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PALM SUNDAY.  I have some wonderful memories associated with this day and time.  My Dad was the choir director at my home church, for several years, and Palm Sunday evening was often the performance of the annual CHOIR CANTATA (usually one by John W. Peterson…for all of you folks who remember his standards from church choir repertoire in the 1950s & ’60s).  Also, Mom was the resident playwright and director for some truly awesome church productions, complete with soldiers, disciples and angels.  As an only child, I was usually involved in all of that, just because if Mom & Dad were at the church, so was I.  Later, when I was writing music, Palm Sunday and Holy Week became the times when some of my own music was performed at worship…some of those pieces are still some of my personal favorites.

Then, of course, my all-time favorite PALM SUNDAY was more than three decades ago when my oldest son, Cameron, was born (I think that was the only time in my life I’ve missed a Palm Sunday Worship Service). 

It may be just me, but growing up in a church family and experiencing Palm Sunday processionals as a child, just as the weather was warming up, enjoying the “dramatic” and “musical” events…it was (and still is) like Christmas in that no matter what else is going on in the world, this is a time set aside for celebration.

One particular Palm Sunday, during my college days in Seattle when my irreverence during serious occasions was maturing, was quite amusing.  During our worship we began with a processional from the back; first the choir (I was a tenor, in the back row), children with palm branches, and then the Pastoral Staff who were all participating in the worship leading.  Most of the staff at the time (I was the Office Manager at this point) were young, and then there was a more mature woman on staff as well, as our professional Church Counselor.  We all took our places and the service began.  The Senior Pastor stepped to the pulpit and addressed the full sanctuary with words of greeting and led in a responsive reading (the usual, from the Gospels, recounting the Jerusalem processional).

Suddenly, jumping from her seat next to the song leader, our Counseling Pastor, during a calm part of the reading, quickly moved to the center of the platform and started, what seemed like, an odd sort of tap dance (on the carpet).  Everything stopped.  We stared, during what seemed like hours, trying to figure out if she was having some sort of Pentecostal moment (surely not), or spasm, (a very fun and rhythmic one, if that was it) or just what.  When suddenly a small girl in the front of the sanctuary jumped up and yelled excitedly, “A dance!” as she started clapping and “dancing” along with our Associate Pastor.

 Well, by that time, the confused congregation (especially those of us in the choir and close to the front) weren’t certain about what to do.  By that time our female Associate had stopped “dancing” and was watching the little girl.  She then moved down the couple of steps to the girl, took her hands and started to dance with her.  The pianist began to play the song we had just sung and some clapping began.  We began to get caught up in this strange, impromptu dance party, in the middle of what had been a carefully-planned worship service.

The whole thing lasted only a moment.  When the song ended everyone clapped, and our Associate moved to the pulpit to explain that one of the candles had lit a palm frond end on fire and a little ember had floated down to the carpet where it began to burn.  Our vigilant Associate was the only one who noticed.  Thereby, she jumped from her seat, scurried to the burning carpet and began stomping it out with her high-heeled feet.  It wasn’t apoplexy or the Holy Spirit…it was a small fire…which looked to us like a dance from a person for whom dancing wasn’t a part of her perceived nature.

But for that moment a misunderstood action turned into a spontaneous dance party and the agenda was set aside.

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus could have stopped the procession on the way to Jerusalem and given everyone a lesson in WHY He was entering Jerusalem, and WHAT He was going to do. But, for the crowds at least, He let it go, He let them celebrate.  They were misinterpreting what was going on, but Jesus didn’t stop the praise, and knew it was futile to try.  He also understood there is a time for everything, present circumstances don’t override expressions of joy.

In THE Kingdom, at least, there is ALWAYS a reason to dance.

That is, I guess, what the pageantry, music and drama of PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK are for me.  No matter what else is going on in the world, and much of the world around us is in chaos, because of who HE is, and because of WHAT is certain and sure in our future…it IS appropriate to interrupt the agenda and dance.

So…dance, like everyone is watching.



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Two-hundred-and-thirty years ago, the woman christened Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna, known by her family and friends simply as Antonia, and known by the world as Marie Antoinette, was beheaded in France for crimes against the state. 

During her short trial she was accused of (among other things) taking money from the French treasury and sending it to her home country of Austria, of orchestrating murder, of hosting orgiastic sexual parties at Versailles, and of incest with her own son.  Even at the time most people did not believe many of these accusations and she replied in defense to none, except the accusation of incest: she passionately asked how any mother could accept this accusation without crying out, and it is said that she, at that moment, gained the sympathy of those women in the court.

But it was too late for her, the damage had been done.  And this woman, just shy of 38-years-old, was already labeled, judged, and condemned…before the trial began.  Those in authority simply didn’t like her and one stray tidbit of gossip from the court led to an elaboration, which led to a larger story, and so on and so on.  Even today most people, when hearing her name, assume that the quote, “Let them eat cake.” (supposedly her response when told the people had no bread) is fact, when there is no actual corroboration.

Marie Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI,  were (to say the least) disconnected from those they were bound to serve and rule – but such was the world at that time, and the same could be said for some monarchs then, and some governments now.

The actual records, letters, and notes from those who surrounded the Queen at the time of the revolution, paint a picture of her.  She seemed to be a young, frivolous, and extremely kind wife who refused to leave her husband, even when it was safe to do so and evacuation plans had been made.  They tell of a woman who, in the face of vicious attacks upon her very moral fiber, refused to stay hidden but continued what limited “royal contact” she had with the people –  like public mass on Sundays and walking through the streets of the markets with her children.

Her children, it is said, were her primary concern.  She was the first Queen of France on record to have personally supervised and taught her own children.  As much as has been said and painted about her lavish lifestyle, hair, jewels and clothes, she downsized the “costume of the court” so much so that the courtiers themselves rebelled at having to dress so “simply”.

She was a woman who seems to have stayed true to herself.  Her last words were “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur, je ne l’ai pas fait exprès.”(“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to do that.”) spoken when she accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner before placing her head in the guillotine.

Except for the knowledge she was a firm Catholic to the end, I have no insight into her principles of “Belief & Following” Jesus.  However, to see her remain upright while insults, stories, and lies of all kinds were thrown at her face, is to see a thing of gracious breeding & beauty.

The natural, or I should say the world’s, tendency is to defend every slap and verbal punch made in our direction.  Christians, in particular, seem to have forgotten what Jesus said about, “turning the other cheek” (which doesn’t have to do with physical injury, but injury of reputation) and “letting it go.”  No, on the contrary, many people who label themselves Christian” enjoy letting everyone know how and who hurt and offended them.  

JESUS stood in the face of lies and false testimony and remained silent: His presence alone was the answer his “judges” needed to see.  He didn’t argue, He simply stood, He stated who He was, verbally AND silently, and let it go at that.

It is every Follower & Believer’s goal, I believe, to act and behave according to who they ARE and not according to how they are treated.  This world needs those who are consistent in their integral behavior, in their goodness, and NOT those who spend their time in offensive attacks back to their attacker, or the constant arguing about how much better people they are than everyone else. We stand, as the scripture says, like trees rooted deep by the water, we may bend, but we don’t break.  We hopefully use kind words to turn away anger, at least that’s the goal.

We love others because that’s who we are supposed to be: the ones who love.  We don’t love our enemies (or friends) because they love us back.  We tell the truth because the Truth is in us, and not just because the truth happens to make us look good…because many times it doesn’t.  We lift each other up, not because we hope to be lifted up by others, but because we already have been lifted up by our Father in Heaven.

I’m sure that Marie Antoinette had some good training to help her survive and keep her head (pardon the pun) during the difficult times.  But we know that breeding and training only go so far, it is the Breath of God, surging through our spiritual lungs that gives us the power to be who we are not by our own strength.

In the face of shallow praise and heartless insult, stand, a Restored and loved Child of the One True God, and thus show the world what faith is.



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a BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett

From the time I was around 10 years old and all through my teenage years I would go with my uncle and his family to camp atop Hooper Bald, a 5,482-foot mountain that literally had no trees growing there. Except for abundant grass cover on the bald, the only other plant found in occasional clumps were wild huckleberries which ripened in late August. We would camp sometimes over the weekend but more often than not, our trek to the mountaintop lasted a week in which we lived out of tents and toted buckets of water from just over the side of the bald where several mountain streams and creeks first bubbled out of the ground.

And indeed, it was a trek to get atop the peak. Washed out logging roads that were built in the 1920s was the only way to get there by jeep or a high truck because the rocks and gullies meant slow traveling, rocking back and forth and being jarred with each dip.

The driver had to keep full attention on the road because it was critical that he steer just right to avoid ripping out the exhaust pipes or oil pan on the vehicle. Sometimes the younger ones would walk because it was quicker to get to the top by walking the last three miles. Talk about speed bumps…nothing like an old logging road!

Hooper Bald has a unique distinction of being the last free range for grazing cattle in America—not the wild American West. When I was camping there as a teenager, one reason we did so was not only to pick huckleberries in season but to find our cattle amid the several groups of cattle there and leave a salt block. Each spring several people would take their herd up and each fall they would take the herd back into their valley homes. The federal government closed the area to free range in the 1970s. What a history! A thrill indeed to care for cattle on America’s last free range!

Many times, when wandering around the grassy top (about a mile or so long and several hundred feet wide) I have gone to a rock ledge, not a very large one, but it was truly straight down for several hundred feet. One peculiarity about this rock is the carving on it that reads “PREDARMS CASADA SEPT 1615”. Over the years tourists, not realizing what a treasure that rock has become, have defaced it a bit. Old timers remember seeing this carving in the early days of the settlement of western North Carolina. Talk about a mystery. The date of Sept 1615 causes quite a stir with its puzzlement. First, the pilgrims did not land at Plymouth Rock until 1620. Second, the native American Indians would not know any European languages. What other language would use letters very, very similar to the English alphabet?

Hmmmm! I have studied Greek and Hebrew…and oh, yeah, I took Spanish in high school and college. Bingo!

Could that inscription be Spanish? Oops! Is that possible? 

Well, in 1540, Hernando de Soto led about 550 men from Spain on a search for gold. They traveled northward to the center of present-day North Carolina and then turned west, and actually traveled through the mountains near my hometown. Little did they know that they actually walked near the Cowee Valley which is now called the The Gem Capital of the World for its rubies, sapphires, garnets, amethyst, etc. It is said that de Soto got into a battle with the Indians near present day Knoxville, and half of the Spanish men were wounded, and a few were killed. Did a rogue group leave de Soto?

If so, we are talking 1615, not 1540-1542. If that were true, then some 3 three generations would have survived somehow. There are no Indian tales of white skinned people living on the hills of Carolina, Georgia, or Tennessee back in that era. And Hernando de Soto and his surviving men returned to Spain after trekking all the way into

Texas, but Spanish ships sailed in the Caribbean Sea and Spanish encampments along the Gulf Coast are known to have existed. But the Spanish did not create a permanent settlement.

In those days…O, I almost forgot! In 1567 another Spanish leader Prado also explored what is now the southern United States. Again, no settlement was lasting. Did some of Prado’s men wander off and survive a few years before disappearing without a trace?

Adding to the mystery is the Spanish word CASADA which refers to wedding, or wedding celebration. The word derives from the verb CASAR meaning “to marry, wed.” Did a wedding take place atop this high mountain amid Indian territory in September 1615? If so, who, from Europe, would have been there in 1615?

As much as I would like to know the answers to this intriguing mystery, I am content to let it remain just that–a mystery!

The scriptures testify that God is never fully known, but God constantly reveals God’s nature and being to humankind. God is mysterious in many manifestations and God works in mysterious ways. If God can be fully known, then why would anyone spend a

lifetime seeking to know God and God’s will? If God reveals the loving and merciful nature and being in Jesus Christ, His Son, and grants that Son all authority in heaven and earth, including the authority to bestow eternal life upon the faithful, then surely, we marvel at this gift that we hope to receive. The loving and merciful God revealed in Jesus Christ is too magnificent to fully comprehend. In a mysterious moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be transformed into an eternal body.

And as confident as we may be that we are led by the Holy Spirit, the presence of God and Christ with us in everyday life, we can be greatly surprised when we sense that God’s Spirit is leading us into a new way of thinking or living life. The work of the Holy Spirit among us is quite mysterious, but we seek to discern the Spirit’s calling.

Perhaps the Church Universal as we know it today needs to become more content with the mysteries of God who is known to us through the Son, and present with us through the Holy Spirit. After all, it is only when we acknowledge the mysteries of God, that we can become humble, seeking, searching, yearning, serving. . . . . .

There is something to be said for allowing mysteries to remain….even with rock carvings atop a high mountain.



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I’m a history buff…I really enjoy “historic trivia”, as you know: interesting but useless information.  Of course, I can’t seem to remember Birthdays, Anniversaries, my license plate number or important stuff like that…but let me read about Queen Victoria’s cousin’s dog and I’ll remember that till the day I die!

Guess what happened last Saturday (March 4th)  in 1861?  Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Now, we at Central are kind of connected to this event.  There is a newspaper, in our collection of historic items stored upstairs, on which the front page not only lists our “charter” but also has a schedule of the LINCOLN/DOUGLAS DEBATES in neighboring Illinois, in case anyone wanted to travel by train to get there.

For all the greatness the patina of time has put on Lincoln, I have some southern ancestors who considered Lincoln the “anti-christ”, vilifying him for using scripture to condone aggression…as if that hadn’t been done before.  I’m not sure I agree with that side of my family, however,

God’s name gets used to justify acts that are Godly…or sometimes, not.

Poor God.  I think He can take care of Himself, but truly…He gets blamed for some stupidly human things.

The scripture was used to argue that all planets revolved around the earth (including the sun) and anyone who taught differently was a heretic. The scripture has been (and in some places still IS) used to argue that the earth was flat, that Jews are evil, that anyone of dark skin doesn’t have a soul, that slavery is ordained by God, that women should not allowed to lead or speak in church…or anywhere else…and we all know many things the scripture is used to argue against these days.

Poor God.

In all of the effort to justify our own prejudices and keep the world around us from growing, from expanding, from changing…we use God as our excuse, and translate the Bible into our own “language”…we use His name in vain as we stamp it on all of our agendas with their conditions and clauses that keep people we don’t like at arms’ length.  It’s been happening for centuries and we still do it…even, and sometimes especially, in the Church.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that most of us have a picture of God that is too small.  We have a box that we put Him in, and He won’t be kept in a box.  When He behaves beyond the definition that we have kept in our own minds and paradigms, we question whether that is really Him.  Is His grace really that large?  Is His Kingdom really that expansive?  Is His love really that unconditional?  Is His reality and His universe really that infinite?

Praise God.

The answer, of course, is to give God back His good name.  That’s what PRAISE is, it is “telling Him who He is”, not because HE needs to know, but because WE need to be reminded.  PRAISE gives Him back His good name.  PRAISE is to be done in front of other people.

PRAISE Him, in front of others, because many people erroneously believe that these statements are actually “Godly”, when they don’t come from His mouth:

“Grace is only afforded to those who go to church.”

“Love is only given to those who follow the rules.”

“Your heart might be in the right place, but if you make the wrong decision or make one too many mistakes I won’t love you anymore.”

No! Our Father and His Son Jesus both say:

“My grace is sufficient.”

“God so loved THE WORLD…” and

Humanity looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.”

He is the God who LOVES us, individually, and yet doesn’t LABEL us into categories that erase our individual and unique natures.

The scripture is one witness to God.  There are many others: the congregation, the Spirit, God’s nature…for example.  And all these witnesses, combined, still don’t encompass the entirety of God’s being.  So who are WE to label HIM?  Who are WE to decide who He loves, or who He blesses?

Hopefully we, at Central, have gotten beyond the place where we use the scripture to do anything but find a foundation, a beginning, a connection with our Creator & Sustainer, and fills us with His own breath to show us (when we are able to see) His Kingdom on earth, as we follow Him.

Let us never misuse His words to argue our own agenda because we have chosen to be the judge of our fellow travelers on earth.

Let us never assume that God fits into our little box of godliness.

Let us always seek for the wonderful, the surprising, and the untamed God that truly allows us to learn for ourselves that the earth is a part of the wonderful universal dance HE put in place, and there is more to this life than we will ever know until we sit down to dinner in the age to come.

Let us celebrate the God who doesn’t put us “into a box” (as we do with Him, often), but removes our chains, calls us His, and sets us free…even when that freedom sometimes causes us to make bad decisions…He loves us because of who HE is, not who WE are.



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A favorite play, and film, of mine is AMADEUS.  It has been one of my favorites since I first saw the film in the theatre, in 1984.  In college I performed in a 2-person opera, with original translated text from PUSHKIN’s poem about the young composer (played by me) and the older Salieri…the Russian poem, set to music by Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov.  (In March 2021 I performed the role of “SALIERI” in the ALLEY THEATRE production of the play – that’s right, I’m not a young “Mozart” anymore). 

This Pushkin poem first introduced the idea that Antonio Salieri poisoned Wolfgang Mozart out of jealousy…it is a fantastical, though probably altogether fictional, idea. In the opera, the two singers never sing TOGETHER throughout the entire score.  This idea was taken up by playwright, ‎Peter Shaffer, and later turned into a film.

It is remarkable to think about Mozart’s genius mind:  operas, symphonies, sonatas and more…all written and orchestrated by him since the time he was the age that I started playing the piano: age 5.  The movie is a fictional account of a segment of his life, but there are several “nods” to reality in some truly extraordinary ways.

Wolfgang did indeed write every note of every instrument in his head, FIRST.  Once edited and revised in his head, then he would take the pen and write it on the paper.  There are not many scores, if any, that show changes or edits.  Once, the night before one of his operas was to have its premiere, the concert master (first-chair violinist) frantically rushed to Mozart’s home and informed him that there was no Overture in the orchestra parts, Mozart had written the entire 2.5-hour opera but no Overture for the orchestra to play.  Mozart calmly gave him a glass of wine, asked him to make himself comfortable and then proceeded to write out the Overture, one part at a time, from memory, while carrying on a conversation with the concert master.  He didn’t even waste time writing out the entire score until much later, since he himself was conducting.  Once, to make a deadline, he wrote out parts (not copied from the score, but written from memory) all night while his wife kept him awake by singing German folks songs!

The man was a gift from God, and if it weren’t enough that his genius was astounding, the music produced from his genius was and is absolutely beautiful; a gift to every ear, educated or not.

Although the storyline, which includes the composer Antonio Salieri (a contemporary of Mozart and, in reality, a friend and colleague), as an antagonist whose supposed jealousy causes him to poison Mozart (at least that fiction is inferred).  But, in the script, Salieri has a valid question regarding his own talents, which he views as gifts from God, and Mozart’s greater talents.

His question is: Why do You (God) choose such a profane, rude and crass vessel (Mozart) for such incredible gifts…especially when I (Salieri) have given you my heart and soul and have not received the same?

The real Salieri may have indeed wondered about this and asked God.  Salieri was the most popular composer of the era and place, when the young Mozart stepped onto the concert scene, and although Wolfgang probably wasn’t even half so much as crass as the character in the movie, he was, by all historic accounts, a “free spirit” who did not view the rules as applying to him.  And again one asks the question: Why does God choose to speak through seemingly unholy instruments?  OR why does God choose whom He chooses…for anything?

It is not inappropriate to ask, David asks it all the time in the Psalms.  I don’t think God is offended by our questions of why “good things happen to bad people” or why the gifts of that which is good, beautiful and true in art, are given to those whom we feel are undeserving.   However, there IS an issue when WE believe it’s fine to judge who is worthy of God’s grace and gifts, ourselves.

FIRST – we are NOT God.  Choosing who to bless and who to use is HIS prerogative, NOT ours. The moment we usurp God’s role (by judging who is worthy and who is not) we place ourselves in the place where God should be.  We cease being FOLLOWERS…and there is a difference between BELIEVING (which even Satan does) and FOLLOWING (which one can’t do, if they continually place themselves in front of the One they are supposed to be following) 

SECOND – We don’t have all of the information.  We cannot see people’s hearts, we cannot know what they are capable of in the future, any more than we know what WE are capable of…we cannot see as God can see. 

THIRD – We do not have the right to demand that God bless us OR to know all of His plan – although, He will frequently use us as partners, sharing that information with us –  in HIS good time and will. 

FOURTH – the assumption that someone else is being “blessed” or “gifted” when they are seemingly unworthy, while we stand un-thanked, unheeded and unnoticed once again is an example of our impatience in thinking that the story is over.  In the end (or beginning, as I see it) all truth, all blessings, all rewards will come to those who have, in God’s eyes, earned them…until then we are still in the middle of the story.

Holiness and purity are not always necessary to communicate beauty, truth, and goodness.  After all, some of the most Godly and beautiful creations and art have come from some truly imperfect, and sometimes pagan, individuals.  Some of those who seem most “Godly” are not always, and many times are not the most talented…what’s THAT about? And what does that teach us about God?

In scripture AND in life.  God gives, and gives, and gives…not to some…but to all.

MATTHEW 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary?  Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We also know EVERYTHING that is good, beautiful and true comes from God, no matter WHAT the vessel.

JAMES 1:16-17 “Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.”

So how should we react when, like Salieri who seeks to do right and be blessed by His action sees another who, by Salieri’s measure, is unworthy of the gift?

Be thankful.  We apologize to God for believing that our good works will go unrewarded…just because we don’t have the reward yet.

And primarily, we thank God that His grace goes beyond our own ideas of mercy…after all, there was time (and will be again) when we do not deserve the “greatness” He so generously pours on us.



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I love traveling.  I love seeing our beautiful world and the people in it. In fact, as wonderful as all the scenery and cultures I’ve experienced are, it’s the people that are most fascinating. I’m an introvert at heart, and I like to sit in the back and see the whole picture, as wide a field as possible.  And when travelling, my favorite thing is find a quiet table, bench, or palm tree…and sit watching people.

We are a fascinating species, all types, all personalities, and yet similar. I, jokingly, like to say that God only has a few “molds” He uses in building us; and so, He uses some over and over. That’s ridiculous, of course, as even the most similar are as different as snowflake crystals or sands on the beach – but it’s a fun game. I watch young parents with children. Children seem to be the same throughout the world. I watch older couples, helping each other navigate the tours, the shops, and the uneven the walkways. Then there are the wealthy, the elegant, the plain, and the boisterous. I see the friendly, and the not-so-friendly, the grumpy, and the funny. It’s always a wonderful collection of sameness & difference.

On this day, ASH WEDNESDAY, I am thinking of the ashes, Palm Sunday, people, and the journey each of us together. Our bodies move toward an end, while our souls grow and finally break through. Where our souls travel, when free of these bodies, is taken on faith. We all have an idea as to what will happen when the soul breaks free, and we argue with each other about it; wasting time that could be used to connect to each other, as Jesus has asked us to do.

As for our bodies, we should all KNOW what is going to happen. And not just bodies, but our lands, our homes, our countries, and our kingdoms. It’s not just faith and religion that teach us about this cycle of beginnings and endings…it is life observed, and history itself. All human things end, whether individual humans or communities of humans, large and small. Hardly anything symbolizes that truth more than ASH WEDNESDAY.

Where do the ashes we use at Central come from? The ashes we use are the ashes of the palms used the prior Palm Sunday; mixed with olive oil which is infused with frankincense and myrrh. Once the palms are burned, ground down and mixed, they are preserved. In fact, at Central, the ashes I’ve used for sixteen years (my Anniversary with Central Christian Church was this past Saturday, February 18th), predate me by two to three ministers at least. I have only added some ashes, but they are combined with ashes from Palm Sundays past. The alabaster jar that holds Central’s ashes also holds the representation of at least three generations of parishioners, pastors, elders, deacons, and stories here in the heart of the heartland…and now, it’s all ash.

The palms that symbolize the crowds in Jerusalem wishing for and welcoming what they imagined was an “earthly” kingdom, are now dust – reminding us that the “earthly” kingdom is not what our King came to inaugurate – HIS Kingdom is “not FROM, or OF, this world”. HIS Kingdom doesn’t turn to ash. But our kingdoms, our countries, our homes, and our bodies…do.

We are all headed in that direction. No matter our diversity, no matter our likeness, we all travel to that location. That knowledge alone should cause us to be treat others with kindness, love, patience, and help. The knowledge of the shared destination of all our lives should cause us to live every moment on this earth, in this body, with intention. But does it?

This isn’t really bad news; it’s the way of life as physical life was created to be – but “Life” (with a capital “L”) isn’t defined by things that turn to ash. “Life”, according to what I believe and teach, transcends nations, communities, and human bodies. I believe our souls will land in new bodies that don’t turn to ash, in a land that always remains green, lush, diverse, and colorful – like the immortal life that will inhabit it with our King, Jesus.

My time at Central, in Anderson, and on this earth will one day be represented in the palm fronds I have burned and mixed with ashes from times before, and pastors who have served and moved on, along with their parishioners.  My soul has already started packing for another trip. The Kingdom of MY King has already been created.

So, take the ashes and remember we are all on the same physical journey, and it might be your responsibility to show (without words, but with action) someone else the way to “a lifeboat.” On the way, offer your hand, your smile, and your love, because Jesus asks you to. Also, as different as we all may be, and no matter where we started – we may not all be “in the same boat”, but we are quite possibly all “in the same storm.”

Every moment has its time.
Every person has their place.
Don’t rush past either,
Or you may also brush aside
God’s desire for you to either
ENJOY or BE the miracle.




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THE BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett

While I was pastor in Winchester, IN, at Main Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from 1994-2009, there came a time when the church sought an organist. An application came from a lady named Harriett McGrath for the position of pipe organist. Her son Harold James McGrath (1943-2017) often drove her back and forth from their home in Union City, IN; both were in retirement years.

The son, Harold McGrath, was a quiet man, not given to much conversation. Both he and his mother, for privacy purposes, asked that we not use their name in public articles or promotions in the newspaper. During choir practice, I was often “somewhere in the church” so Harold and I had a few conversations. Bit by bit, his life’s story came into focus. I learned that he played “a little bit of guitar”. Little did I know! I later learned that he was known by the stage name “Suni McGrath”, a famed, innovative 12 string guitar player, who was nominated for “Guitarist of the Year” in 1971. Because of his wide mix of tunes on the guitar, he was well-known in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

His major albums were Cornflower Suite (1969), The Call of the Mourning Dove (1971) which featured religious songs including “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”, Kyrie”, “The King Is Coming” among others. In 1972 he recorded the album “Childgrove”. These 3 albums were produced by Adelphi Records, and in 2005 Tompkins Square recorded “Seven Stars.” 

At Main Street Christian Church the congregation was occasionally privileged to hear Suni McGrath play the guitar for special music. Perhaps the last recorded performance of Suni was in a worship service in which a person in attendance videoed him, and that video is now on YouTube–as are several of his earlier recordings.

I suppose I could say that in knowing Suni McGrath over a couple of years, I rubbed elbows with history. Of course, I did. But I could also say that during my ministerial career, I have always been amazed at the quiet, humble, innovative persons who have made major achievements in life, but like Suni, one must literally “drag his life story out of him” over several conversations. Eventually, he allowed me to listen to his recordings on his own personal CDS which he loaned to me. But the truth remains: there is something special about people who can lay aside their ego and fame as they share their faith stories.

And thus I am reminded of another story, also in Winchester, Indiana. On North Street was a small, one-story house, well-kept, with lots of flowering shrubs; this abode was surrounded by two story buildings, including the town library, a church, and some other residences. I learned from the “old-timers” at Main Street Christian Church that the man who lived out his retirement in that house was a man who had spoken from the pulpit several times in local churches, including Main Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I served. His name was Earl Bowman Marlatt.

Earl was born 24 March 1892 in Columbus, Indiana, the son of a Methodist minister. He graduated from High School at Connersville, IN and then graduated from DePauw University. Serving in World War I, he then entered Boston University in Boston, MA where he graduated in 1922 from Boston School of Theology with a bachelor’s degree of Sacred Theology. By 1925 he taught philosophy at Boston University and held this position until 1938 when he became Dean of the School of Theology at Boston College. In 1945, after WW II, Earl Marlatt taught Philosophy of Religion and Religious Literature at Southern Methodist University and held this position until he retired in 1957. He chose Winchester, Randolph County, Indiana, as his retired home and settled into this quaint little one-story house on North Street where he lived until his death 13 June 1976.

Earl Marlatt was a poet, writing 4 books. In fact, in 1970-1971 he was named Poet Laureate of the State of Indiana. Early in his career, in the year 1926, Earl wrote what may be his best-known poem to be

used in a service of consecration for graduates of Boston University School of Religious Education. That poem, entitled “Are Ye Able?” based on Mark 10:35-40 and Luke 23:39-43, was set to music by Harry Mason and sung for the first time. This song is found in numerous hymnals, including our Chalice Hymnal. He considered Katherine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful” as one of his closest friends.

While living in Winchester, I heard many, many stories of a humble little man who often walked the streets of Winchester, greeting people with a cheery smile and often a chit-chat. Perhaps one of the greatest stories was that, if Dr. Earl Marlatt was expected to visit a particular congregation, whether he was speaking or not, extra effort went into tidying up the vestibule, putting vases of fresh flowers in the sanctuary, and dusting the pews and choir loft. In this instance, Earl Marlatt was well known before he moved to Winchester, but the people especially appreciated his humble and gracious personality. He always, graciously, thanked the congregation for its beauty!

Sometimes “greatness” in others is made all the sweeter because their humbleness as persons of faith is the greatest attribute of all.



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Thinking of last week, and February 2nd – I am remembering several years ago, when a good friend of mine accepted a Music Director’s position at a church in Punxsutawney, PA (yes, THAT Punxsutawney – home of “Phil the Groundhog”).  He had asked me to come up one autumn weekend and lead a choral workshop, as his choir prepared for the upcoming church year. I had been to Pennsylvania before and so was looking forward to seeing its beauty in the fall – and it didn’t disappoint.

The weekend was filled with laughter, music, singing, and much, much eating (those people know how to cook!)One morning, after our session and before our evening event, my friend asked if I’d like to meet “Punxsutawney Phil”.  What? See face-to-face the most famous groundhog in the U.S., and perhaps the world?!  Of course.

Now before we go further, I want to let you know that the town of Punxsutawney doesn’t look like the Punxsutawney in the famous (and favorite) film, “GROUNDHOGS DAY”That film was shot in: Woodstock, Illinois, Carey, Illinois, and Hollywood, CA.  The truth is, the actual Punxsutawney is a little isolated and not quite filled with the “character” which was needed for the film. In the real Punxsutawney, “Gobblers Knob” (where Phil is taken to see or not see his shadow) is a field out in the middle of nowhere (as opposed to the Town Square in the film) and when not performing his duties, Phil lives in the town library.

We went to the library to see Phil.  Phil lived in luxury in a large pen with a picture window looking out (and so that humans could look in, when the library was closed).  He shared this beautiful home with his wife, Philomena, and he was, quite possibly, the largest, slowest, groundhog I had ever seen.

Born in captivity (and descended from former “Phils”) he had known nothing of the outside world, he had been generously fed things that tasted good but weren’t necessarily nutritious: the children of the town were given marshmallows to feed him, and his wife, when visiting. And he had very little exercise.  Not surprisingly, he had to be kept inside because he wouldn’t have survived in the outside world…which was, ironically, his natural habitat. 

As my friend and I observed this “lumbering king-sized pillow of fur” slowly make his way through a human-made habitat of water, foliage, and concrete rocks, my buddy turned to me and said something very significant: “It reminds you of some Christians, doesn’t it?” 

Knows nothing of the outside world.

Generously fed things that taste good,
but aren’t necessarily nutritious.

Very little exercise.

 When it comes to “the world” Jesus reminds us that we (as newly created in Him) we are “not formed from the world/or OF the world” (JOHN 17:14-16) but that we have connection to the world by loving our neighbors as ourselves (MARK 12:31), which infers that we actually know them.  We provide what is needed and by BEING AWARE of what is needed in the world.  Each time Jesus’ disciples, or the leaders of the church, tried to get Jesus to speak about the age-to-come, He brought them right back to the age in which they live, and the people that surrounded them, telling them they should concentrate on the “here and now”. 

Some people see the community of faith, in whatever form their “church” exists (traditional, contemporary, house-church, etc.) as a place where “they are fed”.  In fact, we hear that phrase all the time.  You and I also hear from people who have left their communities of faith because they are “being fed” things that don’t taste good to them…they want “good-tasting food” (sometimes marshmallows). At times that “good tasting” food they crave is a lie, and if one has marshmallows as a steady diet, then salad isn’t going to taste so good to them, even though that’s what they need. So there are also times when THE TRUTH doesn’t taste so good to them, and they deem it ”bad”.  Sometimes people WANT to hear/digest only what they agree with, whether it is the Truth or not.  Sometimes people just want to relax in the oasis of love and good teaching/food – be fed and “fat and happy” in their Church.

But the entire POINT of “feeding” (teaching from the scripture and the Spirit) is like that of the human body.  Food that comes into our bodies is there to work with the oxygen which also comes into our bodies (like the breath of The Spirit in our communities of faith) so that we can MOVE, so that we can SHARE, so that we can EXERCISE our faith with the work that brings joy: lifting the fallen, speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, a cup of water for the thirsty, clothes, visits, hugs…love-in-action to those Jesus has placed in our paths.

Like Punxsutawney Phil, some Christians aren’t able to function outside their communities of faith. But be reminded: The Church’s role is not to sequester and hide people away from the world but to prepare, and yes FEED, them to be IN the world.  We should be knowledgeable about the needs of the world, connected to those around us, and help people to see the differences of a life “conformed to this time & place” and a life “transformed by Jesus” (ROMANS 12:2).

The point of reading scripture, of listening to the voice of God through the Spirit, and of continuous prayer is NOT so that we get overweight with the “good food”, but so that our “food”, combined with the breath of the Spirit, will give us a strength we don’t have on our own…to live the glorious life of service to others, love to others, that Jesus wants us to live…so that we will be happy, it’s what we were created to be. 

The ”Phil” I saw passed on, and another took his place.  He just passed, his heart, surrounded by fat, just stopped.  He never knew the joy of his natural habitat, the joy of providing for himself and those he loved…he lived in a “church” that separated him from the “Phil” he was created to be.

That should be a lesson to us all: is the meaning of our lives simply to be aware of our own shadows, or is it to “live” as Jesus created us to live? 



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Well, tomorrow I have a 15-hour drive, back to Indiana, after 30 days working in Florida (and a few vacation days in the Caribbean).  I’ll be back to the “COLD REALITY” of the Midwest. “Cold”, of course, is all “relative”.  When we were down south, you could identify the native Floridians: they were bundled up like Alaskans some days, when it was “down” to 55 degrees.  It still felt warm to us.

In any case, thinking about the all-day drive down and the all-day drive back up, I have been reminded of the fact that I don’t like to be IN BETWEENAs much as I might enjoy “journeys”, if I have a goal or a place to be I want to be there.  If I have a vacation that begins on, say, Monday – then I would like to be there on Monday – without taking any IN BETWEEN TIME to travel. I’m reminded of that flaw of mine, especially when standing (for more than a few minutes) in a TSA line at the airport, or driving, or waiting…etc.

IN BETWEEN is not my favorite place to be.

When I received the call to come work in Indiana, some 29 years ago, there was that period – sometimes known as “lame duck” – when I was still at my Seattle church AND I knew when my last day there and my first day in my Indiana church would be.  I didn’t enjoy that IN BETWEEN time either.  I’m a fast page turner, and I don’t like being IN BETWEEN times.

How about winter…talk about IN BETWEEN.  I’m ready for SPRING and I don’t want to be IN BETWEEN waiting for it to happen.

On the other hand…

John Lennon’s great quote, “LIFE is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” hints at the importance of IN BETWEEN time.  On a tombstone, it’s not the dates but the “dash” that carries all of life.

When preparing to drive down to Florida (for the first time) I was actually unprepared for how relaxing it actually would be.

First, I prepared myself, mentally.  I told myself (almost as a mantra) I would be sitting if a very comfortable chair, sipping coffee, nibbling on snacks, watching the wonderful world go by, and listening to my favorite music…along with the voice from my phone-connected-to-my-car, the woman I call, “Google Girl”, who tells me how far and when to turn.

Second, I kept the goal in mind, but in shorter steps: a couple hours at a time, rather than looking at the WHOLE trip.

Third, I relaxed.  I knew that if I needed to stop, even overnight, I could…though I didn’t want to.  As I said before: I’d like to just get there.

Fourth, I realized that my piddly little trip isn’t the center of the universe, I can just be a “leaf on the wind” for this one…and see what happens.

That is a big lesson for me: No matter how important I believe my life and agenda to be, it isn’t the KINGDOM agenda, it is just one line of one instrument, in the entire symphony of the KINGDOM song.

This Sunday’s lesson contains a story about Jesus, an agenda, and what happened when His “agenda” was interrupted, when quite suddenly His “journey” became a miracle.

2023 is a big birthday year for me – and it is probably time I should realize that IN BETWEEN is what life is all about, so that I can relax, and enjoy the trip.



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WHAT??!!  I have to learn a NEW song?!  Don’t get me wrong, I like new things, especially songs…but as much as a learning-lover as I am, starting with something completely new, foreign, and unfamiliar and trying to LEARN it gets less easy as time goes by.

So, one time, as a guest singer in our local community, at a retirement home, I arrived without any knowledge of what the music or worship plan was.  On that day there was, for the first time in my memory, a hymn chosen that I was COMPLETELY unfamiliar with.  I stood to lead and asked if anyone there knew the song…blank stares and shaking heads.  I turned to the pianist, she also said she did not know it either.  I turned back to the congregation looking at me, searching for leadership.

“Let’s embark on a journey together,” I said, “and see how well we do…it’s always good to sing a new song.”

Now, I can read music but do NOT have perfect pitch, NOR do I have perfect eyesight.  To get the notes with the words (both being new to me) and assuming leadership (along with the pianist) to lead a group…all of whom are relying on the two of us to teach and lead…well, let’s just say it was a fun time.   We finished all four verses, getting louder and more confident with each repetition.  We, (deservedly) applauded ourselves afterward.  Then everyone settled in for a short nap…as I preached.

Seriously…as I was singing, I thought of the wonderful lesson the Spirit was teaching in the process: singing a new song (starting a new way of life, beginning a new job, etc.) may be joyful…but there are things to observe about the process and NOT take for granted.

  1. Sometimes it’s good to start slowly and carefully. I find myself, at times, leading a group of actor/singers as we rehearse music, dance and drama for an up-coming production of some sort. Some people are familiar with the music (they’ve HEARD it before), and a few people usually have performed the show before…but all together, this is NEW stuff and we all need to start slowly. As BELIEVERS & FOLLOWERS, the Spirit is leading/teaching us into all truth constantly.  We don’t need to SEEK to learn.  Our daily lives, if we indeed are “following”, will present us with scenarios where our behavior and choices will “teach” us; life itself becomes both the lesson and the test.  We never cease to learn, no matter how old we are or how long we have been endeavoring to BELIEVE & FOLLOW.  So, when a “new thing” happens (a new leadership position or life-situation for us, etc.) sometimes we need to take it slowly the first time, and step carefully.  It’s that way with relationships at first, and with jobs at first.  No wise person steps into a new position, pulpit, or relationship, believing that they already know everything they need to about that “new song.”  Or, perhaps they do, and learn very quickly that they don’t.
  1. Over-confidence leads to mistakes. The one thing every musician/artist wants to do is learn it the right way/practice the right way. If one learns a song with wrong notes and keeps practicing the wrong notes instead of the right ones, then the song is still being played or sung inaccurately. One way to avoid that, at the beginning of the learning process, is to proceed with caution even the second and third repetition.  I noticed that the second verse of that new hymn I was leading yesterday sounded a bit louder, more confident.  As I approached musical phrases I had sung in the verse before, I didn’t look as closely, I relaxed…and I made mistakes.  And as I made mistakes, I led the congregation into those same mistakes. Any new endeavor we try, any new thing/truth the Spirit leads us to, needs practice and attention.  Just because it’s going well doesn’t mean we can let our guard down TOO much.  My piano teacher always taught me that if I played a piece perfectly once, then instead of moving on to something else, I needed to play it perfectly twice more…three times through, without mistakes, was needed to get it into my head and hands.
  1. The journey IS the joy. We didn’t sing that new hymn perfectly, that day, but we sure sang the fourth verse better than the first. And the JOY wasn’t that we got to the end, but that we sang the whole thing together, wrong notes/words and all, and arrived at the end together. And when all was done, we had learned a new song.  The youngest person there was in their forties, and the oldest was one-hundred-and-one…and it was new for all of us.  The “journey” transcended our ages and bound us together.  

Learning/doing something new takes individual fortitude and concentration.  But when the Spirit leads us to Truth, and to that “new thing” together, the entire community (the Church) is made stronger, more joyful, and progressive.

“Singing a new song” isn’t always easy, nor is it something that is required of us every day…but it would be ridiculous to think that the “God who makes all things new” would have us going along the same paths, to the same places in the same ways as we’ve always gone. 

So, be prepared, whether we want to or not, if we are BELIEVERS & FOLLOWERS, we will all be learning “new songs”.