Phoenix-Rising-UCC-Open-and-Affirming_gratitudeGod’s greatest desire is for all to know their belovedness and to experience the unveiling of “ME”.   “The “me” you and I are meant to be”. Many go through life thinking if they do enough or are successful enough they will find happiness. Then there are others who go through life wanting and trying to be like someone else never unveiling their “ME” they were meant to be.   How does one know that they are the “ME” they are meant to be?   It begins with gratitude, the key virtue of self-discovery and happiness. For many it takes adversity to challenge us to ask the questions, “Who am I and why am I here?”  This shifting thought can lead us on a quest where we encounter and embrace gratitude.

The people I meet who are self-assured seem to embody gratitude.  Often in their life story they have faced adversity, trials and tribulations.  They will tell you it is in those places they encounter God and truths about themselves that transform them and how they see themselves and the world around them. For a season they suffered as the lens they looked through was distorted and splintered: they could only see what was missing, what was lacking, what seemed impossible.     The common thread that lifted them was gratitude.  Many express it, like the line in the song Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found, twas blind but now I see.” Gratitude allows us to become awake and aware of the abundant life that make us who we are.  Gratitude encourages us to witness the wonderful things within and without.  Gratitude opens our hearts to see the good when good is hard to find.   Gratitude invokes thankfulness and an appreciation for who we are and others. Gratitude is a wonderful stress manager and can counteract depression.   Gratitude feeds faith, hope and love.

I have had a lot of adversity and course corrections in my life where gratitude was hard to come by. Yet when I focused on what could be done instead of what could not be done gratitude was a key factor that lifted me above the circumstances. For instance, out of adversity and with gratitude I found God and discovered my gift of music and passion to be a minister.  When I think of all I am most grateful for, it is more about the people in my life than things. I am grateful for my wife who believed in me during those times I struggled to believe in myself. I am grateful for the children who know me as Mom.    I am grateful for my grandchildren because they help see the world through their eyes.  I am grateful for meeting new   people and the privilege of hearing their stories. I am grateful for people who do not allow injustice to go unnoticed.   I am grateful for people who can do things I am unable to do.  I am so grateful I can jump into a blues jam and we jell and make music as though we played together for years.   I am most of all grateful for Jesus who came and lived among us and gave people many  reasons to be grateful.

So what do you do if you feel you have nothing to be grateful for? How can you be grateful when you are overwhelmed with adversity?

I would encourage you to begin being grateful that you are you.   You are fearfully and wonderfully made by an Omnigender God who loves you, accepts you and calls you Beloved Child: the God of love light and grace, who created our macro and micro universe in all its spender, magnificence and beauty.   Let yourself be grateful that you are becoming the “ME” you are meant to be. Being grateful causes us to rise above our circumstances and allows us to plant seeds of hope.  When we begin to sow gratitude we will reap abundance.   Doing this regularly is like investing in your future, preparing for the storms of life. When struggles and adversity come you can draw on it, find rest, comfort and hope.    Therefore, gratitude must be practiced every day.  It will become part of who you are.  I am convinced when one is awake and aware of the blessings and gifts, goodness and graces that surround them they are better equipped to take care of all that is wrong act in just and loving ways.

This Thanksgiving and as we make our way through the Christmas season, I invite you to reflect on things that you are grateful for.  One of the most precious gifts you can give someone is to let them know how grateful you are that they are in your life.  Gratitude opens us up to creativity. So get creative. Whether writing a letter of making or finding that perfect something that describes your gratitude. Enjoy the feelings you experience as you are preparing a gift or writing the letter.  Who knows your gift of gratitude may become and open door of abundance for someone else.




This week Phoenix Affirmation 2: Listening for God’s Word which comes through daily prayer and meditation, through studying the ancient testimonies which we call Scripture, and through attending to God’s present activity in the world;  I invite you to look up these two bible verses: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 13:12

heart-hands-2When it was time to begin his public ministry, Jesus went into the local synagogue and went forward to read from the Talmud (the Old Testament) .  He opened the scroll and ready from book of Isaiah 35: 4-6:

“Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not,   Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”

Jesus went on to show us what can happen when Love is allowed to show itself in its fullness.  Not only were the eyes and ears of the infirmed opened in the physical sense, but eyes and ears are opened in the Spiritual sense transforming lives to this very day.    My personal history has been filled with joys, wonders and overcoming as well as sorrow, pain and struggle.  Over the years I have grown Keenly aware of my interdependent relationship with God and others.  With my spiritual eyes and ears open I can say with confidence, “All things work together for the good, for those who love God and who are called according to His [the Divine] purpose.” (Romans 8:28) My relationship with God empowers me to press on knowing there is a plan with a “future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  This truth encourages me and allows me to be awake and intentional so that I can discover purpose and meaning, with God, my family of origin, the faith community and the world.

My relationship with God allows me to reflect on the episodes of my life where I can see how ‘LOVE’s [GOD’S] power has been manifesting in me more devotion and more love and compassion.  I Love God and believe God’s revelation of Love is at the core of the Divine nature; out of which flows the truth that leads to justice and mercy and the profound sense of community.

My personal story with all its ups and downs, sufferings and celebrations are a testament to a God who looks upon me as a “beloved daughter.  This revelation is what drives my passion in ministry to be an instrument whereby others may come to realize their own belovedness and dignity as human persons.  Ultimately, if we understand ourselves as belonging to God and that God belongs to us and we belong to each other,  we can remain hopeful when we are in the midst of adversity, loss and betrayal.

What is it that feeds my faith? It is the Holy Scriptures.  I am  fascinated and amazed  by the fact that they are a compilation of legends, myths, histories, prophesies, poems and personal stories, all relating to the reality of God and human existence.  The fact that Jesus went to the scriptures to inform the world of his ministry further gives weight to their importance. When I study the ways people have discerned and interpreted God’s  presence with them, I am often impressed and surprised how the authenticity of  their encounters affirm and confirm what I perceive to be my own encounters with the One who loves beyond measure.  It is for this reason I accept and call the Books of the Bible sacred text.

When I first began reading the Bible, it was daunting because in my ignorance, I had assumed a single person wrote it, in a single lifetime. Then when I found out that It is the only compilation that has many authors and was written over 4000 years of history.  I see God in it because it is still here, still intact and still changing people’s lives.  I see the text from the point of view that God’s greatest desire is for the human family to rediscover that we belong to each other in a community of oneness.  It is with this perspective, that I approach Scripture with a ‘God is still speaking’ mindset. Ultimately, I am looking for the DNA of God where God’s Love is manifested in power and transformation.

What are your sacred texts?  What have been your impressions of the Bible?     All Questions, Doubts and Inquires welcome!!!!

I am a Christian…BUTT


Jenny said, “I am tired of being a Christian Butt,”…”What do you mean by that” [he] asked. “I mean,” She replied without hesitation, “I’m tired of having to always qualify the word Christian when I tell people I’m going to Church.  I might as well say I’m radioactive. They get a surprised look on their face and say, “Not you, Jenny. You don’t seem like the Christian type.”   So I find myself throwing in more and more “BUTS” all the time: I’m a Christian But…but…but…Why should I have to explain to people, I’m a Christian, BUT I don’t believe Homosexuals are evil…I’m a Christian BUT I believe women are equal to men…BUT I am concerned about poverty…BUT I care about the earth…BUT I don’t think people who believe differently from me will fry in hell for eternity…” Why is it that the word Christian, which should stand for people of extravagant grace and generosity who are abundantly loving, who are associated with acts of courage, justice, and compassion, has become synonymous with Butthead?”[i]

This excerpt is from the introduction to The Phoenix Affirmations written by Eric Elnes. Over the coming weeks we will be in conversation centered on the 12 Phoenix Affirmations. What may surprise most is that Jesus was not a Christian.  The word Christian means, to be a follower of Christ and it was the Romans who first called His followers by that name.  Jesus said,to love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and all your strength and your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22: 37-39) He side if you follow these you will not sin.  Over the coming weeks we will be discussing what it means to Love God, to love self and to love neighbor.  All questions, doubts and concerns are welcome.


Loving God

Affirmation 1: Walking fully in the path of Jesus, without denying the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity;  Matthew 11:28-29; John 8:12; John 10:16; Mark 9:40

As Christians, we find spiritual awakening, challenge, growth, and fulfillment in Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. While we have accepted the Path of Jesus as our Path, we do not deny the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity. Where possible, we seek lively dialog with those of other faiths for mutual benefit and fellowship.

We affirm that the Path of Jesus is found wherever love of God, neighbor, and self are practiced together. Whether or not the path bears the name of Jesus, such paths bear the identity of Christ.

We confess that we have stepped away from Christ’s Path whenever we have failed to practice love of God, neighbor, and self, or have claimed Christianity is the only way, even as we claim it to be our way.

Join us for the Conversation: Phoenix Rising UCC Wellspring Gathering Wednesday nights 7:00 pm at Dunkin Donuts 15 S. Main Street Haverhill Ma.

  1. Eric Elnes, The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity, Jossey-Bass,  ©2006 introduction

Freedom from: “WHY ME” & “IF ONLY”


Once I heard a story of how Elephants are trained not to run away.  While they are babies they put a giant chain around their ankle. When the elephant is grown only a rope is needed.  The animal is trained into thinking that when they pull away from the rope, it is the old chain from youth.   If they really knew the truth they could just walk away.    All of us go through adversity in various degrees.   Our response to adversity also varies.  Nevertheless, I believe there are two words, two phrases “Why me” and “If only”, that act like the rope used with the elephant.   When adversity comes, most of us respond as though we are unable to overcome it.

I was disabled, unable to walk for over 10 consecutive years of my life.  In the beginning, I could only cry out “why me”.  I felt oppressed, forgotten, trapped and I longed for simple things like, walking again.   I would say “If only”…I could walk, I would go to school.  If only I had people to help me, if only I had money, if only I could drive then I would (fill in the blank).   I lived shackled by these words until I began to accept this state of affairs.   Words are powerful and can shift ones thinking. That is where my faith came in and the Bible.  Jeremiah 29:11Revised Standard Version (RSV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Those words rang loudly in my heart. So much so, I memorized  them and decided to live into this idea.   Not long after, I realized I had stopped saying “why me” and began looking at all I could do, and no longer focused on what I could not.  When I stopped saying “why me” It wasn’t long after that, I was no longer fixated on the “if only”.

Adversity still happened. How I face it made all the difference.  I decided to go back to school and I was going to go and not let anything stop me.   Two years into school I was diagnosed with uterine cancer went through major surgery and rehab.  Ugh!  I again found myself saying “why me” again with the addition of another two word phrase, WHY GOD?  God, if you have a plan and a future for me this is cruel.  I concluded that if I was at the end of my life, I was determined to finish having made a difference.  That determination snuffed out the “Why me”, “Why God” and “If Only”.   Convinced, I didn’t have time to fixate on any of that, I set my sights on finishing. I received my Associate degree in 1999. Not only did I survive, I was commencement speaker and had indeed made a difference.  I had been accepted to Bradford College to finish my Bachelor’s degree and began attending that fall.   Physically I was doing fine. So much so, I decided to go to Italy to study Renaissance art through the school.  It was life changing. Mind you I was still in a wheelchair.  As we prepared to go to Italy, it was announced that Bradford College would close.  UGH! “WHY???…” I finished there a junior. I was accepted to Regis College with my 4.0 I received a presidential scholarship and graduated 2011.   The next few years, I worked hard to walk again went to seminary and began the process to become a minister.

Today, I am the New Pastor of Phoenix Rising UCC.  Not one of us is exempt from Adversity.  Many people believe God exists but there are many that struggle to believe in the Goodness of God because of Adversity.  My experiences and growing edges inform ne that “Trials Are Tool For Which God Fashions Us For Greater Things”. And we have the ability to use adversity as a “stepping stone or stumbling blocks”.    I recall another phrase that empowered me to understand adversity as a stepping stone.   “Fear Freezes life, Faith Thaws it out!” For me, believing I have a future and a hope truly disabled fear in me.   It broke the ropes that held me captive “Why me” and “If only”.  And like a phoenix I have risen above adversity over and over again.   In what ways have “Why me” and “if only: held you captive?   God is a Good God.  We have to make a choice either, let fear keep us frozen in place or arise like the phoenix and let the peace of God rule in your heart.