Pastors’ Blog

Easter Crafts

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It’s almost Easter and there are a ton of interesting crafts that might be fun to do at home (but not quite right for children’s worship). If you try one of these, please post with how it went and take a photo, email it to me (dianabell@togetherweserve.org), and I’ll post it. 

Together We Create! / Diana

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DIY Mini Resurrection Garden
Or, a Long term planter

 

 

 

 

crosses craftFinger Paint Cross

 

Water Color Cross
(Image above. Paint with or without the body on the cross)

 

 

ETREmpty Tomb Rolls
(delicious!)

 

 

 

 

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Bird Nest Treats (w/ Easter candy)
Pick your favorite snack materials:

Shredded Wheat & Coconut

Coconut  

Chow Mein Noodles (scroll down)

 

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Resurrection Egg Hunt (courtesy of Inspired blog)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*Tree w/ Eggs telling the Holy Week story…cannot locate directions! Look closely and be creative!

 

 

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Why Christians Need to Speak Out – and Take Action – On Global Warming

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Many of us have heard plenty about global warming.  That’s certainly true in environmentally-aware Marin County, California, where I live and lead a Presbyterian congregation.  Sometimes I wonder if people have heard so much about it that they’re either paralyzed by fear or numbed by boredom into non-action.  Sometimes I wonder whether people are thinking, “If I don’t think about it, won’t it go away?” or “Why should I worry about it when there’s nothing I can do, anyway?”

There are plenty of good scientific answers to these questions.  I will not repeat here the scientific research about the current impacts of global warming and what we can expect in years to come if nothing changes.  There are loads of articles by scientists that document these facts and offer predictions.  I even found a “Global Warming for Dummies” website, if you want the facts plain and simple.  What I want to address is why this is an issue for people of faith; specifically, for people who are Christians.

This question has come up recently because in 2014, our congregation is sponsoring a series of speakers we call the Green Chautauqua.  The speakers, starting with Union of Concerned Scientists climatologist Melanie Fitzpatrick on January 31, will speak about how we can respond to global warming – not just why we should be petrified by the prospect, but what we can do.  A number of people have asked me, “So, why is a church doing this?  What does global warming have to do with the Christian faith?”

There is a two-part answer to this question.  First, Christians believe that we belong to God.  As the psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”  (Psalm 24:1)  Everything belongs to God, who created us and entrusted this beautiful, blue-green planet to us to enjoy and to thrive.  A faithful response to this blessing is to be good stewards; to be caretakers of the creation: the air we breathe, water, the oceans, wild and domesticated animals, plants, minerals, agricultural land, wilderness – and human life.  My denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, has a long history of activism in social, political and environmental justice issues because we believe that God calls us to take care of what God has given us.  Christ set the example for us, by healing, telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and speaking out for the outcast and the oppressed.

And so because global warming affects people and the other creatures, and threatens God’s good creation, we are called to respond.  To act.  Depending on their location, people may be affected by disease, rising sea levels, drought, extinction of species, reduction of food supplies or major storms.  The impact of these effects will be greatest on those with the least financial resources to adapt to or recover from the effects. 

We Presbyterians are committed to the truth in both science and faith.  Our Green Chautauqua speakers are not what you would call “faith-based.”  They may or may not be people of faith; they will speak about responses that anyone and everyone can do.  Regardless of your faith, the Green Chautauqua is offered to our friends and neighbors in Marin and beyond as a challenge to think critically about both the issue of global warming and our responsibility to respond. 

For the details about our speaker series, go to http://www.togetherweserve.org/green-chautauqua/.

 

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The Atheist on the Radio

On my way home from church on Sunday, I listened to “City Arts and Lectures” on public radio.  The guest was evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has been described as an evangelist for atheism, although he denies this.  He says he doesn’t stand on street corners and harangue people, after all.  Which points to the first of two problems I have with Richard Dawkins.  When he talks about “religion,” he sets up a straw man and then knocks it down.  He pretends that all people who are “religious” are politically conservative creationists (that is, believe God made the whole cosmos in six days a few thousand years ago) who knock on people’s doors to ask whether they are “saved,” who care more about what happens to people after they die than before, and who need to believe in a higher power because they are unwilling to address the world’s problems with political or economic solutions.

If Dawkins had to deal with actual religion instead of these stereotypes of religion, his case would fall apart.  As Texas pastor and activist Jim Rigby puts it, “Most of the ‘New Atheist’ books don’t even define what they mean by religion.  It’s just an amorphous image of all that is superstitious and oppressing.  Most of those books would fail a Philosophy 101 paper for failing to define precisely what it is they are attacking.”  It isn’t that the “superstitious and oppressing” aspects of religion don’t exist.  It’s just that there is so much more that Dawkins conveniently ignores.

He ignores religious movements like the Quakers and the Mennonites, with long histories of focusing on peace and human rights.  He ignores the fact that King George III, king of England during the American Revolution, called that conflict “that Presbyterian rebellion” because the cause of freedom from tyranny was so identified with Presbyterian principles.  He ignores religious leaders like Bishop Romero, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, all shot down because their religion called them to risk death itself for the cause of human liberation.  He ignores Jim Wallis and Sojourners, long the voice of faith in action and ethics in public life.  He ignores Gordon Cosby and Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., an icon of Christian activism addressing real needs of real people.  He ignores the way neighborhood churches all over the world are doing the same thing, in bigger and smaller ways.

There’s a second problem I have with Dawkins.  When I was 8 years old, my sister and I were in a high school production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”  We played two of the king’s many children, and each of us had a short, easy line (probably because we were the principal’s daughters).  The scene was in the classroom, where Anna was teaching the king’s children about the bigger world beyond Siam.  My sister’s line was, “I do not believe in such a thing as snow!”  A child growing up in Siam (present-day Thailand) would never have experienced snow.  How could anyone expect her to believe it existed?

Dawkins has never experienced the presence of God, so how could he be expected to believe in God?  It doesn’t follow that because he has not experienced God, God and the experience of God are not real.  I suspect Dawkins would argue that the people who claim to have experienced God are making it up, are delusional, or have some pathetic need to believe.  But this argument is just a belief.  It is a belief, just like the belief in God.  Dawkins can’t prove he is right about the non-existence of God – that his belief is true – any more than I can prove to him that God exists and I have experienced God’s presence.  He is operating under a belief system, just as people of faith are.  His brand of atheism is just another kind of religion.

Would Dawkins say that qualities like love, trust or loyalty don’t exist because you can’t see them?  I suspect not.  I suspect he’d say that you can tell they exist because you can see the results.  That, however, is a belief, as well.  No one knows the truth of an individual human heart.  No one can know for sure that someone’s actions are motivated by love as opposed to, say, greed, self- interest, fear, etc.  We have to decide based upon belief.

I have experienced what I believe to be a divine presence at work in my life – something bigger than myself; something that is a power for good; something that inspires me to be better.  I call this presence God.  As a practicing person of faith, I am humble about defining God and claiming that my definition and my understanding are better than anyone else’s.  I practice my faith within a community and within a particular tradition.  This keeps me grounded and on track.  In my experience, faith practices developed over centuries by faithful people have survived because they are effective practices.

Like most people of faith, I continue to have questions and doubts.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  In my community of faith, we like to say we don’t have all the answers but we try to ask the right questions.  I continue to see the very real evidence of the power of God in the lives of individuals and communities.  I can’t prove it.  Neither can Richard Dawkins.

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New Look at the 7 Deadly Sins

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I’ve been thinking about the so-called 7 Deadly Sins.  I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s time to revamp the list.  After all, Pope Gregory revised an older list to come up with the traditional 7 in the 6th century. 

First of all, I know lots of folks have trouble with the word “sins.”  Let’s move beyond that by saying there are things people do that hurt themselves, others and God’s world, and a traditional way to describe those actions is “sins.”  In my theology, sins are not deadly because committing them sends the sinner straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200, because I don’t believe in hell.  However, I do believe people can do things that are deadly to human relationships, to human life, and to the survival of God’s creation.  So I’ve been toying with this new list:

Aggression

Callousness (including disregard for the suffering of others, and conscious refusal to act when action is necessary)

Cruelty

Denial

Entitlement (encompassing lack of gratitude, unexamined privilege, selfishness and arrogance)

Prejudice (including all forms of closed-mindedness, deciding without exploring, and judgment without understanding)

Tribalism (xenophobia, jingoism, white and every other kind of supremacy, and super-patriotism)

I prefer these to the traditional 7 because these imply a particular action or set of actions – or inactions.  The original list of 7, for example, includes wrath.  Sometimes the feeling, the emotion of wrath is appropriate.  What matters is what you do with it.  Do you lash out cruelly?  Do you attack aggressively?  The old list also includes pride, which can be a very positive quality – depending on what you do.

I also prefer this new list because these are the sins that break down connections, that deny our oneness with each other and our world.  That is what is deadly to humanity, and to our planet.   

What do you think?  What’s missing?

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Facing Up to a Hard Question: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”

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What will happen to all our stuff when the time comes that we need to downsize, move into assisted living – or die?  Derek Penwell, author, activist and pastor at a mainline church in Louisville, Kentucky, points out in a recent Huffington Post article that our kids may not want all those precious family heirlooms, like Grandma’s china or Grandpa’s golf clubs.  Not to mention the furniture and other piles of stuff that we worked so hard to acquire.  It doesn’t suit their taste.  It doesn’t fit their lifestyle.  It will end up in a garage sale or perhaps at the Goodwill.

And then he raises the painful and provocative question: “What if the kids don’t want our church?”

Dr. Penwell concludes: “In fact, in many ways, these [younger] generations increasingly think the church has been running toward the wrong finish line for years – concerned as it seems to have been not with figuring out how more faithfully to live like the Jesus of the Gospels, but in acquiring bigger and better stuff to hand down to a generation that doesn’t particularly want to inherit it.”

“You could try to convince the emerging generations that they ought to value the tools you’ve always used, that they should want to take care of them, that they’re going to need them someday, that they should want to pass them down to their children.”

“Or, you could complain about the fact that these kids just don’t appreciate what you’ve done for them.”

“Or, you could suck it up and bless them on their next wild adventure.”

Food for thought with the clear ring of truth.  Except for that part about not trying to figure out how more faithfully to live as Christ’s disciples.  That is exactly what we strive to do at First Presbyterian Church.  No one does it perfectly, but it is our goal.

So, given that, what is God calling us – our congregation – to do?  Certainly, to let the world know in whatever way we can that in fact we are striving to live the Gospel faithfully, which, to us, means loving our neighbors, “neighbors” defined as everyone regardless of any human condition, and “love” defined as taking action (not just having warm and fuzzy thoughts) to be good stewards of God’s earth and to work for justice and peace.

But also, perhaps we are being called to continue to treasure the gift that church is to us, the gift it is right now to so many people, at the same time that we let go of fears for its future.

How do we do the work that God is calling us to do within the body of Christ, at the same time that we bless younger generations in their next wild adventure?  What does that look like “in real life?”

You can read the article yourself by clicking on this link: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”

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Good Friday Service of Taizé and Tenebrae

Blessing Journey, by Juliet Wood

We are doing something a little different for Holy Week this year.  In years past, we have had both an evening Maundy Thursday service and a mid-day Good Friday service.  Most recently, the Maundy Thursday service has been a tenebrae service (more on tenebrae below) and the Good Friday service has been a Service of the Seven Last Words of Christ – seven different preachers over the course of three hours, interspersed with hymns and worship music.

We have learned a handful of things over the past years: People love the contemplative darkness of the Maundy Thursday tenebrae service, but there are a number of people who have a hard time fitting in worship on a “school night.”  Here at First Presbyterian Church, the Maundy Thursday service always has ended with Jesus’ arrest, and so those who attend worship on Thursday but not on Friday never reach Golgotha – the place and events of the crucifixion.  The Service of the Seven Last Words focuses on the crucifixion and has the appeal of spanning the hours that Jesus is traditionally believed to have been on the cross – noon to 3:00 – but relatively few people can take off work or school to come to a service in the middle of the day.  Further, the Service of the Seven Last Words revolves around sermons – words, words, and more words – when, perhaps, observance of Good Friday is more appropriately contemplative and even emotionally evocative.

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One Great Hour of Sharing Video

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Every year on Palm Sunday we participate in the ecumenical offering, One Great Hour of Sharing.  This year they have made a stunning video, which you can watch here.  Do it.  It is lovely.

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Ten Good Reasons to Bring Your Child to Church (well, our church, anyway)

Last Sunday night a group of parents gathered at our church to discuss Madeline Levine’s new book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.  It was a very affirming experience for me, as both a pastor and the mother of an eleven-year-old, to be in a group of parents working hard to be good parents.  And when I say “good parents,” I mean people working hard to love their children well, and to raise them to be moral, productive people who can cope with what life throws at them.

And it occurred to me that church is a resource for these parents in so many ways, besides the occasional book group, and we don’t lift that up often enough.  So that is what I am doing.  Here are the 10 reasons that bringing your child to church is good for you as a parent and good for your child.  I am only speaking about our church, First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo.  These reasons may or may not apply to other churches, and if they do not, well, there is a good opportunity for conversation.  These reasons are in no particular order.

1.  At church, your child will become accustomed to the benefits of silence.  We don’t sit in silent prayer every Sunday, or for very long.  But we do most Sundays.  This is positively countercultural.  On a recent trip with my son’s school, I found fifth graders to be essentially incapable of silence.  Maybe it’s because no one has ever shown them it’s a good thing.

2.  At church, your children will learn stories that are deeply a part of our culture.  They’ll certainly need to know them to be a literate adult.  They might even need to know some of them for the SAT.

3.  Not only will they learn the stories, they will learn that these stories have meaning and hold truths, even if they are not what 21st century people would call “facts.”  At some point, when their brains are sophisticated enough to handle it, they might even learn the difference between “truth” and “fact.”  They will learn to think critically about these stories, and to apply them to life.

4.  You as a parent will be around other parents who support limits and value morals and ethics over SAT scores and trophies.  And your kids will be around other kids for whom limits and ethics are “normal.”

5.  You and your child will be plunged into a multi-generational environment.  They might even end up with a few extra “grandparents” who take a special interest in them, as many of our kids have.  These folks have a lot of parenting wisdom to share.

6.  You and your child will be around people who emphasize and value hospitality – not in the Martha Stewart sense, but in the welcoming sense.  You and your child will be in an environment where differences are valued – differences in ethnic origin, economic circumstance, developmental ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, physical disability, and even faith, as many of our parents are married to people of different faiths or no faith.

7.  You and your child will be encouraged to build bridges across these differences as well as across other divides.  I can think of no more important skill for the 21st century.

8.  You and your child will find role models for faith in something larger than we are who loves us beyond our imagining and draws us together.  These role models help us see that “faith” does not mean “certainty” and that questions and doubt are valued.

9.  You and your child will find role models for responding to God’s love by loving back, giving back, being good stewards of the gift of life and the gift of this good earth, and caring for all of creation, including God’s people (which is all people).  And you will be given opportunities to do just that: serving meals to people who are homeless, participating in rebuilding after natural disasters, looking for ways to end hunger …

10.  Once a week, your child will hear music that is not hip-hop, rap or pop/dance music.

Our church is not perfect – no church is.  It is not Utopia.  It is filled with humans with human flaws and frailties.  And many, many other churches could offer you this same list and maybe even a longer one.

I’d love to hear more reasons.  What are yours?  Let’s add to the list.

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More Time Outdoors

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My recent week with fifth graders at Walker Creek Ranch in West Marin for a session of “outdoor ed.” convinces me that I need to spend more time outdoors. Out in the wild, not just at the Little League ballpark. I need to commune with nature. I need to touch lichen and watch salamanders. I need to smell bay laurel and eucalyptus. I need to feel rain on my face.

OK, so this blog doesn’t address a recent injustice or a pressing world problem.

Or does it?

I returned from the week caring more deeply for the earth and its creatures. Sounds corny, but it’s true. I returned from the week calmer, more in touch with what is real about me and my crazy-busy schedule.

If more people experienced these two things, had these two realizations, these two epiphanies, I believe it would make a difference not only in their lives but in our world.

I believe time outdoors tends to make us better stewards of the gift of this good earth.

I don’t like camping because as far as I’m concerned, a vacation shouldn’t be more work that going to work.  But I love the outdoors, and I love learning about it from naturalists and others who have a passion for this good earth.  So now, I need to figure out how to experience the outdoors without the work of camping.

Your ideas are welcome.

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Stand Up for Jesus

I don’t think I can say it better than Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest, in her recent blog (link below). Several people who are highly visible to the media have spouted hateful and misguided responses, implying that the heartbreaking tragedy in Connecticut is God’s judgment on our culture. This in turn becomes what people identify as “Christian.”

Our culture does deserve some judging. We are far too violent. As a young person said to me recently, “The video gamey violent culture being fed to [young men and boys] is really out of control.” And we not only seem to have the impulse to destroy each other, we have easy access to weapons to make it happen.

But amazingly enough, we are reminded at Christmas that what we get, instead is a God who comes to us as a vulnerable infant, and a Savior who preaches love, inclusion of the marginalized and an end to a code which declares some people clean and others unclean.

See Susan Russell’s blog at http://inchatatime.blogspot.ca/2012/12/dear-dr-dobson-your-god-isnt-irrelevant.html.

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