9/11

Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the airplane hijackings and subsequent crashing of four airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In the past ten years, the American people have struggled with our response to this evil. We have fought two wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. We have increased our security at our borders, building walls between our neighbors to the south (literally) and building walls between ourselves and our friends in other nations.

The struggle to know how to properly respond is ongoing and we live in a state of constant threat and anxiety. This summer I had the privilege of traveling in Europe, making a car trip through Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France. I was absolutely amazed that not one time after arriving in Europe was I asked to show my passport or identify myself or be
stopped at a border crossing. Yet when I reentered the United States, I had my passport checked five times before departing Paris and three times upon arriving in the U.S. How is it that we no longer even trust ourselves much less our friends? I still struggle with what an appropriate Christian response to violence is and the haunting words of Christ to return good for evil, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, echo in my heart. I know this – that if we as a people will respond to the cries of human suffering throughout
our world, demonstrating our discipleship to Jesus Christ and his love, the world
will perceive us differently.

This week in worship we are marking 9/11 by receiving an offering for our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. Please give generously so that we can say you have friends in far off places who have not forgotten your suffering. We have heard your cries and we are answering them.

Bill

GoodNight Irene

On Friday
evening and all day Saturday, we sat and watched Hurricane Irene blow  through our
community. From our small vantage points, peering through windows and
occasionally glancing out of the door, we could make out trees falling and water rising. Sitting through a storm is both frightening and exhausting. As the sun broke on
Sunday morning and we dared to venture out, we began to realize how fortunate
many of us were while some of our neighbors and friends suffered devastating
losses. Now a week past the storm, many of us have removed the debris from
our yards, patched the holes in our roofs and are ready to move on, allowing
things to return to normal. Yet all around us are the signs that for some, normalcy will be a long journey.

We can all help with the recovery by giving aid and comfort to those around us whose lives remain in a state of disruption. Help your neighbor rake their yard, give to
appropriate organizations like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to ensure that
long term recovery will take place, and continue to pray for and with those
who need comfort.

I have been pleased with the response members of our congregation already have given. We have had members helping remove trees, repair houses, and provide hot meals for strangers as well as friends and neighbors. I would be remiss if I didn’t affirm the presence of Christ in your acts of mercy and take time to thank you for both your compassion and generosity. Let’s continue to do the work to which we have been called, responding to the human needs around us.

Bill

 

Doubt is Necessary if Faith is to be Relevant

For eight days in August, Wanda and I had the privilege of traveling with our son Kres in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France. As you might expect, we saw numerous castles and lots of churches. While all of this was impressive, two things moved me the most. The first of these was the opportunity to worship with the community at Taizé, France. For years, I have sung hymns and attended worship that has been inspired by this faith community and had imagined that this was a small group of Christians worshipping in an
isolated region of France. What surprised me most was that Wanda and I and Kres were just three of more than 5,000 worshippers (mainly between the ages of 17 and 30) on Saturday evening and then again on Sunday morning. Knowing that these young people had come from all over the world, gathering to experience the presence of God, reassured me that God’s activity in the world is not dead, but alive and thriving.

The second experience was going to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. At CERN, we heard physicists talk about the very beginning of the universe and how through particle research, they are discovering the basic elements of the creation. Albert Einstein has stated that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” What we heard from the physicists at CERN was that doubt was the greatest gift that any physicist can be given because without doubt, we are stuck in our old patterns of thinking
and only doubt can inspire us to imagine something different.

I came away with these two gems, doubt is necessary if faith is to be relevant, and for our faith to be relevant, we must imagine something different than our old patterns of worship. My prayer for us as a congregation is that we will continue to explore the depth and breadth of how God is speaking to us in new ways.

Bill Neely

Which Monday?

I spoke to my granddaughter the other night, knowing that it was tax-free weekend, and asked her when she started school. “Monday, she said.” Which Monday, I asked? “This Monday.” How in the world can school be starting back so early in August, yet the reality is our summer vacation is ending and we’re moving back into the routines of life.

I hope that each of you have had some time to be away this summer, to relax and renew your spirit, and that you are now ready to delve in to church activities once again.

We humans are such creatures of habit that we need a regular schedule to keep us focused and on task. My prayer is that while summer has broken our routine, you will find your place in worship and Christian Education during this next academic year. September through May we pass through some of the most important seasons of the church year and by marking these seasons in worship and study, we touch again the very face of God. See you soon.

Bill Neely

The Worst Sight In The World

Jim Clarken, the executive director of Oxfam Ireland, said, “the worst sight in the world was a hungry mother trying to feed a hungry, crying baby from an empty breast.”

Louis Belanger, spokesperson for Oxfam based in New York, wrote, “For months, Oxfam had been warning against the upcoming food crisis. Not just in Somalia, but all across the Horn of Africa region. Several countries have been seriously affected by the drought including Ethiopia, Djibouti and surprisingly the country from where I am writing, Kenya. I was reminded of that fact last Friday when I looked at the front pages of all
Kenyan newspapers. Headlines went from The Shame of Kenya to Elderly Kenyan
Woman Died of Hunger. This is a chilling reminder that the food crisis is not
sparing anyone.”

Most of us live our lives unaware that there are those in the world who live in abject poverty. In my sermon on Sunday I quoted the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, who said, “Everything we have achieved for poor and hungry people in the last 35 years is under severe threat of budget cuts—nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and SNAP (formerly food stamps), as well as poverty-focused development assistance.”

About 2.5 billion dollars were on the cutting block. Americans spend 2.5 billion dollars a year on candy – should we not be concerned that God’s children are dying while we eat candy? Thankfully at this writing it appears that our Legislature has spared the programs for our most vulnerable citizens.

Once we begin to see the world and everyone in it as God’s child, then foreign aid does not look so foreign. We are simply helping our  brothers and sisters. Let’s pray for our world and all those in it.

Bill

 

“Thin” Places

Eighteen youth, four adults and two staff members from our congregation are spending this week at Montreat Conference Center in the mountains of western North Carolina. We are attending Youth Week V with approximately 1,000 other Presbyterian youth and adults from across the country. For me, Montreat has always been one of those “thin” places where heaven and earth nearly touch. Over the years a large percentage of future elders and pastors have first felt God’s claim upon their lives while attending a Montreat youth conference. This year’s theme is “Searching for the Signal.” The young people are tracing the life of Christ from his birth to his resurrection. On Monday amidst the heat and humidity we celebrated Christmas, and were reminded that God has indeed become present with us through Christ Immanuel. In fact, God is always looking for ways to break into our lives and let us know that God is present. Often we are so burdened and distracted by simply living day to day that we forget to stop and notice the signs of God’s presence all around us. Pray for our young people, pray for our congregation and pray for our world as we seek the presence of God in our midst.

Bill Neely

My Kind of Women

Over the past couple of weeks I read a number of online articles about Harry Potter, “the boy who lived.” One article by Laura Hibbard of the Huffington Post (7/14) intrigued me in particular. This article points out correctly that while Harry is certainly the hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger steps forth as a true woman of the 21st century. From the very beginning, Hermione is her own person. Though she is Muggle-born (not a wizard by blood), she is neither intimidated nor enamored with those who are by birth wizards. Hermione is intelligent, imaginative and brave. She demonstrates a real commitment to studying. From the first book to the last, it is Hermione who has read and studied the spells that will enable Harry, Ron Weasley, and herself to survive and conquer.

We live in a world where women are often expected to conform to preconceived male roles, where the  discrepancy between male and female salaries even in the same positions still has a ridiculous gap. And those of us who are supposed to be enlightened do not even consider that our next pastor might be female. In a world where little girls still believe they cannot grow up to be anything their hearts desire, it is nice to see that J.K. Rowling gets it. She has given young women everywhere a role model in Hermione and said you can be just as good as your male counterparts. If the apostle Paul is right, “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female,” then should not the church be the place where equality begins and young women are held up as equals. Why is it that as Christians we have to wait for the world to teach us what is right?

Bill Neely

 

 

a BLT

The other day I stopped at a sandwich shop to pick up lunch and noticed on their menu board a BLT. Now bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches are one of my all-time summer favorites. There’s just something about the blend of those three tastes, along with mayonnaise and bread that carries me back to the days of my childhood and a quick lunch around my mother’s table before I headed back to work with my dad. Summer tomatoes ripened on the vine are full of taste, juices and aromas that quench the soul unlike the slices of red cardboard you get during the winter. My server brought me my sandwich and with all of the anticipation that only a childhood memory can bring, I bit in. But wait, there’s something missing. I opened the sandwich to find, to my horror, no tomatoes. I walked back to the counter and asked, “Shouldn’t a BLT have tomatoes on it?” The young lady who had made the sandwich looked in horror as she said, “I left the tomatoes off?” Offering to make me another sandwich, I insisted that instead she just bring me a plate of sliced tomatoes, which she did. Having reassembled the sandwich properly, I bit in, and not only was my taste palette blessed, but indeed somewhere deep down in the soul of my childhood memories, I touched home again. Now I know that many of us are traveling and are away this summer, but don’t forget to do your soul care by coming back to this place as often as is possible to join us in worship as we gather around the Lord’s Table. Have a blessed July.

Bill

 

Holy Week

I began this Holy Week traveling around the 38 counties that make up the Presbytery of New Hope. A fellow National Response Team member and I visited communities that I had not even heard of, much less seen, before this past Saturday night. We observed the same scene in each community that was affected by the 62 tornadoes that touched down in North Carolina. Families were sorting through the rubble, picking up pieces of their lives and loading them into the trunks of cars, the back of vans, or the beds of pickup trucks, trying as best they could to grab hold of something that had been lost in a moment. While many of the communities that were affected by these storms are well insured and the homeowners are confident that their homes and furnishings will be replaced, there are those things that have been lost that insurance can never replace. Pictures of a child’s first birthday, granddad’s old clock, mama’s prized cookie sheet – these are the things that folks talked about that no one can fix. As sad as it is that folks suffer such devastating loss, we know, as one gentleman said, “If it doesn’t have blood running through it, I’m not worried about it.” But even those who lost family members in these storms gave witness to the resurrection. As one gentleman reported, “Yes, my brother died, but Easter’s on the way and I know that he’ll be with Jesus.” The truth is without hope in a tomorrow, our lives would remain in a shamble. Join us as we confess our faith on Easter Sunday morning, “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.” 

Bill

 

The Land of the Living

On Sunday afternoon, April 3, at 4:00, my Dad moved from this world to the next. As Wanda likes to put it, he has left the land of the dying and has gone to the land of the living. My Dad’s first experience in life of death was back in 1932. He was twelve years old. His father had lost his business as well as their home in the Great Depression. As a birth present to each of his sons, he had given them a $10 gold piece. My Dad’s mother made a deal with a gentleman to purchase a milk cow and an old mule in exchange for those five gold pieceswith the agreement, when she could get the money, he would sell them back to her. On a hot July day, my Dad was out plowing with that old mule and the old mule lay down in the field, heaved a last breath, and died. I asked my Dad, ―How did that make you feel?‖ He said, ―It made me feel like lying down and dying too.‖ Ten years ago, on April 18 in the early hours of the morning, my Mom laid down on her bedroom floor because she was too weak and her head was hurting too badly to make it back to the bed. My Dad got a pillow and put it under her head, got one of her homemade quilts and wrapped her in it, and lay down beside her. When he awoke, Mom was dead. At her receiving, I said, ―Dad, it’s the way Mom wanted to die. Would you have wanted it any other way?‖ And he said, ―I wish I could have laid there and died with her.  Life is like that. When something or someone we love and have depended on dies, a piece of us dies with them. My Dad lived another 78 years after that mule died and ten more years after my mother died. And this I learned, life does go on, even though it never is as easy as it once was. May God bless each of us in our loss and our future.

P.S. The gentleman went back on his promise to my grandmother, but that’s another story.

 

Bill

 

Just a hodge podge of thoughts!