Resolutions

2017
To tell the truth, I am not one who is big on New Years.
Either the celebration or making resolutions.
Maybe because New Year’s always seems to come so quickly after Christmas and most years (including this one!) I am still trying to have my energy catch up with the calendar.
But here we are in the opening days of 2017.
A day which we have now, but never again.
Maybe it is a day for us to recognize the new year and to consider resolutions for the year ahead. Resolutions not about diet or exercise or spending more time with family and friends, but given the reality of the times in which we live, resolutions about what it means to be a Christian. A person of faith. A person called by God to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; to treat others the way you would like to be treated; to be called blessed because you are known to be a peacemaker or because you hunger and thirst for righteousness or because you are merciful.

A blog to which I subscribe had this title on yesterday’s post:
Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Churches.
These are churches willing to look outward more than they look inward and to see others as neighbors and who are willing to ask what they can do to heal a world too often broken by hatred and fear and prejudice and violence. Maybe we could or should replace the word church with the word Christian or the words People of Faith.
Whatever word or words we chose, they include you and me.

So, what about this as a place we might start.
We use this Affirmation of Faith each time we celebrate a baptism.
We are not alone.  We live in God’s world.  We believe in God who has created and who is creating; who is made known to us in the life and ministry of Jesus; and who works in us and in others through the Spirit.  We place our trust in God.  God calls us to be the Church; to celebrate God’s presence; to love and serve others; to seek justice and to resist evil.  In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

Here is what I am going to ask you to do.
Below is a series of questions.
Read through them.
Pick two or three (or more if you would like) which tug at you in some way. And then write down what what you hope to do to deepen that part of your life of faith.
Here are several guidelines.
Be specific. Maybe something like I am going to read one book related to my faith or values.
Be realistic. You are not going to read the entire Bible each month.
Risk something new. None of us is who or where God calls us to be.

When you are finished, put what you wrote some place where you will see it.
Read through what you wrote at least once a week.
Jot down notes about what you are experiencing and learning and where and how God is tugging at your life.

Here are the questions:

  • What would you like to do in order to better see and experience and name those places where God is still creating? In your life? In the world around us?
  • What would you like to do in order to better understand the life and ministry of Jesus and what his example means for your life and how you live?
  • How might you deepen your trust in God or better understand what that means for your life?
  • How might you better notice and name and celebrate God’s presence in your life and our world?
  • How might you better love and serve others?
  • How might you seek justice and resist evil?

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

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Christmas

christmas-star

“Of course it is trouble, it wouldn’t be Christmas if it were not a lot of trouble.”                                               Garrison Keillor

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”                                                                   Ebenezer Scrooge

I love Christmas.  It is by far my favorite holiday. So, since I was in London before Christmas last year I made a point of visiting the Charles Dickens museum.  It is housed in one of his family homes in London.  It was nicely decorated for Christmas.  And I could almost conjure the spirit of the man who had given us so many wonderful books and A Christmas Carol.  It may be surprising but A Christmas Carol was written in rather challenging and troubling times for Charles Dickens. Dickens had published many books by 1843 but at the time his popularity seemed to be waning.  If he couldn’t sell his books he could never maintain his family of four, soon to be five, in the way they had enjoyed.  Also, by mid-19th century England was in the midst of a social transformation because of the Industrial Revolution. The difference between rich and poor was ever growing.  And yet it seemed to Dickens that there was very little concern for the plight of the poor.  This troubled Dickens very much.  He was particularly aware of the suffering of the children.  Poor and orphaned children were often put to work at an early age because they did not have to be paid much.  Dickens was so distraught about it that he visited the mines in Cornwall where many children worked.  He also visited poorer parts of London where children were put to work in factories.  So incensed was he that he put to writing a protest pamphlet about the conditions of the poor in London.  But in the midst of writing it he had a different idea.  What was needed was a change of heart among those taking advantage. He decided to write a story about the careless greed he saw all around him.  He used his favorite holiday for the setting.

That is the essence of Christmas for me.  Many people bemoan the business of the season and all the burdens that go with it.  However, it seems to me that on some level this is what we are called to.  It does not take much reading of this world to realize that these are troubled times.  It is hard to not be persuaded by the many voices that proclaim the end.  The truth is that the world is always been so troubled.  In the face of all this God gives us a sweet little story about the perseverance of faith, the eternal nature of love, and unending hope. And God says it is enough if we respond in love, hope and faith.  It may not seem like much and it is not unless we respond.  Christmas can be a gaudy overproduction or it can be the sweetest of commitments to make this life worth living.  So I go to great trouble to make and celebrate Christmas but it can’t end there.  As Scrooge says in the end it is a matter of living up to the message of Christmas all the year long.  Dickens knew that our very lives can be transformed by love and hope and faith and so we must be so changed and so transform this troubled world around us.  Merry Christmas!

Tim Ives is a therapist who has a special interest in teens and families.  His office is in Bedford Hills. He is also a Presbyterian Minister at Scarborough Presbyterian Church.  He is married and  has two young adult children.

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I Am That

advent3
Do you know that person? The one who approaches you at the busiest time of the year, whether you’re a pastor, elder, volunteer, or teacher, and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about “x, y, and z” for a few months, but I need to talk to you now,  because I’d like to get this moving/done/on the calendar before Christmas.”  That person?  I do.

And guess what my gracious response has been to that person?  (In my head, anyway.)  Thoughts something like this, whether I end up doing the thing or not:  “Really, you’re coming to me NOW, after all this time, at my busiest time of year when I can’t even . . . (insert indignant sputtering here) . . .  . and you’re feeling urgent?! No.  Sorry. (Not sorry) Too bad.  Nope.  No way.

And then, December came.  And something became very clear.  I had been pondering for months, but as my discernment went on, it became clear that the time was now, and I needed advice, a meeting, and a phone call.  At Christmas.  From other pastors.

Ugh.  I was that person, the one I criticized so freely in my heart. The one who had a need at an inopportune time.  The one who had to ask for help.

A friend and I walk our little dogs on a path in Beacon, and we meet lots of friendly people, and dogs, along the way.  But there’s one guy, a runner, who has made his distaste evident for those of us spread out along the trail.  The other day, we were passing under a railroad trestle, and he came around a blind corner at full speed and had to stop short to avoid tripping over a dog.  He stopped, glared at us as we passed by, then hauled back, and hocked a lugey into the weeds.  For those of you who don’t know any twelve year old boys, this is the vernacular for spitting.  He spat aggressively.  He spat pointedly, and even though it wasn’t aimed at us, we got the message.  “Disgusting!” we said.  “What is wrong with him?” we wondered.  This is a walking path, not his private racetrack with us as annoying obstacles to be gotten around!

And then, December came.  In a hurry, I drove the familiar road to church when a car pulled out ahead.  I slowed down.  A little.  The car ahead slowed even more; I could see the driver busy looking at a boat on the river.  When the passing lane was clear, I zoomed out and passed, like a racecar at the Indy 500.  It felt that way, too, as I thought, “This is not your own private racetrack! Other drivers are not obstacles in your way!”

Oops.  I was that person. The one who treated others as less than because my own agenda was so important. The one who could not slow down enough to look at a beautiful river.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, writes, “There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected.  Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.”

In this season of Advent, I reflect on the God who comes, who loves us so completely that the Divine takes on our fragile, flawed flesh.  Who says to us, “I am,” and becomes that, us.

Jesus, born human, who inhabits a body.  I wonder if when his feet hurt or his belly rumbled with hunger or when he was getting annoyed by his disciples said, “Ah, I am that.”

And I wonder, too, in our best moments, the moments of generosity and kindness and compassion, if we can recognize the Christ in us and say, “Ah, I am that, too.”

It seems to me that this is the point.  That Advent begins once again the journey of realization that there is no separation between us and the God of love.  That the interconnectedness of grace is flowing in and through and around us all.

I will see you on the trail.  I will meet you on the road.  And may we recognize each other, and smile.

Leslie Mott, M. Div., RYT, received her Master s from Princeton Theological Seminary and has served communities of faith as teacher, chaplain, counselor, retreat leader, pastor and director.  She is the pastor of “The Church of the Open Door,” (The First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown) in Cold Spring, NY, where she has served for 12 years.

As a Spiritual Director, Leslie sees clientele privately and also works with groups.  Leslie is especially interested in working with those in the “helping professions”: clergy, social workers, health care practitioners and counselors.  She received her certification through the Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinecliff, NY, and is a member of Spiritual Directors International. 

As an instructor at Living Yoga Studios, Leslie is certified RYT 200 by the Yoga Alliance and teaches four classes a week in Cold Spring, NY.   She is affiliated with Yoga Across America, a non-profit that seeks to bring yoga to underserved populations.  Additionally, she teaches privately to those wishing individual instruction.

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Journal Entry: Second Sunday in Advent

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Tobacco Ceremony at Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, Mahwah, NJ
Photo credit: 
Roberto Mukaro Borrero

10:00 AM: This morning in worship at White Plains Presbyterian Church we lit the second candle of Advent.  This candle was lit to honor water: the waters of Mary’s womb, the river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, the sea of Tiberius, the well of Jacob, the drink of living water that Jesus offered to the woman from Samaria.  Jeff preached about the crooked paths made straight by the work of justice.  We shared a communion feast and then a potluck feast in the church house.

2:00 PM: I joined over 150 people gathered for a Tobacco ceremony at the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, the ceremonial land of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation in Mahwah, NJ.  Standing in a circle around the sacred fire a small group from the Ramapough have kept burning for months, we were invited to offer prayers of gratitude and to place a pinch of sweet tobacco offering in a bowl at the circle’s center.  At the conclusion of the ceremony circle, Grandmother Deborah led us to the bank of the Ramapo River where she placed the prayers on the water.  A sung prayer echoed over the river, a prayer for all the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, for the safety of Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp facing daily police surveillance, for the seven generations who will follow us, and for the water we are called to protect for our lives and for theirs.

5:00 PM:  Christmas errands, a run to Goodwill to donate some old bureaus taking up space where the tree will go.  On our way to Nanuet, I saw the news: the US Army Corps denies easement permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be constructed beneath the Missouri River!  Maybe I’ll always remember that already dark 5 p.m. drive to Nanuet when news of victory popped up on my phone?  Maybe the victories will be too many to remember in years to come?  I tried to give this moment of joy its full measure, joy for what the Standing Rock Sioux and Water Protectors struggled to protect and what is now safe even for just this moment.

9:30 PM:  Advent devotional at the dining room table with Will.  We read Psalm 72, which voices longing for a ruler who embodies God’s justice, who is “like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.”  Advent is a thirsty season that makes every drop of water – every glimpse of justice alive in this world – sweet and full of joy.  

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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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

thank-you2

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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