most vulnerable.
Let us feast on service to others, and fast from selfishness.
Let us feast on delight, and fast from despair.
Let us feast on bread and wine in spiritual communion, and fast from all that keeps us from communing deeply with each other and with God.
So that our lives might be sufficient, fulfilled, complete, whole, enough.
Feb 25 – Mar 3, 2019
Good Morning Sacred People,
As you can imagine, this day began like so many others; a quick glance at the news cycle and FB postings and I was instantly reminded of the whole “love your enemy” thing again! It is so easy to get caught up in the chaos of the social and political climate that agitation and hopelessness and annoyance so easily rue the day. But yesterday, I was reminded that God is not anywhere finished with us yet.
When I was in seminary, the median age of those of us attending was over 45. We were a rambunctious group, none the less. And we were ready to get out into the world and exhort the good news in the face of all the injustices and isms which prevail. However, to be clear, there was an underlying sense of ‘how do we sustain this vision if we are rounding the corner and facing our mortality sooner rather than later?’ And then, it happened: The reminder that no matter what we think is happening, no matter what we fear, the Spirit is still present and active. The group of folks who are seeking ordination in our Association these days, are young, vibrant, hopeful and determined to re-imagine church in such a way that I have no fear or doubt that we are long for this world! They epitomize the notion that God is still speaking and they remind us all of the work that needs to be done.
How brilliant is it that the wisdom and experience of those who have been in ministry for a while, will intersect with the vibrancy and creative longing of young, strong, God infused people?!? And how amazing is it that our Beloved’s faith in all of us, calls us into imagining and realizing all the possibilities of the kin-dom? Amen! Alleluia!
Feb 18 – 25, 2019
People assume you aren’t sick
unless they see the sickness on your skin
like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting.
My heart is a prison of Have you tried?
Have you tried exercising? Have you tried eating better?
Have you tried not being sad, not being sick?
Have you tried being more like me?
Have you tried shutting up?
Yes, I have tried. Yes, I am still trying,
and yes, I am still sick.
Sometimes monsters are invisible, and
sometimes demons attack you from the inside.
Just because you cannot see the claws and the teeth
does not mean they aren’t ripping through me.
Pain does not need to be seen to be felt.
Telling me there is no problem
won’t solve the problem.
This is not how miracles are born.
This is not how sickness works.”
― Emm Roy, The First Step
Hello Gentle People,
It is said that days such as these–cold, snowy and dark–typically offer some relief to folks who suffer depressive disorders. From past experience, I concur, as expectations to be happy aren’t as high as when the sun is shining and the air is warm. Each experience of mental illness, however, has its own manifestations of symptoms and suffering. Just as our individual life experiences are vast, so are the types of symptoms one may experience from a mental health perspective. The trick is to honor and treat with compassion those who have to live with mental illness, including ourselves. I truly believe that to do so is biblical.
Historically, some ways the Bible has been interpreted has been harmful. When one reads about Jesus curing anyone with an unclean spirit, or someone possessed, it is often assumed they are sick because they have sinned and cured because of their faith. They are rejected by their community and forced to live outside the boundaries of acceptance. I have always brought my own understanding that those who are rejected are so because they are mis-understood. I would also offer that they are made sicker because their community has condemned them to live outside of its compassion and love. And their healing is about Jesus reversing that exile and bringing them home, thus exemplifying the biblical mandate that all belong and all are cherished by our Beloved. We never really know how those who have been healed do in the long run. But we do know that in the moments of intense pain and rejection, Jesus is in it with them.
But we do know that in the moments of intense pain and rejection, Jesus is in it with them.
We don’t have to completely understand what another is experiencing in order to be a compassionate presence. Expertise is helpful, but showing up is even more curative, at least in the moment. We area church which excels at showing up, for each other and for those whom meet each moment in our lives. And we need to be sure to offer ourselves the same grace and compassion we are willing to others.
Hear this please “You are a beloved child of God. And what our God has created in love and has made sacred, remains as such no matter what”
Feb 11 – 18, 2019
“White Christian Nationalism — Not Secularism — Is Destroying America” (Stephen Mattson)
“Tens of millions of Americans-and most of its elected officials-claim to be Christian, and yet we’re a country that’s completely broken”
“Christianity has died in the hands of [Fundamentalists]. Evangelicalism [Fundamentalism] ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of [government] flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency.” (Miguel De La Torre, ‘The Death of Christianity in America’).
Good Morning Justice Seekers,
This above is the title and the first sentence of an article in last weeks’ Sojourners magazine. It is a profoundly accurate article and the actual state of our union and I encourage you to read it.
The second quote is from an article By Miguel De La Torre who will be the presenter at the James W White lecture series sponsored by First Congregational this Spring.
In the meantime, I offer this as a follow up of our ongoing conversation on racism and justice. While we are a non-creedal church I offer the following as a ‘profession’ of our identity and faithfulness. I hope it gives hope and direction to our work.
- We are a people that holds firmly to the idea that we are first and foremost part of our God’s beloved creation.
- We strive to seek the presence of God in all creation, including ourselves.
- We emphatically proclaim love for all of God’s beauty and disdain for all that destroys it.
- We actively seek liberation for those oppressed by empire.
- We seek justice for all by maintaining our understanding that God has created us all as equals in this universe.
- We strive to break those systems that would lead us from the sanctity of our Beloved’s purpose and dream for creation.
- We also contend that we are called to hold one another accountable to the Call we all have.
- We have chosen the path to re-claim our Founder’s purpose to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
We are called, and we are chosen, to reclaim our Christian roots in order to assure the realization of our Beloved’s dream for this world! May it be so!
Feb 4 – 11, 2019
“Over the past two years, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has reached out to communities in more than 30 states across this nation. We have met with tens of thousands of people, witnessing the strength of their moral courage in trying times. We have gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and we have chronicled their demands for a better society. The following moral agenda is drawn from this deep engagement and commitment to these struggles of the poor and dispossessed. It is also grounded in an empirical assessment of how we have come to this point today. The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America report reveals how the evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism are persistent, pervasive, and perpetuated by a distorted moral narrative that must be challenged.
We must stop the attention violence that refuses to see these injustices and acknowledge the human and economic costs of inequality. We believe that when decent people see the faces and facts that the Souls of Poor Folk Audit presents, they will be moved deeply in their conscience to change things. When confronted with the undeniable truth of unconscionable cruelty to our fellow human beings, we must join the ranks of those who are determined not to rest until justice and equality are a reality for all.” ( from the Poor Peoples Campaign website.)
Hello Dear Ones,
You know we preachers have a pretty good knack of standing up and reminding you of all the woes of the worlds and our responsibility to try to remedy them. But we don’t always have practical suggestions on how to do this without feeling as if the weight of the world rests squarely on our shoulders. Today, I offer you a means to connect with ways to truly celebrate the Jubilee year we spoke about in worship.
Rev. William Barber is a Disciple’s of Christ minister and an activist in North Carolina. While he has been involved in many aspects of dismantling systemic injustice, his most recent and potent activism has been with the revitalization of MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign. This campaign is grounded in the idea of social, racial, and socioeconomic equality we heard about in our Sunday readings about ‘the year of the Lord–Jubilee’. I invite you to visit the website to become acquainted with what they are doing and to learn of practical ways you too can become involved. It is one way that we can step outside the church to be the church. And it is a reminder that there are many of us who wish to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Beloved
Jan 28 – Feb 4, 2019
“The Beloved Community was born in resistance to the established order [Roman Empire] of death and indignity. It was concealed like leaven in the imperial loaf, germinating as a secret and subversive “colony of heaven,” a body of noncompliance with the principalities and the powers. Now we are as compliant as the subjects of any empire, embracing what we are taught to value, and resisting nothing that threatens our comfort, our success, our reputation, or our safety. The sad truth is that much of the church today is a harmless handmaiden of the corporate machine, clinging nostalgically to a gospel that is as unacceptable in practice now as it was in the beginning. We confuse performance with ministry, beliefs with faith, and charity with justice. Our demise is the result of the abandonment of our peculiar witness to the upside-down instructions left to us by a God-intoxicated misfit. Christians can survive almost anything, save the loss of distinctiveness.We can make our share of mistakes, but we cannot be a mistake.” (Rev. Robin Myer. ‘Spiritual Resistance’)
Dear Beloved Community,
When I first read the above paragraph years ago, it resonated with my experience of church work and how it often fell short of how it was meant to be. I was fortunate enough to talk with Robin about his vision for what church could be. I remember that one of the things he described in his church was how they did communion. On the first Sunday of each month they held a community breakfast for all those who wished to attend reaching a wide swath of folk who either never came to church or who were in need of a good meal and community. This was a hands on example of what it means to truly be the church. It spoke of relationship, the extension of our understanding of church to beyond the walls of a building, and it demanded that justice be part of the paradigm. I found this perspective compelling and truly aligned with the reason for and the definition of, Christianity.
I want you to now that since that time, I have been fortunate to spend quality time in a few churches. Many individuals find this idea of being active in the work of the church compelling, though the church universal may have a more difficult time embracing the call to be active participants. That being said, this place, Vista Grande, has risen as a community to really try to walk the walk in all we do. I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to be with you on this venture of living into being a Beloved community.
We have and continue to strive to be a church that is relevant and that is committed to the ways of our Founder—the One who challenges us to be a beloved community in all things and in all ways. We have chosen the path to truly be evangelical, living out what Paul was revealing to the early church in Corinth. Are we willing to continue on this path? Are we willing to remain an example of the Beloved community in a world so desperate for such a thing? Are we willing to bring our gifts to be used in the service of God’s Vision for creation? Because I quite frankly think we can do even greater things! Do you?
Jan 21 – 28, 2019
Hello Dear Ones,
I hope this past week was a good one for you. As many of you know, I was back East for my Aunt’s funeral. It was a mixed experience: sad of course but also a real gift to see so many of my family I haven’t seen in too long. A time of loss often challenges me to examine my priorities and all that is important to me in both my personal and professional life. How appropriate that this challenge comes at a time of transition for our community as we begin this year of possibilities.
Vista Grande, its mission, its ministry, its future and all of you are my priority. This means a re-commitment to what we have all said we wish to accomplishment in our local and wider community. I won’t kid you, this is going to be very demanding in terms of your time, your talents and your tithes. We will have our Annual Meeting on Sunday and you will hear and read all of the wonderful things we have been able to accomplish this past year. It is truly amazing what this church does!
You will also hear/read that we are in deficit with regard of last year’s expenditures. While this may sound unnerving, please note that the greatest unbudgeted expense was for our parking lot. Thanks to the volunteers who cut the cost immensely, we were able to assure that our facility is both aesthetically inviting–but more importantly, absent of potential safety hazards. This speaks to the commitment to keep our facility and our mission going!
To be clear, in order to prepare for the future of our congregation we ALL need to commit our gifts to this venture. Every financial pledge is critical for planning and sustaining all that Vista Grande is and wishes to be. If you have not yet made your financial pledge please do that now. Commitment does require some sacrifice, identifying our mission as your priority.
We have been able to do great things with regard to working towards God’s vision for this world. Please take prayerful time to recognize that giving money is a spiritual practice that allows this work to continue. We cannot continue what we’ve been doing without this commitment.
Thank you all for all you do. This congregation continues to amaze me with how we are the Presence of our Beloved in this world. I continue to believe that we are destined for great things in realizing the Kin-dom! You have my commitment and I know this church has yours.
Jan 14 – 21, 2019
Hello Dear Ones,
I was reading a few things about the Baptism of Jesus, our baptism and the brilliant idea that the liturgical calendar has us remembering Jesus’ baptism during the season of Epiphany. You know, ‘Epiphany” when all those light bulbs go on over our heads and remind us of all the things we wanted to do but haven’t done yet. Wait, those are New Year’s resolutions. Let’s start over…
Epiphany is that time of light. That time when we are reminded once again of the brilliance of Beloved made manifest in our lives. One might also conclude that, for Jesus, his baptism was an epiphany: the moment when he realized who he was to be in the world, and to whom he was called to represent. What is important to remember when we listen to these stories, of the beginning of his ministry, is that it isn’t enough that we just remember. It’s not enough that we just recall our own baptismal vows that we or our parents made on our behalf. Like every other story we hear in our yearly gospel readings we are invited to enter and relive the stories. These stories are to evoke an epiphany each and every time we hear them so as to remind us that we are active participants and not passive recipients of the good news.
Every day we have an opportunity to ‘renew’ ourselves and begin again our sacred participation. I invite you to remember and to relive and to re-commit yourself to what it means to be a baptized child in whom our Beloved is pleased.
Jan 7 – 14, 2019
Hello Dear Ones,
Well we have come to the proverbial ‘end’ of the holiday season. The trappings are put away, the lights turned off, leftovers finished or tucked in the freezer until that day when we toss them away. We are entering that down time of the year. The time when we wonder if we are really noticing that each day is getting longer, the light that has been promised secretly making its way into the cold nights. It is, notoriously, a time of year where we can slip into let down and exhaustion, our hearts wanting desperately for the hint of spring.
But this is where we miss the opportunities for our own self-reflection, the invitation to recognize we already have that which we seek.
Jan Richardson is a brilliant poet and mystic who offers thoughtful words to walk us through. I hope you find these beautiful poems a way to find your way as we enter a new year.
(Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons)
I Know How Far
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you. —Isaiah 60: 4
I know how far you would walk to offer what is needed, the lengths you would go to provide for those you hold dear. I know how every road you travel begins in the hollow of your chest, in the chambers of your heart; how you measure your steps by the rhythm of your pulse; how you find your way across terrains no map could ever show.
No distance, no barrier, no expanse of time would keep you from propelling yourself toward the place where your heart has already arrived But for a moment, for one small space of time, could you pause and in the quiet, wait for the gifts that have been gathering around you, the treasures borne by those who have been traveling to welcome you since the moment you left home?
Blessing of the Magi
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. —Matthew 2: 12
here is no reversing this road. The path that bore you here goes in one direction only, every step drawing you down a way by which you will not return. You thought arrival was everything, that your entire journey ended with kneeling in the place you had spent all to find. When you laid down your gift, release came with such ease, your treasure tumbling from your hands in awe and benediction. Now the knowledge of your leaving comes like a stone laid over your heart, the familiar path closed and not even the solace of a star to guide your way. You will set out in fear. You will set out in dream. But you will set out by that other road that lies in shadow and in dark.
We cannot show you what route will take you home; that way is yours and will be found in the walking. But we tell you, you will wonder at how the light you thought you had left behind goes with you, spilling from your empty hands, shimmering beneath your homeward feet, illuminating the road with every step you take.