FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

I CANNOT ADD A WORD to the brilliant and heartfelt tributes to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pouring out throughout the land. But we will add 50 BELL TOLLS at noon at the Congregational Church of Patchogue: one for each year since his assassination. May Rev. Dr. King, Jr. rest in peace. And may we rest when we are blessed with liberty and justice for all.advent sanctuary photo

RESURRECTION BEFORE DEATH

 

Today is Saturday, the day after the crucifixion, and the day before the Resurrection. We are all and always on the cusp of getting nailed by someone or something and of being, hopefully, somehow resurrected. Most people, sadly, do not come down from the cross alive. Having endured blame, pain and shame; they often have wounded themselves as they are being wounded by others. It is a recipe certain death of body, soul or both.
They are then taken down from the cross upon which they were crucified by themselves and others, washed, put into clean clothes, and buried. A precious few, having once been resurrected, test their fate and trust their mind that tells them that for each crucifixion there is always another resurrection. There is an escape hatch for each self-destructive and each relationship-killing, Earth-killing and Christ-killing act. There is, they assume, a resurrection for each relapse and a new beginning for each end.
But voices from the graves of those we have loved and lost shout each night in unison that this is not true. Life, it seems, owes and promises us nothing but death. Is that depressing news? Or is it an awareness of how temporary and fragile life really is. And hope and faith in resurrection is no excuse for needless death.
Our lives, it seems to me, are a manifestation of grace. We are resurrected through our wounds. We are healed at the site of our injury. We turn to face the abyss and see light in the darkness. We endure. We gain strength. We take flight. We can join those who have perished ~ or we can learn to live from them. The supposed dead continue to speak and teach. This is resurrected life before death.
Love need not be resurrected. Hope need not be reborn. Faith has not gone anywhere. The sun is still in the sky, even when obscured by clouds of doubt and darkness. They are all here, waiting, for you.

“One Stop Free Shop”

Free use of a mobile shower unit; free haircuts for men and women; free flu shots; free blood pressure screening; free blankets; free toiletries, free candy; a free, hot meal; free clothing (socks, underwear, gloves, shirts, sweaters, sweatpants and other items); and free compassion and caring were distributed on Wednesday, February, 28th between 4:00 and 6:30 at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main Street (Long Island, New York).

Access to health and health care is economic, physical, spiritual and political. There is no such thing, for example, as an undocumented flu virus. When one member of a community is helped, all are helped. When the right hand gets soiled from planting flowers, the left hand helps wash it.

With a zero dollar budget but many volunteers; with no proof of need, income or residency requested or required; and with no judgement or stigma about persons in need ~ a marvelous manifestation of hope, healing, health, peace, love and laughter came to town. It is our dream that, with the help of donors, this offering may continue into our bright, shared future.

THANKS TO DONATED SERVICES & ITEMS FROM: the Village of Patchogue Mayor, Paul Pontieri; Suffolk County Leg. Rob Calarco; Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; Suffolk County Department of Health Services; Suffolk County Department of Mental Hygiene; New York State Office of Mental Health; Hands Across Long Island (HALI) for the mobile shower unit; Hudson River Health (HRH) for blood pressure screening; Swan Cleaners (donated clothes); the Congregational Church of Patchogue Soup Kitchen; and generous contributors of cash, food and clothing from people like you.

CONTACT:
Dwight Lee Wolter

A Lenten Sacrifice: The Attempted Crucifixion of Robert Mueller

Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, as a young man, served as a United States Marine in combat in Vietnam where he was shot, recovered from his wounds, and was returned to duty. He later received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was nominated as FBI Director by George Bush. The vote was 98-0. He served 12 years as Director of the FBI, the longest term on record, which required special approval. He is a registered Republican. Think what you will about the Vietnam War, the Mueller investigation, and Jesus. But please think. This is not partisan pandering or even patriotic pouting. It is a spiritual and religious meditation on a story with Biblical parallels being played out in the season of Lent by religious leaders and government officials trying to wipe their hands of him.

Religious persons, fundamentalists and progressives included, chant “separation of church and state” and “politics does not belong in the pulpit” while Robert Mueller is being “crucified” by many religious leaders of this country who watch passively and silently as authorities mock, deny, defund, demote and attempt to dismiss him from his position as Special Counsel and investigator because of his uncompromising mission to locate and speak Truth to Power.

As recently as a couple of days ago, religious onlookers, including well-heeled progressives, declare that this is a travesty of justice, but not worthy or appropriate for discussion in religious circles because it is not aligned closely enough with doctrine, scripture or religious jargon to fit comfortably into the institutional church and its Sunday morning musings of Lent.

And yet they cannot or will not recognize that this strikingly similar story to Lent is being played-out on our national stage. For example, the defamation of Mueller, like that of Jesus, partly arises from the fact that he simply cannot be bought, frightened, intimidated or thrown off course in his mission of seeking truth and justice. Many religious leaders, huddled at prayer breakfasts with President Trump, have never been so close to power and it feels good; even if the price of their breakfast with the President is to look away as false accusations and insinuations of disloyalty inch closer and closer toward Mueller. His pursuit of truth, like that of Jesus, became a little too honest and a little too close to the halls of power for comfort. Senators, bureaucrats and ambassadors are casting lots ~ not for Mueller’s cloak ~ but for his job. Mueller’s job performance is being mocked in a public “trial” by his peers and in the court a of public opinion.

For the record, I know that Mueller is not Jesus and Washington is not Jerusalem. But enough parallels exist to warrant a reconsideration of the “hands-off” policy of introducing this or other stories into church for fear of appearing partisan in our politics and in our pulpits.

Wedged in between the time of Jesus and the time of Mueller, much of the Christian church in Germany would not deal directly with growing Nazis influence because it did not fall neatly within the traditional purview of churchly life. The Jewish ghetto in Rome is within ear-shot of the Vatican. They could literally hear what was going on. Many haunting photos still exist of vested clergy standing on church steps during Nazis parades. What was also parading past was the failure of the church to address injustice because it seems too political in nature. History, to exploit an overworked cliché, repeats itself.

 

It is time to wake up! If this is not Lent-worthy investigation from the pulpit, I don’t know what is! This reenactment of the denigration of decency and the cohabitation of religion and power is brought to you by Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others who hold the flag in one hand and the Bible in the other as they collude to crucify Robert Mueller, like they would any other person they could not own or control.

Now the investigation of Muller and his investigation of Russia and perhaps those occupying the halls of power in our country have taken a turn. Indictments have been issued. Ut let us not fail to indict ourselves and our elected officials for sinful complicity with silence and abandonment of the principles we preach. It will soon be time for us and them to repent. Mueller’s crusade for truth is reaching the steps of the capitol and the White House. Easter is drawing near. And with it comes the time for churches and people of faith within and outside of the walls of our sanctuaries to stop believing the lie that politics does not belong in church. Jesus’ death was a political execution, orchestrated by a collusion of religion and government.

It is my prayer and my resolve to not stand idly by at the foot of another cross, watching, weeping gently, and feeling bad for the person dying upon it. The time for the church to speak and to act is now. Welcome to Lent.

Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He is the author of several books and blogs at dwightleewolter.com

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO A FUNERAL FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (AS WE KNOW IT)

On Sunday, December 3rd at 10:00 in the morning, the Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main Street, will host a funeral for The End of the World as We Know It. The world passed peacefully in its sleep, after a long illness. The autopsy is still in progress, but the cause of death appears to be a self-inflicted wound. Mourners are invited to write a word or brief comment on a piece of paper, read it aloud to the congregation (if they so choose), and place their comment in the casket (which was generously provided by Robertaccio Funeral Home).

While the World did not work-out as we had hoped; there is hope that the World might be resurrected into a life more closely aligned with what a loving God may have originally intended. Craig Coyle will perform “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” by REM.

This service is not a prank. It is a sincere recognition that the world could not possibly go on this way for long. It is time to start over; just in time for Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas), and for the New Year. This is a Christian church service to which all, regardless of religious affiliation or the lack of it, are sincerely and warmly invited.

CONTACT:
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter
631-891-9908

Pets in Heaven

“Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them
came to Noah and entered the ark.” Genesis 7:15
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“God wishes other creatures besides humans to be included in the plan of salvation.”
St. Francis of Assisi
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“One day we will see our pets in the eternity of Christ.” Pope Paul VI
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Many children learn to love through their first pet, and losing a pet is often their first experience with death and grief. For many adults, losing a pet is like losing a child. Some proclaim that losing a child is a greater grief than losing a pet. I have lost both pet and young child, and it seems to me that loss is loss, grief is grief, and love is love.

Over the past few years, several ashen-face, grief-stricken children and adults with tears in their eyes have asked me, “Are there pets in heaven?” Without commenting on whether there is a literal “place” called heaven ~ I ask these seekers of assurance and mercy, “What kind of place could be called “heaven” without pets?”

In Genesis, the only qualification to gain admission to the ark of salvation was not human intelligence or language skills; it was having “the breath of life.” All living creatures were welcome aboard, including Noah and his family’s pets.

Pets may lack the ability to reason and understand in the same way as humans; but they lack not the ability to love. Pets often remain by your side when a human loved one has fled. Hospice pets freely roam from room to room. Visitation animals are brought to memory loss units, where their mere presence often cause patients to rouse and interact with the animals in ways they may not with their human caregivers.

What kind of heaven would heaven be if pets were not allowed? It would be a heaven where there are limits on love. In such a heaven, many of us cannot imagine we would care to reside.

PRAYER:
Thank you, Creator God, for making room on your bed for all your human and other creatures to rest in peace.

PRESIDENTS TRUMP & DUTERTE SHOULD TRAVEL TOGETHER FROM WHITE HOUSE TO SOBER HOUSE

During a “very friendly conversation,” last Saturday, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, invited the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House ~ knowing that seven months ago (10/16), in response to the presence of three million drug addicts in his country, President Duterte was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I’d be happy to slaughter them” and then he went on to cite Hitler’s actions during the Holocaust ~ adding that his own version of the Final Solution would, “finish the problem of my country.”

The President of the Philippines made no mention of addiction as a disease, an epidemic, a plea for help, or a need for treatment. Addiction is, to him, a scourge running rampant in people who need not necessarily be rounded-up and shipped off to a concentration camp to be eliminated. The persons afflicted with addiction, according to President Duterte, could simply be shot in the streets. What other “problem of my country” would the President Duterte address by slaughtering them? Diabetics? Think of how many “Handicap Parking” spaces he could free-up in Manila by eliminating people with a physical mobility “problem”

At this point in a painful conversation like this; many people and agencies in the recovery community blurt-out that recovery should stay clear of politics and other “outside influences.” But addiction is saturated with politics. Addiction recovery service providers and advocacy groups routinely visit elected officials, protest harmful legislation, petition compassionate citizens, educate the populace against using words like “junkie” and “alkie” that stigmatize persons who are afflicted with “substance use disorder” (as opposed to engaging in “substance abuse”).

It is time to speak up about this too! All treatment centers, recovery alliances, associations, groups, individuals, fellowships and others directly involved in or affected by addiction should demand that the invitation to President Duterte to visit the White House be withdrawn until he issues a public disavowal and revocation of his comments and actions that advocate and tolerate the mass murder of victims of the disease of addiction. Those individuals, families, churches, synagogues and other faith institutions who are not directly affected by addiction (if you can find any) should do likewise.

It is not even clear that President Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state; but let’s assume this withdrawal of the invitation will not take place and Duterte finds himself plopped down on an expensive couch in the White House. It is then that Presidents Trump and Duterte can take a cue from Pope Francis who, more than once, requested to wash the feet of drug addicts in a treatment center. If that seems a bit too much for these two Presidents ~ then they can at least travel together from the White House to the sober house; from a reception center to a treatment center in Washington D.C. for a visit to those trying desperately to recover from the ravages of addiction. The way this epidemic is raging through our country ~ it will probably be a very short, and profoundly meaningful trip from which they may return transformed.

 

Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He is also the author of several books in the field of addiction, including three on forgiveness.

Pistol Packing Pastor, Rabbi & Imam (Has It Come to This?)

 

Although it has been happening for a long time, there are an increasing number of attacks on institutions, individuals, and houses of faith. Here are a few historic and current examples:

  • Fifty years ago, fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four African American girls were killed and twenty-two others were injured in the blast at the church known as a center of activity in the civil rights movement.
  • Thirty-seven years ago, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke tirelessly on behalf of the poor and victims of social injustice, was assassinated in church while offering Mass to the very people he sought to defend and protect.
  • Twenty years ago, while serving a church in Florida, I accepted an invitation to visit a mosque and was shown a new hole in the outside wall that was created by a drive-by shooter while the worship service was in progress.
  • Eight years ago, I presided at the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) over the funeral of an undocumented, Latino, hate crime murder victim named Marcelo Lucero. Shortly thereafter we convened an opportunity for alleged victims of hate crimes who did not feel safe going to the authorities, to come to the church to tell their stories without fear of violence, recrimination or deportation. I received numerous physical and verbal threats against my person, my son and my home.
  • Five years ago, I took my then teenage son to Dachau concentration camp where, in addition to scores of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and disabled persons were over 2,000 Catholic priests and other clergy had been imprisoned for speaking-out about Hitler and the Third Reich.
  • Two years ago, 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya that turned red with their innocent blood. Their execution was expertly filmed and distributed.
  • Two years ago, Dylann Roof murdered nine people, including the senior pastor, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in hopes of inciting a race riot. He represented himself at trial to ~ in his own words ~ show the world that he was not criminally insane and knew exactly what he was doing.
  • A few days after the Emanuel AME church massacre, I and other clergy were briefed at the Police Academy by the Police Commissioner, the Department of Homeland Security, and others on what to do if there is an active shooter loose in the church, mosque or synagogue. The police did their best to educate us and steady our trembling hands.
  • One year ago, Donald Trump came to Patchogue, Long Island. We held a Silent Vigil at the church where police were present. They also accompanied me to the venue where Trump was speaking and where I had been invited to meet him. I later received some disturbing mail that frightened our church office personnel who insisted we call the police. We did. They came and made a report.
  • Three months ago, I hosted a Post-Inaugural Peace Party on the evening of the marches on Washington, NYC and elsewhere. We wanted to be open just in case of violence at the marches and people wanting a place of peace and solace. Police were at the Peace Vigil for our protection. We appreciated the police care and concern.
  • Two months ago, over 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were toppled in an act of alleged anti-Semitism.
  • One month ago, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, asked state police to investigate the vandalism of headstones in a Jewish cemetery, citing a “dramatic increase in acts of hate and intolerance.”
  • Two weeks ago, 29 Christians were killed and 69 more were injured in a bomb attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The following week, Easter services in many Egyptian churches were cancelled for fear of similar violence and death on the day marking Jesus’ resurrection from a similar fate of unjust violence and death.

I am aware that it is not only religious institutions and people of faith that are being attacked and threatened. I am also aware that the police will never be able to prevent all future atrocities. I am also aware that the first window immediately inside the front door of the Suffolk County Police Department is for weapon permit applications. And I am also aware that just two weeks ago, the Alabama senate voted to allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form a private police force that the church believes is necessary to keep their congregation safe.

Many houses of faith (church, mosque, synagogue, etc.) want to be advocates for justice in addressing and confronting injustice and oppression.  I accept that there is always inherent danger in speaking truth to power, and in speaking truth to madness. But it seems that these attacks are, in part, an attempt to tell faith leaders and congregations to shut their mouth, lock their doors, and turn a blind eye to injustice or else become a target of terror.

Everybody knows that Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc. is wrong but clergy and others will be less willing to preach it in their houses of faith if the consequence is being next on the hit list of those who dare to speak out.

I humbly ask this online congregation continue to empower and encourage houses of faith to speak and act boldly for justice; but I also ask you to find ways to help houses of faith to provide internal and external security against increasingly frequent and audacious attacks ~ lest fear and vulnerability succeed in silencing this and future generations if violence and intimidation continue unabated.

 

TRUMP BANS BIG BIRD

 

For the first time ever, a President of the United States has proposed the total slashing of funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This action would also eliminate funds for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). Thus, the President, in his young administration, has advocated the simultaneous banning of Muslims and Big Bird.

 

 The National Endowment for the Arts represents less than 1/100 of 1% of the Federal budget; and yet the defunding will be a death sentence for many arts and humanities organizations. The obliteration of these programs will barely help Trump fund the Defense Department increases. The $58 billion increase in defense spending for 2018 alone could fund the NEA and NEH for 180 years.

 

 Gone will be NEA funding for a museum that is collecting and displaying the letters, photos and uniforms of soldiers who died fighting in World War I. Gone will be a NEH effort to open dialogues on veterans’ experiences of war with a focus on eliciting their expression on duty, heroism, suffering and patriotism. The list of obliteration of funding also includes libraries; the National Gallery of Art; youth symphonies; creative writing workshops for youth; the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans and many dance companies.

 

 Art often reaches people in ways that mere words cannot. Art and humanities often provide avenues of personal and societal healing; opportunities to gain perspective on our common humanity; and a vision of what we and other people and cultures experience. Art inspires people to accept the challenge to be more connected to each other as well as to their own potential.

Art matters. Humanities help. If you want to conquer a people you could buy more guns. But you could also deprive them of the ability to know who they are. Destroy their museums (ISIS knew this). Burn their historical documents (Hitler knew this). Cripple their transmission of culture and identity (slave owners knew this). Loot the institutions of faith, making sure to destroy or remove art, and the ornate certificates of baptism and marriage. Desecrate the hand-chiseled tombstones of ethnic minorities like we have seen a rash of recently in America. Leave them wondering who the hell they are, and where they came from, and you will wage war against their humanity.

That is why we must always endow our arts and endow our humanity. We must teach, encourage and assist people in accessing their creativity. We must preserve their self-described, sacred writings and other expressions of art. We must archive their/our tales, myths and legends. If you want to know what the world looks like without the arts and humanities ~ read the front page of the newspaper. A creative act by you today might be your resistance to defunding the NEA and NEH. Now that is a picture that is worth a thousand words!

 

 

 

POST INAUGURAL PEACE PARTY & “Letters to America”

Saturday, January 21st at 7:00 in the evening at the historic Congregational Church of Patchogue 95 East Main Street

“This land is your land, this land is my land… This land was made for you AND me…”~ Woody Guthrie.

Warranted or not ~ there is tremendous fear out there. But whether you are elated or deflated; frustrated or motivated; cheated and defeated ~ or ~ victorious and glorious ~ we are going to get through this! Join us (if you can) the day after the Inauguration for a Peace Party. The performances include featuring folk, popular, patriotic and classical musical performances that include: “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie); “The Times They Are a Changin’” (Bob Dylan); “America the Beautiful” (unaccompanied cello solo); “Give Peace a Chance” (John Lennon); “Higher Love” (Steve Winwood); and “Here Comes the Sun” (George Harrison) ~  all performed by various artists of various nations and ethnicities.

There will also be a lighting of Candles for Peace and a Time for Silence.

We are also collecting “Letters to America” to be read on Saturday night at this event, protecting your identity if you let me know that that is your preference. Send your brief letters to pastor@churchonmainstreet.org