Every now and then something means something to us, and it may not necessarily be intellectually defensible or rationally explainable, but it still means something. I’ve been spending time with my granddaughter Caroline this week. She’s a peach. A peach and a pill. But mostly a peach. She was singing in the backseat yesterday while riding in the car, and she asked me to sing a song. “Sing a song Pop Pop.” I went blank. I couldn’t think of anything to sing. I began to scramble. The Beatles? Maybe. Van Morrison? Too complicated. Something from a Disney movie? You’ve got to be kidding. I haven’t seen a kids movie in forever.
The only thing I could think to teach her was an old hymn. The chances of any of you knowing it are slim to none, but it’s titled “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s a hymn about the end of life, which might not necessarily be age-appropriate for Caroline wanting to sing in the backseat of the car, but it’s all I could come up with at the time. “Some glad morning when this world is done, I’ll fly away. To a place on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away. I’ll fly away, old glory, I’ll fly away. (In the morning.) When I die, hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away.”
Caroline was unimpressed.
To be clear, I have no idea what will happen to us after we die, and I don’t know what heaven or some version of it will be like, and I’m not sure if I’ll have a chance to meet Shakespeare, Nixon or my grandmother Agnes again. But this I know. I know I will die. I have faith that I will not be be abandoned by God when it happens, and frankly, that’s good enough for me. And so sometimes I find myself singing “I’ll fly away.” Does this old hymn perfectly capture my theology today? No. Not really. But just because it doesn’t make air-tight rational sense, that doesn’t necessarily make it nonsense either.
I found a version of this old hymn sung by Gillian Welch and Alison Krause. Take a Breath. Enjoy it. Don’t over literalize the lyrics. Just let it fill you up. The way the voice of a little girls fills the car from the backseat on a Monday afternoon.
Okay. Okay. I know. Enough with the celebration about Marriage Equality. Except this . . . for those of you who might not know . . . this is what it looks like . . . my friends James and Peter . . . their wedding at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles one year ago this weekend . . . a wonderful, moving, joyful occasion . . . not because they are straight (they’re not) or because they’re gay (they are), but because they love one another, and they love their church and family and friends, and because love is a gift of God, and because when we love we know God. I officiated their wedding and blessed them. In truth, they were the ones who blessed me. Take a Breath of history, dear friends, because for those of us who have worked and prayed and preached for the dignity and respect of all God’s children . . . well . . . this is called a good day.
Just to be clear: If the Christian gospel does not speak to our brokenness as human beings, including the brokenness of the world, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not speak to the issues of our day, not another day but our day, not another generation but our generation, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not link the insights from our past to the hopes for our future, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not inspire both faith and doubt, answer and question, comfort and discomfort, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not lift up all people, not some people but all people, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not point us to something bigger than our personal wants or needs or ideas, then it is not the gospel. If the Christian gospel does not remind us that God is love, and that the way to know God is to love our neighbor, then it is not the gospel. I’m Taking a Breath today and maybe you would like to take one too. Because every now and then I just need to say it. This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is what I share with others.
I am so weary with gun violence in America, and I am so weary of violence that happens inside schools and churches, and I am so weary of perpetrators of violence looking more like children than adults, and I am so weary of writing blogs about the anguish of God and the need for human compassion in the face of tragedy. Tonight, I am saying a prayer for my brothers and sisters of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina. I am asking you to Take a Breath and say a prayer for those families too. Say a prayer for devoted people who gather in the spirit of peace, wanting only sweet fellowship with one another and the study of their sacred writings. And if you can, say a prayer for a 21 year old man, who looks more like a boy, Dylan Roof, the alleged shooter inside that church. And while you’re at it, say a prayer for every child that somewhere along the line learns to hate. I am weary of it all, and can barely comprehend it tonight. I find comfort in this way: That alongside every fractured human tragedy, there are still flowers that bloom, there are still human beings who lend a helping hand, and there is still music and art and literature and dance and architecture and film and design and spirituality and books and education and drama, and all these disciplines bring beauty and meaning to our lives. Beauty does not right every wrong. I know that. It does however, at least for tonight, make it more it bearable.
As many of you know, I’ve written a great deal about the “new atheism” of the 21st century. I am a person of faith. I believe in God. But I also take seriously those people who do not believe in God. From my perspective, all people, including atheists, are children of God and deserve respect and dignity. It makes no sense to me for people of faith to demonize atheists. I cannot think of a more anti-Jesus thing to do. Jesus was about making room for one more person at the table, especially those people who might differ from him.
I was recently invited to participate in a national program designed to help people of faith better understand people who self-identify as atheists. I might also add, I think it’s important for atheists to understand and appreciate people of faith. And so I said yes! Consequently, on June 28 in the 11 am worship service of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, we’re going to have an interesting, engaging, and in some ways, historic conversation.
My guest will be Mr. Richard Wade. Richard is a marriage and family therapist by profession, and he has spent a great deal of time over the past few years helping families when someone “comes out” as an atheist. Richard is a thoughtful, kind person, and someone not interested in debating but fostering a better understanding among all people. I am very much looking forward to our conversation.Just as I don’t think marriage equality threatens traditional marriage, I don’t think understanding the point of view of an atheist threatens sincerely held faith.
So, I’m asking for a couple of things . . . if you’re in Los Angeles on June 28, plan to be with us in worship at 11 am. If you you use social media, please help get the word out. If you know someone who might enjoy the service that day, then personally invite them to join us. If you can’t be with us, watch us online a few days later. I’m certainly looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be a good day for our church and an important day for the city of Los Angeles.
Every now and then people of faith need to Take a Breath, recognizing that the quality of our journey is measured, not by what we say, but by how well we listen and learn.
Here’s the wonderful thing about Facebook . . . even though you cannot attend an event . . . you can still feel connected to it. That’s how I’m feeling today. Last night was my 40th High School Class Reunion. Class of 1975. I never lived in my hometown of Salem, Indiana after I graduated from high school. There was college. And graduate school. And three kids. And job opportunities. And . . . well . . . and life. Yet through the many FB photos that have been posted this weekend by former classmates I have a few observations . . .
Most of all I have a feeling of gratitude. Even though I don’t see these folks and haven’t stayed in touch all that much, they are still with me. I started kindergarten with many of them and graduated from high school with them, too. Time passes, to be sure, but there’s something about their sweetness, and in some cases, brokenness, that I remember and cherish. Nothing can take these memories away. From what I can tell, those who were the life of the party in high school are still the life of the party. Those who were quiet, are still kind of shy and quiet. Something endures, and for me at least, what endures are these memories of people.
It’s also humbling to see the passing of time. Oh how our bodies have changed! (Though some look remarkably the same.) We’ve grown older. In some cases heavier, grayer, balder. It’s time and it’s a humbling reminder that life is always changing. It’s even more poignant when you discover that several classmates are no longer with us. I think to myself: How can this be? But it’s true. It’s a reminder that every single day is a gift. A gift to be enjoyed and a gift to be shared with people we love.
I don’t know, I’m feeling nostalgic today. I wish I could have attended the reunion. (I have this weekend job that keeps me pretty busy.) But I thought about so many of these people over the weekend, old friends that I find dearer a little bit more each day. We grew up in a nice little town. It wasn’t perfect. But it was a place of outstanding community support. I knew these people. I knew where they lived. I knew their parents and brothers and sisters.
I’m Taking a Breath of gratitude today for the Class of 1975. I’m hoping all of them, who aren’t too sore from all the dancing last night, will do so today as well.
Early morning Saturday dream fragment. I am at a party and Bob Dylan and Martin Sheen are there. We are talking. Bob Dylan, his hair wild, the way he wore it back in the day, says to me: “You’ve got to set the gospel. You’ve got to set the gospel, man.”
I’m not sure what he means. I’m puzzled.
Martin Sheen says, “It’s like when you’re fishing. If you get a bite, you’ve got to pull on your fishing rod and set the hook.”
Dylan says, “That’s it. Just like that. You’ve got to set the gospel.” That’s the dream.
I’m going to Take a Breath today and think about this dream. And tomorrow morning at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, well, I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but if Bob Dylan tells you to “set the gospel,” then I’m going to try to do it.
We don’t know one another, but I live in Los Angeles and you’re in Malibu. I’m writing because I want to affirm the courage you’ve demonstrated recently by transitioning from man to woman. A lot of us, of course, just don’t get it. The reality of transgender is still confusing. We remember when you were an Olympic star and we admired your athletic ability. And then there was the whole “Keeping Up With the Kardahians.” That seemed pretty ridiculous to a lot of us.
Yet now it seems like you are doing something real. Strange that you would find something real just as you quit your reality TV show. Most of us can only imagine how much pain and loneliness you have suffered in life. If you are indeed a woman now, and that is how you wish to identify, then we send you our love and blessing and prayers. It takes so much courage to be yourself. Gay. Straight. Transgender. Young. Old. Male. Female. Doesn’t matter. Getting real and being real is no small thing.
Just so you know, I’m also the Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. We’re one of those rare and wonderful religious communities that believes in loving people and accepting people just as they are. And so if you ever need a community, we’re here for you. And if someday you fall in love and want to be married, we’re here for you. And if the pressure becomes too great and the stress too much, just know you can drop by any Sunday. We’re here for you. You’ll love the music, you’ll hear a word of kindness, and the people will not treat you, not as a celebrity, but as another human being trying to make her way in the world.
Rev. Dr. R. Scott Colglazier / Senior Minister / First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
Well, friends, an important day is upon us. This coming Sunday we will say good-bye to Ryan and Shanna Steitz, Jacob and Audrey, as they prepare to leave First Congregational Church of Los Angeles and head to Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
They have touched so many lives. Ryan, forever thoughtful and insightful, and Shanna, enthusiastic and progressive in heart, mind and soul. As for Jacob and Audrey, forget about it. They have touched our church in so many different ways.
Change is a challenge. Change is exciting and wonderful. Change is full of fear, uncertainty and anxiety. And most certainly, change is part of life. Consider this blog an all-points bulletin, a proclamation from on high and a social media post for all to consider . . . If you are in Los Angeles this Sunday, plan to be in worship at 11:00 AM. Let’s give thanks for the Steitz family. Let’s mark the day. And if you’re not in Los Angeles this week, then say a little prayer for a family that will follow a time honored tradition — they will pack up their tent and follow an intuition and hope and a calling. Not a job but a calling.
I’m Taking a Breath this week. A lot of breaths. And I hope to see you Sunday. It’s going to be a special day for First Church. A special day for a special family.
Random thoughts this week and you don’t need to read them, like them or share them. Just random thoughts, because sometimes you write a blog for yourself and not anyone else . . .
I’m thinking about people in Texas and the terrible flooding sweeping across the state. I don’t think God causes floods, even though the Bible suggests that is the case. I believe God inspires people to help people in need, including people in need because of floods.
I’m thinking of a dream I had this week. A wonderful member of my church, Charity Tran, is sitting at a table and we’re working on some kind of church problem, and what that problem is in the dream I have no idea, but in the dream she says to me: “That’s not a good long-term solution; it’s not even a good short-term solution.” Hmm . . .
I just returned from Chicago and I can say this without any doubt or reservation: My two boys are now men. I love them. Admire them. (And I still worry about them.) The difference is that they now worry about me, too.
I tried something this week and I will never do it again. I traveled without my briefcase. Never. Ever. Ever. Ever. Again. I’m just going to say it . . . my briefcase is my purse and I love my purse . . . and I will never travel without it again.
I lost a book at the airport. The new Oliver Sacks memoir. I was going to polish off the last two chapters on my return flight. I sat down in my seat and realized it was left behind like an abandoned sofa on a street in LA. (This would not have happened — I’m sure of it — had I taken my briefcase.)
I would just like to say — for the record — that I had the best seats at a professional baseball game I’ve ever had in my life on Monday. I was ten feet from the field, and if need be, I was could have suited up and pitched an inning or two. Really. I could have.
I’m looking forward to preaching this Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. My sermon is titled “Good Grief.” I’m not sure what I’m going to say but I feel certain that it will be good! I’m not looking forward to saying good-bye to Ryan and Shanna Steitz. But maybe — Who knows? — just like I left a book behind, they will leave behind one of their two beautiful kids — Jacob and Audrey — and we’ll get to keep a piece of them in Los Angeles.
Like I said. This and that. Take a Breath. What kind of this and that is happening for you this week? What does it mean? What does it say? What do you need to hear? Take a Breath. Listen to your life.