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 

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