We’re pleased to present the 2019 edition of our annual Lenten Devotional.
Click here to download a PDF copy!
Being in community brings with it the opportunity for personal growth. Though not always pleasant, it can mirror back to us our narratives that we might otherwise be unconscious of holding, and might not want to be holding anymore.
As a pastor of a church, each Sunday I return home from being “on” and inevitably begin reflecting on all the ways I showed up, the conversations I had, my own dynamics, the old narratives (eek!) that raised their heads again.
During one of these debriefs with myself, a voice came from within as if straight out of a Mary Oliver poem, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to be pleasing.”
The narrative that we are supposed to be good, supposed to be pleasing, is one that plagues many of us, and many women in particular. It’s part of our social training. And being the empowered woman that I believe myself to be, it is maddening that this narrative is still knocking around inside of me. And where did it come from to begin with? When did my belief that girls were equal to boys, just as capable, just as intelligent, just as worthy of being leaders, just as free to do what they wanted without excuse or apology begin to be eroded? How is it possible I would exchange my own Power, my own Freedom, my own Dignity, for a modicum of power from men, from those “cool” kids, from those I was supposed to be pleasing to?
My mother was an evangelist of girl power, of feminism, so much so I wanted nothing to do with that conversation. Why should I speak up and claim women are just as capable? Of course we are. That’s been settled, I thought.
But here I am, and the conversation is still necessary.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. A couple of facts put out by the Department of Justice and the National Network to End Domestic Violence:
According to the philosophy held by the movement to end domestic violence, the root cause of domestic violence comes from the gender norms we teach and are trained to follow which reinforce a belief system that men are superior to women. Expanded out further, it is training that teaches that one person, one group, one race, one ethnicity, one sexual identity, one socio-economic class, one religion is superior and others are inferior.
There is so much more to this conversation. So many ways this shows up. So many hidden aspects of which to become conscious. I didn’t realize the gift my mother was offering was that by talking about it, we could practice recognizing when attempts are made to erode the truth that we are equal. We could take responsibility when we have adopted a belief of superiority. We could have the courage to let go of our power and control over others in exchange for peace and equality. And we, all of us, could be empowered to proclaim a different narrative and create a healthier community.
In the spirit of peace in our world, in our relationships, and in ourselves,
We’re pleased to present the February 2019 issue of our Seventh AveNews newsletter. Click here to keep up with what’s happening!
A colleague and friend of mine, John Mabry, recently wrote a reflection that reminded me of understanding of faith introduced to me by a Franciscan scholar, years ago now, when I participated on my first pilgrimage. The notion is called secundum traditionem, meaning according to “sacred tradition,” which states that just because something isn’t factual, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. For people of faith, this is where we live much of our lives. For faith, can’t be ‘proven’ it can only be trusted and lived.
This is what my friend wrote: “The other day someone asked me if I believed all that Christian stuff — Jesus being God incarnate and the resurrection and all that. I told him ‘believe’ was the wrong word.
The story of Israel and Jesus is a healing story for me, so I choose to live inside that story—and to add my story to it. I choose to trust it—miracle birth, resurrection and all. Choosing to trust isn’t the same as belief…but it’s a near cousin. And…it’s what I am able to do with integrity.
Plus (and this is an important plus) one thing reading Martin Luther showed me is that relationship and trust is more important than belief. Belief implies knowledge that I don’t have. Belief also implies intellectual assent to a list of metaphysical propositions (like the Creed), which I can’t really manage. What Luther asked me was not ‘Do you believe these impossible things?’ but ‘Can you trust that this person (Jesus) is living? And can you trust this living person?’
That was infinitely easier to do than believe the Creed. I don’t have to understand Jesus to be in relationship with him, even intimate relationship. I just have to choose to do it. It’s not an act of faith, it’s a choice to trust.”
I agree with John … ‘faith’ / ‘belief’ are acts of faith, based on the decision to trust. This is where I find myself. I chose to trust in the God of Creation. I chose to trust in the person and teachings of Jesus, who through resurrection, became the Christ, the Messiah.
Another way of saying this is “to believe,” which is not about cognitive assent. It is more about giving one’s heart. I give my heart to God in Jesus, and to the story of Love that he taught so faithfully, where I find a lasting word.
In this, I live, and thrive, and have my being grounded in the Mystery we call God. What about you?
Blessings in this New Year,
Jeffrey Steven Gaines
When you think of grace, what comes to mind? For me, grace is the free unearned quality of God that leads us to a full life.
To embrace and live this full life is our soul’s work. The question is, how do you and I do this? How do we embrace this gift that moves us beyond ourselves to be our true-selves for God, for others, and yes, even for ourselves?
One key element in both expressing grace, and experiencing it simultaneously, is the spiritual discipline of giving. Yes giving.
Stewardship is a spiritual discipline that I believe flows as a natural expression of my experience of God’s grace. A few years ago a person asked: “you donate to your own church … why? Isn’t that like paying yourself?” How does one respond to a question like this? It seems underneath his question, and my answer, lies a profound difference in understanding theology — as well as spirituality. I give, not because anyone expects me to, much less God, but I give, because life for me would not be life.
The connection between stewardship and spirituality is often overlooked, and/yet one is a natural response to the other. As my faith continues to develop and deepen, so too does my steward. Experiencing grace leads to a natural expression of it. It would not matter to me if I were in the pulpit or the pew, I would practice the art of stewardship: it is something key to my very being, it is critical to my soul’s work.
I have found over the years, that the more I let go of my fears around my financial resources, the more able I am to embrace this unearned quality of God that leads me to a fuller life. The more I offer freely to God, the more I am aware of God’s free grace offered to me. For me, one literally brings about the other. I don’t, however, give more so I can get more; this a twisted understanding of stewardship. I give in response to this gift of life, and in the giving, and letting go, I am more aware to all the wonders and graces of life all around me. In fact, I have found the more I open my hands, and my finances to others, the more free I become.
Expressing grace, is practicing faithful stewardship: a regular disciplined act of giving. I invite you to look at what stewardship means to you. Is it simply giving from your excess or is it a response from the very core of your being as you experience this amazing gift called life?
In Stewardship with you,
Jeffrey Steven Gaines
November. The time of being drawn inward, like the quieting trees and earth around us.
Just weeks ago I proudly proclaimed October the best month. The month of changing leaves and of breathing in crisp, clear, Iowa air. It’s the month of hot air balloon festivals, early morning hot chocolate, and evening tea. It’s the month that still offers the promise of warmth in the coming cool. It holds some of my favorite memories, and my birthday.
Trying to be fair to November, wanting to give it a fair chance at a voice, a champion, I decided to ask David what November makes him think of – as it’s his birthday month. He said November is walking down Walnut Avenue in Mill Valley after school, wet pavement from rain, yellow and brown leaves fallen from the trees. November, he said, is Thanksgiving and family gathering inside, making the somberness of autumn more bearable. November, he said, is not his favorite month…
It always takes a moment for me to accept someone not feeling as I think they ‘should.’
Still, his memory was gift enough – a reminder of imprinted moments we still carry with us.
In the spirit of November’s quiet,
We’re pleased to present the November 2018 issue of our SeventhAveNews church newsletter. It is packed full of important information and fun photos, so be sure to check it out!
CLICK HERE to download a PDF copy!
The Mission of Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church (SAPC) is
~ to listen for God’s word for us today.
~ to model the radically inclusive welcome of God.
~ to tend the Holy in ourselves, one another, and creation.
~ to be the Christ in the world.