July 17 – 24, 2017
Reflections on Esau and Jacob offered by Karen Georgia Thompson
“Themes of greed and exploitation should cause us to take pause. This is by no means a happy story. It is the making of tragedy: loss of humanity robs one of his human dignity, and broken relationships within the family abound. Both brothers provide case studies for the human condition and beg reflection on the ways in which we live in relationship with one another.
Issues of justice and care for community are highlighted in this exchange. Are we willing to give to each other in times of need or do we find ways to promote personal gain? Who are the exploited within the community? Who are the people who lose what they have to eat and what they need to live?”
Dear God Infused People,
The above reflections can act as either a reminder of how we are to act in the world, or as an indictment for when we haven’t acted in Godly ways. To be clear, sometimes it is difficult for us to determine how we are to act when we are literally faced with the injustice and the needs of the ‘least of these’ in our daily encounters. Case in point, VG currently has a young homeless man who has been nesting in out garden and sleeping on our bench outside our front doors.
The initial response to this young man is: What can we do?
A number of folks have offered food, information on recourses, and conversation. Due to some obvious disconnect with the world around him, it is clear he is in need of some serious help. And as is often the case, he has refused such assistance.
This leaves us, as it leaves many whose hearts are pulled in the direction of compassion, to wrestle with what to do next. The UCC and VG has, after all, embraced the notion that “No matter who you are, you are welcome here”. However, how do we address this ethos of radical hospitality when we are faced with the reality of someone who needs more than we can offer? My response has always been, get out of the way so that someone else can help.
We do not live in a black and white world where answers are easily attained, although that would be nice. Sometimes it is more important to recognize that we can’t do it all. When that is the case, we are called to take a back seat and make room for those who can help. It Is just as important to recognize our limitations as it is to above and beyond to help those in need.
To be clear, even as I write these words, I am aware of my own struggle to determine the course that will offer our visitor a compassionate response to his need. And in these times, I make the attempt to pray for direction rather than to act on my own ego to try to fix things! This journey of answering call and responding to the ways of Jesus can be quite difficult for sure…
And now for something completely different and just plain fun!
Offered by Carolyn Gunning
A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. He wrote: “I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons, but for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time,
the preachers and priests are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all”.
This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column.
Much to the delight of the editor, it went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I’ve been married for almost 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
When you are DOWN to nothing, God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible & receives the impossible!”
Dear Powerful People,
Wow! I missed you! My wife and I had a wonderful vacation in Baltimore which allowed us to reconnect with some friends and family and the city of the best sport’s teams ever! We did a lot of walking, ate lots of sea food, and enjoyed, thoroughly, the heat and humidity. We got tickets to an Orioles game and got to see the second one from our hotel as it overlooked the yard. Life is good!
And of course, as the UCC had their General Synod half a block away, I got to be a God Geek and attend some very powerful events (balancing work and play of course).
I will warn you that both vacation and Synod were energizing and I plan on sharing that rest-filled energy with you. One way will be to introduce two of my new favorite people: Rev. Traci Blackmon–elected at Synod as the Executive Director of Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC and Rev. William Barber, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsborough, NC. I will give you a proper introduction to these two prophets in the next few weeks but suffice it to say for now, that they are leading those who are willing to follow, into a justice oriented, hope-filled future. They are my new superheroes and in time, they will no doubt be yours too!!
There are times when our cups feel so empty, when we thirst for hope and the reassurance that we are not alone in the work of the Gospel. I promise you that we are not! There is a growing movement afoot which speaks to the strengths and gifts of our congregation. I promise you lots of energizing and God filled moments to come!
Sunday was the annual Pride March. Vista Grande gathered with High Plains in VG’s sanctuary to celebrate how far we’ve come and to acknowledge the work that still needs to be done with regard to LGBTQ justice. Clare was joined at the pulpit with Pastor Dana from High Plains, and Carla Vogel, Jewish story teller extraordinaire and one of our interfaith partners. After a delightful and filling spread, many folks made their way down town to march together in the parade. Once again, our churches collaborated to be a voice of justice and support for the LGBTQ community. This support is especially needed these days as many of our neighbors are feeling threatened and afraid during these uncertain times. A great big thank you to all who participated and all of you who support with prayers and good thoughts.
Jun 19-25, 2017
“A religion that doesn’t have the courage to speak out for human beings doesn’t have the right to speak out for God.” Luis Espinal (Jesuit poet who was killed in Bolivia), 20th century
Dear Sacred People,
We have all heard the adage that desperate times call for desperate measures. And to be sure this is often how we respond to critical, bind mending and heart wrenching events. This isn’t always a bad thing. This type of response and reaction often propels folks into action after a natural disaster or a community tragedy. We as humans are often at our best when we jump right in to help alleviate the suffering of others. Where we tend to fail is in the long haul, when the suffering of the world, both local and global, becomes more of an inconvenience and discomfort than a call for compassionate action.
Katheryn Matthews reminds us, “It’s tempting for us in the church to see its “reason for being” in meeting the needs of those (of us) who “pay their way,” perhaps like members of a private club. And yet the gospel impels us to interact with the world beyond our walls, right in our own neighborhood, or in places far away, places which our compassion can reach even though we may never physically go there ourselves.”
If we are to strive to “Be the Church”, then our response to the needs of our world must be constant. This doesn’t mean that we are to solve all the problems of the world, or that we, as individuals, are supposed to burn ourselves out trying to take care of every soul that crosses our path, But it does mean that as members of the Body of Christ we make sacrifices of inconvenience: of time, of talents of resources to do what we can. Our community has such potential to illicit transformation in our local world. We are a community of radical hospitality, of compassion and of love.
Rev. Matthews asks “What is the good news that God is still speaking today? It is about more than just proper religious beliefs: right beliefs are just the beginning point, or, perhaps we find our way toward those right beliefs (not just saying what we have been taught, but experiencing its truth) through faithful practices of mercy and compassion, and the lessons we learn along the way. Perhaps right beliefs are really the realizations that arise from our experience of God’s love, as we offer that love and receive it as well.
I invite you, Dear ones, to ask yourselves how you can Be the Church? How can you be disciples of our Beloved teacher? Imagine what we can do as a Beloved Community of Christ. Peace to you all.
June 12-19, 2017
Good Morning Beloved Community,
There is such energy and vitality that fills the space when folks from our Conference come together for renewal and celebration of our common call to Be the Church. While I only had one day with this community, it was a time of hopeful reminders that while the world, locally and globally , may present challenges every day, we are not in this thing called life and love alone. Included in the worship materials that we used yesterday was this great story. I offer it to you today so that you can also be reminded of the power of community.
Here is another retelling of the Creation story by Rabbi Marc Gelman in the book Does God Have a Big Toe:
Before there was anything there was God, a few angels, and a huge whirling swirling glob of rocks and water, in no particular order.
The angels asked God,
“Why don’t you clean up this mess?”
So God collected rocks from the huge whirling swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said,
“Some of these clumps will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be… just rocks.”
Then God collected water from the huge whirling swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said,
“Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will be clouds, and some these pools of water will be… just water.”
The angels said,
“Well, God… it’s neater now. But is it done yet?”
On some of the rocks God placed growing things and creeping things, and things only God knows what they are. And when God had finished doing all this, the angels asked,
“Is it done yet?”
God made some animals for the rocks and some swimming things for the water and then some humans by combing some water and stardust and told the humans,
“I’m done. Please finish up the world for me. Really, it’s almost done.”
But the humans protested: “You have the plans. We can’t do this alone.”
“Yes, you can,” said God, “but I’ll agree to this. You keep working on it and I’ll be your partner.”
The humans asked,
“What’s a partner?”
“A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means you can never give up because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I’m not doing enough and on the days I think you’re not doing enough, we keep working together. That’s my offer. And they all agreed to the deal.
The angels asked God, “Is it done yet?”
God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”
June 5-12, 2017
Dear Spirit Filled People,
A gentle reminder or two…
“When was the last time
that we heard the wind of your Spirit
roar through this place?
When was the last time
your fire lit up this room?
When was the last time
we took you at your word
and met together in expectation
of your Spirit filling this place,
and these lives with the power of your Presence?
Divine Mystery, you challenge us with Pentecost.
Do we believe that this
was a once in eternity experience,
never to be repeated?
That the Holy Spirit was poured out
on your followers for a single purpose,
and ended Her work at that instant?
If so, then maybe that is why the Church
seems so powerless in this age,
helpless when faced with the needs
both spiritual and physical,
that we see in the world.
God of Mercy, as we meet together,
and celebrate once again
the memory of that first Pentecost,
may it be for us as it was then
a moment of empowerment,
an awareness of your Kin-dom in this dark world,
a life changing experience.” (Anonymous)
“When We Breathe Together”, JanRichardson
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. —Acts 2: 1
“This is the blessing we cannot speak by ourselves. This is the blessing we cannot summon by our own devices, cannot shape to our own purposes, cannot bend to our own will. This is the blessing that comes when we leave behind our aloneness, when we gather together, when we turn toward one another. This is the blessing that blazes among us when we speak the words strange to our ears, when we finally listen into the chaos, when we breathe together at last.”
May 30 – June 5, 2017
Dear Spirit Filled People,
I don’t refer to you as ‘Spirit filled’ lightly. This coming Sunday we will once again celebrate the ‘birthday of the church’, Pentecost. The time when the promise of Jesus to his friends, that he would not leave them without comfort and connection, comes to be. Every year we celebrate this holy day of the church. But do we really understand what this day is about?
In the reading this past Sunday, the author of John had Jesus praying for his friends, that they would recognize that they had been invited into an intimate relationship with the Divine. His prayer for them was that they would comprehend how deeply God desired them and by extension, desires us. Do we realize just how much we are wanted? And Loved? And needed? And desired by our God?
We often push aside this invitation however, here’s the thing: We are already infused with the Spirit of our God. We can pretend, or ignore, or deliberately chose not to be aware, but the truth persists. God wants us. So, how will we proceed???
We’ll talk more on Sunday…
May 22 – 29, 2017
Good Monday Sacred People,
I missed you all yesterday! While I certainly enjoyed spending time with the crew at High Plains, it was good to come back for fellowship and the afternoon class. I will tell you that the congregation of High Plains expressed how excited they are about our collaborative efforts to become an interfaith community. They do have similar concerns to ours: a strong desire to maintain our denominational identities; having time and space to continue our own evolution as a UCC and UU community; budgetary concerns; parking; etc. But the overall consensus, is the desire to be a sacred entity that is inclusive of religious diversity in a world that frowns on such things.
This is a huge vision. It is one that requires lots of conversation and patience as we move forward with each other. And I have no doubt of Vista Grande’s ability to do this as I have witnessed the definition of radical hospitality each week when I see all of you! Imagine the transformations which are possible as we extend that extravagance beyond our walls. Thank you for your courage and vision as we demonstrate what it means to Be The Church in this world.
Peace to you all, Clare
May Divine Wisdom give guidance to all people.
May Divine Wisdom bless all people with peace.
May we go forth remembering that all people—women, men, and children of all races, religions, and cultures in all nations—are created equally in the divine image.
May we join hands as sisters and brothers in this community and around the world to heal divisions and to build bridges of respect and understanding.
Go forth with wisdom and grace to join our Creator’s work of making peace on earth as we continue to become all we are created to be.
“From Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Progressive Christianity”
May 15-21, 2017
Dear Wonderful people,
Yesterday, we completed class 2 of our White Privilege curriculum. For so many of us, this is a difficult notion to grasp without feeling defensive or guilt ridden. As such, we tend to avoid these difficult conversations and instead, talk ourselves into believing that this isn’t a concern for me because “I am not racist”, or prejudice, or ” I have black friends”. The problem is, when we close our eyes to one form of injustice we tend to close our eyes to another form. We do this even if that injustice affects us directly. You remember the poem from pastor Martin Niemöller,
First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.
We see this happening in our own public discourse and policies: folks choosing a path or politician without realizing that they are, in effect, choosing some policy or person who will inevitably hurt them. Closer to home, the Gazette this morning had this to say: “Study: Pay gap between men and women in Colorado Springs among nation’s largest”. (I encourage you to read the article). Pay discrepancies are an injustice and this particular injustice affects a large part of our working families. It is an arduous task to keep up on all justice issues but it is an imperative that we do so. Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The point is, we, as followers of ‘the way’ need to stay open to the difficult conversations so that we might be the instruments of God’s loving justice and peace. This is our call as a community of inclusivity and radical hospitality–to seek justice for all of God’s creation.
Stay alert and attentive dear ones, the kin-dom of God is indeed at hand.
May 1 – 8, 2017
Dear Sacred People,
Next week we begin a very critical conversation concerning the notion of privilege as it relates to specific racial relationships in our world. President of the UCC, John Dorhauer, notes that while the initial focus of privilege focuses on Black/White relations, the concept of privilege permeates many areas of our lives. As such, the UCC plans to continue these conversations in future dialogues.
Let’s face it, when we hear White Privilege, and if we are white, we tend to react emotionally and defensively: “I’m not racist!”, I’m not privileged–I had to work very hard for what I have”, “Those folks have more than I do-how is that privilege?”, “Aren’t we finished with this stuff yet?”, etc. etc. etc. And then we avoid the topic altogether believing that we are either above it or it doesn’t pertain to us.
I think the best way to explain how we miss the boat on privilege is to share a story of my own ignorance. My first year in seminary, first quarter, first exam, and needless to say many of us were nervous. I tried breaking the tension with a few of my classmates by telling a joke that a good friend from Louisiana told me. It began: “Two rednecks walk into a bar…” One of my classmates immediately walked away, clearly annoyed. I asked her what the problem was, as my joke was not offensive in my view. It wasn’t attacking gender or orientation or race nor culture. So what was the problem? She calmly and patiently but also definitively told me that she was from West Virginia coal country. She explained that her people had been mis-understood, stereotyped, and discriminated against for far too long and that my joke was indeed offensive because it perpetuated the stereotype of poor and uneducated people. It was a wakeup call for me. I never even considered this offensive or misdirected and this was because of my privilege. My privilege of never living in that culture or environment. My privilege of never having to defend my coal mine job, my accent or my inability to access resources which were made available to me because of my family, where I was born and my family’s financial status. My privilege that allowed me to laugh at another’s misfortune without even knowing I was doing it. My initial response was to defend myself, tell her she was over re-acting, and even feel victimized by her assertion that I had offended ‘her people’. Thank God, I kept my mouth shut. Because in that silence I was able to realize that all my good intentions mean nothing if I fail to listen to another’s experience.
This is what this curriculum is designed to do. To listen. To actually hear. To appropriately empathize. To humbly recognize our own complicity and lack of understanding. To become aware of our own privilege. And to embrace one another in the spirit of acceptance and love. This is not a lesson in guilt and shame but rather one of expanding our vision of living into our diversity. I invite all of you to participate in this Sacred Conversation.
April 24 – May 1, 2017
Good Morning Dear Ones,
Yesterday afternoon I witnessed 2 beautiful events in the life of our local churches. Both instilled a sense of joy and hope when measured against the sometimes overwhelmingly, troubled times we are experiencing in our world. The first was the showing of the National Geographic documentary, “Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric,” at Vista Grande. This was attended by 21 folks and was followed by a very poignant discussion. I was touched by the willingness of some of our members to share their very personal and, sometimes, painful journeys with the group. There was an open and honest exchange which just reminded me of the profound safe and loving space Vista Grande has created and allowed to flourish. This sacred space has made it possible for all of us to be ourselves, bringing every part of our lives, without fear, to a community of radical hospitality and acceptance. How healing we can be for one another.
The second event was the Installation of Anne Cubbage as Broadmoor Community Church’s settled pastor. Anne And her wife moved recently from the East Coast to join BCC as that community ventures into being yet another prophetic voice in the desert. Besides being a huge step for Broadmoor, this celebration comes during the season on Easter to remind us that God is truly still speaking, and has many more ideas for this world than, perhaps, we thought possible. Easter reminds us that death: death of compassion, kindness, justice, has been defeated as long as we choose to live into what it means to be the Resurrection–what it means to be The Church. This, my friends, is truly Good News!. Thank-you for being the presence of our Beloved in this world! You make so many things possible.
April 17 – 24, 2017
Good Morning Easter people!
I began my morning like most, coffee and the morning’s news. After a wonderful day like yesterday. I want to just hold onto the softness, the joy, the laughter of children and the love most felt in the company of so many wonderful people. This is not always easy to do in the midst of the world’s troubles. Yet another colleague of mine (Jerry Herships) who works with the homeless in Denver offered this:
At least some people are asking, “Where is God?”
Yeah, we know “He has risen”, but that can seem to be a tough sell in Syria…
and North Korea…
and the U.S.
I think so many are tired of pat answers and rose colored glasses theology when we see so much hurt around us.
I think Peter Rollins put it well when he said, “God is not found in the running away from brokenness. God is found in the midst of brokenness.”
When we stop seeing God as a magician who can take it all away in the wave of a wand, we find a different God…one that is present with us in the middle of our pain and our brokenness.
I know I saw God yesterday when I saw 100’s turn out for a memorial service of a beautiful mom, wife and friend on a holiday weekend.
I know I saw God in the park today in the words of a child who asked me “Can I help do communion?” And then handed out Jesus to the homeless today while saying, “This is a reminder of how much God loves you.”
And I know God is in all those places I mentioned above.
I saw God in the midst of pain and suffering.
Christ didn’t rise for Easter Flowers and Peeps.
Christ rose so he could continue to be with us in the middle of our deepest pains and hurts. Now and from this point forward.
And I think, however we can, we should do our damnedest to be there right alongside. As Augustine said, “God without us will not, as we without God cannot.” Be there for each other…
…and he will have risen indeed.”
But you know all this already–you pretty much shared this yesterday. So as a reminder, you are the resurrection! When you recognize the Divine in another and show up for the other, you are living in the light and spirit of the risen Jesus. You are the love and the life of our God! Be the Resurrection in all you do, dear ones, and no one will ask, “Where is god?”
April 10 – 17, 2017
Good Morning Dear People,
Yesterday we began, once again, the sacred time of Holy Week. In our busy lives it can become so easy to jump directly from Palm Sunday to Easter without immersing and engaging ourselves in the life of Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in “The Last Week” offer a brilliant day by day, hour by hour, immersion into Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. (I encourage you to indulge in this book if you get a chance).
The point is that Holy Week calls to us to walk with Jesus beginning with his entrance into Jerusalem. Since most of us will not be in church again until Easter, we can miss the intimacy and yes, passion, that occurs between Jesus and his followers and friends, the community in which he lives and in the realization of what it means to live into God’s desire for this world. On Maundy Thursday, quite frankly my favorite holy day in the life of the church, we remember and experience that emotional connection, the passion, Jesus had with God and God’s creation. We are reminded of what it means and the risks involved in being true disciples. And we, once again, re-affirm our call and response to be the instruments of God’s peace and love in a world often chaotic and violent.
Won’t you join me on this most sacred of days and experience the journey of love and passion that was our beloved brother’s passion for God’s kin-dom?
Peace to you all this week, Clare
April 3 – 10, 2017
Dear Sacred People,
I was thinking of the couple of times I took my kids to the planetarium in Denver when they were younger. My son and I listened to the soft comfortable voice of Liam Neeson as he described the origins and properties of Black Holes. My son seemed to grasp the concepts faster than I, not having been corrupted by the imitations of thinking that the earth is the primary focal point of the universe. He was fascinated. I was terrified. Oh sure, I found my science mind was very curious, and I was spellbound by the beauty that the Hubble Telescope had projected back to earth. But, I also found that I was questioning my very existence and importance and, in so doing, questioning all I thought I knew about the Divine. After all, I was in seminary at the time and pretty assured of my theology and its brilliance. I did not need to be challenged in this way while feeling so certain about my understanding of God, thank you very much!
And yet, I went back, each time pushing the boundaries: of my comfort, of my understanding of my world around me, of my arrogant comprehension of the Divine. Each time scared me. Each time increased my anxiety as I was expected to think beyond any box I could imagine. Each time challenged me to understand that I can’t understand the enormity of the universe let alone the enormity and the mystery of God.
And paradoxically, each time left me more in awe and more secure (eventually!) in the presence and unfathomable mystery that is the Divine. This is what we are ultimately invited to do. Jesus was such a spirit person who had already been stretched beyond any theological convention, and understood what he didn’t understand and therefore understood even better! And he used his life to invite us into that mystery, knowing that once we allowed ourselves into that Mystery we would have no other choice but to embrace the heart and will of God.
This can be a frightening journey. One that pushes and pulls and tests and challenges way beyond any comfort zone in which we dwell. But the experience of the embrace of our Beloved is what we crave and what we are called into. As we move into these final days of Lent and closer to the sacred time of Holy week, I would invite you to step into that place where you can respond to this call, to be held and to “know” your God. Peace to you all.
Mar 27 – April 3, 2017
Dear Sacred People,
“Never put a period where God has put a comma. God is Still Speaking” This quote, which has become the hallmark of the UCC, is a quote from comedian Gracie Allen in her last letter to her husband George Burns.
We get used to hearing the phrase, “God is still speaking”, and like, anything else we hear a lot, it can either lose meaning or we just don’t give it much thought. But this profound statement reminds us that there is so much more to the mind of the Divine than we can ever comprehend. For centuries and then some, the universal church has spent an incredulous amount of time trying to nail down a specific theological stance on the nature of God, never truly understanding that our evolution is intimately connected with our minuscule understanding of the Divine. Historically, the global church has desperately tried to answer all questions pertaining to God’s nature and in so doing has contributed to dogmas and doctrines that are antithetical to the God we say we worship: a God of love and compassion. The result has often been a theology that excludes, intimidates and hurts.
What do we do then with our desire to know the Divine, and to have answers that alleviate us of the anxiety associated with uncertainty?
It helps if we tweak our understanding of theology and for our purposes, true religion. As Christians we embrace the life of Jesus as an example of what it means to live in a broken world and have some sort of responsibility towards its healing. Episcopal priest and theologian Carter Hayward suggests that how we experience God and Jesus is a truth that is ever evolving. As such she suggests that “we who currently constitute the Christian Church are the temporary authors and guardians of Christian truth. So the theologian’s task involves ‘a capacity to discern God’s presence here and now and to reflect on what this means, and is part of a communal effort and struggle to enable the flourishing of love and justice in a world where the potential for relationality is broken, often violently. The project of…relationality, then, is an alternative to an authoritarian understanding of social/relational power, both inside and outside the church. Mutual relationship entails a willingness to participate in healing a broken world, and so is not a private or individualistic task.”
There is so much more to this notion of being temporary authors and guardians and we will follow up on Sunday! See you then!
March 20-27, 2017
Dear Sacred people,
We are at the half way point of our Lenten journey and I hope you have had some time to reflect and experience some peaceful quiet time with our Beloved. It can be so difficult to find time and space that is free from the distractions and worries of the world. Living in the in between space is challenging. I am reminded of what we spoke about a few weeks ago: that every day invites us to experience a re-birth, a transformation, an experience of being made aware of the presence of the Divine. In other words, there is always time. There is always opportunity. There is always invitation, to meet with our God. All we have to do is show up.
“This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway. Step around the poisonous vipers that slither at your feet, attempting to throw you off your course. Be bold. Be humble. Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Slip way. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.”(Mirabai Starr)
March 13-20, 2017
Good Monday Dear People,
I woke this morning to more posts by colleagues and friends pointing to the many ways those who are marginalized will be impacted by impending policies, and disturbing attitudes, towards the “other”. I find it is easy to get caught up in the anger, anxiety and uncertainty about the direction things are going in our land. I am aware that I, myself, fit into a few of the ‘marginalized’ categories that may ultimately be affected by the changes proposed. I may not have to worry about being arrested, torn from my family and deported; or concerned about our church being vandalized because of our beliefs; or my deceased relatives’ headstones being turned over; or the chance that I will not be admitted into a country I call home. But I am a woman over 50, who will most likely lose my affordable insurance; and I am part of a minority group that some of our leaders believe can be ‘healed’, and who claim my marriage is illegitimate; and I have family members who will be affected by cuts in education and mental health.
I don’t offer this for sympathy or attention. I offer it because we all know someone who will be affected by any actions, implemented by those who do not take the welfare of all God’s creation into consideration, when making sweeping and greedy decisions.
We, therefore, are called, to respond as followers of Jesus. We are called to be the voice of the voiceless. We are called to be the comfort to those who suffer. We are called to act in ways that bring justice to all people. And we are called to do this with grace and compassion. Not easy tasks, for sure.
I invite you to follow the direction of Richard Rohr during these troubled times. Take the time to re/connect with our Beloved. Allow yourselves the comfort of contemplation, of immersing yourself in the embrace of our God. Feel and accept how much you are loved. And then, go forward and act. Remember, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” (Rohr) If we can embrace this, then we can truly move in this world with compassion and love towards all.
Take care of yourselves Dear Ones. Remember you are loved. Remember you are in a community of support and acceptance. And remember who you are and to whom you belong.
March 6-13, 2017
Dear Faithful People,
When we declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus, Christians, we are stating that we stand with him, his teachings, and his call to be in this world in such a way that reflects the presence of God. For so long, our organized churches, for good or for naught, have focused on the depravity of humanity whose sin is a cause for great shame and deprecation. Who can possibly believe that they the reflection of the Divine if what they have heard from their religious leaders is that they are unworthy of God’s Love? Or, trust they are cherished if led down the path of believing that our only salvation lies in the blood sacrifice of Jesus? I’m not sure how to reconcile an all loving God who cherishes God’s creation and yet couldn’t come up with another way for redemption than the calculated execution of Jesus. It makes no sense. There must have been another way. Turns out there is…
This is a huge theological conversation but one we need to have if we are to claim our identities as Christians. And one of the first places is to start to have an understanding of sin that keeps us in the decision making process rather than identifies us as persons marked by ‘sin’ from our inceptions.
Richard Rohr offers a perspective of ‘sin’ in chapter one of his ‘Eight Core Principles’ (the book I’m using for our Lenten series). More importantly to identifying sin, he points to ways that Jesus invites us to overcome sin, keeping us in the equation by actively being involved in our own redemption. Paradoxically, this offers both a greater challenge to us in terms of standing with Jesus, but it also offers greater comfort. It speaks to the point that our God is a loving God who doesn’t demand sacrifice and who truly loves unconditionally. Below is an excerpt from his book. I hope it offers some illumination on your Lenten journey.
“Brilliantly, Jesus names “sin” in a totally new way, which most Christians are still largely resisting. Sin, for Jesus, is not found in any kind of localization of evil outside or over there, where I can point to it, punish it, and try to change it. That is too easy, and thus it is religion’s constant temptation. Without denying sin or making light of evil, he shows us the one way of actually overcoming it. Sin, for Jesus, is the very act of accusing itself — whenever you try to expel and accuse evil groups, nations, religions, or people, and somehow leave yourself out of the equation, you end up “sinning.” It is rather shocking that Jesus is never actually upset at sinners, as we are, but he is only upset at people who do not think they are sinners.
Jesus himself accuses. Jesus would never deny objective evil, but he knows that if any human attempts to conquer it, or control it, that can only be done according to the pattern of the crucifixion itself. There he teaches us how to hold it, carry it ourselves, and finally transform it — by recognizing our own complicity in evil but our eagerness to attack it elsewhere (see Romans 8:3, Galatians 3:13). Until this dualistic illusion is suffered, we are never prepared to attack evil ourselves, which is revealed in Jesus’ first facing the three temptations to power himself (Matthew 4:1–11) before he begins his ministry. Until we face our own power demons, none of us are prepared to fight evil. That is the humiliating position of Jesus where few choose to stand.
It is rather obvious that Jesus spends most of his ministry standing with the accused, the excluded, the unworthy, the so-called bad people, the demonized. It is actually rather scandalous how the only way he tries to change them is by loving and healing them, never accusing anybody but the accusers themselves. His social program is primarily solidarity. Jesus stands with the demonized until the demonizing stops. This is Jesus’ primary form of justice work, which is why Jesus’ “strategy” is always so hard to pinpoint and name. His justice strategy is solidarity with suffering itself, wherever it is.
(Rohr, Richard. The Eight Core Principles (Kindle Locations 109-120). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition).
Feb 27 – March 6, 2017
Dear Sacred People,
And so after an amazing celebration of music and talents yesterday, we find ourselves on the cusp of the next liturgical season, Lent. I have never been one to embrace the ritual of ashes on the forehead. Growing up and attending my neighborhood Catholic school (which was, of course, attached to our church) it was pounded into us that this was a season of penitence. A season where God demanded our obedience by means of sacrifice and fasting. I mean, it wasn’t too much to ask given our status as worthless humans whose only means of redemption for God to have ‘his’ only child killed, right? Ugh. When as a kid I couldn’t reconcile this theology with my experience and understanding of an all loving, even all powerful deity. If the former were true why was this kind of sacrifice necessary?? In my young mind it made no sense.
Needless to say, I believe this one of the primary reasons folks leave ‘the church’. This theological presentation into the ‘mind and motivations’ of God is too difficult to reconcile with a loving Deity. Lent becomes a reminder for some that God is an unpredictable God, demanding painful sacrifice of us because we are unworthy.
I remember part of the demands of Lent in my early days as an amateur theologian in elementary school, was the expectation that one would sacrifice something for 40 days or do something special. The ‘something to do’, which was encouraged by the nuns, was to attend daily mass. To make it easy, mass was offered at 6 am, 12:10 pm, and 5 pm. And, if one should choose to go to the 12:10 mass one would receive a dispensation from our principal which allowed us to be 20 minutes late for afternoon classes. Hmmmmmm, guess which ritual I chose.??
But, our Beloved truly has a sense of humor, or at the very least enjoys having the last word. What started out, for me, as being an easy out for lent with a bonus of missing school, turned into something greater than I could have imagined. You see, during those half hour masses, I found myself enjoying the time. It was quiet, and comfortable and there was a sense of being held and embraced. It may have simply been that there was no sermon and therefore no reinforcement of a demanding, sacrificial God. There was just the space in which the Sacred dwelled and I was immersed in an unexpected experience of meeting the Divine.
It was these times that I had an awakening, of sorts, as to who God might be. In the silence and prayer, God was not demanding, or desiring of humiliating penitence or vengeful. The Beloved was simply there, as a gentle and non-judging presence.
I began, over the years, to look forward to those 40 days, craving the silent time, when only a handful of people would show up and Be. I find it ironic that those moments, those experiences, those encounters, would eventually take me from my original religions tradition so as to return to my God.
This is the purpose of Lent. To find our beloved again, to let ourselves be free of distractions and untenable expectations and rather succumb to the embrace of our Beloved. I wish for each of you the experience of knowing you are loved and cherished and that God is waiting for you in the silence, in the sacred space, in the dwelling place that is you.
Feb 20 – 27, 2017
“Since my Beloved is for me and I am for my Beloved, who will be able to separate and extinguish two fires so enkindled? It would amount to laboring in vain, for the two fires have become one.” Teresa of Avila
Good Morning Dear Ones,
Teresa of Avila is my all-time favorite mystic. She lived in the 16th century and her writings speak of the rich and intimate relationship she sought and experienced with the Beloved. Her writings have been translated by author Mirabai Starr in a style that makes her so accessible to us. Below is an excerpt from Starr’s book “Passionate Mystic”. Starr extends the invitation offered in Teresa’a writings to fall in love with God, to allow ourselves to be loved wholly and completely by our Creator, and in so doing we are compelled to live fully our call to be the presence of our Beloved in this world.
“Teresa of Avila promises us that if we commit to loving one another when it is most difficult, our Beloved will make it up to us. Islamic wisdom emphasizes the holiness of desert hospitality welcoming everyone we encounter with a cup of tea, without checking to determine what religion or political party or nation they identify with. Christ taught that whenever we turn toward the other instead of running away or striking out, the Holy One melts the edges from our hardened hearts and invites us into a greater love. In Jewish mysticism we learn that the more graciously we yield to the chilling shadow of the human condition, the more the Shekinah— the indwelling Face of the Divine will blow on the coals of our heart, filling us with desire for her Presence. When you have the urge to pull in or push away, try softening, surrendering, saying yes to the One who hides behind the masks of the many.”
Peace to you all
Feb 13-20, 2017
“There is a laundry list of justice issues that demand our energies and time to addressing from the pulpit and the pews. These issues require that we engage in critical self-examination before we can lend ourselves to the task of bringing about equality. It is hard to overlook the many who have no place to sleep or food to eat and are left begging in the streets. Our nightly newscasts are filled with story after story of individuals who are dehumanized and rendered victims of a society that no longer values relationships and has ceased loving neighbor as self.” Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson
Happy Monday Dear Ones,
We all have opinions, have you noticed?! And this is not a bad thing. Our thoughts and opinions allow us to think freely and to engage in dialogue with one another. Unfortunately, opinions alone can be toxic. It’s easier to align with those who have the same or similar thoughts and opinions about various ‘things’. While this is and of itself isn’t a problem, if we never allow ourselves to be stretched, then conversing with those with whom we don’t agree or understand can become daunting and confrontational. Our opinions can become judgements further alienating us from others, compounding the divisiveness that exists in our world.
The one thing that can keep us from becoming only issue oriented people, is to remain in relationship with one another. Issues define social, justice, and equality problems that require our attention. Relationships are the only way we can accomplish breaking down the barriers which allow social problems to run rampant.
The challenge, then, is to engage one another with respect and a listening presence. Of course, this is not always possible. Sometimes, we can find it too painful to participate in conversations with those whom we disagree–and this can be for many reasons. This is ok. However, as we walk away from that conversation we can do it with an attitude of peace recognizing that stepping away may be the best way to participate. Knowing our strengths and limitations is critical in difficult dialogue. The goals are to try and do no harm.
“The primary importance of human relationships seems to be lost as individuals are rendered less-than because of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In the first-century church, would anyone dare admit that they were contributing to the problems Matthew(5:21-37) wrote to address? It is easy to look at the problems and name them as the fault of others but the bigger challenge comes when we dare to find ourselves in the midst and ask how am I contributing to the problem? Or, how can I bring difference to what I observe around me?” Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson.
And again, this is where community remains paramount in the work we do. We offer different gifts, voices, support and challenges to one another. Oh the places we can go!!!