2020: No Basta Rezar

If you looked at my list of top artists in 2019, Spotify would tell you that I am a millennial who enjoys “old” music. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul, and Mary took the lead in the list of music I listened to this year, which led to an uncovering of a handful of gems from artists around the same time. One such artist was Alí Primera, a Venezuelan musician, and political activist, who wrote a song titled “No Basta Rezar” (Praying Isn’t Enough). The first time I heard this song, it struck me because of the relevancy of its words and hit me again as I thought about what we need to do as the Church in this new year and decade.

No, no, basta rezar. Hacen falta muchas cosas para conseguir la paz

(No, no, praying isn’t enough. Many things are needed in order to obtain peace).

As Presbyterians, we are very good at praying. We are very good at crafting statements and other documents, making sure that periods, commas, and semicolons are in their proper places. But I think we’ve reached an apex where words are no longer enough. People are looking for something real, something authentic, something that goes beyond spoken prayers and enters the realm of living prayers. Praying isn’t enough as we head into this new decade, and the challenge for us is to consider how our prayers will translate into an actual life-giving change in our communities.

En el mundo no habrá paz mientras haya explotación del hombre por el hombre y exista desigualdad.

(In the world, there won’t be peace while exploitation of humans by humans and inequality exists.)

I would say don’t “@” me just yet because I’m not saying that prayer is no longer needed. Prayer is needed! But our prayers can no longer take the comforting or familiar forms we are used to. As we head into another culturally acknowledged passing of time, it is my hope that our prayers will move from being not enough to enough. It is my prayer that the words that we speak take hold and transform us to embody living prayers that radically alter us. That is my challenge for us as the Church this year. It is something that I am challenging myself and my congregation to discern.  Let’s identify critical needs in our communities; let’s start tackling issues of racism, environmentalism, etc. Because if we only say our prayers, then we are missing out on the part of our call where we are co-laborers and co-creators.

What Alí Primera sings is true, “Many things are needed in order to obtain peace.” So may we pray together, sweat together, bleed together, cry together, sing together, and celebrate together as we head out to put our prayers into action using all our gifts and talents.

Rev. Casey Carbone serves as the bi-vocational pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Mahopac. He considers himself to be a coffee snob, which fuels his ministry, music, and work outside the church. 

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It’s a Good Thing

After an extended hiatus, A Curious Faith has returned!  Every two weeks, we will publish reflections by members and friends of Hudson River Presbytery.  We hope that you will find them engaging and share-worthy. 

May the blessings of Advent and the joy of Christmas be yours, in abundance.

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I’m a fan of Martha Stewart.  Not a true devotee, mind you. I’m not one of those people who grows papyrus in their water gardens, so that they can make their own paper for their hand-stamped greeting cards.  I’m more of a voyeur, really, content to watch her do all the beautiful things that seem a bit beyond my reach.

Several years ago, I sat down to watch one of Martha’s television specials.  I was about to host my first Thanksgiving in my own home, and Martha had promised to show me how easy it was to set a warm and inviting holiday table.  The camera followed her into her linen closet, which was about the size of a small airplane hangar, and filled with every manner, size and hue of table dressing.  Next, it was time to select which set of china, and which cutlery to use: elegant, modern, rustic?  Oh, and don’t forget to bring out your vast collection of vintage turkey figurines!  They’ll add a seasonal and whimsical touch.

And I remember thinking: with all due respect, Martha, if you want to show me how I can set a spectacular holiday table, you need to use what I use.  You need to drag out the stepstool, and retrieve the knockoff delftware turkey platter, the one with a thousand hairline cracks.  You need to scramble into the back of my bathroom closet and gather the mismatched, clearance-sale napkins from Target.  You need to take my ancient tablecloths and strategically place serving pieces, so as to hide stains left behind by the cranberry sauce of Christmas past.  If you really want to show me how to do it, Martha, you need to be working with the same stuff I’m working with.

That is the great gift we have been given in the incarnation, isn’t it?  God, working with the same stuff we are.

God, showing us how exquisite these bodies can be when we use them to heal and to comfort, to stand with the oppressed, to sit with the lost and the grieving. 

God, spanning the divide between heaven and earth, between hope and despair, between life and death with a bridge of bone, sinew and muscle. 

God, showing us how we might build bridges, too, when we use these same fickle and imperfect bodies to make God’s love incarnate for one another.

In the Word made flesh, we see the very height of divine love and generosity.  And yet, on our more hopeful days, it doesn’t seem totally beyond our reach. 

It’s a good thing.  A very good thing.

Rev. Luanne Panarotti serves as pastor of Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church in Staatsburg, NY, and as editor of this blog.  She has one husband, two kids, one dog, four cats, and twelve boxes of Christmas decorations still to unpack. 

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The Parables of Jesus: Sweet Stories or Sharp Sticks?


A Curious Faith will be on hiatus,
but we’ll be back in December with thought-provoking posts
from members and friends of Hudson River Presbytery.

The Sunday adult education class at First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown has been reading Short Stories by Jesus, a book written, not by Jesus, but by Amy-Jill Levine. Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She describes herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominately Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

We have been challenged by her suggestion that our reaction to parables should be resistance, not acceptance. Jesus’s parables aren’t stories for children; they are stories asking us to look at our own lives, our values, and see how well we are “walking the talk.” Parables were a part of Jewish life at the time of Jesus. They appear in the Tanakh (the Jewish scriptures of Torah, Nevi’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings), they would have been told by ordinary people. They are a major part of Jewish culture Levine tells us.

We have enjoyed watching her on the DVD that accompanies the small group discussion guide-she’s intense, she’s funny, and most importantly she makes us think. She encourages us to start with the literal interpretation of a parable–“sometimes a mustard seed is just a mustard seed” she reminds us as we read the parable of the mustard seed as recounted by Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Some of us are hearing these parables as if for the first time. In some cases, Levine suggests new titles. The parable of the Prodigal Son becomes the parable of the LostSon, and suddenly we are looking at the two sons differently. The parable begins “Some man had two sons” and Levine asks who else had two sons? We know about Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob. She tells us that “all biblically literate listeners know to identify with the youngerson (italics mine).” But in this case the younger son isn’t the righteous Abel, or the faithful Isaac, or the clever Jacob.

Surprise! And then the punchline—who have we lost, who have we overlooked, who have we taken for granted?

As I listen, really listen, to the parables Jesus tells, I no longer hear “sweet stories” but instead I feel as though I am being poked with a “sharp stick.” I am being prodded, pushed to think more deeply than I might want to think, dared to ask what do I really value? And am I living those values?

Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder and a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown. She is a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery. Connie currently serves as Moderator-Elect of the Hudson River Presbytery during 2019.


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This time of year, you can’t swing a cat without knocking a mortarboard off someone’s head.  Everywhere you turn are graduations: on your calendar, on Facebook, in the local papers, live-streamed on the web.  All the smiling, hopeful faces of 2019 look so fresh and new, and at the same time, no different from you and me and our classmates, however many decades ago.

I attended a reunion for the very first time this past week, the 35thanniversary of my college graduation, so I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about my own commencement festivities. Benny Goodman received an honorary degree that year.  Anchorman Ted Koppel gave an insightful and often hilarious Class Day speech, that included his spot-on impersonation of Henry Kissinger.  But the pièce de résistance– or perhaps the la atracción principal– was our commencement speaker: King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

A king.  Of a country.

The King gave an inspiring speech about I-have-no-idea-what, because I spent most of the time scratching my head and wondering: doesn’t he have anything better to do?  I mean, I had enough trouble trying to get away for a weekend from my weighty responsibilities as an undergraduate; this guy is in charge of an entire nation, and he has the time to share his thoughts with a bunch of 22-year-olds, who just moments before were batting around a beach ball?  Yet, the very notion that a king had decided he had nowhere better to be at that moment than there with us, and with me, made me sit up a little taller, a little prouder.

The psalmist had a similar note of wonderment in their voice when they asked, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”  Then came the real head-scratcher: God not only taking note, and God not only caring, but God actually coming to be among us.  Doesn’t the King of Heaven have anything better to do than hang around a bunch of knuckleheads like humankind?

And God said no.  In Jesus Christ, God said I don’t have anything better to do than to be there with you. As you celebrate and struggle, as you heal and hunger, as you laugh and weep and dance and sit among the ashes. I could be anywhere else at this moment, but have chosen to be with you.

What more do we need to convince us of our own worth?  What more do we need to convince us of the worth of everyone and everything else in this world that God so loved?  And what better way to give thanks for that presence than to be present for one another?

At a reunion panel, one of my classmates shared the devastating story of the loss of her two teenaged sons.  And when she was asked whether there was anything anyone had been able to do in the midst of her agony that actually helped, she said yes: just being there.   Not trying to fix the unfixable or explain the inexplicable, but just being there, to sit with her in her grief, and share the burden of her pain.

Every time we make ourselves present, truly present, to someone, we pass along one great gift of the incarnation: that Christ had nothing better to do.  And neither do we.

Rev. Luanne Panarotti serves as pastor of Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church in Staatsburg, NY.  She has one husband, two kids, one dog, four cats, and so much gratitude for her alma maters.

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The Playland Labyrinth

Not far from the church here in Rye is Playland, the county-owned amusement park on the shore of Long Island Sound.  Aside from being one of the oldest such parks in the country, it is perhaps most known for its appearance in the Tom Hanks movie Big.  In the movie, Hank’s character – a middle school youth – has his wish fulfilled to be “big,” and the majority of the movie is a playful look at the adult world through the eyes of a youth.  Rye Playland is the place at the end of the movie where he finds the arcade game that allows him to undo his “bigness” and return to childhood.

For most of the summer, Playland will function in that same way.  It will be full of people enjoying a time of play – and the sound of the roller coasters and “joyful” screaming will be heard throughout town.

Ironically, tucked in the grassy park adjacent to Playland, is a hidden treasure that is pretty much the opposite experience.  The park, to my great surprise, has a labyrinth.

If you don’t know what one is, you are not alone.  It is an ancient spiritual practice that was adopted by the medieval church, with the best known example built into the floor of the Cathedral in Chartres. Unlike a maze, which has multiple ways to go (and get lost!), a labyrinth is a single path that leads eventually to “the center.”  For some, it was a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  For most, the labyrinth became a spiritual practice of prayer “along the way” as one slowly  and meditatively walks the path and finds their spiritual center.

We took our own middle school youth group to experience the labyrinth recently.  Like many such middle school experiences, it didn’t quite go as expected.  More in the spirit of Playland, they raced noisily along the path, bumping into each other, eager to find out where it led, with much jumping up and down in the center once they arrived.  Soon they sprinted out and on to the next activity.  Calming, meditative prayer?  Not so much.  Yet we hope that maybe in a quieter moment they will find their way back to this and other such slower, quieter practices.

As the busy days of the end of the school year lean toward the quiet of summer, may we all find refreshment on our labyrinth walk.  May there be time for long, slow, prayerful walks.  But like in the movie Big (worth watching again) may a dose of middle school enthusiasm be ours as well – jostling, curious, and playful – laughing together as we joyously run the path before us!

Dan Love is Co-Pastor at the Rye Presbyterian Church.

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On the Road to Damascus


Since March of this year, as in every year, a collection of individuals travel to Springer Mountain, GA to begin a five to seven month “Thru Hike” of the Appalachian Trail. This trail wanders across the tops of the ridges which form the Appalachian Mountain range stretching from Springer Mountain to Mount Kathadin in Maine. And this trail wanders through Hudson River Presbytery, crossing the Hudson on our very own Bear Mountain Bridge, over Anthony’s Nose and Breakneck Ridge heading across I-84, Route 52 and then Route 22 near Pawling before heading to Connecticut.  Each hiker sets out on this journey with a goal in mind, ready to discover what effort is necessary to complete the task.  Those early hikers endure snow in Georgia and North Carolina in hopes of September or October clear days in Maine.

Along the trail there are conversations of encouragement or looking for information.  After a few days on the trail hikers discover folks who are traveling at a similar pace and loose groups form.  People you can look for to welcome in the shelter each night or who will be at the best vista of the day for a lunch break.  Some days the conversation is bubbling sharing of sights and animals seen on the trail.  Other days the quiet conversations are encouragement after a day wondering “What did I set out to do?,  This is really hard and all I see are trees?,  Will this rain ever stop so I can feel dry feet again?”

As in the stories of road experiences on the way to Damascus (Saul – Paul) or Emmaus (Jesus asking a telling of the Easter Story), walking requires effort.  Effort which is often made easier when conversation is possible. Saul had his friends and they were planning a strategy for events in Damascus – but God had other plans.

This past weekend was a celebration of “Trail Days”  in Damascus, VA.   This large group of hikers who began the Appalachian Trail in March/April found time in their journey to gather in a welcoming village.  Some had already passed, but took the time to travel back to encourage and support those behind.  Some had not made Damascus yet, but jumped ahead to find encouragement and energy from those clearing the path for them.  And of course there were outfitters and vendors in town to share their wares and provide a change of pace from a rather solitary life style on the trail.

IPicture1n the midst of this group “Chaunce” and “Sprout” found each other.  They have common roots, but only had heard of each other until they met in Damascus.  “Chaunce” is a mid 20’s veteran of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Colorado Crest Trail.  She could not resist this East Coast challenge of lower altitude and very different surroundings.   “Sprout” is a mid-career pastor/yoga instructor finding another challenge in her creative life.  She is breaking up the routine of trail life engaging in worship on Sundays in churches with thoughtful and powerful women pastors. They finally met in Damascus and shared stories, encouraged each other and will look for other connection points on their way north.  “Chaunce” is Juliana Chauncey from the Nauraushaun Church and “Sprout” is Cari Pattison who left the Bronxville Reformed Church to take on this change of pace and enlightening experience.

Who is waiting to meet you on the road in the days ahead?  How will God use you or your new acquaintance?

Peter Surgenor recently retired as the Executive Director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center.  He was the moderator of Hudson River Presbytery in 2017.  He and his wife Cathy were Accompaniers with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia in February of this year.  Peter and Cathy are regular volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh where they now reside.

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A Tale of Four Churches


I lost my breath last Tuesday. As the first images of the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris came across my newsfeed, I was surprised by the depth of my grief. It is not a place that holds deep and abiding memories for me. I have fond memories of the cathedral, to be sure, but not the sort that would seem to evoke what I felt.  But seeing a holy space in such peril touched something in me. In the days since, I have been heartened, as we all have, by what has remained. And I have also been heartened by the outpouring of financial support and the commitment to preserve what we have left, and to rebuild. I believe that the world is starved enough for beauty and that whenever we lose something beautiful, the world becomes a little more broken.

I have also been chastened by the reminder that we have lost three African-American churches in Louisiana in recent months to arson, and that the kind of support that has come immediately for Notre Dame has been slow to come for these churches. What transpired in Paris on Tuesday was tragic. What transpired in Louisiana was evil, and yet we seem to have been less compelled to act. It is to be celebrated that the fire of the one church has brought attention to the fires at the three, and that donations to rebuild in Louisiana are now beginning to accrue. It is shameful that it took the burning of Notre Dame for our gaze to finally find its way to the sin in our back yard.

But as I have followed these two stories and their juxtaposition in the last week, I have been disturbed to hear, in some quarters, a note of judgment about the grief people expressed for the burning of Notre Dame and about the support for its rebuilding.  The argument, as I understand it, runs this way: we shouldn’t be expending resources on Notre Dame when there are more pressing crises that cry out for our support. The hundreds of thousands of dollars raised already for Notre Dame could have been better used for the work of social justice in Louisiana (or in Flint, or in Puerto Rico, or in…).

That is not the message I would hope that we take away from this tale of four churches.  That line of argument would have us believe that we can have either social justice or beauty, that the support for one cancels out support for the other.  It assumes a scarcity of resources which is, frankly, a canard. The sin is not that money has been raised quickly for the preservation and rebuilding of a magnificent work of art and of faith.  The sin has always been that, collectively, we have lacked the will to do the works of justice that so desperately need doing. We were failing the people of Louisiana, and of Flint, and of Puerto Rico long before Tuesday’s fire. The response to Notre Dame hasn’t made that failure qualitatively different, but it has brought it into sharp relief.

Finally, we need to be committed to creating and preserving beauty in the world AND we need to be committed to the work of social justice in the world. They are not mutually exclusive pursuits, but rather they are often mutually supportive. And it only plays into the hands of those who would have us stay on the sidelines when injustice occurs to buy into the narrative that we have to choose one or the other.

In the 1912 Lawrence textile strike, one of the young women marching to protest the working conditions in the Lawrence, MA mills carried a sign that said “Give us bread, but give us roses too.” May we as Christians respond to that claim on our resources. May we live into the abundance around us. May we work to bring this world closer to the Kin-dom of God, in all its beauty and in all its justice.

Robert Trawick is an Associate Professor of philosophy and religious studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College.  He is a Ruling Elder at Germonds Presbyterian Church in New City, NY and a former moderator of the Hudson River Presbytery.

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