Religion

An Online Christmas Worship Experience?

When Christmas falls on Sunday, a Church has many decisions to make. Are we going to have a worship service on Christmas Day? Should we do a big Christmas Eve Service instead? We have to do something, right? After all it is Jesus’ birthday!

At CityEdge, we believe that God is always pursuing people. He is always speaking to them in subtle ways, inviting them into a bigger story, into his grander narrative of amazing life-changing love. So instead of calling everyone to get out of bed and short-change their traditional Christmas celebrations with family, we decided to meet people where they are. In this case, it happens to be their couches, via the internet, with something we called the Online Christmas Worship Experience. We had everyone invite their friends and family to join us at www.cityedge.org/online on Christmas Day for a very unique 20-minute Christmas experience.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 8:41 PM, 01.10.2012

Dear Church Trailer Thief

Dear Church Trailer Thief,

On New Year's Day we picked up our trailer from its regular spot to find that you broke in and stole our equipment. You nabbed our church’s speakers and subwoofers, microphone stands, drum shield, bass cabinet and amp, and all of the cases that carry the items. All in all it was over $7,000 in losses.

My first reaction was anger. I wanted our church’s stuff back. I wanted justice. I wanted nothing more than to hunt you down and find you, but then I remembered why I am a follower of Jesus. I am a follower of Jesus because God paid a great price to put my relationship back together with him and with others. I am a follower of Jesus because he pardoned my offenses and debt against him.

 

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 8:41 PM, 01.10.2012

Ministerial Musings: A "Different" Christmas Story

I recall a Christmas story about a seminary professor who, as he reached the end of the fall semester, was exhausted. He was not in the Christmas spirit. Not at all. Having graded one too many mediocre exams — exams that only proved his students paid little attention to his lectures on Reformation theology — he needed a break. Having a month off between semesters was not enough, but it would have to do.

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Volume 7, Issue 25, Posted 11:50 PM, 12.13.2011

Advent Conspiracy At CityEdge

Every Christmas $450,000,000,000 are spent in the United States alone. And every year it seems that we get more stressed and depressed during the holiday season. Is this really what Christmas is about? Spending lots of money and getting depressed? Or is there a different story? A better story? 

What was the first Christmas story about? It is a rescue story of a God who so desperately loves his people that he enters in, not as a supreme ruler, but as a vulnerable baby in a manger. The first Christmas is the story of Emmanuel: “God with us.” A God who loves us so much that he enters into our pain and saves us from darkness. By doing this he brings us peace and hope.

 

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Volume 7, Issue 25, Posted 11:52 PM, 12.13.2011

Ministerial Musings: Advent

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope of the wrong thing.”

~ T.S. Eliot, “East Coker” (III)

What does Eliot mean here and what does it have to do with the beginning of Advent? The four Sundays of Advent are entitled hope, peace, love, and joy respectively, but this is about more than just the first day of this season of anticipation.

My earliest memories of Christmas involve the Christmas Eve parties my parents still host. While the adults dined on shrimp and meatballs and toasted the Yuletide with champagne and a sundry of cocktails, I would be shuffled off to bed far too early for me. “Santa is coming,” my mother would say. “You better go to bed or he’ll pass by our house.”

 

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Volume 7, Issue 24, Posted 12:28 AM, 12.01.2011

Looking For A Labor Of Love?

So, it is the holiday season. Everyone is out there in 'stress central' perhaps. Making time for job (if one has one), home, family & friends, and self is in itself a juggling act of major proportions. Why then do we often feel hollow inside? Are we rushing from one event to the next? Do we clean our space 5 minutes here and there or one room at a time so we can get out there and meet and greet? Are we so busy we find an online dating service so we can have a five minute date with X number of folks in one evening?

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Volume 7, Issue 24, Posted 12:28 AM, 12.01.2011

Ministerial Musings: An Ode To QRW

I received a postcard in the mail today informing me that my favorite magazine is going out of business. Quarterly Review of Wines, published by Salem State University literary guru and oeneologist Dr. Richard Elia, regrets to inform it's readers that “After 35 years, Quarterly Review of Wines, one of the country’s oldest wine magazines, will cease publication.”  In this brief communiqué, Dr. Elia tells his readers: “The economic climate is depressing, and we at QRW would be unable to continue the kind of quality publication we have delivered to our devoted subscribers.”

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Volume 7, Issue 23, Posted 4:43 PM, 11.15.2011

Ministerial Musings All Saints Day: A Sermon

When I was a kid I loved the hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”  It sounded very British to me and it seemed to transcend time.  It sounded as if it was all about knights, and princesses, and tea time.  These are the people of legends and fables and Buckingham Palace. It is not a whole lot different than the characters we see in Disney movies.

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Volume 7, Issue 22, Posted 1:17 PM, 11.01.2011

Ambassadors Coming To Lakewood Calvary UMC

Calvary United Methodist Church is please to announce that on November 4, 2011 the Ambassadors will be performing at Calvary, which is located at 16305 Hilliard Road in Lakewood.

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Volume 7, Issue 21, Posted 1:17 PM, 11.01.2011

Ministerial Musings: And Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Yes, Lakewoodites, as we saw animated in a recent edition of The Observer, I am often late getting my articles on the editor’s desk. More often than not, I run into my good friend and publisher Jim O’Bryan at the Root Café — on our way to our respective offices — and I ask him if I still have time to get my Musings in before the paper goes to print. Jim is always gracious, and I am always grateful.

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Volume 7, Issue 21, Posted 7:12 PM, 10.19.2011

City Edge Church's Grand Opening

On September 11, 2011 City Edge Christian Church launched "a church for the rest of us" with 112 people in attendance. City Edge's mission is to Love beyond reason, Journey with God, and serve the City. Since launch the church has averaged 89 people in attendance through September. 

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Volume 7, Issue 20, Posted 9:51 AM, 10.05.2011

Ministerial Musings: Remembering Phil

Once in a while, a name washes upon our shore: one not heard in eons. With those waves come a flood of emotions — emotions no storm warning could forecast.

Facebook and other social media have enabled people to reconnect with friends from yesterday. Recently, a childhood friend I have not seen in about eighteen years found me in cyberspace. It was great to reminisce with Darrell on-line.  We recalled growing up on the North Shore of Boston — how we were street hockey fanatics and aspiring audiophiles.

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Volume 7, Issue 19, Posted 8:27 AM, 09.21.2011

Ordination Of Lutheran Pastors Set For September 10

Three new Lutheran pastors will be ordained Saturday, September 10 in a service at Faith Lutheran Church in Lakewood.

Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will preside and preach at the service and ordain the new pastors as ministers of word and sacrament.

The service begins at 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by a reception at the church, which is located at 16511 Hilliard Road (the corner of Hilliard and Woodward). Parking will be available across the street at Harding Middle School.

 

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Volume 7, Issue 17, Posted 8:32 AM, 08.24.2011

Ministerial Musings: The Debt Ceiling, Health Care, And Jesus

We are mired in an age where the left and the right are drifting further apart, becoming ever-more polarized.  Democrats and Republicans no longer talk to each other. They shout across the aisles and sling pejoratives in self-righteous contempt. Compromises, in the best interest of the citizenry who elected these officials, are rare. The desires of the military-industrial complex take precedence.

What are such “political” musings doing in a “religion” column?

Numerous social programs are on the cutting block as a result of the recent debt ceiling “negotiations.”  Don’t be fooled: when all is said and done CEOs will still receive tax breaks on their corporate jets. The military will get all the money they need (and then some) to fight the two wars in which we are currently embroiled. (Or is it five?)  Wall Street will still receive bail-outs while Main Street becomes a ghost town.

 

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Volume 7, Issue 16, Posted 1:16 PM, 08.09.2011

Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) Calls Mark Rollenhagen As Mission Pastor

Acting on a recommendation from its Faith Mission Board, Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA), Lakewood, Ohio, has extended a call to Seminarian Mark Rollenhagen to direct the Faith Mission Project. He began work on July 1 as a lay outreach minister and will be ordained and installed as Mission Pastor on Saturday, September 10, 2011.

A congregational meeting of Faith Lutheran Church, Lakewood, Ohio, voted unanimously on June 26 to call Seminarian Mark Rollenhagen as Mission Pastor with the task of leading and driving the Faith Mission Project.

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Volume 7, Issue 16, Posted 1:17 PM, 08.09.2011

Ministerial Musings: An Open Letter To Michele Bachmann

Dear Representative Bachmann,

Recent news reports have highlighted the work of your husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, President of Bachmann & Associates— work that you fully support, recent retractions notwithstanding. Among his clients are members of the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) whom you and your husband claim can become heterosexual through “reparative therapy.” Popular culture refers to such treatment as “pray the gay away.” While such language is inflammatory and offensive, it is no less deplorable than your husband’s claim (on the conservative Christian radio program Point of View on May 12, 2010) that gay people are “barbarians” that need to be “educated” and “disciplined.”

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Volume 7, Issue 15, Posted 7:38 AM, 07.27.2011

Ministerial Musings: The Gospel According To Forrest Gump

I received a phone call from my eldest brother the other day. He called to inform me that his father-in-law died. He was 82 years old and was in relatively good health. He had an unexpected coronary.

My brother and sister-in-law live on the North Shore of Boston. The father-in-law lived in Florida. My brother and sister-in-law have not seen him in over a year. They were planning on visiting him in just a week and half- ten days too late, unfortunately.

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Volume 7, Issue 14, Posted 8:15 AM, 07.13.2011

CityEdge Church Holds Kids' Summer Kickoff In Lakewood Park

Children in Lakewood Park were treated to games, face painting and hundreds of free snow cones on Saturday afternoon, June 18, as City Edge Christian Church celebrated the warm weather with their Kids’ Summer Kickoff event.

CityEdge Christian Church is a new church in Lakewood with a focus on public service and community outreach. According to lead minister Kevin Rush, events like the Kids’ Summer Kickoff are one of many ways CityEdge Church seeks to enrich the lives of Lakewood residents.

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Volume 7, Issue 13, Posted 8:02 AM, 06.29.2011

Ministerial Musings: How Much Moderation?

As some of you may know, I am a poet. Poetry, for me, is one of the ways to capture the indefinable — however partial. It is a means of tapping into the divine essence that surrounds us and infuses us, yet, ironically enough, often goes unnoticed.

Last night as I watched the final embers fade to ether in the fire-pit in my backyard, a few lines came to mind. This is what I scribbled on the back of an envelope when I went into the kitchen:

Fire. There is nothing sadder than a fire going out. Embers struggling to breathe. Gray smoke rising. An ashen dance beneath. The patient on the bed, motionless. A gulp of air. A hiss. Little more…

 

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 8:19 AM, 06.15.2011

Ministerial Musings: The World Is Coming To An End

Apparently, Harold Camping was wrong. Family Radio’s president’s prediction did not come to fruition. The world did not end at 6:00 pm on May 21, 2011, just as it did not end in 1988 and 1994 as Camping previously surmised. This eschatological prognosticator has since said that a symbolic rapture took place on May 21; the physical one will occur on October 21.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 2:53 PM, 06.01.2011

Ministerial Musings: Is Any Death A Cause for Celebration?

“USA!”  “USA!”

This chant bellowed from my television in the waning hours of May 1. CNN reported that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated in a secret Pakistani bunker by a covert, United States military task force. A few dozen people gathered outside the White House waving Old Glory and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner.” The ad hoc gathering swelled as fast as the news spread nationally. Similar celebrations took place in New York City, near Ground Zero, and others erupted in bars across America. Napkins shredded into confetti. Pints of beer hoisted for a toast. Beaming smiles carved into patriotic faces.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 10:37 PM, 05.17.2011

The Sacred Side Of Jazz, Featuring The OIKOS Ensemble

Saxophonist John Coltrane, perhaps the greatest icon of jazz spirituality once said, “My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being… When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups… I want to speak to their souls.”

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 11:54 AM, 05.03.2011

Ministerial Musings: "Knock, Knock"

Saturday. 10:32 am. Lakewood, Ohio.

Knock, knock.

I open the door. “Hello.”

“Hi. How are you this morning, sir?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Can I help you?”

“I was just wondering if you ever read The Bible at all,” the nicely-dressed, handsome gentleman at my front door asked. I did not have the heart to tell him what I do for a living.

“A bit,” I said.

“Well, if you read it regularly, then you would realize that all ‘the signs’ are happening.”

 

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 11:56 AM, 05.03.2011

Ministerial Musings: “The Cost of Discipleship”

Like many communions, the United Church of Christ has a Statement of Faith. It is not so much a test of faith, as many of the historic creeds are, but rather a testimony of the common faith shared by the 5,320 autonomous congregations that comprise this united and uniting denomination.

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 8:28 AM, 04.20.2011

Ministerial Musings: Still I Rise

Theories abound about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There are some who claim that it never happened. “People do not rise from the dead today,” they say, “So I doubt that it actually happened in Jerusalem two millennia ago.”

Others claim that it occurred in the experience of the disciples. Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, proponents of this theory claim, but he did live in the communal experience of the disciples after his death.

And then there are those ol’ stalwart traditionalists like me who believe that it really did happen as it is chronicled in the Gospels.

I remember being at a clergy meeting once. I was sitting in a room with about a dozen colleagues from my denomination;  the meeting was during Lent.

 

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 10:26 PM, 04.05.2011

Faith Lutheran To Offer Alpha Course

What is the point of this life? Why do people suffer? What happens when we die? Is forgiveness possible? Find out the answer to these questions and more by participating in the Alpha Course.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 7:01 PM, 02.22.2011

Ministerial Musings: God's Politics

The nonprofit, nonpartisan religious organization Sojourners, founded by Jim Wallis of God’s Politics fame, circulated a bumper sticker and hosted an on-line petition during the 2004 campaign under the mantra, “God is not a Republican…or a Democrat.”  That’s true.  God may be a Socialist, though — at least Jesus of Nazareth was.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 6:48 PM, 02.22.2011

Ministerial Musings: Time for Those Resolutions

I am very sorry for my recent extended absence. I was finishing the dissertation for my Ph.D. and was under a colossal deadline. My thanks to those of you who wrote and called asking for me to come back; it feels so good to be wanted.

Well, the New Year is here. Actually, as I write these musings, it is not quite here yet, but it is on the horizon, and not the “distant” one. For many people, resolutions conjure up images of working out more often, eating healthier foods, quitting smoking, developing a new hobby, or spiritual discipline.

While I was getting dressed this morning, the Today Show was on television. The feature story that I half-listened to was about baby boomers heading into retirement. They listed, by percentages, what retirees were hoping to do as they approached their golden years. Ten percent of those surveyed wanted to deepen their spiritual life.

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 9:06 AM, 01.12.2011

Ministerial Musings: Why I Love Lakewood

I love Lakewood, Ohio. Why? There are several reasons…

First of all, our public services are second to none. We have amazing police and fire departments (not to mention a quality hospital right in the center of town). These civil servants keep our community safe with proactive programs and responsive service.

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Volume 6, Issue 22, Posted 8:20 AM, 11.04.2010

Ministerial Musings: No More

I am disgusted. This is the headline that greeted me when I turned on my computer this morning: “8 Men Arraigned in NYC Anti-Gay Beating Case.” Alleged members of the Latin King Goonies Gang heard that one of their new recruits, a teenage boy, was gay. In the early hours of Friday, October 3, they lured the young man to a vacant apartment and then they “stripped and beat him and sodomized him with a plunger handle until he confessed to having had sex with a man” (AP News). The gang tortured a second teen they believed was a homosexual as well. “They also invited the man the first teen had admitted having sex with to a house, telling him they were having a party…When he arrived, five of them burned, beat and tortured him for hours” (AP News).

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Volume 6, Issue 21, Posted 8:25 AM, 10.21.2010

Ministerial Musings: "War Is Not The Answer"

I am against war for a sundry of reasons. Aside from the fact that warfare leaves incalculable, innocent victims in its wake (including children), I also believe that just about all armed conflicts are perpetrated by elected officials and business moguls in order to maintain political power and economic dominance. War enables the upper echelon of elites to amass prodigious amounts of wealth while many a lower or middle class nineteen year old ends up dead or in a veteran’s hospital being fitted with prosthetic limbs, all for some propagandized purpose.

Do I think that there is such a thing as Just War? Sure - if someone invades your country you have a right to defend yourself with force if need be.

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Volume 6, Issue 20, Posted 8:30 AM, 10.06.2010

"Sponge Beck"

I have purposely strayed from writing about anything political in my Ministerial Musings lately. I wanted them to be more spiritually edifying than anything else. However, there are occasions when clergy need to raise a prophetic voice to critique injustices and hurtful ideologies when they arise from the mire of human existence.

That said — if you are a fan of Glenn Beck, then you should probably stop reading at this point.

Glenn Beck is one of the most offensive and insensitive pundits I have ever heard. His self-absorption is so unparalleled that “Sponge Beck” is the most fitting appellative for him.

On Saturday, August 28, 2010 — the forty-seventh anniversary of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech — Beck held a rally in front of the same Lincoln Memorial to call America back to God and to reinstate his understanding of “traditional” values. Beck touted the gathering on his radio and television programs (as well as on his website) as “Restoring Honor.” The word “honor” conjures up images of fairness, honesty, and integrity. Beck has been anything but honorable.

Mr. Beck has been quite vociferous as of late in condemning any religion, denomination, or church whose theology is rooted in social justice. According to Beck, salvation is about one’s individual commitment to Jesus Christ; it has nothing to do with communal responsibility.

 

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Volume 6, Issue 18, Posted 2:15 AM, 09.08.2010

Ministerial Musings: A Time To Rest

As I write this article, I am preparing to depart on a two week vacation. I will be heading to my parent’s camp, located on a beautiful lake in southern Maine, with my three children. My wife will be heading to Namibia in South Africa as part of an immersion mission trip for her seminary education.

Some people feel uneasy about taking vacations. “The boss will be upset.” “I really should be working all the time; isn’t that what it means to have a strong work-ethic.” Vacations actually make us better workers. It gives us a time of respite so that we can return to work rejuvenated, better equipped to deal with our daily demands.

But vacations are more than that. They should not just be seen as means to an end: we rest so we can work harder. Vacation is Sabbath time.

Sabbath is a biblical concept. It begins in the earliest pages of Scripture. God creates the earth (be it metaphorically or literal) in six days. On the seventh day God rests from all the work of Creation. Ancient Israel was also called to let the earth rest every seventh year from the strain of cultivation.

If God needs relaxation, and even the land needs a breather, then is it too hard to believe that we need to rest, too?

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Volume 6, Issue 16, Posted 8:28 AM, 08.11.2010

Ministerial Musings: "I Can Only Imagine"

I have been MIA for a few issues recently, my deepest apologies. That said, I can safely say, "I'm back!" (I said that in my best faux Poltergeist voice.) Never mind...

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Volume 6, Issue 15, Posted 8:42 AM, 07.27.2010

Ministerial Musings: "Be Perfect?"

 

Some of our sayings make no sense.  They seem to contradict one another.  “Practice makes perfect.”  And yet, we are also told that “Nobody is perfect.”  That can lead one to question, “Then why practice?”

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Volume 6, Issue 12, Posted 8:31 AM, 06.16.2010

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "Follow Me" John Tamilio III (JT3)

I had lunch with a parishioner in Berea today. On the way back to the office, I stopped for gas and asked the cashier, “What is the quickest way to get to Route 71?” As she looked into the distance and scratched her head, a scruffy man in line behind me began giving me directions. “What you want to do is to keep going down this main road here and turn left at the lights. After that, you want to turn…”

Now keep something in mind. If directions require more than two turns, I get lost. You might as well give them to me in another language. I need to write them down at that point. So, I asked the cashier for a piece of scrap paper, but before she even moved the man in line said, “I’m actually headin’ that way. Follow me.”

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Volume 6, Issue 10, Posted 8:25 AM, 05.19.2010

Ministerial Musings: On Easter

Remember Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ? The movie was controversial due to its graphic violence and the belief, in some quarters, that it was highly anti-Semitic. There are some, such as Dr. S. Mark Heim of Andover Newton Theological School, who challenged the theological concept of blood-atonement that lies at the center of the movie. I saw the film in the theatre when it was released, and felt that the anti-Semitism was a reflection of the complex anti-Semitic tenor that appears throughout the Gospels. Without getting too far into it, it is clear that the Pharisees and the Sadducees are portrayed as “the bad guys” in the Gospel narrative. They are Jesus’ foil. Are they representative of the entire Jewish community in first century Palestine or Jews in general? I do not think so. Remember, Jesus and his disciples were Jewish.

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 8:17 AM, 03.24.2010

Celebration At Trinity Lutheran Church

A festival service was held at Trinity Lutheran Church of Lakewood on February 28th, illuminating the Lenten season with a celebration of last summer’s vote of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to allow the ordination of partnered gay or lesbian clergy. The Reverend Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeastern Ohio Synod preached to members of several local Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, and United Church of Christ congregations and guests from Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, Lutheran Chaplaincy, and Dennis Kucinich’s office. Pastor Paula Maeder Connor of Trinity had chosen texts about Ruth’s steadfast love for her mother-in-law Naomi in spite of the social liabilities of such loyalty (Ruth 1: 8-19), Christ’s call to us to resist slavery (Galations 5:1), and Jesus’ relaying His Father’s commandment that we love one another (John 15:9-17). Bishop Eaton thanked the GLBT people and their friends and families who had patiently endured their second-class status within the church for so long. She also expressed a hope that the rocky reception of this vote across the country will resolve into positive innovation in the church. During the prayers, one of the parishioners thanked God for giving us the gift of love in all of its many shapes and forms. Joyful music was given by Trinity’s choir, soloist Brenna Connor, and organist Dave Debick of the Brecksville United Church of Christ.

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Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 8:25 AM, 03.10.2010

Ministerial Musings: "On Lent"

Does the word Lent immediately conjure up images of your brother or best friend? “Hey, can you lend me fifty bucks?” (Bad joke.) The word Lent, which describes the forty day penitential Christian season before Easter, comes from the German (Lenz) and Dutch (lente) words for spring. It also relates to the Germanic root word meaning long. That makes sense: in the spring the days lengthen. It will probably be a long time before your brother gives you your $50 back, too. (Sorry.)

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Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 8:25 AM, 03.10.2010

Father Duke To Know Him Is To Love Him

Father Duke at S.S. Cyril & Methodius has been here over thirty years. He has given us faith, trust, and understanding. Yes, we have even felt his wrath when we did something stupid, but he always understood.

Remember when we were kids, if we saw a priest, it was always “Good morning” or “Good afternoon Father” and that was it. With Father Duke, parents, children, and grandchildren give him a hug when he does something special, which is very often.

I met Father Duke when he was six or seven years old. He was such a quiet, shy little boy and so very sweet.  His sister Carol and I were best friends in grade school and high school, which was upstairs at St. Francis.  Sometimes he would walk to school with us.

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 8:31 AM, 02.24.2010

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "Matters of the Heart"

One of my hobbies is studying medicine. That sounds funny, I know, but I love to study human anatomy and physiology as a pastime. I am fascinated by the structure and function, and even the pathology, of the human body. It is not as if I have a plethora of free time, but I would rather read an article on endocrinology in JAMA than watch a sitcom on NBC. Strange? Yes, but it is also fun!

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 8:31 AM, 02.24.2010

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "The Miracle Among You"

I have been thinking about miracles a lot lately.  How often do miracles occur — or do they?  A friend once admitted, “I believe that miracles happened in Biblical times, but they do not occur anymore.”  What, exactly, constitutes a miracle?  (The conversation between Samuel Jackson's and John Travolta’s characters in Pulp Fiction is making me chuckle as I write this.)

I believe in miracles.  They happen all the time.  They do not need to be burning bush or water into wine experiences.  They can be simple, and ever-present.  A miracle occurs every time God chooses to enter the human drama.  And God does that a lot.

Ironically, God’s recurrent appearances do not have to be grand manifestations.  In other words, it isn’t just making “the impossible possible,” as Travolta’s “Vince” waxes in the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino film.  It is God entering our lives and touching us in deep, profound, spiritual ways — ways that occur more often than we realize.

 

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Volume 6, Issue 3, Posted 10:25 AM, 02.10.2010

Ministerial Musings: "What is Your 'Hope' for the New Year?"

We often approach January 1st with resolutions: the weight we need to shed, the nicotine we need to stop breathing, the Scriptures we hope to traverse in one year. Ten, nine, eight…we pop the champagne and pour libations for the family members and friends watching Dick Clark…seven, six, five…we raise a toast in hopes of peace and health…four, three, two…we breathe in the last seconds of the year with hope and maybe a bit of trepidation…one…here it comes…zero…we holler “Happy New Year!” and kiss our significant others. Confetti flies across many a bar room. Frigid bodies in Times Square scream in unison jubilation. In Boston, the remains of 2009 are scattered among tables of chicken fingers, egg rolls, and pork lo mein. We hit the hay and awake to a national holiday. For me it is forty-eight hours of The Twilight Zone on the SyFy Channel and the day before my birthday. For others it is the first day of the resolutions that they won’t keep — the same ones they made twelve months earlier and abandoned shortly after. Is that all there is? Is that all that the New Year has to offer? (Read: rhetorical question.) Obviously, the answer is no. The New Year falls perfectly within the Christian liturgical calendar. We are still in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas — and not because of that song. The birth that we celebrated a week before is still with us. Bethlehem still stands by the living room evergreen whose brown needles emit a stronger scent of winter pine. Our hearts are still aglow with the promises the Christ child brings. Maybe this can be a resolution in itself? No, I am not saying that we make everyday Christmas. (Capitalism has already stretched it from two weeks to two months.) What I am suggesting, though, is that maybe the hope the Christ child brings can burn in our hearts the rest of the year.

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Volume 6, Issue 1, Posted 1:25 PM, 01.13.2010

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: “By request…” By the Rev. John Tamilio III

Every once in a while a reader will ask me a question.  This one comes from a friend in Boston.  She asked, “If a person is brain dead, where does his/her soul reside?”

That’s a good question.  I’ll take a stab at it.

Medical science used to define the time of death as the moment the heart stops beating.  According to the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, brain death “is a legal definition of death that refers to the irreversible end of all brain activity.”  This has been the clinical definition since 1981 with the publication of the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA).  Section One of the act clearly states, death is determined when “An individual…has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem….”

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Volume 5, Issue 25, Posted 8:51 AM, 12.16.2009

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "On Advent"

The hustle and bustle is here. It isn’t even Thanksgiving as I write this, and yet our commercialized culture tells us it is the season of Christmas. The funny thing is that the “Christmas season” does not really begin until December 25 and remains with us all the way to Epiphany (January 6). Yes, that Yuletide song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has liturgical significance, although I have no desire to receive a partridge in a pear tree, three French hens, or seven swans a swimming.  (Lots of birds in that piece!)

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Volume 5, Issue 24, Posted 8:48 AM, 12.02.2009

Christmas Day Is In Our Grasp

Advent is the season leading up to Christmas, a time of anticipation and preparation for the Christmas event. We in the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community have not always been welcomed by the church, often causing us to feel isolated from spiritual companions during this wonderful time of year. That is about to change. This year, Liberation Church is hosting a series of Advent services on four consecutive Wednesday evenings beginning December 2nd. We are calling the services “Tré Gay Taizé” since they are based on the prayer services of the Taizé Community in France. Each service is especially designed to welcome the LGBT community into a contemplative spiritual experience with others in meditation, prayer, music and reflections on Advent from a queer perspective. This will be a time of respite from the hectic pace of everyday life during this busy time of year. The services begin at 7:00 p.m., but come early because a light supper will be served before the service at 6:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome to join us for the free supper to meet new friends and share stories over a meal. As Dr. Seuss wrote and the people of Whoville sang:   

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Volume 5, Issue 24, Posted 8:48 AM, 12.02.2009

Ministerial Musings: Homosexuality and the Church; an Inclusive Perspective

Nothing has divided the Christian Church more in the last few decades than the issue of homosexuality. Even the controversy surrounding the ordination of women—which is still a contested issue even in some mainline denominations—pales in comparison to the quarrels that have not only divided liberal churches from the Religious Right, but many a house against itself as well.

Recently, the focus has been on gay marriage in particular. Several states (including Ohio) have passed constitutional amendments, “To protect the sanctity of marriage,” to quote the Pat Robertsons of the world. Apparently, male-male and female-female unions are going to be the fatal flaw in the already dysfunctional foundation of the American family. Domestic violence, child neglect, alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, illiteracy, the welfare system, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and healthcare…none of these seem to pose the same threat to the American family (as if it were a monolith) as two consenting adults wanting to publicly affirm what they already have the right to do: be a couple in love. For the life of me, I cannot perceive how granting ten percent of the population the same right that my wife and I and millions of other Americans take for granted is going to fracture our “traditional” family or anyone else’s.

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Volume 5, Issue 22, Posted 8:47 AM, 11.04.2009

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "Reading with the Heart"

There once was a preacher who wasn’t prepared to deliver a sermon one Sunday morning. He prayed to God for inspiration and decided that he would open the Bible to two random sections — one in the Old Testament and one in the New — and that would be the focus of his homily. His finger first landed on Genesis 4:8: “Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” OK, he thought. Then he flipped open to Luke 10:37: “Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’"

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Volume 5, Issue 21, Posted 12:16 PM, 10.21.2009

Faithful Hope

Soon, churches will be celebrating what is often called Rally Day.  This marks the beginning of a new church year as choirs and Sunday school classes (along with many members) return from summer’s rest.   And to their congregations, leaders of faith communities will be proclaiming messages of hope – hope that allows us to believe life can be a pageant of joy.  It is the right message for just these times.   It will not be some sweet, saccharine statement that dares to suggest all moments in life are victorious. It is not a proclamation meant to insult the intellect by denying there are real problems to face and overcome. We know our businesses do not always flourish.  Our relationships are not always vibrant, and hard work and constant study do not guarantee success.Those who speak of faithful hope and life as a celebration of joy will not be suggesting that life is without anxiety. It does mean, however, that because of our trust in love’s ultimate victory over the powers that would diminish us, we can live with triumphant hope even in the face of difficult times and circumstance.   Our faith calls us to reach for the horizons beyond our own troubles and radiating hope to others. Off the coast of Labrador, you will find the towering icebergs that soar high in the air.  What is most surprising is that they all sail south.  While that might not seem strange at all, it is important to know that they are sailing south against the strong winds that blow against them.  What allows the icebergs to move against the wind and waves crashing against them?   The answer lies in the fact that the vast majority of their mass is below the surface, and beneath that surface is the mighty Labrador Current. In spite of the buffeting strength of the wind and waves, the icebergs sail south as they are carried along by the unseen current below the surface.The triumph of faithful hope moves in the same way.  Against the difficulties of life and the challenges before us, it can carry us through the trials and limitations of life.   It is easy to become cynical with our world:  unspeakable horrors are visited upon people every day, physical and emotional abuse is all too common in the homes of every neighborhood. We witness how ancient hatreds, made even more deadly through modern weapons, can wreak havoc on a people.   So, is it possible to proclaim that life can be filled with the triumph of hope and the celebration of community?  I would ask: Do we dare think otherwise?  Do we dare give in, believing ourselves to be powerless to confront the forces that would diminish even one member of our human family?There are times when it would seem God asks the impossible of us. There are moments when faith demands more than we think we can bear.  Faith in God demands that we not only see a light at the end of the tunnel, but to also know that the light is calling us to move forward, to step with confidence and trust into the darkness that sometimes stands before us. This journey of life is not without its detours and difficult obstacles – but it is our journey to make. And it is our time to make it.  Our communities are best served when the power and enthusiasm of faithful hope are brought to bear on the difficulties before us. Lakewood and the surrounding area are well served by many faith communities, each bringing to bear their vision of a better world, and seeking to bring the faithful message of hope to all.    by Reverend Mark Thomas,
Senior Pastor, Lakewood Congregational Church 

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Volume 5, Issue 18, Posted 10:06 AM, 09.09.2009

Ministerial Musings: “Refuse to Sign” By The Rev. John Tamilio III

In the spirit of pushing the envelope and tackling controversial issues (which I am wont to do), I want to elucidate a national campaign that was birthed in Tremont.

Earlier this year, the church I serve (Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ) decided that our clergy would no longer sign state-issued marriage licenses, nor would we allow them to be signed on our property.  To us, this is a pertinent social justice issue.  Because same-gender couples are not allowed to get married in Ohio (and many other states), we feel that as officers of the state — which clergy essentially are when they sign that piece of paper — we are complying with a blatant injustice.

But it goes further than that.

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Volume 5, Issue 16, Posted 7:41 AM, 08.12.2009

MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "Is Hitler in Hell?"

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven,” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

 “Is Adolf Hitler in Hell?”  This is a question that inevitably comes up when I talk to people about God’s grace.  If God is all-loving and all-forgiving, why would the Creator of Heaven and Earth condemn anyone to the fires of Perdition?  Is there even a Hell?

I think there is…and I think there isn’t.  Let me explain before I answer the Hitler query.

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Volume 5, Issue 13, Posted 10:40 AM, 07.01.2009