Act Now! Unite to End Racism

Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom

As I write this article, I do so seeking your wisdom. The National Council of Churches and our President John Dorhauer have invited us to be a part of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s martyrdom. The gathering place is Washington D.C. The intent is to continue the work begun by Dr. King.

Living here in Texas and Louisiana, we know that our nation is engaged in a season of soul searching with much weighing in the balance. Voices have been raised in recent days that seem desirous of taking us back to a time before integration and affirmative action. The national narrative of diversity and inclusion is being strongly challenged.

This proposed gathering is an answer to this challenge. The primary question is; Will we in the progressive church rise up and answer this call? So then, I come to all of you. How important do we believe this gathering to be? Getting to Washington DC and staying a day or two will be neither cheap nor easy. Let me describe planned events and then ask for your assistance.

Act Now! Envisions three days of events. April 3 begins at 7pm with an inter-faith event at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral with a Service of Repentance. April 4th begins at 9am with an interfaith service of Prayer and Preparation at the Lincoln Memorial. Beginning at 10am thru 2pm is a rally on the Mall designed to Awaken, Confront, and Transform our hearts and our institutions. April 5th is Lobby Day with the opportunity to visit your political representatives.

I would make the following proposal that we plan to participate in the April 3rd meeting at the Greek Orthodox Church, stay overnight, and then participate in the action on the Mall. Most of us would then make our way back to Texas or Louisiana. I leave you with the following questions.

Do you wish to participate?
Are you willing to be a “go to” organizational person in your Association?
Would you be willing to share in the cost of a chartered bus?
Would you be able to spend the night in a local church?
Please call the Conference Office at Slumber Falls and share any input you may wish to share. The phone number is 830-625-2212 and you may speak to Stacey Silvey. You can also leave a reply below to share your input.

Peace and Grace,
Dr. Don

Are you one of the Wise Men?

This week the church will be celebrating Epiphany. Epiphany is when the wise men from the East finally arrive to see the newborn king. No, they don’t go to the stable in Bethlehem but a house without a city mentioned. The story tells us that they came “from the East”. A lot of times in the Bible that refers to what is now the Baghdad area. It was a long and dangerous trip. For 1,000 kilometers they were just following a star not really knowing where they were going. It takes a lot of dedication to follow a star down to 300 meters below sea level and back up to almost 900 meters. Yes, Google Maps shows the wonderful details of the journey.

I imagine such a trip to be a spiritual struggle as well. It takes a leap of faith. The wise men jumped head over heels into a crazy adventure. Our modern-day equivalent could be jumping into a new job or relationship. Do you remember the excitement and the hesitation you felt at such pivotal moments in your life? What would that look like for your spirituality: If you were to open that old book, make prayer a habit, dedicate time and money to God’s work? Would you embark on a 1,000 kilometer journey to find the Son of God? What struggles are you willing to take on? Once you follow the wise men into the unknown desert one thing you will find for sure: Yourself. May that be your greatest Epiphany!

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

If you are interested in a clash of ideologies, this is not written for you. If you think America is in trouble because fewer people say Merry Christmas, this is not written for you. “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” are not alternatives. It’s not one or the other. Just in the month of December there are XX holidays. So your safest bet it to use “Happy Holidays” most of this month.

With Advent being so late this year, Islam got a head-start in 2017 with Mawlid an Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on December 1. For Christians the season of Advent covers the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, December 3-24. December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, the holiday to commemorate one of the cultural roots of Santa Claus. Catholics put an emphasis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8. Last Sunday you may have seen a parade of horses and many worshipers heading through town. Those were processions held in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a December 12 holiday commemorating an apparition of Mary in Mexico. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah December 13-20 this year. A miracle made the oil last to light all eight candles on the candelabra. Remember how Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place in the inn? The week before Christmas is a week of Posadas Navidenas – their perilous journey reenacted by the Hispanic community. The winter solstice on December 21 is a turning point in the sky and probably one of the objective reasons why so many holidays pile up this time of year.

So far “happy holidays” would have been my seasonal greeting of choice. Now, December 24 changes that. Christmas Eve begins what the church calls Christmastide. The song calls it the 12 days of Christmas which end on Epiphany, January 6. Jesus’s birth, the incarnation of the Word of God, the divine becoming human, is a turning point that starts a whole new season. Advent was preparation, now Christmas means: Christ is born! That’s when I say: Merry Christmas!

But the holiday season continues. December 26 is a day that is remarkable for two deaths: the Prophet Zarathushtra for the Zoroastrian faith and Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church. And the wheel keeps turning until the babe in the manger gets martyred himself. When I say Merry Christmas I mean it. When I say happy holidays I mean it.

At Christmas, Love Wins

In his Christmas Message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer invites all in the wider church to commit to making sure that ‘Love Wins’, no matter the season.

I greet you all in the name of our Risen Savior.

Merry Christmas to each and all!

In this last year the United Church of Christ has been asking what it means to share a common purpose: “to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor as ourselves.”

It was Jesus who taught us what love of God incarnated looked like. We are his disciples. Our own devotion to God and to Jesus manifests itself in our love for others. Jesus once was asked, “When did we see you hungry and feed you; or naked and clothe you?” His answer was not only tenderly beautiful, it was fully instructive: “Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.”

Therefore, as a means of taking our purpose to love God seriously the United Church of Christ has entered into a season of what we are calling our 3 Great Loves: love of children (“bring them unto me, for to such as these belongs the Kindom of God); love of neighbor (“…whom you shall love as you love yourself”); and love of creation (“when I consider Your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have made — who are we that you are mindful of us? Yet you have made us little lower than the gods, and entrusted to us care over the work of your hands.”).

What better time than this season to commit to our own acts of love for God’s children, our neighbor, and the handiwork of God’s vast imagination — our mother Earth?

In this past year, I have borne witness to what your own commitments to love incarnated look like. I have seen your acts of kindness and compassion change lives.

In Maine, I sat in a church/restaurant where once a week members present a fine dining experience to about 85 homeless residents. In Colombia, I met with peace activists who serve as our co-mission partners and who worked with the government and rebel factions to negotiate a peace settlement that has helped end the longest armed conflict on the globe. In Italy, I met with Reform partners who daily receive refugees from Africa landing on their shores in search of food and freedom. And in Standing Rock we demonstrated with first nation peoples for water rights.

This baby Jesus we will soon celebrate the birth of inspires in all of us an impulse to love. Borne of God’s love for us, we extend that love daily to those most in need of our acts of compassion and kindness. Our own lives are daily transformed by the kindness and compassion of others.

This Christmas, love wins.

May the joy of this season inspire you to know the love of God, incarnated once in Jesus and today in your acts of love — of children, to neighbor, and for creation.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Rev. John C. Dorhauer

What are you giving up for Advent?

Earlier this year I went cold turkey and gave up on caffeine. Seven weeks without coffee, the entire Lent season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The start was rocky and painful, eventually I adjusted. But guess what: A few months later I was totally back on with my coffee habit. It started out slowly. At first I did not drink two pots of drip coffee anymore but just a few shots of espresso twice a day. Then came multiple situations where there wasn’t any espresso, so I went back to drip coffee as well. By now I needed my regular fixes again.

This ended last Sunday. I reminded myself that Advent, just like Lent traditionally is a season of fasting. The two major Christ holidays – Easter and Christmas – each have their own preparatory fast season leading up to them. That’s why we have all these goodies in December. The four weeks leading up to Christmas used to be as strict a fast as the seven weeks leading up to Easter. People weren’t allowed to eat except one tiny meal of bread after dark. And they made sure to make it count. That’s where ginger bread originated.

Pretty soon the originally scarce nutritional boost of the fast turned into a seasonal treat. The bread got sweeter over timer. It got covered in chocolate. It got accompanied by all other kinds of baked goods and voila the indulgence escalated just like my coffee habit. From an innocent shot of espresso to thousands of sugary and buttery calories the original fast is but a distant memory.

To make a long history short: I am giving up caffeine for Advent this year. And I invite you to find something that you can do differently this time of year. Any habit change is good. It doesn’t matter whether you give up something or add something to your routine. Any intentional change helps to focus on the coming of Christ regardless of time of the year. Don’t get me wrong: I will not pass on any goodies, I just won’t have coffee with them.

Does God help you with dominoes?

As a pastor I get to visit all kinds of groups and learn what they do. The other day I went to a group who call themselves “mature adults” – dozens of people who get together for an afternoon of games. That afternoon two ladies introduced me to Farkle. All the other tables were playing different versions of dominoes. One of the dominoes tables raised a good question:

Does God help you with dominoes?
I had to leave and I did not want to rush the answer. That is why I punted to the time of this writing. So the very short answer is YES!

God helps you with dominoes: Look at you! God called you out of the house this afternoon. God said get out and don’t worry about dusting or dishes. God wants you to be connected this afternoon and have a good time with people you enjoy being around. God uses dominoes to help you not be home alone. God uses dominoes to help you bring joy to others.

Let’s talk religion and politics around the Thanksgiving table

In classic Western movies and children’s games cowboys are the good guys with revolvers in their hands. Indians with bows and arrows are the bad guys who are after your scalp. Thanksgiving is one of the few stories that interrupts that image. Here the natives are good because they help the newcomers. There are other stories where Native Americans have positive images: the love story of Pocahontas or the image of the noble savage who is so civilized and gentle to animals and the natural environment that he becomes a romanticized role model.

One thing that strikes me is that all these stories, positive or negative live off a stark contrast and an oversimplified dualism. Good versus bad, us versus them, white versus colored, civilized versus savage. I would love to think things have changed. But I guess this pattern is too tempting to give up. America continues to be divided between native and immigrant, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, turkey or ham on the Thanksgiving table.

The world has always been divided. That is part of human nature. It is the original sin. The emblem of the United Church of Christ recognizes this reality by displaying the globe with lines cutting across the orb. God’s children live divided into different nations and religions. From that divided world rises the cross. It is a symbol that Christ has suffered as one of the least of us, an outcast among outcasts, a Jewish radical crucified by the Roman Empire, a Native American speaking up against occupation, a pilgrim trying to establish a safe haven. The crown on top reminds the church that Christ reigns. That is what the last Sunday of the liturgical year is all about: The reign of Christ. Your nationality, your religion, your education, your wealth, your political leanings, none of that has the final say. None of that is supposed to govern how you live your life, but the person of Jesus Christ. The cross reveals that all the labels that divide us are false idols. This Thanksgiving let us be thankful for diversity and nuanced conversations.

Tips for Supporting the Caregivers and Family of People Who Have Dementia

On November 28 and December 5, 2017 family ministry will host two presentations on Alzheimer’s Disease. Everyone is welcome to learn more about the challenges of living with dementia. The events go from 10 am to 12 noon and light refreshments will be served.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for supporting the caregivers and family of people who have dementia:

Keep in Touch
Cards, calls, and visits to the family are always appreciated.

Do Little Things
Cook and drop off a freezable meal. Ask the family members if you can pick up something for them while you run errands. Surprise the family with gift certificate for a dinner out and offer to help arrange care for their loved one for that evening.

Care For and About the Family Caregiver
Family caregivers are easily depleted, overwhelmed and often feel alone. Let them know they are important to you, not just as caregivers, but also as themselves.

Remember All Family Members
Alzheimer’s affects all family members. They may not seek out help because many families feel they should be able to “handle it” alone. Let them know that there is a spiritual community there for support and help.

Give Them a Break
Spiritual community members can offer to give the caregiver ‘a rest’ by staying with the person who has Alzheimer’s; the caregiver can get out of the house for a couple of hours of private time.

Ask the Family for a To-Do List
Family caregivers could often use a little help with chores like yard work, car repairs, grocery shopping and the like.

Be Alert
Learn about community resources and how to help the family find appropriate help for their loved one.

Offer a Change of Scenery
Invite the family to community activities that will allow them to see familiar faces and stay connected to the spiritual community such as festivals and breakfasts.

Families facing Alzheimer’s may just need someone to talk to about their feelings and needs. You do not have to fix the problem for them — rather offer support and comfort until they feel better.

Why Do We Celebrate Veterans Day on November 11?

Why do we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11?
Last week I posed this question to a group of community leaders. They did pretty well. They remembered that Veterans Day was initially called Armistice Day. Then it got a little more shaky: Was it to commemorate the ending of World War I or II? A slight majority got it right and settled for World War I.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote peace!

Why did the 1918 Armistice take effect on November 11?
Negotiating and drafting the Armistice took well over a month. So what made them decide to let it take effect on 11/11? This day is dedicated to Saint Martin, the patron saint of soldiers. Saint Martin was famous for using his sword for charity. Martin was a soldier in the army of the Roman Empire and he was stationed in Gaul (modern-day France). One day he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, where he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote charity!

Why should the church care about November 11?
The remainder of Martin’s cloak eventually turned into a relic venerated by the Catholic Church. The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived. Nowadays a chaplain is an individual who is ordained or endorsed by a faith group to provide chaplaincy care in diverse settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, corrections, long-term care, sports teams, palliative care, military, hospices, workplaces, mental health and universities.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote spirituality!

Support our veterans!
Remember Saint Martin!
Promote peace!
Promote charity!
Promote spirituality!

Do Church Differently

I love church traditions and I enjoy formal structure and I strive under rules and regulations. Today I am reminded though that the church must not become too attached to its traditions, structure and order. Today is Reformation Day. Actually it is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Today the body of Christ reminds itself that we are not about our traditions but that we are the living body of Christ.

Our church service starts promptly at 10 am and ends no later than 11 am on Sunday morning. But we also know that the church cannot limit worship to a particular place and a particular time.

Our church bulletin shows the order of worship that has roots reaching back as far as the first temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon’s reign 1,000 years before Christ. But we also know that meaning-making cannot be limited to ancient words and traditions.

At our church Holy Communion is celebrated once a month. But we also know that spiritual nourishment must be available 24/7.

In our church elected members of the church council do the announcements. In our denomination a pastor has to have at least a master’s degree to be even considered for office. But we also know that everybody must be encouraged to serve God’s children whenever and wherever the spirit leads them.

Events planned for our congregation have to be scheduled way in advance so they can be put on the calendar. Every dollar has to be budgeted, received, spent and posted meticulously. But we also know that stewardship and commitment have to be reimagined.

The stain-glass windows and the organ are the backbone of our sanctuary. But we also know that sacred places pop up wherever people find meaning.

Martin Luther reminded us to become radical again, in the original Latin sense of the word radix, to go back to our roots. The first Christians did not have a bank account or a church newsletter. They worshiped in whatever place was safe at the time. They were constantly adapting to their environment. Over time we have developed structures that make us feel comfortable. The 500th Reformation Anniversary can remind us that the church is not only the building with the sanctuary. The church is not only the congregation of lovely people. The church is first and foremost the Body of Christ. I do not know what the future church may look like. Martin Luther did not know either. But one thing is for sure: It’s going to be radically different as it always has been for thousands of years. God, I trust you have something wonderful in mind and thy will be done.