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I had a long conversation with a friend from decades ago last night. I learned about his daughters who were toddlers when I last saw them (now in graduate school), his son (who I’ve never met), and his wife.

Their son has a significant, esoteric disability and will never live independently. Still under 26, their son is on his parents’ insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t cover everything, but Medicaid (which he is also on because of his disability) is making up the difference (for things like his really expensive meds).
When I think about the Republicans’ desire to “repeal Obamacare,” I will now think of it this way: They want to take away this young man’s coverage under his parents’ insurance; they want to decimate Medicaid, threatening his medical back-up; they want to take away his medical safety net. And that is sinful.


#MoralMonday Where do you pray to see justice done and peace built today?

via “Fear is Easy, Love is Hard” by Jason Grey — Pause.Pray.Connect

This is a beautiful rendition of a beautiful old hymn.

Pause. Pray. Connect

What prayers are on your heart today?

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A little inspiration as I move a little deeper into my sabbatical.

Gifts in Open Hands

Happy first day of the next one hundred years,
Denali and Death Valley,
Shenandoah, Saguaro, and Sequoia,
Acadia and Arches,
Congaree and Carlsbad Caverns,

Isle Royal and Olympia,
Yosemite and Badlands,
Haleakalā and Dry Tortugas.

And to the national monuments,
as well as the parks —
Agua Fria to Ellis Island
Honouliuli to Ocmulgee —

to you, as well, happy first day.

May your lands and waters,
your summits and gorges,
your air and your wild creatures,
be touched gently.
May your fossil fuels
be treasured underground.
And may there be silence
in a world of great noise
and a refuge from light pollution,
so the stars can be seen.

May you be visited by people
of all ages, all races, all faiths,
all languages, all abilities,
all countries –
those who have travel budgets
and those who may not
have money —
but need the peace,
the wilderness, the…

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“Only if we have some sense of death can we make any sense of the resurrection.”  ~ Jeffrey S. Spencer

I know it’s a little egotistical to quote yourself, but I really thought this was sufficiently profound to repost (from Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr) here.

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, December 6, 2015, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80
Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

I don’t think I’ve every preached on Zechariah before. If I have, it must not have been a memorable sermon, because I don’t remember it. He is almost a throwaway character, appearing only in the Luke’s gospel and only here in the first chapter. And the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel are pretty much just about setting the stage for the real story.

Prelude and foreshadowing, is seems to me, is what Luke is doing in these two chapters. We love the stories he tells in these chapters. We love the story of the birth of the baptizer and, of course, Jesus. We love the story of the adolescent Jesus (the only canonical gospel to include one). But these stories just set the stage. It’s in chapter 3 that we get to the meaty stuff, to the important stuff. In chapter 3, we get to the ministry of Jesus.

Prelude and foreshadowing. “Let me tell you how it started,” Luke seems to say. John and Jesus – those two were special (and Jesus was more special). Heck, even their births were special. You remember Abraham and Sarah, the parents of Judaism, right? They were old and childless and still God said they would parent a great nation. And despite their advanced years, God gave them Isaac. You remember Samuel, the great prophet who anointed our first king? His mother was barren until, through a miracle from God, she gave birth to her son.

It’s like that with John and Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful, but they had no children. Then, despite their advance years, God gave them a child whom they named John. And Jesus, his mother was a virgin – you can’t get more special than that!

Even though it’s just prelude and foreshadowing, Luke gives the story of these births dimension and complexity. Zechariah was a priest in the Temple. This means, when it was his turn, he got to literally get close to God. From time to time, he would go further into the Temple than ordinary folk were allowed to go. “Further in” meant “closer to God,” quite literally, because the inner sanctum of the Temple was where God resided. And if that’s not enough to convince you how special Zechariah was, Luke flat out tells us: Zechariah and Elizabeth “were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.”


Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah by Domenico Ghirlandaio

One day it was Zechariah’s turn to offer incense within “the sanctuary of the Lord.” When he got there, he was met by an angel. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. Your prayers have been heard. You’re going to have a son. Name him John.”

Zechariah said, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

The angel, Gabriel, said, “You call that dumb. I’ll show you dumb.” And Zechariah was suddenly dumb, unable to speak. Yeah my paraphrase pun only works in English, but that’s what Luke tells us happened. Zechariah couldn’t speak, and Elizabeth became pregnant.

Zechariah’s journey to silence happens because of his doubts. Gabriel tells Zechariah that God is acting in his life. God has heard your prayers and is giving you a son. God is giving you a special son. Your son will help people turn – metanoia, repent. People will turn to God. Zechariah doubts that is possible, and he is struck mute.

Nine months. For nine months, Zechariah could not speak. That’s long enough for Gabriel to visit a girl named Mary. That’s long enough for a pregnant Mary to visit a pregnant Elizabeth. That’s long enough for Elizabeth to move from pregnancy to birth, for their son to be born.

The child is born. It’s time for the circumcision and for their son to be named. But Zechariah can’t speak. He can’t tell people what his son’s name will be. So Elizabeth speaks up. “He will be called John,” she says.

It is only when Zechariah confirms this choice (in writing), it is only when he carries out his instructions from Gabriel, that he journeys from silence and can speak again. And when his mouth opens again, Zechariah sings. The Benedictus, his song has been called. It is a song of praise. It thanks God for God’s faithfulness. And it tells of the baby’s calling. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”

His song ends with these lines: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like our feet are walking the way of peace lately. Just in the past month, I have felt inundated by the news of mass shootings. First in Paris, then at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and then just days ago, the shootings in San Bernardino and Redlands. And I know that all the while there are wars raging in Syria and Iraq, and there is no peace in Israel/Palestine.

Today, we lit the Advent Candle of Peace, proclaiming our hope for peace, but it sure feels like we are walking in the opposite direction.


A first responder attends to a victim of the San Bernardino shootings.

Was it cold-hearted of me that, when the news of the San Bernardino shootings broke, I metaphorically plugged by ears and started saying, “la-la-la-la-la-la”? Maybe. Probably. I didn’t want to hear about it. I didn’t want to know about more carnage. I didn’t want to have to engage the heartache and my own anger over the shooting and what seems to me to be our unwillingness to do something to stop it. To be honest, I didn’t even want to pray about it.

In my denial and avoidance, I journeyed to a useless silence. If I were to pray, what would I say?

God, I can’t imagine the fear and pain and anguish these people are experiencing tonight. I can’t imagine. And I don’t want to imagine, because if I imagine, I’m afraid that my heart will break.
Comfort them God, because I can’t. Let them know that they are not alone.
And comfort me, God. Comfort me because I am angry. Comfort me because I am sick and tired of the carnage we perpetrate on each other. I’m sick and tired of the warring madness.

But when I pray prayers like that, I know how God responds. “I’m glad you’re sick and tired of the warring madness, Jeff. Maybe when you’re sick and tired of it enough you’ll do something about it.” And I don’t want to hear God tell me that. So I journey into silence.

The news cycled quickly. Did you notice how the layers of stories kept getting added? First there was the story about what was happening. Then there was the story about how people were responding. And then there was the story about how people were responding to the responses.

Maura Judkis of The Washington Post covered this third layer on Thursday like this:

“It used to be that ‘thoughts and prayers’ was the least controversial thing a politician could tweet – the bereavement equivalent of a baby-kissing photo-op. But on Wednesday, two shooters in San Bernardino, Calif., attacked a social services center, killing 14. And then a mob of frustrated Twitter users attacked that phrase.

“You would think that ‘thoughts and prayers’ would be impossible to misconstrue. Its sentiment covers a broad base, reaching the religious and agnostics alike. It’s perfectly beige.


“‘Your “thoughts” should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your “prayers” should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again,’ tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who represents another town on America’s map of tragedies: Newtown, Conn. ‘God isn’t fixing this,’ blared the front-page headline of the New York Daily News. ThinkProgress’s Igor Volsky tweeted out the amount that thoughts-and-prayers-bearing politicians have received in donations from the National Rifle Association. Some pointed out the difference between tweets by Democratic presidential candidates, which were oriented toward gun control, vs. those of Republican candidates, which expressed prayerful sympathy for the victims. Conservatives accused liberals of mocking their faith. The Atlantic called it ‘prayer-shaming.’”[1]

As much as I object to the shaming of anyone who prays, I have some sympathy for the people angered by the “thoughts and prayers” tweets coming from politicians. I have sympathy for them because I don’t understand how anyone who honestly come to God in prayer about something like this and not be moved to act. But, as columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “We’re not even trying.”

Kristof lists a numbers of approaches and policies that we should consider to reduce the number of gun deaths in our nation (estimated to be about 30,000 this year[2]). And then he acknowledges, “It’s not clear what policy, if any, could have prevented the killings in San Bernardino. Not every shooting is preventable. But we’re not even trying.”[3]

I find myself wondering what happened to Zechariah during those nine months of silence. I know that Luke is telling a story, that these things didn’t happen. I also know that the story is true. I know that when we journey to silence, we can hear in a way that we can’t when we’re talking. I also know that there is a time for silence and a time to speak.

So I wonder what Zechariah heard in his nine months of silence. What did he hear? What did he learn? All Luke tells us is that when Zechariah journeyed from his silence, he broke out into a prophetic song of hope and peace.

Theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”[4]


This is a time to speak. This is a time to act. It is time for us to sing songs of hope and peace. It is time for us to move the mountain that is our government and to demand change. There are policies that need to be implemented. There are laws that need to be changed. And, unfortunately, there is a Constitution that needs to be amended.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment does give an individual right to own firearms. So it needs to be amended, and retired Associate Justice John Paul Stevens has the five words that would do the trick: “when serving in the Militia.” Add these words so the Second Amendment reads (as originally intended), “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”[5]

There’s always a danger in getting specific like that in a sermon. There are, no doubt, people here who think that we shouldn’t amend the Constitution, so if you find yourself starting to form an argument against that specific strategy, consider this option, for tonight. Come join me on the Niles Town Plaza at 5:30 with a candle. Maybe we can find the common ground. Surely we can agree that it is time to stand up.

No community of any political or religious persuasion can endure if that madness is allowed to continue. The time to be counted has come. Now, let us journey to silence so that we might hear more clearly what we should say when we journey from silence.


[1] Maura Judkis, “They send thought and prayers. Why was that considered a bad thing?” The Washington Post, (posted 3 December 2015; accessed 4 December 2015).

[2] Jim Wallis, “Pray. Yes. But Then Act.” In an email from Sojourners (, dated 3 December 2015.

[3] Nicolas Kristof, “On Guns, We’re Not Even Trying,” The New York Times, (posted 2 December 2015; accessed 5 December 2015).

[4] See and many other places.

[5] John Paul Stevens, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment,” The Washington Post, (posted 11 April 2014; accessed 3 December 2015).
It is important to note two things about this suggestion:
(1) Ending every individual’s right to bear arms would not make it illegal to own a gun; it would make gun ownership a privilege rather than a right (like driving a car), and therefore subject to regulation (like driving a car).
(2) The term “Militia” has a specific historic meaning. The Militia was a state army, typically drawn from the citizenry. Just because a group of people pull call themselves a “militia” does not make them “the Militia.” For more information, see

How do we measure up, Holy One?

We know that you do not hold some great scale of good and bad and weigh out our sins and blessings to judge us. Yet we also know that you call us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned and heal the wounded.  You call us to truly see people.

How do we measure up?

We ask, not because we fear your judgment, but because we long to do your will, to follow your way, to be your hands and feet in the world.  We long to serve.  We want to love more deeply.  More deeply.

We were reminded again this week of the world’s need for your love and peace.  We pray for comfort for those who have experienced loss in their families or who have an anniversary of a death this week.  We think especially of those in our community who grieve.  We pray also for comfort for those who have experienced loss because of the acts of terror in France.  God, we pray for peace.  We pray for wholeness in this fragmented world.  We are bold to pray because we are confident that your love is stronger than hate and fear.

And so we pray for Paris.  And not only Paris.  We pray for the world.

We pray for Beirut, reeling form bombings two days before the attacks in Paris, a bombing not covered much if at all in the U.S. press.

We pray for Baghdad where a bomb goes off at a funeral and not one status update in my newsfeed says #Baghdad.

We pray for a world that blames a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack yet does not pause to differentiate between the attacker and a person who claims the same faith and is running from the same attack, filled with the same fear.

We pray for a world where people walking across countries for months, their only belongs on their backs, are told they have no place to go.

We pray for Paris, yes, but not only Pairs. We pray for the world that does not have a prayer for those who no longer have a home to defend, for a world that is falling apart in all corners, and not simply in the towers and cafes we find so familiar.

May the blessing of all blessings, which is peace, bring the light of goodness to every corner of the earth, and the dark of holy stillness into every heart.


This prayer was inspired by and paraphrased from several prayers posted as graphics and in status updates on Facebook in the past 36 hours.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

The thing that amazes me the most is when people from small countries and countries where English isn’t the first language and countries where Christians aren’t a majority read my blog. I appreciate all my readers – from Fremont, California, and from everywhere around the globe.  Thanks for reading Jeff’s Jottings.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“There’s nothing more important that’s happening each and every day than the ongoing deterioration of the planet on which we depend.” ~ Bill McKibben

The Dish

by Bill McKibben

Climate Change And Global Pollution To Be Discussed At Copenhagen Summit

Every day there’s something more immediately important happening in the world: ISIS is seizing an airbase this morning, and California is recovering from an earthquake, and Michael Brown is being buried.

But there’s nothing more important that’s happening each and every day than the ongoing deterioration of the planet on which we depend. Though on a geological time scale it’s proceeding at a hopelessly rapid pace, in terms of the news cycle it happens just slowly enough to be mainly invisible. It’s only when a new study emerges, or a shocking new data set, that we pay momentary attention, until the Next New Thing distracts us.

Here’s one installment in this ongoing saga, released this morning by Environmental Health News and National Geographic. It’s about birds, and the fact that across the planet they’re in serious trouble:

In North America’s breadbasket, populations of grassland birds such as sweet-trilling…

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  It blows my mind that there were 9 visitors from India.  I never imagined someone (let along 9 someones) from India would read anything I’d written.

THANK YOU to all my readers!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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