“Peace be with you,” we sometimes say to one another in worship. It’s a lovely sentiment, but I wonder if we think about what it really means. Is it just a more churchy way of saying “Have a nice day”?
Joan Chittister, one of my favorite spiritual writers and guides, offers these words about Peace:
Peace comes to us when we know that there is something that the Spirit has to teach us in everything we do, in everything we experience. When we are rejected, we learn that there is a love above all loves in life. When we are afraid, we come to know that there are those who will take care of us whatever the cost to themselves. When we are lonely, we learn that there is a rich and vibrant world inside of us waiting to be explored if we will only make the effort. When we are threatened by differences, we come to realize that the gift of the other is grace in disguise meant to broaden the narrowness that constricts our souls. Then peace comes, then quiet sets in; then there is nothing that anyone can do to us to destroy our equilibrium, upset our inner balance.(For Everything a Season, by Joan Chittister, Orbis Books, 1995,2013)
Peace. Not the absence of turmoil, but the steadying hand of God leading us through. The peace of God is that which is beyond the chaos of the day, and beneath the surface of our anxiety. It is the gift of knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. That is what we mean when we say to one another: ”Peace be with you.”
May it be so.
I arrived at Bing Concert Hall to find an oddly shaped object placed on a stool in front of the orchestra. I had come to hear the final concert in the “Beethoven Project”: six months of performances of every Symphony and Concerto written by this most famous of all composers. We were to hear Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, and I could hardly wait to sink into the symphonic and choral strains we know as “Ode to Joy.”
But first there was that funny looking thing up front. A long, conical piece of copper, it looked a bit like a wizards hat. I had never seen an instrument like that, and I wondered what part it had to play in the music. As we settled into our seats, the conductor, Jindong Cai, stepped forward and lifted it up. “This is an ear horn,” he said. The earliest form of hearing aid, the small end was placed in the ear and the larger opening was directed outward, to catch and amplify whatever sound it could. Maestro Cai reminded the audience that Ludwig van Beethoven was almost completely deaf by the age of 40; in fact, the symphony we were about to hear was written long after he could no longer hear the sounds made by the instruments for which he composed. What he could do, and sometimes did, was to place the ear horn right on top of the piano and listen as he played the notes. We do not know what he actually heard, but audiologists have speculated that he might have been able to pick up some sound: distorted, faint, jumbled, but something.
The first piece in the program was entitled Near the Inner Ear, and it was a musical imagining of what Beethoven might have heard as he composed. The two composers, Dohi Moon and Chris Chafe, produced an intriguing and disturbing piece of music, with screeches and wails, sharp tones and themes that could just barely be discerned. It was hard to conceive that this might have been what Beethoven was hearing with his ears, even as he was writing the melodic and majestic Ninth. How could it be that he was able to hear beyond the cacophony to the true music?
Solomon asked God for the gift of a “hearing heart”, a sensibility for listening and discerning that is far superior to anything our ears can do. Perhaps that is what Beethoven had — the ability to listen inside himself for what he knew to be true, even when his physical reality could not confirm it. In our own lives, we can be so focused on our limitations or the distractions around us that we forget to listen more deeply for the inner voice (or the inner music) that allows us to live creatively and lovingly. Beethoven’s physical deafness was a great burden to him, but his ability to listen with his heart became his great gift to the world.
May we each be graced with hearing hearts, so that no matter how noisy or confusing the world may seem, we can still make out the voice of God calling our names.
Ponder: Sea Stars, often called Starfish, are beyond fascinating marine animals with nearly 2,000 species. They appear in glorious splendors of colors, diverse shapes and sizes and can live in varying environments of water. In all their diversity and individuality, each resembles a star. These resilient aqua stars can regenerate a lost or harmed limb. No matter what this sea creature endures in its life span, it remains true to its form–a brilliant star.
Pray: On the far side of the sea and in the depths of life’s rugged waters, You know me completely. In the moments when I feel afraid to be myself, insecure, unloved and different, remind me I am a “star,” fearfully and wonderfully made. When I am broken, regenerate and restore my spirit just as you did when you knit me in my mother’s womb. Help me to let my light shine as radiant as a celestial star in the night’s sky or as brilliant as a sea star in the dark hollow of the ocean. Amen. (Psalm 139)
A Daily Glimpse
Did you that the United Church of Christ has been updating it’s website? I periodically peruse the site, reading up on national gatherings or stories from local congregations. One of my favorite sections is called “Peek, Ponder, and Pray.” It is a lovely way to spend a few quiet moments reflecting on an image and resting in prayer. This past week one caught my eye and so, as a way of introducing you to this wonderful resource, we are reprinting it with the link. May you be refreshed and renewed as you peek, ponder and pray!
When I was a child, most of the adults around me smoked cigarettes. In restaurants, on airplanes, waiting in lines at the movies. Smoke billowing into faces, filling public spaces, anddefining a certain kind of cool. When I was a child, people who got behind the wheel of a car after they’d had too much to drink received a slap on the wrist if they were stopped. They were tolerated, even accommodated, and you were prudish or over-sensitive if you suggested that it be otherwise.
But something happened in the past two decades in America. Groups of passionate people banded together and took on the tobacco industry. Everyday citizens started organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and slowly but surely the public dialogue changed. Cigarettes became linked to Cancer instead of Cool, and driving while drunk came to be seen as the height of criminal selfishness. The people of our country collectively, over a period of time, said “No more” to these two habits which had seemed so inevitably ingrained in our society.
It’s time to do that again. For far too long we have allowed millions of people to go hungry in the United States. 48 million people — including 16.2 million children- go hungry every day. 14.5% of the people who live in the richest country in the world don’t get enough to eat. It seems both impossible to believe and impossible to change. It seems like too big a problem. But it’s not.
Hunger is a problem that can be solved. We have enough food in this country that everyone can be fed. We have the tools and the technology such that none of our neighbors need ever be hungry again. The only thing that stands in our way is the will to say “No more.” No more hungry children, no more blaming poor families, no more under-nourished seniors. We have enough to go around, if we choose to make it so.
This past April, Patti Bury and I attended the Second Harvest Food Bank’s annual “Make Hunger History Awards.” We went to represent this congregation as we received the Spirit Award for the Outstanding faith-based food drive in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. We were honored because of your history of giving to Second Harvest and the innovative way we incorporated our food drive into the 150th Anniversary Celebration. It was inspiring to listen to the stories of other honorees from companies, and schools, and non-profits, who had banded together last year to change the way we talk about and deal with hunger. Some of the activists were CEO’s of large companies and organizations; some of the activists were teens; two of the award winners were under 13 years old. What they had in common was a belief that the long-time societal acceptance of hunger could be changed.
During the month of May we are collecting food for Second Harvest and for families of the Hoover Learning Center. Please give generously, as you always have. We will also be learning more about issues related to hunger, like food accessibility and poverty and legislative policy. Let’s use our collective voice and our actions to help shift our national dialogue. It can happen. We need only decide: ”No more.”
KimThey will hunger no more, and thirst no more the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Is there a distinction between being a believer in Christ and a follower of Jesus? That question was posed to us at Annual Gathering, and I have been pondering it ever since.
87 times in the gospels Jesus used the word “follow” when he laid out what he wanted us to do. Follow. Not explain, ortheorize, or philosophize. Those things, while interesting, allow us to keep a distance from Jesus, as if studying him is enough. Following requires actively responding. Following requires really looking at the ways Jesus lived and died — and then shaping our own lives accordingly. Early followers referred to this as The Way, and it was a real path for them.
As Christian communities became more settled and structured, and as the Church grew into an institution, the focus shifted. Creeds and doctrines became more and more important as a means of bringing uniformity to the movement and identifying who was “in” and who was “out.” What one believed became the litmus test of whether or not one was a true Christian, and thus long Confessions and Credos were taught and memorized, and Christians began to define themselves by the words they said.
Always, however, there were those among us who reminded us of the original call: to follow Jesus. From Francis of
Assisi to the nuns on the bus (look them up! http://www.networklobby.org/nuns-bus-trip),
there have been Christians in our midst whose lives witness to the power of simply following Jesus. Love God. Love one another. Take care of the least among you. Turn away from the need for power over others, and find a way to serve. Let go of the desire for more money than you need, and make your treasure count. Choose community over individualism. It’s a counter-cultural call, because The Way of Jesus is really, truly counter-cultural.
At our finest, Christian communities help each other to stay true to the call to follow. Yes, we veer into doctrine and
intellectualism sometimes. But it is in hearing together the stories of Jesus and sharing together how they have an impact on our lives that we become followers.
It is a fine thing to be a believer in Christ. But are you a follower of Jesus?
May it be so. Kim
Were you ever told to “Think before you speak?” If you had conscientious parents, as I did, you probably heard that many times in your growing up. Not because impulsive thoughts are bad, but because we know words can help or harm a situation — or person. So we think before we speak (sometimes) and try to do the best we can with the words we have.
Were you ever told to “Think before you sing?” Not as likely. So often we sing along with the radio, or sing the words of a hymn or praise song at church, and let the music carry us away, leaving the words far behind us. This weekend at the Annual Gathering for the Northern California/Nevada UCC, Rev. Bryan Sirchio, a songwriter and longtime UCC minister, challenged us to think more about the theology we sing.
His book, The 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music, led us in an encounter with Christian music — new and old– that shapes our faith. His own music is a gift to the church, in that it is contemporary and deeply grounded in a theology we can claim. All 6 characteristic bear talking about, but the one that I want to highlight is #4: An emphasis on both the individual and the community.
Much of the newer Christian music is almost exclusively about a personal relationship with Jesus. ”I and Me” music. The more we actually listen to Jesus, though, the more we know that a personal relationship is only the beginning. Jesus “called his disciples to be a part of a community…we don’t always need other people in order to be closer to God personally, but to be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus, and Jesus was about creating a people — not just a bunch of individual believers.” (Sirchio)
Please notice: he didn’t say that a personal relationship with God is unimportant or unnecessary. He just linked it, as did Jesus, to our relationship with community, and suggested that everything in our fellowship, including our music, “remind us that we need each other to truly follow in the ways of Jesus… ”
We do need each other. The work we do, the grief and the joys we share, the faith we express: all are richer when we join with other followers of Jesus. How will you join with others to live out your call this summer? How will you join your voice with those of other Christians so that the songs we sing — of love, of justice, of hope — can be heard in a world waiting to hear?
How do people act in times of disaster? Do they fall apart or pull together? Do they rise above the circumstances or sink to the lowest common denominator of human behavior? Think back about what you know about disasters. Perhaps you were here during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Or maybe you were in New York on 9/11. My home town has been completely evacuated twice in the last ten years due to forest fires, and I have heard stories of long caravans of cars, winding down the one mountain road, leaving burning homes behind them. What do you know about how people treat each other in the worst of times?
I ask because I am reading a book called “A Paradise Built in Hell,” by Rebecca Solnit. The entire book is an examination of disaster sociology: that is, the study of how people interact in a crisis. It could be a dry topic, I suppose, with more academic than real world import, except that Solnit makes a very timely point: what we believe about human nature in times of disaster will determine how we treat the people who encounter them. In other words, beliefs matter. If you believe that most people are basically bad, waiting for an opportunity to loot and kill, you will spend your resources trying to set up defenses and protections; if you believe that most people are basically good and will try their best to help others in times of need, you will spend your resources sending in aid and trying to assist. For example, after the hurricane in New Orleans, disaster victims were held at gunpoint as they tried to cross the bridges out of the inner city into the safer suburbs. Because the officials in charge assumed that the (mostly black) refugees would become an unruly mob, they were forced to stay in the heart of the devastation, without basic services or help for days. Many died as a result. Likewise, just after the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, the officials in charge reacted to the citizens as if they were criminals, and instead of aiding them, tried to “keep them under control,” often spending more time arresting people than helping them. The irony is, in these two cases and in virtually every other case studied, ordinary people were doing the right thing. More than that, they went above and beyond in their outreach to one another. Solnit writes:
In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones. The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it. Decades of meticulous sociological research…have demonstrated this. But belief lags behind, and often the worst behavior in the wake of a calamity is on the part of those who believe that others will behave savagely and that they themselves are taking defensive measures against barbarism.
Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And then he went on to tell a story about a Samaritan who risked his life for a stranger. How very different is this belief than the ones we’ve been hearing lately, as representatives of the gun industry seek to stoke our fear of strangers with images of “bad guys” who need to be stopped — with guns, of course. How very different is Jesus’ belief from those who would have us build an ever higher wall, with ever bigger militias, to keep the “dangerous” immigrant away, or call for massive prisons, in the midst of cutbacks to schools.
We have a body of evidence that shows that as imperfect as we are, human nature is much better than that. We follow a teacher who told us that the most important thing we can do is to care for and value the lives of those around us. Both of these stand in stark contrast to the messages of fear and hatred that exist in our culture. Beliefs matter. They shape laws. They shape lives. As we encounter some very tough issues in our country, may we stand up against the bunker mentality that has infected our culture for too long. We believe that, even in the toughest times, we can count on our faith and on one another.
May it be so. Kim
So many of you have expressed your deep concern about the recent gun violence in our country. Many different stakeholders have given input to the Gun Violence Task Force. The President has proposed a plan to address these issues. The momentum on this issue is growing, as people of faith join other citizens in demanding change. The following is a statement by the United Church of Christ, with some suggested steps for us to take. I hope you will read it and give prayerful consideration to the actions you can take on this issue. If our faith asks nothing else of us, it asks this: that we make sure the children in our midst are safe and cared for. May we join all together to make the changes necessary for this new reality.
* * *
Despite the unrelenting and terrible toll taken by gun violence year after year in the United States, Congress has done distressingly little to address what has become a major public health threat. While tragic incidents of gun violence like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin draw national headlines, in many communities across the country, the impact of gun violence is a day-to-day reality.
The public dialogue about gun violence can quickly become divisive. However, as several prominent leaders from both major political parties have noted, the complex and emotional dynamics that underlie gun violence cannot be an excuse for inaction. The cost of gun violence, which is seen in lives lost and forever altered; in the medical and criminal justice expenses; in ever increasing security requirements; and in quality of life diminished by fear of gun violence, is too high. Our nation must begin to take concrete steps to address it.
Long before the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, members of the faith community have steadfastly advocated for sensible, responsible policies to end gun violence. In 1995, The UCC 20th General Synod passed a resolution entitled “Violence in Our Society and World,” in which it recognized the complicated and interwoven layers at the root of violence.
That same General Synod also passed a resolution entitled “Guns and Violence,” inviting UCC members and congregations to advocate for legislation to strengthen licensing and registration of gun sales, strengthen regulations of gun dealers and ban semiautomatic assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.
The faith community has come together many times in the aftermath of gun tragedies to urge lawmakers to pass laws that prevent gun violence. Tested by our grief, resolute in our faith we remain committed to continuing this drumbeat.
Take Action – Send a letter or join an interfaith call-in day on February 4th!
It will take a multilayered approach to address the prevalence of gun violence, but we can begin now. Although no one piece of legislation will provide a solution, meaningful legislative steps can help reduce the toll of gun violence. You can ensure that the voice of faithful Americans rings throughout the halls of Congress. On February 4th, call your members of Congress and insist that they act to prevent gun violence. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to your legislators.
Urge members of Congress to:
Reinstate the expired assault weapons ban
(bills were recently introduced in both the House and Senate);
Institute universal background checks;
Ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.
It’s time to turn our shared grief into collective action.
If you prefer to write a letter:
Go to this article on the on the UCC website to submit a letter,Or write to: Senator Barbara Boxer 312 North Spring Street #1748 Los Angeles, CA 90012 and/or Senator Dianne Feinstein 331 Hart Senate Office Building U.S. Senate Washington, DC 20510
It’s winter in California. Which means that we have no idea what the weather will be like when we get out of bed in the morning. Here in the Bay Area, we’re pretty sure there won’t be any snow drifts at our doors, but really, just about anything else is possible. Biting cold rain? Sure. Warm blue skies? Sometimes. How about the creep of fog coming over the hills, reminding us of the ocean just out of sight? Ah, yes. We are in the middle of the season of pruning away dead branches, of early nightfall and frosty morning lawns. It’s winter, and even here we notice it, as our landscape loses its lushness, at least for a time.
Every season has within it a facet of the spiritual life to be explored. For many of us, winter is the most difficult to embrace. God’s presence is easy to see in blooming flowers, abundant vegetable gardens, and colored leaves — but winter has a cool and solitary light. Yet it is in the challenge of winter that we find its great gift: Trust. We trust, though we cannot see it, that the Force of Life is still flowing, because we have experienced it over and over again. As Barbara Winkler writes: “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”
We will be taking another Prayer Walk next Monday morning. The details of the where and the when are on page 7, but the why of our walk is rooted in this basic belief that the natural world can help us go deeper in our lives and in our faith. Rachel Carson, the naturalist, says: ”Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbol, as well as actual beauty, in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Winter is our assurance that God’s work is still going on below the surface of our lives. Winter is an invitation to a quieter steadiness, a more patient waiting. And winter reminds us that even when we feel cut off from God, even when the colors of our life feel muted, God still accompanies us on our walk, warming us when we need it most, and creating us anew.
I hope you will join us as we spend a morning together savoring the gifts of our winter landscape. We have experienced many losses this winter, as we say goodbye to beloved friends and hold the struggles of the world in our hearts. Join us for a simple walking prayer, and be reminded that there is more Life to come and more than enough Grace to surround us all. Come and walk with us as we let God’s world speak to us again of God’s Love. In every season.
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
This coming Monday, January 21, we will come together as a nation to commemorate two important events: the annual commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. This is the first time a presidential inauguration has fallen on Dr. King’s day, and the relationship between these two events is significant.
President Obama has chosen to be sworn in using two bibles this time: the traveling bible that once belonged to Martin Luther King Jr. will rest on top of the bible used by President Abraham Lincoln. That Barack Obama could not today be president without the work and sacrifice of President Lincoln is undeniable; perhaps equally so is the role Dr. King played in making possible the election of America’s first African-American president. And so it is right and fitting that the birthday of the one man coincide with the swearing in of the other, and that his bible stand alongside Lincoln’s.
The United Church of Christ has made available the following prayer, made up of images and words from some of Dr. King’s writings. It is appropriate for remembering his legacy, and it is also a wonderful way to lift up our hopes for the next four years as a country.
Wherever you are on Monday, I invite you to take some time apart and read through these words. Let them unite you with God and with the greater community of believers who, no matter which party we belong to, fervently want the best for our country. Even as Martin Luther King, Jr., lighted the path for so many who came before us, may his words gather us in now and give us courage for the days to come. Before we pick up, once again, the on-going work required of all citizens, let us stop for a moment and remember that God is with us, and through God all things are possible.
Let us pray.O God, all people are your Beloved, across races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations and all the ways we are distinctive from one another. We are all manifestations of your image. We are bound together in an inescapable network of mutuality and tied to a single garment of destiny. You call us into your unending work of justice, peace and love. Let us know your presence among us now: Let us delight in our diversity that offers glimpses of the mosaic of your beauty. Strengthen us with your steadfast love and transform our despairing fatigue into hope-filled action. Under the shadow of your wings in this hour may we find rest and strength, renewal and hope. We ask this, inspired by the example of your disciple, Martin Luther King, Jr., and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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