Announcing Exciting Possibility
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We'd like to hear from you!
This past spring, in the season of Easter, the church council began discussing one of the last goals from our strategic plan that will enhance the hallmarks of our congregation--gathering, growing and giving. It is a goal that has needed the right time… which might be upon us. We are exploring the possibility of a capital campaign chiefly aimed at debt reduction which would allow us more freedom to support our mission and ministry as a church. We've been fortunate to have the Rev. Renee LiaBraaten return from helping us with our campaign ten years ago. She is a Lutheran Pastor from Maine, knows us well, and is one of the best advisors available anywhere.
A planning team formed in August to get things started. I am joined by our president Maile Hedlund, Susan Lee, Peter Schmidt, and Marilyn Waehler. Together we are assessing the needs of our finances, facilities, and the life of the congregation to cast and clarify a vision for this campaign. In addition to debt reduction we are evaluating everything from staffing needs to the state of our pipe organ and parking lot. As we gather information and generate ideas, we are going to need to hear from you!
The first weekend of October we will schedule half hour interviews (on Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and gather three focus groups to get your input. We will invite between 40 and 50 households from across the congregation to participate. Renee will conduct all of this important business, allowing people to speak freely, sharing their thoughts and concerns. If you'd like to be included in this endeavor let someone on the planning team know soon. A letter detailing possible goals and ideas for the campaign will be sent the week before the interviews and focus group meetings.
We are blessed with the health and strength that has us dreaming and planning. I am excited about the possibilities and look forward to your participation as we continue to gather, grow and give to the glory of God. Yours, Ross (Contact church office to be on interview list link below)
Trying to Buy a Gun
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Between the shootings in Charleston, SC and Roanoke, VA, not far from where my son was at a music camp in Greensboro, NC, I noticed a place next to the mall called Firearms Supercenter. With an hour to spare, I thought I'd go in and try to buy a handgun. Why not find out what this gun business was about first hand? Firearms Supercenter was the size of a Target (no pun intended). The parking lot was half-full in the middle of a Thursday afternoon and I was impressed to see that the center of the store had a huge display of gun safes. If you've never seen these, they are massive and must weigh a ton or more.
Along the back of the store was a counter with hundreds of handguns under glass behind which were the rifles, shotguns, and what looked like assault weapons. While waiting for help, I perused a gun magazine and read how to protect your family from home invasion. Basically when you hear intruders, you put your wife and children in a safe room on the second floor where they call 911 and then move to a spot at the top of the stairs where you can shoot them (after you warn them). I played this out in my mind with my own family and successfully killed the intruders. I can't remember ever reading about this actually happening.
The salesman was friendly, and extremely knowledgeable. I asked to see a "Glock" because that's the only word I knew when it comes to guns and was relieved when one was nearby. He let me handle lots of big handguns and showed me how they worked. I pulled the thing back on the top and let it slide back forward and I shoved in a magazine (unloaded) in the bottom of the handle just like in the movies. I noticed a dad and his approximately 10 year old daughter peering into the case nearby and the movie moment passed. "How much?" I asked. The one in my hand at the time was new for $495.99. "How do I buy this?" I asked "Do I just give you my credit card?" He explained that we'd have to fill out some paperwork first and it would take a couple of days to get it cleared by the sheriff. He noticed I looked a little surprised. I thought it was going to be like buying roses, thanks to my having a lot of freedom to have what I want when it come to guns. When he learned that I was from MA, he politely explained that the store could only sell to folks who can prove that they live in NC. "Come on, really!" I said, but he explained there was no way I'd be able to buy a gun, not even at a gun show. I later learned that that what looked like assault weapons weren't (he said they were banned in 1994) and that there were weeks of waiting and classes and talking to the sheriff if you wanted to carry a concealed weapon.
I'm happy to report that even as an upstanding citizen with no criminal background, I utterly failed at trying to buy a handgun and plan to spend the $500 on something else. I was glad to some semblance of checks and balances and hear of safeguards and a sheriff watching over who has a gun. I won't try this again in my home state as I was thoroughly satisfied with my Greensboro efforts.
I'm sorry to tell you that that the assault weapons ban expired in 2004 and has not been renewed. The best we could do was ban high capacity magazines in 8 states, including MA. I did not and will not watch the shooting in Roanoke and am disturbed again by a story of a disturbed person acting out his anger with a handgun. The Boston Globe tried to keep the sense of shock with the headline "SLAUGHTER FOR ALL TO SEE," but the same story by New York Times reporters ran under the more subdued "Gunman Kills Two On Air and Posts Carnage Online."
We have become numb to the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Nicholas Kristof offered these three data points today as a reminder:
■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.
■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.
The numbness has resulted in a lot of learned helplessness about this issue as if nothing can really be done. No amount of carnage seems to shock us into seeking some common sense. If viewed more from the perspective of public health we also might take a closer look at mental health and the health of local communities across the nation. The freedom of an individual is sacred in our nation, but so is life. While government regulation can't fix everything and sometimes does more harm than good, we desperately need some intervention beyond individual freedom of choice. As Kristof noted: "Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools."
The Practice of Saying No
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In our gospel this Sunday, Jesus gets a report from his disciples on "all that they had done and taught." They had been so busy that there had not been time to eat. Sound familiar? Where was the fast food? So Jesus invites them to go with him to a deserted place all by themselves and "rest a while…." "Rest a while" echoes something deep in Jesus Jewish bones, the practice of resting on the Sabbath.
The commandment about the Sabbath is the longest of the ten commandments. In his book on the Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel, says that the Sabbath is the only one of God's creations called holy. Everything else is called "good." Only the Sabbath is called "holy." The blessedness of time preceded the blessedness of people. The people weren't sanctified until they became the chosen people. Places were not sanctified until the tabernacle. The Sabbath was the first and truest medium of God's presence and holiness.
Heschel says the Sabbath is the first and truest medium of God's presence in creation. Observing the Sabbath has always kept God's people from being absorbed by the alien cultures where they resided. The Sabbath commandment came long before the rest of the commandments. Even as slaves in Egypt, they observed Sabbath.
For six days of the week, they belonged to Pharaoh, but on the Sabbath, they were free men, women and children who belonged only to God. The Sabbath was not a day simply for recovering their strength. It was not free time. It was freedom time. It was time to recover their identity, time to remember who and whose they were.
Later, there were 234 specific tasks prohibited on the Sabbath. The basic idea was to cease and desist from all acts of creation, to stop competing with God, to stop helping God, so that we might remember that the world was created by God totally without us. The world would be preserved, at least until a new week began, without us. The Sabbath was a mandated gift, a gift we were commanded to enjoy.
In a world where multi-tasking is prized, I remember the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth who said, "A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity." That determination and limitation is built into the creation story at the beginning of the Bible and is the Fourth Commandment.
Alexis de Tocqueville observed Americans observing the Christian Sabbath in 1840 and wrote that, "Not only have all ceased to work, but they appear to have ceased to exist." One hundred and twenty years later the Sabbath would be all but gone in American life, giving way to longer and longer work weeks and the rise of consumerism.
I have a modest Sabbath vision for Sundays. I like to go home after worship, take a nap, and do as little as possible the rest of the day. It means I'm often saying no to a lot of other things I could be doing: not working, not shopping, not worrying. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Altar in the World titles her chapter on Sabbath as the Practice of Saying No.
What would it be like to stay home once a week, turn off the computer and lay down all the devices? Not because you are sick but because you are well. Talk to and play with those you love, take a nap, go for a walk, read a book, spend an hour eating. You have been commanded to take the time to be good for nothing. Meister Eckhart said, "God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting."
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This Friday and Saturday I’ll be at the New England Synod Assembly in Springfield with Vicar Eric and our delegates Aurelio Ramirez and Megan Getman. This annual gathering is a rare moment to experience up close the larger Lutheran church in our part of the country. Our Synod and denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA) are largely invisible to most of us, but an assembly of this kind brings home our vital connections to fellow believers and the many ways in which we can accomplish together what would be much more difficult by ourselves.
The picture above tells some of that story. It’s taken in the sanctuary of my former congregation in North Quincy. The Synod was there 14 years ago when that church was looking for a new pastor and Good Shepherd church was blessed to get Nathan Pipho who had been an intern in Woburn. That church is now hosting an ELCA mission to a burgeoning population of Chinese immigrants to form a new congregation called Good Neighbor Lutheran Church, pastored by Ryan Lun. It’s only a few miles from The Intersection with Pastor Tiffany Cheney who is forming a new congregation in Dorchester. These amazing endeavors (including internships) require the talent and treasure of the larger church of which we are a part.
At the Assembly we will celebrate these new mission ventures while enjoying spirited worship, warm fellowship and inspired addresses. The keynote speaker is a United Church of Christ pastor from nearby Somerville, Molly Baskett, who helped bring a dying congregation back to life, and wrote a book about it. She will be sharing with us the way her congregation is engaging the old practice of testimony which invites members of the congregation to share their faith stories during worship. Assemblies are ripe for considering new ideas and practices that give life to the church.
I’ve been grateful and inspired to experience the Spirit at work among us in such gatherings. And proud of the role Saint Paul has played over the years to support the New England Synod as one of its strongest and vibrant congregations.
Thoughts on Freedom This Memorial Day Weekend
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In a few months a new Smithsonian museum will open on the National Mall. There are whole educations to be had in museums and some of the finest can be found in the nation's capital. I loved them as a youth and we took our children there several times. The museums of Air and Space, American History, Natural History are fascinating worlds unto themselves.
This new national museum dedicated to African-American history and culture can be traced back to 1915 when African-American veterans of the Union Army met in D.C. and called for a memorial to various African-American achievements. President Herbert Hoover got behind it, but it would take decades of efforts in Congress, enduring vision, endless patience, and massive fundraising to get it off the ground. I only learned of it last Sunday on 60 Minutes. Items for display have been mostly donated from across the country and they promise to tell stories of hardship and hope, anguish and achievement. I pray that this unique and prominent display of history will lead to a greater understanding, and a deeper healing of the racial divides that keep our nation from a more fully realized freedom.
Perhaps the life and words of the poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) will be available. Recently one of you lent me a book of poems and recommended Freedom's Plow. I found it visionary and inspiring, especially on days when I have despaired of the news. Thanks to the world wide web, I am able to share it with you here as we remember and give thanks for those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.
When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.
First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.
The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.
A long time ago, but not too long ago,
Ships came from across the sea
Bringing the Pilgrims and prayer-makers,
Adventurers and booty seekers,
Free men and indentured servants,
Slave men and slave masters, all new-
To a new world, America!
With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:
Down into the earth went the plow
In the free hands and the slave hands,
In indentured hands and adventurous hands,
Turning the rich soil went the plow in many hands
That planted and harvested the food that fed
And the cotton that clothed America.
Clang against the trees went the ax into many hands
That hewed and shaped the rooftops of America.
Splash into the rivers and the seas went the boat-hulls
That moved and transported America.
Crack went the whips that drove the horses
Across the plains of America.
Free hands and slave hands,
Indentured hands, adventurous hands,
White hands and black hands
Held the plow handles,
Ax handles, hammer handles,
Launched the boats and whipped the horses
That fed and housed and moved America.
Thus together through labor,
All these hands made America.
Labor! Out of labor came villages
And the towns that grew cities.
Labor! Out of labor came the rowboats
And the sailboats and the steamboats,
Came the wagons, and the coaches,
Covered wagons, stage coaches,
Out of labor came the factories,
Came the foundries, came the railroads.
Came the marts and markets, shops and stores,
Came the mighty products moulded, manufactured,
Sold in shops, piled in warehouses,
Shipped the wide world over:
Out of labor-white hands and black hands-
Came the dream, the strength, the will,
And the way to build America.
Now it is Me here, and You there.
Now it’s Manhattan, Chicago,
Seattle, New Orleans,
Boston and El Paso-
Now it’s the U.S.A.
A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL--
ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR
WITH CERTAIN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS--
AMONG THESE LIFE, LIBERTY
AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too,
And silently took for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.
It was a long time ago,
But not so long ago at that, Lincoln said:
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT THAT OTHER’S CONSENT.
There were slaves then, too,
But in their hearts the slaves knew
What he said must be meant for every human being-
Else it had no meaning for anyone.
Then a man said:
BETTER TO DIE FREE
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES
He was a colored man who had been a slave
But had run away to freedom.
And the slaves knew
What Frederick Douglass said was true.
With John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, Negroes died.
John Brown was hung.
Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
"Or if it would," thought some.
But others new it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
Out of war it came, bloody and terrible!
But it came!
Some there were, as always,
Who doubted that the war would end right,
That the slaves would be free,
Or that the union would stand,
But now we know how it all came out.
Out of the darkest days for people and a nation,
We know now how it came out.
There was light when the battle clouds rolled away.
There was a great wooded land,
And men united as a nation.
America is a dream.
The poet says it was promises.
The people say it is promises-that will come true.
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
The people often hold
Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
Haltingly and stumblingly say them,
And faultily put them into practice.
The people do not always understand each other.
But there is, somewhere there,
Always the trying to understand,
And the trying to say,
"You are a man. Together we are building our land."
Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT HIS CONSENT.
BETTER DIE FREE,
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES.
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide
And conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!
A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!