St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church of Ridgefield

October 3, 2017

Responding to violence…again

Our salvation is found together…

Responding to violence…again

When the news story first came across my screen of the deadly shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night, I was struck by the terror of it.  “Should I write some sort of reflection?” I wondered to myself.  “Are people sick of reading some written reflection in response to violence?  Didn’t I just write one?  What could possibly be new to say?”  My tired, weary thoughts made the need for words and action even more profound.  VIOLENCE KEEPS HAPPENING!

Last year at this time, I was preparing for a trip to the Holy Land, a visit to Israel and the West Bank.  Aren’t you worried about the violence? People would occasionally ask me.  To what am I comparing the violence in the Middle East?  Who can judge between a shooter at the Al Aqsa Mosque and one in Las Vegas?

The Apostle Paul’s lament in his Letter to the Romans seems most suited for today.  Recalling various verses from the Hebrew texts he ruminates…

 What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 
   there is no one who has understanding,
     there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
   there is no one who shows kindness,
     there is not even one.’ 
‘Their throats are opened graves;
   they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ 
   ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ 
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; 
   ruin and misery are in their paths, 
and the way of peace they have not known.’ 
   ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’                      Romans 3:9-18

I believe that we will not find our way until we find ourselves in the Mercy that is God.  Discovering ourselves there will give us the strength and direction to find our way forward together.  No one is going anywhere.  The Violent are within each of us.  Our salvation is found together.  Jesus’ death on the cross shows us that although grace and mercy and love and forgiveness are free, our salvation is not.  Allowing ourselves to be saved is going to cost us something.

 

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August 16, 2017

Why it’s important to always speak up

There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions. What do they hear? What do they see?

Why it’s important to always speak up

In difficult situations it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. 

Knowing that your words carry gravitas and impact can be the “turn of the screw.”  So, I sympathize with public figures, like our President, who discover that every word spoken—or not spoken—is being listened to.

Lest we think that we’re off of the hook, however, we have our own area of influence.  There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions.  What do they hear?  What do they see?

What I hope that you hear from me is that white supremacy…or any other kind of supremacy…is wrong.  Our own Christian faith makes this very clear, with no room for misunderstanding.  Whether it’s Jesus who challenges the morally righteous or Paul who scolds the early followers of Jesus for seating themselves at the table according to status, these are only two examples of the many ways in our  scriptures that make it clear that there is no room for outcasts in Christ.  All are one.

This Sunday’s appointed lessons make this point clear.  In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, God says, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  The few verses from Romans emphasize that God’s favor on people other than the Hebrew people does not diminish his original blessing on the Hebrew people.  And Matthew’s Gospel leaves no room for confusion on our part– Then Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  (To read these pieces of scripture, go to http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp15_RCL.html )

Freedom of Speech is not freedom to hate.

Hatred and division are not American values.  (Or am I wrong on this?)  I will work from the foundation of my Christian values toward eliminating hatred and division in our world.  I don’t want my moral failure to be indifference or surprise that hatred and division are alive in this world. 

German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) spoke a lamentation that I hope will never be mine.  Taken from Wikipedia, here is part of “his speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt on 6 January 1946, of which this is a partial translation:[1]

“When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.

Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers

I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.” 

I don’t want to fool myself in thinking that hatred and division will simply pass on by.  I’m smart enough to notice that it hasn’t happened yet.  Hatred and division were there in the time of Jesus.  And they’ve been allowed to have a place in the public sphere for way too many months now. 

How will I use my God-given creativity and my commitment to the power of Love to change these things?  How will you?

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July 31, 2017

Focus on What Matters Most

“If we all focused more on those who have less than we do, and less on those who have more than we do, we’d all be better off.”

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Focus on What Matters Most – by Tom Carr

Every so often I’m reminded how lucky I am.  I have a wonderful, caring, loving wife.  We have 2 great sons, both of whom have graduated college.  They are also caring and loving people, and I’m happy to say I have strong relationships with both.  My wife and I both have good jobs, so we can pay the bills and do fun things once in a while.  We’re all healthy.

Is everything perfect?  No.  But I try not to get caught up in perfect.  When I focus on perfect, I think about what’s not right; I think inwardly.  I can feel bad for myself.  I know people who have better jobs, who make more money, whose kids are financially independent.  Do I want to trade places with them?  No, because they have struggles, too.  I might not know what they are, but I know they have them.  And the ones I have aren’t bad.

Many years ago, I heard a priest say in his homily, “If we all focused more on those who have less than we do, and less on those who have more than we do, we’d all be better off.”  How true is that!  There are so many more people who have less: less loving, less caring, less health, less security, less opportunity, less money.  And I don’t just mean less than I have; I mean less than almost all of us have. 

We are so blessed in this little corner of the world, but we don’t think about it most of the time.  I believe it’s so important to think about others and what we can do for them.  For people around us: Take the time to listen to them; spend time with them; take the time to pray for them; take the time to lighten their load in some way by doing them a favor; ask them how they’re doing and be interested in the answer.  For people who are distant from us: Take the time to read about them; learn what’s different and the same; donate to a cause that supports them.  I can promise you this: the more outwardly you focus, the happier you will feel inside.

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July 14, 2017

Our Week – Bedford Hills/St. Stephen’s Partnership

Twenty miles separate our home in Wilton from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. I have traveled that route more than 200 times…

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Our Week Bedford Hills/St. Stephen’s PartnershipJuly 8th – 13th, 2017

by Eleanor Arnold

Twenty miles separate our home in Wilton from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.  I have traveled that route more than 200 times, picking up kids, visiting moms, touring, attending programs.  Every time I am there, I am reminded of a sermon I once heard.  An Episcopal priest, dedicated to mission work, described the individual stories of several people who lived on society’s fringes – a homeless veteran, a serial addict, and a recently released parolee.  After each of their deeply personal stories, he said, “this is a person for whom Jesus died.”

The stories of the mothers in Bedford Hills Correctional are varied and compelling.   Their children, of course, are innocent victims, whose lives are forever altered.  Ten of these children came for six days to six host families this week. 

Our family hosted two boys, and these were some of the things that were said at our house this week:

Who lives in all of these rooms?

My Mom will be out when I am 18 or 20.

How does the dishwasher work?  Do you just lay the bowl in?

My Dad got out of jail but had to go back in because he couldn’t find a job and it was hard taking care of me.

My grandma doesn’t like me to be out on the streets.

And at others’ houses:

My grandma said I could get a mani/pedi before I came home.

My Dad is in the same kind of place my Mom is.

We had tacos at the jail today.

Look at the birthday presents my Mom got for me.

My grandma would let me stay longer at your house if you asked.

Do you live in a mansion?

As a group of 24 this week, we swam, we played, we grilled, we zip-lined, we danced, we made s’mores and ice cream sundaes.  As families with guests, we picked blueberries, visited farms, played cards and monopoly, had Wii playoffs, did puzzles, talked and made promises to keep in touch, certainly to see each other next summer.  And on our last day, we went to the prison to visit the mothers of the children we hosted. We ate bagels and donut holes, watched a live presentation of the program Puppies Behind Bars, played some cards, and talked. We talked about children and hardships and the things of this life.  At the end, we gathered in a circle, had the opportunity to reflect a little about our week, and passed the love, hand to hand.  These are the mothers and these are the children for whom Jesus died.

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July 6, 2017

God is always there as we journey towards Him

There have been times when I’ve called out in pain or for help, and it’s seemed as if my prayer is going into a void…

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God is always there as we journey towards Him ~ by Erika Hagan

“Mommy!  Mommy!  MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!”

Ugh.  While my children did the appropriate amount of night-waking as infants and toddlers, we are well past that stage right now, and I am having a lot of difficulty with this 2am Mommy-alarm.

“Mommy, I’m really really really scared!”

Deep breath.  Get out of bed.  Stumble across the hall.

“Mommy,” my 6-year old tells me, “I woke up, and I was all alone, and GOD wasn’t there.”  He is sitting up in his bed, clutching his Winnie the Pooh, and the fear is real on his face. 

I sit next to him on his bed, pull him into my lap, and hold him close….and wonder what on earth I’m going to say.  My general rule of thumb with him is to only answer the question he asks, and it’s gotten me through a lot of questions and ponderings as he begins to grapple with the more complex nuances of our world, and the Divine within it. 

After my grandfather passed, questions of death and the afterlife naturally came up.  This is what the Bible says, I’d tell him, and this is what I believe, I’d share, but this isn’t something you can know, it’s something we trust in faith.  And it takes a lifetime.  And you change your mind a lot.  But that’s okay, because God is always there as we journey towards Him, working this all out.

He became enraptured with the Apostle Paul this past spring, and how he was one thing one day, and then ZAP he became another.  “Is being Jewish wrong, Mommy?” he asked.  “No,” I answered, and this is what the Bible says and this is what I believe and Jesus tells us to love, love, love and God loves everyone and that’s hard to wrap our minds around, but that’s okay, because God is always there as we journey towards Him, working this all out.

“Why do I have to give some of my toys to charity?” he demanded angrily as we prepared a box to donate to the upcoming Nutmeg festival.  This is what the Bible says about giving, I say, and this is what I believe, and boy is it hard sometimes to give, but that’s okay, because God is always there as we journey towards Him, working this all out.

God is always there.  I realize whatever he has asked, I’ve reiterated this as fact.  With all the nuance and area for interpretation I’ve shared with him, the fact that God is always there has never been up for discussion.

Yet, I don’t always feel that God is there.  There have been times when I’ve felt loved and cared for in Her arms, when I’ve felt the Holy Spirit lift me up and out, when Jesus has been just in my peripheral vision…and there have been times when I’ve called out in pain or for help, and it’s seemed as if my prayer is going into a void.  When a tragedy strikes, and I can’t process how a God who loves us so much and is all-powerful could allow it to be, and so how, how, is God there. 

And finally, I remember.  When I was six.  I walked into the living room and found my mother sitting on the couch, hands relaxed and resting on her lap, eyes closed.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  “I’m praying,” she replied, “I’m listening.  Sometimes if you hold yourself very very still and quiet…you can hear God.”

I took this very, extremely, literally.  This seemed a magic trick I could surely do.  That night, I lay in my bed, and held myself very very still and was so so so quiet…and NOTHING.  I wasn’t sure how long I had to stay doing this, so with tenacity I maintained my still quiet state until (of course) I fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning so disappointed.  I truly believed God would say, “well, hello there, Erika! Good work being really still and quiet!  I love you!”  I kept my experiment, and failure, to myself…but it was the first time I allowed the thought to enter my mind – is God really here? 

Six is a big age for existential angst, apparently.

“Baby,” I say to my son, “I know exactly how you feel.”

“I was all alone.” He sighed.

“I know how that feels.” I said.  “Honey, everyone feels that way sometimes.  It’s okay if you can’t feel God and that makes you feel alone or sad or mad.”

And maybe our next existential crisis could happen at a time other than 2am, I thought to myself.  Yawn.

 

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June 29, 2017

Non-dualistic thinking

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ…

I’m passionate about practicing and teaching non-dualistic thinking.  Non-dualistic thinking helped me change my question: Is this good or bad?  into the following questions: What is good and what is bad in this situation?  How do I know this?  Non-dualistic thinking allows me to be in relationship with these questions, which I find myself only capable of doing with God’s help.  The by-product of this way of thinking is that I grow in relationship with God through the very events/occurrences of my day.  Each event becomes an invitation to receive grace; an invitation to engage the Holy One – The Sacrament of the Present Moment, as Jesuit Priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) wrote over three hundred years ago. 

With all of the changes in our world, I find freedom in not judging them.  Instead of declaring from the beginning that something is good or bad, I hold it open to see what threads of good and bad run beside each other.  Where these threads of good and bad form a knot of reality, I ask God how I can untangle or pull apart the good from the bad AND how I might be a part of God’s redemption of the bad.  Well, if not a part of God’s redemptive work, at least not stand in the way.  *smile*  This is slow and attentive work which in practice looks like prayer.  As I join in the work that God is doing, God is right in there with me correcting my efforts, coaching me in my actions, and forgiving my shortcomings. Richard Rohr stated it succinctly,  “Once you have known grace, your tit-for-tat universe is forever undone: God is everywhere and always and scandalously found even in the failure of sin.” (p 77, The Naked Now)

This is not perfect work.  I’m not even that good at it.  Nor do I always enjoy it.  When things are hard, I growl or yell when I’m alone — sound born from my frustration or impatience or plain-good-ol’-weariness.  And these sounds are prayers, too.  Inevitably, God reveals what thread of the knot of reality God is redeeming.  And by the flash of God’s redemptive love at work, I’m inspired and consoled to join in the effort that God is doing.  I’ll try again.  It’s obviously not my job anyway—it’s God’s work.  I’m simply on the team. 

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ.  So, I’m passionate about cultivating this practice within myself, and coaching others in it as well, so that the Always Redeeming Love of God can be made known in the world.

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June 21, 2017

World Refugee Day

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution…

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution.  Episcopal Migration Ministries invites us to a moment of reflection with these words:

A great commonality across religions and global cultures is the tradition of breaking bread together. The sharing of food between people is an effective and enduring way to foster interpersonal, inter-religious, inter-ethnic, and international connections. 
…This call [to welcome the stranger] is the essence of growth and development for humanity.

Sitting down together at the table, whether with our family or with guests, reminds us that we are not our own masters.  We cannot sustain ourselves by our own will.  The invitation spoken at the Communion Table each Sunday reminds us of this:

“Come to this table…It is Christ who invites us to meet him here, sustaining us for the life we are called to in him.”

How do we allow Christ to sustain us?  How do we allow Love to sustain us?  Somehow we have to go deeper into our common ground.  We have to find our shared foundation, beneath the chaos and volatility on the surface.  Breaking bread with one another calls us into our common humanity.  We’re not sure how to deal with all of the strife (both personal and political).  There is no obvious life-giving answer.  I believe, however, that we’re called to a greater awareness of our connectedness with one another, our shared identity as God’s creation.  This awareness is the seed of action, and the practice that sprouts from this interconnectedness provides a way for God to work.

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter see on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:26-29

May we plant seeds of kindness in our common humanity so that God’s transforming work is better able to grow.

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June 12, 2017

Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay…

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay.

How can the church speak into this world of violence???

We can share what we know of ourselves as children of God and how it is that we’ve developed our lives to reflect that truth.  The Episcopal Church took action to affirm God’s blessing upon LGBTQ people by establishing a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples: The Witnessing and Blessing of a Life-long Covenant.  (You can find this liturgy under the “Services” portion of the Welcome tab)  The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

Christian Life and Covenants

All Christians are called to bear witness to the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are empowered for such witness by our covenantal relationship with God.

Baptism initiates us into that covenant, making us Christ’s own forever and members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  The Eucharist sustains us in that covenantal life and strengthens us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples. It is the Church’s joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God’s love, to pray for God’s grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world.

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the very end,  

Jesus came and said to (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

We have Good News to share—That God loves all that God has made.  God invites all humanity into covenant relationship with Him/Her.  Go into the world and let people know that God has not forgotten them.  They—YOU—are loved.

 

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June 5, 2017

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Really hard. It takes a lot of power. Sometimes more power than we have within ourselves.

Forgiveness

Yesterday (June 4) we celebrated Pentecost, the Feast Day on which we remember God giving the Holy Spirit to normal people so that they might go out into the world with the Good News.  One piece of scripture that we read in worship was John 20:19-23 in which Jesus breathes on the disciples (those that knew and followed him during his life) and he tells them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus thinks that it is a really big deal to forgive sins- to relieve people of the burdens that they carry around from their wrongdoings- burdens that are too heavy for us to carry for long because we get bogged down under the weight of them.  (Remember the character played by Robert DeNiro in the movie The Mission?)  So, Jesus went around during his ministry forgiving people, relieving them of their burdens so that they were free to live a new life!  Remember the story of the paralytic man in Mark’s Gospel whose friends lowered him down through the roof of the full house so that he could be healed by Jesus?  Mark 2: 1-12  Jesus first pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.  The religious authorities take issue with this and wonder who Jesus thinks he is, forgiving sins like that…like God.  To prove that he has the power to forgive people he does something that shows his power.  He tells the paralytic man to get up and walk.

Forgiveness is hard.  Really hard.  It takes a lot of power.  Sometimes more power than we have within ourselves.  If you find yourself having trouble forgiving someone, try this meditative exercise.

Imagine coming into the presence of the merciful love of Jesus.  This merciful love is so great that people instinctively humble themselves before the magnitude of it.  It’s a love force field.  What does this love force field sound like?  Look like?  You’ll probably need to sit in quiet openness to get a sense of what this love force field sounds and looks like.  Once you’re familiar with this love force field, feel free to ask Jesus to show you who else is there.  You can ask the Living God to show you what the person who wronged you looks like within this Love. 

God’s love for us is demonstrated in the power of Jesus and given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the power of forgiveness.

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May 25, 2017

Love Your Immigrant Neighbor

Our country has always been a nation of immigrants and entrepreneurs. Throughout our nation’s history, immigrants from around the world have kept our workforce vibrant and contributed to building a diverse population. So, the question as Caring Christians is ‘How to love our immigrant neighbor?”

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Love our (immigrant) neighbor:

Our country has always been a nation of immigrants and entrepreneurs. Throughout our nation’s history, immigrants from around the world have kept our workforce vibrant and contributed to building a diverse population.  So, the question as Caring Christians is ‘How to love our immigrant neighbor?”

The simple answer is given to us in the Bible, “Love thy neighbor as thyself. “  It should be easy for us to follow this commandment, but of-course we are human, with our human failings, and so we make it more difficult than it needs to be. We become judgmental, or act out fear. We forget to trust in our God who watches over all people.  To become more open to the possibility of loving our immigrant neighbor and indeed all our neighbors, perhaps we need to do our best to ‘Be Christ to others and to See Christ in others.’  Maybe remind ourselves that the person we encounter who is so very different than ourselves in appearance might be going through the same ups and downs in life that we are experiencing. If we are open to accepting that each person is unique and different but still a beloved child of God maybe our perception will change and we will remind ourselves continually that we should reach out to everyone in Christian love because God, our Father, created them.

Lord God, Father of all creation, let us reach out to each person we meet as our neighbor.  We want to follow your word and love all our neighbors as ourselves. Our immigrant neighbor, our neighbor who makes us feel uncomfortable, the neighbor we have been quick to judge and the neighbor we don’t really want to interact with. Teach us to reach out to everyone in Christian love. Send us out into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you, through Christ our Lord. Amen

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