Thursday, August 30, 2018

Aretha and Sen. McCain: Respect

            It has been quite a week. Two icons of American life have died and we find ourselves joined together to celebrate two extraordinary lives. Just as the threads that hold our national life feel they are approaching a breaking point, the memories and the values that we hold dear are knotting us together to continue the journey.

            Aretha Franklin is known more for the lyrics and the presentation of her music.  Yet she was so much more than a performance artist.  As I write this entry, the Queen of Soul is being honored by her friends, fans, and family.  The hearse that carried her body to her public viewing carried the mortal remains of Rosa Parks in the 2005.  It is appropriate that she was accorded this honor. Born in 1942, Aretha knew the struggle for racial equality that has torn our American fabric in our lifetime.  Grounded in the New Bethel Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan, she used her amazing voice and her celebrity stature to advocate for civil rights – human rights – rights for African-Americans – rights for Native Americans. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is not only a great song, it is a title that is a foundational touchstone for our human identity.  

            As we as a nation remember the life and legacy of John McCain we go beyond partisan positioning to recognize that which is a part of all of us, that which defines us a people of a particular place.  Few of us feel that we would have the courage to endure the captivity experienced by John McCain.  In that defining experience we see the cost of citizenship.  It is patriotism writ large because it was never all about him. It was about the others with whom he shared captivity.  It was about a country he had promised to defend.  It was about the memories and the stories from his father and his grandfather, both men who had chosen a life of public service through the U.S. Navy. It was about the hopes and dreams he had for his country.  It was courage he probably did not know he possessed.  That crucible would shape his public career.  Again, all his policies would not be popular or acceptable to all. However through the years he would advocate for RESPECT for one another.  He worked with his political opposite, Sen. John Kerry, to reestablish diplomatic relations with Vietnam.  He made political enemies because he wanted immigration reform that gave respect to the gifts and graces of Central Americans and Mexicans who sought a better life in the United States.  He famously and publically gave respect to Barak Obama even when running against him for political office.

            In 1 John 3:11-18 we read:  For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  . . .  Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.  Whoever does not love abides in death.  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.  We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
            Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

            The path from hate to love goes through R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  We can’t love without granting the dignity of respect. Otherwise we love in the abstract and remain locked out of relationships of life.  Love and Respect are active verbs.
They are seen as our actions.  They are seen as we face the truth of one another’s pain and hopes. To love and to respect means we must expose our vulnerabilities.  We must rise to a courage we did not know we could possess.  We must lay down “our selves” in service and respect for others. When we learn to do this we discover that we have really found “our selves”.  We will be loving, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Washed Out – Not Quite

            It has been a particularly wet summer.  Regular violent storms have left rivers near flood stage ready to spill over into highways and byways at a moment’s notice.  Threats of storms have worked as a deterrent to be on the road because when they have rolled through visibility is extremely limited.  Basements that do not regularly flood need constant monitoring and plenty of electric fan power.  According to the National Weather Service our area has averaged 10-15 inches of rain above average.  When you add high humidity and temperatures, this summer has taken its toll.  It is my sincere hope that we can consider the implications of Climate Change to our earth instead of considering such talk a threat to our economy or our religious beliefs.

            Summer is often a time for vacations.  It is a time when we easily can be out in creation, renewing ourselves through the gifts of sunlight and fresh air.  On my one brief trip to the mountains of West Virginia I was able to enjoy my morning walk along the canyon rim.  During that mile down the road in the early moments of the day, I was conscious of breath. I was particularly aware of the many trees and dense vegetation around me.  I was thankful that the very act of breathing that morning was a gift, oxygen and carbon dioxide exchanged freely for mutual benefit.  

            Although I am quite “done” with scheduling my days around rain, I am also very aware that the rain that has inundated my yard has also meant that the source for my well is full and prepared for the months ahead.  Creation is an ever-changing palate as we move from season to season. Creation invites us to be aware of these moods and learn to appreciate them for what they teach us and what they give us.  Creation itself is an ever-flowing well of life and possibility.

            During my “inside” time this summer I have been stitching our planet earth as part of a series of the universe.  

It has been a form of prayer as I have taken each stitch as a way of thinking of our earth as a whole.  I  remembered when I first saw the photographs from space of the amazing blue marble that is our planet earth.  I  thought of all the ways our earth has been, and is being  harmed by some of the deregulations designed to protect our air and our water.  I looked at the swirling clouds over our whole planet  giving us glimpses of the beauty that is there.  I thought of the power of the volcanic eruptions over the big island of Hawaii, the force of the hurricanes that ravished Puerto Rico last summer and that is taking aim on Hawaii as I write.  I was aware, stitch by stitch, of the beauty of the earth.

            I was also aware of those who live on this planet alongside me.  My prayer was often for the healing of the divisions that assail us. My prayer was for children separated at a border that is not even prominent when looking at our planet as a whole.  My prayer was that we could find ways to stitch up the broken places around us.

            The stitching is complete now.  The needlework will be framed and will join the competed stitching of Jupiter and Saturn. In time the other planets will follow. Together they will remind me of the immensity of the universe.  They will cause me to wonder how any of us, including and especially myself, are so blessed to receive the gift of life itself.  They will be a source of wonder and awe and a reminder of grace.

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Casa Padre on Father’s Day

Texas sun
Standing sentinel
Stop the run

Sons seized 
Sabotaged dreams
Silenced voices

1400 sons
Now alone
Warehoused and Wal-marked for life

Once family future
Once newborn joy
Once swaddled in love

Suspended in two worlds
What was – what could be
What never will be any where

Children still
Children no more
Children dismissed


Imprinted forever

Sons with sun slivers
Sons with no futures
Sons with jailed present

No more
No way
Go away


Faith Defining

1400 Sons
“the least of these”
God detained in Casa Padre on Father’s Day

-written by Clara Young, June 14, 2018

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Clara

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

In Times of Flood and other natural disasters . . .

            As I write this, the sun is shining, the humidity has dropped, the temperatures are moderate, the birds are singing, there is a gentle breeze.  That is quite a contrast to our most recent experience with over 10 inches of rain falling on already saturated soil and full rivers.
The result of those storms was severe flooding. Lives were lost.  Livelihoods were threatened.  The power, and yes the beauty, of the rushing waters  brought our busy schedules to a momentary pause.  They also allow us to connect our most recent experience to our spiritual lives.

            Photo sharing through social media allowed us to see what was happening. That photography served as a deterrent warning us os where not to drive.  They also were a stark reminder that the flooding was no respecter of persons, class, economic standing, religious beliefs.  The water just rose and our human response was empathy for those in the flooding’s path.

            I wonder why it takes trouble for us to get beyond our firmly held prejudices (of all kinds) and see people are in need.   We didn’t have time for hate or judgment because we were filling that space with compassion.  The word “compassion” has as its root the meaning “suffer with”.  The dictionary definition reads compassion:  sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. We have just had an experience where we exercised our capacity for compassion.  

            The choice now becomes do we put our ability to be compassionate on the shelf in favor of our propensity to be judgmental, vindictive, cruel, or dismissive of huge swaths of the world’s population?  Do we return to a box where we claim our own superiority over others? Do we build a wall of exclusion and say “so what?” to everyone else?  (And no, I’m not even talking about our southern border.  We build walls of exclusion right in our own communities.)

            The other choice is to claim our ability to be compassionate and live that quality out in our lives.  Of course that choice is also choosing to live by the example set by Jesus. Discipleship by its very nature means learning to live the compassionate life.  Living the compassionate life includes our attentiveness to all those places where others suffer.  We should not be able to hear the news reports of children being separated from their parents without feeling pain in our hearts and a desire to stand up for the children.  We should not be able to hear of children being gunned down in their schools without feeling pain in our heart over their vulnerability.  We should not be able to hear of people of color being targeted because of the color of their skin without feeling a pain in our hearts.  We should not be able to hear of women being exploited without feeling a pain in our hearts.
To live a compassionate life is to feel pain for the sufferings of others.

            Our response to the pain is not to ignore it, or cover it with our favorite “tonic”.  Our response is to pray, yes, but prayer always involves us.  God doesn’t just wave magic wands.  God touches our hearts and our minds with ways we can be part of the solution.

            We just experienced some severe flooding.  Now those prayers become action as we alleviate the immediate needs of those caught in the rush of waters.  Then our prayers become action as we look at zoning and development and the impact on the earth.  We look at proposals for pipelines that promise to deliver economic benefits at the expense of environmental integrity.  Our prayers become actions when we see those who suffered in the flooding as companions on our journey in life.  

            I don’t believe God gave us the flooding to teach us a lesson.  But I do know that we can learn from experiences such as the flooded waters of the Potomac, Shenandoah, and Rappahannock.  We can learn to set aside our self-driven lives and take on the cloak of compassion.  And when we do, we will discover we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Clara

Monday, April 16, 2018

270 years: legacy and future promise

            Some time in the spring of 1748 St. Paul’s United Church of Christ assumed its identity as a church in what would become the town of Woodstock.
At its very beginning the name would be St. Paul’s Reformed Church and the town was then known as Muellerstadt, Virginia.  As we prepare to gather for our 270thAnniversary Celebration on Sunday, April 22, 2018, I think it is worthwhile to think about the place of churches in communities.

            Of course an initial reaction would be that the purpose of the church is to convert sinners to the saving power of Jesus Christ, end of story.  But it is not the end of the story is it?  Because if that were our sole purpose we could pitch tents and deliver our message.  Yet from the smallest community in the countryside to our largest cities the physical existence of church buildings is an iconic reminder of our need for faith, for community, for focus, for action.  Long after the pews are no longer filled each Sunday, those structures tell a story and await new people to come and experience the power of faith in community.  Here are some of my observations around local churches as St. Paul’s UCC gets ready to begin its 271styear of witness and ministry.  And because of the anniversary I will construct my observations around the life of one church knowing that the values and images can also fit other churches.

            1.  Life in 1748 in Muelllerstadt, Virginia, on the banks of the Shenandoah River and between the mountain ranges of the Blue Ridge, Massanutten and the North Ridge of the Alleghenies was life on the frontier. The German settlers than made their way to this remote location were for the most part farmers and many immigrants (or close to it) from the war-torn Palatinate Region of Germany.  As the saying goes, they immigrated with their Bibles and their Heidelberg Catechism.   Their strong faith was what sustained them in Europe and it would be what would sustain them on the frontier.  Their faith was so central to their lives that it could not be contained within the walls of their homes.  They talked with one another as people who were solving the problems of settling the wilderness and that language was within the structure of the faith that defined them.  The life of a local church is a place for faith language and faith inspired decision making.  

            2.  Community is a central identifying characteristic of a local church.  Sometimes it is defined as a “church family”.  Although I get the meaning behind that language, it feels a little narrow for my tastes.  Yes, families have all kinds of folks living in relationship.  Some of whom folks may feel they could do just as well without. Others are beloved matriarchs or patriarchs.  A community is more than those who have been born into a relationship or married into it. It involves learning to live together when no relationship requires agreement.  It is finding the “common” that holds us when the particulars differ. It is a pot luck supper not a specially crafted meal.  The local church is where the Table is always big enough to include those who choose come.

            3.  A local church is not stagnant.  Those of us who are identified with the United Church of Christ understand that when we take the Bible seriously not literally we are confronted daily with God revealing God’s Self through these sacred words.  Whereas once upon a time St. Paul’s would view slavery through the lens of an acceptable behavior as evidenced in the language of the Bible,  that is no longer the case.  Thanks be to God!  Then it was a justification for excommunication (the case of Judge Rye). Now racism is topic for deep soul searching and sacred conversation.  Once upon a time women were not allowed to be leaders in the church. Now we cannot do without them!  A local church can be that safe place to grapple with the issues of life and become open to new ways of living in relationship.

            4.  Those buildings in towns and cities that have the steeples, or the bell towers, or the open and welcoming modern spaces are symbols of hope for both those who live in a community but also those who are only passing by.  Those buildings carry a bigger story – one of remembered stories, one of vows exchanged, one of “if only”, one of God’s love made available to all.  As such they contribute to the life of a community, just as do the symbols of justice in the Courthouse, or the symbols of education in the schools.  These three words: faith, justice, education define communities as places where people want to live.   Built on the firm foundation of Jesus, we are also part of the firm foundation of Woodstock and Shenandoah County.

            As St. Paul’s United Church of Christ celebrates 270 years of witness and ministry, may it move forward into its future
·     being a place where faith and our lives intersect
·     being a welcoming and inclusive and diverse community
·     being a safe place for difficult conversations and decisive witness 
·     being a continued foundational pillar for Woodstock and Shenandoah County

Grace and Peace

Rev. Clara

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter:  It’s about love

            Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

            The sounds of Easter proclaim new birth and new beginnings.  Indeed for those areas of our country that experience the four seasons, Easter comes at the same time as new blooms and new leaves.  The starkness of winter makes way for the painter’s palate of yellows and pinks and greens. 

            This year Easter is coming at a time when our new grandson has been birthed into our lives.  Once again I have experienced the incredible joy known when my own son and daughter were born and when my other two grandchildren were born.  That feeling can only be expressed as “love beyond words”. 

            That’s the message of Easter:  “love beyond words”.  God so loves us that all of creation is opened up for us and we see a glimpse of the sacred amid the mundane world we usually notice.  Note I added “usually notice”.  For our God is ever and always showing us new hope and Easter promise every day.  We just don’t usually take the time to notice.  Easter directs our vision and opens our eyes.
Easter invites us to experience “love beyond words”.

             There is a challenge in Easter also.  While those of us who experienced God’s love touching our lives know the power of such joy, many have not experienced real love from anyone lately (perhaps ever).  There are far too many people who have given up on love or joy or hope.  Many give a skeptical look to the way we in the church dish out our  formulas for finding love.  That’s because we have a tendency to say the words but not do the words.  Our God already loves each person who feels unloved.  Our God already loves them beyond words.  But do we?  Will we?

            Carrying the message of unconditional love in our hearts but not doing the work of unconditional love to one another is putting the Christ back in the tomb to be released one day a year for a celebration. 

            We see in the events of our times that people who have felt bullied, unloved, misunderstood, underappreciated have found ways to act out their hurt and anger in frightful ways.  We have ability to make a difference.  Perhaps it is a neighbor youth, a co-worker, an acquaintance at the gym class, the day laborers, the neighbors fearing their families will be broken by ICE deportations, the homeless men and women on the street corners, the women seeking safety in domestic abuse shelters, the differently-abled facing discrimination – all these people and so many more need us to get to know them and know their circumstances.  They need to know that they can be loved beyond words by somebody. 

            Easter morning – and every day – we proclaim the Good News that      GOD LOVES US BEYOND WORDS.  Hopefully we do it through our actions as well as through our words.  The world is aching to experience love beyond words.

            Christ is Risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

Grace and peace,

Rev. Clara

Monday, March 26, 2018

Lent 6 – at the cross

            We entered the wilderness on Ash Wednesday, as did Jesus after his baptism.  It was to be for us, as it was for him, a time to give serious consideration to our faith life.  We framed our journey within the tradition of the classic seven deadly sins:  sloth, envy, lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, pride.  We became aware during our journey that these categories fit more than individual behavior.  They have serious repercussions on our life together.  They form, in essence, the evil Jesus spent his earthly life lifting from those whom he encountered in his day-to-day life.  They name the kinds of things we have been called to work against if we are to be faithful disciples.

            Now, after six weeks, we stand at the end of Lent but at the foot of the cross.  The last category looms in front of us – pride.  Can we say no to pride and yes to Jesus?  That is the ultimate question of Holy Week. 

            In Matthew 26 we read:  When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”  And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

            We stand at foot of the cross.  Will we let Pride keep us from being Christ’s hands and feet in the world?  Will we turn our back from the cross so we can avoid admitting that by our actions or our inactions we have been complicit in the ways that sloth, envy, lust, greed, gluttony, and wrath have done their damage to the lives of God’s Beloveds?  Will we walk away from the cross hand in hand with Pride, justifying our position by our own egos?

            Or will we fall on our knees and surrender our pride to loving arms of our savior.  The answer to pride is in the words of the hymn written by Judson W. VanDeVenter, “I Surrender All.”  May it be our prayer this Lent.

All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.
I surrender all.  I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken: take me, Jesus, take me now.
I surrender all.  I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender, make me, Savior, wholly thine:
may thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know thy power divine.
I surrender all. I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power, let thy blessing fall on me.
I surrender all.  I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Clara