Tag: from the pastor (Page 1 of 3)

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!

Peace,
Pastor Carla
❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🖤🤎🏳️‍🌈

A Note From Pastor Carla

Faithful Friends,

I’ve never met anyone who wants abortion to be a necessary reality. Of the 1 in 4 women who have had abortions, I’ve never met or counseled with any for whom it was about selfishness or convenience and I’ve certainly never heard anyone involved in such a difficult decision who’ve approached it lightly.

Steeped in emotion, this is a challenging issue. Certainly, faithful people can prayerfully disagree on a variety of topics. When it comes to issues of justice, safety, equity, and health, it is important that we wrestle together with our feelings, consider all the facts, move past the hype, and ask ourselves what God asks of us, individually and collectively. 

Then, we seek to follow God in standing with the rights of all people to access healthcare in the way that best meets their individual circumstance and needs.

To help support rational dialogue and promote justice around Reproductive Health, Faith Church will be hosting a community screening of a documentary film Wednesday, June 29th, at 6:30pm called On the Divide.

Organizers promoting this film are from Peace is Loud, a nonprofit that uses storytelling to advance social justice. According to their conversations with us, the film “follows the stories of three Latinx Catholics living in McAllen, TX, who are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. The film explores how each person balances faith and the right to reproductive services, and sparks important conversations about how people can be Christian AND pro-choice. 

The film is a powerful tool to start conversations about how we can provide comfort and compassion for those in the midst of their reproductive story.”

I hope you will join us for the screening and dialogue session afterward as we share our honest concerns, questions, and thoughts together while considering how to best support all women (and men) in a just and compassionate way, especially in light of news of SCOTUS’s pending ruling to overturn Roe v Wade.

In the meantime, I refer you to the UCCs statement on Reproductive Health and Justice linked here and included below) as an idea of how many persons of faith see this issue.

Our spiritual history as God’s people is full of stories of those who have wrestled with God, including Jesus, and were willing to hang on until they had found God’s direction and blessing. 

May we follow that tradition, together. 

Peace,
Pastor Carla


Reproductive Health and Justice: Why the UCC is a leader in this area
God has given us life, and life is sacred and good. God has also given us the responsibility to make decisions which reflect a reverence for life in circumstances when conflicting realities are present. Jesus affirmed women as full partners in the faith, capable of making decisions that affect their lives.

There are many justice issues related to reproductive health, including access to pre- and post- natal care for all women, equal access to the full range of legal reproductive health services including abortion, the right of women to determine when, if and how many children she should have, access to emergency contraception and other family planning services and information, the right not to be sterilized against one’s wishes, and the ability of women to negotiate safe sexual practices and non-coercive sexual experiences.

The United Church of Christ has affirmed and re-affirmed since 1971 that access to safe and legal abortion is consistent with a woman’s right to follow the dictates of her own faith and beliefs in determining when and if she should have children, and it has supported comprehensive sexuality education as one measure to prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, and to create healthy and responsible sexual persons and relationships. (General Synods VIII, IX, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XVII, and XVIII)

We have also supported that women with limited financial means should be able to receive public funding in order to exercise her legal right to the full range of reproductive health services. What is legally available to women must be accessible to all women.

The United Church of Christ is one of the founding faith groups of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, formed in 1973 as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. Over the years, RCRC has continued to bring a strong voice of faith on the moral and religious issues that swirl around public debate over abortion, contraception and pregnancy prevention. 

Because there are many religious and theological perspectives on when life and personhood begin, the UCC joins others in advocating that public policy must honor this rich religious diversity. Our position is not a pro-abortion position but a pro-faith, pro-family and pro-woman position.

RCRC has resources to train clergy and others in a counseling position in All Options Counseling which is centered on what is best for the individual woman and supports her decision-making. It also has a pro-choice religious leadership network, specific resources for African American and Latina/o church communities, a Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom network active on college and university campuses, many state affiliates, resources for post-abortion counseling, a Theologies of Choice course for seminaries, and a Seminarians for Choice network. For more information, visit www.rcrc.org.

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.

Peace,
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

A Note from Pastor Carla

Friends,

In recent weeks I have been calling us to a new level of Biblical literacy, reclaiming Scripture from those who twist it control and shame rather than liberate and heal.  To that end, during Lent I am asking you to do 3 things:

1) Get a good study Bible in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  These study Bibles have notes, introductions, references, etc. to help you as we learn together to better decipher Scripture in a life-giving way.  The NRSV is considered one of the most accurate translations available today.  I recommend the New Interpreters Study Bible put out by Abingdon Press.  You can get a hardback copy for $20-30 on Amazon or Cokesbury for about $38 and it’s well worth the investment.

If you choose another study Bible, do some research to see if the editors and commentators are more conservative or non-conservative as each one has their own agenda and spin on scripture that will lead them to write in a way that encourages a literal perspective, which is what we are trying to avoid.

2) Join us for the study of Marcus Borg’s, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking Scripture Seriously but Not Literally.  It is a terrific introduction to really understanding Scripture for ourselves in a new way that opens it up rather than close us, and our hearts, down.

3) Make a practice of reading the Lectionary Texts assigned for each Sunday during Lent.  These are the Scriptures we choose to read from and base sermons upon in most churches from the Reformed tradition.  The Lectionary goes in 3-year cycles.  Right now, we are in Year C and you can scroll down to the Scriptures for the coming Sunday.  For instance, this Sunday, February 20th, we are in the Seventh Sunday After Epiphany and the passages for that date can be found here https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=113 

Read these throughout the week. Use the study Bible to read the introduction to the book of the Bible you are reading and the notes for the passage.  See if you can find a common theme and use what you are learning from the Borg study to decipher more about what God might want to speak to us today through those words.  By the time Sunday comes, you’ll better understand the liturgy and sermon (at least I hope what I say makes sense!)

When interpreting scripture, ask yourself, “What’s the healthiest, most loving, most life-giving and liberating translation of this passage that the Creator and Sustainer of Life would want for us and for others?”  For instance:

Does the passage the way you have been taught it or are currently understanding it encourage shame, being small, tolerating mistreatment, allowing others to not be their best selves, not setting boundaries, not speaking up on behalf of yourself or others? 

Then it does not meet this criterion. 

Does it encourage judgment of others, feeling better about oneself than others, committing character assassination or critique of others as a person, calling THEM OUT in shame rather than calling their BEHAVIOR FORTH to something better, seeing oneself in the passage as hero or victim so that either way the passage is all about you?

Then it does not meet this criterion. 

But does it encourage gentleness and compassion, generosity and patience, for yourself and for others, but with healthy boundaries that lead to right relationship? 

Does it call you to forgiveness, not for their sake, but for yours, while also giving you room to love from a distance when someone is not being their best selves?

Does it comfort you that you are beloved and God is on your side and sees you as worthy, while also reminding you God is on the side of those who consider themselves your enemy and while God may be aggrieved at their behavior sees them as worthy and wants their transformation and salvation, too? 

Does it remind you that God wants both the oppressed and oppressor that exist within us and within others, free from the systems that keep us all held down?

Does it challenge you to give freely in service to God and others while reminding you to pour from your saucer and not your cup so that you have something of yourself left to continue giving for the long term, remembering that this life thing is a marathon and not a sprint so we need to save some reserves for the next task God puts before us?

Does it keep you right-sized—not too small, not too big—and does it help you keep others in perspective, too—not good guys or bad guys—but everyone as just another human on the planet trying to figure this life-thing out?

If it does these things, then it meets that criterion.

Jesus called forth those who used power and privilege to oppress and/or neglect others.  Jesus comforted those who were oppressed and neglected.  God created all life and all artists who create know what it is to want their art to do the most good in the world.  Why should we believe Scripture would be used to do anything less?  Why would the Creator and Sustainer of Life want anything for us that is anything but Life-Giving?

So, let’s reclaim Scripture, which means we cannot be intellectually lazy.  Yes, it can seem hard, but learning the tools to be better able to decipher passages used abusively is our command from God. 

In 1st Peter 3:15, we are told to, “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”  Our conservative siblings of faith take this literally AND seriously and are thus able to shift the narrative and convince people into believing that they are somehow less than loveable by God.  It is up to us to reclaim Scripture and be informed enough to offer an alternative Christian voice that KNOWS SCRIPTURE WELL ENOUGH to lovingly call bull on anything that leaves God’s kids feeling excluded from Christ’s table. 

I invite you to join me, this Lenten Season, in deepening our literacy and reclaiming Scripture.

Peace, Carla

A Note from Pastor Carla

Faithful Friends,

            With each new year, we tend to look ahead with hope that we can leave behind things we deem mistakes or failure or that did not serve us well in the previous year and get a fresh start to do things differently.  We put pressure on ourselves to do and be better—to lose weight, exercise more, pay down debt, spend more time doing things we enjoy or with loved ones, and the list of “if only I was…I’d be happy” goes on and on.

            When we cannot accept ourselves as we are, I cannot help but wonder if we are somehow also judging God.  If the God who began a work in us will be faithful to complete it, then are we judging God’s handiwork when we deem ourselves as anything less than worthy?  We state we believe in a God who loves others exactly as they are, so why do we believe we are somehow the exception to that rule?

            As you’ve heard me share before, Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his book, The Voice of Knowledge, that the great “sin” of the Garden of Eden was not eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but it was accepting and swallowing the lie that we are separated from God and each other.  When we swallow that lie, it sprouts an entire belief system in us that we then base our lives upon and, what’s worse, we then share that lie with others.

            I appreciate Anne Lamott’s post that went viral in 2013 (see below) in which she speaks with her usual humor about the conditions that plague us all and the spiritual solutions of gentleness and self-compassion we can bring to ourselves.  It takes someone willing to state truth to us to break our cycles. 

            Unfortunately, the truth of God can be hard to find these days as many have either abandoned scripture or so twisted it that it is beyond recognizable as a comfort and guide for finding meaning, transformation, and hope.

            We who seek justice often do not want to be seen as “those” kinds of Christians, so we avoid associating ourselves with scripture.  Or we fear reading in scripture the very judgment that began being sold to us by the rise of fundamentalism in recent decades.  But when we leave the interpretation of scripture to those who warp its meaning out of fear, ignorance, and the need to control and judge, allowing them to frame scripture for our society…

            We.  Are. Complicit.

            I’ve been surprised at the number of congregants in the UCC who still believe in the concept of Original Sin—the idea that we were born into sin because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and are therefore inherently sinful and worthy of suffering.  This is not how we understand scripture, at all, but it has been handed down to us through a culture informed only by the fundamentalist and literal interpretation of scripture.

            There is another way!  That is why I am calling us to reclaim scripture, to improve our Biblical literacy, to repent of our Biblical ignorance and heal the fears that keep us from scripture.  The better we understand what the Bible really does, and does NOT, have to say about us and others, the more solidly we can stand up to offer an alternative Christian voice and debunk the myths that hold so many away from a loving God.

            We will be reading and studying Marcus Borg’s book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.  https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Bible-Again-First-Time/dp/0060609192/ref=asc_df_0060609192/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312695266310&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=521847706374220946&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9028022&hvtargid=pla-435126619389&psc=1  It does a beautiful job of helping folks better understand a historical-critical interpretation of scripture rather than the relatively new method of literalistic interpretation. 

            I’ll be recommending folks get a good study Bible, like the New Interpreters Study Bible in the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) with good notes and references https://www.amazon.com/New-Interpreters-Study-Bible-Apocrypha/dp/0687278325/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3F9KYFWLSHL0I&keywords=new+interpreters+study+bible+nrsv&qid=1641257436&s=books&sprefix=new+interpreters+study+bible+nrsv%2Cstripbooks%2C134&sr=1-2

            I’m asking folks to read the Lectionary passages for each week, which are the scriptures I usually preach from and our sister churches around the world often use to help us get through much of the Bible in 3-year cycle.  We’re in Year C right now and in the season of Epiphany. https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/lections.php?year=C&season=Epiphany

            If we resolve to do anything, may it be to heal the negative messages we have picked up from society, our backgrounds, and from the misinterpretations of scripture handed down to us in recent generations.  May it be to find more grace, more humor, more light and love and hope and goodness in ourselves and the world around us that is already there once we peel back the layers of yuck piled upon us day in and day out.

            Let us begin by finding a new relationship with God informed by a knowledgeable study of scripture that is a far different book than we have been led to believe.

            It is time, my friends, and we are worthy of taking our book back.  There’s a world out there that needs us to know and be able to articulate a far different narrative than the one being spoon fed to them through ignorant memes, half-truths, and judgment-laden cliches that only further-enslave rather than liberate.

            By the grace of God, may we find that new way and new message to help create a new world.  Amen.

Peace,
Pastor Carla


Anne Lamott

“About that diet you’re about to fail…”

We need to talk.

I know you are planning to start a diet on Thursday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, ” Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

I got rid of her sorry ass. No one talks to ME that way.

Well, okay, maybe it was ten years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I’d avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing, and so on

Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: “Great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?” Here is what’s true: diets make you fat. 95% of the time, we gain it back, plus 5 lbs.

I may have mentioned several hundred times that I have had the tiniest, tiniest struggle with food and body image for the last–well, life time. Hardly worth mentioning. It is a long story, having to do with childhood injuries to my sense of self, terrible anxiety, and the inability of my parents to nurture my soul: so starving and chastising myself cannot possibly heal this. I hate to say it, but only profound self-love will work, union with that scared breath-holding self, and not a diet that forbids apples, or avocado. Horribly, but as usual, only kindness and grace–spiritual WD-40–can save us.

Can you put the scale away for a week? Okay, then how about 4 days? I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being. Can you put away your tight pants? Wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.

By the same token, it feels great to be healthy. Some of you need to be under a doctor’s care. None of you need to join Jenny Craig. It won’t work. You will lose tons of weight quickly, and gain it all back, plus five. Some of you need to get outside and walk for half an hour a day. I do love walking, so that is not a problem for me, but I have a serious problem with sugar: if I start eating it, I sometimes can’t stop. I don’t have an off switch, any more than I do with alcohol. Given a choice, I will eat Raisinets until the cows come home–and then those cows will be tense, and bitter, because I will have gotten lipstick on the straps of their feed bags.

But you crave what you eat, so if I go for 3 or 4 days with very little sugar, the craving is gone. That is not dieting. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat peanuts. Have an apple! Have some avocado.

It’s really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.

Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit less, and walk a bit more, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our thighs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to all problems. Doing a three minute meditation every day will change your life. And naps are nice.

I’ll leave you with this: I’ve helped some of the sturdier women at my church get healthy, by suggesting they prepare each meal as if they had asked our beloved pastor to lunch or dinner. They wouldn’t say, “Here Pastor–let’s eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of barbecue Pringles is all for you. i have my own.” And then stand there gobbling from their own tubular container. No, they’d get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before Veronica at the table, a plate filled with love, pride and connection. That’s what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create, now, or on the 1st. Wow!

Join me in not staring a diet January 1st. And God bless you all real good, as my pastor always says.

From the Pastor

This past Sunday we had what we believe to be a record-attendance of 71 people attending our service via Zoom and in-person, with many more watching the recorded service once posted on social media and our website!

Things are happening at Faith, and folks can feel it. They are looking for a church home, a faith family where they can be accepted as they are, worship in a way that honors their values of justice and inclusion, and be of service to the world.

As we have more and more visitors, please make a special effort to ensure no one leaves our worship space without a warm handshake or hug. We are a warm and welcoming bunch, but it can be easy with the numbers of visitors we are having to miss someone, so let’s be a bit more brave and not risk anyone falling through the cracks!

Members of Faith have helped launch the inaugural PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) chapter in New Braunfels and are working with the national PFLAG offices to get this chapter formalized and organized!  Be watching for details and ways you can participate and learn more at http://pflag.org

We continue to feed our community that remains in need of food support through the SOS Food Bank the third Friday of each month from 1-4pm. We provide on-going support to Riverside Pride and our presence there is incredibly welcomed and noticed. 

We continue to work with a growing coalition of people to possibly place a tiny home community on our property to support Family Promise’s New Lease On Life Program. I’m meeting with the head of Family Promise, one of their former board members, and our insurance provider to explore more about next steps later this week.

We are reaching out and expanding our reach through social media and will need persons to sign up to help curate articles, so be watching for details on that aspect of our ministry. If you are on Twitter, follow us @FaithUCCNB and like and re-tweet what we post. Like us on Facebook @FaithUCCNewBraunfels and like and share articles we post so others can also find us. It is an easy and even fun way to engage our world and let others know what we believe and that we even exist!

We have a new praise and worship group affectionately known as Faithful Praise!  We meet at 9:30am on Sunday mornings to work on the music for the service. If you would like to join us, contact me for the music ahead of time and join us for rehearsal! We are also looking for a music minister, so please help spread the word (guitarist and/or pianist with strong vocals and leadership skills needed for up to 20 hours a week at a competitive salary!).

Last but not least, we were awarded a $15,000 grant through the UCC to help with signage and to help fund our social media outreach (since almost all of our visitors are finding us on-line!!).  If you have expertise and/or interest in signage, PLEASE reach out to pastor Carla to volunteer to help with this endeavor to increase our visibility to let others know who we are, where we are, and what we believe.

As we grow, as we consider our future together, please keep me, our leadership and our Pastoral Search Committee in your prayers.  We need God’s direction and inspiration every step of the way for this to be more than just a flash in the pan.

We want to deepen and grow in ways that will serve us, love on others, and honor and serve God and only God can help us do so in the healthiest and most sustainable ways.

Along those lines, we will still be needing at least 4 (or more!) new council members to join us for 2022-2023. If you would like to nominate yourself or another, please reach out to Moderator Sam Ward or me and we will vote on nominees at our annual congregational meeting at the end of January.

For your prayers, for your excitement, for your faithfulness to following an alternative path to sharing God’s radical message of a different kind of hope in a dark and challenging world, I thank you, and ask God to provide blessing on your amazing heads.

Peace, my friends.
Pastor Carla

From the Pastor

Faithful Friends,

I am bouncing off the walls excited about returning to in-person worship this Sunday, November 7th!!!!  As long as numbers remain down, we will remain inside together, with masks and distance respected.  I cannot wait to see all of you who can join us in the sanctuary this coming Sunday as well as those who need to continue joining via Zoom.

As we continue to welcome guests into our space, we need to do some work!  Be watching your email for scheduled workdays SOON, most likely on a Saturday morning and another on an afternoon to organize, de-clutter, and spruce up our space.

Our world continues to struggle to recover from the pandemic, from political discord, from social problems we just can’t yet seem to figure out.  AND, people are being broken open to better understand the suffering of others, are deciding to live their lives more intentionally in nature and with loved ones rather than on the hamster wheel, and are awakening to the need for people of good will to stand up and speak out.

As a people of faith, we are finding our own way.  We are repenting of being far too silent far too long in this community out of fear of making ourselves a target for our more conservative neighbors and are becoming a more visible progressive presence.  We are discerning where God wants to lead us in the future. 

We are asking ourselves how and where we are willing to take up our own crosses to follow God into that future.  Discipleship is rewarding and full of joy, and also involves a willingness to let go of our places of comfort to share of ourselves in ever deeper and bolder ways.

We are on the precipice of something amazing happening in and through Faith Church.  Many of you feel and have commented on it.  It has already begun.  We don’t want to beg, borrow, and plead for people to contribute their time, energy, talents, and resources, we don’t want to beg people to come and join our church…we want to LET them.

This video from punk rocker, Amanda Palmer sheds a much different light on the idea of asking vs. allowing folks to participate.  I hope you’ll take a moment to watch it.

Then ask yourself, “Do I tell folks about Faith Church activities and invite them to participate?  If not, why not?  What feels uncomfortable or scary about that?” and send me your answers. 

At the end of the day, when we say we want to repent of our position as the best kept secret in town and do something different, we get to ask ourselves why our number one best chance of getting people in the doors—word of mouth marketing—is not happening

The research shows that when people believe their church makes their life better then they are more likely to tell others about it and allow them to have access to that goodness, too.  I know you love Faith Church.  I know how dear this family of faith, our history and traditions, our values for justice and service are to you.  So why are we not telling others?   

The better we understand what gets in our way of each and every one of us sharing what Faith Church means to us and inviting others to take part in our work and worship, to the table from which far too many have felt excluded far too long, the better our chance at doing something different. 

If churches do not open theirs doors wide and go out to find others who need and want community, the doors of the church do not remain open long, in our current era.  Church attendance was once assumed as part of the culture.  Since the late 2000s, organized religion has been in decline, except those faith communities that still claim evangelism as part of what it means to be a follower of Christ. 

There is a means of evangelism, sharing the Good News of God, that is not about conversion, coercion, or judgment but about sharing that there is a different way to understand God and follow Jesus that is about…

  1. using the minds God gave us to think for ourselves and reason together, wrestling with God for answers from a place of relationship rather than fear
  2. service of others, radical hospitality and inclusion, wasteful love and the pursuit of justice, and the kin-dom of community rather than kingdom and dominance

Whom do you know who may not have the warmth and acceptance of a family of faith like you have?  As we return to the sanctuary in-person, again, it is an excellent opportunity to offer the sanctuary of a different kind of God, a different kind of church, to your dog walker, hair dresser, co-worker, neighbor, best friend, or person sitting next to you at your kid’s games.

We are not begging, we are not coercing, we are not manipulating or judging or insulting.  We are letting folks know a place exists that may just let them feel comfortable coming back to church.  Tell ‘em your pastor will be in jeans and boots, and they’re welcome to do the same.  I’ll see you, and your friends, this Sunday!

Peace,
Pastor Carla

From the Pastor

Faithful Friends,

As we watch carefully the number of COVID cases in our county and consider the right time to reconvene in person for worship in the coming weeks, Faith Church remains busy in worship by Zoom, Christian Education, ministry, and preparation for our return to the sanctuary. Opportunities abound for service!!

Council, and members of the congregation, have been discerning areas for our focus in the coming months. We are working to improve our visibility in the community and move past our position as the Best Kept Secret in New Braunfels.

I am working with Conference Minister, Phil Hodson, to complete a grant application to the UCC that could bring us $10,000 to help us in 3 areas:

  • 1) improve signage on our property, help us install a flag pole to display more of our message of welcome and inclusion, and expand our social media and on-line presence
  • 2) increase our support of the local LGBTQ+ community by co-founding a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in New Braunfels that could meet at our church, expand our support of Riverside Pride, and help offer transitional housing to youth and young adults in crisis
  • 3) and improve our ability to support Family Promise and other housing needs in our community, perhaps by making better use of our buildings and property.

New member, Lauren Pearce, is on the ball contacting sign companies to get information and quotes for our signage needs and installation of the flagpole. She and long-time member, Michelle Perry, are exploring steps and like-minded persons in the community to help start the PFLAG chapter. Please be in touch with me or one of these ladies to lend your support.

New member, Lindsey Graham, is helping me coordinate gathering volunteers in the congregation to help collect and post articles and memes that promote social justice issues Faith Church stands for on social media. She is also helping organize me to coordinate a regular schedule of Theology on Tap events outdoors, especially as the weather cools. Be watching for details and let us know how you would like to participate.

I am meeting with a group of people, including builders and designers and representatives from Family Promise, interested in starting a community coalition to begin a tiny home community, perhaps even on our grounds!

New Member, Pam Robinson, has graciously agreed to lend her years of experience teaching children to revitalize our Christian Education Program. We need someone to join her as Co-Coordinator and volunteers to join a roster of rotating teachers of our children and youth once we

return to in-person worship. Former Christian Ed co-coordinators of many years and long-time members, Karen Dietz and Jennifer Marlow, are providing wonderful wisdom and guidance, and we need others to join the effort. Please contact me or Pam pamr292@yahoo.com to let us know how you could help.

I will be leading a Bible Study of the book of Job during October. We have several who have already signed up and we likely will be scheduling this beginning Sunday the 10th at 6:30pm outdoors on the playground at the church and are exploring ways to also allow persons to join us by Zoom. Details are still forming, so be in touch with me and be watching your worship guide for more information.

Organization and Project Management are not my spiritual gifts! We are searching for an Administrative & Communications Assistant to work approximately 20 hours a week to help with daily tasks, preparation of worship, and social media outreach. We are seeking candidates outside the congregation, so if you know of someone, please send them to me to apply. In the mean time, if you have the gifts of organization and project management, please contact me to help herd all of these many things Faith is involved in so we do not lose our momentum of growth and renewal!

As church leadership and all these volunteers work to BE the church in our community, we covet your prayers. We seek God’s wisdom, discernment, guidance, and energy as we want to know where God is moving and leading and how we can be part of God’s work in our community. All the above are the most recent ways we believe God is calling us to grow and serve, and we need your prayers to not fall into overwhelm and to make the best use of our resources of time, finances, and energy to serve the church and our neighbors well.

Please also continue to pray for our Pastoral Search Committee as it puts together our church profile and considers the next evolution of leadership for Faith Church.

We know that the God who calls us will also sustain. Faith Church has a rich history of service, work for justice, and inclusion of all God’s children in New Braunfels and the world. Now, more than ever, as the city grows and so many are facing so many challenges, the community needs the unique Christian voice Faith Church provides, and we want to go out and find them.

As we do, we will continue to grow while also holding true to our heritage as a church that follows a Still-Speaking God. Together, through us, God can and will do even greater things.

Grace and peace to us all,
Pastor Carla

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