Worship as an Act of Defiance

Sunday, October 28, 2018

 

Worship as an Act of Defiance

 

This morning, going to church seemed like an act of defiance.  And an act of solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters whose sacred space was violated by a white supremacist who killed eleven of their fellow worshippers and wounded others.

As I sat in the pew of our Christian Church which is committed to justice, thoughts and images floated through my mind.  I sensed the presence of our dear friend, The Rev. Bill Hervey, a white clergy colleague and father of eight children, who went to Mississippi to help black people register to vote in the fifties at another time of turmoil and struggle in our national life. Earlier in the week, two people had been killed because of the color of their skin. And pipe bombs had been sent to people for their political stance.

As I was praying, another image came to mind of a boil that has come to a head and needs to be lanced until the pus pours out so the wound can heal. Hatred is the pus pouring out of a boil on our national soul. When did a misguided belief that extreme wealth, unrestrained power, blind patriarchy, and bald nationalism become a tolerated rallying cry for people in power to rally support?

Nationalism wherever it exists in the world is a harbinger of violence and discrimination. It is the enemy of patriotism. It is dangerous.

Through the last decades, so many people have broken through oppressive stereotypes and prejudices, at some cost to themselves. They were making this world a better place. It is not the misogynists of the past who will make America shine but these heralds of the future. But we have to be careful. Only peaceful means can bring about peaceful ends.

I want my grandchildren and great grandchild to know that the toxic environment in which we are now living which unleashes hatred and unhealthy division, belongs in the past.  It does not need to be our future. Though the drumroll of violence and viciousness is sounding, there are other sounds in the air that can prevail. The powerful music of love.

The far Right may claim that God is on their side. Not the God I know, though the God I know loves sinners, which we all are. The God I know shows no partiality and calls us to our higher selves. I hear these words echoing from the pages of Micah 6:8 from the Hebrew Bible. (NRSV)

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

In our current President’s world in which relying on armed force is supposed to sustains life, the answer to school violence was to arm teachers. And now, his answer to violence in houses of worship is to have armed guards in them. Those are words that, rather than take guns from killers, advocates spreading them around, letting us all shoot it out. Arms is big business.

!So this morning, I went to church, a church without an armed guard, and refused to be intimidated. I am vulnerable. So are we all with or without weaponry. We all rely on one another’s good will for survival and on society’s ability to function by just laws.

Of course, we need to be wise. I don’t want those I love to take chances that lead them into predictable danger. I want them to live as good people, courageously caring about the welfare of people in their families, down the block,  and around the globe. I want them to go about their lives and keep fear in check. We need living saints not martyrs. And I long for them to experience some transcendent Presence that helps them live confidently even in the face of loss when it comes for some loss is inevitable.

I’m sorry, this reflection is so inadequate. Just know this. The violence that has been let loose will not prevail. The Tree of Life is ours to move toward and claim. I believe it was planted by a Divine Lover of humanity, a creating power with the first and last Word who guides our feet in the way of peace. And whether or not you share this belief, the fruit of the Tree of Life is there to nourish you.

 

 

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Thomas Fitch Kepler Celebrates 60 years of Ministry

Thomas Fitch Kepler: 60 Years as an Ordained Christian Minister

 

On July 13, 2018, Thomas Fitch Kepler celebrated the day he was ordained to Christian Ministry in the United Presbyterian Church, USA, 60 years ago.  In fact, in 2018 those blessed enough to still be living, who graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and other theological schools, and began careers as Ministers in 1958, will all be celebrating 60 years as ordained clergy. Tom was installed as Pastor of the first Presbyterian Church of Englishtown, New Jersey, on the day he was ordained a Minister.

He and his colleagues, entered the Ministry at a time in history when the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise. And he, like his father who was a Minister with a parish in the south, espoused a faith which stood for justice for all, and the equality of all. And, he entered the profession the year after the United Presbyterian Church had voted to ordain women as Ministers for the first time.

Just a note. I write Ministry with a capital “M” when I am referring to the profession. Ministry in a wider sense is the work o all the faithful, the priesthood of all believers.

Tom’s father, Raymond Fitch Kepler and mother, Margaret Blain Kepler, had been missionaries in China as had their parents before them. When they were forced to return to the United States in 1949 when the communists took over China, Margaret was suffering severe depression. As the family, which included four sons, crossed the ocean which they had crossed many times before, they did not know what was ahead for them. Eventually, being a Minister by profession, Raymond transitioned from his work in China to being a Pastor in North Carolina and then Virginia.

Thomas Fitch Kepler, his son, became a Pastor 11 years later. Ministers in those days, lived in manses, church supported housing, (some still do and in the beginning we did) and their pay was poor. We used to joke that Dad Kepler, who served a church in a rural community, was partially paid in tomatoes left at his back door by generous parishioners. I learned from Mother and Dad Kepler what frugality is all about.

When Tom began his work in Englishtown, we were married and I was seven months pregnant with our first son, Thomas Budd Kepler, and had graduated with a ministerial degree from Princeton along with Tom.  During his first years there, we had two more sons, James Blain Kepler, and John Harold Kepler, and I became part-time Pastor of a near-by church, Westminster Presbyterian in Manalapan, New Jersey.  Somehow, we both earned ThM degrees from Princeton during those years.

Under Tom’s leadership, the First Presbyterian Church of Englishtown built a new educational wing and celebrated its Centennial. In spite of, or after these accomplishments, that included educational programming for children through adults, pastoral care, administration of a complex community, and involvement in the wider church and community, Civil Rights advocacy and acting in the local Theater Company, Tom began to question his call. My father and then his father died Tom had been in the parish for eight years. That added to his feeling unsettled and restless and questioning his call to the pastorate. .

Tom decided to try something besides Ministry and teaching seemed an obvious choice. My brother, Harold, was working as Treasurer at Vanguard School in Florida and helped us get teaching positions there. We moved to Florida where we both spent a year teaching children coping with dyslexia.

It wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to stay in Ministry full time, and Tom knew he wanted to continue teaching with the option of engaging in Ministry part time. He never stopped wanting to maintain his ordination. So, for the rest of his  working life, he practiced tentmaking Ministry, employed  full-time in secular work and part-time as a Minister. We often laughed about the fact that when parishioners in an attempt to discredit a Pastor’s ethical perspective would say, “You don’t live in the real world”, “Tom could say that he was, in fact, earning his living in the “real” world.

Tom’s legacy of having clergy as forbears goes back generations on his mother’s side, the Blain/Greer side, back to a time when clergy were the learned men in the community, respected, honored, and sometimes, feared. The equals of doctors.  And Christianity was the de facto religion of the land.

Over time, the profession has been devalued in many sectors of culture. Society is now composed of many faiths and has become increasingly secular. While, people easily understand the need for other professionals, not all people see the need for clergy or understand the functions they play in society. With this shift, mainline denominations such as Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, Baptists and others, began to decline in numbers. But not before they had had an impact on society on movements for a more just and humane world.

Now that 60 years have gone by we look back and marvel over how fast they have sped, how many changes we have seen and we ponder the paths we have taken in our careers.

I celebrate with Tom as he marks 60 years of ordination as a Minister. Together we are members of a profession (part or full time) which needs to redefine, reclaim and reassert its place in society. We have served in the institutional church and believe it needs to stand alongside of other institutions in society, speaking truth to power and repenting from its own sins, reformed and reforming. Spirituality is not just a private matter.

In our lifetime, clergy in churches with a liberal bent were on the front-lines of change in race relations, the anti-war movement, the Women’s Movement, and eventually, the LGBT Movement. Tom worked tirelessly for justice over the course of his Ministry, espousing in later years justice for Palestinians.

Now retired, Tom has not lost his passion for pursuing the common good for all as essential to faithfulness. He makes it clear that how we understand God matters and is here to say that the liberal mainline church is not dead in spite of shrinking numbers and the rise of right wing Christianity. It has work to do. He says that his theology is no longer orthodox. Dogma seems irrelevant to him. What Jesus did and stood for is what matters.

As a part-time, interim Pastor, Tom helped close with grace, four Presbyterian Churches. He also served four others that continue to thrive. How many sermons, communion services, weddings, and funerals over the years! How many meetings! How many good people he has worked with! How much change in theological perspective. How much change period! And yet, how much remains the same.

Now retired, he sings songs of praise and occasionally lament with his beautiful voice.

 

 

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Take Time to Pause and Appreciate

Take Time to Pause and Appreciate

I have been going through boxes of old files. A tedious job as one of my friends said. A job which, it turns out, has an important life lesson for me. I keep finding interesting papers, some of which I only half read, and some of which I never read and kept because they seemed important enough to be read…some day. I also find the names of people I have met, places I have been, and conferences I have lead or helped lead as part of a team. Conferences I have attended. Places I have preached. And I realize, I was so busy running from one thing to another with my packed schedule and my family responsibilities that I never really stopped to appreciate what I was doing. Or catch up with myself.

If I were to have a message for my younger self, it would b,  pause and take life in. I am not sure if I would give anything I was doing up in order to pause. That’s the problem. What I could have done was make pausing a priority.  I’m lucky that I can finally catch up in retirement.

My father, who ran between teaching at Drexel and practicing law was always on the move too. Drexel was at 32nd Street in Philadelphia and his law office was on 12 th Street. We lived first in West Philadelphia and then in the suburb of Wynnewood. In the summer he travelled to Ocean City, New Herse, from Philadelphia twice a week. Moving, always moving. And yet, somehow, he seemed very present to me. Was he ever really present to himself for reflecting and pausing.

It always seemed to me that he was doing all that he was doing very well. But he never wrote any of it down. Never wrote the book he wanted to write. Did he ever pause?

Seems as if being busy was in our natures. We loved all that we were doing. The trouble is, we missed some of it by not pausing to take it all in, or writing it all down. Not that anyone would read it anyway. But that is not the point. Writing for me is a way of clearing my head and figuring out what I think and what matters most.

The people I was blessed to encounter were very important to me. If I met them and too quickly moved on to the next thing, like a politician does. I apologize. I could have savored knowing you more. At least now that I am cleaning out my files and you pop up on paper and I remember you, and I am grateful. More grateful than I will ever be able to let you know.

And I am impressed by all the things we accomplished together and the passion with which we pursued our faith and feminism. And I think about my sons. What did they make of all that I was doing? Did they know I was there for them as I  knew my father was there for me?

Life does not need to be a blur. It is meant to be savored. I know there is much more to do to save the world than any of us have time for. There are at home needs to be met and money to be made. Still, pausing might enhance all of our enterprises and enrich our lives and relationships.

Pause and appreciate.

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July 4th 2018

July Fourth 2018

I began to reflect on the Fourth of July yesterday, but family celebrations came first, and now it is July Fifth…now Tenth!  I was, and still am remembering, that in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. In 1876, A Declaration of Sentiments by feminists was drafted and signed, the original document being for propertied white men (we forget!). And then in 1976, The women’s Coalition for the Third Century presented the nation with the Declaration of Interdependence accompanied by the Declaration of Imperatives a outlining the rights women must finally have.

In 1976, women decided to speak on behalf of humanity and declare our need for Interdependence is we are to survive and thrive as individuals and a nation.

I was privileged to be the President of the Women’s Coalition in 1976. Our organization was made up of leaders from many Women’s Organizations across our nation, religious and secular, along with individuals who joined. It was signed by women in the House of Representatives. And, in spite of that fact, try as we did, we got no press. Maybe we should have staged a riot to get attention. And you won’t find anything about our document on the Web. It is included in my book, “Button Reflections”.

As we celebrate in 2018, we have a President in office who represents the most exaggerated definition of Patriarchy possible. He and his administration prove the point that women can be adherents of patriarchy as well as men.  And, if we are ever going to “make America great again,” as Mr. Trump calls us to do, we must return to our movements toward justice and peace, and care enough about our nation to implement the dream of a truly democratic nation where all are respected, welcomed, and treated fairly.  A nation where the power of compassion prevails, violence is not worshipped, peace is sought, the environment is protected, and a nation where economic institutions serve the people and not the interests of the wealthy elite.

Being a firm believer myself in the first commandment of the Hebrew Bible, “You shall have no other God’s before me,” I cannot give my ultimate loyalty to any nation. And I see the terrible danger in merging faith and patriotism, here or anywhere. That having been said, I am a proud citizen of the United States and I am committed to our taking our place as world leaders, with democracy to share and along with our pride that our citizenship is more diverse than any other world-wide. I am patriotic especially when I take a figurative knee.

It is time to dust off our “Declaration of Interdependence” where it is stored in the Smithsonian with historic documents at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliff in Cambridge, MA.

One of the sentences in our “Declaration of Interdependence” stands out as I write this:

“We will no longer endure the corruption of power which risks the world’s future by ignoring the rights and well being of persons and communities.”

So be it.

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Mama Bird

Mama Bird

Mama bird and I have a thing going. She has a nest of baby birds in the rafters of our garage. She hangs out in a near-by tree and watches over them. I come out to see how they are doing every morning, often with my camera. Mama bird chirps at me and tells me to leave them alone!  Some days she comes down on the ground and skirts around quite near me, chattering away. I talk to her and she answers. we are having a conversation! If I move too quickly, she flies away.

Mama bird and I have a lot in common. I am a Mama too. And even though my sons are grown now, I feel myself watching over them and wanting to keep all danger at bay. Mama bird and I are both “worriers.” It is a natural kind of worrying that comes with having offspring and caring about them. I love that Robin who is such a vigilant Mama. Now, I assume the bird that chirps at me is the Mama. For all I know, it could be the Papa. Papa robins care for and feed their young too.

I worry with Mama/Papa bird about the fledglings. There are cats around that could pick them off. They could fall from the nest. I want to protect them along with her. I notice today that one of them is standing up tall. Before they were heads peeking out of the nest with open mouths. Obviously, they have been fed and cared for well. I hope that they will be strong enough to fly away and come back to visit next year with babes of their own.

I have decided that Robins are my birds. My mother’s birds were Cardinals. My friend Wilma’s bird was bright yellow and sang a melodious and bright song from my sister’s tree when Wilma died. It was an “all is well” song.

Even before the baby birds in our rafters, I paid attention to robins. They would come at the end of winter, signaling spring. I could identify them with their red breasts. And I would remember a childhood song I used to sing and play on the piano. “Sing robin from your woodland tree, Sing robin sing a song for me. I love your merry melody. Sing, robin, sing your song.”

Yesterday I made a last check to be sure the nest was empty. It was. And then Mama/Papa bird came and stood right in front of me. This time, not as a warning to be careful but to say, “They are fine. All is well.”

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The Moon Deserves a Poem

The moon deserves a poem

Yet, I can’t find words

For its hold on me.

I see it rise in the darkening night

Appearing as a crescent sliver

Changing to a full shining sphere

Whose brightness lights up the sky

And my dreams.

Whose waxing and waning

Marks time and controls the tides

And fuels my imagination.

 

I saw a man walk on the moon once

But my spacewalk is of another kind.

When the moon is round

And mysterious patches of land

Map its glowing surface

I am transported on a magic carpet

To craters in my soul

Or spirited away to friendly shores

Where demons are drenched in diamond dust

And I find rest

In the grace of its gentle light.

 

At night, after each new day,

The moon is my quiet place.

When the evening descends

It shines brighter than all the stars

Its lush beams bringing peace

Casting a mood for loving

Over all the earth

Signaling a time

For that other world

That opens up with sleep

To have its sway.

When I seek light to fill my being,

It is not the sun’s rays I invite in

But the moon’s beams

Purifying, healing, holy,

So far away and yet, so close.

Divine grace.

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God is Many

I don’t usually share posts in poetic form, but that may change. Here is one of my latest reflections.

God is Many.

Sitting in the silence of the sanctuary,

I try to feel God’s presence

I focus on the cross

That is trying to center my attention.

All I feel is emptiness

And then it happens,

The room is filled with energy

Light of an invisible kind

A holy presence

And there are many Spirits

Filling the room and my heart.

God is Many.

Of course.

God is nothing we know

And everything we know

All colors and no colors

All nationalities and none

Gendered and ungendered

Human and Divine

Christ is,

God is,

And Spirits are

The Trinity and more.

God is everywhere and here

God is trillions of stars

And one lit Christ candle

God is in the air

And in every breath we take

God is Love

And every love that fills the room.

God is Many

God is More

Always More

And yet

Always near, by our side.

God is filling the room

The One dancing in my heart!

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The Day After Easter

The Day after Easter April 2, 2018

 

April fool a day late,

It is snowing!

The weather is out of control.

Yesterday, Easter day, was beautiful

A very precious time with Jim and family

Our special time in church together

Randy with us all sitting in a row.

Our dear connections with other family,

Love in the air.

The dinner dishes are finally done

Sunday already a memory as flakes fall

And begin to cover the ground.

We roll with the weather,

Cold again outside,

Hearts still warm inside.

The dog has returned to hibernation

But new life is out of the bag

Even if nature is playing tricks.

It is not a setback

Just a laugh out loud.

Winter will not prevail.

Spring is coming one way or another

Might as well put on my boots

And enjoy this last hurrah

Of a short freeze that will not last.

I have experienced Easter

And it is real!

The birds know it too

They are singing in the snow

And so am I.

 

 

 

 

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Good Friday

It is good Friday again and this year I am having trouble with commemorating Jesus’ death on a cross over two thousand years ago. My mind jumps from thought to thought. Of course a God of love did not sacrifice his son for the world. And the cross, what a strange symbol in our modern world. We have other ways of carrying out the death penalty today, non of them in public view anymore (unless they get into some sick posts on the internet.) And I am not interested in the gory details of torture.

And what about sacrifice? In Jesus day, sacrifice was still a part of religious life and ritual. Sacrifice to appease God, to offer thanks, to show devotion, to atone for sins. For Christians, that ritual is gone. We no longer practice religious sacrifice of animals or ourselves anymore.

I am old now, having been blessed to live out my days. Jesus died in the prime of his ministry. His was not a natural death but a political death. He was caught up in the greed for power of both the high priests and the roman officials. Jesus got caught up in their web. Actually, he walked into it by defying their authority with his teachings and integrity. He became the “sacrificial lamb.”  It wasn’t just the leaders though who did him in. There were those among his own people who wanted a leader more militant and defiant of Rome. Less, well, pious. Still, he may have saved hundreds from death by not leading a full scale rebellion against the Romans. My thoughts ramble on.

He who was called “King of the Jews,” did not live up to the going image of a king, an image that lives on into our time. Nor was he what people wanted in God either. He knew, however, the way to peace and human freedom. He knew love and courage.

When I was younger, I would attend Good Friday services and weep at the suffering of the Jesus who died for me. I miss that young innocent woman I was. My simple faith, my genuine emotional response. I didn’t know then how many other innocent people had died and would die, many living lives of suffering.

I can see more clearly the ways in which Jesus’ suffering and death sends a signal to all those innocents who suffer. Jesus is one of them. He is even there for those who suffer for their sins. Jesus was one of us and calls us to be present to one another. To end suffering. He certainly does not bless it!

Still, Jesus death is central to our Christian faith. But it is a gateway. While I was writing this post, a dear friend from Kenya called to wish us a happy Easter. “May the joy and peace of the risen Christ be with you.”

We can’t forget Jesus’ death or any human suffering. But we remember, to move on, to do everything we can to end what suffering we can. And that leads us to move beyond thoughts about death to the celebration of life and the joy and peace of the risen Christ.

There is no glory in the Cross or crosses of life. There is resilience in overcoming them. And there is resurrection and hope.

Did Jesus have to die for our sins for us to be forgiven? Surely God was a God of forgiveness before Jesus was born. In the cross we somehow see God’s love for us, ultimately giving life and tearing asunder the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies.

The message is not that love requires or thrives on sacrifice. The message is that love desires an end to sacrifice. It is an oxymoron that in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, sacrifice is meant to end. I am not saved by Jesus’ death, I am saved by God’s love, calling to me as a Christian to see in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. And to participate in the freedom of resurrection and triumph over death. God rolls away stones from graves, God lifts us up from the despair of death, God heals, God affirms life.

And we are called to live our lives as fully as we can. We are called to grieve the cross. To carry it when we must, to stand with those who bear crosses, and trust in the call to abundant life. Most of all, we are called upon to see how precious life is, our own and others. And, as much as we love life, not to fear death. Jesus has shown that death can be, is overcome by the One whose power is in Love.

Can we believe, not in the cross, but in the power of life and God’s grace?

Young me was right to feel the pain of the cross, but it was so far away, so much in another time. Old me knows that everyone has some suffering in life and some suffering is caused by evil. Young me did not know that when Jesus said on the cross as he died, “It is finished,” it was just a new beginning, for Jesus and his followers. Old me does.

Just as I was writing this I came across a Passover prayer which I share.

“O God, blessed source of freedom,

let the time come speedily,

when all the oppressed shall find deliverance.

Let the yoke of bondage be dissolved,

and all people serve you in freedom,

May the Passover feast bring us new understanding of the holiness of freedom,

Then we will rejoice before You, with festive gladness, O God.”

Maybe freedom is just another word for resurrection, in this world and the next. We move on from Good Friday to Easter.

 

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March for Our Lives

Watching young people march to end gun violence in our schools and on our streets brings tears to my eyes. In addition to celebrating their cause, their determination and actions, “not just a moment but a movement,” I am overwhelmed by what I see. All of the movements for civil and human rights wrapped up into one. A culmination. The message that everyone has a right to live, to live in safety! Black and white, male and female linking arms. And though sexual preference and identity is not as visible, I am sure all are linked in solidarity around these rights too.

A new generation. New voices. Passionate, clear, and courageous! Coming at a time when the adult world is divided to the point of governmental paralysis. At a time when militarism and the violence that accompanies it is promoted. While our young people march for life our government prepares for a military parade to strut our weapons of destruction. Young people take to the streets at a time when a president tweets like an unreel stereotypical teenager, and teenagers speak with maturity and the wisdom of ages, calling us back to sanity and caring for one another.

I think of Jesus saying, “A little child shall lead them.” Well these are not little children marching, but they are young and they are leading! Thanks be to them and the power of love.

Words cannot do justice to what is happening. May the Spirit who gives life continue to be at work in these our beloved children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our students, all God’s own.
As they speak and act, may the world hear! And as their education continues, may it prepare them, not to fight in wars, but to make peace and embrace justice with mercy and integrity, healing but not forgetting all that they have witnessed in their young lives.

May those who have been silenced by death shine brightly and speak eloquently through all who live on. And my faith tells me that even those who have moved on forever, live on.

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