Pastor’s Letter Nov. 17, 2021

Text "Thankful Grateful Blessed" in wood relief on a table with acorns and pinecones.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

-Meister Eckhart 

Good morning, Beloved,

I pray everyone is well and safe in God’s loving care, a gift which I hope you never overlook and are continually thankful to receive. These thoughts came to me this week as we discussed the beautiful writings of the Apostle in Paul’s Letter to the Romans in our Bible study. Words which speak of the logical result following the day Jesus was crucified and risen into the kingdom of God. Words that free us from the “Law” of our fore parents and invite us into a deep relationship based on love, discernment, and covenant. A relationship which we are all thankful for as it invites us into beloved kinship with Christ. I was pondering these thoughts and realized how grateful I am to be free of those laws and the works of our past. Grateful that our Creator and Christ trusts each of us to be faithful. Grateful to be one amongst many of God’s Beloved.

In these moments before Thanksgiving, I wondered if there is a connection between our faith and our holiday of Thanksgiving? And then it came, of course there is Beloved for the pilgrims alone are our religious fore parents; celebrations of Thanksgiving go back into the annals of the Old Testament; and, President Abraham Lincoln was a Christian. This truth became obvious when he declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday by saying, 

“As a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Interestingly though, and a point we so often overlook in our modern day observance of the holiday, it is also a call to “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” A call for us to repent those past offences while being thankful for the blessings which God has granted each of us, every day. What a beautiful reminder that our faith is both a joy which we are so thankful to receive and it is also one which comes with a cost. A cost to repent, do better, and continually be in fellowship as one community, regardless of our cultural beginnings. I offer this truth, beloved, as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations for it becomes another way for each of us to show our gratitude to God when we seek justice, peace, and reconciliation with God’s beloved, no matter who they are or where they are on the journey of life.

May we each continue to pray with thanksgiving – reconciliation – and love; for, that is enough.

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-12, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Nov. 11, 2021

Picture of a red rose, wet with rain drops coming out of the darkness.

Hello Beloved,

And you are Beloved by one another, by me, and by God. In this Truth, I pray that each of you are doing well on this beautiful rainy morning. Those words though almost sound like an oxymoron. A reality which seems contradictory in nature. For, how can the rain be beautiful? It is overcast, gloomy, and some may even say depressing. As it is with so many conflicts in our life. There is nothing good about war or change, many of us would believe. Yet, the world which is created (or rather recreated) after the conflicts can be beautiful. That is the world we look towards when the rain falls and conflicts happen. Not the present strife; but the glory to come when the world is recreated by God. When hearts soften and forgiveness fills the souls of all that live. So, when I say what a beautiful rainy day, it is my hope for the future to come when new flowers will bloom and the green grass will be replenished by the gift of fallen rain. Mind you, it does not hurt that the rain we get today means we may have one less day of snow.

With this thought in mind, I am reminded of the conflicts which have erupted throughout our fellowship in the past and sadly in the last few months. Moments when the rain fell and stirred emotions of fear and anxiety. I am reminded of them and say thank you, God, for the beautiful rain. Thank you for showing us how to grow into a covenant of love which invites us to continually forgive and let go of these conflicts once voted upon. Let go and love one another, love ourselves, and especially to love God. I was and am reminded of this truth when all the hard work and stress of many months erupted into one of the most beautiful craft fairs I could have hoped to witness. Smiles and joy were everywhere as people flocked to visit from throughout the community. Conversations and laughter seemed to fill the rooms. And, to my joy, treats and treasures were shared while Christmas music played in the background. To anyone who missed this blessing of fellowship, I am sorry and I hope you can join us next year. I am sorry as this gift which was originally created by Philathia is and has been a revelation of the beloved community we are called to become. Thank you all for sharing in this ministry of community fellowship, outreach, and love.

Finally, I would like to publicly say that I am sorry once more to anyone who has felt abashed, hurt, or abandoned in the last few weeks, months, or years by anything that has transpired in this faithful community. I know these rains of conflict still cling to some hearts as do the rains which have befallen my own life. But, I do believe they are all beautiful rains which may rear their pain at times; and yet, I feel they are also inviting us to come together in the loving fellowship of God’s Beloved community. Inviting us to be recreated like we were through our Covenant or how we were revealed in our beautiful craft fair this last weekend. Inviting us to forgive.  I will live into this beauty; for, you are each my brother – my sister – my friend who I call Beloved. To this truth, I testify and commit my whole heart.

May you each witness the beauty after the rain, everyday

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-12, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

“The Divine Family”

A picture of an orange sunset behind trees bare of leaves. One black bird sits atop a tree on the left top corner. The words "It depends on faith. Romans 4:16" are written on the top left of the picture.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem February 28, 2021

Humans are very good at conflict – not always at resolving conflicts; but definitely good at creating and engaging in conflicts, oh in that way we are exceptional. We are trained from early on in different ways to discover conflict through entertainment and news. We learn to engage in these conflicts through conversation. And most times, conflicts are a good thing: they provide us a freedom to express ourselves and ways for everyone to grow throughout the process.

However, there are other times when the resolution of a conflict seems impossible, a relationship is utterly destroyed, and we carry that wound with us into our next relationship – our next interaction – our next engagement with a person who reminds us of the one who hurt us in the past. I believe that many people are experiencing this feeling – today. I believe these unresolved conflicts are why many people over the last few years have said, “reconciliation (with white people) is impossible, (with Republicans or Democrats) is impossible, (with those people) reconciliation is simply impossible. I hear the pain of these unresolvable conflicts every time an individual says, “I will never trust another (man, woman, person) again.” 

Have you ever felt this pain? This unresolved conflict? This wound which is so deep that it seems impossible to let go of; so, you drag it along into your next relationship? Did you forget that we are one Divine Family through God and through this faith all things are possible?

As you reflect on these questions, would you pray with me:

God of Abraham, Christ Jesus, and our God reveal in us the possibilities of the Divine and set aside our false understanding of human impossibility; so, we may be one with You and through You the Divine Family of the kin-dom. May our meditations this day be open to all Your possibilities as my words speak only of Your Truth.  

Now beloved, I ask these questions because I believe there are unresolved conflicts, we all carry. Conflicts which feel like they are impossible to let go of or resolve. Conflicts which change the way we engage future relationships in our life. For me, one of those unresolved conflicts began on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. Before this event, I enjoyed everything about that day – that celebration of Love – that 24 hours of sharing valentines with people and letting them know I care. I even enjoyed Valentine’s Day when I was single – giving out roses to complete strangers as I walked down the street – fulfilled by the joy it brought to people. It did not matter to me if I was alone because the celebration of love itself – in every form – was beautiful. Then, I discovered on Valentine’s Day that my wife at the time was cheating on me. The conflict hurt – hurt deeper than I realized. And even though the marriage ended shortly after, I know now that I never resolved that conflict. I never dealt with the wound because today, years later, I can see that I have not felt the same about Valentine’s Day. I may celebrate love every day but on Valentines, I resist – I resist celebrating love on that one day. And I have felt like it is impossible to celebrate love to the fullest on that day even though I am desperately in love with such a wonderful human being like Angel. So, for that Angel, I am sorry. And I am sorry to all of you that I allowed an unresolved conflict to change me because I felt it was impossible to reconcile that one conflict.

Impossibilities though are what we have or do feel today. Impossibilities because a relationship is over and therefore no desire for reconciliation. Impossibilities because the perpetrators have passed away or do not care. Impossibilities because everything we know as human beings screams at us that it is an impossible conflict to resolve. It reminds me today of the story of Abram who at a hundred years old has a child with Sarai who is ninety years old. Impossible by all human understanding – by all that we know today and by the very witness of the Bible – Abram and Sarai could not have a child together at that age. Yet, they do. They have a son named Isaac and through him are blessed with the second great covenant. A covenant of faith which makes Abram (now Abraham) the “ancestor of a multitude of nations,” including us.

But how could this impossibility happen? How could two people who are well beyond child rearing age actually have a child who would become our ancestor and fulfill God’s covenant? How would you react to this promise by God? I imagine much the same way Abraham did, he “laughed.” Yes, in that moment, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed” at the impossibility of having a child with Sarah because of their ages. Much like I imagine so many of us question the impossibilities in our life – like when we question how to resolve a conflict when the relationship is over and done. When we still feel the unresolved conflict with a person who has passed away or no longer part of our life – when the unresolved conflict seems impossible to resolve by human understanding. We laugh and resist this idea as impossible.        

Yet, there is Good News, beloved. Good News which lies in the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. The Good News of the Divine Family – the family which we are all connected to – does not reside in his laughter or our resistance but in Abraham’s faith. Faith that through God all things are possible. Faith which is explained when Abram came before God as “blameless” which according to the professor Terence Fretheim does not mean “sinless” but as one who has “unreserved faithfulness in every aspect of the relationship.” In other words, Abraham’s faith in every part of his relationship with God is unquestionable. Abram laughed – resisted even – but then he fulfills the covenant by circumcising all males in his household. 

For his faith, God grants him the impossible – a child born to a hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman – a child named Isaac which became our ancestor.

That said, this miracle of an impossible birth seems different than us finding peace in the impossible unresolved conflicts of our lives – seems different; but I assure you it is not. It does require faith – an unreserved faithfulness – a blameless presentation of yourself before God just like Abraham to achieve; but it is not different. Through our faith, I believe each and every one of us will find the impossible becoming possible, like the resolution of conflicts which are hampering our relationships today. 

Faith though is a broad concept; so, let us focus on one of the key elements of our faith during lent. How about the reason Christ came to us which is forgiveness – forgiveness of our sins? Now forgiveness of our sins is important. But forgiveness of another’s sin is equally important – for through the forgiveness of another person, you will let go of the feelings associated with an unresolved conflict; you will be free of the pain; and you will witness the impossible – become possible right before your eyes. For forgiveness granted to another whether they are present, alive, or a part of your life does not matter. It does not matter as the act of forgiving is an act of faith and a gift you give to yourself; for, it allows you to resolve the conflicts which are altering your relationships today. So, how do we accomplish this act of faithful care?

Well, we begin with the unreserved faith in God. Faith that we are all God’s beloved children descended from Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Adam and Eve – Have faith in this Divine Family from which we all came. Then have faith that God will take these conflicts from our life as we forgive the person – the person who is no longer a “them” but is once again an us – part of our Divine Family, a brother or sister who hurt us – yes – but is still a member of our family. It does not mean we want to have a relationship with that person ever again or could forget their deeds; but by remembering they are us – our family – and not a “them,” we can find maybe a little more grace for their actions – a little more understanding of their circumstances – a little more humanity in that child of God who hurt us. We may have to do this over and over and over again. You may have to write down one explanation of why they did this to you or one positive part of their humanity each day. It may take months to discover enough good things to witness them as us – but have faith – for no matter how broken anyone is – eventually – you will witness that individual as a person of the Divine Family and able to let go of the unresolved conflict which is toxic to your relationships today. May God guide you through these acts of faithful forgiveness and create the possible resolution to the unresolved conflicts in your life. In the name of our forgiving Christ, Amen

“Should I?”

Picture of Martin Luther King JR. praying with the words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Rev. Martin Luther King JR."

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH January 17, 2021

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Beloved, I invite you to consider those words – for a moment. Consider the blessed meaning behind those words written by a man – a prophet – my hero, Martin Luther king Jr. Consider those words and remember that this person fought and died for racial equality in a time when racism was rampant. People were being murdered by mobs because their black body dared to speak to a white body, dared to speak up for themselves, dared to consider themselves human. This society is where King lived when he, with his black body, said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do you hear the message behind the words? The gift of hope King shared with us on that day in 1963. Can you witness the light of Christ in those words – the love King shared with us even though all around him was hate and darkness? I pray that you do – I pray that you hear the message of love in those words. The message which reveals how to walk in the love of God. That said, I believe King’s message of love is needed as much today as it was then. For, the message behind those words is not about what justice we are seeking but how we are seeking that justice. How are we confronting racism – hate – division in this world? How are you confronting these atrocities? Are you using darkness – hate – violence to drive out racism? Should you? Should our society? Should I?

Or are we called to follow the path of Christ – walking with a prophet who shared love for all people, even the people who hated him. As you consider which path you should follow, as Christians, let us pray.

Holy Christ – Son of God who is the Light of the World – our beacon of Love – our guide on the way to the kin-dom – soften our hearts to the enemies we see around us and help us learn how to share Your Love with the whole world. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You, God.

Now, beloved, on January 6th, 2021 – just last week, another atrocity happened in this country. One which shook me to the core – one which I consider the antithesis of Christianity – one which I believe reveals the evil path so many in this country have chosen to take. And let me be clear, I am speaking about the violence which happened in our capital – the use of darkness to drive out what these souls considered darkness – the use of hate to drive out what these souls considered hate. And, I unequivocally say there is no justification for this violence. Much like I believe there is no justification for the violence which has been part of our life for the last year. No justification: but that does not mean this horrible act of violence at the capitol was not expected or even inevitable because…

because, I believe we have been using darkness to drive out darkness. Hate to drive out hate and this horrible event is the inevitable result.

The sad thing is most of us do not even realize our part in these events. We are simply speaking our truth to power – calling out bad behavior – being intolerant of the intolerant. Yet how does calling a person names, cancelling their humanity, or silencing their beliefs drive out the darkness we see as darkness? What darkness are we even trying to drive out when we witness a person of a different ideology – like a republican or a democrat – and call them all racist or all socialist. Are we trying to get rid of the socialist and racist darkness or the darkness that is democrat and republican? I seem to think the latter. I seem to believe that over the last four, twelve, twenty years there has been a growing push to drive out the “other” political ideology and this has percolated into the violence of last week. We see this reality happening when we judge every person at the capitol protests and riots as a racist. Yet, we know they cannot all be racist. Not every person is a racist who believes in one political agenda. But after four years of being silenced, cancelled, and called names for their political identity; what did we think would happen? Did we really think that the rhetoric of division which happens in Washington, on the news, in our grocery stores would not explode?  What do you expect will happen when our brothers and our sisters are called names, cancelled, and silenced for over four hundred years? More violence – looting – riots, like those of last summer.

I believe more violence will happen; because, we have witnessed this frustration percolate out in the silencing of white voices in the discussion of racism; in the cancelling of white monuments which glorified our racist heritage; in the generational trauma of black bodies who use language which may seem angry – hateful – or yes even prejudice to white bodies. We have witnessed these inevitable events quite often over the last many years and for many of us who are called by God to be one with all people in the kin-dom, it becomes difficult. Difficult because we do not know how to help – how to end racism – how to stop the systemic tragedies of racism which are boiling into violence. Difficult to do the hard work of discipleship; therefore, we take the easy path and use darkness to defeat darkness – hate to defeat hate and the cycle of violence continues.

However, there is another way – beloved. The way of the disciple revealed to us through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church of Corinth, a church which was being destroyed. Not from the greater Roman civilization, but from the conflicts inside – from the people judging one another within the community – from the divisions being created through darkness and hate. To these souls, Paul reveals another way. He first confirms the Corinthian conviction, according to the theologian J. Paul Sampley, of their own perception in the form of a maxim, or an accepted “truth” that “all things are lawful for me.” Yes, Paul agrees all things are lawful – permissible. We all have free will to do what we wish. He then counters this “truth” by saying, “not all things are beneficial… I will not be dominated by anything.” Not all things are beneficial – not dominated by anything. Not dominated by the hate – the darkness which our people – our human beings – our society has been dominated by for over four hundred years. In my heart, I believe hate does do just that – dominates and controls our actions. Paul offers this simple addition to the maxim as a guide to disciples to not be dominated by evil. He also offers the addition that not all we do is beneficial – which comes to the core of our message today. Yes, you may do anything – you may use darkness to drive out the darkness – be dominated by the hate when you use it to drive out hate. Yes, you can do this especially because Jesus believed in justice; but – but, is this path beneficial – beneficial to you – to society – to me? Should I call people names, cancel them, silence them when I find their acts of violence, prejudice, and racism to be the darkness of hate. Is this beneficial?

Our psalm this week, seems to say – no – no we should not – not because it is not permissible – because it is only God who knows what lies in our hearts – only God who knows our path; and only God who may judge me, you, or anyone. For, only that in-depth knowledge can judge fairly – with equity – our actions and inactions in this life. I do not know what lies in the hearts of the person who rioted at the capitol; so, how can I fairly judge them as a racist? How is this beneficial to our unity under God?

This message, beloved, does not mean we accept the hateful actions of people – it means we confront these actions with love – with understanding – with compassion; so, we may all be one with God as one people in the kin-dom to come. It means we share compassion when confronted with people who are suffering from generational trauma by listening with our hearts. Listen to the meaning behind the anger which is percolating through abusive language. Hear the person’s heart and understand what the black body has and is enduring every day in our world. It means we share love when confronted with history being destroyed by offering another way; for, we cannot forget and relive the darkness of our past. This way of discipleship means we share love by stepping back out of the conversation – to listen – to listen with our hearts all the ways black bodies feel the world is inequitable to them – we hear their hearts not so we can fix the situation but to support – we witness their hearts not to drive out hate with hate; but share love together as one people through God.

This good news, beloved, is the first step and what I believe King shared with us in 1963. This message of hope is how we end racism, divisions, and violence – through Love. By loving one another so much that we set aside the offences and love the person before us. The child of God within them and the child of God within each of us. It is a message which requires us to ask the very real question: Should I? Not once or twice; but every single time we are confronted with violence, hate, and darkness. Should I react with darkness to drive out those racist thoughts? Should I hate them back because all I see is their hate of my skin? Should I resort to violence when violence is thrust upon me? Should I – should you – should we, as a people, react with the violence, hate, and darkness of divisiveness when a group of individuals riot on our streets or at our capitol. Should we be controlled by that darkness or should we lovingly witness the person, understand their situation, and share compassion for them? While we let our courts – not us – make sure they are accountable for their actions. Should I walk in the way of darkness or in the way of Christ – our light in the world. Beloved, all may be permissible but only the light of Christ is beneficial. May Christ’s light guide you every time you are confronted by evil and let the love of God drive racism from our world. Amen.