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

Change the Story

It is a great temptation to live in the comfort of certainty, even when the accompanying inevitabilities are awful. But we can power through and change those stories. Jeremiah told us there would be a new covenant, written on the heart and in lived experiences of grace, instead of the covenant of laws in stone and inevitable consequences. We learned that we don’t know everything about Jesus and his story – there is plenty that is uncertain, still evolving for us to learn, and to mold into new ways of living our own lives.

We must change the narrative about guns in this country. When the gun is reverenced as God, it is an affront to the God of love and life who treasures us. This is a sin. (I know, there is that word that progressives don’t like). We don’t get to shrug and say “nothing can be done” about the NRA pipeline of money to legislators, the resultant lack of any reasonable gun control legislation and the ongoing death of innocents with weapons of war. There is no excuse for us not to step up and change this story. It’s not a certainty, and our young people are showing that so courageously. Nothing is certain, my friends, except that God calls us to March for Our Lives into the face of this tragedy we have created for ourselves. And change it.

Pastor Carol

The Essence of Sacrifice

There it is in the end zone of football games, and crowds everywhere – “John 3:16,” for God so loved the world … Do we glorify God for leading Jesus to a terrible death? Do we glorify Jesus for a grisly end? This verse, while the core of faith for many, has been read in a negative, mistaken way which glamorizes martyrdom. Jesus’ great gift was his life. Of course, history is full of accidental and intentional martyrs, but is death itself the great sacrifice? Or is it the way one lives? The unique way of sharing your compassion and presence, your particular goodness, with others?

The word “sacrifice” means to “make holy;” to give a holy gift. It is living, not dying, that creates a holy gift of self, especially when that living is against great odds – opposition, danger, criticism, illness, hunger and thirst. Sacrifice does not always mean pain, deprivation, and dying. True, sacrifice is not always easy, but the single most important thing to notice about John 3:16 is that God deeply loved the world God created, and longs for creation to thrive.  God loved by the gift of Jesus, as well as other holy prophets and teachers. The gift of Jesus set in motion real consequences for humankind.  God loves by the gift of youinto the world, also setting in motion real consequences. You are that important. This is not a disinterested act on God’s part. That was Jesus’ message. I’m here because the God who loved you of old, still does. I’ll show you, tell you, teach you.

Give of yourself; you are a great gift — Pastor Carol

Get Angry with Jesus

When we are angry – which is a very easy emotion for human beings – it is important to take time to think through what is behind the anger. Is it fear, frustration, grief, fatigue, uncertainty, disappointment, helplessness, pain, anxiety, woundedness, loss of control? Any number of things lie at the root of our feelings and can masquerade as anger. Moses’ anger as he smashed the tablets of the Law stemmed from, I think, sadness and deep woundedness that people he trusted had failed him and failed the God he loved. Jesus’ anger as he lashed out at the money-changers in the temple was grounded in righteous indignation, as he was often indignant at what was unjust, greedy, hardhearted, hypocritical or lukewarm (that is, lacking in zeal for God).

There is much we can and should be angry about, righteously indignant – the fact that innocent people die in the violence and warfare in this world when we have the capacity to stop it. That people die of hunger, thirst and preventable diseases, when there are more than enough resources to go around. That there are such inequities in access to education, employment and technology that we create a permanent underclass in this country. The fact that so many are denied basic human rights because of their color, religion, language, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. These things should make us angry. We should get hot enough under the collar to say something, and not only say something, but do something. Especially if we purport to call ourselves Christians.

Get hot under the collar for Jesus  — Pastor Carol  

When The Going Gets Tough

When we face opposition in life, especially from the unexpected, it is natural either to throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know how to get through this,” or to rant, fight, and flail like mad which often gets us nowhere … except more upset and ineffective. Just standing up and hanging on can take courage. Jesus told his disciples that the future would be difficult – that truly to follow him, they would be asked to lay down their spiritual lives of preconception, and quite possibly their physical lives as well. To take up a cross instead. Those preconceptions about what the disciples expected him to be were real obstacles to the living out of the gospel.

Our preconceptions, fear of the unknown, and illusions of control are our obstacles. While we may feel like we’ll do a complete face plant over the oppositional forces before us, in reality the resistance of opposition can cause us to grow – in imagination, in faith, in wisdom, creativity and humility. We will never be the same, and God is part of that. We need our communities, but there are some things that only you can do as an individual. Take your next breath. Take your next step. Shed your tears. Smile your smile wherever possible. Hold onto your best memories and the truth that you are beloved

Find a way through. Stand tall and hang on  — Pastor Carol