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Rev. Cindy Maddon
FORUM ON FAITH
People of faith not ignorant or 'anti-'.
by Rev. Cindy Maddox
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013
Danbury News Times
Like many people on Facebook, I have an eclectic circle of friends. Many of my friends are pastors, like me, or at least church-going people. I also have friends of other faiths, and many friends--both in real life and on Facebook--who would describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." I also have some friends who are atheists.
Thanks to Facebook, I now have "friends" I have never met. A few years ago, for a brief time, I played a game that required me to add friends if I wanted to advance. I quickly grew tired of such requirements, but I did add three people to my list of Facebook friends who I have never met. One of them is a devout atheist. She is as committed to her cause as many religious people I know, frequently posting quotes and ideas meant to further her point of view and call into question a belief in God or Jesus.
Two of her recent posts caught my attention, causing me to pause and reflect on their words. The first was a quote: "Scientists read many books and still feel they have a lot to learn; a religious man barely reads one and thinks he knows everything." Frankly, I have trouble not resenting this statement. For starters, I do not limit my reading to one book, even if I do consider it sacred. Second, I believe in science and value the vast world of knowledge and societal advancements that science has brought us. Third, I do not think I know everything simply because I am a Christian. And finally, I don't know many Christians who fit this description either.
I get frustrated with the rhetorical strategy of creating a straw man to represent your opponent and then attempting to prove you are right by blowing him down. Republicans do it to Democrats; Democrats do it to Republicans; people of one faith do it to people of another. Over and over we attempt this strategy, and I wonder if it's because creating straw men is easier than actually debating ideas, or if perhaps we simply take such a limited view of our opponents that we don't realize our over-simplification.
The second quote from my Facebook friend was a chart comparing the story of Jesus with the story of the ancient god Horus. According to the chart, both Jesus and Horus were born of virgins, were visited after their birth by wise men, were baptized, had twelve disciples, and ultimately were crucified, buried, and rose again. The chart was intended to show that Jesus was a myth because his story was clearly a copy of some other myth. I did some quick research on Horus and discovered that many of these claims are untrue and inconsistent with the story of Horus. Therefore the chart doesn't prove that the story of Jesus isn't true.
Of course, the opposite is also the case: the lack of comparison between Jesus and some ancient Egyptian god does not prove that Jesus was real, or that the story of Jesus is worth dedicating one's life to following. Faith cannot be proven, and even if something isn't factual, that doesn't mean it isn't true.
People of faith are not ignorant, nor are we anti-science or anti-knowledge or anti-questioning or anti-fun. Yes, some Christians believe in an interpretation of the Bible that leaves little room for anything else. But most of us do not hold such beliefs. Most of us are thinking people who believe what we believe because it brings meaning to our lives and direction to our days. We believe in the story of Jesus because it resonates within us as truth--or something as close to truth as we have found.
Christians cannot all be painted with the same brush. I believe we Christians need to remember that this is true of other faiths as well.
Rev. Cindy Maddox is pastor of King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury, CT. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FORUM ON FAITH
Sundays mean God, family -- and meatballs.
by Jo Gabriele
Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Danbury News Times
As Mother's Day approaches each year, my thoughts take me back in time to my childhood and I reflect on the women in my family who played a major role in defining who I am today. The journey for me is reflective and spiritual.
I remember my grandmothers; my mother and my aunts, who were almost all Italian immigrants. They settled in America and raised their families in Italian neighborhoods where learning how to speak English was not a priority. All the vendors, Italian immigrants themselves, came to the house offering all the goods you needed to feed your family. The men went off to the workforce and the women remained behind to care for the home and the children.
My sister and I grew up in a house built by my paternal grandfather, a mason by trade. It was a home where three generations lived and it is of these years that my memories are most vivid.
My paternal grandmother (after who I am named) bore six children: five boys and a girl. Every Sunday, the pasta board came out to the kitchen table and the ritual of making the ravioli and the pot of "gravy" began. I was always amazed at how she never measured anything. She poured flour on the board, made a well in the center for the liquids and skillfully blended the two until it made a huge mound of dough.
On Sunday, there was also always a double batch of fried meatballs, some for the gravy and some in a huge bowl on the table. Sundays in my home were all about God and family. My cousins and I went to church, attended religious education classes and returned home to nestle with the family and every Sunday, all of the grandchildren were brought to the house to visit my grandparents . . .hence the meatballs on the table.
If I close my eyes and think hard enough, I can almost still taste those meatballs and to this day, I won't eat a meatball once it goes into the gravy.
My mother and my aunts were brought into the fold of cooking Neapolitan style early on. As we grew older the granddaughters (12 of us in total) were called to participate. We, of course were given the most menial of tasks and although we may have wanted to take on a higher level of responsibility, it was not allowed until we mastered each step in the preparation.
Being bold, even as a child, I can remember being resentful of the process and always feeling like it was my penance for something I had done. But as I grew older I realized that it was the appropriate method of teaching because it ensured that when my time came to take their place, I could perform with the same mastery as my grandmother, my mother and my aunts.
When my grandmother passed some 40 years ago, I asked for her pasta board and rolling pin and they take residence in my house to this day. A couple of times a year, the pasta board takes its place on my dining room table and I sift through the old recipes and decide which will grace the holiday tables.
As I place the pasta board on the table, I run my fingers over the little cuts in the board. The cuts represent the marks made by the cutting wheel my grandmother used when she made the ravioli. I think about my time in her kitchen using a fork to be sure the ravioli were sealed properly.
As I prepare the recipes, I can almost feel the presence of my mother and my aunts as they guide me through the process. I can almost hear the conversation, the laughter and experience the camaraderie that was shared by all of them.
Every now and then my sister and two of my cousins join me and grandma's pasta board takes a road trip. We stand where our mothers and ancestors once stood and we take our place in the family history. We have all matured into responsible adults, as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. The central focus of our lives remains God and family.
There may not be a big bowl of fried meatballs on the table on Sunday, but the memory ever remains.
So on this Mother's Day, I celebrate the women in my life who contributed to who I am today and I smile as I remember each and every one of them.
Jo Gabriele is a member of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church, Danbury and the Association of Religious Communities. She can be reached at: 203-792-9450, ext. 100 or email@example.com.
Carol B. Huckabee
FORUM ON FAITH
ARC Comida: In feeding, we are fed.
by Carol B. Huckabee
Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013
Danbury News Times
Religious traditions share many common aspects but sometimes differ in how much emphasis they put on "worldly" versus "other worldly" concerns. Unitarian Universalism generally gives a lot of weight to the here and now: life after birth, rather than life after death. We see religion as a life-affirming enterprise, rather than a death-defying one. Because this is our focus, we are intensely interested in what is happening around us in our communities and with our neighbors.
In Danbury there are myriad efforts every day to enhance the lives of those who suffer or hurt or need. The Association of Religious Communities (ARC) is in the forefront of many of these endeavors. One such effort is their bi-weekly food bank, Comida, which helps to address the issue of food insecurity for many of our neighbors. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD) actively supports Comida.
Each Sunday we have a food offering at UUCD and many of us carry our packages of food staples to fill the basket.
This food is later brought to ARC to be appropriately packaged and distributed to our neighbors in need. Others from the community also give generously, including other churches, restaurants, and community organizations. ARC makes up the rest, all supplying the minimum 400 lbs of rice and 300 lbs of beans needed to feed over 300, mainly unemployed people, every month.
As a member of UUCD, I routinely donate food to Comida and help with the bi-weekly distribution out of ARC's Crosby St facility. Other UUs work right alongside me, handing out the food staples that our neighbors here in Danbury use to help manage their family's nutritional needs.
Our UU faith tradition respects the worth and dignity of all individuals, no matter where you come from, what you look like, how you speak or dress, what you believe, or who you love. My work at Comida melts right into this framework. We don't ask questions or criticize or judge. We try to tailor the goods we give to each family's needs. We talk and laugh and enjoy the antics of the children who jump around the small room where Comida is located.
As UUs we are challenged in our religious work to reach out to all sorts and conditions of people, to be open to the individual character of all human religious experience. We believe every human being is holy.
We love to think about and discuss social justice issues at UUCD but while such discussions are important and interesting, they are in the abstract.
My work at the Comida food pantry is in the now. Right here with our own.
Our justice work is in the face of a mother carrying a baby with a toddler in tow, balancing a basket for holding the rice, beans, canned goods and diapers she will gratefully receive. There is nothing abstract about the family elder who comes for food that will be carefully stretched over the two week period to help feed a family of six, with perhaps one member working once in a while as a day laborer for less than minimum wage, if luck is with them.
I see in the lined faces and bundled babies real life stories of the sorrows, joys, and stamina in the lives of the precarious and powerless. Lives that a booming wealthy nation has failed to welcome and integrate. This food pantry is a place where the meaning of our first UU principle, "The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person," is right before my eyes.
In this work we UUs also live out other principles of our faith. We covenant to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. We work with intention toward the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
And helping our neighbors feed their families brings it right back home as to how we, and they, are all part of the interdependent web of existence.
The kinship of all is more than a dream for the afterlife. It is a reality in one small food pantry room for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon. We are of a kind with each other and it is a privilege to experience that, even as we struggle with each other's language or share a laugh.
These principles guide us in religious community. Our values, grit, and a sense of humor guide us in the work of connection and care.
Carol B. Huckabee is a Member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, 24 Clapboard Ridge Road, Danbury, CT 06811. She can be reached at 203-798-1994 or on the web at www.uudanbury.org.
Fr. Luke Mihaly
FORUM ON FAITH
Orthodox Easter: God broke the power of death.
by Fr. Luke Mihaly
Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013
Danbury News Times
Orthodox Christians will be celebrating Easter on Sunday, May 5. It is the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. From the fall of Adam and Eve, prior to Christ's resurrection, we believe all of mankind was condemned to Hades after death. Hades was a holding place for the souls of the people who died - righteous and unrighteous; holy and unholy. It was the dominion of Lucifer and his demons. Hades represented death; Hades represented darkness.
How was God to break the grip of death and corruption that had held man since the fall of Adam and Eve? How could God do this while still respecting man's free will?
He could have over powered us by his glory and forced us, but this would not have respected our free will. Can it really be called 'love' if you are forced to love someone? Absolutely not.
So God came as a little child, with no fanfare. He grew as a man and lived among us. He fulfilled the scriptures not by saying he was God, but doing the things that only God can do. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and forgave sins. He raised people from the dead. He left it up to us to believe or not believe that this Jesus was God or not.
We believe God did all this so that we would be saved not by force but by our acceptance of him as God. As St. Athanasius tells us God became like us so that we might become like him. And by becoming like us this meant that he submitted to death and went into the regions dark and deep, to Hades where only man goes after he dies. But here was a place where God was not supposed to be. Here, in Hades, Life was in the midst of death; here was Light in the midst of darkness.
At the beginning of every liturgy, as the priest censes around the altar he recites a very simple prayer: "In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul, in paradise with the thief, on the throne with the Father and the Spirit was Thou, O boundless Christ, filling all things yet encompassed by none." In this simple and concise prayer, we see that Jesus in his humanity entered everywhere that man went after death, but it was all held together by his Divine Nature. It was his Divine Nature that destroyed the power of death, the hold that death had upon all humanity up until that time because, what death had swallowed up was not a mere man, but God.
By his descent into "the lowest pit, in the darkest depths" and his resurrection, God is now everywhere present and fills all things. It is not that Hell no longer exists but that the gates of Hell have been broken.
If we look at traditional Orthodox icons of Christ's resurrection, we see Christ raising Adam and Eve, our first parents, from Hell. We also see depicted broken locks, bars and chains, and the smashed doors of hell. What is portrayed iconographically is that the doors of Hell now stand wide open. Hell is no longer a place where we are sent to after we die, but rather is a place from which we by the Grace of God we can walk through into the heavenly kingdom. However, we can still choose to stay in Hades while its doors stand wide open.
Hell is destroyed because there is no no place where God is not. There is no place where death and darkness reign eternally. We are no longer prisoners of death and darkness, unless we choose to be there.
There is can no longer any place we can hide from God. By rising from the dead, God has shed his love on everyone. As we recite in the Creed we believe in the resurrection of the dead. All will be raised and bathed in the glory and the love of God. Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous also. To those who love God that love is a warm and comforting light. But to those who reject God that same Love is experienced as a burning fire. It is not that God is condemning us to a fiery torturous eternity, but rather he sheds his love upon everyone to an eternity of his love. If we find ourselves in darkness, it is because we refuse to open our eyes to the Love, who is all around us.
At the very beginning of Matins for Holy Pascha, Easter, the church is engulfed in darkness. Yet it is a moment pregnant with the anticipation of announcement of the Resurrection. It is at this moment that the priest strikes a match and lights his candle from which every candle in the church is to be lit. After the priest lights his candle, he turns to the people and invites them to "Come receive the light." By doing so he invites not only the faithful, but the entire world, to open their eyes to the Light of Christ which bathes all of creation. Indeed, he who has eyes to see let them see.
This is the glory and the joy of Pascha; Christ is risen and all things are new; Christ is risen and the dead are freed from their graves.
Fr. Luke Mihaly is the pastor of theHoly Trinity Orthodox Church, Danbury, CT. He can be reached at 203-748-0671 or Holytrinitydanbury.org.
FORUM ON FAITH
Bible suggests 'tender stewardship' of Earth.
by Polly Castor
Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013
Danbury News Times
In the quintessential chapter on prayer in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures there is a spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, which each Sunday is a part of our church service. For example, the line, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven," is interpreted as, "Enable us to know, as in heaven so on earth, God is omnipotent, supreme." Later in this book the author, Mary Baker Eddy, asks, "Have you ever pictured this heaven and earth, inhabited by beings under the control of supreme wisdom?"
Well I have imagined it, and in all fairness, I often even see it. I am deeply grateful whenever I do. But I also see indulgent living, full of haughtiness, self-will, and reckless greed, based on a merely materialistic view of the world. The prevalence of pollution, toxic chemicals, and squandered resources can be appalling.
In the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible we are told to "replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion... over every living thing." Historically, there has been disregard for the environment based on what I think is a misunderstanding of this authority for dominion.
To me, this text does not give rampant permission for exploitation. Instead, I think taken in context with the rest of the Bible, it suggests a responsibility of tender stewardship, a solemn charge to care for and nurture the earth.
As such, Christian Scientists believe we are to insure ongoing harmony and balance in nature while putting it to good use. It seems to me to suggest the lightest touch necessary to maintain God's perfect creation, while constantly returning to the question of what is "supreme wisdom" when deciding appropriate action.
I believe it helps to look both at the earth itself and at what truly satisfies, spiritually instead of materially. The way I look, for example, the clamor to get more of our share of resources before they run out is neither wise nor satisfying, while obeying the Biblical injunction to "love our neighbors as ourselves," is both satisfying and wise.
Jesus told us "the meek shall inherit the earth." What is meekness? It certainly is not caviler abuse, contamination and waste. But meekness is not a passive thing either. It is a powerful willingness to listen and make a responsible choice, instead of forging ahead blindly, quickly grasping whatever is expedient.
It seems the only way we will have an earth to inherit is if we can muster the meekness to obey "supreme wisdom" and choose carefully conscious love over thoughtless unconscious destruction.
The environment is what surrounds us. What environment are we fostering: one of over-consumption and competition, or one of divine Love's control of impartial benevolence and provision?
What is the environment in heaven that earth is supposed to be like?
An atmosphere of Love is what I'd say is the fundamental factor.
There are countless practical ways that this kind of love can be expressed. Some examples: using reusable silverware, plates, water bottles, and napkins instead of throwaways; reducing your garbage by composting, recycling, and buying less packaging; investing in renewable energy; skyping instead of flying to that interview; carpooling; finding the freedom of living modestly; eating food that is organic and local, even growing and sharing your own; making choices sourced in moral purity and brotherly consideration.
God expresses beauty and life in the natural world so it is not surprising that it is there I feel God's love the most.
I thrive on getting out in nature, noticing how glorious it is, and feeling a big debt of gratitude for it. The variation, detail, sublimity and magnitude of God's creation are awe-inspiring. I believe we have an obligation to live tangibly our love for God by caring for this marvelous irreplaceable planet.
My prayer is to honor God by living "as in heaven so on earth" more and more each day.
By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield. She can be reached at: PollyCastor@gmail.com.
FORUM ON FAITH
Imagination and wonder are keys to Jewish life.
by Penny Kessler
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013
Danbury News Times
When Jews are called "the people of the book," that usually means THE Book for us, the Torah, and it's true. Jewish life is guided by thousands of years of interpretations of the Torah. But in fact, we Jews are the people of the imagination. Being able to imagine and wonder is a defining characteristic of Jewish survival for thousands of years. And you are never too old or too young to let your imagination fly. Simply to be a Jew is to engage in joyous flights of fancy. Of course there are limitations, but within a wide range of possibilities, those possibilities are endless.
For one thing, we Jews have no idea what God looks like. When asked to self-define, God has been spectacularly vague. "I am that which I am" is God's answer to Moses' inquiry. Jews are specifically restricted from creating pictures, statues, any pictorial reference to God. The best we can do is describe God through imaginative verbal adjectives: powerful, majestic, compassionate, kingly, maternal, and so on.
No two of us will have the same mental and spiritual picture because we each have a different understanding and relationship with God.
God has a great imagination, too.
A student once thoughtfully offered that being created in God's image meant that God had created each of us the way God had imagined us to look. That meant that of course no two people, even DNA identical twins, are exactly the same. Isn't that a perfect insight? When we pray, especially the Amidah prayers that are central to a worship service, each of us imagines ourself as standing in front of God, just ourself and God in a personal dialog.
Jewish midrash, the body of literature that helps fill in the blanks of Bible stories, is a world of wondrous imagination. There is no fixed time continuum in this genre, and there are instances of Bible characters spread through the centuries speaking to each other, like Abraham talking to Moses or Moses sitting in on a class taught by a post-Common Era sage like Akiva, clearly only possible in the writers' minds. It's awesome.
Imagination is hard wired into our history and our calendar. One of the most wondrous characters in Jewish history is the prophet Elijah, who never died; instead he wanders the earth, bringing a message of hope in a perfect future, a time when the Messiah will come. Passover ended a few weeks ago; Elijah was at our seder, just as he attends every seder around the world. We welcomed him, unseen, into our homes, where he sipped wine specifically poured for him. Imagination is what allows even the most jaded among us to be awed and delighted to believe that this invisible being can sip wine at our table. The Passover seder itself is an exercise in imagination. Each of us must imagine ourselves as personally being taken out of Egypt.
Our High Holy Day prayerbook is filled with beautiful piyyutim, sacred poems, that provide imaginative insights into our relationships with God. We build temporary structures for the fall festival of Sukkot, tangible and fragile reminders of living on the fringes of the harvest fields, firing up our imaginations of an agricultural time long past. Shavuot in the late spring is perhaps the festival that requires the most fertile imaginations. Celebrating our standing at Sinai receiving Torah, there are no at-home or in-synagogue rituals with nothing tactile to hold or do. We have to imagine ourselves at the foot of the great mountain, hearing the thunder and the lightening, standing together in the presence of awe and majesty.
Most of all, we Jews imagine a world and time beyond our own, when our known world, incomplete and damaged and full of ugliness, will be made perfect and whole.
We imagine and believe in a time of the coming of the Messiah, whether it is a person or an age, that will usher in a world of hope and wonder.
We imagine a world to come, a heaven where we can sit at God's right hand.
Imagination allowed the Jewish people, oppressed for centuries and almost destroyed, to make the deserts of Israel bloom and bring that country back to life.
Imagination, hope and wonder have strengthened and sustained Jews for millennia, and I believe with all my heart that we are never too old or young to allow ourselves the gift of imagination.
FORUM ON FAITH
The Sanctity of Life, Redefined.
by Eman Beshtawii
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Danbury News Times
We live in a world of increasing violence, aggression and murder. A world of relentless war and its accompanying oppressive atrocities. Unspeakable, unimaginable acts of cruelty occur every day, in every age and in practically every corner of the world.
As common people, we have become desensitized to these almost daily occurrences of mayhem in the News. We have lost our humanity and we have lost our ability to empathize - or so it seems until we ask ourselves what responsibility do we share in these crimes against humanity with our silence and until we ask ourselves with what Sanctity do we really hold Human Life?
Now, at least 80,000 Syrians are dead and at least 2 million have fled their homes. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has called Syria a "bloody center of history," and the death toll of Syrian civilians rivals that of Bosnian civilians during their Genocide of the 90's.
"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in a statement on March 6th 2013. "The international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped"
There have been numerous atrocities since the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Syria is not the only nation that has been ignored when genocides occurred. No action was taken to stop the Cambodian Killing Fields or Rwanda's Hundred Days of Hell. Instead, millions suffered until locals finally overthrew the perpetrators by military force.
During the Bosnian Genocide, the world failed to intervene as the Milosevic regime indiscriminately shelled Bosniak civilians. Only after the Srebrenica Massacre of over 8,000 Bosnians was the world finally shamed to act, launching a NATO bombing campaign until Milosevic stopped the killing.
The Sanctity of Life is universally found in the revealed text of faith traditions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and others. Life is not only of infinite value, it is also sacred, as Islam's revealed text, The Qur'an states: "We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people. (Chap 5:32)"... "Nor take life which God has made sacred, except for a just cause" (Chap. 17:33).
Al-Ghazali, a renowned Muslim Scholar and Jurist from the 11th Century - widely accepted across the Muslim world today, concluded in his Classic work 'Huquq al-Insan' (Rights of Human Beings) that "in respect of the sanctity of life and the prohibition of aggression against it, Muslims and non-Muslims are equal. Attack on the personal safety of non-Muslims invokes the same punishment in this world and the Hereafter".
There is hope for a lasting peace by inculcating the message of The Sanctity of Life from the pulpits of all faith traditions to all of Mankind. There is hope when the world unites in righteousness against oppression and slaughter of the weak and defenseless as an alternative to individual nations pursuing their material interests. There is hope when a higher purpose and calling unites Mankind regardless of their differences.
Tragedy can unite diverse faith groups to share in their grief as our beautiful town of Newtown CT has shown. Multiplying the joy of living in a World at Peace can unite us too when the Sanctity of Life is truly observed. The Sanctity of Life will be observed when we demand its adherence on ourselves and on those who violate it. The alternative is the status quo that would leave all of our children repeating what their ancestors bemoaned after the Holocaust and after every genocide that occurred before and after - "where was the World?"
Let's grow this opportunity to work together across region, country and world to accomplish great things that would make us truly worthy children of our common ancestor in faith and patriarch Abraham, Peace be upon him.
Eman Beshtawii is the Chaplain and Co-Director of the Al Hedaya Islamic Center,
115 Mt Pleasant Road, Newtown CT 06470. She can be reached at: 203-300-9326 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.msgdanbury.org
Fr. Angelo Arrando
FORUM ON FAITH
Move over Easter Bunny.
by Fr. Angelo Arrando
Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Danbury News Times
Another Easter is here. Easter and Christmas are the two pillar celebrations of the Christian faith that define what Christianity is about. Yet I do wonder how the world can perceive what Christians believe by the way far too many of us outwardly celebrate these hol(y)idays. Santa, Rudolph and Frosty have taken over Christmas and we forfeited Easter to the bunny, colored eggs and hoards of candy. These trite usurpers are certainly not what Christianity is truly about!
Nor is Easter simply about a dead Jesus becoming animated after three days.
The resurrection for Christians is not merely the triumph of light over dark, mercy over vengeance, life over death. Rather, it is the ongoing of Jesus' presence in the world and in every person. Through his resurrection humanity takes center stage and calls Christians to view our world in a different light. In the glare of history, he forever stands the Jesus of Israel, the Christ of Christians, a tragic figure who belongs to the ages.
But in the resurrection, he becomes a signpost pointing to another way for human beings to live with one another.
For Christians our world is unthinkable without Jesus. Yet far too many Christians go on as if he never existed. We have hollowed his words, and his challenges. In our time, as in his time, human begins are exploitable, expendable, disposable, and dispensable. In a market economy where we turn unnecessary products into absolute necessities, we reduce human beings from our first priority; human beings come second to money.
Our aggressive, assertive, competitive, predatory world is further away from valuing human beings today than it was in the days of Jesus Christ.
Jesus still draws a crowd. People still go wild over Jesus. But hardly any really pay attention to his vision anymore. We read and read the gospels but when the words lose their meaning, they all begin to sound like "Have a nice day!"
Relegating Easter to the bunny, colored eggs and hoards of candy, the way of Jesus lost its edge, its oddness, its deep kind of living, its deeper kind of loving that involves a deeper kind of relational existence.
Yet, the prospect of an alternative humanity is still the offering Jesus puts forward to us.
To give love, to receive love according to the standard established by Jesus, we must undergo a foundational change, a transformation of a deeply religious nature, a recapturing of the risen Christ in our midst.
God so loves us human beings that God has always intervened in our human affairs to keep us on the straight and narrow way of attending to each others' needs, making others' needs our own. Through the Bible, God's prophets plead with us to stop taking advantage of others. God begs us to stop squeezing others out of what they need to survive in order to satisfy our own oversized greed.
Times will keep on changing as this old world keeps on turning, but the command of love that we "love one another as God loves us" will always be the same.
The message of the Bible is always very simple, always very plain in our ordinary, everyday world. God begs us to stop foraging, hoarding, storing, and to stop stockpiling properties and possessions in a manner that cheats others out of their basic needs.
God's desperate wish to get us humans to share all we have with one another took a mind-blowing turn when God's only son became one of our very own (Christmas). For Christians, following Jesus, empowered by his resurrection, must mean putting persons first, front and center, in every way we approach existence.
What this entails is nothing less than one almighty conversation, as we move from being addicted consumers of material goods and services to becoming persons who attend to each other, who minister to each person by giving our fullest presence as modeled for us in the person of Jesus. The love for other human beings that Jesus calls for is not from some other realm foreign to our own. It is here-on-earth love.
Jesus comes back and lives again in any person of our own time who sees in other persons what he saw, who feels for others what he felt.
Christians are called to turn our planet into a person-centered world and this is as much a religious endeavor today as it was in the days of Jesus. It puts one immediately into a countercultural posture.
How much easier it is to allow the Easter bunny. However, the bunny cannot fulfill the hopes and aspirations of a human race that continues to struggle to find meaning in its existence. Christians, empowered by the risen Christ, are to be living witnesses of God's ongoing love affair with the human race and caring for others as they believe God takes care of us.
"Whatever you did to the very least you have done to me! What you have failed to do to the very least you have failed to do to me" continues to be the biblical challenge and the edge of our Easter celebration. Move over, bunny!
Father Angelo S. Arrando is Pastor of St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in Danbury, CT.
Rabbi Jon Haddon
FORUM ON FAITH
Finding similarities in Pesach and baseball.
by Rabbi Jon Haddon
Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013
Danbury News Times
It seems fortuitous that this year the sixth day of Pesach (Passover) occurs on Sunday, March 31st, the same day that Major League Baseball begins its 2013 season with the Texas Rangers facing the Houston Astros. The 2013 season will be the Houston Astros' first as a member of the American League and they will be placed in the West Division. This will mark the first growth in the number of American League teams since the 1977 addition of the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. In other words, pretty momentous decisions. And at this time of remembering the momentous events of the Exodus, we Jews can find many similarities between the opening of the baseball season and the coming of Pesach.
During spring training, baseball teams clean up their rosters. Players, like chametz (non-kosher bread products), can get old, stale and broken. So teams get new players in the hopes of redeeming themselves from past failures. In the spring, we clean our homes for Pesach. We clean out our cupboards, getting rid of chametz and other foods that are old, stale and broken. We get new bread - Matzah - in celebration of our being redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Hopefully, we also regain hope, courage and optimism as well.
The opening of the baseball season also means new hope. While it is true that after the 162 game season, the same big teams will probably be on top - the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers, and so on, while I as a long suffering Chicago Cub fan still believe that "this could be the year." The hopefulness of spring is glorious and it "springs eternal."
Pesach is a holiday of hope. We place a cup of wine on our table for the prophet Elijah, in the hope that this year will be the year that he comes to announce the coming of the Messiah, and will usher in a time of peace for Israel and the entire world.
Baseball has no time limit. Sometimes it seems like the Seders we attend have no time limit either. Baseball teaches us patience. The game isn't over until the very last out. Or as Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over, till it's over." The Seder teaches us patience, as we cannot leave until we say, "Next year in Jerusalem."
Baseball involves strategy - bunt, hit and run, steal. Pesach in Danbury involves strategy as we plan our Passover food scavenger hunt, not easy in Danbury... but who knows? Whole Foods or Trader Joes might one day carry kosher meat!
Baseball is a game of special foods - hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks. Passover is a time of special foods - not only the required matzah, but also macaroons, matzah ball soup, brisket, matzah brei and other family favorites. The object of baseball is to score runs by going home. Pesach celebrates our returning home from slavery in Egypt. And we celebrate it with Sedorim which are most often held at home.
Baseball is a pastoral game, played in a beautiful green park. Pesach is a spring pastoral holiday which celebrates the harvest of the spring crops.
Yet, in the end, baseball is just a game. We cheer for our favorite teams. We celebrate their wins and cry with their losses. But it is just a game.
Pesach isn't a game. Pesach is life. Play ball.
Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.
Rev. Karen Karpow
FORUM ON FAITH
How Methodist pastors are called to their jobs.
by Rev. Karen Karpow
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013
Danbury News Times
This is the last Forum on Faith article that I'll be writing, at least for now. I'll be moving away this summer. So the topic I've chosen is how moves take place for ministers in the United Methodist tradition.
One rather unique and even odd feature of the United Methodist Church is that our pastors serve where we are appointed by our bishop. Our appointments last a year at a time, though most of us stay put for much longer than that. Every year, each of us is either reappointed to our current church, or sent to another church within our conference, which in our case comprises approximately 500 congregations, across: the New York metropolitan area, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and western Connecticut.
When they first learn about our system, people are often surprised, even shocked. Imagine someone telling you where you are going to work, where you are going to live, even what house you will live in. And as a church, imagine somebody just sending you a pastor! (If you are Catholic, this will be easier for you to imagine.)
But this is the system that Methodist pastors and congregations have signed up for, and I believe it works.
This system has its roots in the Methodist movement of the 1700's, when itinerant pastors rode their horses from town to town in "circuits," serving a new place every month, every week, or even every day. (By comparison, our year-long appointments seem luxurious!) This system has evolved into a practice of missional appointments, based on the needs of each church and community, and the gifts of the pastors who are available.
People from traditions in which churches get to choose their pastors often assume that this is a terrible system. And yes, sometimes it doesn't work. But more often, I believe it results in wonderful and fruitful experiences for the churches as well as the pastors. The Bishop, assisted by the Cabinet, has a much wider view of what is going on in our conference, what our churches need, and who is best suited for each ministry.
Unexpected matches are made. It has certainly helped the United Methodist Church be among the more progressive denominations, when congregations receive pastors of a gender or race they would not have hired on their own. A member of my own congregation, for example, upon learning that I was leaving, said she has to admit I'm much better than she expected but she still thinks all pastors should be men. Churches sometimes receive pastors who challenge them in good ways they wouldn't necessarily choose, and pastors are sent to churches where they grow in good ways that they might not have sought out.
At the very least, the system is efficient. Everyone who is moving moves on July 1. Churches normally don't go months or even years without a pastor, which is common in some other denominations. If a clergy-church match isn't working, it usually gets fixed quickly. Most of the clergy in the conference know each other, and we are very careful not to leave big messes behind when we leave because we will see the people who follow us very regularly at meetings!
So, this is the system to which I (and all Methodist ministers) pledge at ordination to "offer myself without reserve for appointment."
I have been in Danbury nearly six years, and my youngest child is graduating from Danbury High School in June. I knew this might be coming. I am excited about my new opportunities, but I will miss Danbury terribly. I love the city, our church, our neighborhood, my friends, and the Hatters! Danbury has a diversity and energy that is really special.
The Danbury United Methodist Church is a wonderful gathering of fellow travelers on a journey to connect with God and with other people, and to connect our faith to our lives. These connections will spread outward as I move to White Plains, and a new pastor comes to Danbury. My successor is Rev. Kim Bosley and she will arrive in July!
FORUM ON FAITH
Understanding purgatory: purged by God's love.
by Dennis Bouffard
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013
Danbury News Times
Bill, a close friend, stopped by to talk. His brother recently died. While I could tell he was grieving he expressed fear as well. Apparently Bill's brother Barry was a good person, a good husband and father, yet he had some moral failings. Barry had no longer practiced his faith and this seriously troubled Bill. As a Catholic, Bill worried that Barry was now suffering in Purgatory and would be there a long time.
The teaching within the Catholic Church about purgatory has a long tradition. Yet it also has led to questions as noted in the most recent U.S. Lutheran - Catholic Dialogue "The Hope of Eternal Life".
The document states: "If we die still deformed by sin, but will finally live before God fully transformed into what God intends for humanity, then some sort of change or transformation must occur between death and entry into eschatological glory. In this sense, the general topic of "purgation" is unavoidable. What is the nature of this transformation?" (#157)
I explained to Bill that my understanding of Purgatory may not be found in any theological text. Yet perhaps it could be of help to Bill.
To understand the afterlife, I believe we need to use human terms despite that life after death is a spiritual existence. In the afterlife there is neither time nor space. To understand it we need to describe it in a way familiar to us.
It is this principle of using human terms upon which I based my explanation to Bill. No one is perfect. Each of us has moments of weakness and failure in the life God has ordained, that is a life of caring and loving. When death occurs, the person, upon entering the afterlife, is in the presence of God. God is "loving being" meaning that God is completely and ultimately pure love. I believe in God's presence a person instantaneously recognizes their whole life in the context of goodness and failure.
Referring to our human experiences, one might be able to understand this encounter.
When I have said or done something that has offended another and I later apologize to that individual, the offended, hopefully, would be ready to accept the apology and forgive me. Yet I recognize that I am humbled in this person's presence while feeling ashamed of my words and actions that offended that person. Still, it is over and we are reconciled.
In like manner, at the moment of my death I will acknowledge my failures. I believe God as "loving being" will then forgive me, purge me of my faults and failures as I present to God my entire life. I will be humbled and hurting as I acknowledge the love I have lived as well as the faults I have committed. Lovingly, God will instantaneously purge me of all that I have failed in my living as he ordained. My heart will melt and I will be transformed.
Therefore "Purgatory" is neither a place nor a period of time. Rather it is an experience of purgation. This spiritual experience is reflected in the Catholic liturgy of the Mass.
In the celebration of the Eucharist which concludes with the priest raising the life of Christ in the form of bread and wine, the Priest, along with the congregation, offers Christ to the Father with the words "Through him." While we learned that there is suffering in Purgatory, we believe, as exemplified in the Mass, that the suffering is in the recognition and humility of realizing that we have failed in life as God called us to live.
Therefore I believe it is the life Barry lived that he brought with him in his death and in his encounter with God. It is the failures he brought that were purged from his soul in order that he may "enter" heaven in a pure condition of complete love. And this experience is a spiritual one, outside of time and place, which happens in an instant.
Denis Bouffard is a member of St. Gregory the Great R.C. Church, Danbury. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
FORUM ON FAITH
Embracing inherent worth and dignity across religions.
by Darlene Anderson-Alexander
Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Danbury News Times
As a Unitarian Universalist, I hold the first of our Seven Principles - "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" - at the core of my belief system. This sounds remarkably like the "Golden Rule", or "Ethic of Reciprocity", the spirit of which can be found in the texts of the majority of the world's religions. It's nothing new and it's fairly simple: be nice to people and treat them as you would treat yourself.
To do that, and do that well, however, takes active awareness and understanding. We Unitarian Universalists strive to offer opportunities for our children and youth to take part in interfaith exploration to move toward the goal of deeper understanding. One of our signature curricula is Neighboring Faiths: Exploring World Religions with Junior High Youth (Reed & Hoertdoerfer, 1997).
In this program, participants plan their own program by choosing which religious groups to learn about, visit and relate to their own developing faith. It is a curriculum which encourages a search for truth and meaning in many of the world's religions - religions whose members are our own neighbors.
This year, the 6th-8th graders in our congregation in Danbury have visited several area houses of worship, often attending a service and then engaging in a follow-up discussion with a religious leader. They were struck by the symbolism of the vestments which a Roman Catholic priest donned (during the Mass for the benefit of his Unitarian Universalist visitors!) and were introduced to some of the long-standing traditions of that faith.
They were awed by the beauty of the Cantor's singing at a Reformed Jewish service. They were surprised that, although the words of the songs were in Hebrew, their meaning and spiritual content were evident. It was described as a peaceful, meditative experience.
Quite the opposite at a local Evangelical Christian church! The youth experienced the use of contemporary worship with Biblical teaching. They were excited by the lively music and the references to football! They learned that the messages of faith come in many different packages.
At an Islamic center, the youth were challenged to think about what it would be like to be Moslem teenagers today trying to balance their religious beliefs of modesty with the pressures of the media and middle school culture which do little to encourage any sort of modest behavior. They engaged in an open discussion with the leader there while surrounded by the beauty of the prayer room. What a gift to be so warmly welcomed into these places of worship!
We were pleased to have guest speakers join us at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury as well. Notably, a friend of one of our volunteers came to share her practice of the Baha'i faith with us. Our youth were struck by the similarities to their own faith, especially the Baha'i desire to contribute to the construction of a better world.
Upcoming visits for our group include a trip to a Buddhist Monastery, a Native American center, and another Unitarian Universalist congregation quite different from our own.
Our volunteer religious educators and parents of children participating in "Neighboring Faiths" are pleased that our youth are taking an active role in living our 4th Unitarian Universalist Principle - "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning". The youth have asked meaningful, thought-provoking questions of our hosts (e.g., "How do you know your religion is the best one?"). They were encouraged to consider the similarities and differences of each faith to their own and to recognize that each tradition clearly holds some degree of truth.
They have had some of the misinformation about religious traditions that permeates our media and culture dispelled by open, caring discussions with representatives from various denominations. Straightforward answers that can guide them as they grow in their own Unitarian Universalist faith.
When I think about it, embracing the inherent worth and dignity of every person is a nice way to live. It seems fair and right. But it is so much more.
We live in a country which prides itself on its diversity. Our children are maturing in a religiously pluralistic world where, if they are to grow to be successful in the diverse communities where they will work, raise families, and be good citizens, they must learn about and appreciate one another.
I am proud to be part of the Unitarian Universalist movement that has faith and belief exploration at the core of its religious education program and so thankful for the gifts of our community neighbors in faith.
Darlene Anderson-Alexander is the Director of Religious Education. She can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site www.uudanbury.org or at (203)798-1994. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury.
Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe
FORUM ON FAITH
Reach In, reaching out spiritually.
by Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe
Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013
Danbury News Times
A young man named Mike began showing up for worship every week at the church where I once served back in the late 1990s. Mike was an electronics engineer and it was the heyday of the dot-com boom. He gave an interesting reason for his decision to commit to worship.
Mike had not been in church since he was a young teen, so the religious faith in which he was raised was little more than a childhood memory. He was not in any sort of personal crisis. He had not been brought to his knees by illness, job loss, addiction, or the death of a loved one.
Everything was going great in his life. So I asked him, "Why now?"
Using language borrowed from his daily work, he said, "My world is interesting but mundane, and I realized that it was time for me to access the spiritual side of life." I had never heard anyone put it quite like that. Access the spiritual side of life.
Mike didn't know what he was in for. Like many Americans, he imagined that spirituality is an individual quest for personal experience or meaning. If there is a rationale for the existence of religious organizations like churches, it must be to meet that essentially private need or desire. Mike was surprised to discover that, while his individual faith journey was the original motivator, worship also brought him into the welcoming embrace of a community.
Over time, his desire to "access the spiritual" found fulfillment in fellowship and in a church with a message rooted in ancient scripture and creative tradition. He discovered something else, as well: that Christian spiritual life is about both reaching in and reaching out.
Through the church's men's group, Mike got involved in mission activities, starting with volunteer work at a soup kitchen. The community of faith is part of, and has responsibilities in, the wider community.
Before Mike decided to come to church he was a member of the very diverse wider community. When he first walked into the church he was a complete stranger. On that occasion, the congregation came through with a warm welcome. People talked with him. He made some connections. He came back the next week, people remembered him, and it felt right.
That does not always happen, even in the best of churches. It may be more common for a visitor to feel like an outsider who has stumbled into some strange club where everybody is speaking to one another in secret code.
Just as individuals tend to privatize their spiritual life, religious communities can also easily become self-absorbed.
I believe churches need to learn and re-learn the spirituality that came to characterize Mike's experience as he grew in his faith. This kind of spirituality combines the personal and the communal. It both reaches in and reaches out.
In the Christian Bible, the Apostle Paul had a holistic spiritual life in mind when he wrote to the church at Rome in the first century, "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (Romans 12:13). Reaching in and reaching out are two parts of the whole, as essential as breathing in and breathing out. "Saints" and "strangers" seem like words that divide the world into two opposing camps, but Christian faith at its best unites them in the life of the church.
The word "saints" in the New Testament does not mean people who are super-good or hyper-spiritual. It's Paul's word for ordinary believers who become members of the body of Christ, in the fellowship of a church that is committed to both reaching in and reaching out in this world.
Gradually, Mike came to realize that he was one, too.
As members and friends "contribute to the needs of the saints," the church offers spiritual and emotional care. Contributions are not just monetary. Contributing to the needs of the saints includes participating in any way to strengthen the church as a spiritual community. There's great comfort in this fellowship.
I believe to "extend hospitality to strangers" means to have the same concern for the wider world that we have for family and friends. I believe a faithful church cares equally for "saints" and "strangers," and that experience starts on Sunday morning.
What Mike discovered, and what I believe the church must continue to learn, is that Christian spirituality is an open circle of love.
Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe, the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, Ridgefield, CT 06877. He can be reach at: email@example.com.
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
FORUM ON FAITH
The intangibles of healing include laughter and prayer.
by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013
Danbury News Times
Last summer, my friend Rabbi Phyllis Sommer posted on her Facebook page that her 6-year-old son Sam had been diagnosed with Leukemia. I was stunned and deeply saddened. Sam was a normal healthy six year old who developed pain in his arms and legs. After a number of doctors and hospital visits, he was diagnosed with Leukemia and to use Rabbi Phyllis' words "our lives will never be the same."
A few days after sharing her son's diagnosis, Rabbi Phyllis started a blog entitled: "Superman Sam." On the blog she proposed a photo project. These were the instructions: Take a photo of yourself wearing your favorite superhero shirt, or holding up their logo. Then print out the photo and mail it to Sam at his hospital room.
Soon I began to see photos on Facebook with the name Superman Sam, of people all over the country wearing Superman or Batman t-shirts. A week later Phyllis posted a picture of Sam's hospital room: it was literally covered in pictures of people in superhero t-shirts. All of those photos on Sam's wall were a beautiful testament to the love and support that Sam received from family and friends as well as new friends from all over the country.
The Superhero Sam project reminds us of the value of the intangible elements in healing. Of course we depend on our doctors to guide us through our medical treatment.
But there are other non-medical elements in the healing process that can provide us with hope and strength.
Norman Cousins, the well-known writer and editor of the Saturday Review, was diagnosed in 1964 with a spine condition and was given a 1 in 500 chance of survival. He discovered that his condition was depleting his body of large amounts of vitamin C, so he began to take doses of this supplement.
Then Cousins brought a movie projector home along with several old Marx Brothers movies. Cousins found that he laughed so hard at the films that he was able to stimulate chemicals in his body that allowed him several hours of pain free sleep. When the pain would return he would simply turn the projector back on and the laughter would re-induce sleep. A week later after the vitamin C and his laughing therapy, Cousins was back at work. He would live another 36 years.
It was perhaps a modern-day miracle that Norman Cousins' increased vitamin C intake and his laughter helped to cure him. I only wish it was so easy for all who are ill. But Cousins' story reminds us of the power of humor to aid in healing our spirits and even our bodies.
Along with community and laughter, there is another intangible element in the healing process, which is important in Judaism, and that is prayer.
Scientific studies at Duke, Dartmouth and Yale have shown that being part of a religious community is good for your health. Hospitalized people who never attended church or synagogue have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly. In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The process of prayer itself is good for health as well. For the past 30 years, Harvard scientist Dr. Herbert Benson has conducted his own studies on prayer. Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes that take place in the body when someone prays. All forms of prayer, he says, evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing. Surveys have found that perhaps half of Americans regularly pray for their own health, and at least a quarter have prayed for others. As Professor Paul Parker describes it, in times of illness all religions look towards their source of authority.
Each week in the Sanctuary, I offer the mishebeirach healing prayer with my congregation. Praying together helps to release the anxiety of dealing with illness and gives us renewed strength to face the week ahead. Praying for the health of others gives us peace of mind and hope.
My friend Rabbi Phyllis' superhero Sam photo project incorporates all of the intangibles of healing. It brings together a loving community of support. Seeing the pictures of people dressed up as superheroes I am sure made Sam laugh. And the prayers of all those across the world for Sam made a difference.
Sam is now in remission.
Today Superman Sam is just a normal 6 year old able to run, play and enjoy his life and his family. And we are all grateful.
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is at the Temple Shearith Israel, Ridgefield, www.tsiridigefield.com.
Rev. Laura A. Westby
FORUM ON FAITH
What it means to be UUC.
by Rev. Laura A. Westby
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013
Danbury News Times
One of the things I love about my current family of faith, the United Church of Christ (UCC), is the way it seems to attract people from a range of religious backgrounds.
It is not uncommon for a UCC congregation to have within it persons who have been Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Baptist. It is not unusual for the membership to include people raised in evangelical churches, Unitarian congregations and secular homes.
One of the other things I love about the UCC is its embrace of what Brian McLaren, a brilliant observer of the spiritual landscape, calls "a generous orthodoxy".
A "generous orthodoxy" is a way of living the faith that is open to the possibility that the Holy can be experienced in mysterious and compelling ways across the theological spectrum. Many of our churches are hundreds of years old, and Christianity is even more ancient, but we try to remain open to the possibility that God is still speaking in new and surprising ways.
My own spirituality is good example of this. I was born into the Roman Catholic Church and married into the UCC. My morning devotions include elements of embodied prayer I learned from Muslim colleagues and my yoga teacher. I am studying meditation using a Buddhist resource.
In my leadership of UCC churches, I am free to bring all of these experiences to bear on my ministry and worship leadership.But perhaps the thing I like best about the UCC is the way in which it views everyday life as the place where the Divine can be encountered.
The whole world is our monastery and our whole lives are our worship. We are encouraged to the way we parent our children, the way we spend our time, the decisions we make in the voting booth and the grocery store as spiritual practices.
We believe that if our faith is to have any meaning, it must be lived out in all the areas of our lives.
To the best of our ability, we try to live the way Jesus did- embodying the Creator's love for all creation through acts of ordinary kindness and radical hospitality. This is the reason why so many UCC congregations open their doors to 12 Step groups, welcome LGBT folks into full participation in the church and provide support to groups involved in social justice. We follow the One who came to serve sacrificially and reaching out to those in need is part of our DNA, and so we are passionate about ministries of service.
Many UCC churches have Congregational roots. Many still include the word "congregational" in their names.
In part this is because the power and responsibility for decision-making rests with the congregation. But the deeper truth is that we experience God most often in the formal and informal gatherings of the community of faith.
We feel it as we reconnect during coffee hour and potluck suppers.
We find God in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
We sense it as we work and learn and are challenged together.
In all of these ways, those who participate in a UCC congregation experience the transforming power of the God who creates community and invites all to embody the Divine presence in the world.
Rev. Laura A. Westby is the Interim Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Bethel: 203-743-1877
FORUM ON FAITH
Understanding God helps alleviate suffering.
by Polly Castor
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013
Danbury News Times
A long time ago, before I knew anything about Christian Science, I had such a bad case of the flu that my temperature was higher than the thermometer recorded. People were understandably very concerned.
I was in the dorm in college and had a few friends come by to pray for me. Two of them were Christian Scientists whose prayers were more than earnest petitions for my recovery.
To my surprise, I had a miraculous, sudden, and complete healing. Let me tell you that got my attention!
I had been an atheist up until this point, having never encountered an idea of God that resonated with me. But these Christian Scientists talked about God as Love - that literally love itself is God.
I believed in love, and wanted it just as much as the next person, but I had never considered that as my God before. This radical change of view is what resulted in my healing.
Christian Scientists spend our energy growing in our understanding of God, mostly because that is the most important and everlasting relationship we'll ever have, but also because prayers based on that understanding have powerful results in helping to alleviate humanity's suffering. In the experience related above, my dorm friends' prayer of understanding was fully and promptly answered.
Since my miraculous healing, I have rejoiced in getting to know God. I have learned through the Bible and Christian Science to understand God as Life itself, Truth itself, Mind itself, Soul, Spirit, and Principle itself. I have always believed in these things, even when I identified myself as an atheist. All these synonyms of God are particularly helpful in understanding God and what God does.
In Christian Science, for example, God as Truth clarifies and reveals reality, gives us a strong foundation, and corrects any kind of error. God as Life itself demonstrates God to be as close as your next breath, as well as more infinite than the boundaries between birth and death. God as Mind is the alert, all wise, intelligent Creator of the universe, and it often helps to see issues from the perspective of the one omniscient divine Mind, rather than that of opposing human opinions.
Reasoning like this is a powerful aspect of Christian Science prayer. Unlike those who start their prayers with a human problem and then ask God to intercede, Christian Scientists start their prayer with their understanding of God, and reason from that perfect Cause to a perfect effect, which often aligns the human situation as a direct consequence.
Over and over again, I have seen how God as Love dispels the fear that induces fever. I have become aware that a God that is omnipotent Love never would prescribe illness, nor ordain germs and contagion with an ability to afflict. Through this reasoning, I have proved God to be powerful both in protecting one from ever getting sick, as well as effective as an alterative in whatever way is needed.
Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote in her bestselling book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "The transmission of disease ... would be impossible if this great fact of being were learned, - namely that nothing inharmonious can enter being, for Life is God."
She also states, "Beloved Christian Scientists, keep your minds so filled with Truth and Love, that sin, disease and death cannot enter them. It is plain that nothing can be added to a mind already full. There is no door through which evil can enter, and no space for evil to fill in a mind filled with goodness. Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited."
I do not think "flu season" is natural, to be expected, or to be endured. Instead, I believe it is to be redeemed and eliminated because it is not in keeping with divine Love. Health, joy, vibrancy, and bliss, these are our birthright.
Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield. She can be reached at: PollyCastor@gmail.com.
Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman
FORUM ON FAITH
Epiphany: Good time to consider your spiritual gifts.
by Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Danbury News Times
On the church calendar, we are now in the season of Epiphany. During this time in the church year, Christians remember the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, the gifts they gave to him, and the subsequent spread of the good news about Jesus throughout the world.
For me, Epiphany is the time when we remember the three Magi and their gifts by discovering and exploring our own spiritual gifts. Christian scripture teaches that each believer is given one or more spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts are for the building and support of the Church Universal.
You know when you have experienced the blessing of a spiritual gift in use. I saw it when Beth used her spiritual gift of Administration to enhance the worship space of a church I once worked with. For years the congregation had been talking about replacing the large central window with stained glass. But nothing ever happened until Beth took on the project. Quickly, she raised the money and commissioned the design. The beautiful new window was installed within four months. And it was all done smoothly and without conflict!
Most information about spiritual gifts is found in the letters of Paul in the Greek scriptures. But throughout the Bible we see examples of people who exhibited extraordinary ability in different aspects of God's work. Paul himself clearly had the Missionary gift, which is the ability to transcend cultural boundaries in planting and building churches. Moses used his gift of Leadership has he lead the Hebrew people for forty years as they wandered the desert in search of the Holy Land.
The number of spiritual gifts varies among scholars. Some find as many as thirty-two in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, others find fewer. The gifts are also called by different names. But each scholar's spiritual gift list includes, in some form, the gifts of Administration, Discernment, Preaching, Shepherding, Hospitality, Giving, Mercy, Helps, Tongues, Prophecy, Missionary, Encouragement, Leadership, Evangelism, Intercession, Teaching, Artistic Expression, and Faith.
Spiritual gifts transcend acquired skills or natural talents. Although special training can enhance a gift and a gift can enhance a talent. A sign that a spiritual gift is being used is that the recipients are drawn closer to God through the use of the gift. An example of this is Adolph "Bud" Herseth, Principal Trumpet for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 - 2001. I believe that Bud has the spiritual gift of Artistic Expression, sometimes called Music or Spirit Music. Listen to Bud on YouTube and you can hear that he is an extraordinary trumpeter. But Bud's playing goes beyond that, it takes you to another place. When I hear Bud play a piece of sacred music, like "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Handel's "Messiah" I feel as if I am being drawn into the presence of God.
The most amazing thing about the gifts is that we feel closer to God when we serve through them. You know when someone has the gift of Giving because they give of their financial resources freely and joyfully and they are always looking for ways to give more! A person with the spiritual gift of Giving usually has a lower standard of living then they need to have because they love giving so much. Their deepest desire is that God's work will be done efficiently and effectively.
Spiritual gifts are part of God's unmerited grace to us and, as such, they never cause division in the Church. Remember how Beth was able to get that big window project accomplished without a hitch? That is because she worked through every step using her gift of Administration.
Epiphany is a perfect time to explore your own spiritual gifts. You can find books on them through your local Christian bookstore, and there are lots about them online. Such resources help many in the church to find a spiritual gift inventory and to discover their own unique mix of spiritual gifs.
Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman, Central Christian Church, 71 West Street, Danbury, CT 06810. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Rev. Leo McIlrath
FORUM ON FAITH
The week of prayer for Christian unity.
by Rev. Leo McIlrath
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Danbury News Times
Jesus the Christ once prayed to the Father, "As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world ... that they may be one as we are one."
That all may be one! What a magnificent hope for this new year, or for any year!
"Naïve!" says one. "Impossible," states another. "Who cares?" asks still another. "Let's pray for such," cries a believer.
Take your choice -- and live it!
Among the plausible explanations for celebrating a week of such prayer for Christian unity are:
1) Abbe Paul Courtier's abiding passion to integrate all Christian values. Courtier took to heart the text known as "The Testament of Cardinal Mercier," which contains the following insight:
In order to unite with one another, we must love one another;
In order to love one another, we must know one another;
In order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.
Courtier, who popularized its observance in 1935, has been called the Father of the Week of Prayer.
2) Geoffrey Curtis attributes the concept to the World Evangelical Alliance, which presented a call to prayer to Christians all over the world for the "outpouring of the Spirit." Curtis points to two sources for inspiring the idea of spiritual ecumenism, including the liturgical expressions in the Eucharistic rites of the Roman and Eastern Church traditions, "that our Lord will grant to his Church `that peace and unity which is according to his will,' " and a similar prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer," in which God is constantly besought "to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord."
Secondly, Curtis points to certain organized movements of spirituality which he considers as preludes to the later crusades of prayer for unity. Amongst these may be recalled the great movement of "United Prayer for the Holy Spirit and Revival," finding prophetic expression in the work of New England Congregationalist, Jonathan Edwards (1705-58).
3) The eventual institution of the Week of Prayer derives from a recommendation from the Lambeth Conference, in 1878, for "the observance of a special season of `prayer for reunion.' " It was observed by the Church of England on Whit Sunday -- Pentecost -- in 1894-95. In 1895, the Roman Catholic Church in England joined its Anglican neighbors in this observance.
Pope Leo XIII had previously encouraged all Catholics to celebrate the first "Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" within that same time frame. It was not until 1908 that the octave was observed on the January dates with which it is now commonly associated.
4) Spencer Jones, a Church of England clergyman, and Lewis Wattson, a later convert to Catholicism (and founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement), jointly initiated the observance as January 18 to 25, the feasts of the Confession (or Chair) of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul.
In 1909, Pope Pius X approved the observance of the new octave, and extended its observance to the whole Roman Catholic Church. However, it was not until the Second Vatican Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" (1964) that Roman Catholics were permitted, and indeed, encouraged, to meet together with other Christians for common prayer for unity.
But what about spiritual togetherness right here, in the Greater Danbury area? We may all be aware of a few church communities celebrating a prayer service among themselves. We need to applaud and honor that. But I am referring here to many Christian churches gathering for a paraliturgical (non-sacramental) celebration of prayer, praise or study, and eventual "unity in the Spirit."
Yes, I am quite aware that some Christian communities do not have an open altar table for communion. I am not addressing such an issue here.
Attempts were made in past years to celebrate our Christian unity but there were usually more leaders present than laypeople, as when local communities gathered on Good Friday for prayers, hymns and spiritual reflections. So, too, was the situation when, for over 20 years, an "Ecumenical Way of the Cross" took place on Danbury's Main Street.
May we one day sing, and live out, the words to a song: "We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord and we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they'll know we are Christians by our love."
We have come a long way. Why stop now?
The Rev. Leo McIlrath, DMin., is ecumenical chaplain at The Lutheran Home of Southbury. He can be reached at 203-270-0581.
Dr. Fred Turpin
FORUM ON FAITH
Praying through Poetry.
by Dr. Fred Turpin
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013
Danbury News Times
As a clergyman in the United Church of Christ and a pastoral counselor, I've undertaken the spiritual practice of writing a poem on a daily basis. Often the poem integrates my inner quest with the world outside my door. My blog of poetry has had readership of over 40,000 visitors this past year from 133 countries. The poem below is an example of my work and is offered to illustrate how writing poetry can center one spiritually, like journaling or writing prayers.
"The Moon, Fog, Lake, Evergreens and Me"
I sit here wondering which came first
The full Moon I cannot see?
The fog which hides the Moon within a silent glow?
Water of the lake, waiting all this time as full moon and fog come and go?
Rocks and soil, which reveal the emerging
Hard surface of the patient Earth?
I identify with the evergreens,
Alive and witnessing along the shore...
All that moves yet does not move,
Waits and waits to know.
There are no answers.
Whatever questions may come are of passing concern.
But something is happening in this vibrant world,
Something far beyond what I can touch or hear or see...
Should I sit for hours and pray in silence?
Should I prepare a cup of tea?
Why is there no ritual for such reverent moments?
How could sages over centuries fail to prepare for this?
There is something ancient here
Far older than the snowy rocks.
And something completely new...
Given birth this very hour.
I sense it in the open heart.
It was never intended to be clear...
That's why the ambiguous fog is here.
It was not meant to be completely hidden in the dark.
That's why full moon illuminates the night.
It is not completely tangible, but separate from density of rocks.
I sense it in the cold breeze upon my cheek,
Faint, imperceptible yet real,
Present and trembling in the breathing fog
Stalwart and living as the trees.
Dr. Fred H. Turpin - 203-894-9489. Pastoral Psychotherapist and
Marriage & Family Therapist, United Church of Christ.
His poetry web site can be viewed at: http://fredturpin.wordpress.com
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~ Music ~