In the movie, Date Night, Claire and Phil Foster (played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell) make up stories about some of the people they see. Claire and Phil are not the only ones who have done that, are they?
Sitting on a stone wall, people watching, folks can entertain themselves for hours by making up stories about the strangers that go by. The stories are informed by the strangers’ appearances, speech, facial expressions, gait, height, weight, and age. Some stories rely on stereotypes, others on going against stereotypes. Making up stories about the people we see can be rather harmless fun.
On the other hand, making up stories about strangers is not always benign. Relying on falsehoods, people have been known to make up malicious stories about strangers. Rooted in lies, untruths, and harmful stereotypes, some stories lead to malicious and deadly actions against the people about whom the stories are made up.
Questioning stereotypes and assumptions counters falsehoods, prejudgments based on them, and the notion that the whole lot of “them” must be dealt with severely.
Thinking about difficult issues from various angles and perspectives results in the development of a fuller, more four-dimensional, moving picture of them, and of the people involved. It creates room for malicious thought to dissipate. Starting from the viewpoint that no one has more and no one has less value than another human being can help people let go of feelings of superiority and inferiority.
Having the viewpoint that each person has, or should have, equal agency, can help set aside the desire to control another person. These things are not always easy to do, and some people might be uneasy testing them out. Nonetheless, getting rid of baseless assumptions and stereotypes, and forming a more holistic way of thinking about the world, are worth it.
The day my mother died in 2017, great Joy overcame me, and it has not gone away.
The Joy came quite unexpectedly, as I was driving to the hospital in Worcester to be with our family. And it kept increasing.
My first encounter with death was when I received word as a 10-year-old that two of my backyard friends had drowned. From that point, I have had numerous encounters with death, each one teaching me something.
Mom was a teacher. She gave my sister and me piano lessons. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse. She taught our family countless things. She is teaching now.
It has been said that, “God does not give dying blessings on non-dying days.” For me, that was no truer than when Mom died. That very day Mom taught me all about Joy. It was a lesson I wish I had learned another way.
Here is what I learned. Thanks, Mom.
Joy is a frame of mind, and a frame of reference. Joy is found through giving thanks for life, no matter what. Joy is found through acceptance of others and ourselves as we are. Having Joy does not mean we stop growing and learning; it does mean that we have stopped growing and learning to please others. Joy is found in being who we are and giving thanks for who we are becoming. Joy is the laughter that comes to us when we look at the stars or at a blade of grass and think, “Amazing!” Joy is being in awe of the waves of life happening each millisecond. Joy is discovered in being thankful that so many lives overlap with ours. Joy is found in instant friendships. No longer is there time for anything less.
It is possible to be joyful in plenty and in want. It is possible to be joyful in sorrow. It is possible to laugh in thanksgiving in the presence of grief, and as we grieve. Joy is independent of happiness and sorrow. Joy stands alone, it captures everything. Joy is found in memories, including the unpleasant ones.
Joy, that deep-seated feeling of appreciation and thanksgiving for all things; Joy, that deep-seated and tenacious feeling of the interconnectedness of all things (stardust is awesome!), will not let go even when we let go of it. Joy is seen, heard, smelled, felt, tasted, and appreciated. Joy is profoundly one of the best experiences, feelings, thoughts, and frames of reference in the entire world. Joy sits in pain. Joy rises above strife. With open affection Joy greets the world. Joy heals. Joy gives. Joy sustains. Joy laughs. Joy cries. Joy feels. Joy enriches. Joy hopes. Joy is subtle. Joy is over-the-top. Joy wonders. Joy awes. Joy thanks. Joy tastes. Joy is here. Joy is in a way of understanding creation. Joy is beyond vocabulary. Joy is beyond symbol. Joy is reality. Joy is a gift to be shared. Joy is Love’s twin.
Love one another. Live into Joy and bring people with you. Joy is divine!
Standby or stand by. “Standby” and “stand by” reflect very different ideas.
To “standby” as someone struggles is quite different than to “stand by” in the same circumstance. “Standby” connotes waiting, not being involved, ambivalence, and hesitation. To standby as someone flounders in a pool, or hurries to cross a street before the walk light blinks off, is not to offer aid. “Stand by” connotes being present with, movement, involvement, quick decision-making, and a crisp, helpful, response.
“Standby” is a passenger’s status when a flight is overbooked. Standby implies waiting. Bystanders standby and watch as events unfold; which is fine when waiting for a parade, and not fine when a brawl erupts on the street corner. “Stand by” connotes an attitude of friendship, concern for a stranger, a ready willingness to be a good Samaritan, and the idea that “I shall stand by you.”
I shall stand by you. I shall be with you. I shall listen to you. I shall love you. I shall be present to you in your time of need. I shall act on your behalf. I shall not watch from the wings. I am with you. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That is the last sentence in Matthew’s gospel (28.20). It is on the lips of the resurrected Jesus.
None of us is the Christ. All of us are human. Being faithfully present to another person enriches both lives.
Standing by another human being is not easy all the time. Reticence holds us back from stepping forward, and from asking for help. Yet when standing by someone is urgently required, what shall we do?
Standing by, standing alongside, and being with someone are signs of a resurrected life, for both persons.
The world needs more love letters. But, you ask, to whom should they be written? Anyone! Romantic love letters. Familial love letters. Friendship love letters. Collegiate love letters. Neighborly love letters. Ecological love letters. Thank-you love letters to cashiers, baggers, mechanics, bus drivers, postal carriers, table servers; the sky’s the limit!!!
The world needs more love letters. Forgiveness love letters. I’m sorry love letters. Totally random love letters. Sidewalk love letters sent to the persons who find them. Shouting love letters in a crowded subway station. You are amazing love letters.
Yes, it sounds crazy and a little nuts, because it is. So what? We’ve heard of random acts of kindness. Maybe we can start a trend. Taking inspiration from Paul McCartney, we can give away silly love letters. When we do, they will not be so silly after all.
Let’s get busy. There is a lot of love to share, and a lot of letters to write.
“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, no not just for some, but for everyone.”
Hal David wrote the lyrics and Burt Bacharach composed the music of this song. Jackie DeShannon performed the first version of it, which came out in April, 1965. Since then, many artists have made it their own: Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, Michael McDonald, Tom Clay, Sara Bareilles, Broadway for Orlando, Stacy Kent, the Santana and the Isley Brothers, and, of course, Burt Bacharach.
All of the above versions can be found on YouTube. Tom Clay’s uncommon recording is the one I find particularly moving.
Love stands alone as the singular truth which has and shall heal individuals, families, neighborhoods, peoples and nations. Ignoring or forgetting this singular truth always is at the core of the “current” troubles, as it was in 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, 2015, and today.
“But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.... Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…. Love never ends…. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 12.11, & 13.4-8a, 13 [NRSV]).
God is Love. The center is Love. All else is peripheral.
When you lose your way, remember Love. You are loved. You are being loved. You have the capacity to receive Love. You have the capacity to retain Love. Let Love overflow. Love is the well which never runs dry. Break open the moat. Let Love’s waters flow. Lower the gate. Let Love in.
When your emotions are scattered and your thoughts out of focus, think and act in Love.
Warning. This Rumination might stir up some difficult emotions.
Slamming a door, stomping feet, or yelling in anger, striking or insulting in a fit of pique, threatening, and overreacting to an offense - creates fear. Fear over facts, blaming without cause, accusing without evidence, destructive use of unjustified and justified anger, scapegoating, and creating straw arguments - permit and excuse violence in all its forms.
People whose sense of value and worth are torn away by these sorts of transgressions against their being and their humanity might find it hard to recover. It can take decades for some to do so. Some respond by furthering the very transgressions that harmed them.
How can the Church bring wholeness?
To help along the way, the Church must not be a place or a people of inappropriate and harmful behavior. Loving integrity and kindness always are to be at the fore.
The Church must be a place and people of, peace, solace, comfort, and healing. To borrow an idea from Henri Nouwen; the Church is a people full of wounded healers. Founded upon the Wounded Healer, the Church must show and share the same affection, sympathy, and empathy.
The difficult part comes because the Church is to be a place for the wounded, wounded healers, and repentant wounders seeking forgiveness. The Church is to be a safe place for everyone.
Therefore, the Church, while not being naïve, is to be a place wherein one can expect and allow room for grace, and hold high the truly transforming power of the boundary-breaking Way of Jesus and the God of Love. “Pursue love…” (1 Corinthians 14.1).
“Christ be our Light! Shine in our hearts…. Shine in your church gathered today” (Bernadette Farrell).
We all know people who don’t “go to church.” Have you wondered why? It turns out there is no singular answer. In fact, there is no singular answer among people who do.
One person’s “take” on the church can be quite different from that of another. In the public sphere, the opinion of church and the Church falls along the spectrum from highly positive to highly negative. Within the “churched” there is a similar array of opinions and attitudes.
These opinions and attitudes are rooted in a person’s observations and experiences; and agreements or disagreements around theology, mission, expressions of faith, and degree of emotional and spiritual connection. In some instances, they are rooted in extremely and profoundly negative - or positive - experiences with the clergy and church members. Worldwide, pastors and parishioners have been the cause of lesser and greater harm, but harm nonetheless; and the vehicle for lesser and greater healing, but healing nonetheless.
Churches can generate all sorts of programming and all sorts of outreach and all sorts of worship experiences; but if they do not express and generate love, they are failing in the key area of the gospel. Modeled after Zephaniah 3.19, the church should “gather the outcast”, not create them. Modeled after Matthew 22.37-40, the church should love God with its whole being and love its neighbors as itself.
Without Love, there is no gospel. Without Love, there is no nearness of the reign of God. Without Love, there is no urge to “do a 180.” Without Love, there is no gospel in which to believe. Without Love, there is no Good News.
This is why it is good to be a part of the church family here at FUBC: love is our first priority. May it always be so. May all our collective actions and individual activities reveal agape love for humankind. May we always seek the highest good for everyone, friends and enemies alike. To do that, we need to keep encouraging each other, keep working together, keep seeking Wisdom, and daily keep living love to the best of our ability.
Peace be with you.
See you soon!
~~Pastor Jim Sinclair
In the 2012 film, Marvel’s The Avengers, Loki is standing outside before a crowd. Soon he tells the crowd to kneel, saying that is their natural state. It is a rather startling portrayal of a suddenly fearful people doing what they are told; doing something they otherwise would not have done.
Then just as suddenly, from within the crowd an older man stands up. Loki points him out to the bowing crowd, who must sense the man is about to die. A split second before the “Elder” would have died, Captain America arrives and redirects the deadly force back to Loki. Snapped out of their compliant state by the ensuing battle between Loki and Captain America, the crowd disperses.
In our tradition, Easter arrives this Sunday, April 21st. The significance of Easter is that it is the culmination of Holy Week. Holy Week takes us from Passion/Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday until the day of Resurrection. Holy Week takes us from Jesus’ celebrated and oppositional entry into Jerusalem through his last evening with his disciples, his crucifixion, death, and burial to his being raised from the dead.
The Easter Celebration is of one who stood against the ways of empire and its most horrific use of force. Easter celebrates the one who in life and death showed others how to live into the reign of God which is the vision of a reality difficult to discern, but very present.
Jesus was not saved from death. Yet afterward, he was raised by God. No one else could have done it. While some people were cowering in fear, Jesus was visible above them, innocent, and alone but for two others being crucified beside him. No Captain intervened. Jesus died. Christ was raised.
May all of us be raised to witness life anew.
What is a prophet? What is a false prophet? Who are the false prophets today? Who are today’s prophets? What are the criteria which distinguish false prophets and prophets? Relevant clues are in the Bible. Jesus, in Matthew 25.31-46 is one place to look. Isaiah and Jeremiah are good places to start.
Here, Micah gives us clues in 2.1-2, 7c-9, and 6.6-8.
“Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress the householder and the house, people and their inheritance. … Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly? But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory forever. … ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before my God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be please with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
I wonder how each of us would answer these questions and fill in these blanks. What would I write if I were to put Micah’s message in my own words?
What is not good? What is good?
Doing justice is not ___________. Doing justice is ___________.
Kindness is not _________. Kindness is ______.
Walking humbly with your God is not _____ Walking humbly with your God is ________
Faith in action and faith inaction. Faith in what? Action in which direction? Examining our faith will uncover differences between the faith we hold and the faith we express. What is our theology, and what is our theology in practice?
Dubious and dangerous religious, social, and political beliefs are receiving a lot of attention these days. Several of them create an unhealthy atmosphere and promote values that are anathema to the Christian faith. Since Christians are called to be peacemakers and advocates of justice and equality, it is imperative that we examine our theology and our theology in practice. Healthy and helpful responses to the harsh realities of life can be found through sacred conversations.
Among those harsh realities are: economic and social injustice, the persistent impacts of slavery, and problematic Scripture passages. These factors have been and are being used to justify violence toward vast swaths of innocent people based on their sexual orientation, gender, skin color, faith, nationality, and religion, the ideologies promoted by people trapped in their own hate, such as those of white supremacists, and how to counter them, and not knowing who or what to believe.
It can be risky to examine the relationship between our theology and our theology in practice. We will discover positive and negative inconsistencies along the way. It is not easy to discover we have been wrong. It is harder still to come to grips with the pain we caused because we were wrong. Furthermore, we might wonder if we will alienate people or lose a friend if we explore these tough questions too much. Yes, these things might happen.
However, and here is some great news, if we live by the courage of our convictions, and approach others with calm respect, we might not lose anything, nor lose as much as we gain! Friendships and trust will be forged and deepened. Insights will be gained. The thought that, “I can do only so much” will turn into, “Look at much we can do!”
It is my hope that we will be able to dedicate some time to an examination of our faiths and our faith; that we will have the courage in numbers to ask, “What do I believe? Why do I believe it? Are my beliefs consistent with my values? Are my values consistent with the teachings of Jesus? Is my understanding of Scripture more or less on target? How do I live my values and my faith?
If you are interested in asking these questions, please let me know. A study group to talk about these things would, I believe, help many of us rework our beliefs and act more in line with them. We will never reach complete synchronization of our theology and theology in practice. However, we will learn from each other, the Scriptures, and people who study the issues.
To give us some “food for thought” here are three websites for your perusal.
A search for “Public Issues” on abc-usa.org leads to numerous articles including: “Taskforce on Race and Race-based Violence Issues a Letter for Action”; “International Ministries Issues Resolutions on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim Prejudice”; “ABCUSA Board of General Ministries Endorses National Call for Reflection, Prayer, and Reconciliation”.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, makes available “Issue Monographs” under “Mobilize” at bpfna.org. These Issue Monographs are onGang Violence, Gun Violence, Climate Change, Human Trafficking, Moral Injury of War, Migrant Justice, Racial Justice, and Justice for Indigenous Peoples. In addition to these Monographs, there is a link to “The Bible Speaks About Peace.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org) has information on Fighting Hate, Teaching Tolerance, Seeking Justice, and the Civil Rights Memorial.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .” (1 John 4.18a).
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church