Religious Freedom

An Open Letter to my Open and Affirming Church

Dear Friends:

Last summer, my wife and I took our young daughters to Indiana, to visit my sister’s family and to explore the Indiana dunes. This past week, the governor of that state signed a law permitting businesses there to refuse service to families like mine, claiming “religious freedom” as their justification. So I have to admit, that part of the heartache I am feeling right now is personal; but part of it is pastoral. And so I share these thoughts now with you.

Each week, at our church, we proclaim and celebrate the love of Christ; and all week, in our lives, we seek to embody that love. We give thanks for those moments of grace in our own lives, when someone opened the door to us in the name of God. And we can perhaps imagine what our lives would be, if instead someone had shut the door.

But I fear that this is the exactly message that Indiana’s new law sends. Go ahead and shut the door on your neighbor, it says – as long as you do it in God’s name.

Before I ever met you, before you called me to be your pastor, you were already an ‘open and affirming’ church. You had already covenanted with one another to be an inclusive family of faith, welcoming people of all orientations and gender identities. I know that the process was costly for you; but then, most callings are. And by that covenant, you became a ‘port in the storm’ for those seeking spiritual shelter. You have been blessed to be a blessing.

As a community, as a congregation of people walking in faith together, you have committed yourselves to welcoming the stranger, embracing the outcast, and affirming the blessedness of those whom others call cursed. How shall we make God’s love known, to our brothers and sisters and siblings in Indiana, and here at home? How shall we bear witness to our religious freedom — the freedom we find in Christ, to be wholly ourselves, to live in love and grace without fear of condemnation?

In light of the news from Indiana, let us remember and reaffirm our covenant, and our call. We may be blessed to live in a state that protects us, to have family and friends that support us, to belong to a church that embraces us. But let us not just count our blessings. Let us be one.

Yours in Christ,


(photo: Belchertown United Church of Christ)

Holy Week

“Peace I leave with you….” John 14:27

During the summer of 2013, I completed a unit of chaplaincy training at a large hospital. One afternoon, I received a call requesting a visit, from a patient whom I had spoken with a few days before. His long, progressive illness had a taken a final turn, and he now had very little time left until it reached its inevitable end. He had asked me to return, because he had a favor to ask. Could I help him write letters to his sons? His hands were no longer strong enough to hold a pen; could I write down his words for him? And so I sat by his bedside, and we spent a sacred hour, together, as he spoke to his sons through my hands, and told them how much he loved them.

I have been thinking about him, as I prepare for the week to come, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. There’s this long passage in John’s gospel, where Jesus has gathered with his disciples for what will turn out to be their last meal together before his death. As they sit there together, Jesus begins to pour out his heart to them, trying to prepare them for what lies ahead. Because the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem, his ministry took its final turn toward its inevitable end. Jesus knew he had very little time left, to tell them how much he loved them.

The last week of a life is — always — holy week.

(meditation from the Belchertown Cantata for Holy Week, March 29, 2015, Belchertown United Church of Christ, MA)

(photo: stock photo from daily mail )

Prayer for Serpents and Doves

God of all beings, through Christ you bid us:

be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.

But we insist on choosing between the two.

Forgive us, God, our educated cynicism.

Forgive us, too, our ignorant bliss.

Open our eyes to see the world through yours,

lest we mistake ignorance for innocence,

or worldliness for wisdom.

In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.


(image: And yes, I do realize that is not a dove, but its such a cool picture I couldn’t resist.)