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Musing 4.9.20

Pastor John’s Musing 4.10.20 In the past several weeks someone asked me, “Will we have Easter this year?” I think that the questioner meant, “Are we having Easter services this year?” They are different questions. The latter question is about what we do. The church is full, the music is thrilling, and the flowers are in bloom and fragrant. We plan meticulously for the services and hope they are well received. Certainly, we yearn for a large attendance. The former question is about what God does. It is about God’s ability to bring new life in spite of what human beings do or don’t do, in spite of what is going on in the world. God has the power to surprise us. God brings life where we least expect to find it. Easter says that, although Jesus was betrayed, killed and buried; God’s powerful love raised him from the dead. Easter is about God’s power, not ours. God is not stopped by us or circumstances around us. God brings new life in spite of what is happening. That is faith.

Now, that it is absolutely clear that we shall not have in-person Easter services, many people are saying it just doesn’t seem right “doing” Easter by ourselves or with only a couple of people. Actually we may be closer to the experience of the first Easter than ever before. As now, it was a time of uncertainty, worry, and fear. People knew the past, but they could not trust the future. And they were not sure whom to trust. They wanted things to be as they were. The belief that God would do something transformative in the world and in lives was rare. The notion that God could break through death and fear and be present was not common.

Then, as now, the resurrection was not experienced with lots of brass in large religious gatherings or buildings of worship. It was experienced quietly by three women at a tomb, by one woman in a garden at dawn, by two travelers at an inn at sunset, by a small group at dinner, by a handful fishing. This is close to how we’ll observe Easter this year, by ourselves, with our household, in front of our laptop, on our porch, in our garden, walking along the river, at a dinner for one or two. This is a wonderful opportunity to realize God brings new life to us in unexpected ways and unexpected places and unexpected times. Now, as then, we’ll learn that God is not limited to our expectations. God has the freedom to surprise us. That is hope.

Yet, then and now, Easter faith proclaims that God’s powerful love is stronger than anything happening to us. God’s love is more powerful than our failures, losses, fears, anxieties, brokenness, illness, and death. Easter happens. God breaks into our world not because of but in spite of. Thank God!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Easter happens every day. God’s gift of new life comes. Make the most of it! That is love.

Be safe and well.
John Keeny

Musing 4.3.20

For years on April Fools’ Day I have played the same practical joke on a staff member, usually the newest one. The joke is this. I leave a hard copy memo on her/his/their desk or send an email. The content of the email is about something that will enhance their particular ministry and a call they must make. For example, if Chris McManus is the mark, I might mention someone wants to give $1000 to fund a special cantata, and he needs to call that person immediately. This year the target would have been Beth Aiello, our director of support services. “Beth, a Mrs. Bair called. She says she has attended KA for several months and would like to volunteer as a greeter every Sunday at 11am, once in person services start up. You must call her by 1pm. Her number is 614-645-3550. She sounds nice. She says she sits in the middle balcony.” Beth will be hooked and eagerly call Mrs. Bair. She will be told that there is no Mrs. Bair at that number. Beth will insist that her pastor told her to call Mrs. Bair at that number. She will then be told that someone is playing a joke on her. She has just called the Columbus Zoo and asked to speak to Mrs. Bear. Get it? Pretty juvenile. You’d be surprised how often people fall for it. I bet one of you tries it next year.

This year I didn’t do it. It just didn’t feel right. April Fools’ Day came and went. No jokes. I don’t recall anyone even mentioning that it was April Fools’ Day. While I don’t expect Anthony Fauci or Deborah Birx to ask the president to call Mrs. Wolfe, it saddens me that humor is missing in action. We just are not sure what humor is appropriate anymore. We are told we are at war, is humor appropriate during war? I thought Bob Hope was funny in all his visits to the troops. It can be done. I think we know we need something to loosen up. How else to explain the popularity of “Tiger King”? We tried to watch it the other night. The demand was so great that we couldn’t access Netflix.

We might not need humor as much as we need test kits, masks, ventilators, physical distancing, and a vaccine, but we need it. We need a laugh. Humor breaks up the hard soil of our solemnity. It relieves the tension. Good humor is not at someone’s expense. It doesn’t belittle or demean. It reminds us of our common humanity and connects us. It points out our fallibility. It allows us to laugh at ourselves and take ourselves less seriously. Humor can save us. It helps us see life in a different way. It can show us the truth in a nanosecond. Humor creates space for vulnerability which creates space for God.

A termite walked into a bar and asked, “Is the bar tender here?”

A horse walked into a bar, and the bartender asked, “Why the long face?”

I should have played that joke on Beth.

Be sure to tell a joke this week. It will do you and others good.

Be safe and well.

John Keeny, Senior Pastor

Musing 3.27.20

During this crisis I have read and heard much talk about our being at war.  There are references to persons on the front line, being in the middle of combat, calls for wartime legislation, exercise of wartime powers, unsung heroes, and the need to rally around this common fight against our common enemy.   All this war imagery has brought to mind William James’ essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” written in the early 1900’s.  I have not heard a reference to this essay by any commentator, and I don’t know why.  So I decided to refer to it.

James was a staunch pacifist who lived through the Civil War, the wars against Native Americans, the Spanish American War, and the lead up to World War I.  He saw war as horrible, violent, and bloody.  He had no illusions about its cruelty.  Like everyone he preferred peace.  At the same time, he acknowledged that war called forth virtues which were admirable and desirable in human beings.  Virtues such as fidelity, loyalty, self-sacrifice, generosity, tenacity, companionship, courage, cohesiveness, inventiveness, and conscience.  War could elevate people to a higher level than peace seemed capable of doing.  James’ wrestles with the proposition that, for all its awfulness, war calls forth more than does peace.  He opines that peace too often makes people “soft” and “lacking in vitality.”  

He wonders if there is a moral equivalent in peace which calls forth the virtues which war does.  One writer draws a direct line from James to the depression era projects, the Peace Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps. I believe that the good behavior people find in the COVID-19 crisis is the moral equivalent of war.  It is, indeed, calling forth the best in us.  All of us see sacrifice, heroism, generosity, courage, and cohesiveness.  We are growing in the empathy and compassion which make us fully human.  This is all good.  It’s great.  Part of me wonders if this is why commentators and political leaders are so attracted to this war language.

My thinking on this has led me to believe the Kingdom of God is the moral equivalent of war.  Paul uses martial imagery in Ephesians 6 when he speaks of the armor of God.  Jesus gives us the discipline in the Sermon on the Mount.  His call to ministry sets forth the task, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).  That mission will call forth virtue without the horror and destruction of war. Participation in the Kingdom of God gifts us with that which makes us human - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). 

From now on, when I hear the talk of our state of war on the news; I am going to think of the Kingdom of God and what it is calling me to do and who it is calling me to be.  I am also going to look for signs of the Kingdom of God in all that is happening.  It is near in the actions of so many people.
Thank you for the ways you are demonstrating that the Kingdom of God is near. 
John Keeny

Musing 3.14.20

As you know by now, we have suspended on-site events at King Avenue until further notice. I don’t know of anyone not experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration at the uncertainly of this time. We worry about investments, savings, jobs, child care, schools, family and ourselves contracting the virus, and the poor who are most effected. We are accustomed to life being fairly predictable and manageable. We even tend to think the future is in our control. The uncertainty of the last few days vividly reminds us of the precariousness of life and the seeming futility of our plans. It is hard to turn on the TV without hearing a mental health professional address anxiety and stress.

I too worry. I am concerned about my pension, canceling church events, loss of attendance, reduced giving, staff welfare, members’ and loved ones’ health, and the effect on the marginalized and at-risk persons. Our daughter offered to run errands for Susan and me since we are in the high risk age group!

With all that said, I also find this to be a time of opportunities that excite me. This is a time for people to stand in solidarity with each other. I find that egos are put aside for the greater good. The uncertainty of the virus has placed all of us on the same level of humanity. We are more mindful of the welfare of our neighbor and the stranger. It is a time of patience. I am amazed how understanding people are of the failings of themselves and others. With things changing so rapidly we don’t expect ourselves or our neighbors to be perfect. We are more tolerant. I think we laugh more at ourselves and are less angry. We are encouraged to avoid people and keep a social distance. Ironically that distancing is bringing us closer together.

It is a time of opportunity for our church. Because of the crisis we are moving into the world of online worship and the need for online community. We should have done that years ago. This makes it possible for our services to go beyond our walls to snow birds, home bound members, persons considering visiting, and others. In order to stay in contact with our members at this uncertain time I am starting these jottings (maybe a blog). I should have done that years ago. You are concerned about people you won’t be seeing for a while. This is a great opportunity to contact people and ask for their well-being. Let them know you miss them. I am certain the suspension is activity will show us new ways to do and be. Maybe we’ll find we need fewer meetings and more small groups. Maybe we learn the conference and zoom calls are sometimes appropriate.

In the email that was sent Thursday night, we referred to this as a time of Sabbath. All the cancellations leave us with un-busy calendars. We often complain of our busyness. Our calendars are as blank now as they have been in a long time. Our time is pretty free. Most of us will have more control of our time than ever. No sports are on TV! This is a sabbath opportunity to slow down. We can use it to delight in creation, experience solidarity with humanity, develop a hobby, read, do nothing, sleep, spend time with family, visit a neighbor, offer to help a frazzled parent, reflect on our creatureliness, and/or acknowledge our dependence on God. Observance of sabbath rest is an opportunity to realize our humanity.

I hope you’ll make the most of this sabbath opportunity and move from stress to aliveness. This is our chance to become who we have wanted to be.

John Keeny

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