Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love



Love. The month of February is particularly full of it, with Valentine's Day, and for our family, Cora's birthday! Yes, she's now one! 

Wikipedia defines love as "a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection to pleasure". And we all know that there are many different kinds of love. But the "attitude" part of that definition is what I've been thinking about for the past few days. Perhaps it is because I was gifted with the name Charity (thanks Mom and Dad!), or perhaps because of nature (my DNA), or perhaps because of nurture (thanks again Mom and Dad!)...but to me, love is what I strive to live and breathe every day. It is an attitude, a way to be. Don't get me wrong, plenty of things can make me mad and a bit love-less, but most of the time, it is the things that are done with complete disrespect to love that upset me the most...those things done in the name of hate and done to divide. I see these things happen, and I think, these people must not know love, or perhaps they once did, but have forgotten it. And my heart breaks, and I get sad...but I also feel even more vigor to love harder and fuller, because there are clearly holes where love is missing in the world. 

What if we all loved a bit harder and a bit stronger, especially now, following in the footsteps of Jesus who preached love above everything else? What could we do in the world?

-Dr. Charity Wicks

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

In Support of Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters



Last Friday, February 3rd, several members of Central Church, including pastors Don and Deborah, along with members of the surrounding community, visited the Union Township Islamic Center Union County (“ICUC”) for midday prayer services to show support for our Muslim brothers and sisters following the administration’s travel ban.  About fifteen of us experienced some of the rituals of Islam and heard a sermon focused on inclusion and religious freedoms that have long been the history of our country.     

The relationship between the two faith communities began over a year ago, when ICUC warmly welcomed members from Central Church visiting the mosque, who were looking to engage with practitioners of Islam to better understand Islam and help counter the recent wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric following the horrific Paris bombings.  

Since then, the relationship has continued to grow with ICUC President, Wail Rasheed, providing tours to the curious among us of the ICUC facility and a short introduction to the practice of Islam.  Central has hosted a series of lectures called “Crossing Roads,” geared toward understanding and appreciating world religion, at which Dr. Rasheed spoke.  Our youth have jointly participated in preparations for a Midnight Run.

The outpouring of kindness and welcoming last Friday was palpable.  ICUC and Central are looking forward to continuing to grow and strengthen our relationship.  Please stay tuned for opportunities to learn about and meet our brothers and sisters down the road.

-Coleen McCaffery



In addition to our World Religions series, “Crossing Roads,” Central offered an in depth study of Islam this past fall with Dr. Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. Pastor Steele and the Summit Interfaith Council, over the past year and a half, have supported the  Society’s efforts to construct a mosque in Bernards Township—an effort that received a huge boost forward in a favorable court ruling at the end of 2016 that found zoning rules had been used in ways that violated the Constitutional rights of Muslims to free exercise of their religion.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Teaching Generosity



MINE! Children seem to be born knowing how to take what they want - even willing to fight for it, when they are little. As much as we teach kids to share, sometimes it seems like our voices get drowned out by a culture that emphasizes buying and consumerism. As kids grow, sometimes we wonder if our message is getting through.

Developmental experts tell us that early experiences of hands-on service can make a big difference in teaching kids to be generous, and that it helps them become generous adults.

With Souper Bowl of Caring on February 5, a Midnight Run on February 10, Stockpile Sunday on February 12, SHIP on February 12, Mission with Mommy on February 15  and Family Promise hosting from February 19 – March 5, and on-going tutoring on Tuesdays, we at Central are showing our love for God and our community through our commitment to mission, and giving kids and parents lots of ways to learn about generosity.

At Central, we emphasize mission with young children by giving them simple tasks to complete that allow them to share their skills and energy, bringing a wonderful, enthusiastic expression of care and hope. As kids get bigger, they are able to help in different, more complicated ways. Elementary-aged kids love to show their generosity by preparing a meal for Family Promise, or playing a game with a younger child as an evening host. Serving younger children gives older children not only an experience of generosity, but also one of connection, helping a child understand that the differences in ethnicity, religion or housing status don’t need to create divisions.

For adolescents, learning generosity is crucial. As kids get ready to leave home, we know that they need tools to respond to life’s difficulties. A generous heart, a deep-rooted faith, and a desire to serve others can all be tools that help our kids be adaptable and resilient. At an age where social, academic and athletic pressure can become overwhelming, giving back helps young people gain perspective about their own blessings, to see their efficacy in the world and how they really help to make things better, and especially to see the real and living hope that comes from being a part of God’s work. Older kids are ready to participate in mission that brings them face to face with difficult situations, while giving them the support of their faith and adults who can help them see the hope we have in Christ, teaching kids see how to respond to difficulty.

Teaching generosity not only helps our kids learn to share, and be nicer to be around, it builds their faith and gives them the tools they need to meet life full of hope, with an open heart and ready to find connections and solve problems. Teaching generosity helps our kids to be ready to meet the future and to bring their gifts into the world.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

RELIGION AND POLITICS



What is the role of religion when it comes to politics? While different religious traditions view this differently, Presbyterians have pretty much settled on the position that the Church should stay out of partisan politics, as in electoral politics between Democrats and Republicans and whatever other political party is involved in an election. By and large, Presbyterian churches do not endorse candidates for office, nor do we invite candidates for office to speak to us as a faith community.
             
What the Presbyterian Church will do is to take stands on moral issues. These stands can bring the Church into contact with elected officials when government policies impact these moral issues. Sometimes, on moral grounds, the Church can support policies being suggested by elected officials, and sometimes the Church can oppose the policies those officials support, but often the policy implications of a moral stance are difficult to determine.
           
 Such was the case when it came to apartheid—a policy of racial separation in South Africa. The Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly was clear that apartheid was immoral. And yet, we struggled over the policy implications of that moral stance. Some Presbyterians argued for boycotts, economic sanctions and divestment of investments to force change in South Africa, while others argued for ongoing engagement and dialogue. In the early 1990’s, South Africa ended apartheid.
            
 And yet, the debate over policy implications should not obscure the wide agreement on the moral issue. The Presbyterian Church is clear that separating people of the basis of race is immoral. And the reasons for that moral stance against racism make the study of the Belhar Confession, written in response to apartheid in South Africa, so important for us to consider today, living in the United States, as we confront our culture’s ongoing racism. Which is why I hope that you will join me on Sunday mornings at 11:15 am in the Board Room over the course of the next four weeks—January 29, February 5, 12, and 19—to read and reflect upon the Belhar Confession, not just as an historical study, but as an example of how the Church addresses the interface of religion and politics through the lens of morality and policy.
--Pastor Don Steele
           

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

From Failing to Thriving



Over the holiday weekend, I had a failure moment. It was going to be my boys’ first time skiing. We bundled up and drove to the Poconos only to discover my scheduling mistake. My husband and I had lessons that day, but my boys had lessons the next day – yikes! Because the programs were already booked beyond capacity, all we could do was drive home. They were devastated.

We often try very hard not to disappoint those around us and not to fail personally. In the realm of parenting, this has given rise the phenomenon of helicopter parenting for one. An upcoming guest on my parenting TV series, Chaos to Calm, wants to challenge this protective tendency. Jessica Lahey argues that experiencing failure can actually set our children up for future success. Her book, The Gift of Failure, has subsequently become a NYT’s best-seller.

Faith tells us that failure isn’t so bad either. For one, we know that no one is perfect; that’s why Jesus came to Earth in the first place. Second, it gives us the opportunity to practice redemption with one another through forgiveness. If you’ve ever sought and received honest to goodness forgiveness, you know how transformative it can be. Therefore, the best gift we can give our children isn’t perfection – it’s the ability to model real, messy, yet redemptive community through Jesus Christ.

On that note, I want to invite you to experience several upcoming opportunities in the realm of faith and failure. First, January’s episode of Chaos to Calm is entitled “The Calm of Building Faith Foundations.” I’m delighted to welcome popular children's book author Laura Sassi as my guest.  Laura’s touching personal story and faith-sharing tricks as an educator will inspire you to build faith foundations in your children. PLUS, her publisher Zonderkidz will be giving away over a dozen books that will make faith sharing meaningful and fun – whether your child is a youth or teen! Find out how to win these books by tuning into the show on Tuesday, January 24th at 9 PM EST on HomeTowne TV (Channel 33/Verizon and 36/Comcast).

Second, NYT’s best-selling author Jessica Lahey will be my guest in February. “The Chaos of Childhood Failure!” will air on February 21st at 9 PM EST on HomeTowne TV (Channel 33/Verizon and 36/Comcast). Before that, I’ll be preaching on Jessica’s material and how it intersects our faith at the February 12th WAVE service at 5 pm in the auditorium.

Please note that both Chaos to Calm episodes will be available on demand after their initial airdate through my website by clicking here. That link is also a great way to catch up on old episodes. There is no shame (or failure) involved in binge watching these, friends!

--Pastor Noelle Kirchner, Parish Associate