Welcomed?

I am an ordained minster.  Although I am ordained in two Christian denominations, I do not hold dual standing.  That means that the two parts of the one holy and apostolic church do not recognize each other as being what they might recognize as Christian.

That is the first problem.

This writing has little to do with the differences within the Christian church and a opining about who is “right,” who is “wrong,” and who is trying to get it “right.”  Rather, this writing has to do with something regularly heard at the opening of worship in many congregations within the United Church of Christ when the pastor (or lay leader) says, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  As an ordained minister within the United Church of Christ, I cannot say those words until they are true.  Instead, I open my worship services with some direction when I say, “People of God, welcome home!  Please turn to your neighbor, say, ‘Hi!’ and let the people know you’re glad they are here!”

I became motivated to share my thoughts on the welcoming portion of the church after reading a blog by a well respected colleague, Rev. Lawrence Richardson who reflected upon what the term “welcoming” means to the progressive Christian church.  He shared at length about how we can approach the LGBTQi community and others who are marginalized, such as racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in an effort to be servants to them and thereby include them in community, rather than demand that they come to us and conform to our standards.  He closes his essay with a very important question, “To whom do you truly open your doors and your hearts? Through whom will you invite God to continue the sacred work of transformation in community?”  This question gains its importance not by what is asked, but by the context in which it is asked: I do not feel welcome by my church because of the context in which they surround themselves.  I am acceptable to the church because I am “tolerant” (even though I abhor the word, as it gives the understanding that I simply “put up with” those who are different than me), divorced, remarried, I have a gay brother, and a transgender son.  All of this puts me on the plus side, but wait until you hear my negatives.  I am shunned by the church because I am white, male, and (horror of all horrors) a retired cop.  I am covered by the blanket that is thrown when we seek to point out the mistreatment of a marginalized population.  In 20 years of policing, it was never acceptable to charge “those people,” rather, it was incumbent that we charge an individual and hold him/her/they responsible for his/her/their actions.

Imagine walking into a welcoming church and being asked how many African-American men you killed over the course of 20 years policing (none).  Imagine walking into a church and being greeted with the comment, “You don’t seem racist.” (um, thanks, I think?)  Imagine being an ordained minister, at a gathering of other non-judgmental Christian minsters and being told how another pastor in the area is happy that several families (related to police officers) left the congregation in the wake of the Ferguson incident because of the preaching of the pastor and blanket anti-police commentary of their church.  That pastor stated he was pleased because the pastor knows “they’re all corrupt anyway.” (way to walk like Christ)

Nobody related to the church has ever asked me how I or my family (divorced) were impacted by the day I was a white cop, shot in the neck by a black man as he attempted to murder me simply because I was a police officer.

How’s that for welcoming?  This is the church in which I serve.  A church where I am judged everyday for being a cop, worse, being a white cop.

Judgment seems to be the way of the church, but it is not the job of the church.

When I struggled through the years long ordination process (a process that was hampered by my skin color, man parts, sexual orientation, and profession), I started to ask the question, “Am I really welcome here?”  I’ve come to the answer that I am not welcome and the church would be happier if I was not one of their representatives, but I jumped through all their hoops and have stuck to my original message of wanting to be like Jesus and meeting people where they are, rather than expect them to come to where I am.

Which brings us back to Rev. Richardson’s essay: to be the church we preach, it is time to stop labeling, it is time to stop prejudice, it is time to stop assuming that everybody wants to go to a church building and worship as though we find ourselves in an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” or “Father Knows Best.”  There will always be differences between people, but continuously pointing out the differences does little to close the gap – rather, it builds further distrust and perpetuates prejudice.  Instead, let’s open our arms in welcome and accept people, all people, and continuously work together to be Christ in the world, breaking bread together and raising our children together.  This will go so much further to help my child understand that we love as Christ loves, than will telling my child that his father is a (fill in whatever prejudiced blanks you wish) simply because I was a cop.

So, in the words of Rev. Richardson, “To whom do you truly open your doors and your hearts? Through whom will you invite God to continue the sacred work of transformation in community?”

May the peace of Christ find those who proclaim his word, and dispel the anger/hatred from their hearts.

Posted in Spirituality

Good-bye to my congregation

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I bring you greetings in peace and love.

Over the past several weeks, we have journeyed together through a difficult period in the story of our Lord, Jesus: he has had to say good-bye to the apostles, to the very people who love and support him.  He has shaken their lives to the very roots and has shared a new way to look at God, a new way to live in relationship, and a new way to worship.  It is my prayer that I have emulated even the least portion of the life of Christ, that I might have provided you a more in depth manner of understanding God (to the extent that we might be able to understand the unknowable), that we have learned new ways to celebrate our life together, and that our worship has become something unbound, individual, and alive in each of our hearts, even while gathered as a congregation.

It has also come time for me to say good-bye to you, my treasured friends and family.  My last Sunday with you will be June 11, 2017.

Certainly, this is a shock, and I encourage us to weep together as we bring this part of our lives to an end.

The welcome I received in May of 2015 is something I never expected.  While Epiphany is not the first congregation I have served, you are the first congregation that I served in a capacity other than supply preaching or short-term interim.  I was accustomed to entering a church and being faced with some skepticism, some manipulation, and some excitement, but when I arrived at Epiphany I experienced something completely different: from the outright acceptance of my position as a police lieutenant, as well as my transgender son, to the supporting love that was extended to my wife and young son, to the outpouring of support that was given to my daughter after her apartment burned to ashes.  All of this has made hearing God’s new call a difficult task.  While I was called to serve the people of Epiphany, I have now received a new call that will take me across the nation and settle me into a new adventure.

It has come to pass that I am to be a caregiver for my parents and I will be leaving settled ministry for the time being.  Before making this decision, I had considered many possibilities, but I have heard in my heart the call to honor my mother and father.

Together we have accomplished extraordinary things!  The social life of Epiphany has blossomed in ways nobody could have imagined.  We have become more educated as a congregation regarding the reasons behind what we do, what it means to be in covenant with the United Church of Christ, and how to reveal God in our life to those around us.  While Epiphany is still a congregation drawn from diverse neighborhoods, its roots are digging into the soil of Clarence and Epiphany is establishing itself as one of the churches in our amazingly vital neighborhood.

I ask that you not write me off or forget me, but that we might walk these next few, short weeks together and remember the good, forgive the bad, and plan to keep the momentum going.

Epiphany United Church of Christ is alive!  Epiphany United Church of Christ is vibrant!  Epiphany United Church of Christ is ready to acknowledge the past, embrace the present, and plan for the future!  Do not let feelings of hopelessness, or unhealthy attachment to sentiment get in the way of continuing to move this congregation forward.  Care for the youth who are of confirmation age and teach them their responsibilities to the church.  Continue to examine what Christian worship means to the congregation and build or affirm a Sunday morning service that allows the heart of the individual to be in covenant/communion with God, while building a stronger congregational body wherein the very real presence of the Holy Ghost might be felt by any who enter the doors.  Make the name of Epiphany known in North Towns and throughout eastern Erie County.  Do not forget the words that I shared while I was with you that have brought the presence of the Lord, God, Almighty into your hearts and have moved you to greater love while living in Christ.

The Apostle Paul ushered in the universal church as we know it.  It was his departure from the individual church at Ephesus (modern day Selcuk, Turkey), wherein the congregation mourned the end of Paul’s tenure with them because they would not see him again.  There was sadness, and love, and loss, and they walked with Paul to the ship that would take him away, and, ultimately, the congregation continued on to become stronger because they had faith in what they had been taught, in what they knew, and in their own abilities.  Believe me, beloved, just as Paul’s departure from Ephesus was simply a change in seasons, so too is my departure from Epiphany.  I have done what I can while I am with you, and long to be with you again when we are with our Creator in Heaven.  The carrying of this church into the future, through the love of God, is now in your hands.

May mercy, grace, and peace be yours now and until the end of days, my Brothers and Sisters.

Posted in Uncategorized

Where are we going, America?

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:1-9 (NRSV)

We are in the throes of an extremely contentious election cycle in both some local races, as well as the big national campaign.  In some cases, I’ve noticed that family members are turning upon each other based on tightly held political beliefs.  The denominational bodies of churches are lining up on various sides of issues and within various camps, as are other notable bodies of influence, and yet we still can’t seem to work our republican democracy into something of which we can be proud.

This is nothing new.  Consider our passage from the Old Testament with which I opened these thoughts.  We have a government that has become more about serving those in power as they turn aside after getting what they want, they accept bribes, and “justice” is not necessarily just, so the people complain and they ask for something new.  Granted, the prophet is not excited about the prospect of the people asking for something new, but God does something truly noteworthy: God tells the prophet to give the people what they want (an unexpectedly democratic move), BUT the people should be warned about those who would rule over them and have their motives, personalities, and practices exposed to the people so the people know for certain what they are getting.

While on my summer travels this year, I saw the headline published by Kyle Smith in the New York Post: campaign-sign“Americans are about to get the first landslide president we don’t want.” (August 20, 2016)  As soon as I saw it, I had to ask myself how we, as a nation, got to this place and time in history and then it dawned on me: we demanded something new because we don’t know how to fix what is wrong, and we didn’t pay attention to the prophets who exposed the “ways of the [leader] who would rule over them.”  Americans were entranced by jingoisms (a word I learned in grade school American History and again in high school Civics, but seems to have no meaning to those under 40), and fiery rhetoric based only upon demographic stereotypes and having little to do with actual facts.

We have been given four candidates for president, only two receive any media coverage (known in the industry as “spin”), and so, for the first time in decades, the nation is becoming extremely polarized on the political spectrum.

What this means for those of us who claim the title Christian (and who actually want to live as Christians) is that we must listen to the words of the prophet Samuel from about 3,000 years ago: learn about the people who we would put in place as our leader, discover if they actually support and live by what they say.  Once you find somebody who appears to live by the ideals s/he espouses, then cast your vote – don’t be like the Israelites of Samuel’s time and simply demand a leader who makes them feel good, while delivering the status quo in fancy wrapping.

Pay attention to the wisdom given us by God and vote.  Vote for the person who most closely reflects your conscience, your personality, your desires for life.  Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into voting for somebody you cannot support in your heart because you’ve been told you are wasting your vote when you favor somebody different.  Remember what Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority.  We have government by the majority of those who participate.”  If you are willing to stand-by and let others make the decisions, then also remember the words of 1 Samuel 8:18 “and in that day you will cry out because of your [leader], whom you have chosen for yourselves.” (NRSV)

May we all enjoy the wisdom of God and pay attention to the warnings and signs around us.

Posted in Spirituality Tagged with: , , , , ,

Your response is your choice

When actions like the recent terror attack in Orlando happen, we begin to fracture a bit: both as individuals and as a nation.  We divide because we become afraid; afraid of the “other,” the “outsider,” the one who is “different.”  This division shows both in choice of targets, as well as the reaction to those who would carry out such a base, evil activity.

It is so easy to give in to our base instincts, to be the Jonah who ran the other way when the Lord laid a conviction upon his heart.  It is so easy to blame the victim once again: Well, if he/she/they did/didn’t this or that….  But we know deep down, no matter what your religious conviction is, that God gave life and Jesus reserved judgment to God; it is not up to us to determine who is damned for all time and to carry out a death sentence.  Which sin is greater: to live in a way that another person finds abhorrent (generally outlined in the Bible) or to pass judgment on another person (specifically outlined in the Bible)?rainbow cross

Come together, find a faith community, pray for peace.  In no way does asking for peace undermine your commitment to God, but it affirms your love of your neighbor.
Don’t give in to hate – LOVE WINS!

Posted in Community, Spirituality

Fun with APRS

There are a lot of ham radio operators who are starting to become involved in the APRS community.  I suspect this has to do with the fact that equipment is now available ready made from the manufacturers and it has become fairly inexpensive.

The least expensive (and most prolific) of these units is the AP510/AVRT5 (same unit, different label) and it can be a pain to set-up.  The most common problem is lack of information on how to program the units.  The next most common problem is the fact that many times drivers are missing for the programming software because it is written on old technology.

PLEASE NOTE: the below instructions have to do with loading system drivers and editing your registry on a Windows machine.  If you decide to do this, it is at your own risk and I assume no liability for anything that YOU decide to do to your own machine.

If you are looking for a community with tons of experience on these units, check out the Yahoo group.  For those who need particular drivers, here are clean copies of all of them (if any of them show as not clean when you download, please let me know and I will remove it immediately):

COMDLG32.OCX

MSCOMCTL.OCX

MSCOMM32.OCX

MSSTDFMT.DLL

msvbvm60.dll

Once the file you want is downloaded to your machine, place (cut and paste) it in the correct system folder for 32 bit OS (C > Windows > System32) or 64 bit OS (C > Windows > SysWOW64).  Once there, you will have to register the install by opening a command window (please Google for yourself how do to it on your particular operating system) and typing the following commands, based upon 32 or 64 bit OS (fill in <filename>.<extension> with the actual file name and extension, such as MSCOMCTL.OCX):

32 bit – regsvr32 C\Windows\System32\<filename>.<extension>

64 bit – regsvr32 C\Windows\SysWOW64\<filename>.<extension>

Once this is done, you may need to restart your machine.

I hope this helps.

Posted in Radio Ramblings Tagged with: , , ,

Good Friday Reflection

I was asked to assist the Spencerport Ecumenical Ministries in reflecting on the seven last words of Christ as part of the joint Good Friday Service.  Below is what I shared:

sevenlastwords-7

 

In his final words, Jesus points us back into the Old Testament, the 31st  Psalm, both for teaching and for comfort.  While Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” the Psalmist continues, “You have redeemed me, O Lord, Faithful God… I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love… you have taken heed of my adversities, and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.”

When we consider the fact that we are here in this place at this time, because Jesus was hung from a cross at the hands of his enemies, the question must arise as to why the last words are quoting a psalm of praise for deliverance.

By using this particular phrase, we are reminded that Jesus knew the scriptures and that he was fulfilling what had been written.  In a simple phrase, he not only proclaimed his faith in God as father, his “dad” if you will, but his faith that beyond this horrific event called crucifixion there is delivery from evil and exoneration of the righteous.

In all our humanity, who has never suffered periods of doubt?  Many have been the times when I have not thought that I have been someplace where the ground is wide, flat, and easy to walk.  Instead, I tend to focus on the brambles in my path, the rocks on the road, the words of others, and even on political decisions with which I may not agree.  I would venture to say that each of us understands these feelings.

While I like to think I can find a place of sympathy with Jesus, as he hung dying, I truly wonder if any of us can.  I am certain that, out of a certain fear of death, nearly all of us have toyed with the idea of immortality.  Regardless of how selfless we might be, I think that each and every one of us has a certain amount of self-preservation programmed into us.  Combined with our doubt, self-preservation would fight against impending death, would argue for our worthiness, and would find someone or something to blame for what was happening to us.

Jesus, in his last moment does not fight, argue, or blame.  Instead, he sings a song of praise to his creator.  He tells us he has been taken through the pain into a place where the paths are wide and level, into a place where those who speak against him have fallen silent, into a place of pure love.  When we focus only on the death of Christ as a human being, we miss the bigger picture.

It is often much easier to recognize the problem in front of us, than the fact that each and every one of us is a miracle.  This was the final gift of the man on the cross – giving us a way to wipe away fear, to wipe away anger, to wipe away grief, and focus on the glories of life, everlasting, in union with the Lord, God, Almighty.

Posted in Spirituality

A View from Great Height

Tonight, I attended a dinner and talk at First Congregational Church, Spencerport, NY, with a keynote speaker who is an amabassador of the Sikh community in New York State.  While I have been familiarRalph Singh with Sikhism for many years, tonight I observed something very interesting.  A man with a turban was talking to a group of well educated Christians and I saw their attitudes change as they listened to what was said.  This man, born in the USA, has the ability to connect with people from various backgrounds and differing traditions in a way that makes you feel that he has been your friend for years and understands your tradition and background as though he had lived it himself.  The amazing part was that I watched faces, hardened with a distrust of those wearing turbans, soften as ideas were shared and as each individual recognized that what was being said was little different than what they themselves had been taught and were hearing as part of their walk with Jesus.

A bridge was built.

Ralph Singh is the father of a good friend of mine and was gracious enough to share his story and provide some insight as to how we can live life in the light of God, regardless of who we are or where we are.

Perhaps one of the most challenging questions he posed was: Do you want everybody to be a Christian, or do you want everybody to be Christ like?  I say this question is challenging because, although we all claim a single catholic and apostolic church, some Christians cannot accept other Christians as believers.  Therefore, some Christians may answer that question with the fundemental understanding of the Great Commission and demand that all people be Christians (regardless of how they act), because Jesus said to go into all parts of the world and make disciples of all people (of course, they would also argue with me that the scripture actually says to make disciples of all men).  What Jesus brought to us in his living ministry was a manner of life together that defines community.  When we look at the definitions of community in each of the major faith practices, the directives are, essentially, the same: love God, care for you neighbor, don’t take what isn’t yours, share when you are able to do so, don’t murder.  With these as our guides, how is it that we argue and kill over the manner in which we celebrate and live these commands?  Jesus gave us a way of life and by living that way, we become disciples.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everybody was Christ like?

Ralph, you are a better Christian than some folks I know who have claimed that title.

The Truth is eternal.

Posted in Spirituality Tagged with: , , , , ,

Baojie BJ-9900

A bit back, I was involved in local ham radio club (Community Amateur Radio Club) and we were gearing up for the annual simulated emergency test (SET).  This required me to set up a 70cm base station – rather difficult when I had no 70cm transceiver to use.  So, rather than dig the dual-band out of the car, I made an investment and bought a Baojie BJ-9900.

At about $250 and including a programming cable/software, I thought this was a great deal.  I won’t opine as to if it was or not, but I will share that is has been a “learning experience.”

The radio itself seems to be what would be expected of a Chinese knock-off of a quality product.  In this case, I think it was a Yeasu they were copying.  It is lightweight, has a clumsy feeling to it, and actually feels to me like a toy.  That said, it also seems to transmit well and I can hear other operators, so it does what I bought it to do.

For those who are considering purchasing one, let me say that programming it is a bit of a bear.  The supplied software (download from Baojie) will not work with a Win7 or Win8 computer.  So, I had to find a workaround to get things set up to allow my computer to see the radio.  Amazing – it worked and now the computer could see the radio, well, at least that’s what it said.  I asked the software to read the radio and it said, “Read Success,” yet nothing appeared (and the guy from whom I had bought the radio did have some memories programmed).  Next was to try and program it myself.  When I went to write my settings to the radio, I received, “OFF is not a valid int.”  I poked and prodded that database, and could come up with no solution.  Amazingly enough, I couldn’t find anything in the search engines either.  I programmed it by hand and have since discovered that when you save a memory, during use, you can’t adjust the power level of that memory – you actually have to go to the VFO, adjust the settings and re-save the memory.

The long and short of this is: I won’t get another (I’ll stay with my Icoms, thanks), but it may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Posted in Radio Ramblings Tagged with: , , ,