Thursday, June 28, 2007

Synod 2007

I just realized something, I posted my Synod experiences on the wrong blog. As some of you know, I have two of them: my personal and slightly more political (and often too blunt for church) and the church blog that I maintain to keep you informed about life in our congregation and sometimes put fun and interesting things on it.

So, to help rectify my solution without giving you a link to my other blog, I am going to post what I wrote over there here.

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This year was the first time that I have ever attended the bi-annual meeting of my denomination. Called Synod, it meets in various cities across America. This year it met in Hartford, CT for an entire week (and actually it is still going on now). Most folks who aren't delegates go Friday through Sunday, whereas delegates stay from Thursday until the following Tuesday.

At this gathering, a few of us from the church (John Pontician, Jean Sacking, and myself) were fortunate to hear Bill Moyers give the opening address as 13,000+ attendees met in Hartford's Civic Center. It was the largest such gathering of Synod, probably because it was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the denomination, it met on the east coast where the majority of UCC churches are, and perhaps because Barack Obama, a UCCer himself was to speak (and did).

I loved Bill Moyers speech about faith and values and the need to not let others define who we are. I also enjoyed his wit and intellectualism. I also got to hear Walter Brueggemann the following day as he spoke about our history and the struggle within the denomination between the liberals and conservsatives (yes, the UCC has its own conservatives). Brueggemann sought to bring balance to both sides of the issue by encouraging a more open dialog. Being a retired professor of Old Testament and the writer of perhaps the most widely used OT history book in seminaries, his wisdom and patience was evident to those of us who are perhaps a bit nervous and definitely not patient.

I heard Barack Obama speak and enjoyed his testimony and declaration of faith. Having met Jesus through the UCC's Trinity Church in Chicago, his speech drew much applause as well as an edification of our collective faith. I was (and remain) a bit skeptical to have a Presidential candidate candidating at a denominational gathering; but most folks present felt his speech was worthwhile given the current President's use of his faith in office. Obama presented an alternative interpretation to Jesus' Good News. He also critiqued some evangelical zeal that puts a questionable emphasis on how some political folks interpret what they think Jesus felt was important.

You can go here to read his speech.

You can go here to watch Obama's campaigning speech as well as Moyer's speech.

Personally I would rather have heard from more speakers of faith rather than a candidating presidential nominee; not because I don't like him (because I do like Obama, even if he's a little unpolished). A gathering of faithful men and women should encourage deep commitment in one's faith journey and not be a part of someone else's White House bid. I say this even though I find Obama's faith (or at least the one he presents to us, with politicians, one never knows if they really believe what they say, right?). Interestingly Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Trinity UCC, introduced Obama via a taped introduction. Surely that adds to Obama's support, but I am still uncertain if giving him a political platform at our bi-annual meeting was appropriate.

What I very much enjoyed about my first Synod experience was all the friends I ran into and the new ones that I made. Practically every UCC minister I knew was there. I met former seminary classmates there. And, I ran into many folks from my previous pastorate including the new pastor (who is also a friend of mine).

Oh, and one more thing I enjoyed was the 14,000 dozen cookies that were baked and given out at the gathering. Yes, you read that right: 14,000 dozen cookies. Is that incredible or what?! And they were available all throughout the event, passed around during the events and speeches. I hope they will always do that. To help illustrate how much I love cookies, in the foyer of my living room I have a sign that reads, "Life's Short, Eat Cookies."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruth Graham has Passed Away

Ruth Graham, the wife of world renown evangelist Billy Graham has died. Following a long illness with a degenerative disorder, she died surrounded by her family and devoted husband.

Go here to read an online obit of hers. You may even notice how strong-willed and open-minded she was, even to the very end. I am sure her death will bring much sadness and even a little controversy (with the way she died). In my mind, I can think of only a few women who were as strong willed and spirit led than her.

The Gospel According to Starbucks

I picked up this book at the Central Atlantic Conference's Annual Meeting last week. So far it's a great and spiritually entertaining read. I enjoy reading optimistic books that seek to inspire rather than those books that nudge you in the right direction by telling you how everyone else does it wrong.

And, seeing how I am a caffine/coffee freak, I could relate to the author's correlation with the good feelings that a coffee house can give you.

Here is what the publishers say to entice the readers to read the book:

You don’t stand in line at Starbucks® just to buy a cup of coffee. You stop for the experience surrounding the cup of coffee. Too many of us line up for God out of duty or guilt. We completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. If we’d learn to see what God is doing on earth, we could participate fully in the irresistible life that he offers.
You can learn to pay attention like never before, to identify where God is already in business right in your neighborhood. The doors are open and the coffee is brewing. God is serving the refreshing antidote to the unsatisfying, arms-length spiritual life–and he won’t even make you stand in line.

You can order the book through Barnes and Nobles here.

Synod Highlights

This year we will be having several members of our congregation attend the UCC's General Synod in Hartford, CT. If you are unable to attend this event in person, you can attend it online. There will be several sessions presented online through digital video and I would like to encourage you to see as much of the conference as you are able.

You can go here to see and bookmark the highlights.

A Great Sermon

The new pastor at Broadway United Church of Christ, the Rev. James Campbell, preached one fine sermon last week. You can read it by going here. It's a .PDF file.

The sermon is about trusting your gut and he interpreted Jesus' story about raising the young man into a touching account of both Jesus trusting his gut when confronted with the sadness and situation of the widow who lost both her husband and young son.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One Great Article

Here is a great post about our citizenship here on earth and in heaven. The writer calls for us to examine how we can live in both worlds at the same time. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Central Atlantic Conference, Friday Night

I arrived at the University of Delaware yesterday for the annual meeting of the Central Atlantic Conference. Joining me are John Pontician, Darryl Hilliard, and the moderator of the congregation, Jack Rickly. Yesterday's festivities included registration, socializing, meetings to introduce UCC leadership and an overview of the weekend's work. At 6pm, we had an amazing dinner followed by the opening meeting approving the rules, agenda, and particular introductions.

I was very much impressed by the address of the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, the President of North American Churches of the World Council of Churches. She is also a UCC minister and is serving as an interim pastor for a church in New Orleans, that is struggling to rebuild its church amid fallen debris and a saddened congregation. Her address to us was incredible and her witness to justice and morality was inspiring.

The main points of her address were these:
1. Charity is not justice. You can give money to help those who suffer, but the giving of said resources isn't justice. Justice is addressing the reasons for poverty, housing problems, insurance inequalities and over feelings of disenfranchisement.

2. We must claim our moral ground. When faced with crisis and injustice, we must "claim our moral ground." She explained in each point in our history when faced with confrontation and inequality, the Christian response to injustice is to claim our moral ground. Poverty is a moral issue, racism is a moral issue, and homophobia is a moral issue.

3. We've got to do that Spirit work. Being people of faith means that we bring our faith to crisis and engage the crisis in our prayer time, meditation, Bible study, and learning to be grateful to God and each other. Only by doing so can we go about doing our reclaiming work. Only by the work of the Spirit can we be 'the light' and 'build that beloved community' out of crisis.

At the end of her address, I wasn't the only one she inspired. The room erupted in a standing ovation because we knew that we had been met with God's Spirit and we knew she was right.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

50 Things You Need to Know by 50

Okay, I know I am no where near 50 but this list is impressive and fun to read at the same time. Here are a few examples:

How to Forgive
(George Takei, Star Trek, Heroes)

I grew up in U.S. internment camps during World War II. We were surrounded by barbed wire fences and machine guns. We took communal showers and meals, and a searchlight followed us on night runs to the latrine. After the war my mother and father couldn't find housing, and I had a teacher who called me "little Jap boy." That stung. But my parents taught me that being bitter only pickles the one that stews in the brine. Good advice. The bullies were the ones stewing in their own spite and ignorance. Once you realize that those who hurt you also hurt themselves, it is easier to forgive them. And that's liberating.

Law of the Olive Garden
The waitress is not hitting on you. Being friendly is her job.

How to Die
The point of the party is not your leaving it. Apologize for any breakage, thank your hosts, listen when they say they were glad you could come, mean it when you say you had a wonderful time, then grab your coat and go. Make sure the door closes behind you. Don't forget your hat.

You don't have to be an Internet wiz to have some favorite websites.
Consolidated reviews from scads of news outlets. In case your local film critic is a hack.
Find the cheapest gas near you.
An urban legend debunker to help you check the veracity of those "Chicken-boy found in cave!" e-mail forwards.
Does your plane seat have extra legroom and a power port, or just an overly chummy proximity to the john?
A citizen-written encyclopedia, replete with entries you'll never find in Britannica.
Run by folks with nothing better to do than scour the Internet for sales. Bless them.

If someone says "Smell this," don't.

Go here to read the entire list. Thanks to the AARP for this enjoyable post.

Like Learning Something New All Over Again

I would like to invite you to visit the UCC's newly designed website at It is laid out completely different than it was just a week ago. Unfortunately with any new endeavor, it may take you some time to find your favorite parts of the website. But still, the new design is pretty cool and I am looking forward to rediscovering the UCC and the parts that I wasn't familiar with in the first place.

You know, it's like when a supermarket reorganizes everything. Sure, they do it so you can find new things to be interested in--but they also do it to better organize their merchandise (especially after they've had a consulting group help them better direct their customers to the items they shop for the most). In a similar way, the UCC's newly designed website is organized differently and the most often used stuff is more easily accessible.

Now if I can just find out where my old favorites are, then everything will be super cool for me. ;)