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July 2013

Life & Labors: Training & Call

Near the end of 1837, Reuben Gaylord returned to Connecticut from Illinois.  He went on horseback, visiting Niagra Falls along the way.  Once home, he visited family and friends and prepared for his training in divinity at Yale.

His letters include some thoughts on theological issues, John Locke, revival, and the growth of the anti-slavery movement.  He is also discerning what he will do next.  At one point he intended to stay another year at Yale.  At another he planned to return to Illinois and spend a year in apprenticeship with a pastor there.  Neither plan achieved actuality.

Instead, he was licensed to ministry on Tuesday, June 12, 1838 and began supplying pulpits.  He wrote to Miss Burton in a letter dated June 18:

Solemn and weighty are the responsibilities now upon me, but let me not shrink from them, for Christ says, "My grace is sufficient for thee." . . .  God has borne me up amid all my discouragements, and now my heart swells with gratitude to Him as I stand and review the past.

With six other friends, they developed a plan to go to Iowa.  Each would preach in a separate town, while two of them worked in establishing a college, of which the others would be trustees.  They were determined to play a part in building up the new state.  They received support from the American Home Missionary Society.

But hark! from Iowa comes a call, a loud and earnest note for men.  Come forth, ye consecrated ones!  Plant the standard of the cross and unfurl the gospel banner beyond the Father of Waters!  To the Home Missionary Society I have sent that call, and the reply is, "Go, and the Lord be with you." -- in a letter dated July 27, 1838

He was ordained in August of that year and by September 3 was in Cinncinnati, on his way headed west.

Life & Labors: Religious experience

Reuben Gaylord writes of his religious experience in a letter dated July 14, 1837:

I fear the summer has been on the whole a barren time in religious experience with me.  If I were asked the reason, I should say, Too little attention to private devotion.  We must cultivate religion, if we wish it to flourish in our hearts.  Weeds will grow without care, but to keep them out so as to make room for the pure and holy plants of righteousness, requires constant effort and watching. . . .  I have been reading church history for several weeks.  What in the future will the church present to coming ages?

Each of us

Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless--each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.

-- Walt Whitman 

"I see the burial-cairns of Scandinavian warriors"

I see the burial-cairns of Scandinavian warriors,
I see them raised high with stones by the marge of restless oceans, that the dead men's spirits when they wearied of their quiet graves might rise up through the mounds and gaze on the tossing billows, and be refresh'd by storms, immensity, liberty, action.

-- Walt Whitman

Life & Labors: Experiences & Reflections

In the winter and spring of 1837, Reuben Gaylord, still teaching at Illinois College, continued to write letters to his fiancee Sarah Burton in which he shared his experiences and reflections on a variety of topics.  Here are some you might find of interest.

On conversation:

I need no argument to convince you of the importance of cultivating the talent for conversation. -- Feb. 4

On the first day of spring:

Rode fifteen miles before breakfast--all the way from Winchester, where I spent the Sabbath.  Would that I had the pen of a ready writer, so that I could paint something of the glory and beauty of this glorious morning!  I arose at five, and left the house with a light step, so as not to disturb the inmates, and mounted my horse just at "daybreak."  The moon had nearly completed her upper circuit, and was fast dipping into the western ocean.  The air was mild and calm and the birds sang merrily.  After proceeding about four miles, the king of day appeared in the east, and never was sunrise more beautiful or enrapturing.  The clear expanse of heaven above the belt of smoky vapor that lay along the horizon, and the sun rising majestically above the trees, appearing of unusual size as the rays were dispersed by the mist and smoke--all combined to form a scene at once grand and beautiful.  It was well calculated to inspire elevating and devout feelings and to kindle all the finer sensibilities of the soul. -- March 20

The vagaries of travel are clear in his accounts.  On April 5, he was traveling during flooding.  He took a ferry boat on the Illinois River and it deposited him at a small island where around 50-60 other people were awaiting a boat to ferry them on to shore.  It was learned that no boat would come again that day and that they must all camp, with no food or fodder for their horses.  Not wanting to endure this, Gaylord wrote his horse through the flood to Erie.

In Jacksonville, the town in which he lived, there was talk of union between the Congregationalists and Presbyterians.  His various letters of the spring report on the progress and eventual breakdown of the negotiations.

On his daily schedule:

I will now give you the history of one day as a sample of the manner in which I spend my time: Breakfast at 6:30.  Spend a season previous in reading our daily portion of Scripture and prayer.  Prayers at seven.  From that time to eight prepare for recitations, which I hear from eight to ten.  From ten to twelve read church history, in which I am very much interested.  From twelve to one, dinner and recreation.  From one to three, study Greek.  I intend to read the Greek Testament through this term.  Three to five, hear recitations.  After five, study Hebrew. -- May 11

In his spare time, he was studying systematic theology.  The grueling schedule had its effect.  On May 30 he wrote, "Am sometimes nearly sick with headache, caused by too close application to study and too little exercise."

On his decision of how to travel home to Connecticut:

I have concluded to go back to Connecticut this fall on horseback, so I shall keep my horse, and ride for exercise.  My reasons for going this way are briefly these: I shall be so much reduced by the summer term of study and instruction as to need recruiting, and a journey in the usual way by stage and steamboat would fail to benefit me.  But a ride across the country on horseback will, I trust, secure the desired result, and give me a fine opportunity to see and learn much of those states and towns through which I shall pass. -- May 30

He continues to record the deaths of acquaintances in Illinois or back home.  He is concerned about political doings and the national economy.  He worries that the federal government is on the "verge of dissolution."

On meeting Daniel Webster:

The great Mr. Webster has been here, and I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak and shaking his hand.  He addressed us briefly in the college chapel, and on Saturday afternoon spoke to between two and three thousand of our people in Governor Duncan's grove.  His speech was an hour and a half in length--was clear, manly and forcible, and worthy of his distinguished fame.  He passed on to Springfield, thence to Peoria, and goes home by Chicago and the lakes. -- June 23

On Independence Day:

We have just passed another of our nation's birthdays.  Some have prayed, some mourned, and very many have spent the day in laughter and merriment. -- July 6

On the state of American Christianity:

Truly a cloud hangs over the American church which is dark and thick, and it would be well for Christians of all denominations to stop censuring each other, and inquire whether they have not too large a beam in their own eye to see the mote in their brother's eye so clearly that they can cast it out.  When I look at the present state of Christendom I feel sick and desponding, but the Lord reigns and his designs will be accomplished.  And when I remember this, and look at the character of God and His promises, hope revives. -- July6

Garden: Weekend Update

Last week I only made it to the garden a couple of times.  I did a little watering and weed pulling, but not much else.

Saturday morning was a lovely day, and I spent much time in the garden.  We've had unseasonably cool weather, with highs in the 70's and lows in the 50's.  It must be what July is like in Duluth.  So, I spent more than an hour enjoying the garden on Saturday morning, but realized after I got down there, that I had not brought my phone or camera to take pictures.

I did a lot of weeding.

I also removed the unproductive zucchini plant.  I had decided to anyway, but when I looked at it, I noticed that the first four inches at the base of the stem were gray colored and rotting.  A biologist friend earlier in the week confirmed that the other squash plant is a hybrid yellow squash/zucchini, but that the original seed would have been that, not some merger of the two side-by-side plants.  This hybrid continues to produce large, tasty fruit.  We've had it a few times as side dishes and in pasta.  It sautees nicely in olive oil with a little red onion, salt, and pepper.

The tomatoes are having problems this year.  The inconsistent temps and moisture, much like two years ago, are creating bottom rot and those annoying little black spots.  Last year, during the drought, we did not have this problem, and had a magnificent tomato harvest.  All the heirloom yellow tomatoes that were ripe had the bottom rot.  The beefsteak is not quite ready, though I picked a few for fried green tomatoes.  The other yellow one, can't think of the variety right now, has one big one close to harvest.  The Roma is producing mightily, though with the black spots.  I've used a few in pasta and shared some with our friend PJ.

We also, finally, had a handful of cucumbers to pick, instead of just one a week or two like it has been.  

I also harvested some jalapeno peppers, the rest of the chives (as they were getting droopy), about half a dozen Brussels sprouts, and PJ let me take some of her green beans.  

I took a bag full of squash, cukes, chives, and peppers to the church today for our weekly produce sale.  The profits of which go to fun our hunger ministries.

After weeding and harvesting, I planted seeds, looking forward to those things which can be harvested late summer/early autumn.  I planted beets, spinach (remember the great spinach earlier in the year), carrots, lettuce, and scallions.  I did take a picture of the packets when I got home.


Grow Roots

Grow Roots

Colossians 1:15-2:7

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

28 July 2013



    Almost a decade ago the rock band Green Day released an album entitled American Idiot. One of the songs on this album is entitled "Jesus of Suburbia." The song begins:


I'm the son of rage and love

The Jesus of suburbia

From the bible of none of the above

On a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin

No one ever died for my sins in hell

As far as I can tell


Get my television fix sitting on my crucifix

The living room or my private womb

While the moms and brads are away

To fall in love and fall in debt

To alcohol and cigarettes and Mary Jane

To keep me insane and doing someone else's cocaine


The chorus of the first part of the song goes:


And there's nothing wrong with me

This is how I'm supposed to be

In a land of make believe

That don't believe in me


Despite this claim that there is nothing wrong, the character in the song clearly feels that there is, in fact, much that is wrong. The second movement of the song says,


City of the dead

At the end of another lost highway

Signs misleading to nowhere

City of the damned

Lost children with dirty faces today

No one really seems to care


In this city of the dead, you read "the holy scriptures of a shopping mall" and the children are


Born and raised by hypocrites

Hearts recycled but never saved

From the cradle to the grave

We are the kids of war and peace

From Anaheim to the Middle East

We are the stories and disciples

Of the Jesus of suburbia

Land of make believe

And it don't believe in me

Land of make believe

And I don't believe

And I don't care!


So, the character in the lyrics runs away to find what he believes leaving behind "This hurricane of . . . lies." He declares that he has lost his faith, because "the Jesus of Suburbia is a lie."


    The philosopher Charles Taylor has written that the best answer to the question "Who am I?" is not your name or your genealogy. Rather, the best answer is "what is of crucial importance" to you.


To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand.


    Green Day's song reveals a generation who has lost this place to stand. The worldview they were raised with, including its version of Christian faith, has failed to provide meaning in the face of doubt and fear. It has failed to provide guidance during times of despair. It has robbed them of the ability to experience joy and beauty. It is as vacuous as soda pop--fleeting and inane.

    Charles Taylor writes that when we lose the commitment that identifies us, we are at sea. We don't know the answers to our questions. We don't know what is significant. We are in crisis.

    To develop as human beings, to become our best selves, we must commit to something. We must decide what is of crucial importance for us.

    Here at the First Central Congregational Church, we offer you a dynamic, visionary, and authentic faith that will awaken your best self. Faith rooted in Jesus the Christ.


In an image-saturated world,

a world of ubiquitous corporate logos permeating your consciousness

a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations

in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted

to be able to dream of life otherwise

a world in which the empire of global economic affluence

has achieved the monopoly of our imaginations

in this world

Christ is the image of the invisible God

the image above all other images

the image that is not a façade

the image that is not trying to sell you anything

the image that refuses to co-opt you

[but is rather]

a flesh-and-blood


in time and history

with joys and sorrows

image of who God is

He is the source of [our] liberated imagination. . .

because [our imagining] all starts with him

and it all ends with him . . .

whatever you can imagine . . .

he is [the] source, purpose, goal


Because he has reconciled all things.


    That last series is mostly a quote, with adaptations, from Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat.


    There is an old joke that UCC really stands for "Unitarians Considering Christ." And there is a truth to that joke, or it wouldn't be funny.

    It is true that many members of the UCC do not believe all the traditional doctrines and orthodox theologies about Jesus. We have many different visions of who Jesus was and what authority his life holds for us today. And that diversity is an essential part of who we are, as we believe that each individual is responsible for their own spiritual journey, free of outside control. We have no test for faith. And it is this openness to diversity which has led us to embrace God's stillspeaking voice, as we have learned new things from those people who were once excluded and oppressed.

    It is also true that we are deeply respectful of those who sink their roots in other ground--our sisters and brothers of other faiths or those of no religious faith who strive for goodness, peace, and love. We do not presume a monopoly on truth. We do not believe that our perspective is the only perspective. Even the Christ may appear to us in different guises. The Ultimate Mystery of this life is far bigger than we can ever hope to understand.

    All of that is true. But it is false to think that Jesus is not center of our faith in the United Church of Christ, for Jesus is the ground in which our roots grow. Ours is a progressive faith precisely because we are followers of Jesus.

    For it was Jesus who modeled a life of justice and peace. Jesus who included the outcast. Jesus who loved unconditionally. Jesus who showed compassion. Jesus who confronted the powers of evil. Jesus who was an agent of reconciliation.

    The Jesus we proclaim is not the "Jesus of surburbia," vacuous, fleeting, and inane. But a rich and fertile ground in which to plant our roots and draw living water that will re-create us. A place to stand--something to believe in, to hope for, and work towards, a place to know ourselves.

    As we are bold, compassionate witnesses, co-creating a just and sustainable world, we manifest the Christ, continuing to make Christ real flesh-and-blood, here-and-now, in time and history. Not some abstract doctrine. Not some ancient historical figure read about in ancient books. But a real, living presence awakened within us.


    And that is what we mean when we say we are the United Church of Christ.


As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up, established in faith.