Everywhere I look, I'm seeing statements about the latest round of war in the Holy Land... faith communities, denominations, non-profits, political leaders... they're all offering a statement, before then turning around and picking apart the statements of others. Not to mention, everyone on social media has somehow become an expert in peace treaties. And war.
Yet, for whatever reason, the Spirit led me strongly to make a statement of my own today. Not so much to add more static to the noise that's already out there. But to call out yet another example of how binary thinking can get us into trouble. In this case, I chose to make a vlog... mostly because I wish I were still a hip young person who uses words like vlog.
Over the past week, my social media feeds have been overwhelmed with a viral article entitled "Departure: Why I Left the Church," authored by the Rev. Alex Lang, a PC(USA) pastor who recently stepped away from parish ministry. Along with the many reposts of that specific blog post, I encountered many, many response posts penned by other clergy friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from across the denominational spectrum. Many of those responses lifted up similar sentiments, in a "me too" vibe. Others served as more of a counter to Rev. Lang's words, with many a post suggesting he had it coming.
Every Wednesday at noon throughout the Idaho state legislative session, you can find me on the steps of the Capitol building, standing still and praying silently. The silence of my thoughts is interrupted only by the occasional sniffle, as my nose angrily protests the bitter cold I’ve subjected it to.
I don’t stand alone, but rather alongside colleagues representing the Interfaith Equality Coalition – pastors, ministry leaders, and faithful members of a variety of faith traditions gathering to bear witness to the all-inclusive love and justice of God in the context of a state (and a world) that seems hellbent on ushering in hatred and injustice instead.
At two years old, Layton was growing like a weed, awaking each morning with boundless energy to explore the world with infectious curiosity. What a joy! Yet, I worried that many of those childhood experiences would soon be lost to fading memories (his and mine, both). I wondered if my increasingly busy life would prevent me from seeing the little everyday sorts of moments I’d want to cherish.
Music has the power to bring words to moments where words are hard to come by. A well-written lyric and a soaring melody can work to make sense of the wholly sublime as much as it can create a self-paced guide through the deepest gulfs of grief. I'm convinced that the global songbook has something for every human emotion.
Maybe that's why so many of us seem naturally equipped with the ability to weave music into the passage of time. When we identify "just the right song" it can help to transport us back to another moment, or else to celebrate how far we've come from a given moment.
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
So goes the well-known refrain of the mid-60s anthem made popular by Jackie DeShannon. If you’re anything like me, the melody enters your consciousness as soon as you read those lyrics.
You may be surprised to learn that it’s a song that was almost never written. According to the tune’s composers, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the waltzy nature of the chorus came to them quickly, but they stumbled over the content of the verses for several years. With their inspiration coming from a world in conflict – the Vietnam War and the fight for Civil Rights in the United States, for example – they struggled mightily to find words that would not seem too soft for a time of such crisis.
Well, it wasn’t COVID.
That's the good news. Although as one of a rapidly shrinking population of folks who have never caught the coronavirus during the pandemic, I confess I sometimes feel like a sitting duck. Still, these past few days I've felt miserable, with a fever in the 102s and a headache so excruciating that I'm pretty sure no amount of Tylenol could possibly overpower it.
So what was my first thought on Saturday afternoon, when I finally came to terms with the fact that I was, in fact, coming down with something?
"Maybe if I sit down at the computer right now, I can pre-record my sermon for tomorrow morning, just in case I can’t still be there in person."
Picture it: Sicily. 1912.
...I mean… the mountains of Western North Carolina. September 2019.
I was attending the final gathering of a two-year Newly Ordained track of the PC(USA)’s CREDO program – easily one of the most important and meaningful initiatives our denomination sponsors.
Though I certainly couldn’t have known it back in 2017 when I first signed up to participate in the program, this particular gathering also fell just two weeks after moving to Florida to begin a brand new call. It seemed to me the possibilities would be endless. Amid the reds and oranges of the changing leaves, I found a sacred place set apart – the perfect place to reflect upon who God was calling me to be both as a pastor, and as a person.
On the Sunday after Easter, the hymn we sang at the end of our worship service at Southminster was a favorite of mine: Christ is Alive! I find the lyrics to be meaningful, beautifully weaving the hopes of that first Easter morning with the hopes we still carry and the concerns for which we pray today.
When we sing together in worship – be it in-person or via livestream – many of us have grown accustomed to singing the lyrics directly from the screen. I have a musician’s heart and a sentimental fondness for holding a physical hymnal, yet I’ve found that I don’t mind the digitized form of lyrics for congregational song. If nothing else, it allows me to keep my head up and my senses engaged to relish in the gift of communal worship.
The Spirit moves in incredible and unexpected ways. This, I know to be true.
The Spirit moves indeed… and often in ways we might least expect. Honestly, I have a feeling it’s more frequently a question of whether our senses are awakened to the Spirit always moving in our midst.
In my life, it's hard for me to think of moments where I’ve more fully sensed the Spirit’s movement than those times when I’ve been led to move... physically! Perhaps you've found this to be true for you, too. You know... the kind of move with boxes stacked high, a GPS spitting out possible routes, and realtors sharing their expertise on matters of appraisals and down payments and closing costs (oh my!) The act of moving forward on a journey with so much promise, potential, and challenge yet to unfold.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
All works by Rev. TJ Remaley on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This blog is maintained personally by me and does not necessarily represent the views of any congregation I have served. Every effort is made to give proper attribution for quotations, images, and other media used on this page.