May 25, 2020

There are some days when I’m just so over computer screens, so tired of zoom meetings and emails instead of face-to-face conversations.

I realize that for some who are feeling very isolated, this technology is a lifeline. Indeed, I don’t want to imagine not having this tool to stay connected and carry on work and school. Just the same, I get sick of it.

One day last week I had several (seemed like 200) hours of zoom meetings and had another one immediately ahead on my schedule. I was  tired of screen time and hungry for food and brainless decompression. The upcoming meeting was not required of me, only requested that I participate. Here’s a confession: I just skipped it. I had reached my limit of unbroken zooming. Just skipped it. Went to get something to eat.

I’m not really confessing this, I suppose, because I don’t feel guilty about it. Actually, I feel good about acting with a little self-care, which is not always easy for “caregivers” to do. It wasn’t easy for Jesus either, but he managed to do it. He got up while it was still dark to be alone and pray (Mark 1:35). Even when crowds were looking for him and the world needed saving, he would repeatedly withdraw. Sometimes he’d take his friends with him, sometimes he’d just go be alone.

For some, this distancing time has been a welcome opportunity to slow down. It hasn’t been too hard, just inconvenient. For many, it has been exhausting, stressful and full of loss. Especially for those “high-functioners”, times of continuous high demand (i.e. parenting) take a toll. God wants us to practice self-care. The Great Commandment includes “…as we love ourselves.” The more centered we are (instead of externally driven), the more we can hear Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, those of you who are weary and heavily burdened…I will give you rest”

Writtten by Rev Bill Hoff

May 22, 2020

A word I am hearing with great frequency in the these most uncertain of times is hope

The headlines say it all: “Auto Workers’ Return Gives Hope”, “Property Owners Hopeful Vacation Rentals Will Be Cleared to Reopen”, “NCAA Hopes for June Sports Return”.

People are hoping to have haircuts, to fly on commercial airplanes, to have their teeth cleaned.

Perhaps the best explanation of this abstract concept, hope, has been provided by American poet, Emily Dickinson. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

In this extended metaphor, Dickinson identifies hope not as a thing, but the thing within all people which keeps us going.  She likens hope (an abstract concept) to a tangible entity: a bird.  Covered with soft feathers (though feathers are also strong allowing the bird to fly in gusty winds), the bird sings, not at daybreak, not on a sunny tree limb, but in the dark and chill of life’s storms.

I believe we have all heard this bird, are hearing it daily if we stop to listen.  It’s what keeps us going. 

Dickinson scholars have long commented that many of her poems are reflective of the Psalms and of hymns. 

Consider Psalm 62.  Here the psalmist, presumably David, besieged by enemies, places his hope on God: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.”

A familiar hymn by Isaac Watts proclaims the hope provided by God throughout the ages, this “something” within us all that Dickinson points to.

Turn up your speakers now, and sing along:

Oh God, our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.

May 21, 2020

SONGS FROM THE BUS

Remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked about “Who’s Driving the Bus?” We decided that it is Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  The thing is that the ride is longer and bumpier than we could ever have imagined, but there are many signs of hope and of future. Just different.

Last night this passenger woke up – couldn’t go back to sleep. I sensed that other riders were restless too.    

I started to sing “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nations….. Thee will I honor, Thee will I cherish, Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”  I suddenly felt the “peace that passes all understanding.” Others were singing, too.

Then the little girl in the seat in front of me started to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so….  Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, …….” 

After that another passenger sang “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me….” 

And then we were all singing songs that we love, songs of our faith and trust. Songs of our past and of our future. 

Then, only Jesus, driving the bus was awake, and there was quiet and peace – and I’m pretty sure He was smiling.

Prayer:

SO let us “SING! praise to God, who reigns above, the God of all creation.  The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation. With healing balm, my soul is filled, and every faithless murmur stilled. To God all grace and glory.”

May 20, 2020

Finally, the quarantine is being lifted! Or so they say … Really it’s sorta lifted so some businesses can try to rebuild and maybe people can, within limits, come and go as they once did … it’s kinda lifted since now we have 4 more packages of toilet paper on the shelves but still no disinfecting sprays or wipes – oh, wait: the Walmart near me did say they were expected 2 boxes on their next shipment … they just failed to further explain the 2 boxes held a total of 12 cans for roughly 24,000 people … And it’s maybe lifted unless the virus begins to spread again, which would logically lead to reversal of the lifted quarantine and put us back in the old quarantine with the old rules — or would it be a new quarantine since it would be a new time and date and would we have new rules and guidelines because it’s the second time around??


This is a dizzying and unsettling time – in history and especially our lives. I feel like the deep dark tunnel I’ve been wandering around in these past weeks has expanded and exploded in my face. Those few little guides I had before aren’t so defined and clear. The slope is becoming slippery and the walls are sharp and cutting. The light I once thought I saw glowing in the darkness has faded. I’m stumbling along my way, hoping I don’t fall down and get hurt, or worse: become totally lost in the dark!

I’m more confused that before — the rough but clear guidelines have become blurred. I might even be more concerned and a little more scared without them. What can I do to find my way when the instructions aren’t clear enough for someone who’s OCD tendencies kick into overdrive? How do I find peace and calm in a world filled with COVID-chaos?

My grandmother used to say if we ever got lost and didn’t know which way to go, we were to sit down and wait for help to come to us. It didn’t occur to me at the time as a child just how valuable her lesson was. Many times in my life I have thanked God for the special blessing He gave me: growing up as a Protestant I read the Bible many times and learned a lot of scripture. Converting to Catholicism I have read many beautiful prayers written by many Saints and sinners. Living in the best of both worlds, I learned the greatest peace and calm fills my heart when I simply sit still and wait for help to find me.

Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.

Adaption of the Prayer of St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You.
You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength,
that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life,
and without You, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light,
and without You, I am in darkness. Amen

Written by Teri Wright

May 19, 2020

My cell phone gives me a weekly report about my use. This report tells me how many hours and minutes I used my phone when compared to what I used the prior week. I find this report quite interesting. Generally speaking, I have this feeling that I should be spending less time on my phone. But under our current circumstances, I use my phone to call people I can’t visit.

What if God sent me a report each week giving me the amount of time I spent in prayer with him this week as compared with last week? What would that report look like? The implication in this report is that I should have spent more time talking with Him than I did.

But communication is not just with words or on my knees or with my eyes closed. Sometimes I pray while doing. I actually talk out loud while I’m in the car alone. Hearing what I say to Jesus helps me stay focused.

I can also talk to God by bringing some canned food in to the church for distribution by DESC. I can also talk to God by picking up litter I see on the road that was dropped or blew out of the back of a vehicle. Talking to God can also be calling my German exchange brother in Germany asking him if he is staying healthy. Speaking with God can also be listening to someone talk about how they are doing.

God gives us so many different ways to communicate, but it doesn’t have to be in our sanctuary. I don’t think it even has to be when “…two or three are gathered together in my name…” that we can talk with him.

Prayer:  Oh Lord, help me to speak to you everyday in as many ways as possible.  Amen.

Written by Dave Tuttle

May 16, 2020

Unplanned

If you know me, you know that I am a planner and organized to a fault. I actually keep four calendars, one wall calendar each for home and work and two honest-to-goodness paper calendar/planners, one for personal use and one for work. It used to be my habit to get up each morning and check my planner because every day was different. Was there a baseball game? Was it away or at home? Would we have time to eat at home, or would pick something up? Maybe you can tell that I’m not one of those people who flits happily through life without a care. Type A and with some OCD tendencies, I was always prepared, always put-together. But I was also always on the road, driving to the next activity, hoping I could fit it all in. I was stressed. Every time one of my kids’ baseball practices or games was rained out, I would feel a little guilty at the relief of having one less thing to do.

If you had told me three months ago that life as I knew it would change in such a way that I would have to erase everything in my calendar (thank goodness I wrote most of it in pencil!), I would have said you were crazy. At first, I thought that certainly things would be back to normal by Easter because Easter isn’t something you write in pencil. It’s Easter! Yes, Easter still happened, but it was surreal. No crowd of children around the floral cross? No Hallelujah chorus in the chancel?

James 4:13-15 says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” I feel like this verse is a neon arrow pointing at my head. Planning isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not everything, and I now realize how little control I have over my own life.

Of course, life has always been this way. As James reminds us, anything can happen at any time, and COVID-19 has put that in perspective for me like nothing else could. I have no choice but to work and school my children from home, and I mourn all we’re missing, yet I cherish those things I didn’t even realize I was missing before—talking to my kids about any- and everything on our nightly walks, meeting and befriending our neighbors, observing all the amazing wildlife around our home, and weekly family. While I wish it hadn’t taken a global pandemic to make these changes in my life, I know it would be a terrible shame to ignore these unplanned gifts.

I pray every day that I’m not the only one who feels the need to change, to slow down this frantic pace I’ve been living. While I never for a moment believe that this is God’s judgment on us—that we need to change or face the consequences—I do believe that we’re none of us perfect and that the opportunity to reflect and appreciate and make a change should not be wasted.

Written by Sarah Cotchaleovitch

May 15, 2020

More than One Way to be Together

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. -Acts 2:46-47

     I suppose you could call this a devotional about devotionals. We started posting these pieces written by staff and members of RPC on March 18, thinking that we would have to buoy folks’ spirits for a couple of weeks. Here we are, a two months later, and the end remains hazy. One deadline is sure, however. My time of service will conclude on May 17. I have appreciated all the kind words and deeds shared with me over the last month since I announced of my ending date. In response to you all, I say, You’re welcome!!

    Back to these devotionals. I believe this one counts as #12 from me. I really enjoy writing these short works. Most importantly, however, I want you to know how often I have been moved to tears of joy and gratitude by the devotionals YOU, the members of Riverside Church, have written and shared with us all. You are navigating these same choppy waters of adversity with open hearts and minds, providing your captain’s-chair perspective on things with skill and wisdom. I want to be sure you hear the loud THANK YOU that I and many others shout out for the grace and beauty and poignancy you’ve added to our days!

    Which is why I thought of the passage early in the Acts of the Apostles, which could also be entitled, the Acts of the Church. Jesus’ first followers were living through torturous, tumultuous days in their lives. You know their stories of persecution and deprivation. They had to figure out news ways of being community in order to survive. And they did! Not social distancing; rather, quite the opposite: Gathering together and finding strength in numbers. I trust you can see the connection to our present situation. While not gathering together, we ARE finding a multitude of new ways to be community in tumultuous times. Your simple yet profound devotional words that appear in our inboxes each morning draw us together and remind us that we are not alone in our separation. I contend that we have learned so much of what it means to be community in this time BECAUSE we are not able physically to be together. You devotional writers have provided some of the spiritual glue that has done the necessary job.

    On my way out of town, I want to encourage you to keep sharing your life stories. When we rely on professional “religious” folk to carry the bulk of that load, we miss out on so much of our shared wisdom. So keep writing! I have been deeply and profoundly moved by your efforts.

Prayer: God of unity, help us to continue sharing our stories, and by doing so, uniting us into the fellowship of love and compassion that is the Church of Jesus Christ. Amen!

Blessings, Pastor Zomermaand

May 14, 2020

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time on and  forevermore.  Psalm 125: 1-2.

As a student of literature, I learned long ago to translate poets’ visual images into concrete memories from my own experience. I haven’t seen A.E. Housman’s lovely cherry trees “hung with bloom along the bough,” but I have seen my share of blooming fruit trees and envision those instead. Nor have I stopped by the Vermont woods Robert Frost describes on a “snowy evening” to watch them “fill up with snow.” I have, however, hiked in the snow, and heard the sounds of the wind in the trees (“the sweep of easy wind”). 

Psalm 125 describes the mountains which surround Jerusalem creating a visual image of God encircling his people. Having not been to Jerusalem, I can’t envision the mountains surrounding that city. I can, however, translate that image to places I do know. 

One of my favorite of all places is Cades Cove, an area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near the little town of Townsend. A cove, by definition, is a valley or gap between woods or hills. Cades Cove is just that, a broad, arable valley which stretches for 4,000 acres ringed by mountains. Once home to a handful of farmers, there remain historic community churches and quaint houses and barns along the 11-mile loop road.  Livestock still grazes in the vast meadows, and a few crops are still grown by farmers who now reside just outside the park boundaries. 

It is a quiet, protected place. It is easy here to understand the psalmist’s metaphor. 

Currently, we are by necessity surrounded by walls: walls of masonry, or concrete, of lumber. We feel safe, but, alas, fenced in. But almost daily I mentally take myself to Cades Cove. I set up my lawn chair in one of the lush pastures and enjoy the expanse of space and the comforting protection of the splendid mountains. I remember that as the mountains surround Cades Cove, so God surrounds me and all his people today and for all time.

 I like to think we all have such a place. Where is yours?

Written by Sharon Cleland

May 13, 2020

Many years ago I taught Spin classes at the YMCA on Riverside Avenue.  I became fast friends with a Naval Helicopter pilot, Kevin & his wife Beth, a Calculus teacher at Episcopal High School. After coming to the Wednesday morning 6am Spin classes for a while, Beth asked for modifications for the workout because she was newly pregnant. (I was also newly pregnant with my daughter Julia, but wasn’t yet sharing the news, as we had issues with infertility).  One morning, Kevin & Beth told me they were being transferred to London. Life got busier for me as I was having my own babies, so unfortunately I lost touch with Kevin & Beth.

In 2006, I was a part time working mom of 3 pre-schoolers ages 3 & under. I worked every Saturday & Sunday night from 7 pm-7 am at St. Vincent’s. I  joined a group called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) because they met on Monday mornings, and I saw it as free nursery care for my 3 babies. One Monday morning, as I was half-sleeping, half trying to engage with other moms at the meeting, I halfway noticed a mom sitting nearby with a special needs child. The child was in a modified stroller & her sounds were guttural. I didn’t want to draw attention or stare at the child. 

We love to tell the story now, because that mom with the special needs child said I stood up & immediately she made the connection that I was the Spinning instructor that “tortured” her on Wednesday mornings. The mom with the special needs child was my friend Beth! Kevin had accepted a position at NAS Jax after fulfilling his commitment in London. Their daughter Clara had been born in England on February 5, 2004. Clara is my birthday buddy & is 10 days older than my daughter Julia. Clara had a seizure during childbirth, which left her uncommunicative & solely reliable on Beth, Kevin, their families & numerous caregivers to attend to all of her needs. 

Very sadly, Clara passed away this past Sunday, May 3 at home surrounded by her very loving & active family – Kevin, Beth, Ian, Leo & Tessa. I wanted to weave a devotion about my relationship with the Rasch family because I love how God connected us.

With the passing of Clara, I have leaned on my relationship with God & have also leaned on people in this community. With a quick phone call to Emily, I was able to borrow candles that we use at RPC during our Christmas worship service to use at a vigil where we honored Clara’s 16 years with us on earth. Michael met me in the parking lot with the box of candles. It was so good to see him & have a quick conversation with him to check in on his family, while he asked about ours. As I was driving home from church with the candles, I received a call from Elizabeth who instinctively just knew that I needed to hear from a friend. I got to tell Elizabeth about Clara & the light she brought into our lives. Elizabeth & I had the chance to reminisce about her dad Bob & the very sweet connection that Bob & Sam shared. I also had the chance to reflect on Clara’s Hospice Peds palliative care experience with Betty, her caring & faithful advocate & how Percy took over my Spin classes at the YMCA when I was ready to stop the wheels from turning.

Even though we’re not currently connected physically, I’m taking comfort in the connections, friendships, & relationships that God makes possible when we don’t even realize it. 

Written by Kristin Swiercek

May 12, 2020

Listen for the Hope in Others

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. -I Peter 3:15-16

The verses above serve as my go-to text when preaching/teaching about evangelism. Evangelism for me tells stories about grace, mercy…hope! About how my life has been transformed because of God’s love for me. So why am I thinking about it today? Because God utilizes so many people to evangelize me by giving an accounting for the hope that resides in them. To cause me to look inside myself to find hope in dark times.

As the song I sang with the children on Easter states, Daily news is so bad it seems the good news seldom gets heard; get it straight from the Easter people, God’s in charge, spread the word! When I listen, good news bombards me daily. Christian or not, I perceive Christ-like motivations in the actions of people all around me. Let me share three recent examples:

  • Experienced, hardened, and esteemed journalists, David Brooks (conservative) and E.J. Dionne (progressive) have been tag-teaming on the radio for decades. First one, then the other comments on an issue, usually from quite opposing viewpoints. I savor their wisdom, often exclaiming (usually to no one), “Brooks and Dionne for Presidents!” They regularly air their deep policy differences on matters. NEVER ONCE have I witnessed one belittling or demeaning the other. In normal times, they broadcast from a studio together. Not now. A few weeks ago, the radio host asked them in their separate locations if they had anything personal to say to the other. Profound expressions of mutual love and appreciation flowed easily from their battle-toughened lips. I was moved to tears.
  • A radio story (Sorry, I’m a radio guy.) highlighted a couple waiting on the birth of their first child. C-19 necessitated a c-section delivery. The mother was found to be C-19 positive; the father and newborn not. So new mom was isolated at home; and dad became DAD!!! Not the plan that they imagined. The love and determination and ingenuity of the couple rushed like a flooding river from my radio. So did the tears from my eyes.
  • I was listening to the radio (surprise!) this morning and heard of two long-term, from-childhood friends, one white and one black, who became best buds when such alliances were challenging, even dangerous. They both ended up in healthcare occupations, now serving C-19 patients in different places. We were privileged to eavesdrop on their e-chat. They shared dangers, worries, and satisfactions. Neither was surprised that they both had dedicated their lives to help others. Their thirty-plus years of love and support for each other came through my Sony loud and clear. Guess what happened to me? Yep, more tears.

Life ain’t so great right now. All the for-real feel-good stories don’t change that. I am really appreciating the stories of hope elbowing their way into my awareness. I hope you take the time to hear and see them, too!

Prayer: God of hope, cause us to stop navel-gazing long enough to be inspired by the stories of hope and love erupting from lives of those around us; for Jesus’s sake. Amen.

Blessings, Pastor Zomermaand