The Dilemma of Distancing

Thirty or so years ago, a preaching professor from Boston University – where I was a Master of Divinity student – came north to observe me live and in person leading a worship service in the church where I was an associate. He did not “zoom,” except maybe by driving up Rt 93. And while he was up north here, he gave me a tutorial in using my voice as an instrument — how to fill the cavernous space of an old sanctuary with clarity, emotion, and without sound equipment.

That lesson has stood me in great stead, and in the decades that followed I have spoken and preached in many a space without benefit of technology and to great effect.
And frankly, in seminary there was no training on how to use a microphone. We didn’t use much technology at all, except for an unending stream of cassette recordings that enabled us to capture the sounds of a service for shut-ins. Videos were occasionally requested by families for Christmas pageants and weddings…but on the whole, relegated to photographers. Who were not allowed to use a flash (at least in my neighborhood), lest the worship experience be upstaged by technology.

That has, of course, all changed (although more brides are making notice that guests should keep their phones in their pockets). When there were weddings. Sanctuaries with wifi meant worshipers could follow readings on their phones or iPad. When there were services in person.

The pandemic prompted a rush to ‘capture’ — and, suddenly, we clergy all needed to adapt. Video stream or pre-recorded and edited services. Marital and other counseling on Zoom. And, oh the online meetings; too often with people whose computer skills had previously only been to retrieve emails and shop. Sigh.

The churches I serve – here at the Shared Ministry and also at Bath Congregational – did parking lot drivebys and outdoor services. Where, inevitably, a computer would misfire. And in the north country where bandwidth is sketchy and streaming impossible.
We returned to indoor worship – and safely, with new protocols, as soon as we were able. Prompted mostly by the insistence of those who fall into the at-risk category of age because, well, PLACE.

This Advent season, I decided to at least try to capture the service on video and post later on Sundays. Just turn on the camera and let it run. Week One? the camera capacity shut down and we got the first half of the service at least. Week Two? a new camera and memory card managed to capture the whole of it. Complete with any gaffes, because, well, the experience was delivered as it happened.

And now Week Three. Where operator (me) error either misread the battery charged indicator, or the starter battery that came with the camera was faulty…or, it shut itself off when it didn’t detect enough ‘motion’ and went into power save. So, nothing captured.
We’ve ordered backup batteries. More memory cards. Re-read the manual. Reconfigured settings. In short, we’re leaning into the technology without the tools or training and doing the best we can – all the while, missing the touch. The time. The fellowship we can’t find online or outdoors or at a distance. But we will continue to explore and examine ways we can serve and continue to proclaim good news in the midst of what has been so much bad.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in what we prayed, and praised, read and rejoiced on Advent 3, there’s a transcript attached. It even includes the drafted message notes.
The rest of the experience will depend on your faith and imagination: grace to you all.

Lean in to Lent

Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church, when under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business and an investment of time, preparation, and intense reflection.  As the church grew and centuries past, the Lenten season became a mirror of Jesus sacrifice from the fasting in the desert that preceded his public ministry to the “way” he taught of prayer, and living/giving for others. 

In practice, particularly in more contemporary times, it has become the ultimate self-improvement routine:  from “giving up” chocolate, wine, calories, petty vices – fasting of every description – those inside and outside of regular faith practices use the 40 days before Easter to get back on track with healthy living by denying things that aren’t good for them in the first place.  For, like some folks who want to adhere to the idea of Lent without too much cost, there are those who give up something they don’t like anyway:  broadcast news comes to mind.  And one year in youthful enthusiasm, I gave up raisins one Lent.  Which I didn’t like anyway, but gave me something to report to my catechism teacher.

Contrast the insincere ‘giving up’ with the suggestions that come as a kind of counter proposal: we should pledge to ADD something we’ve been lacking.  More daily Bible time, more ‘good deeds’ etc., etc.

There are charts and graphs and lists of every description on both sides, all designed to spend 40 days creating a new or better you, family, household, or community.  Without too fine a point of it, I think there’s a way to both honor the sacrificial/reflective intent of Lent while building a better everything from the inside out: attend worship. 

That’s right:  go to church. 

Ekklesia is the term that translates as “church.”  Not just the universal body of those who believe in Christ as Christians, but as the gathered body.  Which means that while you may have been taught and embrace the “I-believe-in-God-but-don’t-have-to-go-to-church” stance, you’ve missed the part that defines the body of Christ as one that gathers.

Deciding to attend worship for the six Sundays of Lent satisfies both the sacrifice model and the self-improvement one.  You’re giving up an hour or so of your Sunday morning…when you could be having more coffee, or reading/watching news, or sleeping in, washing the car or the dog, or just indulging yourself in some downtime.  Give it up.

You also might be doing a little self-improvement.  Even the “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” crowd need some fuel.  In worship, you’ll hear some scripture, sing a little, pray a little, and maybe daydream – or maybe get something to think about you haven’t considered in a long time.  You might even like it.

Making church-going your Lenten practice might remind you of what you already think you know or introduce you to something you hadn’t considered.  It might even become a good habit you’ll want to continue. 

One of the most recent dietary trends promises to recalibrate the way you approach food and make a behavioral modification change by the principles of psychology. I’d like to think that coming together in faith once a week resets us, too:  and spiritual truth will deliver a beneficial change in what you think and say and do.

The Lenten Season begins on Ash Wednesday, February 26…which means the six Sundays of Lent are March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and April 5 – and if you put in those six, you won’t want to miss the grand celebration of Easter Sunday, April 12!

And who knows – there’s also a chance you might discover that your presence is not only a gift to yourself, but one that benefits the whole body of faith.  One Bible writer put it this way: ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…

An hour a week makes a lifetime. Or lifeline.

I don’t know about you, but somehow – despite the intellectual reality – I always imagined my mom would be there.  It was a fact: like gravity. Like sunrise.  Like pennies stuck in the car seat – hidden, but inevitably there when you looked.  For me.  For my boys.  And beyond.

Funny, how when something happens, your thoughts – or at least mine – think of her more frequently.

God is like that:  there, not needing much of our attention until something goes awry and then we find ourselves thinking about him more.

Or we should.

The heartbreak for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, of recent hurricanes and earthquake, the death of a rock star all share and express for me a heart-ache, too; but it’s the pain of seeing so many people at such a loss to find meaning and solace in a culture that has eschewed the presence of God.

Oh, that.  Him.  Or Her (if you’re inclined toward the kind of gender-inclusion that really needn’t apply in the world of the Supreme).  The Holy.  The creator and sustainer and redeemer of the universe as we can only know it this side of heaven.

Margaret Somerville wrote “Those using ‘separation of church and state’ to justify excluding religion from the public square have created confusion among: Freedom of religion; freedom for religion; and freedom from religion.”  Somerville, a professor of bioethics and law on two continents, wrote that in 2010….but the movement to exclude or excuse religion has been ongoing for decades.

For more than 20 years as a pastor, I serve (and continue to serve) not only those entrusted to be as church members but also the non-churched/religious of our communities.  These are not necessarily people without faith, or a love for God – just people who have accepted the populist idea that God can be worshipped/appreciated/followed outside the community.

Which is abundantly untrue.  Because in a culture that keeps God outside of the public arena, and people who keep themselves outside of a faith community, the power of God becomes like something kept in a back pocket or back seat.  Or an unfamiliar key on our jangling keychains – something to be tried when we find ourselves facing an unfamiliar lock.

Expressions of general angst, like the words of one recent post “I’m insecure lately and been looking for ways to help myself” are heartbreaking reminders that we cannot help ourselves . . . but we can help one another.  Those who mourn who have nowhere to find hope are equally balanced by those who celebrate —  but even joy becomes empty and celebrations shrill.  And I cannot help but think that the self-medicating/numbing of so many in our society springs in part from a lack of hope in anything outside of themselves.

Christianity celebrates and practices the strength of God-in-community.  Communities not of cookie-cutter religious adherents, but of the diverse and different, multi-gifted tolerant and supportive faithful who share the same God.  A God who modeled forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  Patience in the Almighty.  Sustained support in the Spirit.

But in order to benefit from that, you have to be one.  You have to invest that weekly hour in coming together, not remaining apart.  ‘Separate but equal’ doesn’t work in faith any more than it worked in culture.

All the candle-lit standing vigils are single events like the horror they speak to.  Every disaster relief program comes and goes, and ends up pointing fingers at who does more, who does what; and who does the next one.  It brings to mind, on this the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the words to Martin Luther’s iconic hymn:

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he.

I will miss my mom. In thinking of her as ‘always there’ I may have lost something along the way:  it’s why I can’t quite decipher the scraps of paper and collections of things it’s time to sift through.  Memories are satisfying – but relationships need be savored while we have them.

The same thing goes for God.

Our best relationship can be had now, and our most satisfying one is when it is shared with others.  The “let us not give up meeting together” of Hebrews 10 is plucked out of its context but still applies:  get God.  Get a church family.  And in so doing, celebrate your own family by making weekly worship a way to sustain your faith the way Sunday dinner (or Taco Tuesday) feeds and celebrates your family.

Bonus:  maybe a listen to this recording of ‘Ave Maria’ from memorial service:


The view from the hill: The CIA & Me

No, I don’t think my microwave is surreptitiously taking photos of meal preparation in the Parsonage kitchen (for meal pix that I take myself, see my photos on my Lyn Osborne Winter Facebook page).

After a recent raft of big brother leakage, I do now have a reason to blame CIA interference for my laptop woes.  Every early morning since the reports surfaced, my laptop screen freezes, programs open and close themselves, and the cursor develops an erratic mind of its own, always between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. . . . . Left idle while I fetch coffee #2, I return to find random windows open, new blank tabs marching across the top of the Mozilla screen, and slow and sludgy movement that is sometimes accompanied by a fleeting message ‘a web page is slowing you down’ that disappears before I can choose and click ‘ignore.’

It’s got to be the CIA monitoring my activity.  It can’t be that I have that “117  131 updates to windows” notice from one of the thingees on the taskbar.  Or that I crash Firefox daily.  Or that Word can’t decide if it’s in lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.  There:  I left that in – honest, I took my hands off the keyboard to lift that coffee mug when that happened.

Anyway, I just now saved this draft.  In Word 97-2003.  You know a real Word document instead of that docx stuff . . . because if I don’t save in the old format I can’t transfer files (via CD) to my trusty Mac G4.  For formatting in PageMaker if I need to.

You might be getting the idea by now.  In some ways, I’m a turn-of-the-century gal.  (The 20th, not the 19th)  Heck, some of you who might be reading this may not even get those tech references.

But you might be getting the idea that this isn’t ultimately about old technology or the CIA (‘tho I hate to give that up).  It’s about blame:  where we put it, how we deflect it, our reluctance to accept it.  It’s about the satisfying sound of our own complaining (and the equally unsatisfactory drone of someone else’s complaints).

And, ultimately, it’s about change and the way we adapt, embrace, or try to sidestep it.  And not merely the change that technology brings. It’s about our stubborn adherence to the comfort (real or imagined) of what was instead of embracing what could be, with us all the while stuck smack dab in the middle of what is.

Reality check: actions we take today can impact us tomorrow, but will have little effect on yesterday.  By extension, though, it means we need to take action.  Today. While we’re in it.   Thoughts: I can clean up the laptop instead of blaming the CIA:  it won’t change the fact that had I done it a week ago, there may have only been 57 updates to do.  But it could save some time before a frozen system shuts me down completely tomorrow.  And instead of passively accepting the glitches, I’ll have to spend some of my own time on it.  But time is a construct:  what I’d be doing is investing in the potential for tomorrow.

That proverbial, mis-attributed motto “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present’.” is no help here.  To my mind, it makes the present the destination – if today is a gift, we should enjoy it as the self-indulgent gratification it is – which means we can smugly adopt another misquoted, but definited attributed ‘tomorrow will take care of itself.’  [It’s from the Sermon on the Mount; and if that’s not in your personal browsing history, invest part of your today and read it here.]

I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what Jesus had in mind in that hours-long, jam-packed, call to action.  It’s full of things to do in the present that will potentially impact each day, each year that follows.  And it was such a call to action that even after hours in the hot sun, stiff from sitting, hungry and thirsty and weary – both the speaker and the listeners, no doubt – they took the present into the potential:  at the end, as he left the hill, they followed him.  Faith is a forward action, not a present destination.

So we have no one to blame but ourselves, and complaining won’t initiate change.  And it’s time to stop postponing potential by inaction.  Faith issues require change all the time:  “leaving what is behind we press on.”

Guess what I’ll be doing for the next few hours?





The view from the hill: Mother Church

I have been working on the draft for Blog 2 (and 3, and 4…) but this morning’s meanderings have jumped the queue when a facebook message landed turning my morning into stump-the-pastor-Saturday.

The same pastor (me) that had just spent an inordinate amount of time researching Mothering Sunday.  Or, as tomorrow’s 4th Sunday of Lent is alternately referred to as Laetare Sunday.  [The other names attributed to this festival include Refreshment Sunday, Pudding Pie Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, Simnel Sunday (“Mothering Buns” or “Mothering Sunday Buns” were made to celebrate) and Rose Sunday.]

I know.  It’s that kind of confusion that gives religion a bad name.  Or in this case, too many names.

It all began when I realized today, March 25, was the traditional observance of the Annunciation.  Yes, I do keep track of such things.   You might know it as the day the Angel Gabriel gave Mary the news – complete with gender reveal and name – of a blessed event planned for Dec. 25th.  [And, yes, I know none of those dates are accurately reported, just celebrated.  Let’s not get sidetracked further 🙂 ]  So when I realized tomorrow is known as ‘Mothering Sunday’ in England and Scotland and parts of Ireland, among others, I thought I had the connection.

I was wrong.

Mothering Sunday is named after a 16th-century Christian tradition of attending the church you grew up in, the place where you were baptized, or the church your mother attends — a day on which people would visit their “mother” church, it falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. “Going a-mothering” meant traveling to your home church, the place where you came from.  And it is still observed in many ways to this day.

Secular society in America (and Anna Jarvis, not to mention Hallmark and the florists) would eventually transform this tradition into Mother’s Day, celebrated each second Sunday of May here in the Colonies.  However, the Mothering Sunday of Lent historically had more to do with returning to one’s religious roots (and giving servants a day off to do so, too) than celebrating woman’s roles of wife and mother, although going a-mothering often involved little children gathering wildflower bouquets for their mothers on their way to the church.

One interesting tradition from the United Kingdom thought to be associated with Mothering Sunday was “clipping the church,” in which the congregation would stand in a circle around the outside of the church, hold hands, and collectively embrace their church building as a community.

Which should resonate not just one Sunday, but every Sunday.  Because everyone can consider that one-hour gathering every week as a kind of homecoming – return to roots, refresh and renew faith, and spend it with others who embrace like values and beliefs (even when we live out those values and beliefs differently).  [By the way, one of the other traditional names ‘Laetare’ refers to Isaiah 66:10 ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem.’  At coming home. 🙂 ]

Anyway, as I discovered today, returning doesn’t necessarily have to be a Sunday.  Or even take place at a church building.  It can land on my facebook feed as a question posed by a youngster and forwarded by a parent:  because who better to ask than of the faith community the answer to “Who created God and where did he come from”?

We all have questions large and small, and where better to ask them than home?  Among the family that sent you forth – and always welcomes you back.  Just like church.  Just not only on the 4th Sunday of Lent.

Stop by sometime.  Calls and questions and messages always welcome, too . . . Only don’t call me ‘mother’ (unless you’re one of my two sons, that is).

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”  [from Hebrews 10]

The view from the hill: in the beginning

Having spent the last year wishing I had a way to address various topics/issues/perspectives apart from social media, getting this blog seemed like a great idea.

Until coming up with the initial posting.  Starting with a name for it.

‘The View from the Hill’ has been the title of my church newsletter essays for 20 years and seems to fit.  After all, I live on a hill (‘tho who doesn’t in northern NH?)… I’m a woman of a certain age who has both endured and enjoyed the peaks and valleys of experiencing life in the times I was born into, most of them now in my adopted North Country of NH (climbing up a long road that took me from western MA to Boston to NY state to here)….I’ve been a daughter, a wife, a mom and grand, and a wife again and have had (and still enjoy) careers in printing and publishing, business and the arts, and Christian ministry.  Along the way, I came to the mountain of faith that conquers fears.  Which would, I guess, include the fear of the initial, blank, electronic page.

Don’t let the “f” word (faith) dissuade you from reading.  This is not a religious blog, even though it’s part of our church site; nor is it a secular one, despite the fact that we all live in an increasingly secular culture.

Mostly, I hope it’s a place where the meanderings of mindful thought and abiding faith reflect on the mundane, the ridiculous, the joyful and the challenging ups, downs (and sideways) aspects of engaging life as best I can.  The views are mine alone, not pastoral imperatives; no teaching or preaching or evangelism — other than anything you might be prompted to explore from anything good or useful to you that might be modeled in the essays.

And, as expected, you’ll find an occasional F(aith) bomb in the form of a Bible verse like this one in the spirit of Paul’s words to the Phillipians:  “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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

I hope something I write might amuse you.  Or prompt you to think.  I’m not looking for arguments or criticism or even belly laughs – if you want to have a conversation, call me.  Or write me, ‘tho keep it constructive.

Welcome to my view of God’s world ~