Keeping our Walls Plumb

Keeping our Walls Plumb


The Rev. Dr. John A. Nelson is pastor of the Congregational Church of Salisbury (CT), UCC.

Scripture: Amos 7:7-8 (trans. Robert Alter, adapt.)

“Thus did the Holy One show me: And, look, the Master was stationed by a wall built with a plumb line, and in His hand was a plumb line. And the Holy One said to me; “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” And the Master said to me, “I am about to place a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will no longer forgive them.”

Reflection: Keeping our Walls Plumb


So much for keeping politics out of the pulpit. If that’s a prime directive in your congregation, this week’s Deuteronomy reading may be more palatable. Not Amos. As commentators have written, for this prophet there’s just no wiggle room: God won’t abide religious practices that downplay righteousness or leave out the demand for justice. There are lines that we cross at our peril. Creativity has its place, to be sure — after the foundation is solid, and the walls plumb. 

When John Barrymore moved into the top floor of a townhouse on Manhattan’s West 4th Street in 1917, he was determined to make it his own. His plan for the place was metaphysical and alchemical; his decorating was exuberant, including walls covered with gold panels and smudged with candles. Plumb and straight were not primary values. 

The contractor hired for the job “... had numerous worries. His rules, square, and level disappeared. When Barrymore volunteered that he had ‘stolen’ these tools, the carpenter was entirely baffled. Barrymore explained: ‘I want you to build this cabin without benefit of rulers. I want everything crooked or off center, like a Nuremberg poet’s home. Just guess your way along, old man, as we all do about most things.’” (Gene Fowler, Good Night, Sweet Prince)

A fanciful construction by an eccentric celebrity has plenty of charm. Building codes, not so much. Amos will not be our inspiration for a venture into creativity. Yet this uncompromising prophet remains indispensable for staying alert to God’s insistence that the structures of our homes, our churches, our nations are lived expressions of the righteousness and justice that are woven together with the vision of shalom. Let’s keep the plumb lines and framing squares at hand. 


Holy One, guide us to tools worthy and true, for building beloved communities sturdy enough to shelter all who seek a place of welcome, dignity, and safety. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war
  • For those grieving or suffering due to mass shootings
  • For Drew Page, diagnosed with cancer in 2020, who stepped down from the SNEUCC staff and as editor of this newsletter in order to focus on his health and family
  • For the family and friends of The Rev. Edith P. O'Donnell, who was actively involved in the Litchfield Congregational Church, and in the statewide UCC Connecticut Conference and churches in a variety of capacities, and died June 17, 2022.
  • For those who do not have freedom

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For those who are lived expressions of the righteousness and justice that are woven together with the vision of shalom

This Week in History:

July 2, 1964 (58 years ago): U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House. [History]

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

John A. Nelson

pastor and teacher of the Niantic Community Church

June 30, 2022
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