The man with ears on his heart

listeningThere was a man who spent his days at the homeless shelter in the heart of a city serving meals to those who came to seek shelter.  He not only served the food, but also liked to move through the cafeteria and strike up conversations with the guests while they ate.

One day, the man sat down beside a woman he had never seen before and began to speak with her. The woman immediately felt very comfortable with the man and opened up to him about her life and the terrible state in which she currently found herself. The man listened very intently to what she was saying and offered no judgement, only a sympathetic ear.

After the mealtime was over, the woman made her way to the door and thanked the man for listening.  The man smiled and invited her to come back whenever she was in need.  So, for the next three days, the woman came back to the shelter, enjoyed a hot meal and a nice conversation with the man.

On the evening of that fourth day, the man discovered that his wallet was missing.  He tried to retrace his steps from the day, but could not recall where he had last seen it.  He reported the loss to the supervisor of the shelter, and all but gave up on the idea that he would ever see it recovered.

The next morning, the supervisor called the man into his office.  When the man entered, he saw, sitting in one of the two chairs beside the supervisor’s desk, the woman whom he had befriended at the beginning of the week.

“Well, hello,” said the man.  “What brings you in here and at this time of day.”

The supervisor sat behind his desk and let the woman speak up for herself.

“I’m here because I felt terrible, ” she confessed.

“Whatever for?” asked the man, sitting down next to her in the other chair.

“I stole your wallet yesterday afternoon while we were sitting together at lunch.  You laid it down on the table, and while we were talking, I took it and put it in my coat.  You never even noticed.”

“Ok,” said the man, surprised at the honest confession.  “So, what brought you back?”

“After I had gotten away clean, I started to think about how easy it had been to lift the wallet from you.  I realized that the reason it was so simple was that you didn’t notice because you were listening to me so intently.  I had never had anyone so interested in what I had to say before.  I knew then that I could never live with myself if I kept it, so I brought it back to your supervisor.  I’m very sorry.”

The supervisor looked at the woman and then said to the man, “I’m not surprised at all, you know.  I knew this would happen to you.  You never pay close enough attention to what the guests are doing.  You’re too wrapped up in what they’re saying to guard against theft.  What am I going to do with you?”

“You’re right,” said the man.  “I’m surprised it’s taken this long.”  Then, looking forgivingly at the woman, he said, “Thank you for returning my wallet to me, and I accept your apology.  I hope you will stay and enjoy another meal with us today.”

“I’d love to stay, but please don’t fire this man,” pleaded the woman to the supervisor.  “Who would  ever listen to me like he does?”

“Fire him?” asked the supervisor, surprised by the very notion.  “I wish I had 50 more employees like him!  People try to steal things from our staff all the time, but never once has anyone gotten away with it and come back to return what they’ve taken.  Besides, if I fire him, who would ever listen to me like he does?”

It’s a gift that keeps on giving all life long

hollow-breadSacrament. I love the word–it’s fun to say…

More than that, however, I love what it means.

A Sacrament is essentially anything finite through which The Sacred (or God or The Spirit) becomes present to us. So, while the sacraments with which we may be most familiar- Holy Communion, Baptism, etc.- certainly function in this way, there is also room for, and a need to acknowledge, the validity of experiences of God in our everyday lives by anyone and everyone who is open to such experiences.

A long run (if you’re a runner like me), or an especially wonderful yoga class, or watching your children play on their own, or a brilliant time with friends (please insert your own finite thing or activity here_____) can all be sacramental in their function if we are open to that possibility.

Recently, just after a long run, as it would happen, I happened upon a brilliant performance of an Antonio Scarlatti piano sonata played by Vladimir Horowitz on my iPhone. I had it set for a post-run shuffle, and as I walked to cool down, the piece began to play.

I let the solo piano flow through my ear-buds as I walked along the sidewalk on my way back to my front door. I was completely transported. For five minutes, I was dreaming, imagining, immersed in listening, and baptized in the connectedness of an audience (me), a performer (Horowitz), and a composer (Scarlatti). We were connected in a profound way by something much greater than any single one of us in this transaction.

The art of music was a sacrament for me in that moment. Scarlatti’s piano sonata re-awakened me to the very presence of God. I knew God was present with me at that moment and was honored to be reminded of that fact.

And that’s one of the things that sacrament can do–remind us of the very presence of God.

I was reminded of how valuable and important I am to the Spirit and felt an unexplainable notion that I was being given a very special gift in that moment. The feeling that filled me next was one of complete gratitude. I was so grateful to have been able to experience such beauty and connectedness.

I never, for one moment, felt like God was giving me something so that he could charge me with doing something else. I never felt as though God was saying, “You want more of this? Then do more of that!” I just felt that I was being given a gift, a sacramental moment, a “thin place” as the Celtic Christians used to say.

I think the only thing required of me was that I was open to receiving this gift. Period. What I did with it afterward was my business.

I want to be in the business of being a part of as many of these moments as I can for the rest of my life and rejoicing with others when they can do the same.

I wish you peace and joy!

-Scott Langdon

Receive Mercy, Give Mercy

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Last Sunday, in the close of the Fresh Start sermon series, Rev. Jana preached on Lamentations 3: 22-24 These songs and stories of grief and lament were written by the Hebrews when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Many lines are those of torment, but others reveal faith in God’s mercies, mercies that are as new as the morning dew.

21 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

We also chanted Psalm 96 in a responsive reading, with the wonderful passage

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it.

Psalm 96, Rev. Jana said, is our response to God’s faithfulness. We don’t know God is with us until we have come through on the other side. Recognizing how God has carried us is part of beginning again. We receive the gift — fresh as the dew of morning, sure that God’s steadfast love never ceases.

“Receive mercy. Give mercy. A fresh start requires both.”

Washington Well Vineyard Raises Funds for UFAR

Andrew and Jie Hayes raised $404 for UFAR at Washington Well Vineyard's fall harvest picnic

The Andrew Hayes family hosted their second annual fall harvest picnic at Washington Well Vineyard on September 7. More than 200 people — one third of them were children — enjoyed the music, food, and good times. A favorite was the grape stomping! At one point the hosts, Andrew and his multi-talented wife, Jie Hayes of Songbird Capital, took the stage (below). More than $400 was raised for UFAR to combat riverblindness, and the children — enamored with a shelter puppy who graced the occasion– collected contributions for SAVE. (The puppy has been added to the vineyard’s livestock!) It was a warm and wonderful afternoon.

More than 200 people (one third of them children) enjoyed the music, food, and fun. Andrew and "songbird" Jie, of Songbird Capital, were among the musicians.

wash well c


Robotics Revolution? George Young

2013 oct umm YoungsWhere is R2-D2 when we need him? We won’t see a robot like that for a good long while, says George Young. He will speak on “The Robot Revolution: The Promises and Limitations of Collective Robots” at a breakfast sponsored by United Methodist Men on Sunday, October 6, at 8 a.m., in the Sanford Davis Room. Everyone — men and women — is invited. A $5 donation is requested. Email or call 609-924-2613

Industrial robots have reshaped manufacturing, domestic robots help maintain floors and lawns, and military robots and drones have been developed to help fight wars. “Despite these advances, ” says Young, “state-of-the-art robots remain far removed from the automated personal assistants, companions or enemies that science fiction writers have dreamed of for decades.”

A native of South Australia, Young has undergraduate degrees from the University of Adelaide. He is completing his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, where his research focuses on understanding how the structure of interactions between individuals within a group (of robots, birds or people) affects the behavior of the entire group. In particular, he examines how groups manage uncertainty and how sharing information can lead to better or worse performance.

“Rather than attempting to build ever more complicated and sophisticated machines, today many researchers are attempting to expand our technological capabilities using an entirely different idea — building simple machines that can work together to achieve difficult tasks. These jobs could include monitoring the environment, growing crops, responding to natural disasters, building infrastructure and a host of other tasks.”

Before coming to Princeton he obtained undergraduate degrees in mechatronic engineering and pure mathematics from the University of Adelaide in his home state of South Australia. He and Elizabeth — who spoke to the UMM last spring — will shortly be moving to Memphis, Tennessee. We will miss them!


PUMC Family News: McCarty

political-bubbles-cover-art10Congratulations to Nolan McCarty on the publication of his book, “Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy.” He will lecture on Wednesday, October 9 4:30 p.m. , Bowl 016, Robertson Hall. A public reception and book sale/signing of his book will follow the discussion in the Bernstein Gallery.

From the Princeton University announcement: McCarty’s research interests include U.S. politics, democratic political institutions, and political game theory.  He is the co-author of several books, the most recent of which is “Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy,” with Howard Rosenthal of New York University and Keith Poole of the University of Georgia.  The book provides a full accounting of how politics produces financial ruptures, demonstrating how political bubbles helped create the real estate-generated financial bubble and the 2008 financial crisis.   The authors argues that similar government oversights in the aftermath of the crisis undermined Washington’s response to the “popped” financial bubble, and shows how such patterns have occurred repeatedly throughout US history.”

The McCartys are a PUMC family

Jeremy Lin: Christian ballplayer — October 11

Mo Chen invites everyone to see Linsanity, the documentary about Jeremy Lin on Friday, October 11, at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Garden Theatre.  Even the most casual basketball fan knows the story of Jeremy Lin,  as he and his New York Knick teammates created one dramatic win after another in a season that seemed to be going nowhere.  Lin is known as a committed Christian.
The Princeton Area Alumni Association (PA3) in association with the Asian American Alumni Association of Princeton (A4P)  sponsor these two showings, which may be the only two in New Jersey. Tickets must be purchased in advance online. Tickets are $15 and $7.50 for students.


God of the Storm, God of the Calm

Hawaii_wave_EKVOn September 22, Alison Van Buskirk Philip  based her sermon on the story of the disciples waking Jesus up to calm the storm in Mark 4:35-41.  “God’s attention to us is greater than our scattered attention to God,” she said. “Doubt, after the storm, turned to faith. Disappointment, after the crucifixion, turned to hope. The disciples knew something about God and community that they had not know before.”  Here is an excerpt from her sermon: 

As disciples we are invited and called to believe that:

  • No fear can change the reality that we are marked by God and claimed by God as God’s own.
  • No uncertainty can change the reality that God is in control of the sea and wind.
  • No disappointment or criticism or failing or frustration can change the reality of who we are as God’s children.

And because of that reality, because God has claimed us as children, we are free. We are free to risk. We are free to listen, to really listen, to our neighbors. We are free to start fresh over and over again. We are free to be who we are and to give ourselves to the community where God has placed us. Because God claims us and holds us and loves us, we are free to love more fully and to grow in our love.

I think that is the point, really. The point is not always about getting rid of fear, getting rid of uncertainty, getting rid of disappointment. No, the point is about becoming people with an ever-increasing capacity to love God and an ever-increasing capacity to love our neighbors. The God we worship here together is a God who can use any storm, any disappointment, any cross to increase us in love. Of course, God needs our cooperation, which can be hard, and that’s also why we need each other. We come here together as a community to help each other grow toward that love of God and neighbor –through our worship, through our fellowship, through our service.

And so whatever disappointment may befall us, the cross, which forms our community and holds our community together, that cross is a hinge that tells us there is more to the story. The cross is a hinge that opens our disappointments, uncertainties, and fears into something new in ways that increase us in our love. Through the storms Christ still comes to us and says, “Peace, be still.” Through the cross Christ comes and says, “I am with you.” Through all things, Christ comes and says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Let us give all of our thanks and our praise to this God who is God of the storm and God of the calm!

Photo by Elizabeh Van Buskirk

Bill Fairbanks: Doing the Hard Thing

bill fairfieldRev. Jana Purkis-Brash challenged the congregation, on Sunday, in her sermon “Fitting In or Becoming Fit.” Taking the spiritual gifts passage from I Corinthians 12, she helped us remember times when we had play the part we didn’t want to play, when we wanted to “fit in.”

“Pressure squashes our particular gifts,” she warned.”To fit in, we hide away what God has given us to be gifts to others. Do the hard things,” she urged. Don’t “put a basket over your light.” Don’t resist the very things that make us uniquely situated to help others and work for good. “We have choices,” said Jana, “to simply fit in or become fit. May God bless us as we choose to do the hard thing.”

She cited how Nancy Brinker pushed uphill to make sense of her sister’s death by cancer. You may not know Nancy, but you will recognize the name of her sister, Susan G. Komen, and the millions of dollars raised in her name to combat breast cancer.

Jana offered an excerpt from Do Hard Things” A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris, two young men who challenge young Christians:

  • Do things outside your comfort zone
  • Do things that go beyond what is required
  • Do things too big to accomplish alone — organize a team
  • Do things that don’t earn an immediate payoff, but that are the right thing to d
  • Do things that don’t fit in

As if to illustrate, some of us met a couple who are living those rules, going outside their comfort zone, doing something that doesn’t fit in. They joined us at the All Church Picnic. Bill Fairbanks-– a cultural anthropologist from California — is walking across the United States, just “to do it.” He’s gotten as far as Princeton, en route to Boston. His wife, Carol, drops him off in the morning and picks him up at night. They show us that anyone of any age can take up a challenge.

May God bless us as we choose to do the hard thing.

Pictured above, Reggie C speaking with the Fairbanks at the church picnic.