Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Week At Pilgrim UCC Church, Sherborn, MA

Maundy Thursday Service
Thursday, March 28, 7:30 pm

Good Friday Service
Friday, March 29, 7:30 pm

Prayer Vigil
In sanctuary, 6 pm to midnight on 
Holy Saturday, March 30th

Easter Sunday, March 31
6:00 am Easter Sunrise Service
at Farm Pond led by the Senior High Youth Group

9 am Easter Service
Featuring the Pilgrim Band

11 am Easter Service
Featuring bell and brass and voice choirs.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Newtown By The Numbers 103 Days Later

“America is coming dangerously close to replacing the second commandment with the second amendment.”       
 --The Reverend Matthew Crebin, 
Newtown Congregational Church

Second Amendment: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”

Date of Newtown massacre: December 14, 2012

Number of shooting victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School: 26

Victims aged six or seven: 20   

Adult victims: 6

Number of days since shootings in Newtown: 103

New federal gun control laws banning assault weapons: 0

New federal gun control laws regulating magazine size: 0

New federal gun control laws expanding gun purchase background checks: 0

New federal gun control laws expanding ammunition purchase background checks: 0

Percentage of Americans favoring criminal background checks on all buyers, including gun shows and private sales: 85 percent

Favoring mandatory criminal background checks on bullet and ammunition purchases: 70 percent

Favoring banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons: 51 percent

Gun used to kill Newtown victims: Bushmaster XM-15 E2S semi-automatic rifle

Cost: $1,274.18

Maximum rate of fire: 45 rounds per minute

National Rifle Association (NRA) membership pre-Newtown: 4,000,000

Post-Newtown: 4,500,000

NRA membership as percentage of American population: 1.2 percent

NRA anti-gun control lobbying budget: $25,000,000

NRA Political Action Committee Candidate Donations (2012): $11,000,000

Number of new federal and state gun control laws favored by the NRA: 0

Number of U.S. mass shootings since 1900 (four or more victims in a single incident): 157

From 1900 to 1979: 41

From 1980 to 2013: 116 (including 14 from 2010 to the present)

Number of guns owned by American: 270,000,000

Guns per 100 citizens in U.S.: 88.8

World ranking: 1

Number of U.S. gun related deaths since Newtown: 2,884

Average number of firearms related deaths per day: 28

Names and ages of those who died in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2014:
Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine F. Hsu, 6; Catherine V. Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Aveille Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison N. Wyatt, 6;  Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27

(Sources: Fox News Poll, March 2013;,, National Rifle Association, Small Arms Survey: Cambridge University; Boston Globe,,,

Monday, March 18, 2013

God and the Media: One Big Circus!

Sideshow (noun) 1. a minor show or exhibition, as at a circus.
            --Random House Dictionary

It was the Pope meets People magazine, papal politics versus the paparazzi, religion mashed up with reality TV, a weird religious sideshow and the whole world and many of us ate it all up.  Is that white smoke or black smoke billowing from the chimney?  Which Cardinal has the best shot at the top spot and do you want to make a bet on that?  Hey did you hear Cardinal Sean O’Malley might be the next Pope? No really, I read it in the Boston Globe gossip pages.  And what about the shiny red shoes? What’s the deal with those?

You’d have to have lived under a rock these past few weeks to be unaware that the Holy Roman Catholic Church has a new leader, Pope Francis, who now heads a religious body of 1.2 billion members, 17.5 percent of the world’s population.  He oversees the oldest continuing religious institution in the world, almost 2,000 years and counting.  This is a big deal and yet, Frances’ election played out on TV, in newspapers, the radio, on the Internet and in the wider world at times more like “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol”, than the serious and real work of religious faith.

So folks on Facebook furiously updated their statuses to handicap the latest developments.  Network anchors jockeyed for face time from Saint Peter’s Square.  LIVE FROM THE VATICAN—it’s The Today Show! The assembled crowd held up hundreds of eerily glowing cell phone cameras in the darkness, each person hoping to get a snapshot of the heir of Saint Peter the moment he stepped out on the balcony. I WAS THERE—HI MOM!

It felt like a sideshow and that’s not a judgment upon or the fault of the Catholic Church. That’s just how religion and religious people are now far too often portrayed, seen and stereotyped in the culture.  Religion is now a sideshow, a circus even at times.    With scandals just waiting to be uncovered.  SECRET VATICAN PAPERS LEAKED TO THE PRESS. Racy headlines waiting to be written: MINISTER ACCUSED OF MISCONDUCT. The hypocrisy of an institution or leader waiting to be unveiled: BISHOP RESIGNS.  All of it is fodder for an unrelenting 24/7 media machine, which feeds not on reporting the good or the noble or the positive which religious faith aspires to, but instead lives to report the bad, the weird, the wacky, the radicals, the sensational and the outliers of religion.

So to far too many, the Muslim is perpetually a real or potential terrorist.  The Christian is always a self righteous holier than thou type.  The clergyperson is one who preys on the innocent.  The Church is a place which seeks only to line its own pockets and maintain its worldly power.  Yes institutions of faith do contain such people and motives, but most often these are in the minority, exceptions, aberrations, not the rule.  

Instead this is what millions of folks of sincere and authentic religious faith did while all the eyes of the world were focused upon the Vatican for an overheated week or two.  People of religious faith taught tens of thousands of kids in inner city faith based schools which have stayed while so many others have abandoned the neighborhood. They fed thousands of homeless folks hot meals and provided them with warm beds in a world which cares little for the poor anymore. They built hundreds of Habitat for Humanity homes in partnership with people who dream of a simple, decent place to live. They were nurses and doctors in far away poverty stricken lands and at downtown hospitals filled to capacity with uninsured patients.  They went to millions of worship services at churches and synagogues and mosques and temples, seeking a better system of values to live by, and to teach their kids about too. 

Folks of faith, every day, make a world of difference in a world that cries out for healing, compassion, peace and hope. But you’d never know that by visiting Facebook or the Huffington Post or watching CNN or Fox News, or picking up the Boston Globe.  So congratulations and kudos to the media and culture on the whole papal extravaganza. You got your story. 

Yet lost and overlooked was the real story of faith.  I just pray that would make page one.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Do We Have The Courage to Believe in Spring?

Anticipation (noun) 1. realization in advance; foretaste; expectation or hope.

Hard to believe that spring is just days away after that wild storm last week with its surprise blast of two feet of the back breaking white stuff.  It gave us the kind of snow that snaps shovels and power lines, pounds sandy dunes, snatches up houses and tosses them into the sea.  Like a crafty boxer, winter fooled us, feinted one way then caught us with one final sucker punch just before the bell sounds for the last round of the season.  Around here winter is serious stuff and often it does not let go and leave until it absolutely, positively has to, a houseguest putting off departure until the last minute. 

But now we can at least anticipate spring finally, SPRING, the season of anticipation, more than any other time of the year.  To look ahead.  Search for signs of rebirth and renewal.  Wait in hope as the earth revolves to its equinox on the 20th and then turns its face upward once again towards the sun.  In his poem “April Prayer”, from the book “Prayers and Run-on Sentences”, the poet Stuart Kestenbaum writes…

“Just before the green begins there is the hint of green
a blush of color, and the red buds thicken
the ends of the maple branches and everything
is poised before the start of a new world…”

Yet anticipation is a mixed emotion in the human condition, because to anticipate we need both hope and courage.  Anticipation always carries with it two possibilities: that things will work out as we desire, or things will work out as we fear.  Anticipating spring is easy because we know, absolutely, it is coming. The calendar can’t be denied. Flowers will push up once again through muddy and chilly soil. Days will grow longer and temperatures climb upward. Birds will once again sing their songs and alight, oh so hungry, on backyard feeders.

But to anticipate a human spring as we move through the messiness of life? This finally takes faith. A belief that somehow a power beyond us, greater than us, is working through our lives and the life of this world for the good, for the better, for an eternal spring in our hearts and the world.  A trust in a Divine force, beyond all human control, which holds Creation within its embrace.  Having such faithful anticipation we take a leap into the unknown.  Lonely, we anticipate love again.  Sick, we anticipate health again.  Grieving, we anticipate recovery again.  Separated, we anticipate reconciliation again. 

The old saw against such spiritual conviction is that religious faith is finally a crutch, a faux myth that all those “God people” lean upon. I suppose I could live this life without anticipation or faith or hope in the God of spring. Just see this world as all chaos and randomness, chance occurrences, luck, fate, or even a cruel roll of the dice.  Some do.

But not me. I need to anticipate in hope and faith the days ahead. I need to believe in a spirit of renewal that infuses everything, all that matters in the world.  I need spring. I need Easter. I need a Red Sox Opening Day and my first bike ride on a warm Sunday afternoon and a mockingbird perched on a tree in my backyard chirping away, all of these God-given miracles declaring that better days are in store, a new world even.

First I must anticipate it, see the spring before it appears, envision a brand new season before the last snows have melted away.  After a long winter I’m ready for such hope.  I’m willing to have faith.  I have anticipation. How about you?


Friday, March 1, 2013

Let's Not Forget: It's Only a Game

Fan (noun) 1. an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport…short for fanatic: a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal 

It was the moment I began to fall out of love with professional sports and being a sports fan, at least being a sports fanatic.  Leaving a Boston Red Sox game a few years ago on a beautiful spring evening (not even sure who won), a really drunk fan next to me began chanting the modern BoSox slogan.  “YANKEES SUCK! YANKEES SUCK!”  Then…something kind of clicked to “off” inside me.  My passion for sports, born long ago in the innocence of childhood…well, after that night it just didn’t burn as brightly anymore.    

How many times had I heard some yahoo like this buffoon start that childish chant at Fenway Park?  Put up with him and his wasted friends as they swore in front of kids and sloppily spilled beer on me and my fellow fans at Fenway?  How many times had I been at a Patriots game, avoided with disgust and fear inebriated screaming “fans”, many of whom would soon be locked up in a sheriff’s paddy wagon at Gillette Stadium?  How many times had I thought, “Finally: a sports hero I can and honor respect” and then been let down? 

Cyclist Lance Armstrong who doped through all those Tour De France races.  Live Strong? Manny Ramirez who used steroids during the Sox run to two World Series championships. Was the curse really reversed legitimately? Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis, so worshipped by the culture at the 2013 Super Bowl.  A decade earlier Lewis avoided jail time for murder by turning states’ evidence. A thug in shoulder pads.

It is hard to be a fan these days, at least for me.  Yes, like much of the New England citizenry I anticipate with joy Opening Day just a month away.  Spring is not spring in these parts until baseball returns and the grass is again so green and the sky is so blue in centerfield.  The games begin. Play ball.  Play the game. THE GAME.

But then I read the sports pages of the Globe and the Herald which now are as much about gossip as statistics: Terry Francona’s tell all tattle tale book about beer in the clubhouse and soap operas among grown men. I turn on sports talk radio and listen as callers and hosts opinionate, cogitate, spout off oh so self importantly about games, as if these things really matter all that much in the scheme of life.  Cancer—now that’s real.  War—that matters.  Elections and politics—these truly shape life. But sports?

Sports are finally just that: sports.  Games. Amusements. Competition between the lines on a playing field.  Who won, who lost is exciting to witness but finally these outcomes make little or no difference in the truth of this life. Pro sports are fun to watch.  A diversion when life gets too overloaded and serious. Entertaining, like a good movie or a smart TV show.  Discussion fodder for the workplace or at church.

But in 2013 professional sports are now outsized, out of control, and out of whack.  Consider how much communal energy and money and time our culture devotes to professional sports.  Witness the obesessiveness of so many fanatics about that which is only a game. 

Me? I just want to be a fan again. Return to the backyard of my childhood home, play wiffle ball with Joey from next door.  Then I fantasized that I was Carl Yastrzemski trying to hit a home run over the Green Monster. He was Rico Petrocelli scooping up grounders at short.  We were fans, not because of 24/7 cable sports channels or over priced “official” $175 jerseys or tickets that cost a fortune. 

We were fans, simply fans, because we loved the game.  Fans, who as we grew older could walk up to Fenway on a hot August afternoon, score some cheap bleacher seats, soak in the sun, drink a beer and have a little fun.  And when that game ended, win or lose, we remembered that it was only a game after all. 

So this year I will be rooting for the Red Sox for my 45th season.  I’ll watch the boys of summer and their exploits, read about them in the papers, jaw about them with fellow fans.  But I’ll enjoy it all for what professional sports have always has been and will always be: a game. Nothing more. 

So…PLAY BALL! This fan is ready for a new year.