Vernon William Westover

With hope in the resurrection promise, and prayers of comfort for his family, we remember the life of Vernon William Westover, who died Monday night at 80 years old. We will post his obituary to our parish Facebook page as soon as it is available, and it will be published also in the Times Union, Register Star, Chatham Courier, and Columbia paper.
Visitation hours will be held from 7-9 p.m. Thursday and 10-11 a.m. Friday at Wenk Funeral Home, 21 Payn Ave. in Chatham. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, with interment at Chatham Rural Cemetery to follow. Donations in Vern’s memory may be made to a charity of choice.
+ Rest eternal, grant him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. +

Everything is Connected

Last week there was a community gathering at the Chatham High School library, teachers and doctors and officials and students and families, talking together abut how to address the Heroin mess in our area. It’s a big problem, not only the death and havoc, but the shame that surrounds certain of our addictions. None of us exists in a vacuum, even if we try to keep our lives in neat compartments between work and home and community events. For myself, I am thinking in a few different veins: reading The New Jim Crow for Synod Assembly; trying to process a very strange grief of my mother’s death; and thinking now a bit more about our community’s response to this addiction crisis.

So of course I am thinking about the way this all ties together, grief and addiction and racism.

Full disclosure: my mother and I did not have an easy relationship. She did not handle strong emotions well, so I was not allowed to have them around her. Hence the grieving process has been… complicated. Grief is not something we can contain. It is not meant to be quiet. It is not meant to be all pressed shirts and stoic silence alone in a solitary isolation. But we tend to get squeamish around big feelings, either afraid they will swallow us whole and we won’t survive them, or that we’ll hurt someone with them, or we take feelings of powerlessness and turn them into anger and violence. For some reason, violence seems to be the most socially acceptable public outburst of grief, and while anger is one of the many faces of grief, it is not the only way. But if we do not allow ourselves space to grieve, publicly with others, all of whom also have experienced some loss or grief in their lives, then we are left on our own, isolated, embarrassed, even ashamed of some imaginary idea of weakness or neediness. The church can be especially harsh at this, focusing on our call to serve over our call to be vulnerable and honest and safe with and for one another all along our paths of healing and struggle.hope

So I segue here, from the thought of public versus private grief, to the idea of isolation and shame. Our Heroin conversation came back again and again to removing the stigma, educating the public on addiction as a disease (though we still stigmatize mental illness in ways we would never stigmatize physical illness, which probably also feeds into this, considering the intersections of addiction and mental health issues). Locating and accessing resources, not to mention insurance headaches, was also part of the triad of themes that we returned to over and again. What resources do we already have, though? Not only for recovery, but the intentional connections of care within the community as a whole? How easy is it to be isolated as lone rangers, living the American ‘dream’ of independent successes, hiding when we fail because we ‘ought’ to use every opportunity to succeed? Whatever we count as failure, where does our shame come from when we fall short of the imagined ideal hero who always has everything all together?

One of the phrases used in our conversation at the High School was ‘we have lost the war on drugs.’ If you haven’t yet read The New Jim Crow, I especially commend it to you now, because the history of the ‘war on drugs’ is rooted in shame and overt racism, so it’s no wonder we have a hard time shaking shame if we started the ‘war on drugs’ with intent to criminalize an entire race of people. I don’t think we can address the shame without addressing the history behind it, and I’ve only just stuck my toe in the waters on this. Shame is a slippery thing, with deep roots and complicated history. Public grieving and public accountability and public repentance toward public peacemaking is a difficult work.

All of this thinking leads me to wonder: How does your spirituality open space for public grief? For healing from shame? For integrating your life while you try and juggle work and home and all the expectations you have for yourself? What rites and rituals give you closure and strength and hope for the days ahead?


Shalom,
Pastor Nelson

The Names they are a-changin’

I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. Not only because I’ve finally gotten the paperwork to make my own name change legal, but because we’ve just entered the wilderness of Lent with Jesus after his Baptism, where God called him “Beloved” and then the Accuser (‘ha-Satan’ in the Hebrew) questions him three times on it. “IF you ARE the Son of God,” Satan cajoles. “IF,” to call into question his identity, his relationship to God, his purpose and very existence. We get that same question, that same nagging all the time from all around us, don’t we?

“IF you really love me,” says the codependent or abusive lover.
“IF you really want to be happy,” says the marketing establishment.
“IF you really are a patriot,” says every political party throwing mud.
“IF you really are a Christian,” says the radio, the bullhorn preacher, the irritated family member who sees things differently than we do.

But we like recognition and encouragement and legitimacy for our self-concept. I know who I am, yet there is something comforting in having official legal paperwork to show for it, a driver’s license with my proper name, even though that means I’ve had to let go of the name I was given when I was born.Bible-Names
The real reason I’m thinking about names today is that I was reading through the First Testament lesson for the coming Sunday, from Genesis, and it’s a story about God and Abram. ABRAM, not AbraHam. That’s important. It marks a time in the man’s life before this eternal covenant was made official, and his new name, when God gives it to him, marks a complete world shift in his sense of place and purpose in the world.
God is all over the place changing people’s names. So are the kings of the day. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednigo weren’t given those names by their families but by Nebuchadnezzar, the king who conquered their land. Naming is a way of exercising power, of defining a person, of erasing a past and starting a new future in the case of cultural assimilation. Consider how Ellis Island erased people’s history when they stepped off the ships, or remember how important it was for Kunta Kinte to know his name. In Scripture, children were named for their parents’ experiences of God or life at the time of their birth. Lands and places were given names according to major events that took place. Jesus called Simon and renamed him Peter. Saul became Paul. And exiles and foreigners became family.slc_child_of_god
Maybe Lent is just another season for you, or maybe it is full of memories of fish fries and giving up chocolate. Perhaps it’s a time you take for some retreat or creative practice as winter drags on and we pray for Spring. Historically, Lent is a time to remember our name, the name given to us in our Baptism, the name “Child of God,” “Beloved,” “Mine,” which God gives to you by the power of the Triune Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Lent leads on toward Palm Sunday, the Passion and the cross of Good Friday, remember that this name, this relationship, this covenant, is stronger than death, and it will carry us through Good Friday and on to Easter, where we also learn the meaning of the name “Unafraid.”

So now we move forward, from “IF” to “BECAUSE.”
“BECAUSE” you are a Child of God
“BECAUSE” you belong
“BECAUSE” you are loved
“BEACUSE” you will not stay dead forever anymore
“BECAUSE,” God says, “you are My Beloved.”

Shalom,
Pastor Nelson

Blessed Lent

“You shall be called ‘repairer of streets to live in.’…” Isaiah 58.

Did you see the music video for Beyoncé’s song “Formation”? Do you remember Hurricane Katrina? Or how about your history lessons, do you remember learning about the Reconstruction Era? Black History Month falls across some of the season of Lent most years, and as a country we have a lot to learn, a lot to repent, a lot to work on when it comes to addressing racism. We have this reading from Isaiah 58 to start Lent with, as our first reading on Ash Wednesday, written to a people who were being returned to their ancestral home after years of exile, written to a people trying to rebuild the ‘good old days’ but not knowing how to integrate those left behind by the war and those resulting from intermarriage and all of their own pride about purity. Rebuilding after war never looks like life before war. If you want to see how challenging resurrection is, consider how completely different a world looks after a war is over and the flowers start to grow again.

beyonce

We’re just on tiptoe starting down into the valley of Lent. What in the world is “Lent”? Who’s lending what to whom, now? Forty days of preparation for Easter, is what it is. Not that we can ever be fully ‘ready’ for Easter. Resurrection, like death, is something that sort of just takes us by surprise, shifts the world under our feet, turns our expectations all widdershins and sets us slightly off balance. The only thing is, we’ve been off-balance for so long we wouldn’t know how to adjust to things running at their optimal slowness, most lively, deepest richness. We can only handle so much newness in our regular routine, no matter how healthy or unhealthy that routine is, as the saying goes “better the devil you know…” right?

lent

Being rebuilt means starting from brokenness. It means taking apart and reorganizing, throwing away and reevaluating, repurposing and clarifying. It’s hard work, but the season of Lent offers us a season for just that purpose, rolling up our sleeves, or perhaps doing the hard work of letting go so that someone else can remind us we aren’t the rugged individualists we would like to be.

One simple tool, since this is a place for sharing ideas as well as for information, is called by many names, but takes place around the family dinner table. Or the friendly coffee table. Wherever we are in community throughout the week, even over lunch at work, we can do this work of Lent rebuilding. It’s returning to the building blocks of our faith community, this simple tool. It starts with sharing highs and lows with each other from the day, asking about where we have encountered God or been reminded to pray, sitting with a few verses of Scripture (we do print all the Sunday readings in the bulletin, you can take them home and find them easily after worship) just to listen for words and themes that speak to us for the day, and praying with one another. We promise often to pray for one another, but how often do we stop where we are and actually do it in the moment? Even to spend a breath or two in silence together, with a longing for God to rebuild and renew our hearts, simple, together, is faith-building work. I invite you to try this when you next share a meal with family or friends (or even co-workers, if you have a long enough lunch break).

hurrican-katrina-hero-HGod is working on us, working with us, working through us, to rebuild the world. Resurrection work is ongoing, deep and complete and as real as death. More real, even, since the power of death has been broken by the reality of Easter. This is where we are going, what we are preparing for. Blessings on your Lenten journey, friends.

bourbon-street-mardi-gras

Shalom,

Pastor Nelson

Every so often I joke with my friends about just re-reading the Scripture text assigned for a Sunday, in place of writing a sermon. It’s not that I don’t want to preach. Far from it. I love preaching, the craft of putting together and preaching a word about the Word is one of my most cherished prayer practices. Every sentence requires me to consider what I really, truly believe, what I really, truly know about life and trust about God.

But sometimes, there are texts that are so brimful to overflowing with nearly tangible Grace upon grace, that I just want to soak in them for awhile, like bathing in lotion after a particularly dry winter day. This Sunday’s Isaiah text is one of those:

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

 jacob

I remember when I was in college, just back from winter break, and this was the text on which hung the theme of God moving on the waters, the theme for the week of chapel. It was a theme chosen months ahead of time. It was a timely theme, almost painfully so, because that was the winter of a massive tsunami which wiped out so many lives in Southeast Asia. We were eager, as college students, to remain aware of the world, connected to its suffering in ways we could do something about, but this was tremendous, out of our control, out of our capacity to save. So we looked at these Scriptures about water and promises of deliverance, and of course that age-old question came up: Where was God when this happened?

 

If Truth is only true when life is comfortable, is it really Truth, or is it only a nicety? We wrestled, we prayed, we grieved for destruction and lives lost, even though we had no personal connections on those devastated shores. Then we looked again at the promises of God, at the Scriptures we had found ourselves in for the week following those storms. Where was God? We were all set to proclaim that God was in the life-giving waters of Baptism, all set to give the easy answer we had been taught in Sunday School and Confirmation class, but this was just too much to consider in the middle of all that pain. Except…

 

Except it was still true. IS still true. God was in those waters. God IS in the waters. The Truth of God’s promise and presence and faithfulness does not slip away that easily when the powers of heaven and earth seem to rupture all around us. Shorelines wash away. Trees are uprooted. God’s promise and presence and faithfulness remains. It is our grounding, our foundation, our salvation and deliverance. Where was God in the storms? In them. God was with those who suffered and died and were lost to us; they were lost to us but never lost to God. Perhaps we get this confused because our vision of God is too Hallmark, too fluffy, too small. If it truly is God with us in the waters, we should shudder every time we remember our Baptism, shake with awe and holy terror at the possibilities of the meaning of this God’s claim on us.

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Pastor Nelson

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Rainbow_1574
Double rainbow forming on the western outskirts of Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

–Pastor Andrew Nelson

 

Seeking & serving with hope, love and faith in Chatham, New York