Always Room for Gratitude

Scripture and other wisdom literature remind us to be grateful; to be thankful. Gratitude is one of the core values of every religious tradition. We even have medical evidence that adopting gratitude as a life practice is good for our health. If it’s so good for body and soul, why is it so difficult to do? We came up with a few reasons: (1) We are just so darn busy, programmed with tasks and worries, that we don’t feel like we can take “time out” – even for a minute. (2) Complaining is contagious and when we are around complaining people, it’s hard to be grateful. We need to extricate ourselves from whine-fests. (3) We really are ungrateful, or acting that way – but most likely we are unhappy rather than ungrateful. Try breaking a seemingly insurmountable problem down into manageable pieces and likely there is room for gratitude. (4) We get complacent. Everything is going well for us. Besides, we work so hard and deserve all this goodness we have. Try reclaiming the awesomeness of the universe. It’s not all about you! (5) We have been spared true disaster and loss in life, and the accompanying experience of just being grateful for life, breath, a small keepsake, and those we love.
Remember to begin and end each day with a grateful heart.

Blessings,   – Pastor Carol


Jesus was perpetually involved in controversy.  He knew the letter of the Law as well as the Pharisees, but he had the spirit part down, too. He grasped the meaning and intention with which God had infused the “rules.”  That understanding permitted him to heal people on the sabbath, eat with tax collectors and other offensive sorts, and rescue women being stoned for adultery.  He was freed up to show love in action. By contrast, others appeared to care only for rules, and nothing about an ethic of humane justice.  Too often faith leaders mistake human interpretations of God’s hopes and intentions for our living to be, in fact, the iron-clad word of God.  Maybe the Pharisees thought they were faithfully upholding God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, but it is easy to see how values can turn oppressive.

Sometimes rules must be ignored in the interest of preserving life – physical and spiritual. What does it mean when Jesus breaks rules? Is this blanket permission for all people of faith to get disobedient? I’ve marched; I’ve protested; I’ve lain down in a street. But no, it’s not wild justification or a blank check for whatever view or action we choose.  When Jesus broke the rules as he did with the sabbath healings, he did so to lift up God’s priorities:  Do good. Save and enhance life. Marginalization, discrimination, violence, hatred, and so forth, even dressed up with righteousness and legalities, still show that holy priorities are being undercut by personal or collective human interests.  When Jesus broke rules, he did so for others, not for his own personal gain.  Convoluted justifications for the unjust rules some so passionately defend are of no interest to God. God only desires that we “do good” and “save life,” even if it means breaking rules.

                                          – Pastor Carol    

Stumbling Along in the Dark

The world is full of all sorts of smart, creative, dedicated and very articulate people.  We can be in awe of them and feel dumb and inadequate by comparison.  Don’t do that!  We all have “empty spaces” in terms of what we do not know.  We are ignorant.  There are things we aren’t trained to do.  We are all full of unanswered questions that threaten to swamp us in mystery and sometimes irrationality.  Basically, we are all ignorant and unprepared, and God has always sent the ignorant and unprepared to do holy work!

God has filled us with purpose and equipped us with everything we need to step forward into the fog.  Jesus, the prophets like Isaiah, and characters in scripture like Nicodemus were all subsumed in their questions and wonderings, but went ahead anyway.  “Send me,” said Isaiah.  Nicodemus followed Jesus even though his questions about the nature of the man were never answered.  Questions are important.  The poet Rilke tells us to “live the questions,” in fact to “love the questions like locked rooms … and books now written in a very foreign tongue…and live along some distant day into the answer.”  God needs you and loves you.  The church needs you and loves you.  Believe it.

                                                                                – Pastor Carol    

Do We Hear All the Voices?

The Day of Pentecost was not about speaking suddenly in different tongues. It was about being able to hear in a new way – and understand across differences. Like birth, our most difficult moments are often just before the wonderful joy, release, and discovery of how God has worked in our midst. Just when voices are most confusing, contentious, or depressing is when we must listen intently. We may be right at the moment of Spirit-led understanding!  The important voice in our midst may be hard to discern because sometimes it whispers rather than shouts – speaking difficult words, or calling us to work which seems impossible or unpleasant. It is also the voice which asks us to play and rejoice like children, loving one another simply and wholly.

It is the voice of God.  God did not stop speaking when a small group of people decided that the Bible was “finished.”  To this day, God finds new ways to be heard. When we truly hear God’s voice – hear it speaking to us in new ways, languages we did not expect but are open enough to understand – then we will live in a new way, and others will see and feel it. We will take down assumptions which insulate us and become one larger body with those around us. Remember the Pentecost fire? We must have fire within us to live differently and step outside our comfort zones. God’s realm of peace and justice, of shalom, of wholeness, does not come easily. God asks us to do uncomfortable things – radically uncomfortable things, like Jesus did. Hang out with the “wrong” people, the despised, the dubious. Challenge authority. Justice demands of us a fire in the gut, and the understanding that turning our backs, hunkering down and living in the same silos we have always inhabited with people who are just like us … is neither permissible, nor possible. Hear the voices.  Blessings,

                                                                                                       – Pastor Carol    

The Strongest of All Possible Loves

Mother-love is one very strong form of love. Jesus teaches us the strong, and life-giving, love of God. By some analysis, Jesus might be considered a very feminine character. He does not show macho traits of control or violence. He expresses outrage at injustice, rather than unbridled anger. He is humble and a peacemaker, but he is outspoken. He allows himself to be vulnerable. He expresses care for people, especially for children. He is sensitive to the plights of oppressed women. He feeds people. He touches people. He weeps. These would be stereotypically female activities or qualities in the ancient world, yet gospel writers think nothing of lifting up all of these aspects of Jesus.

I suggest that the eucharistic statement to “do this in remembrance of me” might be rethought as doing aspects of our living in a motherly, Jesus way. In fact, try this. Mentally say “be,” rather than “do.” Be this in remembrance of me. Be filled with the strong love manifested by Jesus, and all the women of the faith. Remember the love and power of the mothers of the Black church – the glue that has held the church together for generations. Be filled with the strong love that your mother or a mother-figure gave you, even when you were furious at her, or disappointed in her. Or even when your mother-figure was a man. For those who knew mistreatment at the hands of a mother figure, can you find strong mother love in God, in Jesus? It is there. Can you find a channel for that strong love to flow from your heart and mind out into a world that desperately needs mothering in so many ways? I hope so. There are angry, abusive individuals in our world, and we will all be better if we can free ourselves to give – and gracefully to receive – a little divine mothering.

Blessings,      – Pastor Carol

Love is Hard Work

Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you,” seems simple, but we know how hard it is to live out when “the other” is someone you instinctively don’t like, or you find their behavior or politics reprehensible. Or worse, when it’s someone you have been taught or influenced to despise.   Sadly, some people have been raised actively to hate. They are taught. Nelson Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. [and you might fill in the characteristic of your choice here, visible or invisible]. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Jesus was on to something psychologically. Truly, throughout history, while love comes more naturally, people have been taught to hate, to carry forward old, tired, hurtful prejudices. The Broadway musical South Pacific told of a relationship across ethnic lines, and the issue of racial prejudice. The romance between a young U.S. naval lieutenant and an Asian woman, is fraught with his fears of the social consequences of marrying her. Before he sings the particularly controversial song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” Lt. Cable’s script line is “racism is not born in you. It happens after you’re born…” So the instruction to love one another is simple in words but can be difficult to live out. In the last fifteen years, as the struggle for marriage equality across genders wound its way through society and the courts, a favorite mantra was “It’s just love,” against a rainbow background. Of course, it’s just love, but it was remarkably hard to get through all that people have been “carefully taught” in upbringing and prejudices. My friends, hopes and prayers for change are not enough. To love one another means to work hard, and take action to make it real.

Blessings,      – Pastor Carol

The Flow of Music and Life

As part of our Easter season theme of Love, last Sunday we experienced God’s love in music – as an instrumental counterpoint to our beloved hymn sings. As the music flowed, we felt ourselves touched by the Holy Spirit and the miracle of creativity in the composers, and in the talented young musicians, Heather, Aaron, and Sarah, who played for us. Truly, God speaks to us in many languages – the wind in the trees, the splash of little waves on a lakeside beach, the happy cries of children playing, the voices of friends and loved ones, the intertwining of notes and rhythms.

God also speaks to us in the ebb and flow of our lives. Most of you last week received my letter indicating that Sunday, July 1 would be my last Sunday at Island. I have such a mix of emotions and I know you do, too. The Spirit simply led me forward, through the birth of a grandchild, and Kevin’s serious health challenge, and spoke out loud to me, “It’s time.” I expect to continue ministry activities in the Conference, mainly in social activism. There will be many opportunities – formal and informal – to talk, share, rejoice, and plan. We have much to do together in the coming weeks – Bible study, stewardship, worship and music, community outreach with our yoga and meditation group! Our Northern California Nevada Conference is ready to assist and support us with a loving and fruitful transition time, and I am preparing a succinct description of the interim process as it is generally undertaken. This is opportunity writ large for all of us! Let’s embrace it.

May you float on life’s river with joy,      – Pastor Carol

The Holy Circulatory System

Being channels for God’s love lies at the core of our faith, from its earliest times. Peter reminded the religious authorities that the apostles were able to heal because of the teaching, the courage to care, and the Holy Spirit shared with them by Jesus. They are following his dictum to share God’s love, even in the face of persecution. God’s love needs human connectional channels. God’s love needed the channel of Jesus, so we experienced God’s love in a human form and called him Christ and teacher. God’s love needs the channel of … us. It is a bit like a holy circulatory system, isn’t it? Sometimes channeling God’s love is in the wonderful things I mentioned for a time of need – flowers, cards, food and company. Sometimes it is silent, as much as we hear about love in action.

To carry the special love of God to others takes courage. In this world of secular powers, in politics and business,

we followers of Jesus know that the power of God is greater – the power to work change through love. And
we know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.(1 Jn 3:16). Cards, flowers, email and ginseng chicken may not sound like laying down our lives unto death, but they
are laying down God’s love for one another. God’s love gives our lives meaning. And the willingness to die is a willingness to die to ourselves and any exclusive focus on our own desires and happiness. This is preaching the gospel in how we live – or as I have sometimes heard it: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Pastor Carol

No Escape – Alleluia!

Just when we think the world is awash with bad and troublesome things – politics, violence, environmental changes – we get an infusion of joy. Easter is that infusion. Yes, in church tradition it is about Jesus’ new life after death. But really, that joy is available to all people of whatever faith, or no faith. Growing things bloom; there are possibilities; it is a treat to be outside in warmth, instead of in cold and rain – our bits of new life after a long walk through hard times. The gospel of Mark has an abrupt end – there are no post-death appearances of Jesus. The women run from the empty tomb in terror and amazement, the text says, and tell no one. There are various emotions in the other gospels – in Matthew, fear and joy; in Luke, disbelief; in John, sadness, then recognition and joy.

The resurrection is real because we are still talking about it. The fact that Jesus lived changes lives. He did not disappear from human history like a thousand other failed messiahs in his time and later. History is different because he lived, and because in the hearts of so many, he still lives. Do things really have to happen this way – that we have to stumble through pain and difficulties? Resurrection, a rising again, may be just a moment, or it may be a life journey, a series of moments. Rise, my friends, be resurgent. There is work to do, and a long path ahead to create the world of shalom, of wholeness, that God desires. But that road is paved with love, and there is no escaping this joyful moment. There’s no escape, and it’s so good God wants us to play and sing in it.   May you experience your own personal Easter – in fact, many of them, in the days and weeks to come! Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Pastor Carol

Are We Delusional?

Like people of Jesus’ time, we are oppressed by social, economic, and political forces, and want something to save us. But we can overcome those forces if we recognize the power of community and the power of hope – the larger-than-life reality of God. In the Biblical story, Palm Sunday is a celebration. Even knowing that this week brings some deep spiritual gut-wrenches, that is an important model for living all of our life. We journey through our lives, as our Lenten theme says, “Walking Through Hard Times.” There are days of celebration and joy, sometimes planned and some surprises. There are somber days like Maundy Thursday, and grief-filled ones like Good Friday. What God – who loves us beyond measure and without condition – places at the end of all this is ours to discover anew every year. The ills of violence, apathy and discrimination will not be solved by a conquering hero. Jesus knew that. We need big, larger-than-life hope, and that we find in God. We find that hope in our work together for transformation, supporting and healing one another with compassion and courage. This is a real and holy message. Despite the roller coaster week ahead – in fact, because of it – we will know that God’s ability to bring goodness, life, and promise in the face of evil and death will not be denied. But in the meantime, we are a little bit delusional, crying our “hosannas.” Save us.

Pastor Carol