Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Flash from Thanksgiving Past...

During my first year in seminary, I wrote this little piece, which was printed in the February 1985 edition of Monday Morning, a devotional for Presbyterian pastors:


Every Sunday morning, when I lead the pastoral prayer in our church, I tack on a list of things for which we can be thankful to God. I try to be creative with the list of "thank yous," but often I find that I quickly run out of things for which to praise the Lord. That is until recently.

During a field education banquet at our seminary, a woman told about her experiences working in a center for the handicapped and disabled. She told of a time when she had some disabled children make a litany of thanksgiving--things for which they are thankful to God. A tear of revelation and joy came to my eye as she read a list that included things like "Thank you, God, for being able to stand up." And "Thank you, God, that Aaron (presumably a brother or friend) is alive." Wow! How do we miss such precious things? Things like "Thank you, God, that Jesus is alive," or "Thank you, God, for the gift of speech." How about "Thank you, God, for giving such powerful insight to these 'handicapped' little ones"? They have given me a new outlook on praise and thanksgiving!

This past week, when many of us were inconvenienced by being without power for a day or two, I thought about those folks in California who left everything behind to be consumed by fire, or those families who lost loved ones in the wildfires. How fortunate we were that our "suffering" was so minor and so temporary. I guess being thankful is a relative thing.

As we approach another national day of Thanksgiving, may we say a prayer not just for our own "thanksgivings," but for those who are caught up in a seemingly endless loop of challenge or tragedy. May we pray that they, too, soon will be able to give thanks for their deliverance.

Be safe, Beloved. Be well. And be thankful. Shalom!

Friday, November 2, 2018


Last Friday evening, October 26, I spoke at the 7:00PM Shabbat Service at Temple Ohav Shalom here in Allison Park. As part of establishing a kind of partnership between St. Paul's and TOS, Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt spoke at all of our Sunday services here at St. Paul's, and we scheduled my reciprocal speaking engagement for 10/26 shortly after. We had just finished a six-week worship theme on "Under the Tree of Life," examining the "other" tree God planted in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. We Christians have been preoccupied with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the story, with beaucoup theology being produced on the resulting subject of sin and redemption. It was enlightening to spend some time talking about the Tree of Life in the center of the mythical garden, a tree that shows up again in the final chapter of the Bible when the vision turns to the "new heavens and the new earth." So, I spoke about this Tree of Life, which we share, and can live under together. Truth-be-told, our Jewish friends have always focused on THIS tree more, even as we fretted over the other. Little did I know...

The next morning, as I was driving to complete a few chores, the story of the horrible hate crime at, of all places, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Like so many of you, I went home and sat riveted to the TV, watching this tragedy unfold. All I could think about was how joyous and hopeful we all were over the Tree of Life the night before, and how ironic that now, that name would forever be linked to sadness and grief, at least to some extent. I reached out to Rabbi Jeremy, to see if there was anything we could do to support him and Temple Ohav Shalom. He said his board was having an emergency meeting that night, and that he would get back to me.

The result of that meeting was an invitation from the people of Temple Ohav Shalom to the churches and faith organizations of both our social justice group, NORTH (Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope), and our local ministerial association, to join them for their Friday Shabbat Service on Friday, November 2. This, they suggested, would serve as a show of support and solidarity, and might help calm the fears of the TOS congregation about coming to synagogue for the first time after what happened at Tree of Life. As I write this, we have 25 faith communities and ministerial organizations which will be represented at the service, as well as at least 25 clergy and faith leaders, including Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic), Muslim, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, and Mormon.

The gratification in this show of solidarity is that it truly is an "under the Tree of Life" moment. As you have read in countless stories in the aftermath of this horror in Squirrel Hill, the broad display of love, empathy, and "we stand with you" solidarity may be one of the biggest "God moments" I have seen in my life. Add to that the fact that the Pittsburgh Muslim community raised enough money to pay for all of the funerals of the JEWISH victims, and what we see is a true picture of what the Realm of God will someday look like, when we are ALL living under this great tree at the center of "the garden." This, above all, gives me hope in a time when I find it hard to muster much of it.

I'm looking forward to tonight's Shabbat Service. In this miraculous time of these faith groups coming together in solidarity, I think I shall always think of our weekly services as Shabbat Services! Please join us in continuing to uplift and support the Jewish community and all of their faith communities in prayer. Shalom Shabbat!

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