Friday, June 09, 2017


Last night I was blessed to sit with people in pain following the pointless murder of two and the suicide of another. 

The Willow Creek LDS Stake, here in Sandy, Utah, hosted an hour of reflection and counseling following the murder/suicide near Brookwood Elementary School this past Tuesday. 

The speakers were diverse, and represented many points of view.  Mayor Tom Dolan and Police Chief Kevin Thacker spoke from the leadership of Sandy City.  Other speakers included voices from Canyons School District, the neighborhood itself, a social worker, and faith leaders.  The faith leaders were LDS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and non-denominational. 

There were some common themes. 
  • Grief is highly personal; it is not alike for any two people.  Not said, but I read an article yesterday that compared grief to snowflakes and fingerprints.  No two snowflakes or fingerprints are alike.  No grief situation is just like someone else’s.  Grief is highly personal. 
  • Be careful of bromides.  Trying to explain the unexplainable is risky.  Yes, we believe that there is a resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t emptiness in this world, at this time, due to this loss. 
The late Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, was quoted.  He related that his mother responded to scary news by telling him, 'Look for the helpers.'  There were truly many helpers there on Tuesday afternoon, and they are still there.

Paul speaks in Romans about how through God, all things can work for good.  It doesn’t even start to mean that God made this event happen, but how do we draw from this senseless act, good?  That was the question of Father John from Saint Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, ‘what do we expect the outcome of this to be?’

Let me offer a few: 
  • Celebrate what we have, when we have it.  I have offered several times that the sudden passing of my brother prompted me to suggest to many the need to tell those you love, that you do indeed love them. 
  • Those in law enforcement and fire protection take these kinds of things very seriously.  They ask ‘what could we have done better?’  Here, I think nothing.  Three are dead, and it is possible that without very prompt action by those first responders, two more might have died.  When you see people in law enforcement, tell them, in your own words, you appreciate their sacrifice and service. 
  • Communities are important to how we are buoyed up in hard times.  The Anglican priest Jon Donne said that ‘no man is an island’ but how many of us try and turn ourselves into islands?
  • Get to forgiveness.  If we are not careful, lack of forgiveness can diminish our very souls.  It can draw energy from us in our anger.  But, encourage others to safely, for the angry and the innocent, get to forgiveness along their path in their timetable.  Just as grief can be like a snowflake or a fingerprint, getting to forgiveness is not a cookie cutter we can pull out and magically produce healing.  The more senseless, the longer and harder it will be.    
God did not cause these murders and suicide.  But God can help us in our grief and emptiness.  

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Moving On

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14 (ESV)

On May 28th, during my sermon on Galatians 3, I posited “Paul is operating in the tension between already and not yet, remembrance and anticipation, [or] apathetic and aspiration."
Already and not yet suggests that God has already done a lot and that God is “not yet” finished.
Weekly, Roberta and I use this idea of “remembrance and anticipation” to help us create for you meaningful, thought provoking, challenging worship.  The idea plays off that already, not yet idea found in Paul. God has done a lot already: remember that. There is more that God is going to do: be in a state of eager anticipation.
Finally, we are presented with apathetic and aspiration. You might have on May 28th when I spoke to that, wondered where I was going to go with that idea.  The answer is I didn’t develop it. I said it to introduce the idea for use later. Now is a good time to develop that idea.
I mentioned during the service that national historic words were at times aspirational, meaning that we should hear them and strive to make them be. I see a “not yet” or an “anticipation” element to the idea of aspiration. But when I plug into the computer looking for the opposite of aspiration, I get apathetic as an option.   Other words appeared, but I chose apathetic, or perhaps, it chose me.
Apathetic is shown to be an adjective, a word that modifies a noun. It means showing no interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Synonyms are: uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested.
In the theme article for this newsletter (now on page 1), Leigh Anne Duff wrote:  “Are we challenging ourselves to graduate to a more mature spiritual level? This might be a good time to look back at what you’ve learned and then look forward to the next step in your Christian walk.” Those words are inspirational, invitational, and aspirational. They invite a reflection to invite interest, difference making, concern, movement, involvement, and interest.

I have loved my five years here at Hilltop.  Loved it. I have truly felt that my gifts, and the church’s needs were well linked, well suited. My assignment was stabilization and I have tried to honor that. At the same time, I regularly try and co-create with God in the community called Hilltop, restlessness.

I am urging restlessness, but I am not hoping or praying for restlessness rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is too often its own Golden Calf. I frankly think one of the things wrong in our secular and religious worlds is treating the past in such hallowed terms.
God has already done a lot through Midvale and Hilltop church.  More is yet to be done.

Looking at the past fondly with joyful remembrance is good. Our memory, for example, of the selfless service of the late Bill Tetrick is an important element of our past. At the same time, we need to be looking forward in anticipation to what God is yet to do with Hilltop. I never met Bill, but there is a positive restlessness with his widow Marilynn. I can’t imagine Bill would want us get “stuck” in nostalgia.
We aspire to be a place where all can belong, believe and become, but at times, aspiration is diminished by apathy.
Leigh Anne is ‘spot on’ in her article:  this might be a good time to ‘move on’ from the things that keep us locked into the already and remembrance and we thus forget to see the not yet with anticipation.
Apathy (understood to be synonymous with uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested) needs to be replaced with aspiration:  both individually and in community.
I invite all at Hilltop to read, pray, study, and reflect on God’s call on your heart this summer.  I know for sure I am.
Selah, Pastor Dennis