This Delta variant is causing our numbers to go back up, even here in New Jersey where most adults are vaccinated. There are break-through cases even here. There is no data that says vaccinated people can’t transmit the virus (Delta especially) and no kids have the vaccine yet so--
CDC guidance recommends masking again in public places. Highlands Presbytery guidance has never recommended doing away with the masks although they know most of our congregations relaxed the masking requirement weeks ago. I went to ShopRite out where I live yesterday and didn’t see anyone without a mask. People are paying attention. People are caring for each other.
We should too. I know that nobody wants to be the cause of an outbreak. Not even one person!
So, out of care for each other here in Fairmount world—let’s return to masking in church. Please.
We’re still going to be on Facebook Live, we’ll still be Zooming for the Bible study, we’ll still offer Zoom for session, too.
Just trying to do our part to stay vigilant. I’m just as tired of it as you are. Maybe more. I’m a hugger. COVID is killing me!
Pandemic fatigue be damned, we’ve gotta do this. We take care of each other. It’s what we do. Fairmount is a kind, caring, compassionate community. You are.
So, I went back to Oklahoma again last week for a few days to see my brother and parents. So crazy the difference in the weather. It’s like 95 there by 11am almost every day this time of year. One day was really humid, too. It’s brutal! Summer is full-on still happening!
Most of you know I’ve lost a lot of weight the last couple years. Around 65 pounds. But, all bets are off when I go back to Tulsa. Now, don’t judge. I’m sure you understand. I had to hit some of my old haunts.
There’s a local hot dog chain that’s been around for like 100 years called “Coney I-lander.” They are awesome! The Rio Verde Mexican restaurant has a wet burrito that is in-credible—soooo good—about 1000 calories or more probably! Just gotta have it.
And Braum’s. They are the local family-owned ice cream joint. OMG! I got a malt. Good memories! And the place was packed. Everybody had the same idea to beat the heat. Braum’s makes incredible lime-aids, too. But I want the ice cream! Yum!
It occurs to me on the way back out to my parents’ house, that everybody is trying to pack in as much summer as possible before it’s over. Of course! I get it.
I plan on taking a couple weeks of real vacation myself at the end of August. You may even be still on vacation as you read this. I hope you are! Or, getting ready to sneak away for even a few days! I hope you can. I pray that you can.
It feels as though we’re running as hard and fast as we can to get through this pandemic and get to Labor Day. I know a lot of you are having to return to offices to commute again, even if it’s only a couple days a week. Even as the Delta variant is raging around us among the unvaccinated...we’re still pushing through.
Summer is drawing to a close plenty fast enough on its own. Let’s do everything we can to put the brakes on it. Slow down. Breathe a little deeper, breathe a little slower, and let the Spirit in.
Play with the kids. Go to the park and swing. Ride your bike! Dig in the dirt. Run down the shore one more time. Cook out. Turn on some preseason football (NFL starts next week) and chill.
Even as I need to get back on the bike and burn off all those coneys, the burrito, the malt…it’s still summer.
Summertime and the living is easy. Well, it’s supposed to be. Let’s make it so.
Maybe it’s because I finally got motivated and finished my dissertation for the DMin at Drew a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure if that’s why exactly, but I’m all done! And I’ve been thinking about who is “other” a lot lately. The dissertation is all about doing Beloved Community. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Beloved Community, where there are no “others”—just sisters and brothers.
Like in Galatians, Paul says: for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)
No others, just sisters and brothers—even people from other traditions. One of the things that I like so much about studying different traditions like Taoism or Buddhism and so on is that it can give you fresh eyes on your own tradition. It gives us ways to see Jesus, ways to see God, ways to see the Holy Spirit, ways to see Christianity in new light.
Examining different traditions can force us to break out of our embedded definitions of what is “right” religion, “right” belief, or “right” practice. It makes us think—deeply—about what we truly believe and how we approach our own spirituality. It gets very personal very quickly when you really sit and think, and meditate, and pray on it!
It may even cause you to start tearing things apart and putting them back together.
Please read that last sentence again because that is healthy “journeying” in this little walk we’re on. It’s something I stress to young people in confirmation classes, especially. It’s a part of claiming your own spirituality, for yourself. Not what your parents taught you, or your church growing up, or your Sunday School teacher, or your pastor—even me! Those are the ingredients certainly, but not the whole recipe.
This is about collating all of those theological influences that have impacted you and putting them into a blender and pouring out your own thing.
What’s interesting to me is not the differences in the traditions. What is most interesting to me is the similarities. The things we share. How we approach God, the higher power, and our definition of what that is.
Okay, that’s plenty enough to make your brain hurt so I’ll stop here. But I’m just the kind of geek that LOVES this exercise. You may notice that I was able to avoid the word in talking about traditions different from my own. It takes deliberate work to do that!
But if you can get your head around it, at least for me—as I think, and meditate, and pray about this—I keep landing in a place where there are no “others”. Only sisters and brothers. What do you think?
I’m sure you’ve seen signs in businesses over the years asking forgiveness for their remodeling, renovations, repairs. “Pardon the dust—just don’t write in it!” Stuff like that.
It’s about to get a little crazy around here. We have new roofing project for the Community House scheduled to start sometime around the first week of August. We are replacing the shingle roof on the main building and the flat roof on the educational wing.
It’s going to get a little “dusty” around here as we take on the project. And because this is a significant expense, you can expect a little capital campaign to kickstart the project. We’ll be coming back to you on this during August. Everybody please ante-up to ease this burden on our capital expenses.
It’s not like we didn’t get a full life out of either roof. Both of them are totally shot, and the nearest recollection we have about the shingle roof was a replacement in the 80’s. It’s been a while and here we are again. The joys of an old building!
Even in the heat of the summer, I try to stay on track with my morning devotionals (in the cool of the morning, thank you very much!) It helps keep me grounded. Oswald Chambers said something like “routine is what saves us between moments of inspiration.” So I hope you’re still doing yours, too.
I know I’ve told you that I read Philip Newell every day—his prayer book Praying with the Earth is one of my favorites. I quote him a lot so forgive me…here we go again. Thursday morning’s prayer is all about renewal. Maybe even a new roof. New start. Renovation. Daily renewal with life in Jesus Christ.
I love it so much because it’s a great reminder of forgiveness—permission to start again—new—every day. Every. Day.
We wake to the forgiveness of a new day. We wake to the freedom to begin again. We wake to the mercy of the sun’s redeeming light. Always new always gift always blessing. We wake to the forgiveness of this new day.
From Mark 6: The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
I did some advance church planning this last week before heading down the shore for the holiday weekend. Robin is taking a couple weeks off, so we worked a little ahead. These Sundays lately, we’re getting into the part of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus’ ministry has grown to a point that both he and the disciples have been working very hard. So hard, they don’t have time to eat. So hard they need some time off to rest and recharge.
Who can’t relate to that?
Summertime! And the living is easy. Church attendance is always down from the “school year” because a number of people go away. During the regular year, I tell people that here in New Jersey, if you want to see the whole membership cycle through church, you gotta come every Sunday for at least a month. In the summer, it’s more like “you gotta come all summer” to see everybody. And during the pandemic, even that isn’t true anymore. Some people are really enjoying just rolling out of bed with coffee and a muffin, watching church on Facebook Live.
Nevertheless, most of us get out of town in the summer like a lot of us did over the July 4th weekend—relaxing—enjoying family—going down the shore, out of the country (if we are allowed to go there), dropping out of sight. The good news about living here in the shadow of NYC or Philly is that we even have a lot of choices when we “staycation” as things begin to open back up.
I’ll do some vacationing myself probably around the end of August or the first of September. I take two weeks every year to rest, recharge, go down the shore, read, binge-watch TV, sleep in, travel to see the kids, put more miles on the bike. I’ve got a lot of happy places.
Sometimes, I just sit. Sometimes I just sit, and I don’t even have to be watching the waves roll in to feel close to God—although the shore is a happy place for sure, especially at sunrise. Doesn’t everybody see God in the sunrise?
I hope you’re doing something like it. Whatever it takes. Get to your happy place.
Sometimes you can just sit, close your eyes, and be wherever you want to be. Feel the Spirit down to your bones. The Spirit knows…
God always knows where you are. Always, in all ways.
Like gravity, the Spirit never takes a day off. But we need to. All of us. Jesus, the disciples, you, and me too!
This Sunday is the day. This is the day we celebrate these words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration of Independence.
Let me ask you, what if it were the “Declaration of Jesus”? From John 13: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
So, we’re celebrating our freedom this week. If the 4th of July were a celebration of the Declaration of Jesus Christ—if we start at love, the most rudimentary thing about discipleship—if we start at love—there’s no need for a wall on the border, worry about affordable healthcare or housing, voting rights, bathroom rights, or who can bake a birthday cake for whom. There wouldn’t be a need for the Supreme Court at all. There wouldn’t be any debate about it.
I mean let’s not forget why the USA started. Our almost 275-year history as Fairmount Church began and flourished on the bloody backs of all those people buried in many of our New Jersey cemeteries who fought and died so that we could worship God. Some gave all. Just so we can be here.
We can live by God, by our definition of God—in our own way. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sihks, and so on. Every. One. All of us.
And if we start at love, love for one another, then all the other foundational ideals of the USA fall into line. If we start at love, we wind up with justice for all. Don’t we?
So, as we celebrate our independence this week, celebrate freedom. Cooking our burgers, making our homemade ice cream, cutting up watermelon—don’t forget why it started.
Remember that America is here—we are here—because of the Gospel. So, to follow this Jesus in these United States, today, in 2021…let’s feel the love. Can you feel it? Can you feel it when we say it?
One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty-- And justice for all! Amen!
If you have Apple products and use the calendar, you know the holidays have included Juneteenth every June 19 for some time. I’m so proud of that! And I’m even prouder that the president and vice-president declared Juneteenth a national holiday last week. On Thursday, emails were flying all over the corporate world—company policy moved fast and furiously. Juneteenth—now everybody knows what it means.
Well, I have to admit that I thought I knew the meaning of Juneteenth until a few years ago I learned I had it wrong. Wikipedia is our friend.
I thought Juneteenth was the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the United States. No! Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and it became effective on January 1, 1863, during the fighting of The Civil War.
The war continued after the proclamation until the truce was declared at Appomattox Courthouse as General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. The news was suppressed or ignored in the Republic of Texas until very late April. Fighting continued through the surrender of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi and until the Union Army captured Galveston Island on behalf of the United States on June 18, 1865.
The very next day, the General Granger of the Union Army issued “General Order #3” declaring the emancipation of all enslaved peoples throughout the Republic of Texas. Here’s the text of the order:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980 and most other states followed suit at least with a day of remembrance if not an official holiday except for Hawaii, Montana, and the Dakotas. Now it’s national—it’s official.
Quite obviously, there’s so much work on racism still to do in the US—clearly the Civil Rights movement made progress, but it feels like only just. We haven’t come that far since. Juneteenth is a good reminder.
I think about this all the time. While we have some diversity in our church, what does our church look like going forward? As we begin the discernment process starting this summer, how can we be more inclusive, more diverse? How can we be better? What steps could we, should we, be taking?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is well-known for saying: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Let’s be thinking and praying on what kind of friends we are. There’s so much we can do. We cannot be silent!
This Sunday is the first day of summer, June 20, and that’s how much sunlight we’re going to have. 15 hours, 5 minutes, 17 seconds. That’s the longest day of the year for us according to the website I checked. At least that’s true for Lebanon since you can’t get “Fairmount” anywhere, and it’s close enough.
Saturday is 15:05:16, and the summer Solstice actually happens around 11:30 on Saturday night, but who’s counting? The longest day is Sunday this year. Then the days start getting shorter by significantly growing numbers of seconds.
Between now and then, the days grow longer…like, we’ll have almost a minute longer of sunlight by Sunday than we have today.
Why do I care about this? Good question!
I’m not exactly sure but having been home in Oklahoma this last week—because of where it is in the globe—the days aren’t quite as long there. Like, first light here is around 4:30am this time of year. It’s almost an hour later back home.
I guess I think about it because every year around this time, I think “what are we gonna do with all this extra daylight?”
What are we gonna do with the extra minute between now and then?
I have a crutch phrase I use all the time, “oh it’ll only take two seconds to do that.” But it usually takes longer—just saying.
Like—your whole life can change in two seconds, right? A “New York Minute”. So, what’s a New Jersey Minute? Just asking. Just rambling, actually. Still stuck on what to do with that extra minute…
How about this?
Let’s pray. Sure, what else? I mean what else can you accomplish in under a minute?
How about a little prayer time? Seriously! Why not? Even if you only take two seconds... “Thank you, God. Amen.”
There’s not going to be a blog or a Fairmount Focus next week because I’m taking a few days off and going home to see my Mom & Dad. I haven’t seen them in a year and a half! I haven’t been in Oklahoma in five years. It will feel good to get “home” even for a few days.
COVID-19 obviously has kept us all close to home. And New Jersey is my home now. This is my home.
2020 was a really long and hard year for us all.
A couple of my siblings will be there, too. It will be great to see John and Bonnie. Only my brother Brian will be missing from this trip. The last time we all saw each other was Mom & Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary celebration in Denver—early November, 2019. That seems like a lifetime ago!
It was. It was a lifetime ago…
I know many of you are going through some of the same things right now. Safely reconnecting with family and hugging each other again. Getting the vaccine. God bless us all!
COVID-19 has sucked for me. I’m a hugger! So hard to connect with people in a mask and from 6 feet away. Like you, I’m suffering through it.
I do feel like this is the beginning of the end. We’re starting to relax the COVID restrictions as we come to worship together. We’re not checking IDs at the door, but masks are optional in worship now if you’ve been vaccinated and you’re welcome to keep wearing your mask if you are more comfortable with it. No judgement ever, no problem!
I understand that our church has always been a “come as you are” place. Thank God! We’re never going to stop broadcasting our worship on Facebook Live or some other digital platform because this is what church looks like now.
Nevertheless, come to church this Sunday for Youth Sunday! Our students will be leading most of worship and I look forward to seeing them. I look forward to seeing you.
Let’s keep meeting each other wherever and however we can. Wherever and however we come home, Jesus meets us right where we are. Just as we are.
Fairmount’s not going anywhere. Come home any time.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since the tragic murder of George Floyd.
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma—and this weekend also marks the 100th anniversary of one of the nation’s worst race riots in our country’s history. Maybe the very worst as it turns out now with the recent discovery of a massive, unmarked gravesite in Tulsa.
Memorial Day weekend in Tulsa, 1921. May 31-June 1.
A young black man, Dick Rowland, is falsely accused of assaulting a young white girl, Sarah Page, an elevator operator in the Drexel office building. Rumors of his arrest and threat of lynching spark the riot. Hundreds of angry white people, many of whom deputized and armed by the local police, descend upon the Greenwood District, also known at the time as the Black Wall Street.
No one really knows how many people died, but it is hundreds. 10,000 black people are left homeless. Businesses looted and destroyed. The Oklahoma National Guard declares martial law at noon on June 1—the massacre is ended.
And the silence begins. For decades.
This entire event is buried from local and state historical accounts. It is not in the history curriculum of the Tulsa Public Schools, not even when I come through in the 70’s. Every attempt is made not just to cover it up, but to ignore it, to hide it.
I am fortunate enough to have Eddie Faye Gates as my high school history teacher. Mrs. Gates is Black and has dedicated most of her life to collecting, writing, and teaching about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. She was able to collect the oral histories of a number of victims of the riot before they died. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer writing several volumes about the riot. Mrs. Gates turns 87 this year and she taught us everything she could about the riots and the black experience in the United States.
It all comes flooding back to me every time there is violence against any person of color other than white.
“What hurts one, hurts us all.” This is a quote true of all people of color, and it is true of white folks, too. What hurts one, hurts us all. All of us. All children of God.
Please don’t say to yourself “this is not who we are” because this is exactly who we are.
George Floyd’s murder may prove to be a significant tipping point in the story of racism in America. The conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter may not be justice, but it is accountability. Finally.
I am ashamed that there are so many other names before George Floyd and after him, too. So many victims and families whose attackers—perpetrators who have not been, nor will be held accountable. So many other names that get forgotten, dismissed, shuffled through the news cycle. Add to them the names of the victims and families of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders—glaring recent witnesses to the depth and breadth of our problems.
We have normalized this and I pray that George Floyd’s legacy be the beginning of the end of this normalcy. I pray that we stop congratulating ourselves about how far we’ve come since the Civil Rights Movement and start owning our systemic racist issues and do our part to root them out. Each one of us.
I pray that George Floyd’s legacy and the legacy of each and every one of these victims and families falls on you and me. It’s only been a year, but what have we done about it?
Seriously, what would Jesus do?
Love God. Love your neighbor.
It’s on us to think globally and act locally. It’s on us to be good actors, locally, in our neighborhoods, municipalities, boroughs, and country hollows.
The beginning of the end can only start here. Right here. Right now. With you and me.