I went to a wedding at Stanford Memorial Church recently. The first thing I saw when I entered the church was a chuppa: a Jewish canopy, used to shelter the bride and groom during a wedding ceremony. Beside the chuppa was a katuba, the beautifully calligraphied wedding contract, containing the vows and the signatures of bride, groom and two witnesses. The wedding canopy was at the top of the steps leading into the chancel area, and behind it were stunning stained glass depictions of the life of Christ.
Yes, you read that right. A large, decorated chuppa framed by shimmering images of Jesus. As the wedding began, and our young friends entered the church with their parents escorting them down the aisle and into their future, I found myself thinking about the power of the symbols they were sharing with us.
Samantha is Jewish and Gabe is Catholic. They met at the Interfaith Youth Corps in Chicago, where their jobs were to connect college students of diverse faiths in ways that fostered mutual understanding and social justice. College students were invited to come together and bring the best of their traditions in service to a common purpose: making the world a more compassionate and just place. In an era where religious beliefs are too often polarizing, and many people find it is safer to ignore religion altogether, their jobs at IFYC were to recognize and call forth the ways in which spiritual values and traditions make us stronger, and kinder, and more loving –when we work together with respect and openness.
There were two officiants at their wedding, a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi. As the Catholic Priest said so well: the union of these two people is a powerful statement that faith can be a bridge to the best of who we are instead of a wall that separates us from others. Watching the bride and groom so thoughtfully include symbols from their respective faiths (a Jewish blessing here, the Lord’s prayer there) was like looking into a better future, where people can appreciate and learn from each other, in the fullness of all that they are: intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Those of you who attended the Memorial Service for one of our members last month got another glimpse of this. Gregg was a seeker in the best sense. He was interested in and curious about all forms of spirituality. His friendships reflected this. As one after another of his friends rose to share about the various traditions they represented and what that tradition had meant for Gregg, it became clear that something remarkable was happening in our space: people felt comfortable sharing about the Sacred nature of their friendship, in their language and through the lens of their traditions. If we had gotten into theology, we could have found plenty to disagree about, I’m sure. But we didn’t, because the Holy was so present that we were compelled to drop anything that separated us and focus instead on the uniting Love in our midst.
At First Congregational Church of Redwood City, we are proudly Christian. We boldly follow the teachings of Jesus and listen for the leadings of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. Yet we are also influenced and encouraged by the faith of others. We understand that there is wisdom to be gained by listening to the words of all those who call us to love and be love in the world.
I end with a quote from the new president of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John Dornhaur, who was interviewed last month about his vision for the emerging church:
“The emerging church is and will be far less committed to a denominational identity than the institutional church…[Practitioners] will not only sample the best practices from a variety of Christian traditions, but their spiritual horizons will invite them into a larger spiritual field. If there is a way to encounter the sacred or the divine, a way to draw closer to nature, a way to engender compassion for humanity, they will give themselves over to it without rejection, judgment, or reservation…
They won’t be investing their missional resources of time, talent, and money in building and property, in sanctuaries adorned with stunning Tiffany stained-glass windows and nine-rank pipe organs and mahogany pews. They will meet wherever two or three can gather, and wherever the divine can be encountered they will be open to engaging that space and declaring it sacred.”
(From religiondispatches.org, August 20, 2015)
What a wonderful world we live in! Everywhere we look, there is fresh evidence that bridges are being built and walls dismantled, and spaces that once seemed mundane are turning into sacred gathering places.
Thanks be to God!
Kim is on vacation this week. Enjoy this reprint from ‘Hope for Peace & Justice’ (9-19-11)
LIFE at the Speed of 4G
These days, life is changing so fast that it is virtually impossible to make plans. I work with lots of churches that want me to help them with their strategic plans, but I try to encourage them to try another route. What needs to happen is for them to identify their core values, clarify or renew their vision, and passionately articulate their mission. Then they can begin to develop strategies for programs and ministries to move them successfully into their future.
I wonder if that might not be a good pattern for us as individuals when it comes to renewing our own lives.
- Identify your core values. What is it that you care about in this life? What is most important to you? Now notice the last word in that question: YOU. Time and again I meet people (churches, too) who tell me their core values, but nothing about how they are living provides evidence that those really are their core values. Often they are the values they think they SHOULD hold, or that they once held, or that they inherited from their family (former members).
- Clarify or renew your vision. Your core values help you understand who you are, but vision speaks of your dreams, aspirations, hopes, call, future. Who do you want to become? One way to think about that is to ask, “What would my life look like if God’s dreams for me came true?”
- Passionately articulate your mission. What are you going to DO with your life? What you do should move you toward becoming the person you believe you are called to be.
- What is your strategy? Often this is where things break down for folks. While core values evolve, the truth is they are what they are. We need to discover our vision for our life. That doesn’t ever change, though our understanding may. Mission is stable. Strategies, however, must be very flexible and adaptable.
The world is changing at 4g speeds. Being clear about the first three can give us the courage to let our strategies for being happy, healthy, and fulfilled change as they need to.
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
A week or so ago I wrote a column wondering what Jesus would post if he had a Facebook page. Some of you spoke with me about it, and shared some lovely ideas. Here is yet another “take” on the topic, from our UCC Stillspeaking Daily Devotional.
Written by Mary Luti
“Then Pilate said to him, “Don’t you hear how many things they testify against you?” But he answered him not one word…”
- Matthew 27:12-14
An outspoken friend of mine used to be a loud presence on social media. But she grew to distrust her talky self, so quick with the wise or witty word, so satisfied whenever some ‘deep’ or ‘powerful’ post of hers stole the scene. So she quit, went radio silent, disappeared.
Her silence upsets her friends. They understand her cautions, but they deeply mistrust silence—too many bad things disappear into it. Silence is death, a haven for the oppressor. The last thing the suffering world needs is more of it.
She knows what they mean, but it doesn’t feel quite so straightforward to her. Not all silence is the same.
There’s the silence of ignoring, and the silence of seeing. The silence of indifference, and the silence of awe. The silence of the unmoved, and the silence of those too moved to speak. The silence of giving up, and the silence of gathering oneself for the struggle.
The silence of secrets, and the silence of discretion. The silence of withholding, and the silence of forbearance. The silence that silences, and the silence that makes room. The silence of the dormant conscience, and the silence of prayer.
The silence after showy speeches end, and the silence of the modest who claim little and say less. The silence that evades, and the silence that convicts. The silence of the hollow question, of the illusion of innocence, of Pilate washing his hands. And the sovereign silence of Jesus, vanquishing the powers without a single word.
Truthful Word and Sovereign Silence, teach us to speak and not to speak,
for the sake of the world God loves.
Why do we do what we do? What motivates us to make the choices we make? Some believe we are motivated by a desire for security (material wealth), or influence (power), or approval (belonging). Recently I read something that reminded me of how these desires are only steps to what we really, deeply want:
“Love is the end game.”
When all is said and done, what we want, what we need, is to love and be loved. It is what human beings are created for.
How does knowing that love is the end game, the final goal, affect our lives?
First, we can breathe a sigh of relief, because we are already there. We are already loved. By the One who created us, the One who walks with us. We are loved. We do not need to work harder to earn it, or do more to achieve it. It is. Love is. In the end, the game is already won. In the end, the numbers in our bank account, the numbers on our scale, or the number of trophies on our bookshelves are inconsequential, because we have always had what we truly needed.
Second, knowing that love is a gift and not an achievement frees us to look outside ourselves for ways to share it with others. It becomes the question we ask before each action or decision:
*How does this support the growth of love in this situation?
*How is this conversation with my child/spouse/employee fostering love?
*How is my vote/my voice/my participation building a more loving community?
Often there are no easy answers to these questions. We still have to think about every circumstance and sometimes our decisions will be wrong ones. But if we start the process by viewing each interaction through the lens of love, we focus our choices on what matters most, and winnow out the secondary motivations.
Yes, we desire stuff and status and safety – if you watch much television or see many movies, you’d think that’s all we need to be happy. But if you scratch the surface of these desires, you find that those things are never enough. In the deepest place within, in our most authentic selves, love is always the end game.
Thomas Merton wrote: “Love is our true destiny.” It is what sustains us and what motivates us. Love is the one thing we can always count on, the one thing we can always share, and the one thing there is always enough of.
Thanks be to God!
Like many people, I’ve joined the world of Facebook. It took me awhile to understand just why anybody would do that, but I think I’ve got it: being on Facebook is like being at a large dinner party or a church potluck. You know some of the people there, and others (friends of friends) you have never met, but there are plenty of interesting ideas flying around. Sometimes what people share is light and insubstantial, almost chit -chat: a short video of a kitten chasing a balloon, or a wry comment quoted from a magazine. Other topics reflect the zeitgeist of the times: the most current story from the news is discussed and analyzed until the next thing appears. And, again like at any good dinner party, there are opportunities to spend time exploring ideas more deeply with people; some of the best journal articles and the loveliest prayers and meditations I have read recently have been posted on Facebook, and often by someone I don’t know. On Facebook, friends and strangers share the experiences –and values– that make up their lives. It can be a portal to what matters most.
So I’ve been thinking lately, as I scroll through the thoughts and jokes and pictures on my newsfeed: if Jesus had a Facebook page, what would he post? We all make choices when we put something out there for others to read. What would Jesus choose?
Here are some initial ideas:
Humor: I think that Jesus would share the funny stuff. Not the stuff that mocks or makes fun of other people, but the jokes that help us take ourselves a little more lightly. Laughing out loud is healing – and Jesus was all about healing, bodies and psyches.
Challenge: Jesus never walked away from a challenging question. Yet he knew how to engage others in ways that did not demean or make them feel smaller. His prophetic voice was steady and unwavering, but he never seemed to take pleasure in making others wrong. His stand for righteousness didn’t veer into self-righteousness, and his words “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” give us a good idea of how he would handle the cyber-shaming and piling on that happens on social media.
Relationships: Jesus valued human relationships, and I’ll bet his Facebook page would have pictures of friends and family, and shout-outs to people celebrating birthdays, and attempts to connect with people with whom he’d lost touch. We know he went to weddings, and traveled with friends, and was a frequent dinner guest. In other words, he kept up with people –he didn’t let them go. Like the woman who lost her coin and looked everywhere until she found it, or the shepherd who had 99 sheep and still searched for the one who was missing, Jesus valued each relationship, each connection, each person.
Beauty: Ah, the photographs of flowers and oceans and mountains I glimpse through Facebook! I think Jesus would definitely share those pictures with others. Jesus was all about looking at the wonders of creation – and giving thanks. He pointed to nature as a way of grounding ourselves and getting some perspective on our lives. “Consider the lilies of the field,” he said. I think his posts would keep pointing us in that direction, and in the process, reminding us of our relationship with and responsibility to the earth and its creatures.
In many ways, this is a silly exercise, I know. Jesus and Facebook. How — irreverent! But when we look at the way Jesus moved through the world, we see that he took every opportunity to engage people where they were: in marketplaces, in homes, in the synagogues, on the beach. He never wasted an opportunity to share his vision of a better, more loving world, and to invite others to create that world with him. What are the opportunities we have to spread words of compassion, of forgiveness, of hope, of joy? Where are the places where we can work to create a community that laughs more and judges less?
Often when we leave worship on Sunday, I say some variation of these words: May all that we do and all that we say be used to create a more loving world. Maybe even on Facebook.
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the end of the second parking lot)
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011