Rest For Your Souls

Rest for Your SoulsI am pleased to announce that I will be joining my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Murphy-Mason, for a three week series on grief and loss as part of a partnership with Trinity Wall Street. You can find more information here, including details for a worship service to be held this Sunday evening, May 17th- Rest For Your Souls: A Eucharist for Those Experiencing Grief and Loss.

Three years ago, I worked with the Board of Deacons of my previous congregation to create a Blue Christmas liturgy, a similar service meant to acknowledge the reality of pain and loss that comes as an essential and unavoidable part of our human condition. The timing of the Blue Christmas service suggests that the anticipatory and joyful season of Advent/Christmas can be extraordinarily painful for those who would have an empty place at the holiday table.

But, as we know all too well, there is never a ‘good’ time to lose a loved one, whether by death, divorce or estrangement. There is never an ‘obvious’ time to grieve their loss. Grief and loss can pervade everyday life if not properly attended to, and we live in a culture that rarely grants us permission to attend to grief. We are supposed to ‘be strong,’ or ‘move on,’ or ‘count our blessings,’ or any number of other cliches that do nothing more than convey the message that others are made uncomfortable by our sadness and would like it to go away, or be hidden away.

Oh, there are so many other ways to attend to grief! To acknowledge the loss; to explore its many angles and rough edges; to grant gentleness and kindness and grace to grief’s process; to seek the possibility that if grief does not ever go away completely, that it might be embraced in such a way that it no longer needs to cry out for attention. To fold grief into the fullness of our human experience, rather than shun it. Grief will have its say, one way or another, and the longer we shut it up, the louder it may become.

This is my way of saying, if you have experienced loss recently (or ever!), come to worship this Sunday to receive readings, music and meditation with the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, and the Rev. Kristin Kaulbach Miles. And then join the Rev. Dr. Kelly Murphy-Mason and me for the follow-up series on grief and loss, taking place on May 20, May 27 and June 3. All are welcome.

P.S. I found this old sermon of mine from Advent 2013. Yes, I realize we are on the edge of Pentecost, but the message isn’t stale or expired. Darkness threatens to prevail all the time, and we are never not ready to receive the promise of the bright, flickering light of one candle that can not, will not, be extinguished.

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My new gig

When people ask me that inocuous and well-meaning question, “So, what do you do?” I am immediately tongue-tied. What do I say? Well, I’m a part-time chaplain intern, itinerant Presbyterian minister, and sometimes stay-at-home mom. It’s a mouthful. But since mid-March, approximately, I have been able to add another title to the list- Staff Therapist at the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute. What this means is that I now offer individual and couple’s counseling (including pre-marital) at a sophisticated institute that was founded forty years ago to extend traditional psychotherapy by expanding into the realm of spirituality. It is a perfect fit for my professional degrees- MDiv and MSW, but also a perfect fit for how I understand the human endeavor. In the words of my clinical pastoral education, it mostly boils down to our search for hope, meaning and connection. Do we only find these things in religion? Absolutely not. But fluency in the language of spirituality is not a prerequisite for traditional psychotherapies, and I see that as a potential obstacle for those who think deeply about aspects of life that can only be attributed to mystery- maybe God, maybe Spirit, maybe Art. In any case, all things that I love to talk about, and learn about, and listen from.

Here’s my bio, which you can find also on PSI’s website:

The Rev. Sarah McCaslin, MDiv, LMSW, is an ordained minister and licensed social worker whose career has been devoted to fostering the human capacity for resilience, growth and meaning-making, even under the most daunting circumstances. As a pastor, chaplain, and therapist, she bears special witness to the unique stories of everyone she encounters, serving as a companion during difficult times and a supporter during moments of possibility. All these roles and opportunities have proven enriching to her as a helping professional.

At PSI, Sarah counsels individuals and couples alike. She provides premarital counseling using the Prepare/Enrich method and holds a keen interest in working with interfaith couples as they negotiate the gift and challenge of bringing and bridging distinct traditions together. In 2006, Sarah graduated with dual masters degrees from the Columbia University School of Social Work and Union Theological Seminary. Her undergraduate degree was earned from Georgetown University.

In 2007, Sarah was ordained by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and served for seven years as associate pastor at a 1200-member congregation in the West Village. Prior to starting graduate school, Sarah served the chronically, mentally ill homeless as both an outreach worker and case manager at Project Renewal, a large, homeless services organization. Today, Sarah continues to provide pastoral leadership at various Protestant congregations throughout the city as a freelance preacher. She also serves local communities of faith by facilitating and leading workshops.

Sarah can be reached at and 212.285.0043 ext. 119. She arranges initial telephone consultations to prospective clients free of charge.

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a blizzard of new members!

I don’t know what I first became aware of RevGalBlogPals, but I remember the rush of excitement I felt when I realized how I now had a whole community of clergy/blogger/church-nerds right at my finger tips.

I have used this site countless times for sermon illustrations, bible study prep, and general emotional/moral support as a newish, youngish female clergyperson.

And now I’m a member! Pressure is on to provide the same kind of inciteful, gracious, and funny material that I find every time I check in on

God’s network of disciples is broad, y’all. And awesome.

a blizzard of new members!.

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“Big” Church

Oh, I had fun today. I got to ‘play’ in worship with some really lovely people. It all started with an exploratory conversation with Ted Hickman, who provides pastoral leadership at Duryea Presbyterian Church in my Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. We met a few months agao and talked broadly about how much we love church, and how well we love this particular neighborhood (where I have lived for over ten years!), and how abundant are the opportunities to create more porous and fluid boundaries between the church and the local community.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Ted invited me to preach in his pulpit, on Youth Sunday, no less! We had a good time today. I invited the children into the sermon– right into the middle of it. And I invited a new friend and colleague, Zachary Walter, to participate in an improvised dramatic reading of Paul’s conversion from Acts, and then end the sermon with a song. I am enamored of paperless singing, but not quite confident enough to do it myself, so Zach stepped in with a drum, and his voice, and his big smile (it’s no surprise we get along– our energy and inherent goofiness are well matched!).  Y’all, it was simply awesome.

I come out of a very traditional worship setting, and this was my first time really stretching. If you’ve ever thought of trying something new, do it! If it’s done with intention and thoughtfulness and a desire to be in relationship with your audience, failure is not an option. This has been my great learning from my chaplaincy internship at Weill-Cornell Medical Center. Sometimes the right words come out, and sometimes your tongue gets stuck to the roof of your mouth. But if you are present, and attentive, the words almost don’t matter. Or, at least, they are secondary to the emotional content of the exchange. This recognition has been the key to my new boldness, and it makes me that much more excited to be engaged in God’s work, in the pulpit, in the hospital, in the world.

Stay tuned for more new news out of Duryea Presbyterian Church. They are group of faithful stewards and disciples of the risen Lord who are ready to do a new thing. That they have invited me to join them gives me goosebumps and butterflies. To be continued…

Ok, enough rambling. I’m attaching the manuscript, but it is not nearly as much fun as the recording, if you have a little time to spare. I hope you enjoy.


The Rev. Sarah Segal McCaslin
Duryea Presbyterian Church
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Epiphany B3, Youth Sunday
“Big” Church
Acts 9:1-20

In the summer of 2003, I had just completed my first year at Union Theological Seminary, and I found myself working for the ever-faithful, ever-delightful, Ruling Elder Joyce Seebrooks, (some of you may know Joyce!) who at that time was responsible for the Resource Center of the New York City Presbytery and the assigned steward for a particular fund providing grants to churches in the presbytery who intended to lead Vacation Bible Schools for the children and youth of their congregations and communities. Each summer, Joyce hired two or three seminarians to travel around to every single one of these churches, across all five boroughs (by public transportation!)- bringing greetings from the presbytery and a message to the children in the VBS. I cannot now remember if I did this job 2 or 3 summers in a row, but I remember clearly that first year. It was a hot summer- a good old New York City summer with enough sunshine and humidity to wilt even a tough Southerner like myself. That summer, I think my colleagues and I visited more than 30 congregations.

The bible passage we chose to share that summer was the story of Paul’s conversion from the Book of Acts. Coincidentally, according to the Anglican Church’s liturgical calendar, today is actually called Conversion of St. Paul Sunday.  And so it seems fitting that I share that story again today with you. Because, Duryea, I visited y’all that summer of 2003, and I remember you and your faithful VBS and summer school leaders and your fellowship hall just teeming with children and teenagers and adult volunteers. Your VBS was LIVE! It was exciting! And you welcomed us into your midst with such extravagant hospitality. You gave me and my fellow seminary students the floor to offer our words of greeting and our story, and end our time with a song, which I am sure was a few rounds of This Little Light of Mine. I don’t sing well, but I sing LOUD. Loud enough for God to hear and be pleased, that’s what I know. It was good fun.

Now, we didn’t just read the story of Paul’s conversion; we acted it out with the children’s help. We were amateurs- there were no costumes; no speaking roles beyond the narrator; no rehearsed parts. We read the story from Scripture and let the kids find their way in as they saw fit. (In full disclosure, we did have one thing planned out– a time to shout. Because kids in church, and adults, too, are always being told to shush, and there is something just so expansive about yelling out loud in church with permission) And since today is Youth Sunday, and since there are some children in the pews, it seems like the Spirit’s asking us to act it out again, if you’ll allow me.

Now, I’d like to ask the kids who are here today, mine included, to come forward and sit in the front pews or on the floor. And I want y’all to listen close to the story, because there are going to be instructions for you to follow. Can you do that for me? Good.

Here we go.

The Story of Paul’s Conversion… (NRSV with some colloquial edits by me)

Now there was a guy named Saul, who was a bully who didn’t like anyone who was a Christian, and he walked around breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. One day he went to the head honcho in his town and asked if he could go to a city called Damascus, and look for any men and women who followed Jesus, so that if he found any he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you hurt me?”

5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are hurting.6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.

8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”

He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”

11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen you in a vision come in and lay his hands on him so that he might be able to see again.”

13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many people about Saul, about the bad things has done in Jerusalem; 14and here he has permission to arrest anyone who says your name.”

15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for I have chosen Saul to teach ALL people about me, even kings and queens and people who have never heard of me; 16I know who he is and what he is done. He will be accountable to me.”

17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and Saul could see again. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after eating some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Kids, y’all did a great job. I think you deserve a round of applause! And to Zachary Walter, our intrepid and improvisational actor this morning.

For a number of good reasons, we tend to think of Paul as the main character and hero of this story. The narrator spends a lot of time telling us who he is, both before and after his conversion– first, a dangerous enemy of the fledgling Christian community in Jerusalem and Damascus, but then, on the other side of this mysterious and mystical experience, a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ, one so devoted that he was prepared to lose his very life for the cause. “His transformation was the biblical equivalent of Clark Kent becoming Superman or Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, with the twist that Saul was surely ‘bad’ and Paul was purely ‘good.’” (This and the following paragraph are heavily drawn from this sermon by Luke Bouman)

But Paul is neither the protagonist nor the hero of this story. God is. It is Jesus, not Paul, who has the vision and shares the vision of what the Church and its mission might be. It is God, in Christ, who chooses not to ‘smite’ Saul, or demonize him, for being on the wrong team, but instead takes Paul’s gifts of zeal and persuasion, and puts them to work for the Gospel. That is heart of this story– the extraordinary power of forgiveness and conversion working even when we are ‘at odds’ with God. The first good news of this story is that God doesn’t give up on Paul, God does not give up on us.

The second good news of this story is the vision of the Church revealed through Paul’s conversion– of a church so ‘big’ that the doors open wide enough to welcome us even when we are at enmity with God, because God loves us and desires us to join the beloved community, no matter how badly our actions might contradict God’s claim upon us.

God cracks open our long-held beliefs about who belongs within and outside the fold. God invites Saul, the religious fanatic, the persecutor of the early Christians, and says to him, “I want you. Your presence is missing, and without you, this community cannot be made whole.” God sets the table and sends out the invitations to a guest list unthinkable in its radical welcome, and we must not forget that.

But we do forget sometimes.

We forget and think we send out the invitations; think that we are the hosts of the banquet. We tell people what they ought to wear to church and how they ought to behave; when and how to sing, when and how to pray, when and how to give money. And we leave people outside the doors who cannot muster the nerve to follow so many rules just to get inside. All kinds of folks get left outside, and God is looking at us, and looking at them, and saying, “But I want them here. Their presence is missing, and without them, this community cannot be made whole.”

We don’t have to understand why God does this. Ananias sure didn’t. Ananias thought it prudent to argue with God about Saul’s history and character. But Ananias relented; and trusted God just enough to do what he was told to do.

Can we trust God enough to do what God is telling us to do? To follow God’s lead. To answer God’s call. To reach out with a radical inclusiveness that we don’t even understand? It might mean rethinking how we are doing virtually everything, until the moment comes when what we do on Sunday mimics the great banquet that God prepares for us,a feast where we will be elbow to elbow with friends and strangers, lovers and enemies, the good, the bad and the ugly, and God will smile and say, Yes, you are all here.”

That is ‘BIG’ church.

‘Big’ church is also what I used to call the 11am worship service when I was still a child. ‘Big’ church was for the adults. It’s when they sang songs I didn’t understand, prayed really, really, really long prayers, and had a sermon in between that sounded to me like all the adults in the Charlie Brown series, “mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah…” We went, anyway, because our parents were in the choir and Sunday school was before worship and because… well, we had to. But ‘big’ church never felt like ours.

Now, I have spent seven years in parish ministry NOT doing children’s ministry. But I have seen children, and raised children, and pastored young families enough to have learned a thing or two.  I know that the more we involve our children in acts of worship and learning and song and praise, the more likely they are to be engaged as adolescents and young adults. Y’all know that. I’ve only known you a little bit over a long time, and I know that about you. Your summer school, your fundraisers, your liturgists on Sunday mornings…

I also know that children can be squirmy, and sometimes loud, and oftentimes bored in “BIG” church. Some adults are so happy to have children in worship that the noise and distraction register only as joy. And other folks, good and faithful folks, find squirmy children and chatty toddlers distracting from their reflective practice of worship. Some young families have great intentions about bringing their kids to worship, but the task of getting everyone fed and dressed and out the door on a weekend morning is insurmountable. I also know that just about every child under the age of three has a nap that coincides directly with 11am worship. So going to church means skipping a nap, which is a huge gamble that rarely pays off for weary parents.

And I know a lot of young families that don’t come to church at all, but not necessarily because they don’t want to, but because something else is holding them back. I am in a generation of adults who may or may not have been raised with a religious tradition– a generation for whom church on Sunday is not a habit, or a spiritual discipline, or even a essential aspect of faith identity. I don’t like the term ‘unchurched’ any more than I like the trendy term ‘nones’- they belie the prevalence of men and women who are having very deep and faithful conversations about the importance of raising their children within a community of faith, providing the kind of moral, ethical and religious upbringing that they may or may not have had themselves. But they don’t have a church affiliation, or a denominational identity. They may not know the old hymns or The Lord’s Prayer. For them, church is a clubhouse with secret handshakes and strange language. And I think, I really truly believe, that we as the church have to lay aside our own judgment and expectations if we want to offer a truly inclusive welcome to all who come to see what we’re about.

And we might have to take a really close look at how we do things, to see if we hold on to old habits and routines because they suit us best, not because they provide the warmest welcome. Now here’s my truth– I’m really good at asking the right questions, but finding the answers?… Well, I think the answers only come with the prayerful discernment of the whole community.

I know churches that hold Sunday school during the main service, so that adults can worship in silence and stillness, or, so that they won’t have to spend all day in church. I know churches who have children’s prayers, or children’s sermons, or both, or neither.

And no matter what the configuration or the programming, carefully thought out by a church’s leadership, someone is always unhappy. It’s the way church is– human, flawed, in need of forgiveness.

Ultimately, I believe our role as disciples of the risen Lord, is to be in a constant conversation with God about “Big” church. It’s not about growing numbers; it’s about being a church that is so ‘big’ in its understanding, that there is room for everyone, for the children, for the unaffiliated, for the ones who are, even now, at odds with God. It’s about being a church that is ‘big’ enough for people we will never understand or appreciate, but about whom God has said, “I want them here. Their presence is missing, and without them, this community cannot be made whole.”

Because, at some point, we were ourselves ‘that’ one, and it was God who reached out and said, “It’s you that I want.”

May it be so.



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Restoration and Joy, Joy, Joy

 Decorated for the holidays!

Decorated for the holidays!

Whew! I post this sermon to document my journey in ministry. My journey this week took me somewhere new. I was still with the good people of Christ Presbyterian Church by the Sea, bidding farewell after five months together in transition– they to a new pastor, and me to a new… what? I’m not sure yet.

But what was new this Sunday was the blessing/opportunity/challenge to lead worship with my kids… unsupervised. Donny was traveling, and I wanted them with me, and thus, our adventure together.

Have you ever preached with a three year-old running up and down the chancel steps to hug your leg or ask a question? It is not for the faint of heart. But it was beautiful, and the congregation was gracious, lovely, patient, patient, and patient. We had a good time, I think.

“Restoration and Joy, Joy, Joy”
Christ Presbyterian Church by the Sea
The Rev. Sarah Segal McCaslin
December 14, 2014 (3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B)

This week, the biblical themes are those of restoration and joy.
Last week we sat in the darkness, aware, as ever, how hard things are. This week, those things are still hard. God knows things are hard. God knows.

God also promises to bind up the brokenhearted, to turn tears of sorrow into tears of joy, to replace injustice with justice; chaos with peace; to replace fear with love.

So we are going to celebrate with Isaiah and the Psalmist today. We are going to rejoice always, as the Psalm and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians exhort us to do.

And we are going to do all of this as part as our Advent and Christmas preparation.

I want to read the Psalm and the prophet again, because I every time my eyes fell on those texts, I thought of this church. More than that, I thought of anyone and any community who has ever been through a time of great suffering. My patients at the hospital, in particular.

I met a young woman on Thursday in the Infusion who has a chronic blood disease that requires her to receive infusions every two weeks. She’s had surgery on her spleen; she had a pacemaker installed in her heart.

But she is a whippersnapper. Her only concession to her illness has been taking the blue handicapped sign for her car, but only for the parking benefits. Her friends wonder why she bothers working, rather than living off of the disability benefits she’s eligible for.

She told them, Are you crazy? What am I going to do? Sit around the house all day and collect? No, I’m going to live. I’m going to get up at 6am every morning and then complain about getting up so early, like everybody else. I’m going to spoil my nieces and nephews. I’m going to help my dad out at his diner over the summers as the cashier and be the therapist to all the customers who come in with their complaints.

My job gives me the day off every time I have to come here, and I make it like a vacation! I sleep in; I run my errands; I cook dinner.

Her energy is uncontainable. Her vitality unmatched by most of us who have never experience chronic, debilitating illness. She was just draped in garlands and mantles of praise, anointed with the oils of gladness. There wasn’t an ash in sight, nor sadness.

The prophet Isaiah is speaking to the community who were exiled to Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed. They never thought they’d see their home again. And then, by God, there they were. Not in the Jerusalem they remembered. No, it was still in ruins. But there they were. And there was God, promising to help them rebuild and restore.

Out of the chaos of destruction and exile, the LORD will create something new.

New. Not perfect. I’m not sure I got that distinction until I met this young woman on Thursday. She will have this disease for the rest of her life, but she is constantly re-newing. Becoming new each day as she chooses to live as if her fortunes have been restored to her, and they have. Kind of. In her refusal to be exiled by her diagnosis; her refusal to live in the ruins of her body’s fraility.

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. Pray without ceasing, giving thanks to God in ALL circumstances.

I remember having coffee with my seminary friends in January after our first semester together. We had all gone home for the holidays, and each of us had been asked, at the last possible second, to offer grace or a prayer for a family or gathering. Well, we’d only been in seminary for three months, and so each of us told our embarrassing story. And my friend, Katie (that’s her real name), told us this.

She was at potluck dinner with immediate and extended family- some whom she knew well, some she hardly knew. Some of her shared her religious and political leanings, other who did not. Frozen with anxiety at their invitation to her to offer a spontaneous prayer, Katie started to rhyme her prayers. She prayed about the ‘reason for the season’ and the importance of having an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ She was mortified. I still laugh when I think of that story, about how timid we were to express our faith out loud. I mean, I think I still feel that way, most of the time.

But my reason for sharing Katie’s embarrassment is because her rhymes, silly they may be, reveal what is really going on during Advent. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is the only way we’ll be able to rejoice and give thanks to God in all circumstances. If we cannot be grateful; we cannot be joyful. And if we cannot be joyful in this season, for something, whatever it is, then we are not understanding the reason for the season.

God was at work in the lives of the exiled community whom Isaiah addresses. If God had been absent, they would have cared less about what the prophet had to say about all this. If God did not still have power over their lives, this proclamation of restoration would not be recorded for us to read these thousands of years later.

The promise of newness comes to them as they look around their beloved city and see no signs of a rebuilt temple. This promise of freedom, comfort, restoration, and praise likely seemed far off — yet it was spoken. God was at work in their midst. God was at work through them. God, the Isaiah, and the people are wrapped together even as the work of salvation, the fulfillment of this promise, would be fulfilled in fits and starts.

We can feel as if God is distant; we can live in what feels like terrible darkness. But distance and darkness are illusions, for the darkest night is like the light of day to God. And joy is there, waiting for us, whenever we are ready to receive it.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to read the Scripture passages again, because I want you to hear them in light of these themes of restoration and joy.

And then, because I may not see you for a while, and because it’s almost Christmas, and because my kids are here today, I am going to read my favorite Christmas story.

But first, let’s hear the Word of God once more.

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As If…

Today was bittersweet. I was back with the good folks at Christ Presbyterian Church by the Sea in Broad Channel, Queens, for the first time in a month, and I am beginning to say my goodbyes (or, as I hope will be the case, my so-long-for-nows).

They have found a pastor! She will be ordained and installed in the coming weeks and will move into the steady leadership and constant presence that Christ by the Sea so needs and richly deserves. It has been my privilege to walk with them just a little bit along the way while I discern my own next steps, and I will miss them dearly.


Laurie hearing the 'real' story behind the renovations from Don and Margaret.

Laurie hearing the ‘real’ story behind the renovations from Don and Margaret.

Laurie with church members Don and Joyce (the Clerk of Session).

Laurie with church members Don and Joyce (the Clerk of Session).

Today was also the day when we welcomed Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the relief arm of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). She arrived to bring greetings from PDA and to tour the newly renovated sanctuary and fellowship hall. PDA grants and volunteers provided enormous support to Christ by the Sea after their campus was devastated by Super Storm Sandy in October 2012. Unlike other relief organizations that show up in the first days after a natural disaster and then depart with the news outlets, PDA shows up and stays… and stays… and stays. Months and even years after an event. It is a testament to their understanding of what longterm recovery means for individuals who have lost homes, and for communities who have lost hope.

I think Laurie was impressed.

The Rev. Sarah Segal McCaslin
Advent 2B, December 7, 2014
Christ Presbyterian Church by the Sea

“As if…”

Y’all! You have a new pastor![i] This is good news of great joy this Advent season! You have found in Deb a partner in ministry- someone who will walk with you into Christ by the Sea’s future. She will accentuate your strengths; she will add her own; she will explore new things with you and accompany you as you encounter your learning edges. She will be here week after week, offering you the constancy that only an installed pastor can. She will take care of you; she will celebrate your joys and grieve your sorrows. She will preach a good word and she will break bread and bless the cup with you. She will orient new members and baptize new babies; she will sit at your bedside when you are ill; she will bury your loved ones and raise high the good news of our resurrection in Christ; and maybe she’ll officiate a wedding or two.

In like manner, you will be a sustaining presence for Deb. You will care for her as she lives into her first ordained call. You will grant her grace and flexibility as she balances her work life and home life, moving from Manhattan to Queens and back again. You will tell her what you need, since she will not be a mind reader. You will ask for her help; you will offer her suggestions; you will let her know when there is division among you. You will celebrate her joys and grieve her sorrows. You will continue to volunteer your time, your energy, your gifts and your money, for the sake of the church’s vitality.

Together, you and Deb will give and receive. You will love and be loved, in kind. You will experience conflict, and you will work for reconciliation. You will give thanks to God continually, and you will remember that you are, together, the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.

And finally, you and Deb will, I hope, give me a call when Deb needs a rest, or goes out of town, because I will miss being here with you on Sunday mornings. You have been a gift beyond measure to me during a time of transition in my life. You welcomed me with open arms and sang my unfamiliar hymns. You let my kids take up the offering without asking, and you told me your stories. It’s been a good run, I think, and I hope that we will not lose touch.

But it’s not over yet! And today we get to be together for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, when we light the candle for peace consider what it means to light a candle in the darkness…

The season in Advent begins with the recognition that our world is in turmoil… acknowledges that there are forces working against God and God’s intentions for humanity and for Creation. The season of Advent begins in the dark. It does not begin with Black Friday or Cyber Monday. It does not begin with the purchasing of the Christmas tree or the hanging of the wreath. Advent begins in our own, troubled realities.

Advent begins with die-ins on school campuses and city streets, with banners reading “Black Lives Matter.” Advent begins with the re-fracturing of a society already shattered by mistrust between civilians and police, between communities both black and white, between politicians and clergy, between neighbors, between friends.

Advent begins, as it did two years ago, with water-logged houses and mildew, lost homes, flooded sanctuaries and flooded schools.

Advent begins with the uncontrollable spread of disease in West Africa, with preventable infant and maternal mortality, with stomach-turning ubiquity of gun violence, with job loss and high-interest loans, with drone strikes and suicide bombs.

Advent begins in the dark.

And so, week by week, our task is to light a candle, pushing the darkness back and nurturing the fragile light of one, flickering flame, to reveal the light that will shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Last week, you may have lit a candle for hope, which is a good place to begin, for hope is the antidote for despair. Hope sets us on a path; hope attunes our hearts to the possibility of something beyond our own reckoning that will offer us release from our suffering. And so the candle of hope burns brightly.

This week, we light the candle for peace, planting our feet firmly on the side of God’s kingdom of reconciliation, where steadfast love and faithfulness will meet… where righteousness and peace will kiss each other. We will look around at the innumerable places where peace is absent, and we will stake our claim in the sure confidence that peace is ours to make through the power of God. It is there to be found, if the eyes of our hearts are willing to look.

I saw steadfast love and faithfulness meet on a street in Portland, Oregon last week. Maybe you did to? It was a picture of 12 year-old Devonte Hart and Sergeant Bret Barnum in the midst of a heartfelt embrace just a few days after a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.

Devonte, who is African American, has tears rolling down his young face. He had come to a protest rally in Portland, Oregon with his mother, and he carried a cardboard sign bearing the words, “Free Hugs.” Sergeant Barnum, who is white, was at the rally to keep the peace and noticed that Devonte was crying. The police officer walked up to the young boy to ask him if he was OK. Steadfast love and faithfulness met that day on the streets of Portland, and righteousness and peace shared a kiss.

There are as many feelings and opinions about the back-to-back decisions regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as there are people to express them. As one colleague shared this week, “If you are struggling to understand why the grand jury verdicts this week and last have evoked such outrage, all I can say is this: it doesn’t matter if the anger and frustration do not coincide with your experience. What matters is that we belong to each other, and ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.’”[ii]

Advent did not begin on November 30th, not really. Because we are always in a season of waiting and anticipation; and we are always aware of a member of the body who suffers– of the darkness that threatens to overcome that fragile flame. It’s confusing, though, to think of Advent as existing all year long. It’s like that awkward line in the communion liturgy, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” It is as if the past, present and future are all collapsed upon one another, existing in the same moment. As we await the coming of the Christ child, we are also anticipating his coming again at the end of time. AND, if that’s not enough, we are also living as if Christ is among us now, in the life of the community of faith, and in the bread and cup of communion. Past and future collapsed into the present.
Thankfully, our Advent task is not to explain how this all works. Our task is to LIVE IT, which might actually be harder. We have to figure out how to live ‘as if’ the glory of God is about the revealed, while at the same time preparing for God’s reappearance at the end of time AND living as if God’s glory is right here, among us now.

The Gospel of Mark begins with our preparation. Not with the narrative of the babe in the manger, but with John the Baptist, looking a whole lot like the prophet Elijah, preparing the way of the Lord by calling all people to the cleansing water to lay bare the hard truths of our own mistakes.

In my daughter’s kindergarten class last week, the students did a unit entitled, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth.” I wasn’t there for the conversation, but I saw the outcome. Each child was given an index card that said on one side, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth.” On the other side of the card, the children had written, or the teacher transcribed, a truth that was hard to tell. A length of yarn was tied to the card, and the cards were hung above the tables in their classroom. 18 hard truths laid bare for all to see. Claire’s, unsurprisingly, said, “Sometimes I push my brother.” A boy in her class shared a lengthy narrative about breaking his father’s stereo and lying about it. Now, none of the kids admitted to committing a crime or playing a practical joke on a parent; it was small potatoes stuff across the board. But more than the substance of their truth was the difficulty of naming it out loud. What are the hard truths that we, as Christians, must admit to? Or, what would your card say?

This is part of our Advent preparation, according to Mark. As individuals and as the church, we’ve got to write down our hard truths and hang them up for God to see: I judged another person by the color of her skin or the model of his car. I turned my back on someone in need because I was too busy. I chose to do the easy thing; not the right thing. I didn’t march in the protest because I didn’t think it mattered to my life.

In this way, we will prepare the way for God to come down and work salvation and reconciliation among us— by declaring the absence of peace in our lives and for seeking forgiveness for all those times when we have chosen the opposite of peace.

And then there is Peter, writing on the other side of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection, reminding us that we are still in Advent’s anticipation for Christ’s return and are still caught in the human dilemma of being constant and steadfast in times of turmoil and darkness. ‘Be ready,’ he says. ‘How do you want to look when the Christ returns? Like withered grass and faded flower? How do you want to spend this between-time? In darkness? No. You want to be found by Christ at peace with yourselves and one another. And by the way, remember that God is patient with you, not wanting any to perish.’ God wants all to survive and to flourish. God’s salvation won’t be complete if we are not ALL a part of it.
God’s salvation won’t be complete if we are not ALL a part of it. That is why Advent represents the already AND the not yet. Through Christ, we have all received the unconditional invitation for salvation. And yet, we continue to let members of the body suffer. A colleague has suggested that to be holy is to belong to God; to be complete; to be pure; and to be beautiful. That is where we are aiming this Advent journey– to make ourselves, our community and our world holy.

That is quite a honey-do list. Do you know that term? It was new to me…

To live as if we can achieve a holy community. To live as if steadfast love and faithfulness can meet on every street corner, and righteousness and peace kiss at every gathering of unlikely partners. To live as if the path in our own wilderness is not treacherous, steep and windy, but instead straight and flat. To live as if true and lasting peace is possible, even now. To live each and every day as if the day of the Lord is upon us. To live in the enduring ‘already and not yet’ of God’s kingdom.

Advent is a long season. That means, we are given a lot of time each year to ponder the incredible power of living ‘as if.’ My family got an Advent calendar this year for the first time. It is blue with silver glitter, with a picture of two young, larger than life angels peeking into the manger. There are doves and stars and a crescent moon, and animals. And the holy family, of course, looking small and fragile in the midst of so much glory. Each tiny door reveals an Advent Scripture passage. No chocolate in this one! It feels like it is taking forever to open all those doors, and it is the first thing Claire does when she wakes up in the morning. Rushing into the kitchen to open that little door and reveal another bit of the mystery of Christmas.

I like that practice, because it is ‘as if’ we’ve got all the time in the world to open each little door and ponder each little mystery. And it has occurred to me, as I struggle with the weight of creating peace in every place and living a holy, unblemished life… You cannot practice peace, if you have not experienced peace. You cannot become holy, if you have not experienced holiness. So maybe that’s the secret of Advent’s massive ‘honey-do’ list. Experience peace; welcome holiness; then turn outward and share those mysteries with others. Give somebody else, preferably somebody who might be hard to love, a little peace, and a little holiness. And God will be present in our midst, and it will be ‘as if’ the kingdom has come. And will be the heralds of glad tidings, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!”

May it be so.

© Sarah McCaslin, 2014


[ii] Thank you, Rev. Aimee Moiso!

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Music That Makes Community

Music that Makes CommunityWhoah! Last week I attended a conference, Music That Makes Community, at St. Peter’s Church, and my mind was blown.

Let me explain: Until last Thursday, November 13th, I believed in my heart of hearts that I was a pastor and a preacher, NOT a musician or a song leader.

Music That Makes Community challenged these distinctions and challenged me to consider the possibility that I might ALSO be a musician and song leader… The leaders and practitioners of MMC believe that we ALL have competencies as yet undiscovered… as musicians, song leaders, liturgists.

According to their core values, “In order to connect in a real, honest way, we must be vulnerable to one another. We take risks in our leadership, and when we choose the wrong pitch or our voices crack or a song doesn’t work, we model forgiveness. We live into the dissonance and consider it all part of the holy work of coming together in song, in worship, in our life as the body of Christ.”

It was a revelation. I do not have to have perfect pitch or dulcet tones. I only need the desire to meet God and meet community in the sharing of music. That’s it. Really. There are tricks to using your hands to guide the community. There are songs already written that can be taught and sung. But you can just as easily make up a melody to match a phrase that desires to be heard in worship. As that ubiquitious shoe campaign says, Just Do It.

In full disclosure, I lost my nerve when it was time to improvise. I made all kinds of excuses. I just couldn’t pull both words and music out of my brain at the same time. Until… I came home to my kids and realized that ALL we do is improvise song at home. We almost exlusively use silly, sing-songy voices as running commentary for whatever we’re doing. Eating dinner, brushing teeth, using the bathroom one more time before bed. All of that information conveyed in song.

It was a missed opportunity. And I hope that I won’t miss it again.

As proof of my conversion, I offer you MY song. It is my melody, such as it is, formed to match a phrase chosen from a list of phrases. Listen if you need COURAGE. Because, my pitch ain’t great and my voice cracks like a hard-boiled egg on a marble countertop. But I did it. And the Spirit was present in that place, and it was some of the purest worship I’ve encountered in a very long time.

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And All Shall be Well, A Sermon for All Saints

I believe I have succeeded in posting an audio version of my sermon.

Thanks to the saints of Christ Presbyterian Church by the Sea for bearing with me as I made this first attempt at recording. They are good and generous and kind folks, and I am humbled every time they invite me back to worship with them.

And All Shall be Well…
Sermon preached by the Rev. Sarah Segal McCaslin
November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we celebrate All Saints Day, when it is customary to remember those who have died in the last year and attend to the dimensions of our faith related to death that are often neglected. It is a right and good thing to do, so we shall. We will sing ‘for all the saints, who from their labors rest!’; we will receive the promises of Scripture that those who have gone before us to life eternal will hunger no more and thirst no more…and God will wipe away every tear from their eye; and we will break bread and bless the cup and imagine that future time when we will all feast together at God’s table in glory.

We will do all these things with solemnity and dignity and reverence and joy.

And… we will also acknowledge the many other kinds of loss that we have experienced, for there is not one among us who has not experienced loss this year. There is not one among us who has escaped unscathed. Like death and taxes, loss is a sure thing, and yet it never fails to surprise us. It can take our breath away– loss– when it happens suddenly, leaving us bent over and gasping for air to fill our lungs. Loss can happen slowly, too, eating away at us little by little, small loss over small loss until it reaches its own, inevitable completion. Loss comes from many places, not just death, and that loss deserves our attention today, as well.

As someone has said, ‘Loss can come from leave-takings, as we depart for a new job or home or leave beloved friends and colleagues behind. It can come as you slowly lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s. It can come in the loss of employment or dignity. It can come from struggles with illness both of body and mind. It can come from the exhaustion of caring for another and the occasional recognition of all the things given up in order to offer that care. It can come from disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed.’

Who or what have you lost this year?

If loss is an event, or a moment in time, or a single, unique experience– grief is what is left behind after loss. And grief can become a constant companion, attached at our hip like a stray animal, starving and desperate for attention.

What are we to do with this animal named Grief? It can be a rangy and sharp-toothed thing, grabbing at the hem of your coat as you are trying to leave the house- as you are trying to put your life back together again. But that animal named Grief wants you to stay inside and stay devoted to its care. It doesn’t mind if you get angry; anger means you are going to let the animal named Grief stick around longer. It doesn’t mind if you feel despair; despair just means you are growing dependent on Grief.

We live in a culture that despises animals named Grief, and would rather you stay indoors with it than put it on a leash and take it out for a walk in the fresh air. We live in a culture that is terrified of animals named Grief and so has set up statutes of limitation for dealing with loss to keep Grief out of sight. But animals named Grief don’t pay attention to statutes of limitations, and Grief can’t be bothered with what culture has ruled ‘acceptable loss.’

We are allowed to grieve the loss of a relative or dear friend; are we allowed also to grieve the loss of a beloved pet? We are allowed to grieve the death of a child already born, but are we allowed to grieve infertility and miscarriage? We are allowed to grieve a cancer diagnosis, but what about schizophrenia? When are we allowed to bring our Grief into the light of day, and when are we expected to hide it?

Approximately one thousand years ago, I led a grief recovery group, and here is what I noticed: even before the group had had its first meeting, I received phone calls like these: Well, my husband and I haven’t been intimate in a number of years and I am grieving the loss of the expectations I had for our marriage. Does this count as grief? Can I participate?

And from another: my dad died ten years ago, but I still feel really sad. Is it OK to join the group if it’s been so long since I lost him?

You and this community endured terrible loss two years ago, and it is likely that many, if not most, of you are still grieving the loss of your homes; the loss of a sense of security that a home provides; the loss of confidence in the government and nonprofit institutions to offer real and timely assistance. The loss of friends and family who have moved away for good. So many losses to grieve… Who can put a statute of limitations on that kind of grief?

What are you grieving this year? How you have attended to your grief? Does it keep you up at night? Does it make you anxious or depressed? Do you hide your grief because you think you should be ‘done’ grieving by now? Are you worried that you’ll be judged for still grieving?

I’ve described grief as a rangy, sharp-toothed animal nipping at your heels, because it’s needy, and both vulnerable and slightly dangerous, and it just won’t leave you alone. Maybe that image resonates with you, or maybe grief is a place- dark and still, devoid of sunlight and oxygen? The poet Ann Weems describes what she knows as the Valley of Grief:

O God, find me!

I am lost

In the valley of grief,

and I cannot see my way out.

My friends leave baskets of balm

at my feet,

but I cannot bend to touch

the healing

to my heart.

They call me to leave

this valley,

but I cannot follow

the faint sound

of their voices…

O God, find me!

Come into this valley

and find me!

Bring me out of this land

of weeping.

O you to whom I belong,

find me!

I will wait here,

for you have never failed

to come to me.

I will wait here,

for you have always been faithful.

I will wait here,

for you are my God,

and you have promised

that you counted the hairs on my head.

What is your grief like? How do you attend to it?

If All Saints Sunday is a time to remember those we’ve lost and be comforted by the knowledge that in an unknown future all shall be well through the promises of God, All Saints is ALSO a time to lean on the saints who have gone before us; to recognize the saints who still walk among us. To take an inventory of the ways in which we, too, may be accounted saints for others. And to take custody of God’s promises that are for us in the present moment. For God is not stingy in doling out blessings upon God’s own children.

Listen again to these words from Scripture, and pay close attention to the tense- not past or future, but present!

  • From 1 John, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of god; and that is what we ARE…Beloved, we are God’s children NOW…
  • From Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… blessed are the merciful… blessed are the pure in heart… blessed are the peacemakers… blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… blessed are you when people revile you.

Are you a child of God? Are you mourning a loss? Are you a peacemaker? Are you a victim of persecution? Are you poor in spirit? If you can identify as any of these, then you are ALREADY blessed. Right in this moment, you are a blessing to God, who through Jesus Christ, knows what it means to be all of these and more.

It is true, but that doesn’t make it easy to believe. We are invited to trust these promises of blessing and comfort even though we cannot see them. And there are times. Lots of times. When it is just about impossible to wait for these blessings to be revealed when we are sitting upon a heap of ashes. When we cannot find it in us to be patient in the face of so much loss, and grief, and pain, and heartache. When it even seems that those who have left this life are better off than those of us left behind.

I met a young woman at the hospital last week, as she walked slowly along the hallway, trying to stretch her aching muscles. She has a constellation of medical diagnoses that amount to both chronic and acute pain and illness. She’s away from her young children; at the mercy of doctors who are flummoxed as to how to treat her multiple diseases; and in tremendous pain. She does not hide her aggravation and her tendency toward despair. But when I mentioned that I was a chaplain, her eyes lit up and she began to talk about Job. Of course, Job. She and Job are companions in their grief. Everything taken away- health, wealth, family. Well, almost everything. Not faith. Even through his grief, which must have looked more like a snarling beast than a rangy, sharp-toothed dog, Job held on. He is her saint. He walked ahead of her, leaving his story behind as a talisman. ‘I survived; you can, too.’ What was left at the end of her story was a steeliness and stubbornness in her eyes that said, ‘I will not let this defeat me. I will choose to be victorious, regardless the outcome.’

‘The word saint is not limited to the ‘greats’ of history, for even the Apostle Paul and other writers in the New Testament use the term synonymously with Christian and, at times, with believer. We all have saints, those who are deceased, and those who are living and walking among us.’ (source)

Who are your saints? Who among the saints walks ahead of you and shows you that grief and loss will not have the final word? Who among the saints walks ahead of you reminding you that you are a beloved child of God right at this very moment? Who among the saints might give you strength and courage for the living of these days? Who among the saints teaches you to attend to the animal named Grief? Or who can pull you from the Valley called Grief?

Saints do not become saints by sheer determination and self-discipline. Saints become saints because God creates them by grace. And because God’s grace is abundant and overflowing, any of us are worthy to be called saints. To honor the saints today, those gone before us and those even in this sanctuary, is not to revere the good works of the few, but to affirm the transformative power of Jesus Christ at work all around us in human lives.

We will do this, too, with solemnity and dignity and reverence and joy.

Who can you be a saint to this year? Who can you remind, in the depth of their grief, that they are children of God, right this very minute? Who can you give strength and courage to for the living of these days? Who can you teach about attending to animals and valleys called Grief with tenderness and patience? In the action for others, you will find a blessing for yourself.

I’m not sure I’ve answered the question about how we might believe God’s promises while sitting upon a heap of ashes. There is no equation or prescription for seeing past the impassable and experiencing hope. My own practice has evolved over the years, and I imagine it will evolve over the full span of my life. The first thing is my motto: Fake it ‘till you make it. You know that one, right? You know they’ve done studies that show if you make yourself smile, even when you are sad or angry, the plain, physical act of smiling will actually change your mood. For me, it means pretending I have hope and trust, even when I don’t, until the pretending to hope and trust turns into actually hoping and trusting.

I also embraced a mantra this year. I dislike the term mantra and especially having a ‘personal mantra.’ But here it is: God will not forsake me. A very wise and faithful man (a saint for sure) gave this to me when I was sitting on a heap of ashes not too long ago. I privately rolled my eyes because there was no way saying it would work. It has worked. It has done miraculous things in my life.

Now, on this All Saints Sunday, I’m thinking about the words of an old hymn. Maybe you know it: Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God my Savior.

Or, finally, this one, spoken by a mystic but as a close an interpretation of promises laid forth in Revelation as you’ll find anywhere: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

May it be so.

© Sarah McCaslin, 2014

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’tis the season

I felt a real chill in the air today. I pulled my coat tighter around me and wrapped my scarf twice around my neck. Piles of leaves tempt children on street corners, and the trees are awash in my favorite colors- moss, goldenrod, persimmon. This weekend, Daylight Savings will set a new, early curfew.

Being poor is always difficult, but I wonder if it is especially so during the bitter cold season. For obvious reasons– landlords who fail to fix faulty boilers or even to turn them on in the first place– but also less obvious reasons– seasonal jobs end; adults and children at risk of contracting the flu. I imagine that this a fraught time for at-risk individuals and families.

Food PantryFor others of us, the winter sparkles with promises of large feasts, gifts, warm homes and hot chocolate. Thankfully, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving also inaugurate the season of canned food drives for the chronically empty shelves of major food banks and local pantries.

If you are going to give in-kind this year (and you should!), please take a look at the following list of food items and sundries that aren’t often found on lists but are just as important (or more so) than the ubiquitous canned veggies, dried oatmeal and peanut butter.

Remember, if you have kids, take them shopping with you. Talk to them about food insecurity (being mindful of developmental appropriateness) and let them fill the basket. If they have an allowance, invite them to contribute to the cost of the goods. If they are older, take them with you to drop off your donations. Volunteer to stock the shelves.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to clean out your own pantry of expired goods. If you haven’t eaten the food in over a year, don’t expect someone else to. (I spent many years sorting donated foods for a local pantry and wasted countless hours throwing away somebody else’s unwanted expired, gourmet foods).

Finally, challenge yourself to do this more than once a year. Hungry people are hungry 365 days a year.

10 Things Food Banks Need but Won’t Ask For

Some items are in high demand at the food bank and you may not realize it. Because they aren’t essentials, the staff doesn’t publicly ask for them. A survey on asked volunteers what items people would be most appreciative of and we’ve listed the top 10 below. If you’re looking for an easy way to help out, pick some of these up while shopping and drop them off at one of our area food banks.

1. Spices.

Think about it. People who rely on the food bank eat a lot of canned food, rice, oatmeal, white bread, etc. They love spices. Seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, oregano, basil and so on.

2. Feminine Products.

Can you imagine being worried about affording these? Pads, tampons, panty liners, etc. Recommended: Buy in bulk at Costco for donating.

3. Chocolate.

People don’t need it, but think about being in their shoes and how nice it would be to be given a chocolate bar or brownie mix along with your essentials.

4. Toiletries.

Grocery stores are great about donating surplus or unsold food, but they have no reason to donate toilet paper, tooth paste, soap, deodorant, shampoo, etc. Food stamps often don’t cover these.

5. Canned meats and jerky.

This isn’t true of all food banks, but some struggle to give users enough protein.

6. Crackers and tortillas.

They don’t spoil and everybody likes them.

7. Baby toiletries.

Diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, baby shampoo, baby soap, baby food, bottles, etc.

8. Soup packets.

Sometimes you look at rice, beans, instant potatoes, and cans of vegetable and think, “What do I make with this?” Hearty soup is a complete meal.

9. Socks.

From a former homeless person: “Socks mean the world to you. They keep you warm, make you feel like you have something new, and just comfort you.”

10. Canned fruit other than pineapple.

Food banks get a lot of pineapple donated. Their clients love it when other kinds of fruit are available.

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Good Theology and The Good Wife

I dedicate this post to the best Pop Pop ever,
who is happily watching my kids while my husband travels for work
and I sit in a coffee shop, with hours of uninterrupted time. Hallelujah!

No one would accuse prime time network television of being the locus of moral and theological learning. With each passing ‘season,’ the jokes get raunchier, the violence more gruesome, and the sexual situations edging ever closer to softcore pornography. Television (whether it be drama, comedy, reality or news programming) shows us the worst of who we are as humans- selfish, shallow, morally apathetic and greedy. Network television is a wasteland. I know this because I watch a lot of it.

This is my confession- digital bunny ears balanced on top of my childrens’ play kitchen, I end many days on my couch, watching whatever the networks are offering. (I’ll save the reflection on my bizarre habit for another post)

Juliana Margulies and Taye Diggs as lawyers on The Good Wife.

Juliana Margulies and Taye Diggs as lawyers on The Good Wife.

Imagine my surprise two weeks ago when on a quiet Sunday evening, CBS’s hit show The Good Wife premiered the episode entitled, ‘Dear God.’

The set up:

Two men, farmers both, are in court; one is suing the other for patent infringement. The defendant has apparently been swiping the genetically-modified seeds of his neighbor for his own farm- without paying for the privilege. The lawyers argue, as lawyers do, and the accused and accuser, we see, become more and more uncomfortable in their respective seats. They are Christians, we learn, and they have become uncomfortable with legal process for resolving their dispute.

In the very next scene, four uncomfortable lawyers sit around a table on the floor of an amphitheater- style sanctuary, with a pastor in place of a judge. The plaintiff and defendant have decided to proceed with binding Christian arbitration, known as The Matthew Process, to resolve their dispute. It is a funny scene- these lawyers so out of their element, forced to argue within the confines of mercy and forgiveness.

Flummoxed as to how to proceed, Alicia Florick, an avowed atheist, reaches out to her teenage daughter, Grace, a professed Christian, for help. Grace tells her mom that she can’t pull certain verses out of the Bible to prove her point.

“It’s called proof-texting, Mom; you can’t do that. You have to look at what the whole Bible says.”

“But I’m a lawyer, Grace, that’s what I do!”

After a meaningful pause, Alicia says, “So you really believe all this, Grace?”

“I don’t know if it’s all historically accurate,” Grace responds, “but I think it can be true in another way.”

“What other way?”

Grace and Alicia Florick, characters on The Good Wife.

Grace and Alicia Florick, characters on The Good Wife.

“You know, like poetry. It can still be true even if it’s not accurate. Look, if I wanted you to remember that God created everything, I’d probably tell you a story about it happening in seven days. It doesn’t actually mean that it happened in seven days; it just means that I wanted you to remember that God created everything.”

There it is. Right there. Really good theology on primetime network television. Thoughtful engagement between an atheist and a Christian within a setting that is neither vitriolic nor dismissive. Between a mother and daughter whose views are different but whose attachment is secure.

I won’t tell you how the case between the farmer resolves. I actually don’t even remember. What I remember is the pleasure of watching something that matters to me in my life and vocation portrayed on television in a way that is funny, wise, engaging, a bit cynical, and, above all, thoughtful.

The moral of my story? Watch TV; maybe you’ll learn something!

No, not quite. But, perhaps, to be engaged in popular culture is not equivalent to being disengaged with good theology. At least, not on Sunday nights…

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