Monday, December 19, 2011

The Soul of Money

Please join us as we continue exploring the book, The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist. You can purchase the book through Amazon or your local bookstore. Please catch up with us by reading Parts One and Two. We will continue our study with Chapter 5, “Money is Like Water.” We meet on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays beginning on January 4. Come at 6:30 to Battson Hall for a potluck (soup is always available). The class runs from 7-8:30. All are welcome. And please bring neighbors and friends who might be interested in living a more sustainable life.


January 4…Chapter 5: Money Is like Water

January 18…Cancelled due to weather

February 1…Chapter 6: What You Appreciate Appreciates, and Chapter 7: Collaboration Creates Prosperity

February 15…Chapter 8: Change the Dream

March 7…Chapter 9: Taking a Stand

March 21…Chapter 10: The Power of Conversation

April 4…Chapter 11: Creating a Legacy of Enough

April 18…Chapter 12: The Turning Tide

“Saving Jesus”(Progressive Christianity Study)

“Kidnapped by the Christian right. Discarded by the secular left. Jesus needs saving.” Keystone is offering “Saving Jesus,” a 12-episode video exploration of a credible Jesus for the 21st Century. With insights from 25 specialists, such as Marcus Borg, Walter Brueggemann, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Amy-Jill Levine, Helen Prejean, and many more, this resource is already well respected by hundreds of progressive Christian communities. This study will pick up again with the fifth topic on January 11th, and will run on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays (with the exception of “Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22), beginning at 6:30 with a potluck in Battson Hall (soup is always available). Class runs from 7-8:30. ALL are welcome! Please bring a friend or 2!

Check out this link for more info. Scroll down to see the video ad.

Topics include:

January 11…Jesus’ Birth: Incarnation

January 25…Teachings of Jesus: Wisdom Tradition

February 8…Jesus’ Program: The Kingdom of God

February 22…Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30pm, following 6:30 potluck. All are welcome.

March 14…The Atonement

March 28…Who Killed Jesus?

April 11…The Resurrection of Christ

April 25… Jesus’ Ministry of Compassion

May 9…Why Jesus is Worth Saving

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve at Keystone is an hour of insightful poetry, readings, carols, and candlelight. Come join us at 7pm. on December 24th. All are welcome.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Longest Night Service

St Paul's UCC (6512 12th Ave NW Seattle, WA 98117) and Keystone UCC are offering a special “Longest Night” service on December 18th at 7:00 pm. at St. Paul's. Pastor Tim and Pastor Peg will be leading the service. The short service will be followed by a brief time for light refreshments and fellowship.

Join with us in sharing and hearing prayers, scripture, and music that acknowledge that God’s presence is for those who mourn, for those who struggle - and that God’s Word comes to shine light into our darkness. Everyone, regardless of church background (or lack of it) is welcome. Please consider extending an invitation to persons you may know of for whom Christmas is a difficult season, and accompany them to this service.

Occupy Christmas in Wallingford

On Thursday, December 22, come join in a public celebration of the true meaning of Christmas in the style of Las Posadas tradition of the Holy Family seeking a source of shelter and safety. In procession, we will make stops along the way on 45th Street in Wallingford to highlight the places where vulnerable people are excluded from shelter and safety today; and celebrate the hope of the season. Refreshments @Keystone after.

Gather at 6:15 @Keystone Church

5019 Keystone Place N. Seattle

Holden Evening Prayer

Our last "Holden Evening Prayer" for the season of Advent will be on Wednesday, December 21, at 8:10 in the sanctuary, following Rich Gamble's class on Progressive Christianity at 7:00 in Battson Hall. A potluck starts off the evening at 6:30. All are welcome.

Progressive Christian Values class

Here is the link to the George Lakoff lecture mentioned in class 2:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Myth of Redemptive Violence

In the first Progressive Christian Values class we talked about the Domination System. Central to that system is the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Walter Wink is the theologian responsible for this language. You can read his summation of the myth at this web address:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Festival of Hope

The Festival of Hope begins tomorrow 11/19/2011 at 10am until 4pm and Sunday from 12pm to 3pm. Crafts, books, textiles, candles, baked goods, poems, feathers and wonders beyond description. Bring your friends.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Progressive Christianity Class

Rich is teaching a class on "Progressive Christianity" December 7,14, 21 at 7 pm. If you want to get a head start, here's a good article.​ent/cpt/article_060823wink.sht​ml

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

sermon: "Changing for the Party"

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
Changing for the Party
By Rich Gamble

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is telling a story to the crowds gathered on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem. A king wants to throw a big bash for his son and invites the elite of the land to join in a sumptuous feast, but the invitees aren’t interested. JC doesn’t explain why someone would turn down an invitation to a royal soiree. Maybe they are too busy to take the time. Maybe they want to avoid the pressure of picking out wedding gifts for a prince. You’ve got to figure that the royal couple didn’t register at K-Mart.

In fact, the elite invitees are so angered by the invitation that they abuse and murder to folks conveying the invitation. That is a pretty strong no.

Kings being what they are, the king retaliates against the elite and kills them and burns down their city. This king isn’t the turn the other cheek sort of guy. Kings rarely are.

So there’s the prince all dressed up, the band is playing, the food is all laid out, the ice sculpture is starting to drip but there are no guests at the party.

The king sends out more of his staff to recruit party goers from the not so elite of the realm. Bring me some tired, and poor/ some huddled masses yearning to eat free the King says in so many words. And who doesn’t want to a free all you can eat buffet? So the good and the bad, the poor and the hungry, the happy and miserable all are invited to the party.

Traditional interpreters say that what is being described here is the grace of God being extended to the gentiles. The Jewish leaders would be the ones who turned down the party for Jesus and the ensuing destruction describes the destruction of Jerusalem that happened about a decade or so before Matthew wrote this gospel.

There are some wonderful aspects to this story and some very troubling ones. If we are to interpret the King as being God, then God is a violent, vengeful force. So that when Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies it seems he is asking his followers to be more loving than God as here depicted. So perhaps this isn’t an allegory in which each element of the story stands for something else. Maybe the King isn’t God. Maybe he is just a king with all the usual brutal inclinations of those who manage systems of domination. And if the king isn’t God then the elite may not be the Jewish leadership and the huddled masses may not be Christians.

Instead of being an allegory maybe this parable is a parable: a story which invites us to enter into a different perspective on reality. People in Jesus’ day, like us today understand people who have the wealth and power of kings. And we understand the notion of a wedding reception. We are not the kind of people who see the world as kings nor are we the kind that would murder the mailman for bringing us an invitation to a fancy party. We like the everyday people listening to Jesus’ story are people who would be thrilled to be invited to a princely party. We may not like caviar or foie gras or escargot but we would like to try them at least once in our lives. We’d like to be invited in through the front doors of the palace. We have no idea why someone would turn down such an invitation but heck yes we’ll be there. And if we are truly hungry, if we are daily ignored by those who don’t want to see our poverty, then the idea of being treated to princely food and treated like honored guests is even more a joyous possibility and not a burdensome obligation. So heck yes we are coming and heck yes we will load up our plates with fancy food, even if we don’t know what it is we are eating. We will enjoy the band, marvel at the centerpieces and the ice sculpture, and the numerous forks and spoons arrayed around our plate. We will lift our glasses for refills and wipe our mouths with fancy cotton napkins, and bask in the joy of being treated like an honored guest.

It is a great image. The folks who normally hold up signs begging for spare change are holding up fancy crystal glasses for refills of champagne.

But then the King comes back into the story. He walks right up to the guy standing next to you and asks the man where his wedding cloak is? The man is speechless, he doesn’t have an answer. So the King has the man tied up and heaved out into the outer darkness where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. This king is a scary guy.

What’s that all about? Isn’t this banquet a come as you are sort of affair?

Well it seems that just because everyone is invited, there is some implied obligation. If you want to come to the party you have to wear the right clothes.

Elsewhere in the Bible, clothing is a metaphor for behavior. So you can come to the party no matter who you are good or bad, healthy or ill, happy or miserable but…you can’t come unless you are willing to put on a particular set of behaviors suitable to the party.

A parable is meant to open people up to seeing the reality around them in a different light. A royal wedding reception attended by the hapless and homeless, the good and the bad, the everyday people rather than the elite. This is a world view that shakes up the status quo. But his isn’t a parable of simple revolution, it isn’t about the destruction of one class and the elevation of another. Because whoever you are rich or poor, good or bad if you come to the party there is an implied obligation to behave in certain ways.

We know these ways from Jesus’ lessons earlier in Matthew’s gospel and in other passages such as Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Generally this behavior is out lined in basic teachings of Judaism, which boils down to: love God, love your neighbor as yourself.

We don’t get this image of love from metaphors of domination like King. We get them from examples lived out by people like Jesus.

Parables are open to interpretation. I take from this story a wondrous image of world so filled with good things that poorest of us can live lives filled with the abundance of resources of a princely party; the realm of God as an inclusive celebration, in which every person is an honored guest. That is what we are invited into. But you can’t wear your greed or hate or fear at this party.

The army of Pharaoh could not drive their chariots down the path of liberation through the sea. Jesus says the wealthy cannot enter into the realm of God. The path of God’s love is for every person but not for every behavior. Our faith is one of radical inclusion. Everyone is invited but we are invited into a radical reorientation of values and our actions.

The elite of our day, and we may be among them… may not want to put on behaviors which call for radical generosity; they may not want to come to such a party. The elite have become elite in the current system of domination. They may not want to make the transition to a level place with everyone else. And indeed many folks are trying to school us how to be hard-hearted, exclusive and greedy.

When we serve food at Sacred Heart Shelter the servers sit and eat the same food at the same table as the residents. On Friday nights we have homeless people and people who are well off sitting in the same hard chairs and watching the same movies, eating the same donated bread and speaking as equals in the conversation afterwards. Some of you here struggle economically, some of you don’t but you are all equal members of this community. These are small things but they are the foretaste of the Realm of God, where no one struggles for home or food or healthcare and no one has more than they need.

Herman Cain to Wall Street protesters: “If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself.” This fits the logic of the domination system. Those who are poor or unemployed have failed to successfully compete for the limited number of jobs out there so they should blame themselves. But this isn’t a foot race for a gold trophy these are people’s lives and everyone whether they come in first or last needs to eat. Those on the conservative side actively defend the social Darwinism ethics of domination. The winners should eat, have healthcare and housing. The losers in the struggle for limited resources should suffer the consequences.

This is not the way of our faith. Basic resources are a gift from God and should be shared among all in need, the good and the bad, the hard working and the lazy, the healthy and the sick.

But to get to this world we cannot use the tactics of the King in this story. We cannot burn down the cities of our enemies; we cannot place them in the outer darkness. We can’t use violent means to achieve just ends.

When the protesters in New York and Seattle embody the radically inclusive love of God they are worthy of our support. If they use clubs or hate speech they are wrong we need to stand in opposition.

The greed of the current system of domination will create anger among those who are not the winners. There is no guarantee that this anger will lead us to a better place. Sometimes such anger has led to even more violent systems.

What the world needs is vision of where we are heading and path to get there. This party of outcasts is a wonderful vision and the example of Jesus is the best path I’ve found. As people of faith we are blessed with the essential resources: vision and direction. We are also blessed with the Spirit of God guiding and inspiring us. And for us and the world that is good news.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Saturday Sept. 17 FAN Rollout

Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 17, 2011! That’s the date of our Launch Celebration for this new ministry created by the union of the Washington Association of Churches and the Lutheran Public Policy Office. We’ll gather for worship, refreshments, and recognitions as we publicly roll out the new organization. Saturday, September 17, 5:00-7:00 PM University Congregational UCC Church 4515 16th Ave NE Seattle, WA 98105 Pastor Rich is a board member of the Fath Action Network and will be part of the celebration.

Friday September 16, Movie at Keystone

Meaningful Movies 7pm. Fridays FILM: "THE FINLAND PHENOMENON: INSIDE THE WORLD’S MOST SURPRISING SCHOOL SYSTEM" (62 min, Bob Compton, 2011) Finland’s education system has consistently ranked among the best in the world for more than a decade. The puzzle is, why Finland? Documentary filmmaker, Bob Compton, along with Harvard researcher, Dr. Tony Wagner, decided to find out. The result of their research is captured in a new film, "THE FINLAND PHENOMENON".

Port Protest September 15

You are invited to the Westin Hotel to participate in a protest: Thursday, September 15, from 11:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. at the Westin Hotel at 5th Ave. and Stewart St. in downtown Seattle. The Port of Seattle this year celebrates its 100th anniversary, and is host to the annual American Association of Port Authorities at the Westin Hotel, from Monday the 12th through Thursday the 15th. About 1000 port executives, staff, administrators, shipping company executives, etc. will be present. As you know, the Church Council of Greater Seattle has been working with Puget Sound Sage for well over two years on this issue. Various groups, from the religious community to community action groups, to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, as well as unions, and Change to Win, a national umbrella group for some unions, see this as an opportunity to make their voices heard, and to focus concretely on alternative policies. The Port of Seattle, together with other ports in the nation, is not sufficiently addressing the question of air pollution, caused by the roughly 2000 diesel trucks which daily haul their loads on and off ships and onto railroad cars or to the major warehouses locally (Costco, Wal-Mart, etc). Second, those who drive these trucks are mostly independent contractors, without health benefits, social security, etc. and whose paychecks have huge deductibles for insurance, truck payments, etc. in Seattle many of the drivers are recent immigrants from African countries. Their plight has been amply documented, and Church Council members have heard from them directly on various occasions. Thursday, September 15, from 11:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. at the Westin Hotel at 5th Ave. and Stewart St. in downtown Seattle. Pastor Rich is planning on being there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Education and Faith

Each year of education ups the odds by 15% that people will say there's "truth in more than one religion," says University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Philip Schwadel in an article for the Review of Religious Research. Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology, looked at 1,800 U.S. adults' reported religious beliefs and practices and their education.
People change their perspective because, as people move through high school and college, they acquire an ever-wider range of friendships, including people with different beliefs than their own, Schwadel says. "People don't want to say their friends are going to hell," he says.
For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade, Americans are:
•15% more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.
•14% more likely to say they believe in a "higher power" than in a personal God. "More than 90% believe in some sort of divinity," Schwadel says.
•13% more likely to switch to a mainline Protestant denomination that is "less strict, less likely to impose rules of behavior on your daily life" than their childhood religion.
•13% less likely to say the Bible is the "actual word of God." The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the "inspired word" of God, Schwadel says.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Debt, Taxes and Faith

All of the political wrangling over the debt ceiling is ultimately a conversation about values and our faith has a lot to say about such values.

First, the largest contributor to the increase in the debt in the last several years has been the Bush era tax cuts which largely favored wealthy people. The next largest contributor is the wars and military budget. Some politicians are now saying that the debt is a serious problem but are unwilling to restore taxes or heavily cut into the military budget. Instead they want to cut funds for programs for programs which protect the health and safety of citizens especially the poorest citizens.

It seems likely that the “crisis” of the debt limit will bring about reductions in vital programs. This hits at a time when cities counties and states are all reeling from the lingering recession. This is the worst possible time to cut funds for the poor. If anything, the federal government should be pouring money into building low-income housing, improving schools, hiring more teachers, supporting renewable energy, etc… All of these things would provide resources and jobs for the people who need them. Instead we will be lucky if these programs are not cut too severely.

The inexorable logic of greed is rapidly shifting resources into the hands of those who already have more than they need. This stands as the complete reversal of Jesus’ call to share resources with one another and especially with the poor. Jesus offers the logic of love which moves the world towards the peace that comes from justice. Jesus condemns the hording of wealth as an act in contradiction to will of God and calls on people to share what they have so that all may be fed.

This week we celebrate the feeding of the 5000. In that story, Jesus gets the disciples to share what little they have so that all may be fed. In the end, there is way more food than anyone needs. Sharing leads to abundance. This is the logic of love.

Unfortunately the voices calling for true faithfulness in terms of our national budget receive little attention in the corporate media. That means we are called to use our grassroots forms of communication. Talk it up wherever you can.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"The Corporation"

The Keystone Social Action Team will carry out a one-year project that focuses on limiting Corporate Personhood. This would be done in a step-wise process that involves education about the issues involved, writing up a resolution to submit to the Justice and Witness Ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, and if it sees its way through, to take the final proposal to the regional conference Annual Meeting in May 2012. We are joining others nationally who are working on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Our Social Action Team is hoping that many more friends of Keystone will become educated on this issue and move forward with us.

Our team recently viewed the documentary, “The Corporation.” Many of our team expressed outrage at how large corps are behaving, and how the public is convinced by them that there is a need for whatever it is that they are selling. One of the interesting segments in the documentary compared characteristics of corporations to that of psychopaths. Here are the bullet points:
• Callous concern for the feelings of others
• Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
• Reckless disregard for the safety of others
• Deceitfulness (repeated lying and conning of others)
• Incapacity to experience guilt
• Failure to conform to social norms in respect to lawful behavior

Have you seen the documentary? What struck you? Please feel free to comment.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Story of Stuff

This simple video lines out the failures of our economic system. A very good investment of 21 minutes.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peg's Ordination

Peg Faulmann is being ordained at Keystone on Sunday June 26th at 5 pm. Come and share the joy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

People Notice

Kaaren(one of our members) works with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a long running, faith based, peace and justice organization. In talking with her on Sunday she related the story that at one meeting she mentioned Keystone and the people there broke out in applause. Coming from the good people of F.O.R. that is high praise indeed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Peg Preaches/Rich Teaches on Sunday

Rich will be teaching the folks at Northshore United Church of Christ about homelessness and social justice on Sunday. So our newly elected Associate Pastor Peg Faulmann will be preaching and leading worship.

Sunday Sermon, We Have Met the Savior...

Easter 3 Year A
Luke 24:13-35
By Rich Gamble

In this story the disciples are experiencing the sorrow of the defeat of their dreams. It is clear from this text that the hopes of these two disciples were not in accord with the message that Jesus had been trying to communicate during his lifetime. One of the things the disciples said when he asked for an explanation of their sadness was, "We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free." In other words, these disciples--and this may have been Judas' problem as well--had preconceived ideas about who the Messiah was to be and what he was to do. One of their expectations was that he would deliver Israel from the domination of the Roman Empire. In other words, they wanted a Messiah who would fit into the nationalistic aspirations of the Jewish people of that time.

Jesus was going to save them. Jesus was going to save their nation. Jesus was going to be the answer to all their needs and fears and dreams. Then Jesus dies a horrible death at the hands of the occupiers of their nation. Suddenly the fate of Jesus might be their own fate, so not only do they suffer the loss of their savior but also must fear for their lives. Their glorious campaign of liberation has turned into fearful rout overnight. Then Jesus’ body is missing, who would steal a corpse?

It is all too much for two of the disciples. They are headed out of Jerusalem, out of the place of conflict, back to their homes and their old lives. Jesus was a great man but even great men cannot prevail against those capable and willing to inflict death on their enemies. Jesus was a good man, but not the hoped for messiah. They explain all of this to a stranger they meet on their retreat from Jerusalem.

Then the stranger shows them a different way to think about recent events.

This story points out how the same experience can look totally different depending upon the lens through which we look. To the disciples the death of Jesus was the death of hope but this stranger opens up the lens of scripture and they see the recent events of their lives in a very different way. That is the power of stories. That is why we study the Bible. In such a way we can take the interpretive lens crafted for us by our culture and see it for what it is, set it aside and pick up another. But study alone isn’t enough.

It is not through this teaching that the awakening of the disciples takes place. No, their hearts are warmed, their minds are opened but the shocking transformation of their lives does not happen until they invite the stranger to their table. It is there in the breaking of the bread that they recognize in the stranger the resurrected Christ and in the instant of recognition he disappears.

Here, outside of the frontiers of reason, comes the insight. The resurrected Christ is the stranger at your table. It is in the practice of hospitality, that the Christ is recognized. The living Jesus used the intimacy of the table as a lesson of the radical inclusion of God’s grace. The table became a symbol for the economic and social realities of the Realm of God. As they shared food with the poor and the sinners, so disciples were to share their resources with those in need no matter their race or faith. This practice of the living Jesus was magnified by the resurrected Christ, who is so identified with the other, that he becomes the stranger on the road. To invite the stranger to your table is to invite Christ.

Then the Christ/stranger disappears. Christ goes into the world and into the disciples. The will of God is no longer embodied in one person. It is embodied in all those who suffer, who are excluded, oppressed, ignored, hated and abused. It goes into those who, out of compassion, reach out to the stranger and share their table.

What did the disciples do in response to the awakening of the Christ within them? They went back to the place of fear and conflict. They went back but no longer fearing what would happen. They went with joy, knowing that will of God could not be killed, it would be embodied in all those who do God’s will. They went back not simply as bearers of the good news of their encounter with the risen Christ; they went back as those transformed into the embodiment of the will of God. They became the good news.

We yearn for an externalized savior: a good job, a child, a spouse, a retirement plan, a house, a pastor, a president, a cure. Whether we gain these things or lose our grasp on them, in the end, we will find that they cannot fill the emptiness in our lives and souls. When these externalized saviors have failed us, there may be great sadness or weariness, or hopelessness. As the disciples had to experience the death of their externalized savior, Jesus, so, if we are to grow in our faith, we may need to experience the loss of the externalized savior of our lives.

The savior, the Christ is not sitting on a cloud, looking at a calendar, awaiting a return. The savior, the Christ, is here, in the community. It is there, within each of us. It is out there, in a hurting world.

We look at the world and see people desperately clutching at saviors. But for us the death of Jesus brought about the death of all such delusions. No person, no church, no philosophy, no drug, no relationship, no amount of wealth or power or security will give us that which will truly fulfill us. Nor will such things provide the answers the world needs.

We are told by this story that the discovery of the presence of God’s truth in our lives comes not through any particular religious practice, not by mastering any great words or truths. This discovery comes only when we see the face of our savior, the truth of our salvation, within us and within the face of the other.

Love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. In the story of Emmaus we learn that we experience the love of God in our whole being when we love, as sacred, God’s truth residing in our neighbors and ourselves.

How do we discover the Christ? We pray, not only by speaking our concerns and proclaiming our thanks but also by listening to the Christ within us.

How do we discover the Christ? We serve, not only by providing for the basic needs of our fellow humans but by sharing our table. In other words, we seek create a world where no one is excluded from the radically egalitarian intimacy of common community. It is about justice and charity, not just the bread but the place at the table, not just human needs but human rights.

It is only as the Christ within us sits at table of common community with the Christ within the stranger that the wholeness of the will of God is experienced. It is there that we begin to understand the miracle of the resurrection.

This past week, I have been saddened by the execution of Osama Bin Laden and the celebration of his death. The jubilation points out how lost we are as a people. To laugh and joke about and celebrate the death of even an enemy shows how far we have journeyed away from the insights of this story. It shows how many of us have been seduced by the idea that killing our enemies will bring us any closer to true peace. It shows how far we have moved away from the ability to embrace the humanity in the stranger and the enemy. The Powers that Be will always supply us with another boogeyman to hate and fear and they will always supply us with violent and dominating solutions to our fears. They will always provide externalized demons to scare us into submission to externalized saviors.

Before we can truly see the Christ we must experience the death of all the cheap and easy solutions to the problems besetting the world. There is no politican, there is no technology, no political party, no army or investment strategy that will save us. There is no external savior for us. But there is salvation. It is not found in the death of an enemy but in our transformation away from fear and hate.

There is an awakening possible. There is a hope that shines out bright even in these dark times. There is an aha moment awaiting us. Christ is here. Christ is us. Christ is out there. Christ is them. There is one human family and everyone is a part of it. There is one home for humanity and this planet is it. There is one path of salvation for us and the planet and Christ shows us the way: faith. Not in a doctrine or a religion but in a path: love expressed in a radical commitment to the other, love expressed in a radical commitment to non-violence, love expressed in a radical commitment to social justice, love expressed in a radical reversal of priorities and a radical undoing of the power of domination.

We need not be gloomy. Christ isn’t dead. Hope isn’t dead. Christ has risen. Hope is alive. And that is good news.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Nickelsville Pancakes Saturday Morning

Keystone United Church of Christ
It is pancake time again at Keystone. The Nickelsville Community is having another pancake fundraiser Saturday May 7 from 8am to 11am. All donations greatly appreciated. Good food, good company for a good cause

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sermon Easter Sunday

Easter Year A 042411
Matthew 28:1-10
By Rich Gamble

This is the biggest day in the Christian year. This is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as told in today’s Gospel reading. Easter Week is the most fearful and hopeful week of the Christian Calendar. It is the time in which we face the heart of the gospel message in all its capacity to shatter our complacency.

For some this day is the Christian version of the ancient rites of Spring. The name Easter is believed to derive from a goddess of fertility. Ancient cultures often celebrated the renewal of life. Bunnies and eggs are fertility symbols after all, and everywhere you go today you are sure to see bunnies and eggs. For some then this time is about the ancient rhythms of the seasons and the ancient rhythms of birth and death and rebirth.

For some this is the day to celebrate the victory of Jesus over sin and death. For them believing that Jesus literally rose from the dead is central to obtaining the grace that will save their souls from eternal damnation. For them you have to believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus to consider yourself Christian. Many believe this, both those who do believe in the literal resurrection and those who believe that they cannot be Christian because they cannot believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus.

But there are other ways to understand the Easter story. One way is to say that this story is a parable. To say that it is a parable doesn’t deny the claims of those who need to see the event literally. It simply says to them: ok if you want to believe that, that’s fine but what does the story mean? And to those who don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus you can still say ok fine but what does this story mean to you? You don’t have to believe in the literal historicity of a parable to get at its meaning. We don’t need to know whether the good Samaritan actually existed to make the story a source of truth and meaning.

So what does the story of the resurrection mean? Well it means very little if you don’t know the whole story, because this isn’t the story of the resurrection of Joe Shmoe. It isn’t the story of the new flowers springing out of the ashes, it isn’t the story of endless cycles of procreation. This is the story of the life and death and resurrection of one particular person: Jesus son of Mary of Nazareth.

Jesus who showed that sharing the love of God was about standing up for the outcasts by standing against those who profited from an unjust system.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to stand unarmed and unsupported in radical opposition to the combined power of the Roman Empire and his own religious leaders. But more than that he stood against the foundation of their power: fear, greed, violence, and prejudice. In doing so he challenged the fundamental assumptions upon which human civilization is built. It would be like someone running for office and standing against the values of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and the American people.

In standing up for the love of God for those at the bottom of the social, political and economic order, Jesus earned the wrath of the people who had the power of death on their side.

Jesus did not use the power of death, it was not in him to do so. He used God’s non-violent power of life. Jesus knew that would happen when he went to center of power with his denunciations of that power. His death was as inevitable as any who openly stand in unarmed opposition to brutal tyrants. He didn’t need any mystical powers to foresee and try to prepare his followers for the inevitable. But knowing that arrest, humiliation and death awaited him didn’t deter him. He marched into Jerusalem and boldly spoke up and acted up and kept pushing his truth forward until he could push no farther.

Nailed to a cross, the slow, humiliating painful death suffered by those who questioned the authority of Rome, his journey ended. He died as he lived, embracing outcasts, forgiving enemies. It was an old story in Jesus day: the inevitable victory of violence.

Jesus’ death on a cross wasn’t a unique occurrence. The tragedy is found in its commonality with the experience of so much of humanity. Keep your head down and endure the abuse or stand in opposition and get much worse. And even those of us who are narcotized by the lies of our leaders to believe that those who suffer deserve their fate, even when seek to hide inside the canned laughter of sitcoms, or the acquisition of more unnecessary possession, or drugs, or in the endless preparation of our children to more successfully compete, even then, we know somewhere in the back of our minds that the suffering of others grinds away at our souls.

On Friday last, Good Friday, we paused for just a little while to let the suffering in. In facing the death of Jesus we face the fearful sadness and loss that sits at the heart of our civilization. Vulnerable people are exploited and those who speak up are shouted down or beaten down and the suffering goes on. The myth of the Powers that Be is that nothing changes, abandonment of the vulnerable and escape is the only alternative.

So Jesus died. And if the story ended there, then we would say oh well, another good guy bites the dust, another opponent of empire crucified. In Jesus’ day thousands shared the fate of the cross. But the story does not end there. The women, the ones who did not abandon Jesus when times got tough, went to the tomb to prepare the body. But there was no body, an absence instead of a corpse. There is instead a mysterious man in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Well at least that is how Mark’s Gospel tells the story. Matthew reads Mark’s gospel and thinks that he can do it one better. Like remakes of favorite movies the new director has his own spin on the story and Matthew has a much bigger special effects budget than Mark. Matthew has an angel descending from heaven, he has lightning and earthquakes and guards who are struck dumb. And he has a resurrected Jesus. Mark just had an empty tomb and the story of Jesus’ resurrection shared by the mysterious man in white.

But whether you like the big effects of Matthew or the subtlety of Mark the story is the same. The tomb was empty, the body gone, the story has a new and wholly unexpected ending. It is fitting that Easter week is seen in connection to the Passover story. In that story the oppressed slaves flee their masters and find themselves with the army rushing upon them and the sea an impenetrable barrier in front of them. Their slaughter is the inevitable end as are all such attempts to thwart the will of those with the power to hurt and destroy. But then the sea parts and a way is found where there was no way.

On Easter morning we celebrate that the tomb was not the end of the story of Jesus. Death is not the end of the story. A way is found where there was no way. The empty tomb was the beginning of the story of those followers who came to finally understand and emulate Jesus.

It is increasingly obvious that we have missed the essential meaning of this day. I say that because most of the people in this nation think of themselves as Christian and yet, we are mired in a culture of consumption and violence that is harming people in other nations, the planet, the poor and future generations. We have the largest disparity between rich and poor of any of the developed nations, we spend more on militarism than most of the rest of the world combined, we consume far more than our share of the world’s energy and natural resources. We have the largest prison population of any nation in the world. If the United States is an example of what Christianity is all about then Christianity is toxic to the health of this planet and its people.

There is another way of seeing this day and our faith. As Good Friday is our expression of our belief that God grieves and suffers with us. So Easter is our expression that our suffering need not be in vain. When we rise up against the voice of hopelessness that says that nothing we do will change anything; when we rise against the lies of those who laugh at our poverty or ignorance or powerlessness, when we fling our teaspoon of charity toward a desert of despair, our lives, our efforts, our dreams are not in vain.

The meaning of this story is not about what Jesus did for us so we can merrily exploit the planet and other people and still get to heaven. It is not about ancient celebrations of the seasons or earth’s fecundity. It is about a choice: to stand for life and against death or not; to stand with the exploited and against the exploiters or not. And the not can mean actively participating in violent systems or passively participating by standing by and saying nothing.

The meaning of Easter is that there is no meaning if there is no resurrected body and by that I mean us. If this story does not lead us to die to the hold of greed and violence over our lives, then Christ is not raised in us. If this story does not lead us to stand against the sins of poverty and oppression then Christ is not raised in us.

Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate or fear or violence or greed. This is the joyous and scary message of Easter morning. Scary because if we are truly Easter people then we are called to stand up, speak up and act up in defense of the vulnerable. We are called to be that unexpected voice of hope. We are called to boldly march into problems that are too big for us with the clarity of knowing that the most important thing we have to offer is our willingness to offer what we have.

We are called to embrace the belief that a small aging church of struggling believers can change the world and then act accordingly.

Easter calls us to discard our dreams of escape and boldly stride into tombs of poverty, racism, homophobia, sexual abuse, and war with the utterly unrealistic belief that new life… resurrection is possible. The realism of accommodating ourselves to a world of cruelty and injustice dies for us when we can see the life beyond death in the love beyond life.

The meaning of that first Easter morning didn’t immediately sink in for the disciples. It usually doesn’t hit us all at once. It nudges us to empathize and not judge, to act and not look away, to take a step that leads inevitably to another.

Easter isn’t the end of the story any more than crossing the sea was the end of the story for those escaped slaves. Easter, if we dare to believe that resurrection is possible for humanity and the planet, is just the beginning of the story. To believe in the possibility of resurrection is to embrace being the bearer of the self-giving love that is the power of resurrection.

The stone is rolled away. The sea is parted before us. An impossible hope awaits.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

The Good Friday Service is at 7pm tonight.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Year A
Matthew 21:1-11
By Rich Gamble

The scene is Jerusalem before Passover. Now Passover is one of the most important celebrations of the year. It is a time when the Jewish faithful did their best to go to Jerusalem to celebrate. The population of that town swelled to many times its normal size. Imagine living in small villages or in small communities of outsiders in large gentile cities. In these small communities it is easy to feel powerless to respond to those who lord it over you. But in Jerusalem during Passover, you are part of giant crowd of like minded people. There you are in the majority. In such a settting it would be easy to feel the power of the crowd. Passover is also the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from the hand of oppression.

In Jesus’ day the Jewish people are once again feeling the hand of oppression. It is Roman oppression this time. So in the central city of Judaism, with the town packed with the Jewish faithful, comes the celebration of God’s liberation from oppression. It is a revolutionary’s dream situation, a crowded tinder box awaiting a spark.

And then Jesus comes to town. Now Jesus has prepared the scene. He has staged is a piece of political theater. Jesus comes riding into town on the back of donkey. This brings to mind the prophet Zechariah who proclaimed that the King would come to town in just such a manner. And that is how people imagined their Messiah. He was to be a king, like David only better. At about the same time, on the other side of town Pilot is riding into Jerusalem at the head of a column of Roman troops to keep order in Jerusalem during Passover. So Jesus’ entry is seen in direct comparison to the Roman one.

Jesus’ followers have done a good job of getting the word out. When Jesus comes riding over the Mount of Olives the people turn out in droves to wave Palm branches and to shout hosanna. Palm branches were a sign of Jewish identity, Jewish nationalism, Jewish independence from oppressive powers. Hosanna was an exclamation of entreaty meaning: save us. In this case undoubtedly the people were thinking of salvation from Rome.

Jesus as coming king, entering the city of David on the eve of the celebration of liberation from oppression, with people waving symbols of Jewish independence and crying out to their would be king an entreaty to save them from the oppression of Rome. Now that is good political theater.

It must have been a good time for those who threw down their cloaks before the donkey, (or donkeys if you take Matthew’s literalism to heart). Those who cried their hosannas and brandished their palm branches were thumbing their noses at Caesar and Rome. And there, they could get away with this act of contempt for Rome because it was filled with symbols that the Romans would not have understood.

Parades do have power. Protest marches, symbolic actions do have power; especially when it is an oppressed people marching in opposition to their oppressors. Why did Martin Luther King help organize those marches? And why did the white establishment use police clubs, attack dogs, fire hoses and rock throwing thugs to try and stop the marchers? It’s because a people claiming their power to march against their oppressors are going to be emboldened to cease cooperating with the system that oppresses them.

And so Jesus helps the people confront the power of Rome, nonviolently. He helps them celebrate their own identity independent from the one cast for them by imperial propaganda. He helps them see how much power they have to assert an alternative to the Roman idea of how things should be.

But of course they don’t really get it. Zechariah’s vision is that of the victory of God’s people over the forces of violence. Zechariah calls for the breaking of the weapons of war. But the people who turn out to mock Rome through Jesus’ coming to town don’t really see the depth of the revolution to which Jesus is calling them. In the end, when the choice is between the violent insurgent, Barabbas and the nonviolent revolutionary Jesus, they pick Barabbas.

Even those who believe in God, even those who are the oppressed, even those who celebrate Jesus can and do usually get it wrong. We don’t understand the depth of transformation required to achieve real and lasting peace.

Jesus was after something more. His sights were set not just on ridding Judea from Roman domination but ridding the world of the desire to dominate. He was about creating a revolution against domination itself. And to do that, his people, the ones who celebrated God’s siding with the oppressed; his people, the ones who had a long history of being under the heel of some empire; his people, the current victims of the latest global empire: his people, had to do more than dump the Romans, they had to change their own values, beliefs, and practices.

They were being called, as we are called to give up the concept of my (family, nation, possessions) and embrace God’s claim to all things, and God’s rule over all of our lives. We are called to look past the mindless acceptance of the way things are and the simple solutions of hate and greed offered to us by those who want to use us for their cause. We are called to sacrifice our expectations of cozy luxury so as to respond to a world of need. We are called to measure our lives not by what we have accumulated but by what we have shared. We are called to see past the blinders that let us go on day after day in the same old way while the earth withers in our pollution, and the poor grow in ever greater numbers and desperation. We are called to see that it is not enough to sing hosannas from the sidelines. It is not enough to wring our hands. It is not enough to vote for the latest incarnation of Barabbas.

Not in the victory parade or in the embrace of the adoring crowds, but alone on the cross, stripped of every possession, even his life, Jesus becomes the ultimate protest against the Powers that Be, Jesus becomes the challenge that strips away our smug self-certainty, Jesus becomes the boundless saving love of God, Jesus becomes our messiah.

That is the wonderful point of this day. The people on that day came out to mock the Romans by celebrating Jesus as their rightful king. Later in the week, when he failed to be their idea of a king they turned on him. Not imperious, lacking an army, forgiving his enemies, calling on the rich to give up their wealth for the sake of the poor. No wonder they picked Barabbas, we would never elect such a guy president.

Jesus is God’s idea of a leader. That is the challenge of our faith. Not to force God’s ideas through sieve of our notions of the way things should be but to change our ideas to align with God’s.

So often we get our ideas of things from the world around us and then we expect our faith to align with our ideas. We say that the church is a family and we think we know what family means because of our upbringing. Family is a group of people who are more special to us than other people. They are more dear to us. And so we say, if church is family then the folks who are in the church are more dear to us than those who are not in the church. And we use that same tool of thinking of one group as more dear to understand community nation and faith.

But God calls us to see family in a new way. Family as defined by God is everyone especially the stranger, especially the enemy. To enter into the mystery of our faith is to walk through the looking glass of our expectations and enter a new world, where we are redefined by God not as consumers or voters or workers but as beloved. In that reality the world is not something to fear, or conquer or exploit but a place to cherish, and our time is not something to measure our success or failure but an ongoing opportunity to embody the transforming love of God.

Hosanna Christ. Save us. May your path be ours, and ours together be the path of salvation for the world.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

A New Possibility

We have had a good run with our Associate Pastor position. Brandon was able to bring us a web site, new logo, a sign, some good preaching and some laughs. We celebrated his ordination in a superb ceremony that both Keystone and the Taiwanese Church could share in. Sophie taught a class, helped the building and communications committees and was also a wonderful alternative voice in the pulpit. We have been blessed to have the opportunity to work with good people they have been blessed by the generosity of folks at Keystone in their support and praise.

With Sophie leaving in March, I asked Peg to temporarily increase her hours at Keystone for the next few weeks. She has more time now that her internship is over at Broadview. Soon she will be graduating seminary and this poses a real opportunity for us. I would like you to consider offering Peg a half-time position as Associate Pastor at Keystone. Were we to call her, we could continue to enjoy her leadership and add to the work she could do with us. Were we to offer her a position as Associate Pastor we could also celebrate her ordination here at Keystone and that seems right.

As you know, for years we got by with only me working half-time but since we have started hiring associate pastors, I have had more time to work on issues of justice within the regional UCC, with the Washington Association of Churches and in expanding circles.

We can go over the numbers at the annual meeting but I believe that we can support a half-time associate pastor with our current income. It will be close but with God’s help, doable.

So think about it. Feel free to ask me any questions and let’s plan on talking more about calling Peg as an Associate Pastor at Keystone.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon: Foolish Faith

I was asked to post this sermon:

Epiphany 7 Year A
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:18-23, Matthew 5:38-48
Foolish Faith or Foolish World
By Rich Gamble

Using the lectionary is sometimes a challenge for me; it can be hard to find something to preach on in the texts given for that particular Sunday. Then sometimes, like this Sunday, the texts are so full of important insights that there is way more than one sermon’s worth of material. In fact there are at least 4 sermons worth of material here.

But all of this material centers on the idea that we are called to a particular set of behaviors by virtue of our peculiar belief in the God of Moses and Jesus and Paul. In Leviticus the people are called to be Holy. We think that Holy people should glow with divine radiance and spout deep wisdom but in this passage Moses says that holy people leave part of their crops to be picked and used by the poor. Holy people don’t cheat or steal or lie. Holy people don’t take advantage of others. Holy people refrain from hating. Holy people love their neighbors as they love themselves. To be holy then is not something for sages and mystics but something everyone can do. We do it, Moses says, because of the nature of the God we choose to follow.

In other words, to choose to follow this God, to choose this particular path of faith, leads directly to certain values, and those values lead to particular behaviors which have direct implications on how we live our lives, how we use our resources, how we structure our communities.

These implications make little or no sense in the logic of the world that does not believe in this God. Let’s take that command to leave behind crops in the fields for those who are poor. In the logic of the “World” as Jesus and Paul use the word, or the domination system as we often use here, it makes no sense to leave behind your crops, grown on your land, through your effort for someone else to harvest. If you can make a lot more profit by cheating your workers, say by cutting out their benefits, or sending their jobs to more exploited people who will work for less, then it is logical to do so. Indeed the logic of our current systems almost compels employers to squeeze ever possible concession out of their workers. That way you make more profits and have more money and more power and resources. But Moses here says that you are to treat the other guy with the same concern as you give to yourself. Our whole economic system is based on placing our self interest ahead of our neighbors.

Matthew’s Jesus here moves the conversation to violence which like greed is foundational to the World.

In the first part of this statement Jesus teaches his followers how to use non-violence to oppose violent systems and people. Yes don’t be confused by that line “Do not resist an evildoer.” That word translated resist is better translated: violently oppose. Jesus is not telling his followers to be passive in the face of oppression, he is showing them how to actively oppose violent folks like the Roman soldiers who marched down their streets, or those greedy people who took advantage of them economically. The way you oppose these people is to help them to recognize you as an equal. Turn the other cheek is Jesus way of showing people how to stand up to those who tried to put people “in their place.” It was permissible for a person to strike an underling with the back of their hand. That was how a small amount of violence to show people who was boss. The person struck was supposed to shrink off and submit to their betters. But Jesus tells his followers to stand their ground and turn their cheek.

Now in that world at that time you didn’t use your left hand to strike people, the left hand was not even used to gesture. So you used your right. Ok lets get a couple of volunteers up here. Lets say you are a master and this person is your inferior. Using your right hand how can you strike them on their right cheek? That is what Jesus says, if someone strikes you on your right cheek. It is a backhand blow right? Not a blow meant to cause great injury but one meant to humiliate and demean. Ok so now turn your other cheek. What options does the violent person have? They can give up or then can punch you using their fist but to strike someone in that time that way was to treat them as an equal. Jesus isn’t teaching us to be passive but to actively oppose violence with non violent tactics.

The same is true for that thing about the law suit: “and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” One way that a person could try to force someone to pay a debt was to sue them for their outer garment. But debts were and are a tool by the powerful to exploit the vulnerable. What do you do? Well Jesus advises people to give up their underwear as well. This paints a laughable picture of a guy handing over his underwear. Nakedness in that society brought shame on the ones who looked so this idea would create havoc in the court and shame the proceedings.

Roman soldiers had the “right” under Roman law to make someone carry their pack, which, given their armor was often quite heavy. But they could only legally make someone carry it for one mile. Jesus here says take the pack a second mile. Imagine a soldier running after a peasant to try to retrieve his pack before his superior realizes that he has broken the law by having the peasant carry the pack more than a mile.

In all these forms of resistance there is no violence. In all these forms of resistance the person resisting pays a price, a punch received, losing their underwear, carrying a heavy pack farther than necessary. But in all these forms of resistance the peasant teaches the dominator to see them as an equal.

The logic of the world says that when it comes to conflict there is either fight or flight, violent opposition or surrender to evil but Jesus offers us a third way of resisting the evils of oppression by non-violent opposition.

And to top it all off Jesus calls on his followers to love their enemies. Love their enemies. This command, along with the command to give our wealth to the poor are the most direct challenges to logic of the World. How could we love our enemies? Imagine a world where we took this command seriously. We would have no military. We would have no armed security forces. We would not seek to strike back, as was the response to 911. We would not be spending trillions on weapons systems and soldiers.

To take this command seriously would be to set ourselves up for the derision of those around us. Most Christians do not see this as an idea to take seriously.

But Jesus did. And Jesus called on his followers… calls on us… to live this.

It doesn’t make any sense in the world in which we live. It seems foolish. But it was just as foolish in Jesus’ day.

Paul tells the Corinthian church: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

Our faith leads us to proclaim a counter intuitive, ridiculous reality called the realm of God. To do so we need to understand the principles and tactics of non-violence, we need to understand the hold that fear has on us and the ways in which this fear leads us to the path of greed and violence. We need to understand how our brains work and how the messages of domination get so ingrained in us that it becomes “common sense.” We need to figure out how to embody this radical, ridiculous, world changing way of seeing and experiencing reality so that others may see it and choose it and live it.

Why? Because God is God. And if this God is God then it is the World that is foolish. It is the economics and politics of self interest that is unrealistic.

Look at the world: starvation, global warming, pollution, sickness, violence, hate, fear. These things are not aberrations of our systems of domination based thought and practice, they are the logical outcomes of policies based on the utilization of greed and fear as motivators. The logic of the world is ruinous for humanity and the planet.

We are possessors of the alternative reality that can save the world. But it only works if we believe it enough to live it. It only works if we believe it enough to speak up, stand up, act up in the name of the ultimate reality (God) of love. Love in the form of justice for the poor and oppressed, love in the name of non-violence, love in the name of peace.

It isn’t that the dream of the God of Moses and Jesus has been tried and has failed. The dream has largely been co-opted to serve the logic of the gods of fear and greed.

Like Jesus we are called to choose this path for ourselves, to challenge our fellow believers to abandon the co-opted version of the faith and embrace the foolishness of God’s alternative logic.

We are not called to run away to a “spiritual” interpretation of these commands. We are not called to subordinate our truth to the logic of fear. We are called to stand up to those who would turn our God into a tool for greed or fear or domination. We are called to stand up to those who would turn God’s creation into a source of wealth for some and deprivation for others. We are called to be creative, non-violent resisters to all that is not love. This is the hope the world needs. This is living presence of God’s love. This is good news.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yay Peg

It is time to celebrate. Yesterday Peg Faulmann passed her final ordination interview. This means that she has been approved for ordination by the duly authorized representatives of the United Church of Christ. This was a big event in Peg and Erv’s lives and a big event for Keystone.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Giving away our money

Recently several folks have asked me about giving away money. We see people almost every day asking for money. They call us on the phone. They knock on our doors. Often they are people with signs standing beside the road. Sometimes it is closer to home. Should we give money to someone simply because they ask us to?

From the perspective of our faith tradition, the resources we have are not ours but God’s. I find that a helpful way of thinking about it. The question then is: what is the best way to use the portion of God’s wealth that is in our hands?

Knowing that God has priority concern for those who are most vulnerable, we are called to examine where we can live simply so that we have more to share with those who are in need. But also when we are giving money it is part of our calling to use the money where it will do the most good. Giving money to a friend might make us feel better than giving it to a more desperate stranger but it isn’t about our feelings, it’s about God’s priorities. Giving money to a person who says “thank you” may feel better than sending it off to an agency or a stranger we will never see but giving to the agency or stranger may be the most faithful use of our funds. Just because someone calls us on the phone or knocks at our door doesn’t mean that their need is the highest priority. And sometimes giving money to someone isn’t going to help them do anything more than continue their self-destructive behavior.

Jesus counsels his followers to give to anyone who asks but I don’t believe Jesus meant this to be interpreted as inflexible law but rather as reflective of a particular principle. I interpret this saying to mean that we are called to give freely and generously to people in need. It is the need that is the reason to give not the act of someone asking.

For example, I have known several guys who panhandled to get money. It was nice that they had money to spend on the things that thought they needed but I knew those guys because they came into the homeless shelter where I worked. The shelter provided them with food and shelter, community and counseling. From my perspective, giving money to keep the shelter open was more important than giving money to the guy with the sign. And since shelter is not a solution to homelessness but simply an emergency response to a dire need, resources spent on shelter should also be matched with resources given to overcome the inability of our nation to provide a sufficient quantity of affordable housing.

Having said all of that, if we make a mistake or get taken advantage of, we should extend to ourselves the forgiveness of God’s grace.

Here are my guidelines for giving:
• It is better to give haphazardly than not at all.
• It is better to give strategically than to give impulsively.
• It is better to give with God’s priority for those most in need over our priority of those who are closest to us.
• It is better to give with an eye to addressing both the immediate need and the injustice that is often the cause of the need.
• It is usually better to talk with people who are familiar with the broader picture before you give.

Please feel free to use me as a resource if you have questions.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

March Reminder Newsletter

Reminder Newsletter
March, 2011
Keystone United Church of Christ

From Sophie

It is hard to believe, after all the winter weather we’ve been having, that March is in fact here and spring is around the corner. Along with March comes the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and later, the spring Equinox. It is naturally a period of transition and change. As my time here comes to a close, officially at the end of March, I am aware that it is an auspicious time to reflect on the past and begin something new.
First, I have felt honored and blessed to be part of the forward-moving energy of this congregation. I noted in the January Reminder the numerous ways I see this congregation continuing to embrace the future, not only for this community and the physical Church, but for our state, country, species and planet. It is inspiring to see a congregation able to work for justice in the world while also tending to the needs of their neighbors, and conversely able to tend to the needs of their neighbors without losing the vision of a just and peaceful world. If anything, we need to hide our light under our bushel basket less. Together with the Communications Committee I have helped set in motion a plan to increase our visibility in our neighborhood through improved signage (both permanent and weekly) and PR efforts in the community such as posting more flyers and even door-to-door promotion! Part of this work also includes creating our first photo directory, to make us more recognizable to one another and to newcomers, now in its final stages of production. The Communications Committee will also be collaborating with the Building Committee on improving the appearance and of the church building exterior when the time comes to update our paint job
Other projects I have been working on have included, briefly, spending some time myself and with our bookkeeper organizing Church files and getting to know the many faces and decades of Keystone’s history. I hope that this organizational work will make accessing Church files and documents a little easier for everyone in the present and future. Perhaps more importantly though, several of your names have “popped up” on the archival documents; it might be fun to continue one of your traditions of sharing each other’s stories, either in this monthly newsletter or in congregational gatherings. Many here probably have not heard much about the history of the church from those who have been here a long time and would enjoy hearing what you have to say!
I also enjoyed getting to know some of you better during the series I offered in Battson Hall earlier this winter. For those who were hoping to get a taste of what I was offering but were unable to come I will leave a copy of the handouts that I used in the Church office in a place where they should be easily accessible should you ever want them. If you want me to email them to you, I can put you on a list of recipients for when I have finished “touching them up.”
Lastly, thank you all again for being such a generous, flexible and forgiving congregation while I have tried out my legs co-leading and solo-leading Sunday worship. I have always felt that each Sunday gathering was a time of genuine, authentic sharing that made very real the presence of God in our lives and world. May each of you continue to be blessed, and share your light with the rest of Creation.
For the remainder of my time here I have offered to help the Building Committee check off some of their list items in terms of preliminary research, budget figures and project scenarios. This will exercise some of my project management muscles as well as (hopefully) leave behind something concrete that will help this committee move forward into the future. If any of you have anything else you would like from me in my final weeks here, I hope you will let me know!
My next steps career-wise are to work on my ordination process, something Peg has been working on this year as well, and further discernment about my call. I hope to stay in touch with you all!

Ash Wednesday Lenten Prayer
Mark you calendars for March 9!
The Lenten season is a time for somber reflection on Jesus' wandering in the wilderness and the ways in which we ourselves wander. Lent is an opportunity for us to re-examine our thoughts and actions and the ways in which they bring us nearer to or separate us from unity with God and the rest of creation.
Earth Ministry and Washington Interfaith Power and Light invite us as people of faith to make our Lenten focus a time in which we can reduce our carbon emissions.
March 9th is Ash Wednesday, the 1st day of the Lenten Season – a perfect time for us to gather as a community to pray, to recall that we are people born of the Earth, and to learn a bit more about how we can further reduce our carbon on a personal level and through our government, using the resources that Earth Ministry and Washington Interfaith Power and Light provide.
So come on March 9th to our sanctuary. At 7:00 PM. We will discuss and provide materials for our Lenten focus. At 7:30, we will have an Ash Wednesday prayer service.

See the Upcoming Schedule for Friday Night Meaningful Movies:

Scripture readings
6 March Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; Mt 17:1-9
13 March Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matt 4:1-11
20 March Gen 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17
27 March Ex 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

Reader/usher schedule
3/6 Steve Bauck/Rita Peterson
3/13 Betty Sabo/Marilyn Wall
3/20 Erv Faulmann/Gloria Bollens
3/27 Nell Townley/Betty Sabo

Keystone Anniversary!
Keystone Congregational Church was incorporated on March 23rd, 1901. Keystone Church turns 110th this month!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

13 February, 2011: "Choosing Life"

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

Choosing Life

It is hard sometimes to take the words of the prophets to heart because they ask so much of us. We wonder at times whether the clear instructions for choosing life that we have been given were perhaps sent to the wrong address, and do we possibly have way out?

At the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sam Gamgee is standing on the shores of Middle Earth unexpectedly saying farewell to not only the beloved wizard Gandalf, but to his life-long friend Frodo as well. These companions have done their work, supposedly the enemy has been vanquished, and they are departing for the world that awaits them. Sam and the other inhabitants of Middle Earth are on their own now, they need to sort out whatever they need to sort out without the help, the love, the guidance of these friends who have been walking with them. I wonder how Frodo and Gandalf felt as they stepped off the dock onto the boat that would carry them away. Did they wonder if Middle Earth would survive? Did they wonder if they had imparted enough wisdom for those they were leaving behind?

If you’ll excuse the analogy, the Book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the Biblical version of this scene. Moses must say good bye to the band of Israelites who have traveled with him for the equivalent of nearly three generations. Through the Exodus from Egypt, through forty years in the desert, and finally to this place above the River Jordon – overlooking the land that God has promised to them - he has shepherded them, spoken God’s words to them, held them together. But he cannot go further with them. This is his last chance to instill in them for now and all future generations all that he knows, and all that they need to know to maintain their identity, their faith, their fate as a nation and people of God. This is the last time he can communicate to them the story of both their past and their future. And in the particular passage we hear today, Moses tells his people that their literal survival in the future depends on them keeping the commandments. If they choose to follow the commandments it will mean choosing life over death.

We hear in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount echoes of these commandments, as well as an exhortation to go beyond their literal words to the spirit in which they were written. Jesus is setting before his listeners a new bar: a measure that says that the intent behind the commandments is now what is most important. Therefore, we hear that it is not enough to prohibit murder, but we must adhere to the life-giving spirit of justice and mercy beneath this commandment: that we should only do that which is love. It is not enough to say we should not commit adultery but we must not indulge in it in our hearts. It is not enough to say we cannot swear falsely, but we must now be careful what words we do use when we are sincere.

I imagine that it got quite hot for the hearers of Jesus’ sermon that day. No doubt many of them wondered if they were on the road to perdition given the number of quarrels they had at home. They were probably astounded to hear that their understanding of adultery and divorce were turned upside-down and opened many of them up to judgment. Many of them were probably questioning now even the words they spoke when they felt strongly – were they convicting them? Could they even imagine watching their speech so closely?

I’m guessing that some of them, before Jesus had gotten much past the second “You have heard that it was said…But I say unto you” would have suddenly remembered the nets that needed mending at home or the bread they left out to rise. This kind of truth telling can scatter good-hearted people like a loud noise scatters a flock of pigeons. We are told there was still a crowd at the end of his sermon two chapters later, but they must have been made of strong stuff.

I wonder how such words, such re-making of the rules that we hold dear, might sound to us today?

You have heard that it was said…
That we must be environmentally “sustainable” by carefully choosing the food we eat and spending our resources wisely but I say unto you as long as we think of Creation as something “out there,” as a commodity either to be exploited or preserved, until we think of Creation as an ongoing miraculous unfolding and the very web of our existence, until we know Creation in our bones as sacred and beloved, then we will continue to destroy it and ourselves.

You have heard that it was said…
We are not to participate in racial discrimination, but I say unto you…as long as we continue to benefit from a system that unfairly punishes those who are not white, that is biased against those who are not educated as European Americans, until we dispel the very notion of race and dismantle the way we think of our privilege as white European Americans as one we have somehow earned, then we continue to say “yes” to racial injustice and oppression in our country today.

You have heard that it was said…
We shall not discriminate against women, but I say unto you if we as women continue to accept lower pay then men for the same work, if we wake up every morning and struggle to find our self worth and we discount our contribution to this world as inadequate and inferior, if we spend one more day comparing our physical appearance to an objectified, profit-oriented, dehumanizing ideal of feminine beauty, then we are continuing the legacy of pain and suffering that sexism brings to the world and for our sake and our sisters’ sake and our daughters’ sake we need to stop.

Do we feel the heat yet? Are we uncomfortable yet? Are we thinking of something at home that suddenly needs our urgent attention?

Jesus believed that to understand the life-giving spirit beneath the rules of the time: the spirit of mercy and justice and compassion, was so important that it was almost better for us to lose a physical part of ourselves that makes us sin than to have our whole selves condemned to hell. By using hyperbole he made this sound quite gruesome. I daresay Jesus would have been horrified if someone had actually come up to him with a bloody stump for their arm having just cut off their sinful right hand. He was exaggerating to make a point. He wanted to convey how important it was to acknowledge the parts of us that continue to place us on the path of good intentions pointing directly to hell.

Many of us are put off perhaps, by the seemingly overly pious admonition not to have adulterous thoughts. Few would argue today however that adultery does not start with the act itself, but with the thought, and that if we observe ourselves having the thought we might be called to act in such a way that we avoid that well-paved road to what could hurt ourselves and those we love.

We also might have forgotten that in Jesus’ time a man could divorce his wife over something as trivial as a burnt meal, particularly I am assuming if the husband had found someone else he might fancy as his wife. Because divorced women were vulnerable to a life of social and economic hardship, Jesus was striking a blow against a system that was fundamentally unjust toward women. His statement taken as a whole made it much harder for men to frivolously divorce their wives. It was a statement that spoke out for justice and mercy.

And today we might translate this justice and mercy to our institutions of marriage and divorce by treating marriage not as a means to secure financial and legal stability for some while denying it for others, not a way to further segregate our society into those who are in and those who are out. You have heard it said, “thou shalt not commit adultery” but I say unto you, we violate the bond between us and our fellow humans whenever we bestow privilege on some and not others, when we structure the rules around marriage such that the benefits are not available for the full spectrum of what it means to be human. As far as I know there are no laws on the books today against swearing falsely or insulting our brother or sister. That we have attempted to freeze this one part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into law is to miss the point, the point of justice and mercy.

Likewise, when we look at Jesus’ objection to the innocent act of quarreling or holding a grudge, we are called to look to the deeper meaning beneath the commandment against murder. We are called to the deeper way in which to choose life over death. You have heard it said “thou shalt not murder…” because to murder is not only to take away the life of someone who is made in the image of God but to deny the inherent dignity and worth of that human being. When we quarrel, when we hold a grudge, when we belittle even in the most hasty and innocent of ways, we act in a way that denies the dignity and worth of that human being. Though far apart, these two very different acts, to quarrel and to murder, are both ones that cannot take place if we simultaneously believe that that person is a son or daughter of God. It is impossible.

And how might we translate this to our world today? Understandably we find it hard to hold the dignity and worth of every human being in our hearts. But if we see that it is possible in the most intolerable of circumstances, we might think twice before we deny it of our irritating neighbor, our in-law, our micro-managing boss. In a book that explores the nature of forgiveness a woman writes about her journey after her seven-year old daughter was abducted from a Montana campground and murdered. She talks about the night, one year after the abduction, when she still does not know what happened to her daughter, that she talked to the murderer on the phone for the first time. He had called her in the middle of the night to taunt her. Because of her faith she had been working for an entire year on trying to see this person as someone who was also a son of God. She knew that her torment would not cease until she could find it in herself to see this person, this person she wanted to wring the neck of with her bare hands, the murderer of her daughter, first and foremost as a human being. Awakened from a sound sleep, her heart pounding with adrenaline, barely able to remember to turn on the tape recorder she remembered this: that he was a human being. His taunting ended abruptly. He broke down on the phone. They talked for an hour. He revealed enough in that conversation that the FBI was able to later find and arrest him. When the time of his sentencing came, this mother asked that his sentence be reduced from death to life in prison without parole. Only then did he confess to his crime, and that of three others. This mother wrote:

“The God [of Scripture] is a God of mercy and compassion, a God who seeks not to punish, destroy, or put us to death, but a God who works unceasingly to help and heal us, rehabilitate and reconcile us, restore us to the richness and fullness of life for which we have been created."

This, now, was the justice she sought for the one who had taken her little girl.

God has already reconciled with us. God is more interested in us reconciling ourselves with one another. We leave our gifts for God at the altar and address our grudges, our quarrels with one another first. This mother felt that she could only honor her daughter’s memory by becoming not what she deplored, “but by saying that all life is sacred and worthy of preservation.” She also knew that the only way she could get her own life back was to heal her rage and bitterness and to forgive. It is not an easy task, and never to be taken lightly. But if there is one message that we must hear if we are to survive as a species, it is this one. It is the most important calling we have as human beings on the planet.

God has given us instructions. We have heard them through Moses, through the prophets, and through one of the greatest teachers of all time, Jesus of Nazareth. Will we, can we, take these instructions into our hearts? Can we, as children of God, remember them? Can we choose life?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rich in Tucson

Greetings from Tucson. I am talking with representatives from churches that have started or are thinking about starting a volunteer community of young adults at their church. It is a good group to be with and I am learning about how we might join in this brand new national effort. I look forward to talking with you more about this in the coming weeks.

It is nice to see the sun but I'd rather be surrounded by wet spruce than dry cactus.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Nickelsvilles Pancakes Breakfast Fundraiser

Nickelsvilles Pancakes Breakfast Fundraiser

The Nickelsville Pancake Breakfast fund raiser is this Saturday,

February 5th at Keystone Congregational Church, 5019 Keystone Place

North, that's 51st and Keystone in Wallingford. Come join us for

delicious pancakes and coffee from 8am to 11am. Any and all donations

will be appreciated. We look forward to seeing everybody on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Christianity: Is It What You Thought?

Don't Forget!! The next three Thursday evenings...Everything you ever wanted to know about what Christianity says about Wealth, Forgiveness, and Non-violence! Explore the myths and countermyths around Christianity's teaching on these important and timely topics.

Thursday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30pm
20 January – 17 February, 2011

This series will provide an opportunity to challenge what we think Christianity says about Creation (& Science), Wealth, Women, Forgiveness and War/Nonviolence in a series of five evenings. As a group we spend time identifying what some of historical understandings of Christianity are: the so-called “myths” that have become tools of oppression and exclusion over the centuries. Because so much of what we know about Christianity is based on the written tradition, we will look at how some of these myths originated in the Bible. We will then explore these passages in such a way as to invite a different vision, a “counter-myth,” that understands Christianity more as a faith based on radical inclusion and love.

Join us for engaging discussion, hands-on exercises, and myth-busting dialogue with the 2000 year old tradition of Christianity!

This series will be led and facilitated by Sophie Morse, Associate Pastor at Keystone United Church of Christ. 5019 Keystone Place N. Wallingford. We will be meeting in Battson Fellowship Hall (downstairs from the sanctuary).

Call 206.632.6021 or email for more information.

February "Reminder"

Reminder Newsletter
February, 2011
Keystone United Church of Christ

From Rich

As I see it the work of the church is three fold:
1. To understand and claim our identity as people who see ultimate meaning (God) in terms of self-giving (agape) love.
2. To work to move this faith into our way of thinking, and way of understanding and experiencing reality.
3. To effectively promote this way of understanding ultimate meaning in the world around us.
We mirror this work each Sunday in our worship. In worship we claim our faith, use our heads and hearts to experience and grow in this faith, and then prepare ourselves to carry this faith out into the world.
The world’s foundation is largely based on an understanding of ultimate meaning based in authority. This is what I call the “Domination System.”
More and more I am coming to understand that what we are doing at Keystone is not only sensible but essential. Worship is important. By regularly orienting ourselves in a community and sharing a value system in opposition to domination, we strengthen our ability to oppose the tidal wave of messages in the world around us which come at us in support of domination ways of thinking.
It seems that the human brain creates thought pathways. The more an idea is thought the easier it will be to think that way in the future. The more powerful the pathway the more we think in those terms even on a subconscious level. By thinking about what it means that God is love and not domination we are making such thoughts easier. By acting on those thoughts we reinforce them.
The more time and energy we invest in thinking and acting out of a foundation of agape love, the easier such thoughts and actions will be in the future. And the more we strengthen the neural pathways of agape the weaker the hold of fear and greed have over our thoughts and action.
In other words, the more we do, the more we pray, the more we study our faith and the implications of our faith on every aspect of our lives and community the stronger we become in our capacity to love.
So we have weekly worship, regular classes, and many opportunities to participate in doing the work of compassion and justice. This makes us more rooted in the power of God’s love.
So much for one and two on that list, we are now at the point to start thinking strategically about how we extend God’s love into the world. Part of this will be this will call on us to think about what resources we have, and how best to use those resources. Our task in the world is much bigger than winning a particular piece of legislation. It is about strengthening the influence of the power of God’s love on the thinking of the people around us.
Agape love is experienced in the world by actions which we call education, charity, justice and symbolic expression. All of these are important and the more our witness to the world utilizes these forms the more powerful our witness to this alternative way of experiencing existence.
All of this may seem a bit technical and probably downright boring but I think it is important that as we talk about the direction of Keystone we talk about why we do what we do.

See the Upcoming Schedule for Friday Night Meaningful Movies:

Scripture readings
6 February: Isa 58:1-9a; Matt 5:13-20
13 February: Deut 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
20 February: Lev 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48
27 February: Isa 49:8-16a; Matthew 6:24-34

Reader/usher schedule
2/6 Rich Voget/Gloria Bollens
2/13 Becky Hutton/Dorothy Richey
2/20 Kaaren Mills/Gus Wall
2/27 Jo Winston/Janet Stillman
3/6 Steve Bauck/Rita Peterson