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A Letter From Pastor Jeff Sievert

Creatures are easy.  Candor is hard, Children crave truth, say the creators of “A Monster Calls.” New York Times, “Film,” Logan Hill, Jan. 15, 2017

What are we afraid of? 

My year-long seminary internship was with the Three Rivers Community Presbyterian Church nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada not far from Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks.

Toward the end of our time together my supervisor, mentor, and friend, Pastor Keith Mitchell and I ventured into the mountains for a concluding backpacking adventure.  Keith, kind of an “old man of the mountain,” was accustomed to sleeping under the stars. 

Though far more comfortable with the illusion of security provided by a flimsy film of nylon I agreed to be stretched in this way.   

I was terrified. 

Sleep came in fitful bits and pieces punctuated by startling crackles and crunches and a deeply unsettling awareness of the uncontrollable immensity surrounding us.  At one terrible moment I scrambled for my flashlight and aimed it into the darkness to reveal multiple sets of glowing eyes staring our way.  Bear, for sure.  Or worse: aliens.  No.  Deer, foraging nearby.  A whole forest and they had to graze within 20 feet of our pitiful encampment.  Really?

Exploring my irrational fears the next morning Keith, ever the Jungian, probed, “I wonder what’s in the darkness that frightens you.”  And we both knew he wasn’t just talking about the deep forest night.  I’ve wondered the same thing staring into the inky darkness of the Pacific Ocean at the end of a pier long enough to place a person above some pretty deep water. 

What do we do when “A Monster Calls?”  I’ve not seen this movie, which is another story about a child (12-year old Conor O’Malley played by Lewis MacDougall) confronting a monster or ”monster”, apparently told with unusual honesty and insight.  When this monster is unable to frighten Conor in the usual way he instead offers him a deal: He will tell the boy three true stories, then Conor will tell him “the true and shameful story of the real fears the boy dares not speak…” 

Most of us have fears we dare not speak. 

Some of them crowd in for attention at the beginning of a new year, especially one freighted with roof-buckling snow, unusually tenacious cold and ice, power outages, multiple cancellations and schedule changes, and the inauguration of a U.S. President like no other.  Opinion is the new fact.  Lies are the new “truth.”  Those with no use for the institutions we cherish are given them to manage.  At Reedville we both proclaim and ask What Is Next.  And we don’t know for sure.  Monsters might call. 

In any case, creatures are easy; candor is hard.  In Lent we reconnect with the stark truth of our frail earthiness.  We dispense with the gimmickry of invented creatures and face with candor the genuine monsters who call.  There remains within us a child who craves the truth.  We know there are monsters.  And we know that by facing them we can be born again.

Grace, peace, and courage in a season of candor,

Jeffrey S. Sievert, Pastor