While Houston was enjoying 80°F last week, I landed in Germany, to a freezing 32°F. A couple of days later I woke up to snow on my parents’ balcony. On my week-long trip I had the chance to celebrate two family birthdays and reconnect with old friends. I’ll be honest: It wasn’t exactly a vacation because I went from one event straight into the next and that usually after very short nights. But it was all worth it, because it allowed me to make and maintain connections that matter in my life.
Many Texas families trace their pedigree back to one German root or another. Most of them not as recent as mine but still: There is a vibrant and relevant connection. And since 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I encourage you to give Germany a chance. Our friends at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Columbus are hosting a tour to Germany and Switzerland, July 10-20, 2017. The tour is going to hit all the important sites of Reformation history as well as some of Germany’s greatest tourist attractions. They have a few seats left. Please pick up your brochure at our church office.
If you cannot see yourself making this transatlantic trip this summer, maybe you’d enjoy that we are bringing Germany to Rosenberg. The German Institute for the Southwest is now registering for German classes for all ages at St. Johns’ United Church of Christ in Rosenberg. We will have a 10 Week Spring Course for Adults from March 18 to May 27, 2017 and a 10 Week Spring Camp for Children and Teenagers from March 11 to May 27, 2017. Classes are held on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. except for March 15 (Easter Saturday). For all the details and registration please visit the Institute’s website.
Finally there is another way we stay in touch with our German roots: Friends of St. John’s wanted to have their high school daughter experience a semester at a German high school. On the other side I had a fellow minister in Germany ask on behalf of a colleague’s daughter if she could find a guest family over here for a year of high school. This summer it is going to happen: the families have made their arrangements, paper work is in the process and soon we will have established another beautiful transatlantic connection. This is your church at work: mindful of its roots connecting into the future.
While I’m on the road in Germany please enjoy the travel log of our designated conference minister, Dr. Don. He wrote this about a stint to Houston in January.
Blessings, Rev. Daniel Haas
It seems like I am getting to Houston a lot lately. Sunday before last I had the privilege of preaching the morning service at First Congregational and then staying around for the evening meeting of the Houston Association Board of Directors. All I can say about that meeting was that it conflicted with the Cowboys playing Green Bay, thus showing my level of commitment to all things ecclesiastical. Do you know as Dallas was losing, they laughed at me? Apparently, the brethren in Houston don’t realize that the top of Cowboy Stadium is open so that God can watch.
Wednesday found me back in Houston for the Ecumenical Service for Christian Unity held at Christ Cathedral downtown. Prior to the service, I was able to meet with several of our local clergy. It was all valuable. Friday, I visited a couple of clergy in New Braunfels prior to attending the Slumber Falls Camp Council meeting led by our new Camp Director Jeremy Albers. Saturday found me once again in Houston where I attended an evangelism workshop led by our own Ron Trimmer. Ron did a fine job. He has an easy charm and a down-home demeanor that belies a very sharp and effective practitioner. Sadly, I was not able to get back to Austin for the march in the Capitol but did what I could from Houston. I stayed the night in Houston with my former CPE Supervisor who did the best he could with what he had to work with. Tom is married to a delightful woman named Linda who has a Native American heritage and a fascinating story to tell.
Sunday morning, I was able to attend Grace UCC in Houston where David Pantermuehl is the pastor. The service was both poignant and powerful at the same time. David has a way of weaving a sense of family throughout the service while retaining relevancy to the great issues of our time. Grace is one of the few churches I have attended anywhere that is truly multi-ethnic. We are fortunate to have such leaders in the Conference.
I listened to Green Bay being annihilated as I drove home… so sad! When you laugh at the Conference Minister’s team, need I mention America’s Team, well… Karma, baby. 🙂
Our confirmation class spent this past weekend at Slumber Falls Camp. Here are three perspectives of how they experienced their time there:
The experience was very educational. They helped us understand better the many different relationships people could have with God. Now we go out in the world and see that. Overall I liked going here because they made us feel like a family, even though we didn’t know each other. We were not different individual people, we were a community.
This weekend at Slumber Falls I learned about the four different Gods. There’s Authoritative God, distant God, Critical God, and Benevolent God. Each Person has a different view of God and those are the four ways that people see God. I also learned how to be an member of the Church and to be helpful in my community. I also really enjoyed the other activities we did and I feel like they brought me closer to God.
My experience here at Slumber Falls was a good one because I got to meet new people. I also got to learn new things such as the 4 different gods and which one I believe in most. The overall experience was fun especially when we got to sit around the fire and talk and make s’mores! But sadly it all has to come to an end.
As a pastor in the United Church of Christ I firmly stand with our Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciples, and other ecumenical partners and signed with more than 2,000 religious leaders a letter supporting refugee resettlement. It reads in part: “Together, representing our various faiths, we decry derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors. Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis.”
How we invoke our faith in response to the refugee crisis says a lot about how we see God. In their book “America’s Four Gods” Froese & Bader make the basic assumption that there are four different ways we approach the sacred. I invite you to explore your own heart in light of these four perspectives with regard to the refugee question:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
This represents what Froese & Bader would call the “Benevolent God”. God wants us to help our neighbor, to welcome the stranger, to be nice and kind to one another. This implies respect and openness regardless of national origin, faith background, or any other division that the human mind might conjure up.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5)
This represents what Froese & Bader call the “Critical God”. We have to take care of the least fortunate or else…! There is a divine consequence that will come upon us on the Day of Lord if we do not live in accordance with God’s will. So you better take care of refugees or God will be mad at you.
“On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, because they did not meet the Israelites with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them.” (Nehemiah 13:1-2)
This represents what Froese & Bader call the “Authoritative God”. Those people from foreign lands and of foreign faiths are dangerous. Remember how they attacked us in the past? It can surely not be safe to have them come here now. We have to be vigilant and protect our own. God does not want us to house people that have a bad track record.
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4)
This represents what Froese & Bader call the “Distant God”. So, there are few hundred people stuck at American airports right now. What’s the big deal? Tens of thousands die every year from starvation. Thousands more die in wars around the world. If God really wanted to change that, God probably could. Certainly those problems are way too big for me little minion to solve. There is nothing I can do about it and God doesn’t seem to care much either.
Of course, these are caricatures that do not exist in the pure form that I made up here. But they give you an idea that words represent ideas. And it is clear that our response to the refugee crisis is also a response to God’s call. Maybe you want to take “The God Test” and find out what you say about God and how that shapes your response to the refugee crisis.
From Tapestry of Faith by the Unitarian Universalist Association:
Once upon a time, there was a small village on the edge of a river. Life in the village was busy. There were people growing food and people teaching the children to make blankets and people making meals.
One day a villager took a break from harvesting food and noticed a baby floating down the river toward the village. She couldn’t believe her eyes! She heard crying in the distance and looked downstream to see that two babies had already floated by the village. She looked around at the other villagers working nearby. “Does anyone else see that baby?” she asked.
One villager heard the woman, but continued working. “Yes!” yelled a man who had been making soup.
“Oh, this is terrible!” A woman who had been building a campfire shouted, “Look, there are even more upstream!” Indeed, there were three more babies coming around the bend.
“How long have these babies been floating by?” asked another villager. No one knew for sure, but some people thought they might have seen something in the river earlier. They were busy at the time and did not have time to investigate.
They quickly organized themselves to rescue the babies. Watchtowers were built on both sides of the shore and swimmers were coordinated to maintain shifts of rescue teams that maintained 24-hour surveillance of the river. Ziplines with baskets attached were stretched across the river to get even more babies to safety quickly.
The number of babies floating down the river only seemed to increase. The villagers built orphanages and they taught even more children to make blankets and they increased the amount of food they grew to keep the babies housed, warm and fed. Life in the village carried on.
Then one day at a meeting of the Village Council, a villager asked, “But where are all these babies coming from?”
“No one knows,” said another villager. “But I say we organize a team to go upstream and find how who’s throwing these babies in the river.”
Not everyone was in agreement. “But we need people to help us pull the babies out of the river,” said one villager. “That’s right!” said another villager. “And who will be here to cook for them and look after them if a bunch of people go upstream?”
The Council chose to let the village decide. If you were a villager, what would your vote be? Do you send a team upstream?