Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Resting in Hope

This week's web challenge of the week: Leave a comment on this blog post or on any of our other posts to be entered in a drawing for a prize! Your comments won't show up right away, but I will see them and post them.

Every Advent I reflect on this poem by Wendell Berry:

The seed is in the ground.
Now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work.

Paul Nixon, Christian pastor and author, once said, "God does her best work just after midnight." Our culture often makes darkness out to be something scary or negative. And it can be, at times, yet it can also be a renewing time, a time of quiet and introspection, where seeds that are deeply buried can be nurtured and cared for and brought to birth. 

Growing up in the South, we didn't really have 4 seasons - I liked to say that Houston had 3 seasons - hot, scorching hot, and warm! I didn't really understand the changing of the seasons like we experience them here, particularly the darkness of the end of the year. In the church year, it seems fitting to me that Advent, the beginning of the year, is the darkest time. It's the middle of the night, growing darker before it grows lighter, an opportunity for dormant things to come to life.

This Advent, I hope you will find some ways to rest in hope, while darkness does its work. Join with us as a community - there are many opportunities listed below, including Friday's Christmas crafts and spaghetti dinner and next Monday's worship and soup supper. Let's rest in hope, together.

Blessings and peace,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Balcony Time"

I love this balcony shot of Manhattan. It's a totally different perspective from the one you have when you are down in the street and walking among the people. Instead of individual faces and shop windows and apartment stoops (and trash on the ground), you see the beauty and diversity of the architecture and the overall 'layout' of things. You can appreciate the hum of the traffic and the pace of the people.

Ron Heifetz (corporate 'leadership' guru) says that people who are called to lead through difficult times must periodically step back and take a 'balcony view', if they are to succeed. It gives you a chance to get a bigger picture and to appreciate the whole. BUT, you cannot just hang out on the balcony, if you ever want to go anywhere!

Today, Manda and I are in Syracuse and we are hopefully getting a 'balcony view.' We're attending a workshop led by Dr. David C. Olsen, "Strategies for Creating & Sustaining Change in Ministry Settings." I have recommendations from others that this will be useful and productive information. So, I expect it to be a good workshop. I also think it is important for Manda and me to be able to get away from the busyness of our daily lives on the streets and to reflect on our dynamic congregation from a slight distance - sort of like the picture - not so far away that things are 'blurred', but far enough away to get some new insights and appreciations.

Maybe Heifetz' advice is not only for leaders. Maybe we all need a bit of 'balcony time' to see more than the details and our own limited perspective. I think that's what Jesus and the disciples did, when they periodically retreated to reflect and pray. They didn't stay there (we never can if we want to get anywhere), but I think they returned with a renewed appreciation for the ministry to which God was calling them. I expect the same will be true for Manda and me.

So, I encourage all of you to join us in some balcony-time. We may all be quite surprised at what we see!

Blessings - Laura Lee

AND, a number of you commented on my mention on Sunday of the old UCC bumper sticker: To Believe is to Care; To Care is to Do. For more on the UCC connection to this slogan, click on the link below:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Challenging CS Lewis

Is it okay to talk about sex in church? In my childhood congregation, it was often only done in hushed whispers or with a hint of scandal. When I was a teenager, our youth minister apparently thought we needed to learn something about sex, so he had us watch James Dobson videos. Yes, that James Dobson! And rather than learning about healthy, whole sexuality, I took away an idea that the body and bodily desires were not holy, and that to be spiritual meant denying the body.

Many Christians, like those in my childhood, are uncomfortable talking about our bodies in the context of faith. And they're not alone, for many of the people who shaped Christian doctrines and theology struggled with the relationship between body and spirit. There was a quote going around Facebook for a while from CS Lewis: "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." At first glance, this might sound inspirational, but I would submit that CS Lewis, and others, miss the point of the incarnation of Christ. God thought the human body was worth dwelling in, so why don't we? You are a soul, and you are a body. We would not be fully human if not for our bodies, and being fully human means being created in the image of God.

This Sunday, I hope all adults and youth will join us for the Afterword, where we'll have some conversation about faith and sexuality, and how our whole lives are important to God. Have a blessed week!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Are Surrounded

"For all the saints, who from their labors rest." Today is All Saints' Day, and I don't know about you, but many of the saints in my life - and the "saints" in Christian tradition - are pretty complicated people. From biblical saints like Eve and Adam; David; Peter, Paul, and Mary (hee hee) to modern-day saints like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, there are many people we can look to as exemplars of faith. We can also recognize that they are complex human beings, both wonderful and flawed.

I think of of my maternal grandmother, who died when I was young. I know she had a deep, abiding faith in God which she passed on to her children, and she also wrestled with debilitating mental illness. Or another individual who passed away, whose kindness and generosity seemed at odds with his sometimes racist or misogynistic comments. Of course, there are those people who come along who seem to be wonderful all-around - though I'm sure that if I spent enough time with them, I'd know that they, too, were not always their best selves. And how boring would our religious history and our world be if the saints were all flawless?

On All Saints Day, I like to reflect on what I've learned from those who have gone on before me - those with few visible flaws, and those with many. For what is a "flaw," but an opportunity to learn and grow? In the Bible, those people who seemed the most troubling to others are the very same ones God chooses to work through - like Paul, who upset people of his day because of his anti-Christian past, and who upsets people today by his culturally-influenced views on women and slavery, among other things. Or Esther, who lied and used her feminine charms to influence the king. God seems to take particular delight in being present in complex, "flawed" characters!

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). This Sunday in our time of worship, we'll remember those saints who have made an impact on our lives. And tonight, at the Healing Ithaca service (5:15 in the chapel), we'll talk with others about what we've learned about peace from the complexly wonderful people in this world. I hope you'll join us, and I hope you'll take some time this week to give thanks for all the saints and for God's desire to dwell in and among every one of us.