Here, the Spirit. Hear the Spirit.
What are you waiting for?
St. Paul's United Church of Christ
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Showers renew the earth, and the soul.

Showers renew the earth, and the soul.

Rain can make us sing.

Rain can make us sing.

Rain can make us sad.

Rain can make us sad.

Sometimes it's hard to find our way.

Sometimes it's hard to find our way.

We need time to pause and reflect.

We need time to pause and reflect.
Come to a Gathering this Sunday,
August 7, at 9:00 am.

No matter the weather, it's always the season for renewal. We ponder questions, meditate, share and sing. Join us for a splash of adventure.

St. Paul's United Church of Christ

An Open and Affirming Congregation

2701 The American Road SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

Coming from the South on Coors Bypass, turn right just before SAMS Club, go to stop sign and turn left onto Cottonwood Rd. At the intersection with Alameda Blvd, continue straight to the first left (a short block). Turn left on American Rd and turn right at St. Paul's United Church of Christ driveway. (across from MB Transmissions)

Coming from the East or Coors Blvd, take Alameda Blvd west to the traffic light at Cottonwood Rd. (Charter Bank on NW corner). Turn right on Cottonwood for 1 short block to the first left turn. Turn left on American Rd and turn right at St. Paul's United Church of Christ driveway.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Raindrops are falling on my blog

For the past few weeks clouds have been gathering overhead in the late afternoon / early evening. In an area of drought such as ours, we love to see rain clouds. From the high hillside where St. Paul's United Church of Christ is located, we have an expansive view of the sky. And inside the Church, we have an expansive view of God... God is always bigger than our vocabulary.

Selecting images for this month, I used the last part of our motto -- Justice Committed -- as a guide. What does that have to do with umbrellas? What came to mind were the words of one of ancient Israel's prophets, Amos: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24) When people are drought-ridden, spiritually and literally, what could be more refreshing than a good steady downpour of justice? Not the slam-the-cell-door-shut kind of justice.

At St. Paul's we've been trying to find vocabulary to get a handle on what justice means -- what it looks like. We are learning that charity and justice are two different approaches to meeting the needs of people who are hurting. On the third Sunday of every month we gather in food items for Storehouse West, who in turn gives food to those who come for assistance. Even in Rio Rancho, a modern city seemingly affluent, there are plenty of people for whom hunger is a daily challenge. How far will that jar of peanut butter go that I added to the collection? (An illustration only. Actually I'm eating the peanut butter.) But it isn't just one jar. Along with it goes a can of soup from someone else, and a box of pasta from another. Each food item is like a drop of rain into the pond. The pond gets replenished over time.

So that's charity. What about justice? It's larger in scope. What may be a justice view would have us pose the question: Why are there hungry people in Rio Rancho? There must be many answers. Some of them may lead a justice committed person to sign a petition or write a letter to officials in industry or government. Again, what difference does my letter make? It's just a drop in the ocean. A whole of drops are needed.

Justice needs many hands. Hands working together. Hands sharing umbrellas. Hands influencing an umbrella manufacturer to open a factory in Rio Rancho. Hands encouraging Rio Rancho high schoolers to come up with designs that revolutionize the umbrella industry. What are your hands doing today?

Sandra Chapin

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Moveable Peace

St. Paul's adopted a motto back in January: "Jesus Guided, Intentionally Inclusive, Peace Seeking, Justice Committed." Sunday mornings we can read it in our worship bulletins, we may hear it in a sermon, we may sing it -- sing lyrics that support it -- in a hymn. Articles in our monthly newsletter often refer to it. Why? Are we so forgetful that we have to remind ourselves at every opportunity what our motto says? For me, I like to hear it again, and again. Each time I encounter it, I pause to think. And most times I ask myself: "How is my life Jesus guided? How is my life intentionally inclusive?" Etc. If I come up with answers, they usually seem incomplete, but hopeful.

Peace seeking has been on my mind lately. In surveys I suppose peace rates right up there alongside happiness as a goal. A peace within oneself. Peace in ones home. Nine out of ten beauty pageant finalists want world peace. That's nice. In meditation I frequently picture myself by a river -- a tranquil, peaceful scene. There's a song that goes "I've got peace like a river in my soul." I can sing it even when the peace in my soul is more like a puddle.

Am I being dishonest with myself? In a theology class I heard a professor speak of "creative tension." We may believe concept A but we may also believe concept B, even when A and B appear to be incompatible. We hold A in tension with B, so my professor explained. What he didn't explain is how to get past the mental struggle involved.

Holding something in tension is like finding a balance. Peace seeking is like that. Amid my competing ideas and desires, there is peace when I find a place of balance. Yet ideas and desires change, and so does the balance point. Thus peace seeking is ongoing, to relocate and find anew that grasp of creative tension.

Peace and tension, an odd pairing of words. Can there be peace without tension? Yes, it's called sleeping. Living awake I seek balance in my life, my family, my world. I seek creative tension. Tomorrow I seek it again.

Sandra Chapin

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Can a Square be in the Circle?

Each service at Church begins with the words "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." Squares included. Last month my thoughts focused on the first part of St. Paul's motto, Jesus Guided. This time the subject is the second part of the motto, Intentionally Inclusive. Circles came to mind. Soon I began to see circles everywhere. Of course, the wheels on my wheelchair are one example. Thankfully triangular wheels never caught on.

There's an old song that surfaced in my head, "Will the Circle be Unbroken." I just googled the lyrics and it speaks to the circle of life. But the title on its own is what strikes me. An unbroken circle is definitely not intentionally inclusive. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we had a dear neighbor who looked forward to Thanksgiving every year when she and her husband went to her sister's house for a big, traditional dinner with their family. One year she was annoyed. A niece invited some friends for the holiday feast. Our neighbor expressed her dismay that this Thanksgiving would not be the same -- because there would be "outsiders" present. Now she was a kind-hearted soul, but this was one tradition she did not want changed.

It's easy to feel comfortable with a circle of friends that you've been with for a long time. You can sometimes finish each other's sentences because you know them so well. Try being the new kid on the block who wants to fit in. Though the group may be friendly, the circle often stays closed. The term "clique" could be used, but no one wants to admit they belong to a clique. I encountered cliques at seminary, of all places -- a seminary whose mantra was "community." But the women and men who were training to be tomorrow's spiritual leaders were, after all, women and men. I formed a circle with the students who didn't fit into other circles. Before long, we too were a clique. Ouch.

Like gravity we form bonds with people who share similar interests or experiences. That doesn't sound so bad. Add a desire to be "inclusive" and we may invite in someone new to the group -- someone that we prescreened as a good candidate. Maybe the invitation is casual, or lukewarm. By adding the word "intentionally" to "inclusive" we bump up the expectation to a higher level. Does it mean to go out of our way to be inclusive? Does it mean we invite in those whose interests or experiences differ from ours? Differ to what degree? When does a circle lose its cohesiveness and just fall apart? How does a circle reinvent itself?

Yes, I am all questions and no answers. Chalk it up to the windmills in my mind, going around in circles.

Sandra Chapin

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Metaphorically Blogging

Back in January, St. Paul's adopted the motto: Jesus Guided, Intentionally Inclusive, Peace Seeking, Justice Committed. The images I selected this month promote the notion of "guided." It is a concept not hard to illustrate. But what does it mean to be Jesus guided?

Two more images came to mind: a lighthouse and a service dog. My mom grew up on the coast of the North Sea and I inherited her affinity for lighthouses. They stand as faithful sentinels alerting nearby ships of dangerous, rocky shorelines, and they can point the way to safe harbors. The Jesus who guides us, with the Spirit's flame as beacon, may likewise send out a steady message for us to follow.

On the other hand, or paw, a service dog is right there in the trenches with you. I have made the happy, tail-wagging acquaintance of the service dog of my friend Lorie. One day this dog sensed Lorie's impending diabetic crisis and brought her a bag of medicine, nudging her back into enough of a wakeful state for her to inject the insulin. Lorie is alive today because she was guided by her dog to take action just in time. In this version of "Jesus guided" the Spirit is as close as the breath on our lips. Attentive, ready to respond to shifting circumstances. Not to mention those wet doggie kisses... The holy kiss of a canine companion. (Yuck)

Are these competing models of guiding -- one, stately and secure, a landmark you can count on -- verses one more dynamic, in your face, proactive? No deciding is necessary. "Jesus guided" is bigger than any two, or four, or a fleet of metaphors. Bigger than a pet store's inventory of squeeze toys to delight a work hard, play hard service dog.

Sandra Chapin

Friday, April 1, 2011

Great Expectations

When you hear the word "open", what images comes to mind? What feelings does it evoke? Sure, it depends on how the word is used. Consider opening the mailbox and opening a letter from someone special -- acts filled with anticipation. The opening move of a chess game is the start of the enjoyable challenge ahead.

In February St. Paul's UCC voted to become "Open and Affirming", and we expect great things as a result -- meeting new people who have felt closed off from Christian community because they were labeled as different. The word "open" is inviting. We like being around folks who are open to new ideas. We flock to businesses that advertise "Grand Opening".

And what do we say when we hand someone a wrapped present: Open it! We want to share in that sense of anticipation as the bow is pulled off and tissue paper floats to the floor. We want to share in that moment of discovery as we watch the face of a friend light up when the treasure is revealed.

Recall the wonder of the open tomb and burial wrappings on the ground, the joy of Jesus' friends when they discovered something new is happening. What started then is what continues to start as people become changed by the life-affirming message of God's love. There is a strong sense of anticipation in following Jesus, then and now. He would open the scriptures to new meanings. He would open the eyes of those whose vision had dimmed.

This Sunday morning there will be followers of Jesus gathering at St. Paul's, open to experience a connection to the Spirit and to one another, anticipating discoveries and challenges and all that comes with being fully human. The Spirit who moves among and within us makes Sunday morning a "Grand Opening!"

Sandra Chapin

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sometimes you need to take a good look at yourself.

Especially in the windy month of March. 31 days of bad hair. The wind-blown look always looks better on other people. Me, I'm a hat person.

What happens when the wind of the Spirit blows my way? Do I remove my hat and dare to let the Spirit rearrange me? If I play it safe, will the Spirit just knock my hat off anyway?

What happens at this "gathering" thing we do at St. Paul's every first Sunday of the month? Is it like a wind-tunnel as the Spirit moves among and within us? I'd say the effect is much calmer than that. But we do make time to rest in the quiet, to allow for the rustle of that still, small voice.

In the silence of our hearts, the Spirit may hold up a mirror for us. Not to scare us with. Not to hit us over the head with. It is an invitation to come closer for a focused view of ourselves. An opportunity to see details that we too often overlook.

It is safe to approach the mirror because we know that we are made in God's image, even though our lives could use a make-over now and then. Maybe it's time for a new hat.

Sandra Chapin

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

There's a first time for everything.

A new opportunity begins this Sunday at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Rio Rancho. Really we're right on the border of Rio Rancho, Albuquerque and Corrales -- centrally located for this "centering" activity! What do I mean by centering? Well, if you've ever felt off-center, like I have, you may feel your life could use more peace, more chances to turn down the chatter of the world, more space to connect with your spirit and the Spirit who speaks to all of us in a "still, small voice."

Can I stay home and do that kind of "centering" on my own, you ask? Sure. But there is something special about being with others who have similar yearnings to encounter and experience the Divine. A gathering of voices, that's what this Sunday morning is about. I may hear the Spirit speak to me in the thoughts that you express. Something that I say may touch your life as the Spirit moves among and within us.

Recently I read Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass, and this sentence struck a deep chord in me: Faith is a craft learned over time in community. I started attending St. Paul's last May and have found here a community where my faith continues to take shape. I believe that this new time of being together to contemplate, share and listen will provide new ways to connect with God and God's dream for the world.

Can't make it this Sunday? We'll be gathering the first Sunday of every month, at 9 am. The invitation continues...
Here, the Spirit. Hear the Spirit.

Sandra Chapin