What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-19
This Advent season we’ve explored ways to cultivate hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives. The cultivation of these qualities creates an optimal environment for the Spirit of Christ to be born in our lives. That’s the idea, anyway. This, of course, isn’t a one time or even an annual process. The cultivation of hope, peace, joy, and love is a practice we as Christians are invited to continue every day because our circumstances are continually changing and every day is an opportunity to refresh these qualities in our lives.
Nevertheless, as I prepare for Christmas Eve services, I’m faced with the question, What is this “Christ-event”–as some theologians call it–anyway? What am I preparing for?
Jesus the Christ was a real, historical person who was born some two millennia ago around 6 A.D., most scholars think. Only two of the four gospels contain birth narratives. Both birth narratives contain a mix of historical and mythological details told not primarily for the purpose of documenting historical “truth” in the modern sense but for the purpose of expressing theological truth rooted in human experience that we can access today, in this very moment, in fact.
For me, the theological truth of Jesus’ birth is that God is being born each and every moment in my experience. Each moment is a precious gift to be welcomed, nurtured, attented to, prized, and shared.
Is every moment pleasant? No. Absolutely not. I remember early one morning after our second child, Olivia, was born. She woke up screaming to be fed. It was my turn to do the night feeding, so I got up, warmed up some breast milk from the fridge, picked up the screaming child from her crib, and sat down in the rocking chair to feed her. Not thirty seconds later, her older sister, Fiona, who was three at the time, was standing next to me in tears because Olivia had woken her up. Fiona wailed that she wanted me to rock her. Then Olivia started crying again. This routine had been going on for weeks. I was delirious with exhaustion. I distinctly remember having the thought, “This is going to kill me.”
But it didn’t, of course. Somehow I managed to handle the situation by myself. My wife, Nicole, got her sleep. And now those screaming children are beautiful adults.
Can you tend your life like you would a precious infant? Can you welcome the screaming with patience? Can you welcome the smiles with joy? Can you savor that newborn scent even if the air its carried on is bitter cold?
I am so glad to share this one precious life with you. My wish for us this Christmas is greater strength and deeper tenderness to welcome all the moments of 2020, no matter what shape they take, no matter what opportunities they bring.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . .” (Matthew 1:20)
When Joseph found out his fiance Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, an angel says to him, “Do not be afraid.” It’s interesting that the emotion attributed to Joseph at this point is fear. I might have thought anger because from a human standpoint, the assumption would be that Mary had cheated on him. But anger isn’t named. The emotion that needs to be released in order for the holy wedding to take place is fear.
The thought of marriage scared the pants off me when Nicole and I were dated. My parents were in the process of an ugly divorce. Her parents had also had an acrimonious divorce. Our families’ recent track records were not good. Who could say we would do any better? In the end, with fear and trembling, I asked, and she said, “Yes.” Twenty-three years later we’re still together! For me, it has less to do with anything special about us. It has more to do with God’s grace and an amazing support system. And even after all these years, I am deeply aware of how fragile it all is.
The Apostle John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” This suggests that love and fear go together. True love demands vulnerability, vulnerability brings risk, risk often gives rise to fear. “Will I be rejected?” “Will I be taken advantage of?” “Will my loved one leave or die?” Human love is imperfect, so fear goes with the territory. That’s why for me a key to making human love work is grounding myself everyday in God’s perfect love. If you’re not at least a little afraid, you may not be risking true love. If you find yourself afraid to, for example, share your feelings, be honest, meet a neighbor, share a gift, make a friend, commit to a relationship, instead of ignoring the fear, you might sit with it for a bit, invite divine love to shed some light on the situation, and then step forward with courage.
Pastor’s Page Jan. 2019
Happy 2020 everyone! I hope you have a safe and satifsfying new year. Growing up, winter on the farm was a time for fixing everything that needed fixing, planning for spring planting, keeping the livestock alive, and snowmobiling! The energy shifted away from the intensity of autumn harvest. But it would be a mistake to think that nothing was going on under the snow blanket that covered the fields and forests. Winter is a time of intense natural activity. We imagine nothing is happening only because we can’t see it.
William Bridges in his classic, Transitions, writes about times in transition when it seems like nothing is happening. We might find ourselves feeling bored or restless in the “neutral zone.” The neutral zone is the chaotic period between the ending of the old thing and the beginning of the new. What was it like for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness? They left the terror of Egypt but they had not yet reached the Promised Land. In between I can imagine any number of people coming to Moses asking, “Are we there, yet?” In fact, the story of that time is one of continual complaining on the part of God’s people. God was patient. But the Bible is clear that most of those complainers did not end up in the Promised Land. So, what’s the alternative?
Modern ecology has taught us a lot about what goes on underground during the winter. Roots deepen, strengthen, and reach out to make new connections. All kinds of plants store up energy for the burst of growth in spring.
If you’re feeling bored and restless and complain-y this month, come see me, but only if you’re willing to be put to work building new connections in the community and planning new ways to reach out. Winter is a time when folks can feel especially isolated. Remember that old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend?” What would happen if everyone who signed up for “Souper Saturday” (see below) were expected to bring a friend along with their appetizer? Wouldn’t that be exciting? Be warned. If you come to me with your winter blahs, you may walk away with an invitation to find someone else to cheer up!
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19
Yesterday eight folks from First Congregational Church of Granby grabbed some sandwiches after worship, put on our winter boots, and stepped out into a cold, bright, sunshiny afternoon to sing Christmas carols in our neighborhood. It was fun!
Neighborhood caroling is a new activity we developed out of our Vitality Team. Team members are Ann Wilhelm, Heather Dobbert, Beth Lindsay, and Anne delCampo. Other supporters are Chris and Vicki Saunders, Aurelle Locke, and Kerri Crough. Our singers yesterday were Ann Wilhelm, Bob and Peg Giles, Chris and Vicki Saunders, Catherine Kibby, and Duncan Rowles.
Just to review: the Vitality Team is a part of the Reaching New People plan that a group of us from FCC developed at the Reaching New People workshop with Rev. Paul Nickerson last September. Since that time, the folks who participated in that workshop have been meeting via conference call every other month to implement the plan we developed. The role of the Vitality Team is to continue implementing the plan and to create a culture of invitation in the congregation. Neighborhood caroling was a joyful event that got us out of our building and got us inviting our neighbors to church for holiday worship and activities.
We visited 20 houses because that’s how many goody bags we had. Aurelle and Vicki very lovingly prepared them. I was the doorbell ringer. Then we gathered together, sang a few carols, and handed whoever answered the door a goody bag filled with cookies and our advent brochure. Some people did not answer the door, so we sang carols and simply left the goody bag inside the storm door or hanging on the doorknob. Those of us who took this adventure have lots of stories to tell. I hope you will ask the singers how it went.
At one house we went to, the homeowner stood in his doorway. He had tears in his eyes. We sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I handed him a goody bag. As we were leaving, the homeowner said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this. Thank you so much.” I felt the joy in those tears. Many years ago, Christian author C. S. Lewis, wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Joy is the surprise of connection. Joy is the theme of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Joy may be closer than you think. It might be waiting for you next door in a compassionate connection with a neighbor.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-5-19
I’m swamped. The theme for the Second Sunday of Advent is peace, but how does one cultivate peace in the midst of chaos, conflict, and the everyday pressures of a to-do list that only gets longer? This is not a rhetorical question. Let me know!
Too often in popular culture peace tends toward the kitschy and clichéd: quiet woods, sandy beaches, laughing children, sleeping puppies, lamp-lit snow-covered villages. Bourgeois fantasies of escape tinged by nostalgia. Those aren’t particularly Biblical images of peace, thank God. While I love a walk in the woods or on a beach as much as the next person, I need peace when I’m sitting in front of my laptop or in a meeting with leadership.
The prophet Isaiah writes, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah then goes on to describe a divine king who will “with righteousness judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” This king’s power will be such that it extends beyond the human sphere to bring an end to violence among animals and between animals and humans.
Peace begins with a stump and a shoot. What made the stump? In the context of Isaiah, the stump is an image of the Davidic lineage cut down by exile. This suggests to me that peace is an expression of a life force that the devastating violence of human empire will never be able to eradicate.
Nicole and I bought our current house on short sale. The backyard was overgrown with trees of all kinds. The health of our backyard mini-forest required that we thin the trees, so we had a bunch of the smaller ones cut down. The next spring, of course, the stumps started sending up new shoots. So I rented a chainsaw and a stump grinder and ground the stumps below the soil line. Even after that, many of the ground down stumps continued to send up shoots. So I dug around the stumps and cut them out by the roots. Oh my goodness, so much work. Peace is a stubborn pain in the ass!
Isaiah concludes his vision of peace with another powerful image: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Biblical peace isn’t primarily a sandy beach or a snowy woods. It’s the bone deep knowledge that you, I, and the entire universe, no matter what devastation we may face can be cut off from life in God.