The Stella Blues Band will be in residence at Garcia’s again during the month of March. After Ash Wednesday worship last night I headed over to Port Chester to dance away the night. It was oddly sweet to see so many deadheads with ashes on their foreheads swaying and spinning to such grace-filled memento mori tunes as Sugaree. I kept waiting for the anthem, Throwing Stones, but it never came. Maybe next year:
So the kids they dance
And shake their bones,
And the politicians throwin’ stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Early morning today was spent puttering in a few books. For one, I finished reading Roberta Bondi’s 1995 memoir Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life. This book was a gift way back when, but has lain in a box, forgotten, for almost two decades. I honestly don’t know how I missed it, especially when I now see that it was blurbed by no less than Carolyn Walker Bynum and Rowen Williams. One of the great things about our family’s efforts to divest ourselves of stuff is that we are discovering things like this book. I decided to give it a quick read before giving it away to my church library. I’m so glad I did. In light of my congregation’s Lenten focus on how “Words Matter,” this book turned out to be a profound reflection on God, gender and language.
I also spent time today with Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
Late morning found me in the gym, working the winter out of my muscles. I only did six climbs, but they included three V3s clean. I’m satisfied (and sore) for now.
I then spent the first half of the afternoon cooking and cleaning. I made an outstanding brisket (6 hours) and dug through an old box of letters from jr. high and high school, reading and tossing. It was fun for a while, reading notes written to me by friends and girlfriends from thirty years ago. I could still remember just how I felt when I received some of the notes, like the one from an obsessional girlfriend who simply wrote “I love [my high school nickname]” over and over on both sides of a piece of paper. I had completely forgotten about the poem written by a fellow wrestler about his family (I hadn’t even remembered that guys wrote letters to one another). Most surprising was a double-sided page of short notes from many hands which had obviously circulated through a bio-lab when everyone should have been studying. One of them read: “Howdy Jeff. You don’t know me but I know you. Doesn’t that make you nervous? [The obsessional girlfriend] tells us ALL about you! Later, [JB]” We didn’t know one another then, but we do now and stay in touch via Facebook. What a gift for throw-back Thursday. She and I had a good laugh today when I told her about it
There were other less fun notes. The break-up letter from a friend who had invited me to her prom. Or the angry note from a girl who felt like she was only a “substitute girlfriend” to me, holding a place until the next girl came along. The truth is, she was depressed and that scared me and I didn’t know what else to do; so the next girl came along pretty quickly.
Proust is right, remembrance of things past, if not easy, is good for the soul. Today it was positively Lenten.
Come 3:00, August and I got his homework done in record time and then spent a hour on the frozen playground where kids were basically playing with the ice. After a quick change to warm and dry clothes the whole family headed over the Dunne’s Irish Pub for the monthly Oktoberfest menu and then back home to read Harry Potter.
This has been a good day.
I am thrilled that the Rev. Anne Tiemeyer has granted the White Plains Presbyterian Church permission to distribute the Daily Lenten Prayers originally composed for the Words Matter Project of the National Council of Churches of Christ. These prayers utilize inclusive expansive language for God and nurture care in the words we use to speak to, with and about one another. I encourage readers of this blog to subscribe to these daily prayer for a meaningful Lent. My colleagues and I will also use these reflections to shape our Sunday worship experiences.
The following is from the 2011 iteration of the project:
We’ve all heard it before, and we’ve probably said it too, in an effort to cheer up a child reeling from the effects of name-calling or insults: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps we so often repeat this rhyme in the hopes that saying it will make it true. Each of us knows that words have the power to wound deeper than sticks and stones, and no matter how firmly we assert that we are rubber and not glue, words have a way of sticking deep in our bones.
As followers of Christ, God’s Word made incarnate, we also know that words have the power to transform, to inspire and to bring life. Words of scripture and the traditional words of our communities can link us together and draw us into fellowship across space and time.
There are so many ways that words shape our world — we watch politicians and news anchors “spin” stories with slick word tricks. Advertisers tease us with promises of “new,” “improved,” and “all-natural” with no clear definitions of what those terms actually mean. Expressions like “blackmail,” “white lie,” and “black sheep” reveal just how deeply racial prejudices lie in our collective body. Clearly, our words do matter.
This Lent, we invite you to the spiritual discipline of paying attention to your words. Far from a desire to be politically correct, Words Matter focuses on deep thinking about what is really at stake in the words we use, acknowledging that words can be used to tear down — but hopeful that more of us will embrace the potential of words to build up.
We hope you benefit from the spiritual discipline of paying attention to words and sharing this practice with others. Our Words Matter.
A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Transfiguration Sunday, March 2, 2014
I was stunned earlier this week to read that the average American watches more than four hours of television each day. That’s 28 hours a week, or two months non-stop TV-watching per year. In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
At the same time, and I suppose not surprisingly, we are spending less time outdoors. In the last twenty-five years visits to our national parks have fallen more than 30%, with fewer of us hiking, camping, fishing each year. Only a quarter of us walk or ride a bike to work or to run errands.
It’s worse for our kids. A typical child only spends five to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors. As it’s been said, the nature of childhood has changed. There’s not much nature in it.
And yet we know that playing outdoors, without coaches or parents, fosters imagination and leads kids to share, cooperate and solve problems. Even for adults, the evidence is overwhelming that time in nature is good for our health, creativity, handling stress, and for learning. Nature is fuel for the soul. A majority of us experience a deep sense of spirituality outdoors, and that is no different whether we identify ourselves as religious or not. And yet few of us make to time to get there.
As a parent of a seven year old, I cannot tell you how often I have to check my impatience as my son meanders over the ice, tippy toes through a puddle, lingers over an interesting leaf, stone or stick. We were almost late to school twice last week because he stopped to greet the return of robin redbreasts. I make it a policy to offer a prayer, albeit reluctantly, to thank God for these moments. Checking my impatience and accepting the challenge to our schedule (and the school’s tardy policy) is good for my soul.
When Moses first ascended Mt. Sinai to talk with the living God, he was drawn by the fire of a bush that burned but was not consumed. Perhaps influenced by the portrayal of the scene in movies like The Ten Commandments or Prince of Egypt, we imagine this was the miracle. But it seems to me that the real miracle was not the burning bush, but that a tired shepherd with a good life and family and many sheep to care for, would turn aside and pay attention.
I want to suggest on transfiguration Sunday that this miracle of turning aside and paying attention is what this story is about as well. In this case, the disciples and Jesus had kept a harrowing schedule, moving town to town, healing and teaching. It is at Jesus’ invitation that three of the disciples join him, in ascending the mountain. Would they have made time on their own to do this? Unlikely, I think. After all they had just fed over 5,000 people and had been confronted by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they had crossed the sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. They were in the thick of it and there were plenty of important things to attend to. But here, it is Jesus who models the importance of turning aside even from what is important, to allow God to distract us, if you will.
It is God who impedes Jesus and the disciples’ ever productive and necessary work, in order to re-situate us. After all, there were still people to be healed, debates to be held, miles to be travelled. But Jesus turns to Peter, James and John and says, “Come with me; up the mountain.”
We often think of the mountain as a place apart – but the mountain wasn’t something they travelled to, it was something right there, right where they were. And the mountain didn’t change the reality of the ground. When Jesus and the three descend, there’s a man with an epileptic son waiting for them. The work continues. But the four who descended are not the same as the four who ascended. While to the crowds awaiting healing they might have looked the same, they and their story have been re-situated in the larger narrative God is telling. By willingly turning aside, they are given the gift of seeing the demanding, exhilarating, non-stop world, anew.
This Lent, may we turn aside, to that way without a path, to the wilds beyond certain practice, to see and be seen by the living God.
My Weekly Sabbath Post
Yesterday, Thursday, was a half day of school to accommodate parent-teacher conferences. So, after meeting with Miss Bailey and receiving a great progress report, we headed into the city to take in the American Museum of Natural History. We spent most of our time in the Hall of Biodiversity and with the Saurischian Dinosaurs. When the museum closed, we stayed behind and joined the line for an evening talk with Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction) and Michael Novacek (Senior Vice President and Provost of Science at the Museum).
Since we make a habit out of excursions like this, August’s teacher has encouraged him to start a journal which she will read. Here he is taking a few notes on our day. Also, while waiting for the lecture hall to open, he and Noelle had the chance to talk with paleontologist Neil Landman, whose thoughts on why ammonites did not survive the end-Cretaceous extinction is featured in Chapter 7: The Luck of the Ammonites. These creatures “floated through the world’s shallow oceans for more than three hundred million years, and their fossilized shells turn up all around the world. Like nautiluses, to whom they were distantly related, ammonites constructed spiral shells divided into multiple chambers. The animals themselves occupied only the last and largest chamber. Based on the number of teeth ammonites had – nine – it’s believed that their closest living kin are octopuses.”
The high point of the evening came for us when Ross MacPhee, paleobiogeographer and curator of vertebrate zoology for the museum, rose to respond to a question about attempts to re-engineer and bring back extinct species. He said that there is no question that it could be done for species like the passenger pigeon. “The ethical question to ask is, why?” Rather, “what is called for in this moment is to practice restorative justice.” Many species on the edge of extinction, he said, could have a fighting chance, and would take it, if we could just learn to live with restraint, limitation, and share this world in such a way that others have space and resources to thrive. Amen!
Following the presentation we had our copy of The Sixth Extinction inscribed for the new eco-justice section in the church library.
A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, February 23, 2014
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
2014 marks the 300th anniversary of our congregation. And the 300th anniversary committee has been meeting to plan special events throughout the year. When congregations celebrate significant markers in their life together, often the suggestion is made that past pastors be invited back to remember when and to offer encouragement for the congregation’s future.
As noted in your bulletin today, I am the 26th pastor of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, which somehow doesn’t seem like a lot when you think about 300 years of ministry in this place. (That number would probably expand to sixty or seventy if we were to include all the associate pastors, assistant pastors, interim pastors, student pastors and future pastors who have served here.) Four of my 25 colleagues are still living: Frank Watson is enjoying retirement in Cape Cod and in good health, having recovered from back surgery in the middle of last year; Don Jones retired to Virginia with his wife and is part of a fabulous church in downtown Winchester that has offered hospitality to my former church’s youth on many mission trips to Appalachia; Steve Geckeler is retired in Fort Collins, Colorado, and very much enjoying his grandchildren; and Carter Via continues to run a non-profit organization that sponsors international cultural exchange.
The church has had many beloved pastors and pastors who loved this church. But our 300th anniversary committee made an interesting and important decision I think. We decided that instead of telling our story in terms of our former pastors, we wanted to tell our story from the standpoint of our life together. And so, earlier this week I sent a letter to each one of them, inviting them to reflect on their time here and to contribute something to the book that Bob Murphy is working on for our anniversary this year. I asked them not to recount our past, but rather, remembering their time here, to lift up for us what they think we are doing right now to demonstrate God’s love and to work for God’s justice in the world; how, in other words, this church is making a difference in our community and in our world.
Further, the committee didn’t stop with thinking about past or current pastors. They enlarged the circle, believing that each one of us, each one of our lives, each of our experiences within this congregation, serves to build upon the foundation that has been laid in Jesus Christ. In other words, all of us are builders – all of us bring insight that is needed to both understand our past and to nurture new life moving forward.
Think about the charette in which so many of us engaged around re-visioning our church’s campus. A charette is a way of gathering people and inviting contributions from everyone, which are then gathered and prioritized by the entire group. It’s a consensus building, creative, participatory process, that values all voices and helps us see where our ideas resonate and connect with the ideas of others. So many ideas were shared and it was fascinating to see the intersections and to feel the energy rise in the room as ideas built off of one another or spurred exciting new directions. That process was an example of what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Paul emphasizes that each of us must choose with care how to build upon the foundation that has been already laid. But it is not simply one or two people, or certain leaders, but all of us who are builders of the church.
With this in mind, you will find in our March newsletter that there is an invitation for each of you to contribute to our 300th anniversary book. The anniversary committee invites you to think back over what this church has meant to you and means to you on your own spiritual journey. We hope that you will write entries exploring:
- When have you experienced the generosity and hospitality of God through this congregation?
- How has this community helped you to overcome behaviors, prejudices, or hurts that held you back from experiencing the fullness of God’s love?
- How did or does the church support you in times of difficulty or doubt?
- In what ways have you been encouraged to grow in love of God and neighbor?
- What struggles took place here which were difficult at the time but which you now see as a season of growth in our understanding or practice of faith?
- And when have you witnessed this congregation standing up, or speaking out, or demonstrating God’s radically alternative way of living in the midst of an often violent, unjust world?
The answers to these questions we believe will make a fabulous history for our 300th anniversary, one that will offer wisdom and guidance for our next 300 years together. For after all, history isn’t something that just happens to us; it’s something we make together.
From the beginning of the year 50, to the early summer of 51, the apostle Paul spent eighteen months in Roman city of Corinth, countering Rome’s vision of Imperial Order with Jesus’ own vision of a Divine Kingdom, and he organized numerous communities of faithful resistance to demonstrate this earthly alternative which collectively he called “the body of Christ.” Small congregations of perhaps 10 – 20 persons (about the size of the largest homes or workshops) were spread out through the city, meeting for worship and a common meal, sharing as each had ability and giving as each had need, all in defiance of the religious, social, economic and gender divisions on which Roman culture depended. These communities of gentile and Jew, slave and free, strong and weak, female and male came together because they had experienced the reconciling and liberating power of the crucified Christ. Everything on which Roman domination was built had been crucified with Christ, and the Corinthians were now freed to be God’s new people. This was the good news Paul preached among them. They had become, as Paul reminds them in our reading today, a house built by God, a temple in which God’s Holy Spirit dwells.
There were challenges along the way as we’ve discovered these past weeks as we’ve looked at Corinthians. But the foundation that was laid in Jesus Christ, was one that empowered our ancestors in the faith to bear witness to the love, justice and hope of Jesus Christ in concrete ways in their own life and in the life of the world.
According to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, it is the church as a whole that is called to be “a provisional demonstration of what God intends for all humanity,” and as such we are to be together “a sign in and for the world of the new reality which God has made available to people in Jesus Christ.” [Book of Order] This takes all of us.
As we prepare to celebrate our 300th year of life together, may God’s Holy Spirit dwell, inspire, provoke and guide us. Amen.
For 300 years the White Plains Presbyterian Church has been nurturing faith in our city. Heritage Facts, or snippets of history, appear in our Sunday bulletin every week. Check the index for other posts.
November – December 2013
HERITAGE FACT: There are bits of history hidden in plain sight all around our building. There is a Japanese maple in our parking lot that was planted by Nan Watkins in 1937. It sits in what was once the front yard of the manse, which was located approximately where the parking lot and playground are now. She did this during her husband Tom’s tenure as pastor of this congregation from 1925-1938. When Nan passed away, a plaque was place in front of the tree by her daughter, Marjorie Watkins (Tweet Timmons). It reads “In memory of Nan Watkins, 1888-1965.
HERITAGE FACT: There are bits of history hidden in plain sight all around our building. On the backside of our organ are two brass plaques. The first reads: “Dedicated to THE HARMONY SINGERS whose initiative and loyalty made the first gift to the Organ Fund – 1927.” The second reads “In loving memory and appreciation of MRS. CORNELIUS P. YOUNG whose interest and generosity made this organ possible – 1931.”
HERITAGE FACT: There are bits of history hidden in plain sight all around our building. In the chancel there is a plaque which reads: “To the Glory of God / and in Loving Memory of / George A. Allin and Heloise L. Allin / George Gaskell and Sarah P. Gaskell / this window has been dedicated by their son and daughter / George L. Allin and Edith Gaskell Allin.” The window was given during the 1940s as part of a post-war beautification project. At that time, the window was elevated only about as high as our present cross, allowing the congregation to approach it. The window was lifted higher during the sanctuary renovation of 1964. You may have noticed that it is showing its age, darkening in one corner, and the second panel on the left is sliding down. The Church Council, as stewards of this gift and in anticipation of our 300th anniversary, have just approved a restoration project for 2014.
HERITAGE FACT: Our service concludes today with the congregation singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a paraphrase of the medieval O Antiphons. The titles of the coming Christ appeared in the daily Vesper antiphons sung during the week before Christmas; their roots date at least to the reign of Charlemagne. Both text and tune are the fruit of the 19th century efforts to reclaim Christian treasures from pre-Reformation sources.
There are seven stanzas in our current hymnal. One stanza of this paraphrase of the great O Antiphons may be sung on each of the last days of Advent as follows
Dec. 17: O Wisdom (2) Dec. 20: O Key of David (5) Dec. 23: O Emmanuel (1)
Dec. 18: O Lord of might (3) Dec. 21: O Dayspring (6)
Dec. 19: O Root of Jesse (4) Dec. 22: O Desire of Nations (7)
More information on this hymn can be found in the online or iPad app versions of Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal.
For 300 years the White Plains Presbyterian Church has been nurturing faith in our city. Heritage Facts, or snippets of history, appear in our Sunday bulletin every week.
Check the index for other posts.
September – October 2013
HERITAGE FACT: William and Charlotte Wiser, Presbyterian Missionaries. Our congregation has always had a global view of mission. During the 1940s, we had a long term mission commitment to William and Charlotte Wiser, sending them an annual check for their work, along with the prayer of the congregation. The Wisers were American anthropologists and Presbyterian rural missionaries in North India, Uttar Pradesh. Both were trained at the University of Chicago, and from Cornell received a PhD in Agriculture (William) and a Masters Degree in Nutrition (Charlotte). William was first sent to India in 1915, and served continuously until retirement in 1959. Charlotte continued to provide social services until 1970. William’s account of rural life in the 1930s, Behind Mud Walls, is still read today. Their work together became a model for rural development programs in Northern India.
HERITAGE FACT: The Progressive Dinner, a Presbyterian Tradition? Every wonder how far back some church traditions go? As we have organized progressive dinners over the last couple of years, so have I. The earliest progressive dinner I have been able to find was held in March 1943 at the homes of four of the members. It was organized by Marjorie “Tweet” Watkins, then Secretary of the High School Discussion Group. There were 23 participants.
HERITAGE FACT: Jacob Purdy (1739-1822) and His Family The Purdy family name is synonymous with early White Plains history. Joseph Purdy was one of the original settlers, and in 1721 was named in the Royal Patent given to White Plains by King George II. Around 1730, a home built by Samuel Horton was purchased by Samuel Purdy, one of Joseph’s sons. Still standing, it remains the oldest house in our city, dating from before 1721. In time, Samuel Purdy passed this house on to his son Jacob, and it has been known as the Jacob Purdy House ever since.
The Purdy family is also important to our national history. Jacob joined the Westchester Militia in 1775, and once Independence was declared and war was upon us, Jacob offered his home to General George Washington to use as his headquarters, which he did both in 1776 and again in 1778. Washington received reports from his spy network in Jacob’s home. But like many families in our area, the Revolution divided loyalties. While Jacob and a few of his brothers were staunch Patriots, other brothers remained Loyalists, and when the war was over fled to Canada.
Jacob was active in the Presbyterian Church, serving on the original board of trustees, which was supposedly the first use of trustees in an American church. His wife Abigail was the daughter of The Rev. John Smith, the first Presbyterian minister to serve this congregation. Many of the Purdy’s including Samuel, Joseph and Abigail, are buried in our cemetery. Abigail’s headstone was recently restored by the White Plains Historical Society. Jacob’s headstone reads: “Softly my fainting head I lay on Jesus’ loving breast. I died to enjoy my God.”