Category Archives: Newsletter

Lent…that all shall be well…

dietandexercise

Dear Friends of Second Church,
I hope you are continuing courageously on your Lenten journey.

To be honest, my own remains challenging, a combination of giving things up and taking others on this year.

I am trying to start some new habits around diet and exercise, and, wow…it is not easy. Those of you who love the feel of a good workout—bless you. But I am not there yet.

Maybe it seems strange to see “wellness” as a spiritual challenge, appropriate for Lent, but that’s how I’m finding it. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for wellness. But it’s challenging to admit that wellness doesn’t come in the terms I prefer, that life doesn’t necessarily respond to my gestures of bargain (“Isn’t it enough just to skip sour cream on the burrito?” being one of them), that progress is so very gradual.

Really, can’t I just read a few books about healthy lifestyles and be done with it? How do you say “wellness” in Greek?

That’s why Lent is so important—it reminds us that, for all our gifts, for all the freedom we have to shape so much about our worlds, there are still terms within which we must live, and which we do not decide. Lent shows our us our bargains, and our shortcuts, and our great need to seek courage for the task of living from something greater than ourselves and our own willpower. It asks us to name not only our creature comforts and petty indulgences, but also our false gods, who let us pretend we can have life on terms that require less of us.

Lent points to God as something more than a fine idea to be mulled over — that God is a living force who loves us far too much to leave us where we are, and who will push us to move forward, even if we don’t much feel like going.

Where is it that you are having trouble going? The gym? The office? The doctor? Or to some particular emotional or spiritual place within?

This Lent, if you listen, perhaps you’ll hear God calling you to start moving in that direction. My hope is that as I do, I will find Him there….and that you will, too.

See you in church,

“The Grace of Last Minute Shopping”

Dear Friends of Second Church,

Hard to believe that we’re one week away from Christmas Eve. Time to start my shopping.

I know, I know.

Some of you have been done for weeks. Months. You’re feeling anxious because you think some of your wrapped presents might look even better with different colored bows on them.

I admire you.

As someone who has had to wrap presents in the old newspaper next to the fireplace, using duct tape, because the more customary supplies had not lasted, I admire you.

I love your careful systems, and the time and effort you have dedicated to finding the perfect gift and presenting it in the perfect way.

But that’s not for me.

You may disagree, but by starting my shopping so close to Christmas, I like to think that I have allowed more room for the Holy Spirit in my own gift-giving.

It’s also true that, now, with every store’s supplies depleted, the “obvious gifts” have all been taken.

Yes, I suppose I could just go “expensive” and be done. Instead, I look upon all of the picked-through and passed-over things with eyes of love, trying to discern which ones among them will speak to someone’s heart, maybe starting out by eliciting compassion, but in time become things loved for their own sake.

O.k., so there was the year I got my mother a “Salad Shooter” for the second year in a row.

That wasn’t so great then. But isn’t the story priceless now? Isn’t that really the reason for the season?

Permit me to suggest that the suffering you endured by going to the mall at noon on a weekend in December seems more like an Easter thing than a Christmas one.

Even worse, I know someone whose mother, years ago, nearly got into a fistfight with a tough little grandmother at the “Toys R Us” in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in over a Cabbage Patch doll.

By contrast, when you start your shopping on Christmas Eve, there is always room at the inn–friends, the mall is your oyster.

Better yet, there is the deep camaraderie of other shoppers on which to rely. All ages and conditions of men are as one at Crabtree and Evelyn on Christmas Eve: “Hey, what’s ‘verbena’? Is she gonna want that?” “Is scented talcum a thing?”

In its own way, it is a foretaste of the Kingdom.

Theologically, let us allow that my approach is arguably more in the Spirit of Protestantism itself.

After all, whose Christmas shopping is a thing of “works-righteousness,” designed to make some claim on holiness, some human-based righteousness, and whose shopping can be said to rely solely on the Providence of God?

Ahem. That’s what I thought.

Finally, you cannot know what is in my heart as late afternoon becomes evening on Christmas Eve, and the lights and noise of the world diminish, and I drive home quietly with such as I have to offer those who love me, thinking of them and of these days, and with my heart full.

No gift could ever repay, nor words express the depth of my gratitude that God has chosen them to journey with me, and it is only with His help that I find ways to live out that gratitude.

Whatever else Christmas is or isn’t, and whatever else I plan for well-ahead or do only at the last minute, I always discover that gratitude anew. And I rejoice.

For those who journey elsewhere this week, Godspeed. For those who remain, hope to see you Christmas Eve.
See you in church,

Crafting Something Deeper at Christmas

craft fair

Yesterday afternoon, I was trying to get Grace to her guitar lesson, which happens to be held at another church nearby. To avoid the pouring rain, we detoured through a long hallway connecting the sanctuary to the Parish Hall.

Big mistake.

It was a whirlwind of tables, tupperware crates, and talking on cell phones — as an army of vendors was frantically setting up for a Christmas Craft Bazaar, due to start in 90 minutes. They eyed us warily at first as we moved through, as if they wondered if we were early-birds who had somehow snuck in, two experienced craft-show-goers looking to close a few quick deals before the hapless vendors were really ready for wheeling and dealing. I tried to hold the guitar a little higher, as a token of our purposes, but it was hard to notice–maybe it was just too out of context for them to offer any helpful explanation.

It made me grateful for the relative civility and easy passage through the halls here at our own Craft Fair last month.

But I was also reminded of some of the perennial hazards of the Christmas season. Because like those vendors, at Christmas, we often end up doing so much rushing around, don’t we? Busy as we are, sometimes we become blind to the true purposes of others we encounter–that shopper in the parking lot who finds a spot in the nanosecond before we see it, that grandparent who calls to discuss “The Plan” before we’re quite ready with the details they’re seeking, the coworker who lost her mother last summer and is inconveniently needy and not-together, even though she is not talking about her grief.

It’s a sad irony that during a season in which we are called to notice one another with particular diligence and affection, we can become too busy to see one another clearly, much less warmly. The context of our own rushing can give us tunnel vision for everything and everyone else.

I hope that in the next few weeks, you’ll seek out moments where you can for slowing down and asking God who it is you need to be noticing, and where it is you need to be looking. And I hope you’ll feel the delight of being seen…and maybe even found, too.

Newsletter: Thanksgiving and the blinking light

thanksgiving

Dear Friends of Second Church,

If your house is anything like ours this week, you’re probably sneaking a peek at your email between a long list of tasks.

“Would you go to the basement and bring up the extra chairs?”
“Did all those coats get put away yet?”
“What is the soap situation in the downstairs bathroom?”
“Before I start the washing machine, did you check all your pockets for crayons?”
“Whoops, I forgot parsnips! Would you go get some?…Please take at least one of the children with you.”

It’s a week when there’s so much to do, and there are so many directions in which we’ll all need to be running, cleaning this and ironing that, going to the grocery store and zooming home to get cooking, only to realize that you need to go straight back because in your haste to start preparing for Thanksgiving, you didn’t get anything for dinner tonight.  On top of that, Liz and I are learning that, as parents with young kids, Thanksgiving is about planning the activities of a four-day weekend as much as it is about preparing a grand feast–wonderful as it is, that’s a whole extra level of “prep” to do.

It can be overwhelming.

And if I’m honest, it’s one of those weeks when that little blinking light on my cell phone can look like a beacon of freedom–an invitation to step back into a world where the tasks and “the heavy-lifting” are so very different, and frankly, so much easier for me. I’m better at remembering the details in that world. I love the challenges of that world. I love the role I’m asked to play in that world.  And love it or not, I’m trying to keep the trains running in that world, and if I just answer a couple of emails now, on Monday morning that will be a whole lot easier to get back into.

Waiting on line all over again at Stop and Shop because I forgot the heavy cream? I don’t love that.

But there’s a temptation lurking there.

Because it’s not only that our work life is so much more interesting than waiting on line, or going up and down the basement stairs.

It’s tempting to answer that blinking light because, when push comes to shove, we think of our work life as the “real” one.

By contrast, the world of rest and family togetherness, the many steps of throwing a big, fancy meal, or piling everyone in the car for an excursion because you can only watch “Frozen” so many times in one day, can all seem like a break from reality, and a vaguely self-indulgent one at that.

And that’s incorrect.

The tradition of Sabbath has always been a way to preserve time and attention for what matters most: to connect with God and reconnect with those we love.

Our challenge is to find fulfillment in the everyday, not despite it. 

In that spirit, the tasks of getting ready for Thanksgiving may be small and many, but learning to practice gratitude is one of the most important jobs we have.

See you in church,

Landing on the Comet

images

This morning, after a ten year voyage through space, the Philae lander touched down on Comet 67P, a staggering 317 million miles away.

It’s a triumph of human ingenuity.

After all, it was just a few years ago that Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis made a movie about landing on an asteroid in a desperate attempt to save the Earth, and while many people liked the movie, nobody considered it particularly real.

Maybe today it looks a little more so.

“Space” is a relatively recent term for “interstellar depths,” and ironically, it first appeared in Milton’s Paradise Lost, a deeply religious poem about Adam and Eve, the snake, and the Garden of Eden. (Here is where I also mention that John Milton, the poet, was an English Congregationalist.)

The irony of it is that, so often, we think of science and religion as being deeply opposed to one another, somehow, rather than as distinct but compatible ways of imagining and understanding Creation.

After Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from orbiting the Earth, Nikita Kruschev crowed that “Gagarin flew into space, but he didn’t see any God there.”

But surely astronomers and astronauts can mostly share the wonder of the Psalmist, who writes, “…for as I look up to the heavens thy fingers made, the moon and the stars that thou hast shaped, I ask, ‘And what is man, that thou should’st think of him? What is a mortal man, that shoud’st heed him? Yet thou hast made him little less than divine, thou hast crowned him with majesty and honor…’.” (Psalm 8: 3-5)

To me, it is how we human beings express our capacity for wonder, and also where curiosity takes us, that honor or dishonor God, far more than whether we use an explicitly religious vocabulary.

So I thank God for the ingenuity of the women and men who put the Philae on Comet 67P, and for everything we yet stand to learn about Creation.

For all the uncertainties and worries of our times, these are still such amazing days in which to be alive.   Look up at the night sky and see if you don’t agree.

See you in church

They’re Diverting This Plane Because…WHAT?!

Dear Friends of Second Church,

Are you following the sudden rash of airplanes being grounded because travelers are fighting over the right to lean back their seats?

That’s right. Not only are people fighting over the right to lean back their seats to the point that flight attendants are getting involved–they’re fighting over this to the point that pilots have started diverting entire planes.

Apparently, there is now a device you can purchase to prevent — physically prevent — the passenger in front of you from being able to lean back his or her chair. But this has caused only one of the recent groundings. The others are from plain, old fashioned disagreements.

Is it just me, or do you read stories like this and wonder how, on earth, it could possibly have come to this?

Compared to many in our congregation, I travel rarely. Maybe some of you saw that special gizmo in “The Sharper Image” catalogue or some other place and thought, “A-ha, my traveling problems are solved at last!”

But speaking for myself: I cannot imagine how I would respond to the news from the cockpit that our flight was being landed in some in between place because two grown adults could not handle a disagreement about their chairs. And I cannot imagine how much worse I would feel had I been responsible for such an event.

Call me an optimist, but I like to imagine that the shouting stopped and the loud, profuse apologizing began.  

One of the great challenges of our times, I think, is not only discerning right from wrong; it’s also discerning what matters from what does not. I cannot say why this seems to have gotten harder than it used to be. Life’s little aggravations aren’t supposed to undo us in this way.  It’s sad to see how easily we give in to impulses that seem beneath us.

Worse yet, events like these suggest that maybe we don’t see others, literally and figuratively, as fellow travelers in the way we once did.

That’s why community, in all its complexity, is so important for us. It reminds us that the world is something that we share, that few of our claims on it are absolute, and that most of the time, if we work together, we can get all get where we’re trying to go.

Whether it’s the community of an airplane cabin, a neighborhood, a book group, an office, or a home, our life together that reminds us, simultaneously, that who we are as individuals is supremely important, and also that each of us is only a small part of something far larger.

I hope that as our church begins a new program year, you will find ways to explore how God is calling you, specifically, to invest your time and energy. And I hope you’ll have moments when you feel the beating heart of something greater than you, or any one of us.  I hope that I do, too. 

When that happens, then, sort of like they say on the airlines, “wherever it is your travels may lead you,” you might just find the peace that passes all understanding.

 

See you in church,

The First Day of School

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger and did nothing for you?” (Matthew 25:44)

Dear Friends of Second Church,

This morning was the first day of school, at least for the Greenwich Public Schools, and our daughter Grace was up early.

She’s very excited to be a first grader, and so at least for today, our morning routine was a delightful performance of her independence–clothes on without any “Poppy, not THAT…..” editorializing, breakfast downed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, lunch packed, backpack checked one more time, and off we went.

The lawn outside her school was like old home week for the under-tall, and Grace got right down to business, comparing new sneakers with her friends and telling them all about the raptors she saw a couple of weeks ago at the Stamford Nature Center. (Is it just me, or are children are smarter than they used to be?) Parents with cellphone cameras were everywhere.

It wasn’t until the classes were all proudly marching in the schoolhouse door behind their new teachers that I noticed the few kids hanging back–holding on tight for another minute as mom or dad carefully moved them toward the door, harrumphing them along in stages, like thirty pound bags of flour. And from a word here or there I managed to catch, I realized that they were all “new kids.” New to school, or new to Greenwich, or just new to Julian Curtiss? I don’t know yet. But they’re new.

We all know that in a few days, most of them will be just fine.

But I’ve been thinking about them all day, and thinking about how I can help Grace be one of the kids who makes an extra effort to welcome them.

How do you explain to a first grader about Jesus’ commandment to welcome the stranger? How do we help our children see that building community is about lunch tables and playground games and the look on your face when the teacher picks your partner? And how can we help them learn how sacred it is to do those things with others in mind? Do we do the same sort of things ourselves, so that our children see the lesson often enough to follow our example?

The beginning of a new school year is always a holy moment. Somewhere nearby, moms and dads are praying that their worried new student will settle in, make friends, and begin to love their new life in this new place to which they’ve come. My hope is that, each in their own ways, the children of Second Church will be answers to those prayers.

See you in church,