From The Pastor

REVerberations – November 2017

by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

On October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest and professor named Martin Luther posted his infamous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  By so doing, Luther intended to reform the Catholic Church, but what he did resulted in a Church split that gave birth to Protestantism.  His act precipitated a seismic shift in the life of the Church.  Remember that before Luther, for about 1500 years, “the Church” was the Catholic Church.  All of that changed 500 years ago this week.  So, as Protestants, we celebrate that powerfully transformative moment in the history of the Church that had significant implications for the history of the world.

A number of factors converged at the moment in history when Luther approached the church door with his hammer in hand.  For example, there had been previous attempts at reform over several centuries, like those led by Jan Hus who was burned for his heresy, John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English in the fourteenth century, and others.  Luther could capture some of that energy in his bold action.  At about the same time, Gutenberg’s printing press had come into popular use, so Luther’s own writings could be published broadly and, as was Luther’s intent, the Bible could be mass produced in many languages.  And, importantly, Luther addressed deeper issues of theological significance.

Luther’s concerns, as a faithful priest, were numerous, but in particular, he was driven to take action by the Catholic Church’s wide use of indulgences that had their roots in acts of simple penitence Continue reading REVerberations – November 2017

REVerberations – October 2017

by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

So I sit with many questions streaming through my brain.  And they’re all over the map.  Here are just a few of the things on my mind at the moment.

How can we make Sunday morning announcements more efficient and effective?  The Music Team and I have been bandying about various possibilities.  It would be a genuine loss if we were to eliminate time for people to speak up on Sunday mornings about various things that matter to them; that is part of who we are, warm, welcoming, informal, personal.  And I love that about us.  But we can’t – can we? – afford to have announcements go 17-18 minutes each week.  We can’t start announcements early because another one of our charms – really – is that many of us tend to get there right on time, often rushing from other commitments.

A related question has to do with ensuring that everyone has the best chance to actually hear what others say.  So a proposal now on the table is that we set up a microphone near the lectern and ask people making announcements to sit in the front pew to start, then come up in turn to speak.  Does that provide enough order to our weekly ritual without losing aspects of the process that are important?

Does saluting the flag trump honoring what the flag stands for?  Continue reading REVerberations – October 2017

REVerberations – September 2017

by Pastor Dr. Marty Kuchma

As I write this article, news continues to unfold about the horrible recent weekend in Charlottesville during which things we might reasonably have thought were in the past intruded dramatically, tragically upon the present – public displays of racial hatred, demonstrations of organized bigotry, and murderous, terroristic violence resulting from both.  The worst impulses of American social history were indeed on full display, this time unmasked.  And, evidently, there is more to come as the nation reckons with a difficult part of our collective story.  Sadly, it would seem that in coming to terms with one civil war, we run the risk of becoming embroiled in another, newer one.

I wonder why groups that had for decades lurked only in the shadows now feel emboldened to show themselves in the light of day – and in the fiery glow of torches in the night.  Where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that we keep working toward racial justice that has, despite signs of progress over the years, remained remarkably elusive?  What would Jesus do?  And what does being followers of Jesus compel us to do?

Local and state officials all around the country are taking courageous steps to remove various markers honoring individuals whose sole claim to fame was their association with the Confederacy which, we might remember, rose up, as a separate “country,” to defend slavery in opposition to the United States government, which was at first itself quite ambivalent about people owning other people but eventually gained resolve enough to call for emancipation.

As a matter of context, let us note that many of the 700 or so Confederate monuments that still dot the American landscape were erected long after the war as an assertion of white supremacy at times when that could happen largely unchallenged.  The construction of such monuments peaked in the early 1900’s as Jim Crow laws perpetuated slavery in other forms and public lynching was rampant, especially in the Old South.  A second, smaller wave of monument construction occurred during the 1950’s to protest the Brown v. Board of Education decision that was to end state-sponsored segregation by declaring that “separate but equal” is inherently unequal, insufficient, and illegal.  (Let’s not forget that a correlate of this conversation involves deciding what to do with the 900 or so schools, roads and other public spaces that are still named to honor Confederate leaders.)

For the moment, this monument issue feels so important, so urgent.  Every toppled statue seems like a victory of sorts for those with passion to bring them down.  But what if every single Confederate monument is taken down and every Confederate name is changed on public buildings and roads?  And what if, for that matter, everyone in the world stopped saying racist things and Uncle Joe finally kept his racist opinions to himself at the Thanksgiving dinner table?  And what if every white person found a “black friend” or two?

Even if all of that happened, structural racism would still be present, pervasive, and fundamentally problematic.  Structural Racism is woven into the very fabric of our culture, often overshadowed by the overt racism that so easily distracts us from dealing with issues that really matter.

If we care enough to get all fussed up about Confederate monuments, and if we care enough to put Uncle Joe in his place when he says inappropriate things, and if we have a lot of black friends, we ought to also feel compelled to address racism that literally changes lives by dictating where people of color can live, limiting the educational opportunities people of color can have, influencing the jobs people of color can get and how much they can earn doing them, or shaping how people of color are treated in the electoral process, the criminal justice system, entertainment and the media, and in all walks of life.

Fighting racism is about much, much, much more than taking down monuments.  We cannot, for the sake of justice, let ourselves breathe any sigh of relief after simple and relatively ineffectual measures, and we need to measure how much energy we are willing to invest in such endeavors that turn out to be relatively meaningless in the long-run.  We must, instead or at least in addition, take on the bigger struggles, have informed and courageous conversations about systemic racism, take bold action to change the way the system works, and actually bring about the justice we say we seek.

In an effort to work toward the kind of understanding of structural racism necessary for real change to happen, St. Paul’s third annual community-wide Racial Justice event on October 22 will focus on the bigger structural issues.  At this moment, the program is being called “Busting the Stereotypes about Racism.”  I hope you will plan to participate.  Pay attention for more information coming shortly.  If you want to do some advance reading, might I recommend Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (We’ve done a little with that book in Seekers), and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.

There is so much more to do, on the surface in the short-term, and deep down in the long-term.  May God bless us to do our part in all facets of this important work…

Marty

 

REVerberations – June 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…  Join in the Spring Congregational Meeting!  This Sunday, June 4, immediately following the service that starts at 9:30am.

In the United Church of Christ, each congregation maintains decision-making about all matters of congregational import.  St. Paul’s has a custom of a Spring business meeting and a Fall pep rally-ish and organizational meeting.  While vigorously preserving and cherishing congregational autonomy, we live in covenant with other congregations and the wider church.  That covenant commitment will be on display as the denomination-wide General Synod comes to Baltimore from June 30 through July 4.  One highlight will be the mass worship service being held at the Baltimore Convention Center on the afternoon of Sunday, July 2. (Please see the notice about bus transportation for the event in this issue of Highlights.  Remember that we will not have worship here that day.  Also, please be in touch with me to make other transportation arrangements if needed.)

If I might add some context for this Sunday’s meeting, there are a few major items for us to deal with.  First, we will vote on the annual church budget that has been worked up by the Deacons and endorsed by the full Consistory.  Special thanks to Michael Teare for his guidance and technical support!  This budget marks a major milestone in that it is a genuinely balanced budget, the culmination of Continue reading REVerberations – June 2017

REVerberations – April 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

Thank you for the many expressions of support related to the Human Relations Commission Award.  I am truly humbled by this great honor.  And I am, quite honestly, glad that it is time for the hoopla to fade.

As I stood behind the podium on the night of the banquet, I could have no doubt that that space should have been big enough to accommodate all of us who bring St. Paul’s United Church of Christ to life.  As I listened to Ben’s wonderful introduction (printed elsewhere in this edition of Highlights) and as I looked at the faces of those who were able to be there that night, I was reminded again of what I always know: we are all in this together.  That award is by no means mine alone; it belongs to us all.  Congratulations!

Together, we have created a space that is as warm and welcoming Continue reading REVerberations – April 2017

REVerberations – March 2017

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear about or see video footage of one protest or another somewhere in the United States, sometimes in far-away places, and sometimes right in our own community.  Millions of people are taking to the streets, gathering for planned events in various venues, organizing “town halls” with government officials.  Women are marching.  Activists are rallying.  Immigrants are making a stand.  Protest abounds, possibly more than ever in American history.

One might wonder to what end all of this activity works.  Will it matter at all?  Will it make a difference?  Is catharsis the driving force, or real change?  Will protests merely cause disruption and lead to further division Continue reading REVerberations – March 2017

REVerberations – Dec 2016 / Jan 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

My current vantage point is one day out from the election.  And from here I shall try to look ahead at the seasons to come between now and the next edition of Highlights in early February.  Earlier today I shared by email through Linda some Pastoral Reflections on the Election.  Those are re-printed elsewhere in this issue.

Over the upcoming several weeks, we will take time to give thanks, and we will enter Advent in anticipation of Christmas 2016.  Much will be familiar.  Perhaps, if we are fortunate, some aspects of that experience will be new, stirring our spirits, bringing new insight, allowing some new connections, blessing us in unexpected ways.  We will light candles and sing favorite songs.  We will hear familiar stories that inform our faith and might shape our lives.  And we will gather twice on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, as we have done for many years now, once at 5:30pm and again at 8:00pm.

Because Christmas is actually on a Sunday this year, we will not have our regular Sunday morning services, assuming many will have participated in services the evening before or will have other plans for the day.  However, we will instead host a simple worship service on Christmas morning, inviting Continue reading REVerberations – Dec 2016 / Jan 2017

REVerberations – November 2016

 

Before heading into surgery, I had no idea what 75 hours post-surgery would look like.  And I take this opportunity to share a bit with any who are interested.

First and foremost, I am so grateful for all of the love, support, and prayers people have expressed via email, Facebook, on the phone, through Prayer Shawl ministry, and in every other way.  Thanks for your kindness and your humor and your encouragement.  If you have sent cards, I will get those but I have not yet made it out to my mailbox with a bag to carry things back.

Sue Snively has been an unbelievable help through all of this, taking me into the hospital and making sure I was settled, bringing me back home, carting me here and there, making sure I have food and essentials.  We committed when we divorced to still be “a family only different,” and that continues to be our reality.

So 75 hours out, I am preparing to head off to Lucy’s Annual Chamber Choir Concert.  This is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch, but I love to watch her sing.  Otherwise, my “routine” has included doing periodic exercises through each day to re-strengthen my leg muscles, doing some laps around the neighborhood with my walker and adding a little more each day, and maintaining basic things around the house.  Today, I had the excitement of going for a blood draw.  Otherwise, I spend a fair amount of each day resting and icing my hip.  My pain levels throughout have been minimal, thankfully, and Tylenol helps when needed.  I felt so human when I was able to shower on Wednesday morning.

Along the way, I have realized that whoever invented compression socks probably had a really good idea but was not at all interested in user convenience – or actual usability.  However, we have discovered that Meg is a natural at getting them on.

 

As a general theme, I have discovered that, while I thought I was a pretty efficient person, simple things in life require more thought for now.  It is draining to get upstairs and realize I forgot something downstairs, for example.  But even that provides more opportunity for movement, which is a good thing I guess.

I have not really dropped out of email, thanks to smart phone capability, but I am glad to be able to sit at my computer to do things with a keyboard and bigger screen.  There are some tasks I want to get to over the next couple of days, and by Monday, I should be fully back in the loop at church.

Looking ahead, I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next Thursday and George and Bernadette are going to take me to that.

With some transportation assistance from Jerry Fuss, I will be in church for Jeri Eaton’s Memorial Service on November 5.  Then I hope to drive up and back for the Homeless Town Hall Forums and Consistory on November 15.  I will be fully back in action on November 20 for services and Sunday School in the morning and Transgender Day of Remembrance in the evening.

I am hopeful about the potential that lies ahead, freedom from pain I had learned to ignore as best I could, the real possibility of walking Disney and the White Mountains with my girls, adding back things I have let go over the years, and so much more.  I will get there, literally step by step.

Thank you for making this possible and walking with me through it all.  I am truly thankful for all that you are to me, and all that we do in the world because we are together.

Many Blessings,
Marty

 

REVerberations – October, 2016

I have been fascinated by coverage of the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  What a grand opening for an important institution!  My girls and I have been watching that building take shape over the past several years on our excursions to DC, at first not knowing what the building even was, then wondering when they were going to take down the strange scaffolding, and ultimately realizing that what we thought was scaffolding was actually a beautiful architectural feature of the facility.  Now that it’s open, we are eager to visit soon.

The building and its exhibits tell a story that has been at least 400 years in the making, boldly celebrating triumphs and achievements, lifting up heroes, daring to look honestly at horrific and sad truths that are forever woven into the fabric of this country, adding a necessary dimension Continue reading REVerberations – October, 2016

REVerberations – June 2016

It’s hard being progressive!  My heart is surely in it, but I have been wondering lately if I am reaching the limit of my ability to cognitively process all the information good progressives need to be thinking about.  Is there a better way, one that is at least more straightforward if not simpler?

I was blessed to be part of a Lancaster Seminary Faculty Retreat last week.  The focus was on race and privilege.  The two-day program was very well done, informative, and thought-provoking, sparking many ideas that I am eager to share here at St. Paul’s.  But something strange happened to me as we were wrapping things up.  Let me share a bit of context first.

As a white male, I was thinking about taking privilege for granted; no doubt that happens in my life more than I care to admit, despite my intentions and efforts to make it otherwise.  Contemplating a story that had earlier been shared by a dear colleague, I was trying to imagine the very real consequences of privilege for people of color who, for example, have to worry about matters of personal presentation that rarely, if ever, enter my mind.  All the while I was weighing the relative usefulness of a racial justice paradigm that aims for reconciliation – as has been the dominant model for decades, compared to Continue reading REVerberations – June 2016