Category: Pastor’s Blog

Thoughts For The Journey

Thoughts For The Journey

November comes and thoughts gravitate towards two things. It is the typical Stewardship time for churches and the holiday that is on everyone’s mind, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a celebration of family, of being together, of food and good fortune, and it entails no significant planning in the church. It is a time when the leaves are leaving and we are looking ahead to snow. It is a time for enjoying the family time and kicking back to watch a football game or two. It is a time to seriously take a moment and reflect on what all we are grateful for in the year past.

Stewardship Sunday however is my least favorite time of year. It involves asking for money, asking church members to increase their pledges just a little more, and talking about money and the real hard to talk about facts that go along with it. I don’t like asking for more money. I know that there are many people in every congregation that are giving the most they can afford. I know that there are many people who are on “fixed incomes”. I know that there are many people who commit time and energy in abundance because they have plenty of that and no extra expendable income.

I realize the hard truths about being involved in a church and making sure there is money to pay the utilities, adequately compensate a staff and keep the church operating. I am fully aware of the financial obligations we have which enable us to continue to be present for and in the community. And I know that we are called through the message of the Gospel to share the good news of the hope we know with others that they too might find a community as loving, accepting and compassionate as we have so that their lives might be filled with joy. Considering all of that we have an obligation to ourselves and others to participate in giving of our financial resources to the church.

But then . . . all that does is get the bills paid and keep the doors open. Is that really what we are all about here in this place?

I don’t think so.

I think we are here because the church and Hope Church specifically really means something to us. So if we are here because Hope really means something then the two November topics, Thanksgiving and Stewardship, are really about the same thing. Both are, at their very core, about expressing our gratitude. We individually make a financial commitment to Hope Church out of gratitude and thanks for its being there for us. We join efforts with other UCC churches so that so that across the country we can be there for the wider community. And we are, in a deep and meaningful way, willing able to make a commitment out of gratitude so that the impact we have on this community will go on.

Being good stewards of our lives, our world and our finances has its roots in gratitude for the world, in which we live, the resources we have and the bodies in which we dwell. Gratitude for all not to anything. We can express our gratitude by making what we have available to others.

Maybe at some time in the future we can celebrate Stewardship Sunday in the same way we celebrate Thanksgiving, with a great dinner and an awesome feeling of being close to one another.

Blessings Friends!

God is Here .. and There .. and Over There!

God is Here .. and There .. and Over There!

This recording is from the September 10, 2017 service of Hope UCC. Rev Richard Feyen’s message is entitled “God is Here .. and There .. and Over There!,” and the anthems are “Marvelous Things” and “Community of Faith.”

Community of Faith from Richard Feyen on Vimeo.

CHRISTMAS ACCEPTANCE

CHRISTMAS ACCEPTANCE

The very familiar Luke 2 Christmas story, the one told every year, the one re-enacted live in many places, the scene depicted in a make-shift lean-to across the country; is, for the most part, burned into our memories like our own name. It is a story of humble beginnings, of a man returning to his ancestral home, but unable to find a home. A story of a young woman giving birth in conditions we would consider unfit for a new-born, and it is a story of the beginning of a life that would impact the world for all time. An unwelcomed visitor to town finds comfort and shelter in a shed out back.
It is a story that is, of course, written down decades later with the benefit of hindsight and filled with symbols; shepherds pay homage, mysterious travelers from the east seek out the new “king” and most strikingly, for me, there was no room for him in traditional lodgings.
This sacred story is relevant today, whether religious or non-religious, born again or progressive Christian, literal interpreter or seeking the meaning behind the message. Whether a person reads the story and understands its core element as understanding Jesus born as God-among-us, or reads the teachings of Jesus as simply a great prophetic message … each of us must ask this time of year, “Where do I find room?”
If a person accepts the story as literally true, where does that person find room for the humility of Christ in their lives that the message these humble beginnings offer?
If we interpret the story as a metaphorical symbol out of which grew the story of a man who changed all of history; where do we find room for his teaching in our lives today when we are part of this capitalistic society that wants to reject the foreigner?
Whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, whether Evangelical or Mainline, Conservative or Progressive; if you consider yourself to be at all Christian, or even marginally a follower of the moral and ethical teachings Jesus offer, then this question must be seriously considered.
Is there room?
Does our country have room?
Do our churches have room?
Does this community have room?
Do we, in our hearts, have room for the humility, the compassion, the love, and the acceptance that Jesus’ birth suggests?
Or are we inn keepers struggling to maintain what it is we have, working to preserve the status quo, trying to keep things as they are?
The story is so familiar, so filled with warmth for our hearts and comfort for our spirits, so much a part of December; that I think we forget to ask … is there ‘room’?
Fact or Sacred myth, Jesus, and his family, were rejected in Bethlehem and there was no room for them at his birth and later at his death he was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. But in between he taught a message of acceptance that changed the world and today motivates mission trips, food pantries and resale shops, self-sacrifice and generosity beyond measure . . . and . . . I pray the acceptance of the stranger among us today.

Defending Christmas

Defending Christmas

This is an article I wrote recently for the local paper.

There has been a great deal of conversation, articles, and BLOG posts referencing the “war on Christmas” as if there was an all-out effort to do away the holiday or that there might actually be an organized effort to do so. Be assured it is never going to happen in a capitalistic country — too much money to be made.
The question really has more to do with the spirit of Christ and whether or not there is an effort on the part of some to minimize the Christ-Spirit during the holiday season. That, I believe, is worth talking about.
First, let me say a few words about what I mean when I refer to the Christ-Spirit. It is, in my opinion, living the teachings of Jesus and it is what Jesus himself longed for others to do. The Christ-Spirit is being compassionate and kind, accepting and tolerant, generous and giving; it is being Christ-like in what we do. Is there an effort or a war against that? Some might think so. There has been, after all, several trillion dollars spent on a twelve-year war that literally devastated a country, overthrew a government, and created a situation where over one million people are homeless while also giving birth to a militant organization bent on doing away with all freedom of religion. That does not speak of compassion and acceptance. There has been a rising tide of refusal to accept refugees to our shores, an increase in the number of people who are homeless in this country, and an increasing intolerance of the religious practices and customs of others; that certainly speaks against the Christ-Spirit of compassion and justice being alive in the world. And on the day after we celebrate a spirit of gratitude by gathering around tables overflowing with an abundance of food; we are witnesses to a stampede of greed in stores across the country.
If there is a war on Christmas, it is certainly not being led by the people who design the Starbucks seasonal coffee cup.
I do not believe that there is a war on Christmas. I believe that the Christ-Spirit, the Christmas Spirit is alive and well and continuing its struggle against the abuses that have been around since long before the birth of the Christ-Child. I believe that Christmas is being defended when the live re-enactment of the birth of Jesus to refugee parents is celebrated here in town. I believe that Christmas is defended when communities of faith here in Sturgeon Bay celebrate a worship service for those who are depressed, alone, and for whom Christmas is a difficult time. I believe Christmas is defended well when schools and churches and businesses here don’t just tolerate all manner of people but openly accept everyone into their midst. I believe that Christmas is defended when, as individuals, we show care and compassion, justice and mercy, and promote peace among those with whom we share this planet.
I have seen Christmas defended by an eight-year-old child collecting money to support a foster child program and an eighty-year-old offering “words of hope” to friends. I have seen Christmas defended in July and January. Christmas is a compassionate community willing to work together. Where do you see Christmas defended? Where can we, as the community we are here, defend Christmas together? Each in her or his own heart, nothing can take the spirit of Christmas away. Blessings Friends.

Renewal Time

Renewal Time

When I began at Hope United Church of Christ five years ago it was with the eagerness of discovery that I came to each meeting, each gathering of people, and each worship. I could imagine no place I would rather be. I was learning and listening and discovering more and more about the congregation, its history and its personality. I know there is still much more to learn and many more stories to hear but it is time for a break.
This will be my last BLOG post for a while. I am entering in to a period of refreshment and renewal. My three month sabbatical begins next Monday and I will be traveling nearly two thirds of the time. The goal is rest and regeneration of my spirit.
During the month of May I am beginning the time away with two weeks of being at home and with Peggy. We will do some short camping trips, just a couple of hours away from home, with the intent being to just rest my mind and tend to some relaxation time. In the middle of the month I will be attending the Festival of Homiletics, held in Denver this year, it is a week-long opportunity to hear some of the best preachers in the country share important thoughts and practice their craft. I am excited about that opportunity to hear and observe the best.
Next Peggy and I will enjoy two different opportunities to have some family time. First we are being visited by Peggy’s oldest and her significant other then we are visiting Texas where our oldest grandchild graduates high school.
Following that I will be taking some time for spiritual development by attending a ten day silent meditation retreat at Dhamma Visuddhi, then another family week, this one on the beach in Mississippi, and finally a two week trip on my motorcycle through the mountains of Colorado, camping and hiking as much as possible. In short the sabbatical is made up of an educational opportunity, spiritual development, and some time in nature; interspersed with some meaningful family time. It will be awesome. I am deeply appreciative to my church for granting this time away and helping to pay for some of the opportunities that I have.
When I return I am certain that I will have stories to tell, some sharpened skills, and a new fresh outlook on the future of my ministry. I will be journaling a lot while gone so that the memories and events will remain with me and I will be storing away insights to life that I hope will enable me to reflect thoughtfully on how we encounter the sacred in our lives. I look forward to returning and rediscovering the congregation with a fresh look and a refreshed spirit. I look forward to being able to listen and learn in a newly relaxed way being once again the calm presence through which I am empowered to serve that which is sacred in this place. I look forward to having a fresh new outlook and a renewed introspective view through which to see all the good that happens through all the people that comprise of Hope UCC. I still cannot imagine anyplace I would rather be than serving Hope.
Blessings Friends!

Interpreters and Interpretations

Interpreters and Interpretations

Once I had the great privilege of meeting a woman who was an interpreter at the United Nations building in New York. She fluently spoke more than seven languages and was contracted to be able to simultaneously translate at least three of them for the international meetings held all the time at the United Nations. It was one of those moments that I felt thoroughly in awe. Learning languages has never come easily for me and the idea of being able to listen in one language and speak the same words out simultaneously in a different language, well, to me that seems incredible.
The other day I was having a conversation with a parishioner when it struck me. In a way, that is exactly what I do in order to be able to listen to some ministers in other churches. And, it is what I often do even when singing hymns in my own church.
Here, we sing the hymns because they are beautiful, the words flow, the message is sincere, and we respect the traditions out of which they have grown. While there are some hymns that I definitely steer clear of, the militaristic sounding ones for instance, that call for us to, “take up arms for Christ.” I still understand, when I hear them, the power they suggest it takes to stand up for what one believes. “Marching as to war” speaks to the struggle of owning one’s beliefs in the face of disagreement and ridicule. I would never say that we have been, “washed in the blood of the lamb and our sins cleansed for all eternity.” I do believe that Jesus’ death paved the way for a new message of compassion and togetherness for all people, and to me, when I hear the first; it is simultaneously translated into the latter.
There are many phrases, words, and messages shared and taught by many ministers which I find I must listen to with the ears of an interpreter.
Jesus as God incarnate (in the flesh) = Jesus lived what the followers envisioned as the message of a loving compassionate God.
Jesus died for our sins = Jesus died sharing a message that leads us away from separateness and towards togetherness.
Resurrection from the dead = The message of Jesus lives on forever.
God, The Father Almighty = Love and compassion lead us and guide us in all things.
Creator of Heaven and Earth = The essence of all that is good and right and just.
GOD = that which we worship.
Christ / Savior = The message that lives on and guides us to wholeness.
Communion of Saints = unity of all people.
Resurrection of the body = ‘The body’ is the sum total of all the followers of faith and it lives to be shared with others so that all people have the opportunity for a new beginning.
Life everlasting = the permanence of love and compassion in the world.

So if Jesus was the great unity builder and sin is “that which separates”, then yes, the great unity builder lived to free us from that which separates. It is simple, logical, and quite reasonable. Jesus’ message brings us together in acceptance. All we need is a simultaneous translator and we can all worship together in one place!
Blessings friends!

Resurrection, Yes It Is Real

Resurrection, Yes It Is Real

Resurrection is real, absolutely. And we, as Christians, are a resurrection people as are many others. It is not metaphorical and it is not a bodily, living, breathing resurrection, but it is real. It is made real every day by each person who takes the opportunities they have to begin life anew. It has happened to me and it can happen to you, if you allow it.
Then again, I guess it is living and breathing. Have you ever been in a dead-end relationship? Have you ever had a job end unexpectedly only to have a brighter better opportunity open up and present itself? Have you ever been in a dead-end situation where it really looked as if your life itself might be over, only to have some rescuing force pull you out of the rotten situation and deliver you to a new opportunity? Each of those examples is a resurrection happening, a new life being presented or new opportunities coming to fruition. Many of those opportunities are by the grace, compassion, and understanding of people of faith who are inclined to gently nourish and nurture others towards a healing path.
Every day there are people whose lives are turned around by the help of a neighbor, the intervention of family members, or the care of a stranger who picks them up, dusts them off, and sets them straight again. There are people whose lives might be in shambles, people who might be on their fifteenth fresh start, or who may have hit rock-bottom for the umpteenth time; all of them experience resurrection first-hand when given the opportunity to live life anew, again.
Our task, as followers of faith teachings, is to help people find their way to acceptance of themselves by being accepting of them first, and then, by showing them the opportunities for a resurrected life. I have seen that happen here at Hope Church for people who have very nearly given up on organized religion. I have seen it happen at strongly evangelical churches by people who have desperately needed to believe in something greater than themselves. I have also seen and heard it happen in AA, at church camp, at Baptist revivals, and at Buddhist retreats. Thank goodness that there are multiple ways to find one’s own resurrection for there are multiple kinds of people. There are people who need meditative practices and there are people who need the praise worship styles of the Pentecostals. There are people who need to know and feel the baptismal waters rush over them as an adult and there are people for whom the inclusion of a spiritual blessing is sufficient to fully realize their inclusion into the family of faith. Whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, or a follower of an Indigenous Native religion; there are opportunities for finding and leading a resurrected life because in every instance there is an avenue to the faith that guides one where one needs to go.
Resurrection is real and Christians do not have a monopoly on it. New life, rising out of the ashes of the old, is found in stories with universal settings because it happens all the time. It can happen every day. It can happen to any one of us, at any time. There are opportunities awaiting for new life now. It can be yours or it can be that you are called to show the way. It is a journey friend.
Blessings to you, on that journey.

AN EASTER SONG

AN EASTER SONG

It is not always easy for me to think and write about Easter. This Holy Day comes with a great deal of emotion attached for me. Someone I loved a great deal died one Easter morning a long time ago so personally it is difficult to reflect on all that Easter includes. I do want to say, with no disrespect towards anyone from my past, Easter is about the opportunities that come with the future. And I am in love with the future!
Easter is about the resurrection, the new life that comes after a tragic end, the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, the flower from the seed, the music from the reed. It is about tomorrow. It is an all too difficult truth to face but much of the time one thing has to die, for another to take on life and new meaning. We can probably all reflect on jobs or relationships lost which seemed to be devastating only to have a new opportunity present itself, one that never would have come to be without the first ending, sad as it seemed at the time.
I love where I am, the people I am in relationship with today, the church where I minister, the hope that is ahead for Peggy and I, and the progressive nature of the Christ message that I have the opportunity to share here in these writings, at church, and in this community. There is great opportunity ahead for compassion and justice and equality. There is an opportunity for all of us to be the voice that brings the new age of respect and understanding among people of faith, all faiths.
Today on the news there is great uproar about the law in Indiana that gives people the “right” to discriminate against individuals born different from themselves if they claim it is against their religion to be born that way themselves. It is beyond my ability to understand how people who call themselves Christian, that is following the teachings of Jesus, who ate and drank and walked with all manner of people, can use that same teaching to discriminate. That is a Christianity that I would love to see die so a new form of Christianity can come alive in all its fullness.
Perhaps what we need is another Good Friday and another Easter. Perhaps what we need is the death of something long considered beautiful and allow the birth of spirituality that respects all faith traditions and realizes our great cultural diversity, one which is as rich in its differences as the foods from around the world. No one would stand today and claim that the only food for the body there is has its roots European traditions (some of it is quite boring). Why claim the same for the spiritual food that feeds people around the world. We are nourished in body and spirit by a great variety of beneficial ingredients.
I am nourished today by the death of Jesus and the teachings that came to life afterward. I am nourished by the death of a love lost and I am nourished by the love shared with my wife of nearly sixteen years and the many friends that are part of Hope Church.
There is much to live for that lies ahead for us all. Look to the future, look to the emerging truth that feeds our spirits and avoid the toxicity of language that strives to separate and divide. There is great joy in the morning when life is alive with bells that ring in celebration of the new life. Sing an Easter song of joy!
Blessings Friends!

SCULPTOR OR SCULPTEE?

SCULPTOR OR SCULPTEE?

In college I took a number of sculpture classes. I imagined myself a professional artist one day sculpting away making a handsome amount of money, or at least enough to live comfortably on. Then I realized how few sculptors actually made a living doing that. At the time however I was taking the formless scraps of clay, or idle chunks of metal, sometimes even wax, or sandstone and giving shape and new meaning to otherwise ordinary pieces of miscellaneous “things”. I was giving shape and new life to objects. I felt in control and I felt like a creator.
Life is different today. Today rather than shaping things I am very aware of what shapes my life.
Oh I suppose I still help shape other things, people’s lives, the pathways to the sacred they may be on are, hopefully shaped by my words and thoughts. I trust I am shaping the lives of those I am in relationship with, either through family or by calling. But I am caught in a place that begs the question, “who is shaping whom?” In other words am I shaping the lives of others or are their lives shaping mine? Which is dominant? And, then the even larger question, what is the dominant influence that shapes my life?
Look around a little. Think about the people you observe. What shapes their lives? Is the man who collects the garbage for the city shaped by what he does, or the desire to serve, or his desire to have enough money to fish on weekends or provide an education for his children? Maybe his life is most dominated by a desire to provide for his family and do whatever it takes to care for an ailing wife? And maybe he does all those things and still seeks most to serve at his local church? Maybe he is truly driven or shaped by a desire to share compassion and love with all he comes in to contact with?
What shapes your life? Recently a colleague of mine made the comment, “whatever gives shape to a person’s life is their god.” In other words whatever a person allows to dominate their life, be it feelings for another person, money or the accumulation of wealth, a hobby, or an ideal such as compassion, high ethical standards, or the pursuit of justice for all people; that is their god. It may also be their devil.
Throughout our years of growth and maturity we are all influenced, or shaped by, multiple factors. Parents, our surroundings, and the friends we choose; but eventually we allow a single factor or combination of influences to become the dominant factor in what we choose to do and why we choose to do it. For many it is, or becomes, a religious practice. The teachings of Jesus, the Tao, Buddhist teachings, the ways of indigenous people of this American continent; are all ways that we are led to God. They are ways that we have chosen to commit our lives to becoming better citizens of this planet. They are the dominant factors that we have chosen to shape our lives.
Sometimes it is unfortunate that the dominant shaping factors have become so over institutionalized that it becomes the institution that shapes life. The institution has then become an idol blocking the ability to live the teachings the institution longs to teach.
Each of us still has the opportunity to pick up the pieces, make a conscious decision, and sculpt the future. You do have the ability to choose what shapes your life. Choose well friend.
Blessings to you!