My grandmother always made me new clothes for the beginning of the school year. She made jumpers and dresses, blouses and skirts – brand new, just for me! I remember a dress with stripes in olive green and rust colors, with a little thread of metallic gold running through it. I wore that one on the first day of fourth grade. With my white knee socks and patent leather shoes, I was elegant, indeed.
I would be fully immersed in all the activities of summer (swimming, riding my bike, playing elaborate games with my friends) when all of a sudden a package would arrive in the mail. Inside were my new school clothes, wrapped in tissue. Until that moment, summer seemed like it would last forever. The package was a signal that something new was just around the corner, and a new season was about to begin.
I haven’t received one of those packages in many, many years. But there are other signs that summer is winding down that I have learned to recognize. On Monday, we put our younger daughter on a plane to start her fall semester at college. The get-togethers with my teacher friends are only planned for weekends now. Our backyard worship services in the Fosgett’s beautiful garden will have to wait for another year. That leisurely feeling of summer has transformed into a more focused energy now, and we are looking ahead to a vibrant and exciting autumn.
There is a rhythm in our world and in our lives. As much as we love one season, we are always moving toward the next. We can aspire to being fully aware and appreciative of the present moment, but we cannot hang onto it. We are flowing along with the river of time. For everything there is a season, says the writer of Ecclesiastes, and the longer we live, the more we recognize the gift in that. Perhaps there are seasons or stages we would choose to stay in, but we cannot. Our lives are shaped by the God who sees around the corner and who brings us new possibilities in every age and stage.
I loved my new school clothes. Sometimes I think wistfully of that time in my life. But I am grateful that time has moved me forward, that the very nature of life has required that I change and stretch, even through the most difficult of times.
As you enjoy the last few days of summer, may you notice and appreciate the beauty of the flowers, the sweetness of the summer fruit, the warmth of the sunny afternoons. May you thank God for the gifts you have received this season. And may we all be on the lookout for the new invitations to learning and growth that are coming our way. Thanks be to God!
I really can’t stand people who judge other people. They drive me crazy. I listen to them as they criticize others and think to myself: “What’s the MATTER with you? Can’t you see how awful you are being?? Why don’t you just stop being so judgmental and be more like –“
Oh, wait a minute.
This judging/not-judging thing can get kind of confusing. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not that you not be judged.” And it seems clear that he was talking to his listeners, not about “those other people.” He was talking to us.
One reason we have a hard time with the concept of “judging” is that we use that word in such different ways. My dad used to tell me to “use my best judgment” when I went out into new situations. “Judge” and “evaluate” are often used interchangeably in English, and “my final judgment” can be interchanged with “my final conclusion.” All very neutral uses of the word, and not at all what Jesus meant.
The Greek word for judgment used in this passage is Krino. As Jesus used it here, the weight of the word does not imply discern or conclude. In the context of this passage, Krino shades strongly toward condemnation. It is used to imply a malicious air of superiority and distance from the object of one’s contemplation. Jesus understood our human tendency to focus our anxieties outwardly by looking for the faults of others as a way of avoiding looking at our own. He goes on later in the passage to encourage us to “look out for the log in our own eyes before we focus on the speck in someone else’s.” The modern psychological concept of projection echoes this thought; sometimes those things that drive me craziest in others I would do well to notice in myself.
There is indeed a constructive and positive place for judgment in our lives. We are called to make moral decisions, to evaluate different actions, and to exercise our best faculties for discernment. But Jesus reminds us – in politics, in religion, and in personal relationships – that it is not our job to determine the worthiness of other people. Destructive judgment builds barriers between human beings, and often blinds us to our own vulnerabilities. Jesus invites us to be as clear sighted and realistic as possible, with ourselves and others. We are flawed – and we are loved. We are sinful – and we are forgiven. We are all part of the human family.
Thanks be to God.
There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.
WHEN I HEAR A SEXIST, RACIST, or HOMOPHOBIC REMARK
Jesus, I can’t believe what I just heard. It is outrageous. My pulse is racing. My mind is spinning. My palms are sweaty. Even so, I am tempted to let it pass. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way. Does that make a difference? But, no, I can’t let those hideous words just hang in the air. So give me the courage to say something in response. Give me the wisdom to know what to say. Help me to speak the truth in love. The truth – not wielded like a weapon, but in love. And then, Jesus, one more thing I would ask: even as I correct another, save me from self-righteousness. Help me to remember that all have sinned and fallen short of your glory. Even me. Sometimes, especially me. Amen.
~ Martin E. Copenhaver
A Book of (Un)common Prayers
by the UCC Writers Group
“… drink deeply of God’s Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and offer praise in your hearts to the Lord.”
(Ephesians 5:19, Weymouth Translation)
One of my favorite parts of the Olympics this year was a historical piece about the British experience in World War II. The bravery and sacrifice shared by every person, from the ordinary citizen to the royal family, are well known. The old black and white footage was moving, as were the interviews with survivors, most of whom were children when the war started in Europe. There was a detail about the initial meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt, however, that I found particularly intriguing.
Winston Churchill, as the Prime Minister of a war-torn Great Britain, knew that without the engagement of the United States, England (and Europe) would be lost to Hitler. He also knew that his first meeting with Franklin Roosevelt would set the stage for the success or failure of their partnership. They met secretly off the coast of Newfoundland to discuss the urgency of the war effort, and as Churchill was planning the meeting, he made a decision: he would begin the time they had together with worship. The footage of the two world leaders sitting side by side on the deck of a tremendous war ship, surrounded by military from both countries, is stunning. What struck me most, however, was Churchill’s decision to make the worship time center on singing: not on fiery sermons or spoken readings, but on the shared experience of singing hymns. He understood that the language of music goes deep, and that the songs of our faith can unite us in ways other words cannot.
I have seen this many times in my life. People going through a life threatening illness will tell me that old hymns from their childhood ran through their minds during treatments. People with cognitive difficulties can often remember words to songs even when they are struggling with spoken language. And we all know how evocative music can be: songs from church camp can take us back decades, until we can almost smell the campfire and see the stars overhead.
This Sunday we will meet at Casa de Redwood (see details on page 7) to share in singing the old and new songs of our faith. We will sing together, then have an old-fashioned ice cream social. I hope you will be there if you can – to share in the joy of community and to sing the songs that continue to unite us to one another and to God. We are so blessed. As the summer draws to a close, let’s savor our blessings, drink deeply of God’s Spirit, and lift our voices in song.
Thanks be to God!
The most direct means for attaching ourselves to God from this material world is through music and song, so even if you can’t sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your own home. But sing.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Soul Judaism
by Wayne Dosick
On July 27, Alan and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary. As many of you know, our last anniversary was spent in the hospital, as Alan recovered from a heart attack. Your cards and prayers were a great support then, and we will never forget them.
This year, we spent three days at Half Moon Bay’s Cypress Inn, taking walks, watching the dolphins and seals, and celebrating our many blessings. Your love accompanied us there, as well, as we were able to use the bed and breakfast gift certificate given to us by the church. Such a lovely, thoughtful gift! It gave us just what we needed: a time away to rest and relax, and a reminder of just how fortunate we are to have each other and this wonderful community.
Thank you for all you have done for us and for the ways you manifest God’s love and hospitality in the world. We are blessed, indeed.
Kim and Alan
Meditation from All the Days of My Life
by Marv and Nancy Hiles, Iona Center:
To stand in front of a window and watch the shadows and lights appear and disappear as the sun and clouds dapple the landscape, to enter the irreplaceable miracle of every day, to sense silent joy when walking across a room, to feel one’s hand move through the air in front of one’s face, and to become aware of a mysterious and beautiful presence in another person, is to experience the Unfathomable Mystery that absorbs our fear, grief, and joy, and whose depth matches the curve of the stars.
Ever feel this way? The lady in the glasses, while she may not look like me, certainly speaks for me, and she probably speaks for many others, as well. I want to be a responsible citizen, which means trying to keep up on what is happening in the world, thinking critically about the issues, and acting in accordance with my values. I also want to be a person who is centered and able to filter out the unnecessary “chatter” all around me. It is a psychological task, and, more importantly, a spiritual one. In the age of cable television, online newspapers, internet news sites, and just plain information overload, how we balance the information we accumulate with an inner calm and assurance can make all the difference in our lives. Are we overcome by the chaos? Or do we find a path through it, holding our concerns and our hopes in the light of something bigger?
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer in 1941 that has become known as “The Serenity Prayer.” Often used by Alcoholic Anonymous at the start of their meetings, the prayer was written at a time of great international upheaval. The world was embarking on a second World War, and the unspeakable seemed to be happening again. The most commonly known part of the prayer is as follows:
Perhaps if we read the paper and listen to the news with these words as our filter, we might not be so overwhelmed. The things we cannot change, we can accept – and offer up in prayer. The things we can change – well, we will have more energy to tackle.
There are further words that Niebuhr set down in the same prayer. They are more “old fashioned” and less familiar. But they remind us that there is a Power and a Spirit far greater than that of our own wills. They remind us that the God to whom we pray is working and loving and moving in the world – even when we cannot see it. May these words remind each of us that our sanity and our well-being is not dependent on even the best of our intentions or the strength of our actions. The Peace we have is the Peace of God, the foundation of our lives.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as did God, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that God will make all things right if I surrender to God’s Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with God forever in the next. Amen.