Category Archives: Friends

31 March 2020

Pacing (walking). Core work (gentle) with NK Body Philosophy by FaceTime. Stretching. The Shire.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
Drone Bomb Me – ANOHNI
I’d Love to Change the World – Shea Diamond
iT – Christine and the Queens
A Girl Called Johnny – The Waterboys
Warrior Heart – Shawnee
Thorn in Your Side – namoli brennet
Body Was Made – Ezra Furman
Girls and Boys – Blur
King for a Day – Green Day
Androgynous – The Replacements
Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
We Exist – Arcade Fire
Eudaemonia – Them Are Us Too
What Is This Thing Called Love – Billy Tipton
I Want It All – Baby (the Playbill 30 Day Song Challenge – thanks Sean)

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Purple flowers, guest collection #107

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31 March 2020
New Orleans, Louisiana
photo by the Rev. Kim Rodrigue

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Candles, Fireworks, Hope

Romans 8:15-25
Candles, Fireworks, Hope
March 29, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I think a lot about hope these days.

Singer and activist David LaMotte wrote, “These are hard days in so many ways. Much of the time, it seems like the headlines are in competition for the worst news. … Being alive is hard work. Some days, I don’t feel hopeful.”[i]

David wrote those words two years ago. The need to think about hope goes with us always. It presses upon us with urgency in the age of Covid-19.

Be clear. Hope differs from optimism. Dramatically.

Optimism says things will get better; things will work out as we want; things will happen in a way that fits our desires and understandings.

Optimism is important. Envisioning we can do something often plays a critical role in allowing us to succeed.

Hope is not optimism. Writer and politician Vaclav Havel, who resisted the communist rule in Czechoslovakia and worked for a new future for his people said, “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit.”[ii]

Hope is the conviction that however things turn out, life will make sense and all will be well even when we cannot imagine that will be. Hope lies beyond our selves, beyond our capacities. Hope lies in God.

Hope can be elusive, difficult to experience. A quick look at world events and the lives of people we love underscores that. Covid-19 highlights this reality in a dramatic fashion.

How then do we keep hope alive? How do we sustain hope that the world can be different, that we can be different? That our lives have meaning and purpose? That we can contribute to a more just, loving, peaceful society?

I don’t know that my thoughts and prayers about finding and nurturing hope have led to any absolute answers to those questions that will work for everyone. I have some ideas to share that help me understand and sustain hope. Perhaps they will prove of use to you.

Hope is relational. I cannot hope on my own. Relationships are key to hope. Hope is like lighting candles in the wind.

I had been in New York for a little over three months when the people of southern Sudan went to the polls in January 2011. The northern and southern parts of the country had engaged in violent conflict since before Sudan achieved independence. A peace had been brokered. The treaty provided that the people of the south could vote to remain part of Sudan or to become their own country.

An interfaith community gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations to pray for the people of Sudan as they voted. After prayer and scripture reading and song in the chapel, we went outside to light candles.

Cold and wind and big, wet snowflakes greeted us on the sidewalk along First Avenue. We lit our candles, but we had to work together to keep them lit. We relit each other’s candles when they went out. We used fingers and song sheets to shield the flames.

Lighting candles in the wind is relational. It takes a community. So does hope.

To hope, I need to be connected to God. I need to pray and read Scripture and worship. To hope, I need to be connected to others.

Hope is relational. It is experienced in the grace of God and in the wonder and love others who hope in me, hope for me, and hope with me.

Hope is surprising. I can open myself to hope. I can nurture hope. I cannot command or control hope.

13669846_1180325505322138_3800535346819562182_nSummer 2016. A Brooklyn Cyclones game with members of First Chinese Presbyterian Church. I have no idea of the score but in the eighth inning the end-of-game fireworks went off. We looked at each other in surprise. From the row behind me and about three seats to my left, Will Tsang said, “Work that into a sermon, Mark.” (The photo is from that night and was taken by Doreen Cheung.)

Check that challenge off the list. Hope, like eighth inning fireworks, is surprising.

If a baseball story isn’t convincing enough, here’s a Bible story.

Luke’s Gospel recounts that on the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two of his followers walked to Emmaus. The death of Jesus had crushed their hope.

As they walked, a third person joined them. They did not recognize the person, but we, who read the story now, realize it was the risen Christ. The story reminds us that Christ comes to us as we travel on the Emmaus roads of life, in hospitals resisting Covid-19, in jails and prisons, in nursing homes, at meal programs and homeless shelters, even in our homes today as we use telephones to worship. Wherever we are.

When they reached Emmaus, the followers of Jesus invited the third person to stay and the evening meal. As their guest, they asked the traveler to say grace.

The traveler. Took bread. Blessed it. Broke it. Gave it to them. They recognized him. Hope was reborn. And Jesus left them.

Hope comes in surprising, mysterious, unexpected ways. The moments do not last forever. Sometimes they do not last for long. But the moments may fill us and bless us and sustain us for living.

Hope may surprise us in a word in a sermon or in the lyrics of a song or in a passage of scripture. Hope may break through when we receive a kind word. Or when a family member or friend acts in an unexpected way; when we receive grace or mercy in the place of vengeance and punishment; when we welcome one another as God’s beloved children.

Hope may sprout when we hear of the consistent, persistent courage of first responders and medical personnel; the grace of the people who bag our groceries and who clean hospitals, medical facilities, and other essential places; the commitment of business owners who care for their employees in hard times.

Hope does not come through individuals who suggest that others should be sacrificed for the good of the economy. Hope most certainly comes—most certainly comes when individuals make sacrifices for one another.

A Minnesota state trooper stops a cardiologist for speeding. Instead of a ticket, the trooper gives the doctor some of his own N95 masks. Hope. In Italy, people step out on their balconies to make music for each other. Hope. People who live near a hospital in Vancouver open their windows to clap for the medical and support personnel at shift changes. Hope.

Because God, through Jesus, is the source of hope, we live in hope. We live in hope even when life is painful and challenging and horrifying. Hope is an act of resistance and resurrection. Hope says – let the worst happen, God is not done. God who creates and loves us; God who raises Jesus from death to life; God who pours the Holy Spirit out upon us; God will have the final word. And it will be a word of life and love and grace and hope.

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Hope.

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately.

Like lighting candles in the wind, hope is relational.

Like baseball fireworks before the game ends, hope is surprising.

And rooted in God, hope is real.

Thanks be to God.

 

[i] https://www.davidlamotte.com/2018/hard-days/

[ii] https://www.vhlf.org/havel-quotes/disturbing-the-peace/

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Filed under Baseball, Current Events, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Friends, Photo, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, tennis, Worship

Purple flowers, guest collection #106

Irv Porter Purple Tulip

23 March 2020
Puyallup, Washington
photo by the Rev. Irvin Porter

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The Plague and covid-19

If I were to ask people to guess my favorite novel – the novel that has most influenced me, I think only a few people would get the right answer. The Lord of the Rings and Possessing the Secret of Joy come in high on the list, but they stand just short of The Plague.

IMG-1510The Plague was written by Albert Camus, who as my friend Alonzo Johnson points out was Algerian – his parents were French – but he was born in Algeria. The novel tells the story of a plague sweeping through the city of Oran. It explores the impact on people and how people respond.

Today my friend, Catherine Gordon, posted a link to a reflection on The Plague, Camus on the Coronavirus“.

The author writes: “But there can never be safety — and that is why, for Camus, we need to love our fellow damned humans and work without hope or despair for the amelioration of suffering. Life is a hospice, never a hospital.”

Even as an “at risk, vulnerable” person on PAUSE (yes – that is New York’s name for it) may I love; may I work to ameliorate suffering.

This day. And all days.

I have tracked down my copy, at least the third I have owned, and will read it again starting this evening. Related posts may follow.

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Sparkling Eyes

I had three dogs in my life during the past couple of years. Until today.

I love dogs. Tippy. Ember. Barnabas. Charley. All have come and gone through the years.

When I moved to New York, I traveled too much to have a dog of my own. Through the years, I have become attached to the dogs of others.

Three dogs.

Henrik belongs to my son Sean and lives in Chelsea. I see him now and then. I get to walk him. I stayed with him one long weekend when Sean was in London.

Bentley lives in Maryland with my son Eric and daughter-in-law Essie. I don’t see him as often as I would like. The last time was last fall.

Boxster. A pug, Boxster belonged to my friends Nicole and Desi. He lived in the same apartment complex as I do.Of the three dogs, I met Boxster first. Nicole is a massage therapist, trainer, and nutritionist. I went to her apartment for my first massage. Boxster greeted me as I came in. I got on the table, put my face in the face cradle. I heard something moving on the floor. When I opened my eyes, there stood Boxster, his sparkling eyes looking up at mine.

Nicole freaked, just a little bit. She apologized and told Boxster to leave. I reached around the face cradle and scratched him under his chin.

We became friends at that moment.

The friendship spanned a number of years. In his younger years, Boxster would recognize the sound of the elevator and be standing at the door when I knocked, eyes sparkling.

As he aged, Boxster celebrated his 16th birthday this year, he did not get around as nimbly. But whenever I came by, he would get up to see me, his eyes sparkled, and he would have me have me pet and scratch him. Except his butt. I have standards.

When I ran my first 5K, Sean ran with me and Nicole, Desi, and Boxster, his eyes sparkling, greeted us at the finish line.

He had a wonderful celebration of his 15th birthday. I was delighted to be there with family, neighbors, and friends and Boxster T. Man with sparkling eyes. He patiently allowed himself to be dressed for his birthday just as he had allowed himself to be dressed for Halloweens and the Pride Parade.

Over the last year or so, I became one of Boxster’s substitute walkers. Some days he did better than others. Always, his eyes sparkled.

Today at 1:47 PM, my phone rang. It was Nicole. I assumed she was calling to set up a time to go to the gym in our apartment complex.

When she started to speak, I knew it was not about the gym. Before she could tell me, I knew it was about Boxster.

Boxster had visited the vet. And the vet had said it was time. Nicole and Desi were bringing him back for one last visit at home. They put me on speaker phone and I spoke to Boxster. My voice cracked a couple times as I did.

IMG-2262Then Nicole offered me the most incredible gift. She asked if I would like to meet them in the parking lot as they went back to their apartment. Of course, I said yes.

We talked. We cried. I held Boxster. I scratched him under his chin one last time. At one point we made eye contact and those brown eyes sparkled up at me.

A couple hours later, a couple hours ago, Boxster crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. There Tippy, Ember,  Barnabas, Charley, and all the pets that people loved met Boxster, welcomed him, loved him. And there Boxster waits, with sparkling eyes, for Nicole and Desi.

You are loved, Boxster. You will never be forgotten.

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Purple, not flowers, fingernails & hymnal

10 March 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

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