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 

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

Hi...

Four hours after he took his first step on the morning of June 3, 31 year- old Alex Honnold had successfully climbed the 2,700 foot high rock wall in Yosemite National Park known as “El Capitan”. Honnold was not the first person to ever climb it nor the fastest. Nor the first one to take the most difficult route up.

But Alex Honnold was the first person to ever climb El Capitan in what is called “free solo style” - alone and without a rope or any other protective equipment. Which meant that any mistake or misstep would likely be his last.

It was an achievement that J.B. MacKinnon of The New Yorker described as “never quite accepted as possible”, partly because of the enormous skill required, but also because of the tremendous fear involved. As Sonnie Trotter, an expert climber who helped Honnold train for his free-solo climb up El Capitan told MacKinnon, “climbers get terrified up there, even when they’re on a safety rope”...

It is no secret that this is a time of significant fear for many in our nation. There seems to be a widespread sense of being on El Capitan without a rope. The question that remains to be answered though, as it is in all times of fear, is how we will respond.

Alex Honnold’s response to the fear that came with climbing El Capitan was what MacKinnon called “careful cultivation”. Honnold practiced diligently each day. He formed and maintained helpful physical, mental and emotional habits. And he crafted a well-considered plan. That is what made it possible for him to both believe and trust he could successfully make that climb, and keep his fear from distracting him so he could see and take any new steps or course adjustments that were necessary along the way.

That is how we can - how we must - move beyond this time of fear as God’s people. We must resolve to engage in “careful spiritual cultivation”. We must resolve to form and maintain the time-honored and tested spiritual habits - the habits embodied by Jesus - prayer; contemplation; study; service; compassion; listening; non-violence; and peace from justice, both individually and as a spiritual community. That is the path up this El Capitan, the route to keeping fear from distracting us, so we are able to see and take new steps or necessary course adjustments along the way. 

It will not be a fast nor easy climb. But there is no other way for us to ascend toward being the nation and society God calls us to be - no other way for us to keep from all falling together.

Which will we choose to believe in more - our fear or our God?

Blessings, Mark 

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

Hi...

If there has been one overriding, guiding principle I have tried to base my service to FCC on these past twelve years, it is this:

This is not my church.
What I mean by that is, simply, that FCC belongs first and foremost, to God and Jesus. Then after that, it belongs to you.

It is a sentiment reflected in our largely democratic form of governance, whereby you elect representatives to serve as lay leaders who are charged with making most of the decisions concerning how we will run our affairs and spend our money. It is reflected in the times in which certain major issues are determined by a congregation wide vote in which each person’s vote carries equal weight.

And most of all, it is reflected in the short statement that is published each Sunday in our Worship bulletin:

“Ministers: All Members of the Congregation”

That statement has its roots in the series of events, initiated by Martin Luther, which became known as the “Protestant Revolution”, a movement to make Christianity more faithful. One of the core principles of that movement was a commitment to the “the priesthood of all believers”, or “the ministry of all the people”.

That is why FCC, after God and Jesus, always belongs to you, or more accurately, to us. It is also why we consistently look for a wide range of opportunities for our members to exercise that ownership.

This summer will offer a special opportunity of that kind. In recognition of the Protestant Revolution’s 500th anniversary, and considering Rev. Mounts’ sabbatical in June, July and August, I am asking for you to join me in leading this year’s annual Summer Sermon Series and Summer Worship by considering preaching, leading the Word For Children, or offering the Pastoral Prayer one Sunday between July 2 and September 3. I will be available to help you through the process as much as possible. (More on all this on p. 5.)

I hope you will consider joining me on this adventure, as we work together these next three months to even more fully embody FCC’s commitment to all our members being “ministers”.

SUMMER SERMON SERIES
“The Ministers of the Church – That Would Be YOU”
Our annual Summer Sermon Series returns!

If you’ve ever wanted to or thought you might like take a try at Preaching, the Word for Children, or the Pastoral Prayer, here’s your chance!
In remembrance of the 500th anniversary of the event which catalyzed the “Protestant Revolution” – the posting of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses”, and in recognition of one of the signature understandings of Protestantism – “the priesthood of all believ- ers”; in other words, that not just the ordained clergy but all the members of a church are “ministers” - you are invited to deliver a sermon, or lead the Word for Children or Pastoral Prayer on any of the ten Sundays from July 2 – September 3. Topics will be determined in consultation with Dr. Boyea.

We especially hope you will consider offering a sermon on the following dates, as Rev. Mounts is on sabbatical this summer and Dr. Boyea will be away:

July 2
July 9
August 27
September 3

However, all Sundays are open for any member of the FCC community who would like to participate in any of those ways.
Please contact Mark at your earliest convenience if you would like to be involved.
Please note: There is a “Plan B” for the 2017 Summer Ser- mon Series and Worship should there be insufficient inter- est on the part of the congregation. 

Blessings, Mark 

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

"This Is Us".

That's the title of one of the highest rated and most highly acclaimed new television shows this season. It's also a fitting title for the day of Sunday, March 26 here at FCC.

Sunday, March 26 was a day that, from start to finish, defined who we are and what we are about as much as any day in recent memory for me. That day, in the middle of Lent - the most sacred season of the year for Christians - began with a morning Worship celebration which featured our annual Festival Chorus Lenten Music Program. This year, the Festival Chorus, under Dr. Thomson's typically outstanding leadership, performed John Rutter's oratorio, "Feel the Spirit". And we did.

Immediately after that, a sizable crowd from ages 3-93 headed to Patton Auditorium for another of our celebrated traditions during Lent - the annual Cake Auction to benefit Heifer International. The creativity exhibited in the cakes was remarkable, and in true generosity of spirit, those who won more than one cake gladly offered to give one to someone else or put it back into the raffle pool.

Less than two hours later, our Sanctuary, Patton and Coe Hall were converted into a "conference center", as we hosted a forum titled, "Preserving Safety, Sanity and Soul in Turbulent Times: Legal, Psychological and Spiritual Considerations for Advocacy and Activism". This combination of discussion and presentations from myself and FCC members, attorney Tom Jardim and psychologist Dr. Peggy Rothbaum, was formulated in response to the challenges and stresses which many in our community and surrounding area have expressed in relation to their increased involvement in political activism over the past several months. It was a strictly non-partisan event intended to address the needs of all people engaged in political activity, regardless of party affiliation or candidate preference.

Then lastly, shortly after our forum ended, the Youth Fellowship gathered for an examination and discussion of the issue of bullying. Lead by Rev. Mounts, the session approached this critical topic from research, social, emotional and spiritual perspectives. Our students demonstrated enormous honesty, insight and compassion throughout. 

On Sunday, March 26, we engaged in a day of soul-stirring, spirit- lifting worship and music, fun and internal community building, service to both our own members and the wider community, and the moral and emotional growth and well-being of our youth.

What a day. What a place we are a part of. That is FCC.
"This Is Us".

Blessings, Mark 

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

Hi...

We are only a few days away from the start of the only week that Christianity specifically identifies as "Holy" - the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Saturday, the day before Easter. But not Easter.

Why is that? Why isn't the ultimate celebration in Christianity, the commemoration of Jesus' resurrection - the symbol of the triumph of God's ways of life over the world's frequently competing ways of death - not considered part of that most sacred week?

Perhaps it is because Easter is, in a spiritual sense, a product of Holy Week, or more specifically, the result of the spiritual process that Holy Week exemplifies.

During Holy Week, we are presented with a summary of the fundamentals of the life Jesus lived and called us to live, an earthly life which leads to eternal life - life in union with God and God's ways. Resurrection Life, if you will. During Holy Week, Jesus engaged in ultimate acts of faith - ultimate integrity in his refusal to save himself from pain and suffering by renouncing the mission that God had given him; ultimate moral courage in resisting the unjust powers that oppressed the majority of people and elevated themselves above God; ultimate inclusion of and compassion for those considered "least" in the eyes of society; and ultimate forgiveness in refusing to condemn anyone - even those who had a hand in his execution.

It was, and is, that kind of "Holy" integrity, moral courage, inclusion, compassion and forgiveness which opens the door for God's power to raise good from evil; hope from despair; and life from death to enter the world.

It is that kind of "Holy Week", that kind of "Holy Life", which opens the door to Easter.

Easter Blessings, Mark 

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

Hi...

The number forty.

It’s a number that, like three and seven, appears frequently in the Bible and holds significant symbolic importance. In many cases, it basically means “the right time”, “the necessary time”. The Israelites wandered in the desert for “the right time”; Jesus was tempted in the wilderness “the necessary time”.

This year, our theme for the season of Lent is “These 40 Days”, which, when the symbolism of the Bible is taken into account, translates as “This Right Time”. Therefore, as we journey together through Lent this year, I invite you to consider a question:

What is this your “right time” for? What is it the “necessary time” for in your life?

What in your life, particularly your spiritual life, has the time come for? Is it the necessary time for you to close your door and spend more time alone in prayer or meditation? The time for you to stand up for a particular cause on behalf of God’s people in need? The time for you to step forward and repair a relationship that has become frayed or completely broken?

During “These 40 Days”, do it. Whatever it is, if it is for the purpose of bringing you closer to God or another person, or helping a person or group in their struggle to know a better life, do it.

Let this Lent be the time. The right time. The necessary time.

Blessings, Mark 

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

Hi...

Regardless of how you feel about it, it’s hard to argue that New York City isn’t a fascinating place, a place where you can find any kind of food, endless styles of music and theater, and “people watching” of the highest quality. It is also a place that prides itself on its “attitude” – the way its natives and regulars engage with the world and other people.

In a piece titled, “14 Ways to Spot a Real New Yorker”, Rachel Hodin offered a serious, humorous and affectionate look at some of the characteristics of that “New York Attitude”, claiming, among other things, that New Yorkers:

  • have no patience for you

  • lack the ability and/or desire to drive

  • make cars stop for them

  • are uncomfortable in nature

  • have seen just about everything on a subway train

    After reading about an incident that took place near the end of last year, there is clearly another item that needs to be added to the list:

• New Yorkers don’t take kindly to the exploitation and oppression of girls and young women...

As a way of shedding light on the prevalence of forced child marriage in the world, a young man named Coby Persin orchestrated a scene in Times Square where it appeared that a 65 year-old man was marrying a 12 year- old girl. New Yorkers were having none of it. Several stopped to ask the girl’s age, express their disgust, and even threaten to go get a police officer, while the “groom” simply responded that he had “the permission of the girl’s parents”. Finally, one New Yorker simply removed the girl and took her to the authorities.

It is estimated that millions of girls are forced or pressured into marriage before their 18th birthday each year, with as many as 75% of girls in the nation of Niger married before they reach that age. The most prevalent causes are poverty, cultural tradition, and legal gender inequality. Even in the U.S. it is estimated that as many as 3,000 girls under the age of 18 end up married annually.

But of course, marriage this early does nothing to benefit the young girls and women directly involved, nor the society as a whole, since marriage a 

those young ages brings with it the loss of significant educational and economic opportunity. In addition, it produces serious health risks to both the wife and any children they are forced or pressured to bear, as children born to mothers under the age of 18 have a much greater possibility of dying in the first year than those born to mothers over 19.

So here’s to those New Yorkers for showing that kind of “attitude”. It is the kind of attitude God has, and calls us to engage the world and other people with when it comes to the rights and wellbeing of girls and all those who are most vulnerable to exploitation and oppression in our own and every nation – those who are most vulnerable because economics, culture, religion or the law allows them to be.

Blessings, Mark 

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

At this time of year, it is common for TV stations, magazines and news sources (both print and digital) to offer some kind of program or issue devoted to the year in review, the best and worst of the year, or some other special topic.

This year, Time magazine published an issue in which it presented some of what it had selected as the “Most Influential Photographs of All Time”. Included were the first cell phone picture ever taken; a photo of Mamie Till-Mobley staring at the battered, lynched remains of her son Emmett a picture which revealed the horrors of racism to many Americans who did not realize its scope and brutality; and more recently, the widely seen photo of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on the shore of the Turkish town of Bodrum.

Those photos remind us that not only does “every picture tell a story” or that “every picture is worth a thousand words” (or more), but that pictures have the power to change lives, societies, nations, and the world. They have the power to move us to do and be better, to see what is and from there envision what could be.

While it is not a photograph, the end of each year offers us that exact kind of picture. In Christmas, God saw the world and humanity as it was as it is and sent us Jesus to help us do and be better; to show us and teach us what God sees and believes we could be.

What photograph would you like to see then, in your life’s, our nation’s, or the world’s year-end special edition for 2017? What picture would you like to see of who you have become that you are not yet? What social or political issue in our nation would you like to see a picture of major progress having been made in? Whatever it is, we must believe in the possibility of it coming to pass. And we must believe in its possibility because we are the people of a God who through Jesus tells us how much God believes in our possibilities.

Picture that. Blessings, Mark

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

Hi...

A few days after this edition of the Congregationalist gets to you, we will once again host one of our most popular and cherished annual traditions the Advent Festival. On the afternoon and early evening of Sunday, December 4, our kids will have the chance to participate in a number of arts and crafts activities, share dinner, and then sing carols and decorate the Christmas tree in Patton Auditorium.

It is always a special event for them. And that is as it should be, since Christmas is a time for children. But in our desire to make the season as joyful as we can for our kids, let’s never lose sight of the fact that Christmas isn’t just for them. It is for our entire spiritual congregation. Which is why the Advent Festival is also intended to be multi- generational, with many of our adults leading the arts and craft activities, and the dinner and caroling being shared with parents and other adults. This Advent and Christmas though, I ask us all to consider placing a special emphasis on one particular part of our adult population the senior members of the FCC community.

While the main character in the Christmas story is a child, seniors play important, but often unrecognized roles in it as well. Joseph, for instance, is believed by many scholars to have been an elderly man by the standards of that time and place. The wise men are considered to have very possibly been seniors as well. And then there are Simeon and Anna, two figures critical to an important episode right after Jesus’ birth, who were both clearly in their later years.

So during this season for children, let’s also consider making time to call; visit; bring a gift or take a senior member within or outside the FCC community out to shop or for lunch. As seniors played a significant part in the Christmas story, they have played, and continue to play, an indispensable and irreplaceable role in the FCC story.

Advent and Christmas Blessings, Mark

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Friends,
VOTE.
Yup, that’s pretty much it (almost).

On one of the walls in our living room is a print of Norman Rockwell’s famous series of oil paintings, “The Four Freedoms”, which was inspired by a speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, in which Roosevelt proclaimed that there were four freedoms everyone in the world should share in:

  • Freedom of speech

  • Freedom of worship

  • Freedom from want

  • Freedom from fear

    The scene which Rockwell chose to illustrate “freedom from want” happens to be a family at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Freedom and Thanksgiving. I don’t know whether Rockwell intended to link the two or not, but they deserve to be. Because one of the things we hear people in this country give God thanks for most often at Thanksgiving is our freedom. And freedom, in this, or any democratic society, begins at the voting booth. Yet the voter participation rate in the U.S. has become one of the consistently lowest, if not the lowest, of all the long-established democracies in the world.

    Knowing the outsized influence that those with wealth and power have on our election system, and being reminded daily of the constant ideologically partisan gridlock in Washington, has led many to conclude that, “My vote doesn’t matter”.

    But it does.

    It was the voting booth that ultimately made moral, ethical and spiritual imperatives like voting rights for women, as well liberty from slavery and civil rights for blacks, legal realities through the election of leaders who saw those imperatives through, whether they truly believed in the cause or grasped that it was simply “good politics”. So as discouraging as our political system can be at times, and maybe never more than right now...VOTE. If we are truly thankful to God for our freedoms, VOTE. Because as we see over and over again in the Bible and in the history of our tradition, it is when things are the most difficult and discouraging that God calls on us to refuse to walk away, and insist on exercising the freedom that we have been blessed with more than ever.

    Blessings, Mark

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

Hi...

I write this only a couple of days after the bombings in New Jersey and New York that injured numerous people, as well as the stabbing of multiple others at a Minnesota mall. Both incidents were carried out by young men who were legal citizens either born here or who had lived almost their entire life here young men who were also raised in the faith of Islam.
And because of that last fact, within minutes the same, tired call and response began once again. On one side, members of the media, along with political and religious leaders, condemned Islam as a “religion of violence”, while other members of the media, along with other political and religious leaders, proclaimed that Islam is instead a “religion of peace”.

It is, as I see it, an unhelpful, if not harmful litany. That is because neither statement is in and of itself true, just as neither statement would be in and of itself true if we replaced “Islam” with the name of other religions.
It is true that the data clearly points to there being more violence perpetrated throughout the world in the name of and by those associated with Islam in recent times than any other faith. That makes the claim that Islam is a “religion of peace” difficult for many to find credible. But at the same time, there are important concerns with going from that statistical reality to a blanket assessment like “Islam is a religion of violence”. To reiterate two that have been offered before – first, the vast majority of Muslims do not and have never engaged in violence. In addition, while proponents of the “religion of violence” position point to several passages in the Koran which promote and even demand violence on God’s behalf, the Jewish and Christian Bibles are littered with similar writings. And what then are we to make of the rise of violence in some parts of the world carried out in the name of Buddhism, a faith whose sacred texts are largely absent references to violence?
However, there is a much more significant consideration in all this. The main reason why the “religion of violence”/“religion of peace” debate is ultimately pointless and worse, unhelpful if not harmful, is that it proceeds from the flawed assumption that Islam, or any religion for that matter, is a “thing” a monolithic, homogenous institution that can be described in either/or terms throughout. While Islam, as is the case for all religions, certainly influences the cultures and communities it interacts with, it is always just as much, if not more, a product of those cultures and communities. 
History clearly shows us that where there is political, economic and social turmoil; where there is extreme political instability or authoritarianism, poverty, and restrictions on education as is the case with a significant amount of the world where Islam proliferates the extremism which encourages and carries out violence, whether in the name of religion or not, is much more likely to be found.
The debate over Islam as a “religion of violence/religion of peace” is, and continues to be, a waste of time and resources in the struggle against extremism and terrorism. Instead, we must focus on why and how Islam or any faith interacts with political, economic and social factors to produce the conditions and environments that encourage and support violence.

Blessings, Mark

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

Friends...

Beginning a couple of years ago, every minister in the Central Atlantic Conference of our denomination the conference FCC belongs to was required to take something called Boundary Awareness Training. It is intended to help us navigate the sometimes complex ethical and emotional territory that our work can lead us into at times. The point of ethical and emotional boundary training is to help protect the well-being of clergy, the individual members of a church, and the church community as a whole. In that, boundary training is necessary and good. The same can’t be said though, for all boundary training.

Over the course of this past summer, talk of unhelpful boundaries continued throughout our political and religious discourse. The need for a wall to keep out one group of people based on their ethnicity. Banning another from entering our nation based on their religion. But that is not the only unhelpful kind of boundary training we are deeply engaged in at this time in our society.

We seem to increasingly separate, label, and either approve or reject others based upon their agreement with our worldview in general, or worse, on one specific issue. This despite the fact that surveys frequently suggest that the majority of us largely agree on more things than we disagree. Yet, more leaders and more members of society make blanket assessments and statements that place other people and groups in nice, clear boundaries, never mind the scientifically well-documented case that human attitudes and behaviors are much more fluid and contextual than they are set and generic. This way of approaching issues and other people produces two greatly harmful results. It restricts our ability to see things and people in anything other than either/or terms. In addition, it restricts our willingness to interact with those who we have set those boundaries around. In the last few months, I have heard the following comment more than at any other time in my life that I can recall: “I can’t (won’t, don’t want to) even try to talk to those _____.”

Both are spiritually empty and significantly unfaithful responses to those we differ with, especially since we are the people of a God who is embodied for us in a Jesus who was committed to breaking down barriers between people a Jesus who ate and socialized with, let alone refused to reject, those he differed with the most. 

Maybe that’s beyond us just yet. But it’s not beyond us to try and be more conscious of the unhelpful boundaries we set with others. It’s not beyond us to try a little harder to understand why someone’s worldview is different from ours. It’s not beyond us to try and stop using quick and easylabels for others. And it’s not beyond us or shouldn’t be to try and see those we differ with as human beings who God still loves...without boundaries.

Blessings, Mark

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

Hi...

The day after the mass murder at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12, Michael Gerson of The Washington Post wrote an editorial titled, “After Orlando, Divided We Mourn”. The first line of the piece was:

“One of the manifold tragedies of the Orlando mass murder is how difficult it is for us to experience it and mourn it together.”

Gerson goes on to point out that the killings touched on a multitude of issues which produce deep emotional responses and disagreements in our nation Terrorism; Islam; Gay rights; Guns. And well before bodies had been identified and families notified, Gerson claims that many people and leaders had already determined that what happened did nothing but confirm their preexisting beliefs about those issues. Everyone, it seems, had “chosen different battlefields”, which makes learning and doing better going forward extremely difficult. Indeed. But why? Why are we seemingly much less able to come together now as a society? Gerson doesn’t delve into this, and as always with a social phenomena this large, there are a multitude of factors too many to suitably identify and explain here. But I will suggest one that is deeply connected to faith and spirituality.

My sense is that part of what keeps us so divided now is our inability to balance the dynamic between two foundational biblical and spiritual principles the importance of both the individual and the community. Perhaps one of the critical factors at the heart of what Gerson describes is that we are in a time when, as a whole, we are “off balance” spiritually, with an unhealthy emphasis on the individual. Perhaps we struggle as a society to come together because we have been, and continue to be encouraged to look at the world largely, and sometimes only, through our own individual lens. If we look at the tone and content of a great deal of current media programming, advertising and political messaging, it seems that a reasonable case can be made for this.

And while an emphasis on the individual, individual differences and individual freedoms is necessary in order to avoid the suppression of dissenting views and the oppression of minority populations by the majority, too much emphasis on them can lead to the splintering of society into nothing more than a collection of autonomous people sharing the same borders, or a collection of single identity based groups, whether that identity is rooted in color, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. It can lead to a spiritual, ethical and moral stance of “It’s about me” - the worldview that what’s good and true for me must be good and true for everyone. It can lead to verifiable facts being seen as irrelevant compared to individual feelings, what Stephen Colbert (the Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, not the Stephen Colbert of The Late Show) called “truthiness”. If it feels right and I believe it’s right, then it must be right for me and everyone else.

Not only is that an intellectually and emotionally immature mindset, it is an unfaithful and spiritually empty approach to living as one of God’s people. The faithful and spiritually mature person recognizes that they are as loved and valued by God as any other person, but never more than any other person. The faithful and spiritually mature person knows it is about them, but at the same time it's not about them. That is all another way of describing the spiritual virtue of humility.

And as one of the most faithful and spiritually mature people I know said not long ago, “Humility may be the most forgotten Christian virtue of all.”

If so, we really do need to start remembering.

Blessings,
Mark