REVerberatiions – December 2019/January 2020

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings!

And so we are on the verge of another holiday season, less than a week from Thanksgiving Day and just over a month until Christmas as I write this. If you have been reading my REVerberations articles over the years, I beg your indulgence as I again remind us of the complications of this time of year that has the potential to lift us up and to let us down. Most often, it does some combination of both, maybe even at the very same time. 

Might we begin by noting that the decreased amounts of daylight and the restrictions on free movement brought about by longer nights and colder days do indeed have the potential to tamper with our energy levels and our outlook on things. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing that can sometimes be helped by light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, as well as by engaging in various spiritual practices and seasonal liturgies. 

Let us also be mindful that the intensity of expectations about family connections can easily and authentically be met with joy by some even as they are a source of varying degrees of pain and anguish for others whose loved ones have died, or who are otherwise separated or estranged from loved ones, or who cannot identify loved ones with whom they belong in the first place. Such mindfulness does not call us to repress or deny our feelings, only to live with sensitivity to the reality that oth-ers’ experiences may be vastly different than our own. 

With all of that in mind, here are some of my hopes for the time immediately ahead: 

I hope we will look deeper into this season and get past the pervasive and ubiquitous materialism that has come to represent Christmas. And I hope we will be intentional about pondering deeper meanings. 

I hope we will liberate the Spirit of Christmas from a very small portion of the year and instead live with the Spirit of Christmas every day of the year. (Let us not confuse setting the Spirit of Christmas free with starting earlier and earlier in the year with more aggressive marketing of the latest trending gadgets, fancy do-dads, and block-buster sales.) 

I hope we will remember those for whom Christmas bears no significance, including people from other noble faith traditions and people with no religious tradition at all. We know that there are an increasing number of people who identity themselves in the latter group. In any case, can we agree that Christmas should not hurt other people or be used to drive a wedge between people or groups? 

I hope we will give ourselves all the permission we need to set realistic hopes for what is about to happen and I hope we will find comfort when at least some aspects of reality fall short of our expectations and desires. 

I hope we will take and make the time to begin these holidays with a time of thanks for all of the blessings in our lives, and for the fact that we have the opportunity to give thanks at all. It is never too late to celebrate Thanksgiving! 

And I hope we will find the peace, love, and joy that are, through it all, still possi-ble as we remember God coming into the world in a new way in the stories of a lit-tle baby, as we take that message to heart, and as we live that message in our daily lives. 

Remember that we have a wide and wonderful array of Holiday offerings coming up at St. Paul’s over the next several weeks. On December 8 at 10:45am, in Fellowship Hall, we will have a Holiday Hymn Sing and table conversations about the season. On December 15 at 10:45am, the Sanctuary Choir will inspire us with their annual Christmas Cantata. On Saturday, December 21, we will have our annual Blues Christmas/Homeless Memorial Service in the Sanctuary at 7:00pm. On December 22 at 10:45am, Jo and Wayne will grace us yet again with their Celtic Christmas offering. And on Christmas Eve we will worship in the Sanctuary at 5:30pm and 8:00pm with candle-lighting and caroling during both services and a stellar musical program in between starting at 7:30pm. 

Come, take what you need, and give what you can. 

And together we will welcome new hope, new light, and a brand new year! 

Marty 

REVerberatiions – November 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings! 

What is your epistemic framework? Put another way: How to do you decide what counts as knowledge and by what means do you learn what you learn? In a world in which we are bombarded every moment by countless sources of so-called “facts” and “truths,” we do well to think about how to navigate the flood of information and misinformation that, if left unchecked, threatens to utterly baffle and bewilder us. 

As I write this, the internet is turning 50 years old. It was on October 29, 1969, that one computer first sent a message to another computer in a different location. That momentous event opened a whole new world of communication and information-sharing. It ushered in an era of unprecedented possibilities for networking and connectivity. And, at the same time, it created a previously unimagined array of potential problems and ethical dilemmas, many of which we confront as daily realities in the world in which we now live. 

There is – and there has been and there will continue to be – concern about the role the internet and social media plat-forms play in spreading what passes as knowledge these days. This past week, in fact, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill, in part to account for the role his company plays in perpetuating news that is not news at all. 

The problem is not unique to Facebook, though Facebook, with its staggering number of users around the world, has a uniquely prominent role in shaping the flow of information and the development of what we might think is knowledge. We can get a better sense of the problem when we acknowledge that Facebook exists to make money – and not necessarily to inform anyone about anything, and that they make more money by getting more people to use their services, and that they get more people to use their services by using algorithms that trend toward what is sensational in whatever ways will get more people to click and view more content so they can sell more advertising. And the content may or may not have any basis in reality. Indeed the nature of the content is entirely beside the point. Let’s be clear: all social media platforms ultimately exist to make money, not to share either accurate or full accounts of what is happening in the world. 

But then money has always driven media that presume to convey news to the general public. How far can you get into a newscast before you see a commercial for this or for that? Given that ad sales sustain media outlets, why should we be surprised that the evening news runs coverage of car crashes and house fires? They do it partly because those stories affect viewers on a variety of levels including physiological; when human beings view such stimulating material, our brains release neurotransmitters associated with attention and arousal and keep us coming back for more. But other stories that may have more relevance and import get left out and what we think we know about the world is skewed by decisions made in the interest of generating financial gain for people who have enough wealth to reap the benefits. 

At the end of the day, media corporations are out to make money above all else, and they seem quite incapable of reasonable self-regulation. And our government has not found, nor does it look like our government will find a way to regulate how and what information is shared as news. So, unless we as individuals are intention-al about screening and balancing the news we receive, we are at the mercy of forces and sources that may well not have any interest in anything like a common purpose, or a collective good, or the reign of God that serves all people. 

At some level, engaging the news thoughtfully is an act of faith or at least an act with faith implications. 

As religious and/or spiritual people, do we have a special responsibility to think through what counts as knowledge and news? 

How should the Bible play into our ways of knowing things? What about tradition? Should what the church has done through the years inform our decision-making today? Does our own personal life experience matter, the lessons we have learned through trial and error along the way? What role should reason serve in our discernment of what is true and what is not? Must we rely on statistics and “hard data,” or are “gut feelings” more meaningful in our determination of truth? How much stock should we put in what Aunt Mabel has to say about things? Thinking about how we know things can validate what we think we know – or not. 

Sadly, we know that the Church has historically played an active role in the spread of misinformation and made lethal mistakes in interpreting such matters as, for example, the initiation and preservation of slavery and systemic racism, marginalization of women, perpetuation of poverty, discrimination against people in the LGBTQ+ community, and so on… And good church people have been willing for millennia to compromise their values and integrity for the sake of selfish and short-term gratification and self-glorification. 

Especially as we head into the heat of this political season, I urge us to be thoughtful about what we allow to pass for news, how we come to know what we think we know, what sources feed us the information upon which we make decisions and shape how we see the world. We will do well to balance our exposure to what is called news, intentionally seeking out varied sources and making determinations based on our own thoughtful judgment. 

For the good of our country and the sake of all of humanity, we cannot afford to just make stuff up or to accept lies as truths. There is far too much hanging in the balance. 

Marty