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Pastor's Blog

July 26, 2017.

A lament expresses our sadness to God.

I can’t wait to get “away” for vacation. Preparing for our trip, I wondered about the small towns we’ll drive through on the way to Vermont. “Hmm,” I thought. “I wonder what houses here cost.” The dream of a country getaway place dies slowly. Sunday, at dinner, I excitedly showed Linda and our daughter Sara an online real estate ad. “Look! This town, Hoosick Falls, has some really beautiful and inexpensive homes!” “Wow!” said Linda, “That’s a pretty house.” “Hoosick Falls?” asked Sara. “Yes, have you heard of it?” She replied, “As a matter of fact I have. Drinking water in Hoosick Falls was contaminated with PFOA, the toxic chemical in Teflon that makes it slippery.” Sara knows her stuff. Water contamination is her field. “The state doesn’t have a plan yet to clean the water. The best they can do is give people activated charcoal filters but that’s only a stop-gap measure.”

“At least now we know why houses there are so inexpensive.” Linda asked, “Is the moral of this story ‘All that glitters is not gold?’ Sarah chimed in, “I have a better one. Some online wit penned this one-liner: ‘Who’s Sick in … Hoosick Falls?’” Linda and I both groaned. “Think about how desperate people must be. You want to move out of town and get your child to clean water… but you can’t sell your home because no one is buying.” “Yes,” I thought, “the family that owned the pretty house would be happy to sell to some big city slicker from ‘far away.’”

It was my turn to be witty. “I think the one-liner for this story was coined by Anna Giordano.” Linda’s eyes widened, “That

garbage recycling lady who came on so strong when she spoke at church?” “Yes, the very one,” I replied. “But she made a point that hits home. There is no longer an “away” in “throw it away.” Sara nodded: “Everything comes back to bite us. We think it’s going away someplace else and we don’t have to think about it anymore.” “But,” I interrupted, “There’s no longer an ‘away.’ All the systems are collapsing into one another.” “Right,” she interrupted me in turn. “Here’s another example. When we take antibiotics, we excrete it in our urine. Now they’re in all our water supplies and we can’t filter them out.”

Who’s to blame? Well, you can blame me. I once used a frying pan coated with Teflon. Anyone else want to raise their hand? Remember how Pogo told us years ago: “We have met the enemy, and he is us"?

My lament: O God, our actions bring us pain we do not anticipate, and we end up hurting others unintentionally. Forgive us. Heal your world. We pray it’s not too late.

Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel

March 27, 2017

We knew hosting the soup supper for the ecumenical Lenten Bible this past March 22 would prove challenging since our stoves in the kitchen are gone, and new (used) ones haven’t been purchased yet. I am so grateful to Margi and Ralph, Angela, Ana, and Austin and Gennette for bringing soups they cooked at home.

But I wanted to make soup, too. Cooking Tuesday at home got away from me, so Tuesday night I called a grocerey store and put in an order. I stopped by first thing Wednesday to talk about details. The best price I could get was $80 to feed twenty persons soup! So I said "No Thanks" and called some friends in the church.

Thank the Lord, Ana Pacheco was home. She had the cooking utensils and wasn’t going anywhere. So for $16 worth of ingredients we made enough to fill two big pots. It was a minor miracle of loaves and fishes.

We are trying out a new "Purpose Statement" as a congregation: Our current draft of it is: "Courageiously serving, as Jesus does, those iin jeopardy." Along the way to becoming a more "activist church" that genuinely wants to courageously serve those most in jeopardy in our world, we will need to sometimes say "yes" to a request before we know how to actually do what is asked. This can feel uncomfortable but the truth is churches today must skip ahead at least a generation in their decision making skills. Gone are the days in which an urgent decision can be put off to the monthly board meeting. The need and the opportunities to really make a difference don't wait any more. A great value in the secular world in which most people live is "nimbleness" in decision making. That means learning to become quicker, more flexible, and adaptive. Or, with my soup as an example, being willing to improvise sometimes when plan A doesn't work out.

This Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ who brought to the world a "New Covenant" for salvation. But I believe the world had to say "yes" to God's plan. Mary had to be willing to carry God's child. Disciples needed to say "yes" to Jesus' "Come follow me." As so often in life timing is everything.

Let's celebrate Christ's resurrection by looking for his active presence in the world. Most often we encounter him where there is great need. Let's practice saying "Yes!" and give glory to God. It feels really good when we do.

With resurrection joy, Pastor Noel

Dec. 22, 2016

I find myself ranting and railing at the way we have commercialized Christmas. But perhaps I’ve grown too jaded. Mary Luti, my favorite devotional writer for the UCC’s online Still Speaking Daily Devotional, tells this story:

“On a visit to South India, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked to bless the Hindu kitchen staff of a big hotel. The occasion was the annual mixing of the batter for their famous Christmas cake. So, as instructed, he poured honey into an enormous trough of fruit, said prayers, shook hands, and walked out into the searing heat with "Joy to the World" blaring over the loudspeakers. Christmas, it turns out, is one of the West's greatest exports.”

People all over the world, Christian or not, get the message: in the face of a helpless child we see the face of God, the hope of nations and the wonder of life. Baby Jesus makes you just want to reach out and touch him… and if not him, then someone you love or could love. Christmas increases our gratitude quotient.

That’s worth celebrating. So whether we mark this special occasion with a Christmas cake, go shopping, put Santa in bright lights on our front yard, attend a holiday bash with our co-workers or sit quietly through our favorite

Christmas cantata really doesn’t matter.

In the end, Christmas isn’t about “good taste.” There is no universal when it comes to taste. But let’s all “keep” Christmas well. Keep it attached to the story of the Christ, keep it attached to joy, and keep the spirit of his birth attached to what we do in his name.

Here’s what I did in the spirit of his name last week. On Dec. 13 I was one of 300 at a rally in White Plains sponsored by the Westchester County coalition United Against Hate. We protested recent outbursts of hate symbols appearing on the campus of SUNY Purchase and on a bridge on the Bronx River Parkway. About 300 of us listened and applauded while politicians as diverse as Rob Astorino and Nita Lowey denounced hate speech. This event was a part of the growing national “No Hate Speech in Our Towns” movement whose purpose is to combat the growing number of attacks on minorities in the past few months. I’m glad to say we counted senior citizens, members of the LGBT community, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims as well as lots and lots of white people in our numbers. The message is simple: when you attack one, you attack us all.

In no way do I suggest that how I celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ should be your way. But I implore you. Find a way, find your way, to celebrate Jesus. Our new Christmas banner proclaims: “Glory to God.” Let your celebration give glory to God. Don’t be shy. Light up the lights, bring out the songs, and share your gifts with all who need them!

With deepest gratitude for the baby in whom I see the face of God – Pastor Noel

August 5, 2016

I’ve been noting the growing negative passion erupting in our presidential election race. It seems that about ten years ago some wag determined that every negative aspersion thrown at a candidate had to be immediately refuted, usually with the implication that the opponent is an idiot. I guess this is unlikely to change, although I do think both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton might do better to turn the other cheek sometimes.

What alarms me, however, is the growing anger I sense among us. We have picked our favorite and increasingly see the other candiate as the embodiment of all that’s “wrong with America.“ This kind of thinking isn’t healthy, and... it isn’t Christian.

Neither Mr. Trump nor Mrs. Clinton, neither Republicans nor Democrates, will likely move us much closer to the ideals of Jesus and the biblical portrait of the will of God which we’ve come to call “the Kingdom.“ Moreover, when we angrily come to see the wrong all on one side, we are in danger of projecting our own blindness and, yes, sins, onto others.

Recently some colleagues asked me to read a pamplet by the great Christian spiritual guide and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr. It’s called The Eight Core Principles. I highly recommend it. His first principle is “The Teaching of Jesus is Our Central Reference Point.“ Rohr looks at how Jesus confronted things around him that were wrong, even evil:

"Sin, for Jesus, in not found in any kind of where I can point to it, punish it, and try to change it. That is too easy, and thus is locatlization of evil outside or over there, religion’s constant temptation....Sin, for Jesus, is the very act of accusing itself – whenever you try to expel and accuse evil groups, nations, religions, or people, and somehow leave yourself out of the equation, you end up “sinning.“ It is rather shocking that Jesus is never actually upset at sinners, as we are, but he is only upset at people who do not think they are sinners....Jesus would never deny objective evil, but he knows that any human attempts to conquer it, or control it, can only be done according to the pattern of the crucifixion itself.“

What do we do, then? Rohr notes that what Jesus did was to stand in solidarity with the outcasts, the poor, the marginalized, the so-called "bad people“ in his society. “Jesus stands with the demonized until the demonization stops.“ This, I think, is a pretty good model for us in our Christian outreach. In truth, no matter how much we talk about justice, we don’t “fix things“ (as if we’re not a part of the problem.) But following Jesus, we do try to “stand with" those who are hurting, ministering and listening and sharing with, placing ourselves in solidarity with those at the margins, and so work for healing.

And this leads me to try to bite my tongue a bit and reserve judgment on the politicians whom “I don’t like.“ Angrily accusing them of all sorts of evil makes me part of the problem, not part of the healing we so desperately need. Jesus taught that without healing of relationships there will be no long-term creation of justice.

Prayerfully yours – Pastor Noel

May 11, 2016

The New Beginnings program encouraged us to try to discern our congregation’s mission. I realize that this can be confusing. Many of us are used to thinking that mission is something nice and helpful we do for others, a charity thing. But increasingly congregations that survive and thrive in the 21st century possess a clear sense of what their particular mission is. They ask themselves: What are we in business to do? Who in particular are we sent by God to help, and how?

With our New Beginnings discussions we began this conversation, coming up with ideas such as “Let’s be a church that says ‘yes’ when someone has a new idea” and “People in Pelham want to give back because they feel fortunate; let’s help them by becoming a volunteer center.” But I suspect that these ideas don’t yet get to the bottom of discerning what our mission here is.

By way of example, let me share a story about discerning a mission that Rev. Freeman Palmer sent my way: A Minneapolis Congregation Finds New Life Through Sabbath-Keeping (The full, unedited article can be found at Faith and Leadership from Duke Divinity, March 22, 2016)

Nokomis reclaim the ancient practice of Sabbath keeping and place it at the core of their identity as a congregation. That might mean a day with no shopping trip to the mall. No pulling out a smartphone to check on work emails. No paying bills or balancing the checkbook. And on some Sundays, under Root's proposal, it would mean not even going to church. “People weren't coming every Sunday, anyway," Root said.

After a period of discernment, the congregation agreed to change its worship schedule and place Sabbath keeping at the heart of its life together.

Now, six and a half years later, the pattern they established is a strong, sustaining rhythm. On the first and third Sundays of the month, Lake Nokomis holds traditional worship services. On the alternate weekends, members gather on Saturday evenings for contemplative services that draw upon the same Scripture and sermon as the previous Sunday's worship.

And on the second and fourth Sundays each month? They practice Sabbath, taking a rest from work, obligations, and even formal worship itself.

"I sleep in," said Sue Goodspeed, a member of the worship committee. "I don't get to do that often."

Lisa Larges settles down with a cup of coffee and the Sunday edition of The New York Times. "I read the whole thing," she said. She is blind, so she reads it on her computer.

Nobody at the church is required to practice Sabbath. Some older members don’t really like the change personally. But they see that it has benefited the congregation.

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian is not on the cusp of becoming a megachurch, by any means, but the attendance trend has been reversed. Since the Sabbath practice was launched, the congregation has gained 18 new members and another dozen or so people who attend regularly. About 90 people are now members of the church; 40 to 70 attend Sunday worship services, and 12 to 25 the Saturday evening services. Young families have joined the church, and the children's program is back. "It's great seeing kids running around the church again," Root said.

One of the biggest challenges for Lake Nokomis members has been how to explain Sabbath keeping to people outside the church. After spending a Sunday in retreat from the many obligations of modern life, members are often bombarded with questions:

- "Why didn't you return my phone call about the Monday meeting?" - "How could you not finish that PowerPoint presentation?" - "What do you mean your kid isn't coming to soccer practice?"

That's not surprising, said Dorothy C. Bass, the recently retired director of the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith and author of Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, a book about Sabbath practices. Practicing Sabbath is very countercultural, Bass said. "The ethos of society now is hectic," she said. "We're obsessed with productivity in a way that infuses most people's consciousness. … This has become so habitual that we don't even realize how broken we are."

Most of what the church members do on the Sabbath could be described as good, old-fashioned goofing off. That's fine, Bass said. Goofing off can be good for the soul and the body. It's not just common sense; the Bible actually calls for rest. "It still is one of the Ten Commandments," Bass said. "It's OK just to rest," she said. "I believe that you can't get through a week without having some type of Sabbath. Your body will break."

The Lake Nokomis congregation took to the Sabbath practice quickly. It was proposed as a one-year experiment, but "six months into it, we had changed so much that there was no going back," Root said.>

The Lake Nokomis church came up with a vision that helped it find its mission: to call contemporary, over-busy and over-scheduled people to find God’s rest. It’s not a mission for everyone. No mission will be good for everyone. But it has resonated with enough people that the church is beginning to grow again. It is sharp-edged enough that the church stands out as doing something both distinctly Christian and counter-cultural. This story is an example for us. They did what I hope we can do: discover our mission. It all starts with open discussion. On Sunday, June 12, we will talk about our New Beginnings initiative suggestions after worship. Come help us find a vision that leads to a renewed sense of mission for God’s world… right here in Pelham.

-- Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel

February 13, 2015

With the death of my step-mother comes the cleaning out of her house. The first package arriving from Memphis contained my parents’ long-misplaced sterling silverware. Beautiful, but who uses silver anymore? It will be donated.

The second package came as a surprise. My step-brother-in-law Mike found a box of items that my dad brought with him when he married my step-mother Jean 38 years ago. In it I discovered items long forgotten: the watch that belonged to my uncle who died in military service during WWII, a report I wrote in college for a competition, photos of my mother’s (including a photo of Jimmy Cagney stuck behind her college photo… who knew she had a crush on him?), my red shooter marble from boyhood days…. This box is a keeper!

Opening it I experienced flood of memories of an earlier me, and especially of my mother, who died at age 47 when I was 20. All of a sudden there was a window to see a “me” inside the me I’ve become that feels far away, different, yet related. I wonder who that boy is, and has he stopped grieving his mother even yet?

Lent comes upon us this Ash Wednesday, February 18 and then proceeds to unwind for the next six weeks until Easter Sunday, April 5. It’s a time that can be used, quite fruitfully, to rediscover some “lost” parts of you. Most of our memories, lost dreams, moments of joy, and seemingly unanswered prayers have merely been pushed down by the “busyness” that fills our days and our lives. If we invite them to come back, most will. That is, if we can make room to receive them.

The ancient tradition of Lent is to “give something up.” For many, I know, this was a kind of mini self-martyrdom, an experience of pain for the sake of walking with Christ. But giving something up can also be understood as intentional self-emptying, a discipline to make room for something else. Primarily in Lent we try to make more room in our psyches for God. But sometimes God strings along with the examination of other things we have forgotten or pushed aside. An “emptier you” might just have time and a place to think about your own locked box of secret treasures. Why not put together your own treasure box and take time daily in Lent to explore it? If you look deeply and prayerfully, guess what? God will be right there with you, too.

Go lighter, simpler this Lent. And then go deeper.

-- Faithfully, Pastor Noel

January 29, 2015

As I write this, I’m about two thirds of the way through the book Hotdogs and Hamburgers. It’s the book we have been invited to read as a part of the United Church of Christ’s literacy emphasis, “One Read.” Hotdogs and Hamburgers moves quickly and is a cute story. The author, Rob Schindler, wants to help his eleven year old son Oliver learn to read better. But parent/child dynamics get in the way. So he decides to learn how to teach someone to read by becoming a literacy tutor for others. I guess most of us need a personal motivation to try doing something that helps others.

Do you remember who taught you to read? She or he was an important person in your life! I don’t clearly recall my first grade teacher, but I retain a distinct memory of my mother sitting down with me with word recognition flash cards (and arithmetic flash cards, too!). You might say that for her it was a labor of love. The gift of reading, which unlocks so many doors, usually is passed on to us through someone’s labor of love. When you are able to read fluently you don’t have to hide your deficit; you feel good about yourself. And of course reading opens up both job opportunities and a host of leisure time enjoyments. But we all need a little help to become fluent readers. Some need more help than others. That’s life.

We are reading, then discussing, this book as our Lenten project. In March we’ll have a discussion of a portion of the book on the second, third, and fourth Sundays, after worship. Then, on Palm Sunday March 29th, we will gather as a church for our Lenten Luncheon and talk about literacy together.

What might come from our efforts? I think at this point, only the Good Lord knows the answer to that question! We’ve been invited, however, to go down a new road to see what we might find together. I suspect there will be something there for us, and maybe others.

Remember: you can sign a copy of Hotdogs and Hamburgers out from the church office; or contact Rhonda Morgan ( and she can help you get an electronic or audio copy. Good reading to you!

-- Faithfully, Pastor Noel

October 27, 2014

As October soon becomes November we head into our church’s Stewardship Season. Stewardship Sunday is November 23. On that Sunday we’ll have a special guest preacher, Rev. Reuben Cedino, coming from his church in Queens to share a stewardship message. Our theme this year is “Blessed to be a Blessing.” All of you who support The Community Church of the Pelhams are a blessing – to our neighbors, to those who rely on our church for a place to go for AA or Scouts or Nursery School, to those who drop in if only on occasion for worship. I hope you are aware of God’s blessing to you, even as you are a blessing to others.

People have strong feelings about money. This week the New York Conference newsletter linked to an interesting article on stewardship from the Religious News Service. Over-all giving from members of churches in our country dropped to 2.2 % of income, the lowest percentage in 45 years. Many people do not try to increase their giving to the church because a) they feel the government already takes care of the poor throught their taxes, and b) they feel denominations spend their money on frivilous projects and protecting their own jobs. This is eye-opening! Here’s what I can say in response:

a) Our help to the poor comes mostly through our special offerings, not our regular giving, so please think about this as we take up offerings such as Neighbors in Need or our Thanksgiving Food Box project;

b) whether you like the United Church of Christ, or not, we give a whole $300 to it from our operating budget to support their existence, so they aren’t exactly waiting to hear from us with baited breath.

The truth is, what you give in your pledge to the CCP pretty much stays here. About 50% goes toward building operation while the other 50% pays for staff and program. What you give is what you get.

Is it enough? I hope so. I hope the value of good worship, of varied and quality music, of fellowship and fun and the joy of Growing God in You, makes your giving to the church worth it. In fact, I suspect that in learning to become generous givers we receive back more than we give. There’s a God-factor to be added in. Remember: We are a blessing to others. And being that blessing, we receive a blessing! - - Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel

June 23, 2014

The name, “Messy Church,” attracted my attention. So I tuned in on the webinar offered by the Parish Resource Center last month on a movement to reach out to our neighbors who may have some interest in faith, but not so much that they want to commit to come to worship on a Sunday! (That’s half of Pelham, I believe). Messy Church originated in Great Britain but is moving throughout the world. Just last week I persuaded Barbara Scharrer to watch the webinar presentation with me. We’re intrigued. If you’d like to see it, please let me know. Barbara and I will watch it with you if you like.

In a nutshell, Messy Church is an occasional two hour program designed for the unchurched, to be intergenerational, fun, creative, and present the experience of God’s love made known to us in Christ in a very hands-on, interactive way. The four parts of every Messy Church event are “chill (welcome and getting comfortable), create (active learning centers), celebrate (something close to worship but much more creative), and chew (food and discussion and goodbyes).” The idea is, it’s something so “unlike regular church” that we actually might find the courage to invite people to attend. And some might come! But of course, it’s a lot of work. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

Messy Church also attracted me because it’s what it expresses one of the gifts that the CCP has for ministry. I see you…us!... as a group of people enlived by an awareness of God’s Spirit, who aren’t too particular about getting everything exactly “perfect.” We have an ability to that many people’s lives today don’t easily fit into the “box” that traditional church represents for most. We’re a good place to be a part of if A) your spouse doesn’t want to come, or B) you’re not sure you can commit to being a member but you want to help, or C) you don’t want to be a part of a group that’s all one race or social class, or D) you aren’t 100% sure you know what you believe (and you’re a bit suspicious of anyone who does!). We’re a bit “messy” by the standards of what churches used to think was pretty important (and some still do). We color outside the lines. But my guess is that there are more and more folks out there, even in our “burb,” who don’t fit into the old expectations of what it means to be a church-type person. Yet they belong to God, and need to know this.

I hope you’re as interested as I am in touching base with more of them. -- Pastor Noel

March 31, 2014

I have something “new” to announce, and to do. I’m excited. I’ve been named the New York Conference’s Search and Call Associate for the Metro/ Suffolk area. That means I’ll be working on a per diem basis with UCC churches in Metro and Suffolk associations who are looking for pastors. Jan Powell, who provided guidance to our search committee, left this position a few months ago. I’m her replacement, and I hope to do as good a job as she did.

Most of my work will be done by phone and email; I expect I’ll be actually in face-to-face meetings about three times per month, usually in the evening. It will blend in well with my curent schedule and work for you as your pastor (which remains my top priority!). I thank God for this opportunity. I’m looking forward to being of help to churches like ours, and of course I also need other sources of revenue to supplement my salary from CCP.

Now, some reflections on this news. First, when you’re privy to insider information about the search and call process, it stikes you how important it is for congregations to make a good “match.” The calling of a new pastor fails more often than it should. That’s the fault of all parties involved… congregations, pastors, and the denomination … but it’s the local church that pays the biggest price. It sets a church back when a call doesn’t work out, and the pastor departs quickly. That’s why, incidentally, I am so glad that we are off to a good start in our courtship as new pastor and congregation. I feel it; I hope you do, too. Sometimes we can grow impatient for big changes and demonstrable progress to occur. But, as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Real progress is built step by step, and that definitely includes making time for getting to know and respect one another, and build up trust. That’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s a good thing!

Second, with spring coming around (finally!), it feels good to be doing something new. I bet you might be looking for something “new” to try out in your life. I encourage you to do so. Easter is a celebration of God doing a “new thing”, perhaps the biggest “new thing” of all, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s so new to us, we still don’t know quite what to make of it. But God’s big “new thing” in raising the Son from the grave gives us all hope, if we can find a way to accept and trust in it.

I can find interesting ways to “renew” myself that keep life fresh and interesting. You can too. But that’s not the same thing as resurrection. Only God can do that. That’s why we gather together on Easter Sunday… to wonder, and to praise, and to be uplifted in a hope that goes deeper and wider than anything we can produce ourselves. Please join me in that on April 20. - Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel

February 21, 2014

Linda and I spent much of this past Sunday and Monday at our apartment window watching a man dig out his van, parked across the street. He’d been “frozen in.” Since the city was finally threatening to reinstate alternate side parking regulations he knew he had to free up his vehicle. It took him two days of chipping away. But, once freed from the grasp of ice and snow, he didn’t move his van. He left it there, until he would have to move it. A parking space is a valuable commodity.

I’m currently reading What Christianity Is Not, by Douglas John Hall, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology at McGill University. By way of defining what Christianity is not, he hopes to help us better see the mystery of the revelation of God which Jesus brought. Just listing his chapter titles helps you see his thought process: Not a CultureReligion (i.e., not “Americanism” or “Protestantism”); Not a Religion of the Book; Not Doctrine; Not a System of Morality; Not the Church; Not ‘the Truth’. If you read through this list and end up scratching your head and saying to yourself, “Then what else could Christianity be?” you’ve gotten his point. The core “essence” of Christianity is a revelation of the mystery of God that is not captured or contained by a human institution or movement or even an idea.

Hall’s first chapter contains his most devastating critique of where we are as Christians in the beginning of the 21st century. He claims that Christianity is not a religion! (Imagine that!) The message and revelation Christ brought was a critique of religion, not just the Judaism of his day (we must always remember he was a Jew) but of all religions. That includes the one we practice today in his name. Theology from time to time “wakes up” and rediscovers the ongoing critique of religion in the name of Jesus Christ. Hall notes today is a particularly important time for us to reawaken to this message. Why? Because, as the world becomes smaller, and religions become more and more aware of each other, and also as we become more multicultural and diversely religious in our very own communities, the prospect for rivalry among religions increases. As Hall put it, “In a global village where religious disputation no longer limits itself to quarrels within Christendom but spills over increasingly into the unprecedented meeting of world religions…religion in the global village seems destined for a history of violence.”

A second reason that Hall begins his explanation and critique of What Christianity is Not with an exploration of the danger of conflating culture with religion (the slow but effective confusion of identifying our “way of life” with our historic and living faith) is that when we do so (and in the United States, we do so!), we lose the opportunity to bring a prophetic and helpful word to our society when it is in crisis. Again, Hall puts it this way: “By allowing itself to be absorbed by the evolving culture, the Christian faith loses its potentiality for being responsible in and for and to that culture – for being, in biblical terms, salt, yeast and light in its social context.” When we are too much “of the world” we have no distance from which to say something we’ve learned from Jesus back to our world… a critical insight that yet might be both fresh and helpful.

I think back to my anonymous neighbor digging his parked van out of the snow and ice. He is, in fact, a rival for an onstreet parking spot to us, since we also park on 24th or 25th streets. There are not enough parking spots for all the vehicles (and the city plays a game of musical chairs, slowly taking spots away) so the rivalry is becoming more intense. I’m sure he believes that he has a “right” to park near to where he lives, and that he is working hard to defend his place in the neighborhood. I could ignore him. But instead, Linda and I discuss his plight. She goes outside to talk to him.

“Hey, if you get cold, here’s our phone no. Come up for tea.” It might be a start. After all, I’m not the only guy in town with a car to park.

It’s not that I don’t care about my car (my religion). It’s that on occasion I am startled to recognize that my faith is in something…someone… bigger and more mysterious than either my car or my religion.

Faithfully yours - Pastor Noel

(Pastor’s note: This is a really deep but good book, well worth wading into. If anyone is interested in reading it with me, I’ll order you a copy, just let me know. We can do a little discussion of it in the early summer.)

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