What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-11-22

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-11-22

“I realize that this might seem a little disconcerting. But as I said at the beginning, I’ve found that the most powerful bonds are built when we start with the ending. As your Transitional Senior Minister, I begin with the acknowledgment of impermanence. Every one of us is temporary. It is not up to us to decide how much time we will have. It is up to us to decide how we will use the time we’ve been given. As for me, I vow to make the most of it. What will your promise be? I hope that whatever the future brings, we will face it together.”

I wrote the above words for my column from May 16, 2019–my first “What’s Up” as Transitional Senior Minister at First Congregational Church of Granby. Looking back nearly three years later, it’s easy to see how impermanence has manifested in unforeseen ways. COVID has changed how we do church in ways I never imagined back in 2019. Some of them have been difficult: foregoing in person worship for months at a time has been a particular challenge for me. Some of them have been really great. COVID has made us more visible and engaged in our community. It also jump-started our online ministry. We even welcomed 7 new members during the heart of the pandemic. It’s easy to think of impermanence in terms of loss; however, impermanence is also what creates the space for new things to emerge. The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.” Through all of the coming and going of impermanence the One at work within us has accomplished things I never imagined, for example, Granby Racial Reconciliation. I had no idea I would have the opportunity to be a part of founding a new racial justice organization in town. Impermanence confronts us with the difficult work of letting go. It also carries within it the promise of new things to come.

At our Deacons meeting this month we took some time to reflect on what God has done among us. “Reaching out in new ways” was at the top of nearly everyone’s list. Another mentioned that “vitality has real meaning for us” as a church. Another mentioned TGIF social gatherings when we could just enjoy each other’s company. Another mentioned a shift in perspective so that we began to consider how newcomers experience our church and how we might do things like worship with first time guests in mind. We learned to question what we are doing as a church and why we are doing it. We’re no longer looking for people to come to us; rather, we are going out into the community and meeting people where they are. We have new awareness of the experience and history of marginalized groups, particularly Native Americans and African Americans, and how that awareness changes what we do as Christians. Weekly Bible study, screens and other technology in worship, staying together and staying safe through a pandemic. These are all accomplishments to celebrate. 

Just as each new beginning starts with an ending, so too each ending carries within it the promise of new beginnings. Our transition work is coming to a close. As we look back at how far we’ve come we can look forward to what God has in store. As the Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-4-22

Hotei a.k.a. Maitreya Buddha

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-4-22

This week’s gospel text, Luke 5:1-11, is Luke’s version of the “miraculous catch” story. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee when he notices two boats. By this time Jesus’ fame has spread throughout the countryside. Crowds follow him from place to place and press in around him so that he has difficulty addressing them. The boats happen to belong to some of Jesus’ fishermen friends, so he gets into one of them and they push away from the shore to give Jesus a little breathing room. While they’re out there Jesus tells one of the fishermen, Simon, a.k.a. Peter, to let down his nets for a catch. Peter hesitates–saying he and his crew have fished all night and caught nothing–but agrees to give it one more try. They let down their nets and to their surprise find them filled to bursting with fish. Peter realizes he’s in the presence of the divine and responds with appropriate awe and wonder. Then Jesus makes what has become a famous pronouncement, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (vs. 10).

Christians throughout history have rightly understood this story as a metaphor for Christian evangelism–that is, sharing good news of God’s love in Jesus. Evangelism is a sensitive subject for many people–Christians and non-Christians alike. A lot of harm has been done for the cause of evangelism. For example the colonial project on this continent which resulted in the genocide of indigenous people was done under the sanctifying aegis of evangelism. Nevertheless, the Bible continues to confront us with this call from Jesus to “catch people.” 

A couple of points: one theological, one Biblical. The theological point has to do with “exclusive” versus “inclusive” religion. (See my previous essay.) Even though historically Christianity has claimed to be the “one true” religion (an exclusive claim to truth) I don’t think it’s necessary to believe this to be a Christian. I am an inclusive Christian, that is, I believe Christian truth is universal–potentially helpful and healing to anyone and everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, politics, etc. And I don’t believe it necessary or even desirable for everyone to become Christian in order to be saved. It isn’t my job to make everyone Christian. It’s my job to love everyone as God loves us: in all of our diversity religious and otherwise. I love my Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, seeker, New Age friends and wouldn’t want them to change–unless in their heart of hearts they are called to, which brings me to my Biblical point.

The Greek for “catch people” in verse 10 could also be translated “captivate.” I can think of a number of examples from my life of the kind of captivation hinted at here. I remember when my daughters were born. Each one in her own unique way captivated–even captured–my heart the moment I laid eyes on her. I remember a particularly moving moment singing in gospel choir for a church service when the clear thought arose within me, “I will follow you anywhere.” I remember a moment on silent retreat when I heard a bird call and for a split second or maybe it was many minutes or more–who knows, time gets strange when you’re truly captivated–the universe opened and I knew for myself a peace that passes understanding. 

Just like many Christians believe Jesus will return one day, many Buddhists believe that the Buddha will return in the form of a fat, jolly Santa Claus, who will enter our everyday world with “bliss bestowing hands.” This vision for religious mission is not so different from Jesus’, who himself was captivated and invites us all into the captivating presence of God’s boundless love.