SHPC Blog

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A Pentecost Invitation

By: Rev. Britta Dukes
 

In beginning

Divine breath hovered over the deep

Generating shape and splendor from formless void

Calling forth creation

Authoring new life

Deeming it good

 

 

In Christ

Divine breath walked with humanity

Offering unconditional love and unforeseen grace

Calling forth followers

Ambassadors sharing the story of new life

Resurrection gift

 

 

In this moment

Divine Breath inspires us

Emboldening action and persevering hearts

Calling forth partners

Sent forth to establish new life

Kingdom flames

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Annie and Macbeth

By: Lindsay Lawley Rerecich

Leon mentioned Hamlet in his sermon last Sunday, but when I think of Shakespeare, my mind usually goes to Macbeth. Neither of these tragedies is my favorite among Shakespeare’s works, but I think I had to memorize a speech from Macbeth when I was in high school, and most of it is still firmly lodged in my brain:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
(Macbeth 5.5)

That’s a real pick-me-up, isn’t it? Granted, it’s beautifully wrought poetry, and granted, Macbeth, having recently committed regicide and usurped the throne, has ample reason to feel low, but still. Ouch.

Before I had to memorize these lines, I had a different association for “tomorrow” from the musical Annie. We had a version on VHS that I watched many times (it had Tim Curry as a bad guy), and at one point, the title character ends up in FDR’s office (I can’t remember why) and breaks into song with:
The sun’ll come out
Tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on
‘Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow, tomorrow!
I love ya tomorrow!
You’re always
A day away!

For many years now, I’ve thought it would be hilarious if there were a town somewhere running both of these plays at once, and one random night, Annie and Macbeth switched places for these scenes, so that some serious, Shakespearean leading man stepped out into the battlements of Dunsinane and sang “Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow!” while a bright-eyed, curly-haired little girl walked seriously up to FDR and said “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day… out, out brief candle!” The dissonance makes me laugh.

And to be honest, I need to laugh right now. Even in normal times, I’m not an optimist like Annie, and these are not normal times. This is not going to be an essay that tells you, “When you are isolating at home, trying to juggle work and childcare and family dynamics, and missing your usual support network and coping mechanisms and looking to the future with anxiety and confusion: be Annie, not Macbeth!” I’m feeling a lot more Macbeth. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” has never felt quite so relatable as it does now that every day feels so much the same. I’m losing track of my usual markers of time, and the horizon at which things will feel safe or normal again is constantly receding.

In circumstances like this, the best wisdom I know is not to dwell too much upon tomorrow at all. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). I don’t think that is an exhortation not to plan or not to prepare—Jesus is big on preparation elsewhere, certainly. Rather, it is an exhortation not to fixate—not to ruminate—not to panic. Get through each day one at a time.

Neither Annie nor Macbeth get this. Macbeth is so depressed about what tomorrow may bring that he wants to snuff out the candle of today as well. Annie, on the other hand, is so confident that everything will be better tomorrow that she doesn’t address that today might very well matter in that outcome. Translating that to my life right now, on one hand, when the family tempers start rising in isolation frustration, I don’t need to exacerbate my frustration by thinking “and it’ll be the same tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that!” The future should not be a burden that makes today worse. On the other, when I sit down to plan out homebound activities, I shouldn’t just chuck my notebook out the window and say, “It’ll all be better tomorrow!” The future should not be an excuse to avoid doing what is necessary now.

Instead, I need to deal with today: today’s tempers, today’s actions, today’s anxieties, today’s joys. Today and today and today. No more, no less.

 
P.S. For additional ridiculous humor, you can read the title of the essay, “Annie and Macbeth,” to the tune of “Bennie and the Jets.”

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The Toll

An adaptation of John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation 17
By: Lindsay Lawley Rerecich
 
Perhaps the latest person added to the coronavirus infection toll is so sick that she neither knows nor cares where the toll stands. Perhaps I myself am an unacknowledged part of that same toll in greater ignorance: carrying danger around in my respiratory system while I feel no symptoms at all. Now more than ever, I am aware of our connectedness. What I do could infect or protect my neighbor; what my neighbor does could infect or protect me. We are one body.
 
I am used to hearing that sort of language from church. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes that no body part can say “I am not part of the body” because they are all connected. But as the novel coronavirus first emerged, that is precisely what many of us did. News outlets, leaders, and individuals insisted that this disease was a problem for someone else, somewhere else. And yet, it spread—interpersonally, internationally, inexorably—and now the whole Human Body is sick, watching the toll climb.
 
English speakers did not start talking about a toll as an assessment of damage until fairly recently, in the late nineteenth century. Long before then, though, the tolling of church bells brought people news of births, marriages, alarms, and deaths… the latter, I imagine, ringing in a slow, solemn dirge. There is not an etymological connection between these two tolls—the funeral bells and the death counts—but there is an emotional one. Our smartphones and screens are the church bells now, relentlessly ringing fresh news of another case reported, another restriction passed, another shortage feared, another life lost. Who can shut their ears to so many bells?
 
Meanwhile, isolation and social distancing try to make us islands to and from which the virus cannot spread. This makes sense biologically, and by observing these practices, we may force the tolling bells to slow their clamor and the tolls of infection and death to slow their rise. But such isolation, important as it is physically, must not extend psychologically and spiritually.
 
No one is really an island, completely whole alone. Every one of us is part of the human mainland. When a wave washes away even a single grain of sand from our collective shore, we are all the lesser for it. Every increase in the death toll, every ring of the bell, reminds me that life is fragile—mine included. I do not need to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for me.
 
This might seem to increase my anxiety, but perhaps not. By recognizing that I share vulnerability as part of humankind, I affirm something beyond myself. Each individual affliction leads to a communal awareness that is often lacking outside of crisis. Every year, millions of people die of preventable causes like hunger and violence, and many people in privileged parts of the world never know. But the novel coronavirus, infecting us all indiscriminately, makes us all acknowledge our shared mortality. That acknowledgement can lead to fear: to panicking, hoarding, and treating others as threats to be contained, or it can lead to hope: calming, supporting, and treating others as fellows in this together.
 
I choose hope. Because ultimately, the coronavirus toll reminds me that life is precious, and it is bigger than me.

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‘Twas the Night After Christmas

‘Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the house;

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Except for me; I’ve slept nary a wink.

All I can do is lay here and think.

 

I lie in my bed, thinking back on the day,

And find myself wondering, “What would God say?”

What would He say about the money we spent,

On toys and baubles, some of which are now bent.

 

About the time we spent finding just the right present,

Fearful that otherwise things wouldn’t be pleasant.

About this year, which has been quite rough;

I’ve kept it from my family; they don’t know how tough.

 

I let them go on like nothing was wrong,

Even though much of our savings was gone.

We ended up taking on a bunch of new debt;

Just saying “Charge it!” was not our best bet!

 

Why must it be that we spend and we spend?

Does Jesus require that gifts we send?

Does God look down on us from above,

And ask for anything more than our love?

 

And yet here I am, with more bills to pay,

Not really knowing how I’ll find the way.

My credit card company’s just sent me a letter,

My interest rate’s up; how is that better?

 

I wish I was back at the beginning of December;

I’d know what I’d do, I’m sure I’d remember.

I’d start with a prayer to my Lord up above,

Thanking Him for His most wondrous love.

 

I’d ask Him for guidance and help carrying the load;

And to give me the courage to head down the road.

To share with my family chapter and verse,

So we’d all pull together instead of making things worse.

 

We’d not let our spending go all out of reason,

During this, a most wonderful season.

We’d check our wallets, purses and pay,

And stick to our budget, come what may.

 

We’d make sure there was some extra for our credit card debt,

And something extra for God; then we’d be set,

To really celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Whose gift to us was the ultimate price. 

 

And then when the night after Christmas came round,

I could sleep like a baby, not making a sound.

Because I would know that we’d done our very best;

And with God’s help and care, I could finally rest.


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The Merriest Bird

By: Lily Rerecich
 
When I wrote this poem, I thought of the creature that looks like it’s having the most merry Christmas, and the chickadee comes to mind. The chickadee is a small bird that stays the winter out in the cold, temperate forests. No matter the season, it’s always merry and joyful. The best Christmases are the ones when you choose to find happiness instead of waiting for it to find you.
 
The Merriest Bird
 
Most other birds have flown away,
They’re searching for a place to stay,
Where the weather is far more warm
Devoid of frigid ice and storm.
 
Yet hidden in tall evergreens,
A bird remains, as silence rings.
With lovely feathers, gold and white,
Its flight nimble and eyes so bright
 
So joyful is the Chickadee
Merry as anyone can be
Strong to survive the winter cold
With cheerful chirp and spirit bold.

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Ahhh… That New Car Smell!

AKA: Allen Gunter
 

Got the new car urge? It’s hard not to – ads are everywhere touting the 2020 models and all of their wonderful new features. And then there are the apparently great clearance deals you can get on a 2019. So if you’ve got the new car bug, here are some car-buying tips. (My next blog post will talk about leasing and how you can get to the point of being able to pay cash for a car – the cheapest way to buy!)

 

Look at it this way — who knows more about structuring car deals…the dealer who makes them daily or the car buyer who only makes one every few years? While it certainly is attractive to do everything in one place – buy your new car, sell your old one, get your financing – there are just too many moving parts. Some you won’t see until the very end when you’re tired and just want to get in your new car and go home, and some you’ll never see! 

 

To get the best deal, you have to think about more than just the monthly payment. Instead, you need to balance four financing factors: 

  • How much in total you want to pay for that car or truck (yes, that includes how much you’ll pay in interest)
  • How much of that you can pay today
  • How long you want to take to pay the rest, and
  • How much per month you want to pay.

 

Unfortunately, these four factors don’t always play nicely with each other. So…


Step 1:  Get Credit Where Credit is Due

Start by checking out your credit reports (free once a year) and scores (small fee; varies by credit bureau) at your preferred credit report site. You might be surprised by what you find! Most credit reports have errors, many of which are serious enough to affect the interest rate you’ll get. Clean those up and it could lower your rate. If the reports are accurate and your credit score is still low, there are ways to increase your score in a fairly short period of time.

 

Step 2:  Finance First, Buy Later

 

Even those dealer financing specials with really low interest rates or no interest until 2087 aren’t giving anything away – they’re making it back by not discounting the price of the car as much, by sticking in add-ons, etc. And the worst part is that when you go sit down with the dealership’s finance manager, the interest they have for you may be higher than the rate they will be paying their lending source. That’s right, dealerships can also make money by charging you a little bit higher interest rate and keeping the difference.

 

So before you ever step onto that car lot, check out the financing at a couple of credit unions and banks. You don’t have to be a current customer to get a rate quote, and you don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to buy. You’ll find the info you get about the effect of different down payments, length of loan, etc. is invaluable! 

 

The shorter the loan, the better:  42 months is great, but no more than 48 months. Yes, I know, there are a lot of car loans being written for 60 months and longer – I’ve seen as long as eight years! Anything longer than four years, though, and you’re just setting yourself up to be sucked into a never-ending money trap. 

 

The problem with longer loans is that you will owe more than the car is worth for most of the term of the loan.  Known as being “upside down,” it puts you in a real bind if you should need to replace your vehicle before the loan is paid off. Like when your insurance company declares it totaled after what seemed like a relatively minor accident.

 

Step 3:  Don’t Mix Old and New

 

Whatever you do with your old truck, don’t get it mixed up in the purchase of the new one. You’ll get the most money for your old car by selling it privately. Yes, that can be a hassle, so at least shop it around to several used car dealers. CarMax, for example, will make you an offer that’s good for seven days. Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Nada Blue Book and CarFax are great sources for getting an idea of what your current vehicle is worth.

 

Step 4:  It’s The Total That Counts

 

With your old car out of the picture and your financing issues worked out, you’re ready to hit the dealerships. You’ve taken everything off the table except for one – the total cost. And that makes negotiations a lot simpler because…

 

You only have one number to think about, the total, bottom line “drive-out” cost. That cost should include tax, title, license, and any other little goodies the dealer wants to slip in like dealer prep, advertising costs, roadside assistance.  All you care about is the bottom line cost to take that truck or car home with you.

 

How that total gets allocated to various items in the dealer’s paperwork doesn’t really matter. And if you think you’ve agreed on that number but the paperwork comes back with something different, get up and walk out. (“That extra $75? Oh, sorry, I just found out from my sales manager that the shop had already applied leather conditioner to the seats.”) If you say, “Sorry, that’s not what I agreed to” and get up to leave, you’ll be surprised at how quickly that extra $75 disappears. 

 

Just remember: You have the power! That dealership doesn’t make a thing unless YOU say so! 

 

Step 5:  Enjoy Your New Vehicle!

 

And the peace of mind you’ll have knowing that you got a great deal because you made it happen!


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The Good Neighbor

By: Ellen Perkey
 

When we moved into our first house we slowly began meeting our neighbors. We had quite the mixture of people in our south Austin neighborhood. Across the street was a man I particularly remember because he’s the sort of person whom its difficult to forget. He loved to talk to everyone and kept an eye on things in his part of the neighborhood.  He invited Jason (my husband) over for beer a couple times and told us all about the neighbors who used to own our house when we brought over Christmas cookies. When Jason’s younger brother was in town visiting he went outside to make a late night phone call and sat down in the bed of our truck parked out front. Our neighbor marched over and began hassling him about what he was doing in our front yard late at night since he wasn’t used to seeing Jason’s brother around. I remember most of all his kindness and friendliness, the polite way he complimented me when he noticed I lost weight and the advice he gave us about our giant Texas Ash tree in the front yard. In many ways he was the picture of a good neighbor.

Our neighbor was an older Hispanic man who was a retired elevator installer. He was tattooed and a drinker and an ex-gang member. In many ways he personified the kind of person who is vilified in our current media. I’m sure he committed or assisted in crime as part of his life in a gang. I know he wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a good neighbor. Much like the Samaritan of the parable he was the opposite of where we expect to see goodness. God works and speaks in those places we least expect to see, and goodness is in people who have lived lives we’d like to classify as bad. Our neighbor passed away a couple years before we moved out of our home; and I will remember him as a good, imperfect person.


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The Spirit of the Law Trumps the Letter of the Law

By: LaDair Wright
SHPC Member
 

Jesus told the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17,20)
 
What exactly did He mean by this? The Pharisees were certainly teaching the Laws of Moses, so how was their righteousness lacking?
 

I think Jesus meant several things by this scripture. Obviously, He had come to fulfill the ancient prophesies regarding the coming of the Son of God. On a deeper level, He had come to explain the rationale behind the Laws of Moses and help us understand their deeper meanings. He pointed out that, while the Pharisees were teaching the letter of the Law, they were not always grasping the more important Spirit of the Law.

Scripture is full of examples in which Jesus essentially said, “The Laws are valid, but you are not looking beyond the words to determine their essence – the real reasons each of them was prescribed. You are not examining the context of the Laws, nor the logic for keeping them sacred.”

A prime example of this is the story of Jesus healing the man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been invalid for 38 years. The Pharisees chastised both the man and Jesus for working on the Sabbath – first the man for carrying his mat, and then Jesus for healing him. The Law said that the Sabbath must be kept holy, a commandment based on the creation story in which God rested on the Sabbath after six days of hard work. The letter of the law (resting on the Sabbath) was logical – one should follow God’s example and use the Sabbath as a day to praise God and to rest one’s body and soul for the work to be done the following week.

But the fallacy in the Law rested upon one’s definition of “work”. Work for personal gain was contrary to the Law, but work for God’s glory was in complete accord with the Law. Working for the glory of God entails praising and worshiping God and doing Godly deeds.
 
In response to the Pharisees scolding, Jesus told them: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17) 
 
We must not only consider the letter of God’s Laws, but their deeper meanings – the Spirit of the Laws – when deciding how to live our lives. Have you considered that the phrase “Spirit of the law” may refer to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is our counselor, our advocate – the presence of God that Jesus left behind to guide us when He ascended into Heaven. We must listen to the Holy Spirit and be guided on how to obey God’s Laws, and not blindly follow the directives of others who interpret the Laws for us.
 
Our righteousness must “surpass the Pharisees and teachers of the law” if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. May it be so for you, and may you dare to examine the Spirit of the Law, and not just the letter of the Law.

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Got Bench, Mark?

By: Allen Gunter
 

Isn’t that supposed to be “Got milk?”, Budget Guy? And by the way, my name isn’t Mark…

 

How about if it said, “Got benchmark?” That’s what I really want to talk about, but don’t you think “Got bench, Mark?” is kind of catchy?

 

Okay, maybe not. But if everyone followed some key financial benchmarks, we’d be in a lot better shape than we are now. The economy may have recovered from 2008, but “we the people” haven’t – the personal finance situation in this country is worse now than it was then! 

Consumer debt continues to hit record highs and is now over $14 trillion!                                                             

 

That ain’t good, folks! What’s it going to be like when the next “2008” comes along?

Because it most definitely will!  

 

What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Check your finances against the following benchmarks. And if you’re missing on any of them, start working to change that – NOW!

 

Start with how much you pay each month on all your debts – mortgage or rent, car loans, credit cards, student loans, store loans, medical bills, etc.

 The total of all your monthly payments shouldn’t be more than 35% of your gross monthly income.

 

So how’d you come out? Under 35%? The lower the better! Over 35%? Time to take a step back and take a good, hard look at how you’re managing your money.

 

Such as how much you’re spending on housing. If you’re renting, that includes your utilities as well as your rent. If you own a home, it includes principal, interest, property taxes, insurance and maintenance.

 Don’t spend more than 28% of your gross monthly income on housing.

 

Homeowners – don’t gloss over maintenance costs! They’re tricky because they’re not regular so it’s easy to forget about them in months when you don’t have any. We think about the cost of fixing the air conditioner or replacing the water heater, but even buying some plants for the yard, fertilizer for the lawn – these are all part of your maintenance costs, too. 

 

Maintenance costs can vary quite a bit from month to month, but guess what? There’s a benchmark for that, too!

 Take 1% of the value of your home and divide that by 12.

 

Some months you’ll spend less, some months more. But set that aside each month and when those big ticket repairs some along, you should be in good shape to deal with them.

 

While we’re talking about houses, here’s one to keep in mind when it comes time to buy your next, or maybe your first, house:

 Don’t take out a mortgage for more than 2½ times your gross annual income.

 

And for your next car or truck?

 Don’t take out a loan for longer than 42 months.

 

Yeah, I know. You can get car notes now for as long as 84 months! The lower monthly payment looks good, and you just got a more expensive car than you thought you could. But watch out – all you’ve really done is set a financial trap for yourself, just waiting to catch you when you need to replace that car.

 

Something important to keep in mind about these benchmarks — they’re limits, not targets or goals. They don’t mean that carrying a debt load of 35%, for example, is smart. 

 

Think of them like the fence around a playground. It keeps you from running out into the street, but the fun stuff is in the middle, well inside the fence. 

 

How about some rules for building financial security? That starts with saving:

 Keep three to six months worth of living expenses in savings for emergencies.

 

This gives you a way to cover larger, infrequent expenses without increasing your debt. That air conditioner, for example, or car repairs. The key is to build the reserve back up as fast as you can each time you tap into it. 

 

And with respect to saving:

 Save 10% of every paycheck.

 

Not enough! This was a good benchmark once upon a time, but 10% just isn’t enough anymore. So that rule needs to be updated to 15% if you start early, and 20% or more depending on how old you are when you start saving.    

 

Two final benchmarks – a couple of my favorites! First,

 If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

 

Anymore there are so many who are looking for ways to separate us from our money. But there’s no magic investment, no secret programs our credit card companies don’t want us to know about, no miracle cure of any type for whatever financial issues we might have. 

 

You either take charge of your money, or the banks, credit card companies, bill collectors…they’ll end up taking charge of you.

 

And now for the most important one of all:

 

  Give 10% to God. 

 

What makes this one tough is that giving to God can seem so, well, discretionary. It just doesn’t have the immediacy that other things do. But God gives us life, both now and eternally. And all God asks is 10% – a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me!


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New Life

By: Ellen Perkey

When we moved into our new home a few years ago we took a couple house plants including a kalanchoe that I’ve had since before our children were born. This little kalanchoe plant became a parable for me.  It was neglected for over a year (literally) after we moved to our new house.  We did a major remodel and some of our things stayed in an untouched room in the house, including this plant.  It sat in an upstairs window and I didn’t water it for at least 9 months.  When we finally moved into our house completely after the remodel I found it behind all the things we had stored.  It appeared dead, but I watered it and put it in my kitchen anyway. A few days later I looked at it I was amazed to see it was growing new leaves! 

 

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone, a new life has begun!”

 

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

The renewal and re-creation that continuously happens in nature reflects the truth of God.  No matter how dead we are spiritually, no matter how hopeless and violent the world seems it’s possible to come back to life.  The love of God overcomes, and there’s no sin or sorrow that can be healed.  Anyone can become a new person.
 
 

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