What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-28-20

Me making an awkward horseback adventure circa 1993, Giza, Egypt

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-28-20

As a kid I loved adventure. I would spend hours playing outdoors either with friends or by myself. It didn’t matter. As long as there was a hill to be climbed, a trail to be followed, insects to catch, flowers to pick, game to track, berries to harvest, a fort to build it didn’t matter to me whether I was alone or accompanied. I loved to explore. 

When it got too dark to play outside, I followed the street lights home, where mom ususally had a casserole in the oven. Soon it was time to set the table for supper. Afterwards it was dishes and homework and lying in bed reading about adventures: Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Just writing it down makes it all seem like a quaint, distant world. 

Nevertheless, what I realize now is that safe-enough space to explore on my own, use my imagination, and create adventures with minimal parental supervision was key to who I have become. I still love adventure. I’m happiest when I’m facing the joy and fear of the unknown over the horizon. I didn’t realize it at the time but the safe-enough space I experienced as a child gave me the mix of confidence and caution that has made bigger and bigger adult adventures surviveable, enjoyable, and transformative.

Two weeks ago First Congregational Church of Granby did a worship and workshop around the theme “Know Your ‘Why?’” We explored both our personal “whys” and our “why” as a congregation, that is, what is our purpose? First we had to slog through what turned out to be a series of items that we thought were “whys” but turned out to be “whats.” For example, “To feed the hungry.” That turned about to be “what” we do. The question is why feed the hungry? Finally, after hours of deep conversation, tears, and several attempts at articulating powerful, inarticulate longings of the heart, we came up with “A safe place to explore who you truly are and who God is calling you to be.”

I would say a “safe-enough” place or space is key to all spiritual development. A part of my kid adventures was the possibility of injury, discomfort, getting lost and then reoriented. My vision for First Congregational Church is that we create a spiritual container large enough for each of us to experiment, fail, make mistakes, repent, bactine and bandage our boo-boos, and develop our own sense of self-confidence and self-worth that is not overly dependent on others’ approval. The abundant life Jesus promised is rooted in the declaration at Jesus’ baptism and ours: “You are my beloved child. In you I am well-pleased.” Rev. William Sloane Coffin said, “Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservation.” Foundational trust in the boundless love of God makes every adventure possible.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-7-2020

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-7-2020

When I was a kid, we had our own slang. Now that I have kids of my own I find myself in the role of deciphering the distinctive, sometimes confusing languages of their tribes. “Salty” is a term my youngest, Olivia, likes to use. From context clues I gather it means something like “annoyed,” as in “I was salty with my professor because she gave a list of assignments for the week on Monday but then added more on Wednesday.” “Salty” can also be used in the context of disagreeing with something someone said in class, a friend forgetting a birthday, someone undeserving getting recognition. When Olivia uses it, “salty” isn’t particularly angry, resentful, or mean, but I think that has more to do with Olivia, who is a naturally happy and loving person, than with the term itself, which, according to the Urban Dictionary, is more along the lines of “angry, bitter, resentful.” For Olivia, “salty” is along the lines of “feisty.”

“Salty” as a term for angry, upset, “suddenly enraged,” is actually throwback slang first used in 1938 and associated, not surprisingly, with sailors, who had a reputation for gruff, rowdy, and drunken behavior. 

The other common use of “salt” as an adjective comes from our Scripture text for this Sunday. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt should become insipid, by what shall it be made salty?” From this famous text we get the phrase “salt of the earth.” I hear people use this term to describe folks who are humble, have moral integrity, and are generally considered “good people,” “pillars of the community,” whose goodness often goes unrecognized. While I think there’s some of that meaning in the text, it certainly doesn’t capture all of it.

To get the rest of the meaning, we need to look at the rest of the sentence: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt becomes insipid, by what shall it be made salty? It is no longer of any use except to scatter outside for people to tread upon.” “Insipid” means “dull, boring, flavorless, weak, vapid, spiritless.” Yes, “salt of the earth” has to do with humility, moral integrity, and all of those things we tend to like as Christians. But I hear Jesus giving a sharp, dare I say, “salty” warning to his followers against dullness, irrelevance, blandness, a kind of false humility that is really just acquiescence to the status quo. It’s a form of spiritual laziness that views the church’s role as being “chaplains to power,” reassuring the wealthy and spiritually satisfied that everything is “OK.”

I am super grateful that my children are faithful Christians and dedicated churchgoers. I don’t attribute that to any special example that their parents set, other than that while they were living at home, we brought them to church every week. If you asked them, my guess is that they would agree with many young people that the church is too often “insipid, boring, and irrelevant.” And, by the way, it has little to do with whether a band is used in worship or video clips or anything like that–though these things can help. The reason my children are still engaged is that church provided the context in which they could build authentic relationships with “salty” Christians, that is, feisty Christians who had some flavor, some fire, who were not satisfied with the status quo but who risked their personal comfort to stand up against injustice, who viewed the church not as a social club where “we take care of our own,” but as a social movement whose purpose is to change the world.

Worship Resources for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany, Year A, 2-9-20

Opening Prayer

Loving God, as children we learn to ask Why? Why is the sky blue? Why do ducks quack? Why do I have to go to bed? Why do I have to share my toys? “Why” is how we learn about our world and our place in it. God of “Why,” you have told us that unless we become like one of these little children, we will not enter your kingdom. Teach us to never stop asking Why. Teach us to never stop trusting your answer. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication     

We dedicate our gifts and our lives to your holy purpose, O God. Amen.

Pastor’s Page February 2020

Pastor’s Page Feb. 2020

February is discernment month for First Church Granby. Feb. 9 following worship will be our annual congregational “discernment” meeting. I think it’s great that FCCG has one meeting a year devoted to the spiritual practice of discernment. There are many different approaches to discernment. You can find a number of different examples in the Bible: prayer and fasting, casting lots, consulting prophets, rituals involving sacrifice, pilgrimage. Gideon famously put fleece outside overnight to discern what God wanted him to do in battle. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. We won’t be doing any of these things. We will be doing prayer and conversation. But what all these have in common is the ancient human attempt to determine what God wants or what God is up to, in more formal language, “divine will.” 

Divine will is a notoriously difficult thing to determine. The Bible is full of stories of individuals who claimed to know the divine will when, it turns out, they didn’t. The results are usually unpleasant. So humility is the first and most important quality to bring to discernment. The second is patience. Scripture says that “the Spirit moves where it will.” God answers in God’s good time. And sometimes the answer is silence. In which case, we might decide to sit with the question a while longer. But I want to encourage us that it is indeed possible to discern God’s deepest longing for us. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed it happen in congregations. We’ll know we’ve nailed it when there is a moment of connection, joy, and release. God’s will may not be pleasant. God may not be inviting us to do something we particularly want to do. But there is joy and release knowing it’s the right thing to do. There is a deep sense of connection knowing that in the long run discerning and doing God’s will leads to abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.

So don’t miss worship Feb. 9 and stay for the meeting after. Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg will be joining us and facilitating a discernment discussion on the topic of “What is Your ‘Why’?”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20

I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this week on meditation retreat. I came home and took a nap. Why? Because sitting on the floor in silence while maintaining as still a posture as possible for 10 hours a day is, in fact, exhausting. Why do I do it? Scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Humans like to move. We rush around doing this and that. But even if we’re “vegging out,” our minds jump from this thought to that thought. The practice of meditation is stilling the body and mind together to become completely still like water on a pond. It turns out that the Bible is true! I can attest that cultivating stillness does, in fact, create circumstances in which God can be encountered in a profoundly life-changing way.

When asked my purpose, I tend to say “Helping people connect to God.” How can I help people connect to God if I am not myself living out of that connection? As a personal purpose statement, “helping people connect to God” seems to work for me. Working with our transition coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, has taught me to ask a different question, namely, what is your “Why?” I realized this week that “helping people connect to God” doesn’t answer the “why” question. Why help people connect to God? Great question!

I don’t know the answer, yet, exactly. Maybe something like this: I know the pain of being separated from one’s deepest longing. I also know the joy of connection. A world of joyful, connected people is a world I want to live in. 

As a congregation articulating a “why” is vital to our future. More important than what we do is being clear why we do it. Claire will be leading us in a congregational conversation about our why. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to watch these short videos and think about what is your “why” and what is FCC Granby’s “why.” The videos show why the question of “why” is so important.

Prayers for Epiphany 3C January 27, 2019

Call to Worship

God has given you a purpose and a mission that only you can carry out. It is God’s great mission of salvation for all of creation. It is an impossible mission for us as limited, sinful individuals. But together, we can come closer. And with God all things are possible. God needs your unique contribution. Without it we are all impoverished. Worship is one of the ways we get in touch with God’s calling on our lives. Let’s listen with all our hearts. Sing with all our soul. Pray with all our mind and strength.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, we pray for your Spirit. We confess that for too long we have wandered aimlessly. Our minds carry us here and there into gilded memories of a past that never existed or futures filled with imaginary threats and escapist fantasies. Teach us the mystery of fulfilling the Scripture now, in the precious present, which is the only opportunity we have to truly change the world. Forgive us and restore us to ourselves. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

We dedicate these gifts and our lives to living out our God given purpose right here and right now. Amen.