Monday, December 27, 2010

A New Year message to the congregation

I write this as I view the Northeast’s fresh blanket of snow in pictures posted from New Jersey to New England. We were spared this blast but memories of last year’s snow remain rather fresh in my mind. The best part of a snow is the fresh landscape we see. (Especially when viewed from a warm indoor location.) Each step outside creates a new path where no one has gone before, or so it seems. The new year presents similar opportunities to begin again and start over. I trust we can find ways to begin anew this year. May I suggest the following fresh starts:
• A pledge – if you haven’t already done so, a pledge to this congregation is also a promise to God. It includes our finances but can be much more. With a pledge, we promise to do something specific that will bring us closer to God in 2011 with our service. Vague intentions are easy to ignore; “I’ll eat healthier, I’ll work harder.” But specific pledges are goals that are measurable and keep us accountable to ourselves and to our faith family. Here’s a few ideas and opportunities,
o Witness Commission sponsors volunteer options on the 4th Sunday evening of the month at Sunrise Retirement Home, calling Bingo for residents.
o Witness also sponsors the alternate month 1st Saturday at AFAC (Arlington Food Assistance Center)
o Financial Pledge cards are still available from the Financial Secretary, or in the office.
o Stewards Commission is recruiting a “Light Snow Removal Crew”, see related article in this newsletter.
o Stewards maintains a “To Do” List of small items that need work around the church. They can be done on your schedule and availability.
o Church Office help is often valuable, especially when staff takes vacation. Put your name on a list of people willing to sit with phones, make copies or type as needed.
o Attend a Sunday Class or week-day Bible Study. Two adult options, a youth class and childrens class are held on Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. A week-day Bible study will begin in the early spring.
o Form a new relationship by befriending someone new to church. Invite them to lunch after worship or to dinner at your home and learn what you have in common as partners in the congregation
o Form a prayer partnership with someone at church, promising to pray for each other and perhaps with each other during the year.
The opportunities to increase our faith by being a servant and friend are endless. Share your ideas with me and you will soon see them in print or on my blog. May God bless all of us with opportunities to be faithful in 2011.

Storm Results Monday; 12/27 - iWitness Weather Photos and Video Photo

My Home Town in the snow. And DC area is in a "snow hole" according to the Weather Channel. We got only a dusting.
Storm Results Monday; 12/27 - iWitness Weather Photos and Video Photo

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 minutes of memory

5 minutes to capture the memories of 2010...GO.

The move to Arlington and getting settled in has been wonderful. It such an interesting time-machine-like feeling to drive around the places I remember from the mid-70's and know I am on the same roads but they all look so different. The reflection that comes with 35 years perspective and the scary thought that so much of my life has passed. Wondering about the neighborhoods as I drive through old short-cuts has me speculating the what-ifs. Yet I am so thankful that my life went in the direction it did.

The snow. I can't remember this much snow since the kids were little and built snow Sesame-Street figures and we colored them with food coloring. Or when I was very little and tanks had to come down the street in Stratford, NJ to clear the roads. It was a great way to meet the neighbors.

Lettuce: Joan Horwitt's lettuce-growing program and healthy lunch at school was an amazing fun experience. My lettuce didn't turn out well and I got involved mostly due to my role as pastor of the neighborhood church and yet it turned out to be FUN and a great way to meet great people. I'm excited about doing it again and again.

Arlington COB! I never want to forget the feeling of working alongside this congregation in partnership-ministry. I don't know how else to explain it. EVERYONE take part in the ministry of this congregation. EVERYONE feels ownership of what we do. People are positive and open to new experiences and adventures. Perhaps its part of the traditional "honeymoon" for the pastor. (This has been my 2nd year.) Still it is a wonderful place to be in ministry and I am so very blessed to have been called as pastor.

The House: How neat to be living in a different house after 25 years in Warrenton. I love this place and really enjoy having space for writing and reading away from TV. A whole office for me to work, a dining room corner for this kind of reflection and morning devotions, a separate living room for people to chat. And to think I never wanted a split-foyer on our property. Sometimes bad memories can cause you to make bad decisions. I love our little Cape Cod in the woods, but am SOOO thankful for the space of this 1960's neighborhood home surrounded by parks and backing onto a small ravine of woods. Life is good.

Health: My ankle healed, doctors are being switched and family crisis overcome. It has been a full year and now we are all coming back together in this house for a while. Life IS good.

Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just as I asked the question of you, so John asked the question of Jesus.
It is surprising to hear John asking, after all, this is John the Baptist, the one who said, “but one who is more powerful that I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” (Mt.3:11) and “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt.3:14)
And Jesus has a few things to say about John too. As John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns and asks the crowds, who did you think John was? Why did you go out to see him?
Jesus commends John’s actions, “No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” Yet he turns the world upside down again by saying the LEAST in his Kingdom is greater than John.”
It’s no wonder that John needs some reassurance. Perhaps if John can doubt Jesus, our own doubts are more acceptable? “Are you the one?”
            “This question occurs to just about every person in the church, including the strongest Christians.” (Says Mark Yurs) “Is Jesus the real thing?
 Is there anything to our religion?
Has the church really gotten hold of something that matters, or is this business of Christmas and its Christ only a fanciful tale, charming, but ultimately worthless and powerless against forces that dampen hopes and deaden dreams?”[i]

            We can have questions and doubts at any time, in crisis of self, or after a spouse’s sudden death, or when we look at a world embroiled in conflict. Our doubts mirror John’s question, “Jesus, ARE you the One?”
            John is in crisis when HE asks the question. He’s in prison; his ministry has come to a crashing halt with his arrest. He sits day after day, perhaps reviewing his work and he decides he MUST know if all he believes in is true.
He expected a messiah, one who would judge between the wheat and the chaff to reward the faithful and throw the sinful away. Now John is about to be thrown away, he will never leave prison. The next place we hear of him, his head is served on a platter to Herod’s wife.
            John has to know for sure because – Jesus is NOT the Messiah he expected.

            Jesus is offers compassion, not severe judgment. He walks alongside the people. He’s a healer. John expected someone to come with the baptism of FIRE. He was waiting for everything to be stirred up. Instead we look at what Jesus points out to John’s disciples, and its based on his deeds not his words[ii];
The blind can now see
The lame are walking around
Lepers have been made clean
The deaf, hear
Even the DEAD are raised and
The poor have good news brought to them.

Surely even John can hear the echoes of Isaiah and the prophets who proclaimed God’s priority for the poor and needy. And yet, Jesus isn’t quite what John expected.

The “Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and corruption. The Messiah should be punishing sinners, the criminals of the world.”[iii] Maybe we too would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to our liking.”[iv]

Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop the fighting in Jesus’ birthplace? The insane blowing up of people, suicide bombers, walls and destruction – all in the precious place this all began? Shouldn’t the Messiah bring it to an end? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop children from dying, especially of hunger. How long must people shrivel up and die or watch as their children waste away? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will really bring PEACE ON EARTH once and for all? Jesus’ miraculous curing seems so long ago. Where was he when our mother was diagnosed with cancer? Why did the miracles have to stop in the 1st century? Why is life still so hard, for so many?

It’s ok, we CAN ask, just like John. And what would Jesus answer today?
What do you hear and see around you?

We have to get beyond the REGULAR news for rarely is there ‘good news’ on THE news. But thanks to the internet, we have access to places where people are working alongside of Jesus.
Take the Historic Peace Church Conference in Santa Domingo,
they commended The work of the Brethren in Haiti following the earthquake, where homes are being rebuilt and displaced people are being fed, not just in the church but also neighbors known and unknown....
They lifted up the - many programs for children, adolescents, and families in a variety of countries, ranging from a Brazilian program to prevent the sexual abuse of children, to a project in Venezuela teaching creative play, to those working for healthy families and against domestic violence in Central America, to a Chilean pastoral couple offering counseling to men and women on issues related to gender and sexuality....
Locally right here in Washington, December 10, 2010 -- More than 75 women and men gathered at Wesley Theological Seminary last month to honor the Rev. Drema McAllister-Wilson and other women who have made significant contributions to the ecumenical movement and the many lives of the individuals they encountered.

On the other side of the world in Kottayam, India, December 6, 2010 -- the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary said, "The Indian concept of family sanctity is noble and one that should be emulated throughout the world."

On any issue YOU care to research, there are disciples at work. Faith communities came together to address climate change, poverty and sustainable development in a side event at the Cancun climate summit LAST WEEK (on 7 December.) This was jointly organized by Caritas Internationalis,  ACT Alliance and the World Council of Churches (WCC).  MANY More disciples working in places “so the poor don’t pay the price for climate change.” they said.
What more evidence do we need to hear and see where Jesus is working today?
Even You-Tube videos are used to reach out to the lost. A recent effort had people of all kinds recording videos entitled, “It gets better.” Aimed at the Many Lesbian & Gay BT youth who can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So everyday people and denominational leaders and politicians recorded videos of encouragement to show them what the future may hold in store. Good news IS being brought to many quarters.
And people of faith have goals to work for more; the 2011 vision for the Global AIDS epidemic is zero, new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDs-related deaths.

What do you HEAR and SEE around you? Do you wonder what promises and commitment it takes to be one who works to eliminate AIDs, or spends months in Haiti with no indoor plumbing?
With all the good news around the world and all the efforts for peace, surely we can hear and see Jesus, Immanuel; God WITH us, working alongside of committed people in these places and more.

So then, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? AND for WHOM? What holds you back from participation in Immanuel’s work?

Are you waiting for Jesus to call you individually? Perhaps with a lightening bolt-like strike so that you can’t say no? Maybe you are waiting to ‘fall in love’ with him. That magic, picture-perfect moment, when you are struck with cupid’s arrow and can’t look at anyone else. THEN you will turn your life around and promise to work with Jesus. Maybe we are all waiting for the Messiah of our expectations to break into our every day ordinary life in such a way that everything comes to a halt and we have NO CHOICE but to follow.

But Jesus is the unexpected Messiah.
            He works with people one at a time, in small corners of the world, opening eyes and            Standing up for the poor. He’s not the superhero flying overhead.
He sits in a jail cell next to someone who doesn’t deserve help, but still he sits ready to bring comfort to a child-abuser who is all alone in the world and unable to cope with his affliction.

Jesus isn’t in the popular places making a splash and he isn’t in the news. He is most likely to be found in the places we wouldn’t even go.

When we catch a glimpse of THAT Jesus, we too ask, “Are YOU the one?” and perhaps we walk away before we get an answer sure that the image we see doesn’t meet our expectations. Knowing our days are already full and most of us don’t need to make any more promises. 

Today we are left sitting with John’s question.
We sit with it because we NEED to ask and ENGAGE it. We need to be sure,
before we walk to the river to say, “Jesus, I want to join you, “baptize me.”
We need to be sure, before we make a promise that turns our life upside-down.

We MUST answer THIS QUESTION for ourselves, even Jesus won’t answer it for us, he merely points us back into the world to look, & listen. He would say to each of us, “Nancy, Everett, Andy, you have to decide on your own whether I am for real.”

            And then act accordingly.
- - -

And as we walk away, I wonder what Jesus will say to the crowds about us?

[i] Mark Yurs Feasting On The Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK 2010) p. 69
[ii] Ambrose of Milan.
[iii] Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Yr. A (Louisville: WJK, 1995) p. 27
[iv] ibid

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wracking my brains

"What social gathering rocked my socks off?" I'm wracking my brains for a social gathering I attended. What qualifies as a social gathering? Sunday morning worship? There were a few GREAT ones. (In my not-humble-enough opinion.) Parties? Hmmm, did I go to any? I know, there was one at a friend's house; a surprise b-day party. It was fun. I missed the next one b/c I was sick. I had dinner at three homes, a new neighborhood friend, a parishioner, and thanksgiving. They were each wonderful.

I'm not sure what it would take to 'rock my socks off'. hmmm, perhaps this will be a day to think about it. What rocks yours?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blogging when the sermon won't come together.

I've missed several prompts, but have let go of somethings this year, and do have something I'd like to make - just waiting for me to feel like needle work again. I've discovered community in the neighborhood when Boulevard Manor resident and Ashlawn Elementary students and church members all came together to grow lettuce and put on a salad-lunch at school. It was done in the spring and again this winter and has stirred or re-stirred interest in re-claiming the Reeves property for a learning garden site.

Regarding what makes me different, I'm not sure I'm the one to reflect on that. I think its my openness and interest in new things, especially new technology. I see tech as a way to connect and look for ways to use it with depth to connect with people who I might not otherwise speak with or even know. Old technology like phones are taken for granted. Yet they were once the high-tech of the day. I just used the phone to "visit" with several people I would never catch up with in this busy season. Now I will go visit in person IF I can find someone at home. Meanwhile, I have learned how several folks are doing.

Why not Twitter, Facebook, and email and blogger as ways to be in touch? So I use them all and enjoy the new friends and even comments of strangers. It has been a joy to be back in touch with friends from college this year. Maybe another way I'm different is that I seem to move into new phases of life and have little touch with those from past times. There are exceptions; very special friend from High School, a very special friend from seminary, and recently my college roommate, a few others, but even distant family takes a back seat to what's right in front of me. This year I heard from my Uncle Jack who I haven't talked with since my mom died. You just never know what a year will bring. And THAT difference, I love!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reverb '10

It seems that I can only post every few days. But I've been thinking about yesterday's reverb prompt, "Where I felt most alive this year" and now today's "How did I cultivate a sense of wonder". I thought over our recent trip to Florida and the day we spent at Salt Springs. It's a place to feel connected to nature and all that is alive. It feels ancient as if you are at the place life first crawled out of a 'primordial pond'. Then there was the day I got into the ocean for awhile. (which I don't do much anymore) The water is so nice and warm in Florida and the waves were perfect, not the scary surf of storms. I swam and floated and rode waves and found myself laughing out loud because it was fun. Perhaps going someplace new and stretching  beyond the well-known is a good way to cultivate wonder.

But then I've spent a lot of time right here, in my favorite dining room corner chair, looking out at the trees, (or sky, now that the leaves have fallen again). I've watched it snow from here and watched the leaves sprout in the spring. I look at the birds gathered around my feeder and see the buds on the bush that reaches all the way up to the window. It is a place of contemplation. It's a place where I ask God what am I to be doing? Where is God calling the congregation this year? It's a place where I wonder about retirement (in the very distant future) and wonder how wonderful it is to be right here. I wonder how I managed those years of getting through seminary and if I left scars on my family from days when I neglected them. I wonder how long this wonderful feeling can last? And from this place I get pulled out to walk the dog in the neighboring parks, or pulled into another book seeking answers to God's call, or pulled into a call, visit or email contact with someone from church or an old friend.

Perhaps, this chair, that I've been sitting in since before the furniture arrived one year ago this week, is my place of wonder AND where I feel most alive.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reverb '10

I'll give it a try and see how many days I make. Check out the reverb10 link above and see what they are up to.
One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)

 RELOCATE, it have been a year of adjusting to Arlington, revisiting places that I knew in the mid-70's and 80's and finding new surprises, especially in people. It is a delight to be here.
REINVIGORATE, I would like 2011 to hold new energy for mission and passion for leadership in the congregation and for my life as part of it. I'm here on my Christian journey too, not just for employment.

December 2 Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)
Watch TV, maybe, but I don't want to totally eliminate that. Maybe just be more aware of how much time I'm willing to spend watching instead of something else.