A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Archive for May, 2022

A Grieving Peace-Maker

The peace and grace of Holy Love be with you all.

The devastating and deadly attack at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX is the latest hate-filled mass shooting that I know of at this writing. There is no sending of comfort or strength which will make this manageable, although it make take just a bit of the edge off. The truth is, for many of us the trauma of these events keep building in our hearts, mind, spirits, and bodies. Topps Grocery Store in Buffalo, NY and Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, CA echo swiftly at the mention of Robb Elementary.

The question I ask myself and that others are asking is – how do we make this stop? Another question is – why is this happening at all? To these and all other valid and heartbreaking questions, there truly is no one answer. Violence has been a part of humanity since we began. In our creation story, by the fourth chapter, Cain kills his brother Abel. He became angry because it seemed like his younger brother was edging him out with God. This telling in our creation myth is a way to remind us of our potential for evil; a cautionary tale prodding us to seek other ways of managing our emotions.

Since deadly violence has been around since the beginning and is likely to continue, does this mean we should just give up? Not at all. We must continue to pursue peace, mercy, and love. We must teach against racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, the patriarchy, and the like. It is imperative that we vote for those who seek peace-making measures / violence-abating measure. Our voices and actions need to take center stage against those who would rather control women’s bodies and families who love their gender-bending children; who would rather twist the second amendment to be about civilians having the right to wield military rifles.

While we grieve, we must also plan and activate a way to continue our message that these things ought not to be. We can make a difference. We must never give up. It’s important to take breaks … to love yourself and take care of yourself. To hold your family and friends close. And then take that energy to continue the pursuit of changing legislation and saving lives.

Go ahead and be shattered. Be angry. Don’t stop there. Renew your determination to peace-making, to celebrating good news, and to exposing the evils of power-hungry selfish bigots.

You are loved. You make a difference.

Supporting Others

Biblical Witness: Romans 12:6 — 18
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Contemporary Witness:
“Tune My Heart” by Rev. Vince Amlin (UCC Daily Devotional; May 2, 2022)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)

Last week, my wife and I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. In one of the galleries, there was a video installation playing on a loop. As we made our way into the next wing, my wife started humming a quick, four-note pattern.

“That’s the music that was playing over that video,” she said, and hummed it again.

“Uh…no it wasn’t,” I insisted. “It sounded like this.” And I sang a slow, descending three notes. We both looked at each other confused.

“Now we have to go back,” she said. And we did. The moment we opened the doors to the gallery, I heard those quick four notes she had hummed.

“You were right,” I admitted. But even as I said it, underneath them came my slow, descending motif. We were both right. Both lines had been playing over and over, and each of us had heard only one of them. Another example of the way the Spirit is made manifest, the way beloved community is built. Not by choosing one line to sing in unison, but by learning each of our parts well enough to find the rich harmonies between them. Not by convincing others to hear God’s voice the way I hear it. But by encouraging everyone to listen deeply to what the Spirit may be saying only to them.

Reflection: “Supporting Others”
We know that a part of our Christian teaching is that we’re supposed to support one another. This is not a revelatory subject. Some of the most basic tenets of our faith are principles like “treat others as we would like to be treated”, (The Gospel of Luke 6:31) and “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” which we read in our Romans passage.

Supporting each other is a way of making connections; creating and sustaining community. It’s the way that friendships grow and is especially powerful when it’s mutual rather than one sided. It’s a human desire and need – one that our ancestors knew was important enough that they put it into their teachings about God.

Knowing that you are a part of a supportive relationship or a member of a supportive community, is good for your mental health and wellness. It’s what got many of us through the isolation of the pandemic. While having solitude and alone time is really great for many of us, isolation can bring on despondency and despair. The line between the two varies from person to person. And the way we seek connection – what offers meaningful support – varies as well.

Rev. Vince Amlin, in his devotional, reminds us that we are all different. This got me thinking about how there are different ways that each of us need to be supported. Not only that, but also, how each of us has different was of being supportive.

On this second Sunday of Mental Health Awareness month, I want us to think about the ways we offer support to others. What are the ways that we feel required to offer support? What are the ways we flow effortlessly with support? Are they the same?

It’s easy to see needs around us. When those we care about are going through hard stuff, naturally we want to help. Along with sharing friendship or engaging in supportive community behaviour, this is a way to express Divine Love. While are faith teachings tells us that we are supposed to be zealous in giving, we also have to remind ourselves that each of us are finite beings. We can only do so much.

Paul writes to the people in Rome about the different kinds of gifts they have. Some are teachers. Some offer compassion. Some are encouragers. Some are leaders. The list goes on. Paul teaches that each person is to learn their gift and to flow in it.

That said, let’s not confuse having gifts that flow out of our personalities with the need to cultivate basic good human character.

For instance, compassion is mentioned as a gift by Paul, as is leadership. Does that mean that a compassionate person can’t be a leader. Or that a leader is not to have compassion? Ridiculous, right? Still, it’s something to think about. Sometimes we can make excuses for ourselves that we just aren’t gifted with x or y or z, and so we don’t have to cultivate that particular good human character. There’s a difference between being delighted to have a gifted way of offering support, and cultivating good character so that we can when the necessity of being support presents itself, we at least have the rudimentary skills of being there in the moment for someone until we can find a person who can really flow in that situation.

That’s also a part of self-care. Knowing where you’re gifted and knowing resources of others who have gifts that you don’t is a way of being supportive to yourself and to your community. We can get bogged down with all the ways we don’t know how to help or simply don’t have the skills. It can paralyze us which means we can’t be supportive in the moment. As we grow in maturity, we learn that we can’t do everything. That we truly are finite. As we grow in our faith, we learn that God doesn’t require us to be able to do everything; to have all the gifts or skills. What is required is that we care enough about each other to be there with and for each other.

We can all cultivate the basic skills of being decent to each other, and also be released to offer our particular set of gifts in certain situations to be helpful. It’s a joy to flow in our particular gifts. It makes us feel accomplished, fulfilled. When we are in that space, it means that the people who receive our gifts are able to do so freely because they were so freely and joyfully given.

The trick can be to know what kind of support a person might need. Rev. Amlin, when he talks about the song that he and his wife heard different parts of, helps us see that sometimes we only hear part of … and understand part of. Deep listening, like when they went back a second time to intentionally listen to the music, allows us to get a greater grasp on what is being expressed to us.

There are times when it’s easy to look at a situation and decide for someone what they need based on what we might need in that situation. And we might even be partially right. We might be hearing the four high notes or the three low tones, but maybe not putting it together.

When we offer support, it’s important to discern whether we are doing so for the health and well-being of the person we want to care for, or if we are doing it for our own sake. This can be something that is a challenge to figure out when we first undertake this kind of self-reflection; but after awhile, it can become almost second-nature. The key is to learn how not to make assumptions.

One of the things I appreciate about the teachings about Jesus’ ministry is that he often stopped to think or he asked questions before moving forward. Sometimes supporting each other is more about taking time to be together than it is about taking a specific action. Not always. Actions are important. Helping people find things they need, whether it’s items, lodging, food, water, medical services, job opportunities, and the like are crucial to offering support. A lot of times though, what’s needed first is our presence and our understanding. When someone feels like they are being offered what they have really asked for, their wellness quotient grows beyond the support they receive.

When we let go of our own need to be supportive and are present with the people we care about, all of our wellness factors increase, and love expands to fill the space we create. The presence of Holy Love knits us together, making us all stronger, better known, and healthier in our souls, hearts, and minds. Our faith leads us and our gifts flow.

Triumph And Purpose; an Easter reflection

1st Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 16:9 — 13

Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 16:10 — 20

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Reflection      “Triumph And Purpose”

This morning we’ve read what is called the longer ending in Mark which is understood to have been written later and added on. In the shorter, original ending, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, and went to Jesus in his tomb to anoint him. Jesus was gone and someone else was there telling them Jesus had been raised from the dead. They were told to let the disciples and Peter know that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. They were terrified and ran away, which is entirely understandable to me.

The longer ending that we read is sometimes marked as being doubtfully authentic in the Bibles they’re written in. And not all Bibles even include it at all. I’ve never before used this longer ending for Easter. This year, it spoke to me. Stories and myths are reworked all the time. Although I’m confident that this longer ending was added later, that doesn’t take away from the fact that someone at some point felt like the people at the time needed it.

I’ve talked before about a book called, “The Telling” by Ursula LeGuin. How the story-tellers in her book would finish by saying something like, “well, that’s how I know the story.” None of the stories were considered set in stone – not meant to be factual. There was a depth of meaning conveyed through each telling, with each of their nuances.

The original writer of Mark probably wanted to share the intensity of what it felt like to imagine Jesus risen from the dead and making plans to meet his followers in Galilee. The writer was resonnating with the fear of the people at the time. Affirming them. Sharing their own confusion.

Why would someone come along later and replace the fear with teaching and a charge to action? I think it’s because whatever was going on at the time held too much fear and foreboding. This set of people probably needed reassurance, their faith bolstered, and hope for the impossible.

In this longer ending, the followers of Jesus were promised superhuman powers. After those promises, Jesus ascended into the heavens and took his rightful place at the right hand of God while the followers went out confidently to proclaim the good news, letting go of their fear. It’s very “happily ever after,” neat, and tidy. In the midst of chaos, it really helps to have a little happily ever after tossed in your direction. A sense of empowerment and agency, gives us the boost we need.

In book study we’re reading Amanda Gorman’s book of poems, “Call Us What We Carry.” One stanza from her poem, “The Truth In One Nation” says this

Some days we believe
in nothing
but belief. But
it is enough to carry us forward

Sometimes we just need something to believe in to help us move forward. Trust me, I’m not going to literally pick up a snake or drink a deadly thing to prove my faith or to feel accomplished. That doesn’t change the kind of inspiration we can get from the impossible symbols in the telling. We’re being told that whatever is out there that we’re afraid of is actually something we can face and conquer.

Today we talk about the power of resurrection. The power of overcoming and being remade. Christ resurrected is about life after death – about Holy Love infusing a moment so directly and intently that life erupts in a place where only death was possible. I believe in the Easter story of regeneration. I put my hope in a God who mixes Sacred Energies of Eternal Life with the Holy Energies of our mortal existence.

Some years we need the reminder that those who encountered the Risen Christ were confused and fearful. Other years, we need the comfort of our friend and teacher telling us that we are made of such stuff that we can overcome our obstacles; and not just overcome, but transform them into good news and abundant life, just like he was transformed from death to life.

Our obstacles the last couple years have been many. The pressure doesn’t seem to be letting up a whole heck of a lot. Much has been resolved, but there are new struggles emerging that we have to deal with. The shorter ending of Mark affirms our fear and confusion as a reasonable response. The longer ending reminds us that we don’t have to stay there. Our destiny is not to be paralysed. Maybe it’s to be shaken, but in a way that agitates us loose to be able to move away from what’s been confining us. We may not know what to believe in … but if we believe there’s something to believe in, that just may be enough to move us forward.

We’re called to do what others have given up on. That’s what all those symbols of healing folks and flirting with danger mean. There’s a power that flows through us which we don’t have to muster for ourselves. One we don’t have to be good enough or strong enough for. We just have to be open to it. Not a type of perfection of character or depth of wisdom. Just a willingness to proclaim that there is good news and to take kind positive actions on behalf of others. We wouldn’t have to proclaim good news if bad news wasn’t surrounding us. So of course it’s going to be a challenge. We will be confronted with obstacles … even doubt. That’s what makes the good news so important and compelling. It challenges the notion that the only thing that’s real are the struggles we face.

Death is real. But death isn’t the only thing that’s real. And it isn’t the biggest most important real thing. Life is. Community is bigger and more powerful than dissension. Addressing danger is more powerful than the danger itself. And sometimes we have to rewrite the story to remind us that we are strong, able, confident, and full to bursting with life. May the power of resurrection fill you and move you with good news and holy love that you can’t help but share.