SITE INDEX
Top of Page


Jo Gabriele
Jo Gabriele

FORUM ON FAITH

Make resolutions to help others.

by Jo Gabriele

Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012

Danbury News Times

As 2012 draws to a close and with 2013 about to begin, thoughts turn to making resolutions for the New Year.

When the holidays approach, they become a topic of many conversations within my circle of friends and family but the resolutions always seem to be the same year after year: exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, save money, learn to relax, spend quality time with family, etc.

This year however is different for me. I seem to be more aware of the realities that surround me. So when the topic of resolutions came up recently I found myself asking, "What good is a resolution if I am the only one who will benefit from it?"

So I sought inspiration from my faith teachings and everyday people to answer the question.

My first source of inspiration came by way of a sermon from my Pastor. He used the life story of Dorothy Day to demonstrate the belief that love of God and love of neighbor go hand-in-hand. Dorothy Day was a devout Catholic convert who devoted her life to providing direct aid and advocacy to the poor and homeless. In Danbury, we are fortunate to have several social service agencies who share the same passion and vision. One of the most notable is The Dorothy Day Hospitality House, staffed by volunteers of all faiths who provide meals to the hungry each afternoon and shelter to people each night. The concept is quite simple, all who enter are welcome.

The first Sunday of every month, our parish takes a collection for the Hospitality House and we have teams assigned to preparing and serving the meal. These are simple acts of humanity that speak volumes and clearly demonstrate how love of God and love of neighbor go hand-in-hand.

My second source of inspiration came while driving to and from work one day. One morning, I noticed a man riding his bike and he stopped at a trash can on Main Street. Going through the trash, he pulled out redeemable cans and bottles and placed them in a green trash bag that was tied to his handlebars. My first thought was what a shame it was that this man's circumstances had led him to "canning" for survival.

Later that day, on my way home, I saw him again. This time he was riding one bike and guiding another along side of him and neither bike had bag tied to the handlebars. This time my first thought was, "he must have had a good day."

Reflecting on it later I thought that in our own way we had both spent our day at work doing what we needed to do to survive, but our circumstances however were very different.

I work inside in a warm comfortable place while every day he is exposed to the elements, and my salary allows me to live a comfortable life when most likely what he makes in one day barely feeds him.

Think about it, this man has to collect 100 cans or bottles to make $5 so even on a great day maybe his take home is $10. In 2011 the average cost of a teenage babysitter was $10 an hour, so how can my neighbor survive on $10 a day?

In my years of experience in the non-profit sector there has been more than one occasion when I've thought, "There but for the grace of God go I." It only takes one tragedy, illness, job loss or storm to change a life forever.

During the holidays, my thoughts and actions turn to those less fortunate, but hunger, homelessness, illness, underemployment and unemployment are everyday issues. So my original question later became, "What can one person do to affect change throughout the year?"

One small act of kindness on my part, multiplied by many people can help improve the lives of those in need.

All it takes is one person who is willing to take the first step and start a chain reaction: donate a can of food, a winter hat, a pair of gloves, a pair of warm socks, a blanket or give an hour of time to volunteer.

So in 2013 I resolve to take the first step and buy food to feed my neighbor or warm clothing to help shield my neighbor from the cold and I will ask my family and friends to do the same.

We may not change the world but will maybe change a life one at a time.

Jo Gabriele, Program Assistant, the Association of Religious Communities (ARC) and member Sacred Heart of Jesus, Danbury. She can be reached at proassist@arcforpeace.org" .



Fr. Angelo Arrando
Fr. Angelo Arrando

FORUM ON FAITH

From marking Jesus' birth to celebrating his life.

by Fr. Angelo Arrando

Published: Saturday, December 22, 2012

Danbury News Times

I love Christmas and enjoy caroling with the best of them "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas". But I have to ask myself, "What is it that the non-Christian world perceives about our Christian beliefs and why we celebrate the day with such gusto?"

Christmas is a big deal for us. We prepare, decorate, illuminate, write cards, mail, shop, wrap, bake, cook, carol, exchange, visit, accelerate and celebrate.

The world witnesses the onset of Christmas with Santa Claus, decorated trees, lights and more lights and many think this is keeping "Christ in Christmas." I have to wonder if non-Christians are not asking themselves, "How hollow can this Christian faith be?"

When we say we want to keep Christ in Christmas, we often mean we want to keep Christ as the lovely little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothing and lying in a manger.

But Jesus' response to the human condition is not only his birth but also his Life.

Once we move away from his birth to his Life we can understand the wonder of what our celebration is truly about. Consider the kind of world that Jesus was born into.

His world was not that much different from our own. In Jesus' day as in ours, society was not concerned primarily about human beings, and living was controlled by fears and uncertainties. Jesus was born into a fear-based culture, in a land ruled by the Roman Empire. Jesus grew up under an omnipresent, powerful Roman presence that predetermined everyone's existence everywhere, keeping everyone in line. Rage and resentment circulated unforgivingly in a people beaten down by an all-controlling system.

Jesus grew up under that oppressive atmosphere.

He witnessed what went on in his neighborhood. He felt his people's pain. Jesus knew all too well the maddening fears that melted them down and kept them caged in their daily prisons of servitude and subservience.

Giving up their fears

As Jesus gathered his followers he led them to see how different their lives could be if they could give up their fears of survival and make love of God and love of neighbor their first law of life. The centerpiece of Jesus' mission for our human transformation was the grassroots gathering of his followers around supper tables, dinner tables, where they met at meals, relaxed at ease with one another, told stories and talked life.

But it was not just talking and telling. They brought with them their surplus foods, grain and grapes, fish and wine to share with others. They took home with them what they needed from what others had shared with them.

A new abundance

In the giving and sharing of their resources, the followers of Jesus began to experience a new abundance. Everyone had plenty. All were givers. All were receivers. All were richer for their mutual reciprocity.

Jesus keenly understood that nothing in human history ever changes until people change themselves. So "repent", he said to them, meaning "reinvent the way you feel, the way you believe, the way you behave within your world."

And slowly his followers moved away from their self-promoting, self protecting ways. Radical sharing replaced radical hoarding! Radical hospitality replaced radical possessiveness! All-forgiving love replaced unforgiving competition!

Even in the face of Jesus' death and continual Roman persecution the hope of the resurrection and of new possibilities slowly grew. Fear was no longer the driving force. Although imprisoned within the Kingdom of Caesar, Jesus' followers transferred their energies away from fear of their world to care and concern for one another.

The hungry were given food. Strangers off the road were taken home. Nothing was lacking to anyone where everyone was inclined toward giving. It was the beginning of a new economy, the economy of love. Jesus names it the "Kingdom of God".

With fear at a minimum and trust at a maximum, a rival way of existing as human beings came to be. People's survival no longer depended on the Roman system. Jesus offered his followers an ingenious alternative lifestyle - and he still offers it to our world.

A better way

Jesus' message changed the way his people lived in the world he dwelt in, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was help in common. There was not a needy people among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what they sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

Christmas challenges us to see that the functioning of our human society need not be based on survival fears. Our life can be lived another way if we move from our pride of possessing to the joy of sharing all that we own in holy caring for one another. But this requires repentance; a fundamental change in our acquisitive habits of buying, getting, owning and having things that in turn organize and govern the workings of our everyday world.

Givers, not takers

As possessions are made secondary to Jesus' way of living, then we become givers instead of takers. Then will our attitude be generosity not storage, our mindset hospitality not competition. Following Jesus we will create an environment making everyone feel welcome.

We will think differently of persons.

We will see persons differently.

We will be with persons in a totally different way than the way we are with one another everyday now.

Putting persons back where persons belong, at the heart of all that we are, we will create a world of talking and listening, of receiving and giving, where our true personal connection to one another matters more than anything else in our world.

"Keeping Christ in Christmas" starts by moving away from his birth to following his Life.

Fr. Angelo S. Arrando is pastor of St. Gregory the Great R. C. Church in Danbury, CT - 203-797-0222



Rev. Luke Mihaly
Rev. Luke Mihaly

FORUM ON FAITH

Christmass is a time for love.

by Fr. Luke Mihaly

Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012

Danbury News Times

Christmas is a time of Love. It is an opportunity to experience Love; to share Love. I have to chuckle when I hear about the 'controversy' of Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays because many people do not even realize that Holidays is the conjunction of the words 'Holy Days', just as Goodbye is the conjunction of the words 'God be with ye.' It becomes a false 'battle' that is often brought up at this time of year not only to sell papers and make money, but often to portray 'Neanderthal' Merry Christmas people against the more 'Enlightened and Progressive' Happy Holiday people. How silly. I think the sad thing is how many of us fall for it.

The thing this controversy stirs up is our passions and emotions, which can blind us to this season of Christmas. The Gospel from John says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him would have eternal life." The story of Christmas actually begins exactly nine months before with the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Here, the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a child who would be the Savior of the world, Jesus.

The story is remarkable to me because it is a revelation; God appeared to man. Man did not pull down God from the heavens; in fact it is just the opposite. God came down to man. But what's most remarkable to me is that God did not just come down to us to spend some time with us and teach us a few things. This child of Mary did not just give us another philosophy of Life. No, this child is the Son of God.

This is why in the Orthodox Church the greeting at Christmas is: Christ is born! Glorify Him!

I love what St. Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews when he refers to Jesus as the pioneer of our faith. Jesus Christ blazed a trail for us that ultimately leads us from death to the kingdom of Heaven. And in the Orthodox Church we believe God did this by sanctifying every aspect of human life: from conception to death to the kingdom of heaven. God sanctified human life by becoming human. God did not just appear as an adult nor just as a baby in a manger. In the Orthodox Church, we believe God started where we all started: at conception.

The mystery of Jesus is that after experiencing death like the rest of humanity, Jesus was able to be that pioneer who blazed the trail out of death into the kingdom of heaven. In the Orthodox Church we believe the only way he is able to do this is because Jesus is God, He is Life Itself. He is Love that cannot be contained by death. In the Orthodox Church it is understood that after Christ's resurrection the gates of hell no longer remain shut.

There is a beautiful icon that hangs behind the altar at Holy Trinity and it shows Christ raising Adam and Eve from hell. But if you look carefully you will also see that it shows the gates of hell wide open and its chains broken. The problem is that many choose to stay. We are addicted to our misery; we are addicted to our prejudices; we are addicted to our anger; we are addicted to our pride; this list goes on. Unfortunately, so many of us choose to stay behind in our anger, in our prejudices, in our pride.

In the Orthodox Church we believe Christmas is a celebration of God's choice to Love all of us by becoming like us so that we might regain that freedom of choice to be with him. The beauty of Christ's incarnation is that now the whole of human existence has been sanctified from conception all the way through death and now through death to the kingdom of heaven. Further, we believe no matter where we are in life, we need only to reach out to Him so that He might lift us up from our misery into his sanctifying presence.

God came to us to give us life and to have it more abundantly. I do not like to get caught in the trap of the battle between 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Holidays.' There is no battle, there is no controversy; just another distraction to take our eyes off of our savior who has come to lift us above the confusion of this world into the presence of Love.

Fr. Luke Mihaly, pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 74 Joe's Hill Road in Danbury, can be reached at 203-748-0671 or PadreLuke@aol.com.



Rabbi Jon Haddon
Rabbi Jon Haddon

FORUM ON FAITH

Stories show importance of brothers standing together.

by Rabbi Jon Haddon

Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012

On the ARC Web Site

This week Jews the world over usher in the festival of Chanukah. Next Saturday something will take place that takes place every year during the festival of Chanukah. The Torah portion will be the sedra of Miketz.

That's what happens every year...that's how the calendar works out. No other holiday ends up with the same regular Sabbath portion--just Chanukah and Miketz. What do Chanukah and Miketz have in common?

Well, I'll give you one answer: They both tell the story of brothers. But oh, how different the stories are!

The Chanukah story tells how the five sons of Mattathias, the High Priest, banded together leading a revolt against the mighty Syrian/Greek Empire. The story in next week's Torah portion continues to tell the story of the split that takes place with Joseph and his brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt.

Our sages, in arranging the calendar in such a way for these two stories to be told together, provide us a powerful lesson: How brothers treat each other affects not only themselves but can have far reaching affects that no one could ever dream of.

The Maccabee brothers' military victory not only brought about the survival of Judaism but without this victory there wouldn't have been Christianity. Indeed, until the sixth century there was a date in the Christian calendar celebrating the Maccabee victory. All this from a "band of brothers," brothers who stuck together.

What happens when brothers fight? Look what happened with Joseph and his brothers, where the conflict went way beyond the family. As the Talmud puts it in regard to the coat of many colors that evoked such jealous rage among the brothers: "A thread weighing only two selaim milat...caused our forefathers to go down to Egypt." It's all because Joseph and his brothers couldn't get along that our people endured 210 years of slavery in Egypt!

The juxtaposition of reading the story of Joseph and his brothers during Chanukah when we read the story of Judah and his brothers reminds us of just how important it is for brothers to get along.

Look at our patriarchs: Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were brothers in conflict. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, who were brothers in conflict. Similarly, Jocob's sons were in conflict.

But in each instance they got back together.

Next Saturday not only provides us with the story of Joseph and his Brothers and Judah Maccabee and his brothers, it also provides us an opportunity as we usher in the Sabbath to light both the Sabbath candles and the Chanukah candles.

But let me ask you this question: What if you could only afford enough candles to do one, and only light candles either for the Sabbath or for Chanukah? What should you do?

Jewish law says: You kindle the Sabbath lights.

Why? While both commemorate great event and both have great religious significance, the Shabbos candles serve a purpose that the Chanukah candles do not. The Shabbos candles illuminate the house on Friday evening.

The element of "Shalom Bayit" (family tranquility) comes into play. If we have to eat in darkness, conflicts within the family can break out. And Jewish law has us do everything possible to avoid that, even if it means not lighting the Chanukah menorah.

Chanukah beckons. Chanukah is a time for gift giving. I can't think of a more beautiful gift that one could give their parents or brothers or sisters (whether living or alive through memory) than the gift of children united. I can't think of a greater gift that you can give yourself.

If you have a Jewish brother or sister, give them a gift for Chanukah.

It can just be a phone call to wish them a happy Chanukah, fulfilling the words of the psalmist: "Hinei mah tov u'mah naom shevet achim gam yachad -- how good and beautiful it is for brethen to dwell together in unity."

Rabbi Jon Haddon is rabbi emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.



Mariam Khan
Mariam Khan

FORUM ON FAITH

The hijab and what it means to me as a young Muslim growing up in America.

by Mariam Khan

Published: Saturday, December 1, 2012

Danbury News Times

At the time I decided to wear the hijab to school I did not realize the impact it would have on my life. It was as if my conviction was being tested. There's a verse in the Quran that says: "Do people think they'll be left alone saying 'We believe' and that they will not be tested?" I realize now that being tested is a necessary process that solidifies one's belief.

Among young children, finer details often go unnoticed. As a kindergartner, I didn't think about the effects my decisions would have on the rest of my life. I went crazy on the jungle gym, scribbled during art and not worrying if what I was doing might affect my relationship with my peers. I was comfortable enough in my own skin that I felt no matter what there was no way things could change. It's crazy the things we don't appreciate when we're busy waiting to grow up.

However, change means taking responsibilities and finding your inner conviction.

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut where there were few Muslims. There was a mosque in a neighboring city where my family was active in the Islamic and Interfaith Communities, so I had a good amount of exposure to Islam. I understood what my beliefs were and how to fulfill them as much as a kid in elementary school could.

I began to wear my hijab at the end of first grade with the support of my family and my first grade teacher, Mrs. Q.

Hijab is a practice of modesty and privacy in Islam. It's more than the act of covering one's body, it's the act of identifying oneself as a Muslim, which affects how one carries oneself. Covering one's body practically demands respect because it requires that judgment should not solely be based on one's beauty, but rather on intellect and the content of the heart. I think there is something quite "feminist" about that.

Projecting this outward aspect of my religion is definitely a challenge in America where our beliefs are not reflected in the best light and is under much scrutiny.

As a seven year old, people would marvel at the fact that I was already wearing a hijab to school. But this seemed completely natural to me since for as long as I could remember, my mom wore the hijab.

Initially my classmates were curious and inquisitive about the hijab, yet accepting. But by time I reached third and fourth grade, the affects of 911 had sunk into the hearts of everyone around me. My classmates took on a decidedly negative attitude toward my wearing the hijab that was completely surprising. They were at that age where they could spit out what they hear their parents or others say without a second thought. It was both shocking and disheartening.

In the face of this difficult test I didn't want to take off the hijab, but blamed my mom for "tricking" me into wearing it.

By the time middle school came around, my peers were used to the way I dressed and it became old news. Now my relationship with those kids who may have said some unkind words has evolved to the point where we can be friends.

It was also during this time that I formed a more concrete understanding of the reasons why I must wear the hijab. While I made this pivotal decision without being truly informed, my understanding of my faith evolved to a point where I am not willing to compromise, regardless of the daily struggles due to the views of others.

I hope when my past teachers and classmates see negative things on the news about what Muslims are doing, or hear negative comments about Islam they may recall that first Muslim girl they met, studying and laughing with her friends. I hope they conclude that no stereotype or generalization can accurately define an entire religion.

In retrospect, delaying wearing the hijab could have resulted in me succumbing to peer-pressure. I hold the highest respect for those girls who start wearing their hijabs later in life. I understand how difficult it is to break away from societal norms to fulfill one's faith.

Although I grew up within a religious atmosphere, I still had to make a conscious decision that practicing my religion was something I wanted to pursue. I believe religion isn't an inheritance but is an active decision and testing is essential in that process.

Mariam Khan is a member of Baitul Mukarram Masjid of Greater Danbury and a Freshman at St. John's University.



Polly Castor
Polly Castor

FORUM ON FAITH

Thanks and gratitude for our blessings.

by Polly Castor

Published: ARC Web Site.

Thanksgiving - the holiday, complete with the great meal - is over and done with for another year, but the need for giving thanks continues. The time is always ripe for gratitude, and the blessings of gratitude are ever available. I believe that thankfulness quite literally induces happiness, and that it even remediates and heals.

It is not a surprise to me that gratitude as an ongoing spiritual practice is getting more and more commonplace in society, and I am so grateful that it is. Gratitude not only feels better than an attitude of entitlement ever will, but I believe it actually helps bring more good into your experience.

The founder of the Christian Science church, Mary Baker Eddy, has famously had this to say in her blockbuster book Science and Heath with Key to the Scriptures: "Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more."

Many secular sources recommend keeping a gratitude journal as a place to daily write down what was especially appreciated, both minor things that were noticed as well as things that made a huge difference. This is a helpful spiritual discipline because it reveals not only how much we have to be grateful for, but the broad range and never-ending reasons to hold an attitude of gratitude.

These reasons become most noticeable during challenging times, when one discovers that good is ever-present regardless of what is going on. In these times it becomes clearer that gratitude is like a ladder bringing you right out of those difficulties to a better place.

Individually, we all appreciate a "thank you" from someone, and it makes us more inclined to offer that generosity - and more - next time, while being taken for granted has the opposite effect. Verbal expressions of thanks are wonderful.

However, Mary Baker Eddy goes on to say that, "Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech." Gratitude starts in the thought and heart but must find expression in both word and deed.

The accompanying blessings attached to active gratitude are even greater than those experienced by the spoken or written form, so it behooves us to figure out good ways of doing it.

Like many churches, our local Christian Science church participates in regional food drives and donates money to a wide variety of charities. Our tradition teaches that charity has divine authority, and we take seriously Jesus' injunction to "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

This is an endless cycle of good, for every time we are generous to others it comes back to bless us. A selfless attitude actually helps those that have it, enabling them in turn, to help others more. I have seen over and over again that we can't love our neighbor well unless we love ourselves, and conversely, we can't love ourselves well unless we love our neighbors.

There are many needs of others that we can meet. For example, we can freely impart some knowledge that someone else can benefit from. This action carries much more power and blessing than being merely glad you know that thing.

We can also run errands for someone, shovel someone's sidewalk who can't, or invite someone over that is lonely or who doesn't cook for themselves. Doing these things reminds you more practically than words ever can how many blessings you have which you can spill over on others.

Gratitude expressed as action is how community is built. This is increasingly needed in our fractionalized society.

Mission trips both domestically and internationally have a beneficial effect, but that same spirit could be integrated into our daily communities with an enormous impact, becoming a way of life rather than isolated events. Charity as Christmas presents for international aid are lovely, but what about gifts instead to local groups like the Association of Religious Communities right here in our own backyard, that are doing so much good, needed work?

Charity begins at home and is born out of active gratitude. I can envision a loving community where everyone is intrinsically valued, all have something to offer and do so generously out of a grateful heart, and where all are reciprocally blest.

I'm grateful to live right here with all you wonderful people, and I'm thankful for all the caring that is going on. I invite you to join with me in making Thanksgiving a year-long endeavor, in our own quiet internal spiritual practice, but also actively in our wider community.

Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield, CT. She can be reached at PollyCastor@gmail.com.



Denis Bouffard
Denis Bouffard

FORUM ON FAITH

Simple moral principle: people matter, things don't.

by Denis Bouffard

Published: Saturday, November 17, 2012

Danbury News Times

"People are more important than things."

This is a principle that I have tried to live by, difficult as it is. It is a principle that I have tried to incorporate in my daily decisions and actions. And giving thanks in the month of November provides a greater opportunity to focus my attention on the people who have contributed to my well-being and happiness.

Although I have a comfortable life with good health and no worries about food and shelter, there are a lot of people in my life for whom I am thankful.

My wife has always been my best friend. She keeps me focused on what is of value in our lives. She has helped me be a better parent and grandparent.

Her financial skills have kept our living situations above water. She has always enjoyed being with my friends as I have been with hers. The list of her attributes can go on.

My children, even as toddlers, have put me in a position to speak and act in a manner that keeps me honest. While children will develop with the values their parents provide by example, I have made sure that my personal behaviors reflected the values I wanted my children to hold. And they have been very supportive when it has been needed.

Throughout my younger years, my parents had provided me with examples of the devotion in married life as spouse and parent. While they worked together to provide a home for their family, they also gave me and my siblings an understanding that the nuclear and extended family is central to life. They gave me the example of parenting that I have tried to follow.

My siblings have always been a support. When good events came my way, they were celebrating with me. When tragedy or any other difficult situation arose, they have been supportive.

The church community has been a wonderful source of support in daily life and in times of need. The examples they provide have helped me to continue to practice my faith and serve within the community with sincerity. When there were times that assistance was needed, visits and food would be there to help me and my family.

These are the people who are more important than things.

These are the people who bring life and happiness to me. These are the people for whom I am thankful. And these are only a few; many others are not mentioned.

In addition to those with whom I am close, there are many others from whom I benefit.

They are the service providers whom I may or may not be able to remember or know by name: the plumber, electrician, carpet installer, etc. The list goes on. Without them I would not have the comfort their service and products provide. I give thanks for them.

I consider the people who have provided me with the products I have purchased. For example, the food I bring home from the market was grown on a farm by those who cultivated that food. There were the truck driver who delivered it, the stock person who received it and the one who shelved it. After I placed it in my shopping cart, the cashier tallied the contents of my cart and another bagged it.

How many people were involved in my having access to the food is beyond my understanding! I may not know them, but I am grateful for their work.

I could go on with so many other examples about teachers, pastors, friends, relatives, acquaintances and others. I could mention the many people throughout the history of our nation who have provided me with the opportunities I am able to enjoy due to the freedoms established and protected by people I do not know.

I read that "Gratitude implies the realization that we are dependent upon others for our advancement ... For when we acknowledge our dependency, we can then acknowledge gratitude for that which empowers our lives."

Yes, I give thanks, for the things I have. But more importantly, I give thanks for the many people who are part of my daily life and whom I will continue to encounter as life goes on.

Most importantly, it is marvelous that I have others to lean on when I need them and I in turn can provide the support needed by others.

Denis Bouffard is a parishioner of St. Gregory the Great Church in Danbury. He can be reached at 203-744-6998 or dbphoto06811@yahoo.com.



Rev. Cindy Maddox
Rev. Cindy Maddox

FORUM ON FAITH

Storms, religion and suffering.

by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012

Danbury News Times

We received as much warning as we could possibly get about superstorm Sandy. Advances in technology have given us satellite images and computer projections that a century ago would have seemed like magic. We now know how storms develop and move, and we are able to predict what they might do next.

For countless years, most people believed that storms were instruments of the gods. A bad storm meant the gods were angry, or in monotheistic religion, that God was angry. The people assumed that anger was directed at them, and so they would repent of their sins, rededicate themselves to the worship of their god(s), and pledge their future allegiance once the storm had passed.

Now we know about pressure systems, air currents, water temperatures, and intersecting weather systems that explain how storms come to be. Still there are some religious leaders even today who claim that storms are God's punishment on this group of people or for that alleged infraction. The interesting difference is that our ancient ancestors blamed themselves for causing God's anger; today, most leaders who claim that bad weather is God's punishment end up blaming someone else for God's displeasure.

Yet it seems to me that the majority of people today believe that storms happen for meteorological reasons, not divine ones. Our scientific knowledge helps us understand how storms work.

But the results of those storms are much harder to understand.

Several people in our congregation knew the two boys in North Salem who were killed during the storm when a tree fell onto their home. We joined these church members in grieving the tragic loss of two young lives, whether or not we knew the boys. At the same time, we celebrated - or at least breathed a sigh of relief - when we learned of a tree that crashed just a few feet from the home of others we know and love.

We do not understand why one tree falls harmlessly to the ground, while another splits a house in two. We do not understand why one house is crushed with no casualties, and another results in a tragic loss of young life. We do not understand, and our hearts break with the weight of the why.

The Christian religion does not provide one simple answer to these questions.

Some people believe that everything happens for a reason; others that life is random. Some say that we'll understand it all in the afterlife; others say there are no answers. Some say that God is to blame, for if God is all-powerful, then God should have stopped the storm - or at least stopped the tree. Others say that God does not intervene in the course of history.

It is easy to thank God and say "We were blessed" when the tree misses the house. But did God choose to bless one family and punish another? I don't believe in a God who would do such a thing.

It has been said that much of religion is to address people's questions of why, particularly why bad things happen to good people.

I find it interesting to note that in some cultures years ago, people were more concerned with the opposite question: why good things happen to bad people. They knew that bad things happened: life was hard and short, and childbirth was often deadly, and diseases had no cures. They didn't understand the prosperity of the wicked, but everyone understood suffering.

Now we avoid suffering at all costs-financial and otherwise-and we don't understand it when it comes. We want to know why, and too often there are no easy answers. Or we have intellectual answers, answers that make sense to us in the light of day, but that fail miserably in the face of real human tragedy.

I wish I had answers to the why questions.

I wish I could tell grieving parents why their child passed away, or a dying woman why her prayers for healing were not answered. I don't have that kind of wisdom.

That's when I remember that the purpose of religion is not to answer our questions. I believe the role of faith is not to prevent the storms, or to blame others for the storm's destruction. Instead, I believe faith reminds us.

For me, faith reminds us we are not alone. It reminds us of what is real. It reminds us that those tangible things we rely on to keep us safe are actually powerless, and where our faith truly belongs is in the things we cannot see.

Rev. Cindy Maddox, King Street United Church of Christ, 201 South King Street, Danbury, CT 06811.   pastor@kingschurch.org - 203-748-0719.



Polly Castor
Polly Castor

FORUM ON FAITH

In church, variety of opinion need not divide.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, November 3, 2012

Danbury News Times

The Christian Science church encourages its members to think for themselves, which often means we don't agree on things.

We have proved by experience, however, that pluralism of opinion need not be divisive.

Although each local branch of the Christian Science church is run democratically, harmony reigns, mutual respect remains, and equitable decisions are reached.

It seems the currently contentious national political scene has something to learn from our example.

We have members avidly in favor of opposite sides of the partisan aisle, and their firm convictions are based on what they think are sound reasons. Some are vociferous about what they think is the right tack to take and which candidate they advocate.

However, knowing where everyone stands does not obscure for us the fact that God is uniting us. We have a natural affection for one another based on mutual integrity that binds us together.

Regardless of whether any individual in our church will vote as a Democrat or a Republican, we all know "Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need."

This is a statement by Mary Baker Eddy, the American founder of the Christian Science church. We believe God is not only in charge but impartial.

Ideally, politics seeks the greatest good for the greatest number, but this is a province that God already has covered.

Politicians often try to solve problems from their own standpoints, but as Einstein observed, problems are not solved on the same level as the problem; a larger perspective is needed.

Bringing spirituality into the equation levels the playing field automatically. We believe following the Golden Rule and loving one's neighbors as oneself, even if they disagree with you, is the strongest form of government, and that the implementation of this is within the power of each individual.

This is a vote we each cast daily, hourly and moment by moment.

Our church has a helpful bylaw called the "Rule for Motives and Acts." It reads in part, "Neither animosity nor mere personal attachment should impel the motives or acts of the members ... Divine Love alone governs man ..."

It is important to be engaged in the democratic process, but we believe it is health-giving and wise to consider if divine Love is governing our part in the political atmosphere.

Are we being assiduous about removing any sense of animosity towards those holding differing views, and are we relinquishing personal attachment to a specific outcome?

This is very challenging to do, but it is an essential element to going forward harmoniously. What matters is that the clearest sense of unselfishness and inclusiveness is expressed.

Are we willing to say, with Jesus, "Not my will, but thine, be done?"

Prayer for divine guidance in both our own behavior and how to vote is appropriate, but biased prayer rooting for certain winners is not.

When someone told Abraham Lincoln that he was praying for him to win, Lincoln retorted, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

Mary Baker Eddy saw firsthand the contentions of the Civil War and the chaotic fallout of three presidential assassinations. She urged in 1898, "Pray for the prosperity of our country, ... that justice, mercy and peace continue to characterize her government, and that they shall rule all nations.

"Pray that the divine presence may still guide and bless our chief magistrate, those associated with his executive trust, and our national judiciary; give to our Congress wisdom, and uphold our nation under the right arm of his righteousness."

Christian Scientists are prayerfully supporting our collective government, before, during and after the elections.

And regardless of how the elections go, it helps to remember that only God knows all the ramifications and requirements of every issue. In Romans 8:28 we read: "All things work together for good to them that love God."

Polly Castor is a Christian Science practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Ridgefield. She can be reached at PollyCastor@gmail.com.



Rabbi Jeffery Silbermans
Rabbi Jeffery Silberman

FORUM ON FAITH

Chaplaincy reveals power of faith, hope and love.

by Rabbi Jeffery Silberman

Published: Saturday, october 27, 2012

Danbury News Times

When I tell people that my job is a hospital chaplain, often one of their first questions is "isn't that depressing?" My immediate reaction is that it is by no means depressing to be a chaplain. I am careful to respond because of that expectation. Yet the reason that chaplaincy is not depressing may be surprising to some. Before offering my reason, allow me to digress a bit to explain about chaplaincy.

Working in a hospital, caring for people who are sick and dying is, to use a term from my religious tradition, a mitzvah. However one interprets it, as a commandment or a good deed, the mitzvah to visit people in hospital or nursing home or other care facility is a high honor. Certainly, the circumstances in which sick or frail elderly people find themselves are never ideal. Most such people feel lousy, hurting physically or emotional or spiritually. Many are struggling with aspects of their lives prior to being a patient or resident. Their primary worry can be about finances, family, the future, limitations on their life and activities or it can be about something entirely different.

Often the patient's primary concern can be very surprising. I still recall many years ago the elderly woman I saw in a California hospital who when she spoke was concerned about what might happen to her cherry red 1966 Ford Mustang that she had parked on the street near the hospital. This was far from my expectation when I first saw her frail figure curled up in chair in her room.

My primary intention in visiting a patient is to listen carefully to whatever currently weighs on their heart. A common pitfall for chaplains or clergy going into a patient room on an oncology floor, for example, is the assumption that the cancer diagnosis is what is foremost on the patient's mind. Experience shows that this is not always the case. A medical complication of a spouse or other close relative often overshadows any particular personal illness faced by the patient. Betrayal, loss, or alienation of an adult child might be much more worrisome than a pending surgery or bout of chemotherapy.

These family affairs and upsets constitute life's reality.

Our daily attention usually stresses the health of family or friends. Our wakefulness is fixed on disrupted family connections and missing communication. These daily, ordinary life thoughts occupy us even in the face of our own serious medical incidents. And for some, it is much safer to stay away from the reality of the present moment of personal pathology and discuss more familiar concerns. Whatever it is, about a car, a cousin, or a certificate of deposit, it conveys whatever means most to that person at that moment. As their story unfolds, it frequently reveals what is at core of a person's life.

Allow me to return to the question with which I started about what it is like to visit patients in a hospital.

Certainly, professional chaplains frequently encounter sad situations. Whether it is a young person dying, or an elder who is alone, whether a mother who lost a baby or a diabetic who lost a leg; these circumstances are never easy to face. Yet I would maintain that most of my experience is not depressing.

For us chaplains also experience remarkable demonstrations of human resilience and the power of faith.

What people facing crises often reveal is their deep spirituality and trust in God and life, even when death is inevitable. The stories I hear communicate inspiration as often as they express distress. What was meaningful, what was celebratory, what was a joy, what blessings they were given during life.

Certainly there are people who struggle with illness and life to the very end. Yet some patients reach a level of acceptance and peacefulness that inspires not only chaplains, but the entire healthcare team.

These special patients teach life to others, even as they approach death.

In holy moments those patients emphasize love and hope in words and deeds.

This kind of sacredness is often what sustains many of my chaplain colleagues. The messages I have heard from these people is one not of depression, but of the power of faith and love and hope.

Rabbi Jeffery M. Silberman, D. Min., is director of spiritual care at Danbury Hospital. He can be reached at 203-739-7059 or jeffery.silberman@wcthealthnetwork.org.



Rev. Mel Kawakami
Rev. Mel Kawakami

FORUM ON FAITH

Communion and Pasta, both feed the hungry.

by Rev. Mel Kawakami

Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012

Danbury News Times

On the first Sunday of every month at both our 8 and 10 a.m. services, we celebrate Holy Communion at Newtown United Methodist Church (NUMC). NUMC has been the gathering place for the "people called Methodists" for over two hundred years.

On the first Saturday of each month, except July and August, we gather in our church hall for our Pasta Supper. Our Pasta Project has been feeding the larger community for over 23 years. Although Holy Communion is certainly more sacred than a noisy, laughter-filled evening of steamy, spicy, garlicky pleasure, I have been struck by the remarkable similarities between the two.

Communion is a time when we as a church can gather around the table for a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. One of the values I love as a United Methodist is that we celebrate an "open table;" which means all are welcome to partake. Our founder, John Wesley, believed communion to be a "means of grace" and that one might discover the grace of God in coming to receive the elements.

But as we greet each other in Christian love and kneel at the rail, we can easily forget all the people it takes to prepare and enact this simple ritual: from the Altar Guild who sets the table, to the ushers who make sure we don't bump into one another, to the family who has been providing the bread and juice for as long as anyone can remember, even to multiple generations, to the farmers who grew the grain and the millers who ground the flour and the bakers who made the pita, and the growers who grew the grapes.

We can sometimes take for granted what we receive at the communion rail. Yet each month, we are blessed to receive this sacrament alongside those who care about us, support us, and share our joys and concerns. Since we also welcome children who understand the sacrament, we kneel with our community past, present, and future.

Our other big meal is the Pasta Project. I suppose it is no coincidence that one wag called our church "Our Lady of Perpetual Pasta." It takes a collective effort of over 30 adults and youth to serve some 300 meals of green salad, fruit cocktail, spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread and home-made desserts each month.

But our Pasta Project is not merely a collective effort, it is a community of faith acting as one.

To step into the small kitchen is to see a well-coordinated, experienced group cooking, washing and serving. In the hall, there are bus people and stockers. There are people designated to prepare the food, set up and clean up. This community works together to create and feed a larger community; but with a full plate in front of you, it is easy enough to forget the effort required to provide this wonderful meal.

Both Communion and the Pasta Project feed the body, more or less, but more importantly, they both nourish the soul.

Holy Communion reminds us of the sacrifice made by our Savior Jesus Christ and the importance of our communal spiritual experience of faith. It reminds us that when he walked among us, he loved, and was loved by, a community with whom he shared meals and companionship.

Our Pasta Project reminds us of our need for the joy and support of fellowship and community. The dedicated Pasta Project team, who give up a big part of their weekend each month, create a special place for us. We go out into the night filled and warmed by the communal meal we've enjoyed and the music that follows in the bluegrass coffeehouse.

Both meals, sacred and social, can remind us of our yearning for a united humanity beyond our differences.

Both can offer comfort, renewal of a weary spirit, or an unexpected opportunity to give of one's time and talents.

Both remind us of God as the source of the bounty, but also of the need for human hands to carry out his work. If we take the time to reflect on all that makes up each communal meal, we can rise from the communion rail or the supper table with a sense of joy and thanksgiving for what we have been given.

We come to the table hungry; we leave with a full-filled spirit. Communion and pasta: what a blessing!

Rev. Mel Kawakami is Senior Pastor of Newtown United Methodist Church, 92 Chruch Hill road, Sandy Hook, CT. and can be reached at melkawakami@mac.com.



Rev. Vicky Fleming
Rev. Vicky Fleming

FORUM ON FAITH

Challenges face United Methodist Church.

by Rev. Vicky Fleming

Published: Saturday, October 13, 2012

Danbury News Times

It has seemed to me for the last several years, but especially since the 2012 general conference of the United Methodist Church, that mainline denominations are operating in a "we must fight to survive" mode.

The General Conference is a meeting of bishops, elected clergy and lay people from all over the United Methodist Church, including many countries outside the United States. It is designed to be as representative of the entire denomination as possible.

A big part of the agenda for this particular General Conference was a "plan," crafted by the bishops, to save the denomination. It was voted down. So was an alternate plan offered by another group of lay and clergy.

A third, compromise plan, was adopted, but on the very last day of the General Conference, the Judicial Council (kind of the equivalent to the United States Supreme Court) ruled that the plan was unconstitutional and not in accord with the rules of the UMC. So a plan to save the UMC is in limbo for another four years.

You might be wondering what's wrong and how did we get into this situation. I can only report on my understanding.

John Wesley, an Anglican priest in England, disapproved of the way poorer, uneducated people were treated by the churches. Pews had to be rented on an annual basis at quite a bit of expense. Education was expensive, not accessible to the poor. Health care for the poor was non-existent. And the church, it seemed to him, emphasized rules and guilt rather than God's love and grace.

Having spent much of the time during his seminary education at Oxford as a member of what he and the fellow members called the Holy Club, but which detractors laughingly called Methodist because of the methodical way the members ordered their lives, Wesley began organizing groups of church members into classes. The members of a class covenanted to be accountable to one another and report weekly on their spiritual life. They had wide ranging discussions on passages of Scripture, social justice issues, and suchlike. They also kind of kept an eye on one another's church attendance.

These classes become the foundation of the Methodist movement, first in England and then in the Colonies. John Wesley never intended to begin a new denomination. He was really interested in correcting attitudes in the Church of England.

But from the classes grew churches, especially in the United States. And Wesley was able to send ordained clergy and then appointed lay preachers to oversee these churches. And the church grew. And opened colleges and seminaries. And hospitals. And libraries.

Now in the late 1700s and through the 1800s, one either walked to church on Sunday or horses were yoked to wagons and driven a mile or two to church. And so Methodist churches were often built only five or six miles apart, sometimes in the center of a town and often at the intersection of a couple of roads. And the Methodist Church flourished right through the 1960s and '70s.

But our culture began to change. Blue laws were lifted and one could go shopping on Sunday. Television preachers filled our screens and that was as good as going to church. And sports games for kids began to be played on Sunday morning. And most people had cars to drive wherever they wanted.

And so now, in 2012, the United Methodist Church finds itself with too many buildings, many that are 200 or more years old. And the average age of the membership inhabiting all these buildings is presently about 57. We are getting very gray and our membership is shrinking.

Also, we have discovered the convenience of having our children in Sunday School at the same time as the adults are in worship, thus depriving the children of the opportunity to participate in complete worship services. The children thus get very little feel for the movement of the Christian year from Advent through the season after Pentecost and don't learn to appreciate the beauty of worship.

You may be thinking, well, why not just close a bunch of churches.

That is happening. But folks who have given money sacrificially in order to maintain "their" building are not very willing to close their church and merge with another that may be only a mile or two further away. We love "our" buildings. And throughout Methodism there are many styles of worship (i.e. traditional, contemporary, Pentecostal, charismatic) and we prefer to stay with the one we know.

Do I have a solution to this problem? I do not. Will God provide one soon?

I certainly hope and pray one will come.

The Rev. Vicky Fleming is pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church, 141 Greenwood Ave. in Bethel. She can be reached at 203-743-6835.



Rev. Karen Karpow
Rev. Karen Karpow

FORUM ON FAITH

Assumptions about Christians may be wrong.

by Rev. Karen Karpow

Published: Saturday, October 6, 2012

Danbury News Times

I remember how excited I was to be old enough to vote.

My birthday is in early November, and I turned 18 the day before an off-year election.

I proudly voted that year, though nothing discernible changed in my world because of it.

On the day before my 19th birthday, I went to the polls at my old elementary school in Indiana and voted for the opposite presidential candidate from my parents. (I figured I canceled one of them out.) Though my vote wasn't enough to carry the state, my candidate won the electoral college and the presidency.

Back then, I had been a "good Methodist girl" my whole life, though not one who thought very much about the intersection between faith and politics.

Then followed a couple of decades during which I didn't think much about the intersection of faith with anything at all, being mostly concerned with my children, my career, my home, and my falling-apart marriage. I went for at least 10 years without setting foot in a church other than on Christmas Eve.

In God's time and God's way, I ended up back in church. And then I ended up getting ordained and being in front of a church every Sunday! Surely God is amused. And I learned that people often assume things about church-going people, and especially their pastors, which are not necessarily true.

Our nation is sorely divided over so many issues. You know the list as well as I do: How much should we pay in taxes, and how should the money be used? Is everyone entitled to food, shelter, medical care -- even if they don't seem to be "trying"? Who gets to decide? What should we do as a society about abortions, medical insurance, treatment of homosexuals, gun control? The list goes on and on.

People often assume where I stand on the issues simply because I am an ordained member of the Christian clergy, and they've heard what "Christians" think. In many cases they are wrong about me, and about many people I know.

A man came into my office a couple of weeks ago to urge me to participate in something called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an act of civil disobedience by a group of pastors who apparently are going to "stand up against the IRS" on Oct. 7 and tell their congregations how to vote.

As with all nonprofit organizations, churches cannot participate in political campaigns, for or against any particular candidate. If I were to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, we could lose our tax-exempt status.

My visitor was sure I felt constrained by these rules, and that they made it impossible for me to preach the Gospel.

I told him I felt no such thing.

At our church we pray every week for our world; for our local, state, and national government; for our own church and every church. We believe it is our duty as well as our privilege to vote, and that our choices can and should be guided by our faith. We have the opportunity to choose leaders who say they will move forward on things we care about.

And as far as I can tell, what Jesus cared about was how we treat each other and especially how we treat those among us who are the most vulnerable. Jesus says that loving God means loving our neighbor, whoever our neighbor is.

The first Sunday of October is set aside by many denominations as a day to recognize the things that we hold in common, rather than the things that divide us.

So on Oct. 7 at the Danbury United Methodist Church we will be celebrating World Communion Sunday (WCS), not Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

We will participate anew in the WCS ancient ritual, in solidarity with people around the world.

We will sing songs that aren't in our native language, and we will pray, as always, for our church, our city, our nation, and our world.

And I will urge everyone to vote. As I told the visitor, I preach the Gospel every time I stand up in front of my congregation. And I trust that they are quite capable of figuring out what to do with the Gospel when they get to the voting booth.

The Rev. Karen Karpow is pastor of Danbury United Methodist Church, Clapboard Ridge Road, Danbury, CT 06811, www.danburymethodist.org. She can be reached at danburyumc@sbcglobal.net or 203-743-1503.



Rev. Ophir de Barros
Rev. Ophir de Barros

FORUM ON FAITH

Demonstration of faith inspires awe.

by Rev. Ophir de Barros

Published: Saturday, September 29, 2012

Danbury News Times

Although I have had a long career in the Christian ministry, I recently was surprised by an expression of faith. When a person stands for the conviction of his or her faith, things often happen differently, the course of destiny changes wonderfully and powerful forces arise inside and outside the individual.

Faith is truly a human experience, a deep attitude that we hold when reason alone cannot guide us.

My friend, a pastor in the city, has been experiencing for more than two years now his wife's tremendous battle against a devastating disease. I have been by their side during many crises, treatments and hospitalizations, trying to help with a word of comfort, a prayer and sympathy.

I admire his incredible faith, the poise before a daunting disease. It is naturally expected for someone that preaches about faith to show faith through the difficult circumstances of life, but I was not prepared for what happened to them couple of weeks ago.

During a chemotherapy session, my friend's wife suddenly had a bad reaction to the drug, and was admitted to the emergency room. The situation unfolded rapidly and doctors and nurses tried everything in their knowledge to save her. She was placed on a life-support machine because it was the only way she could still stay alive. Finally, the doctors declared to my friend that his wife would probably not recover from the coma and her life was only maintained because of the life support.

Think of despair, hopelessness, fear, and all the soul's enemies coming together and assaulting your being. Man suffers extreme pain and anguish before the possibility of ending. Faced with demise, he might experience a deep feeling of finitude.

Death is a truly a human experience, but nobody is really prepared to experience it. We have to pass thorough the steps of surprise, denial, acceptance and rebuilding the inner self after a loved one passes away in any circumstance. We have to cope with all consequences of death, the last enemy.

I can only imagine what was going on inside my friend's heart. Anyone in this agony would have great trouble to be at peace.

What was his response? He knelt beside the bed and began to pray. Faith made him do this, and faith began to start in his broken heart.

Care staff respected the behavior. Perhaps he would get more consolation by just praying and displaying his faith.

He was left alone with his beloved wife. He stayed there, in the same place, sometimes sitting on the edge of the bed, sometimes bowing again in his pleading prayer to God. He was told that there wasn't any hope and the only thing left was just for the equipment to be turned off, but he was strong in faith.

He remained there, in a vivid test of his endurance. Then, 12 hours after her being in the coma, he observed a little movement of her eyes. He thought it might have been just an illusion, but it warmed his heart.

He told me that a few minutes after, he became totally certain that she would recover. His faith in the possibilities increased inside his soul. Hope began to flood his spirit. This is the experience of faith.

Faith by itself seems to be merely self confidence, but faith must be exercised as a confidence in one greater than oneself. Who else fits the criteria except God?

Back to my friend's ordeal of his wife being in a coma, 21 hours later she awoke for just one minute. He exulted and called the nurse and the nurse called the doctor on call, and everyone came to see what was happening, though only my friend had seen her awake. She turned back to the coma state and, finally, 25 hours after the crisis, turned back from the coma and began to talk and soon got out of the hospital.

Could faith have determined this happy outcome? Was this just a coincidence? You may choose according with your beliefs about what really occurred that day in my friend's life.

A miracle, a supernatural force, is this possible, why not? For me, this is not really important, since any way you conceptualize the matter, you will need some kind of faith to decide between the possible interpretations.

For me, what is indeed meaningful is the absolute awe that I experience whenever I find a unique demonstration of faith.

The Rev. Ophir Debarros is a retired pastor of All Nations Baptist Church, 234 Main St., Danbury CT 06810. He can be reached at ophirdb@gmail.com.



Rabbi Leah Cohen
Rabbi Leah Cohen

FORUM ON FAITH

Start of school is a milestone in season of change.

by Rabbi Leah Cohen

Published: Saturday, September 22, 2012

Danbury News Times

Even before my alarm went off, I was up. Up, but not moving as I lay in bed in the still darkness. Through the open window I could feel the cool air, strangely crisp after such a muggy summer. I knew that before long I would be complaining of the cold wishing for the warm, green days again. Yet, before the engine of the morning started roaring and my limbs untangled from the sheets to embrace the day, I lay in the awareness that today was the last morning that I would wake to the first day of school.

Flashes of other first days flooded my mind. There were the earliest days, when the first day of school was more of a nursery school drop off. My little bundle passed gently like a loaf of freshly baked bread, from one set of outstretched arms to another, into the realm of tiny furniture and animal crackers while I walked off feeling pounds lighter. Then there was the all important rite of passage, witnessing her climb the impossibly steep steps into the bowels of the big, yellow school bus as I stood at the end of the driveway waving good bye to the road.

I remember rising early to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and being greeted by the smell of a new lunch box which days before had been lovingly selected for this very purpose. Like a warrior choosing the insignia on her shield to wear into battle, my daughter would make her annual selection. One year it featured a spunky, purple ant from A Bug's Life. A budding feminist, I thought. Only to be replaced the following year by a bevy of smiling Disney Princesses who dispensed with any personal or cultural jealousies to harmoniously co-exist on the face of a new pink lunch box.

Though the lunch boxes changed each year, the request for peanut butter and jelly never did. At some point, I wondered if she could actually overdose on some chemical in these processed foods. I worried if her growth would be stunted over the long term the way sailors living on an unvaried diet at sea developed scurvy.

Then there came the day that lunch boxes stopped all together.

No more peanut butter and jelly, no more opportunities to slip little notes of love and encouragement in between the goldfish and apples, just lunch money left on the kitchen counter. A complex wardrobe ritual became the all consuming focus for the first day of school. I watched from the sidelines this dizzying swirl of drama, occasionally tossing in a helpful pair of earrings. Until like a tornado picking up speed, she simply whisked out the door, leaving a trail of discarded selections in her wake.

Then somehow we had arrived at this morning, the first day of her senior year. Now before this final one act play started, I realized that I would never again participate in the excitement and dread that marked the first day of school. To everything there is a season, to every moment, anticipation followed by completion followed by a new anticipation.

This drama called life, recognized by every tradition and people, is the central tenet of a living faith.

In my religion we celebrate this sacred repetition during fall when locker ladders get hung and new shoes broken in.

At this season of returning, Judaism sets aside ten Days of Awe, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to make meaning of our mortality. We start, we make mistakes, we make amends, we return, and we start again.

We become aware that one day we won't start again.

our names will not be called from the attendance book of life. Or perhaps we don't awaken to this reality, remaining deaf to the blast of the ram's horn. Regardless, our very first day leads to our last first day leads to our last day.

Teach us to number our days, we pray, that we might get a wise heart; one that opens compassionately to others, and courageously guides us. And one that makes wise college choices too, I add.

As the darkness begins to fade in the early morning light, I shuffle into my daughter's bedroom to awaken her to this truth and to her last first day, for now.

Rabbi Leah Cohen, Temple B'nai Chaim, P.O. Box 305, Georgetown, CT 06829-0305.   She can be reached at rabbi@tbc-ct.org, or 203-544-8695



Rev. Joseph Krasinski
Rev. Joseph Krasinski

FORUM ON FAITH

Marriage equality comes to local church.

by Rev. Joseph Krasinski

Published: Saturday, September 8, 2012

Danbury News Times

The Episcopal Church is governed in much the same way as our country is for very good reason: The same people who designed the system of government of the United States did so for the Episcopal Church.

But instead of states, we have dioceses, which have a certain amount of autonomy but must adhere to the constitutions and canons of the Episcopal Church. Every year, each parish elects representatives to attend the Diocesan Convention. These delegates, along with all of the clergy of the diocese, have equal voice and vote regarding certain aspects of the life of the Church.

For example, in Connecticut, each parish must have an annual audit of its books to ensure the safety of the parish's finances and assets; everyone who works with children, youth, and the elderly must have training in what we call Safe Church to ensure the safety of children and the elderly, etc.

Probably the most exciting aspect of any Diocesan Convention is when it is time for a new Bishop, in which case there is usually a special convention and delegates from parishes and clergy elect the person they feel God is calling to be bishop or bishop suffragan (assistant) of the diocese.

Every three years, the Episcopal Church meets for its General Convention. There are two "houses" of General Convention (much like our Senate and House of Representatives).

The House of Bishops is made up of all duly elected and consecrated bishops of the Episcopal Church. The House of Deputies is made up of elected laypeople and clergy (four of each) from each diocese.

At convention, much of the common life and direction of the Church is voted upon including approved liturgies. Each House must agree on the same exact words for each "resolution." This is an arduous process, but we believe that, like in the early Church, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the body of the faithful gathered together for this purpose.

This past July at the General Convention, the Episcopal Church approved a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex persons, which can be used with the permission of the Bishop.

In dioceses where there is marriage equality, the assumption is that the bishop may authorize the use of the service to perform legal weddings. In the Diocese of Connecticut, the bishops have given permission for clergy to use this liturgy and to perform all legal marriages with the blessing of the Church as of this Dec. 1.

As with all marriages, by state law, a member of the clergy can refuse to perform the ceremony for any reason or for no reason.

About four years ago, the people of St. James' Episcopal Church in Danbury voted that, if the clergy wanted to, they could perform blessings of same-sex couples. At that time, marriage equality did not exist, so actual marriages were not allowed.

Once the state of Connecticut made provision for total marriage equality, the clergy still could not perform same-sex weddings, as we did not have permission of the bishop. (Episcopal clergy take a vow of obedience to their "bishop and all those in authority over them.")

Now we have moved to the next step.

While the Episcopal Church does allow for remarriage after divorce, the expectation is still that a marriage be entered into "until we are parted by death." Each couple must have premarital counseling by a priest and, if there is more than one former marriage, by a professional counselor.

For first marriages, the couple must give at least 30 days request before the ceremony. For second marriages, the request goes to 90 days as the priest must receive the bishop's permission to perform the marriage.

For St. James', there are expectations for those who wish to be married here, no matter what the genders. First and foremost is that one member of the couple must be an active member of the parish.

Along with that is the expectation that the couple expects this to be a lifelong commitment to each other.

More information on Holy Matrimony can be found on the St. James' website: www.saintjamesdanbury.org.

The Rev. Joseph Krasinski is pastor of St. James Episcopal Church of Danbury. He can be reached at joseph@saintjamesdanbury.org.



Stacey Zimmerman
Stacey Zimmerman

FORUM ON FAITH

Faith through Organized Action.

by Stacey Zimmerman

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012

Association of Religious Communites Web Site

For some people, faith is a private part of their life. For others, faith is their life's work: it is what drives them and it's a large part of what makes them successful at what they do. I know this because that's how it is for many of the workers I have the privilege of representing in my role at the SEIU Connecticut State Council.

Take the nursing home workers at HealthBridge, for example. The work they do is a labor of love: caring day in and day out for patients with often debilitating physical and mental ailments. They don't do the work for money or glory.

They do it because they believe one of the most important things we can do in life is care for others.

They do it because they have families of their own, and know what it means to their patients' families to know that the person they love is treated with dignity and respect. Their commitment to their patients, and their commitment to their families, is the reason these workers are currently on strike.

While our state is full of diverse communities with people of different faiths and beliefs, one thing I hope we all share is a commitment to care for those who are in need, especially the less fortunate. The growing income inequality between the very rich and those who are struggling to get by means there is an even greater need for those of us who can make a difference to do our part.

That can be accomplished through different means: through prayer, sacrifice, and in some cases, direct action to right a wrong. For HealthBridge caregivers, the very difficult decision to go on strike required a combination of all three.

They were faced with the choice of turning away from injustice or confronting it through action. For many people of faith, this is not an easy choice.

In the case of HealthBridge caregivers, many were led by their faith into action. They were given an opportunity to serve as part of something greater than themselves, to stand up to injustice and live out their calling more faithfully, despite the sacrifice and uncertainty that stood before them.

I know from talking to the workers that they want to be back with their patients. I know it's incredibly difficult for them to be off the job, and I have no doubt that, for many, constant prayer and renewal of their commitments are what sustain them.

I can think of no bigger leap of faith than leaving a job you love that puts food on the table for your family and a roof over your head. It takes great faith and a deep commitment to risk everything in order to change it for the better.

I chose to work for an organization that supports workers in their struggle to unite on the job because I believe that we;re better off as a society when we all have a voice. I work for social justice by working for a union and standing with workers at HealthBridge and elsewhere who I believe are trying to make a difference for themselves and their community.

When we work together we can bring about meaningful social change: a goal that is inspired by diverse beliefs and shared by so many.

Stacey Zimmerman: SEIU - CT State Council, can be reached at staceyseiu@gmail.com.



Chris Halfar
Chris Halfar

FORUM ON FAITH

Principles bring piece of heaven to earth.

by Chris Halfar

Published: Saturday, August 25, 2012

Danbury News Times

We Unitarian Universalists (UUs) look to seven Principles for guidance in our lives and relationships.

We affirm and promote: 1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person. 2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations. 3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. 4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. 5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. 7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

If jokes about us are any indication, UUs are primarily known for the fourth Principle regarding the "search for truth and meaning."

These are some of my favorites:

What do you get when you put three UUs together in a room? Five opinions.

Why are UUs such poor hymn singers? They are always reading ahead to make sure they agree with the next verse.

UUs begin their prayers with: To Whom It May Concern.

Arguing with a UU is like mud wrestling a pig. Eventually you realize the pig likes it!

Yes, we can be a disputatious group, questioning ourselves and everyone else. And we do enjoy the jokes!

On the other hand, the Principles that guide much of our behavior do not give rise to jokes, none that I am aware of anyway.

UUs believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person; strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships; and seek a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

These three Principles shape our lives within our congregations and also lead us out into the larger community.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD) has about 150 members. Many of us have found ways right here in Danbury to put our Principles into practice.

At the Morris Street School, 20 UUCD members volunteer every week as kindergarten classroom assistants, individual tutors, mentors, and after--school program leaders.

Morris Street is a neighborhood school. Most students qualify for free lunch and many are learning English. UUCD volunteers free up teacher time, reinforce learning, and provide some extra attention and encouragement.

What do we get in return? We get smiles and a connection to the future of our shared community.

At the Dorothy Day Homeless Shelter, 14 UUCD members take turns spending one night each month. The next morning, 20 people with as much right as anyone else to restful sleep, a shower, and clean clothes start the day with dignity.

One of the coordinators said he was collecting points for heaven and hearing that the UU volunteer didn't believe in heaven he exclaimed, "Then I guess you are good for nothing!"

The Dorothy Day House also operates a daily soup kitchen. On the first Saturday of every month you will find some of the 40 UUCD volunteers who prepare and serve a satisfying, hot meal to about 100 hungry people.

Many say, "Thank you. That was good."

Some don't. That's fine, too.

If the plate is empty, and especially if we've been asked for seconds, then we know we have done our job.

Twice a month, 10 UUCD members open the doors of the Comida food pantry at the Association of Religious Communities (ARC) to offer basic, nutritious food to anyone in need.

The pantry helps feed more than 300 people a month. Knowing that some children will not go to bed hungry is all we need, but we get lots of smiles, too.

On Friday mornings a few UUs serve coffee and a smile to day laborers at Kennedy Park. Several times a year they conduct Know-Your-Rights & Responsibilities classes and lessons in Employment English at ARC.

The UUs also help anyone who needs to file a claim with the Connecticut State Department of Labor for unpaid wages, a sadly common occurrence.

Unitarian Universalists do not have all the answers but one thing I believe we have right: One of our greatest duties is to help our fellow human beings, because they are simply that: our fellow human beings. Nothing more and nothing less.

I do not know if any of this is going to "get us into heaven." What I do know is that our Principles attract and nourish people who bring pieces of heaven to earth right where we live.

Nothing more and, no joke: nothing less!

Chris Halfar is on the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. She can be reached at chalfar@hotmail.com

.

Rabbi Nelly Altenburger
Rabbi Nelly Altenburger

FORUM ON FAITH

Cruelty to animals forbidden in Judaism.

by Rabbi Nelly Altenburger

Published: Saturday, August 18, 2012

Danbury News Times

Facebook is a wonderful tool that causes me constant heartaches. I have found many long-lost friends and (gasp!) even people who were in my first-grade class.

But my news feed is dominated more often than not by sad or discouraging news. Recently, the worst one by far was of a 4-month-old puppy that died after being set on fire.

The animal was named Justice by those who tried in vain to help treat its wounds.

Cruelty to animals, in any form, is absolutely forbidden in the Jewish tradition.

This commandment comes from verses in the Bible that prohibit cooking a young goat in its mother's milk and taking eggs or chicks from a nest while the mother bird is present.

These two laws indicate a concern for the emotional pain of the mother bird or goat, who should neither see nor participate in the killing of her children.

And if we are concerned with her emotional suffering, how much more concerned we should be with their physical suffering.

In the Bible, the allowance for eating meat only comes after the story of Noah's flood. According to our sages, the consumption of meat, while permitted to humanity, was with the proviso that the animal would not suffer excessively.

The practice of tearing limbs off animals while they were alive, which is how people would maintain the rest of the meat "fresh" in times without fridges, was outlawed.

Even though we are permitted to eat meat, we are commanded to take precautions to ensure our carnivorous desires do not cause unnecessary suffering to animals -- hence the laws of kashrut (proper consumption of foodstuff) mandating the death of the animal be the quickest possible, without any extra torment.

The same ideas are the basis of how Jews can use animals for work.

We are forbidden to hit animals. If one finds an animal carrying too heavy a burden, even if the animal belongs to one's enemy, we are commanded to relieve the animal of its burden.

Animals are supposed to rest on Shabbat to recuperate, as humans, from the workweek. And during the day they have to rest.

It is even permissible to break Shabbat to care for an animal.

Even though these rules are not as completely set aside as they are for humans in danger, the Talmud allows the breaking of certain laws to prevent the death of an animal that has fallen into a pool of water and allows assistance in a birth if an animal is suffering or in danger of dying during the Shabbat.

The collective name of these rules is tzaar baalei hayim, which means "the suffering of animals" and not, as one could expect, "cruelty to animals."

That is because beyond simply prohibiting cruelty to animals, Jewish tradition associates care for animals with righteousness. The book of Proverbs says "a righteous person knows the needs of his animal."

It is no accident that all the heroes in the Bible and in the Talmud are connected with being good to animals.

Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds and Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to the camels of Abraham's servant (Genesis 24).

And in rabbinic thought, the two hunters in the Bible, Nimrod and Esau, are both depicted as cruel villains.

Having a pet creates a constant reminder of the necessity and the rewards of performing acts of kindness since pets are, in most cases, completely dependent on us.

A righteous person, we are told, feeds her animals before eating. Having a pet is a way of emulating God's characteristics: feeding and caring for all.

The end result is that our ethical sensitivity toward our fellow human beings is raised. The opposite, apparently, is also true.

Even though Judaism expresses no definitive opinion as to whether animals experience physical or psychological pain in the same way that humans do, Judaism has always recognized the link between how a person treats animals and how they treat human beings.

A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people, and many psychological studies find a relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult criminal violence.

I hope the police in Dallas find the people who committed this terrible act against the puppy Justice, and that they are brought to justice.

May the suffering of this defenseless animal remind us of the need to be aware of the needs and pain of all living creatures.

Rabbi Nelly Altenburger, of Congregation Bnai Israel in Danbury, can be reached at 203-792-6161.



Rev. Leo McIlrath
Rev. Leo McIlrath

FORUM ON FAITH

Road to happiness paved with campassion.

by Rev. Leo McIlrath

Published: Saturday, August 11, 2012

Danbury News Times

In October of this year, Greater Danbury will have the distinct privilege of hosting one of the great spiritual leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries: the Dalai Lama, known to Buddhists as "His Holiness."

Many religious representatives anxiously anticipate hearing his words or being inspired just by his very being.

To me, personally, he is on a level with Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and Gandhi, the Mahatma. In his appearances on "60 Minutes" and the Piers Morgan program, I came away with the impression of a human being who is both holy and whole-some, i.e., a special gift from God, to all of creation.

I recently participated in a retreat in Maryland, called "All Creation Reveals the Glory of God," (Ps. 18) and selected this retreat from a list of wonderful choices, simply because it was the title that I had previously assigned to a book, to be published in the not-too-distant future. Both the retreat and my book expound the theory that all beings in the universe -- who were, who are and who will, one day, come to be -- are interconnected, interdependent and responsible for the welfare of one another.

This means that the twofold commandment of Jesus, "to love God with one's whole heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one's neighbor as we love ourselves," extends out into the land, the sea and the air, embracing all creation: animals, birds, fish, trees and plants. The Dalai Lama and St. Francis were quite cognizant of this interrelationship. They wouldn't hurt a fly!

This theory has great repercussions for each of us who claim to follow the Great Commandment or the Golden Rule, as expounded by all the major religions of the world: "Treat others as you would have others treat you." And by extension: Respect the air, earth and water that make up our planet.

This personal examen may sting us a bit.

Consider the air that we breathe, the contamination of soil and waterways, including the Still River losing its vitality in the name of progress and commerce, and the life that dwelt therein: fish, birds, plants and animals. Have we really kept God's commandment?

A text from Genesis talks of "having dominion over the earth and all within." I believe it loses its meaning when we translate "dominion" as "domineering or lordship over."

Stewardship entails care and compassion, providing for, nourishing and reverencing our mother earth which, in turn, cares for us.

The Dalai Lama also believes this. The Dalai Lama claims that humans are not, by nature, violent, aggressive and hurtful, no matter the conclusions of Freudian psychology.

Children are often manipulated to commit acts of hatred and other forms of evil. In an interview for his book, "Road to Happiness," author Howard Cutler, M.D., a psychologist, questions the Dalai Lama about these matters, stating that the world seems to be in turmoil, given the awful crimes that abound.

The Dalai Lama counters this thinking with the doctrine of "Buddha Nature," the belief that affection, closeness and compassion are inborn. Beyond that, he asks that people simply observe a child being nurtured by his parents and others. Such affection forges a bond of love for all, both living and non-living.

I recommend Cutler's book for its very spiritual and practical ideas regarding happiness and compassion.

The Rev. Leo McIlrath, D.Min., is chaplain at the Lutheran Home of Southbury. He can be reached at lionofjudah56@hotmail.com.



Rev. Hambrick-Stowe
Rev. Hambrick-Stowe

FORUM ON FAITH

The benediction is a reminder.

by Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe

Published: Saturday, August 4, 2012

Danbury News Times

Churches like the one I serve use the word "benediction" to designate the blessing given by the minister or priest at the end of worship.

The closing hymn has been sung, the service is over, so now we can enjoy a time of fellowship, pick up the kids in the education wing, grab some lunch, and head to our afternoon activities.

The benediction is a blessing on all of that. More important, it is meant to empower us to go back out into the world of work, school and civic involvement in the new week guided by our faith.

So the benediction is more than the signal that worship is over. It is a reminder to those who have been in worship that we now have a job to do, sharing that blessing with others wherever we go.

"Bene" means good and "diction" means speech. The benediction at the end of worship encourages us to go out and give others some kind of good word.

A word of kindness. A word of compassion. A word of encouragement. A friendly word. A correcting word. Even a word of faith, sharing what God has meant in our lives.

One prototype of benedictions was spoken by God to Moses, with the instruction that Moses give it to his brother Aaron and his sons, for them to pass on to the people.

This ancient blessing is in the Torah, in the book of Numbers, one of the first five books of the Bible: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

This means that God wants to smile -- "make his face to shine" -- on our lives with protection, grace and peace. It's not just a prayer on our part, it's a promise on God's part that we get to impart to others.

One Jewish commentary on this passage says with these words we ourselves receive "the power to bless."

A member of my church who is currently living overseas recently learned about this power to bless in the workaday world. He is a corporate executive who travels internationally all the time.

A year ago he began taking seminary courses online with the hope of eventually swapping his business career for the ministry. But he kept his faith and this personal goal to himself, perhaps feeling sheepish or that spiritual talk life might seem gauche in secular circles.

Then one night in Singapore, a colleague asked the question, "What would you do if you had to retire tomorrow?" He found the courage to say, "I want to be a pastor."

The other responded, "Wow, fantastic! In fact, I have been considering that myself."

The two began speaking for the first time about their faith and how it helped them deal with the pressures of corporate life. My friend discovered the power of sharing Sunday's benediction on Monday and Tuesday.

The great Christian benedictions promise this power to bless. In the New Testament's Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul offers a prayer: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name."

He prays for God to strengthen us in our "inner being with power through his Spirit." That Christ "may dwell in your heart through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love."

That we receive "power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth" of life itself. That we may "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" and "be filled with all the fullness of God."

Then comes the benediction: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever." (Ephesians 3:14-21)

This blessing is not about my agenda for God. It's about God's agenda for me.

If we think of prayer as what we require from God, then in effect we are trying to trade places with God, to make God do our bidding.

I believe it works the other way around.

"The power at work within us" is the power to share the blessing of God's love and God's peace with others.

The Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, 103 Main St., Ridgefield 06877. He can be reached at charles@firstcongregational.com.



Penney E. Kessler
Penny Kessler

FORUM ON FAITH

Body, soul have spiritual connection.

by Penny M. Kessler

Published: Saturday, July 28, 2012

Danbury News Times

This morning, before I got out of bed, I took a moment. I consciously explored my body, mentally and physically becoming aware of my entire physical self, from big toe to eyebrow, right hand to left.

I said a prayer written more than 2,500 years ago, the asher yatzar, praising God for creating the human physiognomy with precise delicacy and intricacy into a system of combined openings and closings, veins, arteries and organs so finely refined that even if just one of them were to not function, I wouldn't be able to perform the most simple of bodily functions or to praise God for caring about something so apparently trivial as the inner workings of all of my 5 feet. That the network functions even -- especially -- when I'm under the weather, is worthy of praise.

That prayer has been on my mind a lot in the past months. I have been feeling spiritually tugged toward learning a deeper understanding of the spiritual connection between my body and my soul, my religious teachings and intellectual curiosity. I have undertaken learning from the wisdom of Judaism's sages and from contemporary scholars as I explore the relationship between how my body functions and what God has to do with it.

Judaism is ripe with teachings about the God-body connection.

We Jews move when we pray. Our bodies naturally sway side to side and back and forth. We bow at the knees and at the waist. We deliberately turn our bodies from one side to the other. We raise ourselves up on our tiptoes. We wrap ourselves in fringes that are a physical reminder of God's teachings.

Jewish prayer is a total-body exercise. Jewish prayer is not static, fixed and immobile. Every part of our body is engaged in the conversation with God, especially when we take to heart the words of Torah that teach us to love God with all our heart, soul and might, or the words of King David when he wrote that all of our bones shall acknowledge God's power, or that every breath displays the glory of God.

Movement enhances concentration. I remember the first time I learned to chant a section of Torah. As I learned the chants to sing the text, I found myself unconsciously swaying to the rhythm of the melody and the words. It was spontaneous. And it felt authentic -- it was a spiritual moment.

Jewish ritual practice is profoundly physical. Passover rituals and foods are physical re-enactments of the transition from slavery to freedom.

When I imagine Chanukah in my mind, I not only see the flames from the candles, I also smell the aroma of lit candles and extinguished matches.

We welcome Shabbat with the taste of wine, the aroma and vision of the candles and the tactile pulling apart of loaves of challah. When we say goodbye to Shabbat, we allow our fingernails to be reflected in the lights of the havdallah candles, hoping that the glow will linger, and we inhale the fragrance of spices, hoping to extend Shabbat just a little longer.

At the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur we hear the blasts of the shofar, reminding us to turn back to God.

The first time I experienced a Jewish understanding of yoga and meditation, my eyes opened to a profound reality. I had always accepted that of course my body was special because God had created it. Now I fully understand that my body is a vessel to receive and transmit divine love and Torah wisdom.

My body represents a physical manifestation of humility, as I stand in mountain pose, balanced, strong, and accepting myself as I am, as God created me, simultaneously flawed and perfect. I stand in warrior pose, hands open to both receive and transmit power and strength. Shavasana, the resting pose, keeps my mind alert while my body relaxes.

Judaism is present in my exercising. Coming full circle back to that beautiful prayer, I work out because I believe that I am God's partner in maintaining that network of veins and arteries and to strengthen the body God gave me. Whenever I feel frustrated that my body isn't made for running (I've repeatedly tried and failed), the prayer reminds me that God created me with perfection.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up, be aware of my body's range of motion, say the asher yatzar, praise God and continue to be grateful for my body's connection to Judaism and God.

Cantor Penny Kessler of the United Jewish Center, 141 Deer Hill Ave., Danbury, CT 06810, can be reached at penny.kessler@gmail.com or 203-731-1286.



Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya
Ven. Sakya

FORUM ON FAITH

Learning about true loving kindness.

by Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2012

Danbury News Times

The Association of Religious Communities (ARC) recently had its 9th Annual Interfaith Peace Camp, July 9-13. The camp's purpose is to expose children and youth to different religions' concept of peace, and how to practice peace.

For the ninth consecutive year, the Buddhist community hosted one day of ARC's Interfaith Peace Camp to discuss peace from the Buddhist perspective, and how to cultivate it.

From a Buddhist perspective, peace comes from cultivating skillful qualities of mind that are conducive to one's well-being, and the well-being of others, and eliminating unskillful qualities that are not conducive to one's well-being, and the well-being of others.

The skillful qualities of mind fall under the broad categories of wisdom, compassion and generosity, which are the antidotes for the unskillful qualities of mind we refer to as poisons, which are ignorance, anger/hatred and greed/craving. The cultivation of the skillful group automatically reduces the unskillful.

So on our day at Interfaith Peace Camp, we taught the campers how to cultivate "Metta," which is translated as "loving-kindness," and is associated with the skillful quality of compassion, the antidote for anger.

It is important to be clear about what true loving-kindness and compassion are. In Buddhism there are two types of compassion and loving-kindness, the illusory loving-kindness and compassion of attachments, and then true compassion and loving-kindness.

Illusory loving-kindness has conditions and boundaries. It is the loving-kindness we set limits on, and is usually conditional on what others do for us.

True loving-kindness and compassion are inexhaustible. They do not bring anger or personal striving with them; they are unconditional.

An example I give to the campers is I might say to myself, "I am full of loving-kindness, and goodwill towards all beings." But then, as I drive with my loving-kindness and goodwill, I am suddenly cut off by another driver, anger arises and my loving-kindness and goodwill are laying on the horn and yelling out the window.

I ask, "Where is the loving-kindness and goodwill I was full of?"

They then begin to understand it was not real loving-kindness and compassion because it was conditional to the other person doing what I wanted. It was relative to my self-interests.

What if a person were to slander us or beat us, or force us to leave our homes, or even kill us or others? In Buddhism, true loving-kindness and compassion are the qualities which generate no anger toward those who perform these deeds. It is self-less loving-kindness that allows us to recognize the suffering even of those who inflict harm on us.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama reinforces this idea when he notes that when limits are placed on loving-kindness, it is no longer true loving-kindness or pure compassion.

In Tibet, the home of the Dalai Lama, millions of Tibetans have been massacred by the Chinese government that occupies the land. His Holiness has been evicted from his homeland and has suffered several assassination attempts. Under the Chinese government, all Tibetan cultural practices such as song and dance, even the flying of the true flag of Tibet, are crimes punishable by life imprisonment or death.

Yet the Dalai Lama has never spoken an ill word about the Chinese government. He has even gone to Chinese monasteries to give teachings, and refers to the Chinese government as his friend. What compassion!

People like the Dalai Lama are so important to all of us and particularly important to our youth. He, and others like him, remind us of what is possible if we focus on a spiritual life and the cultivation of peace.

The Buddhists do not have a monopoly on this type of teaching.

Jesus, on the Cross, asks his Father to forgive the people for his crucifixion. This is an example of true loving-kindness and compassion. He does not ask for them to be killed, or bombed, or tortured. He asks only for them to be forgiven. That is the crux of genuine loving-kindness.

It is important that all our children and youth learn how to understand, cultivate and apply these qualities.

Over the course of the week at Interfaith Peace Camp, the children met with people from five traditions to learn and experience "What Peace Means" to each tradition: Native American, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, a church community. While representing different religious traditions, we worked with each other to foster understanding of similarities and differences and to teach children and youth how to cultivate peace.

If each of us does the same, every day, then a bright future and peace are possible for all.

May you and all beings be well and happy.

Venerable Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya, abbot at Middle-Way Meditation Centers, can be reached at venwisdom@gmail.com.



Rev. Anne Coffman
Rev. Anne Coffman

FORUM ON FAITH

Discipleship lesson honed among friends in Bible study.

by Rev. Anne Coffman

Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012

Danbury News Times

I am often asked why I became a minister. Like all spiritual journeys, mine is complicated, filled with lots of people and circumstances that steered me to the place where I am. But when asked, I say that I became a minister because of a small group I was in almost 30 years ago.First, I should mention that I didn't grow up going to church.

I never went to Sunday School or youth group or any of those wonderful things that young people in churched families get to experience. I began to go to church when I was a college student. It was nice there and I liked the people, but I didn't really see it as a life changing experience, not then.

A few years later, I was married to a man I had gotten to know in that church. We were the parents of twin baby boys. My husband's new job meant that we had moved and were now living right outside of New York City. Our budget was tight and I was finding it hard to make new friends.

We had just started to attend a church in a nearby town. One Sunday, the minister, Rev. Liz, invited me to come to a Bible study that was starting the following Thursday. I had never studied the Bible before and I had never thought of doing so.

Rev. Liz must have seen my hesitation, because she quickly said that there would be free babysitting for my twins -- free babysitting!

I would do anything for free babysitting, so I signed up.

As it drew closer to Thursday, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. I really didn't think of myself as a Bible kind of person. But I needed to meet people and I needed a break from my twin babies and there was that free babysitting. So on Thursday morning, I found myself in a small room in the church, with Rev. Liz and five other women. Rev. Liz passed out the Bibles and told us which page to open and we began.

Wikipedia tells us that "discipleship ... refer[s] to a [person's] transformation from some other world view and practice of life into that of Jesus Christ ..." Put more simply, discipleship is the process of following Jesus Christ daily. A disciple seeks a deeper relationship with God by incorporating the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the Bible into the fabric of his or her life.

Three of the members of my new Bible study were the wives of United Nations people: Nella was an American married to a member of the French delegation, Lise was part of the Swedish delegation, and Grace was from an African country I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of at the time.

Nancy was recovering from a marriage that had battered her emotionally and physically. Debbie had a son the same age as my twins and a husband who was serving 20 years to life in a prison upstate. And Rev. Liz had been a minister for almost 10 years.

It was these women that discipled me.

I considered myself to be Christian when I walked into that room, but I didn't understand what it means to be a disciple. Discipleship is honed in small groups like the one I joined that day. The thing about studying with Bible with a group of people is that you get to know them in a different way from any other.

A deeper way.

You pray together about the ups and downs of life. You talk with each other about hard things and cry together and laugh together. Together you are able to discern patterns in your lives and to see more clearly God's work. Together you hammer out the bumpy challenges of walking with Jesus in our time.

Before that year long Bible Study, I would have never thought of Nella, Lise, Grace, Nancy, and Debbie as "friend material," but each of them became much more than a friend to me.

To them I am forever grateful. It was their blessing and encouragement of me that sent me into the ministry.

The Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman, Central Christian Church, 71 West St., Danbury; revanne@centralchristianchurchdanbury.com .



Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas
Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas

FORUM ON FAITH

UCC known here as Congregation Church.

by Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas

Published: Saturday, July 7, 2012

Danbury News Times

This June 25, the United Church of Christ celebrated its 55th birthday.

The UCC is one of the newest denominations, formed by joining four different denominations in 1957.

If asked to identify a UCC church, most people in our area simply look perplexed. A few may have seen signs with the UCC name, but most have no real knowledge of what the UCC is all about.

That's not surprising, because in New England the denomination is best known as the Congregational Church.

Most everyone knows the Congregational Church as the large church, often white, located on their town green.

If asked to give a description of the Congregational Church, people often conjure up an image of stoic Pilgrims and a rigid tradition.

That, too, is not surprising, because our tradition does go back to the Pilgrims and the founding of our country.

The architecture of most UCC churches in our area reflects that historic tradition, with fixed pews, raised pulpits, choir members wearing robes and music from pipe organs.

However, what is very surprising is that with all that history and tradition, we do not fit that stereotypical image.

As part of the United Church of Christ, the Congregational Church has not stayed stuck in the past. On the contrary, despite our historical appearance, we have been in the forefront of change for centuries.

One of the mottoes of the UCC is "Our faith is 2,000 years old, our thinking is not."

Most people are surprised to learn the UCC has always been among the first to call for action on issues of inclusivity and justice.

We were the first to ordain an African-American pastor, way back in 1785; the first woman in 1853; the first openly gay person in 1972; and first to affirm same-gender marriage equality in 2005.

A wonderful combination of tradition and progressive thinking makes the Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, unique.

Our primary theological foundation is expressed in the faith statement: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity."

Within the United Church of Christ, within each individual church, there are a wide range of beliefs, and there is room for them all.

As a denomination and as people, we affirm the essentials of faith but allow plenty of room for questions, doubts, debates, discussions, sharing our faith journeys, and soul searching.

As people who understand that "God is still speaking," we recognize that God still has much to reveal to us.

We believe that scripture is inspired by God but has human fingerprints all over it.

We are willing to wrestle with ourselves, and each other, to find what God's word has to say to us in our time and place, taking into account the history, audience, author and social setting of the original context.

Not all people in our church agree on all aspects of faith or tradition, and that's OK. We can love and respect each other in spite of our differences.

In fact, we seek to celebrate the rich diversity that opens up our faith and enriches our churches.

There are few places in today's society that allow a safe space to speak the truth in love, to disagree, and still come together in worship, mission and fellowship.

As a pastor of a Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, I have seen many people walk in our door, not surprised to experience the traditional worship service they were expecting but very much surprised to find the progressive expression of faith wrapped in so much tradition.

More than a few have been delighted, saying, "I didn't know that churches like this existed! I never dreamed that I could find a place where I fit in, where I'm accepted for who I am."

If you visit a local Congregational Church, you won't be surprised to experience a traditional worship service, but don't let the historic architecture or the organ music fool you.

As members of the United Church of Christ, we may worship in churches that are hundreds of years old, but we continue to be the first to call for action on issues of justice.

But don't be too surprised, because the Congregational Churches in our area take this UCC motto very seriously: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

The Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas is pastor of the Congregational Church of New Fairfield, UCC, 20 Gillotti Road, New Fairfield, CT 06812. She can be reached at
203-746-286 or pastor@nfcongreational.org.



Dr. Fred Turpin
Dr. Fred Turpin

FORUM ON FAITH

Daily spiritual practices are helpful.

by Dr. Fred Turpin

Published: Saturday, June 30, 2012

Danbury News Times

I've been asked on several occasions by those who come to me for either spiritual direction or pastoral psychotherapy which daily spiritual practices I find most helpful.

In responding, I make clear that I believe spiritual practices are simply that. They are not obligations imposed upon you by anyone else but are to be practiced as often as you find helpful.

There are two spiritual practices I find time for on a daily basis. They are based not only within my tradition as a Protestant Christian but have been deepened by teachings from both the Roman Catholic and Buddhist traditions. All major world religions emphasize these practices in some form.

The first is gratitude.

I came across a quote recently that said, "What would happen if you awakened this morning and only had in your life that which you were thankful for yesterday?"

That slogan made me aware that pausing to be grateful allows the inner spirit to rise to a higher consciousness of appreciation for all the blessings, and even the pain and problems, of our lives.

The path of our lives is often very hard, but we would not be as we are today if we were to change even one small thing in our past.

Whatever energy we may spend wishing something in the past were different is wasted energy. The question becomes, given who we are today, how will we move forward in our lives?

I try to devote five or 10 minutes a day, often at the end of the day before going to bed, to review the events of the day and be consciously grateful for friends, neighbors, and even those who have brought unpleasant things into my life.

In doing so, I open my spirit to a place of compassion and blessing, for others as well as myself.

The second daily spiritual practice is forgiveness.

A very wise Buddhist monk taught me several years ago that there was a three-fold practice of forgiveness.

First, to pause and ask forgiveness of all those to whom I may have caused pain, because of my own ignorance or because of my own fear or anger or inattention.

Second, to offer forgiveness to myself. As Sigmund Freud once remarked, most of our suffering is caused by ourselves.

How often have we engaged in something self-destructive or addictive or compulsive, and afterwards only been deeply angry or disappointed in ourselves?

But the deeper question is, how can we offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves and let go of this inner sense of guilt or shame?

Finally, the third practice of forgiveness, which is perhaps the hardest, is to offer forgiveness to those who have brought pain and injury into our lives because of their own ignorance or because of their own pain or fear or anger or inattention.

In doing this, we place no burden of obligation upon ourselves that we reach a completed act of forgiveness, but only do the work of forgiveness that we are able to do today.

Tomorrow, yet another layer of work will rise into our consciousness.

Each day I try to spend a few minutes reviewing my own actions and acknowledging my own wounds.

Perhaps I spoke harshly to someone at the grocery store. Perhaps I did not give a friend or loved one the time and careful attention he needed.

Perhaps I was pressed for time or too preoccupied or tired to treat another with consideration. Perhaps I failed to say I am sorry or take responsibility for my shortcomings.

Practicing forgiveness is really an act of cleansing or purification. It is an attempt to let go of some negative memory that clings to minds as guilt or shame.

So taking the practice of cleansing on a literal level, I try to use my time in the shower or bath as a time when I can cleanse not only my body, but also my mind and spirit, all at the same time.

Taken together, the practice of daily gratitude then helps to reinforce me in a positive direction, and the practice of daily forgiveness helps me to cleanse myself of any negative thoughts.

I am then strengthened to begin my day stronger and refreshed.

Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic, or perhaps of no particular religion at all, I believe that such daily practices are ways of strengthening oneself in a positive way and making it more likely one will engage the world with a spirit of love and compassion.

Dr. Fred Turpin is a pastoral psychotherapist and minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be reached at 203-894-9489 or FHT8@aol.com.



Rev. Barbara Fast
Rev. Barbara Fast

FORUM ON FAITH

What do you think happens after we die?

by Rev. Barbara Fast

Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012

Danbury News Times

From time to time I am asked what do I think happens after we die? I tend to reply, "What do you think?"

When someone asks me what do Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe about what happens after we die, I reply that Unitarian Universalists are more concerned with what happens after we are born than with what happens after we die. I then say that nobody knows what happens after a person dies, but we all wonder, and because no one knows, we should not fight about what we don't know.

The Rev. Forrest Church said that religion was created because human beings realize that we are born and we must die and we struggle with that knowledge. It is our spiritual task to make our peace with the knowledge that we are born and that we will die.

Unitarian Universalists think a great many things about what happens after we die. These wonderings come from many sources.

They come from the people we grow up with, our parents, our communities of faith. They come from books we read, our culture and from deep within our own minds and hearts.

Unitarian Universalism draws from many spiritual sources. Jewish and Christian teachings, which "call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves; humanist teachings, which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science and warn us against the idolatries of the mind and spirit; and the wisdom from the world's religions, which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life."

In UU congregations we affirm questioning minds.

I invite folks to listen for their answers. We all struggle in life and we seek to grow hearts of wisdom so that we learn what it is that we can change and what it is we must accept.

As a clergy person, people seek me out at a time of loss, when they are in search of a meaningful way to create a memorial service for their deceased loved one. I work with the family to find a way to acknowledge the loss, honor the memory and celebrate the life of their loved one. It is a tender time. I know that personally.

When my mother died a few weeks ago at the age of 98, I reached out to dear colleagues to help me do the same. My mother was not attached to any particular faith tradition. She stalwartly refused to be pinned down by her friends. But she had a deep and powerful relationship to God. She was, I like to say, a Universalist, without naming herself as such.

Our first religious educators are our parents. When I was a girl, my mother used to quote from Psalm 139, and though she did not cite chapter and verse, she told me that God had counted every hair on my head.

When putting me to bed, my mother would remind me that I was, that every human being was, made in the image of God, perfect.

When I would worry, my mother would tell me that God's love was infinite and that there was nothing a human being could do in this life that would separate them from God's infinite love forever.

For my mother's memorial service I chose readings from Psalm 139 and Psalm 23. I also chose a reading from Khalil Gibran on Death.

"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?"

I do not know what happens to a person after they die. I do know from experience that it is never the same after someone dies. I also know that love is how we stay alive, even after we are gone; that death may end the life, but it does not end the relationship.

My mother was in my life for a long time. Now that she has died, it is not the same. But I know that she and I will be in an evolving relationship of love for the rest of my life.

And then? Who knows?

The Rev. Barbara Fast is the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. She can be reached at 203-798-1994.



Rev. Luke Mihaly
Rev. Luke Mihaly

FORUM ON FAITH

The Holy Spirit and the Orthodox Church.

by Very Rev. Luke Mihaly

Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012

Danbury News Times

There are many scriptural images used to describe the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit: water, fire, wind, a dove are some of the more common images.

When water is used in scripture in reference to the Holy Spirit, it is often associated with "living water," or water that is moving, like a spring or river. The water is not stale or stagnant. This fresh water is able to quench one's thirst.

When fire is used, it is a reminder to be zealous for the Lord and it implies purification. It is a fire that burns but does not consume and destroy, like the burning bush that Moses discovered.

Wind is used as a reminder that the Spirit blows where it wills and that we have to appreciate its presence when we are allowed to sense it.

We know not when or where the breeze will come or when it will stop. But surely we all remember that breeze and how much relief we felt.

The dove is a symbol of serenity and peace. But, like any bird, if we want to get close to it, we ourselves have to be serene and peace-filled.

If we rush up on it, like any bird, it will take to flight, and we will have missed our opportunity to be in its presence.

Like Elijah, who sat in the mouth of the cave to see God, we have to be able to listen to that still small voice of God.

To do this, I believe we have to calm our minds down, we have to calm our hearts down; we have to calm our lives down to hear that still small voice of God that speaks to us amidst the cacophony and frenzy of daily life.

I believe the work of the church is to individually sanctify each and every one of us, to ever deepen our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

We do this in the Orthodox Church by opening our hearts and our minds to the Holy Spirit. I believe that above all we must remember that the Holy Spirit is a person.

The Holy Spirit is not a dove, not wind, not fire, nor water. The Holy Spirit is not the images that we see in scripture. The images serve as pointers.

In the Orthodox Church, we believe the Holy Spirit is someone with whom we have a relationship.

We do not believe we can have a relationship with fire or wind or water any more than we can have a relationship with a light bulb or the electricity that powers that light bulb.

By focusing on the gifts or characteristics of the Holy Spirit as expressed in the scriptural images, we can mistake the gifts for the Giver of Gifts. Besides, the power that is given by God is the power of humility, a paradox to the world.

This is what we hear in the Orthodox Church hymn to John Chrysostom that speaks of his "wealth through poverty." The Holy Spirit turns the logic of this world upside down.

Instead of trying to remake the church in our image so we can understand it and control it, I believe we need to be remade in the image and likeness of God so that we might know and be known by God.

In the Orthodox Church, we understand Pentecost not to be a onetime event that happened hundreds of years ago in Jerusalem. Rather, we believe that as baptized Christians we participate in that one continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Like that image of water, the grace of the Holy Spirit is constantly poured out upon the church and its members. It is up to us to be open to this life-giving relationship; to drink deeply from this well-spring of Life itself. For when we drink from this living water, that fire of the Holy Spirit will alight upon us, purify us and inspire us to do great things for Christ and his glory.

The Holy Spirit will be the breeze that cools down our passions, calms our minds and hearts so that we may approach and draw near to Holy Spirit, that dove of peace and grace. And doing so, we shall know God and be known by God.

The Very Rev. Luke Mihaly, pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 74 Joe's Hill Road in Danbury, can be reached at 203-748-0671 or PadreLuke@aol.com.



Carol B. Huckabee
Carol B. Huckabee

FORUM ON FAITH

Thank you reflects a basic principle.

by Carol B. Huckabee

Published: Saturday, June 9, 2012

Danbury News Times

"Shukriya," I said as I finished the day working with the women and children in the shelter.

The women bowed as they reciprocated my "thank you," but their faces seemed startled.

I had come all the way from the United States to work voluntarily in the shelter and slum school in Faridabad, India, and I was thanking them?

Why were they so surprised? Because no one had ever really thanked them. These women came from neglectful or abusive situations and ended up here, alongside others who had been valued mainly as objects of aggression or disdain.

The children also had come from lives filled with mistrust and fear. Some had taken to the streets in Delhi to support themselves or maintain favor with whatever adult controlled them.

My thanking them came naturally from my point of view. They had opened up the possibility of us knowing each other for who we are, and that was a gift.

Thank you is often heard among Unitarian Universalists (UUs). Words of thanks signal acknowledgement of another's part in touching our lives. Our thank yous reflect two of the basic principles with which we UUs orient ourselves.

First is "The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person."

Second is "Respect For the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We are a Part." We are all part of this intricate nexus which contains our world.

Individual worth and freedom, alongside interconnectedness, may seem like contradictory themes, but they reflect just the kind of paradox UUs love to talk about.

One UU service held every spring reflects the UU value of individual worth and interdependence. The UU Congregation of Danbury held its annual Flower Communion this past Sunday.

The flower communion was developed in the 1920s to include everyone in the congregation, regardless of background.

Each worshiper is invited to bring a flower to church. Each contribution, like the participants, is unique.

During the service the flowers are collected and then redistributed. Everyone leaves with a bit of beauty brought by someone else.

This ritual reminds us of the perishable gifts each of us brings to encourage, include and inspire each other.

As a tradition we are a non-creedal church. That is not because we have no beliefs, but because we will not be constrained by our beliefs. Our values unite us, even as our personal beliefs may differ.

There is an old joke that relates how Unitarian Universalists had a hard time creating a hymnal because they could never be sure they would agree on the words by the end of a hymn.

Hymns abound in a UU service, however, because music provides room for dynamic pluralism, just as varying beliefs do.

Different traditions enrich personal experiences as we seek to really understand one another. Your beliefs do not have to be wrong for mine to be right for me.

UU congregations welcome new revelations and regularly cross new religious frontiers. "A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning" is yet another guiding UU principle.

We expose our children to different answers that people have given to the big questions posed by religion. We encourage our kids to ask questions and make choices as they grow.

And as adults, UUs work to take responsibility for what we make of our lives and how we work to create communities of justice.

A genuine "thank you" holds up a mirror to the person being thanked. What they see in the mirror is someone who has value as a self -- an individual.

UUs welcome everyone who respects the inherent dignity of all people -- everyone. We mean it.

It does not matter what religious background, race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration or economic status or political belief we come with. We call it "radical hospitality."

In our congregations we work together to discover the religious dimensions in all human experience. In this vein, we celebrate a wide variety of festivals in an attempt to understand the essential meaning of each celebration.

Life in a UU congregation brims with interesting discussions as we seek to balance and integrate mind with spirit.

Unitarian Universalism never asks folks to check their minds at the front door. We see religion not as a body of beliefs or practices, but rather as a gradual process of awakening to the possibility of life itself.

This may perhaps be described as a process of becoming more fully ourselves.

Carol B. Huckabee is past chairwoman of the Committee on Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, 24 Clapboard Ridge Road, Danbury, CT 06811. She can be reached at 203-798-1994.
Visit www.uudanbury.org.



Rev. Joseph Krasinski
Rev. Joseph Krasinski

FORUM ON FAITH

Reviewing history, looking ahead at St. James.

by Rev. Joseph Krasinski

Published: Saturday, June 2, 2012

Danbury News Times

The Episcopal Church is as old as our country. The reason for this is that before the Revolutionary War, the Episcopal Church was the Church of England. This is true of St. James' Episcopal Church in Danbury which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.

We were blessed to have the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Shori to be with us on Jan. 15 to begin our year-long celebration. She so aptly pointed out our history and our future in her sermon.

To share some of her educational insights:

What was the community like here when St. James was a foundling? In 1762, things were just beginning to heat up in the colonies. Benedict Arnold had just turned 21 and started a business in New Haven. Nathan Hale and Noah Webster were still small children. George Washington was not quite 30, but already a seasoned military leader. This was a Church of England congregation, and whatever priest came to offer communion had been ordained in England. He was probably a loyalist, rather than a supporter of revolutionary ideas. Nobody ever got confirmed, because no bishops ever made the journey across the Atlantic.

It would be more than 20 years before the new Episcopal Church emerged and got its first bishop -- your own Samuel Seabury. This congregation almost certainly had its start because of the energetic work of a group of lay people, who in the colonies made most of the decisions about parish life and raised the funds to build and support the ministry of this congregation. There were probably slaves present in the congregation. The existence of this congregation meant that there was at least some measure of religious freedom in this colony.

Contrast that with the church in England, which had resident clergy, usually paid from the income of land belonging to the parish. It was an established church, with the king in charge, a bishop in the neighborhood, and relatively little lay participation in decision-making. Everybody in the local community was a member of the church, whether they wanted to be or not. Non-attendance at worship carried penalties. Other religious traditions were at least discouraged, and had their religious practice restricted. There were few or no hereditary slaves, but there were indentured servants, forced labor in poorhouses, the transportation of convicts, and many farmers tied to the land. England was just beginning to become conscious about freeing slaves. St. James started life in ways that were already quite different from life in its mother church.

Like the true spiritual leader of the 2.3 million Episcopalians throughout the world, Bp. Jefferts Shori went on to explain what St. James' and all Episcopal churches should be about in the 21th century.

Again, to share her insights:

This amazing body called "church" brings people into it to be formed and fed and healed and then sent out into the world as agents of healing. We can't just camp out here, awaiting either Armageddon or the Rapture. That's some of what Jesus is railing against in the Temple. His table-turning challenges those who use it for their own ends, who keep the business turned inward, rather than moving out into a world in need of the healing presence of God.

God is always doing something new, and it often comes to us through those younger than ourselves. The "child shall lead them" includes the five year old teaching his grandmother how to put new apps on her phone. This Church learned a lot when we opened the communion table to children before they were confirmed -- and some of the younger among us continue to ask why there is any fence around this table of healing. What do today''s children, youth, and young adults say to a 250 year old church? What are the hungers of the young in the community around you? They are likely about meaning in life, education and life opportunity, relationships that mean something, and having a community of belonging.

Wisdom, and you have wisdom in abundance, comes from yearning for the spiritual milk that can be found in a community like this one. If you keep yearning, and helping others answer those hungers, you will grow and flourish in the coming years, and you will likely still be here as a community of healing a quarter millennium from now. Keep yearning -- and blessings on the journey!

I found what Bp. Jefferts Shori had to say was very meaningful, and educational. I hope you do too.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Krasinski Rector, St. James' Episcopal Church 25 West St., Danbury. He can be contacted at 203-748-3561 or joseph@saintjamesdanbury.org.



Rev. Mel Kawakami
Rev. Mel Kawakami

FORUM ON FAITH

Confirmation stands out on Christian calendar.

by Rev. Mel Kawakami

Published: Saturday, May 26, 2012

Danbury News Times

The larger rhythm of the church calendar brings me a sense of comfort amid the noise and haste of everyday life.

Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost are signposts for the Christian year. They signify the flow of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection. They focus on a pattern of Christian living. There are also celebrations that accentuate that rhythm, such as Confirmation.

Confirmation comes for us at Newtown United Methodist Church usually on Pentecost, known on the Christian calendar as the "birthday of the Christian church," commemorating the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples after Jesus' death and resurrection. What a holy hubbub that was!

Confirmation is the process for our youth to confirm the vows made for them by their parents and sponsors at their baptisms, often as infants. On the surface, it sounds easy enough. But if you are in your early teen years, the question of faith can be enormous.

Our Confirmation classes are a time of learning and of questioning, a time of fellowship and service.

Over some 25 two-hour classes, we see these (typically) eighth-graders grow in wisdom and grace. We live in a day and age where Biblical literacy is no longer a given and faithful practice is difficult within the demands of school and sports. So to have these young people for some sacred time in their busy lives is a precious commodity.

The Rev. Sue Klein and I get to tell the old, old stories. We convey the high points of the faith. We learn about our church roots and Jewish heritage. We listen to their tales of faith formation. We encourage their questions and admit what we do not know. We pray together. We have fellowship and serve.

Each confirmand is expected to do 25 hours of community service, and many do more.

They helped with our monthly community spaghetti suppers, they collected over 1,200 canned food items for Newtown's Faith Food Pantry and they served at the Dorothy Day Hospitality Center in Danbury. Many do work within their schools and within the larger community.

This dedication to service follows from the way we close each class. We recite together the saying attributed to John Wesley (1703-1791), who was the spiritual force behind the establishment of the Methodist Church: "Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can."

It is inspiring to see these young people make the words of Wesley, an English Anglican clergyman of 300 years ago, take on new life and meaning!

Perhaps the most challenging part of the class is their requirement to compose and share with the congregation their "credo," that is, their Statement of Belief.

The struggle to find words for what it means to be a Christian today is genuine. Those of us who grew up in the church can too easily take our faith for granted.

To truly empathize with these eighth-graders' struggle, ask yourself, "What do I believe about my faith? How would I articulate it?"

You may then begin to appreciate the challenge.

Now amplify that struggle by having to stand before your family and the entire congregation to read your Statement of Belief!

This is the final measure of spiritual growth that happens within our confirmation process. When these young people promise to keep the faith, kneel before God and the congregation, and join the church, it is a truly moving experience. Those who take their vows of membership are not the same young people who began the process, and the transformation is remarkable.

It is moving not only because these are our children, not only because of their earnest and huge commitment, but that, in a time such as this, their extraordinary faithfulness transports us right back to the experience of the original disciples who said, simply, "I believe ..."

No wonder Confirmation Sunday is such a high point for me on the Christian calendar.

It reminds me that the church is renewed, faith reinvigorated, and that God is not done with us yet!

Rev. Mel Kawakami is senior pastor of Newtown United Methodist Church, and can be reached at melkawakami@mac.com.



Deacon Mike Oles
Deacon Mike Oles

FORUM ON FAITH

Kids push man to get Off The Streets.

by Deacon Mike Oles

Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012

Danbury News Times

A few years ago I was invited by Pat, a director of religious education, to speak to some eighth-graders about homelessness.

I suggested that I bring a homeless person who could tell the story more directly.

I brought George, a homeless man who was willing to speak to a group of young kids. He clearly was nervous, and neither he nor I had any idea what to expect.

The students asked George many questions during the hour we were with them, and he responded with some remarkably frank and personal remarks about what it's like to live on the streets.

When I drove George back to the homeless shelter, both he and I were amazed at how attentive the students had been, but we thought that was the end of it.

It was only the beginning. A few weeks later, Pat called me. She said the students had been really moved by George's description of life on the street and wanted to help. She asked me to bring George back to meet with the students; they wanted to give me a check to hold on George's behalf to help him get a room of his own.

We went. The check was for $750.

George and I were both dumbstruck. I brought the check home and it sat on my dresser for a week or two.

Then the first phone call came. It was Pat saying, "Hi, Deacon Mike. The students want to know if you've gotten George into a room yet."

I hadn't done anything. What could I do? I had encouraged the homeless to try to get out of shelters for years, but mostly the words seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was hopeless.

A week later, Pat called again. By her third phone call, I was practically afraid to answer the phone.

As time wore on, I realized I had to do something, anything, to get Pat and the students off my back.

My motivation wasn't George, the homeless person. It was the students, who were persistent and driving me out of my mind.

At night, I dreamt they were calling me, and I would break out in a cold sweat. They were literally forcing me, a deacon, to take action.

Finally, in desperation, I told George if he found a place to live and a way to pay his monthly rent, I would use the money the students raised for a security deposit and some furniture to help him get started. Unbelievably -- like a little miracle -- it worked, and soon he was able to get into a room he could call his own.

Again and again, I was asked to bring a homeless person to speak to young students. Again and again, the students took it upon themselves to do something, anything, to help a homeless individual.

Over the course of three years, students from four different parishes were the guiding force that resulted in 12 homeless people getting a room to live in after years on the street.

It dawned on me one day that if young people, some just 10 years old, can help get a homeless person off the streets, why can't I as an adult do more?

I thought about how difficult it would be to start a nonprofit. Where would I get the money for staff and for offices?

Oh, how I procrastinated! A bout with cancer (curable) scared me into action.

I settled on a model embodied by the Dorothy Day Hospitality House.

The nonprofit would accept no government funding, be all-volunteer, have no offices and practically no overhead. Just about every dollar donated would go directly to helping a homeless person find a place to live.

Off the Streets was founded in September 2009. Since then, we have assisted more than 250 homeless people, or people in danger of becoming homeless, get back on their feet.

I believe all of this is because of the power of two: the power of the Holy Spirit inspiring the power of a child's persistence and idealism to fearlessly tackle head on one of the most intractable problems facing our country.

Michael J. Oles is a deacon at St. Mary Parish in Bethel. He can be reached at moles5@comcast.net or 203-482-1460.



Rev. Karen Karpow
Rev. Karen Karpow

FORUM ON FAITH

Words have failed me today. And I don't quite know what to do about it.

by Rev. Karen Karpow

Published: Saturday, May 12, 2012

Danbury News Times

I've been trying to write this article for about 24 hours now. This is distressing. My vocation is largely about words. As a pastor, I write words, speak words, and sing words. I listen, actively, to lots of words. I read words and study words.

Perhaps the block is because of the flood of words that came out of the United Methodist Church's General Conference for nearly two weeks, from April 24 to May 4.

Every four years, nearly a thousand elected delegates from all over the world, half lay people and half clergy, come together to hash out what we United Methodists say we believe, and how we will organize ourselves to put that belief into effect.

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is our highest (earthly) authority -- our hierarchy has no point at its top. Pastors report to district superintendents, who report to bishops, and we have some church-wide administrative and mission boards, but everyone's job is to do what the General Conference directs, until it meets again in four years.

Church members are not required to agree with all the statements of the General Conference, but part of our ordination vows for clergy include upholding its decisions, whether we agree with them or not. Having carefully followed the proposals, discussions, and decisions, I now find myself at a loss.

A friend of mine often says, "When you are absolutely sure you are right, watch out." A great deal of certainty was on display in Tampa -- much of it from people with whom I disagree -- and I'm not sure what to say. I don't know what to do.

Fortunately, our tradition has a remedy for those of us overwhelmed by words. It's called lectio divina, translation "divine reading."

It is a simple practice. All I have to do is read a scripture passage slowly, several times, and then give God space and time to speak to me. I have to stop my own words to make room for God's Word.

Lecto divina is not just a fancy Latin name for Bible study. The emphasis is on contemplation rather than content.

Christians have been practicing lectio divina for more than 1,700 years. Ironically, there are whole books written about how to do it, but it's not so much about what we do -- it's about making quiet time and letting God into it. We believe that we cannot force God to speak, but we can prepare ourselves to listen.

The four traditional steps of lectio divina are:

1. Lectio: Reading, in a focused and unhurried way, and with expectation that God has something to say. We read the text through several times, even reading out loud if the setting allows. It's like tearing off a chunk from a piece of bread.

2. Meditatio: Meditation, taking time to consider the meaning of the text. It's like getting a bite of a sandwich with lots of peanut butter -- it takes some time to chew. We ponder, and think, notice, and imagine. And then we ponder some more.

3. Oratio: Talking with God, in prayer. Having listened through lectio and meditatio, now we begin a dinner-table conversation. We don't do all the talking, but this is the time to ask questions of God, and listen for the answers. We respond to what we hear, perhaps with praise, or confession, or commitment. Sometimes it helps to write down these prayers, questions, and insights.

4. Contemplatio: Contemplation, resting in God's presence. We don't need to say anything, or think anything, but simply rest, close to God, like a child in a parent's lap after a satisfying meal. We resist the go-go-go temptation to do something, and just linger.

Lectio divina is not something we do just once in a while, in response to some word-based problems, such as I was having today. It is a practice, preferably daily, through which we form the habit of listening for God. We choose a consistent time and place, and allow enough time -- say, 20 minutes -- in quiet, without interruptions.

An appropriate passage for lectio divina in celebration of Mother's Day tomorrow might be this one: "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)

The Rev. Karen Karpow is pastor of Danbury United Methodist Church. Contact her at danburyumc@sbcglobal.net or 203-743-1503.



Rabbi Jeffery Silbermans
Rabbi Jeffery Silberman

FORUM ON FAITH

Chaplains help those suffering from serious illness.

by Rabbi Jeffery Silberman

Published: Saturday, May 5, 2012

Danbury News Times

Serious illness can create a major crisis of faith for some people. When a person falls ill, many different thoughts can surface in their mind.

Questions arise such as, "What did I do to deserve this?" Or even, "Why is God punishing me?"

These worries can compound the difficulty of dealing with medical crisis and physical healing. That is a primary reason for the place and function of the hospital chaplain.

The good news is that certified professional chaplains can be a resource to thelp people in the hospital explore these and other questions, and together to discover resources to help a person cope. Certified professional chaplains have both formal theological education and supervised clinical experience, as well as peer reviewed approval of their preparation to offer spiritual care, Spiritual care professionals assist people to access their own spiritual or religious traditions and resources in the face of illness or crisis.

One important dimension of professional chaplaincy is that spiritual care is multi-faith. While all chaplains bring their own personal religious tradition, chaplains do not promote any particular denominational religious belief.

The provision of spiritual care is for all people, whether or not they have a church or synagogue or mosque. It is not even consequential whether or not the person is a believer. Often, a patient will say to the chaplain, ":No thanks. I am an atheist," and yet when given the opportunity, will be happy to talk for some time.

Chaplains believe that every person has something in his or her life that serves as a source of meaning. It is our job to aid the person in utilizing their own unique personal, religious, spiritual, or philosophical assets to help the person cope with the current challenges of being a patient.

Many people in the hospital are unsure, or even suspicious when a chaplain introduces himself to the patient. Frequently, the first reaction of the patient is the internal question, "Am I dying?"

When I detect a look of fear as I introduce myself, I will sometimes mention that I am not bringing a medical prognosis with me. I am merely here to talk about what is important right now.

Another important aspect of professional chaplaincy is that our primary job is to listen. Many people are not used to having someone carefully listen to them. Yes, most everyone can hear what others say to them, but the professional chaplain seeks to do more. Chaplains engage in active listening, trying to hear the melody behind the words.

Chaplains endeavor to identify the nature of a person's spiritual distress in this moment and setting. This allows the chaplain to clarify the concern and direct the person toward a way to address the concern.

A third key aspect of professional chaplaincy is that the chaplain is a part of the health care team. Thus, the chaplain can access other members of the team to communicate concerns on behalf of the patient.

Many people are intimidated by the hospital. Chaplains can serve as intermediaries to express practical concerns to nurses, like being in a great deal of pain.

Furthermore, the professional chaplain understands the system, and how it works. This can be important to clarify for the person some of what is going on around him or her.

Being a chaplain is very rewarding, despite a common impression that it can be depressing work. To visit hospitalized patients and see how they are able to muster extraordinary courage and to discover positive meaning in the face of a crisis is inspiring.

Patients frequently share with chaplains their personal story of struggle. As they do, both the person and the chaplain gain insight into the role that faith plays in the healing process.

Meeting with an elderly woman with a diagnosis of metastatic cancer could be a sad situation. But when the chaplain approached her, she said, "I know it is my time. I have had a good life. And God is ready for me." Many colleagues refer to those moments as sacred ground, where we join with a person who had found ways to make sense of their situation or suffering.

Clinical pastoral education is offered through the Department of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital for clergy, seminarians and qualified lay persons to train to better their skills and understanding of spiritual distress and effective ways to address it. You may contact the Department of Spiritual Care for more information.

Rabbi Jeffery M. Silberman, D. Min., is director of spiritual care at Danbury Hospital. He can be reached at 203-739-7059 or jeffery.silberman@wcthealthnetwork.org.



Rev. Ophir de Barros
Rev. Ophir de Barros

FORUM ON FAITH

Woman of faith was an example of wisdom.

by Rev. Ophir de Barros

Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012

Danbury News Times

Maria -- that was her name, a very common name in Brazil. Most families used to give this name to the babies in a country with strong Catholic influence.

This lady of faith was one more Maria in the church roll, but everyone knew who Sister Maria was.

When I arrived in a beautiful city in southern Brazil, to a new position as pastor of a local church there, to know Maria and learn about her life was one of my great experiences.

My wife loved her, and soon visiting her small home in a poor neighborhood became very pleasant to us, full of spiritual fulfillment and significance.

Maria was raised in a rural area in northern Brazil and had immigrated to the industrialized and prosperous south years earlier, looking for a better opportunity in life. However, things had been very hard for her.

When I met her for the first time, she was widowed and had to take care of two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, since her son had died in a motorcycle accident and the children's mother had abandoned them.

Maria did not know how to read, but she was full of joy because of her faith. And everyone in the church noted that -- she received support from the entire community.

Food, furniture, even home repair were provided regularly to her and the children, mostly spontaneously, without the need of coordination.

When I stopped to visit, she brewed a kind of very strong coffee, as Brazilians are used to, and some kind of corn or yucca cake. And then I listened to the most pure words of wisdom I have heard.

Every opinion or comment she made left me astounded. Where has she learned all those wonderful concepts? I tell you, I think that she had a special inner revelation brought by faith.

Her old leather-covered big Bible was always on her table or her lap. It looked used, with the last church bulletin inside with some photos and papers.

The pages were darkened on the edge, as if someone had been leafing through the book every day. But remember, she cannot read!

After a good pause, she sat at the table and asked me if I could read the Bible to her. She opened it, put her finger on a verse, and invited me or my wife to read aloud, beginning at that verse.

I learned she used this method with everyone who visited her. And after the reading, she made remarks on the text, telling what God was putting in her heart.

Maria is a good example of the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

Life gave her no opportunity to get a formal education -- she never went to a school in her life. But she was intelligent, she could learn from experience, and her memory was amazing.

I believe intelligence is a God-given capacity, an aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts and meanings. I believe most people are intelligent but fail to make the right decisions. That is what I call wisdom, as a different concept from intelligence.

Wisdom is the knowledge of what is true or right coupled with good judgment as to action. And this is what distinguished Maria -- her wisdom.

One day in a meeting in the church, people were very upset because one group had taken an antagonistic position against the leadership, and this created a tense situation.

Most of them were educated people -- Ph.D.s, businessmen, professionals, pastors. So everyone had an air of complacency when Maria asked the moderator to let her speak.

She held the microphone in her hands, both hands, and with her small voice began to admonish everyone there, using biblical examples and teachings adequate for the situation.

What happened then was amazing, for people began to bow their heads and some began to cry. As a consequence, the meeting took another direction, with prayer, repentance, praise and finally joy.

In my entire life, that is the best example I've seen of the word wisdom, something that I believe only faith can produce.

Maria passed away many years ago, before we moved to the United States. But her witness, example and dedication continue to be a source of encouragement, strength and wisdom for me.

Sometimes I talk on the phone with her grandson, now a successful professional in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the best part of the conversation is when we remember the moral beauty of a woman of faith, his grandmother Maria.

The Rev. Ophir de Barros retired as pastor of All Nations Baptist Church in Danbury. He can be reached at 203-417-1401 or ophirdb@gmail.com.



Mary Collins
Mary Collins

FORUM ON FAITH

Earth Day reflections on impact of faith.

by Mary Collins

Published: Saturday, April 21, 2012

Danbury News Times

Earth Day is here, which follows many religious holy days around the vernal equinox. It is not surprising that celebrations abound when the grass greens and the flowers bloom in April.

I take the opportunity on Earth Day every year to reflect on how my faith and my daily practice impact the earth. Unitarian Universalism's (UU) 7th Principle, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part," reminds me to appreciate and connect to the natural world.

To take time to be renewed and to experience awe is both grounding and uplifting to my spirit.

Being green is not extreme.

When I take a walk and see garbage on the path, it reminds me of the importance of stewardship. Many religions have an environmental undercurrent.

Think, for example, of all those creation stories, praise poems, calls to stewardship of the earthly garden, and the Buddhist "May all beings be well." The UU 7th Principle echoes this, as it considers human beings as one part of a greater whole, one part of the interconnected web of life.

Earth-based religions and cultures have lessons of coexistence and moderation, to take only what you need and not to take more due to greed or fear. This point of view takes seriously the idea of what impacts one thing, impacts all. What we do matters. We are not the only beings living here.

I read a Mayan story in a collection by Victor Montejo many years ago. After a great flood, the only thing left on the land is carrion, which the buzzard, mightily hungry, finally eats. The other birds don't like the way he smells, and ostracize him. But then they come to have a new respect for the buzzard, because if he didn't act, disease would spread in the waters and to other creatures. The buzzard is "the bird who cleaned the world."

If we honor the creation of the world, find renewal in it, what do we do to keep the world "clean?"

We can consider the impact of our purchases. How much plastic do we buy (items and packaging)? Is it a local product or has a lot of petroleum been used to transport it here? Do we buy products that have pesticides for our lawns or cleaning supplies?

Modern American life makes these choices a challenge at times. What substitute to plastic water bottles could I give my child going to a soccer or baseball practice? When I use spring cleaning supplies or fertilizer, with an unpronounceable ingredients list, do I consider that it all gets washed into the groundwater?

Every day we are given opportunities for daily spiritual practice and discipline in respecting the earth, in order to keep it healthy for us all and for the next seven generations.

Everyday choices matter, even if we don't see the pile of garbage in our backyard, or the dead sea birds who ingested plastic pellets mistaken for food.

It's easy to forget that even when we throw something away it never really goes away if it's plastic or a chemical, and that it impacts people and ecosystems.

People who are poor and people of color are more likely to live in places with more pollution, higher rates of asthma, more lead in their water, or pesticides. The golden rule, variations of which are in many faith traditions, calls us to care and act to change our behavior for the better.

My yearly Earth Day reflections remind me that I have to walk the talk of my faith, even when I'm in a hurry, or when I think it is inconvenient to Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle.

I've learned that it is both a new and old way of doing things, sustainably, in harmony with the earth.

Mary B. Collins, Director of Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, can be reached at 203-798-1994.



Rev. Hambrick-Stowe
Rev. Hambrick-Stowe

FORUM ON FAITH

Defining church without raising walls.

by Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe

Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012

Danbury News Times

Why do people take the step to formally join a church or another religious community?

American culture has shifted away from being a society of "joiners." Today it is more common for Americans to keep ongoing commitments to a minimum and institutional participation fluid and open-ended.

The percentage of the population that checks "None" when asked about religious affiliation on surveys is growing.

I recently spoke with a man who expressed a fresh desire for progress in his relationship with God. He thinks his spiritual life would be enhanced by involvement in a church, but he is uncertain about some key doctrines of the Christian faith.

He wanted to know if there would be room for someone like him in our congregation.

In response, I sketched my understanding of the kind of church we seek to be. I'm not a sociologist, but it seems to me that there are two ways that an organization --any organization -- can define itself.

Some groups define themselves by their boundary, while others define themselves by their center.

An organization that defines itself by its boundary emphasizes agreement with the group's beliefs and practices as the threshold for membership.

If you believe these things and do things in this way, then you are an insider and qualify for membership. If you can't sufficiently buy in, then you probably won't belong.

An organization may set its boundary narrowly or broadly, but there is a line beyond which you are "out" and not "in." Religious groups often adopt this model.

There are important reasons for boundaries, but a negative result can be the erection of walls that separate people of different faiths from one another (and from "Nones").

The man speaking with me had no desire to worship in a faith community that walls out others. To him, the boundary model of church leads to closed-minded arrogance, loss of the ability to think for oneself, and intolerance or hostility toward others.

Whatever spiritual benefits there might be would come at too high a cost.

What about the other model?

It is possible for an organization to define itself by its center. Members and other participants connect to that center point in different ways, some clustering tightly while others arrange themselves around it at various places and distances.

The same people may even locate themselves differently, moving in or out from the center over time as circumstances change.

The church where I am pastor places God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ at the center of worship and all areas of church life.

The gospel of salvation through faith in God's grace in Christ defines us as a community. Since we learn about this love of God in scripture, the Bible shapes our understanding of the center.

The Congregational tradition is rooted in the history of colonial New England. The early New England Christians assessed applicants for church membership based on what they called "the judgment of charity."

In this spirit, we encourage people in their connection to the center and offer ministry to help them move ever closer.

It's less about being "in" or "out" than about orienting one's life to God, together with others, in the light of the gospel.

I think Jesus meant something like this when he gave his invitation "Come and follow me."

Using the model of the center, the question is not so much "Have I arrived?" as "Do I want to be on the way?"

Is God moving me to pursue my spiritual journey in relation to this center point and in fellowship with others who worship and serve in this faith community?

For our church, such a model upholds the uniqueness of the Christian faith without putting up walls between "us" and "them."

The Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield. He can be reached at charles@firstcongregational.com.



Rev. Angelo Arrando
Rev. Angelo Arrando

FORUM ON FAITH

Christians should represent the real Jesus.

by Rev. Angelo Arrando

Published: Saturday, April 7, 2012

Danbury News Times

Marked with ashes, visibly or invisibly, Christians are bringing yet another Lent to a conclusion.

The Lenten journey has many meanings to many people. Christians are not all on the same page when it comes to Lent. Many see Lent as a time of sacrifice and self denial in preparation for the most holy of all Christian holy days -- Easter.

But many see Lent as a time to be reconnected to Jesus and thereby come into the Easter celebration united with Him. I lean to this vision of Lent.

Challenged to be reconnected to Jesus, we must first of all be sincere in allowing Jesus to speak for Himself.

In today's world, it is very easy to allow our perception of Jesus to be skewed by our ideology. We attempt to define Him in light of our preconceived views.

We see far too much of this in our politics. this is always self-serving. Just to invoke Jesus' name is certainly not enough to believe that we are connected to Him.

Non-Christians look to Christians to understand what Jesus is about. Our actions speak louder than our words.

Over the centuries horrific things have been done in Jesus' name, presumably with His blessing. He has been turned into a weapon of mass destruction.

Non-Christians must stand in wonderment at the role of this so-called Prince of Peace. Non-Christians must question why anyone would want to be a follower of this Jesus.

Can Jesus really be so judgmental? So condemning? So hateful? How do non-Christians come to know about Jesus other than witnessing the actions of Jesus' followers?

The simple truth is, not all who claim to follow Jesus are authentic to Him and to His teachings. Jesus simply reminded His followers that through their love others will come to know they are His disciples.

In all honesty, I do not know this Jesus who has been usurped by institutions and dominions over the centuries and even in our own time.

The political pundits and candidates speak so freely about their faith, and yet I have to wonder if the Jesus they are speaking about is the Jesus that I believe in. I think NOT.

Of one thing I am certain. Jesus would not want himself to be turned into a weapon of mass destruction -- a weapon that isolates, maims and or deems anyone worthless.

I am certain Jesus would reject His name being used as a means of hatred towards Jews, Muslims, gays, the undocumented, or anyone, for that matter.

I truly believe that Jesus is religion made simple: People come first! Not some people at some times in some place, but all people at all times and in all places.

For me, this defuses letting anyone use Jesus as a weapon of hatred. This is the Jesus that I believe Christians need to reconnect with.

People come to know the precepts of a faith through the actions of the practitioners. For the most part, I believe Christians truly struggle to emulate the teachings of Jesus, but the ones who speak the loudest and attract headlines are those who can do the most damage and pervert the very nature of Jesus' teachings.

Actions indeed speak louder than words, but in this case the Word (Jesus) must speak and speak loudly. In reading the Gospels, no one knows Jesus without also knowing that Jesus was the One Who offered love to everyone.

Jesus went out on the highways and byways to be there for those who life had been cast aside. The shamed, the belittled, the neglected, those not worthy of anybody's time-- for them Jesus was there.

Jesus had friends in low places. Jesus ate and drank with the worst of them. Those who would never be accepted, never belong, never be respected by respectable people, Jesus respected. The God-wide heart of Jesus embraced them all.

He was constantly chided about who he hung out with or sat at table with. Jesus privileged those who struggled from below. Jesus was at home with the sorriest of souls, neither condemning nor isolating.

Jesus saw no bad in anyone except the self-righteous, who seemed to condemn others so easily. Jesus saw a side to human beings few ever saw before, and few have seen since.

Jesus saw in human being something we still have to see in ourselves. Jesus say only good.

The love that pumped through the heart of Jesus was God-force, the uncompromising love of human beings. I believe Jesus personified the best of the human race.

And in his own manner Jesus asks his followers to reevaluate how we value human beings.

We have no need to ask what God in Jesus asks His followers to care about. Jesus' daily practice put the spotlight on the priority of every single person. He beckons His followers to do nothing less.

A world that trivialized some people came to see through Jesus' eyes a world where every human being matters to God.

How sad it is that those who should know better have done so much damage in His name. Hanging on the cross, the gospels tell us, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing."

I cannot imagine Jesus not offering that same forgiveness even to those who refuse to forgive in His name.

The Rev. Angelo S. Arrando is pastor of St. Gregory the Great R.C. Church in Danbury and president of the ARC Board of Directors.



Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer

FORUM ON FAITH

Learn from sibling rivalry.

by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer

Published: Saturday, March 31, 2012

Danbury News Times

Sibling rivalry is a theme that runs through many biblical stories. Cain kills Able when God accepts his brother's sacrifice over his. Isaac and Ishmael are rivals for Abraham's inheritance.

The twins Jacob and Esau fight over the birthright and blessing and are separated from many years.

Sibling rivalry probably has its origins in the animal world and survival of the fittest.

A Pacific Ocean seabird pecks at its siblings and pushes them out of the nest to die of starvation while the parents stand idly by.

Piglets are born with a special set of temporary "needle teeth" to attack their litter mates in the struggle for the mother's prodigal frontal teats; the runts kicked back sometimes starve on the thin milk there.

Baby animals, researchers theorize, fight mainly to establish dominance and to compete for scarce food.

Human children, on the other hand, fight not only over who got the bigger bowl of ice cream, but also over who decides what game to lay, who controls the remote, who is supposed to do the dishes, who started it and who is loved most.

Sibling rivalry is, of course, based on comparison and competition. Jacob and Esau were twins and thus more easily compared to one another, as I can attest from personal experience: My wife and I have a twin boy and girl.

When two babies grow up together, you cannot help but watch who reaches various milestones first.

The biblical twins had different talents, Jacob being more introspective and intelligent, while his brother was the big, burly hunter.

Like all siblings they competed for the love and affection of their parents, Isaac and Rebecca.

The problem was that the parents showed favor for one child or the other all too easily, with Rebecca favoring the quieter Jacob and Esau preferring the wild and strong Esau.

Tamar Brott grew up with an older brother who was a violin prodigy and a sister, a year younger, with a beautiful voice who is now an opera singer.

Tamar always wanted to sing but is tone deaf,

She remembers the parties that her parents threw for their friends when she and her siblings were still in elementary school.

Her brother would play a complex piece on the violin.

Then her sister would come, a beautiful girl who was tiny for her age. She would begin to sing in a baby voice: "Turn around and she's two, turn around and she's four turn around and she's a young girl going out of the door." And everyone would weep.

Tamar said that this was a turning point in her life, when she realized that she would not compete with her siblings that she would never be able to move people to tears like her sister or play a concerto on the violin.

That moment when we know that we will never be able to run as fast, or sing as well, or get as good grades as a brother or sister is difficult to accept.

When failing to surpass a sibling, we see our limitations in life for perhaps the first time.

Tamar was angry at her sister and all of the attention that she received.

But at some point, Tamar realized that she could either continue to obsess over her inability to compete with her sister, or she could just accept it and find wholeness.

After Jacob fled from Esau, he became a shepherd and acquired numerous cattle.

He married and had children. Finally, after many years, Jacob desired to reunite with his brother.

Jacob was naturally afraid that Esau would still be angry over the past

When Jacob came before his brother, he bowed in humility and offered gifts.

Esau immediately told him to rise, they embraced, and the two brothers were reunited.

Both Jacob and Esau had found success in pursuing their own abilities.

Now no longer stuck on the past, they came together to begin anew.

Sibling rivalry is not easy, but it also presents us with an opportunity to grow.

When a sibling surpasses us, we learn the importance of failure, we see our own weaknesses and we also discover our talents and abilities. Jacob may not have been the burly hunter, but used his mind to acquire great herds.

Tamar Brott never became a musical prodigy, but she directed her creative energies to become a writer and has found success.

As adults, we benefit from leaving behind the sibling rivalries of the past and learn from them.

As parents, our task is to make the conflicts between our children into teachable moments. We can show our children that they do not have to win at everything, but that they can find ways to succeed with the talents and abilities that came from their Diving Maker.

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is the spiritual leader of Temple Shearith Israel in Ridgefield, www.tsiridgefield.org and author of the blog The Fly Fishing Rabbi, www.flyfishingrabbi.com.



Rev. Vicky Fleming
Rev. Vicky Fleming

FORUM ON FAITH

Are kids trained not to attend worship?.

by Rev. Vicky Fleming

Published: Saturday, March 24, 2012

Danbury News Times

I have been a pastor since 1984. I've read about and experienced many of the reasons why our society is no longer made up of strictly church-going people: multiple cultures with multiple religions that don't all celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday; the revocation in many places of blue laws, which means malls and grocery stores are open and entertainment opportunities abound, competing with church for one's attendance and attention; and the explosion of sports activities that take place during the traditional time of worship services in most mainline congregations.

I believe another reason for the decline in both church membership and attendance is the fact that, beginning in the late 1960s, we discovered how convenient it was to have worship services taking place at the same time as Sunday School. Parents could either drop their children off at the Sunday School for the entire worship hour or take them to worship with them for the first 20 minutes of the service and then have the children leave to attend Sunday School while the adults listened to Scripture lessons and sermons.

It is frequently during this time when the children are away from the worship service that the rituals that are part and parcel of our worship take place. Therefore, the children have little opportunity to participate in Holy Communion, have seldom seen a baptism, and sometimes have never stayed or participated in an entire worship service until they begin classes for Confirmation (the rite that confirms that the confirmands want to make the vows that were made by their parents at their baptism and also confers full church membership).

This is the pattern of the very excellent Sunday School program in the church I pastor, and yet, for many years I have found the confirmation experience to be both bewildering and frustrating.

In my own congregation, we provide a separate Sunday School class for confirmands with a curriculum that teaches church history from the time of Jesus and then explores United Methodist history and doctrine. Following each Sunday School class, the confirmands have about a half-hour meeting with an adult mentor that they have chosen and then meet with me for another 45 minutes for additional instruction and explanation.

We feel this is a pretty comprehensive curriculum for new church members and, in general, it works well with youth who have been experiencing church since they were youngsters.

However, sometimes it seems that some of the youth who attend these classes have come out of the woodwork. I've been the pastor of my congregation for nearly seven years now and I should know these young men and women. But with many, I've never laid eyes on them. They were baptized before I arrived and haven't set foot in the door since that time or they have attended at really busy services on Christmas and Easter when I don't know lots of the folks who are there.

My experience has been that after diligently studying the above mentioned curriculum, and passing any exams that are given, the youth make the promises required for membership, have a lovely party, and don't darken the door of the church for another 10 years or so, if ever.

It is my personal belief that in a subliminal way, we have taught our children that worship is not really very important and they are not welcome to participate. By not staying through the entire service, week in and week out, they are not learning by osmosis the things that I did, like The Lord's Prayer, the responses to the Great Thanksgiving for Holy Communion, the pattern of a worship service. If this is what we teach them as children, then what is the impetus for them to attend worship services as adults?

When the Education Committee in my present congregation suggested we do a survey of the congregation to see if they would be willing to adapt our schedule to include one whole hour just for Sunday School, including an adult class such as we now have, one family left the church without even being part of the discussion.

In our very busy society, we like convenience and the present schedule gets folks in and out in an hour and 15 minutes. If they stay for the social time following worship, that adds a bit more time.

I don't pretend to know the solution to this problem or to any of the situations mentioned previously. I have included my contact information for readers who would like to let me know what they think.

The Rev. Vicky A. Fleming is the pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church. She can be reached at vafleming424@gmail.com.



Rabbi Jon Haddon
Rabbi Jon Haddon

FORUM ON FAITH

Where is God in the story of Purim.

by Rabbi Jon Haddon

Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012

Danbury News Times

Just this past week, Judaism celebrated the holiday of Purim. A time of prizes, noisemakers, costumes and treats, Purim invites us to celebrate the absurd and laugh at ourselves.

As we read the story from the Purim Megillah (scroll), we drown out the name of Haman, the evil man of Shushan who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Dressing in costume, eating the three-cornered hamentaschen cookies, making noise, and celebrating beyond comprehension all draw our attention to the fun and frivolity of the day. And, of all of our holidays, it is about Purim which the Midrash on the book of Proverbs proclaims: "All holidays will in the future be annulled, yet the days of Purim will never be annulled."

What is it about Purim that makes it the one holiday our rabbis say will endure even in the messianic era?

In the moments of the arrival of the complete and final redemption, is it really possible that the most important Jewish moment would be the one holiday when our frolic and celebration leads us as Purim asks us to go--beyond comprehension between good and evil `ad sh'lo yada --until it is impossible to know the distinction between Haman and Mordechai?

It would be far easier to understand any one of several of our other holidays to be the one holiday that would endure beyond this world. After all, Purim is certainly not the holiday most of us would naturally identify as being the most important one or perhaps the most significant one. The re-enactment of the exodus from Egypt and the telling of the Master Story of our people associated with Passover feels far more significant and far-reaching. Were it not for that experience, our people might never have found our way to Mount Sinai to receive God's Torah.

Likewise, Yom Kippur's process of personal and communal repentance and return seems more naturally a part of the enduring growth and development of the Jewish soul and of the Jewish people. Or, perhaps one of the many other holidays as well. So, why Purim?

The answer, it seems to me, lies in the Megillah itself -- in the story of Purim itself. Or, rather, what is not in the story.

In the entire narrative of the book of Esther, one character seems to be absent. The king signs Haman's plan as an edict: The Jews are to be killed. Mordechai tells Esther that the Jews need her intervention.

Initially hesitant to do so, Esther goes to ask the King to spare the Jewish people. Esther warns Mordechai that no one, except those to whom the king holds out his golden scepter, comes to the inner court on orders of death. Mordechai, in turn, warns Esther not to think that just because she is in the palace she would escape the fate of the rest of her nation.

Esther's reaction is to instruct Mordechai to gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan to fast for Esther. Esther wines and dines the king, reveals to him that she is Jewish and convinces him to save her people. Haman is hung on the very day he drew to destroy the Jewish people.

So, who is missing? God!

Nowhere in the entire narrative is God's name mentioned--not even once. What an absurd idea for us--a Jewish holiday whose primary narrative doesn't mention God?

In all other holidays, the narrative of the holiday makes clear God's appearance and instruction. On Passover, we speak of God's role in bringing about the redemption from slavery; on Yom Kippur it is from God whom we seek to absolve ourselves of our vows; on Shavuot, it is God who reveals God's Torah atop Mt. Sinai.

And the list could go on for all other holidays except Purim. Only on Purim is God's name left out of the narrative of the day. How is it that the one day which marks God's absence is the one day enduring into the messianic era?

In a discussion on Esther's approaching the king, the Talmudic rabbi, Rabbi Levi, records a similar discomfort with God's absence in the story of Esther. Looking at the verse from the scroll of Esther, "And she stood in the inner court of the king's house," he laments that to enter the inner most chambers of any king other than God leads to idol worship. And, so he superimposes the image of Esther speaking the words of the book of Psalms to God in that moment: "Eli, Eli, lamah azavtani--My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

Yet, Esther was not paralyzed by the experience. From the inner court of the king, she moves to stand in front of the king and bear her soul to him in the hope that she, Mordechai, and the entire Jewish community would be spared.

She could not wait for Mordechai or anyone else in the world to act, but she had to dig within herself to find the courage and faith to stand up against evil and cry for justice in the world, even knowing that she could have to pay the price for approaching the king in her unorthodox ways. And indeed God sat with her in those moments.

God does not want each of us to wait for others to act to bring justice, nor does God want us to assume it can be done by God alone. Esther helped bring God into the world and fulfilled her divine mission when she took those steps to approach the king and to fight for her people.

Like her, we too help manifest God's presence in the world when we make God's implicit presence explicit in the ways we act and in the justice we seek. And, when we do so, we move one step closer to the fulfillment of our divine mission and to a world in which salvation is truly possible and probable. This is our mission, this is our hope.

Rabbi Jon Haddon is rabbi emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.



Polly Castor
Polly Castor

FORUM ON FAITH

Campaign that keeps its promises: prayer.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, March 9, 2012

Danbury News Times

During the Ridgefield Clergy Association town ecumenical Thanksgiving service last fall, I shared gratitude from the pulpet that "the government was upon His shoulder," as it is promised in the book of Isaiah.

This earnest statement elicited an eruption of laughter from the assembled congregation, indicating the level of disillusionment and disaffection many feel currently for the political process and its outcomes. I hadn't meant to be funny.

As Christian Scientists, we are charged with praying daily for our nation and the world. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, loved democracy so much she established our churches as "distinctly democratic."

She expected us, both within church and out of it, to be self-governed by reflecting God's government and to work avidly for peace and harmony in the world, beginning with our own thought and behavior.

Mrs. Eddy had much to say on the subject. I've found the following four quotes particularly helpful in modeling how I think about government at all levels:

"Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his maker, divine truth and love."

"The government of divine love is supreme. Love rules the universe, and its edict hath gone forth: `Thou shalt have no other gods before me,' and `Love thy neighbor as thyself.'"

"Through the wholesome chastisements of love, nations are helped onward towards justice, righteousness and peace, which are the landmarks of prosperity. In order to apprehend more, we must practice what we already know of the Golden Rule, which is to all mankind a light emitting light."

"When pride, self and human reason reign, injustice is rampant. Individuals, as nations, unite harmoniously on the basis of justice, and this is accomplished when self is lost in Love -- or God's own plan of salvation. `To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly' is the standard of Christian Science."

Four other favorite quotes from Mrs. Eddy and Christian Science that also affect my thoughts and behavior regarding government at all levels are these:

"Know ye not that he who exercises the largest charity, and waits on God, renews his strength, and is exalted? Love is not puffed up; and the meek and loving God anoints and appoints to lead the line of mankind's triumphal march out of the wilderness, out of darkness into light."

"I am asked, `What are your politics?' I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself."

"Pray for the prosperity of our country, and for her victory under arms; that justice, mercy and peace continue to characterize her government, and that they shall rule all nations. Pray that the divine presence may still guide and bless our chief magistrate, those associated with his executive trust, and our national judiciary; give to our congress wisdom, and uphold our nation with the right arm of his righteousness."

"One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the scripture `Love thy neighbor as thyself'; annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry -- whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed."

To Christian Scientists, this is no laughing matter, but an essential, sovereign responsibility, taken very seriously. To the degree that we are consciously subject to God, we experience divine love governing.

We believe we have the power to choose whether our thoughts about government are going to be frustrated and negative or helpful and constructive.

Daily and hourly, I regularly and proactively cast my mental votes for unity, peace, justice and love.

I believe that the democracy of collective, unbiased prayer is the most effective and aligning influence at work in the world. It is an unseen powerful force. All can contribute to it.

And I believe it is a campaign that will keep its promises.

Polly Castor is a Christian Science practitioner and a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield. She can be reached at pollycastor@gmail.com



Rev. Leo McIlrath
Rev. Leo McIlrath

FORUM ON FAITH

Lent a good time to practice spiritual rituals.

by Rev. Leo McIlrath

Published: Saturday, March 3, 2012

Danbury News Times

While the almsgiving, fasting and prayer that are common to multiple faith traditions can be celebrated in every season of the year, it has always been a healthy custom for Christians around the world to address these particular spiritual rituals during the season of lent.

When performed in a spirit-filled manner, each can help us to focus better on the higher aspects of life.

Almsgiving: In the midst of our presidential primary debates, little has been said about the poor, the elderly, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the little children - God's "anawim," as often addressed by the prophets of Israel and the person of Jesus.

For the faith-centered and social servants who have not forgotten compassion and justice, almsgiving is a very important aspect of the daily journey and relationship with God.

Giving alms, be it in the form of tithes to religious organizations or charitable donations, remains a viable form of putting one's money where one's mouth is. It is a way we continue to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

This theme of the Old Testament is repeated by Jesus, in the gospel according to Matthew: "When I was hungry/thirsty/sick/lonely/homeless/naked, you responded to me."

Fasting: This portion of the spiritual life we are told is good for the soul, but it is equally beneficial to the body and mind. Yet I have to admit this particular practice of asceticism is not my favorite cup of tea.

Fasting, either total or partial, along with its companion discipline, abstinence (as from certain foods), has always proven difficult for me.

Back in the 1950s, the Frank H. Lee Club sponsored bus trips to the the Polo Grounds (the former N.Y. Giants baseball stadium), but always on a Friday. That was a thrill for all of us until lunchtime.

Being a "mackerel snapper" (a Roman Catholic), I had to watch with envy while many close friends gorged themselves with hotdogs leaving some of us to swallow both our pride and our tuna sandwiches.

Thankfully that all changed in the Roman Catholic tradition. but still, fasting and abstaining from food, drink and other pleasures can help anyone truly interested in spiritual maturity to focus better on the things of God.

Picture Elijah, Moses, Jesus, Gandhi, Mohammed and other mystics fasting before making an important decision for the furthering the kingdom/queendom of God.

Forty days and nights of fasting need not be the means towards spiritual perfection for any of us. But on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday it can be helpful, even for a few hours, to take time to pray, reflect on the Sacred Scriptures and to reach out to touch someone less fortunate than yourself.

Prayer: St. Francis of Assisi suggests: "Preach the Gospel often and when necessary, use words." In other words, the message of the Gospel is more effectively communicated by the way one lives than a million words.

Sometimes, silence is the better vehicle to effective prayer. Of course, there are many types of prayer: public, private contemplative, liturgical, sung, charismatic, formal, spontaneous, etc.

At St. Peter School during the early '50s, one of the Sisters of Mercy -- our teachers -- would assign someone in the class to tap the top of a bellhop-type bell to call us to prayer.

This was done at the beginning of each hour, to remind us to put down pads, pencils, etc., and participate in whatever prayer was being offered.

My faith communities since that time (seminaries, church parishes, retreat centers, the Duke University Newman Club, two Catholic high schools, the Cursillo, Charismatic and Marriage Encounter movements, and others) all carried on the valuable tradition of having a structured time for prayer.

Such was the praying of the Divine Office (the designated eight hours of the day, including Matins, Lauds, Vespers. Compline, etc.), wherein a cleric or religious would formally pray the psalms and other portions of the Scriptures, alone or in community.

Another practice is to choose a place, time or occasion to call one's attention to even a brief prayer of reflection.

Reaching for the radio, crossing a bridge or seeing a signpost on the daily trip to work -- each helps one to be conscious that in any type of prayer, as in a telephone call, we are having a dialogue with God.

The Rev. Leo McIlrath, D.Min, is chaplain of the Lutheran Home of Southbury. He can be reached at lionofjudah56@hotmail.com or 203-270-0581.



Rev. Barbara Fast
Rev. Barbara Fast

FORUM ON FAITH

Becoming welcoming involves change of heart.

by Rev. Barbara Fast

Published: Saturday, February 25, 2012

Danbury News Times

A couple asked me recently if I would do a Service of Renewal of Vows to mark their 30th wedding anniversary. I said yes, gladly.

I find it so affirming when a couple who has lived together and enjoyed and struggled through years of committed married life, come together to stand before each other, family, friends and God to affirm their love and renew their commitment.

As the couple renewed their vows, so too did the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, the congregation that I serve, renew a vow made 12 years ago to become a "welcoming congregation."

Being a welcoming congregation is very important to UUCD. The process began 12 years ago when the congregation engaged in a significant process of education, reflection and conversation that culminated in a vote.

Through our website and in our Sunday order of service we now let folks know that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury "welcomes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender."

The welcoming congregation program is consistent with our first Unitarian Universalist principle, in which we "covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person."

We welcome all people, "regardless of age, race, disability, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, religious background, or political affiliation" -- factors that can separate people in our larger culture.

During the part of the Sunday service we call Children's Focus, a congregational leader spoke to the children about how families are the same and how they are different. She spoke about all the different families in our community.

Then she asked the children to look at the adults and asked this question: "Who here knows a family that has two moms or two dads?"

Nearly every hand went up. It was a sea of raised hands. It was a revelation for all of us!

I told the congregation my story of going to New Paltz, N.Y., in 2004 to marry gay couples and that by so doing I risked arrest. Two of my colleagues had been arrested the week before, and I worried a bit.

Then I told how I "married" two elderly gentlemen who had been together for 40 years. The mother of one of them told me she had been waiting for this day for 40 years, and she cried for joy.

In the end, my only worry was that I be sure to give the right ring to the right partner. Today, marriage equality is the law in New York state and Connecticut.

After the Children's Focus at the Sunday services, people were invited to come forward to take a rainbow ribbon, name someone to whom they wanted to dedicate it, and tie it on a young evergreen tree, an Alberta spruce, that was bought for the occasion.

At each service almost everyone came up, took a ribbon and tied it to a tender branch.

A young mother tied a rainbow ribbon for her son, an older woman for her grandson, and a 75-year-old woman acknowledged her mother, because when she told her mother she was lesbian, her mother replied, "To thine own self be true."

It seemed that almost every person loved someone who was gay or lesbian or transgender.

I was especially moved when a transgender individual acknowledged the essential and important help and support of straight allies and congregations. By the conclusion of the ceremony, we were in tears, it was so meaningful.

Our congregational renewal of vows is a way we will continue to find ways to live out our value that affirms "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" and try to make it manifest in our lives and in this world.

What was revealed in our renewal of vows is that the process of becoming "welcoming" is not limited to issues of gender identity. It is not a changing of the mind. It is a change of heart.

For me, it is a process of transformation that is sacred and holy.

In the spring, we will plant the beautiful Alberta spruce tree. We will do so in hope of love growing whole in this world.

The Rev. Barbara Fast is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. She can be reached at 203-798-1994.



Rabbi Nelly Altenburger
Rabbi Nelly Altenburger

FORUM ON FAITH

Talmud provides advice on raising children.

by Rabbi Nelly Altenburger

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Danbury News Times

For the past three years, I have been involved in what is probably the most challenging and rewarding project of my life--no, not being a Rabbi. I am talking about parenting three kids. Jokes on Jewish mothers, anyone?

For me, parenting is tied to insight from Jewish tradition. I once read that having a child is like shooting an arrow toward the future. You never know where it will land, you do your best at the very beginning, but at certain points you have to let go.

But where to begin? I do what Jews do--look into tradition for some light.

As with all human relationships, Jewish parents and children are bound to each other by commanded responsibilities and sacred practices. The most known of those are "Honor your father and your mother," found in Deuteronomy and "Revere your mother and father,"" found in Leviticus.

These Biblical verses generated much discussion among the rabbis of the post-Biblical period, who eventually defined "honor" as providing parents with food and drink, clothing and mobility as they age.

"Reverence," on the other hand, is shown by not sitting in their place, not contradicting their words nor opposing them in a dispute.

As a parent, that helps very little, but the Talmud has a collection of thoughts about how we parents raise our children.

One is "What children say in the streets comes either from his father of his mother." How often do we point out words and actions that we find objectionable in our children that our spouses will quickly point out is our own behavior? No "Do as I say, not as I do" for the Talmud.

Another idea: "A parent should not promise to give a child something and then not give it, because in that way the child learns to lie." Amazing.

When asked about the greatest challenge he faces, the principal of a large Jewish high school related this to my colleague Rabbi Lawrence Keleman:

"Parents spend thousands of dollars a year in tuition to send their children to our school, where along with calculus and chemistry we are expected to teach some semblance of ethics. Then on Sunday, the parents take their child to an amusement park and lie about his age in order to save $5 on the admission fee. To save five bucks, they destroy a $15,000 education."

One last, but very valuable idea: "Anger in a home is like rottenness in fruit." We all know of children who have been scarred by parents or teachers who reacted with anger, and I have seen how hard it can be to break behavior habits, such as anger or cutting remarks, that one learns in the home.

Those children, young and grown, remind me that parenting, when done consciously, is a deep review of our own process of growing up, a constant refining of who we are. Our children are our mirrors.

Most parents understand intellectually that values and perspectives must be planted by personal example. However, it is easier to tell our children what to do than to work on ourselves.

We insist they sleep enough hours, but we manage on far less sleep than we need. We repeat over and over the importance of eating healthy food, but we survive on coffee, cookies and candy bars. We ask them to control their anger behaviors, but we go on a raging rampant.

Our Hypocrisy does eventually catch up--and our children become what we are, not what we would like them to be.

Parenting has to change who we are, because in that journey we need to become the sort of people we want our children to be. Our behaviors are the hands at the bow, the shaft and the nock of the arrow.

If we want compassionate children, we need to be compassionate to them and to others. If we want children who live their tradition, we need to become lovers of tradition on our own.

If we want honest children, we must not lie to them and to others,. If we want patient children, we must be patient with them.

It is not easy, but the only way is to work on ourselves and on our behaviors.

And then we have to let go, hoping that the things we taught our children--our behaviors, our values, our morals, or faith, our love for them--will guide them as the winds of life force on them the unexpected, the difficult and the harsher sides of life.

Rabbi Nelly Altenburger, of Congregation B'nai Israel, 193 Clapboard Ridge Road in Danburhy, can be reached at nellyaltenburger@gmail.com or 203-792-6161.



Tawfeek Khan
Tawfeek Khan

FORUM ON FAITH

Firefighting can be expression of faith.

by Tawfeek Khan

Published: Saturday, February 11, 2012

Danbury News Times

One doesn't need to look far to see the impact of a world changed by the events of Sept. 11. One such implication has been the need to understand Islam and find out who Muslims really are.

In an authentic saying of the Prophet Muhammad, a Muslim is one who believes in God, his angels, the revealed books (Torah and Bible included), prophets (such as Moses and Jesus), the Day of Judgment, and divine destiny.

It is the Muslim's duty to conduct him or herself in such a way that is most pleasing to God. There is tremendous diversity with regards to how Muslims choose to express their religious identity.

My brother, Iman Khan, is a Muslim who has chosen to express his religious identity through his local volunteer fire department.

My brother is 20 years old and was named Firefighter of the Year by the Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department Candlewood Company.

This award was given on the basis of "this young Muslim's dedication, commitment, and always willing to help without recognition." This was an award to attest to sincerity in serving fellow hard-working Americans.

In a statement by Gary Gramling, chief of Candlewood Company, "Iman is a good influence on the young members of the fire company ... When Iman is at the firehouse or participating in activities, he always displays and exhibits a positive outlook to get the job or assignment completed.

"Members like Iman who display a positive outlook will hopefully help to energize the younger members."

Ryan Murphy, president of Candlewood Company, said Iman is "a member that lets his actions lead others, and demonstrates to the younger members the commitment it takes to not only be a valuable member of the department, but also to grow as a person."

This award is more than a testament to an ability. It is a testament of being seen as a positive influence on the youth in Brookfield's emergency services.

This award demonstrates Candlewood Company's commitment to cultivating talent in Brookfield's youth regardless of their background.

This commitment is best summed up by President Murphy, "The Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department, Candlewood Inc. seeks members 16 years of age or older, from all backgrounds to work as one to serve their community.

"It is these differences in each member that helps to build the tradition and brotherhood that we have today."

It is, unfortunately, not a minor leap in many organizations today to have a young minority, especially a Muslim, as a potential role model for other members.

Muslims are driven by their faith to use their God-given time and talent to serve humanity. This has been exemplified to us by the Prophet Muhammad.

"(O Prophet Muhammad) give good news to the humble, whose hearts tremble with awe at the mention of God, who endure adversity with patience, who establish regular prayer, and who spend in charity out of what we have given them." (Quran 22:34-35).

One could argue that if all Muslims demonstrated the characteristics necessary to achieve the Candlewood Company award, then there would be a homogeneous understanding of Islam.

However, we need to acknowledge the unfortunate reality that we are all humans and we all deviate in small or large ways from the example of the prophet and the guidelines of the Quran.

As such, a Muslim who fulfills the criteria of being a Muslim as described earlier can be deviant in the practice of his or her faith with such behavior as consuming alcohol, immodest dress and adultery.

These behaviors are reprehensible actions or characteristics that (would) necessarily change with increased religious understanding and belief.

Among the most deviant actions of all are acts of terrorism. It is the deviations in the practice of our faith that is responsible for the widespread misrepresentation of Islam.

In lieu of the imperfections of man, we can always turn to God for forgiveness. "And surely will (God) forgive him who repents and believes and does good deeds by yielding to my guidance." (Quran 20:82)

Muslims throughout the United States have made countless contributions to this great nation -- not by becoming what some of mass media portrays as being American (e.g., "Jersey Shore") -- but by perfecting the practice of their faith.

Tawfeek Khan is the Youth Affairs Organizer at Baitul Mukarram Masjid in Danbury. He can be reached at tawfeekkhan(gmail.com or 203-740-0037.



Penny M. Kessler
Penny M. Kessler

FORUM ON FAITH

Sabbath gives us time to breathe.

by Penny M. Kessler

Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012

Danbury News Times

I no longer read email or spend time on Facebook on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat). I need to stop and take a deep breath.

Shabbat is commanded in the Torah as the day God rested after the six days of creation. It is a remembrance of the creation of the world and the Israelites' Exodus from Egyptian slavery. It is an observance and awareness of making the day of rest holy.

Shabbat is a spiritual oasis at the end of an arid week, a time to breathe, detach from daily concerns and acknowledge the world beyond ourselves.

Within the Jewish population, acknowledgment of Shabbat ranges from none to a strict 25-hour loophole-free avoidance of anything involving electricity and technology and many other things. Most serious Jews find that their observance falls somewhere in the middle.

Our 24/7 world has lost much humanity.

News, commerce, the Internet and television run 24 hours a day. We send email and demand an immediate response. We text because immediate is no longer fast enough.

We text while we're driving, at the doctor's, in movies. Most of us have at least three phone numbers and two e-addresses.

The telephone, once the technology of choice, is old hat because it demands our humanity and asks us to spend the time that so many of us have so little of. Holidays are no longer sacred, and vacation time is meaningless.

Did you hear the one about the man who left his family on Thanksgiving afternoon to get in line at the local big box store so he could scoop up the big sale item?

Anyone who says "Stop, I want to get off" is suspected of crackpot disengagement. We are killing ourselves on a runaway train.

Why are we burning our candles at both ends? I believe part of it is the arrogance of self-importance, believing that we have to be available to everyone for everything every day.

In my case, this manifested itself in an unhealthy dependence on my smart phone and the need to learn what's happening (aka gossip) on Facebook.

An online initiative called "The Sabbath Manifesto" is helping us tech-savvy Jews separate ourselves from the tech world on Shabbat.

We sign up to get a text message every Friday afternoon reminding us to go off line. We get reaffirmation of our choice to disengage from the craziness for 25 hours, regain our humanity, refresh for the coming week.

What was a Biblical injunction to the Israelites 5,000 years ago is as important now, if not more so today.

It is not just for extreme religious folk. It is a spiritual release valve available to everyone.

There's a saying that more than Israel keeps Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jewish people. It keeps us from flying off the rails. It keeps our lives in perspective. It keeps us sane and humble. It keeps us as human beings, not humans doing.

People who observe Shabbat have strong family and communal ties. We make a point of eating Shabbat evening dinners and spending time with each other and friends at evening services at our synagogues.

We spend a few hours of downtime in synagogue on Saturday morning, immersing ourselves in prayer, learning and community.

I observe Shabbat and choose to separate myself from email and Facebook because I want to set limits. I do not want to fly off the roller coaster and land in a physical and spiritual heap.

I now have time for a Shabbat afternoon nap. I am aware of the additional daylight after Dec. 22.

The first time I sensed a physical dimension of time, eloquently described decades ago by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I felt as though I had discovered a spiritual version of electricity.

Our Shabbat journey can bring new insights. We experience spiritual healing and an expanded awareness of the natural and human world. We take ourselves off the merry-go-round.

To me, the Jewish Shabbat really is a cure for the modern world.

Penny M. Kessler is the cantor at the United Jewish Center in Danbury. You can email her at: penny.kessler@gmail.com.



Rev. Anne Coffman
Rev. Anne Coffman

FORUM ON FAITH

Food and family at the core of Holy Communion.

by Rev. Anne Coffman

Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012

Danbury News Times

Aren't the best holidays filled with family, friends and food?

I'm coming off a fantastic Christmas. This one was way over the top! Seventeen members of my extended family made the trip here to celebrate Christmas and welcome our newest addition, Hannah, born Dec. 9 in Danbury Hospital.

For three days we ate, talked, played games (Rock Band 3 was a favorite) and then ate some more. Space limitations for this column mean that I can't describe all the foods we ate, but I can say that you would be surprised if I told you how much butter and chocolate was consumed!

We reveled in food and family. During this time of celebration, I couldn't help but be reminded of the ritual that has the deepest meaning for my church, Holy Communion.

All of Christianity holds this ritual in common.

We call it by different names: the Lord's Supper, Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving. And we celebrate it in different ways and at different times.

It has many layers of meaning for us: the body and blood of Jesus Christ, honoring his life and death, partaking of the heavenly banquet. It is all of these and more.

Yet, at its heart, communion is much about food and family.

Food and family can be loaded words for many of us.

We enjoy food and we need it to survive. But we also struggle with food. How fun is it to have to take off extra weight? And for those who struggle with eating disorders, food can be seen as the enemy.

In the same way, family is a concept with a lot of challenges for many. Family can mean acceptance and safety or pain and unhappiness.

The wonderful thing about the communion table is that it transcends all of that. Communion is about forgiveness, wholeness, unity and spiritual nourishment at God's table.

My church represents two strains of Protestant Christianity, the American Baptists and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). These strains have central tenets that are unique to them.

From the American Baptists, we get the values of a passion for Scripture and a fervent belief in "soul freedom," meaning nothing can stand between the individual and his or her relationship with God.

From the Disciples of Christ, we draw on a core value of unity and a tradition of the Lord's table being open to all.

At my church, we celebrate communion at every worship service. All who are present -- young and old, faithful or seeking -- are invited to share it.

We often use these words: "This is not my table and it is not your table. It is the table of Jesus Christ, and everyone is welcome at this table."

We receive the blessing of communion in good times and in bad.

The oldest among us take the small cube of bread and the tiny cup of grape juice we use and remember all the loved ones who have gone before them and the times they shared communion together.

The youngest among us grab the bread and cup with joy that they can share in this with all of their friends at church.

Those of us in between receive the bread and juice with a myriad of anxieties and hopes. So many layers of meaning.

But we do believe that each of us is loved by God and welcomed by God. We understand that faith is a journey and communion gives us the strength to take the next step.

We understand that by sharing in this we are knitted together as a community and as a family of faith.

Family and food -- isn't that a celebration?

The Rev. Anne Coffman is the pastor at Central Christian Church in Danbury and a member of The Association of Religious Communities Board of Directors. She can be reached at: revanne@centralchristianchurchdanbury.com.



Virginia Castor Early
Virginia Castor Early

FORUM ON FAITH

Spiritual health care concerns intern.

by Virginia Castor Early

Published: Saturday, January 7, 2012

Danbury News Times

In many ways, I was exactly like every other college student in Washington, D.C. last summer. I interned on behalf of a cause that I care strongly about.

But unlike many other interns thronging the halls of the House and Senate office buildings, I didn't work for an elected official or an agency, but rather for my church.

Why intern for my church on Capitol Hill, you might ask? What role does my Christian Science faith have in what is happening there?

I jumped at the opportunity to join a team of dedicated, visionary workers when I realized that the new health care law would profoundly affect me and countless others. We often found ourselves one of the few champions for any kind of alternative health care in health care reform.

Christian Science teaches a proven method of spiritual healing which has been time-tested and found to be effective by individuals from all walks of life. In recognition of this fact, it has been accommodated by the federal government in every major health care legislation for over 50 years, with the exception of the most recent health care law.

Christian Science healing is based on understanding of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who is good and only good. In the past, when I have really understood God this way and myself as created perfect by Him, I have experienced freedom from sickness.

This spiritual approach has been very effective for me on all fronts, healing everything from a broken jaw to difficult relationships. It has also been proven effective for countless Christian Scientists and others who have never even stepped foot in a Christian Science church. This efficacy is well documented and often confirmed by medical doctors.

Growing up attending First Church of Christ, Scientist in Ridgefield, I blossomed under the loving support of my local church community. Though I've never been to a doctor in my life, this is not forbidden; it was just never needed. Every concern has been met promptly through prayer as taught in Christian Science.

In the new health care law, there is no accommodation for this system of healing which I have successfully used my entire life. Many lifelong Christian Scientists who have never bought medical health insurance in the past will be required to do so even though it does not provide the kind of health care they depend on.

In other words, Christian Scientists and others who rely on spiritual care will neither be "in" nor "out" of the mandated system. I believe this is a gross injustice impacting not just Christian Scientists but anybody who thinks that there might be more factors to health than physicality.

Spiritual health care is a viable alternative option that I believe deserves to be part of a "universal" health care law.

Many we met with on Capitol Hill did not realize the deep impact that this legislation would have on our underrepresented minority. I was honored to be able to bring our predicament to the attention of those that could do something about it.

I believe this predicament is, at its root, a fundamental issue of fairness. If the universal health care law is truly meant to bring affordable health care to all, regardless of socio-economic background, shouldn't it also bring health care that works for all, regardless of religious background?

Virginia Castor Early attends First Church of Christ Scientist, Ridgefield. She can be reached at virginiaearly@me.com.