Dear Saints,

As we find ourselves both in shock that we are still in Covid madness as well in a second year of Holy week, apart, I want to share with you a video I can’t stop watching.  “TJ” has found himself on trial for something he KNOWS he has done but is shamelessly unrelenting in admitting he has done a bad thing. Even when his Father continues to pepper him with the same question,” Did you do this?!?!” while showing the evidence AND his sibling giving testimony to TJ’s naughty deed, TJ holds fast to his resolve. He emphatically, repeatedly denies that he had ANYTHING to do with the frosting missing or messed up on a number of cupcakes.  TJ’s father says, “Last chance, did you do this??” TJ again shakes his head and says, no! no! no! While the frosting is literally all over his face and hands.

He’s 2.

How is it that we learn at such a young age to be both so dastardly and already so skilled to vehemently deny our naughty behavior? It must go back to the fall in the Garden. But that’s not really a great excuse. We’ve had Millenia to curb (or even eradicate) those behaviors and yet they persist.  As if life depended on it. For TJ, the stakes are definitely higher than they are so for us. If TJ admits he’s snowplowed at least two or three cupcakes, in his world, a 15-minute time out will seem endless and he may feel that he will lose total agency/power forever, because he’s 2.

So, what’s our excuse? What keeps us from owning our childish behaviors and the inability to say “I was wrong” and, “I am sorry”?

Well, I’ll give you a clue. If we still think we are independent, living under our own steam, hoping no one sees our mistakes, and denying our failures, then we are not living as disciples nor trusting in God’s word of forgiveness or that the Resurrection is real. 

One way for the TJ in all of us to grow up and away from denying our bad behavior is to listen to TJ’s father’s response. You can view the video here: https://www.msn.com/en-us/video/peopleandplaces/two-year-old-child-covered-in-frosting-says-he-didn-t-eat-the-cupcakes/vi-BB1eQp6N.

Yes, it’s the laughter on the part of the Father that tells us we’re not so bad after all. That God is a God of discipline and joy, laughter, and forgiveness.

We’ve had a rough year and although we will have the opportunity to worship together on Easter Sunday, not all will or can attend. The numbers are still increasing again in NJ and we don’t know when we’ll all be together again. Outdoor worship is a possibility but is also comes with extra challenges like how to record the service and provide music, both of which are very important and very difficult.

So, this year might be the best year to truly give ourselves fully over to God and fully trust that no matter how naughty we are, no matter how afraid we are to admit the truth about ourselves, God’s love made know in the life, death, and resurrection overcomes it all.

Seeking New Hope in the Resurrection,

Rev Jen

Strength & Courage

Dear Saints,

I’m hoping you are noticing/hearing the increase in bird songs each morning. It’s such a nice way to wake-up.  Well, I should say MOST bird songs. The other day I woke up to what I thought was a dog barking but it was way too early for the leashed dogs to be ‘communicating’ with each other. Then I realized it wasn’t a dog. It was a bird. A BIG bird. A turkey had gotten itself trapped inside the fenced-in water catchment area next to my building.

From time to time turkeys will land on the fence posts and then jump into the area looking for food but don’t often immediately remember how to get out. This time it was just one turkey inside the chain-link who was scurrying back/forth while another turkey was on the other side trying to coach the trapped turkey. Or perhaps keep it company or troubleshoot how to break out of chain-link prison.

I felt bad for the trapped turkey and the longer the entrapment went on, the louder and more rapid the sounds got. Sometimes sounding like a barking dog, other times like the urgent turkey clucks we are more familiar with. Wikipedia states there are many, many types of turkey sounds:  “gubles”, “clucks”, “putts”, “purrs”, “yelps”, “cutts”, “cackles”, “kee-kees” and the coveted French call “Blululqu”. (Whatever that is)

I’m not sure how many of those I heard but it wasn’t fun listening to the trapped turkey, even though I knew eventually it would figure out how to get free. It was only a matter of time.

In the past year I imagine we have made the majority of the human equivalent of those turkey sounds when learning how to use all sorts of technology (helps and fails), remote work and schooling, forgetting our mask until we get to the front door of the post office, standing in line outside supermarkets to see how much meat and toilet paper was already gone, missing out on major and minor life events and celebrations, and of course not being able to worship in person.

Like the turkey we found ourselves trapped beyond our own desires but in time we figured out a LOT of how to re-tool to get through this time, both at church and in life. We’ve still got a way to go, but the worst (hopefully) is over.

This month we will hit two important dates; the marking of a year of beginning to endure the pandemic and… the change to daylight savings. Increased daylight could not be happening at a better time which promises increasing warmth/snow melt, more daylight to do outdoor activities and evidence that Spring and Easter really are on the way.

As we go deeper into Lent and longer into waiting to be freed, know this: You are not alone. You have the strength and courage to get through what seems endless and impossible, and most importantly, God is eager for us all to find new freedom from restrictions and disappointments as well as strength in community, even one cluck at a time.

Seeking a happier future with you,

Rev Jen

Listen, Look, And Trust

Dear Saints,

In the quiet of the snowstorm’s aftermath and it’s ‘mounds of extra insulation’, (yes I missed our Feb 1 deadline) I heard the most surprising thing. It was just at dawn, a sound I felt like I had not heard in years (read months) an early morning bird call. It was so surprising and unexpected as I lay in bed awaking rom deep sleep, I had not the chronic feeling of dread but a feeling of hope. That simple, short, sweet bird chirp reminded me that Spring is on its way, even though Punxsutawney Phil, tells ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’.

We’re all in utter amazement and bewilderment that we’re quickly approaching a year from when our lives and the world changed beyond our wildest imaginations or emotional resources. While I pray that we will look back on this time in the future with some hidden blessings and gifts, I’m not sure we’re there yet. But even though we’re not, God is.

We’re approaching the season of Lent; a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal. The worship committee and our tech pals (Kim and Dan) are feverishly working on how we can make yet another historically intimate service meaningful while apart and not yet fully A/V equipped. We will do our best to help you launch into Lent meaningfully. We’re also finishing up our 5th annual Lenten devotional which can be accessed daily via Facebook and our website and can be emailed in a PDF or snail-mailed for those who like to have the booklet.

As hard as the last year has been on all of us, Lent can be a helpful and hopeful harbinger of good things to come. For some, it may be an invitation to a deepening of our faith journey after a rough year of ‘just getting by’. For some, it may be an invitation to return to more regular faith practices after a hiatus from worship and prayer. For some, it may be a gentle awakening to more positive things to focus on as we gain more daylight, increasingly warmer temperatures, and using the mental and spiritual muscles we didn’t have a year ago.

For sure, God is about to bring us to light out of the darkness, hope out of despair, peace out of chaos, and surprises that are still unearthed, literally and figuratively. As a reminder, the word Lent in Latin Quadragesima, means 40 days. The old English shortened the word Lencten which means “Spring Season”.

I know of a woman in our faith community, who last fall, decided instead of being fully dragged down by the weight of Covid times, decided to plant hope for the spring. She literally planted tulip bulbs in their garden to spell out her husband’s name! (Thankfully, it’s not Rumpelstiltskin) She has no idea how it will all go, or how they will bloom or spell. But she’s delightfully and patiently waiting just to see a new sign of hope and joy.

God too has planted bulbs for us. We don’t know what they will spell out, only that they come with a message of hope and redemption.

I hope you will listen and look and trust that God has a better future for us than in our past.
We just have to trust and watch and wait for 40 days.

With you in the waiting,
Jen

Take This Bread And Eat

Dear Saints,

Before the year’s end, I had to get bloodwork drawn for my annual physical. To expedite the process, I pre-registered through the portal so I could ‘zoom in and out’. Funny (or not so,) how the word Zoom has taken on a new meaning in 2020! However evidently, my pre-registration, through the portal, didn’t take. So, there I was at a kiosk having to go through the entire process again. Even after telling the service rep (twice) that I had pre-registered she said “Huh, it didn’t seem to take. Sorry! we’ll have to start again. It won’t take long”. She was professional. She was kind. She was calming.

By the way….this was on top of having been there yesterday but was turned away because the phlebotomist would not draw my blood after hearing I had had a V8 before coming. “This is a fasting test,” she said.  “Huh,” said I. “It’s never been that way before”. “Yeah, with the tests your Dr. ordered, it needs to be a fasting test”. Again “Huh,” I said. “I specifically ask my Doc every year if it has to be fasting, and every year he says ‘Nah, no fasting needed’ ”. So why this year? Why didn’t he tell me? Does he secretly think my numbers are going to be severely different than years before? (Which have always been in the normal range even if I am NOT the picture of health. But…given the year I’ve had personally on top of Covid (and we’ve all had, on top of Covid) perhaps too many of the intended good habits were ignored. Maybe my Doc is trying to subtly tell me this is the year to be more aware of my future predictors.

SIGH.

So, I wait, as the service rep repeats all the questions, reviews all my personal data; insurance, etc., none of which has changed in 5 years or when I visited the portal last night!

While I’m waiting, I look around. I’m watching all the staff scamper to figure out their lunch order while I try to drown out the soap opera on the flatscreen in the background. And then it hit me. I realized why the service rep was so professional, so kind and so calm.

On the walls of her station are sayings she has taped up for patients like me to read while she’s ‘finishing up the paperwork’.  And this is the one that hit me: It was a banner top to bottom of “Three Things”. It read:  Three things in life you should never lose: Hope, Peace, Honesty. Three things in life that destroy a person: Anger, Pride, Unforgiveness. Three things in life that never come back: Time, Words, Opportunity. Three things in life most valuable: Love, Family and Friends and Kindness”.

In that moment, without her saying a thing, I was ministered to by her. Although clearly all of these things are biblically rooted and grounded, she didn’t have to say a word. God was speaking to me through her wall hangings.

Saints, I continually want to scoop you all up and give a specific deeply hopeful vision for when we can gather, worship, and minister together again. I can’t and it frustrates and drains me more than I care to admit.

What I can tell you is that even when we are completely pre-occupied by our life’s struggles, sufferings, and even mundane activities, God is still seeking us out to give us bread for the journey. That bread will sustain us if we let it until we can meet again in the promised land of milk and honey and lower cholesterol. Don’t give up the journey. Stay in community, even though it’s apart, especially as we break bread together.

Seeking a healthier future with you, in and because of Christ,
Jen

Bring Light To The Darkness

Dear Saints,

Well, here we are in Advent. How did that happen???

The paces of our lives are moving in the weirdest rhythm ever; both more slowly as we hold back on regular activities, events, travel, family gatherings and school(!), and speeding up as we eagerly await increasingly hopeful news of vaccines and dream of future freedom. Call me crazy, but I think Advent is coming at the ‘perfect’ time.

As I write this, we are still in November, barely.

I have a number of wall calendars in my home, each with a different theme. The one on my study is of New England coastal scenes. It’s my favorite. But…some of the monthly photos don’t always match with my mood for the month. So…sometimes I tear off the new month’s picture and re-use the last month’s photo, which I may have liked better. The problem is…these calendars are stapled in the middle of the 12 months, literally. So sometimes I have to add little tape to keep the new month connected with last month’s photo. (Go ahead and judge, we all have weird little habits!)

So… November’s calendar was the lucky recipient of October’s (re-used) photo, which was of the Marblehead harbor, where I lived for a year after college. Ahhh the good old days. But in recent days and weeks with changing temps and opening/closing windows, the calendar portion started slipping. I never got around to taping it. Yesterday ‘November’ was hanging on by a thread. How about you?

For those of you who are handling this year really well, just taking it in stride, stop reading. For the rest of you, stay with me. The beauty of Advent arriving (which is an oxymoron since advent means waiting) is that it gives us an opportunity to…turn our attention to something new, something hopeful and something that is a reminder of God’s unconditional and unending love.

The arrival of the Christ-Child is the concrete reminder of Immanuel, God-with-us. It is the also the most beautiful invitation to ‘turn the page’ and see what God has in store for us in spite of our weird habits, our need for control and our wanting to hold on to a past that seemed so much easier and bright, in retrospect, of course.

This Advent and Christmas will be like no other, but it doesn’t mean it won’t have its own special gifts and blessings unless we keep lamenting about what is not possible and/or try to keep repeating what has already been done. IS 42 says,” I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?”

I invite us all to be open to seeing the new visions that God has for us this December in Advent. I invite us all to bring light in the darkness to those who cannot see it or who have lost their way. I invite you all to remember that even though we will not be able to worship together that doesn’t mean our community is adrift. Just mending nets so we can make more ‘fishers of [people]’ when we reconvene.

By the way, the photo for December is a light house on top of a hill in the snow.

Seeking the newness of this Advent with you,

Rev Jen

Pray

Dear Saints,

Here we are at yet another extremely difficult moment in the country and in our own lives. We all deal with stress and anxiety differently but many of us are nearing a tipping point with all that we are handling, over and above Covid’s past, present and dastardly future.

Sometimes sharing our concerns and fears with others is helpful. Sometimes we don’t get the support or listening ear that we need and/or we get even more triggered by other’s comments and responses.

As we await both election results and wonder what violence may erupt as a result while also worrying about the next Covid wave, it is hard to know what to do.

There are many articles swirling about on-line and in print of “to dos” to reduce anxiety over Covid and the election (among other agitators). Certainly self-care, getting enough rest, exercise and eating right are mentioned in most every article as well as limiting our time on the internet, news outlets and the like. But suggested activities for our hearts and souls are less prevalent.

As believers the first thing to do is pray. Not only pithy prayers of thanksgiving and supplication but intentional, active prayers that have the power to reshape our thoughts and emotions.

The Psalms are always a wonderful place to go and they are timeless and speak to every human emotion. There are also fresh, modern prayers written by gifted people who can speak to this very time and place. As we wait and wonder what to do, how to fill our time and our hearts I hope this prayer by Sarah Are, a young Presbyterian Minister and Founding Creative Partner of “A Sanctified Art “will be a help.

May we pray this often in the hours and days to come:

Holy God, We come to you today in prayer, full of emotions. Election seasons always seem to bring that out in us— Worry and hope, fear and frustration. The list could go on. So today we bow our heads and ask for guidance. Open our ears to hear the groans of creation.

Open our eyes to see the needs of others. Open our hearts to make room for empathy. Give us the wisdom to navigate challenging conversations. Give us the compassion to make decisions for the greater good.

And when all else fails, bring us back to love. Bring our hearts and our hands, Our dreams and our hopes, Our anger and our frustration, Our hurt and our fear, All back to love.

 With hope we pray, With hope we are sustained. Amen.

Praying with you,

Rev Jen

Conversations

Dear Saints,

In now, month (7!) of Pandemic life, I want to share an experience with you, in case it’s helpful. It was for me. I had a Dr’s appointment. It wasn’t an appointment for nothing, but I hoped it wasn’t anything.

After checking in, I sat down, and waited my turn.

In they came.

An elderly couple. Either of them could barely walk. He had a cane but could have used a walker. She was ambulating under her own steam but looked like the wind could blow her over. They checked in and sat down, 6-8 feet away.

They started to converse. As you all know, conversations in a Dr’s office are rather audible and this was no exception. They weren’t particularly loud but they were clearly discussing something.

I tried to go back to my meditative/prayer practices, closing my eyes, paying attention to my breathing…but they kept at it.  Because there were just the three of us, it was next to impossible to shut out the conversation. They were spirited for sure and likely unaware I could hear them.

They weren’t discussing the appointment, potential maladies/diagnoses or current symptoms. Nor were they discussing an article in a magazine, complaints about transportation, aches and pains, or what the Dr. might say.

I was actually in amazement because…I was sorting out most all of those things in my head, as I waited for the Dr. visit.

While I was “spinning plates” for all of my concerns about my Dr. visit, they were spending their time… wait for it…Trying to figure out… how to sign on to the local WIFI while they were in the Dr’s office! Hilarious.

10 years ago (ish) we were just getting smart phones and our parents and grand parents were just learning how to use (and answer) flip phones. We all thought that the technology would leave a gap between us and the previous generations. First it was cell phones but then older adults started getting them. Then it was texting and they learned how to do that. Then Facebook showed up (because it was the only way people could see their kids and grands). Then came Facetime. And then InstaGram, TikTok and Zoom.

Friends, if 80 and 90 and 100 year old’s can adjust to the times (and the technology) we find ourselves in, then we can too.

We are having to adjust and endure times that we never knew were possible. We are having to adjust and endure times that we have no frame of reference for, no training for, no solutions for.

Yet, this is where we are. We can sit and worry and wonder and disaster-ize, or we can get about living, adjusting and re-tooling so that we can enjoy and appreciate the gifts God gives us, even in the midst of the unpleasant, the unpredictable and the unknowing.

Seeking God’s conversations with you,

Jen

Ride The Wave

Dear Saints,

How did it get to be July???? Sigh.

Summer is my favorite time of year. It’s so rife with possibilities for fun and refreshment but this Summer? Not so much.

I’ve been pondering God’s invitation of how we deal with disappointment. We all deal with disappointment differently. Some of us ‘throw a fit’ and/or take it out on a spouse, child, neighbor, co-worker or kick the dog. Some of us just chronically complain to any and all who will listen. Some of us pout or just shut down. Some of us get lost in the internet, video games or binge watch. Some of us have healthier coping mechanisms and throw ourselves into a house project, advanced gardening, learn a new hobby or exercise.

Israel was also invited to learn how to deal with an intense level of disappointment when they were sent into exile in Babylon. They knew why they were sent there and knew they’d be there for an unspecified amount of time, which turned out to be 50-70 years. (The historical and biblical timelines don’t add up.)

We too are in an exile and we too don’t have any clue how long this time of worry, anxiety and disappointment will go on. Only that it will be ‘a while longer’. I think about Israel when they were in Babylon and how they dealt with their exilic displacement which was disappointment at a whole new level. They were displaced in a foreign land with different customs, language, terrain and no temple to worship in. At least we are sheltering in place our own country and homes, we can garden our own land and can eat our indigenous foods (like pizza and ice cream). But we certainly share the experience with Israel of having to learn new customs and life patterns, new habits and even a new language of “life in the time of Corona”.

The book of Jeremiah (especially chapters 29 9and 30) chronicle Israel’s experience with how to deal with intense and sudden change.  We explored Jer 29 many times throughout Lent. It was helpful then. It is helpful now. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. “(29:11) A big part of learning how to deal with disappointment is learn to adapt to things that happen to us and seek the hidden blessings.

A friend of mine who got her doctorate in Gerontology Exercise (at the age of 65) was a research assistant involved in nationwide study of all living Holocaust survivors. She did many of the interviews in person and always asked to see their tattoos; the system used to ‘identify’ each prisoner held captive in a concentration camp.  Her research experience was not at all depressing but actually invigorating and enlivening. I asked her was there a theme to the responses from the survivors who were thriving. She said “yes, they learned how to surf the waves.”

While we may not be able to or want to surf the waves or be in a pool this Summer, one thing’s for sure: God is with us in this. Who do you think made the waves?

Surfing all the waves with you,

Jen

Watching for the dawn

I was hoping that the June 1st updates from our Governor might shed some more light on the possibility of worshipping together sooner than later. As of today, indoor gatherings of up to 10 are now sanctioned as well as outdoor gatherings of up to 25. Both the session and the Covid task force, who have both “Zoomed” last 2-3 weeks, have been brainstorming what might be possible for future gathering/worship.

Concurrently, we have been trying to offer the most hopeful, life-giving and increasingly diverse worship experiences with great reliance on technology and skilled Media folks and a small group of people who you entrust to offer meaningful worship.

As of this evening, the state’s next level of opening, what I’m calling “Phase 2, sub-set a”, does not give churches permission to worship fully, either indoors or out. That is part of “Phase 3”.  Even if we attempted to organize in-person worship, indoors or out, both options would bring a different set of challenges and do not accomplish safe worship for ALL, (even without hand-shakes, hugs, passing of the peace and the hearing and singing of hymns.

In addition, when Phase 3 is exacted, there are still many logistics to sort out, including that every church within Newton Presbytery will need to submit and receive approval of their ‘re-entry plan’ before worship can commence. I think this is very prudent and wise.

So, we are in an interim time.

The Deacons met this evening via Zoom and I shared some excerpts from John O’Donohue’s book The Space Between Us as our closing prayer : “…you are in this time of interim, where everything seems withheld, The way forward is still concealed from you…The more  faithfully you can endure here, the more refined your heart will become, for your arrival in the new dawn.”

I don’t know how long we’ll need to gather, worship, teach and share fellowship apart, but I know THIS community of faith can sustain that as long as we need to, to keep everyone connected and everyone safe. Here’s why. When I was meeting with the PNC (Pastoral Nominating Committee) 14 years ago I asked about their sense of ministry, mission and their future. The youngest member, (who is now over 40 said), “if we couldn’t worship in this space for any reason, we’d find another place; the building doesn’t matter, the mission and ministry does. Nothing can stop us.”

We’re not stopping. We’re just missioning and ministering in smaller spaces until God brings us the new dawn.

Watching for the dawn with you,
Jen

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