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.
Last week I had the honor of holding an Ecclesiastical Council in the Northeast Association of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. An Ecclesiastical Council is the final step for a person on the ordination track within the UCC. At these council’s the person seeking ordination stands in front of a sanctuary filled with voting members of the association, both clergy and laity and answers questions. The questions are based off of a person’s ordination paper and can range from upbringing, to theology, to how you would handle a specific situation. For example a question could be, “tell me how you interrupt the Trinity?” or “tell me about your tattoos?” or “why did you say X,Y or Z in your paper?”
One of the questions I was asked is “what have you taken from the Church of Christ, the faith tradition you grew up in?” The Church of Christ is a very different denomination from the United Church of Christ. In Church of Christ is a fundamentalist, evangelical tradition, which only allows cisgender male pastors. My initial gut reaction was to say, “nothing, because they have casted me out.” But instead, I paused and thought for a moment and said, “that tradition offered a lot particularly in terms of the importance of scriptures. Also, as a child I remember having to wear my Sunday best each week to church. My Sunday best included wearing a dress, which I hated! But looking back it was not so much about dressing up for church as it was coming to meet God as your best self.”
Even though both my upbringing in the Church of Christ, and now my current faith tradition, the United Church of Christ are both Christian denominations they are worlds apart. Prior to that evening I had never really reflected on what my foundation has done for me. Thinking about this question from an interfaith perspective helped me realize that while these two traditions are different I would not be where I am today with out that foundation. The Church of Christ is where I first meet God and the scriptures; this is where we roots were formed. Additionally having experienced both traditions, I have a greater appreciation for my current faith tradition as well as my former. I have been able to grow because of this understanding. I believe we can only grow if we understand other traditions.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
Today marks the 45th year of celebrating Earth Day. In 1970 Gaylord Nelson started the annual celebration in reaction to the damage done by the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA. The focus then was to educate the public about the environment and on that first Earth Day held on April 20, 1970 nearly 20 million people across the US were rallied and gather in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.
In a survey done by ecoATM, 30 percent of the people polled plant a tree for Earth Day, 23 percent clean up a local park and roughly 47 percent associate Earth Day with recycling. What will do you this Earth Day to celebrate and protect this great planet that God has entrusted us to care for?
Holy and Gracious God, creator of the sky and land. We stand in awe of all that makes up this great earth, from the depths of the deep blue ocean, to the beauty of the animals that walk the dry land. Help us protect and take care of this great planet so it may continue for generations. Amen.
Today marks two years since the Boston Marathon of 2013. As a runner that day and again a year later, I am deeply moved by all the actions taken to remember this day. Today I too remember Krystle Campbell, Sean Collier, Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, and those who were injured, as well as those who raced in to help and all who were touched by this day.
As I walk through Eastertide this season I am constantly seeing resurrection each day. Resurrection is not just life after death but rather "resurrection is a divine act of radically transforming a person into quite a different mode of existence. Resurrection is thorough change into another way of existing." The "One Boston Day" is a great example of resurrection.
One Boston Day is transforming a horrific event, the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013, into a day of giving. One act of giving I offer is this Celtic prayer; to runners and walkers, body assisted and abled bodied, marathon runners and marathon spectators:
May the peace of the winding road be under your fee, by the peace of the warm wind be act your back, and may the deep peace of the Prince of Peace be with you always. Amen.
 Bradley Hanson, Introduction to Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 132.
I am excited to have been accepted as a contributing scholar to State of Formation! Below is my first post answering the question: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions?
Faith is having a strong belief in someone or something. Faith is what binds religions together. We all have faith in someone or something, whether we call it family, God, the divine, love or humanity. As a person of the Christian faith, I love hearing from others what it is that gives meaning to a person’s life.
My grandmothers are the persons who molded my relationships and developed my passion for other people, particularly the elderly. While interning at a retirement community last year, I loved hearing the wise elders discuss their faith journeys. I encountered people of many religious traditions and found similar themes throughout my visits. One theme, which really resonates, is that we all need to be heard and seen.
Giving others a voice and hearing their stories is what builds bridges and understanding. As a runner during the 2013 Boston Marathon, I am captivated by the Boston Marathon Bombing trial. Yet while listening to the reports of the trial, my runner hat has come off and my faith leader hat is sitting on top. I am consumed and worried about how the Muslim faith is being portrayed because of two young men’s actions. This trial and public criticism is a clear reminder that listening to and interacting with people of different faith and ethical traditions is vitally important to breaking down barriers. We cannot generalize a group of people based on one person’s actions.
As I work to complete my MDiv, I recently took the position of program director at the Massachusetts Bible Society. The Massachusetts Bible Society’s mission is to promote Biblical Literacy. I feel passionately that we need to better educate the public on what scripture says and the context in which it was written. Additionally, understanding the differences in interpretation of varying religious groups from the same text is key to building bridges across religious and ethic traditions. It is through dialogue that we can better understand our own faith and the faith of others.
Some of my fondest memories about Easter as a youngster were the Easter Egg hunts. The excitement began before Easter as my sisters and I would dye the Easter Eggs bright colors and decorate them expressing our creativity. Then on Easter Sunday all dressed up in our Easter dresses we would run around the church yard with other excited children, hunting for the brightly colored eggs. These memories bring a smile to my face and now my nieces and nephews are starting to experience that same joy. This year I started to wonder, what do Easter Eggs have to do with Easter?
I already knew I would not find Easter Eggs anywhere in the Bible so I did some further research to discover how eggs became associated with Easter and here is what I found:
The egg has long been associated with the pagan tradition as a symbol of new life and celebration of spring. Christians have adapted this symbol as one of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The tradition of decorating eggs is believed to have started in the 13th Century. One explanation for this custom of decorating eggs is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season. Since they were forbidden, towards the end of Lent people would decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting and then eat them on Easter as part of the celebration.
In today’s words, Easter Eggs could have been part of a Lenten practice! This is only one of the many stories of the how eggs became part of the Christian tradition. It is a good reminder that many secular activities in our country have roots to religion and many religions borrow ideas and customs from other traditions. By looking at our history we are better able to understand the meaning behind our actions.
God of spring, remind us that everything and everyone has a story. Open our hearts, ears, and minds to these stories which are from You. Amen.