Here is an archive of past “A Message from Your Pastor” posts from past e-newsletters, The Church Window.
A message from your Pastor, May 22
Don’t be alarmed by the image above. It’s not Pentecost just yet. It has to do with something I forgot to tell you during my meditation a couple of weeks ago. Do you remember when I shared with you the inspiring story about six castaway boys who survived for 15 months on a deserted island in the South Pacific, as alternative image to Golding’s, The Lord of the Flies? In contrast to the classic, these teens organized a way for all to stay alive through a social contract of cooperation. But before I tell you the big something I forgot, let me give you a quick recap!
In 1965, six boys between the ages of 13 and 16 years old escaped a Catholic Boarding School in Nuku’alofa (capital of Tonga) by stealing a boat and setting sail for freedom. Needless to say, they ran into trouble. With a ripped sail and a broken mast, they drifted for eight days until they reached Ata, an uninhabitable island about 100 miles south of Tonga. They survived for fifteen months until they were rescued by a fishing crew in 1966. Early on, the boys devised a survival plan, one where a social contract required discipline, mutual respect, and shared power. Their daily routines included gardening, foraging, recreating, and making music together. Quarreling was to be avoided and would lead to an immediate time-out. Days began and ended with song and prayer, which brings me to what I forgot to share! I failed to tell you about one of their most important daily duties! Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the boys kept a fire burning! Yes, one of their most important responsibilities was to sustain a fire! It doubled as their smoke signal and as their cook stove.
As I see it, we too, as a church community, are charged with the same task! We are firekeepers who signal to the world that there is always light in the darkness. This may be the most important duty we are charged with during this time of deep change and challenge! We kindle the flames of our collective commitment to spiritual practice through Sunday services, charity work, and striving for justice for the oppressed. Our faith tradition has kept its fire burning for over 2000 years and more specifically for 247 years right here on this Vermont hill (or close to it before moving a mile up the road). And do you know how else you kindle the flame of our collective love? It is through your pledges of financial support. These pledges are crucial to our local ministry, enabling our community to be a bright light into the future.
I thank you for your ongoing donations and for your commitment to maintaining a fire of hope on this hill. It’s a duty I am grateful to assume and to share with you.
A Message from your Pastor – May 15, 2020
Although our family is on a strict and streamlined budget, desperate times call for desperate measures and I am sure Miss Frugalwoods (https://www.frugalwoods.com/) would give me a pass for purchasing a subscription to Masterclass under the budget line – necessities during pandemics. If you have never seen their enticing ads, Masterclass is a collection of video courses taught by experts in various disciplines; from poker to poetry, the classes are fun and engaging. So I splurged. To cope with COVID cooking burnout I watched Alice Waters’, The Art of Homecooking, and to subdue family tensions, The Art of Negotiation with Chris Voss. My sons enjoyed Neil Degrasse Tyson’s class on scientific thinking & communication. Yesterday I overheard my 16-year-old listening to photographer Annie Leibovitz talk about the importance of natural light when shooting portraits. Her instruction brought me back to my senior year of high school when I built a darkroom in the basement of my parents’ home. I retrofitted an old, ventilated closet with used equipment – red safelight, enlargers, timers, processing chemicals, and photographic papers. I was obsessed with all aspects of black and white photography, from loading the 35mm film into the Canon EOS, to the challenge of finding just the right balance between aperture and shutter speed for the shot as well as the nerve-racking process of developing the negatives in a lightproof tank. But oh the joy, when watching the image appear on photo paper submerged in fixer solution! Although I knew it was chemistry, to me it was magic!
Now, technological advancements in digital photography have replaced the old-school, analog picture-taking of my past. In many ways, this is wonderful news. Digital photography is faster and certainly cheaper, and it doesn’t take skill to master a technologically, sophisticated image. However, electronic photodetectors don’t guarantee a beautiful picture. Beauty depends on the photographer’s ability to know when to press the shutter button. A good photographer both trusts in and anticipates the exact moment an entire story can be captured in one single image. When the moment occurs, they seize it.
Let me ask you a question. If you were a photographer right now, what story would your captured images tell? Given our fear of human touch in these COVID times, I am inclined to create a portfolio of caresses and kisses as an ode to the miracle of the Merkel cell. Perhaps water rushing through fingers or dogs licking faces, or chicks huddled together under a heat lamp. Lest we forget the powerful healing capacity of touch, I might capture a father kissing a bruised little knee.
Let’s be honest, technology and science will soon be codified as the next great religion. Scientists will be both priest and savior, promising immortality through touchless technology and advancements in AI. In this new milieu, I pray we act like good photographers. May we remember to seize the moment and capture for one another the complicated and beautiful story of what it means to be given human life. Do you think it’s possible to do this in the midst of today’s challenges? I do, one moment at a time, one frame at a time.
In a Spirit of what it means to be human. . . and in eternal hope,
Most of my career has been about learning how to listen deeply to other people. I’ve been trained to tune in to what irks them, moves them, or motivates them. Twenty years of spiritual practice required me to listen to the sounds around me at the moment – the portable heater at the foot of my desk, the chirping of the baby chicks on my porch beside me, the tapping of my typing fingers. So it is rather ironic that I suffer from hearing loss. I am what my grandfather called “hard of hearing”. It’s genetic as well as annoying, especially, to my children during family movie nights when I advocate for enabling subtitles. Although hearing loss is not my only excuse for using subtitles. I find them particularly helpful during really scary or excruciatingly depressing movies when I inevitably mute scenes that are particularly emotional. In fact, muting difficult scenes has become a secret way to stave off emotional overload. Take for instance the theme song from Schindler’s List. It’s enough to make you cry without an accompanying storyline.
Listen to the Los Angeles Philharmonic play the theme song accompanied by Itzhak Perlman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLgJQ8Zj3AA or to the version by Two Cellos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30HEiNhjIbU.
Just last week, I watched the Oscar-winning movie, The Pianist, in its entirety, all 2.5 hours of it, on mute with subtitles!
In the same way, it’s as if the pandemic has pushed our collective mute button. I suppose this is positive. With limited choices on what to do with our free time, we open ourselves to the sweet sounds of birds singing, squirrels scurrying, and the occasional grouse rustling its feathers on the hillside. But you know what? Life on mute is also a little eerie. I don’t know about you, but I miss hearing at least a few national leaders speak with a resounding prophetic voice about universal health care and social safety nets for a country whose people are in psychological, financial, and emotional peril.
At this time, we can certainly boast that small towns in Vermont are doing a great job caring for one another. The strength of our local communities is one of our state’s shining accomplishments. We check in on our lonely, provide food for one another, and offer social services. Yet we are severely limited in our capacity to alleviate people’s deepest fears about being left out in the cold because of an unpaid medical bill. Imagine that? Small towns are not responsible for paying off health care bills or covering bounced rent checks. We don’t have the funding to do that, and while it is wonderful for churches and community members to boast of having offered charity to others, it is not the same as a national collective body guaranteeing to take care of one another’s well being. There is a difference between lending a hand and alleviating deep suffering. It lies at the policy level to create a net to catch members of the collective when they fall.
In the United Church of Christ, our role as people of faith is to be ever vigilant in our hearing. We must listen for the prophetic voices in our tradition that narrate and guide us into a future where people live with less fear and more hope. It is a foundational principle of our faith that we give our time, talent and tithes so the entire body remains whole. The prophets remind us, ad nauseam, that no one is to be left out; not the widow or the orphan, not the low-wage earner, not the one for whom misfortune knocked on their door. There is no such thing as “uninsured” or “underinsured” in our faith tradition. The prophet is never to be muted.
Friends, I have a question for you. If you, too, are finding it hard to hear the prophetic voices in our nation, would you be willing to let me know so we can unmute ourselves on these issues and regain some footing? Let’s disable the mute button on this and start organizing. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Solidarity and Eternal Hope,