Testimony on HB628 (family and medical leave insurance)

Testimony on HB 628, relative to a family and medical leave insurance program
to the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

As the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, I have heard from many pastors and families of many denominations across the Granite State. While this is not an official position of any denomination or of the Council, hearing testimony from them about the impact of HB628 is important.

They echo to me what others will testify to you today: that HB628 will contribute to the peace and prosperity, security and stability of New Hampshire families. Why is this important to our Christian churches and indeed to all faith communities? I have heard testimony from families and pastors in three broad categories:

First, it is the Biblical and natural role of parents to educate their children and to pass on their faith and values (Exodus 12:26, Deuteronomy 6:3, Psalm 78:4). When families experience the kind of peace and stability that HB628 brings, then they can engage this role with greater dedication.

Second, when families of all kinds are free from anxiety and worry about leave time or the well-being of those they love, they can grow spiritually and participate fully in their churches and faith communities. The familiar concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs expresses that our basic material needs must first be met in order to achieve spiritual health and well-being.

Finally, when families prosper in the ways in which HB628 provides, then their engagement in their churches and faith communities leads to the use of free time and free funds for charitable giving and volunteer engagement. Supporting families in this way unlocks individuals to be giving, to be generous and to be more kind in their local communities.

Please support HB628, for when we work for the “peace and prosperity” of others, we find that all across New Hampshire will benefit. Thank you.

Jan. 3: Reflection and prayer before the NH Senate

When John XXIII became pope in 1958, one of his jobs was to govern the world-wide Catholic Church. Daily he heard stories of troubles all around the world: priests and nuns killed in Africa. The plight of war and poverty. Refugees who needed help. And on and on.

The problems seemed endless. One temptation is to think that being given a role of power means that you can save every thing, every one and every situation.

When the sky seemed to be falling, Pope John had a prayer every night, “I’ve done my best I could in your service this day, O Lord. I’m going to bed. It’s your church. You take care of it!”

This prayer isn’t indifference to problems. Nor is it abdication of responsibility. It is however a recognition that although we can do some things, we are not capable of doing every thing. It also challenges us to remember that when we cannot do everything, we should not be kept from doing something.

But recognizing these human limitations, let us turn in prayer to the infinite One:

Almighty God, we give over to you our selves and those whom we serve to your kind care-giving. Help us to see that the world is not as bad as we worry it is. Help us to see that the world is not as good as we imagine it is. Help us to do what we can, but not more. For we are all your people and this is your world. Take care of us, loving God. Amen.

Episcopal Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock

Featured image: Rev. Teresa Gocha and Fred Chisholm welcome me to Episcopal Church of the Messiah.

On Sunday, December 10, I took the invitation to preach and to celebrate Holy Communion at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in North Woodstock. I arrived ahead of their 9:00am service and met with Rev. Teresa Gocha, who was preparing for worship, and Fred Chisholm, who is preparing for ordained ministry.

I preached on the figure of John the Baptist who said, “I am the voice” (John 1:23), but it is Jesus who is “the Word who became flesh” (John 1:14). I shared stories about how the NH Council of Churches helps local churches come together, especially to serve people fearing deportation. Just as John the Baptist had a mission to be a Voice for God’s Word, so we continue that ministry of communicating stories of salvation and redemption:

“God’s best microphone is Christ, and
Christ’s best microphone is the Church, and
the Church is all of you” (Archbishop Oscar Romero).

Would you like the NH Council of Churches to visit or to preach at your local congregation? Please send an invitation via email or a phone call and we will find a Sunday to join you!

Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock
Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock is next door to the Woodstock Inn & Brewery. Quite a sight in the fresh snow!
The church is quiet and ready for the people to arrive.
During the reading of Isaiah 40, a worshiper’s dog (named “Moose”) wandered up to me looking for ear-scritches.
After worship, the congregation moves to the back of the church to fellowship in the form of coffee and cookies.
A sight seen around the corner from the church on my ride home.

An attack on one faith hurts all people of faith

On Tuesday, December 5, Mitt Romney was attacked for the practice of his Mormon faith. Steve Bannon said, “You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.”

As always, there’s more to the story including a background feud over political endorsements. I mean now to take up only the fact that this was an attack on someone’s faith. (Please note: the Latter-Day Saints Church is not a member of the NH Council of Churches.)

To summarize the two thoughts below:

  1. In general, an attack on the faith of one person opens up people of all faiths for attack.
  2. This particular attack says that Mitt Romney should have given the State greater obedience than he did to God.

First, attacks on people for their religious faith are common in the United States. There are many stories of immigrants who were attacked by anti-Catholics. This includes my Polish immigrant ancestors, but is familiar to many in New Hampshire who heard family stories about “Irish Need Not Apply” signs and similar attacks.

Closer to us in memory are anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks, which sadly boil over into physical attacks.

An attack on someone for the practice of Mormon faith may seem easy to ignore or to minimize. However, all Christians know that “when one suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

As is the case in human sin, an insult to one aspect of faith makes the next insult easier to speak. One insult ignored makes the next, stronger attack also easier to ignore. If we ignore and insult on a religion that we don’t identify with (as Christians have little understanding of LDS faith and practice), we make space for future insults on faiths that will hit closer to home.

When we reject such insults and attacks, the following will happen:

  • We create a culture of tolerance and respect for religious difference.
  • We stop future, more serious attacks.
  • We stop the attacks against a remote ally from coming closer to our own faith.
  • We create relationships of mutual support so that others will come to our aid when we are the victims, suggested by  the much-quoted Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller.

Second, consider the content of the insult rather than the fact of it. The accusation was that Mitt Romney “hid behind his religion” by pursuing missionary service instead of military service in Vietnam.

This insult says, in effect, that personal conscience and religious practice should have taken a back seat for the service of the State. This insult is not only an attack on faith identification in general, but on particular religious practices.

Many of our member denominations have peace traditions within them. They offer conscientious objector status. They offer periods of missionary service or Peace Corps-style service-learning programs, such as Assisi House here in Tilton, NH. They offer forms of intentional religious community like monasteries or convents where people dedicate themselves fully to following God.In the United States, we have heard much talk of religious freedom. That is, that the government cannot require any person to act contrary to their religious beliefs. If this principle holds for business owners, it must hold equally true for the individual who seeks, even for a time, to dedicate their lives to the service of God.This insult says that there was a calling from the state to war that trumped personal religious calling. It attacks not just a person, but also the affirmations of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. This Christian statement relies on significant Bible passages such as John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” This is to say that, for the Christian, there is no calling or claim on our lives, even from the State, which comes ahead of Jesus. For the basic principle of the Golden Rule, we support and defend also non-Christians and Christian denominations different from our own when they are attacked. Because of these two reasons, I recognize this insult for all that it represents and reject it as an attack on freedom of religious practice, a founding American principle.





First Sunday of Advent: Keep awake!

Image: William Hogarth, The Sleeping Congregation, 1736.

From Mark 13:24-37:

Jesus said, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. … Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

In the weeks before Christmas, many churches proclaim Bible readings on the themes of darkness and light, of wakeness and sleepness. Jesus calls his followers to awakeness, to alertness, to attention to the world around them. But many people outside the church know that frequently our churches are “resting places.” That is, they are places to remain spiritually asleep: to seek shelter from the difficulties of the world, to pretend they aren’t there and to replace the hardness of life with sweet stories and dreams.

In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

In this season, Jesus cannot call us to “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” for Jesus call us to wake up from our slumber. So frequently the Bible says that God “opens our eyes” to see and understand. Our hymns sing of Jesus who comes to us as a light. In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper.”

Are your eyes open? What do you see? What bothers and annoys you about what you see? What does God want you to see? And, having seen, how is God calling you to change and to act in the light of what you see?


Happy Thanksgiving!

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:14-17

Pastors, churches and the environment

This morning I met with the Capital Area Pastors at United Baptist Church in Concord. There I met the people who serve:

We spent time reading Isaiah 61 and in prayer together for one another. Then it was off to Concordia Lutheran Church for the meeting of ELCA Lutheran pastors. We prayed, studied the Bible readings for Christ the King Sunday, prepared for sermons and shared updated about ministry locally and in the region.

After this I met with a leader of the NH League of Conservation Voters. He and the Council of Churches worked together in 2015 to create our Statement on the Stewardship of Creation. We talked about ways to take the next steps after that statement in 2018, including the upcoming legislative calendar but also ways to provide resources to local churches for their Bible studies, worship and sermons.



Embracing Holy Envy: Interfaith Understanding 101

Robert Azzi was just named on NH Magazine’s It List for 2017. It’s easy to see why. He has offered his “Ask a Muslim Anything” program in many of our churches.

He also has a new article on Open Democracy, “Embracing holy envy: ‘Allahu Akbar.'” Here he offers an important method for beginning genuine interfaith understanding, beyond the reductions of reading books on “world religions:”

In 1985, Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl, in defending the building of a Mormon temple by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Stockholm, enunciated “Three Rules of Religious Understanding:”

“When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.”

“Don’t compare your best to their worst,” and:

“Leave room for holy envy.”

Read the article here.

Textual Tuesday: Matthew 25:14-30

The Revised Common Lectionary this Sunday points us to Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents. It’s a parable with a well-known and time-honored interpretation: God is the landlord who gives money (talents) to his servants. The servants who return with more money are blessed, the one who does not is shamed and cast out. The interpretation is so ingrained that event the word “talent” has come to mean a personal gift for something. God gives us gifts (like hospitality, tongues, service, leadership, etc) and we should use those to grow God’s kingdom.

But this interpretation doesn’t always sit right in my gut. Here’s three reasons why:

  1. If God is the landlord, then is God the author of inequality? Some are rich and some are poor. “To those who have, more will be given.” It hearkens to the now-rejected verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful:The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    He made them, high or lowly,
    And ordered their estate. (Source: CyberHymnal)
  2. If material wealth and capital gains are the symbol of blessing, then is this a creeping-in of a “prosperity gospel?” After all, Jesus routinely says that the image of salvation is instead one of giving up, renunciation and self-sacrifice.
  3.  Treasure Field #3, by James B. Janknegt
    Treasure Field #3, by James B. Janknegt

    If we trust Matthew, then how should we read the symbols of talents and burial? His only other use of the word “talent” is in Matthew 18:23, and it isn’t a sympathetic one nor congruent with the idea of blessing. Further, in Matthew 13:44, buried treasure symbolizes the Kingdom and not failure and curse.

  4. In Luke’s gospel, the also-familiar parable of the Good Samaritan has the third character in the trio as the hero of the story. How can I read the third person of this trio as a hero?

So, how can I read this differently? Here’s a few starting points:

  1. Read the landlord not as a symbol for God but rather as a symbol for “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
  2. The god “of this age” can be the author of inequality.
  3. This landlord is always pleased when the first two servants play his game: turning money into more money, increasing the wealth gap and so on.
  4. The third person in the trio has opted out. This poorest one refuses to play the games of the world by the landlord’s rules.
  5. This landlord will punish harshly the third person, who many Bible commentaries name as lazy, unfaithful, slothful, neglectful, making excuses, etc. These are familiar insults heaped on the poor in our own day.

So, this parable becomes a parable of the Kingdom of God by highlighting the poor servant who refused to play the landlord’s twisted game. Of course, as Jesus always says, there are insults that come along with this (Matthew 5:11).

Could this reading be more faithful to the way of Jesus, even though it turns our usual interpretation upside-down? What do you think?

Prayer Vigil for Immigrant Justice

Today’s Jericho walk was C-O-L-D! It’s a sign of the changing of seasons. The NH Council of Churches brought a box of hats and coats for both the walkers and the immigrants who have to wait outside for their check-in.

After the walk, Father Sam Fuller, OFM Cap., showed us an apple pie that he went to deliver inside to one of the immigration workers. He read his letter to us, emphasizing that kindness to immigrants and respect for difference are “as American as apple pie.”

Jericho Walk at the backFather Sam Fuller, OFM Cap