“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1 (NRSV)
We live in divided times, do we not? Unfortunately, the divisions in our nation are mirrored in the Church, especially in America. Across denominations and even in many local churches, we are locked in a struggle around our understanding of the Bible and how to read it, and what we are called to commit ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. In many corners of the church, people have aligned the Christian faith with this or that political party, an act that invariably sows division, as well as making the Church vulnerable to manipulation.
In both the political and religious spheres of our culture, these divisions have led to a lot of talk in many circles about how greater unity might be achieved. Fingers are pointed as to who is to blame for our disunity, and many calls for “coming together” are heard. Unfortunately, some of these calls for unity amount to little more than telling those with whom we disagree to “get over it,” which sounds an awful lot like a polite way of saying “Shut up.”
Unity, is of course, a wonderful thing. The scripture that I cited above winsomely ex- presses the longing that many of us have within us for what Martin Luther King referred to as “the beloved community,” where people are in right relationship with each other, and com- mon values are shared and celebrated. The notion expressed by Rodney King in the midst of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, where he pleaded, “Can’t we all just get along,” speaks to not only that longing, but the naïve notion that “getting along” should be fairly easy to accomplish as well.
But unity, real unity, is a tricky thing, and living into authentic unity is really hard work. Part of the problem is that there are counterfeit forms of unity that seem to be the real thing, but are anything but. For example, ways of “getting along” that are based on avoiding controversy and conflict is not real, authentic unity. Neither is it unity when one person or group is required to stay quiet in order to maintain that “unity.” When politeness and “being nice” is valued over truth telling, that is not unity; it is avoidance masquerading as unity.
As the Psalmist says, real unity is precious. It is precious not because people have been stifled, silenced, or shamed in order to keep the peace; it is precious because it is characterized by reconciliation, redemptive love, and “speaking the truth in love.” It is characterized by the hard work of staying engaged with each other even when we profoundly disagree. Any community that is serious about building the Beloved Community will discover that there are many steps along the way that won’t feel much like unity. Angry words will likely be spoken, and indeed, sometimes they very much need to be. In all our efforts, we would do well to remember the wise words of Rosabeth Moss Kanter: “Everything looks [and feels] like failure in the middle of it,” and therefore do not lose heart.
Unity is a wonderful goal. But let us make sure we prize it enough to be unwilling to settle for its counterfeits.
In Evergreen love, Pastor Tom
I first became familiar with the phrase annus horribilis back in 1992, when Queen Eliza- beth used it to describe the unpleasant events that the Royal Family had undergone that year. The phrase is Latin, and it means, simply, “horrible year.” Looking back on it, 2016 has been something of an annus horribilis for me and my family. Some of you know that I lost my mother in April, but in addition, my wife Wendy has undergone several surgeries, requiring a long period of recovery. There were certainly highlights, including our daughter’s graduation from college, a long-awaited trip to the Holy Land, and the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908. But I will readily admit that the losses and challenges cast a pall over even those happy occasions.
While these events were specific to the way I and my family experienced this past year, I am well aware that I am not alone in being relieved to see 2016 in my rear view mirror. No doubt many of you reading this have experienced your own losses and struggles. But I am also speaking in the general sense of this having been a tough year for our country and for the world. An ugly presidential campaign, terrorist attacks, the heartbreak of Aleppo, a terrible hurricane and devastating fires in Tennesee, have buffeted the spirits of us all.
So yes, many of us are ready to say goodbye to 2016, and embrace the turning of the year. We do this every year, but some years are more easily let go of than others. And we do it, not because there is something magic about January 1 that makes the hurts and struggles of the previous year suddenly disappear, or because we have any way of guaranteeing that the new year will be a whole lot better than the last. But, especially for people of faith, at least, there is this thing called Hope; Hope that somehow things can be better, that even perennial problems can be solved, that we can learn from past mistakes and make better choices. Hope is what makes the New Year new.
I mentioned the Cubs’ World Series victory as a highlight of 2016. I grew up rooting for the Chicago Cubs, a team that was even more heartbreaking than the Red Sox. But one of the things that helped me keep hope alive was the attitude exemplified by my favorite Cub, Ernie Banks. Each year Banks would come up with a slogan to express his undying hope that this year would be the year for the Cubs to turn it around. “The Cubs will be great in ’68.” “The Cubs will be fine in ’69.” It was as if he was saying, “Last year may have been an annus horribi- lis, but that doesn’t mean that this year can’t be an annus mirabilis,” which is, as you have probably guessed, is antithesis of the annus horribilis, and means “wonderful year.”
Keep hope alive, keep trusting in God, keeping loving God and each other, and who knows, maybe, just maybe, 2017 will be a year to celebrate. In any case, Happy New Year, and many prayers and wishes for an annus mirabilis for you and yours.
In evergreen love, Pastor Tom
At the end of October, we launched our 2016 Stewardship Campaign, which will culmi- nate on Consecration Sunday, November 20. I hope that you will be ready to participate in what I trust will be a time of spiritual enrichment and growth as we discover more and more the joy of generosity in every area of our lives.
When we want to express our love and affection, we often think about how we can give something to the person who is the object of our affection. Sometimes that means a tan- gible gift. Sometimes it is giving of our best thoughts, our time, our energy, ourselves. Our financial support of our church is a reflection of our love for God as well as an expression of our maturity as followers of Jesus and our real priorities in life.
During this time of stewardship emphasis, we will share a narrative budget that ex- plains the categories of ministry funded through the church as well as stories about how those ministries are touching lives in our church and community.
But this effort is much more than presenting what the church needs to continue its mission and ministries. The real motivation for generosity is not the need of the church to re- ceive, but rather our need to give so that we can imitate Jesus and grow in our faith. Extrava- gant generosity of the sort that Jesus embodied is not a matter of affluence or even agree- ment. Extravagant generosity is a matter of the heart.
As we continue our stewardship campaign, my prayer is that each of us will catch the spirit of generosity deep within our hearts, and that we will follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in reaching new levels of generous giving and living.
In evergreen love, Pastor Tom
I know that many of us have participated in the exercise of making New Year’s resolutions. But I’m betting that some of us have also made “Christmas resolu- tions.” We may not have used that terminology, but if you’re like me, at least once in your life, you said to yourself or to your family “This Christmas is going to be different” and then laid out some ways you were determined to make that happen. Maybe you have pledged to make Christmas less hectic, or less stress- ful. Maybe you have decided to try and be more focused on the real meaning of the season. But whatever you decided to make Christmas better than previous Christmases, I would call that a “Christmas Resolution,” wouldn’t you?
Now, like many resolutions, our Christmas resolutions have no doubt met with varying degrees of success. For example, you might well have found that trying really hard to be less stressed can be, well, stressful. But that doesn’t mean that the desire for a richer, fuller experience of Christmas that many of us feel should be ignored. Christmas can and should be a time of truly meaningful worship, fel- lowship, and service. But that doesn’t just happen, especially if we go with the flow of the cultural, commercial, and even religious currents that will sweep us along in a direction that we don’t really want to go.
One step in keeping our Christmas resolutions is to make a point of being in wor- ship during the Advent season. It is part of the function of worship to keep our lives centered and focused, and to strengthen our individual and collective re- solve to faithfully follow Christ in all things. Some of that is accomplished simply by joining together in the countercultural experience of corporate worship. But the proclamation of a Word in due season can also go a long way to helping us stay on track.
The theme for Advent 2016 at FUMC will be “A Different Kind of Christmas,” dur- ing which I am hoping you will find encouragement and strategies for keeping your “Christmas resolutions” this year and in years to come, as well as some fresh ideas for keeping Christmas.
See you in church!
In Evergreen Love, Pastor Tom
This will be my fourth summer in the Lakes Region, and like many of you, I have learned to cherish this beautiful and bountiful time of year in this breathtaking and busy re- gion. So wonderful has this special time in this special place become for me and my family that we have opted to deviate from our decades long practice of taking our major yearly vaca- tion during the summer months. After all, when you live in a place where people take their vacations, why leave?
So, then, summer in the Lakes Region is a time to relax, drink in the beauty, hike, swim, boat, and simply enjoy the gifts of God that are so evident all around us. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a time to continue to learn, grow, and explore the implications of living out our faith in the world.
For that reason, I am instituting what I hope will become a yearly time of study and growth. I am calling it Summer Session, and my hope is that every summer, we will invite our members and anyone else who is interested to dig into a meaty book or resource that will challenge us to think deeply and respond faithfully to some of the ways God is calling us to live out our faith in a broken world.
For this year’s Summer Session I have chosen a book that I think will do just that. The book is called America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, and it is written by
Jim Wallis. Wallis is president and founder of Sojourners, where he is also editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, as well as being a New York Times best-selling author, public theologian, and international commentator on ethics and public life. As the title indicates, this is a book about ending racism in America, and it is particularly addressed towards white people, and white Christians in particular. The book has been described as “powerful,” “courageous,” “daring,” and “hopeful,” as it looks at both the historical roots of American racism, as well as contemporary events such as Ferguson and Charleston.
Summer Session will last for five weeks, beginning
August 4th and ending on September 1. We’ll meet in the Fireside Room in the cool of the evening on Thursdays from 7:00 ‘til 8:30 PM. You can purchase a copy of the book on your own, whether in hard cover or electronic form, or there will be copies of the book available from the church for a donation of $15.00. A signup sheet will be posted in the fellowship hall so that we can know of your intent to participate. I hope to see you there!
In Evergreen love, Pastor Tom