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?

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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A Time to Keep Silence and A Time to Speak

“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak”
Ecclesiastes 3:7

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin,” opines Linus Van Pelt, of Peanuts fame.  The Bible gives credence to that lesson (not the Great Pumpkin part).  We are told there is a time to keep silence.  We also are told there is a time to speak.  This election season is a time to speak.

Let us discuss the ways in which Christian discipleship compels compassionate actions that are legislated and funded by our elected officials.  There are consequences of silence, hazards of saying nothing.  “Thou shalt not discuss religion or politics” is not one of the Ten Commandments; it is a quote from a cartoon character.

We may disagree on how to govern and who should govern, but we are clear about our religious platform.  We are a people who believe that human coexistence requires justice, kindness, humility and love.

Laurie A. McNeill is a member of Hudson River Presbytery and she serves as a Teaching Elder in Highland and Marlboro, New York.

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Praying with Deep Roots

On Saturday, Will and I brought a couple out of town friends apple picking in Warwick, NY.  I’ve known Warwick for a long time but I hadn’t been there in years.  I grew up attending Camps Farthest Out (CFO), a Christian family camp held at the Warwick Conference Center.  The vision of CFO was to shape a week around the transformative work and joy of prayer.  We walked the grounds on Saturday and it was as if every rock, tree, and mountain view were alive with memories.  The towering oak tree at the entryway has heard so many of my prayers from grammar school to college.  I walked that hilltop road overlooking the mountains with my grandmother on warm summer nights.  Standing there looking at the mountain we called Sleeping Giant, I could hear the memory of her voice more clearly.  

I remember that at the beginning of each week of camp we were asked to choose a prayer partner with whom you would spend time in prayer each day.  I don’t remember any human prayer partners, but I remember the oak tree, the mountains, the brook in the woods.  Turns out they’ve been holding my prayerful words and memories all these years.

At the White Plains Presbyterian Church’s Prayer Breakfast last week, we wondered together about the Holy Spirit and prayer.  We read the Romans 8:18-27 in which all creation and we are groaning as we await liberation.  We are partners in prayer with creation and the Holy spirit intercedes for all of us with wordless groans.   

This prayer partnership makes a difference, if we take it seriously.  If we choose the tree outside our front door as a prayer partner, we might become more aware of just how hard this summer was not only for humans facing a violent world but for trees living through the drought.  We might shift our water consumption to a more significant degree.  We might understand more deeply that water is sacred, that water is life. We might be in North Dakota (or in New York!) right now standing with Native American Nations in defense of the earth.  Let’s see where creation and the Spirit lead us…

(Photo caption: Will with one of the generous sap-producing Maple trees on the Stony Point Center campus)

Sarah Henkel is a Teaching Elder. She is a resident at Stony Point Center and member of the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith community of Jews, Muslims, and Christians dedicated to the practice and study of radical hospitality, justice, and nonviolence.

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Mr. Ganz

“Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged”

Jalaluddin Rumi

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.                              –                                          – Romans 12:15-18

My wife Ann and I found our dream house in 1995.  The minute we pulled in the driveway I could imagine my kids running in the yard.  It was probably the easiest sale our realtor ever had.  It was and is a wonderful place that will be hard to leave when the time comes.  One unique aspect of our house is that we live across the street from a Yeshiva for Hasidic Jews.  In some ways it is almost like not having neighbors.  They keep to themselves and do not have a lot of dealing with “outsiders.” Except every once in a while.  I did meet the head Rabbi as he visited to ask if I could call the electric company to report an outage at the Yeshiva.  It was the Sabbath and he could not do work he explained.  I was happy to call.  Other times I have been out in the community and been asked for a ride by people who lived at the Yeshiva.  That put me off because it seemed a little too forward but I obliged.  And all of my riders were always polite, always humble.

So we would see them but never had much to do with any of our neighbors until one fall day when there was a knock on the door.  It was a man named Mr. Ganz.  He was wondering if he might rent out part of our house for the holidays  (Rosh Hashanah).  He usually had to stay down at the motel and walk up for services.  It was a long walk and he had little kids.  So he wondered if they could stay with me.  He had ten kids.  I try to be accommodating to people.  I see myself as someone who is open and gracious but this was a big ask.  I told him that I would talk to my wife about it and he should come back later that day.

He never came back.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Then it began to dawn on me that he was assuming he could stay.  He was just going to show up with his ten kids and stay for the days of the holidays.  I thought that was very presumptive.  I said to Ann, “I bet he is just going to show up and expect to stay here with his ten kids! Those people are a little pushy.”  And sure enough there he was on the afternoon he had asked for.  It annoyed me and as I opened the door I blurted out: ‘You can’t stay here Mr. Ganz!”  He gave me an odd look.  And said, “I know, I talked to the Rabbi about it and we worked something else out.  But my wife made this Challah bread for you just for entertaining the idea…”

I had judged him and he was much different than I believed.  I jumped to the worst conclusion I could and tried to blame my neighbor.  And all he had was generosity on his mind.  It has been a lesson to me for these many years since.  We have a tendency to judge each other quickly and often harshly.  What we often find is that our judgements are wrong if we look a little closer.

I thanked Mr. Ganz very much for his generosity.  I apologized for blurting at him and I took the bread gratefully.  I put it to the most appropriate use I could think of.  We used it at church that Sunday for communion.  And I told the story, quite sheepishly, about what I had learned about open hearts and open minds from Mr. Ganz.

Tim Ives is the Pastor at Scarborough Presbyterian Church.

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Ends and Means

Religion is to be used as a stepping stone to God, but it must never be used as a tower to hold one aloft from others. We are all cells in the body of humanity. When anyone attempts to isolate another, they only isolate themselves more.
                          – Peace Pilgrim

I think for a long time we may have gotten it wrong.
At least the way we have tended to talk about it.
We (Christians) made it all about Jesus.
About believing in Jesus.
About being saved by Jesus.
Jesus was (and for many still is) the most important thing.
Better than all the rest.
Growing up John 3:16 was our touchstone verse and one of the first verses I was encouraged to memorize:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Christianity was not only the best, it was the only way. All other faith traditions paled in comparison and those who practiced those traditions were lost. At least that is how it was taught to me.

That understanding of Jesus and faith doesn’t work for me any more. I have too many friends and neighbors and colleagues who are Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or Nones. All of them are good people working as I am to live with integrity and compassion, to care for those in need and to make our communities and country and world better and safer and stronger. Their values mirror my values. Their hopes mirror my hopes. I can’t believe they are completely wrong or forever lost.

What I have come to believe is what we got wrong is we confused ends with means. For a whole host of reasons we made Jesus the end, when all along Jesus was and is the means to the end. A way we get to where we are supposed to be.
The end is something else.
Something more.
Something we are to be and do.

Besides getting Jesus in the right place, the challenge for us as Christians is to articulate what the end really is. What the purpose is for following Jesus and/or believing in Jesus. The idea/the language I have been playing with is this. I think the purpose of religion and the dream of God and the teaching and witness of Jesus is for us, on a personal level, to become and to be compassionate human beings and, on a community level, to build what Jesus means when he talks about the Kingdom of God. If I am right or even on the right track then maybe we can begin to talk about Jesus and our faith in a new and refreshing ways which invite others into the conversation and to work with others as equal and valued partners in building that beloved community. What do you think?

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“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy”

We are back after our summer Sabbath.
Thank you to Connie Knapp for launching our blog into this new year.

Image courtesy of artur84 at

A funny word, Sabbath.
Where does this word come from? In old English, the word “sabat” meant “Saturday as a day of rest.”  So Sabbath simply means “Saturday as a day of rest.”

Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” 
Oh yeah, one of the Ten Commandments.

So I’m pondering; what does this say to me, to us, about Sabbath keeping in the 21st century. This is one of the Ten Commandments, isn’t it? What should I do, or not do, on the Sabbath?

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, has written a book on the Ten Commandments, calling them Laws of the Heart. For her, the Third Commandment is the Law of Remembrance. Here’s how she begins this chapter:

“In my Grandmother Chittister’s house, good Protestant that she was, absolutely nothing happened on Sunday except church, Sunday school, and the family meal. She did not play the radio. She did not sew. She did not work around the house. You didn’t have to be a philosopher in that house to figure out that Sunday was a different kind of day. “

This might sound familiar to some of us. Some of us grew up in homes like that. But I love sister Joan’s reaction. She tells us, “I didn’t much like to be in Grandma Chittister’s house on Sundays.  …But, from her, I got a message about life that stayed with me forever….Life is about listening to the music of the soul. “

Sister Joan goes on to remind us that “surely the real sin to which the third commandment points is not the sin of not going to church on Sunday. It is the sin of not seriously seeking God.”

I’m not suggesting that you skip church.
I’m suggesting that you seriously seek God.
Listen to the music of your soul.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Whatever that means to you.

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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