Archive for October 2011
The road to the ski hill is a windy one. It runs up the mountainside just outside my home town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and it is one of the roads on which I learned to drive many years ago. Every year when I return for a visit, I find myself driving that road; it gives me a
perspective on the world I can’t get anywhere else. Sometimes I am most aware of the wildflowers in bloom — the wild purple asters mixed in with yellow rabbit brush and gray sage. Other days, I am drawn to the view of the valley spreading below me: a town site built on top of mesas and divided up by
canyons, surrounded by mountains on all sides. On winter days, I mostly cling white knuckled to the steering wheel, as I watch for icy patches and am reminded of why we usually stay in California during these months. But always, I am aware of the trees: stately Aspens and giant Pines, standing silently as I, and the world, pass by.
This year, my drive was particularly poignant. A huge wildfire swept through the area this past summer, so serious that the
entire town of 19,000 people had to be evacuated for more than a week. The fire raged through canyons and mountain sides, and yes, even swept up Pajarito Mountain to take out one of the ski lifts and much of the natural vegetation. As we drove up the road this past week, if we looked out the windows on one side of
not quite ready to drop their leaves, and gorgeous green conifers, the product of generations of growth, somehow untouched by the flames of the summer. When we looked out the other side of the car, however, we saw the blackened remains of the these same trees, still standing tall, but now as a stark reminder of all that was lost. It was a striking sight: two completely different views of virtually the same place. It reminded me of how often we are called to hold two disparate realities at the same time: gift and loss, beauty and barrenness, hope and grief. The very nature of our faith compels us to see life in all it’s complexity. Jesus challenges us to see and respond to the pain and the need all around us; ours is not a pollyanna faith, which ignores that which it can’t explain away or soften. Yet we are called to give our attention, as well, to the beauty of our world. Yes, there is illness, yes, there are losses, and yes, injustice still exists in too many guises. But even as we are asked to take these seriously and respond compassionately, we are also called to recognize and be grateful for the gifts of life which flourish, even in the most
It is an act of hope to drive the mountain roads of our lives with an appreciation for all that is there for us to see. Sometimes it’s tempting to look away from the unpleasant views, or to avert our eyes from that which we don’t want to see. Sometimes, when we do look, we are so overwhelmed, we see only the ugliness and despair. But there is always more than we can see in one glance. The Life Force is always active, always present, always a resource for us, if only we are willing to take it all in.
Thanks be to God.
Atlanta celebrates “Gay Pride” in October when the weather is cool, and, for the first time in 30 years, I find myself as the pastor of a church that doesn’t identify as “primarily LGBT.”
Interestingly, though, this church has a very high value around putting a rainbow flag out during Pride Week and marching in the parade. So this year, for the first time, I marched with a historically mainline church that has engaged in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality long before I got here. The organizers in this church are mostly heterosexual folks who care about justice for all.
For several decades now I have advocated that the best hope that the LGBT community has to achieve equality is to join others in their struggles against oppression. I find it incomprehensible that people in the LGBT community are not fully engaged in resisting discrimination against women, people of color, and immigrants. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No one is free until everyone is free.” We all are connected in the web of life, so it is impossible to ignore oppression just because we might not be its direct victim.
A friend of mine who used to work for motivational guru Zig Ziglar teases me every time I quote him, but perhaps Ziglar’s greatest insight is found in this quote: “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” I’m not sure about the “want” part, but I do believe that the most profound needs of our lives get met by working to meet the needs of others.
So, what are you doing today that doesn’t directly benefit you? Perhaps I simply should ask, “In what way are you acting like a real Christian today?”
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Received in response to our honoring of Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough and her continued ministry to our congregation:
…my deepest thanks for the beautiful San Damiano cross and card. Both mean so very much to me.
I have loved the San Damiano cross since I saw it at my first retreat at San Damiano Danville. It is startling because it is so full of life, witness, and love. I am grateful to be pondering this cross this morning. The actual cross is about 6 feet tall, and that the bottom of the cross is quite worn because pilgrims once came just to kneel before it and touch it. The original hangs in St. Claire’s Basilica, but this morning I think of the cross hanging in that small church that St. Francis was called to rebuild from the ruins. It eventually became the cloister for the Poor Clares, who tended to St. Francis in his last illness, and it was here that he wrote the Canticle of the Creatures. I also think of the unknown monk who painted this icon cross, and wonder who he was. The style leads some authorities to believe he may have been from Syria.
St. Francis was called to rebuild from rubble and dust, and I believe he heard Christ word’s to repair the house from a leper. Such a powerful symbol for each of us as we journey through our lives filled with our own fair share of rubble and dust. Together, we help one another sweep that away, so that Christ’s love can shine once more. We, too, are reminded that we are never alone. Never.
How you all have blessed me.
At one of our recent FCC meetings, the group was struggling with a description of just what makes this community so special. A shared history, an openness to new people and ideas, a willingness to risk doing without the security of a building in order to follow Jesus more closely — all these are indeed characteristics of the community we love. They are also characteristics sometimes lifted up about the earliest Christians — the first century Jews who chose to orient their lives around the teachings of Jesus. As I thought more about this comparison, I started reading more about those early Christians, and one insight really hit home.
According to Prof. Greg Carey of Lancaster Seminary, out of all the myriad of religious and philosophical options so available in the Roman Empire, “those earliest churches displayed one particularly remarkable trait: a passion to keep in touch with one another. We see this most clearly in Paul’s letters, many of which include greetings and news from cities all over the eastern Mediterranean world. Paul sends and receives reports from one city after another.”
”A passion to keep in touch with one another.” Yes, that is a good description of First Congregational Church, isn’t it? We may not be in the same place we have always been, some of us have moved away, others of us are no longer as active as we were, but the tie that binds us is still strong. We write cards and make phone calls and pick people up who no longer drive — because we are passionate about caring and sharing our lives. We want to be in touch with one another, because somehow that helps us be more in touch with the best of who we are.
I can tell you that being “touched” by the thoughtfulness of someone who sends a card or an email, or makes a quick call, has been incredibly healing to me in the past several weeks. In the middle of the night, when everything seemed very dark for a time, the prayers and outreach of this family of faith touched me very deeply. It is good to be passionate about keeping those connections going, because sometimes those connections are the threads of love which hold us up.
This coming Sunday, we are celebrating our “passion to keep in touch with one another.” We are coming together for a Homecoming Sunday: an informal worship at 4:00, in which we will bless our new gathering space, and enjoy a simple meal right afterward. Please come. Being in touch is something we value and can never take for granted — it involves taking the time to be together and share our lives.
If you can’t be there, but would like to send your greetings to those who can, just send an email or call the office. Let us know how you are doing. Keep in touch. It’s what makes us who we are.
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
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