Dear Sabbath Seekers,
I was home from college on winter break many decades ago when I stopped by the Fishkins' for a visit. Art and Jane Fishkin were the parents of my high school classmate Charlie, and I had been a guest at their Passover table for many years. Charlie was my former debate partner; we both left for the University of Chicago and were sharing an apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park with a third roommate, Jim Smither (Hinsdale Central, '78). Art and Jane rushed to greet me. Hellos at the Fishkin household were not for the faint at heart; they involved hugs and backslaps that left the greeted gasping for air.
Art and Jane were excited and proud that I was considering a career in pastoral ministry, occasionally calling me a future ‘Protestant rabbi,’ and followed my progress from college through graduate school and ordination as if I were their adopted son. They were Orthodox Jews but decidedly not Zionist; these were the days when that was not considered an oxymoron. Jane was constantly sharing books and articles with me on positive Christian-Jewish dialogue, and they were both extremely delighted to discover my choice to be ordained Presbyterian as it was (and is) the only major denomination to require Hebrew language study for ordination.
On this particular visit, Jane had another book to gift me. It was an autographed copy of Dennis Prager’s Nine Questions People Ask about Judaism(with Joseph Telushkin, Holiday House, 1981). It was a good read, and I finished it before driving back to Hyde Park with Charlie and his brother Jim, who we dropped off in Iowa City where he was working on a degree in Political Science.
This whole musing flashed into my head this morning when I was reading an article about Chick-fil-A’s corporate choice to remain closed on Sunday. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s founder (d. 2014), was a conservative Baptist who wanted to ‘honor the Lord’ by not conducting commerce on Sundays, and his sons maintain the corporate policy as a requirement for franchise ownership. The article, from Business Insider, suggested that the practice of Sunday closing, established for moral reasons, was also part of the formula for Chick-fil-A’s success. Offering a stable day-off for franchise owners and employees made scheduling easier and strengthened staff loyalty. Additionally, the article said, creating a weekly scarcity for the product built customer enthusiasm for the brand.
I thought back to Jane’s gift to me, Prager’s book, because question nine was, “How do I Start Practicing Judaism?” and the second answer to that question started with Sabbath observance. For Prager, keeping the Sabbath day holy (commandment #4) was only partially about commerce; it was more about mindset. One day a week we refrained from creating in order to be blessed by creation. Prager suggested Sabbath observance was more about shifting spiritual energy than restricting behaviors. So, on the Sabbath we should enjoy great meals prepared the day before and dishes done after sunset to dine undistracted by cleaning and cooking. We should walk through nature and celebrate the garden rather than arriving to pull weeds. Sabbath observance is setting aside creative activity in order to receive the benefits of creation. Read but don’t write, sing but don’t rehearse, converse with your family but don’t teach, beand not do.
It saddens me that the corporate families of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby have led us to associate Sunday closing with an anti-woman, anti-gay social agenda, perhaps because for them it is an expression of prohibition rather than liberation. Freed from the tyranny of seven-day-a-week productivity, the fourth commandment invites us to unite with creation rather than assert our dominion over it. It is a model set for us by the Holy One (Exodus 20.11).
Seeking Sabbath rest from a busy week, I remain,
Dear Holiday Explorers:
In the second century BCE, Greek Philosopher Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth at 24,860 miles (when converted from the ancient measure of stadia). More modern calculations place the earth’s circumference at 24,901 miles, placing Eratosthenes’ calculation within an error of 1%. Yet when Christopher Columbus was seeking funding for his proposed voyage nearly 1,500 years later, he argued the earth’s circumference at 13,637 miles, making the riches of the Far East just a short sail of about 2,400 miles due west. Of course, he was wrong. But that did not prevent him from spending the rest of his career claiming he was just a few more rounds of funding shy of China and Japan. Columbus’ claim that he had made it to the Indies is the reason the indigenous peoples of the Americas are referred to as Indians to this day.
I’m of course musing over today’s celebration of October 12, 1492
Dear Kippur Keepers:
Returning to Omaha Central High School for my brother Bruce’s induction into the alumni Hall of Fame gave me an opportunity to reflect on the halcyon days of secondary school. It was around this time of year that several of my classmates were absent for the celebration of Yom Kippur. (For over 100 years, my alma mater has been racially and ethnically diverse; my mother’s graduating class of 1941 mirrored my own, thirty-seven years later: 45 percent African American, 30 percent Jewish, 10 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Native American). Every fall for two days, nearly one-third of the students were missing.
I was reminded of this autumn rhythm a few days ago when I looked at the calendar and realized that Yom Kippur
As I mentioned two weeks ago in my sermon, one of the best parts of my job is “sermon research.” It serves as an excuse to dive deeply into trivial pursuits without guilt (yes, that was a phrase before the popular Canadian board game was unveiled in 1981).
Just this past week I tripped over an example in exploring the phrase “balm in Gilead,” in research for my September 25th sermon. Unfortunately, it was an example I could not seamlessly work into the sermon,
Dear Culture Curators:
The method is called Nihonga. It’s a tradition of Japanese painting that uses crushed minerals as pigment. Pulverized by hand to a consistency finer than talc, the minerals are then mixed with water and Japanese hide glue, then spread in layers on paper of the highest quality. Each layer requires several days to dry, and it is not uncommon for a nihonga painting to have nearly 100 layers of pigment as background to the final image desired by the artist. The effect creates an iridescent, almost mini-geode-like quality. At a glance the painting simply looks shiny, but after a longer gaze one sees how the light is almost trapped between the layers, creating a mesmerizing optical depth.
Dear Wedding Guests:
This past weekend I read a news story about a wedding venue in Mississippi that rejected a rental application from a couple for their nuptials. No, it wasn’t for a same-sex wedding. The couple was interracial (can anyone believe we’re still talking about this?). Surprised by the emailed rejection, the bride and her mother visited the venue to talk with the owner directly. They recorded her response, in which she gently and apologetically explained that it wasn’t about race, but that her Christian understanding was that same-sex couples and interracial couples were forbidden by the Bible
During our prayer time in worship yesterday we were asked to pray for students who were heading off to college, especially the freshmen, many of whom were leaving home for the first time. The prayer request was followed by an ancillary request for us to remember empty-nesters negotiating suddenly quieted households. These requests triggered my own memories of my first days in college, my parents walking out of my new dorm room, my mom crying, my dad wishing me well. My looking down at the parking lot from my ninth-floor window and seeing their car pull away. At the time my seventeen-year-old self could not comprehend the complexity of their emotions, but in hindsight it wasn’t all about me. I was the youngest of five, the caboose, the last nestling flying from home. For me it was the beginning of a new chapter; for them it was the conclusion of a book in a multi-volume series.
Flashing on these memories yesterday in preparation for prayer, it occurred to me how appropriate it was to speak of them in the Sanctuary.
Dear Fellow Translators:
During my years as a pastoral counselor, I recommended one book more than any other: The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It is a simple, straightforward read in which Chapman suggests that each of us is conditioned to share and receive love in particular ways. When we want to convey our love to our partner, we do so in the love language we understand. We also resonate with love communicated in the language we find familiar. As the book title suggests, Chapman identifies five love languages: 1. Words of Affirmation, 2. Quality Time, 3. Receiving Gifts, 4. Acts of Service, and 5. Physical Touch. The problem, Chapman believes, is not our lack of love, but our failure to translate our love into expressions meaningful to our partner.
Tomorrow, Dani and I celebrate eight years of marriage, initiated eight years and three months ago by my proposal
Dear Commandment Keepers:
The study guide for the 2019-2020 Presbyterian Women (PW) will lead participants on an in-depth journey through the Ten Commandments. The guide, Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments, accomplishes this task in nine lessons by combining the first and second laws in the first study; subsequent lessons take them one at a time. As has become a tradition, Darlene Aniolowski, one of FPCLG's PW Moderators, invited me to provide an overview of the curriculum at the first Presbyterian Women’s gathering on September 5. I know I had best arrive prepared, so I’ve been thinking a great deal about ‘God’s Top Ten’.
Of course, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he stepped outside of the Decalogue (ten laws) and suggested the twin commandments to love God and neighbor. Regarding this, I stumbled on a
Dear Time Takers:
Well, the fourth annual “All Together Under the Son” ecumenical worship service is now in the books. It has been my privilege to have participated in all of them. This year lacked commemorative T-shirts, but I don’t think we really missed them.
Years ago, I was part of a clergy group planning an ecumenical worship service on the south side of Chicago. There were about 30 congregations who had agreed to participate; they represented nearly every Christian theological, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic slice of our community pie. Of course, those groups who felt
Dear VBS Voyagers:
2019 Vacation Bible School (VBS) is now in the congregational rear view mirror. Once the songs are out of our heads and we’ve cleared up the glitter and glue from Fellowship Hall, we will start thinking about children’s programming for next summer; but before we pull forward to the TUXIS mission trip and Vacation Cross Trainers (VCT) coming up next month, I think it would be useful to muse over the experience. By the numbers, we were able to provide VBS without charge. Participant families were invited to contribute in any amount through the online registration process, and most did, but the bulk of the expenses were covered by generous VBS-designated gifts from FPCLG members.
Dear Space Racers:
With this year’s VBS program—To Mars and Beyond—reverberating in our church this week, I’ve been reminded of how much space junk clutters my brain, and the brains of my generation. Space Food Sticks were a thing, developed by Pillsbury’s chief food technologist, Howard Bauman, who was working on a nutritionally balanced snack food for astronauts. The first version was space food cubes consumed by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7 in 1962. The later version, sold to the public beginning in 1972, came 14 to a pack in peanut butter, caramel and chocolate flavors. (The commercials used to bother me because they featured child astronauts eating the Tootsie Roll-like snack through a hole in the front of their space helmets.
Dear Pride Preparers:
During my first year in college I attempted to join the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) that held a weekly campus meeting, but after three or four gatherings, I stopped attending. It was no crisis of faith; I just found their meetings and Bible studies too saccharine and a little paranoid. Their focus—near obsession—was how, because we were Evangelicals, we were persecuted by the academic world hostile to our existence. I just didn’t buy it. While the University of Chicago community provided little encouragement for a Christian Evangelical worldview, at worst I found the environment indifferent, not hostile.
From those IVCF Friday night gatherings, however, I did make friends.
Dear Sabbath Seekers,
I was home from college on winter break many decades ago when I stopped by the Fishkins' for a visit. Art and Jane Fishkin were the parents of my high school classmate Charlie, and I had been a guest at their Passover table for many years. Charlie was my former debate partner; we both left for the University of Chicago and were sharing an apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park with a third roommate, Jim Smither (Hinsdale Central, '78). Art and Jane rushed to greet me. Hellos at the Fishkin household were not for the faint at heart; they involved hugs and backslaps that left the greeted
Dear Fellow Joint Pain Sufferers:
About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis, abbreviated RA. When it’s not annoying or painful I find the condition to be quite fascinating. RA is an autoimmune disease, a condition where my own immune system has somehow determined that the tissue in my joints is an enemy of my body, so it unleashes its disease-fighting strength against healthy tissue. What makes my body decide that parts of itself must be attacked? Rheumatological research continues to seek an answer to that question.
I’ve been quite fortunate to have avoided the kind of flare-up that merits the use of a class of medications called biologics; these suppress the immune system more generally, dialing back the body’s disease-
Dear Fellow Travelers:
About 10 years ago, my 1995 Cutlass Ciera was stolen from the street two blocks from my apartment in Hyde Park. I did get it back a week or so later, and how that happened can be an illustration for another musing, but today’s focus is on that bizarre moment when I believed something was going to be there and it wasn’t.
I can’t remember where I was planning to go, but I do know from the police report it was August 17, 2009. Relying on a Google search, I can affirm now that it was a Monday. From memory I can only recall my sense of disorientation. What I believed--that my car would be on the west side of Lake Park Boulevard between 55th and 54th Streets--was not confirmed by experience.
Dear Sibling Rivals:
What do we do when our sacrifice is disregarded? When the work of our hands, the sweat of our brow, our calculation, labor and execution are ignored, how do we respond? The question becomes even more intense when we see others respected, regarded and rewarded for their work. To us the adulation, the mobility, the affirmation received by others seems unwarranted. That their effort leads to still waters and green pastures of success angers us, while we remain in the valley of the shadows, stumbling along an ever more treacherous path.
The human response, the one easily at hand, is to flip the script, rewriting our circumstance as a competition
Dear Planet Partners:
“The highest heavens are God’s, but the earth has been given to humanity.” Psalm 115.16
The son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers, John McConnell Jr. was born in Davis City, IA, on March 22, 1915. Not long after his birth, his father, John Sr., became a traveling evangelist, preaching in tent meetings, churches, chapels and street corners from New York to San Francisco. His brand of fervent preaching was much in demand. One news clipping advertising a revival at the Portland Rose Tabernacle in New York City proclaimed his sermons as “scorching, scathing, liquid lumps of burning truth to meet present need.” (Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, 2010, volume 30) McConnell Sr. had received his call to ministry while attending the Stone Church in Chicago in 1911.
Dear Patrons of Beauty,
On Saturday morning it was my privilege to participate in the memorial service for Elizabeth Gottlieb, a child of our church who grew to be a soprano of significant renown. A few months ago she received a cancer diagnosis, and her life ended just 10 days ago. Because so much of her love was lived through music, her choirmates from the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Chorus and Music of the Baroque came to the memorial service to offer tribute through song. Our sanctuary resonated with majestic music.
For my musing today, I wish to share with you the words of my homily. I trust they bring solace to those bereaved and inspiration for those who must carry on.
Dear Fellow Tulip Tiptoers,
For those of you who have not been able to join us on Wednesday nights for our TULIP study of Calvinism, allow me to catch you up on what you’ve missed. (*Note: All are welcome to join for the final two weeks, April 3 and 10, 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Parlor following our 7:00 Lenten Communion service in the Chapel). Historically, John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French attorney who became fascinated with the writings of the early Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546). Calvin published many articles and a multi-volume commentary on the whole Bible, except for the book of Revelation, which he said he just didn’t understand. His major work was Institutes of the Christian Religion, which underwent several drafts and translations after its first publication in 1536, when Calvin was 27 years old. (It’s difficult to feel like I’ve accomplished very much in my life when I realize that by the time John Calvin was my age, he had been dead five years.)
Greetings Participating Partners in Prayer:
Following the attack on mosques in Christchurch New Zealand, I wrote a letter of solidarity to the Administrative Assistant and congregation of the Orland Park Prayer Center. FPPLC’s confirmation class received a gracious welcome and tour of the facility and were given the opportunity to observe Asr, afternoon daily prayer, of the community. The following is an open letter to the Administrator and congregation.
I grew up among people who held a paradoxical relationship with Jews. On the one hand, most of the adult men in my childhood congregation were veterans of World War II, and many found great meaning for their service in the liberation of the Jewish people from the brutal tyranny of anti-Semitic Nazism. On the other hand, because the Jews had rejected Jesus, we were confident they were going to hell. There was also a third hand that colored our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, and that was a reading of Biblical prophecy that insisted the formation of the nation of Israel was a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus, something we were weekly enjoined to hasten.
Dear Penitent People:
As we approach the season of Lent, it is important to note that the day before Ash Wednesday in much of the world is known as Fat Tuesday, owing to the historic tradition of not eating fats and sugars during the season of penance. While the celebration known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is a ten-month tourist celebration in New Orleans, in many countries the days of Carnival begin the Thursday before Lent and culminate on Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday.
Dear Broken Brethren:
As Pope Francis gathers with Roman Catholic bishops in the Vatican this week in a summit designed to address clergy sexual abuse of minors, I have had several conversations with individuals suggesting that the Catholics have a big problem. While I hope the magisterium experiences some breakthroughs in discipline and oversight through an event largely organized by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, it would be a serious mistake to suggest this is somehow an issue confined to the ranks of Roman Rite clergy.
Clergy sexual abuse of minors is not a problem that will be resolved by permitting priests the stability of marriage. To be sure, the recent revelations of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding their own clergy…
Dear President Party Participators:
Here we are with another three-day weekend.
In 1968, the United States 90th Congress passed H.R. 15951 An Act to provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes, usually abbreviated as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The original bill stipulated that several holidays be moved to Mondays, but the one commemorating Washington’s birthday remain fixed on the 22nd of February, a date set as a federal holiday by President Rutherford B. Hayes. However, Illinois House Representative and Judiciary Committee member Robert McClory of Lake Bluff had lost his bid to make Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, a federal holiday. The amendment failed in committee due to staunch opposition by the Virginia delegation. In response to his amendment’s defeat, McClory successfully amended the
Dear Service Selectors:
It’s been a few months now since our Sanctuary Choir Director, Jason Fahrenbach, expanded his repertoire to include leadership of our Praise and Worship Team and became FPCLG’s Director of Music Ministry. The response from both the musicians and the Community Service attendees has been enthusiastically positive, and to my knowledge, the Sanctuary Choir has not felt older child neglect in the transition. To my ear the music in both services is beyond magnificent; we are blessed with many gifted volunteers and professionals who inspire our voices and hearts in divine worship.
There are now two of us who weekly experience both Sunday morning services
Dear Confirming Congregants:
This coming Saturday will be our second annual Confirmation Rally, where we invite Confirmation-aged young people from the greater La Grange community to celebrate our common faith and our unity in Christ. There will be snacks, music, conversation, dinner, games and a few special guests. We hope to link our young people in the knowledge that they are members of a church fellowship that extends well beyond the walls of FPCLG, a common faith, a common heritage, a body of Christ with many expressions of tradition, doctrine and practice. In the same way that we do not baptize our children as Presbyterians, we do not confirm our young people as Presbyterians, but in both rites we announce their covenant relationship with Christians,
Dear Winter Warriors,
As the snow accumulates on our back deck, I’m musing how snowstorms have this amazing quality of timelessness. While we are taught that no two snowflakes are alike, snowstorms, in my memory, are all aligned as one big contiguous accumulation of white wonder. Briefly, I suspend all knowledge of snow’s intrusion into my routine, the repetitious weight of the shovel, the crunchy scraping of a windshield, spinning tires rocking from a drift, and I am lost in the anticipation of flapping arms of an angel, the careful engineering of a fort, red runners cutting into the side of a great hill.
The following remarks were delivered by The Reverend Jonathan Krogh, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, IL for the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast held on January 21, 10 AM, sponsored by the Caring Place for Kids, Lincoln & Washington Streets, La Grange, Illinois.
In preparation for this morning’s remarks I read the following words in a December 26 New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold entitled “Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right.” Quoting social activist Sharon Harper: “The whole Bible and evangelical faith, along with Protestant faith and Catholic faith, has all been interpreted through the lens of empire. All of it. All of it has been interpreted through the lens of Caesar. And Caesar killed Jesus. And Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.”
Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.
Dear Courageous Contributors:
I’m musing this Monday morning about money. My Friday ended like an old joke: “An accountant, a treasurer and a Presbyterian minister walk into an office...,” except it wasn’t a joke; we were talking about FPCLG’s 2019 budget. You’ll see everything in mind-numbing detail in the Annual Report distributed at the end of February, but in the meantime, I thought you would like some highlights.