Friday, August 31, 2012

Food Holiday #6


In my family, we marked the year by counting the 'food holidays' - the first was Thanksgiving and we trekked through to the final one - #6 - Labor Day!' Somehow, this little 'family joke' always prompted a conversation about the 'real' reason for the holiday and it reminded us of the reasons we were gathering to share a meal.

Whatever you will be doing to celebrate Labor Day this weekend, take some time to value work - your work, the work of those who make your lives so comfortable, the work of those who care for people you love, the work of those who bring you beauty, entertainment and joy..... AND, remember the workers - those who work long, hard hours for little money, those who work with their imaginations and ideas, those who work several jobs, those who long for jobs.
 
Loving, Working God,
On this Labor Day weekend we ask your special blessing on all people
who labor, either for pay or as volunteers, in jobs or at school, in
the workplace or at home, in the U.S. and around the world.
We especially pray for your blessings on workers who do not have
jobs and for those whose inadequate pay does not allow them to
live the full life you intend for each of us. 
Creator God, help us to build a new world in the midst of the old.
A world where all workers are valued.
A world where those who clean houses are also able to buy
houses to live in.
A world where those who grow food can also afford to eat
their fill.
We pray for the coming of a world where all workers everywhere
share in the abundance that you have given us.
We ask these things knowing that you give us the courage and
strength to live out our faith in the workplace and the marketplace,
as well as in the sanctuary.
Amen. 

Written by Edie Rasell, Minister for Economic Justice of the United Church

of Christ. She is also Vice-President of Interfaith Worker Justice.
Wishing you ALL of the blessings of Food Holiday #6 - Laura Lee

Thursday, August 23, 2012

People Get Ready

People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
Some of you may remember this hit by Curtis Mayfield as I do. There is a train a comin' to FCC -
September 6-9! Over the weekend, we will have more than 2,000 volunteers here packing over 300,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children!

Fortunately, 'you don't need no ticket' to get on this amazing train and we can all certainly 'thank the Lord' for this opportunity to serve hungry children' and our community.

Some important things you all need to know about and some particular ways that you can help:

1. VOLUNTEER - We need to have 20 - 25 people to help with setting up on Thursday and 20-25 more to help with clean up on Sunday afternoon. We also need 10-12 Support Team volunteers to help with each shift throughout the weekend.

SIGN-UP here: 
OR call Jessie at the office and she will sign you up!

2. T-SHIRTS - We are hoping all FCC folks who will be packing and volunteering as part of our Support Team will wear an FMSC t-shirt - they are in the office for $10 each.

3. WORSHIP ON SUNDAY 9/9 - Since many of us will be volunteering on Sunday morning, FMSC will be using the sanctuary and there will be a lot of noise, Manda, Laura Lee, the Worship Committee and the Youth have planned a worship service for FCC members at the pavilion at Cass Park at 10:00 a.m. - We will sing, pray, experience God's Word, celebrate communion and share in a simple 'Manna Pack Meal (just like the ones we are packing). Join us for this time of worship and fellowship for all ages.

4. FOOD PANTRY COLLECTION - Our FMSC Mobile Pack will feed children who do not live in our country. The planning Team and Outreach Committee are asking us to be mindful of those who are hungry right here at home. So, when you come to volunteer, please bring non-perishable food items that will be given to the Kitchen Cupboard and to the food pantry at the Baptized Church of Jesus Christ!

Remember there's a train a comin' and "You don't need no baggage, you just get on board!"

Blessings - Laura Lee

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hope in Tough Times

These are tough days...our church is going through major transition, and we have a lot of work ahead of us to discern how to be the church we are called to be. Today, I found hope in reading a story about Joplin, Missouri. Joplin is similar in size to Ithaca, and it's about an hour's drive from where my grandmother lives (and where my parents lived for a time). In May of 2011, Joplin was devastated by a massive tornado - my parents told me that when they drove through the town after the roads had been cleared of debris, there was destruction everywhere. My dad's favorite place to shop - the Home Depot - was completely leveled, as were countless other homes and businesses. The people of Joplin have had their world turned upside down.

And they continue to struggle to find their way. Recently, a mosque in Joplin was burned to the ground in an arson attack. Because it is Ramadan and the mosque was hosting nightly iftar dinners (the nightly meal to end the fast), I can only imagine how devastating was the loss of their sacred meeting space to the Muslims who gathered and worshiped there. Local congregations came together and held an interfaith iftar, hosted by St. Phillip's Episcopal Church. What a sign of hope and peacemaking in the midst of struggle. Click here to read the story.

This Sunday, I'll be leaving after worship to join Syed and his parents in New York City for our annual celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As Muslims bring their month of fasting to a close, I hope that we also will find ways to renew our faith and recommit to our community. May we all seek to offer hope in tough times, and to make peace with one another.

Blessings,
Manda




Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pace to You

In this difficult and confusing time, we want to share some wisdom from the alpine climber, Phil Powers. It was first aired on NPR's "This I Believe" in April, 2006. And, we offer prayers for 'pace'. Blessings for the days ahead - Laura Lee & Manda 


"I believe in the importance of pace. I grew up in a frenetic household, both parents working jobs that demanded their attention 24/7. I was little and fast and rushed around, and I still have that person inside me, always at risk of moving too quickly, missing the connection, making mistakes.

The forest behind our house offered a peaceful respite. My passion for the vertical world took me from tall trees in my backyard to climbing steep cliffs and crags. As a teen, I was moving easily over the landscapes of the American West and was drawn to higher summits. When I was 19, I learned something called the “rest step” from an old mountain climber named Paul Petzoldt. He advised me to rest in the middle of each step completely, but briefly. The rest step, which I still practice today, allows me to walk or climb with little effort. I can move very quickly yet still find a pause in every step. 

The awareness of pace I owe to my teacher has served me whether I am seeking the world’s highest summits, sharing my love for the mountains with others or kneeling to look my son, Gus, in the eye when he has a question. 

It serves me as I drive, adjusting my speed to gain a bit of calm and reach my destination only minutes behind the “record time” a faster lane might provide. It serves me at home where we maintain a tradition of gathering each night at the dinner table to eat and talk to each other.

In times of crisis, pace comes to my aid. Another of Petzoldt’s lessons was when faced with an emergency, sit down, collect yourself, make a plan. When needs seem most urgent — even life-threatening — the practice of slowing down offers calm and clarity. 

Source: http://www.mrabtest.com/
In 1987, I was in Pakistan to climb Gasherbrum II, one of the world’s highest peaks. We were a small group and it was a very big mountain. Our expedition faced more than its share of difficulty: A long storm wiped out most of our food rations and an avalanche devastated our camp, obliterating our tents. One of our party developed altitude sickness; blood poisoning threatened another. In the face of each disaster, we carefully developed a new plan. Snow caves replaced lost tents. Soups replaced full meals. Eventually we climbed slowly to the top, then made our way safely down.

Concentrating on how I move through the world is important. It’s why I reach mountain summits and life goals with energy to spare.

There is magic in any faith. Every once in a while, rushing about, my belief in pace rises up, slows me down and grants me a view of a sunset, a smile from a stranger or a conversation with a child. I owe these moments to what I learned from an old mountain climber and have practiced ever since."

Phil Powers is the executive director of the American Alpine Club. He has made dozens of mountaineering expeditions to Alaska, Asia and South America since he began climbing as a boy in Oklahoma. Powers has written two books on mountain-climbing and lives in Denver with his wife and children.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Supporting Campus Ministries

Friendship, Money, Faith, Grades, Roommates, Jobs, Romantic Relationships, Sex and Sexuality, Family, Self Esteem, Fitness, Wellness,  Politics, Death, Balance, Goal-Setting. These are just some of the issues that college students deal with as they navigate the transitions from high school to full time employment, from dependence to greater independence. Campus ministers play a vital role in students form their own sense of identity apart from their families of origin, make decisions about their futures, and develop spiritually.

Our church supports two campus ministries: Protestant Cooperative Ministries at Cornell University, and the Protestant Community at Ithaca College. We've invited the chaplains of each of those ministries to preach and share in worship leadership over the next two weeks. This Sunday, we'll be joined by the Rev. Taryn Mattice from Cornell, and the following week by the Rev. James Touchton of Ithaca College. During the school year, they are both very busy serving their student communities. So I hope you'll take the opportunity to come and hear them and get to know them a bit. Their ministries play a vital role in the faith formation of college students and in the life of our church and the broader Ithaca community.

Hope to see you on Sunday.
Blessings,
Manda

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Mystery of Miracles

One of the Lectionary texts for this Sunday is from the Gospel of John, the story of Jesus feeding the multitude and then walking on water. While we won't read this one in worship on Sunday, it's worth reading John 6:1-21 on your own.

In September, we'll be starting up our "Spirit:Uncorked" gatherings again at Corks & More. For those who have not joined us before, we often reflect on some quotes and/or questions about a particular topic and talk in pairs or small groups. This week, I invite you to find a friend or family member (or maybe even someone you don't know!) to reflect on these quotes and questions about miracles. Comment on this post to share your thoughts!


Focus Scripture
John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Focus Questions

1. How would you define a "miracle"?

2. What are your expectations of God?

3. What is the difference between abundance and excess?

4. What is the "success" we hope for in our life of faith, as individuals and as congregations?

5. What makes a person, or a church, "great"?


For further reflection

C.S. Lewis, 20th century
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

Chinese Proverb
The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water; but to walk on the earth.

Augustine, 5th century
Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

Sue Monk Kidd, 21st century
I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don't even know it.

Frederick Buechner, 21st century
A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.


These come from "Weekly Seeds": Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the "Lectionary," a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others. Click here to read the whole Weekly Seeds reflection.


Blessings and peace - looking forward to seeing you soon!
Manda

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Our Ending Is Our Beginning

These words from one of the most ancient communion liturgies and are often used at FCC. Christ is our ending and our beginning. The communion table is a place where we can end our pain and suffering and begin a new life. Worship is the same: both the ending and the beginning of our week.

Every milestone in our lives represents both an ending and a beginning. Developmental stages. Dating to marriage to family. Education to training to working to retirement. None of these paths are ever clear or very smooth, but we do know when things have "shifted."

This is also the case in our relationships. When we learn things about each other, a relationship can begin to deepen - ending an acquaintanceship and beginning a friendship. And, when we end an argument with someone we love, it can be a beginning of deeper understanding and new ways to be in relationship.

Alpha and Omega, copyright Chantal Pare

Last Sunday, Steve Gray shared a wonderful song by Susan Ashton, "Agree to Disagree" [Click here to listen to the song, and here to read the lyrics] and led some of us in a discussion at a cookout for the Men's Breakfast Group and their spouses. As I listened, I realized that coming to a place of 'agreeing to disagree' can certainly be the end of an argument, but more importantly, it can be the beginning of deeper understandings, more creative solutions and unimagined paths forward. For, once we move to this place, instead of being right we want to be in relationship. I think this is what the communion table is really all about, isn't it?

Hoping to see all of you on Sunday and Blessings for the days ahead - Laura Lee

Texts for Sunday:



Thursday, July 12, 2012

How do you prepare for worship?

This week, I invite you to read "Preparing Ourselves for Worship" on the Alban Institute website. Here is an excerpt:
          "Few of us give much thought to entering worship. On most Sundays, we consider ourselves fortunate to get out of bed, locate suitable clothing, swallow some coffee, and glance at the newspaper before scrambling out the door, driving to church, and sliding into the pew in time for the prelude. Add children, a partner, a spouse, or out-of-town guests to the mix, and the minimal goal of arriving in time for the first hymn may be the best one can do. At this pace, we might finally feel centered enough to "enter" worship toward the end of the sermon, or maybe not until the final hymn....

          Preparing for worship entails three steps: slowing down, making a transition, and warming up. If we play an instrument, we set aside time before we perform for playing scales or other preparatory exercises. If we play a sport, dance, or practice yoga, we take time to warm up, elevate our heart rate, and stretch properly. These preparations help us make the most of our practice or performance because they help us move our focus from other parts of life to the activity at hand so that we can engage in it more fully. Worship demands this same preparation."

Click here to read the whole article...I hope to worship with you on Sunday!

Blessings,
Manda

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How Did They Do It?


http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0809/26482.html
It is hard to imagine two people more different than Ted Kennedy & Orrin Hatch. Certainly they were diametrically opposed politically. And, they came from different parts of the country, different faiths, different backgrounds....had different personality styles... the list is probably endless. BUT, they were friends -  close, supportive, trusted, loving friends. Amazing in this day of polarization, partisanship and conflict as a way of life. Ted Kennedy & Orrin Hatch were friends....

I think it's because they broke bread together. Every week in Washington, they had supper alone together and often lunches in between. They shared family meals at Hyannis in the summer and in Utah during the ski season. They grabbed a quick hot dog during a recess and had emergency breakfasts together. No matter what, they kept coming to the table, breaking bread and finding the common ground. Amazing, when you think that John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell probably never even have a cup of coffee together.

Last week, Cyndi Slothower shared an amazing sermon with the Church Council. It was preached by the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems at the National Cathedral last Martin Luther King Sunday. She preaches into our broken world, broken churches, broken families and broken lives with the Gospel call to "Keep Coming to the Table.” This seems to be something Kennedy & Hatch knew. It is certainly something Jesus knew when he called such diverse people to follow him. He knew that we could and would work through anything, if we just keep coming to the table.

I encourage you to listen to the sermon (click here). If it doesn't show up, look for a link on the right to watch it in Windows Media Player.

And, think a bit about your own life, our church and our nation. Think about the Christ, who longs for us to be one and who calls us to the table.....keep on coming....

Blessings, Laura Lee

Mark 6:1-13

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sprucing Up

When I lived in Boston, I worked for an organization that had converted an old house to offices and meeting space. I loved that building, for it represented a job that I loved, working with people I loved, all of us trying to make the world a better place. I worked there for four years, so I really came to feel at home in the space. I didn't notice little chips in the paint or a few stray papers or a dusty bookcase - most of the time, none of that really registered with me.

After I moved to Texas for seminary, I went back to visit Boston, and I dropped in on my old workplace. Just around the time I was leaving, a new Executive Director had come on board, and there were some other staff shifts as well. I still remember the jolt of walking into that building - this time almost as a newcomer - and seeing that the space had been transformed. There was a new coat of paint, the clutter (which I hadn't noticed - but I sure noticed its absence!) was gone, even the lighting seemed different! All of the sudden, I saw the place in a new light, not only as my previous, comforting "home away from home," but also now as a space that any newcomer could walk in and feel immediately welcomed.



When I drove up to the church yesterday, I saw that lots of sprucing up is going on outside, too! Danny Fox and family, as well as many other helpful folks, are working hard to beautify our property. For those of us who have been here a while, this beautiful church building feels like a home away from home, and we may not have noticed the old vines and overgrown shrubbery and worn paint. But looking at it again with fresh eyes, I can see that this "sprucing up" will not only make the place more welcoming and inviting to newcomers, but it will also help us all see it anew. When you drive up this Sunday and each Sunday this summer, I hope you'll take a fresh look at our community space and help us continue to enhance its beauty, to help us continue to extend God's extravagant welcome.

Have a wonderful weekend - looking forward to seeing you soon!

Manda

Texts for this Sunday:
Psalm 30
Mark 5:21-43

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Soul Food....Summer Reads


My mother believed that God spoke to her through books - always sent the right one and the right time in her life. She called books "Soul Food" and taught me to see all the ways that my life is enriched and my faith is deepened through reading - the Bible, devotionals, theology, history and even mysteries or science fiction.

This summer, I hope all of you will choose at least one book that is "Soul Food" for you - something that will nourish your faith and help you to grow as a Christian and as a part of this community of Christians. Manda & I are developing a list that we'll share with all of you soon - a glimpse of our own versions of "Soul Food". And, we'll begin with a couple that we strongly recommend:
          
       "The Heart of Christianity" by Marcus Borg - while not a new book, it is a very important one for all 21st Century Christians.
            
       "Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son" by Anne Lamott an inspirational reflection on parenting and grand-parenting, by one of my favorite lay theologians.

       "Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop 'Doing Church' and Start Being the Church Again" by Albert L. Winseman 

And, Of course, a bit of poetry - 

        "Thrall: Poems" by Natasha Trethewey" - our nation's newest Poet Laureate 

Happy reading, Happy growing - Laura Lee

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A chance to lie down in green pastures...

Last week I attended a conference for clergy in the United Church of Christ who are in our 20s and 30s. We had workshops and sessions with a hip hop artist who works with youth at Riverside Church in NYC, with a UCC pastor in Boston who does justice work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and with minister in a UCC church who blogs about various ministerial things, including attire and fashion! I spent time with colleagues from all over the Northeast (and some from farther away), and I had an opportunity to see some of my long-time friends from Boston.

During one of our worship services, we focused on the theme of the conference, "Shepherding the Shepherd." This week, I'd like to invite you to share in some of the experience we had. We had an opportunity to reflect on our own experiences and to share with others. So I hope you can find some time this week to do the same. Find a friend or family member and read the 23rd Psalm and John 21:15-17 together. Then discuss these questions:

- God makes me lie down in green pastures. What does that green meadow look like for you?
- Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." What food do YOU need in order to be able to feed others?
- Who in your life has been or is a leader/mentor/shepherd to you?
- Reflect a bit on where God has shepherded you - where in your life do you experience a cup overflowing? Where do you notice goodness and mercy?

I hope you'll leave a comment on the blog and let us all know if you had any new insights. And I hope that this week, you feel loved and cared for by the Good Shepherd.

Many blessings,
Manda

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"It's Your Party!"

When I was a child, I always had 'backyard' birthday parties (early September in Georgia). And, I had to work very hard to help my Mother for these momentous events! Each year, my responsibilities increased, so that by the time I was 7, I had to make the guest list, make the invitations, help make the decorations, plan the activities, help make the cake, set the tables, greet everyone as they came and thank them all for coming as they left, help clean up and then,  write thank you notes for all of the gifts I received! One year, I complained about all of the work - after all, it was my birthday party. And, my Mom said, "You're right. It is your party. You are the hostess and you need to provide a great party for your friends to help you celebrate your birthday!"

What I clearly didn't realize then, was that she was using my parties to teach me the skills of hospitality, manners and welcome.

On Saturday, June 16th, FCC will be hosting a really big party - a Strawberry Festival - to support Feed My Starving Children. When our Church Council agreed to host the FMSC event for 2012, we certainly anticipated working hard to generate generous financial contributions from our church members & friends. We also agreed to host this 3rd annual event to use our resources to help it grow as a community-wide event with lots of ongoing support. This Strawberry Festival is a wonderful chance for us to invite all kinds of people to come, learn about FMSC, help feed starving children and become potential supporters in the years to come.

So, with amazing leadership from Marcie Bishop, Toni Sacco, Pam Swieringa, Diane Shafer, Jeanne Yarussi, Jean Wentworth, Cindy Marschner, Joyce Billing and Amy Stoll + Women's Ministry folks.....We're going to have a wonderful party - Our Party. This means we need lots and lots of you to pitch in and help out - with set-up, booth staffing, food serving, clean-up and all kinds of things. Please sign-up or say 'Yes' if someone calls you - an hour or two will make a difference! You will help feed a lot of children - And, as my Mom said, after all, "It's Your Party!"

Blessings Always - Laura Lee

PS - You'll have a lot of fun, too!!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield

I hope you all had a good weekend, and a special congratulations to all who have graduated from Cornell and IC and elsewhere recently! I've been reflecting a bit this week on Memorial Day, which began as a way to honor Union soldiers and, over time, has been expanded to be a day of remembrance for all who have served this nation and lost their lives. Many also use it as an opportunity to honor and remember all who have died.

50 years ago, our nation went to war in Vietnam. I was not yet alive, but I know that the Vietnam War had an indelible impact on our country. I remember my dad's stories about his two best friends in high school - one of whom died in Vietnam, and the other came back with debilitating PTSD.

My grandfather, who died recently, was a World War II veteran. He served in the Army Air Corps, now the Air Force. While he was proud of his service, there were also stories he could never tell, because they were too painful.

And now our nation has been at war in the Middle East for longer than some of the children in our church have been alive. Thousands of US soldiers have lost their lives in combat, not to mention the civilians of various nations who have died. And hundreds of soldiers have committed suicide after returning home.

War is a painful, violent reality in our world. As we honor the sacrifices of women and men who willingly gave their lives, we must also commit to one another and to God that we will work to bring about a world of peace. Not only on a global level but also in our own lives, homes, relationships, churches, schools, and communities.

The call to be peacemakers has been a challenge for human beings in every time and place. Isaiah had a vision of a world in which people would "beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4).

I'd like to share with you this prayer from the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin.
"Gracious God, whose own Son's term of service to humanity was so full that its brevity was no distress, we call to mind on this Memorial Sunday those who will not grow old as we are left to grow old, those whose lives were too brief for us but long enough, perhaps, for thee. Forgive us that they died so young because we were too unimaginative, too imperious, too indifferent, or just too late to think of better ways than warfare to conduct the business of the world. Gratefully, we remember the generosity that prompted them to share the last of their rations, the last pair of dry socks, to share in the course of one hour in the foxhole more than most of us care to share with one another in a lifetime. And we recall the courage that made more than one of them fall on the grenade there was no time to throw back.

Grant, O God, that they may not have died in vain. May we draw new vigor from past tragedy. Buttress our instincts for peace, sorely beleaguered. Save us from justifications invented to make us look noble, grand and righteous and from blanket solutions to messy, detailed problems. Give us the vision to see that those nations that gave the most to their generals and least to their poor were, throughout all history, the first to fall. Most of all, give us the vision to see that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, too small for anything but love. Through Jesus Christ our Savior, who became what we are to make us what he is. Amen."

Blessings and peace to you,
Manda

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Gift of the Enemy

On May 10, renowned theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink died. His theology played a large role in shaping my own. I've noticed, with dismay, that human beings commonly name those who are different, those who don't agree with them, or even those who are actively opposed to them as "enemies." To remember him, I was reading again some of Walter Wink's writings. This great man will continue to influence others through his words and witness - and so today I share with you these words from the chapter "The Gift of the Enemy" in The Powers that Be--


"The gift our enemy brings us (is) to see aspects of ourselves that we cannot discover any other way. Our friends are not good sources of information about these things; they often overlook or ignore these parts of us. The enemy is not merely a hurdle to be leapt on the way to God. The enemy can be the way to God. We cannot come to terms with our shadow except through our enemy, for we have no better access to those unacceptable parts of ourselves that need redeeming than through the mirror that our enemies hold up to us. This, then, is another, more intimate reason for loving our enemies: we are dependent on our enemies for our very individuation. We cannot be whole people without them.


How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can have a role in transforming us!...


In the final analysis, loving enemies is a way of living in expectation of miracles....If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one's oppressors through the prism of the reign of God--not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God."
- Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millenium (New York: Galilee, 1998. pp. 170-71, 178-79).




I hope you find these words as thought-provoking and spiritually challenging as I do. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Wishing you a blessed week, Manda

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Attending to Our Dreams

Ah, the beauty of springtime! The songbirds have returned, deer are nibbling on our plants, and the magnolia tree outside our dining room window is about to blossom. It's also a time of graduations and promotions, retirements and vacation planning. All around us, things and people are growing and changing.

In my previous work in Boston and in my seminary studies, I focused on pastoral counseling, particularly from a narrative therapy perspective. According to narrative theory, our individual, communal, and cultural stories create and sustain our reality. We make meaning through the ways we tell stories. And, our lives and communities are multistoried. Those of you who participated in the work of the Gathering Team and in last year's "Leapership" event helped bring out some of the many stories of this congregation. And Women's Ministries spent the day sharing stories and dreams at their gathering in March.

I've also learned that whatever you give attention to is what grows. Jane, our Church Secretary, can tell you that though I love plants, I'm not very good at keeping them alive. Thankfully, she lovingly tends the plants in my office, making sure they get enough water and sunlight. Without her attention, my plants would probably not survive, and they most definitely would not thrive.

Last week, you should have received an invitation from the Church Council to a special worship experience this Sunday. That email includes the Core Values identified by our Church Council - and really, those values come out of the work that the Gathering Team did before I came here. I can affirm that I see all of these values in our congregation: Welcoming, Caring, Serving, Growing. Click here if you haven't seen the invitation.


This Sunday, we will worship together and dream together - we will give attention to our core values and figuratively give them the water and sunlight they need to blossom. I would say that our only limitations are our imaginations - but I believe that if we are open to the Spirit's creative power, God can move our church beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings.




So come, whether you are a new visitor or an old friend, whether you drop in now and then, come every week, or are returning after a long absence. Bring a friend, bring your imagination, bring your wildest dreams. Come, let's shape our future together.

Blessings,
Manda

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A child shall lead them...

I want to take some time to celebrate the ways that our children and youth are leading the way in creative fundraising for Feed My Starving Children. There are lots of exciting things going on, from the amazing multi-congregational choir concert last Sunday to the Outreach-sponsored soup supper last week, to the strawberry festival planned for June 16.


But our children and youth really "take the cake" for their creativity and enthusiasm! The first of several cake raffles raised $77, and the children's lemonade stand after worship raised $182. Then, Gigi and Clare Weislogel set up a stand on their block to sell more lemonade, and they raised $35 themselves!



Sophie and Cesca Bosworth-Viscuso raised several hundred dollars through pledges for their commitment to practice their violins every day.

And this Friday night, our Youth Group will join with other youth in the community to host a pasta supper at St. John's Episcopal Church from 5-7pm. Click here for more information.

So let the children and youth lead you...what can YOU do to support our fundraising and organizing efforts for Feed My Starving Children? Check out this great video by a 17-year-old who was inspired by his participation in Feed My Starving Children.

And have a wonderful week!
- Manda

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"I LOVE a Parade!"


In Columbus, GA in the 1950's The Christmas Parade was IT! The high school bands, pretty girls waving from the backs of convertibles, clowns and, of course, Santa at the end. For my daughter, it was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - a different and more national expression of a community. And then, in college it was Mardi Gras - parades for a whole month.

Here it is the Ithaca Festival Parade. Where else would you see marching monks, the La Leche League, the No Frack Group, the He Man Band, the Save the Deer Group, the Diaper Derby, the Volvo Ballet and, of course, the Chain Saw Band? Like my childhood Christmas Parade, this parade presents and represents our hometown like nothing else.
Last year, Feed My Starving Children had a group in the parade. Marching was fun and we were very well received! It was good to be part of the parade and it was even better to become part of the fabric of this community!

This year, Feed My Starving Children will march again - t-shirts, cheers and all. This year, we want to have a really BIG group. This year, FCC is hosting the 300,000 meal mobile pack. One way you can all support our leadership is to get a t-shirt - show up and march. This year, we can make a difference in the lives of hungry children and we can strengthen a community that truly cares about others!

So, Get a T-Shirt (and wear it around town) AND, sign up to march, AND, get a friend or two to march with us! After all, we all love a parade!

Blessings - Laura Lee


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feet & Hands

First, I want to offer thanks to everyone who showed up to participate in the Foote Lectures. We had some thought-provoking conversations that I hope we'll continue. A special thank you to everyone who helped make the Foote Lectures happen - all who were involved in planning, hosting our guests, setting up and cleaning up the meeting spaces, providing meals and refreshments, and of course to the Foote family for making it all possible.


So now that we've covered the Feet, let's talk about the Hands - we need your hands! The book of Acts says that the earliest Christians lived in community with each other, selling their possessions and sharing all things in common. And while that doesn't characterize most Christian communities today, it does still hold true that we need everyone to participate in those parts of our communal life that we share together. That includes our physical building and property. Our building is not only for the various gatherings of our church - it is also part of our ministry to the wider community. Nearly every day, various groups (Scouts, Music Together, Community Nursery School, and many, many others) experience our hospitality through our building.

YOU have an opportunity to participate in this hospitality! This Saturday from 8am-noon, we'll have a "work bee" - for those who didn't grow up with the concept, it's a time set aside for people to come help out with projects that need to be done in our church building and on the property. Even showing up for an hour or two within that time would be a huge help. Tasks vary, from spring cleaning, to changing light bulbs, to checking speakers, to raking leaves, to cleaning flower beds, to painting.

Many hands make light work - so I hope you'll lend a hand for some time on Saturday. If you cannot come or if you want to do more, Bill Heffner has a list of projects that need to be completed. Click here to email Bill to set up a different time to help out.

Thank you for joining your hands and feet with the rest of our Christian community, the Body of Christ.

Blessings and peace,
Manda

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Over the Rainbow

It's time again for our annual Foote Lectures - and this year, we will build on something we started last year: partnering with other congregations in the area. Last year, the presentations and conversations with Greg Mobley and Rabbi Jack Moline sparked additional collaboration between our congregation and Temple Beth El. And they inspired me and Syed to take a similar approach in our exploration of the relationships between Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, and Hagar and Ishmael. Throughout this past year, I've seen our congregation continue to engage with people of other faiths and explore how we might work together to strengthen our community and our world.

This year, we have an exciting opportunity to gather together with people from St. Paul's United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church of Ithaca.  Last Friday, a young man from Ithaca College interviewed me for a journalism project on LGBTQ-affirming churches. We spoke about our shared concern that the media privileges religious voices that do not affirm all people - and the need for progressive religious leaders and congregations to be more visible. 

A few weeks ago, Ellie Kraft-Sanders, Rose Mandl, Ray Edwin, and I went to a workshop for area UCC Open and Affirming (ONA) congregations and those considering the ONA process. We were inspired by churches who have been ONA for decades as well as those who are just beginning the conversation. Andy Lang, Director of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, spoke about their work to help ONA congregations form stronger connections with one another. Another presenter shared her research and work on bullying in schools, and she spoke about the importance of congregations as safe spaces for youth. And if you ever come to my office or go up to the youth room, you'll see that Diane and I have posters that say "This is a safe space where you can talk about" a long list of topics. Ellie, Rose, Ray and I came away from that workshop with some new energy about our ONA values, and the Foote Lectures offer another opportunity to explore that.

The Foote Lectures will include a Sunday night lecture at 7pm at First Baptist Church and a Monday night lecture at 7 pm at our church. We will hear from Dr. Melanie Duguid-May, from Colgate-Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and Dr. David Mellott, from Lancaster Theological Seminary - "Over the Rainbow: Two Lectures Leading Us into Community by Exploring Gender in a New Day." In addition, Dr. Mellott will be our guest preacher in worship on Sunday.

I think this year, like last year, will be energizing and fruitful for our congregation and for our community. As a congregation, this is an opportunity to explore how we are living into our open and affirming commitments. And I imagine that we will strengthen our relationship with our partnering congregations, so that we can all work together to make an impact in our community.

Get the full schedule and read more about the presenters on our website:

I hope to see you - and your friends - there this weekend!

Have a lovely week,
Many blessings,
Manda



Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Paradox of Easter

It was a real joy to celebrate Easter with all of you! From the signs of new life in the cemetery at sunrise, to the smiles on the children's faces, to Laura Lee's exhortation to pick up where Mark's Gospel left off and tell the good news, to the glorious Hallelujah chorus...I left feeling uplifted and hopeful.

I was especially struck, though, by the paradox of celebrating resurrection in the cemetery. But isn't that what Easter is? It's a paradox, this faith in resurrection and faith that God has conquered death, while death still happens all around us, and we still live with the pain of loss.

As you all know, I have had some losses in my own life recently, and our church has also experienced losses these past few months. I've been reading a lot of online resources about grieving, and I found this reflection by Jeffrey Reed helpful. I hope you will, too. Have a blessed week, and wherever you find yourself - I hope that you are guided by faith and that you feel embraced by our church community, for you are loved.

Blessings,
Manda



This reflection by Jeffrey Reed was posted by Nancy Weil on her blog at Legacy Connect. Click here to read her posts.

May Faith Guide You

During the season of Lent we are asked to sacrifice, we also sacrifice during the grief process. The word sacrifice means: the giving up of something valued or important. During the grief process both pre- and post-death we are asked to sacrifice and we do so freely. Our day-to-day routines change, our social life goes on hold as we shuttle back and forth from the doctor or the hospital visits. While the Lenten season is measured in days forty (40) the grief process has its own time frame... Forever! The grief we endure with the loss of a loved one will never go away. The pain and hurt we feel will slowly lessen. We get BY; we do what we have to do, we trudge along. As we get BETTER the days do not seem to be as long and we begin to see glimpses of whom we were prior to our loss. Then we get BEYOND; it is not that we forget those that we loved, we still miss their smile, their tender touch and their voice still resonates in our ears and heart.

Hope brings us through this period of adjustment. Our faith continues to guide us, our prayers never stop and we hope that the new life we have been left with will be as rewarding as the one we just lost. We need to mourn at our own pace, our time table may not be the same as someone else’s and that is OK. There is no calendar for grief, you are in control and it is you who turns the pages as the days, weeks and months go by.

As we journey through this life change we need to take care of ourselves spiritually, physically and mentally as we adapt to our new life without the one we loved. We need to keep in mind that God is much kinder and gentler on us than we are on ourselves. We take on new tasks and responsibilities that our loved one once took control of. While stressful at times, this learning curve will work itself out.

The resurrection of Jesus symbolized eternal life granted to those who believed in him. The same holds true for those we have loved and lost. They will always be with us in our hearts, our mind and our soul. There is new life after death; your life will take on new meaning, a new direction and a new purpose.

We need to let our faith guide us through the grief process. We need to keep reminding ourselves that the strong love we have for God will allow us to keep our love strong for those who have passed before us.

No one needs to travel the path of grief alone. Take the hand of those who have extended their help and support. Embrace your life with the same vigor you did when you met that special someone. Remember Jesus died and then rose again for you!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weekday Christians

As I was reflecting on Holy Week and what I might have to share with you today, I was thinking about the fact that I grew up in a Christian church that didn't observe Holy Week, or much of the liturgical year at all. In my childhood understanding, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were all things that Catholics did, and they were just rituals with no meaning. And as for Easter, well, my childhood church said, "Every Sunday is Easter."

In my early adulthood, I learned (ironically, from a church within the same tradition as my childhood church)  that there could be a rhythm to the church year, a cycling through the scriptures and also through the life of Jesus and of the early church that we could mirror in our life together in our present-day church. I finally understood why Holy Week could be meaningful to so many Christians.

While there is some truth in saying that every Sunday we can celebrate resurrection and new life (Easter), what about every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday? I love what UCC pastor Emily Heath says in her article, "Holy Week and the Importance of Weekday Christians":

"To me, the most comforting part of Holy Week is not the waving of triumphal palms on one Sunday morning, or the flowers and joyous hymns on the next. It's what happens in between. It's Jesus on Maundy Thursday sharing a table with the people he loved the most. It's him washing their feet, and showing that the mark of a true leader is whether they can serve others. It's Jesus still loving those disciples even though he knew that, at best, they would abandon him, and at worst, they would betray him. And it's Jesus in the garden, alone, heart-broken, and struggling between what he wanted to do and what he knew he had to do.


And on Good Friday, it continues. The world turns against him, and the ones who cheered his entry in Jerusalem instead cheer his death. He suffers. He calls out to a God who does not seem to answer. He doubts. He feels pain, and loss, and grief. And in the end he loses the life he knew....


What if we became known not just as the people who knew what to do on Sundays, but the ones who knew how to stay with you when your life was falling apart, just as Christ asks us to do on Maundy Thursday? Or the ones who could stand by and still love and respect you even when you call out your doubts, as Jesus did on the cross? What would happen if we weren't just know for our Easter Sunday celebrations, but for our Thursday night solidarity? Our Friday afternoon compassion?


We have the capacity to be those people. We have it because Christ has called us to be those people. All we have to do is be willing to make the journey with him. Not just on Sundays, but on the days between. The world has plenty of Sunday morning Christians. It needs a few more of the weekday ones."

I hope you will join us this Holy Week, as it provides unique opportunities to join our own human journeys with that of Jesus and his earliest followers. Enter the story and share communion with us on Maundy Thursday at 7pm. Reflect on the crucifixion and pray for reconciliation with us on Good Friday at 6pm. And on Holy Saturday, wherever you are, spend some time in prayer for those who are hungry (sign up here).

I believe that as we practice being weekday Christians, we will find Easter all the more glorious.

Blessings and peace,
Manda

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Give Us this Day...

During Manda's first interview with the search committee, she invited us to offer the Lord's Prayer on behalf of those who worry each day about their 'daily bread'. This practice has added new depth and power to this familiar part of my own spiritual life.

Throughout Lent, our focus has been on the bread we eat and the cup from which we drink at the table of communion. And, as we transition through Holy Week into the Easter Season, we are invited to think about ways that we are called to feed and serve others.

To prepare for a month of Outreach Committee emphasis on feeding people locally and globally through our giving and our actions, you are invited to participate in a church-wide Prayer Vigil on Holy Saturday (April 7) from 6:00 p.m. until midnight (Easter Sunday). This is an important way for us to be the church in prayer. You are being asked to commit to dedicating a specific time to pray for people who are hungry in the world, at home or on a walk or wherever you may be. You may sign up for 20 minute periods of time and as many people as possible may sign up for the same period. There will be an opportunity to sign up at church on Sunday morning and next week, you will be able to sign up online at fccithaca.org.

Eat This Bread.... Drink This Cup and in gratitude, let us help to bring the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant to those who are hungry and thirsty. Let us pray together, eat together and work together........

Blessings, Laura Lee

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sing a New Song

I've been here over a year now, and people often ask me how I like Ithaca. I tell them that I really like it, and the biggest adjustment is the shift from city life to small town life. I have mostly lived in big cities - Houston, Boston, Dallas - and I really like the variety of food, culture, people, entertainment, and conveniences, as well as a degree of anonymity. I'm discovering, however, that bigger cities don't offer the opportunities for community connections that smaller towns like Ithaca do.

Because we are a smaller community, we are also affected in more immediate and intimate ways by tragic events in our community. And, we also have a desire to respond to those events in ways that bring the community together and facilitate peace and healing. 

Growing up in the South, I learned a great deal about racial tensions, and my friends helped me understand how their experiences differed from mine. And my dad told me about the blatant racism he witnessed in the Houston court systems. In college, my freshman-year roommate's parents forced her to transfer to another school because she, a white woman, was dating a black man.

Living in Boston and now in Ithaca, I've observed that racial tensions are just as present, but they are not often as visible as they are in the South. But they are very real, and our Ithaca community continues to struggle with race and class divides. Wendell Berry, a favorite author of mine, called racism a "hidden wound" - something we don't like to talk about but which is hurtful to all of us.

One reason I have come to love Ithaca is that we have so many people who are working for peace, healing, and justice in our community. I think many of you in our congregation know how powerful music can be in working toward healing. This Sunday, Temple Beth-El is hosting a musical feast that you won't want to miss. "Sing a New Song: Spiritual Voices of Ithaca" will feature local artists including the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers, Voices: Multicultural Choir, the Ithaca Children's Choir, the Calvary Baptist Church Choir, the Jewish Community Choir, the Filipino String Ensemble, and several of our community’s choral groups (including members of  FCC’s and several congregations’ choirs).


I hope you will be there to represent our congregation at the State Theatre on Sunday at 3pm. Contact the church office for tickets - donations are welcome, but we have tickets for anyone who would like to go. Your presence will bless the community, and I believe you will walk away feeling richly blessed.


Have a wonderful week,
Manda

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The old in the new

You may have noticed that our congregation has used music from the Taize community in various worship settings - songs like "Nothing Can Trouble" and "O Lord, Hear My Prayer" frame our prayer time; "Eat this Bread, Drink this Cup" moves us through communion, and various other Taize songs have helped us worship in evening Advent and Lenten services.

Tomorrow, the men's breakfast group will be talking about music and faith practice when they meet at 7:45am at the Royal Court Restaurant. When I learned that, I thought that perhaps others of you would like to learn more about the Taize community as well. This 15 minute video gives a nice introduction to the community, and you can visit their website http://www.taize.fr/en to learn more.



I've been reading several scholars (such as Harvey Cox, Diana Butler Bass, and Phyllis Tickle) who study the shifts taking place in how people understand faith and spirituality in our broader culture. They are finding that there is a resurgence of interest in ancient spiritual practices. In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle writes, "in the course of birthing a brand-new expression of its faith and praxis, the Church also gains a grand refurbishment of the older one."

We are in a time of exploring and inventing new things, and at the same time, refurbishing older traditions and practices that have sustained Christians through many generations. The popularity of Taize music and the Taize community is one vibrant example. I'm excited to be in a church where we are committed to work together to be a church of both/and - finding a place for both old and new, and learning, growing, and serving together.

Wishing you a lovely week,
Manda

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You're Invited!

When I was a kid, receiving an invitation to a party was confirmation that someone else wanted my presence at their special event. On the other hand, if I knew there was a party and I didn't get an invitation, then I felt rejected - I felt like an outsider.

The Center for Progressive Renewal has found that nearly 90% of people who come to church for the first time do so because someone personally invited them. And in my time in the United Church of Christ, I have noticed that many of us aren't very good at inviting others to church - and for good reason! I grew up in an evangelical tradition, and I know the looks people sometimes give when we start talking about church. I also know that the religious right has monopolized the conversation on the meaning and reasoning for inviting others to church. Perhaps you can identify with this guy:

This Sunday, join me for the AfterWord, when we'll talk a bit about cultivating a culture of invitation - because we've got some good news to share about a great community of people who love God, each other, and the whole world. You can even get a head start by inviting someone to join us for Spirit:Uncorked on Friday night at Corks & More, or any of the other opportunities for community, service, spiritual growth, and worship.

Have a great week,
Manda

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Rainbows and Reminders"

Last Sunday, Madison Wright read the account of the giving of the rainbow (and the covenant) from Genesis. In this somewhat familiar and beautiful account, God says these most interesting words: "When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."

From earliest childhood, I was taught, like many of you, that rainbows are a sign of God's love and of promises for future generations. But, the text also says it is a reminder to God.

What if the rainbow is a sign of God's repentance for obliterating creation? What if it's really about forgiveness and new starts for God and for all of us? I haven't made my own peace with or sense of this notion, but I do see rainbows differently now. They are a sign that we all need reminders to be more forgiving, to be intentional about changing our behavior, to remember our past and to do something new and different. It's a call to be in right relationship with God and with each other. I invite you to comment on what you think of this disconcerting notion and engage in a bit of conversation.

Whatever you make of it, the next time you see a rainbow, it might be good for you to remember, that it is God's reminder of unconditional love for all of creation for all of time. And, be reminded that we too can reorient and recommit and reconcile with God and with each other! Any day, any time!

Wishing all of you blessings for the week ahead, Laura Lee

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Farewell to Meat

That's right, I said it, farewell to meat. So now that I have your attention, no, this is not going to be a post about why you should become a vegetarian. But as I was reading about the origins of Mardi Gras, also called Shrove (Confession) Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, I learned that Carnival is from the Latin carne vale, or "farewell to meat."

Traditionally, many Christians would give up meat for the Lenten season, and they would have one last feast on Fat Tuesday. Today, many people still feast and celebrate on Fat Tuesday, but they don't follow that with a time of fasting during Lent. And many others do use Lent as a time of fasting, self-reflection, and spiritual growth.

When I was growing up, I always thought Lent was a Catholic thing, that time when people talked about giving up chocolate or television or meat. After college, I began attending a church that observed Lent, and I learned that there was value in "giving it up," letting go of something that distracts me from my walk with God. That can be different from year to year - from caffeine, to watching the news, to late night television. One year I gave up stress - meaning that I intentionally took better care of myself.

I suppose that fits better with another practice that some Christians prefer, that of taking something on for Lent. Whether it be a new discipline of regular prayer, reading scripture, attending worship, exercising, eating mindfully and compassionately, or spending more time with a loved one, there are many practices we can intentionally take on to make Lent a more meaningful and fulfilling time.

The United Church of Christ has developed a calendar with suggested practices of each day for Lent - click here to download the PDF. You can print it and put it on your refrigerator or desk. Join us tomorrow evening at 7 as we begin the Lenten journey with a lovely Ash Wednesday service.

For today, feast and celebrate, and say a fond farewell to those things and practices and behaviors that don't serve you well in your walk with God and with others. And if you find you really miss them, they'll be there waiting for you on Easter. Or maybe, just maybe, you'll find you don't miss them after all!

Blessings and peace,
Manda

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"The Second Funeral"


My first funeral was memorable, as it is for most pastors. But, it's the second one, two weeks later, that shaped my ministry. This one was for a toddler who had darted into the street, just as his mother's attention was diverted. The mom was 7 months pregnant, and so was I. I felt so helpless and incompetent in the face of this family's tragic loss. So I called my mom and blubbered a lot. When I was done, she said, "Remember, every life is a complete life." Her wisdom got me through that funeral. It also got me through over 350 funerals for people with AIDS, mostly young people and some were babies.

Last week, Jack Gallagher took his own life. He was a friend of Sarah Beckwith's and of Lyndsey Broadfield's. By all accounts, he was an amazing young man with so much promise. Whitney Houston died, only 48 and she was certainly an amazing artist, with so much promise. Our Jewish friends have a saying, "There is something wrong with the universe, when parents have to bury their children." There is something about tragic deaths of young people that deeply affects us all. When young people die, our hearts are touched by this 'distortion of the universe'.

And yet, Princess Diana changed the public role of the English Monarchy; Whitney Houston left an astounding musical legacy; Sam (my little toddler) helped shape this pastor's ministry; Jack gave so much laughter and joy to those who knew him........ Each life is complete. Each life makes a difference. Each life is a blessing.

In times of such loss, we can remember Jesus, who also died tragically and young, but who left the whole world with a legacy of love. His was certainly a 'complete life' that reminds us of the differences we make by living our own.

Blessings to all of you in all of your living this week,
Laura Lee



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

For the Institutionalized

Quinn Caldwell's UCC devotional this week is most thought-provoking! Worth reading, pondering and considering the church we are called to become and leave behind, so I share it will all of you today.

Wishing you a most blessed week - Laura Lee

Sooner or later, every churchy person gets sick of the church.  They get burned out and wonder whether this is all worth it.  If you ask, you will find out that the problem is not with God or faith, but with the church as an institution.  It's not God that wore them out, it's being asked to serve on another committee.  It's not following the Gospel that did it, it's being the only one that ever mows the lawn.  It's too many events, too much email, too many evening meetings.

Many find themselves longing for New Testament times, back when we were a movement instead of an institution.  One guy said to me that he would much prefer to have lived under Roman persecution, because dying in the arena for your faith felt meaningful—unlike the church meeting he had that night.

Institutions are a pain.  They take lots of work and lots of maintenance.  They can suck the life out of you, fast.

Movements are more fun.  They are exciting, engaging, enlivening.  They also tend not to last.

The reason you know anything about the faith is that once upon a time, somebody in the Jesus movement realized they needed to set up a system to pass the faith on to the future.  They poured themselves into the resulting institution.  They did it not for their own gratification, but so that YOU would find out the truths they lived by.  They measured "what was worth it" not only by their own sense of fulfillment, but by their hopes for you.

I'm not saying every committee meeting the church has ever held mattered; most of them didn't.  I'm saying that all institutions are annoying, AND that the church is the one that brought your faith to you.  So when you're feeling ground down by yours, right after you refuse to chair another task force, but before you decide to quit forever, just remember this: the work you're doing is at least as much for your grandkids as it is for you.

About the Author
Quinn G. Caldwell is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, and co-editor, with Curtis J. Preston, of the Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Hands Around the World.....And, Across the Aisle"

 Google 'scouts' and you will discover the familiar US Scout emblems and an amazing array of emblems from all around the world. And for every country represented (and many more), you can know that there are adults working with young people and young people working with each other to create a generation of leaders. These are young people who are learning how to work with others, how to build character, how to engage in their communities..... These are young people who are learning how to tie knots and how to sell cookies. These are young people who will become adults who are better citizens because of their scouting experiences.

Sunday is Scout Sunday at FCC (and everywhere). We celebrate our young people and the adults who are dedicated to scouting. So, our scouts will participate in worship and the adults will show up in their uniforms (if they can still fit into them)! And we can all be grateful for the ways that our church has supported scouting over many years. We can all celebrate the ways that we continue to support scouting, for we are part of this web around the world and even across the aisles of our church that is building the future! So, on Sunday, be sure to greet and encourage our scouts and be sure to thank the uniformed adults. We're glad they're here!

Blessings for the week ahead - Laura Lee