Posts Tagged Chautauqua

“Jesus Is Truth,” Thomas Tells Chautauqua Audience – Mary Lee Talbot

Chautauqua Daily – July 30, 2021

“My mentor, Michael Charles Leff, said people are looking for a universal definition of the
truth. People want truth to be true at all times, in all places. Truth should be solid, faithful in all cases,” said the Rev. Frank A. Thomas. “In-stead, what we live is preferred truth.”

Thomas preached at the 9 a.m. Thursday worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “What is Truth?” The Scripture reading was John 18:33-38a.
Truth, as described by Leff, lives at the macro level. Thomas told the congregation, “We have the audacity to live our preferred truth at our specific, personal level. What
is our personal truth? It is living in a way that is different from universal truth; it is the truth we speak.”
The founding documents of the United States say that “all men are created equal,” but the nation has lived a preferred truth — that not everyone is equal, Thomas said.

Thomas told the story of Jesus’ arrest and his trials before Annas, Caiaphas and Pilate. Pilate wanted the Jewish leaders to try Jesus by their own law, but they reminded him that they did not have the power to execute Jesus. When Pilate asked Jesus directly, “Are you the King of
the Jews?” Jesus asked him, “Is this your own idea or did others tell you this?” Jesus asserted that his kingdom wasnot of this world, and Pilate replied, “So you are a king.”
“You have said it,” answered Jesus. Jesus said the reason he came into the world was to
testify to the truth. Pilate then asked his famous question: “What is truth?” Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, and wanted to let him go — but the community leaders would
not allow him to do so. Thomas asked the congregation, “What holds everything
together? What can you bet your life on? What gives you hope for your whole life?” This is the question of a baby crying for its bottle, young people feeling the power of a first kiss, a single person looking for a life partner, people facing infertility, cancer and death, he said.
In these situations, Thomas said, people do not speak ex cathedra, from the chair of truth, but from their preferred truth.

“This is a dangerous thing to say in a post-truth era. What we live is our preferred truth; what we speak is aspirational,” Thomas said. He illustrated this idea with the book How to Slowly Kill
Yourself and Others in America, a collection of essays by Kiese Laymon. One night, Laymon was having dinner with a friend who told him that he was the kind of person he claimed to
despise. The friend spoke the truth to Laymon — that he mangled the possibility of radical friendship with others. Laymon defended himself to his friend. However, when Laymon got home, he realized for the first time that he had been slowly killing himself and others close to him — by killing the love he was offered, and killing his body with his lifestyle. “He was living his preferred truth when his family was
screaming that he was running into disaster,” Thomas said. “We are all more like the people we despise than we would like to admit.” He told the congregation, “We use the lens of preferred
truth, and if we accept it, then we block the truth. If we believe that white skin and culture is more valuable than Black skin and culture, we block the truth. We say that Black people liked slavery and block the truth. We say that we Christianized Black people and block the truth. We made up the boogeyman of critical race theory and blocked the truth. We blot out the truth.” Thomas said that someone he loved broke his heart, because she kept trying to tell him the truth but he
could not hear. “She had to scream in pain,” he said. “She was saying my behavior was killing her. While I was preaching the love and mercy of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone,
my lifestyle was killing her.” He continued, “There is universal truth, but we live our
preferred truth in our behavior. It is only when we face our fear that we come upon the true truth. I had been killing people that I loved with my lifestyle. If I can’t face that
truth, how will I face Pilate’s question?” Thomas searched in many places to find truth: as a
philosophy major, a scholar of Afrocentric life, in seminary, in the church, in counseling. “I could find degrees of truth, but not rest for my soul.” As a child, Thomas lived in a neighborhood that was
experiencing white flight. An elderly woman, Mrs. Earl, did not leave the neighborhood, but taught Sunday school to the Black children. “The church had a gym, and in order to play basketball,
you had to go to Sunday school,” Thomas said, “She gave me my first Bible, and she said, ‘Truth is a person and his name is Jesus.’ Truth is a person and his name is Jesus.
Jesus is truth, not preferred truth.” Thomas continued, “She gave me the ability to face the
truths I was running from. Like Pilate, I examined Jesus thoroughly, and I have lived with him for almost 50 years. I find no fault in Jesus. Amen.”

The Rev. Paul Womack presided. The Rev. Steven Sim mons, a retired teacher of preaching and homiletics at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Alla breve,” from Trio Sonatain C, by Johann Joachim Quantz, performed by the Motet
Consort: Barbara Hois, flute; Debbie Grohman, clarinet; and Willie La Favor, piano. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Come My Way,” with music by Harold Friedell and words by George Herbert. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacob sen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played an improvisation for the postlude. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services and chap

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“Miracle on 31st Street’ – Review –

By Mitch CarnellJune 9, 2020 –

If you want to experience joy and feel as though you have been wrapped in a warm blanket of love, then read Susan Sparks’ new book, “Miracle on 31st Street.”

It is a small book of 26 devotionals that will lift your spirits. Sparks spreads out the message of Jesus in a simple but profound manner.

The devotionals are grouped under four headings – Hope, Peace, Love and Joy – plus reflections for Christmas Day and The Day after Christmas.

Quick response, or QR, codes included inside allow readers to obtain a workbook and an Advent calendar.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Sparks knew she wanted to be a preacher by age 7. However, all of her role models in her Southern Baptists circles told her that women could not be pastors.

She then became a lawyer and a standup comedian. After 10 years of being a lawyer, she decided she could deny her calling no longer.

So, Sparks enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where her calling was honored, and later became lead pastor at historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

The title of the book comes from the location of the church, which is only three blocks from 34th Street, the location of the famous Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The book grew out of a series of sermons she preached at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State.

Sparks takes full advantage of her Southern roots in how she slides the gospel into her wonderful stories. She is a storyteller and a very good one, finding a way to assure us of God’s profound love for each of us in every entry.

In the devotional, “It Is Enough,” she recounts making a cheese grit soufflé and offers a good example of how she uses humor to teach us a biblical truth. “The recipe of life is enough. We are enough.”

In the same devotional she says, “If someone in your life doesn’t call you beloved, it’s their failing, not yours.”

Just to make certain we get the point, she adds, “We are beloved because of who we are. We are children of God.”

The most inspiring story comes in the devotional, “Changing the World with a Five-Dollar Bill.”

Each church member was given a five-dollar bill with the sole instruction to use it to lift someone’s day. The stories that came back from that experience teaches us a lesson on how to do much with little.

Sparks is at her best in the devotional, “Christmas Day.” She quotes a Russian store clerk just after he helps an elderly woman, “If we don’t help each other, who are we?”

You can easily read all the devotionals in one sitting, but I urge you to take your time and savor each one. You will also enjoy giving this book of love and hope to friends.

Mitch Carnell

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at

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Loren Mead, author, teacher, and priest, has died – Great Loss – Good Friend*

 by Episcopal Cafe

Born in Florence, South Carolina, on February 17, 1930, Loren B. Mead, graduated from the University of the South, and later earned an MA from the University of South Carolina.  After teaching in the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School for Adults for two years, Loren attended Virginia Theological Seminary and received his Masters in Divinity in 1955 and was ordained an Episcopal priest.

He was an educator, consultant, and author who worked to strengthen religious institutions, especially of local congregations. Mr. Mead collaborated with lay people, clergy, executives and bishops, teachers, and others committed to ministry.  A pioneer in congregational studies, he brought together the methods of organization development consultation and applied research for working with congregations.

Born and raised in the segregated South, Loren worked for racial justice and reconciliation throughout his career. Besides marching with a delegation of white pastors in support of Martin Luther King after the death of Medgar Evers, he played a leading role in the desegregation of Chapel Hill.

As an author, he published four best-selling books on the future of the church; The Once and Future Church (1991), Transforming Congregations for the Future (1994), Five Challenges for the Once and Future Church (1996), and Financial Meltdown in the Mainline? (1998).  In addition to a number of articles and chapters in edited works, he is also the author of New Hope for Congregations (1972), Critical Moment of Ministry: The Change of Pastors (1987), The Whole Truth(1987), and More than Numbers (1994).  His most recent book, The Parish is the Issue refocused on his work with congregations as the future direction.


In his work with churches, Mead developed a number of resources on the role and work of the interim pastor, the use of conflict management, clergy stress and burnout, concepts of change and development in congregations and their judicatory systems, training methods for executives and bishops.  He was concerned for the personal, professional, and spiritual development of lay and clergy leaders, and especially for the creative possibilities for churches and leaders at moments of transition in role.


Mead’s work with the Alban Institute was informed by his career in the parish ministry. After serving in several parishes in North and South Carolina, as well as the UK, until the then Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, John Hines, asked him to direct that denomination’s experimental “Project Test Pattern” for a three-year period.  In 1974, Mead founded the Alban Institute, Inc., developing its national, multi-denominational network of research, publishing, education, and consulting.


Mead later received honorary degrees from the University of the South, Virginia Theological Seminary, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale,  and The Episcopal Divinity School.  In 1999, he was named the fifth recipient of the Henry Knox Sherrill Medal by the Episcopal Church Foundation.

Mead’s work lives on in the church. Alban at Duke Divinity, the successor to the Alban Institute, continues his agenda of research and consulting. Institutions like the interim pastorate and the Consortium of Endowed Parishes continue to express the concern for the life of local religious communities that was the heart of his professional vocation.

*Loren offered me great help when my own Church life was shaken.  I first met him at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. He influenced me for the rest of my life.

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Morning Worship: Faith plus God equals a miracle, Canales says

071717_Rev Isaac Canales_mpo_06

Rev. Isaac Canales Delivers His Sermon On “Don’t Forget To Remember” During The Sunday Morning Worship On July 16, 2017 At The Amphitheater. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“In a crisis of fear, when we face a crossroad, we have to make up our minds to continue in faith, hope and trust in God, or are we going to pay more attention to the circumstances than God,” said the Rev. Isaac J. Canales at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His title was “Don’t Forget to Remember,” and the Scripture reading was Numbers 13:1-16 and 32-33.

“My title is something of a Yogi Berra-ism,” Canales said.

He and his wife bought breakfast sandwiches for their flight here since there would be no mealservice, and “Mexicans and pretzels don’t mix.” As they sat and opened up their sandwiches over Kansas, Canales asked his wife if she brought the insulin. She said she thought he had brought it; it was on her checklist but she forgot to look at the list.

He was accusing her of forgetting to remember. Luckily, it was all right when they arrived and they got the medicine they needed.

God had promised the people of Israel a land flowing with milk and honey — the milk and cheese of goats and the honey and sugar from dates. But fear came upon the people as they waited to go into the promised land.

“Their fear brought a loss of memory of what God had done for them,” he said.

In Numbers, Moses sends spies into the land of Canaan and they come back with a report cautioning against taking over the land. It was a land of giants, they said, that devoured its own people, and the Israelites looked like grasshoppers in comparison.

They forgot that God had brought them out of the land of Egypt, that God opened the Red Sea for them to cross, that God gave them manna and quail in the wilderness, “without a bakery or butcher shop in sight.” God gave them water from a rock, shade by day and fire by night.

“When we face crises, we are tempted to despair, to give up on hope and we turn to the solutions of our own mind and heart and we forget how strong God is,” he said. “We tend to look at the size of the giants rather than God.”

Fear results in a loss of courage and perspective. The spies started to think on their own, instead of thinking with God on their side.

“They made the obstacle bigger than God and gave up on themselves and God,” he said. “Your God is bigger than the problem, bigger than the giants, who just cast long shadows.”

Hope and faith are necessary today, too.

“We can’t give up on God and stop praying for our president,” Canales said. “He needs prayerand God is still in charge. God is never out of control; he is always in control of everything.”

The spies saw a mighty civilization when they were in the Canaanite city of Hebron. Canales said that fear makes us lose focus. Even the names of some of the spies had fear in them. Shammua, who came from the tribe of Reuben, has a name that is translated as “puts the lie to the words of the Holy One.” Nahbi, from the tribe of Naphtali, means “hid from the words of the Holy One.” They believed the lie that they were only grasshoppers to the giants.

“It was the lie of rationalism and lack of hope,” he said. “When we are too rational and exclude the mystical hand of almighty God, when we forget that he brought us through every crisis, we try to solve the problem without faith and trust in God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”

We lean on things that are handmade, we trust too much in technology, he said.

“Not by might nor power but by my spirit, says the Lord,” Canales said. “God told Moses at the burning bush to take off his handmade sandals as a sign of trust that he was on holy ground.”

There were two spies whose names point to trust in God, who remembered what God had done. Caleb means dog, a sign of faithfulness, and Joshua means “the Lord is our savior.” They had faith when the others did not.

Nine years ago, Canales was given a 1 percent chance to live by his doctors. They had to remove his colon and large intestine and revive his heart 21 times. They gathered his family and said there was not much hope, except for one radical procedure they could try.

“The emergency room was packed out with people praying for their pastor. My wife said I had a 99 percent chance with God and to do the operation, and here I am,” he said. “I asked the Lord why he has given me my life and he said ‘To encourage people.’ Nothing is impossible with God if we don’t forget to remember. And God can do it again and again and again.”

Caleb and Joshua represent the minority report of faith and hope.

“We are a minority around the world,” Canales said. “But a mustard seed in the hand of God is a miracle. Caleb and Joshua are symbols that in every ‘no’ (in the world) there is a ‘yes’ from God.”

To trust in God is our hope, he said.

“Jesus is the hope for my salvation,” Canales said. “What he has done for others, he can do for you.”

Fear begins with a loss of memory and fear without faith forgets the great covenant God made with Israel to be his people. Fear makes people lose heart so that we see the Canaanites as giants.

But God made grasshoppers and a grasshopper with God is a helicopter, he said.

“When we lose perspective, we are truly alone; we are defeated before the battle starts,” Canales said. “In the face of a crisis, don’t forget to remember what God has done in the past. Faith plus God equals a miracle.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr., director of the Department of Religion, presided. Judith Davidson Moyers, president and CEO of Public Affairs Television Inc. and life partner of Bill Moyers, read the Scripture. The women of the Chautauqua Choir sang “Samba de las Escrituras (A Scriptural Samba),” by Ken Berg. The responsorial Psalm 91, “Be with Me Lord,” was written by Marty Hagen; Peter Steinmetz served as cantor. The offertory anthem was the world premiere of “Chautauqua Anthem” by Paul Moravec. The Motet Choir commissioned the piece in honor of Jared Jacobsen’s more than 20 years of service to Chautauqua Institution. The organ postlude was “God Among Us (La Nativité, IX),” by Olivier Messiaen. Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Chautauqua Choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy Fund and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund provide support for this week’s services.

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