June 1, 2020

Psalm 113:5-8
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

Matthew 18:12  —  What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

It wasn’t enough that we’re living through a global pandemic, businesses shut, more than 100,000 people dead?  It wasn’t enough that we have to search the stores for toilet paper and can’t even hug the grandkids?  It wasn’t enough?

Apparently not.

So, last week police in Minneapolis cold-bloodedly murdered a prisoner, a black man, and now we have riots all over our country, and even overseas.

Because it was one time too often.  And people are fed up.  But, just to add a special sauce, the news reports tell us that mixed in with the protestors are people who’ve just shown up to make things worse.  Some reports say those folks have come from the far left, others say from the far right…. whatever, wherever, we see stores burning, churches burning, police driving their cars into the crowds…. it’s chaos, and it’s so very wrong.

So, where are we?  How do we react to this?  What does it mean in our world?

Psalm 113 tells us that when there’s a choice, God chooses the poor. When there’s a choice, God chooses the needy.  And in the gospels, Jesus tells us that to the great shepherd cares more about the one sheep that is lost than the ninety-nine who are ok.

Those who do not have (whatever) are more important to God than those who are ok.  That means that God cares more about the homeless living in the woods behind the Church of the Nazarene than for those of us with homes and paid-up mortgages.  And it means that God cares more for those who are afraid that if they’re stopped by a police officer they will be killed, than God cares for those of us who are simply embarrassed.

So, if we are to follow God, we too care more for those who have not than for those who have a lot.  We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, and when someone is ignored, or put down, or attacked, we stand with them. When our police do the right thing, we thank them. When they do not, we help them see the right way.  Because our God teaches us that when we all feel safe, our community is stronger, safer, more prosperous.

May we have the vision to see, and the heart to care, and the strength to action in these chaotic days.

Pastor Virginia

May 27, 2020

May 27, 2020

Who am I to believe?  The pastor in Rhode Island who says that it won’t be safe to meet for worship until there’s a vaccine, and so they’ve closed the building until (at least) May of next year?  Or the pastor who says, we can all sit far enough apart, let’s get together on Sunday?

Yesterday, the paper said don’t touch shopping carts unless I wear gloves.  My best friend says that when she comes in from shopping, she stops in the laundry room, takes off all her clothes, throws them in the washer and goes to take a shower, all before putting the groceries away – and then she wipes everything down with an antiseptic wipe before putting it away.  But then I read that it’s really unlikely that I’ll catch Covid-19 from touching a hard surface, that the thing to do is to wear a mask and wash my hands frequently.  If it’s safe to get a haircut there, why isn’t it safe here?

Who do I believe?  Whose advice do I follow?  Is it safe to have lunch with m brother?  Can he visit his grandchildren?  Can the kids go out to play with their friends?

Who do I believe, when the world seems to turn upside down every other day?  Well, in practical answer, I give the most weight to the advice that comes closest to home.  I’m much more affected by the prevalence of this disease in my own town, and the rules that are right here, might not be necessary there.  And I note the date on any advice, because every day the medical folks know more and more about what we’re dealing with.

And in a spiritual way?  Well, this Covid-19 has made plain something we preferred to not see – that our control over our world is largely an illusion.  We are well, until we are not, but we didn’t plan for, didn’t expect that.  Our children are all expected, mostly, but we all know times when they are not.  Jobs, marriages, houses, hopes and dreams.  We can plan, we can expect, and then the world turns upside down.  What endures is God.  What we can count on is the love of Jesus Christ.  What we can do is love our neighbor.

(and pay good attention to the health folks in our areas who are doing their best to keep us all safe)

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 25, 2020 Memorial Day

In my family’s home town, there’s usually a big parade on Memorial Day.  Fire engines, tractors, cars with local big-wigs, the elementary school band, the high school band, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H – it goes on and on.  After the parade folks gather around a platform to sing the Star Spangled Banner, and offer the Pledge of Allegiance, listen to a speech, and remember the dead who’ve served our country.

When they remember the dead, they remember the dead.  They’ve kept a record of every town resident who’s served in a war, and all the names are read.  If that person is an ancestor, you’re expected to stand up, as a visible reminder of the service and sacrifice of those brave people.  In the years I attended, I stood when I was told to, and I honor those men (and the women who nursed them!), but the person I most often remember is a man I never met.

I met his widow once when I was young; she was ancient, the widow of a man who’d served in the Civil War.  Much later I discovered that she was his second wife and fourteen years younger than him. She was in her forties when they married.  Twenty years later, some fifty years after he was released from a Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia, her husband, John Merrick Paine, went out in the woods one day and shot himself.  He had never left Libby Prison behind.

General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, “all war is hell”.   Truer words were never spoken.  The sharp uniforms and the disciplined drill are not war.  War is about killing and being killed, and sometimes, as for my cousin John Paine, the war never ended.

That’s what I remember on Memorial Day.  I remember that war never really ends for those who’ve been a part of it.  I remember the men I’ve known who never had a full night’s sleep after the war in Europe; who’d have nightmares about having to kill someone walking in a minefield in a bitterly cold Korean winter, before they let the enemy know about the mines by stepping on one.  I remember the dark stains on the pews in my childhood Quaker meeting – we thought they were bloodstains from the building’s use as a battlefield hospital in the Revolutionary War.  I remember the grave for the unknown soldiers behind the meetinghouse.

And I remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, at his second inaugural:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Our ancestors, those who served in any of our wars, who gave their lives, what they were, what they might have been, all they had – we honor them when we seek to make Abraham Lincoln’s words our words.  When we act with malice toward none; with charity for all… to bind up wounds… to care for all…. that we might live in just and lasting peace.

Today, more than any Memorial Day in my memory, those words burn in my heart.  We live in a world as torn by hatred as our country after the end of the Civil War.  Let us make this our guiding phrase in our world today:  with malice toward none and charity for all…. for a just and lasting peace.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 21, 2020

Are you getting restless?  Is it time to start doing something?  I don’t know about you, but staying home all the time is getting tedious.  My friends who have housemates (spouses, kids, roommates) tell me that it’s getting harder and harder to avoid arguments.  One wants to stop wearing masks, another wants so badly to see the grandkids and give them hugs…  Someone says, “oh I can’t wait to go to Friendly’s; I LOVE their coleslaw”, and the next thing you know there’s an argument brewing.  I hate coleslaw” or “Friendly’s?  Don’t you mean Slowly’s?  I wouldn’t eat there if it were the last place on earth.”  And so the pointless argument begins.

<sigh>  When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, the journey to their Promised Land took forty years.  That’s a long time to be wandering in the desert, a long time to not know when the journey would end.  In the book of Numbers, we can see that it began to get them down and they complained . .  and complained:

Numbers 11:4-6  The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;  but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

We remember the spring trips to the newly-opened ice cream spot, or the anticipated trip to Fenway, the visit of kids and grandkids, and all those other things we’ve put off until “don’t know when”.  The Israelites were getting food – good food, free food, good-tasting manna – from God.  But after a while even that paled, and they yearned for seafood dinners in restaurants.  They yearned to worship together and sing.  Just like us.

Well, the story from Numbers says that God responded by giving them so much good (in their case, quails) that they got sick from the good.  And doesn’t that say something to us as we get anxious to get back to the good we know and love?  Take our time, be careful, find ways to work off the “gotta get out of the house” itchies so that we can stay in good relationship with all.

Easter blessings,  Pastor Virginia

May 16, 2020 What’s New?

This morning, while I was drinking my first cup of tea, I attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (virtually!), and watched as they inducted their new Moderator.  There were only about seven people in a room which is usually occupied by hundreds, and all the congratulations where on-line, but, despite the pandemic, they found a way to be church.

Scotland is shut-down, much as we are, and like us, the churches in Scotland have found new ways to be church when we can’t use our buildings.  The ceremony wasn’t what they’d always done, the Assembly wasn’t what the new Moderator had anticipated.  Like this year’s high school & college grads, this special moment in the sun was not to be.

But there was something else, and it did the job.  Stripped down to the essentials, and live-streamed online, people participated from all over Scotland, and instead of being silent in their seats, filled the chat box with their good wishes.  In some important ways, people were able to participate more effectively than when they were right there in the room.

“New occasions teach new duties” wrote James Russell Lowell and for sure we’re in a new occasion.  So, what are we learning?  What new things have we been pushed into, things that we’re beginning to think will be part of our future?  And we’re not finished yet.

Someday there will be a reality that will be more like what life was before this year.  Someday, we’ll sit down to big family dinners, and watch the Fourth of July fireworks while sitting in a baseball park.  Someday we’ll be back in church, singing our hearts out.  But that’s not the reality we’re living in right now.  Right now we’re living in a reality which looks and feels quite different.  So, what are we learning?   We’re learning that if we want to see our grandchildren, we need to figure out how to use that iPad or smartphone or Kindle.  We’re learning that we can actually have good meetings on Zoom and removing all the stress of travel to the meeting can actually make it possible for more people to participate.  We’re learning that we can worship online and it can feel like real worship.  And we’re learning that it’s vitally important for us to be with one another.  Virtual works, but real is going to be better.

What are you learning about in this time?  What lessons will you take forward into our tomorrows?  Take note of what you see, how you feel, and what you’ve discovered that you would never have known otherwise.

And enjoy this wonderful weather – a gift to the soul for today!

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 13, 2020 Happy Are Those Who Find Wisdom

Proverbs 3:13-18
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,

I spent a couple of hours yesterday listening to arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States.  I’d never heard this before – it appears it’s never been on radio before – and it was fascinating.

I’m sure the legal experts have all kinds of things to say, and good guesses as to what the decisions will be.  And it’s not that I’m not interested in that, but what fascinated me yesterday was how pleasant it was, how encouraging it was, to listen to all those people – men and women – engaging in thoughtful, intelligent discussion of such very important issues, thinking about all the sides of an issue, not just the quickest way forward.

It’s not that easy, you know, to take the time to think through the implications of our decisions.  And most of us don’t….don’t think about the next step.  We just take it one step at a time.  At one level that’s right, but if we think “one step at a time” means we don’t need to lift our heads to figure out where this path is taking us, we’ve missed the point.  That was the lesson I took away from the Supreme Court Justices yesterday.  Live for today but plan for tomorrow.

Listening to the Justices was listening to a group of people whose minds are awake.  Age didn’t matter: Justice Ginsburg’s questions were as well-formed  as those of the youngest Justice, Neil Gorsuch.  Experience, it turns out, did matter.  Former professors asked different kinds of questions than former trial attorneys.  But what mattered the most was that each and every one of the Justices clearly had invested time to study the case, to look up background, to think about implications, and had brought all of that to the table.

In Proverbs, we’re told that happiness lies in finding wisdom and understanding, and this is a great example of that truth.  For us in our current position, the understanding we seek lies in learning as much as possible about covid-19 and in taking the time to be as sure as possible that we understand the implications of our decisions. Even more than that, however, the conversations I heard were a reminder of how much sheer pleasure it is to be around people who take the time to really know their subject – whether it’s the law or the best ways to make strawberry jam!  Learning is one of the great gifts of life.

May you all have a wonderful day of learning and joy,

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

 

May 12, 2020 How Can I Keep from Singing?

What do you mean, we may not sing?  When I first read the recommendation that churches refrain from singing, I thought, sure, ok, better to be safe.  And then it slowly began to sink in.  No singing.   Not just no singing the first week, the first month, we’re back, but probably something like no singing until every person in our church has had the shot to prevent Covid.  And that’s not going to be this summer.  No singing.

Everyone has that edge they stumble on.  No singing seems to be mine.   Yesterday I wrote about how challenging this is when we focus on what will happen “then”, and lose all sense of the value of the day.  What do you mean, we won’t open for “Rally Day”?  or what about the big July 4th celebration?  Over here in Rhode Island, this was to be the last season for the PawSox before they move to Worcester (and become the WooSox? Ick) and now how will we say goodby to them and to McCoy Field?  For many of us, it’s these less important things that help us cope with the harder ones:  my 99 year old cousin Thelma died last week; we know there’ll be a graveside service, but when?  And in the meantime, her son has to empty her home alone because his sister is quarantined 200 miles away.

Singing helps us cope will all the losses we’re experiencing every day.  And now there’s to be no singing in church.  The good news is that church isn’t the only way we can sing our faith out.  So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite faith songs with you today.  I play some of these most days.  They’re the background to my prayer time, the accompaniment of many of my drives over to Wareham.

My mother loved to sing, and she taught me to love “In the Garden” and “The Holy City”.  It’s really hard to find a good recording of the latter – too often the recording skips a verse, and leaves out part of the story.  Like “In The Garden”, “The Holy City” is a story song; it makes the best sense when we sing all of the verses.

Some of them, like the Bach chorale “Alleluia, O Praise the Lord Most Holy” or Stainer’s “For God So Loved the World”, are anthems I learned when I sang in the choir at Grace UCC in Rutland, Vermont.  I learned the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” during a year-long sojourn in a Presbyterian church in New Jersey; my mother didn’t like the church, so then we went back to the Quaker Meeting in Rancocas, NJ, where singing only took place in First-day School.  It was easy to persuade the pianist to play “Angels We Have Heard on High” in July.  I loved the “glo—o—o—ria” refrain!

Some of the faith music I love is 70s folkie stuff – “One Bread, One Body” or “Here I Am, Lord” by the St. Louis Jesuits, or “For Those Tears I Died” by Marsha Stevens.  I learned to love country music when I was stationed in the Carolinas in the Marines – so I listen to Roy Acuff’s “I Saw the Light” with joy.  If, like me, you watched the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, you heard Alison Kraus’ version of “Down to the River to Pray.”  It’s a wonderful song to sing.  Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver do marvelous close harmony on old songs like “Prayer is a Wonderful Gift from God”.

You can see that I love a wide variety of sacred music. From old-timey gospel, to English church music like Thomas Tallis’ “If Ye Love Me”, to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, to the recent “The Word Was God” sung by the Minnesota Boychoir.  Recently, I’ve been listening to the Oasis Chorale.

I could go on and on….there are songs and there are singers, to name and admire.  I’ve not even mentioned the power of organ music or other instrumental music.  But time, space, and your patience….

What do you listen to?  Do you have favorite songs, hymns or pieces of music?  What place does music have in your faith life?

We are a singing people, whether or not it is safe to sing in worship.  It is through song that we remind ourselves of God’s constant presence in our lives.  The words stick in our hearts to lead us in the faithful way.  If we cannot sing together, we can still sing separately – and even if you don’t think of yourself as a singer, listen to the music and let it speak to your heart.

For today, check this song out.  It’s Ysaye Barnwell’s “Wanting Memories”, sung by the acapella group “Cantus”.  Let it lift your hearts today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4FRbAbbtTU

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia