Pastor Deb’s Blog

Pastor Deb’s Blog

Do-Be-Do-Be-Do … The Rhythm of Life

I heard a sermon once. It was offered by the Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield and he likened life to a Frank Sinatra classic that included “do-be-do-be-do” in its lyrics. Biblically, I think the reference had to do with being saved by faith and not by works and he equated “faith” with the “be-ing” part of our journeys, while “works” was the “do-ing” part of life. I remember him saying that we move from one to the other in life but that all too often we get caught up in thinking we have to “do” all the time.

And then today, I read an Advent piece that reminded me of Larry’s sermon. It’s written by Kelly Adams who is the Director of Clergy Support Ecosystem for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and it said:

Stay alert! Easy enough. Americans are overcaffeinated, overstimulated, and overactive. We can’t help but be alert. Our phones ding every 30 seconds with messages and calendar reminders. Alert is our standard way of being in the world.

Is it possible that we have become so alert to everyone and everything around us that we are no longer aware of when Jesus is in our midst? After all, Jesus’ first arrival was in a manger. From the time of his birth he turned the expectations of a savior upside down. If Jesus still arrives in the ways we are least expecting, we must not only be alert, but aware of his presence.

I think she’s right. We ARE bombarded with stimuli that keep us “alert and awake,” but as I harken back to that sermon almost 30 years ago, I have come to understand that my life is a dance between “do-ing” and “be-ing.” They are sort of the yin-yang partners of our faith, I think.

Almost imperceptibly we develop our own rhythm of life, don’t we? When we wake up … when the optimum time for us to concentrate it … when we are most productive.

And if we are really honest with ourselves, we know that we operate BEST when we are in sync with our own rhythms. We are at our best when we are in balance with ourselves … with our world … with God’s Spirit among/within us. And part of that balance is the movement – the flow – the current that sweeps us between “do-ing” all the time, i.e. being so alert that we are poised for action, and “be-ing”, i.e. settling in to the quiet solitude and awareness of the moment so that we are able to find the sacred in everything.

Advent is one of those times when we are encouraged to step away from “do-ing” in order to just “be” in the moment and reflect on our lives … our faith … our relationship with the One about to be born in our hearts again as if for the first time. We may still be in the busy-ness of the world for 23.5 hours a day, but for that .5 hour (or however long we can eke out) we can just “be” and take in the wonder and the mystery of our “being-ness.”

What are you going to do today to rebalance and regain the rhythm of your “do-be-do-be-do?” How is this Advent time inviting you to grow?

Blessings on your journey!

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12-02-2023
As we start this traditional season of Advent with acts of terrorism rampant both at home and abroad, with violence and cynicism rising, with war and division becoming so commonplace that it is sometimes hard to remember how to be hope-filled, I am struck by part of Paul’s letter to the Romans:

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation.
The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.
We are enlarged in the waiting.

We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.
But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
Romans 8:22-25 (MSG)

Pregnancy. Birth pangs. New life and new possibilities.

The period of Advent — these four weeks leading up to celebrating the Birth of Christ — traditionally lift up four characteristics that Emmanuel (“God with us”) brings to our lives: Hope | Love | Joy | Peace. And yet, if you look at the Celtic traditions and other indigenous cultures surrounding Advent, they have more to do with things like the Breath of Heaven, Light vs. Darkness, Obedience, Birth and Re-Birth. They are very physical-body-oriented.

For those of us living in the 21st century western world, Advent is often commemorated by a calendar of chocolates … or a permanent wall hanging which has been passed down through the generations to mark the steady movement of days toward Christmas. But four weeks is such an arbitrary length of time to place on this important season of preparation. I don’t know about you, but I barely have time to figure out what I’m supposed to be preparing for in just four weeks.

It makes me wonder about the whole concept of a “revolving Advent” — a period of waiting and preparation … or expectation and dreaming … when new life is gestating / new possibilities are taking shape but are not yet completely formed.

Certainly, that’s what Mary and Joseph were experiencing, as does every person about to become a parent.

I remember the time leading up to my daughter’s birth in December, many years ago. The excitement and anticipation of that focus in our lives eclipsed everything else that was happening, and when she was born on the 14th, Christmas came early. Everything else paled in comparison.

That was a 9-month Advent.

Some of us have even longer periods of waiting in anticipation for things … graduation … a wedding … a vacation … retirement … surgery to be over so that healing can begin.

Advent is a state of mind, but it is also a state of heart and a state of being!

Considering Paul’s words to the Romans — it feels like we are all engaged in a larger (and longer) Advent Season in terms of our nation and our world right now. And just as Mary trusted that her baby would be a Child of the Light, that God would prevail over the world and its circumstances … so must we! For we are also Children of the Light. The Light has come into the world and the darkness has not, can not, and will not overtake it!

Those words that the Angel spoke to people back then are still being spoken by Angels to us today:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

May we, too, experience Advent Blessings in new and reassuring ways this Season, because it will all be ok in the end … and if it’s not ok … it’s not the end yet.

God is still speaking.

Thanks be to God!

 

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Hate, Hate, and More Hate

We are being Tested!

01-27-23
Today is one of those days when it’s hard to be a pastor. It’s especially hard to be an urban pastor, and triply hard to be an urban pastor who mothers children of color. And yet, if we are to believe what our faith teaches us, then we are all urban pastors who parent children of color because we are one in the Spirit: What affects one, affects us all.

The horror that is befalling Memphis is befalling us all: another Black man senselessly killed at the hands of law-enforcement. It brings tragedy, grief, and unbelievable sadness to our nation and the world. I find myself  embarrassed that we, as a people, have not yet figured out how to curtail this behavior. It has been reported that Mr. Tyre Nichols was pulled over as a “routine traffic stop.” That should not, in my opinion, ever rise to the level of execution short of a trial by jury.

I would say that I’m happy that the five individuals allegedly involved have been arrested and charged. And on some level, I am grateful for the speediness of the authorities to take action. But lest we think that everything will be resolved because both the officers and the victim are all Black men, think again.

There will be those who will condemn the entire African-American community because of this. That’s wrong.

There will be  those who will do whatever they can to shift the focus away from  examining policing techniques in this country and try to stay focused on personalities or mitigating circumstances. That’s wrong.

And yet, if I were a person of color, I would be preparing for another punch to the gut tonight when the video from the officers’ personal cameras is made public. There will be attacks and frustrations not only from outside the Black community, but also from within it. Fingers will be pointed. Angry words will be said. Tears will be shed. I pray that violence will not erupt despite the centuries of frustration and continued injustice.

Some will choose to avoid watching the videos, but not watching does not give license to avoid knowing about, talking about, thinking about and praying about it.

Memphis police chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said Thursday that she expected citizens to be outraged by what she called the “heinous, reckless and inhumane” conduct captured in the video. She said she expected people to protest and called on them to remain peaceful (<https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/least-1-ex-memphis-police-officer-indicted-tyre-nichols-death-attorney-rcna67632>)

And it strikes me that this is all happening on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The more research that is done on that period in human history, the greater the number of people who are documented as being killed during that horror.  According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. … During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted and killed other groups, including at times their children, because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority: Roma (Gypsies), Germans with disabilities, and some of the Slavic peoples (especially Poles and Russians). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. (<https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution>

Estimates are between 10 and 17 million people were intentionally killed as part of the European Holocaust – 6 million of them, Jewish. That is not only intolerable to me as a 21st century woman of faith, but is also deplorable to me as the man whose life and teachings I follow – Jesus of Nazareth – was, himself, a practicing Jew.

Hate begets hate.

Our Scriptures are filled with stories of despicable, violent leaders who oppressed the people.

God would send prophets to remind everyone of God’s presence and Law, and still we would fall away.

And then there was Jesus.

Born into a violent world of an occupied country.

A place filled with infighting and power struggles.

A world of economic oppression, hunger, homelessness, systemic injustice and sickness that were all used to divide people one from another. Why would the people in power want to divide the masses? Because divided, they lacked the power to change things.

Jesus came to teach us the power of Justice-Love and of being One in the Spirit.
Therein lies the greatest power of all, and the hope for humanity.

He is the Light of the World and the Darkness shall not overtake it.

Dr. King taught us that:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

It was true in Biblical times; it is true today.
It was true in the Holocaust; it is true today.
It was true when Dr. King went to Memphis and it will be true both now and in the days to come:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Where we stand as we remember the Holocaust — with Jesus — with Dr. King — with all who work for peace, regardless of their faith tradition (or no tradition at all) …  Where we stand against  violence and injustice needs to ignite in each one of us the passion for doing the work of the Kin-dom of God right here and right now.

We are each being tested today to see which side of history we will be on.
To see whose Gospel we will lay claim to with our very lives.
May God lead us into the Light!
Amen.

The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift is the Pastor of both South and Irondequoit Presbyterian Churches in Rochester, NY

Can You Have Justice without Equity?

10-10-22
A good question arose in our Cuppa the Bible (AoF) discussion this morning and it really has me thinking: Can you have justice without equity?

Of course the first thing to do is to look at what “equity” means if we’re not talking about finance and investments. In essence, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, “The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to allequity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.”

It might be easier to understand with this visual that I frequently use in workshops that I lead.

Equality is giving the same thing to each person (or group) but equity takes into consideration where each person or group is starting from. And the results are pretty obvious. The same size box was given equally to everyone, but that just means that the tallest person is STILL that much taller, and the box size is STILL not enough for the smallest person to see over the barrier.

Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that for all three people to have access to the same view, one person doesn’t need any help and the other two need varying degrees of assistance. Right?

I think the issue of justice begins with defining the problem.

As I look at it, it’s a problem of accessibility to view the game. There is a barrier present preventing two out of three people from seeing it.

Applying a solution “equally” still leaves one of the three people unable to access the game; the barrier is still present for 1/3 of the people involved.

An equitable solution, on the other hands, provides for everyone to have access; it evens the playing field.

But it was important to identify the problem. If we were defining the problem as not related to everyone accessing a view of the game but maybe as … oh, I don’t know … maybe as having something comfortable to stand on (assuming the boxes were padded and provided a degree of comfort), then the first solution would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?

However, if the problem is having the ability to see the game and not be held back by the barrier in front of them, then everyone standing on the same-sized box wouldn’t help at all. (Well … it helps for 1/3 of the people.)

So after we define the problem, we have to really answer the question … How many people do we want to help? If we are happy and content with only helping 1/3 or 2/3 of the group, then go for it. Have an equal solution. But if our faith calls us to be helping everyone we can … to be seeing everyone as a child of God and therefore entitled to accessibility without barriers … then we have to be searching for an equitable solution.

And that brings me back to my original question:

Can you Have Justice without Equity?

I don’t think so.

There are different types of justice: distributive (determining who gets what), procedural (determining how fairly people are treated), retributive (based on punishment for wrong-doing) and restorative (which tries to restore relationships to “rightness”). Now, I admit to being most interested in the last form – restorative justice – because I feel like that’s how we create a better world … closer to the Kin-dom of God. But the other types of justice are important, as well, and as men and women of faith, we are have to recognize that while everyone is “created equal,” we are NOT all born into equal circumstances. Some of us have more privilege or money or health through no fault or efforts of our own.

Yet because we are all children of God and equally beloved of our Creator, we MUST work for the equitable distribution of those privileges — equitable distribution of wealth and month … of power and prestige … equitable access to education and health care … equity in hiring and advancement — and all of that means that some of us need different sized boxes to stand on. People need different amounts (and kinds) of assistance in order to be able to move beyond the barriers that confront them.

And for those of us who have more, we may need to share in order to “even things out a little” (If I’m the tall guy in the picture, I might have to forgo having a box to stand on, for instance.)

So I have to ask myself: Am I willing to do that?

Are you?

Does your faith lead you to want to do that?

Can there ever be any real justice if we don’t do that?

What would Jesus do?

Blessings on your Journey!
Pastor Deb

God and the Changing Self

9/30/22
I’ve been thinking a lot about changes, lately. Well, really about changes and peoples’ self-definitions and how they change.

At this time in upstate New York, the physical/seasonal changes are pretty obvious, really. The leaves changing colors are the most obvious, but there are also changes in light — not just the angle of the lighting, but the quality of it as well. There’s a softness that moves in over the summer’s clarity that is rather like a gentle mist, to me.

And then of course there are the schedule changes as both children/families and retail outlets prepare for back-to-school, Halloween and even some Thanksgiving displays are popping up.

But there are changes in our nation and in the world. Certainly, Hurricane Ian has brought about more devastation and change than most of us could ever have imagined. And those changes will be long-lasting. (Hopefully there will be some positive changes that result from the death and devastation, but I don’t know that many people can focus on those possibilities yet.) There are changes coming in our electorate and in the mobilization of people to stand up for their concerns; changes in people’s awareness of climate change and global warming; changes in perceptions of safety in light of war and nuclear threats.

And all of this comes home to roost, in a way, when we look at how our own self-concepts and self-definitions have changed.

Whether we’re talking about us personally — like when we become a grandparent for the first time so that changes how we self-define, or we begin dating someone new, or our child enters kindergarten, or we buy our first house — or we’re talking about us as a community, a nation or our global realizations … we are constantly changing.

I was thinking the other day about a young friend of mine whom I’ve known for most of her life. She has been changing her self-definition in a way (as I will speak about in one of my Prayerful Pause meditations the first week in October). She is bi-racial and is choosing to emphasize one side of her heritage over the other now. Not everyone will SEE that change. Not everyone will AGREE with that emphasis.

It makes me think of our LGBTQ+ youth who finally adopt an understanding of themselves that others either can’t or won’t acknowledge.

I hold fast to the belief that we all get to define ourselves in life. No one else has the right to tell us who we are or who we aren’t … what we will be like … how we will feel or react in any given situation. And if that’s the case, then what do we do with people who define themselves radically different than the rest of the world sees them? (Think Florence Foster Jenkins who fancied herself a magnificent singer but who couldn’t carry a tune, yet because of her money, status and connections, was encouraged to continue thinking of herself that way.)  Is that wrong?

And how does God see us?

I suspect that we are called to honor the vision that everyone has of her/him/themself even if we don’t appreciate the ways that self-definition manifests in our world. What do I do with the person who self-identifies as a white supremacist, a position I clearly abhor and disagree with? How do I rectify those two things? A child of God who, in my opinion, is not acting as a child of God?

Is there a difference between who I am and how I act?
If one is abhorrent to me, is the other or can I love the person but not how they move through life?

There is clearly a difference between accepting someone and respecting them. Right?
So how does that play out if there is no perceived integrity between someone’s self-definition and the actions/values they espouse?
How do we relate to someone whose definition of being a Christ-follower is so totally foreign to us that we cannot recognize the “Christ” they are purportedly following?

Ultimately, I guess, it doesn’t really matter to me how anyone else defines him/her/themselves. That’s between them and God. Right? I mean, that Reformed tenet that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” really speaks to me. But still I would like to support them as their (our) self-definition changes because we all do change our self-definitions in life.

One thing that struck me about the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II (and don’t get me started on the role of Empire and Imperialism), was that by her neutrality, everyone felt supported by her. There was a sort of graciousness present in her non-partisan acceptance of all.

And maybe that’s what we are supposed to be like as Christians. Jesus never demanded that people be like him or that they change in order to receive his blessings. He accepted them as they were and it was the reality of that love that changed them from the inside out.

It kind of makes me wonder how people might be changed now in our own time if we could love and accept them as they are even when we disagree with them … even when they don’t love and accept us. I mean … we ALL change. Right? So if I can bring myself to love them (despite themselves and despite my own biases), then maybe they would feel the freedom to explore other ways to define themselves like my young bi-racial friend. After all … the fact that people are different from me really doesn’t affect me at all, does it? They have the freedom and the right to be whomever they wish — and so do I. And we can love each other through the differences.

After all — through all the changes in the seasons of our lives, God is still God … Jesus is still Jesus … and the Spirit is still the Spirit.
It’s all good.
It’s all God.
And we are all the Beloved Children of the Creator.
Amen.


What is Summer Sabbath?

July 26, 2022

Y’know, sometimes we get so caught up in the letter of the law that we forget the spirit of the law.

If I can catch you in an error of logic, then I can discount or discredit everything that you say.

The trouble with that, of course, is that in order to do that, I have to be laying in wait for you to make an error in judgment — I never really listen to you because I’m so busy formulating what I’m going to say to you next. It’s sort of equivalent to being so busy noticing the speck in your eye that I miss the log in my own (Mt. 7:1-5).

Sabbath can be like that.

Everyone has their own vision of what constitutes “sabbath,” which, of course, is a weekly day of rest, but what constitutes “rest” for me might be very different from what it might be for you.

How do you know if you’re “rested?”

Well … I know because I am re-energized. I’m happy and calm. I’m rested and more able to engage in life. I am more “present” to those around me and I am more optimistic than when I am tired. I’m more centered in the sense of the sacred around me; I am grounded in God’s Holy Hope.

And frankly, for me … those things come about in some ways that others can’t understand: creative website design, spending time with parishioners who also happen to be friends … even studying. Today it was shopping with my daughter for art supplies — a joy in itself as she’s one of my favorite people and if she weren’t my kid, I would want her to be.

Whatever you find relaxing and restorative — do it this summer as your Sabbath routine. God will find you in those activities and will meet you in the middle of whatever is meaningful to you. Wherever you go (even in a busy art store), the Spirit is already there greeting you!

Blessings on your summer and on your restorative process.

“After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray” (Mt. 14:23).