December Thankfulness

“Gratitude” comes from the same word as freedom (gratis = free). Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave.  –Ravi Zacharias

November Thankfulness

Welcome to a place to practice gratitude! You are invited to write 5 things you are thankful for in the comments section. Feel free to practice as often as you’d like or are able to. Together we can encourage each other toward a deeper gratitude. I’ll start another post at the beginning of December and onward if we would like to continue.

A Way Forward

Dear Westhope community,

God’s grace and peace be with you as we get into the full swing of fall. I was so excited to see the turn out for the BBQ last Sunday and so enjoyed seeing so many of us talking and laughing together. It speaks to me of some of the reasons I really enjoy this community as well as this time of year. I am so looking forward to our fall lineup of Spiritual growth opportunities and hope that they deepen and broaden our understanding of God as well as our relationships with one another. I am also aware that as hot as the BBQs were it seems like issues in our larger world are heating up as well. The two that stand out for me are the talk of possible war with North Korea and the ugly specter of racism once again front and center in the news. As I listen and as I pray I can’t help but think how God sees all this. I think God weeps at the prospect of war as so many of God’s beloved children would die. I think God weeps at the reality of racism that undermines so many lives and causes fear, demeans people, and often results in violence. All of this seems so clearly outside of what God envisions for this world and our larger community of human beings. This brings into stark contrast the ways of God and the ways of the world, and our challenge once more is to stay grounded in the ways of God and fight back the voices of division and hostility in the larger culture- especially when they try to creep into our consciousness. We must find a way forward in peace and justice and hope.

Whether our country’s leadership works to make it better or continues to speak words that divide us, I do think that this is a unique opportunity for us as Americans and as those who seek to be governed by a different set of spiritual values. The opportunity is this: ways of war, division, and racism have been drawn out into the open, what will we do with it and about it? Will we wring our hands and think about how awful it is or will we seek to speak out and act out to confront it whenever and wherever we can? One of the things about the life of Jesus that we read in scripture is that He was always speaking out for the poor and the oppressed. He was always taking on the powerful and challenging them to be just and faithful to something other than just their own sense of power. As followers of this Way I believe we are so called as well. We are in a time and a culture where the voice of the Spirit needs to be heard. We need to remember that the voice of the Spirit is constantly calling us towards unity, healing and wholeness. Let us be people who work diligently towards and in this Spirit. Our picnic at the end of October works beautifully to this end, and I hope that you will be able to join us to break bread with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters- to be an image of unity and a larger community of building bridges to new friends and wider community. The Living Room Conversations on the 4th Tuesdays of the month are geared for just this work as well. There are many opportunities each day. Find the small ones as well as working on the larger ones that we might show forth the Reign of God and God’s peaceful Kingdom here on earth. Blessings to you and your family as you listen for and hear your unique part of this great calling. I remain

In communion,

Erik

Grieving Together

After a time of reflection and lament this morning, Raina sang a beautiful song as we tied ribbons on (no longer) bare branches to honor where we are struggling now, what we are grieving, or in memory of the survivors of tragedy.

Las Vegas

Hello Westhope community,

       God’s peace and presence be known by you.  In the wake of the horrible shooting in Las Vegas I call on us all to hold the families and people involved and all those who have been injured in our thoughts and prayers.   I also am aware that for some of our congregation this has hit pretty close to home.  Know that we are with you in our prayers, and we never have to face this kind of senseless violence alone.  I am including some good words from our Presbyterian leadership that seem appropriate in response.  May we all work to be bearers of peace and healing to all the little corners of our lives and our world so that acts like this will be unknown in our future.  Deep blessings to you as we remain
        In communion,  Erik
Here is a news article about Presbyterian churches provide pastoral support in midst of chaos in Las Vegas

Here is a prayer written by the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance:

God of our life, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance,
As the sound of gunfire again echoes over another American city,
we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.
As death rained down from above in the dark of night,
We pray this day for the Sun of Righteousness to arise with healing in its wings,
and rain mercy, grace and peace upon our broken people.

So many have been lost: brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends
gathered in the unity of music, scattered by evil and hatred.
We pray for solace for all who loved them.
We pray for those who have been spared and those whose lives are changed forever
that they may find healing, sustenance, and strength in the hard days to come.

We give thanks for first responders:
who ran toward gunfire, rather than away
who dropped everything to save the wounded and comfort survivors
We pray for doctors and nurses and mental health providers
who repair what has been broken
who to try to  bring healing and hope
in the face of the unchecked principalities and powers of violence .
We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering and traumatized.

We cry, how long, O Lord?
But the same words echo back, again and again
as if the question comes to us from You— how long, how long, how long…
In the wake of an event that should be impossible to contemplate
but which has become all too common in our experience,
open our eyes, break our hearts,
and turn our hands to the movements of your Spirit,
that our anger and sorrow may unite in service to build a reign of peace,
where the lion and the lamb may dwell together,
and terror no longer holds sway over our common life.
In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.

Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Laurie Ann Kraus
                    Director, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Inclusive not Exclusive

Pastor Erik’s been published in the Huffington Post! Congratulations and we are all proud of him!

(excerpt) “One of the intriguing conversations that underlies some of the political unrest over the last several weeks and months is the question of who should be included or excluded in what.  Who should be included or excluded from having health insurance?  Who should be included or excluded in the power structure of our country?  Who should be included or excluded from this country?  Should your skin color or religious background or part of the country that you live in exclude you or include you as a valued voice and participant in this country?  Part of the pain caused last weekend in Charlottesville was because of the hate speech that included messages that the US should only belong to white folks, and when people shouted anti-Jewish sentiments some people thought that meant only Christians.  Unfortunately I know that some of this separation of who’s in and who’s out is based on misguided religious teaching.  This is where we must stop and take a good and faithful and honest look at our beliefs as well as our behavior because God’s name and God’s will are very often used to rationalize so much of human behavior from really good things to really awful things….”

Read the full article here.

Self Care Suggestions For Changing Times

Some general suggestions from Westhope:

  1. It’s ok to take a break from the news, especially at night before bed.  Best to not check for one more email or Facebook update and discover something that may be upsetting.
  2. Watch stress or comfort eating.  It may help in the short run but will not bring you the comfort you may genuinely need.
  3. Watch for isolation especially with friends and family that may have differing opinions.  One can graciously change the subject or excuse oneself from a difficult conversation.  Step outside for fresh air, offer to do the dishes, go to the bathroom.  Whatever you choose take 3 deep breaths – a slow inhale with 4 counts and breathing out through the mouth for a four count.  
  4. The more familiar you are with your trigger opinions or people the safer you are for avoiding a useless conflict.  If your heart starts to beat rapidly or cheeks flush or your chest is tight it indicates a stress response and your ability to listen and respond, rather than react, diminishes greatly.

Reading and education:  

If you want to do some reading on current subjects, here are some suggestions.

Wallace, Jim – America’s Original Sin, Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America

Collins Pratt, Lonni with Father Daniel Homan – Radical Hospitality, Benedict’s Way of Love.

Burton, Susan and Cari Lynn – Becoming Ms. Burton, From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women

Some upcoming offerings at church:

  1. Attend the adult education classes in the Fall that will include a book study and healthy discussions.
  2. Be sure and check the Bulletin Board in Fellowship Hall for upcoming activities occurring in the larger community.
  3. We will be offering some labyrinth walks for those that find that practice helpful.

Internet suggestions:

There are many, and one called JustFaith is offering some suggestions on how to respond to Charlottesville specifically.  These are also helpful for the ongoing call for witness.

  1. Try to recognize our own very privileged viewpoint of being well-off, and for the most part not living in fear.
  2. Speak up and say something to raise awareness of racism and white supremacy whenever we hear it – with coworkers, family, neighbors. Only in naming it honestly can we address it.
  3. Support organizations that work for the mutual liberation of all people.  (could be local Community Services organizations)
  4. Participate in peaceful demonstrations.
  5. Listen to the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).  
  6. Be aware of structures and institutions that privilege me over others.  Work for change.

Summary:  

But again, please don’t isolate.  If you are struggling please check in with Erik or one of the Deacons or Elders.  We are working on helping each one of us wherever we find ourselves in this changing season.

Where we stand

From our Session:

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA, Westhope is committed to
standing for, and working to embody, the values which the Christian church holds
at its core: love, justice, peace, respect, and inclusion. We commit to working
towards social justice for all people. We commit to working towards inclusion,
non-judgment and peace. We also stand in opposition to violence, racism, white
supremacy and its ideology and pledge to work to demonstrate paths away from
them. As our national Presbyterian Church (USA) has affirmed, “White supremacy
and racism stand in stark, irreconcilable contradiction to God’s intention for
humanity. They reject part of the human family and are utterly contrary to God’s
Word made incarnate in Jesus. They are idolatries that elevate human-created
hierarchies over God’s freely given grace and love. They are lies about the human
family, for they seek to say that some people are less than other people. They are
lies about God because they falsely claim that God favors some people over the
entirety of creation”. We encourage all people to work to build racial equity and
peaceful and thoughtful conversation as we work to embody a vision of a
peaceful and just society and community where God’s love may be known by all.

How to Listen (on the internet)

God’s grace and peace be with you.

This is a post from the Westhope sound team, offering instruction on ways that you can listen to sermons and services from Westhope Pres. Obviously, nothing beats being present with the rest of the community in person, but almost everyone has days when they can’t be there.

The bugs seem to be worked out for now, so we thought we’d take an opportunity to summarize the ways that you can hear and listen in.

Listen Live: most Sunday morning services are now being broadcast live over the internet. We begin the broadcast a few minutes before 10 am. Simply go to westhopepres.org (If you’re reading this, you’re here.) Hover your mouse pointer over ‘Listen’  and select ‘Listen Live.’ If we’re on the air, you’ll see a circle with a right-pointing triangle. Click on that and you should be able to hear us.

Listen to recorded sermons: You can hear archived sermons anytime, night or day, dating back to August 2015, by hovering over ‘Listen’ and selecting ‘Sermons.’ After finding the sermon you’d like to hear, you can choose to listen from within the site by clicking on the right-pointing triangle, or you can click ‘Download file’ to download the recording to your device. You can hear recordings of sung prayers and special events (such as the evenings with John Philip Newell and Brother Emile) by clicking on the respective links.

Listen to complete services: Click on the word ‘Listen’ in the menu bar. On the page that opens, click anywhere in the sentence that says, ‘Click here to see a list of available sermons and services.’ A new window will open and a sign in box may appear. Click on the “x” to close the box and proceed to the recordings list. You do not need a dropbox account in order to listen. Choose the recording that you’re interested in. You can listen from within the web page or you can download the recording to your device.

Happy listening! Please leave comments to let us know if this is helpful or not.

Remembering

Loss is never easy. It sure helps to have a faith community who walks together through those fragile times, with prayers, shared tears, gentle listening, strong shoulders, and comforting hugs. We will miss Ann Campbell, are sad with Marion at the loss of her brother Bill, and with Susan as she grieves her father.