(December 1, 2021)
Noel’s Musings – These
past few weeks we’ve watched two racially tinged trials for murder. Some of you have been glued to the news
coverage. Everyone, I think, has at
least been aware of the verdicts.
A jury in
Wisconsin found Kyle Rittenhouse innocent of killing two persons because he was
able to claim that he felt his life was threatened by the protestors and he was
acting in self-defense. What strikes me
most is what a poorly designed law Wisconsin has. There’s a huge difference between defending
one’s home and self, and deliberately (and illegally) going out of one’s way to
look for trouble. I think most observers
will agree that justice was not done.
Georgia the three men who were responsible for Ahmaud Arbery’s death were
tried. This time the jury surprised
us. The person who pulled the trigger
was found guilty of intentional murder.
The other two were found guilty on lesser but still serious charges. The defendants here also tried to use the
self-defense claim, as well as a citizen’s arrest law designed originally to
help stop runaway slaves, but the jury saw through the pretense. A reasonably just verdict seems to be the
Why share my
thoughts on these two high profile trials?
As we head into the season of Advent, the scriptures we hear ask us to
think about “waiting.” Advent is the
season in the church calendar (as opposed to the secular shopping calendar)
when we prepare for and then wait for Jesus Christ. We wait for his birth to come, but the birth
stories are always told in the context of the ancient hope for a Day of the
Lord to come to us to redeem God’s people and bring in the long-awaited reign
of Divine justice and peace. With the
birth of Jesus the Christ, the New Testament writers and Christians everywhere
say that this reign of God’s justice and peace has begun.
Thanks be to
But how long
must we wait for the fullness of God’s ages-old promise to be realized? When will the lion lay down with the lamb in
real time? When will our swords be
turned into plowshares? When will juries
stop being selected with race as a primary consideration? When will Black men be able to go for a run
or walk in protest without fear of being gunned down? How long, O God, must we
wait? Everyone who suffers cries that
question. There is no answer.
continue to wait expectantly, continue to keep watch, continue to pray, and yes
continue to speak up for and organize for justice. Many will continue to suffer. The cries of those unjustly assailed sound all
the more urgent! But don’t give up your
faith! Advent is the time to pay
attention to the pain and urgency of ALL our waiting, and to see that we are
united with a long history of God’s people who hoped and waited to see their salvation
Christmas I invite you to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Savior in the
context of signs of despair, and signs of hope in the world around us. Remember that God’s new age is coming. It’s coming slowly, often imperceptibly, but
it is coming surely. Jesus is the down
payment on God’s promise to be fulfilled.
He is the Immanuel (God with us) for the time being, and the herald of God’s
peaceful, just and joy-filled reign to come.
Thanks be to God!
This Advent I
join you in the pain of expectant waiting.
faithfully - Pastor Noel
(March 29, 2021)
Pastor Noel’s Musings – This Easter
I am going to still be looking at the Good Friday cross rather than at the
lilies and the amazing colors of the suddenly blooming crocuses. I am going to think about the pain we go
through to get to Easter.
have lost so much this past year. Many
of you lost loved ones to Covid-19.
Young people especially lost a year in their lives in which they would
normally have learned and grown, experimented, fallen in love. Collectively as a nation we’ve lost the
illusion that we’ve moved beyond racism.
What’s left is mostly pain.
candy store/lunch counter in Larchmont that I go to while my car is being
serviced nearby. Dave makes me breakfast. He’s a guy about my age. We talk. He grew up in a neighborhood I used
to work in. The kids come in and buy candy
on their way to school. I look forward
to my oil change times. But Dave’s shop
didn’t survive the pandemic. Now it
stands empty. I’m grieving.
sadness. So much loss. And so many deeper
griefs than mine. In the early days of
the pandemic funerals were kept to a maximum of ten. Zoom wakes and memorial
services didn’t help all that much.
Funeral Director and poet Thomas Lynch describes a moment when a
grieving mother who lost a teenager educates a clergy person on how to
talk. He had referred to the body of her
daughter as “just a shell… remember this soul is with Jesus.” She bristled, “I’ll tell you when it’s just a shell! For now and until I tell you otherwise, she’s my daughter.”
didn’t get a funeral, did he? Or rather
his followers weren’t allowed to grieve him publicly. In that the early disciples were much like us
today with our truncated and awkward grieving for the people, places, and life
lost. Am I wrong to compare the tears of
the three Marys’ over Jesus dying to the anguish we feel today, whatever you
are grieving? One of the first rules of
grief work is this: “The least helpful
thing for grieving people is other people telling them how they should be doing
things.” (Judith Skretney, “Top Seven Things to Know about Grief.”)
memoir, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
recalled thinking to himself when his wife died, not “Do I still believe in
God?” but rather “What kind of God do I believe in?” That is the question for us all now. Where do we see God’s love now? What kind of God do we believe in?
Luther said in reply, just look at the cross because there you see God’s truest
self. There you see God’s heart. It was broken. God did not hold back the only, beloved Son
from death on the cross. But God is a giver, not a hoarder, of divine
love. Freedom, renewal, forgiveness are
given us through the cross and resurrection.
It’s not that we deserve them as compensation for our suffering. They are ours because the suffering and grieving
God gives love away even in and through pain.
That’s God’s grace at work.
I’m still going to be looking at the cross.
I’m going to be wondering where Dave has gone. But I’m also going to be thanking my God for
giving love away even with a broken heart.
yours – Pastor Noel
Musings – Instead
of writing about New Year’s resolutions, I want to talk with you about
important work that needs to be done. At
the Community Church we’ve started a notable occasional conversation about
racism. We’ve dialoged with two other
churches on this topic. We’ve studied it
in a couple of small study groups. Some
of us have attended meetings sponsored by the Resilience Coalition of
Westchester County to discuss the trauma that racism inflicts on children. We supported, in word and deed, the Black
Lives Matter movement this past summer when so many took to the streets to
protest the police killings of Black men.
We’ve made a good beginning.
But the hard work continues.
It’s not enough to talk with others about issues “out there.” How are we
doing, personally and as a congregation, in regard to becoming more antiracist
in our outlook as well as actions?
What I hope we can do together
is engage more in conversation. How do
we bring up the topic of racism when someone we know says something that
strikes us as vaguely….or maybe explicitly racist? How deep are we willing to look within
ourselves to try to see from where our gut level attitudes and feelings about race
Conversations about race need the
eyes of two leaders. I am beginning to
work with a trained consultant in the New York Conference’s New and Right
Spirit Antiracism project, Rev. Geraldine Howard. Rev. Howard is a Black woman. She is a member of the Riverside Church.
She’s preached here as a guest preacher.
Rev. Howard brings different experiences to the discussion than I
do. She is also a trained pastoral
counselor who works with other therapists in helping people connect more to
their feelings. Working at the feeling
level of relationships isn’t my strong point.
I very much look forward to partnering with her as we do the hard work of discussing antiracism.
What are our goals for
continuing conversation? First, I very
much hope that when the national attention to racial justice issues begins to wane,
that we don’t just put this topic away. It’s
a part of our national life that isn’t going away anytime soon.
Second, as a congregation whose
roots are European American, we’ve been shaped by the Dominant culture of these
United States. Our Congregational
forbears were the Pilgrims and Puritans who gave our country a taste for
democracy and individual rights. But
they also bought into the slave owning system.
They had a mixed record in respecting indigenous peoples. Whether we like it or not this history has
shaped who we are now as a congregation.
Collectively we’ve benefited from being a part of the dominant
culture. What then as a congregation are
we willing to let go of? Is there
something in our governance, our worship or even our theology that we would
risk changing in order to be more truly multicultural? Can we learn from Christians who come from other
There are no easy answers to
these questions. But we need to ask them
if we are to be serious about pursuing an antiracist future. I don’t expect us
all to become ardent activists. My goal
is more modest. I want us just to be
able to talk at a deeper and more honest level and make some small changes
Will you join me?
--Faithfully yours, Pastor
Noel’s Musings – We are a small
congregation but we have a big heart. We
have been cautious during the pandemic but some of us have gone outdoors to
protest, to push for voting rights, to help our neighbor, to visit our elders
(from a distance). We have been employed
and unemployed, retired and home-schooled, bored but also engaged with new
discoveries online. In a time of
economic uncertainty we have guarded our pennies but remembered to be generous
to those in need. We have worshipped the living God even when many hearts are
asking “Where are you, O Lord?” We have
kept the faith in spite of not possessing all the answers to all the difficult
A few weeks ago
the President complained that too many churches remained closed. He doesn’t understand. Our church, and most churches, have never
been closed! We have Zoomed our worship
into living rooms, dens, kitchens and patios from Pelham to Arizona to the West
Indies. People are calling one another
and checking to see that they are ok. More people are participating in prayer
and Bible study than ever before.
Attendance at worship has increased.
Along with other Pelham clergy Pastor Noel is organizing a meeting with
our two local police departments to comment on their developing plans for
“re-invention” per Governor Cuomo’s mandate.
We’ve helped Rev. Dr. Lillian Reynolds provide laptops to homeless
children in Mt. Vernon.
Church has never
closed. It just moved into new and dispersed realms. Church is finally
where they are at, quite literally – because we love each other and want to
preserve life. And you know what? In
many ways, this incarnation of Christ’s Church is better than ever.
God keep us
moving and preserving life, and helping our neighbors, and speaking out for
justice. God keep us following Jesus!
Yours in faith,
Pastor Noel’s Musings – We enter the season of Advent on Sunday. You know Advent as the four week time of
preparation for the birth of Jesus. It’s
associated in our minds with Advent wreaths, decorating the Christmas tree, and
battles over how soon we can sing Christmas carols at worship versus Advent
hymns. Each year we marvel as stores
start the Christmas shopping blitz earlier and earlier.
This Advent I’m thinking about beginnings and endings. The very cute baby pictured above (sorry - photo missing) is not baby
Jesus. It’s Rhett, born to Channelle and
Devin from our congregation this October. I am waiting eagerly to meet him in
Linda and I are fostering a puppy, a mixed breed bundle of energy named
Tigger. He came to us because the
adoption Linda helped with didn’t work out. We are holding him till the rescue group finds him a new family. Our dogs are “tolerating” him but he makes me
You too can point to new and hopeful signs.
A child or a grandchild takes a new step in life. You identify a new personal dream.
Then, There are endings, too, that Advent brings to mind. Downstairs from us
our neighbor Charles is on life support and his wife Tally has difficult
decisions to make. Between Linda and me
we have four family/friends who are seriously ill. A friend just passed away. You too know loss and know people
experiencing losses. My heart goes out
to Ana Pacheco whose father just passed away.
In addition, even though we may not wish to think about it, we know that children still sleep in
cages at our southern border. Black men
still are shot by the police all too readily.
In the United States alone 22 transgendered persons were murdered this
year. Refugees flee violence and go hungry all over the world.
us, no… it demands that we learn to incorporate both joy and sadness, eager
expectation and aching emptiness into our appreciation of what the Savior
brings. He comes with hope and tidings
of good cheer and a promise of salvation.
But he comes too as the One who will someday come to judge the
world. He reminds us that this world is
passing away and it is not all right as it is with God its Creator. Justice and love demand more. Are you ready?
Get ready! This is what Advent is for.
gUEST oPINION - Robert tAYLOR - aPRIL 29, 2019
kNEEL TO PRAY
When you kneel there are multiple messages you may deliver.
*Genuflection: Bending, typically in worship to pray, or as
a sign of respect.
*Supplication: Asking for something humbly.
*As we traditionally know it, kneeling is a positive act.
We are now faced with a situation where a person who kneels
is interpreted as disrespectful. A negative act. There is no justification for
this interpretation, but there is precedent founded in racism.
Do you know:
These are African-American males who have been shot dead by
white police officers, without provocation and lacking any sort of resistance.
Many were retreating or running away. Under no circumstances was the use of
deadly physical force justified. What do these men have in common with the act
The common bond arises out of the actions of a professional
athlete who decided to honor the fallen and protest the epidemic by kneeling
during the playing of the National Anthem, before a football game.
The football player sent out a message for others to
understand that there were too many tragic events of black males being murdered
in the name of the law and to bring attention to a need for evaluation. Someone decided to bring attention to this
centuries old problem. His actions were lauded by some, but predictably reviled
by that segment of American society who distort patriotism to
justify racism. Such an act, say they, dishonors the flag and
those who serve in the military.
To construe an act that is honorific in nature as one of
disrespect is rife with hypocrisy, but understandable of those who take that
position. The hypocrisy lies in the history of this country which has denied
basic rights and freedoms to African-Americans.
Have you ever been told that you can't use that restroom,
you can't buy from that food stand or you can't drink from that water fountain
because of the color of your skin?
Let's go back to Oxford, Mississippi circa 1965. We are at a
University of Mississippi football game. Before the game starts the Ole' Miss
Marching Band plays the National Anthem. Everybody stands and faces the flag,
hand over heart perhaps, those in uniform saluting. If you are an
African-American attending this game, you're doing the same thing.
But if you are African-American you can't use the white
restrooms, you can't buy snacks or refreshments from the white food stands and
you can't drink from the white water fountain. And surely among those rising
and facing the flag, and putting their hands over their heart and saluting if
in uniform are African-Americans sitting segregated in the "Colored"
section. Those in uniform served their country in war and combat. Many shed their blood for their country. Yet in 1965 at the Ole’ Miss game while the
National Anthem played in the background, they are shunned.
Do you know:
These are African-American males who were shot dead by white
police officers without provocation and lacking any sort of resistance. Many
were retreating or running away. Under no circumstances was the use of deadly force
Times have changed from our Oxford, Mississippi circa 1965 example.
But the discrimination has now taken a more evil and violent turn. Separate but
equal has long been exposed as the ignorant and fallacious proposition it
espouses. Discrimination now comes in other forms including acts of cruelty and
cowardice by those armed bigots shooting black men without cause. And don't
think for a minute there is any justification. How do you justify taking the
life of an unarmed man by shooting him in the back while he's running away from
a traffic stop for a broken tail light, other than by attributing it to overt
So after dozens of similar tragedies an athlete kneels
during the National Anthem, instead of standing. facing the flag, putting hand
over heart or saluting. The athlete is ostracized for being disrespectful to
the military and unpatriotic to the Country. Where were these accusers in 1965?
Do you know: George
Mr. Dorsey was an African-American World War II Army veteran who on July 25, 1946 in Walton
County, Georgia was dragged from a car with his wife and another couple by the
Klan and brutally murdered. His transgression was being in the company of
another black man who had confronted a white man abusing his wife.
Do you know: Don
Don Newcombe was an All-Star caliber pitcher in the Major
Leagues for 16 years. As was the case at the time his career was interrupted
for 2 years to serve in the United States Army. When he returned in 1952, he
could not stay with his white teammates in the same hotel when the team visited
St. Louis. The National Anthem was played before baseball games in St. Louis in
A controversy has
emerged from a professional athlete kneeling on the field when the Star
Spangled Banner, as I learned it, is played. To kneel when the music plays or
the song is sung is said to be disrespectful and offensive to those who served,
offensive to our Country. Really?
Do you know: Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr.?
In 1946 Sgt. Woodard had been honorably discharged from the
United States Army and was on a bus heading home to Winnsboro, S.C. In route he was dragged from the bus, jailed
and brutally beaten by the white police chief in Batesburg. He lost his
eyesight from this beating.
Isn’t the treatment of Sgt. Woodard and many other black
veterans the real disrespect and offensive to those who served in the
military? Isn’t what continues to happen
to far too many black men today the real offense to our patriotism?
If you are watching S. W. Griffith’s silent film classic Birth of a Nation and see the Klu Klux
Klan come riding at you waving an American flag, do you stand up and place your
hand on your heart or salute? I don’t
think so. The scene is blatantly
racist. Why can’t we extend to the
football player the same awareness that some evils transcend traditional demonstrations
Athletes kneel in supplication praying the slaughter will stop. They firmly believe Black Lives Matter. My Christian faith leads me to emphatically say
And let’s not kid ourselves. If the Anthem played at the segregated
football game in 1965, and we didn’t complain, and the flag continues to
flutter in courtrooms today where murder is justified, then we have a lot of
work to do. Maybe we all need to kneel