It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!

 

“What is truth?”

It’s Lent…a time when those who follow Jesus take time to prepare for the journey to the cross and through into Easter Sunday.

For whatever reason, part of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate has been on my mind lately. It takes place after Jesus has been arrested…taken to the high priest for questioning and then sent to Pilate. There is a brief conversation between the two about whether Jesus is a king or not (as Pilate understands kingship). Jesus says he is a witness to the truth–that anyone who cares for truth would recognize his voice. And then Pilate asks the question: “What is truth?”

Is that a serious question? a rhetorical one? a cynical one? The story doesn’t say. Pilate just immediately moves back to the crowd…tells them he didn’t find any reason to put Jesus to death…and ultimately caves when the crowd accuses him of not kowtowing enough to Rome.

But it’s an important question. What is truth?

Today there are lots of ways that “truth” is being defined. But I think that the truth that stood in front of Pilate was truth then and is truth for us now. And that truth can at least partially be described this way:

  • All people are of worth! It doesn’t matter what their political status is…their wealth…their religion…their background…their lifestyle. Jesus mingled with everyone.
  • We show God’s love by the way we treat others. Again, it doesn’t matter about political status…wealth…religion…background…lifestyle. Do we treat them like we would want to be treated ourselves? If we don’t, then we’re not truly showing God’s love.
  • There are always more questions than answers. Sometimes the questions are uncomfortable–Jesus put people on the spot. And sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. But if we’re not willing to ask those questions–and listen to the answers–then we are like Pilate. We ask the question…but don’t really want to know the answer.
  • Truth is demanding. It calls us out of our comfort zones.

If I’m honest, there are times in my own life when I’m like Pilate. I ask the question–but then walk away from the answer. But how do we remember Pilate today? Not how I’d like to be remembered!

I’d much rather try to live like Jesus, who has influenced our world for 2000 or so years. Yes, I know there are many groups/people who claim to be like Jesus–but I want to be like the one standing before Pilate as “truth with flesh on.” It’s not going to be comfortable…or easy…and I’m not always going to succeed. But it’s the Jesus people need to see…in order to know they are of worth and are loved.

Barth and Bonhoeffer…why them? why now?

A couple of nights ago I was having trouble getting to sleep. I kept thinking about Karl Barth and  Dietrich Bonhoeffer…why?

I remembered my preaching instructor (and others!) in seminary liked to quote a statement often attributed to Karl Barth: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” In other words, we cannot divorce what is going on in life around us from what the Bible calls us to do and be. We must be informed both of the news and events surround us but we must also be biblically literate. (Please note–I did not say “literalist.” There is a significant difference.)

With my spiritual advisor, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German pastor in the 1930s. Barth, a Swiss theologian, was forced to leave Germany and return to Switzerland, as Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer took a different path. He came to the United States for post-graduate education at Union Theological Seminary, but returned to Germany in 1931. He watched as Hitler came to power–and was a staunch foe from the beginning. He saw in Hitler a danger to the church, a danger he watched as more and more church leaders either actively supported the Nazi movement or passively stood aside.

In 1933 Bonhoeffer accepted a post in London, but he returned to Germany in response to Barth’s question of him: “And what of the German church?” They needed strong pastors.

Bonhoeffer–and Barth–felt that something had to be done…something had to be said to call Christians to repentance. They were responsible for the formation of the Confessing Church, which basically was a resistance movement. They wanted to preserve traditional Christian beliefs and practices. And in 1934, they drafted a statement known as the Barmen Declaration. In this document, they laid out their position that Christ–not the Fuhrer–was the head of the church. It was a pointed rebuke towards Hitler and his movement.

As I lay in bed, the thought kept coming to mind that perhaps it was time for a Barmen Declaration for our day and time.

I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when I received a link to a statement by Princeton Seminary faculty members related to the Trump presidency and the current political situation in the United States. As I read it, I thought “Yes, this is our Barmen Declaration.” I was pleased that each member who signed it did not feel that they had to agree to every word–that they worked together as colleagues to draft a statement that they were each comfortable signing.

I have seen statements questioning why religious leaders and ministers should be speaking against Trump–sometimes with the specific question of why are we not praying for him? I believe many are praying for him…but also believe that in good faith, they must speak against those policies, statements, and actions that are not representative of who Christ calls us to be.

I am grateful for this statement…and I agree with it.

Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Advent 3…

This Sunday is the day we talk about peace.

Peace…when there is war raging in so many places around the globe…when people are not safe in houses of worship…when we don’t seem to be able to see each other as brothers and sisters but as enemies or “other”…when we seem to have little care about taking care of the environment we live in…

Where is peace?

This isn’t a new question. It’s one that’s asked in every generation–and every generation has to find their own answer.

Peace doesn’t mean just the absence of conflict. Yes, that would be nice, but even absence of conflict doesn’t mean peace. It may just mean that the conflict has been driven underground where it will fester until it breaks out again.

I like this quote from the Dalai Lama: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

And I also like the challenge that is given to me by the One I follow. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” So peace is my responsibility as well.

The theme for the services this Sunday in my tradition is this: “Are you the One who is to come? or are we to look for another?”

Here is my response:

As we look around, we know that we have disagreements with each other. Some of them may be theological…some political. But our calling is to answer the question by both our telling and our living.If we can let the spirit of Christ bring healing and wholeness to our relationships…if we can let it help us find ways to work together despite our differences to bring peace…shalom…then we will show that truly this baby born in a simple stable far away from home…to a poor couple living in an occupied country…this baby did indeed grow into the One we were—and are—looking for.

May peace be yours on this third Sunday of Advent.

 

Memories…

I recently had a friend ask about some of my memories of my time in England when my dad served as a minister there. I’m not sure exactly what kinds of memories he was hoping for…maybe not some of these, but since I was 5 when we moved to England and 8-1/2 when we came back, they’re not going to be adult memories!

I remember some of our ship crossing on the HMS Franconia and our return on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Part of the crossing was stormy…and I remember my dad and me being two of the few in the dining room–where the table rims were up to keep the dishes from sliding off!

1952-aug-pam-and-don-lentsI remember loving our house. It was a typical English row house with a small front yard where my mother put my youngest brother (who was born in England) to sun on those days when the sun was out.

I remember going to the hospital to see my mother hold my youngest brother up to the window so we could see him. The hospital seemed so big, although it was only two stories high.

I remember the fog! We were still burning coal, and so during the winter there was lo1953-jul-whitsuntide-paradets of fog to walk through on my way to school.

I remember marching in the Whitsuntide parade as part of our church group…

I remember my baptism in our little church in Nuneaton. It was on my birthday–in March–and it was cold!! But it was such a special day.

I remember gathering rhubarb in the church yard…and the tangy taste of the pies.

I remember playing for church on an old reed organ. Someone else (I don’t remember who) had to pump the pedals for me because I couldn’t reach both keyboard and pedals. In some ways I’d like to have a time machine to watch myself playing…but in other ways I’m just as glad I can’t. But I am appreciative of the congregation allowing me to share in that way.

I especially remember Uncle John and Aunt Anne Coggan. He was the pastor of our congregation and ran a bakery in Nuneaton…a wonderful bakery.  In fact, the bakery was how the church got started. When kids would come for a sweet, Uncle John would ask if they went to church. If they did, that was fine; if they didn’t he invited them and their families to their house for Bible stories on Sunday morning.  (The bakery was still in business when I went back for a visit 25 years later–then run by Uncle John’s son.)

I remember bonfires on November 4, celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. I wasn’t aware of the violence behind the day…just the fun for us kids.

I remember visiting Stratford-upon-Avon…and attending one of Shakespeare’s comedies at the theatre there.

I remember traveling with my folks to Germany for a family camp…and learning just enough German to ask for a cold drink of water, please.

I re1953-coventry-cathedral-ruins2member being at Trafalgar Square and the pigeons swarming my brother’s white-blond hair as we fed them.

I remember visiting Coventry and enjoying two very different experiences. One was loving the statue and story of Lady Godiva while the other was much more somber. It was not all that long after the end of the war, and visiting Coventry Cathedral was a reminder of the damage and horrors of war–as well as the challenge to what it meant to Christians…

I remember being vaguely aware of the food rationing. We got one egg per person per week, and so there were often decisions about whether we were going to eat them or save them for a cake.

I remember feeling completely British–and being annoyed when an older classmate called me “a Yankee.” Dad suggested I call him “a limey”…and he was not happy about that! But I also remember thinking when we came back to the States that I was only going to stay here until I was old enough to go “back home.” All my friends and memories were there. By the time I was 18, though, I had come to feel more comfortable here–but it was not until I went back for a visit 25 years later that I really knew where my home was.

As I said in one of my poems in my book People, Places…and Other Musings

Each home has its problems;
each home has its joys.
My home is now the world–
that’s where my heart is.