See You Soon!

Friends,
It’s already August and summer is winding down!  On Sunday, September 11 at 10 AM we will be back in church worshipping and fellowshipping together. I’m very grateful to all of our folks who kept the campus in shape and attended to regular chores through the summer.  I’ve also enjoyed hearing about and seeing photos of your various summer vacations.    

As we prepare to meet in-person again, think about whom you might invite to church.  Are there friends, colleagues, family members, and neighbors?  We all have such good friendships with one another, and there are so many other people in the community who could benefit and grow in an inclusive, caring fellowship like ours.  Worshipping on a screen is one thing, but real, live friendships are what so many people today need with all the disconnection in our world.  As one of my seminary professors used to say, “Let’s get the people into the ark, where we can guard each other’s backs!”

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and I will see you soon!
Peace,
Co-Pastor Sandi

Always do your Best

Friends,

This spring some women in the church met to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  It’s good to share what we learned because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In previous newsletters I shared with you the first three agreements:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD, DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY, and DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.  The fourth and last agreement is ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST.  Ruiz shares this story in his book:  “There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering, so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him.  He went to the Master and asked, ‘Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take for me to transcend?’  The Master looked at him and replied, ‘If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.’  Thinking he could do better, the man then said, ‘Oh, Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?’  The Master looked at him and said, ‘If you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.’  ‘But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?’ the man asked.  The Master replied, ‘You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life.  You are here to live, to be happy, and to love.  If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life.  Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy.’”

This sounds to me like a quality over quantity issue.  More, it seems, isn’t always better!  What is most important is our attitude toward whatever we are doing in the moment.  Attitude, the direction of our thoughts, seems to be key.  In Colossians 3:23-24 the Apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.”   Imagine if this were our first thought every morning:  How can I best serve the Lord Christ today?  Let us always do our best for the glory of God, no matter what the circumstance and give each moment in life the best we can offer, and we will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.  

Peace, 

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Don’t Make Assumptions

Friends,

Some of the women in our church met over the past several months to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  It’s good to share what we learned because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In previous newsletters I shared with you the first two agreements:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD and DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.  

The third agreement is DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.  I saw a video clip on FB the other day with what appeared to be a pit bull dog dragging a helpless cat around, teeth seemingly clamped around the cat’s head.  It was quite upsetting, actually, because I am a cat lover.  For me, the clip seemed to be reinforcing all the stereotypes about the pit bull dog breed—that they are violent, destructive, ill-tempered, killing-machine kind of dogs.  Well, that wasn’t exactly what the video turned out to be.  The words THINGS AREN’T AWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM flashed across the screen.  Then, the camera panned in for a close-up.  Instead, what was happening was the cat had clamped its teeth down on the poor dog’s jowl and would not release the poor dog from its bite.  Viewers were first led to assume that the dog was hurting the cat; the opposite was actually true. 

One thing we know about Christian living is that we are called again and again not to judge—and making assumptions is a judgement issue.   We do it all the time though: A man parking in a handicap spot looks perfectly fine to us, though his jeans may be hiding a prosthetic leg.  We see a well-manicured woman paying for groceries with the modern equivalent of food stamps, but we don’t see behind the scenes: in reality she does her own manicures.  Making assumptions about others reveals that which is in our own hearts and says quite a bit about state of our own spiritual health.  Jesus in Luke 6:37 says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  That sounds like a really good deal to me!  

Blessings,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Friends,

Some of the women in our church are meeting over several months to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  We meet next at 10 AM on Thursday, April 14.  It’s good to share what we are learning because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In the last newsletter I shared with you the first agreement:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD.  

The second of the four agreements is DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.  The insight mined from this agreement is nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.  Just like the famed lyrics go in the movie Frozen, we too can let it go.

I’m glad I had that agreement on the tip of my tongue the other day.  I was checking out at Albertsons and the young cashier sighed and told me she was coming to the end of a tough shift.  I asked her why it was so tough.  She said people checking out were blaming her for the store’s lack of inventory, and she was receiving a lot of negativity.  I told her not to take it personally; it wasn’t her fault.  All the people who come through her line have backstories; we have no idea what they are dealing with either.  Then I distracted her by asking what she had planned for after work.  Her face then lit up and she told me about her dogs and boyfriend.  

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and as such begins Holy Week.  May next week be deeply meaningful for you followed by a joyous Easter!  

Peace, 

Co-Pastor Sandi 

The First Agreement

Friends,

Some women in the church met on the morning of February 24 to unpack the beginning of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  Through this Lenten season, I want to share with the whole congregation what we are learning together—a brief synopsis of each agreement, because all of us, women and men alike, can benefit from such teaching.  Although the author draws upon Toltec wisdom, the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.

 
The first agreement is BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD.  Impeccable means without sin.  The exhortation aims to get us to speak with integrity and say only what we mean.  Pastor Dick reminded us in church this past Sunday of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37—to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ’No be ‘No’.”  Jesus well knew the way we are often so apt use words that give us loopholes and wiggle room—phrases like “I’ll try”  vs. “Yes I will.”  The first agreement also cautions against negative self talk or gossiping about others.  Instead, we can use the power of our words in the direction of truth and love.  Let’s not forget what power words have:  They can set nations to war and they can heal.  If fact, in Genesis 1, God spoke the heavens and the earth into being.  So, we are reminded what creative power our words can have and what good we can do with them.


In the coming months, I will share the essence of next three agreements with you.  In the meantime, let us pray daily for Ukraine and give where we can.  I recommend giving through our denomination here at https://app.mobilecause.com/form/8w38_Q?vid=qggfi, but you can also find other worthy agencies here at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ways-to-help-ukraine-conflict/ .

 
Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

The Blessings of Church Participation

Friends,

Welcome to the Valley’s most stunning time of year!  The skies are clear and the days are warmed by the sun.  Pretty soon we will smell the glorious scent of citrus blossoms everywhere!  I think we all feel uplifted, not just by the weather, but also by our wonderful Boy Scout Sunday last week, when the fine young men of Troop 649 joined us and assisted in worship.  And for a double blessing, we were treated to the ethereal music of flutist Jenna Daum and our own Larry Loeber!  I think of all the unchurched people out there who don’t know the richness of worship and the way a good hour of contemplating the things of God reorients life’s priorities and charges us up for Christian living.

Another opportunity for the women of the church to extend the blessings of church participation is to join in the monthly discussion group we are hosting for February, March, and April.  Our first meeting will be February 24 at 10 AM.  We will gather at the church and strive to meet outside (for optimum safety).  We will discuss the little book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and break it up in stages for discussion.  Rev. Dr. Suzie Chamness has graciously agreed to be our discussion leader.  Be prepared to discuss the first agreement for our Feb. 24 session, and we will decide together on our next dates in March and April as well as how to divide up the material for those discussions.  We will have approximately ten copies available in the narthex by Sunday (for which you can reimburse the church office the $8).  If you prefer Kindle, you can go on line and purchase your own.  If the men of the church are feeling left out, I highly encourage you to start a group too; we will make it happen! 

Grace and Peace,

Sandi

Belfast

Friends,

Clint and I ventured out for our first movie together since the pandemic began.  Last Friday we saw Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s 1969 historical drama loosely based on his own childhood.  The movie’s powerful riot sequence hits hard and brings to life the historical tensions between Protestant and Catholic gangs in a working-class neighborhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The young family upon which the movie centers has to decide whether to stay in their birth community (among beloved friends and extended family) or flee for safer shores, which is an all-too-human decision people have had to make amidst violence, across the world, and from time immemorial.   Often there is tremendous suffering in decision making when weighing potential losses with potential gains.  I won’t spoil the movie for you by telling you the family’s decision, but I do encourage you to see it.  I feel such gratitude that my life has never been marked by an environment of such violence.  Movies like Belfast make me increasingly sympathetic to all manner of refugees who just want a safer life for their children.

 
One line from the movie I do want to share with you is what the Protestant father says to his young son regarding his son’s schoolboy crush on a Catholic girl:  “That wee girl can be a practicing Hindu, or a Southern Baptist, or a vegetarian antichrist, but if she’s kind, and she’s fair, and you two respect each other, she and her people are welcome in our house any day of the week.”  Imagine what a different world it would be if we all felt that way and could communicate and embody those sentiments!  I hope you mask up and go see it!

Happy New Year,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Christmas Eve 2021

Friends,

What a year!  After another year of the pandemic and many on-going uncertainties, I am pleased to announce that this Christmas Eve we will indeed be worshipping in person!  Of course the same precautions will be in place as on Sunday mornings—masks and social distancing.  

Our service will begin at 5:30 PM and feature the music of our church pianist Larry Loeber, guest harpist Stephen Hartman, and soloist, Miranda Loeber.  You will hear all the beloved scriptures pointing to and proclaiming Jesus’ birth, a timely message; and we will sing carols, light candles, and go out into the night, per our tradition, singing Silent Night!

 
Everyone, as always, is welcome at CCOV UCC.  Know that your pastors and council do understand that you must make your own informed decisions regarding attendance and associated risk, just as you do when flying, going to restaurants, attending venues for concerts and plays, shopping, and so on.   We pray for your health and for travel mercies in this busy season and (still) unusual time.  Whether in church or at home, may this season of celebrating a baby’s birth from Spirit into man be both meaningful and beautiful.

Merry Christmas!

Co-Pastor Sandi 

Thanksgiving Grace

Friends,

Thanksgiving and the holidays are soon upon us!  Through the years, Clint and I have gathered around the Thanksgiving table with people from all walks of life—Christian, Jewish, and those of no particular or declared faith.  People tend to look to me to offer the blessing, as I am the so-called “religious” one in their midst, and I have usually begun by going around the table asking what folks are thankful for.  As a church person, maybe folks also look to you too to offer grace or lead words of gratitude before the big meal.  I’ve included a few words for the celebration of Thanksgiving that you may want to use.  

The first is Psalm 100, which is a psalm of thanksgiving.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

The second is from Rabbi Naomi Levy.

For the laughter of the children, for my own life breath, for the abundance of food on this table, for the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast, for the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, for our heath, and our wealth of blessings, for this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends, for the freedom to pray these words without fear, in any language, in any faith, in this great country, whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.  Thank you, God, for giving us all these.  Amen.

The third is our simple doxology, which is lovely to sing together at the table.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow: Praise Him, all creatures here below:  Praise Him above, ye heavenly host: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Co-Pastor Sandi

Reformation Sunday 2021

I Corinthians 3:4-7: For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Friends,

Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021 is Reformation Sunday, the day that commemorates the great reformers of the Christian church.  We commemorate it because Martin Luther and others saw the church becoming a destructive place and wanted it to correct its abuses from within—abuses originating in the Roman leadership.  Luther wanted the church to get back to the heart of the gospel and look to scripture alone for the rule of practice.  Earthly leaders in the church were espousing false doctrines and instituting practices including the sale of indulgences—in other words, paying money to absolve oneself of sin or spring the soul of a loved one who was suffering in purgatory.  Luther and others saw the church and its practices getting woefully sidetracked and he called the Roman leadership on the carpet by hanging his 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  This act is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Now great as Martin Luther and other reformers were, they were very human.  Luther never wanted schism—he never wanted the following of Lutherans, wonderful as they are.  He wanted to keep the Roman church intact and correct what he perceived were its wrongs.  But people are always so inclined to follow and align themselves behind earthly leaders.  Not much changes through the centuries—it’s always the same thing over and over again, even all the way back to the church in Corinth, where the church threatened to spit into the camps of Apollos or Paul.  Yet scripture continually calls us to rise above our human inclinations to follow flesh and blood rather than look to God as our teacher, our Father/Mother, and Messiah.  The goal of the Christian leader is simply to direct us to Christ and to equip and encourage parishioners to minister and evangelize in this world.  Two of the reasons I love the UCC is that we acknowledge Christ as its sole head, and we are all called ministers of the church.  Let us therefore look to Christ, serve one another, and bring people into the church!

Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi