Tag: a note from pastor carla

A Note From Pastor Carla

Faithful Friends,

Life is rarely one thing.  We have success and failure.  We have hope and heartache.  We make progress and face setbacks.  We experience excitement and fatigue.  This week has been no exception.

On Sunday, we completed a process that began last March as Council and members began discussing needed repairs and updates of our facilities.  As always, you conducted yourselves with diligence, wisdom, passion, integrity, and compassion for one another. 

I was never more proud to be your pastor than I was during and after the Congregational Meeting that day to agree upon plans for what changes and repairs we would make and how we would finance them.  Folks were engaged and honest, patient in the face of a tedious process, open to one another’s concerns and hopes, and gentle with each other. 

Leadership was relieved to find consensus.  Members were grateful for consensus and a feeling of goodwill in our midst.  Visitors were impressed by the health we displayed, which can be hard for any group of people when making big decisions with many competing opinions and needs.  Thank you for being the Church with one another!

Gratitude, excitement, hope, and the joy and security of feeling part of something bigger carried many of us.

Tuesday and Wednesday found many struggling with the state of our state and country and the decisions made by some of our neighbors to elect leaders who do not always appear to consider the safety, dignity, and rights of all.  As we have processed our emotions and waited still to see what results will become clear in the weeks ahead, we have also grappled with how to respond and what we can do to help build more just world.

Anger, fear, grief, and exhaustion from what seems like a never-ending quest for a better world have weighed many down ever since.

These are moments when it can feel hard to know what to say to offer hope without false positivity, encourage just words and actions when speaking about some of our leaders and fellow citizens without pushing down understandable feelings of despair and frustration, and lead us to continue working for what we believe God wants for all of God’s children and our planet.

I do not wish to give you empty words and platitudes.  And, I do wish to ask us to take time to grieve, to rest, to vent, but to not give into any of it any longer than necessary.  Now is not the time for people of God to shrink back.  Now is not the time to cease in our labors.  Now is the time for we as Christians to be that much more intentional about following Jesus in service to justice and peace.  In time, we individually and collectively will become clear about what, exactly, we are called to do in response.

For now, we will continue to offer sanctuary to all who feel left out and alone.  We will continue to offer food and housing to those who do not have enough.  We will continue to work for equal access to rights and safety and equality and inclusion for all.

Each month, we serve the SOS Food Bank on the third Friday.  Over the holidays, we will again help house and feed our siblings in need through Family Promise for 2 weeks at Slumber Falls.  On November 20th, we will observe the Trans Day of Remembrance.  After worship that day we will hear from a representative of Just Texas about how we can become a Reproductive Freedom Congregation.  Through multiple events, we will continue to discuss and learn and deepen and grow in our own faith.  We will welcome new members and break bread together and support each other.

We will continue to be the Church to each other and our world.  And we will embody the hope and grace and faith in a brighter future of a true kin-dom that the people so desperately need to hear.  We will be faith.  We will be hope.  We will be God with skin on.

For now, however you find yourself feeling, whatever thoughts are rumbling through your head, I offer these words below of comfort and challenge shared with me by our own Donna Foster.  They are the words of Jeremy Rutledge shared on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 during a gathering of prayer, poetry, and music at Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, SC.  They are words that Jeremy scratched onto a pad earlier that day.  May we find meaning and hope in them, still.

Regardless, we will find meaning in our shared work and community and we will find hope in the God who sees a far bigger than we ever could and will never fail to lead us in building a brighter world, in our own hearts and for our neighbors.  I love you.  I am grateful for you.  May peace be with us, all.

Yours in seeking and service,

Pastor Carla

Dear sons and daughters
who wake
into the world
we have broken
so badly

we see you today
blinking out of bed
into this dark dawn
of hate speech
and bigotry
the irreligion
of our politics

and we say to you
as you climb
from the covers
that we are sorry
for what we have done
all we have allowed
to happen
around you.

And the only prayer
we can offer
is to rise with you
and speak in
a different voice
a surer cadence
to stand with
our backs up
against the prevailing wind

and say to you
Muslim child
that you are not banned
from our hearts
or our homes

say to you
gay child
that you are loved
and valued
for who you are

say to you
that you are not an object
but a subject
your life, your body
belonging to no one else

say to you
child with diverse ability
that you are not a joke
but a joy to us

say to you
all children
mocked and put down
by the bullies and the brownshirts
of this and every age
that we won’t let them
take what is yours

but we will rise
take your hand
and walk together
until miles from here
years from now
we might sleep again
in peace.

~by Jeremy Rutledge

A Note From Pastor Carla

I’ve been asked to share the transcript of my sermon from October 9th based on 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c.

Thank you for being a church that demonstrates to ALL that there is a God in New Braunfels!!

No person is one thing. 

The one you discount or roll your eyes at will then humble and surprise you by saying or doing something profound and deep and beautiful. 

The one you respect and adore will say or do something equally surprising but in the opposite direction and let you down, disappointing or even hurting you. 

No person is one thing. At our best, we are all wonderful. At our worst, we all have the capacity to really blow it in unimaginable ways. 

It’s messy living in this world with others, and with ourselves. 

Especially now when we are all more than a little crispy, living with the lingering and as yet unresolved trauma and grief of a world torn apart by the pandemic, violence, and the perversion of politics and religion to harm and divide rather than heal and unite. 

Naaman was called a “great man” and did great things to protect and serve his country. And he suffered with his own afflictions of body (leprosy) and spirit (pride and a fragile sense of self).

And in his service to HIS country, had decimated the country and lives of others, including the young girl from Israel whom he had captured and enslaved. 

If you’ll notice, we were not given her name. She was female. She was a held captive. She was made to serve her captors who had destroyed her country and likely killed her family, friends, and neighbors. 

She had EVERY reason to hate Naaman and wish him ill, to relish in his pain and delight in his suffering from leprosy. 

But she had the love of God in her to see the suffering of another human. Perhaps she even had the wisdom to see that if Naaman found healing, and even found it in the God of Israel, then maybe, just maybe, it would help bring peace between and for the two countries. 

Sure enough, when all was said and done, Naaman had the humility and change of heart to say, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Each country had their own culture and beliefs and their own gods and religions. The nation of Aram was no different. 

Everyone thought their gods were better and most often despised the beliefs and practices and gods of others. 

After being born and raised in Northeast Texas and doing my education and living and working there my whole life, I finally got to my Mecca, my Holy Land, my safe space of Austin. 

I joked that I had paid my dues living east of what’s known as the Pine Cone Curtain of Interstate 45 and once I finally got to the relative safety of more liberal and accepting Austin, that I would be drug out of that town kicking and screaming. 

And so I lived there, where I felt mostly included and accepted, for 17 years. It was a breath of fresh air and gave me much healing. 

My neurochemistry always felt on high alert in Northeast Texas as a gay female in such a patriarchal, misogynistic, and homophobic culture where crude comments and jokes and sneers and even threats were common. 

When I left Austin to go back east for work or to visit family or friends, I would spend the whole drive back to Austin holding my breath and saying to myself, “It’s not a mirage. Austin is real. You’ll be back with your people again, soon.”

I joked that I would go straight to Whole Foods and hug the first person with tattoos and dreads smelling of patchouli, or biracial couple, or drag queen that I saw and say, “My people! I’m back with my people!”

And then, an amazing and progressive little church I knew and loved in an equally conservative town as the ones I came from, called me to come serve for a time as an interim pastor and to consider staying longer. 

New Braunfels is a beautiful city with its own rich culture and heritage. The rivers and landscape appeal to my love of the outdoors. The quality of the music and incredible food and festivals cannot be denied. 

And then there’s you. I already knew and loved this church, having preached here over the years when Pastor Scott was away. I knew many of you from being in the same conference and then association of the UCC. 

I knew and loved your passion for justice, your legacy of service to those without enough food or shelter, your intentional making of space for those who felt safe in no other house of worship or for immigrants seeking to make their way as a stranger in a strange land, your creativity, your love of the outdoors and photography, environmental justice, and all forms of activism at the local and national levels for decades.  

As we worked to learn to serve together, I came to love you even more. And that love increases all the time. 

And. With the politics of this town, with the sneers and jokes and comments and fear that comes from being different here, with the founders of the Trump train and others STILL spreading untruths and riling up division and angst against the freedoms and rights and safety of others…it has been a struggle for me to let go of my safe space in Austin and embrace this town with so many who do not embrace me, or anyone different.

Please hear me. I do NOT mean to disparage this town that many of you have been born and raised in and raise families in and have served in and have amazing memories of and people and schools and neighbors whom you adore!!!

We have our own Aram and Israel conflicts here. “Keep Austin Weird” the bumper stickers and t-shirts say. “Keep New Braunfels Normal” say others. 

Some would hear, before I moved here this past spring, that I was from Austin, and say longingly, “Ohhhhh, Austin!!!” and others would say with raised eyebrow and grimace, “Oh, Austin!”

But as I’ve worked with the big-hearted people of the homeless coalition and folks from Connections Individual and Family Services and the Comal County Crisis Center and Serve Spot and Family Promise and the SOS Food bank and the McKenna Foundation and Riverside Pride and met Mayor Rusty and members of City Council and other city leaders and folks from the MLK Association and the IDEA Forum and members of other more progressive faith communities like St John’s and Unity and New Braunfels UU, and even purplish ones like Peace Lutheran and New Braunfels Presbyterian and saw their thirst for making room for everyone in this town, and I could not help but be impressed and fall in love with them as siblings also seeking peace and justice in an area where it can often feel impossible. 

And Father Rip from St. John’s Episcopal and Pastor Jake from Peace Lutheran say, “Let’s start getting together as progressive pastors and talk about ways we can work more together and bring others who are ready to work with us along”

And Ripp says, “Our people were so moved by what y’all at Faith did with the Interfaith Pride Worship Service that we want to host it next year”. 

And Jake reaches out to invite us to their Ecumenical Thanksgiving Worship Service this year (November 17th) and to talk about getting us into the rotation with other purplish congregations to host one year soon even though they know how very blue we are in our beliefs. 

And city leaders speak with deep and tremendous respect for our congregation for even considering possibly using our property to help families living with housing insecurity and say they wish other churches in the area would follow suit. 

And I see you donning your new bright blue Faith Church t-shirts and showing up to represent at the City-Wide Worship Service, and the SOS Food Bank, and Pride Events, and speak Thursday night at a Texas Gun Sense event, and write articles in the paper about environmental faithfulness, and loving on our church grounds and property and finances and tech to make sure others can access a loving word of God even from their homes and states away, and loving on our children and youth and teaching them that faith means following Jesus in working for economic justice by paying off incredibly unjust and predatory medical debt, and providing music and other leadership for worship to make folks feel welcome and lifted up and loved, and showing up at the Habitat Restore and Habitat Home Build working alongside others to serve and be an alternative Christian voice in so many ways. 

And I see the ways that this church is helping to be a connector of people in peace and a unifier for justice and I have even more hope and feel even safer in this town. 

I’ve been told that the local Ministerial Alliance would not be a great place for me as a female pastor, especially not a gay one with a fo-hawk and biker boots. And my presence makes even many of the more evangelical and fundamentalist clergy at the Serve Spot ministers prayer breakfasts hold their breaths. 

But then one pulls me aside and says, “I believe more like you and the people of Faith Church do, but my congregation doesn’t. Let’s grab coffee and talk about how I can slowly bring them along.”

And another says, “Can we have lunch some time and talk about ways I can disagree with homosexuality as God’s plan but not do harm to people in the process?” 

Oh, you bet, brother, we can talk about that!!

And a social Justice class from St. John’s reaches out to ask me to speak to their class about what we believe about issues of social Justice and why to help stretch them further past their comfort zones. 

And I see Yesenia on stage as a openly gay woman who is like a local Ellen Degeneres with people who adore her and her musical gifts and get to wrap their heads around, “How can I hate this lesbian who brings me so much joy” and who creates safe space at her gigs because folks who are different go there knowing that no one will mess with them because she will see if from on stage and with a nod to management would make sure nothing bad happens. And folks are joyful and dancing and meld together   united by a common love for her music and spirit and even just for a little while forget to feel weird dancing next to a lesbian o gay couple dancing together next to them. And she says, “Baby, we’re doing it. We’re helping bring people together.”

And then I go to the rapidly growing Libbie Ladies Happy Hour where women and even now men will come and they will get choked up and say, “I THOUGHT I WAS ALONE!!!! I HAD GIVEN UP HOPE. LOOK AT ALL THESE PEOPLE who believe like I do about inclusion and equal rights and equal access and caring for each other and our planet!! I’M NOT ALONE!”

And then the organizer, Terri Truitt, whom many know as Lulu, drags me around to introduce me LOUDLY as the pastor of Faith Church and tells them all about us and they are stunned—after they get past their moment of panic that a pastor is there—and then they are impressed to know that there is a prophetic church in Israel…and they want to know more. 

Then Friday night at that event a woman reaches across the potatoe skins and margaritas at a table at the Hideaway and grabs my hand desperately and with tears coming down her face says, “You and your people at Faith give me hope. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” And she places her hands together in a sign of deep respect and says, “Namaste”. 

And that means, “The divine in me sees the divine in you.”

No person is one thing. 

Not a pastor who preaches that homosexuality is a sin. 

Not a group of women who detest and fear churches because of the ways they have perverted Christianity and sought to impose a warped version of it into laws that strip them and their daughters and their granddaughters of their rights and safety.  

Not a highly imperfect redheaded pastor who can say too much too strongly despite my best intentions and can often be not my best self.

Nor the local family who are selling lies and fear and “Biden is the Wurst” W. U. R. S. T. t-shirts to pay for their legal fees for running the Biden campaign bus off the road near the exit to our church. 

No person is one thing. 

No town is one thing. Even as I’ve wrestled with my own fears of often feeling like I’ve stepped back in time about 30 years, back behind the Pine Cone Curtain of Northeast Texas that was SUCH an oppressive place for me, I’ve thought often, “I don’t want to be like Jonah getting swallowed by a big fish or sitting grumpily under a withered gourd tree refusing God’s command to him to go to Ninevah, the city of HIS oppressors because he knows if he tells them of God’s love they will turn toward God and change and he doesn’t want the ones who have killed his family and his people and his country to be saved. 

And I’ve thought of this story. And I’ve thought of all the unnamed servant girls I’ve met seeking to bring about change so no one in this town feels alone or feels left out. 

And I’ve thought of you, who have chosen to put down roots here and to, like God told Jeremiah, “seek the welfare of this city”. 

How can I not fall even MORE in love with you for that?

Because of the grace and faithfulness and compassion of a kidnapped, enslaved, unnamed servant girl who dared to be an evangelist—one who bring the Good News of a God of healing—Naaman says, “Now I KNOW that there is a God in Israel”.

Because of our faithfulness to answer God’s call, because of our compassion even for those who consider themselves our enemies, even for those whose beliefs and votes and actions seek to oppress and enslave us and others, we can be, we ARE, the evangelists who will spread love and connection and justice and peace and HEALING…

And cause people to say, “Now we KNOW that there is a God in New Braunfels.”

In and through us, led by God’s UNFAILING grace and wasteful love poured out on EVERYONE in this city, and then the world…God grant that it may be so. 


A Note From Pastor Carla

“You take care you ownself, fwirst!”  One of many viral videos shared across social media in recent years shows a toddler sitting in her car seat telling a family member what-for, letting them know they need to leave her alone and focus on themselves.  It’s adorable, and wise…

When I get overwhelmed by life, I’ve learned I need to make things very, very simple.  Usually, things are far less complicated than we make them out to be.  We often realize this after we slow down, breathe, get more information, pray for what God would like us to do (or NOT do) in the moment, and simply allow some things to unfold in due time. 

I’m not suggesting passivity or irresponsibility here; if there is action we need to take, it isn’t faithful to let it slide.  And there are times when we sit still long enough to let the dust settle, the path forward becomes more clear and we discover that many things sort themselves out without our needing to be involved.

Between the apathy or overwhelm that lead to inaction and the frenzied anxiety that can lead to over-functioning, there is a sweet spot of quiet and calm, groundedness and peace, clarity and trust that give way to effective action.

First, I have to tend to my own self.  The platitudes about this are many—put your own oxygen mask on first…you can’t pour from an empty cup…pour from your saucer, not your cup, etc.  They exist for a reason.  We need to hear this many different ways to help us do what often feels unnatural when the needs around us feel so great.

The toddler in the video I described above, however, was not so much encouraging self-care as she was setting a boundary with someone whom she felt was getting all up in her business, and she wanted them out of it!  “Focus on yourself and leave me alone” she effectively says. 

For me, the wisdom in this is that when I get overwhelmed, it’s often because I am worrying about things that are not mine to tend to. Often, when we are busy focusing on someone else, it can be a seemingly good excuse to avoid tending to our own lives.  Something about ignoring a log and focusing on the spec in another’s eye comes to mind.

Activism can become an excuse to use something good to avoid our lives.  I am never more productive than when I have a deadline looming of something I dread.  My taxes were recently due to my accountant.  Before that task was done, I caught up on a ton of items on my to do list just short of scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush!

In a similar way, when we have something in our own lives or something about ourselves that needs tending too, but that we want to avoid, being busy with just causes can be a socially acceptable excuse to distract us.  There is no shortage of needs in this world.  There is no shortage of to do lists and advocacy issues that need tending to and justice issues that we could spend our entire lives working every minute of every day on.

When we are working from a place of passion, being energized by the Spirit, giving from the excess of the resources we have to give, then we can be highly effective tools of God for good in this world.  When we spin in anxiety, angst, scarcity, and anger in a frenetic pace feeling that we are the ones who have been called to tend to all the worlds ills, we miss out on our first calling…to be present in relationship with our God and ourselves.

From that sweet spot, we will be a better example of God’s grace because we will embody grace for ourselves, first.  We will be more thoughtful in what we write and say and do because we will be led by God’s wisdom and compassion rather than our own toxic guilt and fears and need for control.       

We must not ignore the needs of this world nor must we feel we are the ones to tend to them all.  Jesus took time away in the wilderness alone to recharge and connect with God.  Jesus allows God’s angels to tend to him so he could go out and tend to others.  Jesus stopped and ate and visited with dear friends and loved ones who kept him going and reminded him he was not alone. 

The poor we will always have with us, and we must not forget or take lightly their plight, but we can serve them better and find better solutions for the systems that impoverish them and keep them there when our spirits and bodies are not empty but filled with God’s presence and grace. 

So, when we begin to feel overwhelmed by the world’s ills, or find ourselves venting about (insert name of politician or group here), or raging about (insert injustice here) let us take a moment to pause and ask…

Are we coming from a place of fullness or scarcity?

Are we filled with God’s passion or our anxiety and anger?

Are we fueled by passion and compassion or hate and contempt?

Are we filled with self-righteousness or righteous indignation over injustice?

Are we being led and inspire by God to action or are we venting to replace action?

Are we avoiding something in our own lives or following God’s prompting to act?

Are we tending to ourselves first then allowing God to use our fullness to feed the world?

Kristen Neff is a researcher and author whom I’ve mentioned before.  Her doctoral work focused on self-compassion.  You can find her website at http://self-compassion.org where you can take a quiz to assess your own!  How solid is your care for yourself?  How well do you think you can truly care for others if you aren’t caring for your own needs, first?  How much compassion do we have to give others if our compassion for ourselves is in short supply?

May we find more compassion for ourselves.  May we allow God to show us our worth despite our works.  Me we rid ourselves of the believe that we are only as good as we perform.  Then, from a place of true connection with God, guided by God’s grace and wisdom and mercy and compassion, we will accomplish far more for a greater period of time in a way that serves the world, and us, far better.

By the grace of God may it be so.  Amen.

A Note From Pastor Carla

Crispy.  That’s the word I would use to describe not only our parched earth, but our weary hearts and souls. 

We are still recovering in so many ways from the pandemic and its long-term impact on not only our economies, infrastructure, supply chains, and staffing in various industries, but also our collective psyche.

We continue to experience the impact of a shift away from religious and government entities that promote care for one another, from civil dialogue and collaboration to promote the common good, to more autocratic and nationalistic forms of control that perpetuate injustice.

Activism fatigue is a real thing, and the enormity of issues needing to be addressed can be overwhelming.  We are tired. 

Simultaneously, life continues to be lifey in our personal worlds.  Finances are stretched.  Family members are struggling.  Health crises come unexpectedly.  Relationships are hard, sometimes.  Each disrupts our world. 

As a church, we continue to thrive and seek to do good in the world.  Growth is amazing, and change is hard.  Learning the names of so many new members, finding one’s place in such a long-standing group, feeling displaced when so much seems so unfamiliar, and wrestling with former theologies in order to find a more life-giving one are good problems to have.  And, they take a toll.

We’re moving forward in making decisions about caring for our property and the future leadership of the congregation.  Each of these can feel simultaneously exciting and uncertain.

Having an extroverted, Aries of a pastor that seeks to help that growth and who can also get too many plates spinning at once is probably both a blessing and a challenge.  Threading the needle between enacting our needed growth and development and doing so at a manageable rate is not always easy, and I often miss that balance. 

How will we respond to the multiple invitations to anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion, and fear? 

A vast body of research into how we not just survive but actually thrive through challenging times can be found in the fields of resilience and post-traumatic growth—how we recover after a potentially traumatic event.  I teach this regularly, which means, dad-gum it, I get to actually try to practice it myself, even when I don’t want to!  This is what the data tells us this process can look like: 

First we must name the struggles.  The gremlins we pick up and put on the table in front of us can be tended to, cared for, and supported.  Left alone under the table in the dark they bite our ankles and we don’t know why we are feeling hobbled. 

We must admit what it feels like we have lost, as in, “This isn’t the way things are supposed to be!” or “This shouldn’t be happening!”  Our grief deserves and needs to be acknowledged, validated, and normalized so we remember that we are neither crazy nor broken.  We are having a normal reaction to abnormal situations, so OF COURSE we feel a little, ok…sometimes a lot, nutty. 

It’s the price of being human living in an imperfect world.  Giving ourselves space to grieve when things are not as we would like is necessary and kind to ourselves.  Be sad.  Be scared.  Be angry.  Let others comfort us.  We can only truly come to terms with our reality that is present when we acknowledge the loss, and then work to find acceptance that it just is what it is. We cannot skip this step and jump into action.  This step is necessary.

Second, we can then consider the stories we are telling ourselves, and each other.  Are we falling into patterns of scarcity and telling a story that there is nothing we can do or are we looking for the opportunity and gifts that can be found, even in the hardest of times?  Are we accepting the lie that we are disconnected and alone, or are we coming together to offer and accept hands reaching out to connect, support, and be present? 

I, for one, can often isolate in my struggles until I remember that I am not alone and without help, and reach out to my peeps who lift up my heart and make the dark seem much less scary.  Trauma has two key elements—how well we felt supported during and after a threatening event and how well we felt we could take action on our own behalf during and after the event.

When we isolate in our maladaptive stories, we can forget to see the whole picture—yes, x y & z sucks, AND we have people who love us, we have a God who is with us, there are gifts and opportunities even in the most horrible of circumstances, we can take action, and we are not alone. 

Emotional intelligence is about being able to hold this “both—and”; one does not negate the other.  For instance, we are grieving that the Simpson family whom we adore have been reassigned and will soon be moving to another city.  And we will have the joy this month of baptizing little Harper and Chloe, whom many have watched grow into amazing little ones fed by the love of this congregation. 

We are also rejoicing with the new and long-dreamed of opportunity Ellen and Shannon will have as they serve as a military couple in Ellen’s new assignment, where they will have the opportunity to make a huge impact on their new community.  And they will continue to raise their littles into strong and thoughtful humans of faith and justice and grace who will help to change the world for the better.  Faith Church has been a huge part of all of that, and our love will go with them as theirs remains with us.

We have high-dollar repairs that need to be made.  And we have insurance to help us, UCC grants we’ve received this year totaling $25,000 with the promise of more to come in the next 3 years.  Not only did we NOT slack off in attendance and giving during the summer, as always happens in churches, but have had record attendance and are at 104% giving compared to where we hoped we would be at this point in our year. 

We have tons of tasks needing to be accomplished.  And we have new and long-term members working together on more projects than most even know about to improve our policies and procedures, decrease our insurance premiums, and care for our young and elders alike while better protecting our church.  Folks are already letting me know of their intention to put their hat in the ring for Church Council for 2023.

Our new church management software, Realm, can feel overwhelming to learn and launch.  And, over half our active members are engaging in Realm Groups to coordinate our work, plan fellowship and social events, and pray in real time for one another.

Each of these things are true.  We can look to the good when we begin to feel our heads dipping under the waters of overwhelm and fear.  It is there, if we practice having eyes to see it.

Third, as we accept not just the threats we face but the opportunities presented to us, we look for ways to take constructive and adaptive action in whatever ways ARE at our disposal rather than fall apart into despair, hopelessness, and inaction.  We seek what we CAN do and not whom we can blame, including ourselves.  We may be powerless to change people and circumstances, but we are not helpless to take action that can being hope and change. 

It is soooooo much more tempting and easy and even relieving to work out our angst on others than to own our part, but that is cutting off our nose to spite our face.  Where can I ask for what I need, say how I feel, correct my own actions, seek support, improve my own boundaries, and increase my own self-care? 

As people of faith, how can we stop our spinning minds and sink into the reminder that God is with us and allow that reminder to soothe our frantic hearts?  How can we be the hope and change we wish to see?  Can we do the part we feel God is calling us to do and then trust God with the rest?   

When times are uncertain and we feel overwhelmed it can be easy to not be our best selves.  Coming back to ourselves can be as simple as returning to our breathe, our inspiration; settling our bodies and minds so we can think more clearly, hear God more readily, and respond from a place of grounded certainty in God’s goodness and provision and love.  That is far better than reacting to and from our angst and fears.  It isn’t easy.  It is a muscle that must be built and a skill that must be practiced.

And so, I ask us to breathe.  Breathe in the hope of God.  Release worries and fears into God’s hands then see which ones God places back into ours, remembering that the God who calls us will also equip and sustain us on the journey.  Slow down the noise, ease the internal chatter, and listen for the still, small voice of encouragement and direction.  Wait on the Lord, scripture tells us, be of good strength, and then go out and kick butt in the best possible ways.

You may have seen the children’s sermon recently where I talked about breathing in for the count of four, holding that breath for four counts, releasing it in four, then holding for four counts before breathing in for four again.  Doing this three or four times makes use of the God-given beauty of our bodies and its amazing neurochemistry of feel-good hormones that can counteract the cortisol that runs amuck in our systems when we are in a state of distress.

Doing this won’t change outer situations, but can impact how we see and respond to them.  Being our best, most grounded, most clear, most present selves is the greatest gift we can give to the world.  From this place, we act in more Godly ways, exuding hope and light in the darkness—not in a gaslighting ways that deny the yuckiness around us, but refusing to be consumed by it or become darkness ourselves. 

This type of living is as contagious as fear.  It inspires others to do the same.  It allows us to embody the Gospel we seek to proclaim with our whole lives that by the grace of God love wins out over hate, peace wins out over fear, and life ultimately wins out over death.

I recently posted on social media a poem that helps bring me back to myself, and the God within and around me.  I close with it as an offering to remind us to BE even as we do, and also that taking a break from time to time is ok.  In choirs, everyone does not breathe at the same time when, but staggers their breathe so there will be no lull in the music.  Geese take turns as the leader in the V-formation, dropping back to draft off the others when tired.

So, rest as you need.  Breathe consciously whenever you can.  And then join hands with someone else and get back into the game of life with God as the ultimate coach, cheerleader, and even teammate. 

Breathe by Lynn Unger

Breathe, said the wind
How can I breathe at a time like this,
when the air is full of the smoke
of burning tires, burning lives?
Just breathe, the wind insisted.
Easy for you to say, if the weight of
injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
cutting off all air.
I need you to breathe.
I need you to breathe.
Don’t tell me to be calm
when there are so many reasons
to be angry, so much cause for despair!
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.
We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.

Peace, my friends.

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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