Columns & Blogs

Faith Matters - True Compass

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 1/1/2010
Topics: Faith Matters

A Christmas gift sends Chuck traveling down the road, examining wants and wishes versus what is really needed.

Faith Matters - Hopes and Fears

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 12/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

What are the hopes and fears of all the years?  We could sit with yellow pad and pencil. Parallel columns. Hopes and fears. We could fill a page. It is probably a useful exercise to review the distance between the place from which we have come and the place to which we are going.

I WONDER AS I WANDER … ADVENT 2009: Anticipating “God’s Renewed Creation”

By: Bishop Susan Hassinger on 11/17/2009

At the recent Council of Bishops meeting, this semi-annual global gathering of United Methodist Bishops, active and retired, adopted unanimously a pastoral letter which we are asking every congregation to hear during the season of Advent.  The theme of the pastoral letter is “God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action,” and is the result of more than four years of study and listening to many persons and groups around the world. Bishop Susan Hassinger shares her thoughts on the letter and urges churches to use it and supporting documents in worship during Advent and in study in the new year.

Faith Matters - But Not Religious

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 11/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

 Spirituality, like an iceberg, is more hidden than revealed. But, on the other hand, I have always believed that spirituality reveals itself in discipleship. If I never move from the silence, and if I never do anything with the parable, then my spirituality is incomplete.  If I leave the cathedral unchanged, I am just another tourist. And so it is a puzzle to me to know what to make of the current popular expression, “I am spiritual, but I am not religious.”

Faith Matters - Free Lunch

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 10/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

A friend sits across a lunch table and empties an overflowing heart. Nearing the end of her long and painful story, she finally says to me, “You know, when all of these things went wrong in my life, I thought it might help if I went to church. So I started. I came for quite a while. But my problems did not go away. My life did not get any better. Everything was just as bad as before. I figured, what’s the use? So I stopped coming. 

It is not as hard to follow Jesus when all is well, when we eat our fill of bread and fish, when we are healthy, the kids are in the Honor Society, we are blessed by a happy marriage, we like our job, and we have a few bucks under the mattress. But what happens when the locusts ride in on a cold night wind and devour the crops?

My reading of the Gospel does not reveal any guarantee of rescue, although God’s grace can and does afford it. It does not promise another free lunch, although life-transforming grace surely is free. I read about the promise of presence and possibility. I read of the bread of life that feeds the deepest human hunger for meaning and the wine that quenches the hidden thirst for life eternal. I read about the gift of a peace which remains after the locust’s work is done. 


Faith Matters - Playing with Fire

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 9/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

I did a double take. I was sure that my eyes were having me on. It has happened before, of course. It could just be a variation on the mistaken identity that regularly inflicts aging eyes. Settling back into the cushioned pulpit furniture after the processional, I was strategically positioned to get an unobstructed view of the back of the pulpit. Being an occasional visitor to chancels, I get to see the preacher side of pulpits now and again. This time I looked once, twice, three times. This was a new one on me.

Sure enough, upon closer scrutiny, my first impression was accurate: it was a fire extinguisher. My mind went wandering off into a flight of fancy as to the reason for a fire extinguisher in the pulpit. 

Driving to my next stop, I was kidnapped by that fire extinguisher. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that having a fire extinguisher pulpit-side could well be understood as a statement of faith about what can happen in worship. Perhaps the fire extinguisher should be regularly and prominently placed upon the communion table for all to see. Let it be a reminder of the Holy Fire upon whom we call in our prayers.  

Center Lines - August 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 8/4/2009
Topics: Center Lines

 A recent e-mailing from the Alban Institute included a piece adapted from Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon (© 2008 by the Alban Institute).  The article’s theme dovetails nicely with our emphases on best spiritual practices and re-thinking how we “do” church.  I am happy to share a shortened version with you as we continue along the journey of our local churches preparing to share their gifts, graces, people and ministries with new conferences in New York and Pennsylvania.  I hope you find it helpful.

Faith Matters - Packing Mercies

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 8/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

One Sunday not so long ago, the congregation was responding to the pastor’s invitation to announce joys and concerns. Near the end of the time, a hand went up a few rows in front of me and a woman asked for “packing mercies”. It was the pastor’s spouse. The pastor had been appointed to a new congregation. The moving van would arrive in a few weeks. A ripple of knowing laughter skittered across the sanctuary.  

Her remark set my mind chasing after memories of the fourteen moves in my own odyssey. It was a moment of empathy that had roots in my own moves sustained by prayer as well as sweat and tears. The prayer request transported me to the tape dispensers, colored markers, newsprint bundles and dozens of sturdy cartons begged from the Wine and Spirits Shop. An unknowing visitor in the parsonage at either end of the move might well be startled by the colorful boxes that were formerly home to a variety of non-Wesleyan beverages.   

Matthew reports that Jesus’ traveling instructions to the disciples as he sent them to the house of Israel was that they travel very lightly: no gold, no copper, no bag, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff. Sounds like little more than the clothes on their backs.

Faith Matters - No Small Change

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 7/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters

We do not know much, but we know what is unfair. One of our most highly developed inherited traits, passed down from our Eden ancestors, is a particularly keen awareness of when we have been unfaired against.

We respond pretty much the way the hearers must have responded as Matthew reports Jesus’ parable. The caprice of the landowner, paying all workers the same, strikes everyone as bizarre, even though that caprice is generous, even extravagant. Jesus, master teacher, elicits from his hearers and from us the response he desires: “it’s not fair."

The depth and complexity of any parable defies a single interpretation. Here we can place ourselves within the story and stand with the landowner or the laborers. From where we stand, we respond accordingly. However, this is a parable for disciples, for only disciples can have any chance whatsoever of entering upon the deeper meaning. One group receives their just wage and the other group receives an undeserved gift.

Center Lines - June 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 6/17/2009
Topics: Center Lines

Our annual conference concluded its penultimate (next to the last) session on Saturday, June 6.  It was a year of looking back over our 158 year history and looking ahead to the two new conferences of which we will be a part next year.  As always at annual conference there were moments of celebration and joy and there were moments of frustration and angst. 

Celebrations and joys fire us up and excite us about new possibilities.  Frustrations and angsts can leave us despondent about the future, so much so that we might overlook new insights and new learnings.  In these brief thoughts below my focus is an area of our life that we may have passed over too quickly in Scranton or that we did not fully grasp.  The area is finance.  A  fuller understanding of our conference’s finances can turn frustration and angst into- if not celebration and joy- then at least hopeful promise for what lies ahead.

Faith Matters - Passenger

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 6/1/2009

I am not an atheist. I can't remember a time in my life when that was a se rious consideration. From time to time I have read the travel brochures, but I have never been tempted to purchase a ticket. Time out of mind, I booked pas sage on another ship on which I have been traveling my whole life. Before I knew what it was to know, inclinations were planted within me that, when the time was right, led me to the ticket agent and, for an exchange of considerations, I boarded and found my seat with the others.

If opinion research is to be believed, it is a ship with many passengers. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Americans say that they are on board. Polls reveal that about 90 percent of our fellow citizens say they believe in God. To be sure, the polls also reveal that only about 36 percent of that same group attends worship at least once each month. The current cliché is “I am spiritual but not religious.” Belief is one thing, behavior is an other, spirit and flesh ever the uneasy companions.  

Faith Matters - Thieves

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 5/1/2009

I was in search of something I had intentionally placed in a secure and easily remembered location. I have been here before. In this case, it was my camera. I had recorded in its tiny, digital storehouse a series of photos accumulated over more than one month. They were a progress report on some work I was doing. I was now ready to see and share. By an orderly process of accessing the memory files in my brain I was confident that I had placed the camera in the glove compartment of the car. When I visited that place, however, the Canon did not answer the roll call. I was quite certain that is where I had stored it, but it was not to be found.

At last I remembered that, for the best of reasons, I had entrusted the car into the hands of strangers. One of those anonymous strangers had evidently opened the unlocked glove box and removed the easily concealable compact camera. My search had taken far more days than would permit any reasonable hope of recovery. I reluctantly but inexorably came to the conclusion that the Canon had been stolen by a person who had been the temporary steward of my car. This unknown person lived in a state 1,300 miles away. In a few moments it became clear to me that I no chance of ever recovering the stolen camera.  

Faith Matters - Resurrection

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 4/1/2009

How long had it been since they first heard the knock at the door-- days or weeks? Time escapes remembering when you can taste your fear. They do not answer the door. They know who it is. They know what he wants. If they ignore the stranger, perhaps he will go away. But the knocking persists and the door begins to give way. They take turns at the door, blocking it with their backs and shoulders.

At last, when they know that the caller will soon have his way in this house, they send an urgent message to their friend. A neighbor carries the plea: please come quickly, your friend is deathly ill. The plea is a prayer: come by here.  

But their last best hope of heaven and earth does not come. We understand that a doctor or a priest or a policeman might not come immediately. They have others in their care and we need to wait our turn. But we expect more from a friend -- much more.  

Center Lines - March 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 3/25/2009

What demands my attention?   What needs to be done first?   What must I do now, so I can do what I want later?   To where should I first direct my resources (whether scant or ample)?   How do I live today, so my tomorrow will be fulfilling?   What is of primary importance?   What is of lesser importance?   Priorities, priorities, priorities!   We all have them in our lives, whether or not we want them.

It’s no easier in the Church.   We have mission foci.   We have pathways.   We have critical issues.   We have rules, and here I mean Wesley’s three- not Mt. Sinai’s 10!   Sometimes we have so many “directions” that it’s hard to see, much less follow, “the path.”   We could use a simplified (very simplified) synopsis.

Faith Matters - Gardens

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 3/1/2009

There are many stories that frame and interpret our lives. There are sacred and secular texts that write and re-write us. They are the stories of our time and place, where we exist and where the most precious things are kept. They are stories about emotion and conscience, memory and intellect, sensation and intention. They are our stories. We are the performers, and we are the audience. The stories are frighteningly public. They are mercifully private.

Lent is an invitation to remember some of our garden stories. Outside the sanctuary, the days are getting longer, the winter solstice is past, the vernal equinox is soon to make her entrance upon stage, the seed catalogues are in the mailbox and the over-wintered bulbs nudge through frost and snow at the sun’s urging.

Faith Matters - Gospel Economics

By: Reverend Chuck Johns on 2/1/2009

 It is a smack upside the head: “Lotto Jackpot Now $17 Million.”  National economic crisis or no, gaming remains a recession-proof way to pay some of the government’s bills. The billboard beckons to one and all on the interstate. Generally I don’t even see it. Today it kidnaps me and takes me to a part of town where I don’t generally venture after dark. I begin to imagine how much money we are actually talking about. That would be 17 followed by six zeroes. Even someone numerically-challenged knows that we are talking real money here.

My mind begins to imagine what I could do with that kind of wealth. A siren knocks and I open the door and set an extra place at the table. Even after I care for the needs of my Uncle Sam, there would be money and enough to get some things done: good things, wonderful things, render-unto-God things. Sweet Jesus, I am ready to book passage on that cruise ship.

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