Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trying on Costumes

"A grandmother pretends she doesn't know who you are on Halloween."  ~Erma Bombeck

"Clothes make a statement.  Costumes tell a story."  ~Mason Cooley
As pastor, I put on a costume every week - I wear my robe and stole, and these signify my role as a worship leader and pastoral caregiver. Some of you wear your costumes on a regular basis - lab coats, aprons, construction hats, logo t-shirts, sports attire, or even a dress or suit and tie. The costumes we wear say something about the roles we play and the values we hold. Next week is Halloween, and we get the chance to try on a costume that might represent a role we'd like to play or a different value we hold. Or, conversely, we might try on a costume, just for the fun of it, that is the opposite of our real values.

I don't remember too many of my Halloween costumes.  I do remember one year, when I decided to be "a man." Not a particular man, like a celebrity or politician or superhero, just a man. I wore a mask that was some random guy, and clothes that I considered "manly." No, it wasn't an indication that I was wrestling with gender identity, at least not in the way that truly transgender people do. I do think, however, that I knew, even at age 10, that there were some things that might be easier and more possible for me if I were male.

In the church, we often try on "costumes." Some of them are literal costumes, like the stoles the welcomers wear, the choir robes, or our "Sunday best" clothes. These kinds of costumes can bring out the best in us, inspiring and reminding us to extend God's extravagant welcome to everyone. We can also choose to wear a figurative mask, trying to hide our inner feelings from ourselves and others.

Being a man for a day let me imagine what it might be like to have a different life and the privileges and challenges that might come with playing a different role. The Halloween season offers us the opportunity to try on some costumes we never thought we'd wear, and to try out some new roles. Maybe you've never been an usher or greeter. Maybe you've always imagined yourself to be a famous singer, but you've never joined the choir. Maybe, as a child, you wanted to be a public speaker, but you've never even read scripture in public. Or maybe, just maybe, it's time to leave the mask at home and be your real self in church, among people who love you.

What costume will you try this year? I'm looking forward to seeing them. Hope you have a festive and fun week!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupied (10/18/11)

Remember that Buffalo Springfield song, For What It's Worth? “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear….Stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.” We may not be sure what it is or what it means, but something is definitely happening, and it’s not going away.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says people are saying this is either the beginning of the “Big Disruption” or part of the “Big Shift.” It’s up to us to decide. When we have moments like this in our culture, how do we respond?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus preached that the kin-dom of heaven is among us. In other words, we are occupied by God’s spirit. These are kin-dom moments, inflection points, when we have the opportunity to stop, look, and respond in ways that create lasting change for the common good.

There’s something happening in our church, too. Last Sunday I watched people of all ages pack meals for hungry people in Ithaca, and then sit down to write letters urging our elected officials to pay attention and take action to confront hunger and food-related injustice. Andrew Spearman and the Suprons wrote about hunger from their perspectives, and Maggie DeGraff and Ellen Ross wrote about their experiences working in schools.

Last night, 12 of us gathered for Spirit:Uncorked to talk about spiritual and physical hunger, and we concluded with an impromptu communion service. New visitors continue to show up on a weekly basis, and we’re working to incorporate them into the life of the church. There’s something happening here! The Spirit is occupying our church, and we can either think of it as the “Big Disruption” or the “Big Shift.” You decide.

Join us for all that’s happening, and have a great week.

Mission: 1 (10/11/11)

Diane Beckwith and I have just returned with some of our youth group from a trip to Heifer Project’s Overlook Farm, where we learned about hunger and poverty around the world. Nick Supron was inspired by a world map exercise to help us think about how to reduce our consumption. Amy Milner and her friend Mia became Kenyans for a night, and Nick Supron, Justin Milner and his friend Will were Guatemalans. They cooked meals over an open fire, carried their own water, and milked goats. We all came back inspired, ready to take action to address hunger and poverty in the world. And lucky for us, the congregation and our whole denomination are taking part in an effort to do just that!

The whole United Church of Christ is on a mission to feed the hungry and confront food-related injustice. This UCC-wide campaign is the first 11 days of November, and we’re starting early, so we’ll have plenty of time to reach our goals!
By 11/11/11 (one month from today), we hope to:
  • Gather 1,111+ cans of food to donate to Kitchen Cupboard and the food pantry at the Baptized Church of Jesus Christ.
  • Contribute $1,111+ to address hunger needs in the US and West Africa.
  • Send 111+ letters calling on our Senators and Representatives to make hunger a priority.

This Sunday, bring canned goods, and we’ll have an opportunity to pack lunches for people without homes and to write letters to our elected representatives.

From the United Church News: “The entire United Church of Christ will make good on its "that they may all be one" motto with a coordinated mission campaign to gather more than one million food and household items for local food banks and marshal its 5,300 congregations to advocate collectively — and loudly — for hunger-related causes, both domestically and around the world.

"In a nutshell, 'One united church on a shared mission for 11 powerful days to feed the hungry and confront food-related injustice' is the centerpiece of this major push that we are launching today," the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the UCC's general minister and president, told United Church News. "If you've ever yearned for the whole UCC to walk hand in hand to achieve a common goal, this is the answer to that prayer."  

So join us in this effort – we CAN make a difference! And be sure to check out these other opportunities to be engaged in the life of our church – including this Saturday’s work bee (drop in for as much or as little time as you can), Wednesday’s men’s breakfast and Searching for Jesus study, Thursday’s handbell and choir practices, Sunday’s Lunches of Love and Lunch Bunch, and next Monday’s women’s study group and Spirit: Uncorked. We look forward to seeing you soon!


Blessing of the Animals (10/4/11)

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, known as the Patron Saint of animals and the environment. Legends abound regarding the relationship between St. Francis and creation. From a story about birds gathering to hear him preach (he would have loved the Lab of Ornithology!); to the account of a wolf who, at St. Francis’ insistence, stopped attacking a village and lived peaceably with the people; to his faithful donkey’s tears upon his death, these stories make clear that St. Francis deeply cared for animals.

In “The Golden Legend,” a late medieval work about saints’ lives, Jacobus of Voragine writes this about Francis:
The saint would not handle lanterns and candles because he did not want to dim their brightness with his hands. He walked reverently on stones out of respect for him who was called Peter, which means stone. He lifted worms from the road for fear they might be trampled underfoot by passersby. Bees might perish in the cold of winter, so he had honey and fine wines set out for them. He called all animals brothers and sisters. When he looked at the sun, the moon, and the stars, he was filled with inexpressible joy by his love of the Creator and invited them all to love their Creator.

Many of us have or have had beloved pets and animal companions. A wagging tail, a purring cat, a gentle nuzzle – animals often bring great joy to our lives, and we hope to return that joy to them as well. We have a responsibility to care for them and for all the earth’s creatures.

At the same time, our relationship with the non-human animals of this planet is often complicated – from the many deer with whom we share land in Ithaca, to farm animals, to coyotes, to frightening encounters with some creatures. There are many reminders that we humans are not the only animals on this planet, and we are called to treat our fellow creatures with reverence and respect.

This weekend, I will travel with Diane Beckwith and several of our youth to Heifer Project’s Overlook Farm in Rutland, MA. We’ll experience what life is like for people around the world, and we’ll learn from Heifer’s example of working to create better relationships between human and non-human animals.

Join us tomorrow evening at 6:30pm for a service of blessing and to recommit ourselves to follow the example of St. Francis in caring for the earth and all her creatures. We’ll also remember our animal companions who have passed on. Bring your pets (in carriers or on leash) or pictures of your pets, or just come to join in blessing. Maybe the deer will wander by as well! Hope to see you there, and wishing you a lovely week.



Comm-Union (9/27/11)

The sacred meal we share makes us one.... Comm - with and Union - unity.  On Sunday, we celebrate communion that brings us all into community with Christ and with each other. But, this Sunday, we celebrate with Christians all over the world:

Our soldiers who are in war zones; our African sisters & brothers who are literally starving; the Coptic Christians in Egypt who are struggling for a new nation; with Jennifer Wansink & her mother, Helen in Taiwan as they mourn the loss of Jennifer's father; with Orthodox Christians in Greece.....

On this Sunday, Worldwide Communion, we are brought into community in a world that is so torn by violence and longs for peace. Come and proclaim your witness for peace... for community! Blessings Always - Laura Lee

The Spirituality of Autumn (9/20/11)

The signs are all around us – a slight chill in the air, squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns, leaves beginning to change, an abundance of apples, active school zones, busses full of children, animals getting their thicker coats. My favorite season is about to arrive! Autumn is an invitation to cuddle with loved ones, warm ourselves with hearty soups for the body and soul, curl up by the fire, and prepare for winter.

I came across an article titled, “Autumn: Reflections on the Season,” by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. They suggest 3 spiritual lessons and practices for the season: 

         (1) Balancing Darkness with Night. Part of preparing for winter, I think, is recognizing that there is value in darkness. It could be the darkness of turning off the television or computer, or getting up in the middle of the night to see the stars made visible by the lack of other light. Autumn provides an opportunity to notice the shifting balance of darkness and light. 
One of my favorite poems is by Wendell Berry:
The seed is in the ground.
Now may we rest in hope
while darkness does its work.

(2) Letting Go. Leaves begin to take a break from producing chlorophyll, revealing the vibrant colors underneath. Eventually the trees drop their leaves, revealing the intricate branches underneath. As we embrace times of rest and let go of things that aren’t needed for this season, we reveal the beauty that was there all along, and we make room for God’s Spirit to create something new.

(3) Acknowledging Impermanence. Some have said that the only constant is that life is constantly changing, and autumn is a reminder that “the grass withers and the flowers fade,” as the Psalmist says. When we acknowledge our own impermanence, we open ourselves to more fully embracing each moment as it comes, for life is a gift to be cherished. And, it means that no matter what happened yesterday, we have an opportunity to start fresh today and create a better tomorrow. Acknowledging our impermanence is also a reminder that God is not impermanent, that God’s spirit always breathes within us, in the ups and downs and cycles of life.

As we move toward Autumn, I invite you to find ways to engage in spiritual practices – individually and together – and to embrace the gifts of the season. There are plenty of ways to get involved in the life of this community, and you are always welcome. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Blessings and peace,

When We Serve, We Are Served! (9/6/11)

As we begin a week of being inundated with pictures of buildings blowing up and traumatized people, I keep looking at this picture taken on that day 10 years ago. And, I wonder, who got more? The dog who needed a comforting touch or the firefighter, who needed a moment of connection to something 'normal'? My bet's on the fire fighter! And, so it is with church, when we engage and serve, we always, always receive so much more. So, through this lens of reflection, I offer a message from Cyndi Slothower, Chair of our Nominating Committee:

"We are a Congregational Church. By definition that means this is OUR church, OUR community. Each of us plays a very important role in this Body of Christ. I believe that our interests and our talents are God-given and when we use these to engage in our church community, we are a piece of the puzzle, a tile in the mosaic, a square in the quilt, that helps to create the whole beautiful work that God wishes for us to be—together.

At FCC, we organize our chosen ministries into the work of committees. When we serve on a committee, a synergy happens: wonderful work gets done, and we are personally blessed with fellowship and feelings of belonging in this body. If you are not currently involved in a committee, we invite you to join one. And if you are serving on one, but feel your time and talents better fit another, we are happy to help you make the move.

There are three committees that are in particular need of more members: Outreach, Worship and Adult Education. Please read the descriptions below and listen for the small voice that says “yes!”. If you hear it, reply to this email or call the office and let us know where you feel you best fit into this body of Christ. Listen for that way that will help you receive so much in your giving!

Outreach: This committee enables our Church to make a difference in our local community and in the wider world. They guide us in channeling our financial gifts and our time and energies in ways that witness to the love we find here.

Worship: This committee works with the ministers and music director in fashioning the arc of worship in our church. Members also enlist other members and friends for the weekly staffing of the worship service: ushers, readers, communion servers.

Adult Christian Education: This committee is responsible for planning our AfterWord (adult forums) - held the hour after the weekly Sunday services, the Foote lectures in May, Lenten programs, Adult Bible Studies and whatever else they deem interesting and helpful for our Congregation to learn."

Wishing Many, Many Blessings for You ALL, Cyndi & Laura Lee