Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/6

Dear friends,

 

I was listening to NPR the other morning and heard the most incredible business idea.  It’s called “Goat to Meeting.”  Turns out there is an animal sanctuary in Half Moon Bay, California, south of San Francisco that rescues farm animals from slaughter and educates visitors about the dangers of factory farming.  They rely mostly on donations for their work and those donations have dropped by 60-70% during the pandemic.  They needed a new solution for financial solvency.  Enter their new plan for revenue enhancement: “Goat to meeting.”  For a specified donation you can have Paco the llama, Juno the goat, Magnolia the cow or even Steve the rooster attend your next online video meeting.  Can you imagine having a goat at Bible Study or the Gathering time on Sunday morning.  The thought really tickles my funny bone.

 

I can’t really remember anyone who loathes all animals.  Sure. There are people who are partial to dogs or prefer cats, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who despises all animals.  There is something about critters that is endearing.  I just bought several board books for my coming grandson.  I think every one of them had animals as central the book.  Children are fascinated by animals.  I think most adults are as well.  We look into their eyes and talk to them as if they understand every word.  We stroke their fur and find we are calmed.  Literally there are studies out that show we humans have reduced stress levels when we stroke the fur of an animal!

 

You will recall that God created the animals.  The author of Genesis says God brought the animals to Adam so he could name them, and although they did not provide quite the companion he was looking for, it is assumed they would be part of Adam and Eve’s world.  Animals are scattered throughout the Bible. There’s a great story in the book of Numbers about Balaam’s talking ass that saves his life when Balaam is foolishly disobeying God’s instructions.  God involves a great fish (whale?) to correct Jonah’s disobedience.  The eagle is referenced in the book of Isaiah as a metaphor for God’s care for us and sheep abound in both the old and new testament.  Animals are assumed in the creation to be part of God’s good work and occasional servants in God’s plans.  Personally I think animals are beautiful, awe inspiring, and sometimes just fun to have around (as in our household pets.)

 

So I am giving thanks for the animal kingdom today and for all the ways God’s creatures great and small are a blessing to us.  Personally I think it would be great fun to have a goat at a zoom meeting, but in the mean time I think I’ll go find Theo (my dog) and give him a pet… or maybe a treat.

 

Here’s a link to the NPR segment:  https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/20/838775628/goat-2-meeting-for-your-next-video-call-invite-a-farm-animal

The company is solvent now, by the way.

 

Happy Saturday!

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/5

Dear friends,

Last night we had a bat join us in the house.  We were in the middle of dinner when he swooped into the kitchen, flew around briefly, and headed back into the living room/dining room.  Theo (our basset hound) was thrilled.  He immediately began following the bat through the house!  Mike and I immediately got to our feet to follow into the big room and then just as quickly hit the deck as he swooped over us.  Several minutes of chaos followed as we tried to determine what was to be done while avoiding the swooping bat with Theo running back and forth through the house chasing the bat.  (Fortunately he was too short actually come close to the bat!)  I finally determined the bat was attracted to the light and began shutting down all the lights while Mike opened the door hoping the bat would just leave!  Instead he swooped into the enclosed front porch, our piano room, and we closed the French doors behind him.  He was trapped.

Mike and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down to regroup.  (Theo just gazed in confusion at the ceiling wondering where the bat had gone.)  I said to Mike, who do we know who might know something about bats?  We racked our brains.  Finally I texted Matt Kennedy. He had captured raccoons in our church.  Maybe he knew something about bats.  Matt texted back with some memories of what his father had done to catch a bat – things having to do with blankets and brooms.  Hmmm… “Tennis racket?” he suggested.  Now I knew he was being funny.  We joked back and forth while exploring bat removal on the internet.  Finally we settled on setting a trash can over the bat which was now hanging from our ceiling and slipping a piece of cardboard under it to force the bat into the can.  At my insistence Mike covered every inch of his exposed skin and set off into the piano room to capture the bat.  I snapped a picture first to send to Matt who was still texting back and forth with me.  Mike went in with his trash can and pizza box lid and captured the bat, no problem.  He squealed and squawked as Mike carried him through the house and out the front door.  He set him down by a tree.  That bat looked at Mike in disgust and he flew off in seconds.  “Success!” I texted to Matt.  “Awesome!” he replied.  I thanked him for his companionship and we said good night.

I think I’m just one of those people who needs a companion in a moment of trouble.  I am grateful for Matt today, mostly because he made me laugh in a tense moment.  I hope you will take a moment to think of a friend today for whom you are grateful.  Maybe give your friend a call and tell them you appreciate them.  The writer of Ecclesiastes wisely wrote:

Though one may be overpowered,

    two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

 

God created us to live in community and in these days of significant challenge, I am glad to be in community with all of you.

 

May you have a batless day,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/4

Dear friends,

 

I found myself remembering and reciting Psalm 121 today.  It was my grandmother’s favorite psalm.  It has been a favorite of mine for many years now.  As I was reciting it alone in my kitchen I was suddenly struck by how many times the word keep or keeper appears in the psalm.  You can count them below.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.

 

I count six incidence of the word keep or keeper over eight verses.  The last three “keeps” appear in the last two verses!  I think the psalmist is trying to make a point here.  The Lord is our keeper.  The Lord protects us, watches over us and holds our lives.

 

I began this recitation because I was looking for the Lord’s help in a difficult moment, and I was reminded in the psalm that the Lord is much more than a helper.  The Lord gives me every breath.  The Lord holds my life!

 

Just thought I’d share.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/3

Dear friends,  I was talking with Bill Burton last night on “Groundhog Day” and he was all geared up for watching “Groundhog Day – movie.”  He said to me, I think there are some spiritual things in that movie.  This morning he had send me his reflections and I thought I would share them with you today for our Daily Devotional.  Enjoy!

Pr. Sally

 

GROUNDHOG DAY

— the movie –

A Reflection

 

Phil Connors is a weatherman. More importantly, he’s a self-centered jackass. Phil and a cameraman and his producer, Rita, go to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Phil looks with disgust toward the community and its “hick” citizens.  As it turns out, he stays much longer than expected.  Not just in Punxsutawney. But in Groundhog Day.  Over. And over. And over. And over.

Watching Phil’s journey in this story is a trip.  Literally. It somewhat tracks with stags of grief: Confusion, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance, Reconciliation.  But, to me, “Wait there’s more!”  It ends with rebirth, renewal.

Confusion: “What if there is no tomorrow?  There wasn’t one today.”

Denial: “Groundhog Day is still just once a year, isn’t it?”

Anger: “One time I was in the Virgin Islands with a beautiful woman. Why couldn’t I get stuck in THAT day?”

Depression: He takes adolescent-like reckless actions, recognizing there are no consequences to his actions.

Bargaining:  He ponders if he is a god, not The God, but a god.

Acceptance: He takes advantage of reliving this one day by using what he learns of the details of the citizenry to manipulate them for “tomorrow’s Groundhog Day.” He especially tries to build a romantic relationship with Rita, but to no avail.  Then, after trying to save an old man’s life, he realizes he can only do so much.

Reconciliation: Once he becomes so attuned to the days of the residents, he begins to make a positive difference in his new world. He goes from being a prisoner of that time and place to being a master of that time and place.  It’s not about being the hero in the town, but about what you can do in the moment to make things better instead of making things worse. 

Rebirth: Once he has genuine heartfelt care for Rita and everyone else, he wakes up and, finally, it is the next day. He stops worrying about himself and starts embracing what he can to for his world serving others. “No matter what happens tomorrow or the rest of my life, I’m happy now because I love you.”

 

Am I ever in a Groundhog Day syndrome?  Or Groundhog Year?  Maybe? My business year has its seasons. Every cottin’ pickin’ year. Personnel reviews in the first quarter.  Line renewals in the second quarter. Strategic planning in the third. And we end up with budgeting. My interviews – with hiring candidates or business lending — have many of the same questions. 

This is the challenge and my takeaway: 

  • How can I transform or break free of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that keep me stuck in same old, same old?
  • “What would you do if you were stuck in one place?  And every day was  exactly the same? And nothing you did mattered?”

Seems like there is a fair amount of opportunity for renewal in the Bible.  We read about the fall in Genesis and how God did a reboot in the flood. We read in Acts about how the disciples spread the Word so others get a chance to reboot their lives. Maybe God is the way we break out of old patterns.

At the end of the movie (Goundhog), Rita, Phil’s producer, spends every single cent she has to “buy him” at a charity bachelor auction.  Maybe Jesus  is our producer who has spent everything he had for me? 

I don’t know.  I’m just a banker.

 

Bill  



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/2

Dear friends,

While I was listening to NPR this morning I caught a human interest story about a father daughter podcast that airs twice a week called, “You Must Know Everything!”  The father is Jeremy Smith and his daughter is 10 year old Rasa Smith.  Jeremy says that when his daughter was born, he was so excited to teach her all the things he knew.  He found himself making a mental list of everything he wanted to communicate to his daughter as she grew.  He wanted her to know everything!  What he has discovered, however, over his 10 years of being Rasa’s parent is that he can learn things from Rasa too.  This mutual sharing amped up last spring when Rasa began doing remote learning during covid.  As part of their learning the two of them decided to do a podcast about everything each of them needed to know to get through life!

 

I was reminded of those early parenting moments when I discovered I was learning from my children.  As they grew I discovered my children had lots to teach me and ways to help me I had never imagined.  I’m guessing most of us have turned to our children or a young person for help with technology!  My son, Stephen, is my tech guru. When I call for assistance, he patiently walks me through solutions and if I can’t follow his instructions, he just takes over my computer from California and fixes the problem for me. 

 

The sharing with my sons these days, however, goes way beyond computers.  We share recipes, edit each other’s writing, help each other with music, recommend books, podcasts and YouTube videos to each other.  And we share life lessons because we are committed to making sure we each know everything we need to know to get through life!

 

In the Bible study lesson from Acts that I studied last night with the Monday Night group and last Wednesday morning with the Men’s study, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel who prophesies that in the last days God will pour out his Spirit on all people.  Joel then describes who “all people” are.  One of the inclusions he makes is that the Spirit will be given to both the old and young! 

 

When I was growing up, it was assumed that the young learned from the old, but I believe there has begun to be a healthy change in that mentality.  How wonderful when we can reach across generational lines and learn from each other.  How blessed it is in the church when we can look for the gifts of God’s Spirit in our young people and the young leaders among us and celebrate God’s outpouring of the Spirit – a gift to all generation for all God’s people!

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/1

Dear friends,

My husband sent me an article for clergy people today put out by the Congregational Consulting Group.  It was about Clergy exhaustion related to having to deal with Covid 19, but as I read the article it occurred to me there were observations that were general to all of us dealing with Covid 19.  I don’t really know anyone who isn’t worn out with this pandemic and exhausted from the stress of not knowing when this will be over.  So here are a couple of useful takeaways.

 

The author, Lawrence Peers, says part of our weariness with our current circumstances is what he calls mind traps.  A mind trap is a reliance on a familiar coping strategy that works well in common situations, but may not work at all in something as complex as a pandemic. 

 

An example of one type of mind trap is telling “Simple Stories.”  We all tell stories to ourselves to explain what’s happening in our lives.  We say this is just like something that happened in our past, or like something that is happening currently.  Naming a story we know to which we can compare a current crisis is reassuring.  We know stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending.  So we can draw comfort from the fact that we are somewhere in the middle and the end may be just around the corner.  Some people tried to do this comparing early on with Covid 19 by suggesting it’s just like the flu.  Unfortunately, Covid is not the flu.  We haven’t experienced anything like this since the Spanish Flu of 1918 – 1920 which was a strain of the H1N1 virus.  The United States lost 675,000 people to this virus.  We have currently lost 441,000 to Covid 19 in 11 months of pandemic.  If any of us could remember the Spanish Flu, we could say it’s like that, but mostly none of us were alive in 1920 to remember it.  Covid 19 cannot be understood by a simple story.  We need to accept that this complex pandemic is going to require a complex combination of solutions that may take time to find and implement.

 

Another mind trap is that we think we can control the pandemic.  I think this is a particular trap for capable Presbyterians.  Every Presbyterian church I have served has been full of smart, ambitious, organized, capable people.  We are full of people who can overcome anything through energy, intelligence and sheer determination.  Of course we’ve never tackled a pandemic before.  Lawrence Peers suggests a better strategy than trying to “control the pandemic” is to seek to release the motivations and the energies of others!  In other words, we need to lean on each other in looking for a way forward.  We need to listen to those in the know and encourage and support the efforts of people who are making headway with a good plan.  We cannot control this pandemic by ourselves, but if we work together as a church and a community and a nation we have a chance.

 

It seems to me that both of these mind traps are common traps for people of faith.  They are really both about controlling our story and controlling our world.  How we long to be in control.  Our faith reminds us that the only one who is in control is Almighty God, and we have to accept that fact that we often don’t know what God is doing until long after the fact.  So we need to trust that God is at work and God is with us.  So in the midst of all the complexity and confusion, we lean on our faith and we lean on each other.  We will get through this confounding time together.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not rely on your own insight.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make straight your paths.  (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 1/30

Dear friends,

Here’s a prayer for Saturday taken from the book, “Present on Earth” by Wild Goose Publications.

 

If we met you, Jesus Christ,

We might not think that you were on a mission.

 

Your talk would be of common and curious things:

Salt, dough,

Lost lambs, lost coins,

Paying taxes, hosting a meal,

Wise virgins, and foolish house-builders.

 

We would not know you were on a mission,

We would think you were making sense of life,

Lighting up the ordinary, identifying the truth.

 

When next you look with compassion on the world

And need mission done in your way,

Lord, send us.

Amen.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 1/29

Dear friends,

I was thinking about my sabbatical summer in Europe again today.  We saw so many beautiful things that summer: fantastic architecture, glorious artwork, bountiful flowers.  It seemed everywhere we looked there were interesting and unusual things to explore with our eyes and ears.  But not everything was beautiful.  I was thinking about one of those not beautiful things this morning…  the Colosseum in Rome.  I had been intrigued by the Colosseum for years but knew little about it.  I knew it was an amazing structure and the gladiators fought there.  So I was interested to learn more.

We went to the Colosseum with a fantastic tour guide who helped us understand all that went there.  The first thing I learned as we looked at the exterior of the building was that it was built by Jewish slaves.  After the Jewish Roman war that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the leveling of the Temple and the dispersion of Jewish people, Rome took many of Jewish people as slaves, marched them back to Rome, and paraded them through the city in triumph.  These were the Jewish slaves who were forced to build the Colosseum.

Our guide brought us on the main floor of the Colosseum through the gate entered by those destined to die in the Colosseum. There our guide showed us the two underground levels beneath the floor where the animals, prisoners and gladiators were kept until it was there turn to come on to the floor.  She explained that a day at the Colosseum included animal combats in the morning.  The execution of prisoners happened around noon and could stretch on for a couple of hours.  I won’t go into the details. This was followed by the gladiatorial combats where one lived and the other did not.  By the end of the day the sand floor would be soaked in blood. Our guide said the Emperor provided free tickets to the masses to fill the seats and provided free food and wine throughout the day.  I had assumed the Colosseum was built as an entertainment venue to raise income for the government.  Our guide said the events at the Colosseum were designed to appease the masses.  This gift of entertainment kept the masses from insurrection. 

I have to say I was a little nauseous at the end of the tour just thinking about the horror of what had transpired at the Colosseum, but again our guide warned us against judging the people too harshly.  She said we humans today still crave violence for entertainment.  She pointed to many of our sporting events.  And then there is the violence and death we watched on movies, television shows and even cartoons. Sure we know it’s fake, but what is it in us that needs to see violence in a film anyway?

There is something in our human nature that moves quickly to anger, hate and even violence.  I check in in myself when my dog gets too rambunctious and knicks me with his teeth when we are playing tug of war.  My instant response is to want to pop him on the head, but I usually stop myself and settle for an angry outcry.  I see it in my husband when he watches the news.  The news makes us both a little crazy these days.  As people, there is a seed of aggression that lurks within us just waiting to be stirred to life.  And yet we same human beings can create works of great beauty and offer deeds of great kindness. It’s a mystery!

Who will we be?  Will we be full of hate or full of love; full of actions of compassion or full of violence? Paul invites us to allow Christ Jesus to lead us into God’s will.  He writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  (Rom 2: 1-2).  Only God has the power to make us to be new creations in the image of God.

It is important to know who we are with all the potential for good and for evil.  It is also crucial to know that God calls us to walk in his light, to learn from his gracious son and to be guided by his Spirit of love.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 1/28

Dear friends, 

I really like this picture. (It’s another Mike pic.)  What do you think this little guy is saying?

He could be asking, “Who me?”  I think we often imagine ourselves saying that to God when God asks something of us.  “You want me to be a Sunday school teacher or an elder or to share my faith with my neighbor? Who me?”

Maybe he’s asking “Is it safe yet?”  I think that’s a question a lot of us are asking these days.  Or maybe we are asking, “When will it be safe, Lord?” or “Why is this pandemic happening to us?”

Maybe he’s asking, “How is it that you are so good to me, God?”  “How did a merit such a great tree to climb, or my wonderful family or those delicious nuts?  We ask similar things when we are feeling grateful.

I suppose it’s more likely this little squirrel is asking, “Who’s the strange guy with the camera and why does he keep taking my picture?”

Whatever this little guy is thinking or not thinking, I do hope you all are asking questions because asking questions of God is part of being in relationship with God.  It’s part of the ongoing conversation we have with God throughout our lives.  I worry about people who don’t bother to ask anything of God. I have asked questions of God from my youth.  I often get answers too or sometimes partial answers, but I often have to wait a while for the answer to become clear. I’ve learned to be patient.

Be sure to ask God about what you want to know and then be open to hear what God says to you.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 1/27

Dear friends,

I have always been fascinated by people of other cultures, languages and traditions.  I suppose this interest began in college when my father took a sabbatical in Germany and invited me to join him for the summer in West Berlin before the Berlin wall came down.  In addition to spending a concentrated time in Germany, we traveled into East Berlin and East Germany several times.  This was a huge eye opener to the terrible conditions for people behind the iron curtain.  In Seminary I traveled to Egypt and the Holy Land which exposed me to another culture, language and the terrific poverty of 3rd world countries.  And of course, three summers ago I traveled extensively in Europe, Greece in particular.  I find experiences with people of other cultures to be broadening, challenging my assumptions and values and inviting me to think in new ways.

 

We do not, however, have to travel far to interact with different life experiences from ours and different cultures.  Tonight we have a terrific opportunity to hear from two respected men in our congregation who are very American, but have a different story to tell from mine, to be sure.  Rudy Gourdine and Jim Pyles have experienced America as black men.  They have stories they want to tell.  They are inviting us to consider what it might mean to walk a mile in their shoes.  I’m ready to listen though I think it unlikely I will ever know fully what it’s like to walk in their shoes. 

 

That phrase, “Walk a mile in my shoes” actually comes from a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895.  Mary was a temperance reformer, a suffragist and a licensed preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church.  The original poem was entitled, “Judge Softly” and the “walk a mile” phrase actually concludes “walk a mile in his moccasins.  The poem reads as is Mary Lathrap was heavily influenced by the poor conditions of Native Americans both on and off the Indian Reservations at the time.  She urges the reader to try to listen and understand the experiences of those who are different from you, rather than to judge harshly.

 

I think the phrase “walk a mile in my shoes” actually describes quite well what God did when he became incarnate in Jesus.  We celebrate at Christmas the amazing gift of grace that God would choose to come among us and live as a human being in Jesus.  God effectively walked in our shoes for miles upon miles, which is why we say we can turn to Jesus to understand every pain we suffer and every human struggle.  He has walked in our shoes.

 

I think it is the length God has gone to live among us and understand our human experience that inspires me to want to try to listen and understand others – especially those who have experience challenges with which I do not have to contend.  I hope Jim and Rudy will help me understand the experience of black Americans a little more tonight.  I hope you join us at 7:00 PM.  Check my earlier email for the zoom link.

 

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally

Here’s the link for Mary Lathrap’s poem, Judge Softly:

https://jamesmilson.com/about-the-blog/judge-softly-or-walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins-by-mary-t-lathrap/



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