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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

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

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

  • Freedom of speech

  • Freedom of worship

  • Freedom from want

  • Freedom from fear

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

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

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

    But it does.

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

    Blessings, Mark

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

Hi...

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

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

Blessings, Mark

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

Friends...

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, Mark

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

Hi...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If so, we really do need to start remembering.

Blessings,
Mark



 

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

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

Senior Minister’s Message
Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
They are the first words spoken by any character in the Christmas Eve story from Luke’s Gospel the one we tell each year at FCC during the 10pm worship celebration. They are spoken by an angel a messenger of the Lord, usually believed to be Gabriel though Luke doesn’t specify, and directed at the shepherds watching over their flocks through the night.

Those words are: “Do not be afraid”.

The commemoration of Christmas the birth of Jesus that those words are the opening line to is now over. The start of a new year has either come or lies just around the corner as you read this. But those words remain. Those words should remain.

“Do not be afraid.”

Jesus would come to understand what God understood when sending Gabriel to deliver those first words on Christmas Eve that fear is the greatest enemy of the spirit that fear more than anything else drives us to close off our minds and our hearts, and when those close our spirits are deprived of the energy and the courage they need to thrive.

In her recent best-selling book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown, a professor of social work, says that in her research over the past thirteen years, she has “watched fear run roughshod over our families and communities”. And how do we rise above it rise strong? Brown suggests that we must acquire two primary traits. One is the ability to welcome, or at least tolerate, discomfort and uncertainty. Brown claims that the inability to manage those leads us to perfectionism, blame and rationalization. The other is curiosity. Those who rise strong, Brown says, are willing to dig deeper into the complexity of problems, issues and other people instead of shutting themselves off and making quick, definitive assessments instead.

We seem to be in a time where we are being encouraged to live in constant fear of everything imaginable. But while fear in the face of clear, present and immanent danger is reasonable and understandable, for those of us in this country to live in fear is not. To do that is to stifle the curiosity and ability to accept uncertainty we need to rise strong as a nation. And as “Christmas people”, doing that closes off our minds and our hearts, and therefore our spirits the spirit of God within each of us the spirit of God which through that angel on Christmas Eve said, first and foremost, to the shepherds and us, “Do not be afraid”.

“Do not be afraid”, God says to us, “because I am with you”.
“Do not be afraid.
Rise strong.”
Blessings,

Mark

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

Senior Minister’s Message

Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...

By the time you receive this edition of The Congregationalist, we will be on the threshold or have already entered the season of Advent. On each Sunday leading up to the lighting of the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, we will light one of the four candles of the Advent wreathcandles representing Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. I have wondered lately though, if there shouldn’t be a fifth Advent candle.

The candle of Justice.

Jesus is frequently referred to as “The Prince of Peace” this time of year, and peace is the frequent subject of Christmas cards and Christmas carols. Peace in those contexts is often perceived as calmness; gentleness; absence of conflict. But “peace” in the context of the Gospels, in the sense that Jesus speaks of it, is most intimately tied to something else.

Justice.

The peace that Jesus came to help bring the world is, as Christian theologians have understood for centuries, inseparable from justice. The famous slogan from the Civil Rights era, “No justice, no peace”, came from those whose roots were deeply imbedded in the Christian faith. It is a spiritual truth that we are being called on to remember and take seriously once again in this time. From the streets of Ferguson, to inner city Baltimore, to Wall Street, to the halls and grounds of the University of Missouri, to the rise of political “outsiders” like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, we seem to be experiencing the most significant time of civil protest in our nation in several decades.

Why? While there is no one answer when it comes to any large scale social phenomenon, there is also no question that a significant factor is so many people in our society feel that their voices are not heard - that they do not matter to our leaders on either side of the political aisle or to the workings of our major institutions. And there is ample evidence to support those feelings.

While peace as Jesus understood it and advocated it refuses to condone violence, it does call us to speak and act in the service of justice for all God’s people. So during this Advent and Christmas season, perhaps we might consider helping to bring a little more of the real peace of Christ into the world by offering the gift of justice.

How? There are many worthy causes we can offer our financial and personal support to. But perhaps we might start by engaging the question, “Why are others angry?” as it pertains to a particular incident or group; by educating ourselves about the people involved and what it is like to be them in their particular circumstances. Or perhaps begin by making an intentional effort to get to know someone different from us in some significant way, whether it's economically, religiously, racially, or socially.

Peacethe peace represented by that Advent candle and by the person of Jesus during this seasonis neither simple nor easy, because in order to get to it and keep it, we have to light the candle of Justice along the way.

Advent and Christmas Blessings, Mark

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

Friends,

November.

The month of earlier evening darkness. The month of Veteran's Day. The month of the 5th, 6th and 7th games of the World Series, if necessary (Seriously? Do we really want players to have to dress like Eskimos to play at least some of what are the most important games of the season in order to avoid frostbite?). And November. The month of two other things that belong together about as much as baseball and frostbite.

Elections and the phrase “God bless America”.

It seems as if it has become almost impossible for any political candidate, especially Presidential candidates, to give a speech without concluding or including the words “God Bless America”. And while I do not question the sincerity of those who do, it has gotten to the point where it has become an unwritten rule you must say it or you are either godless, unpatriotic, or both. It is now said so routinely that at times it sounds less a hope than a given, while at other times I really have no idea how the speaker means it.

According to Religion News Service though, the first President to use the phrase “God Bless America” in a speech was Richard Nixon, and it was on the occasion of announcing the resignation of three of his top officials in the depths of the Watergate scandal. It was “God Bless America” as in, “Please God, bless America, because we are in a mess”. In that sense, it was said in the way our ancient Israelite faith ancestors often called on God’s blessing for help in delivering them from times of captivity and oppression.

But as a nation, we, of course, are neither captive nor oppressed. We are already blessed in enormous ways, at least in material and safety terms. Perhaps instead of “God bless America” then, the more honest and certainly the more faithful thing would be for our candidates to express the sentiment, “May America Bless God”...

November. Also the month of Thanksgiving. While we appropriately thank God during this time for all we have been blessed with, may we also consider the ways in which we have been a blessing to God by being a blessing to God’s people. May we reflect on how we have used what God has blessed us with to pass on blessings to others at the individual, family, community, national and world levels.

I want to thank you for the many ways that I constantly see you, day after day, bless God. May we and America always do so.

Blessings,

Mark

"Whose Christianity?" Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

Hi...
Since the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage this summer, we have heard a great deal from some segments of Christianity that this new law of the land would threaten the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by forcing people to engage in acts that run counter to their beliefs.

Most recently, they point to the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and ordered her staff to do the same, on the grounds that it would violate her religious rights. In the past few weeks though, Davis’ argument has been rejected by a federal court, she has been jailed for contempt of court due to her failure to comply with that ruling, and now been released under the condition that while she herself doesn’t have to issue licenses to same-sex couples, her office must. However, Davis continues to publicly protest that she is the victim in this, that her religious rights are being violated and she is being persecuted for her faith. And many Christian and political leaders are protesting right along with her.

When Davis and those rallying around her claim that their religious rights are being violated though, they almost always speak in definitive, exclusive terms. They confidently claim “their” faith as “ours”–claim to speak for all of Christianity–or at the very least in a way which clearly implies that their version of Christianity is “superior” to any other, or simply the only version and that all others are illegitimate.

That perspective is a troubling one. It easily leads to a religious arrogance which resists interaction and dialogue with those who see things differently than we do, and which is essential to mature faith. It also easily leads to “spiritual blindness”, the inability to see our own religious hypocrisies (or in the spirit of Christian charity, “ironies”). It seems ironic that Kim Davis, who so adamantly refuses to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that it is in dire opposition to the version of Christianity she and her supporters see as “superior”, has also been divorced several times–something else that version of our faith is in dire opposition to.

Religious superiority is not exclusive to Kim Davis and those who share her interpretation of our faith however. It is practiced by “traditional” and “progressive”, “literal” and “open” Christians alike. But regardless of who practices it, it leads, as author Salman Rushdie put it recently, to one group trying to deny the rights of another while insisting it is their rights which are being denied; victimizing others while claiming that they are the real victims.

And that, in a much more serious irony, fails to serve the very Jesus who is supposedly being defended. Because that Jesus was about justice and equality, not superiority.

Blessings, Mark

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

Friends...

In a recent feature story for The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan, journalist and author of two books, examined the issue of what is currently acceptable to say on college campuses, and our society in general, through the lens of who colleges invite – and don't invite – to perform or speak. Flanagan claims that most college campuses practice a “code” which prohibits speech, even jokes from comics, that is seen as inflammatory, offensive, or too stereotypical when it comes to groups that society has historically “marginalized”, such as people of color, women, gays, those who are transgender, and those of religions other than our nation’s dominant one, Christianity.

While Flanagan is convinced that the large majority of students and administrators are genuinely open-minded and motivated by kindness and inclusivity, there are critical negative aspects to this newer form of “censorship”. One is that reputations and careers are frequently savaged and even ruined by a single comment that may very well have been misinterpreted or meant to be funny – but which violates the code. Another is related to Freud’s psychological theories about repression. The more we insist that a feeling, or thought must be repressed, the harder it will work to come out in other, and usually more unacceptable ways. Flanagan believes it is no accident that as certain types of speech have become more and more repressed, there has appeared to be an increase in corresponding incidents which “push back” in disturbing ways, such as the video of a noxious racist chant by members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity last spring.

Now let’s be clear. I am in no way suggesting that intentionally inflammatory speech should be applauded or is in any way admirable. At the same time though, it must be remembered that to truly be people of faith, and to have any hope of bringing real acceptance and inclusivity into God’s world, we must be willing to engage – not suppress – even the speech and attitudes we find the most opposed to that vision – the speech and attitudes we find the least faithful. We must not force it into the shadows, where it then becomes the kind of covert, “dog whistle” racism, sexism, etc. that the light of God’s call for equality, justice and inclusion has an even harder time penetrating. That is why we constantly insist on addressing our societies most sensitive issues on Sundays and in our Adult Studies program.

This year, my hope is that we will work to become an even more intentional faith community when it comes to our culture’s most “difficult conversations” – ones about race, gender, sexual identity, immigration, and more. Let us open our ears, minds and hearts to all voices, especially the ones we find most difficult to let in. 

As the Gospels remind us, Jesus engaged even those whose speech he found the most objectionable and the least faithful. He did not suppress or censor it, or them.

We can do the same. We must. For our society’s sake. For God’s sake.

Blessings, Mark

Senior Minister's Message - Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea "Is Christianity losing it's relevance in the U.S.?"

Hi...

Is Christianity losing its relevance in the U.S.?

A recent report by the renowned research institute, the Pew Forum, has drawn a great deal of attention for its finding that in just a handful of years, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians has fallen from 78 to 71.

While on the one hand that is certainly a statistically significant drop, on the other it still means 7 in 10 of us continue to identify as Christians—an overwhelming majority. From a faith perspective though, how much does any of that matter?

I’ve never understood faith as a “numbers game”—as something which the meaning, importance and impact of could be gauged by the size of the population that claims a Christian, or any other specific religious identity. To claim a Christian identity is not the same as claiming the way of life it calls us to. As the religious scholar and author, Reza Aslan, put it in an interview last week, for many American Christians that label is more a cultural identity than it is a lens through which they see and live in the world. Aslan says that for many, identifying as “Christian” carries no more, or even less real world significance than their political, gender, social or racial identification.

If Aslan is correct, the real issue for our faith is not the quantity of those who identify with it, but the quality with which they do. The real issue is whether it is our primary spiritual, moral and ethical worldview—the one that most clearly guides our words, decisions and actions—or just one of many relatively equal ones.

Wouldn’t it be better to be smaller in numbers but more faithful in individual and collective impact? To use one of Jesus’s spiritual metaphors, instead of worrying how big our loaf of bread is in society, wouldn’t it be better to be the smaller portion of leaven, the smaller portion of yeast that makes the whole loaf—the whole society, the whole world—rise toward what God created and calls it to be?

Blessings, Mark