May 20 Weekly Words of Wisdom

Well, it’s been over two months of sheltering in place, social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding gatherings. So how are you dealing with it?  I’ve heard a variety of reactions to this whole situation.  There’s anger, frustration, loneliness, fear, acceptance; there are beautiful examples of how people have used their creativity to bring something new to a bad situation. There are moving stories of people helping other people, like the wonderful volunteers at our own Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.  So life goes on, however changed and changing it may be.

One thing I’ve heard from time to time is how lonely, or alone, people feel. One psychologist has said that loneliness is a feeling of being alone against your will.  She said that you can be alone and not be lonely, or you can be lonely even if you are surrounded by people.  But human beings need social interaction, physically and spiritually.  We crave being connected to others.  So the new normal, thanks to Covid-19, presents us with the tricky situation where we need to try to remain socially and spiritually connected, while being physically distant.

But how do you do that?  Well, first of all let’s take a look at what our faith tells us.  First, it says that you are NOT alone.  God is with you.  You can depend on that. As the benediction from our last service said, “God goes before you to guide you, beside you to be your best friend, behind you to protect you, beneath you to support you, and above you to give you vision and courage and hope.”  That’s a given!  And secondly, our faith says that we are part of a community, a loving and faithful community of God’s people.  In this community, the church, we are called to help and support one another, to be the “support community” for each other.  The question is, what does that mean in the face of this pandemic?  How can we live that out, in real time, as we follow all the guidelines? That’s what we need to be figuring out, and some of you have. But it’s not easy! And yet it’s necessary; it’s a part of our calling, as Christians, in this moment in history.

Let me close with an image that has helped clarify my own thinking about the Christian life. The image is the cross. We have a vertical relationship with God, and we have a horizontal relationship with one another and with our world. Together, they form the cross, and, for a full and meaningful Christian life, you can’t have one without the other. We need both relationships for our wholeness. May we discover how to make that happen in these difficult and challenging times.

Rev. Sherm Skinner

Weekly Words of Wisdom – May 13, 2020

“I have been thinking, as doubtless you have all been, of these calamitous weeks through which we have been passing—thinking of the large numbers that have been sick— the large numbers that have died, the many, many homes that have been made desolate—the many, many bleeding, sorrowing hearts that have been left behind, and I have been asking myself the question, What is the meaning of it all ?”

This was the Reverend Francis James Grimke, an African American Presbyterian pastor in  a sermon of November, 1918 on the devastation caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic that had raged in the spring and again in the fall. (What Pastor Grimke couldn’t have known was that a few months later there would be a third deadly wave.)  When the congregation gathered for corporate worship again he raised these questions.  “Surely God has a purpose in it”, he said, “and it is our duty to find out what that purpose is.”   He goes on to reflect on another question, of why some are stricken and others not.”  He raised similar questions to ours today.  Why are some asymptomatic and yet spreading the corona virus?  Why are some testing positive and enduring only mild symptoms?  And why are some dying within 2 days of contracting covid 19?  

 A new frontier, a challenge,  and a time that demands courage.  We are on new ground, in the strange land of social distancing and face masks.  Everything that once seemed so secure, so certain, so steady and reliable has become fragile and we have become susceptible,  and vulnerable.  But we are still here and it’s time to begin asking God what God is calling us to now.  Yes, we are still here trying to find a natural courage that casts out fear.  Yes, still here and looking for patience in the crisis, trusting that Christ is working to transform even this cross into resurrected glory.  Perhaps it’s time to reassess, to once again discern our gifts, seeking transformation.

Grimke turned to Psalm 91: “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust”  For He will deliver you…from the deadly pestilence…”    Trusting in God in similar distressing circumstances, he said “it is a good time for those of us who are Christians to examine ourselves to see whether our faith is really resting upon Christ, the solid Rock.”

So what is the next step?  We are challenged now to renew our trust in God who is always with us, especially in our unknown future, calling us forth into something new and perhaps strange, but with the assurance that God will bless us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We just need to trust.

Rev. Lorrie Skinner

Wednesday Words of Wisdom – May 6, 2020

Dear Saints,

You may have seen this interesting story on MSN.com or Facebook about a Singaporean man, Wong Tetchoong, 59, who embarked on his sailing adventure from Singapore on his ‘Ximula 3’ yacht on February 2, 2020. He had plans to travel across the Pacific Ocean, with two of his friends from Indonesia. He had no idea what awaited him during his journey by sea. The two friends who were accompanying him had to cut their trip short and return to their homeland before their borders closed as Covid-19 began to spread. 

Mr. Wong sailed from port to port throughout the South Pacific looking for a place to land for safety and supplies. He was rejected from returning to Indonesia as well as Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, and the Solomon Islands because of fears of virus spread. Wong was forced to be at sea for over 60 days, enduring heavy seas/winds with a damaged auto-pilot before the Fijian Navy and Government agreed to assist him out at sea after being stranded for almost two months.

We too have been ‘stranded’ for about 6 weeks (and under alert/virus worry for probably 60 days). And, as of today Gov. Murphy, has ordered another 30 days of staying in our home port. So very many things that have always anchored us, are still unavailable and even the best and most treasured relationships in our lives, are being put to the test.

The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will be to keep ourselves from going adrift; physically, mentally, emotionally, and for sure, spiritually.  I have been thinking about what Mr. Wong was doing when he has without a port and without his family. While sitting on a yacht in the South Pacific sounds delightful for a few weeks, I imagine, there was waaaaay too much down/alone time. What did he do? Did he journal? Did he sing childhood or family or native songs? Did he pray? Besides pondering life, missing his family and friends, and returning to a pescatarian diet (which we may all be doing short-term), how did he find his bearings without his auto-pilot? How did he anchor his soul?

Perhaps we are all finding out what anchors our souls what things and experiences send us feeling adrift. Perhaps if we take the time to listen to the still waters, the birds of air, the winds and the tides, we will hear God’s voice in some or all of these ways. Some of you may already know that most early American churches were built with an interior architecture/infrastructure to resemble the inside of a boat. (You’ve got time, look it up!)

I pray we only have 30 more days of being at sea. I pray you don’t feel adrift, but if you do, I hope you are or will become anchored by our weekly worship. I hope you’re praying more often, separately and together. The best way to get anchored is to seek the One who can still the storms, be our protector in midst of 40 days and 40 nights and who can walk on water to meet us, when we are adrift and seeking a safe and open harbor.

Rev Jen

May Prayer To Go

Lord,
You are the wind in my sails.
You guide me as I steer and find direction.
You give me the strength to keep on going.
You watch over me as I navigate stormy seas.
You are the harbor where I stop for rest.
You are my encourager when I lose hope.
You are the lighthouse that keeps my path safe.
You are with me always.
Thank you.
Amen.

Message from Sarah Jane Berta, Organist/Choir Director

Life has certainly taken an interesting twist with social distancing leading to postponing music rehearsals, ringing next to each other, and singing together in the loft and with the congregation.

Our annual spring Music Sunday was planned for May 17.  Since we cannot be together in the sanctuary for this service, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize those who make our music ministry possible. 

I truly appreciate the time and talent shared by the singers and ringers at FPC-Boonton and thoroughly enjoy making music with each and every one of you.  The years of musical service within the church range from 1 year to 30+ years. 

In addition to the faithful members of our choirs, we were blessed to add new singers to the Chancel Choir and new ringers to the Handbell Choir this year. We also welcomed local musicians from the community, as well as from our congregation, to enhance our worship services.

With the new format of worshipping from the comfort of your homes, I hope you continue to enjoy the musical offerings during the YouTube videos until we can all be together again to worship and enjoy playing, ringing, and singing a new song unto the Lord! 

Produce New Fruits of The Spirit

Dear Saints,

A few weeks ago, I was awoken out of a dead sleep to a rapid banging on the side of the house, literally right outside my (open) window. It was loud, lightning-fast, repetitive, and completely annoying. But then, thankfully it stopped. Then, it started again on the other side of my window. And then it stopped. Then it began again on the wall of the condo next door. Then it got a little more distant but no less annoying. Yes, “Woody the Woodpecker”, or probably his great-grandson, was pecking away at the vinyl siding.

He went at it for about 30 minutes which honestly felt like 2 hours. I tried to go back to sleep, to no avail. A few days went by and Woody returned. To my great delight this time, Woody the IV, decided to peck on a tree in the wooded area behind my house. The sound was actually far more natural and surprisingly soothing. I imagine it was also for Woody as well as far more fruitful.

I looked up Woodpecker behavior on the Cornell Ornithology site and learned a few interesting things. Both “Woody” and “Wendys” peck at trees. Their pecking is called “drumming” and they do indeed drum on a variety of surfaces including aluminum siding, but they only capture food (insects) when drumming on trees or the ground.

In this time of increasingly difficult sheltering in place, we are learning a great deal about our selves and our habits and our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Some of it may be helpful, insightful, and useful; and may produce new learning, skills, hobbies, and the like. Some of your experiences, communications, efforts may feel a little annoying and futile. Like…yup, banging your head against the wall.

Many of you are familiar with the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” While few of us may be enjoying this time of sheltering in place there are always invitations from God awaiting us.

A dear friend and colleague who is an “empath”, (someone who feels things very deeply and intensely) has been increasingly overwhelmed with all the suffering and loss that the world is experiencing due to the virus. Her therapist helped her reframe her energy into becoming an active prayer companion for all those who do not or cannot find the words to pray. She has decided to let her heart become “ A fertile ground where God can plant new insights, grow her strength, and produce new fruits of the Spirit”. This may feel a little too esoteric for some but perhaps we can all use this time wisely to look at the places in our lives where we’re banging our head against the wall, unaware that it’s plastic siding where there’s no food, just frustration.

Seeking fruits of the Spirit with you,
Jen

Weekly Words of Wisdom – April 29, 2020

Last Sunday, Rev Jen used as the text for her sermon the familiar, but never old, story of Jesus calming the storm. You remember how it goes: Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat as the wind whipped up the waves, which began to swamp the boat. The disciples, panicked and fearing for their lives, woke him up and yelled, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die!”  And the record says Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And there was a dead calm.”

I’ve often wondered, and I invite you to wonder with me, if Jesus were to come to me today and say, “Peace!  Be still,” what would that mean for my life—for your life—right now?  Especially in these days of sheltering in place and avoiding close contact with those who are important to us, days of growing anxiety, fatigue, fear, and loneliness, can you hear Jesus say to you, “Peace! Be still.”? It will mean something different for each one of us, but maybe that’s what each of us needs to hear, in his or her own life, right at this moment, in the midst of the darkness and the storm that is brooding, or blowing, across our lives: “Peace!  Be still!”

Back in the 14th century, Julian of Norwich, an English mystic, lived through the Bubonic Plague which struck her city three times.  Carts, loaded with dead bodies, would roll by her window. She welcomed those who were caught in pain and fear and offered them a listening, compassionate heart.  She herself suffered right up to the moment of her death. But, in spite of it all, she was able to write the well- known words; “…all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well…”  And then, this: “These words, you will not be overcome, were said insistently and strongly, against every tribulation which may come.  He did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be disquieted; but he said: You will not be overcome.”

In this day of our corona virus, in these days of loneliness, and anxiety, and fatigue, we desperately need to hear all of this—“Peace! Be still.” “You will not be overcome.”  “All will be well…and every manner of thing will be well…”

Rev. Sherm Skinner

Weekly Words of Wisdom – April 22

Sherm and I have been given an extraordinary gift during this time when each news report causes us fear, anxiety, and sadness, fear of being out of control, anxious about those without jobs or income, and incredible sadness (as well as pride) at the stories of our current heroes on the front lines.  So we have asked, “How can we counter the fear, anxiety, and sadness with a different perspective?  Can we begin to think of this time as a God-given Sabbath, a time of quiet and reflection, a time to relax and regroup?”. Our friends are helping us do just that!  They have been emailing us with the most amazing videos, cartoons, and jokes that have us laughing our heads off. That’s the gift for which we are so grateful.

Norman Cousins, author of the groundbreaking Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration, was one of the first to popularize the idea of laughter as medicine, in 1979. Cousins had overcome a painful battle with connective tissue disease by prescribing himself laughter. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he wrote. Laughing, he wrote, is like inner jogging. It helps us heal by activating the immune system.

When I was a student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC (about 100 years ago) I read Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Play. The Christian life, according to Moltmann, is not to be envisioned as a ‘purpose-driven life’ but, perhaps, as a game of delight in the God who creates and redeems the world for nothing.  Learning from children, finding ways to enjoy God, celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ, all demonstrate the Easter event in the world.  Yes, Easter reminds us that God has the first and the last word, that life not death wins out, as does joy over sorrow and laughter over weeping.  Yes, God has the last laugh!

We have not chosen this new style of life nor would it have been something we preferred.  But this is what we have, so what does it mean to be disciples who regard Jesus as Lord at this moment?  Father James Martin, Jesuit priest and best-selling author of Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, writes about the sacred link between humor and spirituality.  He says this: “Jesus continually says, “I have come so that your joy may be complete.” Humor is a virtue because it helps us not to take ourselves too seriously. Laughter is an enjoyment of God’s world. It’s a wonderful gift from God.”  As Karl Barth said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” 

Rev. Lorrie

Words of Wisdom, April 8, 2020

How is it possible to be present to one another in this age of coronavirus?  As Governor Murphy said the other day, “Take care of each other, but do it six feet apart!”  What does it mean to be “present with” when we can’t be “with” others?  At the Oaks, where we live, visitors are not allowed in.  That means families cannot come to visit, cannot see their loved ones, cannot share physical presence, unless they take them out—if they are able to go out!  This absence, of “not being with,” increasingly marks our days.

We know from Scripture that God’s presence is always with us. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”  The promise of God’s presence with us—no matter what is happening to us—is what we need to hear right now!  God’s presence is a reality we can experience. When we sit in silence in prayer, we are present with what we cannot see, yet we trust God’s presence to be with us in that moment.

So I would invite you today to be consciously present with those you love and care about, but can’t touch. Reach out with your heart toward those you hold in your heart.  Write a personal note, an email; send a text, letting them know you are thinking of them. Make a phone call and listen—truly listen—to their worries, their fears, their hopes. Know, as you do so, that you and they are always held in God’s loving presence. Trust that God can help you be present to all those you can’t be physically with today.

Let us pray:  “Always and Everywhere God, help us to be intimately aware of your Presence, and help us to be present–in spirit–with those we love, those we care about, all those we hold in our hearts. Amen”.

The Rev Sherm Skinner

April 1

We’ve arrived at this last Wednesday of Lent.  Just five weeks ago we began our Lenten journey with ashes.   As we placed ashes on one another’s foreheads, we may have said “Hope does not disappoint”.  And we prayed “Loving God, we now open ourselves to your presence as we seek HOPE in your promise of love and grace.”  Little did we know what would lie ahead.

And today, just like those ashes, the fragility of our lives seems to be in the balance.  Today we observe new rituals of distancing, quarantine and washing. There is a new urgency as we hear the voices of fear, and words of false hope, as we face the trauma of isolation.  We are in the midst of something we cannot fully understand, nor an outcome we can yet imagine.

And as we reflect on this Lenten experience during this history-making time our emotions probably run the gamut:  anxiety, fear, disappointment, fear, sadness, fear, anger.  Did I mention fear?  So natural at a time like this!  Every time I cough, I start to worry.  My friends have their thermometers in regular use. We worry about how cautious we should be when the alarmists come after us with what often turns out to be the wrong information.  No feeling takes over our lives more completely than fear. Fear can blind us.  So, what to do??

We can lose ourselves in the Psalms where prayers are offered up to God to be able to face our fears as they rise up.  You can remember to keep reaching out and stay engaged with the world.  And remember to keep reaching in to stay engaged with your soul.  That’s Parker Palmer’s suggestion and in addition he says this: “I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act.”

You can remember God’s promise made through the prophet Jeremiah to give us a future with hope.  Where do you look for hope?   Some of us find it in the myriad of stories, jokes and cartoons circulating on the net and find the healing power of laughter.  Some of us look to nature, at the hopeful signs of Spring all around us right now.  Some of us lose ourselves in a good book (I have a friend who’s just finished his fourth) or in the comfort and inspiration of music (singing and dancing is a great way to work out!).  Connecting with family and friends, in whatever way we can, sustains us, lifts our spirits, makes us grateful, gives us joy. 

I would love to hear your stories of where you’re finding hope in these days of uncertainty and bewilderment.  Email me at lorriers34@gmail.com

The Rev. Lorrie Skinner