United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Pastoral Letter, December 6, 2019 Climate Strike

Dear Neighbors,

Please come out again this Friday if you were one of the 100 people who stood in front of Barrett Hall on September 20th for Strafford’s first Climate Strike. I hope that all those who have stood or waved or honked in a friendly way on Fridays since then will join the Strike as well.

People will be holding signs in front of Barrett Hall from 7:15 to 8:30 AM this Friday morning. Here are three reasons that make this Friday particularly important:

1. The United Nations Climate Change Conference is underway in Madrid. People all over the world need to send a clear, strong message of where we stand and what we want and need to have happen. The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, is warning that the earth is drawing close to a point of no return. He is powerless to prevent it without a global movement rising to demand that local, state and national governments declare a climate emergency and mobilize resources on a scale greater than World War II to meet the crisis. This Friday people all over the world will be taking to the streets and students will be on strike from school. They need us to join them.

2. Strafford resident Vanessa Rule will be in Madrid to receive on behalf of the organization she co-founded, Mothers Out Front, the “2019 United Nations Global Climate Action Award: Women for Results.” We can stand in front of Barrett Hall in solidarity with her and in honor of her work. Mothers Out Front is urging adults to join the children and go on strike this Friday: https://www.mothersoutfront.org/parents_on_strike_nov_dec…

3. It looks likely that we will be voting at Town Meeting to decide whether the town of Strafford will join thousands of other municipalities declaring a climate emergency and resolving to take local actions appropriate to the crisis, thanks to the work of Vanessa Rule, Gus and Cameron Speth, Susan Hodges, Barbara and Wally Smith and all the members of the Strafford Climate Action Group, plus more than 70 residents who have signed petitions so far.

You can still sign the petition and read the resolution by going to the United Church of Strafford website at https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/…/straffords-climate-e…/. (This is not a church activity, it is completely secular and independent, but the church’s Fulfilling Our Vision committee supports the Strafford Climate Action Group’s work.)

By standing in front of Barrett Hall this Friday we will be saying to our neighbors how important it is that we declare this emergency and respond immediately to the crisis.

If you feel overwhelmed, depressed or paralyzed by the bad climate news and the state of the world, please read the book “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.” it will help you discover a path of hope that can free you to contribute your unique gifts to the movement for a sustainable and just world in whatever way feels good to you. You can read about it here: https://www.norwichbookstore.com/book/9781577319726

Thank you for all you are doing for Strafford, the children and the world!
Pastor Tom Kinder

Upcoming Service Notes for December 8, 2019, Second Sunday of Advent

We light the candle of Peace on the Second Sunday of Advent and reflect on the things that make for peace.

Two weeks ago Pope Francis took a step beyond where other Popes have stood and called for the abolition of nuclear weapons in a speech at Nagasaki.  One hundred thousand people were killed instantly by two atomic bombs and an additional four hundred thousand died of radiation sickness.  Two thirds of the member states of the United Nations have called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but the nations that have them claim that nuclear deterrence is needed to prevent wars, an argument the Pope refuted. He pointed out that the billions of dollars invested in nuclear weapons could do far more to end war by being used to end poverty, create economic equity and address the global environmental crisis that is leading to resource shortages and refugee dislocation and other problems that make wars more likely.

A hugely powerful and wealthy minority in the world is making the world more violent, including the violent upheaval in nature caused by the climate crisis.  They are doing it out of fear, greed and ambitious self-interest, going against the core ethical teachings of all traditions (the Golden Rule, love of neighbor as one with ourselves and compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed). They seem unstoppable, investing hundreds of millions in lobbying and propaganda and the election of authoritarian politicians.

Yet we are called to work for peace and shown the path to peace by the moral, ethical and spiritual wisdom of Pope Francis and leaders like him in every faith tradition going back to the ancient Hebrew Prophets.  History has shown that when just a small percentage of the people rises up nonviolently to insist on change—ten percent or less—change becomes inevitable.  Gandhi said that the soul-truth of a nonviolent movement is the only thing on earth more powerful than nuclear weapons.

But the Taoist saying is true that says there will be “no peace in the world…without peace in the heart.”  We need to find a way to inner peace in order to overcome all the internal and external obstacles that stand in the way of our rising to demand peace on earth.

The blessing of Advent wisdom is that it leads us exactly where we need to go to find inner peace, which is into the darkness within and around us, facing the painful truth of our shadow selves and our shadow world that we tend to avoid out of fear or despair.  We need to brave the darkness in order to find the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome. Read More

Sermon from December 1, 2019, First Sunday of Advent

The Advent Path of Active Hope
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 60:2; Matthew 24:36-44

Early Christians envisioned a coming age on earth when Christ’s work would be fulfilled, when the realm of God would become the dominant culture of human civilization—the way of love, compassion, justice and peace that Jesus taught.  Jesus called it the coming of the Son of Man, which we can think of as the coming of a humanity fully evolved, finally as wise and virtuous as God created us to be—a human culture with the heart and mind of Christ.

Today we heard two prophecies about that time.  The prophet Isaiah said, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”

Darkness here represents hard times on earth when people have become lost, creating suffering and despair.  We can count on there being darkness to pass through, and we can count on the light of God rising to guide and empower us to establish a beautiful and sacred way for humanity to live.

The second prophecy is much more difficult.  Jesus has been lamenting how lost the people have become, how astray their leaders have led them, and how much he longs to take them under his wings and comfort and teach them, but they will not listen.  He has spoken of a great suffering that will come as a result.

Many fundamentalist Christians read this and spin out predictions of how and when the end times will unfold.

Jesus speaks directly against such speculation.  No one knows when or how the upheaval on earth will play out; nor do those details matter.  All that matters to Jesus is that we keep working to establish God’s realm on earth here and now, whatever the conditions around us.  What matters is that we are awake, we are “woke,” and are fulfilling the mission of turning the world in the direction of Christ’s love, compassion, justice and peace.

The book Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone talks about two kinds of hope.  The first is hopefulness, a conditional optimism that fades away in the face of impossible odds.  The second kind of hope is a desire for an outcome we long to see happen, a desire so strong that we become “participants in bringing about what we hope for.”  This is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do.  He is calling us to take an Advent path of active hope through the darkness to help bring about the light. Read More

The Longest Night: Facing the Darkness Together, Saturday, December 21 5:00-6:00 PM

This season comes with a constant cultural refrain of gathering with family and friends, of celebrating and giving, of spending money and experiencing happiness—and yet many people find it a source of more pain than gladness.  Even in the holiday season, or maybe especially in the holiday season, we may need space to name lack, loss, estrangement, insecurity, anxiety, depression, or express our fear or grief over what is happening in our world.

The Solstice, when the longest night stretches before us, may be a time when we need community and solace.  We will gather in the Parish Hall from 5:00 to 6:00 PM on the 21st to hear writings that offer comfort for what we are experiencing, and to have the opportunity to reflect together on three topics: experiences of pain this time of year (a story about you, someone you know or characters in literature or film); particular causes of pain or struggle in your personal life this season; and pain you are feeling related to things happening in the nation or world.  All people are welcome of any spiritual path.  If you have questions or would like more information, email us at unitedchurchofstrafford@gmail.com.

Upcoming Service Notes for December 1, 2019, First Sunday of Advent

Advent is magical, in the sense of having a mysterious power to transport us.  Its power is complex—part nostalgia, part longing for what is coming, part the beauty of its greens and candles and music, part the wonderful feeling of the community coming together, part the eagerness and joy and hope of children, part the snow in the air and stars in the sky, part the parties and festivities, part the contemplative nature and part the activity of giving and serving those in need, part the old stories of the Bible or favorite children’s books and part the adventure of the stories we are living right now and the unknown gifts ahead.

Sometimes Advent and Christmas lead us to a place of sadness for what is gone, but in the context of all the parts of Advent in the church, even that sadness can work a magic that transforms our place of devastation and moves us into the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.  The darkness is real, and is an intentional part of Advent, and so is the light.  (Be sure to read about The Longest Night: Facing the Darkness Together, a gathering on December 21st for those who are struggling with grief or pain in this season.)

The more time we give to Advent, the more magical it is, so I hope you will consider it a blessing that this first Sunday of Advent will be a longer than usual service, with a ritual of the children bringing the greens and holly and poinsettias forward to decorate the sanctuary, and the lighting of the Advent Candle of Hope, and the celebration of communion.  (There will also be pageant rehearsals both during and after worship.)  Read More

Sermon from November 24, 2019

Gratitude and Hope
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
November 24, 2019
Twenty-fourth and Last Sunday after Pentecost,
Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday
Psalm 95, Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 6:19-33

The Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, says, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”  The Psalm we read today sings a joyful song of thanksgiving, grateful that “we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.”

This is the primal gratitude that every living being shares.  God formed us out of the dust of the stars and the earth, we are the people of God’s pasture.  We can find an abundance to be grateful for if we have basic necessities and someone to love and serve.  We can be grateful for what we make of this opportunity that has been given us by the spirit of life and evolution that we call God.

Psychologist Robert Emmons defines gratitude as “A felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.”  Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone comment on this:

“If you’re feeling low, it might seem like a stretch to focus on something so positive.  Yet recognizing the gifts in your life is profoundly strengthening. By savoring these gifts, you add to your psychological buoyancy, which helps you maintain your balance and poise when entering rougher waters…Gratitude enhances our resilience, strengthening us to face disturbing information…. While gratitude leads to increased happiness and life satisfaction, materialism… has the opposite effect.”  (from Active Hope pp 43, 46)

Macy and Johnstone’s book, Active Hope, is subtitled, How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.  They look squarely at the suffering and existential threats in our world today, and they find a path through.  They find a hope strong enough to carry us into the world to make it better.  The path leads through the pain we feel and into a new way of seeing the world and our place in it.  That new vision energizes us to go into the world and make a difference for the better.

Facing the pain, seeing with new eyes and going forth are the last three steps of Active Hope’s path.  The first step is gratitude.  Everything else grows out of that. Gratitude enables us to live in a world we know is in dire condition and still feel meaning, purpose and joy rather than despair. Read More

Pastoral Letter on the Need for a Nonviolent Movement

Dear neighbors,

I am making a personal appeal to you.

Jesus, John the Baptist and the ancient Hebrew prophets before them were all part of a nonviolent movement to change human civilization to be the realm of God on earth, a society based on the Golden Rule, love of neighbor as our self and compassion for the most vulnerable and oppressed.  That movement has never died out.  In the 20th Century it rose to new heights through leaders like Gandhi and King and the thousands of less famous but no less courageous and capable leaders of local and national organizations.  In the 21st Century nonviolent movements have increased in experience, knowledge and skill.

We need a local and global nonviolent movement to rise right now because only it can change human civilization as quickly and completely as we must and insure that the direction in which we change is sustainable, healthy, equitable, democratic and nonviolent to the earth as well as to people. The power of nonviolent movements has proven invincible when enough people participate. (See the 2019 Harvard-Yale football game demonstration for a visual image of what happens as people pour out of the stands to join the movement.)

Every spiritual tradition offers the wisdom, the ethical principles, to which we need to hold ourselves, our governments and especially our corporations and most powerful individuals: love of neighbor as our self, the Golden Rule, compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed. Evolution has been moving toward this level of human consciousness, we have made great leaps in the Age of Reason and the recent Age of Liberation and Pluralization. We are poised to make the next step now to be truly homo sapiens, wise hearts as well as minds.

We need your participation in this movement, using your unique gifts and resources in whatever way fills you with gladness and a sense of highest meaning and purpose. Find your way to speak and act, allow yourself to evolve, join with your neighbors, find a group and way to serve that work for you, and please increase your support for organizations that are helping make this change happen, such as your faith community or nonprofits like 350.org, Mothers Out Front or the Sunrise Movement. Even such a small thing as sharing a letter like this helps.

Thank you,
Pastor Tom Kinder