Tag: a note from pastor carla

A Note from Pastor Carla

Recently, we hosted a viewing of the PBS Point of View documentary called, On the Divide.  It shows the individual and collective tensions around reproductive freedom in the border town of McAllen, Texas.  You can still watch this documentary here https://www.pbs.org/pov/watch/onthedivide/video-on-the-divide/

Afterward, those gathered engaged in dialogue about the issues we face.  In the midst of this conversation, we discussed not just what to do, which we are all grappling with during these challenging days, but also HOW to BE as we engage.

When we are angry, when we feel helpless, when we grieve, it is tempting to look for blame rather than solutions, especially when answers seem few and we feel powerless to implement change.  The tendency can then be to fall victim to overwhelm that leads us to apathy on one extreme or to allow our outrage to boil over into violence, including verbal violence against individuals or groups.

Neither produce good, for us or the broken systems we seek to transform and heal or the justice we long for.

We in the group gathered that evening talked about looking for a third way, a middle path, in which we seek justice while remaining a people of peace and avoiding becoming unjust ourselves in the process.  It is not an easy line to find, in our actions or in our hearts.

The prophet Jeremiah is known as the lamenting prophet because he so grieved the state of injustice in the world and the seeming unwillingness of the people of God to repent and follow God’s way.  In chapter 6 verse 14, we read these words, “ They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

Jeremiah was speaking of false prophets who pursue peace to such a degree that they ignore injustices.  A great and prophetic article about this tendency was written after torch-wielding white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017 by American Baptist minister, Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo.  You can read this brief but powerful piece here https://medium.com/christian-citizen/crying-peace-peace-when-there-is-no-peace-ca7d4b3face9.

We who strive to follow the ways of peace and justice often wrestle between the two.  Carlo reminds us that to not take sides is to take sides; that to try to see both sides as good ignores the violence being perpetrated by some as others are being oppressed.  We are reminded, as well, of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel’s, words from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe…Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all,”

As we individually and collectively seek solutions, as we look for answers to the multiple forms of injustice around us, let us fall neither to despair and inaction nor the verbal spewing that replaces true action.  Let us not look simply for persons to blame, but for bold words and wise actions that bring true justice and peace.  We need always be hard on systems but gentle with people.  Let us not simply trust God to work it all out, but ask God how we can be part of real progress.

Perhaps we consider becoming a Reproductive Freedom Congregation as a way of changing the conversation and providing an alternative Christian voice amidst the cacophony of vitriol in the media and on-line and our social gatherings.  I encourage members to learn more about this movement here https://justtx.org/rfc/ and prayerfully ask God if you are being called to participate in transformation by championing Faith Church’s participation.

In chapter 7 verses 5-7 of Jeremiah, the prophet speaks the following words from God: 

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.”

I have no clear answers for you about what exactly we should do, but I believe that we should do something before the next crisis and sound bites draw our attention elsewhere, leaving us having done nothing.  If this is not the cause we believe God is calling us to, since we cannot and should not try to do everything, that is fine, but let us do something. 

We do much at Faith Church to support our neighbors’ experiencing food and housing insecurity, to support our LGBTQ+ siblings, and more.  Caring for the environment, seeking justice for immigrants, responding to on-going violence against black and brown lives, supporting women’s reproductive health and freedom, working for peace for those in Ukraine and other war-torn parts of the world, protecting our children and other innocents from gun violence…

The list is long, the needs are many, and we cannot tend to them all, but let us prayerfully consider where God is leading us, calling us, equipping and inspiring us to stand in the gap and bind up the wounds of God’s people, including our own. 

As we seek both justice and peace, may God grant us the grace to trust but also to stand, to speak, to follow the example of our radical Savior, Jesus, wherever our God leads us next.

Peace, Carla 

Pastor’s Note / Pride

Faith Church, UCC Hosts New Braunfels First Interfaith Pride Worship Service

24 choir members, 20 clergy from 17 faith communities, over 140 attendees, and an indescribable evening we are still all unpacking!  The response to New Braunfels first Interfaith Pride Worship Service, hosted by Faith Church, UCC has been overwhelming.

It began as a dream last year during New Braunfels Pride Festival, its second such event.  I’d participated in worship services during Pride month for years and wondered if New Braunfels was ready to support such an event. 

Then, a group of approximately 20 Christians organized and took the time to make signs, leave their home, drive to Landa Park, find our festival, and spent hours making sure the 900 LGBTQ+ persons and our allies attending heard about a God who condemns us to hell. 

For our congregation to remain silent in the face of such bigotry, hate, and misuse and misrepresentation of God and God’s words would have made us complicit, quietly agreeing with their words and actions even if only in the eyes of the public. 

What did the Lord require of us?  To offer an alternative Christian voice to says just as loudly and clearly, “You ARE loved, worthy, and welcome.”  So, with the permission and support of the Faith Church Council and the Riverside Pride Board who hosts New Braunfels Pride, I began speaking with local faith leaders.  After quick agreement from the local Unitarian Universalists and Unity Church, the going became a bit more difficult.

Clergy were hesitant to agree, uncertain what to expect.  I assured them we were going to be FOR love and inclusion, NOT against anyone.  They expressed concern their congregation would not easily allow them to participate, “I have a VERY purple congregation; we don’t want to alienate those who oppose”.  Others struggled with the Interfaith nature of the event, “How can you call it worship if you’re not all worshiping the same thing?”

Slowly, I found more persons who wanted to participate and believed in the vision of an evening where ALL kids of Creation would feel safe and welcome and find healing together.  So, we formed a planning committee of queer and allied clergy and lay persons from the area. 

Seven clergy from Faith agreed to vest and process.  My girlfriend, who is the Choral Director at New Braunfels UU, started forming the choir.  The Seguine PFLAG group volunteered to provide food for a reception after the service.  UCC clergy and congregants came from San Antonio and Boerne to participate as readers and choir members.  Fliers and save the date post cards were donated and spread everywhere.

The local Episcopalians, some Presbyterians, and a Lutheran Deacon came on board.  One of my best friends who is a Rabbi and Cantor from Austin agreed to come.  A Pagan spiritualist leader joined us.  A queer pastor from Seguin headed up the decorations.  Our tech team and other members faithfully offered to manage the moving parts.

As the 20 clergy processed, one after another, in silence into the sanctuary the crowd was already stunned at this living and breathing testament to God’s inclusive love and acceptance.  Into the silence, 20 faith leaders lined up on the chancel, faced the congregation, and sang a chorus of blessing acapella over them, again and again, as many now openly wept, “You are the heart, you are the hands, you are the voice of Spirit on earth. And who you are, and all you do, is a blessing to the world.”

Then the first words of the service were spoken by a white, hetero-presenting, cis male, Episcopalian clergy who led the opening liturgy of repentance and apology spoken by the gathered clergy…

Fr. Ripp:         In the name of faith leaders who have been complicit in the silencing of LGBTQ+ people and their allies by not speaking out on your behalf…
Clergy:            we are sorry.
Fr. Ripp:         In the name of communities of faith that have often stood by while violent language has fueled homophobia, exclusion and disrespect…
Clergy:            we are sorry.

This opening liturgy went on for many more stanzas and ended with the clergy and congregation singing the song of blessing together.  Then there was more.  Much more.  A candle-lighting ceremony, music that invited reflection, worship, and celebration, and more hugs and tears and laughter than we could count.  Hearts were moved, inspired, healed, and changed.

A pre-teen who has been anti-church was drug there by her mother but was mesmerized by the service.  She took photos and texted one of Rabbi Marie, wearing a rainbow yarmulka, to her best friend in Florida who just came out and is facing rejection from her family and faith.  After the service, several were standing nearby as the two girls FaceTimed together in tears and the best friend said, “You mean there are people who worship like me who think I’m ok?!?!?”

Everyone participating discussed how joyful and filling the event was for them.  Clergy said it was invigorating and humbling.  The white, hetero-presenting, cis male, Episcopalian clergy said his members who attended were deeply impacted, and so was he.  They offered to host the event at their church next year!

At Pride Fest two days later, dozens of persons pulled me aside to tell me their story and how much the evening meant to them.  Long-time members of Faith Church described how healing it was, in ways they did not even realize they needed.

Faith Church made the brave decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation in January of 2009.  It can be easy to make a statement and believe our work is done.  But Faith Church knows that being truly Open and Affirming is a dynamic and active process of on-going work, ever-evolving learning, and deepening advocacy. 

This year, we took another step forward as leaders of transformation and change in our city and as agents of clear and gently loud proclaimers of a God who loves and accepts us all.  In the process, we find that we, too, are being transformed in ways we will be unpacking for some time to come.

For your hearts, for your passion, for your faithful courage and advocacy…thank you, my friends.  I’m excited to see what God does with all of this, next!

Pastor Carla

A Note From Pastor Carla

This Lenten season we have journeyed with Jesus as he encounters conflict after conflict with his colleagues in ministry. The tension has built all through the gospel narratives and we are finally approaching the ultimate confrontations during which Jesus stands his ground with compassion and clarity in a way that brings redemption to the world.

Knowing how deeply he is loved by God allows him to hold this stance—to not return evil for evil, to not run away, but to stand boldly and speak to our anger, our discomfort, our fears that led us as humans to kill him:

He has hard words for those in positions of power…

amazes into silence even his most staunch critics by the wisdom of his words…

names clearly those who take advantage of the vulnerable and outcast…

speaks grace and encouragement to his friend who will deny him 3 times out of cowardice and fear…

confronts his friend who seeks to betray him passive-aggressively while giving him a kiss…

calls forth those who scheme against him in the dead of night away from the sight of the crowds in front of whom they might look bad if they confront the popular Jesus directly…

answers wisely those who try to trick him or twist his words to have him murdered…

reassures his loved ones…

and assures mercy to the thief dying at his side.

I’ve been thinking a lot about healthy conflict lately. Anytime humans are in groups, we get the opportunity to meet our imperfections and triggers that still need healing and find our better selves with each other. When we are in an organization going through change, all while recovering from a pandemic, God help us, it’s even more of a challenge! Even good change is stressful and doing something new means by necessity letting go of the ways we have done them.

As I’ve shared with you in sermons and writings throughout our time together, conflict is not a negative, how we handle it is what is important. Can we allow such times be a means of grace with one another and for ourselves, or will we allow our words and actions to become a

mean grace? Healthy conflict helps us grow, allows us to deepen our relationships and trust with one another, heal old and systemic and generational wounds that all organizations have, and gives us the opportunity to discern where our systems have gaps that need to be strengthened and tightened up.

Toxic conflict tears down, divides, destroys, blames, hides, shuts down, lacks healthy boundaries about what is and is not acceptable, avoids open communication, and creates a dynamic in which there are those assigned as victims and villains and heroes. In reality, as I have preached repeatedly, the entire system is complicit in both our health and our healing edges and all must take responsibility for how we can become healthier and stronger together.

Do we look for a scapegoat to throw the sins of the people onto and then send them out in to the woods, or do we look for where our systems of communication and decision-making were inadequate and need to improve? Are we willing to look at our part in a dynamic or situation? Could we have spoken up more, differently, sooner, more graciously, more clearly, more boldly, and with more respect and love? Can we accept without shame our humanity when we are not our best selves and make amends, and then give others the grace and room to do the same without fear of our contempt?

Root Cause Analysis calls us to be hard on systems but gentle with people and to always have generosity of interpretation to assume folx are doing as well as they can do in any given moment and can and will do better if called to with the right tools and clarity of expectations. If change is needed, it is always up to the entire system to see what changes the whole system needs to make.

So, as we move forward into more and more change, as we seek to expand our ministries and outreach, as our family grows and grows and grows with new faces appearing all the time, as we seek to revitalize not just our church but also our property and grounds that have needed attention for quite some time, there will be more and more opportunities for us to engage in healthy conflict. As we do so, here are some tips from the experts about what that looks like:

Talk to and with each other rather than about each other

Be mindful of assumptions, people-pleasing, aggression, and passive-aggression

Notice our own perfectionism and judgments—toward ourselves and others

Pay more attention to our own part rather than seeking another to blame

Avoid triangulation (going around each other rather than to each other)

Notice the stories we are telling ourselves and check them out directly rather than assume

Own our own feelings and behaviors

Communicate openly and take responsibility for listening

Ask questions and check things out rather than assume

Ask, “What did _______ say when you told them how you felt?” as a gentle reminder to go directly to the source rather than be part of the problem by giving gossip a willing ear

Speak for yourself—don’t bring others’ views to beef up your argument such as “Some

people…” or “Others are saying…”

We’re gonna stink at all this at times. We’re gonna screw it up plenty. But we will practice it and we will get better and we will get healthier and we will grow. All the while, we will extend grace. Sometimes, the most graceful thing we can do is to hold a boundary, and we will do so a gently and lovingly as possible. Boundaries without compassion are harsh but compassion without boundaries is toxic.

What better group of people to practice this thing called life than people who have devoted themselves to a God of grace, and to being a part of a fellowship of believers all seeking to do good in the world? As each new member joins, we have the chance to be reminded of the vows we took with one another at our baptism and at our joining of the church, to be faithful and prayerful and loving and supportive of each other on our faith journeys.

The more we practice the more we will be a safe place for people to come who may not know what it is like to have healthy families who can argue without harming one another; the better example we will be to young couples and families about how to navigate disagreements and challenges; and the less we will risk committing character assassination or death by a thousand paper cuts snarking at or to or about each other.

I wouldn’t want to do this kind of growth work, as much as it can sometimes suck, with any other group of people than your wise, smart, caring, and open hearts. God be with us as we do.

Pastor Carla

A Note From Pastor Carla

And there will be wars and rumors of wars…

Many of us grew up practicing air raids, waiting for bombs of increasing sophistication with each generation, sending us under our desks at school.  Many in my age group were terrified by the movie, The Day After, that aired as a demonstration of what nuclear war could look like.  

If any of us have experienced our own trauma at the hands of someone who treated others inhumanely and appeared uncaring and unstoppable, times like these with leaders acting as their worst possible selves and even our own political leaders supporting them can trigger feelings of helplessness and fatalism.

In short, we are scared.  We grieve watching others discplaced from their own homes and streets and it is traumatizing to watch others being traumatized when we feel we can do nothing about it.  Walking out of a concert last night into a beautiful evening with joy and laughter and singing all around, I turned to my beloved to say, “It feels weird being so happy knowing what Ukranian civilians are going through at this very moment.”  We feel guilty for enjoying our safe life while theirs is being torn apart. 

All these challenging feelings can be so hard to be with that we go numb, block them out, shut them down.  Yet we cannot afford to, and need not fall into, paralysis and helplessness.  There is much that we can do!

First, we can pray.  Never underestimate the power of all of us uniting our hearts to care for the plight of others.  And, when we pray, it changes us and our hearts so we can be the change we wish God to produce in our world.

Second, we can give.  The UCC is collecting funds working in partnership with our cousins of faith in the Reformed Church of Hungary.  Many are booking Air B&Bs in Ukraine while making it clear they will not be coming, then communicating directly with the owners to offer support while others are buying art and other goods from persons in that region.  Yes, we must be careful of scams, so research on-line for safe ways to offer these kinds of support that will do the most direct good to those who need it most, but do not let fear of needing to get your efforts just right stop you from doing something.

Third, we can reflect.  In this Lenten Season, we are called inward to consider areas in which we could stand to grow that we may have missed seeing previously.  For instance, many, such as my friend and colleague, Rev. Jim Rigby, is challenging us in his Facebook posts to consider why we are so much more heartbroken over the invasion of predominantly Caucasian countries while turning a blind eye to the conflicts being waged upon countries of black and brown persons.  In far more of these invasions than we realize, WE are the invaders. 

Splinters and logs can get tricky, sometimes.  But it does not mean we are excused from taking a look to see if there is something new our God of justice and peace wishes to show us.

We are not helpless.  We can take action.  We are not alone.  We can stand with others and our siblings around the world by speaking up for causes of peace, for service of those pushed to the margins or left out of them completely at our worlds various types of borders.

We can let it begin with us, but how we respond to the crisis in Ukraine and those right outside our doorstep in New Braunfels as far too many are left without a physical home OR without a faith family that accepts them as they are.  May God lead us to find new ways to speak, reach out, act, serve, love, include, and be the living hope for a different city where all are welcomed and housed and fed and safe, a different county and state and country and world where the same is true.

We who proclaim in A New Creed, “In life, in death, in life after death, God is with us.  We are not alone!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.” have an assurance and source of hope that not all persons have.  Let us get out from under our desks and look up, Children of God.  We were created for such a time as this, and the world needs our compassionate minds and fierce hearts of service now, more than ever.

And let it begin with us.

Peace, Pastor Carla

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