Paul’s Message: A New Year

MLK QuoteFriends,

As I sat down to write this piece, the headlines from Newtown, CT exploded on the news. You know what they are. We are left in shock and grief…

There are no words. There can be no explanation. There is no equation that is able to compute the evil that flooded Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But that’s not the end of the story. That can’t be the end of the story.

There are grieving families who must somehow pick up the pieces while wrestling with their grief. There is a school full of survivors that must somehow figure out how to work their way through their trauma. There is a community that must recover.

And then there’s us. We too must continue.

We are not hit as hard as the families of Newtown, and indeed we can’t know their suffering. But scripture encourages us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”(Rom 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). I think that this means more than shaking our heads in sadness, saying a prayer, and moving on living in exactly the same way. I think it means more than supporting survivors and loved ones as they rebuild their lives. I believe the divine nudge to “bear one another’s burdens” means doing everything we can to bring harmony, wholeness, safety, and peace. I believe it means changing the way we live.

What will we change to turn our glorification of violence into revulsion of it? What will we do about our attitude that, when push comes to shove, violence is the final and most effective answer and arbiter in the world? What will we change so that weapons are not so easily within reach for those who are in pain? What will we change to open doors to mental health resources for those who are struggling? What will we change to welcome those who don’t fit society’s molds? This is about more than Newtown. It’s about a society where 2012 brought us too long a list of mass shootings, too many victims, too many perpetrators who saw violence as the only answer open to them.

What will 2013 bring us? Will we dare to engage in the tough but necessary conversations? Will we examine ourselves and our own complicity in cycles of violence? Will we move beyond blaming our politicians and talk to them, call them, write/bug/nag them until they respond? Will we pray, love, and make peace even if it costs us something?
We are not powerless. We are not voiceless. We are not at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We are people of faith. We are followers of the Prince of Peace. We are lovers of God and neighbor. May we live like it in 2013.

May Christ be with you and with us all. –Paul.

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  • Patience–for the Lord is Near

    I don’t often read from the book of James in the New Testament.  It’s a relatively short book, with instructions for Christians ranging from words about poverty and riches to warnings against judgment upon others, and finally to instruction on patience in the midst of suffering.

    Patience in the midst of suffering…  I confess that doesn’t sound very appealing.

    Suffering comes in so many forms, and all of them are significant and legitimate. Suffering varies, of course, and as a person living in the United States of America, I’m often reluctant to claim that I suffer from anything egregious. I have food, shelter, companionship, and various freedoms. But we do suffer. We suffer from lots of things. Isolation, job loss, self-doubt, economic uncertainty, criticisms or judgments from others. Criticisms or judgments from ourselves. There is no doubt that in one way or another we are even suffering from this COVID-19 pandemic. I miss you all. Meg and I are your pastors. We should be seeing you each week and praying with you, rejoicing at the good things in life, and comforting each other amidst the difficult time in life.

    It’s impossible to determine when we might get to the end of this, but I feel like we are about to turn a corner thanks to the hard work and miraculous creativity of scientists who are making COVID-19 vaccinations possible. I was in Colorado for a few days at the end of January to visit my father again, and it was such a blessing to drive him to a hospital where we received his first vaccination shot. The next one will be available in a few more weeks, and only then will I feel more secure about him, and the rest of us, making it through this.

    While reading James recently I came across this passage in the fifth and final chapter.

    Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

    James is writing to a group of people in first century Palestine who are wondering when Christ will return. He suggests they be patient for the coming of the Lord. I hope they were able to be so, because here we are two thousand years later…awaiting that same return. But in the midst of our ‘waiting’ we’ve learned something else about the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t have to wait for the return of Christ for Christ to be present in our lives and across this world. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We help bring it about. We help bring about that kingdom of love and grace and comfort.

    James goes on to suggest that just as a farmer waits for his or her crop to sprout up and grow with the rains and flourish for time of harvest, we too must be patient. He then instructs them to strengthen their hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patience. It’s been a long time, but I hope and pray we are doing well with patience during this pandemic.

    I am still in shock that around 3-4,000 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19 or related complications. It is staggering. The number is higher around the world. How do we mourn such a time? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps the season of Lent which begins on February 17th will give us some room to do just that.

    This all brings me back to one of the central purposes of us as a congregation—the faithful worship gathering that we hold each week. I thank you for your patience and support while we worship on YouTube and occasionally via Zoom. I’d rather be in person with you, but not at the risk of anyone’s health or life. It’s a bit strange to me, being the church in this ‘digital age’ forced upon us by quarantine and social distancing. We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing it well. But I’m having a struggle with patience as I dream about seeing you all again in person. Session continues to discuss future plans; we will continue with our current setup for now and pray for a day when vaccinations are widespread and transmission rates approach zero. Not only for the sake of our worship, but also because of the value we place upon the health and well-being of each person.

    I’d like to also thank you for the love and support you have extended to my family as we’ve grieved my mom’s death on December 28th. My father received many cards from you, and he sends his thanks; they were all very meaningful. As you know my parents regularly visited Logan and enjoyed worshiping the Lord with us. Dad says when we’re back in person for church you can be sure he’ll be around to worship with us again. He, along with all of us, can’t wait to hear the Praise Band, Chancel Choir, and Westminster Bell Choir live and in person. Once again, thank you all.

    As James pleaded to those early Christians living in very uncertain times, may we strengthen our hearts, for indeed the Lord is near.

    Peace be with you all,  

    Derek

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