Monday, May 4, 2015

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS: BALTIMORE APRIL 2015

Photo, Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun




BY STEPHEN DUNN

This photo grabbed my attention this week.  It was of a protestor in Baltimore responding the persons of the 300 Man March movement that had come to the city to try to be a "neutral force" in helping the anger and violence of  Baltimore to subside.  It was a sentiment shared by the citizens of that city that had been victimized by the riots on the wake of Freddie Gray's death, apparently at the hands of officers of the Baltimore Police Force.  It was shared by the black mayor of Baltimore who invoked a rigid curfew to control the violence.  It was shared by the families of the 100 police officers who been attacked and injured while trying to protect the citizenry.

It was not shared, I suspect, by those of many races, who will continue to use this tragic event to further divide us and to use the misfortune of this city to advance their hateful and self-serving aims.
That Freddie Gray had died because of the criminal conduct of some officers seems pretty certain at this time.  And if everything is proven in a court of law, these men in blue will become men in orange as they enter prison.  But we should not forget that Freddie Gray's criminal record reveals him to be a societal predator that undermines the well-being of any city.  Still, he did not deserve to die as he did. He is hardly, however a martyr.

I believe that this man's shirt should be our first goal.  To stop murdering one another, stop preying on one another, stop hating one another because of our personal philosophies and prejudices. To stop trying hold onto the past as an excuse for despising our brothers.

I know that the issues are complicated, but resorting to violence unleashes hatred not healing--and we all suffer.

Long ago the Prophet Isaiah gave us wise counsel: …"Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD,  - Isaiah 1:17-18  And the end game of that effort: forgiveness and healing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

MORE CHURCH SIGNS

BY STEVE DUNN

Lots of feedback, especially from Facebook--so let's have some more fun. -STEVE






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SOME OF MY FAVORITE CHURCH SIGNS

BY STEVE DUNN

Many of you know that I collect church signs.  Not literally--Dianne says there's no more room in the house and where I presently live there is no lawn.  Nonetheless, ENJOY!!!!!









Sunday, April 19, 2015

THEY COULD NOT

Sandi Patti provides the music for this reminder of our Resurrection hope. - STEVE

Saturday, April 18, 2015

IT IS WELL

To bless you as you prepare for worship tomorrow. - STEVE

Thursday, April 16, 2015

REPRISE; SERMON IN THE STANDS

Not blogging today, but I was rereading a guest post from two years ago by my good friend and fellow baseball lover, Jim Stanley.  Thought you should enjoy it as well.  Jim is now a Chicagoland Episcopal priest and a man I was privileged to help disciple.  He was, however, already a baseball man before me. - STEVE

 
A SERMON IN THE STANDS
by Jim Stanley

   I'm a pretty loyal fan. Some friends consider me a diehard. A few offer sympathy to my wife as baseball season rolls around. They know I love my Chicago White Sox. And on those rare occasions when my first baseball love -- the Pittsburgh Pirates -- are playing the Cubs, you will inevitably find me watching WGN or Chicago Sports Net. I am the one guy cheering for Pittsburgh. The last dozen or so years, that's been like cheering for the lightly armed Belgians against Hitler's mighty war machine. Or like rooting for me, Jim Stanley, as I try to guard Michael Jordan or LeBron James in a game of one-on-one. But I remain loyal. I love the Pirates and I have since I was about three or four. It helped to grow up in Pittsburgh when they were actually good.

  And it was there, in that horrendously boring soup-bowl of a stadium, where I preached my first sermon. I don't recall the date. Must have been 1974 or 75. Dad had purchased three tickets to see the Pirates play the San Francisco Giants. We got to our seats and they were occupied. The usher looked at our tickets, then studied the squatter's tickets. Our tickets were valid. Their tickets were valid. We each had a right to them and they got there first. And then the usher made the foolish mistake of using a phrase my Father simply could not -- would not -- tolerate. "Sorry sir, but you're going to have to..."
Dad was a remarkably patient man when dealing with strangers and people in the service industry. But the phrase "you're going to have to" was just one he would not accept. (I am the same way!) He emphatically informed the usher that he wasn't going to have to do anything. Except maybe speak to someone in charge. And so down to the Pirate offices we went, deep in the bowels of Three Rivers Stadium. There, my father politely but very firmly stated his case. A rain check would not suffice. Whatever potentate Dad dealt with took pity on us and gave us other seats. Better seats. Right on the third base line, within earshot of the Giants' dugout and third base!

  As a Pirate fan, I would have preferred first base. But beggars can't be choosers. Besides, I reasoned, the Buccos would have plenty of runners on third for me to cheer on. And cheer, I did. Eight or nine years old, maybe ten, I screamed my melon off the whole game. My poor sister, about 23 or 24 at the time, must have been mortified. Particularly when I informed the Pirate third baseman, Richie Hebner, that my sister was single. Yes, I admit it. I was ready to pimp my sister out for a chance to meet Willie Stargell. (Richie smiled at her, I swear it. But nothing ever came of it.)

  Dad might have been embarassed or self-conscious. But I remember, years later, he told me "a stadium is one place where a kid ought to be able to scream at the top of his lungs." I have tried to remember that when I now get annoyed at ball games!

  As the game wore on, I noticed something that angered me. Pirate fans -- people with the caps and the jerseys and the big, foam fingers -- were boo'ing certain Pirate players. Richie Zisk and Al Oliver, to be specific. That made no sense to me. If the guy's in a slump, and they both were, wouldn't it be logical to cheer for them all the more? "He's a bum!" "Send him back to the minors!" It was sermon time. And I preached a two-parter at the top of my little lungs.

   The first time, (I can't remember which of the two was up. We'll say it was Zisk.) I stood up on my seat, turned around to the fans in our section and gave them what-for. I told them that REAL fans never boo their own team or their own players. TRUE fans cheer even harder when someone's having a hard time. And then, I prophesied. (An eight year old televangelist. Who knew?) "Just you watch", I said. "Just you wait! Zisk is gonna hit a homer." The other fans were amused. But hardly receptive.

  Guess what?

  Yep. Out of the park.

  As Zisk rounded third, I was screaming loud enough to wake the dead and scare away the walking undead. And fans around me were patting me on the back, saying, "Nice call, kid." "Way to go." Meanwhile, a surly-looking older man in a San Francisco Giants uniform stuck his head out of the dugout and looked into the stands.

  A couple innings later, it was Al Oliver's turn up. And, as he too was slumping, Al got treated to a chorus of raspberries and catcalls. "The guy's a retread!" "Whiffer!" I went straight into what I call "Moses coming down from Mount Sinai" mode. If had been more familiar with Biblical syntax, I might well have thundered, "You are a stiff-necked and rebellious people!" Instead, I repeated my earlier sermon about loyalty and fandom. This was Pittsburgh, after all. City of champions. Once again, I predicted a round-tripper. And yes, Mr. Oliver delivered a towering homerun. It was one that wound up making the difference in the game. I am certain I have never yelled quite so loudly since.
This time, the fans were buying beers for my Dad. Offering, anyway. They were talking about hoisting me on their shoulders and getting me season tickets. (I thought that was a swell idea. Dad seemed to feel attending school should take precedence.)

  And then, that crabby-looking old man from the Giants dugout climbed out of the dugout and scanned the crowd again. He looked, and looked, and finally...he identified me. (It wasn't hard.)
Now, I don't know about you. But I have always wondered if the players on the field can hear the fans. Particularly those of us in the first few rows. You never really know from watching on television. Evidently, they hear quite well. The "old man" was the Giants third base coach. I don't remember his name, sorry to say. But I remember his steely stare. He pointed at me. "Hey kid! Yeah, you! Get over here!!!" I wasn't terrified. I knew my Dad (to say nothing of an army of now-quite-happy Pirate fans) had my back.

  Dad gave me the nod and I padded down a couple steps to the rail. The coach handed me a baseball, one that (I was certain!) had just been fouled into the dugout by none other than the great Willie Stargell. He looked at me, smiled broadly, and said, "Here kid. Now SHUT UP. You're killin' us!" He winked at my Dad and went back into the dugout. I still have the ball. (And sorry, but I didn't shut up. Though I am sure you're hardly surprised.)

  For years, I remembered the story because it made me smile. A big shot noticed me, a little kid. And he gave me something special. But as I have aged, something else has become real to me about the story. I've been in more than my share of slumps. Like Al Oliver. Or Richie Zisk. Nothing has picked me up more, given me greater strength or helped me back onto the field like those of you who are in my cheering section. Especially those of you who cheer loudest when I am slumping most profoundly.

  I hope I cheer for you, too. At least as loudly as for Al Oliver and Richie Zisk. Because I know it. I just know it in my bones. You're going to knock one out of the park. I believe in you. And if you ever need a reminder, you know where to find me. I'm the kid in the Pirate jersey, who smells of peanuts and is yelling at the top of his lungs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS: HOPE SPRINGS

BY STEVE DUNN

These days I am working as an Intentional Interim Pastor for a small, but lovely congregation in Newport PA.  It's located in a region of mountains and rivers that form the terrain of the northern part of central Pennsylvania.  They are not rugged mountains but clearly different n from the rolling hills of southcentral Pennsylvania.  Travel across the area often requires traveling through gaps and along circuitous roads rerouted by large croppings of rocks.  And the streets of my town sometimes require 4-wheel drive to climb on those snowy days when the township has not yet sent their plows to that area.

And this winter it snowed--about every three days--from an inch to inches.  It got cold and remained that way.  The trees were adorned with white blankets almost constantly and the Juniata River was quite often frozen or nearly so.  Schools had to cancel, or at the very least engage in two hour delays until the roads were clear and safe.  We even had to cancel church one day because of the 23 below wind chill.  

We were ready for it to end.  More than ready.

And then just before Easter, 15 days after spring officially began--the warm arrived, the crocuses bloomed, gentle breezes greeted the morning.  We went from heavy jackets to T-shirts.  It was wonderful.

Spring often has that affect on us.  After the bleakness and depression of the dark months, it restores us.  It rewards our hope

Hope is one of the most critically important dimensions of human life.  When hope dies, we die. The psalmist David spoke this truth. "Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed." - Psalm 119:116.

But as long as there is hope, we can keep on keeping on through the even the worst of situations.  In fact, as Christians, this hope is at the core of the message we proclaim.  "... and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." - Romans 5:4.

That is the core of the gospel we proclaim, a gospel rooted in what we have just celebrated at Easter--the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  " Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,..." 1 Peter 1.3

I rejoice that I have a faith that is grounded in hope.