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.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 11, 2020 Now Is as Real as Then

May 11, 2020

Now is as real as then.

I was shocked on Friday to read that the church where I hold membership had decided to not hold worship or gather in person for the next twelve months.  Frankly, it seemed defeatist to me… a kind of giving up, declaring that there was no hope.

This morning, however, I began to understand the leadership’s position – even if I still don’t agree with their decision.  I was reading an article by the great Lutheran preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber (you can find it here:  She is consistently profane and profound all at the same time.)

Here’s what Bolz-Weber said:  I realize now that when this global pandemic all started, I think I was trying to be as optimistic as possible, believing it the best way to get through. So I told myself, It’s ok to spend a couple weeks at home, because after this we will be able to go to Holy Week Services!

Then it was, “Well…I still can’t wait to preach Pentecost at the Cathedral at the end of May!”

. . . I had hooked my hope on something in the future and as each hope dissolved, I’d find another hook. Until finally, reality sunk in. 

The church I belong to found itself in that same, oh we can do this because it’s only for a week, a month, we’ll have Easter, and what about the Church Picnic?  And finally, to end all the up and down, the leaders said, nope, not meeting at all, for twelve months – a year of stepping away.  I think it was the only way they could get away from that dream of postponing today until we get to some wonderful tomorrow.

But today is all we have, really.  Now is just as real, just as important as then will be.

In Matthew, Jesus is quoted as saying:  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  And I’m adding, turn that inside out:  don’t put off enjoying the good of today in the hopes of a better tomorrow.

Don’t so focus on what you’re missing right now that you miss what’s happening right now.  This isn’t the now that we expected; it’s not the now we wanted, but it’s the now we have.  We woke up this morning and that was a blessing.  We’re learning things that will help us be a stronger church community going forward, if only by being forced to learn how to use Zoom to communicate.

The thing is – while we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we do know that today is here.  The sun comes up, we’re alive.  We’d like to think that someday we’ll have proper May temperatures <smile>.  We have hope that we will gather in worship once more, but we are not pinning that hope on one particular day.  When the time is right, when it is safe, when we are ready, then and only then will we worship together again.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 7, 2020

Today is the first Thursday in May, and for decades has been designated as a Day of Prayer for our country.  Heaven knows, in the midst of this pandemic, there is nothing our land needs more than prayer for health and healing!

It’s important to pray for our country, important to ask God for guidance for those who lead our land.  And so, today, I ask you to join me in prayer for the United States of America.

I pray as a Christian; I pray as a Christian who believes that God welcomes all.  I pray as a Christian who believes that the welcoming God asks only one thing of us, and that is to live in love with our neighbors.  Love God, love neighbor, love self.

And so I pray:

God, on this day, I pray for my country.
I pray for the United States of America.
I pray for every inhabitant. . . those who were born here. . .
those who chose, often at risk of life, to come here, to be part of our great experiment.

I pray for those who vote, for those who won’t vote, can’t vote.
I pray for those of us who have jobs, and those who don’t.
I pray for those of us who have medical insurance, and for those who don’t.
I pray for those of who, today, are healthy, and for those of us struggling to survive this virus.

I pray for people who live in apartments, ten to a room,
and for those who rattle around 20000 sq. foot houses.
I pray for families with food and with no food.
I pray for those who sacrifice to make it better
and for those whose selfishness and obstinacy endangers us all.
I pray for America.

I pray for those who serve and save – the health professions, the first responders.
I pray for those who serve in our military.
I pray for the mayor of my little city, and the select board in your town.
I pray for our governors, our state legislators, our federal legislators.
I pray for our courts, our judges, for the continuation of the rule of law in our land.
I pray that we might turn away from the assumptions that create prejudice, that lead us to think that a black man running must be a thief, and so it’s all right to kill him.

I pray that we might turn away from the belief that my way is the best way,
that you’ll be ok when you’re just like me.
I pray that we might remember who we are, and live faithful to the promise of our land. for we were made to be people of love.

We were formed to care for one another.
We were charged to be generous, to reach out to serve need.
As Americans, we are bound together by that intention –
not by our birth, for that is not the only way to be American;
not by our color, or our background, or our gender preference or who we want to marry. We are bound together by the vision of a land where all are created equal,
where we will give of our abundance to help those in need.

God, send down your guiding hand upon us that we not forget your vision.  Let this country be what we aimed to be, a land of liberty and justice for all, tempered with the mercy of caring people.


May 6, 2020

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

I can’t possibly be the only person here who learned this psalm at a very early age.  The earliest church I attended must have said it on a regular basis, because we stopped going there before I was five, and yet the words still bring back memories of a large dark room with lots of maroon velvet and how important it is to praise God with gladness.

The Psalms are an amazing collection of poetry.  They’re not all as kind and uplifting as Psalm 100, though.  Some  of them are really really angry, some downright murderous.  The Psalms, in their entirety, display all the characteristics of a fully human family.  That makes them especially valuable in times like these.  Are you angry right now?  There’s a psalm to give voice to your anger.  Are you sad?  There’s a psalm for you.  Did you wake up this morning with joy for the sight of the sun and another day?  There’s a psalm for you.

Take some time today to read a psalm or two; find one you really like.  Circle it, mark it, put a bookmark in your Bible… and read it every day this week.  Let it speak to you, give voice to your feelings, bring you closer to the God who knows us well and love us always.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia


May 5, 2020

Proverbs 31:10 A capable wife who can find?  She is far more precious than jewels.

Occasionally, I am still asked to read this selection from Proverbs 31: 10-31, often by mourning sons.  Their mom was the greatest mom, the best wife their dad could have had.  But over the last fifty years, the idea of celebrating a wife who works like a dog from dawn to dusk, so that her husband can sit around debating “important things” with the elders of the city (vs23).  That’s certainly why families don’t ask to hear this as often these days.

But as we approach Mother’s Day, let’s forget all that and move into what it means to be a mom today.  Today, in the middle of this pandemic, with schools closed, kids home, jobs challenging, and perennial anxiety about whether or not there will be toilet paper in the store when we need it, it’s time to celebrate the work of those women who mother our world.

A capable mother, who can find?
Her family trusts her to do the right thing.
She teaches by her example to love God and serve neighbor.
She makes sure the home runs well.
The clothes get washed.
The dishes are cleaned.
Meals are planned, groceries purchased, cooking done.
She doesn’t do it all, but she makes sure it all gets done.
When something new comes along, she adapts and adjusts.
She works from a home office set up on the dining room table
She shares space with her fourth-grader and tries to help with the math problems.
The dog goes out, the cat comes in, and she sets up a backdrop for a Zoom meeting
While listening to the fifth grader practice the French horn.
Her job has stopped; she is on furlough and no money is coming in
And she works to make a meal from a bag of rice, some beans and a little spice.
She washes her children’s clothes in the kitchen sink every night
Because they don’t have a change of clothes.
A capable mother; she loves her children through thick and thin;
Many women have done excellently;  you are one of them.
We thank God for mothers.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia