Making Room for Hope – 11/28/21

Our theme for Advent this year is “Making Room.”  This theme emerged from the Las Posadas tradition.  The roots of Las Posadas stretch deeply into Latin culture. It originated in Spain, but it’s been a yearly celebration throughout Mexico for over 400 years. The tradition commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a shelter, a place to stay the night. Posadas is Spanish for “lodgings” or “accommodations.”  Beginning on December 16 and ending nine days later, on December 24, Las Posadas commemorates the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.  Each evening during the festival, a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession through the streets of the town. The procession is primarily made up of children dressed in silver and gold robes carrying lit candles and images of Mary and Joseph riding a donkey. Adults, including musicians, follow the procession, which visits selected homes and asks for lodging for Joseph and Mary.  Each night, one family agrees to house the pilgrims.  Las Posadas serves as a reminder of the need to make room in our lives for the stranger, for in doing so we encounter the Divine. [Read more…]

So This Is the New Year – 11/21/21

Perhaps because of my advanced age, New Year’s Eve has lost some of its luster.  No longer to do I plan or attend elaborate parties, often not even staying up until midnight.  But one thing that has never changed is my desire to make resolutions.  What has also never changed is my inability to follow through on them.  There is a song that I always think of at the New Year by a band named Death Cab for Cutie.  The first line of the song is, “So this is the new year.  And I don’t feel any different.”  So often we plan to make a change, but when the time comes to make that change our commitment dissipates.  And we go back into old patterns because we can, because they are comfortable, because they are easier than doing the work of change. [Read more…]

Those the Light Shines Through – 11/7/21

Recognizing All Saints Sunday in a community like ours is challenging.  Many of us have different views of what the term “saint” means, different approaches to the Divine, varying ways of considering what is next when our lives end.  As I was considering what common thread may exist between us, I remembered an experience I had with Pax.  I was asked to perform a wedding for a couple, but the number of their guests was too large to hold the wedding in the church I served.  They chose to hold the service in a beautiful church, much older than the one I served and very traditional in its design.  There were rows of wooden pews, a large chancel in the front with a choir loft, and an enormous pipe organ.  But the most striking part of the sanctuary were the elaborate stained-glass windows.  Because Kathy was working, I took Pax with me to the rehearsal.  He had not been in a church like this before, and I could see he was amazed by the size and the beauty.  It was a sunny day, and the light was shining through all of the windows. [Read more…]

Saving Jesus from Nationalism – 10/31/21

In the fundamentalist church of my youth, like many other evangelical churches today, I was taught that America was God’s chosen country.   This idea stems from very early in America’s history.  The doctrine of manifest destiny was used to justify American imperialism.  This doctrine asserted that America had a special destiny from God to possess the continent from south of the Canadian border.  This doctrine was also inherently a white supremacist doctrine as it gave no claims to Native American or nonwhite claims to possession of the land.  From its discovery, Spanish and French monarchs financed exploration of what they termed the “New World” because they considered it their duty from God to convert those living in these lands to Christianity. [Read more…]

Saving Jesus from the Church – 10/10/21

I have always had a challenging relationship with the church.  As a child, church gave me a sense of purpose, that after enduring difficulties in life I had the hope of a beautiful afterlife with streets of gold if I just did what I was supposed to do.  But it was also a scary place.  Our pastor would often single people out from the pulpit for sin he was aware of in their lives.  And there always seemed to be conflict between people. People not liking the pastor fighting with people who supported him.  Petty squabbles over church decorations.  It seemed to me that in all of the judgment, in all of the conflict, Jesus was lost.  His message of love, acceptance and compassion replaced by one of domination and self-interest.  Faith was not a way of being in the world, and church was less a place of radical inclusion and more a place of exclusion. [Read more…]

Saving Jesus from Doctrine – 10/3/21

As NCC has begun discussing its identity as a progressive Christian congregation, I have been thinking more about my own identity and the journey which has brought me to the place I am today.  Christianity to me was a set of doctrines.  And there were only a few doctrines that I repeatedly heard – that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for my sins, and that if I believe and confess those sins I will not go to hell.  The rest of my life was about proving I really did believe – because if I did I would not be engaging in sin.  But as I got older, this approach to faith became empty.  Conforming my beliefs to a set of doctrine did little to impact the way I experienced life.  Believing doctrines did not push me to make a difference in the lives of those around me. [Read more…]

A Single Story – 9/12/21

Some of you may have heard a Ted talk given by a Nigerian author by the name of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.  Growing up in Eastern Nigeria, she spoke of how she had only the opportunity to read British and American children’s books.  As she became older and began to write, she wrote stories similar to what she had always read.  Her characters were white and blue eyed, they played in snow, they ate apples, and talked about the weather.  This despite the fact that Adiche had never seen snow, ate mangos instead of apples, and really didn’t talk about the weather since it did not change very much.  She indicated this made her feel vulnerable in the face of a story because it had to be about things with which she could not identify. [Read more…]

Liminal Time – 9/5/21

The time before I started at NCC was one of the more challenging times for me emotionally.  The pandemic was raging around me, and each day I feared for Kathy as she entered the ICU to treat her patients.  I feared for my parents each day, fearing they would  would succumb to the virus if they contracted it due to their age and poor health.  At her yearly mammogram, Kathy’s results were abnormal, and after seeing my mother’s battle with breast cancer I was overwhelmed with worry.  Pax was having a hard time adjusting to the constant changes in how school was being conducted. [Read more…]

Obstacles – 8/29/21

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, our house had not been well-maintained when we moved in.  And this was manifest not only on the interior of the house, but in the plant life which surrounds it as well.  It appears the previous owners planted several trees.  And these trees were surrounded by supports to strengthen them as the matured.  But the owners never removed these supports, and the trees eventually started to grow around them.  When I saw this the first time, I worried these trees would not last.  That growing around these supports had weakened them such that they would easily fall in a strong wind or snap under the weight of an ice storm. [Read more…]

Hinge Moments – 8/22/21

Making decisions has always been hard for me.  Especially when faced with a big decision, I tend to agonize over what I will do for weeks and months, analyzing ever possible scenario and outcome.  I want a sense of certainty that I am making the right decision, that I won’t come to regret whichever path I choose.  During this time of deliberation, I often take small steps toward choosing a path without making a final commitment, a way to put off the finality of a decision but still allowing me to believe I am making progress.  I seek the counsel of everyone I trust, probably because I don’t always trust myself to make the right decision. [Read more…]