What Do You Worship?

Take a moment to ask yourself – what do I revere?  To what am I devoted?  And then think about your motivation for those things.  Even those who would say, “My only devotion is to God,” might ask about motivation.  Is it because you have been taught that you must please God in order to save your soul?  Or is it a free expression of gratitude for the blessings you know in your life and those yet to be discovered; for holy presence in times of trouble?  Look at the objects of your worship – your “worth-ship” – and ask if God is there, in some measure, large or small.  We have lots of unknown gods in our lives and it helps to take regular time to think about where we place our emotional and spiritual energy.  The contemplative monk Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful prayer which goes like this:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Merton displays remarkable humility and surrender here.  Despite our need to know God – our need to know everything – there is an admission here that God and God’s ways are unknowable.                                                                                      Pastor Carol

Are the things you worship of human creation?.

What to Do with Stones

There are some terrible stories in scripture and in our history about people executed by being stoned to death.  We know that stones can be destructive of life and property.  But a stone is also strong, foundational and beautiful – we were reminded of the image of Christ as cornerstone of our faith, and the foundation stones of the church – faith, hope, love, mercy.  Stones have been used not only for weapons, but to build walls and houses, make tools, mark sacred spaces, and pave roads.  Sometimes special people become the “rock” of our existence, the stones of a family, or of a church.   Whether creating a structure, or relationships, not all stones fit together perfectly.  Irregularities have to find ways to balance together, to contribute to the whole.  We are all called to be living stones in the house of the Divine.  In our unevenness, we are used by the Holy Spirit to rest with one another.  Each of us has rough edges.  We are part of an edifice only God can imagine, and mortar together with grace.  So we have work to do – stone mason work – in order to be a strong and faithful house.  Holy stone mason work is truth-telling, laughing, weeping, and working together.  Holy stone mason work also means allowing ourselves be shaped and changed.  We can bring change in the world, if we step back and allow God’s work to be done in and through each of us.  What a wonderful house of lovely stones will emerge.

Deep peace be with you,
Pastor Carol

The Commune Life

Jesus calls us to the table to share a meal with him, to be strengthened and prepared to build community in this place where we find ourselves.  We are to come with an attitude of abundance.  The radical individualism so many treasure, actually springs from an attitude of scarcity – that there won’t be enough for me if I don’t look out for myself, my class, people like me.  But in community, we can live in abundance, knowing there is always enough, because we are here for one another.  When we covenant to live by core values of mutuality and sharing, the commune is by definition non-exclusive.  That is why it becomes so difficult to reconcile exclusionary Christian views which declare some people cannot access the realm of God, the security and nurture of God’s love, the radical in-clusion of the communal life of Jesus and the early church.  That inclusive community had ordinary, messed-up, aggravating people, people who lived the Law and people who broke the Law, betrayers, deniers, and petty thieves.  There weren’t rules that said some are “good enough” and others are not.

In our Jesus commune it becomes difficult if not impossible to demonize those who are different.  If we acknowledge mutuality, interdependence, then even if we differ in opinion or approach, we are undergirded by caring, even love.  God asks us to work for the day when the brutal divisions and mistrust we have created can be dissolved in the name of greater good; when coming together at the table might mean something more than just a dressed-up, symbolic state dinner; when we might learn to speak one another’s languages.  We have centuries of acculturation to assumptions and mistrust of others to overcome. Building community, creating commune if you will, requires a spiritual “starting over;” coming to a place where we identify our shared humanity and shared needs in preference to naming only what divides us.  It is an attitude of abundance rather than scarcity; that we have more going for us than against us.

Peace and grace,
Pastor Carol

Can I Get A Witness?

Being a follower of Jesus is a dangerous business – don’t fool yourself.  We are called to be purveyors of justice and hope, to stand up in the face of inhumanity, discrimination against our brothers and sisters, and the outright destruction of Creation.  To do it as a group, a community – or to do it alone if that is what it takes.  Yes, you can pray, and that is vitally important.  But you need to speak up and be heard.  And after you speak – act, show up, and then speak some more.  Be determined and don’t be put off.   Work, write, demonstrate, hold someone’s hand, bring food, talk to them face to face – not only through a donation check.  Share your story and listen to theirs.  Listen hard and deeply.  We all have things to learn about what is in the hearts of others in order to be witnesses worthy of Jesus and the unfinished work he left to us.  In all things be respectful and hopeful and true to the overarching value of love.  Can I get a witness?

Peace and grace,
Pastor Carol

It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

Last week, after I said that I would be taking a Sunday off from worship, someone asked me, “Where are you going?”  Nowhere.  No need to go out of town, no sudden emergency commitment keeping me away.  Well, not exactly nowhere.  I was somewhere.  I was worshipping – in my garden.  I was praying in gratitude for the rain, the sun and the rest.  I was sweating, pulling weeds and sweeping out stale dirt and mulch.  Making new.  And the commitment?  It is self-care.  I need that and so do you.
There is a song called “Feeling Good” which goes back to the ’60s, recorded by number of artists, notably Nina Simone.  Whether the disciples were feeling good in the wake of the crucifixion events is debatable.  Where did Jesus go?  But the way the gospel writers tell the stories of ensuing post-crucifixion experiences of Jesus, there was certainly something to feel good about.  A sense of unimaginable  possibility.  As the song says, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day.”  I was hearing the lyric in my head, and feeling good in the wake of Easter.  And I thank you so very much for that.

Resurrection blessings to you,
Pastor Carol

Well, Isn’t That Amazing?

For all its beauty, the Easter story is actually a little traumatic.  Mary hears her name spoken in the voice of the missing-presumably-dead Jesus.  The disciples are disbelieving and everything is more than a little chaotic and out of control.  I called it amazing.  Poet Ted Loder calls it madness.  Amazing things happen every day – the risen Jesus was just one – and we overlook them all the time.  Just so that we don’t dismiss the story of an empty tomb, and the experiences of a resurrected Jesus, as unscientific, illogical fairy tales – I’d like to say that their real importance, their real truth, lies in getting us to connect with what is amazing in our own lives; what is experienced rather than explained and objectified into a binary true-false.  We live in a culture that explains (or tries to explain) away everything.  The power of the resurrection story is that it does not try to explain away what people are seeing, and invites us to do likewise.  We are better, richer, fuller people by embracing a different reality – that there are things in this life that lie beyond the wordy logic of explanation, and dwell in the visceral place of experience … and amazement.

The scripture account of the empty tomb is really a way of pointing out God’s power to do things outside our understanding.  Whether or not it is literal, factual, historical rendition of events doesn’t matter.  It is “true.”  Casting the Easter story in terms of brand-new life that looks nothing like an old life is the most dramatic possible way of saying that beyond the sunrise, the flowers, or even forgiveness, something amazing happens every morning.

Blessings to you,
Pastor Carol

Life’s Challenges: Celebrity on Palm Sunday

What could be wrong with being famous and adored?  A media darling?  Maybe rich besides, and able to score dinner reservations and tickets to see “Hamilton?”  That’s the superficial part.  Being a celebrity comes with definite problems which we talked about.  Some people seek celebrity as a means to an end.  Others have celebrity thrust on them by circumstances, and then decide to leverage it, making choices about just how to do that.  I put people like Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Milk in this group.  They gained celebrity because of their advocacy and witness, because of circumstances around them, not because they were perfect people or sought fame per se.  But when they got it, they used it.  And they suffered the ultimate negative repercussion.

What was Jesus’ celebrity about?  Like King and Milk, it was his challenge to power structures of the day which denied humanity to individuals; it was standing up to warped authority that hurts people.  On that Passover day in the gospel narrative there is a joyous feeling and all could sense it, participate in it.  Passover was a celebration ingrained in history, in blood and bones.  The people had experienced release from Egypt and from Babylon – why not release now from Rome?  At the end, maybe Jesus “gave in” to the pressure to be a celebrity in order to achieve a goal.  And he knew that it could have sacrificial consequences.  This is what can happen when we speak and live our truth.  When and how do you rise to the challenge of living a life of integrity, unafraid to spend who you are, your celebrity, not for your comfort and gain, but for a better world that needs you, the way the crowd needed Jesus?

Blessings to you,
Pastor Carol

Life’s Challenges: Hopelessness

Faith and love are like stars in a dark sky.  You know it is difficult, if not impossible, to see pinprick stars at night unless it is very dark – perhaps out in the countryside, away from the lights of cities?  Then we see, in the dark, the light we did not realize was there.  In order to know the stars of love and faith, we may have to walk in the dark.  God does not plan or create dark moments – dead places, like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, or tombs like that of Lazarus.  But at some point, we all find ourselves there, in our personal tomb, our spiritual grave.  We need to be brought out of those graves, to see the stars in the dark sky.  We need to be summoned by those who believe in us like Ezekiel, and love us like Jesus.  We need the faith to stagger forward, tripping on our burial bindings, believing in the light.  

Where is your cave, your grave, your dead spot, from which you need awakening and light?  Where are you buried in hopelessness at the moment?  It’s a challenge to see stars in the dark sky.  But if life is breath, according to Ezekiel, then there is plenty of life in you and in the church.  We may hope for new flesh on these bones, but first comes breathing – taking in the Holy Spirit of God so that defines who we are.  We open our eyes, look around and take in the lights around us.  We trust and have faith that God can act in completely unexpected ways. And as poet Dylan Thomas wrote, we “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Blessings to you,
Pastor Carol

Life’s Challenges: Facing Oppression

     Throughout scripture and throughout world history we have witnessed constant instances of oppression, which continues to plague us in our modern age. Is there no way to break this cycle?

     Lest it be thought that it is all doom and gloom, it is not. Individuals and groups are doing great work and making positive contributions in societies around the world.

     But amid this work let us not forget, in our communities of faith, in the silent sanctuaries of our own hearts, to invite God in. It is then that we will begin to see the paradigm shift that we, and God, wish to see in the world.

Let us pray!
Dear God, we continually put ourselves above others of your children. We oppress them, we treat them as other, treat them as less-than, treat them unlike the way we would wish to be treated. Help us to realize our connectedness with one another and our oneness in you, that we fulfill the purpose you would have us serve in the completion of our own salvation. Amen.


Your Pastoral Intern,
Lauren

Life’s Challenges: Grumbling

Human beings grumble and complain – we just do.  It can be no fun; sometimes even hurtful.  But there is a good side to complaining, too. Telling your truth – even if it comes out to someone else like grumbling – is important.  Being honest is vital to your integrity, so you don’t “stuff” things, and build up resentment which causes further trouble.  And grumbling actually honors others.  It says, “I trust you enough to be able to hear my truth.  I value you enough not to lie to you about how I feel.”  There is nothing in the Biblical commandments that says, “Thou shalt not complain.”  In fact, most of the prophets were complainers, as were some of the psalmists, and Jesus, and Paul…  Why, when it was a question of justice, compassion, and building right relationship, Jesus was a world-class grumbler!  Stand up for the world of shalom, of wholeness, that God wishes for us.  Let’s just remember when we are doing our grumbling to love one another despite our differences, and always reach for common ground and values.  Christians do grumble, you know, and there is always enough grace for everyone.  

Blessings,
Pastor Carol