Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Water

Wrapped within young leaves: the sound of water.

What might this observation by the Japanese poet Soseki have to do with this Sunday night's Gathering? What might it have to do with Palm Sunday, Holy Week, or a reading from Mark Nepo, which will be used in our time of reflecting on sacred text? Great questions! And with Teresa Rylander as co-leader for the evening, there's no doubt the conversation and reflections will be poetic, engaging and thought-provoking. So come:

- and hear Teresa's beautiful reading of Mark Nepo's words about our unencumbered spot of grace,
- come participate in the exploration and conversation,
- and come begin the Holy Week journey in a very unique way.

Come - this Sunday, March 28, 5:30 pm
618 Locust Street.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Survey Says!

The Gathering's survey was sent out January 30, 2010. 19 out of 45 people responded to the following questions (condensed results are in blue):

1. You may choose multiple answers to the following question. I find The Gathering e-newsletter
The vast majority enjoy it.

2. The Gathering meeting time (Sunday, 5:30 pm) is
67% really like 5:30 Sundays with another 17% saying it works for them.

16% find our current meeting time difficult because of the darkness issue.

3. You may choose multiple answers to the following question. If The Gathering were to meet at another time, my preference would be:
42% say 5:30 Sundays is their preference.

Other choices: 26% prefer Sunday late afternoon earlier than 5:30; 21% prefer Sunday morning; and a sprinkling of preferences for Sunday early afternoon, Saturday eve, a weeknight, or Sunday eve later than 5:30.

4. The general length of The Gathering each Sunday night is:
65% say the length is just right, while 4 people experience it as too long.

5. With the current format for the month as a whole (Worship first Sunday of the month, Education second Sunday, Contemplation/Meditation third Sunday, Reflection on Sacred Readings/Service fourth Sunday, Business Meeting fifth Sunday), I am:
82.4% of respondents very pleased with current monthly format, diversity and variety appeal to The Gathering participants.

A comment repeated by several is that people miss the movies.

6. You may choose multiple answers to the following question. I would like to have more opportunities for:
Gatherers find times of education and meditation meaningful with 59% of respondents wanting more opportunities for these.

Reflection on Sacred Readings are also finding a place of interest with 38% of folks requesting additional experiences with texts.

29% of people request more worship and service opportunities. Surprisingly, not one person requested more business meetings.

One way we’re addressing the request for more meditation is by connecting with Quaker sitting and Zen sitting. One way we’re offering more education time is to highlight local offerings in other places.

7. I participate in The Gathering (via e-newsletter and/or in person) because...
8. The most satisfying/least satisfying aspects of The Gathering are...
26 Comments total. People expressed much appreciation for the community, the inclusivity, the diversity, the creativity, the outreach/service to the city and beyond.

Primary frustration concerns our meeting space and not feeling “settled” somewhere.

9. Please share any additional feedback, satisfactions, dissatisfactions, questions, and/or plans for world peace.
9 comments total ranging from The Gathering is a wonderful gift that should do more to we’re trying to be/do too much to too many people.

Anyone wanting full results, please contact Karen at
(325) 374-1566 or She is happy to share.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gathering to Practice Peace

"To be at one with God is to be at peace... peace is to be found only within, and unless one finds it there he will never find it at all. Peace lies not in the external world. It lies within one's own soul." Ralph Waldo Trine

Peace of the spirit is a priceless treasure, sought, practiced, and cultivated by people around the world throughout history. Among its benefits are a happier and healthier life, a greater sense of clarity and purpose, and a closer connection to the divine and to the life that surrounds us all.

In an increasingly complex, stressful, and fast-paced world, we often find that this "inner peace" is elusive. In seeking it and the renewal it brings, we must first try to understand it. What forms can it take for us? How can we experience it? What practices best facilitate its discovery? What are the obstacles in our lives that prevent us from attaining and sustaining it?

This Sunday, March 21st, Isobelle Fox will lead The Gathering as we explore these questions, share our answers, and seek through reflection and meditation to experience a few moments of peace of the spirit together.

Our offering will be designated for the Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center because of their work helping individuals, couples, and families searching for inner peace. Our potluck theme: food that contributes to peaceful co-existence among the earth community.

Written by Izzie. The Peaceful World mandala is by Kathy Abromeit of GathertheSky.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shaking, Quaking with the Holy Spirit

Together in the Light: Quaking in the UCC

Quakers have a distinct way of worship, doing business and living in the world. But the "Quaker way" can inform and enliven any and maybe all organized groups of spiritual seekers. Elisa Dale, the "Lone Quaker of Eden, Texas," will share with us a brief history of the Society of Friends, Friends' testimonies and the divergent paths taken by unprogrammed (silent meeting) Friends today. Friends define their worship as "expectant listening." Elisa will share how this is understood by Conservative Friends, "christo-centric" Friends, universalist Friends and "nontheist" Friends. A Quaker writer recently wrote that "We are held together by the way in which we are a religious group, what I have called a 'behavioral creed: the way we worship and do business and areas of testimony". This unity, the glue that holds Friends together, is derived from a commitment to each other and our shared goals, rather than agreement on Friends' notions about it all.

The Society of Friends is a religious tradition that appeared to have done away with the clergy but Friends say that the opposite is true: Friends have done away with the laity. How do things get done or problems dealt with in a religious society when each member is a pastor, a bishop? Why should one be a Quaker today or be "Quakerish" within one's own faith tradition or denomination? What do Quakers have to offer the UCC? Elisa will lead us in discussion of these issues and we will close in silence, in the manner of Friends.

Our offering will go to American Friends Service Committee which provides humanitarian assistance to peoples all over the world and has worked tirelessly for American Friends Service Committee carries out service, development, social justice and peace programs throughout the world. Founded in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors with opportunity to aid civilian war victims, AFSC's work attracts the support and partnership of people of many races, religions and cultures." An "eclectic" potluck meal will reflect Quaker diversity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Judgment Theology: Then & Now

From the First Century C.E.: Luke 13:1-4

13There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 I say no to you, but that unless you repent, all of you like them will be destroyed.” 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? I say no to you, but that unless you repent, all of you like them will be destroyed.”

From the Twenty-first Century C.E.: Karen Schmeltekopf

In this story found in the New Testament book of Luke, Jesus responded to comments concerning a brutal killing and a sad accident. According to reports, the Roman governor Pilate had murdered Galilean pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem, and in another occasion, 18 people died when a building collapsed upon them.

Not much has changed in 20 centuries – human beings still kill each other every day and thousands have died within the last few months due to falling buildings. Today, of course, we know about earthquakes and the necessity of building codes. We know that people with power often use it violently against those without. And while devastating earthquakes have recently hit Haiti and Chile and not California, we know that Haitians and Chileans aren’t any more or less sinful than Californians; and while many innocent Sudanese have been brutally murdered in the last few years, we know that Sudanese aren’t inherently any more or less deserving of death than Americans. That’s how we think…right?

Rationally, we do know these things. But our ability to stay rational is sometimes limited by our lower brain stem--our so called lizard brain. This lower part of our brain is where our reflex reactions happen, which in turn makes fertile ground for irrational fears and superstitions--a hangover from our evolutional march to the modern human form.

From this tendency towards irrational superstitions comes the simplistic assumption that whatever ill befalls us is likely our fault. And of course there are times when we are the cause of our own unfortunate effects. But the universe is much more complex than our first century ancestors understood, and cause and effect often has to do with the natural forces that we cannot see. So human beings are but a piece of the complexity – not the central character. The tragedies of earthquakes and tsunamis don’t occur because we are bad people; they’re about the collision of tectonic plates that produce waves in the ocean.

And while we know that, we still get triggered into reflex blaming. We wonder about the instability of impoverished families – why are the father’s not at home? We wonder why so called “welfare moms” don’t just go get a job – after all, jobs are available if you really want to work. And speaking of jobs, aren’t Americans out of work because those “illegal aliens” are taking our jobs? We look simplistically at behavior, character and societies and it is so easy to rationalize that we’re Americans and that while tsunamis occur across the world, they aren’t as bad in Hawaii as they are in Asia, as if somehow, the ocean recognizes different countries.

In the Lukan story the implication is that those with whom Jesus talked believed the ones who died deserved what they got.

This notion – that people get what they deserve, is called judgment theology. Advocates of judgment theology attribute a theological reason for anything calamitous or tragic. Judgment theology strongly appeals to that part of humanity that craves certainty about safety and well being. But because life is unpredictable, judgment theology necessarily requires a God who is predictable. God is seen as the cosmic all-powerful bookkeeper keeping track of who does what and, of course, who should get punished.

This version of God is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and reward and prosperity for the righteous. Curiously enough, as it turns out those who hold to this belief system usually evaluate themselves as the righteous. The breakdown of this perspective can be seen when those with societal power are typically considered “righteous”, while marginalized people – the poor, women, homosexuals, people of color, people who are sick, people with mental illness, undocumented workers, are equated with the “unrighteous”.

Followers of this perspective invariably respond to the question, "Whose fault is it when innocent people suffer?" with the answer – the one who is suffering. If blame can be assigned to the one who is suffering -- he was speeding, she didn’t go to the doctor early enough, they live in a country where violence is rampant or earthquakes frequent-- then, the illusion of certainty and safety is used to sidestep the actual causes of misfortune. Being able to blame their human failings tidies up the vulnerabilities of life. It is a natural next-step to assume that what happened to them won’t happen to us.

But notice the two-fold tragedy of this “blame the victim” mentality. This detachment not only creates distance from the very real pain of the other, but also serves to dehumanize the blamers as well. What’s more it gives the appearance of the separateness of the Divine from those who suffer while suggesting that, in fact, that the Cosmic Bookkeeper is the source of the suffering.

Tragically, those on the receiving end of judgment theology often internalize it and render the harshest judgment of themselves. The degrading language and the scapegoating from others can reinforce their sense of shame and self-loathing. They become detached not only from others, but from their own humanity, and, of course, from anything sacred.

In the Luke text, Jesus rejects this judgment theology. His very life, in fact, teaches us the opposite. It is when we enter into the pain of others that we become more human, more present to each other, thus we find that which is sacred. Jesus wasn’t separate from those who were diseased, he touched them, held them. He wasn’t separate from the outcast, he had dinner with them, received water from them.

The example of his life, as well as the lives of the Buddha, Ghandi, and all our great spiritual teachers, show that when we bring close the pain of others, when we really see ourselves and each other, we become more fully human – which opens us to more capacity to love the other. As we respond to the needs of others, we enter more deeply into the human condition, which means we recognize our own vulnerability, we become more compassionate, and thus we find the sacred part of ourselves. As Rumi says, "If you want to know Love, become 'we.'”

You might have noticed, that the story doesn’t end there, though. After saying No, Jesus continued his answer with, “unless you repent, all of you like them will be destroyed.


In confronting the group’s illusion that they could protect themselves with judgment theology, Jesus recognized their fear; he saw the vulnerability that their anxiety opened up in them. That kind of opening is holy space because it offers us an opportunity for transformation. It is, after all, not a bad thing for us to feel the fragility of our lives -- not if it makes us turn toward the light.

So was Jesus saying that the Scorekeeping God actually condemns us? No. He’s saying that scapegoating others, using violence in thought and language, and avoiding our fears by blaming others – all beget more violence and death. The violence of judgment kills our souls; it kills the souls of others, just as tumbling buildings and tyrannical leaders kill bodies. Jesus, the bearer of peace and wholeness, calls us all to repent — to turn away from the culture of retribution and scapegoating. He calls us to turn from violence and exploitation. He calls us to turn from our fear of the unknown, to turn from our fear of the other and even our fears of ourselves, and be present to one another.

It is in that turning toward each other that we more fully encounter Divine Love because we can only love what we truly see.

As we move into our time of meditation, we are invited to reflect on our fears, and how those fears trigger us into judgment theology – whether in judgment of ourselves or of others. How do we need we let those judgments go?

Resources: Out in Scripture;;; Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010, The Spiritual Practice of Empathy; “Life-Giving Fear” by Barbara Brown Taylor;; Neil Snipes.

Sermon given March 7, 2010 by Rev. Karen Schmeltekopf at The Gathering.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Striking or Loving Hand of God?

Within the last few weeks, both Haiti and Chile have experienced major earthquakes, and various "judgment theologies" have been offered for these natural occurrences that became tragedies. "Judgment theology" is all too familiar and recognizable; it sounds something like: "God sent the earthquake because some of the Haitian people practice voodoo" or "Chile had an earthquake because some of the citizens are drug users" or "God sent that devastating disease to get her attention."

This Sunday, our worship service will engage and reevaluate the death-dealing way of judgment theology and invite us to turn toward a life-giving way of joining God and each other in the work of healing and wholeness.