Archive for March, 2010

Perspectives on Palm Sunday

March 28, 2010 - 8:18 am 13 Comments

Entering In: Towards a more inclusive understanding
Of Palm Sunday and its meaning for us
The Rev. Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Invocation/ Opening Words:

What is required of us is to take courage, to enter in.
There are frontiers to cross, doorways to open, thresholds to step over, heroic pathways to life, love, truth and forgiveness.
The gate of Palms opens, and you can cross over…
Take heart, be courageous, enter in…

Responsive Reading: # 35 Life of the Spirit

Selected Reading: The Gospel of St. John 12:11-17a NEB (adapted)

The next day, after hearing about Jesus, and his intent to walk into Jerusalem, a great crowd of pilgrims took palm branches and went out to meet him. When they saw him, they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!…
Then Jesus found a donkey and mounted it and rode into the city and the people placed palm branches in the road before him. This was done in accordance with the Scriptures, that read, “Fear no more, Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, mounted on an asses’ colt.” At the time, the disciples did not understand this, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that this had been written, and that this had happened to him.

Benediction/Closing words:
What is required of us is to recognize deeper meanings, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

Pastoral Reflection: “Blessed is He, and blessed are we”
Each Palm Sunday either a reference or a reading is made to the phrase, “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Hosanna is a cry or a statement of love and adoration- it refers to Jesus as God’s healer and teacher; as someone who provides a salvific example, an inspired presence.
Yet, even this words are inadequate when they are sentimentally or just historically remembered. It is neither sufficient justice nor glorious enough to keep them in the past tense. As Jesus refuted the necessity of blood ties as the definition of family, he also rejected the idea that he alone would move forward into a holy city without bringing others along with him-especially those who were his spiritual brothers and sisters. Jesus defined sisters and brothers as anyone who desires to do the will of God in their lives. Likewise, all those who act to live their lives more spiritually, that is, with more depth and authenticity, live and act in the name of God and can be considered blessed by that aspiration.

Now this might sound blasphemous, but I believe in the more inclusive and multidimensional sense of palms and blessings.
The creation of attitudes of love and service recalled in the life of Jesus makes us one extended family.
Each of us can receive Hosannas as we courageous claim our spiritual identities as the children of God, and the sisters and brothers of Jesus. As we learn, and as we grow more fully in our understanding of God’s mysteries and our own depths and abilities, we, too, enter into the Kingdom, and arrive at the gates of a Holy City. Then we can say and reaffirm on every Palm Sunday, that we are leading our lives in the name, and in the loving servant reality of Jesus. Hosannas to you all. AMEN

Reflection/Reading: The many Meanings of Palms
The Palm has always been regarded as a life-giving plant.
It retains its timeless value for us today, not just as a historical symbol, but as a gift of caring we can give to one another.
The image of the Palm was found everywhere in the ancient world. It adorned the walls of the glorious Temple of Solomon, and its practical uses for food, for rope, and for shelter are numerous. (I Kings 6:29 and other places)
The word palm comes to us from the early Greek word Phoenicia, which meant “land of the Palms,” the stretched all along the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the region’s coins had one side, decorated with a palm leaf for tails, and the heads side was the image of the current ruler or emperor.
In religion and ritual, the early Jews used palms as a welcoming or housewarming gift. Hanging palms outside one’s door was a sign of hospitality, much like seasonal wreaths and Colonial pineapple carvings of more recent years. When hung by one’s door, palms would signal that this was a place where a person could come, be cared for, welcomed and respected.
Among the early Christians, hanging palms shaped into simple crosses was a sign of sanctuary- comfort for anyone weary or anyone who was in need of solace and inspiration. It was also considered to be a sign of protection from damaging rains, wind lightning, fires or flooding. (Hmm… I wonder if it could protect religious liberals from pollution and loud politicians?)

I have a special remembrance of palms as it relates to comfort and caring… I remember fondly my paternal grandfather Paul, sitting me down at our kitchen table, and asking me to help him to make little crosses out of palm leaves that he just received at church. (Later, my cousin Elaine, gave me the best instruction-patiently and lovingly, she showed me the best way to do it…)
Intently, I watched his patient process of stripping the individual leaves, then pairing them and placing them carefully in rows. Then he would take each pair, and begin to fold them and interlace them to make these gentle, graceful, bowed crosses. After he had made one for me, he began to make them for all his grandchildren, approximately three dozen, filling a large wicker basket with them. (Here I start to make one for the congregation…)
He then went around giving one to each grandchild, instructing them to place or hang them by their bedside, or somewhere in their room. Later, he taught his children how to make them for their homes and offices. He always hung them in the greenhouse as a sign of encouragement and for protection for all the little tomato seedlings that he had planted.
Making crosses for each of his grandchildren was his traditional way of showing his caring. It was for him, an extension of his devotion and caring. Often, he would tell me the Palm Sunday story in his own words, and said that the palms were a sign “that God could always come to us, and could enter into our hearts whenever we would ask or let him in.”
Today, grandparents might elect to do a similar thing, such as give their grandchildren an inspirational card, bookmark, or some other token of the spiritual message of the Easter season that would be more personal and meaningful than chocolate bunnies or sugary eggs. While eggs and flowers retain their symbolic value, especially on Easter Sunday, a gift that expresses a parent’s faith has, at least to me, a more lasting, deeper importance.

Receiving palms, hanging them in my home, making gentle bowed crosses, and then giving them to others, will always remind me of my grandpa Paul, and his gift of faith and caring.

Homily: Gateways to God and Palm Sunday:
A “Gnostic” look at its meaning for us today

The climatic event in the Palm Sunday story is when Jesus, astride a young colt, rides down the royal road, over a bed of palm leaves into Jerusalem accompanied by a joyous crowd. It was the pinnacle of his popularity, his “claim to fame.” It was the triumph before the tragedy, all foretold, and all to be revealed in the week’s events.
Jerusalem then was a thriving city, a contemporary metropolis. It was a world center, a place where people brought their families for important celebrations and their products for vital trade or commerce. It was also a place where ideas and beliefs were expressed and contrasted, a place where Greek philosophy mingled with Eastern mysticism, where Babylonian gods were being absorbed into Jewish theology, and rituals. Simply, when anyone or anything entered into Jerusalem, it became known to the entire world. Thus, Jerusalem became a spiritual center: a place where wisdom, prophecy, logic, and mystery all found internal admission within the culture and in each person’s life.
Entering in… through the door or past the gate… And what about Jesus and the symbolic act of entering into the Holy City?
Other than coming in from the outside, or as a separation– picket fences, garden gates, iron barriers, etc., gates also stand for what permits and protects us. There are material gates of security, and emotional boundaries of protection. Also, there are physical doorways to enter into a new place, and spiritual thresholds to cross over to enter into new awareness.
In Gnostic thought, there are always many levels or depths and dimensions to any possible interpretation for Biblical and personal events. Gnostic approaches to life parallel ordinary events but takes us into our hearts and souls for definitions.
Gnosis is involved in the search for wisdom and meaning, and how that quest has purpose and value for our deeper selves or for our spiritual identities.
When Jesus entered into the main gate, accompanied by a teeming, celebrating crowd, he stirred up both advocacy and animosity. On one level, it was a crowd expectant, they felt overdue for deliverance-they yearned for a Messiah and welcomed anyone who had a new message and gave evidence of a new reality.
Jesus’s arrival also stirred up jealousy, and animosity for anyone who might challenge the status quo way of religion and society. Few people in power ever want to relinquish it.
Yet, this entry was not like so many others. It was not like the mayor in the motorcade, or the beauty queen riding in on a pageant float. Who Jesus was, and what his entry into Jerusalem represented, acted as a sign. It was a meeting point for a welcoming readiness, and symbol of an arrival at a new religious paradigm. Additionally, it was a spiritually-based visitation by a man who represented a new doorway, a new path towards God. For his followers then and now, Jesus’s life, his ethical principles and his spiritual understanding, show how God can enter into our lives and fill us with a new awareness. Our reverent response is to spread palms; to open our hands, our heads, and our hearts and to give permission for whatever is holy to come in, to be recognized, and be understood. For a follower of Jesus, that means looking, listening, watching, praying and acting on that comprehension and empowering new model for being oneself and in relationship to others.
This gateway to God swings inward. It moves us from our outer concerns and fears, and into our core selves. When we enter in, we find our wounds and our wonders, our pain and our gifts. The door from God to our hearts is not an easy one, but its necessity compels our search for knowledge, and completes our sense of wholeness and holiness.
When we open that door, we look into our past. We take a long look at our problems. Then with courage and persistence, we move through them looking to find what truly comforts and uplifts us.
We enter through the gate of a Holy City whenever we cross over that threshold of what was for what might be. We enter in every time we are willing to search attentively and reverently, whenever we are willing to risk love and acceptance, forgiveness and peace as answers to life’s questions.
By looking within, we become Gnostic and contemplative. We examine our motives and incentives, we see what our lives have been about, and what ways they need to be changed or affirmed.
This doorway from God to each of us is also the gateway that teaches us how to replenish and restore ourselves from the stresses and strains of living. Just as we cannot continue to work without rest, we cannot offer any cooling comfort to anyone else from our empty well- nor can we offer hope and love from an empty or broken heart. The Gnostic Christian recalls the words of Jesus when he said, “[I am the door, I am the gate that leads you toward God.]” In proclaiming this, he did not say that his physical person or even his life or death is the entry point for us. He stated that his reality, and the effects of learning his ethics and spiritual understandings would replenish and inspire a Christ consciousness could be seen in each of us.
Gnostic teachings would state that whosoever enters into Jesus’s reality can be made whole, free, and find the rest, nurture, self-acceptance and peace so many of us lack or need. They would remind us of Jesus’s promise:” [I, as the Christ consciousness that is in me, has come into this world, so that you might have a greater sense of life and purpose and then have it abundantly.]” John

There is a second door. It the door or the gateway that leads out of our hearts. It swings outward to welcome in the stranger and the friend. As we learn to live more in God, we nourish ourselves and strengthen our families and community so that we can turn our care, concern and compassion out into the world.
This door of our hearts swings outward to be inclusive and responsive to human need. From the inner rooms of our souls, and from the support we receive from our spiritual communities, we ready and open ourselves to others in ways of service, encouragement, and justice-making. As the Psalmist put it, it is “out of the abundance of our hearts” we give to make the world more equalized and fair. From our solace and comfort, we act with compassion and empathy. The door from our hearts opened first by God, and kept ajar by a sustaining grace; it is a pathway that becomes a wide open welcoming entrance, a redeeming way that blesses the world by our caring.

Visualization Exercise: Entering In/Crossing Over
Now, I ask you to participate in a short visualization that focuses on the doorways and gates of your lives… please close your eyes, sit comfortably and breath slowly and deeply.. .
Picture yourself before a doorway or at an entrance that can open up a new dimension for your life. Picture this doorway in some detail…
What does it look like? Is it high or heavy, low or light? Would it be easy to open? Where, if you go inside, will it lead? Do you know? How do you feel about entering into a new or unknown place?
If you cross over that threshold, do you have an idea what might be in store for you? Does it matter? Can you trust going in?
Is there anyone else there with you? Is there anyone there to greet or guide you? If so, Who is it?
Now go inside…cross over …What do you see and what do you discover?

Ask yourself how will going through this door might change your life? Change who you are, and what your next steps might be?
Lastly, ask how might it contribute to others and to our world?
Come back to this time and place… with what you have discovered or learned…
Some people might still see the events of Palm Sunday in a literal or more orthodox way-as only one man’s triumph or as a prelude to a sacred tragedy. I feel that the timelessness of the story can be also seen on this deeper level of contemplation and consideration. The Palm Sunday story reminds each of us about entering into the realm of God, into a more holy consciousness or awareness that teaches, heals, consoles, forgives and that frees. It is a new level of gnosis or spiritual wisdom that can affect us deeply.
Jerusalem is everybody’s inner city. It is the place in our lives where we can meet or greet God. Without escaping from the fact of working beyond our egos and present difficulties, Palm Sunday holds within its promise, the gateway to the heart’s triumph and to the soul’s victory. It is a spiritual victory, a personal triumph that public scorn, betrayal, and even crucifixion cannot stop or prevent. Finding our sense of God within, and then opening up the door of our hearts to others is to know life and to have it abundantly. For it is from one opened doorway to the other, that the steps toward God and toward one another can be found. It is from that new place that our way might be paved with palms, and that we learn how to be more spiritually attuned and become servants to our planet and caregivers to one another. AMEN

Benediction/Closing words: What is required of us is to recognize spiritual frontiers, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us is what can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

Becoming Passover People

March 22, 2010 - 7:38 pm 11 Comments

Becoming Passover People:
Exodus Lessons in Freedom and Faith
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta,PhD.

The book of Exodus is among the most important books of the whole Bible. The Exodus story that covers four chapters, is among the most familiar, most enduring, and possibly, the most crucial story for our understanding of freedom- and how the value of freedom has influenced the development of society and how the dynamics of faith and freedom served to shape our civilization.
So today, I will offer a little refresher course, and begin to explore how the Exodus story speaks to us still….
The Exodus, or in the literal Hebrew, ” the coming out” speaks to how we as spiritual and ethical people earnestly can seek to end bondage and slavery wherever we find it in our lives or in our world. It speaks about the qualities of leadership, faith, and devotion that are necessary for freedom to be won, for any chains of oppression to be broken, for personal dignity and worth to be proclaimed.
And as a historical community of an inclusive faith, it is my assertion that such rituals and devotional sharing working together can show us the price paid in endurance and suffering, telling truth to power, and the struggle before human freedom or any genuine purpose is won and then preserved.
At the Exodus, the leaders were two brothers; the prophet Moses and the priest Aaron, who together possessed the moral courage, the ethical conviction, and the willing disobedience to follow through on their vision and mission to confront, and eventually defeat the gross injustices that were imposed on their people.
You see, in an earlier time, the Hebrew people enjoyed relative prosperity, and general level of acceptance and integration within the Egyptian kingdom. Under the important influence of the last Hebrew patriarch, Joseph, who was the prophetic dreamer and chief counsel to the Pharaoh, the Hebrews gained a foothold in the culture, and grew in population to become a separate nation within a nation…
But as time and circumstance have their way of influencing history and creating the need to make different decisions, the critical concern for the greater good of all the people in the nation of Israel was at stake. This change occured when Joseph’s importance was no longer known or honored. This forgetting or the absence of connection changed the status of the Hebrews who found themselves increasingly ostracized and oppressed. As they became more marginalized and disenfranchised within the Egyptian culture, they became the convenient scapegoats as a race and as a people, so that they became the indentured slaves and servants of the new reigning Pharaoh and his court’s empire building.
These new, harsh and disillusioning experiences weighed heavily on the Hebrew people. In the face of such continued and unmerited oppression, they prayed to their God for deliverance- to send them a leader who would break their bonds and release their shackles… A leader and a vision that would lift them out of despair, and carry them forward to a new home, described as the land of milk and honey, or a land where they would be free to live in dignity and community.
As all of you remember, it was at this time that Moses returned from his self-protective exile. Previously, he had left Egypt in a dramatic hurry, having already spurned his royal heritage to live among his own people.

As a young man of 40, his zeal to defend his family and to reverse the abuses he witnessed. In their defense, he murdered a guard, and then he had to flee to the distant land of Midian, to escape the Pharaoh’s wrath!
While in Midian for 40 years, he lived under the guidance and tutelage of his priestly father in-law Jethro, and had married Zipporah, his daughter… After receiving his spiritual call and commission to serve God in the miracle of the burning bush, ( Ex. 3) Moses then feels compelled to end his simple and safe life, and to valiantly return to Egypt and to confront the Pharaoh, and demand release for the Hebrews. Joining him there in that confrontation was Aaron his older brother, and his sister, Miriam.
Now, most of you know the story from here… The challenge to the Pharaoh, the 10 plagues, and then the Passover story…
And in some basic ways, it doesn’t matter that much if you prefer the glossy, glorified account of Cecil B de Mille and Charlton Heston, or the animated Prince of Egypt, or whether you would prefer to learn the more academic and accurate story from me in an inductive and inclusive Bible
study. What is importance for today’s time together is that you begin to fully appreciate that this story, for the Exodus or the coming out, is a universal human or archetypal story that retains its timeless value for our individual lives and for many of our contemporary cultural challenges today.
The hymns today chosen for this service begin to attest to this crucial importance of the Exodus theme, for it addresses the human need to be free of slavery and bondage as best exemplified through Afro-American or Black history in this country.

Many scholars steeped in this history and aware of cultural values of the African-American experience could attest that the shared and rehearsed religious importance of the Exodus story in African-American culture and worship equals any values and virtues taught or accepted within the larger Bible and the Christian Scriptures.
Setting aside the inadequacy of our hymnals, for today’s service, I chose tunes from the great emotionally resonating melodies that can found among these spirituals that gave hope and heart to the struggle against the political and cultural realities of the ante-bellium South.
However, let’s be clear, a strong and a similar case for the importance of inspirational songs that celebrate freedom can be made in Latin America or Africa today, or wherever a class of people, a race, a nation, feels compelled to rise up, to challenge or to change the injustices that can be found among us worldwide. In a particularly symbolic and moving way, the music of liberation helps the Exodus story to retain its power; a power found in an enduring faith amidst despair, and through songs that declare that the justice that is promised will arrive, and the human need for equality, compassion and dignity will overcome.

A second point, one more personal and pressing for each of us, is to let the Exodus story guide us in this country, in this church, in our lives.
Using its lessons as the framework for our investigation and actions, we are urged to look at whatever oppresses, restricts, and holds us in its bondage. The Exodus encourages us to look at any place in our lives where we have accepted an unholy, unjust imprisonment- whether that slavery is to our addictions or to our fears. We learn from the bravery and conviction of the Exodus that by working, praying, and banding together, we can effectively address any issues and every concern that hold us down, that limits us, or that might keep any of us from a wider sense of mission and purpose and a greater sense of our self worth. The Exodus story, you see, is everybody’s story of freedom, and it holds the keys to our release, our healing, to restitution, and to the promise of bright tomorrow.
For today, however, let us focus on our comprehension of time, and the urgency felt among the Hebrews… and the urgency to do and to dare that exists among all those who seek to make a significant change in their lives. The Hebrews had to pack up and move quickly- they had to seize the opportunity to leave Egypt before the Pharaoh had a chance to change his mind! As we read in our Passover selections in the Hymnal, contemporary poet Alla Bozarth puts it this way:
“Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free. Don’t wait for the bread to rise- be ready to move…” ” Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind- begin quickly before you have the time to return to old slavery…. I will give you dreams to guide you safely to your new home- to a place yet unseen, but surely a place that awaits you…”
Another connection … I remember when Christy returned from a trip to Colorado with much enthusiasm. She reported to the Board about the sermon she heard by the Rev. Peter Morales at the Jefferson church. She said that he spoke about changes and the transitions needed to move from a limited past to a new more expansive future. He spoke of the critical need to carry only the essentials of the past with us- those values and ideals, those friendships and warm memories, and then be willing to leave the rest. In this excerpt from his sermon, he revisited the Exodus story and its freedom imperatives in these words:
‘You only got 2 minutes. You can only take with you the equivalent of one small carryon bag…” Then he asked, “What do you grab for as you run for your life?” … Unless you and I are willing to let go, and leave anything that is not essential behind, we will remain prisoners of our past, shackled to our possessions, imprisoned by our memories, and held in bondage to our habits. [Whether we are fighting illness or injustice, addiction or relocation, employment crisis or relational grief,] each of us gets to carry only a little bit of the past with us. …” Instead, we are encouraged by the story resonating through us, that to achieve our goals we need to change the focus of our energies and our priorities, and ask ourselves these two questions: “We have to ask ourselves what will nourish us for this journey? And What will sustain us in creating a new future?”
As I see it, when a person or a family, a church or a nation moves towards its future, and moves away from its past shadowy limitations, it moves from bondage to freedom,” and it learns to have “faith above fear,” and to trust “its dawning future more” than its dimly lit past.
As believers in religious and personal freedom, and as people who understand the price of liberation is uncertainty and risk, and its rewards are hard won, precious, and enduring, I ask you to spend a little reflective time to delve into your personal Exodus story, and see if its insights and courage will help you with the challenges and changes you or someone in your family is facing. Then as we expand our circle of caring amd attention outward, I ask you to apply the liberating ideals of the Exodus story to the various groups in your life, and to see if somehow the lessons of non-attachment the and wisdom to learn from one’s past found in those Biblical pages applies to the changes and decisions this community, this state, and this country has to face….
As I conclude this quick look at the Exodus, it is my hope and my desire that as a result of our faith, and our willingness to work together towards release and freedom, we will find within ourselves, a new set of possibilities- that we will be on the way to the Promised land, and that we may we create together a new Jerusalem of love, justice, education, and healing for ourselves, our larger neighborhoods, and our world. So Be It!

Some Collected Thoughts on Freedom

March 22, 2010 - 7:32 pm 13 Comments

Quotes on Freedom
Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote the freedom to err.
– Mahatma Gandhi (20th c. Indian Freedom Leader)

Better to be a free bird than a captive king.
– Danish proverb

It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have everything one wants.
– Blaise Pascal (France)

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
– J.S. Mill (English 19th c. Political Philosopher)

Freedom is taken, not given.
– Ahad Haam (Zionist, 20th c. Thinker)

The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom Hegel
Ever since the Exodus, freedom has always been spoken with a Hebrew accent….Henrich Heine

The Meaning of Freedom
“And G-d said to Moshe, ‘go to Pharoah, and say to him, “thus says G-d: ‘LET MY PEOPLE GO…'”‘” [Exodus 7:26] This is, of course, one of the most famous quotes in the Bible. It is also one of the most common half-quotes therein. Verse 7:26 does not, in fact, conclude “let My people go,” but “let My people go, and they will serve Me.” … What are we free to do? To serve G-d! And thus we come upon an entirely different understanding of freedom than the view of modern Western cultural thought.
The Torah teaches meaning. Service of G-d imbues the most trivial of acts with sacred purpose. It says that a person can perfect him or herself, and the entire world, and sets the person out onto a path towards that destination.
When is a person free? Not when they are driftwood on the stream of life…free of all cares or worries or ambitions….He or she is not free at all—not drugged, like the lotus eaters in the Odyssey… To be free in actions, in struggle, in undiverted and purposeful achievement, is to move forward towards a worthy objective. We move across a fierce terrain of resistance, to be vital and aglow in the exercise of a great enterprise–that is to be free, and to know the joy and exhilaration of true freedom.
A person is free only when they have an purpose on earth.
– Abba Hillel Silver (20th c. Reform Rabbi and Zionist Leader)

Torah teaches meaning. Service of G-d imbues the most trivial of acts with sacred purpose. It says that a person can perfect him or herself, and the entire world, and sets out a path towards that destination. And this is why the Torah can claim that its adherents are truly, ultimately, happily free.

This Passover, may we truly celebrate and recognize what we have — the tool for ultimate freedom!

With blessings for a happy and kosher holiday,

Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Reflections on Church and Community

March 20, 2010 - 10:41 am 5 Comments

The Sacrament of the Shared Life
We come to this service to invoke the mood of reverence and worship; To lift our thoughts in aspiration toward all high and holy aims:
We come here to renew our loyalty to the good, the true, and the beautiful; And to consecrate ourselves to service for the common good.

We are children of nature, living amid the mysteries,
Bound together by joy and sorrow, beauty and pain, love and death;
We realize the brevity of our existence and the wonder of it;
We would support each other all along the way.

We give thanks together for a myriad of things;
That enrich us day by day; the pageantry of the seasons and the skies;
The music of the waves; the laughter of our little children; The friendliness that banishes our loneliness; And all the wondrous sights and sounds that glorify the soul, and that gives hope to humanity and to life on earth.

We enter into the holy of holies, the blessed communion of our human lives; In our work which is for the good of all; in our play that makes the heart leap for joy, and that gives a blessed zest for life.

We, too, would belong to the company of angels; those light-bearers
And redeemers who would through their grace and care transform our desert places, and bless the whole family of humankind.
Thus shall we be blessed by what we do, and through the realization that we have, among us, this sacrament of a shared life;
And we vow to live a life that makes the earth safe, and that others are enriched by knowing us, and together peace will come to us all.
The Rev. Rupert Holloway (adapted)

A True Church

A true church, is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than its building, its budget, its minister, or any other combination of things.
If any of those above concerns dominates, then the gathering of people that was known as a church is threatened by the potential of degenerating into a group defined only by its secular concerns, or by losing its spiritual core, or forgetting transcendent values of how and why they are together. To aspire to be come a church, rather than merely a religious institution requires the members to be ever mindful of who and whatr they are when they are together. If they desire to be a church, they gratefully acknowledge their history as the repository of their foundational ideals and principles0 and in that regard, respect their history while trusting the future more! A church is never static, it is always dynamic and in an active dialogue with its mission in the larger world. It resists resting on its history as being a passive, paying homage to the past, in order to avoid examining it for its inspirational lessons. A churche,if it is a genuine community, never sits back, never becomes self satisfied or content with its legacy or admires itself by looking in the rose colored mirror. No true church can allow itself to become preoccupied by the illusion that by treading water, by superficial gatherings, or a lack of devotion in its worship it can keep its dynamism, or even keep peace with the twists and turns, the grace and the challenges that are included in its past

A community becomes a church when it possesses a strong and vibrant mission, and when it maintains and affirms an interactive quality of shared responsibility, (sometimes inadequately defined as shard ministry) that goes beyond any concern for the individual or their opinions, to honor decisions based on compassion and wisdom that makes the greater good the basis of participating in a true, democratic community.

A congregation is more than an audience; it is people who care for one another genuinely, and who support their defined foundational values by their vitality of their examples. They possess a clear understanding of their theological and ethical history, a ongoing desire to rectify or improve on its past, and join together in active anticipation of fulfilling its significance to the larger city or environs. Only then does an institution become a church, become human, become spiritual, and truly loving towards one another.

On Membership
When asked to define membership as a part of their adult religious education class in NYC, this is what that group said:
“First, it is to have an extended family. It is a group of people of all ages, from many distant origins, and from various walks of life. It possesses nearly every imaginable human quirk you can think of, and a few that might surprise you!
Our church family inspires, amuses, disappoints and mystifies us. Throughout it triumphs and travails, it never ceases to be nurturing to me and in return, it needs my consistent nurture and my devoted attention.
In the end, you can get things you prize that you never realized you wanted, and you can wind up providing others with blessings you never knew where yours to bestow.
Secondly, and ethically, being a member of this community means to me that I hold to a commitment to keep asking myself what is sacred- or what I hold to be of importance, and what am I going to do about fostering and expanding its role in my life.
In our coming together through our religious services, there are opportunities for warmth, connection, and support. This carries through to our committee work, our social action, our poetry and prayers, and even to my lifting my flat voice in raspy song- all of these activities help me to recharge my spiritual batteries.
Finally, being a member of this congregation means that I am doing my part to carry a small but brilliant torch, the flame of religious freedom, out into a world that desperately needs its light.

Lenten Reflections & Readings

March 5, 2010 - 10:16 am 5 Comments

Patient Trust In Ourselves
And in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God…
We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end
Without delay.
We should like to skip all the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown,
Something new,
And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made through some stages
Of instability…
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you…
Your ideas mature gradually- let them grow, let them shape themselves
Without undo haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be that today… What time
(that is to say, what grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
Will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Given our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

One of the central messages and abiding secrets of the spiritual life,
If we are to make progress in gaining any depth of understanding or make
any progress in our quest for meaning and wholeness, is learning to give up
in order that we might receive.
In the season of the year, in the various quests and journeys of our hearts, we are asked, and sometimes we are compelled to let go, give it up, release or surrender.
We submit willingly in order to make room in our hearts and minds for a new reality- to make room for a new kind of blessing, a new kind of freedom, a new way to participate in genuine family, authentic community.
There are so many new things that need to occupy our hands, fill our embrace,
And once we empty ourselves of our previous pre occupations and concerns, we make our hearts the home of a new hospitality, and we make our minds capable of welcoming new possibilities and realities.

Those who make themselves ready, those that willingly release, give room, energy, will and spirit to new directions… Directions that would transform our lives…
Whenever we risk letting go, we make it more possible to open ourselves to a larger hope, greater dreams….

“I am endeavoring to see God through service to humanity, for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor is God down below, but God can be found in every one.” Gandhi

There is a certain courage that comes when we greet the dawn, our shadows and uncertainties fade when we respond to the growing warmth, the glowing promise of the light.
At first, we can be startled by the entry of more light into our lives, and wistfully
Try to hold on to sleep, dreams, and solitude. We seek to preserve the darkness, for there is a strange comfort to be found there… Strange and true. Yet the light of day, the light of consciousness and the dawning of a true community beckons and entices us…
To rise from our darkness and to stand face to face with whatever the day promises to us. It is in this call to be who and what we truly are, to be willing to stand fearlessly and to respond openly, that we can find that which is essential to self and to our community… A way of being together that brightens the daystar of our souls.

May the light around us guide our footsteps, and hold fast to the best and to the most righteous we seek.
May the darkness around us, nurture our dreams, and give us rest so that we may give ourselves to the work of our world.
Let us seek to remember the wholeness of our lives, the weaving of light and shadow in this great and astonishing dance in which we move.
The Rev. Sally McTigue

Sanity and Sanctity
How do we learn about our differences, and how one person’s talent or skill is not to be envied, just as another person’s spiritual beliefs are not to be shunned or put down? Here is a story form the famous Black theologian, Howard Thurman that offers us an answer:

“I dreamt that God took my soul to Hell. To my right, there among the trees, were men and women hard at work making a garden. And I said, looking at them, ” I should like to go and work with them. Hell must be a very industrious place, filled with lots of personal success and much individual accomplishment.”
Then God said,” Nothing grows in the garden they are making.” Together we look more carefully: And I saw those people working among the bushes, digging holes, but instead of planting anything, there was nothing to fill these holes. The workers covered the holes with sticks, straw, leaves, and earth, and I noticed that each man as they walked back behind the bushes, they watched their footsteps very carefully, then the men hid themselves and intently watched their holes…

I asked God, “What were they doing?” And God said, “Oh, they are making pitfalls for any man or woman to fall in.” I said to God,” Why do they do it?” And God said, “Because each person who lives in Hell thinks when his brother or her sister falls, then they will more easily rise or succeed.

And then I asked, ” How will he or she rise?” God said,” They will not rise, but instead, they will fall into egotism and fail to truly succeed”
And I asked God,” Are these people sane?” God replied, ” They are not sane; there is no sane person in Hell.”

As I understand it, life requires us to accept with gratitude, the gifts and talents of others, and not seek to feel superior or inferior. Also, we are to honor all the different ways of understanding God, or what is good or what is considered to be Holy- We are not to sharply criticize the differences, but we are to compare, and to appreciate so that we can learn from them.
After all, if we are to trust the intent of World Scripture, we are given the view that God created humanity so that we can bless and care for one another, not so we could harm or judge each other- No one truly gets ahead when another person fails, and no one is made better by trickery or deceit, envy or revenge.
In fact, it could be said that only as we learn to tolerate and accept one another’s differences, and not try to create pitfalls, can we begin to find a genuine and lasting sense of inspiration within the diverse communities that we build, …
And only then, does even a glimpse of heaven become possible.

You and I are in the business of building kingdoms and queendoms together- to build the realms of wonder and sustain the structures of integrity and worth in which all of our sisters and brothers of the liberal and lively spirit work together and dwell….
This is ideal of community- It consists of the blessings and grace we can experience in caring for one another, and the that can be found in sharing our life’s journey with one another, thereby enriching and supporting each other all along life’s way….