Lasare

Our spiritual ancestors were identified as LASARE (Readers). the Bible was their primary document, was in their hands constantly and used faithfully…They spoke of themselves frequently as gathering around the Word as if to encircle it, like gathering around a campfire on a cold day or a dark night.

The “Readers” did not come to the Bible because they had been convinced by theological and dogmatic discussions of its authority…It’s authority was found In the new life in Christ they found there. They knew that speaking about food could not satisfy hunger and that speaking about thirst could not quench thirst. They trusted the Bible to be its own defense as well as their own, not by speaking about it, but by proclaiming its message in testimony and sermon, song and living.” (Eric Hawkinson, Images in Covenant Beginnings, Covenant Press, 1968).

Our way into the Bible is to read, to understand, and to believe. It is possible to read but not understand. It is possible to understand and yet reject in unbelief. But to believe in the Bible is not the same as to believe in God. It is possible to believe the Bible instead of believing in God. The worst way to lose the Bible is to make it into an idol.

The Bible is God’s book, but it must in a special sense be the Christ book. the Bible’s meaning and unity is Christ, but the Holy Spirit needs to witness to Christ in our hearts. Hence to keep the Bible means at the deepest level that it becomes God’s Word about Christ made fruitful through the Holy Spirit.” David Nyvall (1863-1946)

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These words speak to our unique and rich theological history of scripture’s authority, while at the same time giving way to the Living God who we find there inviting us to life. The truth of scripture is found ultimately in our experience of New life in Christ. We come to scripture for life, and we live to witness to the good news of God we find there. While the text is important, it is the message to which it points that brings life.

What strikes me as I reflect is how these “readers” gathered together to read for the sake of assessing others, or resolving all the tensions of their lives, but to be formed — to learn and grow as disciples of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. The crucial element of this was the relational aspect of their faith.

Last Sunday’s sermon wrestled with this idea of coming TO scripture and reading it together NOT to figure out who God is — but to reverse the order — experiencing the presence and goodness of God and reading scripture with an openness to learn more of this God of love. Here’s the quote from Luke Timothy Johnson that I read and pondered:

The task of scripture is not to dictate how God should act: rather, God’s action, even these days, dictates how we understand scripture.” (Writings of the New Testament).

This gets at what I experienced as a child and through my life, among these Pietists whose hearts were strangely warmed, that “scripture rings true because of the grace of God in my life.” Scripture is no less authoritative, but locates its authority not in propositional truth but in the life of faith.

Just some rambling thoughts! I’d love to talk more with you about your thoughts. How about a walk, a coffee, or some lunch? Be in touch!

Peter Hawkinson

Transition Time

A couple of years ago, our Wednesday night adult group studied a book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges.

The book was first published almost forty years ago, and from what I can tell, has continued in print ever since, even coming out recently with an updated edition. This little book deserves all its acclaim, as it charts out the three parts of any transition: “the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning,” in ways that each of us can identify with, and gives the reader a much deeper understanding of transitions and how to navigate them well.

I love this book, and yet I also struggle with this book, because of one of its simple premises: that we are all, always, experiencing some sort of transition.

I might find this less objectionable if I liked transition and change, but to be honest, I really don’t.

I love a good routine. I like habits and well-worn rhythms, I like schedules and predictability.

I bet some of you do too.

Which has made this past year of pandemic living especially hard. First, there was the sudden dramatic upheaval of all of our routines, as everything shut down in a matter of days. No more school, work, gatherings; no more regular shopping or recreation or travel. Instead, lots of anxious watching of the news and wiping down packages with disinfectants. Figuring out how to sew masks. Learning what a six-foot distance looks like.

And then, ever since, we have been changing. Pivoting, as my friends and I like to say. Depending on what the positivity rates and case numbers are like in our area, or responding to the changing science around this virus. The availability of vaccines. The prevalence of new virus variants.

Are you tired too? Are you over this, yet?

Looking back at Bridges’ model of transitions, we all raced through the “ending” part of our old lives, and in some ways have been living in the “neutral zone” ever since. And the neutral zone, as he writes in his book, is rough. You might think of it like the wilderness that the Israelites wandered in, or a river you are crossing. The middle of it, between the old and the new, is frightening. Unfamiliar. Disorienting. And getting through it can’t be rushed – it takes as long as it takes.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I am getting ever-wearier of the neutral zone in this pandemic. I have my vaccines, and my loved ones are getting theirs, and I want normal life again. I want to travel without fear, and to gather with friends; I want to stop taking temperatures at church and marking off spaces in the pews that are six feet apart.

I know many of you feel the same.

And yet…people are still dying by the dozens every day, here in Illinois, of COVID. New variants continue to appear. Science keeps changing on how long vaccine protection lasts, and against which strands of the virus. All of this tells me that it’s too soon to declare ourselves through the neutral zone and at the new beginning.

We have come far enough that we can take some good guesses at what the new beginning will look like – that we will still wear masks for a time, and need to take a few extra precautions about sharing food and indoor space. But so much is still unknown: whether we will need annual booster shots to the vaccine, whether COVID will endure throughout the years but become less lethal and more like a flu…we have to wait and see.

So what do you do, stuck in the neutral zone? How do you live through the uncertainty and the impatience and the weariness?

Perhaps you make like the Israelites who were stuck in that desert for forty years, and you look for manna. For God’s gift, delivered every day, just enough for a day at a time.

You look for little bits of beauty, and grace, and hope. A hug with a friend who you haven’t touched in months, but whom you can embrace now that you’re vaccinated. A meal outdoors in the sunshine, with someone bringing you food that you didn’t prepare and you won’t have to clean up (wonder of wonders!). A trip to the grocery store, free of fear and Lysol wipes.

It may not be much. But it just needs to be enough to keep going. A day at a time. One step further.

And as you look for this, may you find – as the Israelites did – that God is faithful to provide just enough for us to keep going. Amen.

-Pastor Jen

Bold To Pray

When Episcopalians share in what they call the Holy Eucharist, they work through a familiar liturgy. No surprise there! The words first appeared in the book of common prayer thanks to Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (d.1556). With the taste of grace still in their mouths, the celebrant enjoins the congregation: And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say,and then the people say the version of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

You and I, we know the prayer so well! We speak the words every week, simple and few. But as “we are bold to say” reminds us, the words are much more few than simple. That word BOLD is worth thinking about. We do well not to pray the prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all. Just listen to the words of Frederick Buechner:

“Thy will be done” is what we are saying…we are asking God to be God….”Thy Kingdom come…on earth” is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown the hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be as phony as three-dollar bills? Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.

You need to be bold in another way to speak the second half. Give us. Forgive us. Don’t test us. Deliver us. If it takes guts to face the omnipotence that is God’s, it takes perhaps no less to face the impotence that is ours. We can do nothing without God. Without God we are nothing.

It is only the words “Our Father” that make the prayer bearable. If God is indeed something like a father, then as something like children maybe we can risk approaching him anyway. (Listening to your life).

We are BOLD to say, to pray as our Savior Christ has taught us. Reflect deeply on these few words of this prayers so central, so formational to our faith. Though you know them by heart, and though we spit them out by memory evidenced in familiar cadences, let us pray the words as though for the first time, each time. Each time a radical new act of letting go and throwing ourselves onto the mercy of Almighty God, each time catching our breath as we realize again that God Almighty wants to be our Father.

Bold to Pray.

Wisdom From The Saints

From Glad Hearts, edited by my Father, James Hawkinson, two of the saints speak to us today.

The first is David Nyvall (1863-1946), Covenant educator, founder, and first president of North Park College and Seminary. Reflecting on the Word of God, he writes:

“If one goes to the Bible with an eye for errors, contradictions, grammatical anomalies, historical mistakes, or imprecise information and numbers, then the Bible is only great enough for scholarship about these matters. But if one goes to the Bible with an eye for the life that surges like mighty waves rising from bursting streams here and there, then one will be rewarded infinitely more. The Bible occupies a world that should be studied with a telescope rather than a microscope. What a loss it would be to study the stars and the Northern Lights with a magnifying glass! Let us admit that while it is also worthwhile to study the Bible with a microscope…this is the right of the research process…But according to Hebrews, faith looks through a telescope and notices that which is invisible under the research microscope, that is, that the Bible embraces the whole world of light and life, of comfort and guidance. And it is certainly true that no discovery of formal errors can take away anything of essential value from the Bible’s contents, just as if during a morning walk one’s admiration for the fresh, newly-born nature would be destroyed through the discovery of a leaf containing irregular, faulty edges or of stones which are not all cut into four square edges.” (P. 316)

The second voice is that of my childhood pastor, Glen Wiberg (1925-2017), who speaks of the Church as Christ’s welcoming community:

“The church, with the pail and dipper, is still the bearer of God’s invitation–good news for the thirsty. There is a meeting place with an address where you are not only welcome but where your thirst can be quenched. There is a word. There is a font of life. There is a table. There is broken bread. There is a water pail and dipper. ‘In, with, and under’ these earthy things there is the presence of the living Christ, God’s chosen One, the Bright and Morning Star, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The One who offers the gift of eternal life freely to all who thirst says, ‘Come, this gift is yours, without money and without price.’ There is no better menu any place. The source of life is not a concept, nor a theology, nor a ritual, nor an organization, nor even an experience however ecstatic. The source of life is a Person–Jesus, the living One who speaks and with outstretched hand says to you, ‘Welcome!’ (P. 357-58)

Wearing Skin

Over the course of the last week, I’ve started visiting church members again. Now that I have my vaccines, and they have theirs, I’ve started sitting in living rooms and meeting rooms, talking with people I haven’t seen at all, or have seen but rarely, over the last thirteen months.

Giving them hugs. Holding their hands to pray. Patting their arms.

After a year of being so isolated, touch feels more important than ever.

But even as I sit with these dear friends, and as I slowly expand my social circle at home to include a few more people for dinners and baking days, there is still a hesitancy that flavors all of these interactions.

We aren’t quite sure, still, how to inhabit our bodies. Bodies which we have spent the last year worrying ceaselessly about, trying to protect from germs and viruses. Bodies which we have closed off in our homes, kept distant from other bodies. Bodies which maybe have grown in ways we didn’t anticipate or ask for this year (I’m looking at you, “COVID 19”), or bodies which have been a constant source of anxiety to us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Barbara Brown Taylor’s essay on Incarnation, or “The Practice of Wearing Skin,” in her book An Altar in the World. In that piece, she reflects on all the messages society gives us about our bodies, about all the ways we’re taught to be critical of our bodies, to distance ourselves from them, and especially in the church to spiritualize our faith instead of making it physical and embodied.

We talk a lot and listen a lot and read a lot but we don’t always live and move and interact a lot with those bodies. And that has been the case exponentially more so in this past year. (Maybe you are one of the few who has learned to listen to her body a lot more this year, who has moved it in ways that felt good and nourished it with some of the extra time you weren’t using to go out and travel – in which case, I congratulate you. Now for the rest of us…)

We may not even pay much attention to our bodies until they demand it through illness or injury or even the limitations of aging. Then we complain and critique and bemoan our bodies, but rarely turn to them with gentleness and care and love.

And we are missing out, when we do that, on a major way that God reveals God’s self to us.

“What many of us miss, in our physical dis-ease,” Taylor writes, “is that our bodies remain God’s best way of getting to us.” She writes about Jesus’ ministry, which was so deeply physical, so thoroughly embodied: he broke bread and washed feet and hugged children and went fishing. “Most of us could use a reminder that God does not come to us beyond the flesh but in the flesh, at the hands of a teacher who will not be spiritualized but who goes on trusting the embodied sacraments of bread, wine, water, and feet. ‘Do this,’ he said – not believe this but do this – ‘in remembrance of me.'”

The incarnation of our faith is not an optional add-on; it is an essential piece.

God reveals things to us in our bodies that our minds can’t understand in the abstract: the feeling of cool, clean sheets on your bed; the warmth of a hot meal on a cold day; the soft touch of a baby’s cheek or the solid warmth of a dog’s belly. The soft bite of communion bread and the sweet tang of grape juice. Do this in remembrance of me.

It will take some time to get back to our bodies, and maybe even longer towards making peace with them and respecting them as, in Taylor’s words, “our soul’s address.” It will be a while yet before we can gather all together and hug each other and eat together again.

But as we begin that journey back, let us do so with a renewed attention to our bodies; to what they need from us, and what they can teach us, about ourselves and others and God. Let us remember to care for our bodies, and others’ bodies, as our soul’s address. As a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

-Pastor Jen

Old Life

In the immortal words of The Rolling Stones iconic song Mother’s Little Helper, “What a drag it is getting old.”

These have to be the words our Labrador Retriever Silas would say if he could speak these days, now well into his 13th dog year. In fact, he speaks through his old body, racked with joint pain and cataracts and his now almost total loss of hearing. There is absolutely no doubt his constant sleep will soon be permanent. I wonder if he knows it as I look into his eyes, and rub his ears while his tag wags still. It’s hard to watch his diminishment (except for his voracious appetite, the only bit of his old self remaining!).

Last night, while snuggling with him, the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah found my spirit:

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (40:30-31)

These are the same words on the gravestone of my dearly departed brother-in-law, Dwight Peterson, whose body was ravaged by an infection when he was just 18, and left him in paralysis until his death at the age of 54. I never once saw him walk, let alone run or fly like an eagle, but what comfort I find in those hopeful words on his grave that hold out faith in the promises of our good God, who promises to renew us even as our old age wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds.

Ours is a resurrection faith of hope in the face of diminishing realities that our mortality makes inevitable. Just as inevitable, we are crazy enough to believe, is the renewal of our health and strength, our bodies and spirits, sure as now sufferings and death have their way with us.

As I grow older I’m less an expert on Orthodoxy and better at wandering into wonderful mysteries that are the bunny trails of God’s abundant love…creating, redeeming, sustaining. I’m sure its sacrilege to speak of a heavenly glory for Silas and all the other creatures that we love and who love us. Yet I will revel in my helplessness to ease his pain to imagine a day soon when he can walk freely and run boldly again, maybe even leap off some heavenly dock into an endless lake of never ending joy, for Silas like me is one of God’s creatures. It is that hope which shall comfort us when we put him off to sleep sometime soon.

And how fun it will be someday to see Dwight again, among the saints, fully on his feet again, as he was first created to be, renewed in his strength in ways that I can only imagine.

It is this hope I will choose to rest in as I begin to feel the aging effects of this life, the contemplations of all that’s yet to be. Thanks be to God!

Peter Hawkinson

The Day After Easter

(Guest Blogger, Mary Rhodes)

2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

The writer Ann Lamott has come up with a great name for this pandemic journey we’re all on together: “Covid College”. And when you think about it, we have been in a weird kind of shared classroom this past year, forcing us to change and grow. Last week, Pastor Jen revealed a bit of her own Covid College experience when she blogged about how reluctant she felt this Easter season to embark on the pathos of the stories of Holy Week. “I’ve felt those things too much and too often already in this past year,” she wrote. Can we all relate?

It’s interesting that our sacred telling of the Easter story in 2020 and 2021 almost bookends our first year at Covid College. A high point of Easter last year for my husband Steve and me was the surprise of seeing Pastor Pete and Bonnie on our driveway in their car packed with hydrangeas, begonias and Lillies. Their “drive-by delivery” brought a bright and unexpected human touch while we felt so cut off from our church and world.

This Year?

Holy Week: All the chaotic, fast-moving and volatile stories of Holy Week– power-hungry Pharisees; treacherous Judas; frightened Peter; Weak-willed Pontius Pilate; fickle crowds that welcome Jesus one day, then shout to crucify him five days later– helped me see Jesus in a new way. I kept thinking: That’s exactly how my world feels to me right now. I discovered this new connection to a Savior who knows how it feels to navigate constant uncertainty, disappointment, and risk. Jesus triumphed over life’s toughest roadblocks. Now he walks alongside us too.

Easter Sunday: This was my first Sunday service after zooming for 12 months. What a coming-out party! Still, the hard lessons of the day were clear: “If ever there was a year we come to Jesus’ tomb with tears, this is it,” said Pastor Pete. “If you came here weeping this morning, God is so close. He will meet your tears, your sorrows and griefs right where you are.” Our glorious Sunday celebration was a full-blown, all-out tribute to the power of church and community. Thank you, Winnetka Covenant! He is risen, indeed!

Our Leaders: Should we take a congregational vote on whether to let Pastor Pete retire his polka dot blanket? Will Pastor Joel, after his epic Holy Week monologue on facebook, be the next breakout podcast personality? Is Pastor Jen destined for the British Baking Show? Are there adequate words to describe the power and range of Dimitri’s talents? This has been a year of creativity and resourcefulness for our leaders as they’ve battled their own pandemic fears and crises while finding new ways–from their kitchen table and living room couch– to encourage and lift us up with God’s Word. There are still a lot of unknowns and tough decisions. We’re not out of the Covid woods yet. But we’re blessed by the innovative ways they keep us connected and inspired. They are in our prayers.

We’ve all changed. In fact, there’s a lot of areas we individual members may decide to cut out of our lives; things we’ve discovered we don’t need or care about after this past Covid College year.

But we know this: we need Church!

Mary Rhodes

It’s Time!

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:1-2)

I am excited beyond words for this Sunday! Yes, it’s Easter, and the news is as good as it gets! Yes, my phone’s weather app says its going to be sunny and 65 degrees! But what captivates my spirit is the thought of being together again, really all together again!

WE ARE GATHERING FOR WORSHIP OUTSIDE AT 10:30, AND I AM URGING YOU TO BE THERE! Just for one holy moment, because we can be outside, limited numbers fall by the wayside. Familiar restrictions remain. Personal distancing, and mask-wearing stay with us. Our touches, even embraces will soon re-commence, but not quite yet. But we are copying and folding 200 bulletins, and I hope we can hand them all out!

Together we will hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” as we ponder its meaning yet for us. We will have the chance to look into each other’s eyes once again, and see how much all the children have grown. We will share in the resurrection feast of Holy Communion, and we have a way to do that safely. We will sing the Lord’s Prayer to our God, and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to each other. And though we won’t be able to become a mass choir and sing the Hallelujah chorus, we have a special end to our service planned. All will be invited into the sanctuary space and narthex, finding space, to hear Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata played by our own Joshua smith. It’s a seven minute grand piece that seems to imagine what the sound of entry into God’s glory might be like.

Then we will make our way back outside to renew friendships and greet each other informally before heading off into the afternoon sunshine.

Reflect on the words of the ancient psalm above, that the Israelites would sing together as they walked up into the holy city. It’s a celebration of being together in one place, at one time, to worship God together. And though it is most certainly true that we ARE the Church much more than we COME to Church, it’s time, it’s time for us to come together again, our feet standing in the same place for the first time in a long time!

So come, please! Come and invites some friends to join you. Bring your lawn chairs (we’ll have chairs if you need them!) and keeping wearing your mask (we have some of them too!). Find your spot on the lawn, and come with your heart wide open to rejoice.

Hoping for 200! Love from here!

Peter

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A reminder that this outdoor service will be live-streamed on our you tube channel at 10:30. We completely understand that some of us for health and safety reasons will not be able to join in person. Join us on-line!

The time it takes

Holy Week hits me a little differently every year.

As a kid, I used to love and long for this week, because it meant extra opportunities to be at church, and to come in the evening, when the lights were low and everything felt a little more sacred and special.

Admittedly, since I started serving as a pastor, it became one of the busiest weeks of my year, when there was barely time to breathe between finishing one service and preparing for another.

And there are times even now that, despite how meaningful and full this week is, I want to rush through the heartache of the story and get to Easter Sunday.

That feeling is hitting me especially hard this year. I don’t want to sit in the pain and the sorrow and the loss of Thursday and Friday. I’ve felt those things too much and too often already, in the last year. (And I’m sure most of you have, too.)

I want to get to sunshine and empty tombs and Easter hymns.

I don’t even want to detour through sadness.

But there is no wiggle room in the liturgical year. No speeding things up when I want them over, no slowing things down when I want them to last longer. Just the same seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

There is almost a discipline to it, to willing myself to stay right where I am in the story, and in the week. To not rush away from Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, or race out of the Garden of Gethsemane.

To be present to the pain, and the fear, and the loss. Because the only way out is through. Because I spend so much of my life trying to get to the next thing, instead of being right where I am, and looking for God there.

And perhaps also because Jesus didn’t take any shortcuts or outs, either.

So this week, I invite you to join me – and your church family.

Sit with us, if you can, each evening at 7 PM for a reflection, and prayer, and scripture. Some nights there will be music, and some nights just quiet. But we will not rush this week; we will travel it together. A day at a time. Taking the time it takes, to get to Sunday. Seeing what God might reveal to us, and teach us, along the way.

And we can trust that no matter how long it feels until then, how much the week seems to stretch out…that precious Easter day is coming. Thanks be to God.

-Pastor Jen

Words, Thoughts, and our Hearts

(Carl Balsam, Guest Blogger. Please be in touch if you’d like to contribute a blog entry!)

Reflecting on these past twelve months, and examine my own heart, I have concluded that two areas that need constructive work for me, and maybe for you as well, are my words and my thoughts.

“Words matter” was the response by Amanda Gorman when questioned about her stunning poetry, recited at the January presidential inauguration. Words can be used to inspire, to encourage, and to build up (as in the case of the young poet laureate) or they can be used to hurt, to enflame and to tear down (and we can all give examples of that). The dual impact of words is highlighted in the book of James, “With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!” (James 3:9-10)

Just as important as our words, however, are our thoughts. Thoughts are born out of the preoccupations of our hearts. Luke records Jesus’ teaching that “…out of the overflow of the heart, a person speaks.”(Luke 6:45)

Our heart reflects who we are. Our words betray who we are to others. There have been many times in the past year when I was tempted to comment on news broadcasts or social media posts or thoughts expressed by others with my own harsh words of “put-down” or “one-upmanship.” The fact that I did not publicly share most of those thoughts may seem honorable but, unfortunately, I don’t get a pass — my heart was wrong. And, my words could have been hurtful words — arrogant words.

There is a pattern that I have noticed when someone is confronted about their verbal indiscretions or outrageous declarations. It goes something like this: “If I have offended anyone, then I am sorry and I apologize. What I said does not reflect who I am. I’m not really like that.” But, frightfully, that is who we are! Our words betray us; they reveal our thoughts, consciously or unconsciously. The apostle Paul, in his marvelous passage in Philippians (4:8) challenges us:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Paul has the antidote to wrong thinking. When our thoughts are focused on the right things, destructive thoughts cannot take root. I have a hunch (based on personal observation) that when we are under stress and faced with uncertainty, our minds can play tricks on us if left to ruminate on the wrong things. We create realities, though untrue, to reinforce our personal preferences. Our thoughts need to be redirected to the framework described by the apostle Paul.

Earlier in my life, I had an experience with flawed thinking, leading to conspiracy ideas. As a senior administrator involved in the merger of two small Christian colleges in New England, I saw firsthand faculty, staff, and alumni under severe stress. To create one strong institution to face significant and foreseen challenges in the years ahead, the campus of Barrington College (Barrington, RI) was to be sold and its programs merged with Gordon College (Wenham, MA). Loss of that campus and its associated heritage was met with anger, frustration, severe criticism and accusations of foul play. Regrettably, a necessary but painful decision led to a community under much angst. “Certainly, this must be nefarious administrative overreach!” Rumor and conspiracy theory, offered with certainty, suggested that, months before the merger announcement, the president of Barrington College had purchased a condo near the Gordon College campus to prepare for a key position at the merged institution. (Not an ounce of truth to that conspiracy). Stress, uncertainty, anger, loss of control– these losses and emotions can drive careless thinking and can make people gravitate towards, and believe, the worst scenario. I have never forgotten that experience.

During the stress and charged circumstances of the past year, perhaps, you, just like me, have had moments of careless thinking and harsh words. Have we created or entertained unhealthy ideas of reality– assumed the worst scenario — maybe because outcomes did not fit our preference? Have we made hurtful comments to or about those whose ideas may not be congruent with our own? And when we believe we are speaking the truth, do we do it with love for the other? I must confess to having entertained some less than charitable thinking and made some less than kind remarks.

There is a helpful passage from the book of Proverbs that has focused my attention in recent days. Prov 4:23-24:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil.”

Above all else, guard your heart”, we are told. That sounds pretty important to me.

May you, with me, be challenged to “Guard your heart.” May this lead to constructive thinking (Phil 4:8), kind and seasoned words, and the right outlook for the life that lies ahead.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Carl Balsam