Jeff’s Jottings – June 2018

Pastor Jeff

I’ve started this column four times, and none of them have worked. I don’t know whether to blame how physically and emotionally tired I am, or how complicated the story I want to tell is. I know the bottom line of what I want to say: Thank you. Maybe I should go back to the beginning.

Lizann Bassham and I met during my first year of seminary. It was 35 years ago. Lizann was the “experienced one” – with one entire quarter of classes under her belt. She was exactly a year and a half older than me. I have no idea why we bonded, but we did. Sociologist and psychologists would have said we had little in common. I grew up in gentrified New England, in a community that valued education. Lizann grew up in the back country of Trinity County, California, in a community that valued hard, physical work. I understood myself to be a gay man and she understood herself to be a mostly-straight woman. I don’t remember if we had any classes together, and I took my second year of seminary off-campus doing an internship (which meant I graduated a year after she did). We both lived on campus, but in different dorms. She grew up experiencing several different Christian traditions and exploring her mystical side from the beginning of her teenaged years. I was part of the frozen chosen of New England Congregationalism. The only thing we had in common was a sense of call from God to help lead the church. Somehow we became intensely close friends and stayed that way for 35 years.

This means that Lizann has been my dearest friend throughout my adulthood. She helped see me into wholeness, receiving my deepest doubts and shames and holding them as sacred. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I taken a year off between college and seminary or had I picked a different school. I’m sure I would have received a fine education, but I doubt my friendship with Lizann would have developed – and I can’t imagine my life without it.

But now I have to.

Toward the end of August, 2017, Lizann was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma. She was enrolled in a phase 2 clinical trial for an experimental immunotherapy treatment at UCSF, excited about being part of discovering a new treatment that uses the defenses of one’s own body, the immune system, to detect and remove the body’s own cancerous cells. The treatment wasn’t just about her own cancer. It was about the neck and head cancers ancestors and relatives in her family had had. And it was about all the people to come who would face cancer in their own lives.

On Thursday, April 19, Lizann sent me a text asking me to come to Sebastopol. She was having a significant health crisis. I thought things were under control when I left on the following Saturday to return to Fremont to preach on Sunday, April 22. When I returned to Sebastopol that Sunday evening, things were not under control. Complications of the immunotherapy had become life threatening. Pain management was not working. I thought she was going to die that evening. We called the ambulance to get her to the hospital so at least her pain could be managed.

She was hospitalized for the following week, and I stayed in Sebastopol taking my turn as part of the family, providing her with the support she needed to recover. She needed a shorthand to explain why this man who wasn’t her husband was spending the night in her hospital room. She took to introducing me to the hospital staff as “my gay husband, Jeff, not to be confused with my legal husband, Jeff.” If this shorthand was met with a quizzical look, I’d say, “I’m her Will and she’s my Grace.” We are and always will be family.

I returned to Fremont at the end of that week to lead worship on April 29, and Lizann was discharged from the hospital. My planned vacation started after that worship service, and I returned to Sebastopol to be part of her at-home care team. She kept getting stronger, and I returned to Fremont for the last couple days of my vacation. The following week was good. I was confident that the crisis was over. I returned to Sebastopol the evening of May 17, just to check in and offer my love and support in a physically present way.

May 17 was also a day for doctors visits at UCSF. Lizann found out that because of the complications from the immunotherapy, she was out of the clinical trial. She also learned that she was too weak and the cancer was too advanced for any traditional treatment to be anything but palliative – and her pain was again being controlled by medication. Such treatment might buy her a little time, but would come with uncomfortable side effects. She was going to die from the cancer. She opted to stop all treatments except pain management. She also decided to stop nutrition and water. If she wasn’t going to be able to rid her body of the cancer, it was time for her to die. Through tears in her eyes on Friday morning when she made these decisions, Lizann pleaded with me to stay. Of course, I said, “Yes.” What else would I say to my dearest friend when she asked me to help her on her journey to death? I called Pastor Brenda and asked her to preach on May 20, telling her that I needed to stay in Sebastopol.

Being the amazing pastor that she is, Brenda said yes, and then on the following Monday, she said she would preach again on May 27. I contacted our Moderator, Jim Thomas, to explain what was going on. His simple response was, “We’ll take care of things at this end.”

Tonight, as I write this, Lizann is unconscious, her breathing is irregular, and we are waiting for that breathing to stop. I wasn’t at all surprised that she managed to move this process forward. Even someone as weak as she is can last for a couple weeks without hydration. But Lizann is ready to go. She has willed herself to go. She has been calling on her ancestors all week to come get her. I do not expect her to be inside her body by tomorrow morning.

This has been an amazing spiritual, emotional, and physical journey. I am so grateful to have been asked to participate. While I offer this thanks, it is not the thanks I want to offer in this column. The thanks I want to offer in this column are to you. You have blessed me with eleven work days in the past five weeks to be here with my beloved Lizann, to help see her through the worst of cancer, and the best of dying.

And to Pastor Brenda and to Moderator Jim, thank you for “taking care of things at that end” so I could be here.

Peace,
Pastor Jeff

Editorial Note: Lizann Bassham died on Sunday, May 27.

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May Special Offering

The May Special Offering is called Blankets+. This offering goes to Church World Service, our ecumenical partner in coordinating and providing emergency relief globally. Through the Blankets+ offering you literally provide blankets to people who have been displaced from their homes because of natural disaster and violence. Some of the offering is use for other emergency and development programs of Church World Service.

This offering will be officially received on Sunday, May 13. As with all our special offerings, you are welcome to give at any time (always make checks payable to Niles Discovery Church). You can also give online: go to our church webpage and click the “donate” button at the top of the page.

Niles Discovery Church receives a special offering each month. With that many possibilities for special giving, you may need to choose which ones are most important to you. You can see the schedule of special offerings at http://j.mp/speoff2018 or call the church office we will mail you one.

Our church has a reputation of generosity. Because Cecilia Le has been away since the beginning of April, we don’t know how much was raised in the April Special Offering for Pacific School of Religion and Chapman University. We are confident is was significant. Thank you for your generosity!

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Documentary and discussion looks at election manipulation

Are we losing our democracy? Are elections being manipulated? And what can be done to protect our votes?

These are the questions examined in the documentary Stealing America: Vote by Vote, which will be shown at Niles Discovery Church, 36600 Niles Blvd., Fremont, on Saturday, May 12, at 1:30 p.m. This screening, part of the Second Saturday Documentary Series, is free and open to the public.

Stealing America examines the state of election manipulation as of 2008 in the United States. The film focuses on voter disenfranchisement, the use of electronic voting machines, and voting anomalies such as uncounted ballots, inaccurate final vote tallies, and vote switching.

The screening will be followed by a discussion, led by author and expert, Dr. Jonathan Simon. He will bring updated information about what has been done, what new vulnerabilities have been discovered, and what we can do as citizens to protect the most basic part of our democracy: elections.

The Second Saturday Documentary Series is co-sponsored by Niles Discovery Church and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Learn more about the series at http://bit.ly/nilesssds.

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Annual Worship Leader Trainings scheduled

Pastor Jeff and Pastor Brenda are offering training session for people who are interested in becoming or continuing to serve as liturgists, leaders of the Time with the Children, and Communion Elders.

People who are interested in becoming or continuing to serve as liturgists need to attend the training that will be held on Sunday, May 13, at the conclusion of the worship service, in the sanctuary. Yes, that’s Mother’s Day, but it’s the day the schedule that works. Pastor Jeff promises that the training won’t take too long.

Training for new and continuing Time with the Children leaders will be held on Sunday, May 20, immediately following worship, in the sanctuary. Again, this will be a brief training.

People who feel called to be Communion Elder should contact Pastor Jeff by May 15. Trainings are tentatively planned for June 3 and 10, 2:00-5:00 – but they will only be held if interest is voiced. Current Communion Elders say that serving in this capacity has increased the spiritual meaning of communion for them, that it has deepened their faith, and has helped communion to become “a perfection-free zone.” One Elder said that communion has become a model for mission work – a model based on solidarity with rather than service to.

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Church, Weible initiate 4-way covenant

The Cabinet and the Rev. Timothy Weible initiated the process necessary for recognition of Tim’s current ministry by the United Church of Christ [the UCC]. Tim has long been a pastor in the UCC, serving as a missionary in Japan and as a local church pastor in Hawaii. He currently works as a chaplain in a hospice agency. Many at Niles Discovery Church know him as a bass in the church’s choir.

The Rev. Tim Weible

In both the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) [the DOC], all clergy recognition begins in the local church. When a pastor serves in a specialized ministry (doing something other than local church ministry), each denomination has a way of recognizing that ministry. In the UCC, that process involves having a “4-way covenant.” The four parties of the covenant are the pastor, the congregation where that pastor is a member, the agency the pastor works with, and the Association where the local church is. (An Association is made up of the congregations and pastors within a geographic area.)

At the April Cabinet meeting, the Rev. Weible and the congregation’s moderator Jim Thomas signed a 4-way covenant. Next, Tim will have a representative of the hospice agency sign the covenant. Then it will go to the Bay Association (the Association that Niles Discovery Church is part of). Once the covenant is approved by the Bay Association, Tim will be installed as a Minister in Covenant at a special worship service.

We look forward to celebrating that special day with Tim, our congregation, Bridge Hospice, and the Bay Association.

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April edition of “The Bell” available here

We are having some issues getting the April edition of The Bell loaded onto our main website, so we’re posting it here.

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Jeff’s Jottings – April 2018

We’ve spent the bulk of the past three months (nine out of thirteen weeks) in our worship services looking at some major social issues and how the gospel applies to them, how following Jesus calls us to address them. And in a few weeks (starting on Mothers Day and continuing for 40 days), the Poor People’s Campaign* will be calling us as Christians into the streets for action on justice issues.

I don’t know about you, but I need to pause for some reflection and renewal. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do for six weeks, through the Easter season. Starting on April 8, we will use a cup as the central image in a six-week sermon series inviting us to reflect on our spiritual lives.

We drink from cups, so they can remind us of our thirst for God and how that thirst is quenched. We also hold cups, we fill cups, we empty cups, we wash cups – and these activities can be metaphors for our spiritual lives. With a cup’s emptiness, fullness, brokenness, flaws, and blessings, perhaps we can see our own lives.

Joyce Rupp, whose The Cup of Our Life inspires this sermon series, writes about how rich these metaphors can be: “A cup is a container for holding something. Whatever it holds has to eventually be emptied out so that something more can be put into it. I have learned that I cannot always expect my life to be full. There has to be some emptying, some pouring out, if I am to make room for the new. The spiritual journey is like that – a constant process of emptying and filling, of giving and receiving, of accepting and letting go.

“The cup has taught me many valuable lessons for my spiritual growth. I have learned that my life holds stale things that need to be discarded and that sometimes my life feels as wounded as a broken cup. I have learned that I have flaws, chips, and stains, just as any well-used cup may have, but that these markings of a well-traveled life need not prevent me from being a valuable gift for others. I have learned that the contents of my life are meant to be constantly given and shared in a generous gesture of compassion, just as the main purpose of a cup is to give its contents given away. I have especially learned gratitude for all those moments when the unexpected has transformed my life into an abundant cup of blessings.”

I invite you to select one particular cup to use during these six weeks. It could be a coffee mug, a sippy cup, a wine glass – any cup, really, though you might want to think about using a cup that’s part of your daily life. And you might want it to be a cup you can bring to church each week to hold during the sermons.

And I should probably tell you something about the sermons. I big hunk of them will be spent in reflection and discussion. The seats in our sanctuary will be arranged in little groups of three to facilitate directed quiet discussion among triads, reflecting on that week’s theme (introduced by Pastor Brenda or me) as it applies to our own lives. The logistics of this may be a bit challenging, but I hope you’ll enter into this with an open mind and a charitable heart.

Finally, one closing thought. There seems to be something quite right about the timing of this series. Our Adult Sunday School class just started a discussion series of the book, A New Way to Be Human. From what I’ve read about the book, it too is an invitation to reflect on our spiritual lives. You’re welcome to join the class; they meet in the Fellowship Hall from 9:00 to 9:50 a.m. each Sunday.

Easter is about God calling forth life. May this sermon series and whatever other spiritual practices you engage in during Easter draw you deeper into newness of life.

Peace,
Pastor Jeff

*You can learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign at https://poorpeoplescampaign.org.

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