Written by Connie Larkman
United Church of Christ
April 26, 2016
The United Church of Christ has long advocated for sensible, responsible policies to end gun violence. More than 20 years ago, in July of 1995, the General Synod passed three resolutions dealing with guns and violence in our society. This May, the church is amplifying the call for change, encouraging advocacy around stricter gun laws with a sharable video message from one of our congregations forever changed by a shooter with a gun. A new 5-part Bible study will also be introduced.
The Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of Newtown (Conn.) Congregational UCC, and his community experienced heartbreak and grief after 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School were lost to “a horrific event of gun violence” in one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history.
“For people of faith, this is not a Second Amendment issue; it is a Second Commandment crisis,” said Crebbin. “The near infatuation with the gun is moving dangerously close to becoming a full-blown worship of a false idol. We live in a time when common sense gun safety legislation –– like the strengthening of our national background check system ––cannot pass Congress, even though nearly 90 percent of our citizens support such a law.
“We have allowed fear and apathy to rule when it comes to guns in America. We have allowed the status quo to become perfectly acceptable. As a result, every year 30,000 precious lives –– each one created in God’s image –– are added to a tally that is already far too high.”
“Gun violence is a plague on our society and a modern form of idolatry,” said the Rev. James Moos, UCC national officer and executive minister of Wider Church Ministries. “In this initiative, we will show the human cost of the violence, and provide resources for understanding and action based upon God’s desire that all experience fullness of life.”
“We simply cannot accept the toll of gun violence as the norm in our nation. This is a moral imperative,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of Justice and Witness’ Washington, D.C., office. “How can we, as people of faith, be silent as gun violence takes the lives of children, women and men, at a rate exceeding the death toll of all wars ever fought by the United States? When children must be equipped with bulletproof backpacks to go to school, what do we have to say to this? We cannot find comfort in saying ‘peace, peace’ without committing to the hard work that makes for peace. Engaging in the sometimes difficult dialogue around gun violence is one important step in the process.”
The initiative also looks ahead, urging churches across the UCC to participate in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath sponsored by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 14-18.
“The context of gun violence is complex –– no one piece of legislation can address it. But we know that gun violence is preventable,” said Sorensen. “We have the means to reduce gun violence. What we seem not to have is the political will to take action, on measures such as strengthening background checks on gun purchases, requiring child safety locks and implementing technology that can prevent guns from being used in violent acts.
“Our culture has a heavy investment in death;
isn’t it time we invested in life and hope?
This is our faith call.”
By Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough
Diana Butler Bass’ book, Grounded, is excellent, but one that I cannot read without taking breaks. Sometimes the reminder that we are destroying this good creation is more than I can bear. Sometimes, like with the passage below, I find I need to pause and ponder before moving on. Here Bass is quoting science writer Carl Zimmer:
“When you draw your genealogy, you make two lines from yourself back to each of your parents. Then you have to draw two lines for each of them, back to your four grandparents. And then eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. But not so on for very long. If you go back to the time of Charlemagne, forty generations or so, you should get to a generation of a trillion ancestors. That’s about two thousand times more people than existed on earth when Charlemagne was alive. The only way out of this paradox is to assume that our ancestors are not independent of one another. That is, if you trace their ancestry back, you loop back to a common ancestor. We’re not talking about first-cousin stuff here – more like twentieth cousin. This means that instead of drawing a tree that fans out exponentially, we need to draw a web-like tapestry.”
Many years ago, Tyler and I would have dinner about once a week with close friends. After the four of us would get settled at the table, we would lift our glasses, and one of us would say, “I celebrate your ancestors.” What we were really saying was, “I celebrate you.” Today I am reminded those ancestors are also my ancestors. We are all related. This belief for me is not new, but it is now quickened because the relationship goes further than human ancestors. We are related to this earth and all creatures. We are part of this great Being that some call the Kingdom; some call the Kin-dom, and some simply call Life.
This, of course, is what St. Francis knew and taught. We all belong, whether we are human, an insect, or a flower. We belong to God, and to one another. We belong to the past, and we belong to the future. How that unfolds remains to be seen. Regardless, we journey together, and have for a very long time.
Cousins, neighbors, join me in holy service…
God will listen as I cry out,
Cry out with me!
Be comforted with me.
We would do well to turn away from indifference
As you and I have only our righteousness to offer.
Psalm 4, ~ Let us Praise, Betty Bracha Stone
Written by Talitha Arnold
April 11, 2016
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and put it in my side” . . . Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
The Christian church has many symbols for Resurrection—lilies, eggs, butterflies. I’d like to add some more—a sock, plastic tubing, and duct tape.
In April, 1970, Apollo 13 took off for the moon on what should have been a routine trip. A day later, a huge explosion blew off half the space ship. The astronauts’ only hope was to crawl into the tiny lunar module and try to steer it back to earth.
But they, and Houston, had a problem. Oxygen. The blast had damaged the cabin’s air filter. Without it, the men would quickly die from their own carbon dioxide. Down on earth, the NASA scientists were equally panicked. Then one scientist gathered up everything they knew was in the space ship. He dumped it onto a table and said to his colleagues, “Here you go, boys. Make your filter.”
So the scientists took a hose from a space suit, bits of plastic and wire–and a sock—and fashioned a make-shift air filter, all held together with duct tape. It saved the astronauts’ lives.
A sock, a hose, wire, and duct tape. What a great image of the God who, in a UCC Easter prayer, “gathers up the fragments of our lives and creates new possibilities.” Today’s story of Thomas has no lilies or butterflies. Just fears, doubts, and wounds. But like the NASA scientists with their socks, hoses, and duct tape, the Risen Christ gathered all those fragments of Thomas’ life and created new life. And Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God!”
Come with your Resurrection power, O God. Gather up our fragments, doubts and wounds,
and create your new possibilities in our lives and in our world. Amen.
About the Author
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author ofMark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.
(written by Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough)
This past Sunday I worshiped with a small congregation I had not been with in awhile. As I sat in the familiar sanctuary and listened to the prayers of the people, I gazed once again upon the cross on the wall. However, in recognition of the Easter season, the horizontal arms of the cross had been draped with a white cloth in such a way that I was reminded of a gentle grandmother holding out a towel for a child getting out of the tub. I could hear the words from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I was reminded once again of the One whom I call, “The Welcoming Jesus,” who greets us with arms outstretched, eyes wide open, and a smiling face. The One who beckons at the ever present cross with the promise that we do not go alone.
There are many struggles in our world, and I do not dismiss people’s sufferings as inconsequential. In just about every direction we turn we can see and experience sorrow, physical pain, mental anguish, deep weariness, fear, and betrayal. There are heavy burdens to bear, and frightening thresholds to cross. Yet, there are also profound gifts of transformation which ultimately is what the cross is about. The journey is always to God, and into this realm there is only welcome.
My thanks to a colleague who shared this poem on his Facebook page yesterday.
Everything Becomes a Door
“We’ll know we have been raised from the dead
when everything becomes a door-
every brick wall
every dead end
every Judas friend
everything we see and smell and taste
everything we think and feel and are
every mountain top and valley bottom
every birth and every death
every joy and every pain
every ecstasy and infidelity-
when every single thing
becomes a door
that opens to eternity
and we pass through
as we could never do before.
And then we’ll wonder why
we’ve spent so many years
just stopping at these doors;
why we’ve always pulled up short,
and turned around,
and walked away,
instead of passing through.”
~ Francis Dorff
Love is the source and goal, faith is the slow process of getting there, and hope is the
willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.
~ Richard Rohr, OFM
I just returned from meeting with a colleague who is a genius. Together we tried to figure out how to tackle a project that could help the church we both love. We have a great idea. It is a worthy project. Money is a challenge but not a prohibitive one. In the end, though, the greatest encumbrance is time. There is only so much of it in a day. The phrase that came up again and again was that “we have no margin.”
For me, that phrase comes from Richard Swenson’s book Margins in which he addresses our overloaded lives. In the opening chapter, Dr. Swenson, who is a physician, describes our dilemma:
The conditions of modern-day living devour margins. Marginless living is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you are twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser’s because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids at school, because you ran out of gas two blocks from the station and forgot your wallet.
Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the stairs, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of the day.
Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds more than you can lift. Margin is having a friend to carry half the load. Marginless is not having time to finish the book you are reading on stress; margin is reading it twice and sharing with friends what you’ve learned.
Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.
Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.
Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.
Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.
Marginless is reality; margin is cure.
As I read Dr. Swenson’s book, I couldn’t help but think how much we are like that pizza commercial from some years ago, the one with toppings right to the edge. I haven’t tried it, but I keep wondering how you pick up a piece of pizza with toppings from edge to edge. There is no handle.
That is exactly what happens with our lives. When we fill them from edge to edge with activity, there is no handle for the Holy Spirit to lead us, move us, shape us, change us, renew us. God might have a great idea of something you need to do, but, with no margins, who has time to listen to the Spirit, let alone do what might be our life’s calling?
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the end of the second parking lot)
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