God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Be Near Me Lord Jesus

When I first saw this picture of one of our little one’s praying in church, being Christmas time I couldn’t help singing:
Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever,
and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children
in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven
to live with Thee there.
This was such a sweet picture of innocence and sweetness.  It is what we hope we are teaching our children - to spend time with God in what
seems so pure and hopeful.   As I look at our little one praying, I wonder of her thoughts and prayers.  Is she praying her dreams of the coming Christmas morning?  Is she praying the familiar comfortable words that Mom and Dad taught her to say before meals or bedtime?  Is she just still and quiet as the prayer for peace is being read?
I want this image of our little one to remain safe and whole and able to grow as God’s beloved child.  But the day after I received this precious photo, the lives of so many other little one’s were destroyed by a stranger with a gun.  Twenty children are dead and we won’t know why.  I don’t want them fit for heaven and living with Jesus.  I want them here growing up, playing, laughing, crying, getting hurt, falling in love.  During the Christmas season we don’t want to think about the killing of innocents, yet one of our Christmas stories has a very dark side.  We like to think of the joy of the coming wise men with the extravagant gifts.  These same magi brought to Herod’s attention that there is a new ruler, a shepherd king.  Herod uses this knowledge to kill every child under two.  Lives were shattered and torn apart.  As Jeremiah said:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).  God is crying  - as Rachel is crying - as we are crying. 
This Christmas time, as in every Christmas time, we light candles in the darkness.  We light tiny flickering flames of hope, peace, joy and love.  We light these tiny flames to remind us that in our world we sometimes find it hard to be hopeful, to believe that violence is not the last world, that sorrow will only last for a time, and that hate will not win.  We light our candles to remind ourselves that God is coming, God is always coming again into our world to light our darkness, to remind us of hope in the midst of despair, to offer us peace in the midst of violence, to offer us joy in the midst of sorrow, to offer us love in the face of hate.  Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and ever I pray.  Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.   

Friday, December 7, 2012

Chistmas, Not this Year

Not celebrate?
Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during the season?
Your tears seem to have no end?
Not celebrate?
You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day.
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone, for he is born this day to you.
Ann Weems, from Kneeling in Bethlehem

We turn this time of year to the celebration of Christmas - a time that for some is filled with wonder, excitement and happiness.  Children are a quiver for the arrival of Santa, cookies are being baked and carols are being sung.  Party invitations abound.  Yet, for some of us, it is difficult to celebrate Christmas to experience the joy.  You may find yourself alone without family and don’t feel like celebrating.  You may have a hard time celebrating because this is the time of year when those you loved passed away are unemployed, far from family, or worried about money.   

All of us have experienced a Christmas when it just seems to be too hard to be festive.  The first Christmas after Reed’s father and I separated, I had done all the right things.  We went to a Christmas tree farm, cut down our own tree, lugged it home and decorated.  We baked cookies and made fudge.  But it was two days before Christmas and Reed was on a plane to Arizona with his dad to visit his grandparents.  Sadness was just part of life.  On Christmas Eve, I sang with the choir for the family service; but after I got home it was hard, so I decided to attend the midnight candle light service.  I had never been before.  So there I was alone for my cousins and grandma had already headed to bed.  I got in the car and drove into town. I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  As the bell struck midnight, the service stopped and everyone began hugging each other to pass the peace and welcome in the new child.  The people who had welcomed Reed and I in were greeting me with love.  The hug from the pastor meant more than he will ever know.  The guitars started playing Joy to the world and I got it. 
I knew the joy of Christmas.   It was still hard, but God was with me.  As Barbara Brown Taylor has written, "The only condition for joy is the presence of God. Joy happens when God is present and people know it, which means that it can erupt in a depressed economy, in the middle of a war, in an intensive care waiting room."  The joy we find at Christmas is based on our experience that God is with us.  At Christmas we are meant to stop and remember that God is Emmanuel – God With Us.  Our church community can help us to rekindle our joy this Christmas.  When we sing of the glad tidings of comfort and joy, when we sing joy to the world, and sing Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.  These words we sing at Christmas give us the words we need to rekindle the joy in our hearts during the Christmas season.  These words help us to remember that God is with us always and forever.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Go Where I Send Thee

What gets your toes tapping and your body swaying.  This week as I listened to HIS sing Southern Gospel music and the Grace Gospel Choir, I couldn’t help my feet from tapping and my body from moving.  There was such joy and hope in the air.  At this time of year, as Christmas quickly approaches, for many of us the joy and excitement gets stronger and stronger as the day approaches.   You can see it in the faces and bodies of children, by two days before Christmas the children are quivering with the anticipation, they can’t wait, they are ready to burst with the hope of what Christmas Day will bring. 

One of the songs that puts me in the same feeling of toe tapping excitement is Children Go Where I Send Thee.  I am especially partial to the Peter, Paul, and Mary version.   I can’t help dancing in my chair as I sing along. 

Children go Where I Send thee, how shall I send thee?
Well, I'm gonna send thee one by one
One for the little bitty baby
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem
Said he was born, born, born in Bethlehem
Children go where I send thee:
how shall I send thee?  I’m gonna send thee…
Two for Paul and Silas
three for the Hebrew children
four for the four that stood at the door
five for the five that stayed alive
six for the six that never got fixed
seven for the seven who never got to heav'n
eight for the eight that stood at the gate
nine for the nine that dressed so fine
ten for the ten commandments
He was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

Hearing this music makes me want to get up and dance, to share the good news, to go out and see this Baby in Bethlehem.  I feel full of the joy of the Spirit sending me and teaching me the faith through the words and music of this song.  The joy of Christmas comes in knowing that God is continually birthing something new.  We use these moments at Christmas to share this news of great joy of a God.  The song invites us go out by ones, two, threes, tens, and twelves to share the story and the news of God coming among us, of God birthing joy into the world this year and every year.  We are to be like the characters in the song committing ourselves to sharing the good news far and wide.  Who is sent in this song changes with the person who sings it, which means that we can become part of the song and tell the good news.  We can share our faith with joy like the five gospel preachers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul who kept the story alive.  Are we willing to go out in large and small numbers to live out the message, born in a Baby, born in a manger, born in Bethlehem?  Children, Go Where I Send Thee.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sit Down Your Rocking the Boat

My son is in Guys and Dolls this weekend and I have had this song running through my head all week.  Because it's a really catchy tune.  You can't help wanting to sing along.  In this scene my son is the clueless one.  When everyone sits, he stands, he supposed to be out of step with the drama of the scene. 

In this scene from the show, the gamblers are at a prayer meeting and they are invited to share their testimony.  They are strongly invited to stand up and tell why they are there and what they want to change.  Some of the answers are silly.  When it gets to Nicely, he makes up a dream about why he won't be let into Heaven (he drinks and gambles even on the way to Heaven).  In the dream, he is messing with the journey and people are asking him to sit down, to stop making waves. 

I can sympathize with Nicely, I tend to rock the boat.  I want to shake things up and push people into seeing this vision I have of a world where God is there with you asking you to stand up and speak out against injustice, to work to change poverty and hunger, to invite people into a relatonship with God that will transform who they are.  We are to rock the boat, when we get a little to comfortable with the world as it is, verses the world God dreams where the lost, the last, the least are invited to the party.  A party where the wine flows freely, the laughter is loud and the joy abounds.  So I hope you spend a little time rocking the boat.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Our Faith Our Vote

It’s November and that means Packer’s football, thanksgiving dinners and election time.   How many of you are tired of the election and the campaign commercials and can’t wait for November 7th to arrive.  You have heard each candidate tell you what is wrong with the other candidate.  You have heard grand sweeping claims of how they will transform the economy and save the US.  Details are a little sketchy.  You wonder why can’t we all get along and be civil with each other, respecting each other as people even as we disagree over issues. 
As I have been watching the debates, speeches, and commentary on the candidates and their positions, I wonder how many of us put our faith and our politics in two separate boxes.  Our faith talks about forgiveness and grace; speaks about care for the widows and orphans; tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the stranger, and visit the prisoners.  Our faith talks about loving the unlovable; welcoming the unwelcome; and inviting the left out, the lost, and the last to come on in and experience God’s love and grace.  Our faith talks about turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile.  This can seem removed from our politics which speaks about energy independence, economic growth, free markets, job creation, and wars in countries we may not be able to find on a map. 
So how do we bring our faith and our vote together?  How do we vote our religious values and which of those religious values are the most important when voting?  I think the first thing we have to do as religious people is to figure out what our bottom line belief is.  When you think about being a Christian what is the verse or verses in the bible that you turn to for guidance.  For me personally, I answer this question with the greatest commandment:  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’(Mark 12:29-31).”  If this is the foundation of my faith, what does it mean for me as a citizen of a particular country, in a specific part of Wisconsin.  So on every question from the economy to military intervention I have to ask of the candidates: how are you treating your neighbor, for there is no commandment greater than these?  Does my love of God with heart, soul, mind, and strength infuse my decision making?  For me this leads to questions about how the candidates will seek justice for the oppressed, the poor, and the forgotten. 
Your answer to what is foundational for your faith may be different from mine.  When you know what it is then looking at the political world through that filter will help you to ask questions of the candidates that may be different than the questions you looked at before.  May your faith inform your vote.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who is Jesus to me?

What does Jesus mean to you?  This is the question the confirmands and I will be working on this week.  What does it mean to say we belong to Christ.  So I sat down and reread the book “The Jesus Diaries” written by UCC pastors that share why Jesus?  The answers they give are all different, but there is a thread of Jesus who was an abstract concept becoming real and meaningful on their journey through times of clear seeing and times of distant longing. Their answers aren't just a description of the gospel stories; they are about how Jesus is present in their lives.   
Who is Jesus to me?  When I arrived at seminary, there was all this discussion of Christ.  This Christ figure was God, away and distant who saved us.  We then read this article about the White Woman’s Christ and the Black Woman’s Jesus.  All this talk about Christ started making sense, but it wasn't where I was at.  I understood Jesus, I felt Jesus’ presence, but this Christ person seemed to be pure – he didn't get angry (they could explain away being called hypocrite and vipers), he didn't make a mistake (hello – calling a woman a female dog).  But the Jesus I followed got down and dirty with sinners, got angry when people didn't experience God in the presence of hurting people, The Jesus I followed laughed and cried, and loved God’s people. The kid who refused to say the magic words - that Jesus was my personal, savior (because I didn't do that flavor of Christianity) actually followed a Jesus who was among us and with us in the weeds of life. 
 I feel Jesus’ presence every month when I sit with some fellow followers to hear the stories, the pain that is there in our community.  To hear of a man who lost his leg serving the country who shows his patriotic prosthetic, who this month had one too many bills for meds and the dentist, but laughed through life.  Or the young couple who are trying to do the right things but work has slowed down and the babies coming.  Or the man who just had something off and lost track of his energy bill.  Or the woman who just left her husband, there’s fear and need.  Every month I meet Jesus in our building in the people who are seeking help and in the people who are giving help. 
When I have been in a rough place, we all go through those times when the one you love has left, the people you work with make you want to bang your head against the wall, and you wonder how to change it.  In those moments, when I am ready, I can feel Jesus say I have called you, you are mine.  When the little one runs up to you with a big hug, the awkward teen tells you what’s on their mind, and the adult comes to share their burden, those are the moments that Jesus seems close and moving with me.  When I see the injustice – the jobs being sent to China in Freeport, the smog in Gary, the gay teen being bullied, the lack of medicine for the sick, food for the poor, and black and brown bodies locked up mostly for drugs – when I see the injustice I feel that push to speak up, act out, and say:  Repent!  Turn around, turn back to God and believe that the Kingdom is here.  Jesus is by my side.  That’s how I know Jesus.
Pastor Charlene 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Any Dream Will Do

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do
May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do
Any dream will do
Any dream will do
            Andrew Lloyd Weber & Tim RiceAny Dream Will Do

When I was in my first philosophy class in college, the professor asked us if we had ever looked up at the sky and wondered.  She then said if you have ever done that you are a philosopher.  I spent many an hour gazing at the sky and stars and dreaming.  How many of you spend time wondering, dreaming?  Do you have dreams for your family?  Do you have dreams for the church?  Do you have dreams for the world?  Have you ever considered which of these dreams are a nudge from God and which are your own. 

This week as I have been thinking about the story of Joseph, I keep singing Any Dream Will Do.  This is an interesting song, because in the story of Joseph in Genesis, will any dream do?  Think about the first dream Joseph has.  He dreamed stars and wheat would bow down to him.  He knew that these stars and wheat were his father and brothers.  Being a kid, he shared this dream with the family and annoyed his brothers who already believe he was dad’s favorite.  This leads his life to take a drastic turn which includes - family drama, slavery, sexual harassment, and prison.  Yet he dreamed a dream from God.  This isn’t just any dream; it’s a dream that would save his family and people.  God worked to transform Joseph, so that when his dream came into being, Joseph was able to feed the people of Egypt and the starving neighbors which included his brothers and father.

Ordinary people like you and I are given dreams that can move our church, our community closer to God’s dream of the Kingdom Coming.  So what are your dreams for First Congregational UCC, what are your dreams for Lake Geneva?  Spend time pondering these dreams and share them.  Share the dream and together we can work to bring your dreams to reality.

We start our new sermon series on Joseph October 7.  In this series, we walk through Genesis 37-50 as we explore the ups and downs of Josephs' life. If you have ever wondered where God was in the midst of your hardships, this series is for you.  If you ever wondered about your completely dysfunctional family, this series is for you.  If you have ever wondered if your dreams have a larger purpose, this series is for you. 
October   7          Joseph Dreams                                      Genesis 37:1-11
October 14          You thought Your Family Was Bad!       Genesis 37:1-12
October 21          Sexual Harassment                                 Genesis 39:1-23
October 28          Prisoner’s Dream                                   Genesis 40:1-23
November 4        Pharaoh’s Dream                                   Genesis 41:1-57
November 11      Your abusive Brother’s Want Help         Genesis 42-45
November 18      Forgiveness                                            Genesis 50

Help us fill Joseph's Grainery
The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses,and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world. Genesis 41:53-57
As Joseph filled his grainery, we are also going to fill our grainery.  For each week of our sermon series on Joseph you are invited to bring food for the Lake Geneva Emergency Food Pantry.
October   7      Pasta
October 14      Rice
October 21      Potatoes
October 28      Tomato Sauce
November 4    Peanut butter and Jelly
November 11  Cereal
November 18  Fruit

Sunday, September 2, 2012

You feed them!

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.  Mark 6:35-44
When we left the disciples last week they had set off to preach and heal carrying with them a stick and a cloak.  This week they have returned to Jesus and all of them are in the boat heading to the other side for a time to reflect and reconnect with each other and God.  As they reach the other side, the crowds have followed and are waiting and Jesus has compassion for the crowds.  This compassion isn't just being moved. The word is splagchnizomai - literally having one's guts be torn open (Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman).  Jesus is torn open for the people.  He is moved to see that they are like sheep without a shepherd.  And this moves him deeply.  

At that point the disciples come up to him and tell him to send the crowds away.  They are worried it's late and the people have no food.  Send them into the surrounding villages.  Jesus says:  You feed them. You feed them.  I wonder who we are like.  We see a need, there is something that needs to be done.  And we go to our pastor, the social worker we know and say you need to do something.  You need to start a new ministry for kids, a book group, a bible study.  You need to bring more families into the church.  You need to start a food pantry.  You need to do something about those teenagers with no place to go.  Yet, what Jesus is speaking to us this morning is a word about our obligations.  When we see a need, Jesus says you feed them.  When we feel a nudge from God, our moved by a problem, You Feed Them.  

The disciples, like us, are a little taken aback by this.  How can we feed them?  It would take a years wages to feed this crowd.  We don't have that.  The disciples get a little defensive.  They say we don't have enough resources.  They have forgotten they are with the one who has showed them that God's kingdom has broken through and there will be enough.  Jesus to turn them from their defensiveness asks them to look and see what they have available.  They come back to him with some bread and fish.  He has the disciples sit the crowd down in groups.  Then he blessed the bread and fish and they begin to eat.  There is enough for everyone to be satisfied.  When God shows us a need, we will be led to a way for the need to be filled.  We won't be left on our own.  The kingdom will open before us for that need to be filled.  

This past week I heard God say:  You feed them.  As you know all month long we have been collected school supplies for families in need in the community to be given out at the district offices.  As I shared with you last week their supply room is bare.  I asked you to bring more supplies this week.  I took the supplies we had collected to the administration building and was told that the shelves were bare.  She was so grateful that she hugged me.  I came back to my office and sat down and sent an email to the area pastors.  And then God multiplied the loves and fishes.  First I found school supplies outside my office door.  Then I began hearing back from the pastors.  The methodist church will do a drive.  The Lutheran church will bring the supplies left from their event and put a note in the newsletter.  From a friend at the Catholic church I received this note:
There will be supplies coming from our school.  The secretary and I felt for sure that the families would respond generously with a drive for them.  I spoke to a pastor at the small church in Genoa  city and she was interested to hear of the need and wanted to help.  There is a year round need.         I was giving out the vouchers from our church when a poor family came in looking for school supplies.  The only problem is that we had given them finacial help in June..  So there is a 6 month wait... They had tried to get supplies from the Administration Offices.  Same as you said...nothing there.  I knew this family and the reality of their mother's injury, so I took care of them myself.  I can't very well go around asking other when I haven't looked into my own heart.  I'll also send out some emails to people who might help.  Wanted you to know that your message is bearing fruit.                                                                                                                 
She emailed me later that night to say she already got the response how much do you need.

You Feed Them...

You Feed Them.

When we hear those words:  You Feed Them... we never know how much God will bless us when we act to bring forth God's Kingdom here and now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Good News People


I confess; I am a political news junkie.  I want to know what is going on, where the horse race is at and what happened.  Yet, I have to admit that sometimes the election coverage has me wanting to tune out and say enough.  I don’t want to see another Romney or Obama commercial;  I could do without Thompson or Baldwin ad.  And the news this morning, as I sat down for coffee with my Morning Joe, was about GOP freshman representative jumping in the Sea of Galilee drunk and naked.  Good News.  The senate candidate from Missouri lets al us women know there is legitimate rape and you body can just discharge a fetus that is from rape.  Good News.  When I opened my email this morning my Still-Speaking daily devotional had arrived and Kenneth L. Samuel, was having similar thoughts about how much news we receive that is bad.  We are bombarded by the bad news of murders, rapes, child abuse, and then in our own lives experience the bad news of illness, death, job insecurity, a car repair, a house repair, problems finding a job, trouble with a spouse, with kids, with in-laws.   Good News.

Yet we are supposed to be Good News people.  We are supposed to share with a hurting world the Good news. 
  •             Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.  Matthew 4:23
  •       Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  Mark 1:14-15.
  •   And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. Luke 7:22

 As Good news people we have to remember that when we hear the “good news” of the world that we follow a God who shared with us the good news.  Love endures through troubles and traumas. Good News.   God can use our suffering to bring redemption.  Good News.  Despite all that may be trying to pull us apart and tear us from each other and God, God continues to gather us in.  Good News.   

Where there is darkness, despair, trouble, may you share the Good News. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Blessed are those Who Mourn

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Matthew 5:4 NRSV

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.  Matthew 5:4 The Message

“Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh” Luke 6:21

As I returned home yesterday from church and settled down for my decompression time, I turned on the Olympics but was instead greeted by worshipers in fear and tears.  A gunman had entered their service and started to shoot.  My heart broke for the dead.  A time of peace and meditation became a time of terror and anguish.  How do you say:  this should never happen?  How do you stop senseless violence?  How do you unlearn hate?  How do you mourn with those who have been hurt for their difference? 

Our role when faced with senseless violence brought on by hate of the other, is to say no:  Not in my town, not in my state, not in my country.  Our role as Christians who are called to comfort the mourning is to learn about this religion, to share how the Sihk faith is about peace and compassion.  To say that discrimination is wrong, that one should not be judged by the color of one’s skin or the head covering one wears.  Our role is to stand up and say enough. 

Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.  O Holy One, comfort your grieving children.  May you be with those who have lost ones closest to them in senseless violence and hatred.  Teach us how to be your comforting arms and presence to those grieving.  Teach us to struggle for justice and mercy and show love when hate is all around. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The bible and Science: Genesis 1 sermon

On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman recited verses 1 through 10, as they watched the earth off in the distant a beautiful globe of blue, white, brown, and green.  They read:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
              And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
             And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.  And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.  And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.  And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

On June 22, 1633,  Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and the sentence of the Inquisition, was in three essential parts:
  • Galileo’ s heresy for holding the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its center and moves.
  • He was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
  • His offending Dialogue was banned.
Galileo viewed the stars through his telescope and believed in Copernican physics that the earth was not the center of the universe.  The tides taught him the truth about the movement of the earth.

 In 1925 in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school. This trial which pitted Clarence Darrow for the defense against Williams Jennings Bryan for the prosecution.  Charles Darwin had discovered through watching his peas grow that he could change their biology by making different peas combine. This lead him to posit that all life on earth evolved over time. The trial was about evolution and creation.  While evolution lost the defendant won on appeal.  Today we still battle this question we ask science teachers who haven’t studied the bible and learned Hebrew to teach Creation.  Would we want a pastor to teach science to our high school kid? 

So how do we do we deal with the creation story of Genesis 1 and the idea of science?  When I was in seminary I was able to take a class called the Epic of Creation where Scientist from the University of Chicago, Theologians, and Biblical Studies Professors, talked about creation.  I learned a lot in this class, but one of the things that my Professor Ted Heibert taught me was to think about Genesis in terms of the science of its day.   I was also taught from my Father a UCC pastor that the bible is full of stories of faith.  Within these stories we can find a grain of truth that allows us to glimpse God.  This is different than believing that the Bible is the Truth, written by God.  So in the church of my growing years and I hope in the church I am still a part of we provide our children with the tools to ask question of scripture. We teach them to learn tools to help understand the bible in terms of archeology and critical criticism.  So if we turn to this story from Genesis what can we learn?  Sometimes we tend to think of this creation story in the word of Stephen Cobert at Truthiness (a false hood that is true if we say it loudly and long enough.)

So what if we look at the biblical story from its internal scientific perspective.  The ancient Hebrew believed that the earth was flat.  The sky contained gated that held the waters above the earth back.  Below these water were where the sun and moon and stars moved.   Below the earth were pillar holding it up and there was Sheol, the place of the dead.  Surrounding this underneath was waters.  So their understanding of the earth looked very different from our earth.  When you compare the account of creation with the accounts of the surrounding near eastern cultures, you find the same lists of creatures being created.  So there must be something that the writer of Genesis wanted us to learn that set this story apart from the  surrounding stories. 

Now this contrast with our understanding of science, an understanding that has changed a bit in 3000 years.  In the Epic of Creation, from the physicists I learned about the big bang.  I learn how at the beginning there was nothing, but this nothing was really something.  As into this nothing a spark caused the nothing to create protons, electrons, and neutrons, that collided and formed elements, that collided and eventually formed stars and the dust and elements that became planets.  The evolutionary Biologist taught me about these amazing and weird creatures that have popped into and out of existence.  And he wasn’t even showing us dinosaurs.  These were simple creatures.  But he taught us about the branches that died off and how we animal creatures grow from a certain branch.  I understood some of what was being said, but what stuck with me was the idea that at the beginning there was nothing that was really something.

What can we learn from the creation story of Genesis.  The writer of this story is known as P or the priestly writer.  This writer is concerned with order and showing God’s place.  So in this first chapter of Genesis the formless void takes on form as God speaks.  God creates light, created land, puts boundaries on the waters.  God creates life:  plant life, ocean life, animal life, and human life.  And God pronounces each of these Good.  At the beginning in the formless void was God.  God spoke and ordered the world. 

Think about this in a time of exile when the world seems to be chaos.  The temple is gone, we have been carried into a strange land.  Everything is not as It was.  The world looks dark.  Into this chaos, the priestly writer tells us that God brings light and goodness.  That even when chaos reign there is order to be found.  God looks into the darkness and shows what is good.  This is a word that speaks today.  When we look around and see an economy struggling, political parties at war with each other, we can here this word of hope.  Darkness and chaos are not the final word.  There is light and there is good.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

In the Beginning: 

Creation Out of Nothing or Something?

In the beginning, what was it like as the world began?  Was the origin out of nothing (creation ex nihlio) or was chaos ordered?  These questions grow out of the account of creation found in Genesis 1-2:4a.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth (‘eres), the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “let there be light”; and there was light. 
I am interested in the question of chaos.  Does this text demonstrate that God sets about to order the chaotic world?  Is chaos completely ordered or is it able to break through those bonds at any time? 
This question of chaos is intriguing because modern science has introduced the idea that chaos is all around us with our actions being connected in ways we could not possibly imagine.  The idea is that when a butterfly flaps its wings in South American this can lead to a Tsunami in Indonesia.  Within scientific circles there is also the sense that life, as we know it began out of nothing, but this nothing was actually something. 
In these first few verses of Genesis we begin to form a picture of who God is and how God acts.  God is the creator of Heaven and Earth.  God was there before the beginning.  God speaks and creation begins.  That before the first act we know that God was and chaos was. 
God’s act of creation is described using three different words. 
God made (asa) the firmament, heavenly bodies, sea animals and birds, land animals, and humanity;
God distinguished (hibdil) light and darkness, the waters above and the firmament below, the water and dry land;
God created (bara) sea creatures, birds, humanity.[1]

All that God made in this creative act was called good.  God is the one who created the heavens and earth and speaks to start the process of creation.  The word spoken is a command brought to the “unformed and void, with the darkness over the surface of the deep” (1:3).
The writer of this creation story, commonly called P or the Priestly writer, shows how at the heart of God's acts is order.  Everything is to have a place and function.  The structure of this first creation story follows the same pattern:  God said, God saw, and God pronounces creation good.  The disorder prior to creation is summoned and commanded into a new state.  The first act is a command, “let there be light” (Gen 1:3).  In the priestly history found in the Pentateuch, God gives commands and people are to obey.[2]  Unruly creation is brought to order by the deity. 
This unruly chaos can be undone by the word of God. 
In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened ( Gen 7:11).
The heavens open and the waters erupt.  The firmament that God made to hold back the waters of chaos collapses.  The chaos that God ordered in creation can also be released and allowed to flood the earth once again. 
One of the textual questions found in Gen 1:1-3 is over “while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (1:2).  Is this a wind from God, the breath of God, or God?    This can be translated as “a mighty wind swept over the surface of the waters (Von Rad, Speiser, Schmidt, and Westemann) or “the breath of God” or “the Spirit of God” sweeping, hovering over the waters (Cassuto, Kidner, Gipsen, Skinner, Proscksch, Wenhem).  The image of the wind of God sweeping over chaos until that moment when it is time to begin ordering and creating the heavens and earths, provides an image of God as present before creation begins.  God is not created; God does the creating. 
This text is attributed to a time of exile in which the Babylonians have defeated and captured Israel.  A creation story created out of this time, asserts that God is still there hovering over creation and will bring about creation’s well being.  To say to those in exile that the God of Israel is the Creator of all of life is a comforting powerful word.[3]
When people are living a life that seems formless and void, when darkness appears to be all around, to say to the exiled that God can take that chaos, can take the formless and void and give it new meaning, make the light reappear.  Creation is not from nothing, but God can order the already existing chaos.  There is a sense of comfort in knowing that when you are in exile, when it appears that God is gone; God is the one who can break in and reorder the world, making it good.  God is before creation bringing order in what looks like a chaotic world.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, “The creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III:  The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (July 1975, 337.
[2] Robert B. Coote and David Robert Ord, In the Beginning:  Creation and the Priestly History, (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 51, 56.
[3] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1, (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1982), 25.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Creation and truth

Beginning of a series on God, Science, and Creation.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude .And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Genesis 1:1-4,31, 2:1-4a
When I sit outside, how can I not know that God exists, that the creator of the universe thought of everything.

Yet, what does this sense of knowing God exists and had made this amazing earth say about the meaning of the origins and evolution of the universe.  How do we attach meaning to these stories of creation?  Does the existence of multiple creation stories in the bible that contradict each other tell us about creation?

In my faith tradition (the United Church of Christ), we believe that scripture is important and contains the faith stories of the people of God and truth, but it is not inerrantly the word of God, The Truth.  When I look at a text, a story within the scripture, I listen for the truth, the word of God speaking to me through the text.  What this means in practice is that when I read about creation, I don’t think God literally made the world as described in the particular way described by the text.  The message I hear is that God breathed and the heavens and earth come into existence.  This creation was of God and all of creation needs to take time to rest in the presence of the creator of all.

So what does this mean when I then hear about the origins of the world based upon scientific explanations of what happened?  I apply a similar practice.  I believe within the story being told there is an element of truth, but not a complete truth.  So if I hear the universe started with a big bang, or a rush of colliding particles creating form and substance, matter and weight, what it does not tell me is what was the impetus for this change from nothing to something.  The answer I supply is the Creator of the universe, who provided the spark, who looked and said, let it be and saw that it was good.  Science can’t prove or disprove whether God supplied the spark that whooshed in creation.

From each of the stories, I hear meaning and truth.  This truth and meaning is changing and constant.  I believe that truth from God can be found in the stories of creation.  The question becomes: how complete a word?  God saw that it was very good.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Walking the Way

A father and son are in a car.  The father is trying to talk the 40ish son out of this grand adventure he is embarking on to see the world and live the cultural anthropology he has only studied. 
Son: If I don’t have your blessing that’s fine, but don’t judge this. Don’t judge me.Father: My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.Son: You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.
“You don’t choose a life.  You live one.”
This is from the beginning of the movie – The Way by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen.  The son dies in a freak accident and the father goes to claim the body.  When he arrives in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, he decides to continue the journey for his son who was walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James, when he died.  The father is leaving the ashes of his son along the way.  As the father begins this journey, he is determined and walks quickly and is rather grumpy and out of sorts.  He doesn’t want any companionship and yet people begin to attach themselves to him. There is a Dutch man who loves to talk and is on the journey to loose weight in order to fix his marriage, an Irish writer with writers block who pontificates and wants inspiration, and a Canadian woman escaping an abusive relationship and an abortion, and this father who is now alone with both wife and son dead.  The way is not easy.  They walk for between 10 and 15 miles a day from one small village or hostel to the next, following the yellow arrows and the shells.  They run into odd people.  Along the way this father begins to see his son in the unexpected: drinking and laughing with a table of strangers, beside a tree, spreading incense with the monks.  The father begins to learn what it means to live a life.  The task of putting one foot in front of the other provides the time to let go of the pain, to ask for forgiveness, and to learn to experience the joy of faithful, if annoying companions. 
            During the summer, we often spend a lot of time walking.  As we walk, we can turn the time into our own little pilgrimages or ways.  We can use these times to pray and let go.  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk suggests a simple prayer that anyone can pray from the youngest child to the oldest person.  As you walk say yes, yes, thank you, thank you. He tells you to smile while saying: thank you.  Your breath, your footsteps, and your words begin to flow together.  This can become a time of peace and happiness.  As the thoughts come in of what is worrying at your soul, return to your breath and your steps.  Allow the steady rhythm to help you to release the troubles and allow gratitude to enter.  May you take time to choose a life and walk the way.
Buen Camino,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Life with a New Puppy

River Song and I are out for our morning walk.  It is 6ish in the morning.  We have hit Library Park and are sitting on the bench to meditate or contemplate eating ducks and sticks.  A man is slowly approaching from the east.  As he draws near River is sitting for a moment as asked.  But then the man is upon us and he speaks is his deep bass voice.  She can't help herself she comes over, rubs against him, falls down for a belly rub and then piddles.  She shows him respect as only a little puppy can.  He could be my alpha.  He should take me home.  I would follow him.

Unfortunately she is stuck with me.  The person who gets up before dawn to let her out, the person who feeds her, walks her, supplies her with bones and toys.   She is not willing to acknowledge me at her Alpha, I'm someone to herd and chew on.  But he could be the one.

I wonder if we all are a little like RiverSong.  We are searching for something we can follow whole heartedly.   Someone or something that inspires us, that we are willing to turn our lives around to follow. In the United States between 64 - 69% of us believe in God or a higher power, yet only 16-22% of us attend church on a given Sunday.  So only of a quarter of us believe that church is the place where we find who we will give our life to.  2/3s of us are willing to hope for the possibility that God or a Universal Spirit exists.

So how do we share and show that Jesus is the one to give my life to and follow with my tale up and my ears relaxed, willing to do so because Jesus is a calm non-anxious presence who has transformed me, inspired me.  I want to trot along wherever he will lead me.  I think we often have trouble moving into this relationship.  But by following Jesus what I do and where I go is my chance to share the faith and learn more about God.  It is my chance to change how I respond to the world and the people I encounter there.  Will I immediately change course and seek out the lost, the lonely, the hurt, the hungry, party with the sinners, and argue with the religious?  Will I follow the Alpha of my existence?
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Mark 1:14-18

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Risk-Taking Mission & Service

And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."  Mark 4:20
 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's  will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. Colossions  1:9-10
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’  Luke 10:25-28
Be fruitful.  Bear Fruit in every good work.  Grow in God.  Bear fruit, 30, 60, 100 fold.   This week we will be  exploring how we can bear fruit in our mission and service.  In the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Robert Schnase argues that our mission and service should involve risk taking.  What does this look like?   How can we step outside the box to serve our neighbors?  As Schnase says: “What have we done in the last six months to make a positive difference in the lives of others that we would not have done if it were not for our relationship to Christ?”
 There is a UCC congregation near where I was serving in Pennsylvania that seemed to embody these Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  It began with a need of a parishioner and turned into a practice of generosity and risk-taking mission and service.  In 2002, St. John's United Church of Christ in Coopersburg, church members worked to raise money for a fellow church member who was seriously ill and in dire financial condition due to the cumulative medical expenses that accompanied that illness. They decided to hold a block party that raised money for her chronic health needs.  Through their efforts, $8200 was raised and given to the family. As they took this action to help a known neighbor they brought a lot of life and joy to the community.  They decided not to stop there.  They wanted to continue the block party the next year only this time seek applications from people in their neighborhood who were struggling with medical debt due to chrinoc diseases.  Out of that effort COB (community outreach benefit) was born, and has raised $330,502 for 31 families each year.  Today they have a large organizational team from many area churches and over 300 active volunteers from throughout the Southern Lehigh and surrounding areas.  As one recipient wrote: 
“I will never forget sitting at home after spending a hot day in the parking lot of the church. I was totally exhausted, but elated at the same time. We felt so overwhelmed with the love shown not in words, but in deeds. All the people that worked so hard and did so much just for us left us staggered and numb. It wasn't about the money raised, but the fact that people cared enough to labor under the hot sun for hours for our benefit. It is still unbelievable." 
At the heart of COB lives unselfish service and example to all of fruitful living.  This fruitful congregation through their desire to be generous to a hurting member, allowed their life as a congregation to be transformed.   One of the people who sang in the band began to worship with the congregation and bring vibrancy to their music.  Their Sunday offering began to rise and attendance went up.  They learned to bear fruit.  How can we here in Lake Geneva learn to take a risk and serve our neighbors?  Are we willing to allow our lives to be transformed as we help another?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

K what made you change? J

My son and I love movies.  The summer season has started and we went to see Men in Black 3.  One of the reoccurring themes in the movie is J asking K what happened to change him.  The older K is very taciturn.  You often don't know what he is thinking and he seems to be all about getting the job done.

J has to travel through time to save K's life.  In this travel, he meets the young K.  And every once in a while J wonders out loud what happened to K to change him so.  K when hearing this always says I don't know it hasn't happened yet.

I won't spoil the movie for you  by telling you what changed, but it got me wondering about those external circumstances that really change us.  What are the those times and places that caused changes in me because of the circumstances I found myself in.

One of those times was the birth of my son.  I didn't truly understand love until there was this precious child in my life utterly and totally dependent on me whose smile or disappointment could change my day.  It is amazing the things you start worrying about.  It amazing how the smallest thing bring joy and the pain of another can cause your own heart to hurt.  To truly love someone, helps you see the world differently.

Another time of transformation was going through my divorce.  I had lost myself in my marriage.  It seemed as if who I was as a person wasn't liked.  I came from a family that teased and joked with each other and married someone who didn't like to be teased.  So I stopped.  He didn't like my being able to logically win an argument, so I stopped. He didn't like my extended family, so I went by myself.  Life became very serious.  My desire to please people had helped me to lose those parts of myself that I liked.  After we split and I stopped crying, it was like a weight had lifted and I started smiling and laughing a lot more.  But I could relate to K and having lost the ability to have fun.  I had let go of myself in my desire to please another and the very things that caused us to fall in love were the things we learned to want to change in each other.

I think there are times when circumstances force us to change.  There are time that are just tough: the loss of a child, the loss of a job, a war, a death, a life transition.  In those times, how do we let the circumstances help us to change in a way that doesn't cause us to close away parts of ourselves.  The movie doesn't really answer that question.  For when you are caught in the loss you may not even realize you have changed.  And  its when you do realize that you have changed you have to reflect on whether this is for the better or for the worst.  If for the better, allow the change to grow in you.  If for the worse, reflect on what brought you here.  Give it to God.  Give it to God again.  Give it to God continually as you relearn those lost parts of you.  Start by reconnecting with what brought you pleasure as a child.  And when you slip back into the new pattern, Give it to God again and rediscover your bliss.

Share with me your changes, good and bad.