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Archive for November 2012

Each Sunday as we prepare for Christmas, we light a candle and say a prayer. These Advent prayers often center us on a practice or a quality we wish to cultivate during the season.  Hope, Joy, Love and Peace — each of these are steps on the path to Christmas.

This year, as we light our candles, we will also be remembering the characters that fill out the first Christmas story.  These figures call us to reflect on what it means when our humanity comes into contact with divine Love.  Lives change; the world shifts; everything is possible.

The first character in the story is, appropriately, Mary.  The whole plan depends upon her — on her ability to see beyond her very natural fear, on her willingness to embrace an unimaginable future.  The story begins with a small, frightened girl, alone in a room, suddenly confronted by a messenger.  We, who have heard the story so many times, know what she was told.  What we don’t know is how she was able to do what she did then.  How she listened, and pondered, and received the Word with such graciousness.  How she leaned into God, when her every human instinct must’ve been to recoil in terror.  The story depends upon her ability to hope.  And so Mary becomes for us a study in what it means to believe that God will guide us through the uncharted territory of our lives, and to have faith that God’s love will offer us light even when it seems the darkest.  Mary could not write the script of her life any more than we can.  What she shows us, though, is that Hope does not depend on knowing what is going to happen.  Hope is what we choose when we trust that God will care for us, no matter what.  So the story of Jesus begins with Mary and her hope.

The poet Rumi wrote of Mary:  She leaped, as her habit was, out of herself into the divine presence.  May her courage embolden us, as we, too, face the unknown with confidence that the divine presence is already everything we need.



Before these possessions you love slip away, 

say what Mary said when 

she was surprised by Gabriel, 

    I’ll hide inside God.  

 Naked in

   her room 

she saw a form of beauty that could give her new life.  

Like the sun

coming up, or a rose as it


 She leaped, as her habit was, out of herself

into the divine presence.

 There was fire in the channel of her breath.  Light and

majesty came.  

 I am smoke from that fire and proof of its existence, more than

any external form.  (Rumi)


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How we are called to Treat each other in the midst of Diversity

Last week I wrote about community and how much we need it.  This week, post-election, I would like to share two pieces of writing about this subject.  The first was written by my friend Bonnie Malouf who teaches kindergarten in Mountain View.  The second is a pastoral letter written by the Collegium of the United Church of Christ.  Both are really writing about the same thing:  how we are called to treat each other in the midst of diversity and (sometimes)

Let me know what you think!


Bonnie Johanson Malouf

Part 1

Yesterday we voted in Kindergarten. A few days ago, I brought a large box into the classroom. We brainstormed ideas (37 of them) of what we could do with this box. (turtle, cave, rocket, a boy named Steve(!), etc). Each child then put three dots next to their 3 top choices, thus narrowing the field considerably. A couple of days later, we narrowed it again, with 2 dots each. Finally, we were down to three choices: a rocket, a volcano, or a treasure box with a bow on it. (Remember, this is Kindergarten.)

In the day before the final voting, a curious thing emerged. Lobbying. “I’ll give you my snack if you vote for the volcano.” “We are ALL voting for the rocket, so you have to, too.” “If you vote for the rocket, I will let you make the blastoff part.” There were even some anonymous campaign letters found in a few cubbies: “VOTE FOR ROKIT”. Perhaps lobbying and political positioning are in our DNA.

Finally, it was time for secret ballot. We wrote “VOTE” on a sign that was posted on top of the curtained puppet stage, now transformed into a voting booth. We made ballots, complete with incomplete arrows – the same kind you and I used to vote for President yesterday. These arrows, however, were positioned next to labeled pictures. 

One by one, the children took their turns behind the curtain, voted, folded their ballot and put it in the box (yes, the same box. Boxes are versatile, as it turns out.) They zealously guarded their privacy. “She’s peeking!” “I’m not voting until you stop looking at me.” They shifted without prompting so that there was a space between the waiting voters and the booth.  Then, each one colored a circle that proudly stated, “I VOTED” and taped it on their shirt.  We won’t know the results until tomorrow. Turns out we are just a little slower in tabulating votes than the national average. Tomorrow, we will take the ballots, anonymous but seriously completed, and count them one by one.

Whoever wins or loses, we will then talk about how we gracefully move on without making other people feel bad. It turns out that it really is true that everything we need to know we learn in Kindergarten.

Part II

The time had come. We counted and tallied the votes, one by one. The race was close, and the room was silent, the children leaning into each ballot as it was called. The last ballot drawn, we had our results: treasure box with a bow: 7; rocket 8, volcano 9.
Tears sprung to some eyes and grins to some faces. We had begun with a serious talk about winning and losing, and the way to respond to both. A way that expresses your disappointment or elation, without putting down other people. I paraphrased (seriously simplifying) the speeches of Romney and Obama.  “I really wanted to win, and I feel so bad that I lost. But I know it will all be all right and everyone will work together to make it okay.” and “I am really happy that I won, but I know that other people didn’t get what they wanted. I want to help them be happy with what happens, too.” Or something like that. 

They weren’t sure what exactly to do. Some gave small cheers, while others buried their heads and sobbed. This was serious stuff. Some really, really wanted to make a rocket. Or a treasure box with a bow. 

As we talked about disappointment, a new discussion blossomed. Those who had “won” began to think of ways to have the “non-winners” enjoy making the volcano. “The people who lost could get to make the best part of the volcano” one said. “They could set off the explosion” offered another.  [did he say “explosion”? Really? Okay, I may have not thought this through….]  And, one by one, the sniffles and cheers morphed into planning and new ideas. We’re still in the planning stages, of course, but, at this point, it looks like we will re-shape the box, put on lots of paper machè, with the non-winners getting to do it first if they want to, then we’ll paint it and add glitter. After a week of enjoying it, we will then take it outside and have an explosion.

Okay, so a few details need to be worked out. But, all in all, it’s a good plan. And, as is so often the case, we are led to the right path by the words of children.  Because now, in our kindergarten, and in our country, we need to look around, pay attention to those who are disappointed, and those who are thrilled, and treat them with respect and care. We need to listen to each other and make each other feel better. And, we need to start planning.   After all, if a treasure box with a bow can turn into an exploding volcano, all before library time, there may yet be hope for those of us who have left the kindergarten room for the business of living our lives in the mixed-up world we call home.  It is time to work together to build community.

November 7, 2012

A post-election Pastoral Letter

from the Officers of the United Church of Christ 

The Scriptures remind us that building right relationships in human community is at the very core of our faith.  Our faith provides us with spiritual resources to take the conversation to a different level.  We are called to a high standard of engagement with our neighbors, even those with whom we may disagree.  We can choose respect and hope over animosity and bitterness. We can choose to listen and learn rather than attack and insult. We can choose to have civic discussions in civil tones.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.                             

[Ephesians 4: 31-32]

Divisive and heated words have dominated the airwaves and the public dialogue over the past many months during this election campaign season.   With the election behind us, our voice as people of faith is needed now more than ever.  We can play a unique role by encouraging civil, respectful dialogue that builds community and a hope-filled vision of the future that extends God’s extravagant welcome to all people. 

These are challenging times for our local communities, our country and the world.   We cannot shy away from our responsibility to be part of public life. If we wonder whether we should be part of the election process, we need only remember the witness of Jesus who challenged the powers and principalities in search of justice for the “least of these.”  Yesterday’s election was our opportunity to follow His lead as we participated in making decisions that order our common life in a way that is faithful to God’s message of love.

In the midst of all this, tens of thousands experienced tragic losses last week.  Many lost their lives or their loved ones.  Far more lost their homes and communities.  Those affected showed the world that they may have lost their electricity, but not their power.  We know you will pray with us for all who courageously cared for one another through the storm and in the aftermath.  Please support the rebuilding that is ahead of us in the hurricane torn regions of this country.

Furthermore, as the Officers of the United Church of Christ, we pray for our civic leaders who were just elected and for those who were not.  We will continue to be a BOLD PUBLIC VOICE.  We will not avoid discussions about the hard issues.  We will not be silent in the public square where decisions are being made.  We must take charge of our democracy and demand a nonpartisan approach to problem solving.  We promise to be a voice of hope as we claim the future of this country, seeking community that works together for the common good.  We will do so in the spirit of Jesus the Christ, the One who came to show us the way to peace, love, and reconciliation. 

The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ

The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President

W. Mark Clark
Associate General Minister

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries

The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries

The Rev. James Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries


We Cannot Survive Without Each Other

By the time you read this, the election will be over (I hope) and the recovery from Hurricane Sandy will be well underway.  Both events, one planned and anticipated, the other an unexpected catastrophe, made me think again about what it means to live in community.  


We are members of many different communities, and they exist much like concentric circles:   our families, our neighborhoods, our spiritual homes, our nation, and our world.  Sometimes the values of our various communities conflict with each other —  when family members take different political stances, for examples, or when nations disagree about environmental policies.  When that happens, we are called to do some serious soul-searching, as we try to balance the different needs and responsibilities we feel to those around us.  It isn’t easy being part of a community, but as we see time and again, there is no other way.  We need each other.  Jesus may have taken time alone to think and pray, but his life and his teachings were deeply rooted in relationships.   

I have been touched by the many examples of community which have emerged during and following Hurricane Sandy.  I read today about the women from Gilda’s Club, a cancer support group, who had trained together to run the New York Marathon this year.  The goal of running the big race was one that motivated and sustained them this past year, as they sought to move forward in their post-cancer lives.  When the marathon was cancelled, they decided to meet at Staten Island, where the race would’ve begun.  They wanted to see what they could do to help out the people there who had been so badly affected by the storm.  Mary Elizabeth Williams, from Salon, described their experience:

It’s been a devastatingly unforgettable past few days. But if there’s one moment from that once-in-a-lifetime marathon-that-wasn’t day I’ll always remember, it’ll be the sight of a cigarette-smoking matron leaning over her fence as warm clothing was handed up to her. From her perch, she could see the whole of her ruined street, and a steady flow of displaced neighbors cleaning up and volunteers helping them. “It’s a beautiful life,” she said. She said it loudly and fiercely, she yelled it down at us below. She’s right; it is a beautiful life. It’s beautiful and it’s cruel and it’s amazing and it’s horribly unfair and all that we have within it is each other. All that endures is not how badly we feel about ourselves but how kindly we choose to treat each other. What I’ll remember from Sunday is a lady with a cigarette who saw something transcendent within ruin. Who saw a group of people who let themselves cry and who let themselves smile, without judgment or blame, working together to pull a broken city out of the dark and back, slowly but inexorably, into the light.  

(Salon, Nov. 5, 2012)

We cannot survive without each other.  As we approach the celebration of our 150th year as a community, I give thanks for the many ways in which this church has become a vital part of the concentric circles of my life.  I give thanks for the many kindnesses and acts of service this community of faith has been able to offer our larger community because of the mutual support you share.  You have never forgotten that to be in relationship with God means to be in relationship with others, and because of that, you have been a bearer of light for 150 years.  As we pray for the victims of Sandy, as we send our donations for their aid, as we recover from what has been an ugly election season, may we always remember the blessing of being part of something bigger than ourselves, even if its painful, even when its hard.  

Thanks be to God.


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