Archive for September 2015
“When I’m worried/ and I can’t sleep/ I count my blessings
instead of sheep/ And I fall asleep/ counting my blessings.”
That old song, sung in the 40’s by Bing Crosby, was a classic the first time I heard it several decades later. I sang it to my children when they were little. I hear it in my mind sometimes in the middle of the night, when the ebb and flow of life’s circumstances keep me awake. And I am always surprised when I start counting my blessings to see how full that list really is.
Sometimes I think, however, that there is another list I keep just out of sight — a list that is also a part of my life. It is the list of losses that I have experienced. I don’t like that list. It is hard to look at. And so I, of a naturally optimistic temperament, just put it aside. It is a form of benign neglect, as I choose to turn away from those experiences and memories that have caused me pain, and spend time on the easy list: the list of blessings too numerous to count.
Do you ever do that? In my experience, we often concentrate our psychological and spiritual energies more in one area than the other. Perhaps you are in the camp of those who more readily acknowledge their losses, and need to be reminded periodically of the way your life is regularly graced. Or maybe you are more like me. Ask me about the wonders in my life and I will talk your ear off. Ask me about the broken places, or the places where I have felt pain, and, well, not so easy for me.
It is the hallmark of spiritual maturity to be able to hold both perspectives in our hands: joy and sorrow, life and death. When we see only one of these pairs, we are not seeing the whole of our reality. When we turn away from either one, we are limiting our lives and our growth with God.
Last night I watched an extraordinary interview on network television. Stephen Colbert interviewed Vice President Joseph Biden on The Late Show. I almost didn’t watch because, though I like both men, I weary of the jokey, superficial “interviews” that make up most of late night. This one, however, was different. For several minutes, both men shared about the losses in their lives, the way their faith had helped them through it, and the things they had learned along the way. It was lovely. It was, as one person said later, like listening in on an intimate conversation between two people of faith and substance. Yes, there were jokes. But the jokes were not used to deflect from what was authentic. I was very moved by the ability of both men just to be real about their lives, and by their willingness to let us watch. There was nothing political or false about it. Just men who have had significant losses and undeniable blessings in their lives, telling it like it is. (To watch the interview, follow this link.)
Growing our trust in God requires that we be open, at least with ourselves, about the fullness of our lives. It means being grateful and it means grieving. It means recognizing our own vulnerability for what it is: a gateway to a deeper relationship with God. In our society, we often equate vulnerability with weakness. But it is not that. It is the face of courage in the midst of something that seems unbearable – because we know we have Someone to help us bear it.
So when we’re worried and we can’t sleep, we don’t need to be afraid of the bogeyman. We can acknowledge what we fear, and then ask for God’s help. For there is nothing and no one that can ever separate us from the love of God. And that is the greatest blessing of all.
Thanks be to God.
There are exciting changes afoot here at First Church!
One of the most obvious signs of this is that we are doubling the number of Community Sunday services every month.
Community Sundays will now happen twice a month. Starting in October, every 2nd and 4th Sunday we will gather at 5:00 for Worship, with a shared meal immediately following the service. Last year we initiated monthly Community Sundays, and found them so meaningful that we decided to double the number. The Church Council envisions these gatherings as:
“…a loving and hospitable space in our week to renew our love for God and our wonderful community, and to invite guests and friends into Spiritual refreshment.”
Why the change? While our small group Sundays had loyal and committed participants, we found our ability to invite others in was somewhat limited by the format and time (afternoon). Likewise, the best features of our small group services we are able to incorporate into the larger Community Sundays: the informal tone, interactive reflections, authentic prayer time, and sharing of our joys and concerns. So we decided to follow the Spirit and energy of the congregation and to shape our Worship to meet the needs and desires of the faith community.
We hope having two Sunday early evening services will make it easier for you to participate. For your participation is what deepens the life of this congregation. Every member, every friend, every guest – your presence enriches the experience of faith and community. It matters that you are here. Not because we need you on a committee, but because you being here with others strengthens the experience of God’s love for everyone.
Community Sundays are a time to:
* experience spiritual renewal before the start of a new week
* build and reconnect with a faith community
* hear from Community Partners and learn about their work
* broaden your ideas, enjoy the music, and relax into God’s love.
This is why we are changing our Worship. We want to share it with each of you, with your families, and with your friends. Invite people to come and worship here, knowing that they will be welcomed. We are indeed moving into a time of increased vitality and energy here at First Church. Come, join us!
“Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
(John 4:24, The Message)
What’s up on Community Sundays?
Our own Ruth Stroshane will lead us into worship by sharing the piano prelude. The hymns and extra music will be led by a variety of featured musicians, including pianist Andrew Jamieson, who will be with us monthly, and others we have enjoyed in the past: jazz combo Jazz Gorilla, guitarist Tyler Yarbrough, the Madrigal Singers, and more.
We hope that people can come for Worship and stay for our community meal. (However, if you have a commitment later in the evening, just come for Worship and say hello!) Supper is provided.
Community Sundays will always be on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month (exception: December 20th, for our Service of Candles and Carols). We hope this makes it easier to remember
We plan to hear from our Community Partners on a regular basis as part of our Community Sunday celebrations. Our first dinner guests will be from Redwood City 2020, on October 25th. They will share about the project we are supporting there and help us find ways to strengthen our work with them.
There is nothing quite like the vitality that comes from sharing our spiritual lives and our personal lives with a community. Over time, the bonds we build are life-giving and life transforming. Through God’s love and the love of each other, we become more than we could’ve been on our own.
Thanks be to God!
I went to a wedding at Stanford Memorial Church recently. The first thing I saw when I entered the church was a chuppa: a Jewish canopy, used to shelter the bride and groom during a wedding ceremony. Beside the chuppa was a katuba, the beautifully calligraphied wedding contract, containing the vows and the signatures of bride, groom and two witnesses. The wedding canopy was at the top of the steps leading into the chancel area, and behind it were stunning stained glass depictions of the life of Christ.
Yes, you read that right. A large, decorated chuppa framed by shimmering images of Jesus. As the wedding began, and our young friends entered the church with their parents escorting them down the aisle and into their future, I found myself thinking about the power of the symbols they were sharing with us.
Samantha is Jewish and Gabe is Catholic. They met at the Interfaith Youth Corps in Chicago, where their jobs were to connect college students of diverse faiths in ways that fostered mutual understanding and social justice. College students were invited to come together and bring the best of their traditions in service to a common purpose: making the world a more compassionate and just place. In an era where religious beliefs are too often polarizing, and many people find it is safer to ignore religion altogether, their jobs at IFYC were to recognize and call forth the ways in which spiritual values and traditions make us stronger, and kinder, and more loving –when we work together with respect and openness.
There were two officiants at their wedding, a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi. As the Catholic Priest said so well: the union of these two people is a powerful statement that faith can be a bridge to the best of who we are instead of a wall that separates us from others. Watching the bride and groom so thoughtfully include symbols from their respective faiths (a Jewish blessing here, the Lord’s prayer there) was like looking into a better future, where people can appreciate and learn from each other, in the fullness of all that they are: intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Those of you who attended the Memorial Service for one of our members last month got another glimpse of this. Gregg was a seeker in the best sense. He was interested in and curious about all forms of spirituality. His friendships reflected this. As one after another of his friends rose to share about the various traditions they represented and what that tradition had meant for Gregg, it became clear that something remarkable was happening in our space: people felt comfortable sharing about the Sacred nature of their friendship, in their language and through the lens of their traditions. If we had gotten into theology, we could have found plenty to disagree about, I’m sure. But we didn’t, because the Holy was so present that we were compelled to drop anything that separated us and focus instead on the uniting Love in our midst.
At First Congregational Church of Redwood City, we are proudly Christian. We boldly follow the teachings of Jesus and listen for the leadings of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. Yet we are also influenced and encouraged by the faith of others. We understand that there is wisdom to be gained by listening to the words of all those who call us to love and be love in the world.
I end with a quote from the new president of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John Dornhaur, who was interviewed last month about his vision for the emerging church:
“The emerging church is and will be far less committed to a denominational identity than the institutional church…[Practitioners] will not only sample the best practices from a variety of Christian traditions, but their spiritual horizons will invite them into a larger spiritual field. If there is a way to encounter the sacred or the divine, a way to draw closer to nature, a way to engender compassion for humanity, they will give themselves over to it without rejection, judgment, or reservation…
They won’t be investing their missional resources of time, talent, and money in building and property, in sanctuaries adorned with stunning Tiffany stained-glass windows and nine-rank pipe organs and mahogany pews. They will meet wherever two or three can gather, and wherever the divine can be encountered they will be open to engaging that space and declaring it sacred.”
(From religiondispatches.org, August 20, 2015)
What a wonderful world we live in! Everywhere we look, there is fresh evidence that bridges are being built and walls dismantled, and spaces that once seemed mundane are turning into sacred gathering places.
Thanks be to God!
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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