A Survivor Responds to the Stanford Rapist’s Father

[Editor’s note: Every once in awhile, someone else’s words are so eloquent and important that I know they need to be shared . This is one of those times. I share it because Callie Farnsworth’s words needs to be said, and society needs to hear them.. This kind of thing happens all the time, to so many people that it is no wonder we have such problems in our society. In fact, a friend I discuss cases with anonymously has come to understand that the more complex a person’s case is, the more likely that rape or sexual trauma is involved. Nearly every female addict that comes to my office (and many male ones, as well) have the experience of rape or sexual abuse as the underlying cause for their behaviors. It is a devastating experience with ripples in every aspect of the person’s life. To that end, I have shared the experience of the Callie’s  father — Rev. Todd Farnsworth–  as well. Please know that if you are a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, new and better treatments and coping skills are available, but it it still a difficult thing. Text size varies here in acknowledgement of importance, with the rape survivor largest of all].
Prelude — Todd: As the father of a beautiful young woman who is surviving (and many days thriving) post rape, I am stunned by the letter written by the Stanford rapist’s father. The complete lack of awareness of what his son did to the victim, and the impact that will have on her life, is staggering. It could have been written by the victim’s father. The loss of appetite. The constant reminders. The interruptions of work because something triggered the individual. The life sentence that carries a burden of “living with it.” The court rarely provides justice in these cases. Until laws are written with a new sensitivity, the same insensitive verdicts will be awarded. Praying for change. Praying for peace….for my daughter, and all the daughters who carry this pain.

Callie Farnsworth: A Survivor  Responds to the Stanford Rape Verdict…

I have tried to read the articles about Stanford through the past few days but I can’t. I have started them many times, read half way through, and had to stop. The event is horrific, the sentence is horrific, and it makes me sick. I walked around in a haze today, peeking at my newsfeed, reading headlines, trying to make sense of it. And I can’t. I can only hope that this is the straw that breaks the camels back.

I thought Cosby would, but we barely talk about him now. I thought the Columbia girl with the mattress would be, but she graduated last spring and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t shared on my newsfeed. I thought Kesha might hit a mark, but she has been slipping back into the cellars of social media. Those ladies who posted the Charlie’s Angels photo for stopping a date rape? They were active, and did something outside of their social media. But what next?

I think rape needs to stop being just a ‘trending topic’. It is wonderful to share and post and talk about it. It makes a difference. But what are the thousands of people who shared the article doing a week from now? Two weeks from now? Where are they when this woman is sitting at home on a Tuesday years from now and she smells pine needles? That stuff scares me.

A little boy I babysat told me he knew the worst word in the dictionary. It was four letters. It was the worst thing you could do to a person and he believed it had only happened in ‘olden times’. I hope when he grows up rape will only have existed in his ‘olden times’ and it is universally considered the crime that it is.

 

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Guest Blogger — Rev. Todd Farnworth on Guns and Us

Editor’s note: This is probably the third time I have had a guest blogger whose ideas I wanted to share. The first was Joe Roberts and Cathi Chapin-Bishop on saving energy. The second was Liz Solomon Wright’s story about a Veteran who couldn’t get aid due to a policy. This is the third.

Rev. Todd Farnsworth is the pastor at Hamden (Mass.) Federated Church, UCC. One of the most kind and friendly people I have ever met, his preaching style is –and always has been — experimental. While I try to be serious and loving in my writing, Todd just tries to be well, Todd. He just loves his people, and his message here shows that. I am posting this sermon — preached last Sunday at his church for two reasons: 1) It’s a different take on the subject than mine and 2) to point out that great preaching happens in just “regular old” UCC churches all the time. I don’t know anybody at a BIG church like Riverside in New York. Generally — though there are some jerks among us — if you go to UCC church, you can find preaching like this.  OK, not like Todd’s preaching, but of similar quality. May you be fed by this sermon, and may you consider any UCC church where you can be fed…  [The sermon is printed in its entirety here, as it should be].

Title: Perks of Faith

Mark 10:17-31

The parallels are Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30. [ NOAB]

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

I’d like to begin with vs 21 of today’s text. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

It’s important for you to know that the rich man in today’s story was not a bad man. He wasn’t a haughty man. He wasn’t a man trying to make a name for himself. He was a good guy. Tried to be faithful to the Law of Moses. Tried to follow the rules of his day. He was a decent guy. Even his repartee with Jesus was sincere. It was the kind of conversation that students and teachers had all the time. A little give and take discussion to clarify, to crystallize one’s thoughts. Probably similar to the questions and answers you would hear at a Bible study or during a children’s message. Perhaps a little bit of cheekiness thrown in on either side to keep things lively…but all done with respect and a desire to learn…to grow in one’s awareness of faith stuff.

So this beloved man runs up to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” He sincerely wants to draw closer to God. He really desires to “make the grade.” Jesus parries with a teasing comment about only God being good, and the young man replies that he has done his best to keep the law…keep the rules….do what is right!

And Jesus looks at him and loves him.

What happens next is remarkable.

Jesus invites the rich man to “draw closer.”

Jesus offers the rich man a way into the “perks of faith.”

Jesus says, “do this, and you will receive:

peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships,curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety,  a leaning toward justice, and love.

Not a bad list. Notice, it’s not things that can be purchased; it’s not things that can be forcibly taken; it is the stuff of heaven, it is the inheritance of those who follow Jesus…and this guy seems like a good candidate.

Jesus does all this by giving the rich man a directive designed to set him free so that he can really experience what it means to be part of the realm of God.

Now, I’ll confess that I am not a rich man…young, old or somewhere in the middle. I know that probably comes as a shock! But the point of Jesus’ words are not targeted at wealth or age, so in light of recent events in our country, I’m going to paraphrase Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I could have said, “Go, sell your cell phones…or Go, sell your tablets….or Go, sell your Hummel collection….but I’d like to stick with “guns” for the moment.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.

We have many guns in our culture. We have come to treasure them. To stockpile them. To rely on them to keep us safe and secure. To protect us. To do our talking for us. To resolve our differences. To make our statements of dissent. They have become, like cell phones, tablets, or Hummels…our treasure; a distraction to our faith…and when I say, “distraction” I mean, “they stand between us and the realm of God.”

When we keep guns to do the work that God is capable of doing, we lose focus on the Holy and become obsessed with the mini god at hand.

I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other with guns on college campuses. I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other in the streets of our community or in local homes. I believe that happens where people are going into schools and movie theaters and claiming a godlike power over people who may or may not have done them wrong in the past. I believe that happens when we fool ourselves into believing that if we wake up in the middle of the night and find someone stealing our stuff, we will have the presence of mind to shoot the invader before he or she shoots us…or, before he or she wrestles the gun from our sleepy, frightened hands, and then shoots us.

These uses of guns do not point us toward Heaven. They lead us toward fear, and anxiety, and distrust, and anger, and retribution, and hatred.

This is different from the gun owner who uses guns to hunt their dinner, or practices a steady hand shooting targets. That mental and physical challenge can give us an awe of the power and the responsibility inherent in gun ownership. It can lead us to a life of discipline; a life that points us toward the realm of God; a study that leads us closer to the stuff of healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, and hope.

Please hear me clearly: Guns are not inherently evil...but a reliance on them that surpasses our reliance on God, can be a distraction…and Jesus understood that…and Jesus knew that rich man was a good man…and Jesus believed that rich man really wanted to get closer to God…and Jesus loved that man who was coming to him seeking a deeper relationship with the Holy…and Jesus advised that man to “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.

We have many guns. We have many cell phones. We have many tablets. We have many Hummels. We have lots of  stuff that is drawing our attention away from the remarkable perks of faith God has in store for us!

And we can go away sad. Or we can go away mad, claiming that Jesus just doesn’t understand!  Or we can go away and later, change our minds and come back.

At the end of the day, no matter how far we go, no matter what we decide, we need to remember, that Jesus loved that man. He was not trying to hurt him. He was not trying to deny him something important. He was not putting the man in jeopardy…in harm’s way. He didn’t chastise or begrudge  the man for the decision he made or the decision he couldn’t make at that moment.

At the end of the day, the truth is, Jesus loved that man….like he loves little Madison and little Wesley. Jesus loves us, and he wants us to experience all the perks God has to offer. He wants us to know: peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety, a leaning toward justice, and love, without distraction. He wants us to experience the kingdom of heaven…the realm of God…In this moment. like Jesus experiences those things in this moment.

The choice is ours. To hold onto what we have, or let go and receive something far more valuable.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record, that  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What will we do? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

From Jesus to St Francis to Jeff Brown — Ministry Where The Action Is

In one of those “small world” stories, I went to a conference with my wife where we had dinner with the chaplain (Rev. Jon Scott) that was there at the birth of my second daughter. While reminiscing about our time in seminary, we got to talking about a mutual friend, Rev. Jeff Brown. Jon asked if I knew what Jeff was doing and I didn’t. I suggested Facebook, and Jon doesn’t do Facebook, so I thought I’d track down Jeff and found him easily enough. I gave him Jon’s information and added Jeff to my “Friends” list and went on with my life.

Then something weird started happening — after the Ferguson chaos, Jeff would appear in a picture with the Vice-President of the United States! Joe Biden is heard on one of the videos that he remembered Jeff from some project with clergy in Boston years ago. A week or so later, Jeff is seen talking to the President of the United States about building bridges between community and police to decrease violence. A guy I know knows the President of the USA! and it’s on my Facebook page!

It turns out that Jeff is hanging out with famous people — he’s a one of a small bunch who were chosen to give TED talks this year — along with, among others, Monica Lewinsky. Jeff’s TED talk came out recently and I heard the story of how a guy I knew went from a guy in a church to a national (albeit not famous publicly) leader. Jeff is the opposite of the Cardasians and what is wrong with our society. Jeff is not famous for being famous and doing nothing. Jeff is not famous while doing something incredibly meaningful.

As Jeff tells the story in his TED talk, he deals with the issues of ego and fame straight out of seminary, but then he settles into his job — the job of doing the work of Jesus in the community where he pastors. Violence escalates in the community where he works — Boston in this case — among teenage gangs and drug dealers and other people most would call “low-life scum” — people from the Wrong Side of The Tracks morally.

What Jeff did is interesting, though. While most pastors (including him at first) would try to build up the Church of Good People, Jeff decides to take a walk into The City of the Apparently Bad People. That’s it. He walked and listened. He met people. Soon he and three other clergy walked at night every weekend. They didn’t do it for fame. They didn’t do it for glory. They did it for understanding and in that understanding came miracles. Boston’s murder rate went down 79% without guns or tanks, without more people ending up in jail, without all the things that happened in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore.

As Jeff talked, what I thought of was not Jeff, but Jesus…and St. Francis…and Jeff.  Each of them share a way of doing ministry that is outside the church (though Jeff pastored in a local church) and involved undesirables. Jesus is well known for hanging out with and reaching out to sinners, prostitutes, and the political hot-potato of the time, Tax Collectors. We all know what happened to the church under his guidance. It grew world-wide.

St. Francis of Assisi recreated that style of ministry with the truly repugnant — disease ridden, smelly (as he would note) and religiously “unclean” lepers in the 1200’s. Francis ministry had over 4,000 followers within a few years and caught the Pope’s notice more than once. The Catholic Church had a rebirth in the process.

In the late  20th century and early 21st, Rev. Jeffrey L Brown and three colleagues began to hang out with drug dealers and prostitutes and gang members and his/their community is changed radically as well. Maybe we’re doing something wrong in our churches. In each of these cases, instead of growing more of what is already planted to reap later, Jeff — and Francis, and Jesus before him — started to see the seeds of hope that hadn’t been paid attention to in the fields of weeds that the world has become. In doing so, they transformed the lives of those they ministered to and –as a secondary gift —  grew themselves and their communities.

Jeff points out in his TED talk that the drug dealers and criminals wanted to see three things: 1) Did they care enough to keep doing it — was it real love? 2) Were they doing it for the fame? 3) Were they going to get hurt by authority? When the answer to all of those was settled, transformation happened.

The parallels in Jesus’ ministry: 1) When Jesus preached to others, they frequently wanted to know why he was talking to them (see the Woman at the Well); 2) Jesus says, “when you pray, don’t do it in public for everyone to see” — the really  important folks/deity will know what you’re doing 3) The demon-possessed in the community are afraid that Jesus wants to hurt them. Jesus want to remove the demonic from them and they are transformed, not hurt.

In St. Francis’ ministry, 1) I’m sure the lepers were confused by his talking to them. Certainly the Religious People were. 2) Francis prayed all the time, not in the Halls of Power, but in the leper colonies, where no one from the outside world would see him. 3) Francis kissed a leper and the leper disappeared, leaving Francis to understand that the leper was actually an incarnation of God. Not only “not unclean” but truly holy.

I have absolutely nothing against parish pastors. They are able to shepherd a group of people through the transitions of their lives. They do wonderful work and support The Good People who still have problems, despite being good, living in a messed up world. Egotistic preachers and judgmental holier-than-thou congregations give me fits. The pastors I know are, for the most part, not them.

Being a person or preacher in the Congregation of the Good People is a good place to be and to stay, but as these three leaders show, it is not the only type of ministry out there. Inside the building, people tend to stagnate. Outside of the building people come alive in transformation. Inside of the building, there is loud judgment about those in the world. Outside of the building, quiet love is needed and respect is given to those in the church.

May we do more of this type of ministry and not limit ourselves to what we think is possible, instead doing the impossible through the God who lives within us.

Amen.

Peace,

John

The Lessons of History?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — George Santayana.

“Head-desk” — a UCC Minister

It’s the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma, Alabama, a turning point in American history in which African-Americans made strides toward voting rights and civil rights. The history of the day is described poignantly in the movies “Selma” which came out in the past few months.

It is the story of hard hearts and closed minds of Southern Whites and the resulting hard and hurting hearts of Southern Blacks, the pull toward violence in the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) overtaken by the non-violent love, dignity and respect for persons given by Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Confrerence (SCLC) and King”s leadership.

In the same era as The March on Selma was happening, White Southerners wouldn’t let what were then called  “Negroes” or “Coloreds” the right to sit down in the same restaurants and coffee shops,  From the sit-ins that were a response to the coffee houses and the March came two of the most united times as a people and two of the proudest moments in American history.

In remembrance of these significant events, three stories have come to the fore:

1) The party which now controls Congress has made a point of refusing to send its leaders to the remembrance.

2) Oklahoma Senator Joseph Silk has stated that LGBT people “don’t have the right to be served in every store”.

3) The Ferguson, MO mayor whose city was besieged this past summer, has seen a report by the Department of Justice that says there were widespread abuses and policies which created the situation and resulting problems says that even though “The report stated there was probable cause to believe the police and court routinely violate people’s civil rights. But, Knowles said, “that’s not proof.” He added that “there is probably another side to all of these stories.”

Is anyone seeing a pattern of absurdity here?

To give some perspective here, this would be like this happening:

On the week prior to July 4, 2016,  as the Prince Harry and Kate Upton are preparing to come to America to celebrate American Democracy and Independence and what it has mean to the world,

Members of the Labour Party state in a press conference that they would not send a letter of congratulations to the US on the Fourth of July because they didn’t want to stir up hard feelings. I don’t know if they normally would, but going on record as saying they wouldn’t is a statement in itself.

Following this, A member of Parliament states that Americans are not welcome in England because “many of them” are traitors. Further, people with both American and English citizenship would be sent back to America, because their citizenship in Britain was no longer considered valid.

Shortly thereafter, The Prime Minister states that regardless of what history has said, democracy has not succeeded in America despite the list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence, there were no “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States”.  Therefore, the supposed Revolution isn’t legitimate because “there’s no photographic evidence that the events described by the Americans ever took place”. Even if they did happen , the PM went on to add, it would be a matter of “They said, We said” because there are two sides to every story.

Every day that week, there is a new story that tells the decline of relations between the two countries, even while the Prince and Princess represent the “official version of history” and are embarrassed by the news from home.

Can you feel the craziness coming on? This is what it’s like to live in America today  as a “minority” of some sort, or as a supporter of a minority.

Here’s the reality and good news of the Civil Rights movement:

1) There was a problem of civil rights for some Americans.

2) When Americans of all stripes saw how bad the problem was, they fixed it. White people (LBJ and Congress) gave to Black people what was due them and felt proud of themselves for doing so,

3) The option for violence was presented again and again and — for a time — the minorities remained non-violent and looked to heal America.  When the leaders of the movement who had tried so hard to love were killed. Violence erupted against those in power and divided us again.

Those are the facts of history. We became a better people because we faced our own issues and dealt with them. We were proud to be Americans. When we didn’t deal with our issues, there was violence.

Now, there are people in power who say that we should be divided, that we shouldn’t be proud, and that violence will not erupt as we revoke the civil rights of some of our citizens, because our democratically elected (twice) president might have a bias. Those who can’t remember their past…

There are usually two types of hurts: Intentional hurt of others and ignorant hurt of others (someone didn’t know the situation and, as a result, hurt someone unintentionally.) While many of us are trying to argue the latter of those two regarding Ferguson and others, leaders have now added a third category — refusal to acknowledge the hurting of others and blaming them for being hurt.

So these are our choices as I see it: 1) Pride, dignity, and respect for us, unity, support for each other and belief in one America or 2) chosen ignorance, no respect for us by other countries, a diminished sense of unity, less pride in what we have accomplished, less love and more violence.

It’s oddly exhausting and feels crazy at times, because others shout louder and lie more aggressively, but I’m going to go with option 1.

Peace,

John

The Hidden Reason I Love The UCC — It’s Us

My friend Evelyn Eddy posted a reminder on Facebook the other day that about three tears to the day before I was born, something great happened. My denomination came into being and made the world a better and safer place. By my standards, we are the best denomination out there. The reasons are not immediately evident, but they are vital to my understanding of what God calls us to be.

When I do chaplaincy with the mentally ill at Hartford Hospital, I begin with this:

“Hi, my name is John. I’m an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and I’m a member at South Church in New Britain, and I come to here to bring worship and the word and prayer and communion and all that sort of stuff… That’s who I am. You are?…” I say this because I am proud of all of that. I’m proud to be ordained. I’m proud to be a member at South Church, and I am proud to bring worship and the word and prayer and communion to people that other people would not acknowledge or scorn or simply throw away. I would be proud to be a part of any denomination that did that last part because that’s what Jesus would do. To be fair, many of my colleagues in all sorts of denominations would do that because it’s what Jesus would do. So, while that’s great, it’s not unique. But, when recently ordained Salem, Oregon minister Emily Goodnow does the wedding of two homeless gay people who fell asleep on the church steps, I know that tradition continues and I am proud. When supposedly “retired” minister Peter Wells goes to workshop after workshop teaching people how to make lasting change in the world while understanding how difficult the world is, I am proud. When Gordon and Cy Sherman and a gazillion people they raised in the faith are out caring for people and nature and causes you never heard of, I am proud.

Still, I have too may minister friends to say with any certainty that the UCC has the best minsters out there. God raises up great people in all sorts of denominations. I will say that being who and what we are attracts the best ministers to us, though. If you read this blog on any regular basis, you know the people I am talking about — Todd Farnsworth, Emily, Peter, Rick Fowler, the Shermans and the Deering crew. You also know that Baptists like Charlie Crook and independent pastors like Benny Claytor and Methodists like Newt Perrins are out there. God does what God does whenever and wherever God feels like it.

What makes our denomination so special? Barbara Brown Zickmund, one of ours, published a book years ago called “Hidden Histories in the UCC” in which she laid out the reason — people you never heard of fighting for women’s rights and civil rights and freedom from all sorts of slavery if I remember correctly. But what she also tells is the history of our polity (the way we do things) — and it is there that we find the hidden, subtle, not always understood thing that makes us great.

It is not that we don’t have problems. We do. We have abusive pastors, just like other denominations. We have mean and twisted congregations, just like other denominations — or non-denominations — do. It’s not that we have the greatest liturgy because every church has great liturgy and my favorite kind of Quakers have no liturgy at all. It’s not that we have the greatest music — our hymnal is as controversial as the next one and missing some incredible hymns bound to other denominations. It’s not that we’re right all the time about every issue. We’re not. We can’t be. We’re still human.

So here’s the deal, at least from my perspective: Our history and our polity yield a psychological health that makes it the best place to be you and me in the presence of God. Our denomination is not really just one denomination. In 1957, four denominations merged to form the UCC. On one side of the faith, there were the Congregationalist and the Christians who had become the Congregational Christian Church and on the other side there was the Evangelical Church and the Reformed Churches in America who joined to be the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. The Congregationalists (who I grew up thinking we were) are the Pilgrims and the Puritans from Europe and they believe that everyone should get a vote about what goes on inside the church. They believe in freedom and simplicity. The “Christian” church is the remnants of African-American churches started by and within slave communities. They also believe in freedom, of course, and had simplicity pretty much forced on them. I love the idea of having “Black Church” worship, with it’s deep, intense spirituality, in my blood.

The E & R side is really about limits — the limits imposed on us by sin — and the way we redeem ourselves from it. It’s also about doing good things in the world because they want to be good people in the world. It comes from a gritty, realistic view of what humans can be — in Germany during World War II, for instance. Not really into piety and moralizing myself, I thought I would hate these people but two of my favorite people — Daehler Hayes, former Conference Minister in Rhode Island and Doris Luckey, a parishioner in Rochester, NY — come out of this tradition. There are a series of hospitals and a health care system for seniors that comes out of this tradition. Further, as someone who works with addicts can attest, coping with the reality of sin and how to redeem and forgive ourselves is so very important.

Even people I didn’t think I should like inform and strengthen my faith because they force me to look at things I wouldn’t normally look at. Besides, I still don’t get how Daehler — one of the most unique people I have ever met — can come from such a structured background, but he does.

We are all on a continuum of faith and needs — some need more structure, some need less, some really need the Bible and some really need politics, some like prayer and emotions and some like to stay in their heads. If you can’t find a place where you fit in the UCC, you’re definitely not looking hard enough. That thing we say, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here”, is incredibly true and basic for us. We take in “strays” from other churches all the time because we can.

Taking you through “life’s journey” requires people who see faith as a life-time journey. There is a small movement here in Connecticut around life-cycle Christian Education and some of it’s leaders highlight the diversity of views here. Caroll Cyr, more conservative; Jane Rowe — traditional but not necessarily conservative; and Char Corbett — grounded but not necessarily traditional or conservative, all are involved and they get along well, informing each others’ work while committed to helping you figure out what you believe. They are them and they respect you for being you because that’s what we do and that’s how we think we should be.

My favorite psychological theorist, Virginia Satir, used to say, “The problem is not the problem. Coping is the problem”. We as humans can’t predict what the future holds. But we can figure out how to live with it and deal with it. We cannot control the existence of problems in the world. The challenges of today — Climate Change, Gay rights, immigration reform, prison reform, the existence of new “designer” drugs — weren’t even real things to our ancestors, but we deal with these issues all the time today.

How do we do it? We know that no one person or no one ideology or no one anything has all the answers. No one is right all the time, and the changes keep on coming. Our answer, in the United Church of Christ, is to widen the size of our possible answers enough that you can find yours. In one circumstance, Jane may have the right answer or process, in other Caroll or Char might. In another, Daehler or Doris might. In yet another, I might or you might. And even when an answer comes nationally (at our Synod, every 2 years), we acknowledge that it might not fit for the local congregation, so it’s not binding until they agree to it.

This dynamic isn’t who we are, because we change all the time, but it comes from who we are — it’s a bi-product of our being together. That’s what makes it “hidden” and hard to put your finger on, just like it’s hard to put your finger on The Spirit.

But, while I have a chance to make things more visible, I have wanted to write a piece on “be careful of the quiet ones”, people you never heard of doing incredibly good things in the world for a while. Here’s a shout-out to some of the UCC people I know that you should know, too.

Bob Kyte, somewhere in New Hampshire, a good counselor and friend that the Spirit just quietly flows through.

Julie LaBarr, and her family, the Sloths, genuinely nice people who care deeply and wrestle with issues all the time, while remaining Christian through it all.

Lynn Carmen Bodden, now living in Upstate New York and working in Connecticut, one of the best interim ministers in the entire country — loving and caring warmly while taking people through the deepest changes.

John Hudson, The Sherborn Pastor, in Sherborn Massachusetts, intelligent and caring, making a difference with his writing and his biking during the summer.

Leigh McCaffrey in Florida, the hardest working woman in the biz. The Blackest White Woman I know. Met God in a bar, and still believes those people have something to say.

The list goes on. As Mark Strickland of Lynnfield, Massachusetts used to sing, “You can meet them all at tea or at lanes or sea. The saints of God are folks like you and me. And I mean to be one, too”.

Peace,

John