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

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



 

A Pastoral Letter on Orlando from Reverend Dr. Mark Boyea

A Pastoral Letter on Orlando from Reverend Dr. Mark Boyea

Friends…

As the events in Orlando occurred just a few hours before our worship service Sunday morning, and I had only heard the basic storyline to that point, there was no time to prepare any kind of reasonably thoughtful pastoral commentary. Allow me to do so now...

If you were going to intentionally devise a scene that encompassed as many of the most controversial issues in our society at this time as possible, you would struggle to match this one. It involves terrorism, guns, mental instability if not illness, and our treatment of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. And as people of faith, we must concern ourselves with all of them.

What does that mean, though? What does it mean to respond faithfully to such an outrageous act? It means to respond with both head and heart; with spirit and science; with, in the language of the Bible and our tradition, faith and works. Yes, our hearts should go out to the families and friends of the victims, as well as to the city of Orlando. Yes, our spirits should be greatly saddened by this latest chapter of "humanity's inhumanity". Yes, with faith in God's ability to bring healing and comfort, we should pray for those whose lives have been altered forever by the killer's decision.

But as people of faith, none of that is enough.

It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the enormous body of scientific evidence which establishes that, as the noted physician and author, Atul Gawande, said in a recent commencement address, "More guns make us less, not more safe."

It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time fighting to allow those on terrorism watch lists and domestic abusers to possess guns, as well as permit almost anyone to get their hands on an assault rifle, under the insistence that the Second Amendment is an absolute. If the First Amendment is not an absolute, how can the Second be?

No human right is absolute when it can potentially harm the innocent. Every one of the most recent perpetrators of mass shootings in this nation used an assault rifle.

It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time consistently cutting or working to cut funding and services to those with mental illness, but decrying how our mental health system has failed us after every mass shooting.

It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time condemning and entire religion - Islam - rather than engaging and working with those of that faith to negate its worst elements. Or for that matter, to work with all other faiths to negate all our worst elements. Yes, the Orlando killer was Muslim, and had pledged allegiance to several radical organizations. That is a serious concern. But far more acts of domestic terrorism have been carried out in this country by those who claim a Christian identity. Our faith tells us that the hate and warped religious sentiment which leads to these acts will not be overcome by bans, and walls and exclusion. It will be overcome by hospitality, establishing relationships, and standing together in denouncing any violence that claims any connection to God.

And perhaps, most of all, it is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the rights and humanity of the very people you want prayed for. Of all the troubling pieces connected to what happened in Orlando, none disturbs me more from a faith perspective than the repeated pleas for prayers for the victims and the LGBT community in general that have come from those who have done everything they could in the past to deny that same community equality before the law, and worse, denied their humanity and even their right to exist in the eyes of God. It is the height of spiritual hypocrisy...

So I hope that we will pray for the families and friends of the victims in Orlando. I hope we will pray for Orlando's LGBT community. And I hope we will pray for any family members and friends of the perpetrator who sincerely had no idea what was in his heart and mind, as we can never be absolutely certain what is going on in anyone else's heart or mind. Their sense of guilt must be overwhelming.

But I also hope that we will work. What that specifically means we must determine for ourselves according to the gifts God has given us. If we pick one of the aspects of this tragedy discussed above or one that isn't, then find one thing we can do about it, either individually or with others, it could make a difference. And that is enough for God - that we care, and we try. Because while some always gain more fame and glory, all great and needed change for humanity is largely a series of small steps taken by countless, unnamed people. What isn't enough for God is to say our prayers and have our moments of silence, and then go back to business as usual.

Blessings,

Mark

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

Easter has passed. Jesus has been raised. And Pentecost the commemoration of God’s Holy Spirit emerging in and from the disciples, inspiring and empowering them to carry on Jesus’ work is gone too. No more big holy days or seasons until Thanksgiving and Advent roll around again in late November.

So what now?

“The plodding durability of devotion.”

That’s the phrase the writer William Rivers Pitt used recently to describe the life and work of a man named Michael Ratner, who had died the week before. Ratner was an attorney who dedicated his life to, as Pitt put it, “lost causes”. He was president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and throughout his career served those who were the least powerful and least cared about by our leaders and society. The vast majority of people have never heard of Michael Ratner. But there is rarely glory in what Ratner did, little fame in fighting the battles that are right but, more often than not, losing ones something Jesus’ disciples discovered long ago.

Yes, many of the disciples are famous now. In their time though, the vast majority of people never heard of them either. The work they did on behalf of the least powerful and least cared about by the leaders and societies of the day went largely unnoticed in their immediate time. The battles they fought were often losing ones in the larger context.

But personal glory and fame were never the point for the disciples, just as they weren’t for Michael Ratner. For the disciples, as it is meant to be for us, what mattered was “the plodding durability of devotion”. The disciples knew that they were on God’s side of things; on the “right side of God’s history.” Because of that, they knew their cause was far from a lost one. They knew that the “plodding durability of devotion” is far more the core of our faith than big holy days and seasons. It is the core of a life well lived in God’s eyes. And that, as Pitt says in regard to Michael Ratner, “ain’t nothing”.

Blessings, Mark

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

Hi!

A few weeks ago, in one of the “Daily Devotionals” that are published on our denomination’s website (ucc.org), Vince Amlin, the Associate Minister at our sister church in Gainesville, Florida, wrote about a small group gathering he attended with other members of that congregation.

During it, Amlin says that a woman asked the other participants the following question:

“What do you expect from me as a fellow church member?”

It is a critical question, perhaps the most important question that needs to be answered in terms of the spiritual vitality of a congregation. What is it that we expect; should expect; even have a right to expect from each other as fellow members of a faith community? Because we do in fact, have a right to expect things from each other. That is what it means to be a congregation, a spiritual community. That is what it means to be, in the language of the Bible and theology, in covenant with each other. A Christian congregation is meant to reflect the relationship between God and the people of Israel presented in the Bible. That relationship is one of covenantmutual promise and obligation.

So what do we have a right to expect from each other?

To adapt a framework suggested by Eric Geiger, Senior Pastor at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, we have a right to expect that, depending upon the circumstances, and our particular gifts and resources, we will be each others’:

  • “Been There Person”

  • “Join Me Person”

  • “No Matter What Person”

    As Geiger describes it, a “Been There Person” is somebody who can offer us input and insight, provide us wisdom and constructive feedback so we can grow in general or meet a particular challenge. A “Join Me Person” is someone who invites us along for a specific task or event, or even more importantly, for a longer journey of friendship, companionship, or caregiving. A “No Matter What Person” is somebody who will stick with us, stay by us in all our times of struggle and success.

    As God’s covenant promise to each of us is to be our “Been There”, “Join Me” and “No Matter What” person, our part of that covenant is to be “Been There”, “Join Me”, and “No Matter What” people for each other. That is what we have a right to expect from each other.

    As we continue this Easter season of new life and new possibility, I invite us each to consider how we might be one or more of those types of people for someone we have not been before.

    Blessings, Mark

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

Hi!

About three weeks ago, we faced some of the more difficult days of my time here. As you learned in the congregational letter that went out by email, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups based in other states attempted to generate protests and even disruption of our “Souper Sunday” event on March 6. That eventan invitation for Mahmoud Mahmoud of Church World Service to speak to us about the Syrian refugee crisis, the process that all those applying for refugee status in the United States must go through, and the realities for those Syrian refugees already legally admitted to this country and living in nearby communitieswas described by some online as “helping ISIS”. All this made it prudent for us to have two uniformed police officers onsite throughout the event.

While it would be easy for us to dwell on those aspects of our hosting this forum, and treat them as “the story”, from my view the “real story” is much more important.

When the event finally arrived, we had, at different times, anywhere from one to five protesters holding signs on the sidewalk next to the church, and several individuals inside who were clearly there to voice their opposition to admitting or assisting Syrian refugees. But other than that...nothing.

And in my mind, that is the real story. The real story is that, in this time when some political debates and rallies for candidates are characterized much more by grade school level taunts and physical aggression than thoughtful, nuanced assertions regarding serious and complex issues; this time when objective facts are often treated as irrelevant at best, and with contempt at worst; this time when confrontation is considered strength and conversation and civility weakness; we organized and carried out an event related to a significant and sensitive topic that said a loud and proud “Not here. Not now.” to all of that.

Instead we said a faithful “Yes” to insisting on and creating an environment where all opinions, concerns and beliefs could be freely expressed without disruption; where those who were here from outside our spiritual community were treated as if they were part of it, regardless of whether or not they chose to accept that gracious welcome; and where we stood up for the core Christian principles of inclusion, hospitality, and the refusal to be intimidated by those who would have preferred we not take seriously the suffering of God's people in another part of the world.

In short, we were Easter peoplepeople of a Jesus whose life, teachings and spirit could not be silenced or done away witheven by death. That is what you did. That is who you are.

For going on 11 years now I have loved and been proud to be a part of this faith community. But never more than I was in early March.

Easter Blessings, Mark

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

A few years ago, the staff at Cedar Creek Church in Toledo, Ohio conducted a research project to determine why people visited a church for the first time in a while or the first time ever. Not “why” as in how they heard about the church or who invited them, but “why” as in the underlying need which lead them inside the doors.

They then analyzed the responses and determined three general categories of need:

Somethingwasmissing: Peoplecametoachurchintheaftermathofthedeath of a loved one or colleague, when a personal or professional achievement failed to provide the kind of satisfaction they expected, or following an incident which made them question whether the life they were living was truly meaningful.

Something was broken: A strained or unraveled marriage or other close relationship, a lost job, a child struggling to find their way, or an addiction.

Something was new: Marriage engagements, the birth of a child, relocation to a new town or city, or some other new start.

Missing; Broken; New.

As we move deeper into the journey of Lent this month and reach it’s end on Easter Sunday, let us keep those three words close to our hearts and minds since they are not just reasons people come to a church for the first time. They are also the daily state of humanity.

Each day, we are all living some combination of “missing, broken, and new”. And that is because change is the law of the universe. As Zen Buddhism suggests to us in its frequently paradoxical way, change is the only constant. We are never the same person today that we were yesterday. The context of our lives is never the same today as it was yesterday. People and things are always being subtracted or added to our lives through death, birth, new jobs and new homes. Some things are building up while others are breaking down, perhaps our careers, our finances, or our health.

What the path from Lent to Easter reminds us each year though, is that change isn’t the only inevitability. God is too. Lent and Easter call us to enter more deeply into the times when Jesus also experienced something “missing, broken or new” in his own or others’ lives, and believe that if we open ourselves up to God’s power, God can take every instance of change every instance of “missing, broken, and new” and change us make us stronger, more resilient, more flexible, less anxious and fearful. Lent and Easter call us to embrace God's power to transform life our lives.

Blessings, Mark

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

Senior Ministers Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
Tis the season.

No, not that season. Youre not imagining things. The Christmas season is definitely over.

Tis the season of champions.

College football crowned its national champion a couple of weeks ago. Before long, mens and womens college basketball will begin the cultural phenomenon known as March Madnessthat leads to determining those champions. The Super Bowl will soon produce a champion in professional football. And, of course, we are on the threshold of finally leaving the two-plus years of warm-upand beginning the political primary season where Republican and Democrats will determine their champions prior to Novembers presidential election.

Because of that, we are almost guaranteed to hear in - connection to at least one of those events - the chorus to the classic rock song by the band Queen:

We are the champions, my friends
And we'll keep on fighting to the end
We are the champions, we are the champions
No time for losers,
cause we are the champions of the world

No time for losers.

Its what the song, and a certain presidential candidate, likes to remind us over and over again. And it is a predominant attitude in our culture. If youre not a champion, youre a loser.

So what do we do with Lent?

At the same time that we are entering this season of champions, we Christians are also entering the season of Lent. And as Christians, as followers of Jesus, that leaves us a bit of a dilemma. For while we live in a society that prizes nothing more than being a champion, and disdains nothing more than a loser, we are members of a faith that at its core does just the opposite.

As Giles Fraser, a priest in the Church of England put it a few months ago, Christianity, properly understood, is a religion of losers.From its inception, our faith was intended for and consisted of those who the world saw, and still largely sees, as losers. Early in Lukes Gospel, Jesus establishes the vision statementfor his ministry, and subsequently, for our faith: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord.

The poor. Prisoners. The disabled. The powerless. All losers by the standards of the day, and still, for the most part, our day.

Jesus would then go about that mission by selecting a team of losers. Common fishermen. A despised tax collector. A team that would betray and desert him when things got tough. And then there was Jesus himself. Before long, executed as a common criminal. Seen as just another loser by the Roman Empire that ruled the world, by the religious leaders of the day, and by many of his own people.

But...They would all turn out to be wrong. In the long view of Gods time, the Roman Empire would be a short-lived champion. And so would the religious leadership of Jesustime. But Jesus? Jesuslife and example? Jesusmission? Our mission? That remains. That still lives. That still has the last word, as often and as much as the world and our culture continue to tell us it is a losing proposition.

It is not. It is Gods call to being true champions. Tis the season.
Blessings,
Mark