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.

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.

Post-election thoughts from your Pastor

God’s grace and peace be with you all.

I am writing to you in light of last night’s election and the results. I will tell you that I feel a little like I have been punched in the gut this morning. I am saddened and dismayed because the words I heard from the campaign sounded so angry and fearful and exclusive. I have heard this echoed in the reactions that I have been hearing around the church today and that I heard from Monroe Middle School this morning. Some congregation members were stunned and a little scared. Children and teachers at the school were in tears and were afraid of what could happen to them or their friends. I could say plenty more about this, but I am more concerned about how many of you are doing as you process. This letter comes to you in my care for you and our country and our church as we move forward. Here are a couple things to ponder.

First, however you received the results I encourage you to think of those around you. If you are celebrating, celebrate well and respectfully. I am aware that a large majority that voted for Mr. Trump were voting because they were hurting, have been hurting, and wanted a change from what has been. If you are hurting from either these past years or from the results of the election I encourage you to honor that grief and give yourself time to heal. You don’t have to rush. Notice what specifically that grief and hurt is about, and find ways to take care of yourself. Also allow community to hold you as you heal. Second, I am very clear that many of the words used about women, minorities, handicapped, and immigrant people are frightening to me and many. Please don’t think that is the voice of Christianity. A large part of our calling as Christians is to care for the “other”, and that is more important now than ever. I will be doing my best to watch for opportunities to speak for and care for those who may find themselves in difficult situations. I will pray for and act for justice, and I hope many will join me in this. Third, I encourage us all to keep our eyes and hearts and minds firmly focused on God as our Source and our Strength and our Inspiration. God is all inclusive. God is all loving. God is who, at our core, gives us vision and courage for each day and helps us to see the world for what it truly is. Our discernment then is to decipher what is of the world and what is of God’s reign and work to bring the Reign of God to bear in each moment of our lives- sometimes over and against the rule of this world. Stay connected to our Source in prayer, meditation, service, community, and love.

Finally, I am hopeful that this Presidency will be different from the campaign. I will be praying forcefully that the rhetoric was simply to get elected and that this term will be more inclusive and just. I was impressed by the grace with which both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton addressed the nation last night and today, and we can, hopefully, all learn from that grace. As we move into this next Presidency may we know the God whose love holds us all (and I do mean ALL) and may we find ways to bind the wounds of this divisive campaign. Know that you and President-Elect Trump will be in my prayers. God bless us all. I remain
In communion,
Erik

Orlando

My Dear Westhope Community,

         God’s deep peace and strength be known by you in this time.  Over the last couple of days I have been searching for words to say to you with regards to the violent attack on the people in the nightclub in Orlando. I am not sure I have the best words but I feel like I want to say something.  First let me encourage all of us to pray for the family and friends of those involved in the violence.  Second let me encourage us to continue to work for peace and work to actively engage God’s vision of how to see the world and the people in it.  Violence is never an answer and is not God’s way.  Neither is hate or bigotry or sexism…all of which we see play out in these occasions of violence and all of which I hope that we can continue to condemn whenever and wherever we notice them.  Jesus consistently spoke of love and care of ‘the other’ as example of what it meant to follow him and participate in the kingdom of God.  The Good Samaritan, Love your neighbor as yourself and so many others remind us that we are to strive for caring and loving even in the face of violence.  May we continue to strive to be a light in this world and this valley where the Holy is known and where healing happens and where we stand for something different and More than what the culture around us does.  Deep blessings to you as we wrestle in our own ways with this latest incident of violence in our country and world.  I remain
      With you in communion,  Erik
If you want to know what the Presbyterian Church is doing to help you can look at this link.

Statement for Peace from the Saratoga Ministerial Association

We join together in this statement to encourage people in moderation of speech and listening, to be wary of hate speech in public discourse, and to encourage unity during this election season.

The Saratoga Ministerial Association is a community of leaders from the houses of faith in Saratoga including Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and Muslim, Latter Day Saints and Episcopal, as well as Council members from the City of Saratoga. We are men and women who support one another in our efforts to heal, care for, inspire goodness, and remove barriers that exist within the fabric of our neighborhoods. In this particular moment in our national conversation we are very aware of the power of the words being used to erode the unity that we seek in our community. This rhetoric is leading many to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege, and we reject the notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. The language is causing Americans to turn against their neighbors, particularly those who many appear different from themselves. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and seek the common good. We reject as well the uplifting of anger and violence as a mode of being and dealing with one another in this nation and in this world. From the holy men and women through our sacred histories we have learned tolerance, we have seen a higher standard of how to both care for people as well as stand up firmly, but peacefully, to those in power who seem to take advantage of that power. A society should not be judged by how it rewards its most privileged but how it cares for its most vulnerable. We urge all citizens to stand for peace, patience, and tolerance with one another (even those with whom we disagree), for civil public discourse, and wise discernment when enacting the privilege of voting in the midst of all the arguments and words.

We worry for the community that we are working hard to care for and live within. We also worry for the safety of all our children as they are very aware of the ramifications of the rhetoric that filters down to them in the form of threats and fear. Over and over again in our scriptures we hear “do not be afraid”. We are far too often hearing words of hate and thinly veiled racism, classism, and sexism that are indeed disturbing and causing great fear in many people of this nation. Thus we call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail, and we will not betray our truest selves.

Our hope is that we might find a common humanity, the strength of our unity, and our best selves that we might welcome the stranger and find the Holy in all of our encounters. May we know God’s blessing for all of humanity.

Rev. Erik Swanson, Westhope Presbyterian

Rev. Derek Engfelt, Immanuel Lutheran

Fr. Gary Thomas, Sacred Heart Catholic

Rev. Arvin Engelson, Saratoga Federated

Rev. Sara Pearson, Prince of Peace Lutheran

Rev. Nathan Winterhof, Prince of Peace Lutheran

Rev. Channing Smith, St. Andrews Episcopal

Manny Cappello, Mayor of Saratoga

Rabbi Philip Ohriner, Congregation Beth David

Dr. Imtiaz Qureshi, West Valley Muslim Association

Fr. Robert McKay, Sacred Heart Catholic