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Thoughts from Pastor Dan

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Dear Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotion, titled, “Light in the darkest night,” is written by Krista Burdine.  Along with her husband and three children, Krista is an active participant in the life of our Friends Church congregation.  She lives on a small wooded ranch south of College Station, with a menagerie of horses, chickens and cats.  Krista blogs about Faith, Hope and Love as the essential elements of the spiritual journey, at www.kristaburdine.com.  You can also find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/krista.burdine.writer. She enjoys interacting with readers. 

 

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots… He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:1,3b,4)

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek message comes to you a day early before the holidays get underway.  The devotional, written by Pastor Dan De Leon, originally appeared in The Eagle on Saturday: http://www.theeagle.com/news/faith_and_values/it-s-time-for-reconciliation/article_fa07ac22-695c-5e72-9d12-585641769943.html.

 

My heart broke when I read John’s email, “I’ve lost my faith in people.”

 

John is 81 years old.  He’s been an ordained Christian minister for decades.  From the pulpit to the streets, from education to pastoral care, John has been a steadfast lighthouse of hope that ministers like me—someone half his age—look to for guidance through whatever storms may come.

 

John and I serve together on the Board of Directors for our denomination’s Conference.  So, you see why I was devastated when I opened an email from him the morning after the elections titled, “Withdrawing.”  I promised not to urge John to reconsider his decision when I called him after that.  I just wanted to know what caused the blazing glow in that lighthouse to fade.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek message is offered by our Associate Pastor Trent Williams…

 

What are you most thankful for? No doubt most of us will be able to name many things for which we give thanks--family and friends, home and table, church and freedom. It is appropriate and important for us to take the time to look around us and see all that God has done and is doing. When we gather with family and friends later this month to celebrate Thanksgiving, I do hope that you all have the opportunity to name these blessings and offer thanks to God and to each other.

 

But I also wonder if maybe we should start to look at our giving thanks in some new and different ways. So often, especially in our culture, we tend to stop with the usual list of blessings--we have a home, a family, enough to eat, an income, etc. And that is good. But what else might we come to see as blessings? I wonder if perhaps there are things that we need to be giving thanks for that we might not at first see as blessings.

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotional & announcements come to you a day early to remind you 1) about the Fabulous at Any Age outing later today (details below), and 2) to vote!

 

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. –Psalm 1:1-3, NRSV

 

It’s Election Day, but I’m not happy.  I’m not down in the mouth because of any poll projections or statistical predictions.  I voted early, so I don’t have any worries there.  So, why are long sighs the only sounds I’m making this morning?  Maybe it’s because the weather is gloomy.  Nah.  It’s because I’m tired.  It’s Election Day, but this election season has been so exhausting.  As my 8-year-old daughter moaned to her mother a few days ago, “Mommy, why do elections have to be so hard?”

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Someone asked me a question this week that I have to confess I don’t recall hearing before: “How are we supposed to love God?  Exactly how do we do that?”  Jesus’ lesson about the greatest commandment of all being to love God fully, and a second one like it being to love one another—our neighbors—as we love ourselves is so focally important to the Christian faith that some churches include that Bible verse in their weekly liturgies for the congregation to say in unison, just like we pray The Lord’s Prayer.  But even though loving God is tantamount to our faith, it’s one thing to be reminded of that great commandment and another thing entirely actually practicing it with any level of certitude.

 

Years ago a 6th grade girl in a church where I served as a youth minister approached me about her desire to be baptized.  When I asked her why she wanted to be baptized, she said, “I follow the Ten Commandments.”  Is that how we love God?  By following a set of rules?

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

As of today, after two weeks of not speaking to allow for recovery from surgery on my vocal cords, I am free to speak.  I have yet to fully process what the most (and only) extensive time of intentional silence in my life has meant to me, as well as to the three human beings, one dog, and one cat with whom I’m fortunate to share a home.  Since I’m now free to vocalize my prayers, I’m appreciating the effect my compromised prayer life had on me.

 

For one thing, there’s this discipline I’ve invited our congregation to abide by through the end of this year of praying the Lord’s Prayer five times daily.  That was simple enough for me to do in my head, but my extemporaneous prayer life was not so easy to organize and articulate in my mind.  “God of all, I pray that you’d be with Ruthie today.  Protect her from all harm, so that her learning would be nurtured to its fullest extent.  I pray the same for Mac, and I ask that no harm befall him so that…wait, didn’t I just say that?  Anyway, God, it would be great if you would envelope them and their peers in your grace, mercy, and love.  Now, did I pray for their teachers yet?  If I didn’t, I’d like to pray for them, too…”

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

It’s been one week since I stopped speaking or even whispering in order to adequately recover from surgery on my vocal cords.  I have another week to go.  Even after that, however, I need to use my voice sparingly until it fully heals—an additional three to four months.  Needless to say, this is a challenge for me, as I’m sure it would be for anyone unaccustomed with being unable to communicate verbally.

 

But, as I knew it would, this extended quiet time has also come with lessons that I receive as blessings.  One of those blessings is the simple lesson to not make assumptions about people. 

 

Whenever I’m in public, I keep a small dry erase board, markers, and eraser with me.  I jot down sentences to show the clerk at the store or the barista at the coffee shop or the greeter at the church or the volunteer in the hospital lobby—yeah, the silent pastor made a hospital visit.  They respond by refraining from speaking to me, assuming that I am deaf.  Some use sign language to talk to me, which I don’t understand.  (I only know one thing in sign language, “I love you,” because it’s a combination of the hook ‘em sign and the gig ‘em sign—an apt sign for this Longhorn in Aggieland.)  When they don’t know sign language, they use fantastic hand motions, which I am tempted to video and share on Snap Chat.   One person even grabbed my dry erase board out of my hands and wrote a reply to me, to which I wrote back, “I can hear.  How are you doing today?”  This might come off sounding playful, but the whole experience has made me want to avoid going out in interactive public as much as possible; in a sense to give up.

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

It’s Day 2 of a two-week stretch without speaking or even whispering for this guy.  This is so I can recover from the surgical removal of a polyp from my vocal cord.  Not even 24-hours into this “silent retreat,” my inability to communicate by speech or by song is killing me.  But with a long way to go in this healing process, I’m already reflecting and appreciating a deeper perspective.

 

As I refrain from speaking or singing, I think of Native American children forced into public schools where their names were replaced by less indigenous-sounding ones, and where they were told to speak only in English, and to do away with the songs of their culture and tradition.  I think of German settlers and their proud Lutheran traditions, who taught themselves to speak their liturgies and sing their hymns only in English when anti-German fears increased in the early- and mid-twentieth century U.S.  I think of Spanish-speaking people in our community, many of whom shy away from seeking public services of any kind for fear of being belittled in predominantly English-speaking environments, and many of whom work in the shadows of the industry we conveniently enjoy yet are afraid to ask their English-speaking bosses for explanations about discrepancies in their paychecks or even for a 10-minute break.  I think of LGBT persons with limited protections in the workplace to fight discrimination against them on account of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, or of LGBT children being bullied in schools for similar reasons without repercussions in the school’s policies to protect them against those hostile realities, and I wonder what good is it for them to speak when our heteronormative society is largely deaf to their voices.

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” –Genesis 1:26-28, NRSV

 

“When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” -Romans 8:15b-17a, NRSV

 

In John Dominic Crossan’s book The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, he describes God as a Householder, and the Creation of the Earth and its inhabitants are the household that God keeps.  Like we strive to keep our houses with care and some degree of order, God keeps the household of this world with justice and righteousness, seeing to it that Earth and its resources are distributed equally and treated with mutual respect for the dignity of all who need them to not only survive, but to thrive.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” –Luke 7:39-40a, 44a, NRSV

 

“Truthfully, who are you?” I asked him.

“I’m someone who’s confused just like everybody else,” he replied.

It was a one of those pastoral-care-by-text-message-exchange moments.  I was trying to get to the core of a problem by getting to the core of someone’s identity.  When we strip away the labels placed on us, the titles and nicknames given to us, the perceptions projected onto us, what’s left?  In the eyes of our God, everything is left; and everything is all that matters.

 

In our Sunday School class last week for our high schoolers, one of the youth stood up and held a sign I’d prepared for the lesson that read in bold letters, “LESS FORTUNATE.”  I asked the group, “When you think of people who match that description, what adjectives come to mind?”  The responses ranged from the simple to the specific: sad, disheveled, poor, LGBTQ, women.  Then I asked, “What adjectives would you use to describe people who use that phrase—‘less fortunate’—to define others?”  Another keen range of responses.  We were getting to the point that such phrases used to define human beings do more to hinder our understanding of each other than to help it when, ironically, those phrases are meant to simplify our perceptions of others.