An Examen Prayer for the Long Pandemic Season

Act I: My Personal Life

Desolation

  • How has this pandemic, dating back to early 2020, changed my life for the worse? 
  • What have I lost? How have I suffered?
  • In what ways am I less hopeful, less grateful, less engaged in life?

Consolation

  • How has this pandemic, dating back to early 2020, changed my life for the better? 
  • What (if anything) have I gained? How have I grown?
  • In what ways am I more hopeful, more grateful, more engaged in life?
  • What new, creative possibilities are in front of me today?

Act II: My Public Life in This Big World

Desolation

  • How has our community or our country or our world changed for the worse? 
  • What collective injustices or sufferings have been exposed?
  • Where do many of us hurt?

Consolation

  • How (if at all) has our community or our country or our world changed for the better? 
  • What collective possibilities for justice and peace and wholeness are emerging?
  • Where do many of us hope?

Act III: My Church, My Life in a Community of Faith

Desolation

  • What (if anything) have I missed in my church involvement?
  • How have I been less connected to God or others? Are there ways this has made for less flourishing in my life?

Consolation

  • What has changed in my faith or my church during the pandemic that I hope will stay true?
  • What do I hope to learn or grow in my faith that my church community can help with? What do I hope to receive?
  • How do I hope to participate in my community of faith this fall? What do I hope to give?

*Desolation, in the examen tradition, refers to what has in any way drawn us away from God’s love and goodness, what has lessened our energy and well-being and connection. With the desolation, we are invited to pray for guidance, hope, forgiveness, or courage.
*Consolation refers to what has in any way drawn us toward God’s love and goodness, what has increased vitality and well-being and connection in us. With the consolation, we are invited to pray with gratitude.

What Does Loving Our Neighbor and Doing Justice Look Like? Sometimes it Looks a Lot Like Soccer.

Written by Pastor Lydia Shiu, Director of Social Justice and Action 

Soccer Nights, a free, week-long summer soccer camp, has been a legacy of Reservoir for over a decade. I first heard about it while interviewing for the pastoral job here at Reservoir about 3 years ago. I was on the phone in my parked car in San Francisco, dreaming about a whole new life on the other side of the country. At the end of our interview, Connie (a long-time member at Reservoir) asked me if there were any questions I had for her. I asked, “What’s the thing you’re most excited or proud of at Reservoir that’s going on right now?” She said, “Soccer Nights.”  

She told me about Reservoir’s neighbors on Rindge Ave. Just a few blocks down from our church stand 3 tall affordable housing buildings. Residents are mostly black and brown, immigrants, and of other faith traditions than Christian. Soccer Nights was for them. Each summer, over 300 kids from the neighborhood signed up to play soccer. And there was no mention of Jesus or the Bible. 

It wasn’t VBS. (No knock on Vacation Bible Schools – I’ve been a part of plenty.) But doing church and ministry in this post-evangelical, pluralistic world means doing things differently. What I mean is, the question of how a church is doing a “missional” or “outward facing program” has changed over time. It’s no longer about just getting a Bible in hands or telling kids about Jesus. Colonialism has left enough bitter taste that people leave the faith and church alltogether just by knowing the history of what the church has done in the name of “mission” that was actually about conquering and wiping out cultures and nations. With that history in mind, we have to ask ourselves as a church: how do we do church that’s not that any more, not anything near resembling colonialism and conquering?

That probably wasn’t the original intent of how Soccer Nights started. I heard some people loved soccer and wanted to share it with our neighbors. But for me, this model of being a church in the city is powerful and innovative. Because I know how churches have in the past served, volunteered, and provided programs only to bait and switch to “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior or you’re going to hell.” (Hey, maybe it’s just me, cause I have some baggage with church and Christianity…) I also knew what it meant to not do things like soccer growing up because it was too expensive. So hearing about Soccer Nights, a church program with no mention of Jesus and no registration fee, for me, was music to my ears, a new dawn of the Good News that I could only hope that I’d get to be a part of. 

This year, after a year of things being cancelled due to the pandemic, I got to be a part of Soccer Nights. And it was beautiful. The diversity. The playfulness. The joy. All of it. It was a light shining in the darkness of Covid this year. 

Russell Field was open with hundreds of kids running around. Kids of all colors and all ages playing. Soccer Nights has been around long enough that kids who grew up with Soccer Nights are now in high school, old enough to coach. They are called the Crew Team. Some Crew members even joined the leadership Core Team, helping to run the program. I chatted them up about their majors, the pressure of picking the right career paths, and going against that to take care of your mental health and enjoying the moment. Cause I knew a bit about the pressures of being a child of immigrants who just wanted the best for you at all costs. 

Jerry’s Pond Project 

About 9 months ago, an unexpected offshoot of Soccer Nights happened. I was connected with Reservoir member, Taylor Yates, a real estate professional, about the small pond next to Russell Field, right across the street with the affordable housing buildings on Rindge Ave. He told me that a biotech development company had bought the Jerry’s Pond area and that this could be an opportunity to bring the voice of the community to the development process.

I reached out to Soccer Nights Crew Core Team member, Anusha Alam, to ask if she might be interested in getting involved. She lives in the neighborhood and is a recipient of Reservoir’s scholarship turned Soccer Nights alumni. Together with Taylor, Anusha, and Sue Rosenkranz (who’s been involved with Soccer Nights over the years as well as Reservoir’s Faith Into Action team) we began working to bring community representation to the process. We showed up, partnered with other Cambridge organizations like Friends of Jerry’s Pond (FOJP), Just-A-Start (a nonprofit housing and service provider), and Alewife Study Group (ASG), and somehow got a seat at the table in a series of discussions of the multi-million dollar biotech lab development project. You can see Anusha quoted in articles like this one on WBUR regarding the work, and you’d never know that it came about through Soccer Nights. The myriad ways of relationships developed through Soccer Nights that played a role in this project alone can’t all be named in this blog post. 

IQHQ conceptual design draft for Rindge Ave. and Jerry’s Pond.

The development is still underway, so I can’t say too much about it yet publicly. Discussions of beautification for the once fenced-off pond with public access are being had as well as investment toward scholarships and career development, a community garden, and more. I can’t wait to tell you more about the exciting work towards environmental justice, equity, and representation that the Reservoir community has been stewarding and building. I am so proud of our work, our heart and love for the neighborhood. I just wanted to share the news in progress right now.

There’s plenty more work and potential opportunities. A parent at Soccer Nights was telling me about her son’s school and its broken systems. Working with Just-A-Start has opened my eyes to housing concerns and opportunities in Cambridge. And if the Jerry’s Pond project and work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization has taught me anything, it’s that the work of justice is sometimes tedious, sitting in many boring meetings. If you’d like to be involved, let me know and I’ll connect you with our Reservoir’s Faith Into Action network. 

Lastly, soccer is a great way to love our neighbor and do justice. Because sometimes, it’s not about being in the temples and meetings. Sometimes it’s just sitting in the bleachers, watching our kids play soccer together, that we build friendships and from friendships come the connection and the power to make a change together. 

Big thanks to everyone who showed up to Soccer Nights, volunteered, contributed financially to Reservoir to support this program, and a special thanks to Nick and Christy, the co-directors of Soccer Nights 2021. It was a highlight of my summer to be there.

Faith that Empowers Wholeness, Love, and Justice

I want to share a few thoughts on why I’m preaching through one of the oldest Christian creeds this summer. We’re trying to learn and live in and transmit a faith that empowers wholeness, love, and justice in people and communities, that promotes whole life flourishing. And let’s be real – contemporary Christianity has a pretty spotty track record on this front!

By the fourth century, Chrisitans had the Bible in more or less the same form we do today. They also had traditions, faith practices, songs, and programs to remember Jesus, learn to love God and neighbor, and pass the faith on to others. To help with all this, and to promote unity in the faith, leaders also wrote a series of short creeds meant to summarize core Christian beliefs. The Apostles Creed is one of them. And for many centuries, it has helped anchor faith, hope, and love for followers of Jesus. I’m preaching through this creed because it’s an opportunity to talk about some important beliefs and experiences at the heart of good news faith in a living, life-giving God known to us in Jesus Christ.

The creeds aren’t perfect, though. They skip over important things, like pretty much everything Jesus taught or did in his life between his birth and his death. And their language has had some gaps and oversights that have sometimes played into some of the worst problems in the Christian faith we’ve inherited in our times.

Personally, I think the two biggest problems we’ve inherited have to do with power and love.

Christians have passed on horrible ideas about power. As the Roman Empire was adopting Christianity as its official religion, the writers of the creeds and other church leaders increasingly portrayed God’s power on the terms of human emperors and tyrants. When Christians called Jesus Lord, or spoke of the Heavenly Father God as a King, they increasingly called to mind perfectionist, aloof, controlling, and violent images of God. This helps explain so much of what has disgusted modern people about the legacy of Christianity – its sponsorship of crusades and colonies, its complicity with white supremacy and patriarchy, and its fear-based teaching on sin, hell, and an angry God. 

These ideas about power have also magnified the worst resistance and crises of faith people have around their ideas and experience of God. So many people struggle with faith when they observe or experience suffering and evil and wonder why a good God with controlling, micro-managing, total power isn’t stopping it. Reframing and relearning that God’s power is not controlling or micro-managing, but instead consistent with the loving, relational nature of God is a first and powerful step in overcoming the barriers to faith the problem and experience of evil presents. So I’m teaching the creeds with a different understanding of God’s power in mind, a power that is consistent with what we know through science and experience of how the world works, and a power that is consistent with a God who is love. 

Christians have also so often really failed to follow Jesus, in centering and practicing love. Jesus famously boiled down all of scripture and faith to matters of love. He taught God’s call to a relationship with Love: that we learn to love God with our whole being. And he taught God’s call to us to love our neighbors (and our enemies) as ourselves. If the problem of evil is the biggest reason people struggle with faith, the cruelty and hypocrisy of Christians might be the biggest reason people avoid things to do with Christianity in the first place. 

To practice and transmit a faith that empowers wholeness, love, and justice, we need to recenter love. We need to recenter love in our worship and our thinking about God. We need to recenter love in our sense of God’s hopes and direction for us and our world. And we need to recenter love in our ethics, our communities, our relationships, and the whole of our public lives. 

Reteaching the Apostle’s Creed this summer is one opportunity I have to encourage a life-giving, liberating faith worthy of a living, loving God and helpful for our lives today. Reservoir offers these attempts at innovative faith rooted in an ancient tradition in the spirit of our God who is always doing a new thing, making a way in the wilderness and making rivers in deserts, and in response to Jesus, who tells us,

“I am making everything new!” (Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5)

So far, we’ve talked about the nature of belief, the nature of God, the friendship and leadership of Jesus, what makes Jesus special, and the impact of Jesus’ suffering and death for our healing. This Sunday, I’ll speak about what Jesus has been up to since he died, and on August 8, 15, and 29, I’ll speak about the rest of what the creed has to say about Christian community and experience.

All things new….

And we’re talking about how people have reinterpreted these words in light of what God is doing among us today. Because this is how religion in general, and faith in Jesus, in particular works. It remains rooted in its original historical events and sources, while it also evolves as people and culture do, with the Spirit of God accompanying us in an ever-changing world. 

Steve

Community Life After a Year of Pandemic

As I’ve been talking with some of you this past week, I’m thinking about how differently we have experienced this past year’s pandemic and how differently we’re experiencing this spring’s reopening. Of the hundreds in the Reservoir Church community, some of us suffered significant losses this past year. Others of us were not impacted much at all. And now, as summer approaches, some of us are back out and about living our more or less ordinary lives, while others of us still live under significant precautions and limitations – chosen by ourselves or required by others. 

All of us, though, have watched daily tallies of sickness and death from our news media for over 14 months. For those same 14+ months, we have not met together for worship in our sanctuary. Most of our kids and most of us who work have had our routines dramatically upended. Many of us have lived with heightened levels of fear. 

And now, we are being given permission, freedom, invitation to get vaccinated – if we haven’t yet – and to live in person, out and about, robustly connected lives again. Obviously, this is great news. I’m so very happy and thankful about all this! 

But it’s complicated too. For years, trust in government and media and most public institutions has been declining. All aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have also been heavily politicized. Some of us wonder if we can trust the guidance we’re being given. Many of us have a lot of international connections, and we are aware of how badly COVID is still raging in other places. We wonder what to make of that. Most of our kids, and all our kids under 12, have not been vaccinated, and we wonder what that means for them. Others of us have various reasons beyond what I’m mentioning that we are still very cautious and concerned. 

What does this mean for a diverse church community of several hundreds as we prepare for return to in-person community life?

There are at least two things that it means. 

  1. We will continue to have online options for community groups, Sunday worship and teaching, as well as kids and youth programming for the foreseeable future for people who aren’t ready for in-person community, live further away, or have fallen in love with pajama life. 
  2. We have an opportunity to practice good news community, love for one another. Many of the last parts of the Bible are letters to small, first century churches and church networks. Like us, these communities were diverse by every measure of their times, and like us, these communities were living through complex and hard times. Amidst their troubles and differences, their founders and pastors told them things like this:

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

This is referring to Jesus’ command to his followers that they love one another as Christ has loved us, seeking one another’s good, and sometimes even laying down our lives for our friends. 

And this:

Romans 14: 13, 15:7 “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”

And “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.”

This whole conclusion to the letter to the Romans is a call to non-judgemental acceptance and hospitality. When it comes to the Jesus way to do faith community, it’s more important to do things that remove barriers to people’s welcome and safe participation than to have things go our own way. 

Our reentry, and our different feelings about mask wearing and many other things, give us the opportunity to choose not to insist our own own way but to welcome ways of being in community this summer that support and welcome one another, and that particularly extend love and grace and care to those of us who are most cautious, concerned, or vulnerable.

We’ll get into the details of what our summer in-person services will look like at the members meeting on June 13th, 11:00 a.m. – immediately following that Sunday’s online service. But please prepare yourself for a moment by thanking God for accepting you – all of you, just as you are – in Christ. And commit yourself to extending hospitality and understanding to those of you who are going about life differently than you this summer, and specifically for a season in our church community where we joyfully welcome our different temperaments and levels of precaution without judgment but with love and grace. 

Peace,

Steve

Reservoir Church Vaccine Site on Pause While Awaiting Further FDA/CDC Information

This week hundreds of Cambridge residents were vaccinated against COVID-19 right inside our church sanctuary. Thanks to a partnership between the Cambridge Fire Department, the Cambridge Health Alliance, City of Cambridge leadership, the Benjamin Banneker School, and our church, we were able to make this happen on very short notice.

This site was mobilized to reach residents in North Cambridge in particular, especially working class residents with less ability and means to travel elsewhere. Big thanks to Executive Pastor Trecia Reavis and Board member and physician Dr. Peter Choo for their time and expertise in supporting this initiative for the health of our city as well!  

This past Monday morning, after successful rollouts over the weekend, we received notice from FDA/CDC of an immediate freeze on administration of the J&J vaccine.  See below or click on the PDF below for more information.  Please join us in prayer for all the health workers who’ve worked so hard putting this distribution opportunity together and for our North Cambridge residents to be served well and quickly through other means, while we await further updates.


Reservoir Church Vaccine Clinic on Pause Until Further Notice
April 13, 2021


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other Federal health agencies are recommending an immediate pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following reports of six people who developed a very rare type of blood clot within two weeks of receiving the vaccine.


The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has notified all Massachusetts providers and local boards of health to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, effective immediately.


Cambridge Vaccine Clinic at Reservoir Church at 170 Rindge Avenue on Pause
Following the state and federal recommendation, the City is pausing operation of the vaccine clinic scheduled for this week (April 12-18) at Reservoir Church in North Cambridge, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was to be administered.


We will keep Cambridge residents apprised of any new developments as more information becomes available from state and Federal health officials.


For those individuals who have already received the one dose J & J vaccine: These have been very rare events. 7 million people have already safely received the J & J vaccine. You can expect the usual sore arm and achiness that follows a vaccine; please call your health care provider for any serious symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain.


Moderna and Pfizer/BIONTech Vaccines Remain Safe for Administration. This announcement by the CDC and the FDA, along with the Commonwealth, does not impact administration of the Moderna or Pfizer/BIONTech vaccine. Anyone who is scheduled to receive either of these vaccines should move forward as planned. Mass vaccination sites do not administer the one dose J & J vaccine.


For more information on this announcement, please visit the CDC’s website:
https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0413-JJ-vaccine.html.
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Good Friday Reflections

Followers of Jesus across the globe come together on the Friday before Easter to pay special attention to what happened to Jesus on the cross. Reservoir invites you to share in this holy time and the events surrounding it which are at the very center of our faith. 

The Good Friday Reflection and Liturgy below will guide you through this special time of reflection, meditation and prayer.

Good Friday Reflection

Good Friday Liturgy

Hate Crimes and Violence Against Asian Americans and the Beloved Community

Reports tell us that last night in Georgia, a troubled, violent, young white man killed eight people: six of them Asian American, and seven of them women. This violence follows a dramatic rise in hate crimes and attacks against Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, including Asian American elders. And this has taken place within a year in which hate crimes against AAPI, and especially Asian American women have risen sharply. 

This violence is an assault against the victims, an assault against all members of the Asian American community, and an assault against the image of God in all people. Violence against Asian Americans, and the old American proactive of othering, stigmatizing, and targeting Asian Americans and others is an offense against Jesus’ vision for humanity and our shared dignity as God’s beloved. As I preached last Sunday, there are so many ways to hate God. 

Reservoir Church has a vision of seeing into being God’s Beloved Community among us and throughout the earth. We continue committing ourselves to becoming a deeply anti-racist church. And our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team and Asian American members and leaders will likely have more to say and share in the weeks to come.

On this day, though, we grieve with the families and communities of all those who have suffered and still suffer race-based and gender-based violence. We call for ongoing repentance from any forms of stigmatizing, othering, or assaulting the bodies or worth of any group of God’s beloved children. And we offer you the voices of two of your pastors – mine and now Lydia Shiu’s as well – in love and solidarity.

Peace,

Steve

FriendsI’m on a continued journey of realizing my racial ethnic identity and some days I don’t know how I feel. I’m sharing with you, for now, how I am feeling today. I may have more words later, maybe even requests or call to action. Right now, this is what’s on my heart…

I’m so used to, maybe because of my culture or maybe because of external expectations, enduring pain and suffering silently. Who am I to complain? What about all those who have suffered more? But for now, I am sad. It hits home. It feels close. Learning that the victims of the shooting in Atlanta yesterday were Korean American made me wince. The pain, loss, hatred feels like it’s coming closer and closer to me. Though the reality is, it has always been there. The otherness of me. 

I can’t help the anger and grief towards the fact that rhetoric from our past president and other leadership who use words like “China virus” probably contributed to horrific acts like this. Asian Americans make up about 5% of the American population. But made up of people, mothers and sons, beloveds and communities. God, do you care about the minority? Do you hear the small voices crying out? In other words, do we care? Do we hear them?  

Lydia

#StopAsianHate

Our Vision for Beloved Community

When Jesus taught his students to pray, one of the phrases he encouraged was to pray to God: your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus taught about God’s ways being done on earth, he usually called it the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ Kingdom of God teaching, we get pictures of dynamic and radical faith, hope, and love expressed in private and public life. Cuban-American theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz encouraged the word kindom instead of kingdom for our era, since God’s will on earth looks more like a healthy extended family than a patriarchal power system. But maybe the clearest and most compelling language for this vision came from the American Civil Rights leaders of the 50s and 60s, Dr. King included. They called it Beloved Community.

Beloved Community is about inclusiveness and belonging, socially, economically, and spiritually. It is a vision of community that can be as small as a household or as large as the whole earth. Regardless of size, it’s community of opportunity, justice, and the giving and receiving of love. Participation in communities of love, respect, and belonging buoys our spirits and helps us love and be loved well. And it helps us live freer, healthier, happier lives in all aspects of our being.

Reservoir’s vision for 2020-2025 is to continue to become the Beloved Community that we are called to be. Last fall, through scripture and story and public art, in our Sunday services and community groups and our “Do-It-Yourself” retreat, we began to examine this theme. We think there is still so much for us to learn and practice and grow into together. 

We are delighted to share this vision as a community and look forward to continuing to live and tell stories of Beloved Community in and around Reservoir not just this year, but for several years to come. 

Reservoir will continue to become the Beloved Community we are called to be, one that is: 

  1. Diverse and anti-racist.
  2. Welcoming, and a place of profound belonging. 
  3. Radically generous.
  4. Empowering wholeness, love, and justice in people and communities, promoting whole life flourishing.
  5. Innovating as a church in a post-Christian world, so that our ministry is less dependent on any one gathering but includes many life-giving new ways to experience and be church.

We’ll keep sharing stories of God’s inspiration for this vision and of places and people where we see it happening. Please share the stories you live and see and long to see as well. 

This week in our Lenten focus on What is Most Important, we read Micah’s vision of Beloved Community. Micah tells us that God’s Spirit is moving to empower us to walk with God; to live in peace and wholeness with one another; to gather in joyful, inclusive communities of profound belonging; to see victims become survivors; to ensure the safety and security of all people in their own skin and homes and communities; to transform all our ways into violence into those of peace. There are so many ways for us to welcome this move of the Spirit, so many ways to love and grow and become. 

May it be, beloved friends. May it be. 

Steve

Behind the Scenes with the Minor Prophets – Lent 2021

A Grounding Center, A Daily Practice

I’m convinced that all people need a daily practice that provides time and space for reflection on our lives, the cultivation of character and peace, and grounding in our deepest values and relationships. There are many forms of such daily practice taught both inside and outside of world religions, paths both ancient and modern as well. And the Bible is not the only text that can help us in the grounding. I have personally found my daily practice in the tradition and faith of Jesus. And Lent is our church’s most focused annual opportunity to cultivate such a practice. The minor prophets have some material that is hard to read, but each week there are ideas and phrases that have carried enormous power across the centuries – power to shape lives and movements and cultures for good. There are lines in the guide this year that have reshaped history. There are a couple of lines in this year’s guide that anchor my own life purpose. This Lent, I invite you into this daily practice together with your church community to see what will ground and grow you there, to center yourself in what is most important each day.

Learning to Read the Bible, Even with its Texts of Terror

To ground in any ancient tradition, we will come across material that is accessible and inspirational, alongside that which seems outdated and offensive. The Bible is no different. There are a few texts so troubling and violent that feminst scholar Phyllis Trible has called them “texts of terror.” The minor prophets contain none of these texts of terror, but they have material that is troubling. To be faithful to God, we cannot reach such texts as the ancients did. We are invited to read them afresh, with the help of the loving Spirit of God, who makes all things new. The text I preached this past Sunday from Hosea isn’t one of these texts of terror, but it’s not far afield. In it, a woman simply labelled as a prostitute is used as a metaphor for a wayward nation, and God is said to threaten the ones God loves with punishment. Suzanne Watson, Ryan Daniel Dobson, and the team behind the 2019 film Hosea reimagine this text through Gomer’s perspective, asking provocative questions about what love feels and looks like, even when life knocks us far afield from love. Love involves the relentless pursuit of the good of the beloved, and love involves the willingness to feel and experience another’s pain. 

As a pastor, I want you to have freedom to read the Bible with your mind and heart alive. I want you to recognize when you understand and love what it says. And I want you to be free to argue and push back with the text and with God when it troubles you. The Bible, on the whole, is a faithful witness to the living, loving, life-giving God. But some parts need more interpreting and repurposing than other parts. 

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

By reading even some of the harder texts of the Bible, we’re trying to learn with the Spirit of God to purify our tradition, so to speak, so that all that is left in it is love. The prophets themselves criticize major themes of the religious tradition they inherit. They say that God loves mercy, not sacrifice, even within a Bible that has other texts that commend sacrifice. So the prophets invite us to continue to critique our religious tradition. 

I do this by disbelieving what the prophets themselves say about God’s desire to punish disobedient children. Along with I John, chapter four, I believe, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” I believe that God judges and God disciplines, but I do not believe God punishes. The talk of punishment in the prophets is partly ancient religious culture, partly a metaphor for the natural consequences of unjust living, and partly a personification of the very real anger of God. But it isn’t a literal description of God’s character or ways in the world. You do not need to fear that God wants to punish you when you screw up. God loves you, and God seeks to drive out fear in your life, inspiring you to higher levels of faith, hope, love, and dignity. 

The Emotional Life of God

What the intensity of the prophets’ talk about God does is show us that God is not impassive as the Greek philosophers believed a god must be. God is so invested in this world that God feels what we feel and is emotionally responsive to what happens in God’s creation. The scriptures consistently teach this about God, and the emotional life of Jesus enfleshes it as well. God is not a distant and mysterious force. And God is not an aloof monarch. God is much more like a loving parent. Loving parents feel protective and disappointed anger. Loving parents face heartbreak when their kids go astray. And loving parents pay attention, nurture, sing over, and remain devoted to their children. As is God to you and me and all God’s children.

I hope that the rest of our six weeks with the prophets keeps helping you grow a daily practice, engage the hard parts of our faith tradition, learn that you needn’t fear a dark side of God, and know that God is emotionally engaged and responsive to us all still. 

Steve

Our Lent Begins This Sunday

Hi, Friends:

I’m so excited to start Lent with all of you this Sunday. Below I’m reposting my “three ways to get ready” from last week. Before you read that and mark your calendar, here are three other things I want you to know.

I was blessed to be able to get my first dose of COVID vaccine this weekend. I was bringing my elderly mother-in-law for her first shot, at a clinic where my mother works part-time. Because I am an immediate family member of an employee there, they allowed me to be vaccinated as well. Though my shoulder was sore for two days, I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in our public health fight to protect us all and restore a more normal public life again. While all vaccines are personal medical decisions, of course, I do encourage you to go ahead and get vaccinated whenever you are able and it is your turn, as our collective, timely participation in the vaccine campaign will help us all!

One of our church partners, Asha, has done the most extraordinary public health work throughout the pandemic. Drs. Jean and John Peteet, who have both been to India with me to consult for and partner with Asha, are co-authors on a great paper highlighting what Asha has been doing over the past year. I encourage you to give it a look. As one part of our Beloved Community commitment to radical generosity, Reservoir gives 10% of our church tithes and offerings to partner ministry and organizations. Asha is one of our five leading partnerships, so everytime you give to Reservoir, you give a little bit to Asha as well. 

Yesterday, we told Reservoir parents, caregivers, and children’s and youth teams that our pastor Kim Messenger who oversees our whole kids and youth ministry, will resign from her position at the end of December. Kim has done fabulous work for us over the past decade for which we are so grateful. She has decided, though, to move toward a lifestyle of less public church ministry and fewer weekend leadership commitments. Yesterday, I shared with our parents and kids teams more extensively about my appreciation for Kim, and our process for ensuring we preserve and grow our kids and youth ministry in the months and years to come. As more details come together, I’ll share them with you all in this space as well. Meanwhile, please pray for Kim, our kids and parents, and Reservoir leadership as we appreciate Kim’s years of service and navigate this transition.

And lastly, a reminder of three ways to prepare this week for Lent!

  1. Put three dates in your calendar please! 
  • Plan on being at our online church service on Zoom on Sunday, February 14th, at 10:00 a.m. During the sermon I’ll introduce the season, which continues each Sunday until Easter. As usual, we upload our service to YouTube and our website after they are over, if another time or platform is preferable for you.
  • Also this weekend starting Friday, plan on when you’ll pick up your “Lent in a bag” from us. It will have a paper copy of the season’s Bible guide and several objects which will be part of the spiritual practices we invite you to throughout the season. You can also pick up a bag for a friend or ask someone to pick one up for you. And if you need us to drop one off or mail one to you, please fill out this form.
  • If you are able, join us for a very short online Ash Wednesday service, on Zoom on Wednesday, February 17th at 7:00 p.m.
  1. Let us know if you’re grieving the loss of a friend or a loved one who has passed away, whether their death was this year or sometime last year. At our Ash Wednesday service 2/17, we will remember in prayer people we love who have died in recent months. When a pastor places ashes on our head at the start of Lent (or this year, when we place them on our own heads), we are remembering our weakness and mortality – that we sin and that we die. And we are asking God for forgiveness for our sin, and also for courage to follow Jesus with hope in these short lives of ours. We find it fitting this year to also remember our grief on this occasion. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one this year, send their name and date of death to Kim Messenger – kim@reservoirchurch.org.
  2. Begin to consider what is most important to you this year, as well as any ways you may have forgotten who you are. We’ll be guided  in this theme during Lent by some of the Bible’s prophets, who speak of issues very relevant in our lives and society. Three quotations from Jerome Berryman, founder of Godly Play, have guided me in recent months as I’ve been preparing for this season:

  “Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important.”  We hope this Lent to lean toward God and to discover or rediscover what is most important. 

“Prophets are people who know the most important things. They know which way to go. They are the ones who show us the way.” Our church doesn’t try to define what should be most important for all of us; we don’t tell you exactly which way to go. But we believe that as we lean toward God in prayer and listen to the prophets, the Spirit of God will be our teacher and guide and show us each some of what is most important as well as show us the way forward. 

“Sometimes people forget who they are. They hide from God and pretend God isn’t there.” 
 

Peace,

Steve