Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stand Up for Public Lands on Earth Day

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul – John Muir

Dear Friends,

Our souls are nourished by time spent in the wild untamed areas of God’s creation.  The wild powerfully reminds us that humans are just a part of Creation and our wisdom is limited. Healthy wild lands not only support biodiversity, they play an important role in mitigating greenhouse gases and providing climate resiliency. Most of our nation's wild areas belong to “we the people.”

America's public lands are held in trust for the common good. Sadly, these lands - from recently created National Monuments such as Bears Ears in Utah and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, to proposed wilderness areas - are under threat. Our Christian faith calls us to protect wild lands for many reasons.  The glory and wisdom of the Creator are revealed in special and powerful ways in places where humans are only visitors, not the dominant force.   

Ground zero for threats to public land is Utah, where the state legislature is working to have federal lands returned to the state for activities such as mining and drilling.  Utah legislators are also working to create new roads through environmentally sensitive and culturally important public lands.  Most of these lands are under the control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

For over three decades, citizens in Utah and throughout the US have been working to protect Utah’s spectacular wild lands through a proposal called the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. It would protect 9.2 million acres of BLM lands in Utah for future generations. These proposed wilderness areas surround some our nation’s most stunning national parks such as Zion, Canyon-lands, Arches and Capitol Reef. Recently, there has been a push to drill close to Zion National Park. A canyon with rich archeological resources vulnerable to looting was just opened up to off-road vehicles. Groups such as Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Sierra Club and NRDC are working hard to ensure these lands are protected.

On April 6, a House version of the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act bill was introduced by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA47) with 30 original cosponsors. It may be introduced in the Senate as early as April 24 by Senator Durbin (D-IL).  PEC urges you to call your Senator to sign on as an original co-sponsor or to urge them to sign on to the bill today. You may also use this on-line letter from SUWA.

Once the bill is introduced, please thank your senator if she or he is an original co-sponsor. You can find the list of co-sponsors here (thanks to SUWA).

Why not look at the House list and see if your representative is one of the original cosponsors there? If they are, they love getting thank-you calls—just call (202) 224-3121 to be patched through.

God’s wild lands are under great threat. One of the many anti-public land bills under consideration in the 115th Congress would undo the Antiquities Act that has allowed presidents to protect ecologically and scientifically important lands and cultural treasures for over 110 years. Congress needs to hear that you want to keep public lands in public hands for the common good and for God's glory.

Thank you for celebrating Earth Day by standing up for God’s wild lands!


Jenny Holmes

PEC Moderator, 2005-2011

You are the part-owner of 84 million protected acres of the world’s most treasured landscapes in America’s 400 national parks, 670 million acres of wild lands overall. Many Americans have worked since 1872 to ensure that they are preserved for all the generations who follow. Remember, this is your land! – Richard Orr, Outdoor Guide

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Encountering Holy Ground

Reflection for Easter Monday

by Amber Slate

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5, NRSV)

All of creation is aflame with the glory of God.  This is the claim that informs the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of the story of Moses and the burning bush.  In the story I learned in Sunday school, the burning bush represented a miraculous event that Moses encountered on Mount Horeb. However, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the burning bush represents the true state of all nature.  Moses is simply given the holy perception to glimpse how all of life is aflame with the glory of God.  The flames do not consume the bush because the fire is God’s eternal presence encompassing the material world. 

What would happen if we had the eyes to see all of creation in the same way that Moses did that day he was tending a flock of sheep in the wilderness?  How would our relationship with the places where we are rooted change if we perceived them to be aflame with the glory and presence of God? Like Moses, you can encounter holy ground.  Thanks to the wisdom of our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers, we are reminded that this holy ground is not just found on the Mountain of God, but also in our very own places.  Today, I invite you to consider a way that you could symbolically remove your sandals and honor the way God sets creation in your place aflame with holiness.

Prayer: Creator God, may your holy presence in our lives and in the created world move us to honor you by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with you in the places you set aflame with your glory. 

Amber Slate is a fourth year M. Div./M.A. student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Previously, she worked for five years at Sammamish Presbyterian Church where she was director of the middle school ministry. She grew up on a farm in Eastern Washington and wonders if one day she will get to be pastor of a church that would be excited about having goats.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Community of Hope

Reflection for Easter Sunday

by Alonzo Johnson

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

In 1979 the Church Rock Uranium spill marks one of the most destructive environmental disasters in our country. Due to a dam failure, over 1,000 tons of radioactive mill waste and radioactive tailings were dumped into the Puerco River contaminating its groundwater. The contaminants traveled 80 miles downstream to Navajo County, Arizona and onto the Navajo Nation.  Even decades later, the Uranium Tailings spill is still listed as one of the the largest in the United States.

Among the organizations actively connected to the region is the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE.).  MASE is a grassroots organization comprised of several groups working together to remove the uranium contamination and prohibit future mines in the area.  Participants include Acoma and Laguna Pueblos, community people in the affected area, Navajo Nation, the Post 71 Uranium workers and ranchers who have been affected by the uranium mining industry. In recent years, with the help of the Presbyterian Committee of the Self Development of People (SDOP), who establish partnerships with self-determining communities to promote justice, awarded a grant to MASE to help with raising public awareness activity and keeping old, abandoned mines from re-opening.

The John text shows us that the risen Christ turns a group of scared and confused disciples into a community of hope despite the risks. The work and advocacy of the Multicultural Alliance reminds us about the power of Easter, a power where empty tombs can influence the advocacy of empty mines. We are also reminded that we must take part in God’s resurrection power and be willing to “roll away stones’’ with our witness so that people may find life in the power of the empty tomb. The empty tomb is much like a river empty of toxins and pollutants - it is alive and life-giving! Easter reminds us that the Earth as part of God’s good creation is alive and life-giving. The activism and advocacy of alliance members are examples of what it means to be a community of hope despite the risks.

Prayer: Holy Creator thank you for showing us that death and hopelessness does not have the last word in our world. As members of Christ’s body and your good creation, show us again what it means to take care of the earth and all that is in it. Like clean and fresh waters, revive us again and show us that God’s power is active and redemptive in all situations. Loving God, In this season of new life, remind us to empty our lives of the dross and the toxins that prevent us from fully experiencing your transforming power. Amen.

Rev. Alonzo Johnson is Coordinator for the Self-Development of People Program (SDOP) of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Rev. Johnson has 25 years of experience in urban, youth, education, creative arts, and social justice ministries.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holding your head up

Great Vigil of Easter Reflection 

by Dave Grace

 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper;
    the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.
(Psalm 121, NRSV)

The transcendent in the immanent is God's relation with/in Creation. Psalm 121 begins with a stark lifting of the gaze upward. It is not the same look up toward heaven in Acts 1:10, where disciples lose sight of God's presence, but it seems more akin to 'holding your head up' being confident of God's presence. First looking up, the Psalm quickly grounds the deeply human search for God in place, here the hillsides of ancient Israel. Despite origin in this particular place, the Psalm provides words which can speak to us too in our own particular place. This earthly expansiveness is witnessed in the very earthly care of God's provision of shade from the sun by day and even shade from its lingering rays reflected from the moon at night (v.6). The quality of God's transcendent presence in Creation is why the Psalms poetic language is often at once metaphor and the thing itself. Beyond our imagination, God is acting in our places and God's transcendence can only be spoken of in terms related to our places. Transcendence and immanence can only be occupied at once by God so the question for us is how can we keep our heads up while keeping our feet steady on the ground. How can we occupy our place without pretending to occupy the place of God?

Prayer: Lord, direct our gaze to the places where we are. Steady our feet. Let us follow your paths.

Dave Grace is an inquirer in the PC(USA) seeking to consult with Presbyteries and other denominational bodies on land-use planning to achieve conservation goals – M.Div & Master of Environmental Management ’17 Duke University

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Love one another

Reflection for Good Friday

by Eva Foster

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34, NIV)
Throughout His ministry, Jesus preached and exhibited love. Yet, in this text he offers what He identifies as a new commandment: “love one another.”  The newness of this commandment does not merely lie in the thought of love, but in the notion that we love as Jesus loves us.


The words found in John 13:34 will speak directly to us as we consider the inner city which is characterized by poor education opportunities, high unemployment rates, inadequate housing and lack of services to the elderly and disenfranchised

If we are to live our lives as Christ commanded there must be a shift in focus from the local church to the greater community.  There must be a shift from the focus of what's happening to us as a congregation to what's happening to us as a community.

This notion of love calls local congregations into accountability by having them examine the immediate neighborhood and require that they speak out against injustice and inequality.  It requires our active presence in the school systems. It requires that we demand programs for the elderly. It requires that, as a congregation we provide a presence that speaks out against systemic activities that have a negative impact on our communities.


It is incumbent upon Christians to speak out on issues that impact the communities where we provide ministry.  We must hear Jesus' mandate ... to love one another ... with the knowledge that loving one another as he loved us calls for us to speak truth to power.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, we thank you for the newness of your love for us.  You loved us so much that you sacrificed your life.  Our prayer, O God, is that we might be able to sacrifice our lives of comfort and security as a tribute of love for those who are in hopelessness and despair.  Allow us to love others as you have loved us.

Rev. Dr. Eva C. Foster is a member of the clergy at First Baptist Church – Vauxhall, NJ.  Dr. Foster is a graduate of the Drew University Theological School and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary.  She is active in American Baptist Churches of NJ and serves as Chair of the Essex Association Ordination Committee. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

A New Season and a New Life

Reflection for Maundy Thursday

by Pearl Quick

“Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored.” 

(Proverbs 27:18, NRSV)

God is never more present for me than when I step on a soft patch of land. I’ve been farming for as long as I can remember, but I haven’t always been a believer. When I came to Christ three years ago, my first authentic experience of the presence of God was after I had weeded a large section of land, alone, in the heat, for hours. It was then, with sweat on my face, dirt under my fingernails, and a pile of weeds beside me that I began to weep. It was the first time I had a visceral reaction to participating in such a menial task. I could physically feel the presence of God. I am called to tend, to harvest, to weed, and to plant new life from the life that once was. I am no more humbled, in awe, and fully present than when I am on a farm, early morning and alone with God. This Proverb speaks to the humbling nature that is tending land with a life of its own. We, as farmers, are at the whim of nature, and we celebrate death knowing that on a farm nothing ever actually dies but prepares the way for a new season and a new life.

Prayer: Jesus, bringer, and giver of all life thank you for showing us true love in the dirt, in death and life fulfilled. I pray we always remember the ever approaching cycle that claims us all. I pray that we stay ever present, ever growing, and ever humbled in the presence of your love story to us. Jesus, creator, all mighty and perfect God.Thank you for calling us all to tend not only land but Relationships according to your will. We lift all this praise in your name. Amen.

Pearl Quick is a first-year Dual Degree, Divinity/Youth Ministry student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She was born and raised on an Army Base and a farm in North Carolina. Currently, she is working with Princeton Seminary’s working 17 acre Farm called ‘Farminary.’ She plans on becoming an ordained Pastor and starting a Farm Church for young, inner-city youth of color to teach healing, joy, and the beauty of Jesus.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Holy Week Hosannas

Reflection for Palm Sunday

by Shannon Spencer

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21: 1-11, NRSV)

It's Terry.  It's Abby.

It's me.  It's you.

We're on a journey. All of us. On our way from the Lenten wilderness to Jerusalem. And thank God we aren't called to do it alone.

We're called to accompany Terry.  Tall flamboyant Terry.  Usually with something controversial to say and even more often something funny to share, Terry called me over to his table at 12 Baskets Café.  I walked up behind him expecting his dry and at times inappropriate sense of humor.  I placed my hand on his shoulder and said, "Yes, Mr. Terry..."  His head turned slightly - just enough to look up - and I saw the tears.  He was crying.

Immediately I assumed something was wrong, but before I could ask, Terry said, "This is so beautiful.  It's just so beautiful."  I was confused for a moment until I realized he was speaking about his plate - piled high with Chicken Tikki Masala, basmati rice, a slice of ham, and a spoonful of sweet potatoes.   "Everyone should have this," he continued tearfully.  "Every morning I think about not coming.  But then I remember how grateful I am to be a part of this.  So I come.  And I brought these new friends I just met.  Everyone should have a place like this."  He wipes his nose and then offers to get the young woman still cold from sleeping outside the night before a hot cup of coffee.

It's Terry.

And it's Abby.

Abby is 8 years old and has been to the Café 3 times.  She comes with her dad who is a firefighter.  In January, Abby joined us with an envelope and several painted pictures.  She gave us the envelope which had a little over $30 in it.  She said that over Christmas, she painted pictures while at home and then took them to her church.  Following their worship service, Abby set up a stand and sold her art – letting folks know she was raising money for the homeless.

When I looked at her dad, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.  “She thought of this all on her own,” He said.  Did I say she was 8?

It’s a Cafe.  It’s Communion.  It’s Church.

It's me.  It's you.  We're all on a journey.
Friends, as we enter into Holy Week may we hear the Hosannas.  Carve out time to answer the crowd's question, "Who is this?  Who is this humble king...this prophet of peace...this simplistic savior?"  Who is he and how is he informing your life?

When the rest of the world expects you "to do," gather with a community who teaches how "to be".  When the demands and expectations weigh heavily - remember who you are and the narrative to which you belong.  When the crowd's cheers have turned from celebration to accusation, hear the question, "Who is this?" and trust in the Table that promises to always have space for one more.

Wave your palms in expectation...for Jesus will surely show up...
"Who is this?" asks the crowd -

It's Terry and it's Abby.  It's me and it's you.

Hosanna in the Highest!

Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, we give you thanks for the many and various ways you make your presence known to us.  Give us the vision to recognize you, the courage to follow you, and the comfort of trusting your promise of life everlasting.  Amen. 

Rev. Shannon Spencer is an ordained UCC pastor who currently serves as the founding directorof Asheville Poverty Initiative - the non-profit that runs 12 Baskets Café, as a chaplain at Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women and as the Adjunct Pastor for Missional Engagement at First Presbyterian in Asheville, NC.  But most importantly, she is the mom to two beautiful and amazing girls!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Reflection for Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection

by Allison Blay

“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.” 
(Ezekiel 47: 9)

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” ~Mary Oliver
“In the particular is contained the universal.” ~James Joyce

Recently, my family and I went camping at a nearby state park called Silver Springs, home of one of the world’s largest artesian springs.  Surrounded by cedars and live oaks draped in Spanish moss, water birds, fish and other wildlife are abundant there.  In a state known for tourism, Silver Springs is Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, dating back to before the Civil War.  In ancient times, Native Americans viewed it as a sacred place, calling it “Sua-ille-aha”—which roughly translates to “sun-glittering waters.”  

Today, this ancient, sacred place of radiant, crystalline waters is in jeopardy.  All of Florida’s magnificent natural springs are, due to water overuse, agricultural contamination, and the like.  But Silver Springs faces an additional challenge at this moment in its history: a cattle rancher wants to pump 1.2 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer that feeds the springs.  Now having spent time there, I feel I must do more than shake my head from a distance; I must get truly involved in efforts to save the springs.

Watershed Discipleship teaches us that in order to care for creation, we must become more connected to and take responsibility for the water and land under our feet.  Attending to the exquisite beauty of Silver Springs has led to my devotion to it, and to all Florida springs.  In the particular beauty of this place, I experience the universal beauty of all creation.  And I know that, just as the spring feeds the river, which flows into the entire river system, which spills out into the ocean, so my care of this one spring will also bubble forth, leading me to care about other springs, other rivers, other watersheds.  

Prayer: Creator God, help us to experience your universal love for all creation by attending to the unique beauty of our particular surroundings.  Let that attention lead us to become devoted stewards of creation in concrete ways.

Allison Blay holds a Masters in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, a Master of Education from the University of Florida, and a Certificate in Spiritual Formation from Columbia Theological Seminary.  She facilitates online adult education theology classes for Notre Dame.  For the past 18 years, she and her husband Steve have coordinated Friends Across the Ages, a nursing home volunteer outreach program they founded.  They live in Gainesville, Florida with their two children.