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Thursday, July 31, 2008

It happened AGAIN

My wife and I were sitting in Red Lobster having lunch today when I noticed a woman a couple tables away looking at me. She'd look away and then, before I could even spear the next scallop on my fork, her eyes were back on me. Now, I'd like to believe that women can't take their eyes off of me because I am mesmerizingly attractive, but I could tell that this woman had something else going on in her mind.

After a few more minutes of staring, she got up and walked over to the table and said, "I don't want you to think that I was staring at you..." (Why do people who have been staring at you always start conversations that way?) "... I don't know if you've ever had anyone tell you this before, but you look just like Richard Dreyfuss... I mean a young Richard Dreyfuss, like in Jaws."

I smiled and laughed and told her that I have, indeed, had many people tell me that I look like Dreyfuss. That's true, though more of them peg me as a The Goodbye Girl Dreyfuss rather than a Jaws Dreyfuss, especially when I'm sitting in bed playing my guitar. Apparently, this time, my inner saltiness was showing through.

At any rate, I expect that there is a village somewhere in Germany, or perhaps Switzerland, where the Dreyfusses and my ancestors lived and intermarried for generations. I can't prove it, but something tells me that it just might be so. Go ahead and take a look at these pictures and make up your own mind.

Me (on the right) out with some buddies on a fishing trip.

Dreyfuss (on the right) during filming of Jaws.
Or maybe not quite...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moving Forward

This morning, my family and I transferred our church membership to the Cresskill Congregational United Church of Christ. We've been attending there for a few weeks and were glad to be able to formalize things. I'm particularly pleased to be part of the church at Cresskill because it is a church that reflects many of the core values that were not expressed at the church I recently pastored.

First, and perhaps most significant, is that they are, unabashedly, a part of the United Church of Christ and make a point of reinforcing that on a regular basis. They have UCC posters hung on the walls, they use the UCC bulletin covers, they have a large UCC logo on the side of the church building, they highlight social issues championed by our denomination and they regularly refer to themselves as Cresskill UCC, rather than just as "Cresskill Congregational." While they still cherish their Congregationalist roots, they have embraced the new life that came with their joining the UCC a half century ago.

Second, the church is an Open and Affirming congregation, which means that they have gone through a formal process of discussion and discernment and have made an official statement that they are welcoming and fully inclusive of LGBTQ people. Again, they have made it a point of pride to announce their O & A status on all of their documents, saying "We are an Open and Affirming congregation!" For my son's sake, I am very glad to be able to have the social messages that my wife and I teach in our home reinforced in church.

Another thing that makes me happy about our new chuch home is that, in the fall, my son will be able to attend Sunday school as well as church because the two programs are not scheduled opposite each other. While I know that many churches schedule the two programs concurrently and point to the fact that the parents are able to worship while their children are educated, I can't help but believe that it is inherently better if everyone has the opportunity to attend Christian education classes AND to go to worship. That way, everyone's mind and spirit are fed and families have the opportunity to worship God together. While I don't have any data to support my hunch, I also suspect that including children in worship prepares them to be active parts of the congregation following their confirmation, an outcome that seems sorely lacking where young people are segregated from the rest of the church.

That was the morning. After church, Kimberly and I took our son up to Silver Lake, the camp and conference center run by the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. Back in the 1990s, when I was serving churches in Connecticut, I used to lead week-long sessions at Silver Lake, where I taught teenagers clowning skills -- makeup, skitwriting, improv, juggling, etc. -- and then helped them put together a program for the rest of the campers. Even before my son was old enough to be a camper, he wanted to be a part of Silver Lake's magic and this is now his fifth year as a camper. These days, he's looking forward to being old enough to be a part of the camp's staff.

So it looks like Kimberly and I will have a quiet week, hanging around the house, going to the shore, maybe going cycling or canoeing, and I'll try to get my sailboat ready for when our niece comes to visit us next week. Ah, summer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's the proper blessing for boxer shorts?

On Sunday, The Record ran a sidebar article from the Associated Press entitled Special boxer shorts get church blessing. It was one of those headlines that grab my attention and thoughts began whizzing through my brain as I wondered what kind of underwear a church would bless. Had the editor made a mistake in writing the headline for an article that was really about holey underwear? If not, was this going to be an article about the Mormons and their temple garments? Was there some move afoot in the Roman Catholic church to allow the use of tight boxer shorts as a form of contraception?

As it turned out, the news was from a United Church of Christ congregation, St. James UCC in Casco Township, Michigan, where church members had replaced the side seams of 150 boxer shorts with velcro. These modified boxers were being sent to Sew Much Comfort, an organization that provides adaptive clothing for wounded veterans. These particular underwear are designed for those whose prostheses or braces made it impossible for them to put on regular underwear and I'm certain that they'll make life much easier for the women and men who will wear them.

I applaud the members of St. James UCC for supporting our troops with actions rather than just slogans. While I'm sure that their congregation has a diversity of opinion about America's involvement in Iraq, they have demonstrated that we can still work together, despite our politics, to care for those who serve our nation honorably.

So, is there a proper blessing for boxer shorts? There isn't one in the Book of Worship, but I suspect that, if we were to add one, it would go something like this: Bless, O God, these boxer shorts and those who are about to receive them. May your spirit rest upon the men and women wounded in service to our nation, granting them healing of their bodies, their minds and their spirits. We ask your blessing, as well, for the families and friends of these wounded warriors as they offer themselves as caregivers. Strengthen them for the loving tasks that will face them over the months and years to come. Finally, we ask your blessing for us, as individuals and as a nation. May the tragedy of war teach us to become peacemakers, working to build wholeness among people and nations, for we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

That They May All Be One

Sometimes, it seems like churches have a tendency to isolate themselves. No, let me rephrase that: Churches often isolate themselves. Perhaps, this is even more true in my denomination than it is in some others. The United Church of Christ's seal incorporates Jesus' prayer "That they may all be one" (John 17:21) as its motto, yet many of our local churches cling to the notion of congregational autonomy, forgetting that autonomy needs to be balanced with covenantal relationship if it is to be anything more than isolationism.

Healthy congregations, as well as healthy pastors and healthy denominations, seek ways to work together, both as a means of strengthening their ministries and as a way of maintaining the health of each partner. This past Tuesday, I gathered at the Stony Hill Inn with twenty or so representatives of different denominations who met, at the invitation of the Bergen County Council of Churches, to discuss how we can all work together. As a member of the BCCC's board of directors, I was encouraged to hear representatives of the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Salvation Army, Baptist, UCC and other traditions voicing a shared vision for cooperative ministry.

All too often, we hear critics say that the ecumenical movement is dead, but the women and men who gathered for breakfast on Tuesday showed just how false such a claim is. We talked about joint educational programs for adults. We shared ideas about combining our efforts on social ministries within the county. We discussed ways that the young people in our congregations could learn and work together. They're all great ideas. Now, we've got some work to do to bring them to fruition.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Beginning my List of "Works Published"

A few weeks ago, the annual meeting of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution in support of physician assistance in dying. As chair of the Mission, Vision and Communications Working Group, it was my job to help develop the resolution and to moderate discussions on the issue at the last two annual meetings.

At the close of the meeting, the Rev. Doug Stivison, pastor of the Haworth United Church of Christ and editor of The Living Pulpit magazine, asked me if I would write an article on the subject for the magazine's upcoming issue on ethics. As a preacher, I've produced a sermon just about every week for the last fifteen years and have written plenty of newsletter articles, but the task of writing for the magazine was very rewarding. Here are the results: Extension of Life or the Extension of Dying: Ethics at the End-of-Life. Doug has also asked me to write a series of reflections on the lectionary texts for Advent, so I'll post links to those when they come out.

Sourdough Jesus and the Mountain of Doom

I’m back from vacation, so now it is time to spend a bit of time catching up from all of the exhaustion that comes from aggressive recreation. It is also time to catch up on (or, more accurately, start) my blogging so that my son doesn’t end up calling me a slacker.

As we have for the last many years, my family spent the 4th of July week with friends in the Adirondacks and it was great to be with them again. We loaded our station wagon to the gills with gear, strapped our canoe and kayak to the roof and headed off for our adventures in the North Country, with a side trip to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec.

We had some great paddling on the Rollins Pond loop and another more ambitious trip along the Saranac River that took us through a lock, which is the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a lock in action, though I’ve seen plenty of old ones on other trips. My son did a great job with his kayak on what was certainly the most demanding trip he’s taken under his own power.

Another day, my family and some of our friends decided to climb Mt. Poco-Moonshine. While I love hiking, the Adirondacks are my least favorite place to do it. The folks who laid out the trails were, in my considered opinion, nuts. They did their best to draw straight lines between the trailheads and the summits, with the result being trails that are steeper and rockier than anywhere else I’ve ever hiked. This year, my knees (which I hurt a few years ago on the Appalachian Trail) were threatening to give me trouble and the heat and humidity were making it hard to breathe so I turned around partway up the trail and let the rest of the group finish the hike without me. Fortunately, Kimberly brought me some blueberries that she picked at the summit, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.

On Sunday, we attended the Willsboro Congregational United Church of Christ,, which was a real treat, as it was the first time I’ve been out of the pulpit since my sabbatical and I was really much more in the mood to participate in worship than to lead it. Since it was the Sunday following July 4, the hymns were all patriotic ones, which didn’t suit my taste as I would really rather keep God and Country separate, but the Rev. Jan Jorgensen gave a great sermon, the choir sang very well and the congregation was warm and welcoming.

It was a communion Sunday and the sacrament was served by intinction with a wonderful sourdough bread that reminded me of the many types of bread that I’ve used when celebrating communion. On World Communion Sunday, I’ve often used a mix of breads to celebrate the diversity of God’s people: Russian black bread, tortillas, pita, naan, challa, even those communion wafers that taste like cardboard. My wife has often joked that we should use raisin bread, so we’ll have all of communion in one simple package, without having to worry about the perennial wine v. grape juice controversy. My favorite was on a youth retreat many years ago, when the people who were supposed to bring the communion elements forgot, so we ended up using grape soda and a somewhat stale hotdog bun; it wasn’t gourmet, but it was definitely in keeping with the spirit of the gathered community. Sourdough Jesus in the Adirondacks was perfect, much better than the time in the Poconos when the deacon brought in onion pita, which has an unforgettable flavor when dipped in grape juice, but that’s another story for another time.