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Archive for October 2012


On Friday, Nov. 26th, I attended a summit in Redwood City called:  “Respect 24/7.”  Sponsored by the San Mateo County Board of Education and several other non-profits in the area, it brought together teenagers and adults from around the county to learn about the issue of bullying.

Alex Libbey, a featured student in the new documentary film, “Bully,” was there along with Lee Hirsch, the filmmaker.  Alex was a middle schooler in Oklahoma when he was approached by Hirsch about helping to make this film.  As a new kid in town, he was having a terrible time making friends and, as too often happens, had been singled out by the other kids for bullying.  Hirsch, who had himself been bullied as a child, was given permission to film openly at the middle school and it soon became apparent to him that Alex was in desperate need of help.  The documentary chronicles what happened when Alex tried to get help, and how devastating it can be to be shunned by peers.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier was also at the summit.  She began her talk by telling us that she had herself been bullied in elementary school.  She talked about how humiliating and painful it was for her to go to school everyday and then she gave us some astounding statistics:  13 million kids are bullied every year; 160,000 stay home from school out of fear.

Bullying is the attempt to gain power for oneself by diminishing the power of others.  It’s tools are intimidation, cruelty, and harassment.  In the online age, a new term has come into being:  “Cyber-bullying,” which means simply the amplification of old-fashioned bullying through use of the internet, including Facebook posting, emails, texts, and countless other online connections.  Cyber-bullying is the latest form of an ancient inhumanity and, while particularly harmful to young people, it isn’t limited to children.  Just read theanonymous comments posted in online forums and you will see examples of adults participating in this, as well. 

I share this information with you today for two reasons.  First, as a caring community it is important for us to know what’s happening in our world, especially to the children for whom we are responsible.  Second, as a Christian community, we are rooted in the teachings of Jesus.  When you listen to those teachings, you hear how many of them have to do with power and its abuse.  Jesus stood up for the woman about to be stoned by a mob; he reached out to a tax collector named Zaccheus, a man shunned by his community.  Jesus told a story about a Samaritan who reached across the lines of racial prejudice to help a man beaten by bullies, and ignored by bystanders.  There is a thread that runs throughout the Gospels, calling us to stand up to those who seek to increase their power by hurting others.  It is the foundation of most of the social justice work Christians have been part of throughout history.  It is the reason Christians led the way in the abolition of slavery and in the Civil Rights movement.  It is the reason so many of us wear the Rainbow Delegation bracelets, as a sign of support and solidarity for gay and lesbian youth.  We know that if we get nothing else from Jesus, we must hear this:  the way we treat others, especially the most vulnerable among us, is a direct reflection of our faith.   When we have forgotten that in the past, we have lost the most crucial part of who we are, and terrible abuses occur.

In this political season, I am struck by the amount of bullying we put up with in our country.  We actually have conversations about whether or not elders should have their health care cut.  We listen as women’s rights are debated, as if they are some kind of option.  We wonder if cuts to the poorest of the poor are a worthy trade off so that some can have lower tax rates.  This is bullying.  It is the rich and powerful demanding more for themselves, and demeaning the lives of others to get it.  

The teens at the summit on Friday had a term for those who stand up to bullies:  “Upstanders.”  I think Jesus was an upstander.  He believed every action should take into account its effect on others, and that no one was too small or too insignificant to count,  Bullying affects our children in terrible and insidious ways.  We must address that in our schools and our communities, and find ways to make it better.  We must also look more deeply at our culture, as a whole, and stand up to the ways in which bullying is accepted and perpetuated.

In our civic discourse, in our votes, and in our actions, may all that we do and all that we say be rooted in the compassionate teachings of Jesus.  May we always be known as Upstanders.  

Thanks be to God. 


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For all the Saints

The group of women, about 20 in number and with ages spanning several decades, all sat huddled around the large television set.  This was in the early 80’s, and it was relatively new to have a VHS player available.  I had managed to find one, and had gathered this group to watch a video about Mother Theresa.  Having seen the documentary earlier on PBS, I thought it would be the perfect discussion vehicle for this group of church women.  It told about her early life, her decision to enter a religious order, and her strong call to work with the poorest of the poor in India.  Her life, and the film, were inspiring, and I could hardly wait to hear the reactions.

As the documentary ended, there was silence.  What did you think? I asked.  Still, nobody spoke.  Finally, one woman said, “I know I’m not supposed to feel this way, but I feel kind of bad about myself after watching that.  I mean, there she is, feeding people and giving her whole life to serving the poor, and what do I do everyday?  Go to work, feed my family, try not to make too big a mess of things.  It’s as if I’m letting God down somehow.”

I think about that woman often, especially around this time of year.  You see, next Thursday, Nov. 1, is known as All Saints Day.   Christians around the world are encouraged to think about how their lives have been shaped by the good works of others — people who are often called “saints.”  And because we load up that word with so many expectations, we can sometimes do ourselves more harm than good.  The Protestant tradition has long rejected the notion of a saint as being one who performs miracles, or behaves in some supernatural way.   We believe  that a saint is one who seeks, as best he or she can, to follow in the ways of Jesus, living a life made up of countless small decisions to love.  A saint is the child who stands up for someone being bullied; a saint is a grandparent quietly encouraging a wayward teenager; a saint is someone who gives without need for recognition.  In other words, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.”

It’s hard work being a saint.  Sometimes, like Mother Theresa, you get recognized for it.  But mostly, the saints move among us without much fanfare, imperfect but faithful, inspiring not because their lives are dramatic, but because they don’t give up.  They are the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), who show us how to  “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  This Nov. 1, as you put away your Halloween candy, give a thought to the ways in which you are touched by the saints who went before you and live among you now.  They remind us that God does not need us to live someone else’s life – just to fully inhabit our own, with constancy and compassion.   If you are a sinner who keeps on going, who keeps on trying, then you, too, are to be celebrated on All Saints Day.  

Thanks be to God!


  These beautiful icons are the work of Mark Dukes and
can be seen at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church
of San Francisco or by visiting

10-24-12 Newsletter


This past Sunday, Rev. Larry Scurry and his wife, Pam, worshipped with us and joined us for dinner.  Rev. Scurry is the Chaplain at Hillcrest Juvenile Facility in San Mateo, and is the minister who works with our volunteers who go there monthly for bible study and fellowship.  He spoke with us during worship of the great privilege it is to work with the incarcerated teenagers, the staff, and the volunteers — all with different outward needs, but all in the same basic need of feeling God’s love and forgiveness in their lives.  Hillcrest Ministry is one of our honorees for our 150th Anniversary Fund and we had invited Larry to speak with us about his work.


 As he spoke, he shared  several stories about experiences in Juvenile Hall, most of them from the perspective of the boys and girls incarcerated there.  Each of these stories revealed  the painful reality of kids who have too often been discarded, or viewed as hopeless.  Each story touched on a moment in which a young person experienced the liberating Word of God’s all-encompassing, never ending hope for them.  Those of us who spent the evening with Larry and Pam were reminded again of how powerful this ministry is, and of how our prayers and our presence can make a difference.

Below I am reprinting one of the stories Larry shared.  It was written by Fernando, who was in Juvenile Hall.  As you read it, hold Fernando in your prayers, and all the teenagers whose lives are precious gifts from God and whose futures are yet to be shaped by God’s love.


Wisdom from the Cells

 In response to the reflection question:  “I remember one time I felt like a leper…”

I remember the first time I felt like a leper was the first time I went to the hospital while locked up.  I remember just going to get an exam done but I had to be handcuffed, shackled, and in our orange jump suit.  I remember the moment just like it was yesterday.  I remember walking into the hospital and everyone just started to stare at me.  They were starring at me like I was an animal at a zoo or something.  I remember walking through the halls with the staff and everyone just starring at me, me just thinking what everyone was thinking about me.  Maybe some people were thinking, “He’s probably there for murder, kidnap, rape, or some other horrible thing.”  Maybe some people were thinking, “It is horrible that they were having me chained up like that and that it’s unfair.”  Maybe some people were thinking, “Ha, look at another gang member that needs to be locked up.”  I remember walking and like the lepers back in the day.  But instead of me having a bell and ringing it, I had shackles on my legs telling people to be careful because there’s a prisoner coming through.

But it wasn’t all bad,  I remember how nice the nurse was and how she treated me like I wasn’t even in shackles or anything. She treated me like a regular person.  I remember how nice she was.  I also remember an older man come up to me as I waiting to leave and asked me how I was doing.  I remember him telling me to keep my head up and never let anyone put me down.  I remember his telling me that he has faith in me and he said he knows one day the Lord will let me out.  I then remember asking him who he was and he told me his name.  He was also formerly incarcerated and unfairly judged.

 ~ Fernando, who is in juvenile hall

10-17-12 Newsletter


 “Optimystics know that uncertainty is the prelude to discovery, and discovery is the prelude to growth. In other words, uncertainty can be a real blessing. It can propel us in new directions. It can make us take risks and live more radically, more intensely. Uncertainty can turn us in the direction of our spiritual selves; so often it is a security crisis in our lives that brings us to spiritual awakening and peace. Uncertainty may force us to face our fragility, giving us the opportunity to lay down the burden of our illusions of control — to face life naked but free, open to a new destiny. We are humbled, more reverent toward a higher power, more appreciative of the things and people that contribute to our sense of well-being.”

An Excerpt from The Optimystic’s Handbook:
Using Mystical Wisdom to discover
Hope, Happiness and the Wonder of Spiritual Living 
by Terry Lynn Taylor & Mary Beth Crain



We all know the term “Optimist”.   However, the term “Optimystic” was new to me until I read it recently on the Spirituality and Practice website.  According to Terry Lynn Taylor and Mary Beth Crain, an Optimystic blends optimism and mysticism into a philosophy of life.  These people believe that God can bring good out of any situation.  They look at individual circumstances as a piece of a longer story — a story that is always heading toward resurrection.  

Optimystics see God’s hand in everything, and it gives them hope.  They know that God does not cause disruption or uncertainty, but believe that God can use it for good.  In our community life, many of you have certainly been through times of uncertainty and challenge, and have chosen to move forward, a step at a time, believing that God was leading you even when you couldn’t see your destination.  It takes a great deal of hope and faithfulness to step into an uncertain future.  Perhaps you have been able to survive and thrive because there is an inherent strain of “Optimystism” at First Congregational Church of Redwood City.  

Thanks be to God!


Today’s Newsletter (10-10-12)