Advent 2017


Advent begins this Sunday.  It’s a season of watchfulness, becoming like Mary, making space for Christ not only around us, but within us.  As a congregation we hear familiar texts and sing songs of the season that invite us deeper into the story.  Here are three things to know about Advent with CMC this year:

+ Worship Theme

For the last two months we’ve been contemplating what it means to be Sanctuary People.  Advent will build on this focus with the theme Inner Sanctuary.  We will look to Mary as the primary model of one who made her life a sanctuary, her body a place for God to dwell.  We’ve written a brief Sanctuary prayer that we’ll pray in English and Spanish to begin each service.  We’ve invited other congregations to pray this with us.  The adult choir and children are preparing music and performance for the weekend of December 16-17.  Because December 24th is a Sunday this year, our annual Christmas Eve evening service will be the only service that day.

+ Coloring = Prayer

The SALT Project has produced some lovely resources based on five coloring pages, designed specifically for Advent.  Each one features Mary in a different stage of pregnancy and expectation, surrounded by life and images from the biblical stories.  In large poster form, these will serve as the backdrop of our worship setting.  In coloring page form, they will be available in your church mailbox and in the foyer to take home and enjoy – children and adults.  Please take as many as you need.  We hope you can decorate your home with them.  We’re also asking you to bring some finished pages back to the church and place in a box in the foyer so they can add color to our Advent worship environment.  I’m attaching the first two coloring pages below in case you wish to print at home and get a head start.  For adults not already in a Sunday school class, feel free to join me during that hour in the fellowship hall December 3, 10, and 17 for coloring and conversation.  Finally, along with the posters and coloring pages, there are devotional booklets that include the images, poetry by Mary Oliver and Howard Thurman, a brief meditation, and suggestions for weekly practices throughout Advent.

+ Giving Projects

For the next couple weeks there will be two boxes in the foyer, side-by-side, each for gift cards.  One collection is for the YWCA Family Center which is requesting cards in $25 increments from Walmart, Target, Meijer, or Giant Eagle which they will give to families in the community.  The other collection is for Edith and the Espinal family who would most benefit from cards from Kroger, Aldi, and Walmart.  Gifts cards have the benefit of giving families the opportunity to select items they most need and prefer.  An added bonus is that these can be ordered through the Convention Cash form, which enables a percentage of the gift to support our Youth Group.  This form is also attached, with orders due to Mary Blosser this Sunday (see tomorrow’s email announcements for more details).  If you don’t make that deadline, you can still talk with Mary, or get the gift cards directly from the store.

This Advent, may this be our prayer:

God our Sanctuary, grant us and our neighbors, near and far, courage in our hearts, peace in our homes, and justice in our streets.  Amen

Dios nuestro Santuario, concédenos y a nuestros vecinos, cercana y lejana, coraje en nuestros corazones, paz en nuestros hogares, y justicia en nuestras calles. Amen.




The trees are mostly bare,

but there is excess in these late-autumn days;

of food,

of memory,

of longing.

Time, in its fullness, spills backward and forward,

and with it thoughts of all

we have ever loved or hoped to love.

Gathered into one,

it is a feast of too much.

In this is heartache:

that we are such small

and troubled containers

for what is offered.

In this is gladness:

that we would parse one flavor from the many,

one warm gesture, one word,

again and again.

Assured that even the left overs can feed a multitude.


22 November 2017

5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become

  1. To be able to enjoy girls and women without having to control or possess them.
  2. To have meaningful and vulnerable relationships with other males.
  3. To have a lively internal life of reflection, meditation, and imagination.
  4. To respect elders and to become an elder worthy of respect.
  5. To channel passion and energy toward creative betterment of one’s community.


Earlier this week I was included on a group email from CMCer Matthew Leahy.  His young son is currently undergoing chemo treatment.  Matthew was reflecting on his son’s gentleness.  His gentleness, even while facing this awful disease.  The gentleness of this boy, in contrast to the deluge of male sexually predatorial behavior now coming to light across the country.

He posed this question: “How do we keep our boys precious, loving what is good, loving beauty, feminist. And yes, loving women in the purest way possible.  Is it possible?”

Later in the day the deluge continued when I came across more disheartening news.  Two Mennonite pastors who I know personally were recently charged with and confessed to sexual misconduct.  These were separate incidences.

In his message, Matthew turned his question into an aspiration and challenge.  A campaign: “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become.”  As parents, grandparents, mentors, uncles and aunts, and citizens, how do we answer this question?

The list above was my first crack at a response.

Of course these aspirations are not just for our boys, but for ourselves.  To hold our power in ways that uplift others rather than degrade.  To live as sexual beings within the commitments and boundaries that make for healthy relationships.  To be the kind of person we hope the beloved boys in our lives might become.

With Matthew’s permission I am passing along his challenge and campaign.  If any of you wish to send me your list of “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become” I will add it to the end of this blog post on our website and include a link in a future blog for folks to view updates.  If you can’t come up with 5, send what you’ve got.



Small gestures


On Sunday, rather than lighting the peace candle, worship leader Becca Lachman invited us to place our hand over our heart and imagine the peace candle as a light within us.  It’s a prayerful gesture one can access any time.  Later in the service there were many candles burning as we came forward and named dear ones who have died, each flame a life whose love lives on in us.  I can still picture those candles, and still hear the affection in the voices speaking those names.

In looking at the worship calendar for November, it’s a month of small gestures pregnant with meaning.  This coming Sunday will include an opportunity to receive prayers and blessing for healing through anointing with oil.  The oil isn’t magic, but it is real, a felt presence that marks an expressed hope.  On the 19th we’ll take up a collection of canned goods, filling and surrounding our worship table with food for neighbors in need.  The final Sunday of November is also the final week of the liturgical year, known as Reign of Christ Sunday.  We’ll mark this by sharing in Communion.  Then we begin again with Advent.

Rituals and small gestures like these are one of the treasures of the church.  They are dense with meaning.  They can serve as anchors and light posts.

A candle is a life, remembered and still burning.  A touch of oil is a prayer, meeting us at our deepest longing.  A can of food is a meal and a call to open handed generosity.  Bread and cup proclaim that we, even we, are a part of the body of Christ, through whom the Divine makes small gestures to the world that love is lord of heaven and earth.



Happy? Anniversary Protestants


What do Facebook and Twitter have in common with the Protestant Reformation?  Nothing and everything.

Six days from now, October 31, is the 500 year anniversary of the German monk and professor Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.  It was a list of grievances against the Catholic Church, of which Luther and just about all of Europe was a part.  Luther was especially critical of the sale of indulgences.  These had devolved into a fundraising mechanism as the church leveraged people’s fear of eternal punishment to solicit money donations, promising soul benefits.  Cha-ching.

Luther’s post of his theses in 1517 was later seen as Day 1 of the Protestant Reformation.  Along with redrawing the political map of Europe, the Reformation signaled radical shifts we still feel today.  It elevated the role of personal conscience over unquestioned institutional authority.  It is Luther from whom we get the idea of the priesthood of all believers.

Posting arguments publicly wasn’t particularly unique.  What made these theses so influential was a technological invention from the previous century.  The printing press was a new device that, for the first time, enabled documents, pamphlets, and whole Bibles, to be printed and shared on a massive scale.  Essentially, Luther’s 95 Theses went viral, to his own surprise.

Thus the connection with present day Facebook and Twitter.  One could argue that in regards to the free sharing of ideas, the 21st century is the 16th century on steroids.  Or on the internet.

So the free sharing of ideas is a good thing.  The church, and political powers that backed it were corrupt.  The Reformation, which includes Mennonites among its children, sought to offer much needed correctives.

But the Reformation was also a violent splintering, as are some of the currents of the 21st century.  Much has been written recently about how our own perception of reality gets reinforced by the kind of company we keep in the viral world of memes and idea sharing.

Rather than celebrating the Protestant Reformation, and the countless sects it has spawned, it’s perhaps better that we simply observe it.  We can observe this 500 year anniversary with gratitude, and also with caution.  Because we are observing its consequences around us, and they are not all pretty.

We can observe our own tendencies toward sectarianism and tribal thinking, and look for the universal that can get lost in it all.  Catholic, with a little “c”, catholic, means “universal.”  It holds out the firm hope that underneath stark divides, ideological battles, and persistent abuses of power, there is a universal thread connecting us all at the soul level.  I hope it holds.


For a more detailed article comparing the communication technologies of these two eras see this 2011 article in the Economist: “How Luther went viral.

Beauty and grief


In the past few days I’ve had multiple conversations about Ohio in October.  In short, it’s a beautiful time of year.  It’s special.

It’s the trees that do it to us.  I’m fearing the downward line of societal disintegration, and they’re still there, pointing to circularity.  They’ve gathered their energy, stored their supplies for the journey through winter, and are letting go.  Their colorful solar panels disintegrate and become earth and soil beneath them.  What has the outward appearance of death is how they live.

I do grieve the leaves falling every autumn.  I’m never ready for it.  The green didn’t last long enough.  I didn’t appreciate the canopy enough, again.  And it will soon be gone.  I’m never ready for the trees to be bare.  I will likely notice this every day until they aren’t, again.

It’s likely the mix of grief and beauty that makes this such a soulful season.  That combination works miracles, many of them painful and necessary.

I see that mix of grief and beauty also present in our sanctuary work, #metoo, and every other present effort of humanity defining itself in courageous and vulnerable ways.  It is healing work, and we are the ones in need of healing.

I’m grateful for a quarterly Sabbath weekend.  Abbie and I get to spend a couple days in Hocking Hills among the trees.  They are faithful companions and speak a language I need to hear.




Thoughts and prayers


There are a lot of thoughts and prayers happening these days.  Hurricanes, a mass shooting, and the re-awakened demon of nuclear war ought to cause a lot of thinking and praying. “Thoughts and prayers” has become a common phrase, shorthand for I care about this, something to say when you don’t know what else to say.

Whether these words are too cheap and easy is a topic for a different blog.  I, for one, am glad to take them at face value unless there’s reason to be skeptical.

I do wonder how these two actions relate to each other.  Are thoughts and prayers two distinct things?  Can there be prayer without thought?  Is thought a form of prayer?  Are we unsure what we mean by prayer, so we qualify it with what we’re more familiar with, something more down to earth – thinking compassionately about someone or a group of people?

I imagine all of these could be answered in the affirmative, with commentary to follow.

Some people experience prayer as a direct conversation with God on behalf of another person or situation.  Others experience prayer as a particular form of thought – a conscious decision to direct love and goodwill in the direction of another.  There is good precedent in the tradition for both forms.  One of my favorite passages about prayer is in Romans 8 when Paul talks about the Spirit groaning within us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:23).  Perhaps rather than “thoughts and prayers” we should say “groans and sighs.”

A few weeks ago during a worship service Pete Y passed along a phrase as an encouragement for us to give toward our congregational first fruits pledging process.  He noted that a wealthy couple whose generosity he greatly admires shared with him that “Our money can go places we can’t.”

I’m thinking that this phrase also works for thoughts and prayer.  Our prayers go places we can’t.  Our thoughts go places we can’t.

We can’t always be in the hospital room, on the hurricane-devastated island, at the death bed, with a friend struggling with mental health.  But our thoughts, prayers, groans, and sighs become extensions of ourselves.  They reach out and touch, in unseen ways, the circumstances of our fellow creatures.  And in the process, they form us into more compassionate people.