Archive for May 2015
I am about ready to tackle the clutter in my life. We have a big project coming up, and as much as I have resisted looking at some of that old stuff in our storage, the time has come to do something about it.
When I read the reflection (below) by Michelle L. Torigian, I was struck by the ways in which clutter can also be a pathway through our past. So many fads – so many photos of goofy hairdos – so many memories. I have boxes of my early sermons that represent my first years in ministry. There in the corner is a cradle handmade for us by one of the parishioners in my first church. There are seminary papers and the books I used for writing them – long before the days of online libraries. There are art supplies mixed in with baby clothes, and it is just a jumble of memories.
I will tackle this, I really will. But I appreciate Torigian’s reminder to handle them with care, for they are reminders of who I was way back when – and perhaps a path to who I am becoming.
May we all hold our memories with care – even as we sort and pack, and yes, take some time to de-clutter.
Ponder: What items that you own remind you of your younger years? Why have you kept these items?
Pray: God, you have seen us as we’ve survived all of our ridiculous trends: bell bottoms, big bangs, banana clips and beyond. Our closets and drawers filled with the remnants of our younger years. No matter what we wore or whose poster we had on our walls, you loved us. Motivate us to clear out some of these cabinets filled with things from our past. But help us to hold on to many dear (and cheesy) memories from these years. Amen.
Written by Michelle L. Torigian,
Photo by Michelle L. Torigian
There is much discussion right now about the role that radical Islamic groups play in violence around the world. While there are no quick and easy answers to what is going on, it is important to know that the vast majority of the Muslims in this world are equally appalled at the fanaticism displayed by groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Recently I read an article on our national UCC website about a visit from the Global Ministries delegation (made up of UCC and Disciples leaders) to discuss ways that interfaith groups can support the voices for peace and justice that are coming from the Islamic world.
As I read it, I thought about all the radical Christian groups that seek to appropriate the name of Jesus in their actions. The Ku Klux Klan calls themselves a Christian group. Westboro Baptist Church claims to speak the Gospel through their words of violence and hate. Some fundamentalist groups seek to deny basic human rights to LGBT people. It is extremely painful to me when someone from outside my faith assumes that “all Christians” are like these most extreme voices. Even so, our Muslim brothers and sisters must feel the same sense of anger and hurt when they hear people assuming that the most twisted representations of their faith are common and widely held. As you read through the article, reprinted below, may you be reassured that the voices of moderate Muslims are the truest representations of their faith, and may we join our prayers with people around the world that the voices of compassion and mutual respect will soon prevail.
Lebanon’s Top Sunni Pledges Peace-Building
To Global Ministries Delegation
Written by Anthony Moujaes
May 13, 2015
Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim met with a dozen leaders from the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on May 6, and during the discussion he denounced the actions of radical groups, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, who was elected the Grand Mufti of Lebanon in August, told the delegation that they are on the same road for peace and justice.
Derian warmly welcomed 12 people from the Global Ministries delegation— a group of executive and program staff from the UCC and Disciples on a two-week tour of the Middle East—to Dar El-Fatwa in Beirut, the Sunni Muslim office of authority in Lebanon.
“That is not respective of religion, nor is it corresponding to the values of a religion,” Derian told the group, speaking about violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. “The true followers of religion are the victims of these attacks.”
“We come at an important time in the Middle East,” said the Rev. Jim Moos, co-executive of Global Ministries and UCC national officer. “We are committed to peace and justice in the region, and interfaith relations with our brothers and sisters, and we are thankful to pray with our Muslim friends for peace in the region and work with them to show that not all Muslims are fanatics or violent.”
Moos explained the upcoming Middle East Initiative, a focused advocacy effort of Global Ministries that begins across the UCC with General Synod (June) and the Christian Church at General Assembly (July), and added that interfaith dialogue is a key part of the initiative.
Derian was in agreement. “You are most welcome to this house, a house of Islam, a house of Lebanon and a house of people working for peace,” Derian said. “It’s true you are coming at a key time.”
Derian’s advisors said that Dar El-Fatwa, which is responsible for interpreting Islamic law, cooperates with 12 of the 18 religious sects in Lebanon, and that those sects agreed to denounce actions by ISIS as criminal acts.
Many moderate Muslims have spoken out against the rise of extremists groups—like ISIS, who claim to be followers of Sunni Islam—and are working closely with other Muslims, as well as Christians and Jews, to strengthen their relationships.
At almost every meeting during the tour, Global Ministries’ partners emphasized and re-emphasized the critical nature of interfaith dialogue in finding peace.
“Our fate as Christians here is connected to the fate of Muslims,” said George Sabra, president of the Near East Schoolof Theology in Beirut. “Our main concern is how to preserve the Christian presence and how we will have a role in what is emerging in the Middle East.”
To close the hour-long discussion, Moos asked Derien to share with Lebanese Sunnis that Global Ministries stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Lebanon.
“We are different [in our faiths], but we agree that this difference does not spoil the love and peace on the journey toward justice,” Derian said. “I believe it as a true Muslim.”
The Lady in Gold is a recent movie starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. It centers on the unlikely quest of a Jewish immigrant from Austria who is seeking to recover several famous paintings that were stolen from her family during the Nazi regime. The movie goes back and forth in time: sometimes we are in the present, watching Maria and her lawyer try to navigate the system of laws in modern day Austria; other scenes take us into the heart of the Vienna that existed just before and at the beginning of the Nazi takeover of Austria in the late 1930’s. We see a young Maria, surrounded by family and affluence. We see her wedding party; we watch her as a young child, lovingly doted on by her Aunt Adele, whom Gustav Klimt famously portrays in his portrait known as the “Lady in Gold.” We watch as the rise of anti-Semitism sweeps across the country, and formerly friendly neighbors join the rabble of Nazi hate, turning on people they have known for years, aiding the Nazis in rounding up and terrorizing “criminals” whose crime is being Jewish.
It is a juxtaposition that is jarring. The modern Maria has lived peacefully in California for 50 years. When she begins her quest to recover her family paintings, and, in particular, the portrait of her aunt, she is living a quiet and happy life, having not returned to Austria since her harrowing escape in 1938. I won’t give away the resolution of the plot (which is indeed a true story), but there was one moment in the film that stood out for me. As the modern day Maria stands on the steps of the Austrian courthouse, she is approached by several journalists and interested citizens, who are concerned that she is trying to “steal” the paintings from Austria. One man, a smiling, friendly looking individual, leans in close to her and sneers quietly, “You people. You’re all alike. Why can’t you just move on?”
“You people.” With those words, she is thrown back into a time when the cover of human decency and civility was ripped away, when people were starkly grouped into “us” and “them,” and human behavior was reduced to its lowest common denominator. No wonder some of the Austrians wanted her to “just move on.”
Human civilization is filled with atrocities. Every society, if it is honest, holds a deep shame about it’s treatment of the vulnerable in its midst. The Germans, and the Austrians, must remember the holocaust, and the anti-Semitism that fed it. Germany, to it’s great credit, has taken measures so that citizens must remember the past, and though there are no doubt plenty of Germans who would like to “just move on,” the crimes of the past have not been swept under the societal rug and forgotten. There is a deep understanding that to deny history is to be doomed to repeat it – or at least to perpetuate the consequences in unthinking ways.
Our great shame, as a nation, is slavery. There are others, as we moved across the continent, displacing peoples and upending long established civilizations that got in our way. But slavery is the great shame that is embedded in our history like no other. Our Constitution was written with slavery in mind; our economy for the first hundred years was dependent on the fact of human beings owning other human beings. We cannot escape that, for it is a fact of our history and existence as a nation. Even after we sought to correct that great institutionalized shame and dismantle the legal practice of
human bondage, we continued to enslave people in ways we have come to know as Jim Crow: separate and unequal, cruel and inhuman. Even today, we bear the fruits of that time; and even today, we hear the voices of people around us asking “you people” to forget, to minimize, to just move on.
I believe that the strength of our humanity is found in the ability to hold two things together: an unflinching look at our past, and an unwavering hope for the future. I believe that the gift of our faith is found in Jesus’ consistent call to be honest with God and one another about our lives (Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses) and to expand our vision of “us and them.” For Jesus, the hated and despised Samaritans were “Good Samaritans.” In Jesus’ new worldview, there were no people too lowly to eat with, or heal, or protect. There were only people of different colors and sizes and religions — all equal in God’s eyes.
We are human beings, deeply flawed and deeply loved. We, like the Austrians in the movie I saw, are part of the fabric of history, some of which we claim proudly and from some of which we avert our eyes in shame. But more than anything else, we are a people of faith whose greatest strength is our belief that with God we can face anything, even our own sin, and in facing it, build a more just and loving world. There is no “you people” in the Beloved Community. Through God’s grace, may we see ourselves and each other with new vision, and may our people become a phrase we hear more and more.
(From a speech given to staff and volunteers
at SpiritCare, December 2013)
When I was 24 years old, I felt the strong, unmistakable call into the ministry. This surprised me quite a bit—because I am from a family of teachers, and education is the life blood of my extended family. I was already teaching, and loved it, but I couldn’t ignore the persistent, insistent call to a new path. The only person who wasn’t totally surprised by this was my Grandmother. She merely said, “Of course!” when I told her, and “How wonderful!” when I was accepted to seminary.
I tell you this because my Grandmother was, and remains, even years after she died, the strongest voice of faith, that I have ever known. The bible I read from today is one of hers, and it contains her handwriting in the margins, remnants from many years of bible study and women’s circles.
When she went into nursing care, she couldn’t take much with her, but she took her faith. She still prayed, she still used bible stories and old hymns as a frame of reference for what was going on in her life, even as she negotiated her way into her last months on this earth. She was physically weaker, and sometimes mentally more confused, but she was as spiritually vital as ever. The friends from her faith community were treasures to her, for they recognized her in this new place as the same spirt she had always been: one totally, and completely, of God.
That’s what SpiritCare Ministry does. I suppose it can be seen as something that is done for elders in our community. But what I saw the first time I ever volunteered with Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough was something much deeper than that: a recognition of the spiritual lives that residents in the homes already have. Sue Ann doesn’t talk about “bringing worship” we “share worship”. Those of us who go into the residences and nursing homes to spend time with people there leave with more than we bring don’t we? Because we know that this ministry offers us the privilege of spending time with people whose faith is an example for ours.
I want you to think for just a moment of someone you have interacted with through SpiritCare: an elder, or a staff member. Let that person’s face or voice come to you now. Perhaps it was someone you spoke with, or someone you shared worship with. Sit with them in your imagination, and let their spirit touch yours, even for a moment. Now let yourself imagine them looking back at you, seeing you for the beloved child of God that you are. To touch and be touched, through one another, by the Spirit: this is the great gift of Christian community: wherever we are, when we open our hearts to God and to one another, we are linked.
reach a time in our lives where, because of age or infirmity, we are less independent and more vulnerable, the rich resources of our faith community will be taken away from us. I know that when I imagine myself bedridden or unable to go to church, I want to know that there will be people who will still pray with me and sing hymns with me, and nurture the faith I received as a legacy. And I want my identity as a person of faith, a child of God, to be recognized and affirmed. I also pray that my faith can continue to be a beacon to others even when I am no longer young and healthy. This is what SpiritCare Ministry does through all of you. We offer our time, and our presence, and our gifts to the elders we visit. We, in turn, bask in the light of their faith, and this is the gift they give to us.
In this season of gift giving, I give thanks for everything I have received as a volunteer with this ministry, for the ministers who lead us, for the elders who inspire us, and for all of you.
~ Rev. Kim Smith-Nilsson
If you would like to donate to SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors,
please send a check made out to First Church
with “SpiritCare” written in the memo line.
100% of your donation will be passed along to SpiritCare.
The gift of SpiritCare Ministry is that every person involved – the ministers, the volunteers, the staff, the residents gets to bask in the faith of the others. We are privileged to be with elders whose lives and faith have much to teach us; we are honored to serve with people who find God’s presence more tangible in the presence of others.
Many people I know have expressed the fear that when we
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(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
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