Associate Pastors Jack & Liz Miller
Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated fierce Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish. It’s a great story, but none of it is true. The shamrock legend came along centuries after Patrick’s death, as did the miraculous battles against the Druids. Forget about the snakes — Ireland never had any to begin with. No snakes, no shamrocks, and he wasn’t even Irish.
The historical Patrick was not Irish at all, but a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in fifth-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland. For six years he endured brutal conditions as he watched over his master’s sheep on a lonely mountain in a strange land. He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God. One day he escaped and risked his life to make a perilous journey across Ireland, finding passage back to Britain on a ship of reluctant pirates. His family welcomed back their long-lost son and assumed he would take up his life of privilege, but Patrick heard a different call. He returned to Ireland to bring a new way of life to a people who had once enslaved him. He constantly faced opposition, threats of violence, kidnapping, and even criticism from jealous church officials, while his Irish followers faced abuse, murder, and enslavement themselves by mercenary raiders. But through all the difficulties Patrick maintained his faith and persevered in his Irish mission.
Patrick wasn’t the first Christian to reach Ireland; he wasn’t even the first bishop. What made Patrick successful was his dogged determination and the courage to face whatever dangers lay ahead, as well as the compassion and forgiveness to work among a people who had brought nothing but pain to his life. None of this came naturally to him, however. He was a man of great insecurities who constantly wondered if he was really cut out for the task he had been given. He had missed years of education while he was enslaved in Ireland and carried a tremendous chip on his shoulder when anyone sneered, as they frequently did, at his simple, schoolboy Latin. He was also given to fits of depression, self-pity, and violent anger. Patrick was not a storybook saint, meek and mild, who wandered Ireland with a beatific smile and a life free from petty faults. He was very much a human being who constantly made mistakes and frequently failed to live up to his own Christian ideals, but he was honest enough to recognize his shortcomings and never allow defeat to rule his life.
You don’t have to be Irish to admire Patrick. His is a story of inspiration for anyone struggling through hard times public or private in a world with unknown terrors lurking around the corner. So, raise to the patron saint of Ireland, but remember the man behind the myth. Philip Freeman earned his Ph.D. in Classics and Celtic Studies at Harvard University. He teaches at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and is the author of fifteen books, including The World of Saint Patrick.
One of our favorite books by one our favorite authors is God Laughs and Plays: Churchless Sermons on Response to Preachments of Fundamentalists by David James Duncan. On the inside flap of this book, Duncan writes, “I was born a chosen person, though this state of affairs was not of my choosing.” The description of the book following this comment states: “While reminding us that the true Christian ethos scorns riches and embraces the poor; blesses the peacemakers, not war maker; and asks us to love and serve neighbors and ‘do good’ even unto enemies, Duncan also goes a step further: he offers a poignant, playful, yet inspiring glimpse into a profound new cosmology that can help humanity manage the epochal challenges of a fast-globalizing and ecologically compromised world.” Steve has referred to Duncan’s book a number of times in his messages, primarily to support the idea that, as Christians, we really can imagine God as laughing and playing and being amused, which is certainly not the way God is usually depicted.
A recent article in The Christian Century caught our attention, as it too spoke of a good-humored God. In “A God who plays,” Debie Thomas recalls C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe; Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, and numerous biblical references in her discussion about a good-natured God, who “delights in each sunrise, each daisy, each individual act of creation and recreation.” We liked what she wrote so much we’d like to share the entire article with all of you. So, here it is:
A God Who Plays
by Debie Thomas (from The Christian Century, February 13, 2019, page 39)
Every few years, I return like a wanderer coming home to a scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan has just come back to life after being killed by the wicked White Witch. Although the majestic lion’s resurrection foreshadows the novel’s happy ending, the land of Narnia is in immediate peril. War is ravaging the land, Aslan's faithful followers are dying, and the White Witch is gleefully certain that she has triumphed over her enemy. It is a dire moment.
And at this dire moment, Aslan takes a break from the solemn business of world-saving to play a rousing game of tag. “Oh children,” he shouts to the kids who have witnessed his resurrection, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh children, catch me if you can!” And off he goes, leading them on an exhilarating, joy-filled chase through the hills until they finally collapse “in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.” “It was such a romp,” Lewis writes, “as no one had ever had except in Narnia.”
The first time I encountered this scene—as an adult, reading the Narnia books to my own kids—I cried. The possibility that God might laugh, romp, and play with his children stopped me in my tracks. How could such a scandalous thing be true?
Growing up, I never heard a word about God laughing, joking, or doing anything for fun. No one invited me to imagine the Jesus of the Gospels smiling, much less goofing around with his disciples, playing hide-and-seek with the children who flocked to him, or basking in the sunshine on a gorgeous summer day. The list of characteristics I associated with God—omniscience, holiness, transcendence, righteousness—did not include playfulness. It did not include an affinity for tag.
Yet play is a fundamental part of human childhood, and it features elsewhere in creation as well. Many wild animals play—even though it burns up their energy for survival without providing food, shelter, or safety. Why would evolution favor such a useless activity?
The Bible is chock-full of references to play, too. The book of Proverbs describes Lady Wisdom playing with God in the act of creation: “I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the sons of men” (8:30–31, NAB). Psalm 104 describes the sea creatures God made specifically to play with. What if not playfulness characterizes God’s instruction to Abraham to name his son Isaac, meaning “let him laugh”? And how can Jesus exhort his disciples to become like children if he doesn’t value play?
My first encounter with Aslan’s romp in the hills was a revelation. It opened up the possibility of a wilder, roomier, and more beautiful God—a God who knows how to have fun, who isn’t afraid of pleasure. A God who takes seriously the business of play and invites me—a creature made in God’s image—to reflect that playfulness back.
But what does spiritual playfulness look like? I think it looks like deep attentiveness: a willingness to gaze, attend to detail, and enjoy rather than to use, abuse, or consume. It looks like collaboration and fairness, a mutual commitment to the pleasure of all involved in the game.
And it involves a steadfast and creative refusal to default to boredom, cynicism, ennui, and contempt. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton describes this refusal as God might practice it:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again,” and the adult does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy.
I love the possibility that God delights in each sunrise, each daisy, each individual act of creation and recreation. I love the possibility that I might approach life in the same way, finding even in repetition and sameness infinite opportunities for joy, creativity, and pleasure. I wonder how my approach to life would change if I no longer needed to “kill” time but instead learned to bask in it.
I’m not particularly keen on New Year’s resolutions. But as I start 2019 and face a world like Aslan’s—a world in peril and need, desperate for hope and justice—I’m drawn to the power of play as an antidote to despair. To play is to trust, to resist anxiety. It is to believe that the ending will be a happy one and to bravely cocreate that ending with God. Sara Maitland writes in A Big-Enough God that “every old-fashioned sin list” should include the failure to have fun. That would completely change the way I practice my faith.
A few years ago, a friend who knows how much I love the Aslan story sent me a small stuffed lion. She tied a note around his neck: “May you always know a God who romps with you.” I hope I will.
How does a playful, romping, laughing God resonate with you? As mentioned earlier, it certainly is a different picture of God from what we usually see and from what we’ve been taught. But we find so much of God’s creation to be joyful and good for play it isn’t a stretch to believe the Creator is the same. The part of the article about Aslan and the kids ending their romp by collapsing in a heap brought to mind an event we witnessed at a monastery in Indiana. As we were strolling through the beautiful campus, we heard a bell ring in a building up a hill some distance away, then a door flew open and a monk holding his robe up above his knees came barreling out at full speed. Following right behind was a group of uniformed, adolescent boys whooping and tearing after the monk, who was running down the hill. He tripped, fell down laughing, and started rolling down the hill with the boys joining him in a pile at the bottom of the slope. It was one of the most delightful scenes we have ever witnessed. The joyful laughter followed us out to our car. We were both laughing with them, feeling their joy, and believing our playful God was laughing, too.
With hope for peace, justice, and laughter, Steve and Lela
Check the bulletin board for updated information about our congregation and the Disciples of Christ organization.
As an ordained minister, Fred Rogers harnessed the power of television to tell children they were loved — and to show them how to love others. In You Are Special, he writes, “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”
In a review of the touching documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? a writer for Variety notes: “Rogers’ real secret was … that the call to love your neighbor as yourself isn’t a slogan to hang in your kitchen with flowers around it — it’s a decision you make at every moment, to view every man, woman and child on earth as your neighbor. If you don’t see and feel that, and act on it, then you’re just another narcissist with a kitchen slogan.”
Last October, when a synagogue shooting shattered the peace of Rogers’ real-life former neighborhood, residents of all religions embraced one another as neighbors. Afterward, the Fred Rogers Center stated, “We long for a day when there is no more tragedy born from hatred.”
Ripples of kindness
“I drop kindness pebbles in still water every day, and I watch the effect they have on other people’s lives. My favorite kindness pebbles are compliments. Drop a compliment and watch the ripple effect that it has in your life.”
Remarkably, these cheery words come from a father who has faced many dark, difficult days. In 6 Minutes Wrestling With Life, John Passaro tells of his daughter’s heart-wrenching battle with meningitis. The struggles didn’t make him bitter; rather, he frequently offers uplifting words on social media.
What if we followed Passaro’s example and complimented people regularly? Philippians 4:8 (NIV) instructs us to think about things that are noble, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. By extension, turning those positive thoughts into words causes “kindness pebbles” to spread God’s light in ripples throughout someone’s day — and, doubtless, through ours.
Lighten your load
Keeping Sabbath, not just on Sundays but throughout the entire week in an integrated way, keeps us sane, says Donna Schaper. While our culture pushes us to move faster, work harder and acquire more money and stuff, Sabbath observances promote play, rest, love and worship.
“Sabbath — time for God — is a gift in its origin and in its keeping,” Schaper writes in Sabbath Keeping (Cowley Publications). “It is not another must; it is a may. God invites us to keep Sabbath; God does not demand it.”
The commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, she notes, “is an invitation to a party, not to a hanging. Sabbath keeping is not one more thing to add to our already long lists. [It] is lightness, not heaviness.”
St. Valentine, a Roman priest, was martyred in 270 A.D. for loving Jesus. Some sources say he performed weddings after the emperor banned them; others say he rescued Christians from Roman prisons. Two centuries later, the pope declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
According to legend, the priest signed his letters “Your Valentine.” Later, Christians followed suit to honor him. By the mid-1700s, friends and sweethearts exchanged heart-shaped trinkets or sent handwritten notes of affection on February 14.
"A Caring, Welcoming Community of Faith"
News From the Pews
We have survived the winter weather! Spring is right around the corner, the daffodils are emerging, and we are so glad to see the sun!
Here is the yearly schedule for Pastor Steve & our Associate Pastors Jack & Liz Miller: Pastor Steve Coleman will serve MVFCC: January-April-July-August-November-December Church/Home Office Hours: Monday - Thursday from 9:00am-1:00pm Cell phone: 360-391-0395 Associate Pastors Rev. Jack Miller & Rev. Liz Miller will serve MVFCC:
Office Hours: Home-based hours on Mondays from 9:00am-1:00pm & Church Office Hours on Thursdays from 9:00am - 1:00pm Cell Phones: 360-318-6068 & 360-510-9081
*If you are in need of Pastor care, feel free to call any of our wonderful clergy for help.
Building Update: This red brick building has been going through some major work to update and repair our central heating system. A new gas meter and line was installed, and the whole system was checked out and leaks were discovered and fixed. The cost for this huge project was in the thousands of dollars. If you are able to contribute a few extra dollars above your monthly tithing, it would be very much appreciated. Our budget does not cover such a large expense, and we are grateful for your help. As with any structure, repairs and maintenance are required in order to keep the doors open. Thanks to Larry Labo for orchestrating this entire project. He spent countless hours on the phone and at the church to get this work completed. We appreciate his time and talents.
We are going through a transition in the life of our church. With the Colemans working half time, we are ready to plan for what comes next. The future of our congregation will be addressed by the Board. If you have any questions or concerns about how we need to move forward, please talk to a Board member. Thank you for continued financial support. We need every one to participate financially, spiritually, and emotionally to make this congregation strong.
Have a great month!
“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.
The Mount Vernon First Christian Church gathers together as a community of faith, declaring Jesus our Christ, the one who reconciles us with God and with each other. We provide a place of traditional worship in a forthright, supportive, and open atmosphere. We are a congregation committed to serving local and global outreach ministries.
Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion by Rome. This is believed to have taken place in Roman occupied Jerusalem. The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century (and not all do significantly) use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as favorite foods or smoking. Whatever the sacrifice it is a reflection of Jesus' deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.
Why 40 days? 40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture: In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. Most Christians regard Jesus' time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent.