Fear and Hope

godspell
I saw Godspell on Broadway just a few months after I’d been ordained.  I was listening to the soundtrack this week, hearing once again the story of Jesus’ life and ministry told through song.  There was John the Baptist, singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” to begin the show, and Jesus and the disciples (the ensemble) singing various teachings and texts—
you are the salt of the earth…
all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above…
o bless the Lord, my soul.
The music is upbeat, the tunes are catchy—they make you want to sing along.

And then comes the finale.  The music shifts to angry electric guitars and the drama progresses, as the disciples look on while Jesus is crucified and then dies.  The music pauses to mark the moment, and then a single voice begins to sing, slowly, mournfully, defiantly, “Long live God” over and over again.  The others begin to join in on this refrain, (“Long live God, long live God, long live God, long live God”).

The mood begins to change, as the themes from previous songs intertwine, and the ensemble sings:
We may not reach the ending
But we can start
Slowly but truly mending
Brick by brick, heart by heart
Now, maybe now
We start learning how
We can build a beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

At the end of these words, the tune is triumphant once again, returning to the melody and the lyrics that begin the show—“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  The next chapter has begun.  The disciples set out to continue the mission.

Following the way of Jesus means that we too join in this chorus, singing “Long live God”, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”, and “We can build a beautiful city.” There are times when we sing it joyfully, times when we sing it mournfully, times when we sing it defiantly.  Following the way of Jesus means that we join God’s mission of newness, of renewal—of building this beautiful city, this glorious new heaven and earth—as we walk between fear and hope.

The Rev. Elizabeth Smith-Bartlett is the Associate Pastor at the Larchmont Avenue Church. This is an excerpt from her sermon on Nov

[1] “Beautiful City” from Godspell by Stephen Schwartz (http://www.letssingit.com/stephen-schwartz-lyrics-beautiful-city-updated-version-z22f5tb#ixzz4PqOtIsqM)

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Thanksgiving 2016

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May we find ways to say Thank you not just with our lips, but also with our lives.

Paul Alcorn is the pastor of Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford Village, NY.

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Coming Down From the Mountain

palisades
In high school, I worked weekends and summers in a climatology lab at Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, an outpost of Columbia University perched high atop the Palisades cliffs overlooking the Hudson.  It was a great gig.  One of my primary responsibilities was mapping cloud cover over the Arctic – which sounds a whole lot fancier than it was.  Mostly I colored, tapping into my very best kindergarten skill of staying inside the lines.

When it came time for college, I felt a call to ministry, but also wanted to explore in more depth the world of science in which I had been involved.  So I decided I would major in religion, and minor in geology.  Rock of Ages and rocks.  It made sense at the time.

I enrolled in Geology 101, and at the end of the term, we went on a field trip, exploring interesting geological formations throughout Pennsylvania. Now, I have never been particularly fond of heights, nor of falling, so this was a challenging expedition for me.  On the last day, we found ourselves trekking up a fairly steep hillside, and then descending a rather precipitous slope on the other side, covered with loose shale.

When the group returned to the bus, the professor began to take role call.  Panarotti?  Panarotti?  Has anyone seen Panarotti?

Well, at that moment, Panarotti was frozen in terror on the aforementioned slippery slope, clinging for dear life onto a sapling, unable to make my way down.  What I was able to make was one firm decision: a geology minor definitely was not in my future.  Because it really doesn’t matter how much you learn up on the mountain, if you can’t make your way down to share it.

I did manage to achieve that undergraduate degree in religion, though, and then, thirty years later, a Master of Divinity.  And curiously, I find that the same lesson learned on that Pennsylvania hillside is equally applicable when it comes to ministry. I cherished every minute of esoteric learning in divinity school, the chance to love the Lord with all my mind.  I’m proud that our denomination requires the study of biblical languages (despite the fact that learning Hebrew nearly pushed me, and my instructor, to the brink of insanity).  But, for the most part, those are mountaintop dialects, not spoken by many in the flatland.   More often than not, actual ministry calls you off of those peaks, and into the deepest and darkest valleys of peoples’ lives.  It calls you out of your head, and into your heart and gut, your hands and feet.  And you find yourself scrambling across many a scree-covered slope.

My seminary education took me four years.  It’s clear that my training for ministry has barely begun.

The Rev. Luanne Panarotti serves as pastor of Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church in Staatsburg, NY.  She has one husband, two kids, one dog, five cats and one really messy house.

 

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Praying at the Polls

prayer
With news about the election saturating the airwaves, I’ve been thinking about voting as an act of worship. In secular conversation, casting a vote is typically portrayed as fulfilling one’s civic responsibility, of honoring one’s obligation to our democracy by acting as an informed and engaged participant in the electoral process. Undoubtedly this is all true, but I can’t help feeling that this bloodless, rational interpretation misses something critical: Voting, like prayer is aspirational.

The book of Hebrews labels faith “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” It seems those words apply just as well to casting a ballot as they do to saying a prayer. Particularly at the end of such a bitter and divisive electoral cycle, envisioning a political future marked by cooperation, and a non-zero sum attitude in addressing the grave problems we face, requires a good deal of faith.

Though the presidential race has featured little common ground, I think we can all agree that we yearn, desperately, for political proceedings that transcend the mire we’ve been muddling through. And so we go, pull aside the voting curtain, and enter the sanctuary of the voting booth—hopeful that the candidate we select will elevate our discourse, and foster unity in a time of division. We check a box yearning that the coming term will indeed yield the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

So tomorrow, vote. Vote for unity and peace in spite of a campaign that has yielded precious little of either. And vote secure in the knowledge that, just as God is present in all other acts of worship, God can still be found in the ballot box. All it takes is a little faith.

Ben Perry is an Assistant Editor at Time, Inc., a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in NYC and a member of Bedford Presbyterian Church.

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Walking Meditation: Walk a Labyrinth

Matthew 6:26-29 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to your life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.”

First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown has been working since June to lay bricks to build a labyrinth.  The labyrinth is in a beautiful spot at the back of the parking lot.

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We are encouraged by the support we have received for this project.  A Challenge to Change grant from Hudson River Presbytery provided start-up funds. Members of the congregation gave their time (and in some cases, equipment!) to clear the land and plant the bricks. Lynn Brown has supported us from the beginning, providing guidance every step of the way, and laying out our beautiful Santa Rosa pattern. And members of the community have helped dig in bricks.

The Nearly everyone who has come to work, or to support those who are working, has commented on the space. Words like “calming,” “spiritual,” “special” have been used. space does feel special. There’s often a gentle breeze that blows through the trees. One day we were working and a bird followed the backhoe, waiting to eat whatever insects we unearthed. Another day, when Lynn Brown, Anne Corey and I were laying out the design, a butterfly kept us company.

Whenever I walk a labyrinth, I feel calm. Or at least I feel less anxious. This verse from Matthew comes to mind: And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to your life’s span? The Common English Bible translates this verse this way: “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?”

Worry. Anxiety. These constant companions can distract me from the present and take me away from observing “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field.” For me, walking a labyrinth is a form of prayer, a walking meditation. I take a moment to pause, consider my prayerful intention for the walk, and then I walk. Slowly walking a labyrinth, outdoors, feeling the sun on my face and a breeze at my back I am reminded that God is everywhere. God cares for creation and all that is in it.

Our labyrinth will be ready for walking in the Spring. Dear reader, consider this an invitation to join us at the labyrinth dedication and walk away your worry and anxiety! And if you can’t walk ours, find one to walk at the world-wide labyrinth locator.

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Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown and a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery.

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Spaciousness

ocean
A year ago I wrote a post for this blog about letting go of beloved possessions.  We were preparing to move from the house in which we raised our children to an “independent living” apartment. Last month we made that move, and today I sit in our new apartment.  Today I am experiencing the effects of “downsizing.”   The aftermath.

We let go of a lot.  Our goal was to bring with us only what was beloved and useful and would fit the space; we wanted to get the painful part behind us and not drag it out.  So we sold and donated and gave away much of what we owned.  And at the end, we closed our eyes and went out for coffee while Junkluggers removed and drove away with what was left, including the typewriter I bought with the proceeds of my first summer job (at $0.60 an hour!).

Today I think about that typewriter and what it meant to me, but I don’t miss having it.  It’s an interesting difference.  My memories and my history still surround me:  I love to watch a random succession of family photographs on my computer; I have a cabinet of keepsakes; and my most loved books are on the shelves.  But they do not take up much space. And, as a result, this new apartment feels open, not crowded.  There is a sense of spaciousness, even though we have less space.

That spaciousness is a gift.  It offers a sense of possibility.  There is room to move, to expand, to grow.  I can twirl with my arms out.  What freedom! even with my arthritic knees. I wonder: were all those possessions tying me down?  Constraining me?  Were they a burden, even though I loved them?

And there is an inner spaciousness as well.  I look out the window as I drink my tea and feel peaceful.  There is a sense of accomplishment in decisions made, steps taken, a painful job completed.  Now I am open to what is to come. There is space inside me for more: more learning, more friendship, more exploration, more love. There is space inside me for God to suggest and for me to hear – and respond.

This spaciousness is a gift.
I am grateful for it.

Dorothy Muller is a Chaplain at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and a Parish Associate at Bedford Presbyterian Church.

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Can We Talk About Mortar?

mortar
On a recent quest to add some new life to our annual stewardship campaign, my co-pastor John Miller and I found ourselves deep in the basement of the church filming a short video.  There in front of the stones, big and small, that hold up 150 feet of steeple, we encouraged the members of the church to be a part of annual stewardship with their pledges – big or small – that together we all might bear witness to the goodness of God.

One keen-eye church member watching the video emailed back, saying “Hey, can we talk about the mortar?”  Sure enough, our building has had a history of mortar that has too much sand in it.  With a bit of rain and wind and time, it is prone to disintegration that has merited some substantial repair over the years.

Watching the news these days as much as I can stomach, I wonder and worry about the mortar – and not just of our building.  What does hold us together – as a church, a denomination, a country… humanity?

A dose of solace comes from being a part of a wedding recently where the couple bypassed 1 Corinthians 13 and read Colossians 3 instead.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”

The mortar of love and peace.  It is bestowed freely upon us all, and is able to bind all things together.

All things.

The daily questions: will love be in the regular wardrobe rotation, even when it doesn’t seem to fit so well?  Will I let the peace of Christ rule above all else that clamors for heart and mind, and above all else that erodes the mortar?

Dan Love serves as Co-Pastor at Rye Presbyterian Church in Rye, NY.

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