As I sit at the dining room table looking out the window, I am thinking about words and symbols. It is raining outside, the grass is bright green from all the April showers and between the bushes and a tree I stop a common symbol with a simple four letter word stamped upon it “STOP”. It is the stop sign at the end of our street. A stop sign, one of the first rules of the road. It is a cautionary sign, a symbol warning danger possible, a symbol saying you do not have the right of way. Four letters and eight sides’ two simple colors, convey so much to everyone who has or will ever drive. We think we all know what that sign means yet could there be more?
To a mother who lost their child at that intersection that stop sign means death. It is a reminder of the car which did not stop and the driver who ploughed on through. To the teenager who had thought they perfected the “rolling stop” it is a reminder that someone us always watching. To the worker who dug the hole and tightened the screws it is simply just another day at work.
We believe we know what symbols and words mean, after all there is only one meaning right? Just as each snowflake varies so too can every person’s understanding and experience of a symbol or word vary.
Be aware, notice how you perceive a symbol or a word and ask a friend or neighbor their interpretation. You just might find a new definition.
Narrative Lectionary Lent Devotional for March 19, 2017
Have you ever driven somewhere and felt you were heading in the wrong direction? You begin looking around trying to recognize a building or a street sign -- something confirming you are on the correct path. Yet, the road seems unfamiliar. Your heart starts racing, your eyes look all around, you turn down the radio so you can focus…am I lost?
Jesus shares the parable of the lost sheep and coin. Both the sheep and coin did not intentionally move away from their owners, yet they are lost. The owners go searching for them and upon finding the sheep/coin they gather friends and neighbors to rejoice.
The sheep and the coin were found; they did not repent. So why, then, are we told “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”? Must we first be found in order to repent?
We do not need to wait for God to find us, for we are already found. God has never stopped searching for us and is waiting to rejoice with us. Repent in the Greek New Testament means to “turn around”. We, unlike sheep/coins, have the ability to turn around to God. God follows and searches for us when we go astray.
Driving in the wrong direction can feel like an eternity. Yet once you turn around and head in a familiar direction, you realize you were not that far off course.
May you always be alert to when you need to turn around.
On December 20, we held a Blue Christmas service in Waltham for people who are experiencing homelessness. Part of the service included passing the Holy Light from one to another. We sat in a circle in the choir room, each on our wood chairs facing one another and a small table in the middle, with a beautiful golden linen cloth covering it as the candles from the Advent Wreath shined bright on the communion bread and juice placed next to it.
When the time came, we asked Paul to light his candle from the Advent wreathe and begin the passing of light from one to another. It was going to be beautiful, as the light would make its way all the way around the circle. However, a couple of the men, one fella who just gotten new front teeth (because his were knocked out in a fight) and another who with his unshaven beard looked like he must have played high school football, took out their cigarette lighters and lit their own candles. I said, “no, no, wait, you guys are jumping ahead of us.” They quickly below out their candles and sat sheepishly, shoulders hunched over, peering around. Then Paul came back over to them and re-lit their candles from his own, still not following the circle of light.
And then I realized that is how the light of God works. It is not a well-orchestrated, planned ritual. No, it is the movement of the Holy Spirit, appearing in the middle of the darkness. Sometimes we take out our own lighters and light our own candle, while other times we wait patiently for the light to come around to us and then at times we need a friend to come over, out of turn and light our candle.
Just as we feel the layers of clothing upon our bodies: from hats, to gloves, to coats, sweaters, socks and boots; so too do we feel the layers of emotions: the sorrow, sadness, anxiety, depression, joy, excitement, love and awe.
The truth is no matter how we receive the light, no matter how our candles are lit, the promise of God is that they will be lit. That in every dark moment there will be light because: Light is good and God separated the light from the darkness.
Three years ago I got my third tattoo. It is the most visible of the three because of its location, size and color. The decision to get this tattoo was thought out although the timing was a little spontaneous. We were attending a friend’s wedding down in Ashville, NC when the moment moved me to finally get this tattoo the day before the wedding.
I am often asked what is your tattoo and what is the meaning? I love that question because it allows me to remember my grandmothers. Both of my grandmothers were great women and have been with me on my spiritual journey. They each instilled and taught me many life lessons. My maternal grandmother instilled in me the love of education and expected that I would attain a graduate degree. One of my favorite trips with her was going to the Canadian Rockies with her 60+ church group. I was only 12 at the time but the seniors welcomed me with open arms. This might have been the beginning of my love and call to minister to the senior population.
My paternal grandmother also taught me many lessons. One of my fondest memories is of shooting pistols with her in her backyard in East Tennessee. My father and I were out back shooting the guns when she came over and said let me give that a try. I had been practicing all morning shooting and then running over to the target to see if I hit it, to only realize I had yet again missed the big paper target. Then my grandmother steps up, takes aim and fires. I ran over to the target to see if she hit it, dead center, bull’s-eye! I was so impressed; I asked Mamaw how did you get so good? Her reply, “I practice on the squirrels”.
You see my tattoo is a way for me to remember both of my grandmothers. It is taken from the center of the Tennessee flag and contains a blue circle with a red outline and three stars in the middle. When the Tennessee flag was created, the three stars represented the three areas of the state, East, Middle, and West Tennessee and the blue circle around the stars was to symbolize the unity of these areas. Both of my grandmothers were from Tennessee and I have some of my fondest memories from spending time with them in their homes in both Nashville and Blountville. I now like to think of the three stars as symbolizing each of my grandmothers and myself, forever bound together. The three stars are also a great reminder of the Holy Trinity and how we will always be connected through the love of God.
For the last seven months deflated footballs have been the ongoing topic of discussion in Boston. Did the Patriots knowingly take air out of the footballs? Did Tom Brady have anything to do with it? Did the footballs impact the outcome of the AFC Championship game? Does this matter?
Well, it must matter because we are talking about it. Think of all the rumblings about these footballs and how in the grand scheme of things they have done no harm. No one was physically harmed because the footballs had too little air, a bomb was not dropped do to these footballs, the next day of my life was not changed; yet we are still talking about these deflated footballs because people care.
We continually talk about things we care about. As Christians, we talk about Jesus centuries later, because we care. The rumblings after Jesus healed the man who was deaf and could hardly talk were even greater than the rumblings of the deflated footballs. After the man’s “ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement” (Mark 7:35-37). The people continued to talk! They tuned into every little detail looking for more answers because they cared.
So what are do you care about? What is captivating your attention? What stirs the rumblings in your heart and mind? What can you not get enough of? Whatever it is that you care so deeply about, take a moment and see where God might be. Who would have thought deflated footballs would bring my attention back to Christ? Only God. God is everywhere and in everything we care about -- we just have to stop and take notice.
Some have told me that they love Synod because it is the United Church of Christ at it’s best and I must say even at our best we are still flawed human beings. On Friday we discovered that our “clickers”, the electronic voting devices, were not working properly. This left the delegation to vote by voice. Voting by voice is an inexact science to deciding if the “yea” or “nays” win a vote, so for a close vote an additional method is needed. For me, this is where I saw grace in action today.
You see we had just discussed a resolution on disabilities. After the discussion, the vote was called (Roberts Rules of Order) and by voice we were asked to say “yea” to pass the resolution or “nay” in favor of not passing the resolution. The vocal responses were very close so the moderator decided to ask people to “stand up represent their vote”. Not a problem right?...wrong! As one delegate who is in a wheel chair stated, “really?!...Everyone in favor of the disability resolution please stand.” We had just discussed some forms of disabilities and now we were limiting the voting to only those who are abled-bodied. This of course did not work and the moderator quickly heard our resistance and changed the course to have the delegates raise their name cards instead. It was a quick oversight and mistake, which was quickly resolved with grace and understanding.
We are all fallible humans and even when the church “is at it’s best” it still makes mistakes yet the grace of God is also ever present ready for us to reach out and accept. God forgive us for the mistakes we have made both the ones we are aware of and the ones we have no idea we made. Amen.
Day 3 and everything is becoming a blurrrrrr. Synod is crazy busy and unfortunately today the Pride Parade in Cleveland was rained out; what an exciting and memorial event that would have been!
Besides the marriage equality happenings and my excitement for the discussions tomorrow on Mass Incarceration, one thing that has really stood out to me is the disabilities ministry. I think it was yesterday, or it could have been in this morning’s plenary; two courageous woman stood up and spoke about disabilities. One woman was middle aged and mentioned sight being an area where she needs assistance. She went on to tell us many things we can do to help those with disabilities including:
1) Ask if someone needs assistance, don’t just assume
2) Provide rides to church
3) Have a hearing system in your church
4) Make large print bulletins 22pt font and they don’t have to look exactly like the regular bulletins, just make it so people can read them and the hymns!
5) Wheel chair accessibility
6) Don’t judge
7) Accessible bathrooms that you don’t have to go outside to obtain access to
8) Invite participation of those with disabilities in worship and leadership within the church
9) Learn how to include those with intellectual disabilities
The other woman who was a little older, with hair as white as snow spoke with a little difficulty as her body shook ever so slightly. She shared with us her experience of serving the host at communion. Onetime when she was serving the host, it jumped right off the plate onto the floor. She was shocked and terrified, what would the congregation think…she had just dropped Jesus on the floor! Would she go to hell for this offense? By the grace of God she went over to the communion table and took another piece of the host and continued serving the community. After the service not a single person mentioned or “scolded” her for what had happened. The Grace and Love of God and Christ was ever present.
This woman and her story was so moving, I wanted to be served communion by her. For me she has embodied Christ and as she stated “we are all made in God’s image.” No matter our physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, we are all made in God’s image.
How appropriate that this year's theme at General Synod 30 is Unexpected Places and that today the Supreme Court solidified marriage equality through out the United States!
I never thought this day would come. Growing up like so many of my LGBT brothers and sisters, I was told being gay was a sin. I remember how closeted I was and we were, and believing after Prop 8 passed that it would be decades before marriage equality was realized throughout the country. We learned of the news this morning during a Member in Discernment breakfast while Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Black was speaking to us. One of the national staff members had to interrupt Rev. Black (I don't imagine that has happened often!). The room immediately erupted in cheers, tears and hugs. We were reminded that is was 10 years ago that the UCC Synod passed a resolution in support of marriage equality. It took years of hard work, continued education, and prayers and then today God appeared in an Unexpected Place! With this monumental decision it reminds me how important the work of the church is to societal change. While immediate impact of resolutions and votes might not be felt yet this important work must continue, because it does make a difference.
Signing off exhausted and excited for what unexpected places God will show up in tomorrow.
My two worlds are colliding, ministry and pop culture. I am continually amazed at God’s work. This month was the release of the third season of Orange is the New Black, a television series on Netflix and today I head to Cleveland, Ohio for the UCC General Synod 30. While attending Synod as a delegate I will be part of two resolutions of witness: 1) Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States; and 2) Dismantling the New Jim Crow. These two resolutions are interesting in and of itself but what really makes it interesting for me is the fact that this past year at Andover Newton Theological School I participated in a prison ministry program. This program partnered with Partakers, a Massachusetts organization that provides mentors for men and women who are incarcerated and in a college behind bars programs. Being a mentor and visiting a gentleman at MCI Norfolk as well as all my learning for the class I feel extra prepared to participate in this Mass Incarceration resolution. All I can say is
“God is working!”
My 4:00am wake up call this morning has me tired but reflective. As I sit on the plane heading for Cleveland, eyelids heavy, brain spinning 100mph, I am reflecting on readings, my experience visiting the prison, and the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. I am wondering, does the popular TV series help or hurt our country’s growing prison epidemic? Right now I am unsure and look forward to asking others at Synod their thoughts and opinions.
I anticipate Synod being a spectrum of experiences from busy meetings with agendas to worship and celebrations. And like the spectrum of experiences, I am mentally excited and overwhelmed. Already on my flight to Cleveland I have connected with some old classmates and I am excited to see who else I might meet and what I will learn. Some former delegates say Synod is the UCC at it’s best, so bring it on Cleveland!
John 21: 4-14
"4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead."
This past weekend I took the youth group from my church, First Church in Ipswich down to the Outdoor Church in Cambridge. On Saturday evening we gathered to make turkey and ham sandwiches as well as egg salad sandwiches on white bread. As we made the sandwiches we talked with the youth group about why we were making two types of sandwiches and to who we would be giving the sandwiches. We explained to the youth that the homeless who attend the Outdoor Church now have very few choices in their lives and by providing options through the types of sandwiches we provide we are able to empower these individuals and feed them for at least one meal.
Early on Sunday morning, our youth group headed down to attend the 9 am service at the Porter Square T stop. It was a beautiful summer day with a cool breeze and not a cloud in the sky. As the sun shined down a few people began to gather. First was the pianist with her electric keyboard, and then a couple of homeless men followed by the Minister Tom. Rev. Tom came up pushing his cart, which looks like a kitchen center island on wheels. In this cart are his morning supplies including: a Bible, laminated bulletins, items for communion, donuts, coffee and white athletic socks. At first it seemed that this table or alter was simply to aid in the worship service. I soon saw that this cart was God’s hand reaching out to God’s people. This cart was God’s vehicle prepared to give it all to those in need.
The service was a well orchestrated and included prayers from the Catholic tradition, the serenity prayer, and protestant prayers allowing everyone in attendance to relate on some level. Rev. Tom and two of the parishioners also served Communion in one of the simplest forms. Handing out the wafers and pouring the cup into small plastic cups handed out by one parishioner and collected by the second. This simple act was the most moving communion service I have ever attended. A person who has nothing was offering me this Holy Sacrament. I often think of myself as offering this Holy Sacrament and being able to offer others the blessing and peace of the new covenant but this day it was given to me. I then knew what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4). I have abundance while these two individuals who served me have nothing, yet they gave me everything they had.
After the worship we handed out the sandwiches and talked with some of the parishioners. One woman was so grateful for the service and told us how it always starts her week off right. As she said this I thought, “Amen, going to church gets me off to a good start each week also.” As she continued she said, “where else could you come and get a free cup of coffee and breakfast.” She was being fed, but not in the way I first thought, the spiritual, emotional feeding I most often get from service, she was literally and spiritually being fed.
This woman was a true witness to what I often refer to as Jesus’ first breakfast as descripted in John 21. The people at the Outdoor Church have no fish, but Jesus comes every Sunday in wind, rain, snow and sun shine to invite them to “Come and have breakfast.” Just like the disciples not realizing it was Jesus, I imagine some of the people who attend the Outdoor Church might not recognize Jesus standing there with them, yet through this ministry Christ is risen indeed and feeding his people.