Senior Minister’s Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

“I have come one step away from everything. And here I stay, far from everything, one step away."  Antonio Porchia

Friends,

In the quote above, taken from a book titled Voices, a slim collection of aphorisms that reflect the complexity, struggles, joys and paradoxes of human existence, Antonio Porchia seems to be asking us to consider how often we come close to important achievements or breakthroughs during our lives, but don't take the one more step we need to get there - how close, yet so far, we remain. Appropriately, Porchia doesn't turn this thought into one of those all too common "you can do it if you want to" platitudes. My sense is that he understands things are frequently not so simple. He recognizes that there are often times when we may be one step away but our circumstances make that step difficult if not impossible.

I wonder though, if rather than knowing we are one more step away, and then choosing not to, or being unable to take it, human existence is much more often characterized by not knowing we are one step away to begin with. In fact, I wonder if it is ever really possible to know for certain that we are just one more step away from anything. Many times I have thought I was one more step away from accomplishing or having something, only to have new obstacles or challenges arise. And history is littered with stories of those who, when they believed they were one more step from certain discoveries, inventions or breakthroughs, found they were still far away.

In this time when we struggle as a nation and world with the serious and complex issues of climate change and immigration, it can be overwhelming to try and discern what we might do to make things better. Or maybe it’s even simpler than that for us. Perhaps our greatest concerns are what to do in terms of a relationship or career crossroads.

Either way, what do our faith, the Bible, our tradition, and our leader - Jesus - tell us to do?

Take the step we can.

Not the easiest step. Not the most convenient step. Not the step everyone else is taking. The step we can take. And take that step knowing that God will help us keep moving in the direction we need to go. Take that step knowing that as part of a spiritual community, we will walk with, lean on or be leaned on, even carry and be carried by each other along the way as well.

Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister’s Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

I write this in the days just before what in our spiritual tradition is referred to as the “Easter Tridium”, the commemoration of Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Tridium marks the final stages and events of the most sacred time of the Christian year - Holy Week.

What a strange and seemingly dissonant time then, to be watching one of the magnificent monuments to Christianity - the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris - burn. The cathedral’s spire toppled to the ground in the blaze and it endured other significant damage. It was a devastating spectacle for the people of Paris and France, but also for a great many Christians throughout the world.  

I watched the fire do its work from the comfort of my living room; heard the anguish of those witnessing it in person; rotated among several channels every few minutes for different perspectives. And pondered two particular Christian spiritual considerations.

The more obvious one, which I heard many commentators on those rotating channels offer their audiences, was Resurrection. As the suffering, destruction and death of Maundy (Holy) Thursday and Good Friday inevitably give way to new life on Easter Sunday, so too the suffering, death and destruction of this day would inevitably give way to a rebuilt Notre Dame. Like Jesus, Notre Dame would rise again.

The less obvious Christian spiritual consideration I pondered, the one I don’t recall hearing or reading that day or the day after, was the same four-word phrase that a messenger(s) of God says to those who first reach the empty tomb in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels on Easter morning:

“He is not here.”

The grandeur of Notre Dame, the devotion of those who labored to build it, and its significance to Western culture are undeniable. The sadness over the damage suffered merits only compassion. But still, “He is not here.” Not ultimately.

What the Easter story proclaims, if anything, is that God, God’s love, and the power of God’s ways and call for humanity embodied by Jesus is boundless. It is not limited to any structure, city, nation, ethnicity or political orientation. It is not limited by suffering, destruction and death. It resides wherever and in whomever chooses to also embody and offer those same ways - compassion, forgiveness, kindness, justice, mercy, and love - to the world.

Whether it’s in a Cathedral or on a street corner. In Paris or here.

Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

 Hi...

Despite the fact that warmer weather is supposed to be right on our doorstep, according to several recent articles snow plows will continue to be out in full force throughout the country.

“Snow plow” parents, that is.

Whereas in recent years much has been written and said about “helicopter parents” - ones who “hover” over their children’s lives, taking overprotective or excessive interest in them, attention has now turned to “snow plow” parents - ones who insist on clearing any potential obstacles out of their kids’ way.

That moniker has been used repeatedly in the aftermath of the college admissions scandal that lead to the arrest of several wealthy and celebrity parents recently. Those parents are alleged to have participated in bribery and the falsification of admission applications for the purpose of insuring their children’s entrance to high profile colleges they might not have had the credentials for. In the end though, the result will be revoked admissions for those children and fines and/or prison time for the parents.

What though, if those parents had not been found out and arrested?

While the end result would have been far different on the surface, there still would have been enormous harm done. There would, of course, have been the harm done to those deserving students who did not get admitted to those colleges because their place was fraudulently taken. But there would also have been great harm done to the students who were admitted due to that fraud, as there were two, among several, troubling unspoken messages in what took place. Without words, they were being told:

*They aren’t smart, strong or resilient enough to handle or grow from setback, disappointment or failure;

*Their value to others and the world is dependent on the status that comes with being admitted to elite schools, wealth, position, and prestige.

Of course, “snow plowing” is not exclusive to those with wealth and celebrity, nor even to parents. It is something all of us are capable of participating in. Which is why one of the greatest blessings of the Christian spiritual path is that God is not a “snow plow” parent and Jesus is not a “snow plow” brother. Instead, Jesus made it crystal clear to his closest followers that living the way he called them to meant times of struggle and suffering. He also made it clear that his place in their lives wasn’t to remove the obstacles from their paths but, as the embodiment of God’s essence, to lead, guide, comfort and stay at their side as they navigated them.

Jesus tells the disciples both before and after the Resurrection that he won’t - can’t - stay with them if they are to ever become the spiritually wise, strong and resilient people God created them to be. And he also made it clear that their value to others and the world, then and after he was gone, would always be dependent on their commitment to serving God’s interests of compassion, mercy, justice, forgiveness and love.

As it was for them, it is for us.

May we be inspired and emboldened this Easter season to put those snow plows away for good.

Easter Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
If you knew the conversation you were having with someone - a loved one, a friend, a mentor - was going to be the last one you would ever have with them, what would you want to make sure you told them? And at the same time, what would you want to make sure they told you?

That was the opportunity facing both Jesus and his closest followers during the evening known as “The Last Supper” in all four Gospels. Jesus has given them a clear sense his time is short, that the civil and religious authorities have increasingly come to see him as a threat and will soon use their power to take his life. And so during their time together that evening, Jesus reminds them of a number of the things he considers most important about life, faith, and carrying on the mission and movement he has started. Throughout Lent this year, our Sunday morning Messages will be devoted to exploring a number of those things.

What about you? What would you say to those closest to you if you knew it would be your last time together? What would you choose to offer them as the things you consider to be the most important about life, faith and work? And what would you want to know from them?

During the season of Lent that begins on Wednesday, March 6, I ask you to consider two things.

First, consider giving that spiritual exercise a try, writing down what you would say either to others in general or specific to one or two people, as well as what you would want to know from them. And second, consider not waiting - consider having that conversation with one or two people now, especially if there is someone you know whose time is or may be short.

The prospect of doing that might be understandably frightening. But it can be an incredibly powerful, poignant and life-affirming experience for both you and that other person.

It was for Jesus and his closet followers.

Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Not long ago, the international icon we know as Cher announced that she will embark on a series of concerts this year. It will be called the “Here We Go Again” tour, which apparently answers the question: What do you call a tour that comes after one you’ve called your “farewell tour”? Or in Cher’s case, tours - plural. Depending on the source, Cher has had up to 7 farewell tours.

Multiple farewell tours seem to be the thing these days for pop and rock music legends. So I wonder about Paul Simon. This past summer, Simon ended his first “farewell tour”. Whether it’s his actual farewell “farewell tour” only he knows, because as long as a large number of people are willing to pay to hear him perform his most memorable songs, another one certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Songs like “Kodachrome”, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “Still Crazy After All These Years” are still extremely popular after all these years.

Then of course, there’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. Not my favorite Paul Simon song by a long shot. Actually I don’t care much for it at all. But I had a hard time finding a list of his top 10 or 15 songs that didn’t include it.

We can only hope the UCC’s latest “song” has that kind of staying power...

Toward the end of last year, our denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), announced an initiative called “3 Great Loves”. Its purpose is to collect and lift up stories from our churches that describe how we live out God’s love for neighbor, children and creation. As part of that initiative, the UCC produced a poster which offers not “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, but 50 Ways to Share Your Love. Suggested ways to “share your love” include things like renewing a friendship, installing water saving shower heads and LED lights; writing a note of encouragement to a teacher; and checking in on a neighbor regularly. The poster invites us to engage in one of those 50 ways each day, but more importantly, as many of them as we can on a regular basis.

You can see the poster in my office whenever you like, and a “3 Great Loves” daily calendar is available on the UCC website, www.ucc.org.

People within and outside the FCC community frequently ask what they can do to respond to what many feel is a particularly difficult time in our nation. There are no simple answers to that question, as a society’s struggles are always multi-faceted. But I do know that vital change throughout history has often been accomplished by people carrying out seemingly small acts - individually and together - that end up having a cumulative effect which makes our nation and the world a better place.

So may the song 50 Ways to Share God’s Love never end up on a farewell tour.

Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi…

As you recall, the theme for this recently past Advent and Christmas at FCC was “Second Chances”.

During that time, we explored how the stories leading up to Jesus’ birth in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels presented the characters of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph with “second chances” – opportunities to find or reclaim their voice, be delivered from unfair or unjust burdens, or become spiritually and emotionally stronger through the honest recognition and appreciation of their vulnerability.

Traditionally, the start of a New Year in our culture, and in many parts of the world, is also a “second chance”, as many New Year’s resolutions aren’t really so new. Instead, they are often “re-resolutions” - second (or third, fourth…) intentions to fulfill something we haven’t yet.

So as a follow up to all that we considered during Advent and Christmas, what “second chances” do you want in 2019? And I don’t mean ones related to diet, or exercise, or other personal habits, as important as those are. I mean, what spiritual, emotional or relational “second chances” do you want? What “voice” do you want to claim or reclaim when it comes to the things you want your life to say to the world? What unfair or unjust burdens do you long to be delivered from - perhaps even ones you have placed upon yourself? And what vulnerability, honestly recognized and appreciated in yourself or someone else, would make you or a relationship stronger, instead of holding you and them back?

One of the primary promises and reminders of Advent and Christmas is that we are the daughters and sons of the God of “second chances”. Through Jesus, God offered us a second chance, another way to learn to become who and what we are meant to be.

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph all made the most of their “second chance”. In 2019, let’s make the most of ours in just one way – one way that will be like having Christmas come early.

New Year’s Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

“Do not be afraid”

In less than a month, we will once again celebrate the Christmas story as a spiritual community.  Stories actually.  Plural.  Despite the fact that most Christmas  pageants,  the wider culture,  and  many  Christians  recall  only  a single  story with shepherds,  angels,  wise  men  and  a manger,  there  are actually  two markedly  different  stories  about  Jesus’  birth  - one  in  the Gospel of Matthew and the other in the Gospel of Luke. For example, there are shepherds and a manger in Luke, but no wise men. In Matthew, it’s the reverse.

There  is  however,  one  essential  detail  they  do  have in  common   In  both Christmas  stories,  the  first  words  spoken  by  any  character  are  the  same: “Do not be afraid”. In Matthew’s Gospel, an angel speaks those words to Joseph in reference to the coming birth of Jesus. In Luke, they are spoken by  an  angel  to  Zechariah  in  reference  to  the  coming birth  of  John  the Baptist.  And John’s expected birth   is actually the beginning of the Christmas story for Luke. But the words are the same: “Do not be afraid”.

Yet as we enter the 2018 Advent and Christmas season, fear seems to be everywhere and growing.  As Martha Nussbaum, perhaps the most prominent  American  moral  philosopher  of  our  time  puts  it  in  her  latest book, The Monarchy of Fear, fear has “suffused” our current society due to a combination  of  extreme  polarization  and  the  forces  of  automation, outsourcing of jobs, and globalization, which have left many feeling powerless.

But  still,  the  very  first  words  God  speaks  to  us  through  angels  - a  word which means “messengers” -are “Do not be afraid”. And the Jesus who is born as the central act of the Christmas story will, as an adult, say “Do not be afraid” to those with him -to us -more than anything else.

If  fear  though,  is,  as  science  understands  it,  a  natural  part  of  the  human condition, how do we “not be afraid”? My sense is that what first God and then Jesus are really pointing to with those words has much less to do with the emotion and much more with the response. As Nussbaum discusses, to respond  to  fear  with  determination  to  thoughtfully  participate  in  needed change is helpful; to respond with the desire to make others suffer is not. That was the way Jesus responded to and called those in his time to respond to the things they feared. It is the way he and the God who sent him at Christmas call us to respond to what we fear.

Advent and Christmas Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

In 2014, three people were arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for attempting to provide food in a public space to people who were homeless. At the time, the city had a law which required a permit for sharing food in public. In August of this year however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that feeding the homeless in public spaces is protected by the First Amendment. It declared that “sharing food with another human being is one of the oldest forms of human expression’, according to Kirsten Anderson, lead attorney for the group which challenged the ordinance.

While I am grateful for the court’s ruling, I am both amazed and saddened by a question it raises: We needed a court to tell us this?

Apparently so, as according to Newsweek, dozens of municipalities throughout the country have similar laws, in addition to ones prohibiting sleeping outside and living out of personal vehicles. Combined, this reflects an increasing trend toward what has been referred to as “the criminalization of homelessness”. This despite the fact that, contrary to one of the rationales often stated for these laws, the majority of those who are homeless and hungry in our nation are not in those circumstances due to either their own volition or a refusal to, as that condescendingly ugly retort goes, “get a job”.

Instead, the majority of the homeless and hungry here consists of the mentally ill; veterans who we have been more than happy to let look out for us in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, but who we have not looked out for upon their return; those who did “get a job” but still can’t afford housing with what they make; and children.

In a nation where most of us profess belief in God, and most of those identify themselves as Christian - a nation where an even greater percentage of our elected leaders proclaim those same two things - this is not a faithful response. And as we approach another Thanksgiving, it is particularly unfaithful, given that Thanksgiving for those of us in the Christian tradition isn’t about offering a sense of general thanks for what we have, but giving thanks specifically to God - a God we see and hear through the life and teachings of a Jesus who fed the hungry without conditions, and cared for the poor, the homeless, and the physically and mentally ill.

This Thanksgiving then, let’s not just be grateful to God for what we have been blessed with, but also call on our leaders to stop criminalizing poverty and homelessness, and instead advance laws and policies that will make it possible for those same blessings to flow to all of God’s people.

Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Friends...

WARNING!
FALL IS COMING!

Actually I love Fall.

I love the colors. I love the air. I love the return of football. I love Oktoberfest. And I love the start of us being back together as a full spiritual community after the slower, lighter summer pace and presence. But at the same time, it is remarkably easy to move from that Summer state to one of physical and mental “overdrive” once Fall arrives; easy to begin constantly feeling time and task pressured; easy to move through days in a kind of mindless auto-pilot:

Work; School; Evening Meetings; Sports or Music practice; Meals on the go; Insufficient sleep and exercise.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

What we think is gained in productivity and achievement (which is highly debatable itself according to much research), often comes at the expense of experiencing life at a deeper level; embracing peace of mind; living with a sense of Contentment.

In that regard, and as we enter another Fall, I invite you to consider this little story taken from Max Lucado’s devotional “Grace for the Moment”:

In our world, Contentment is a strange street vendor, roaming slowly from house to house, offering  his wares: an hour of peace, a smile of acceptance, a sigh of relief.
When I asked Contentment why so few welcomed him into their homes, the answer left me convicted.
I charge a high price, you know. I ask people to trade in their schedules, frustrations, and anxieties. You’d think I’d have more buyers. But people seem strangely proud of their stress and headaches.”

May this Fall, and the entire year, bring you not just a sense of accomplishment, but just as importantly, contentment.

Blessings, Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Friends,

In June, a division of the American Library Association voted unanimously to  remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a  major children’s book award  because  of  the portrayals  in  her work  of  Black  and  Native Americans. It said that the author - best known for her “Little House on the Prairie” novels - “included expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with its  core  values.”  The  association  added  that  while Wilder’s books continue to be published and read, her “legacy is complex” and “not universally embraced”.

By that standard, I could never have a book award named after me. I too, have been guilty of expressing “stereotypical attitudes” about Black and Native Americans during my life. Those attitudes were an accepted part of the almost exclusively white, rural culture I grew up in. In fact, when I was in high school I wrote a skit for a variety show that was a news broadcast based on the premise of Native Americans being in control of the country. It was meant as subversive satire, but looking back it was also clearly insensitive in a number of ways. And while I do not believe I continue to hold any of those stereotypical attitudes, I can’t say for sure that it doesn’t still happen in ways I am unaware of. I can only keep trying to pay close attention to my words and actions, and look to friends and other relationships I have with those who are Black or Native American for help in keeping me honest.

At the same time, my sense is that intent matters. If Wilder was fully aware of and purposely trying to demean and diminish Black and Native Americans, or did so in other aspects of her life, then it is understandable that a major children’s book award not carry her name. However, if she was only reflecting a time and culture, and/or she - like many of those who were white in the time she both wrote and wrote about - were (like me), ignorant and unaware, then that seems to be a different matter. I do not know which applies to Wilder. Perhaps the American Library Association does.

Let me be clear. I am in no way claiming that “inappropriate expressions of stereotypical attitudes” should be ignored, let alone condoned. And when it is  clear  that  those of other races,  ethnicities,  genders  and  sexual orientations  and  expressions  have  been intentionally  demeaned, diminished, and harmed by someone’s work, that work, nor its creator, merits  honor.  But  when  it  is  ignorance,  miseducation,  and  lack  of awareness that is in question, perhaps that warrants a different perspective.

For who among us could, without question, pass that “values test”, especially when judged by those who come generations after us? From the perspective of time and place - and from the eternal perspective of God - won’t all our legacies, like Wilder’s, be “complex” and “not universally embraced”?

I know mine will be.
Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Among the more popular practices in spiritual circles the last couple of decades is something called “sacred conversations”. A sacred conversation is generally understood to be one in which an important and difficult topic is discussed - frequently, for instance, racism - in ways that reflect common spiritual values and honor the equal humanity of all those involved.

However, just because a conversation is supposed to “officially” be a sacred one doesn’t necessarily make it so. And conversely, it is entirely possible for a conversation to actually be a sacred one without formally stating that as its intent.

An example of the latter took place here during the final night of a class on the subject of “hope” that several of us were engaged in from mid April to mid May. The presence of God and God’s spirit was unmistakably in the room that evening, and the conversation so sacred that I am still moved by it.

What made that conversation so sacred?

I can’t, of course, share any of the details of what was said. But I can offer some of the characteristics of the conversation as I experienced it:

Deep Honesty about difficult feelings and experiences
Patient Listening to all of what others felt the need to say
Offering of alternative perspectives without dismissing the original speaker’s
Laughter in solidarity over our common struggles and humanity
Humility in recognizing that “solutions” are not simple, if even likely or possible at times
Disagreement without animosity
Gratitude for each others’ presence and contribution to the whole

One thing the conversation wasn’t was surprising. I have been privileged to be engaged in a number of ones like it during my time here. But it’s not enough for us to only have them at FCC.  Our culture and nation are in desperate need of regular, ongoing “sacred conversations”. We must look for, if not create opportunities to have them as often as we can in this time when we seem to be so polarized as a society.

They are not easy. But when you are blessed enough to be in one, they are so, so worth it.

Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

As I have mentioned nearly every year during my time here, I do not claim to have any definitive answer for what exactly happened on that first Easter Sunday. I do not know exactly what this thing we call “Resurrection” is. Neither, it seems, did the early Christians, as it is described differently in several  places  throughout  the  New  Testament.  What  I  can say with confidence is that something happened. Something that was so inspiring and awesome that it gave those earliest followers of Jesus the courage and strength to continue his life and world transforming movement despite the ugly death they had seen him experience and the threat of experiencing that same fate themselves.

They  were  never  the  same  again.  They  were  changed.  And  as  their descendants, we are called to change as well. The Easter event for us though, is not so much about the kind of one time, sudden transformation that the New Testament portrayal of those first Christians reflects, but rather a life of constant, steady, gradual change; renewal; improvement; transformation; reinvention.  The  Japanese  call  it  kaizen  -  continuous improvement through smaller, intentional, incremental changes.

Over 30 years of formal study, writing and speaking on individual and organizational leadership has led me to conclude that the best organizations- organization taken in the broadest sense to include not just companies, but entities like schools, governments, families, and churches - practice kaizen, whether they think of it in those terms or not. And while I have not necessarily always spoken that language during my time at FCC, kaizen has always been one of my foremost guiding principles.

With that in mind, I have invited our Deacons - who as your elected lay leaders are, along with Joy, charged with helping guide this community spiritually - to join me in an even more intentional kaizen effort over the next  several  months.  Based  on  our  own  thoughts  and  input  we  have received over the last several years from boards, lay leaders and individual members, we will be engaged in discussing what, if any, small, incremental changes might make our Sunday and other Worship experiences, as well as any of our other “spirituality” related efforts, more impactful to more of you.  For  example,  based  on  last  summer’s “experiment”  with  having members  regularly  lead  the  Pastoral  Prayer,  offer  the  Word  For  Our Children, or deliver the morning’s Message during Worship, we will not only do that again this summer (See item on p. 3 ), but look to intentionally make it a more regular feature year-round.

We do this, not because feedback tells us there is anything significantly wrong with what we are currently doing, but because, as a community of Easter people, we are called to always look to do and be better for God, for our own sake, and for the sake of God’s people.

As Easter people, we are called by God to lives of spiritual kaizen.

Blessings,

Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
Depending on whether you receive The Congregationalist electronically or by regular mail, we will either be on the threshold of or just past Easter Sunday. Which means that another Lent has come and gone without me choosing to give anything up.

That’s what many Christians do during Lent - choose something they like (chocolate, pizza, TV, etc.) and try to give it up for the 40 days of Lent as an act of spiritual discipline. That’s what I did for many years. Or tried to do, often without success. So a few years ago I stopped.

Instead, and also like many other Christians, I’ve tried to do more instead of give up - do more acts of kindness and service rather than give up a favorite food or pastime. And while I think there is a lot to be said for that approach, this year I started to think more seriously again about the idea of giving something up.

But not for Lent. For Easter.

I have wondered this year if perhaps Easter, rather than Lent, isn’t the more appropriate time to commit to giving something up. Easter is about God’s power to raise Jesus up, and therefore, raise us up too. It’s about God’s power to bring new life from Jesus’ death, and therefore, from the things in us that are currently dead or the things we do which lead to death - spiritual, emotional and community death.

In recognition of that gift, in gratitude for it, maybe the most appropriate response then, is to give up something that contributes to spiritual, emotional or community death. Things like chronic materialism, hyper competitiveness, and myopic individualism. Maybe political, social or religious tribalism. Those are the kinds of things that bring death to our spirits and to our sense of community. Those are the kinds of things which Jesus called us to give up throughout our lives.

I was never very good at giving things up for Lent. I will try to be better at giving things up for Easter. And beyond.
Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Just as we began the season of Lent with a highly unusual occurrence - Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as Valentine’s Day - we end it with another.

This year, Easter Sunday is on April 1 - yup, April Fools Day. And while that might seem to be an opening for endless punch lines, there is, from the earliest days of our spiritual tradition, a strong association between Easter and foolishness.

The prominent early Christian leader Paul anchors his first letter to the Christian community he founded in the ancient Greek city of Corinth in the idea that our tradition is grounded in foolishness - “folly”, “unwiseness”.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1:25)

Several other times in that letter, Paul refers to the message of the cross being “foolishness” or “God’s foolishness”. He is not saying however, that it actually is foolish - folly or unwiseness. He is saying that it is only seen that way from the perspective of what we would call “conventional wisdom”, or as it is commonly referred to in sermons, “the ways of the world”. The “wisdom” of the ways of the world says that force equals strength, money equals power, and fame equals success.

By that standard then, the message of the cross - the wisdom of the Christian tradition - that true strength lies in compassion and vulnerability; that true power lies in caring for the weak and providing justice to the oppressed; that true success lies in service and giving - is foolish.

But it’s not to God. And it must not be to us. For throughout history, the world’s wisdom has served humanity and creation far less than God’s foolishness has.

So let us be foolish this Easter, and always. Let us be a community of “wise fools” for God’s sake. For each other’s sake. And for the world’s sake.

Easter Blessings,

Mark 

Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

As you may know, my wife Cindy and I take turns planning a trip to some place different each year in celebration of our anniversary. And as more and more people have learned of our annual tradition, many have kindly recommended places we should go. In the past three or four years, the place most suggested to us has been...Iceland.

We have been consistently told how warm the people there are and how many interesting natural sights there are to see. But what has now convinced me to seriously consider Iceland as a destination one of the next times it is my turn to choose is that there are apparently some really interesting human sights to see as well.

Not long ago at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland, a man trying to fly from there to England was denied a seat because, in an attempt to avoid paying baggage fees, he simply wore everything he wanted to bring with him - layer upon layer of clothing. He wore his baggage because he didn’t want to pay for it.

If only that option was possible in terms of our emotional and spiritual lives - our self image, and our relationships with others and with God. But it’s not. In fact, the opposite is true. The more we wear our baggage the more we end up also paying for it.

Mid-February marks the beginning of the sacred season of Lent. This year’s theme at FCC will be “Crossroads”. Each Sunday, we will explore encounters in the Gospels where Jesus provides different individuals or groups with an opportunity to “take off their baggage” - emotional, spiritual, social and physical circumstances which have weighed them down in their own eyes or the eyes of society - as well as how those individuals or groups responded to that opportunity.

This season of Lent, I invite us all to do the same. Over the course of those forty days, let’s take an honest look at the baggage in our lives we continue to wear and the price we continue to pay for doing so. And then, let’s help each other give God, through Jesus’ example of compassion, forgiveness and mercy, an opportunity to take off at least one, if not more, of those layers.

Blessings,

Mark 

Senior Minister's Message -- Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Later this month, the President will offer the annual “State of the Union” address to the nation. The “State of the Union” is meant to be both a review of where we are as a country at the end of the previous year, as well as a preview of where we need to go and how we will get there during the current year.

In November, however, the acclaimed writer Annie Proulx offered what has been labeled a “State of the World” address on the occasion of her receiving the National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Proulx began by lamenting current conditions: “despicable political figures and sexual harassment reports”; “repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage”; “flickering threats of nuclear war”; “a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures”; “the accelerating destruction of the natural world”.

Whew.

But then Proulx’s address took a critical turn.

“Yet somehow”, she continued, “old values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such notions as truth, respect for others, honor, justice, and sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on.”

We won’t find it anywhere in the Bible - and I would never remotely imply that a writer of Proulx’s rare abilities plagiarized them - but in my mind, heart, and imagination I have heard this “State of the World” address before - from God. We don’t have those exact words from God, but what Proulx expresses is the exact message of Christmas. At Christmas, God, while lamenting the state of the world at that time, still had tender feelings for notions like truth, honor, justice and sharing. God still held hope for a happy ending. So God sent Jesus into that world as both the embodiment of those notions, and inspiration for humanity to believe in and grasp for that happy ending.

For those of us in the Christian spiritual tradition, it is fitting then that the beginning of each new year so closely follows Christmas. The start of each new year is our opportunity to recommit to the happy ending that God’s “State of the World” message at Christmas reminds us is possible through the example and inspiration of Jesus.

New Year Blessings, Mark 

Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
Once again this December, we will all likely spend some, or perhaps a significant amount of time on finding just the right gift for others. We will also once again be reminded of the time honored adage that “it is better to give than to receive”.

All well and good. But I ask you to consider something else this Advent and Christmas season too. Giving yourself just the right gift. A highly specific gift.

Abandoning a grudge...

An old Jewish spiritual text asks,

“What is revenge and what is bearing a grudge? If one says to his fellow, “Lend me your sickle”, and he replies, “No”, then the next day the second comes to the first and says, “Lend me your axe”, and the first replies, “No, because you would not lend me your sickle” - that is revenge. But if one says to his fellow, “Lend me your axe”, and the other says, “No”, then the next day, the second comes to the first and says, “Lend me your garment”, and the first replies, “Here it is, because I am not like you who would not lend me what I asked for” - that is bearing a grudge.

Regarding this tale, Lisa Rappaport comments that while it is generally less harmful that taking revenge, holding a grudge still leaves us less than fully alive. She says that “When we hold grudges, a part of us dies. When we erect walls and turn our backs on others, we cut off our ability to connect. And when this happens, we are not truly living.”

She then adds, “A therapist friend of mine once said that 50% of relationship is repair.

All of which points to the core of the Christmas story. God comes into the world in the person of Jesus as a way of reconnecting - repairing  - our relationship with God. God reaches out to us despite our continued insistence on turning our backs on God and the ways God calls us to live, and despite the harm we do in the process.

If God refuses to hold a grudge, then what right do we have? Especially since, as Rappaport says, we do more harm to ourselves than we do to the other  person  when  we  hold  that grudge. Which,  come  to  think  of  it, suggests that maybe the Christmas event - the coming of Jesus into the world - wasn’t meant to be a gift just for us after all. Maybe God was giving herself just the right gift too.

Advent and Christmas Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Several months ago, one of our fellow UCC churches in New Jersey asked if I would be willing to lead their annual men’s retreat this October.  At the time,  they  were unsure what theme  they  wanted  to  explore  but  would contact  me  again  over  the summer to begin planning the  weekend’s agenda.

When  they  got  back  to  me  in  July, they  were no  longer searching  for  a theme. They unequivocally wanted to explore the concept of “Hope”. They had sensed a clear struggle on the part of their members to maintain a sense of hope in the current tumultuous political and social climate.

After several weeks of research and reflection, I proposed and then carried out  a  program for them  based  on approaching  hope  as  a spiritual  and psychological skill-  not something  we  either  have or  don’t  have,  but instead all  have  an  innate  disposition toward  to  varying  degrees. That disposition  can  be improved  and  maintained through the  development  of other habits.  It  is  an  understanding of  hope  as  a  by-product  of other  life practices.

Of those habits, one of the few which showed up on nearly every piece of research  I  came across  regarding  people  who  were evaluated  as being generally  “hopeful”  was gratitude.  Hopeful  people  tend  to  be  people for whom gratitude is a consistent life practice.

So  as  we  enter  the  month  of  November - the month  of  Thanksgiving - I invite  you to  try  a  little  experiment  on  yourself. Each day throughout  the month, perform a practice of gratitude. Make a list at the end of a day of the things  you  are grateful  for from  it.  Send  an  email  or  note  thanking someone, whether it is for something recent or long ago. Make a donation to a charity, school or other organization in the name of someone you are grateful to for something that made a difference your life.

Then, at the end of the month, see if you haven’t become a more grateful person. And because of that, a more hopeful one as well.
Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
“nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”
                                                                                                Micah 4:3
Several studies over the past few years have indicated that, when it comes to education - particularly in math and science - the United States has fallen behind several other nations in terms of student learning.

If only we could fall in the “learning war” rankings.

As we are being reminded by Ken Burns’ latest documentary, while most accounts  have the  Vietnam  War  lasting  about  10  years,  in  truth  the hostilities lasted much longer. In fact, according to Department of Defense records,  the  “official”  start  of  our  military involvement was  in  1955, making it closer to 20 years that we were at war there.

It is an important reminder, because the same accounting differences can be applied to our current military involvement in the Middle East. While the Iraq War is generally dated from early 2003 through the end of 2011 - a  little  less  than  9  years -  our  military involvement  there  has  been unceasing since the Gulf War of 1990. That’s 27 years. Now add in the War in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing since 2001, the Korean War of the  early  1950’s  (a  war  which  has  actually  never  officially  ended), World War II, and our military actions in Kosovo and Panama in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, and it adds up to a nation that has essentially been at war for almost all of the past 77 years.

We  may  have  fallen  behind  in  math  and  science,  but we  are  honors students at learning war. Not learning from war necessarily - learning as an agent of change - but certainly learning as in the development of habit. War is now an ingrained habit for us, something we both claim to lament, but also seem to accept as a given. And yes, there are forces in the world that wish to do us harm that we must be able to defend ourselves against. But at the same time, the great irony is that the more powerful we became as a nation, the more we went to war. All the talk about the need for constantly increasing military might, talk that is the one constant when it comes to bipartisanship in Washington, seems to have only encouraged us to “learn war” more. Now we are entertaining a second war in Korea. Perhaps it is time to learn something new. Time to acquire a new habit. Time to do what the God and Jesus of the Bible and our Christian tradition ask us to learn instead - that power should be the means for not learning war anymore. Our nation’s power should be the means through which  we  become  able  to fall  behind  in  our inclination to engage in war and instead go to the head of the class when it comes to engaging in diplomacy and alleviating the economic and social conditions which far more often than not are what give rise to war.

Blessings,
Mark

Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

How is FCC different from a solar eclipse?

By the time this month’s Congregationalist reaches you, this summer’s highly anticipated solar eclipse will have passed. Before it’s arrival though, there was a steady stream of articles and TV segments all summer long that dealt with topics such as: where to go to get the fullest effect of the eclipse; what time to be in optimal viewing position; and, of course, the customary warning to not look directly at the sun during the event without proper eyewear.

That warning is where the difference between FCC and the solar eclipse can be found.

In a recent edition of The Christian Century, Dorothy Fortenberry, a screenwriter from Los Angeles, offered a definition of “church” as, “a group of broken individuals, united by that brokenness, traveling together.” Then Fortenberry adds, “My family and I don’t go to church to deny the existence of the darkness. We go to look so hard at the light that our eyes water.”

“We go to look so hard at the light that our eyes water.”

We flock to a solar eclipse because we are fascinated with seeing the darkness blot out the light when it shouldn’t. But a church is a place, or at least it should be, where we join with others to form a flock that, while fully acknowledging the darkness – the dark side of our lives, our nation, the world and humanity - also firmly believes that darkness is incapable of ever fully blotting out the light that shines from God into the world and that spark of God within each of us. Church is a place where, if you will, the light of the Son - Jesus - and that light’s ability to guide us, individually and together, through even the darkest times, can’t be eclipsed if we let it into our lives and share it with each other.

As we begin a new fall season together at FCC, the daylight may be getting shorter and less intense, but the light that matters most for our lives as a spiritual community is not. And, with God’s help and if we stay committed, it will not.

Blessings, Mark