Time Machine

A small envelope arrived through the mail the other day with a return address from Colorado. Inside the letter there was a note from my cousin who lives there, and a thick piece of yellow card stock that had been folded over once. When I opened it there were two Kodachrome slides inside: relics from a bygone way of remembering special and not so special events. Before I read the note I immediately held the slides to the light of our kitchen window, and was greeted in one of them by the sight of three familiar faces looking back at me. One of those faces was mine, and the others belonged to my mother and father. The photo was taken not long after the death of my grandfather (when I was nine years old), as family members gathered together from distant places to attend his memorial service. One of my cousins had captured my little family in one photograph, and the other slide included an image of my father standing next to his sister.

It was such a gift to receive my cousin’s letter and its contents. The slides had emerged when she was cleaning out some closets and she wanted me to have them. Each time I held one of the slides to the light, a few more memories would come alongside me, tugging at my sleeve for attention. As if to say: do you remember Dad’s coat, the one that he is wearing in that photograph, the way it smelled after he had worn it in the rain? Do you see Mom’s face? How unhappy she is to be cornered by someone with a camera? And look at you, says the voice of memory. You don’t look too pleased either…clearly less than thrilled to be dressed up in scratchy, new clothes, probably purchased just for the occasion.

The two sturdy Kodachrome slides that I hold up against the light are tiny time machines. They carry me back to a day that I hadn’t thought about for many years. They invite me to wonder at the inner life of my parents; the feelings, or fears, or hopes that moved them but cannot be captured on film.  And when I’ve taken in what I can from the past, I set the slides aside, and return to the land of the present where I can see my life from a fresh perspective.  As I ponder my place in the world, I wonder anew how my life can build on the past, and how I can best use the power in me to bring peace and hope to the world for such a time as this.

These are the kinds of questions that my parents faced, and now they are mine to answer. So I pray, in the words of the Round Hill Community Church Prayer, to be part of a church family that longs to be an instrument in God’s hands for good: here, near here, and far from here. And one day, when another generation comes across images of us, may they see a community of faith that devoted every ounce of its energy, resources and skill to the creation of a world at peace with itself, full of good will for all.




Helping Hands for the Long Haul

Following the devastation that was created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I spoke with a friend who traveled to the New Orleans area to assist with re-building efforts. While there, he met volunteers from Florida. In conversations with them he learned that residents from that state were still restoring neighborhoods—and lives—from Hurricane Andrew. And that was in 1992.

This has been an especially traumatic year for residents of the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean as one major storm after another has brought damaging winds and flooding. In addition, we have heard reports of monsoons in Indonesia and earthquakes in Mexico and the loss of life and homes that have resulted from them. As I look up into the mostly blue skies over Connecticut, I am ever mindful of those who have been turning their gaze to the horizon in other parts of the world with  nervous anticipation.

While re-building efforts from recent storms will necessarily involve broad support from the federal government and large institutions, there is a decisive role that communities of faith can play in this ongoing work of healing. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, congregations have reached out to one another with helping hands for the long haul. Even before the church was called the church, when Christian congregations consisted of small gatherings of people who met in homes or the places where they worked, these people of faith were conscious of belonging to a global community. So even as St. Paul worked with brand new communities in Greece not more than twenty years after the death of Jesus, he wasted no time in making them aware of the material needs of their brothers and sisters living in Jerusalem, and so began to collect an offering on their behalf.  As if to say, you are the body of Christ:  let me introduce you to an offering plate.

On October 1, World Communion Sunday, the congregation of Round Hill Community Church will dedicate its morning offering to the work of Church World Service (CWS), an ecumenical agency based in Elkhart, Indiana. For many decades, Church World Service has dedicated its expertise and resources to support people whose lives have been overturned by natural disaster, and to continue to offer that care long after the impact on them has slipped from media attention. You will find these words of their commitment on the CWS website: Whether along the shores of New Jersey or in the capital of Haiti, a disaster does not go away once attention turns elsewhere. In fact, for many the struggle to recover from a disaster can take months, even years. That is why CWS ardently promotes the local long-term recovery effort in communities affected by disaster. CWS disaster response partners, such as denominational and secular relief agencies, bring together faith-based and secular groups to work together following a disaster.

When we send our offering to Church World Service, I hope we will also send our commitment to offer helping hands for the long haul: perhaps through other offerings, or participation on work teams to assist with re-building, or by partnering with a congregation in an affected area, and always with prayers and heart felt concern. To paraphrase a comment by Mother Teresa: “We may not always be able to do great things, but we can always do small things with great love.”