Saturday, May 31, 2008

Be gentle, good and faithful friends, be gentle

Word just came in that Senator Barack Obama has resigned his membership from Trinity United Church of Christ. Be gentle with your reactions, good and faithful friends, be gentle: the politics of winning are complicated, aren't they? St. Paul's words in Philippians 4:8 come to my mind: you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Some pundits and critics - Senator Clinton among them - will say that it is about time, others will wail this is too little too late and still others will try to use the totally misunderstood realities of the progressive Black Church to make the case that Obama is "not like us." Frankly, I am not at all surprised that this decision has been made given the recent hoopla around Father Mike; the church simply became too much of a liability in this hyper-sensitive atmosphere. Sadly, the place that helped Obama grow in faith and integrity has become a burden; what's more, the student has grown beyond his mentors.

I know this drill - I was a church based community organizer - I even worked with the same consortium in Cleveland that Obama worked for in Chicago. In those down and dirty fights for the rights of the forgotten and maligned, you use whatever resources you have to advance the cause. In Rules for Radicals, the grandpa of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, wrote of his campaigns against Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY - and he wasn't afraid to use the natural effects of beans to stink out the power elite from their upper crust concerts if they refused to meet and negotiate with poor people of color. Hyperbole and in your face actions are the stuff of street politics in the rough and tumble world of community organizing. What's more, sometimes you can't help yourself in the heat of a campaign. Guess what? Real people sometimes take cheap shots at one another. I've done it and probably so have you - and while we're not proud of it in retrospect - it is part of being a broken human being who cares deeply.


Given the fact that a Black man is so close to securing the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America, Obama had to cut Trinity loose. Reinhold Niebuhr used to advise his social justice colleagues to learn from the children of darkness and apply it to the light; he also spoke about being "wise as serpents and gentle as doves." And so Obama acted accordingly. He understands that he cannot control his church. He knows that most of White America doesn't get - and is actually terrified by - the boldness of the prophetic Black church. And he is keenly aware that there is a difference between a regional and national audience. Father Mike's schtick works in Chicago. He was actually very precise in his bold and savage critique of Senator Clinton albeit in a typically Chicago, over-the-top kind of way. But Chicago politics/Second City comedy and all the rest have limited appeal beyond Cook County.

Obama has a calling beyond the Windy City and I give thanks that he does. We are now looking at race relations in America again. The whole of the United States is trying to come to grips with Black (and Brown/Yellow/GLBT and other) anger, too, after 40 years in the wilderness. It will be interesting to see what happens next; in the meantime, the poem of Bertolt Brecht's comes to mine that speaks of the fights the German communists had with their oppressors. It ends with a word of caution: "Forgive us... for we became what we hated."
I leave you with this tune from one of my old singing friends, Garth Brooks, who cuts to the chase better than most in his song, "We Shall Be Free." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XepgIPFV8PQ

This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand-in-hand
When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said
When there's shelter over the poorest head
We shall be free
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within
When the skies and the oceans are clean again
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight. Walk proud, 'Cause we shall be free.
When we're free to love anyone we choose
When this world's big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Have a little faith. Hold out. 'Cause we shall be free.
And when money talks for the very last time
And nobody walks a step behind
When there's only one race and that's humankind
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight, (Walk proud.)
Have a little faith. (Hold out.) We shall be free.
We shall be free. We shall be free.
(Stand straight,) Stand straight.
Have a little faith. We shall be free.
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight. Walk proud. We shall be free.

Friday, May 30, 2008

God damn right its a beautiful day...

Sometimes the only thing you can say about a day as totally lovely as this one in the Berkshires is what Mr. E sang in the first single from Daisies of the Galaxy: God damn right it's a beautiful day!
The smokestack spitting black soot into the sooty sky, the load on the road brings a tear to the Indian's eye
The elephant won't forget what it's like inside his cage, the ringmaster's telecaster sings on an empty stage
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day

The girl with the curls and the sweet pink ribbon in her hair, she's crawling out her window 'cause her daddy He just don't care Come on
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
The clown with the frown driving down to the sidewalk fair
Finger on the trigger let me tell you gave us quite a scare
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
The kids flip their lids when their ids hear that crazy sound
My neighbor digs the flavor still he's moving to another town
And I don't believe he'll come back
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Well i don't know how you take in all the shit you see
No don't believe anyone and most of all don't believe me - believe you
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day
Goddamn right it's a beautiful day

Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP6ueUFOXTc

My wife turned me on to the Eels a few years ago - they are hip, vulnerable, fun, creative and a combination of Leonard Cohen meets Frank Zappa and the Beatles for a 21st century audience - and I find myself singing this crazy ass song whenever days like this come my way. Now I know some people of faith are uncomfortable with hard language - Clarence Jordan used to call them "Kleenex Christians with tissue paper feelings" - good souls who are so rattled by the hard realities of real life (to say nothing of the earthy language of Jesus in the scriptures) - that they can't relate to regular slobs like you and me. So while I think there is a season for all things - including rough words and beautiful poetry - this song not only has a fun groove but you can't help but laugh at the irony of life's pain surrounded by so much beauty. Old U2 put it a little more gently in their song with a similar title, but take note: they reference the flood of Noah, the pollution of God's sweet planet, traffic jams, boredom and the crazy mix of isolation and technology that has become the post-modern reality of 21st century living.

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere
You thought you'd found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand In return for grace
It's a beautiful day sky falls,
You feel like It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
You're on the road
But you've got no destination
You're in the mud in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over and it's been all over you
It's a beautiful day Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
Touch me - Take me to that other place
Teach me I know I'm not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
It was a beautiful day don't let it get away
Beautiful day
Touch me Take me to that other place
Reach me I know I'm not a hopeless case
What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
Don't need it now
Was a beautiful day

Check it out live from the Brooklyn Bridge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18L4id_ZoPU

I love the paradox of these songs - a spirituality that owns how messy life is and how mixed up this whole blessings and curse thing is, too - I bump into it all the time: a family hates divorce but knows it is the best course for their beloved child, an adult son loves his alcoholic father in spite of all the wounds, a saint of the church finds herself with cancer at the prime of her life but keeps on loving. Makes me think of how Lou Reed put it in that song cylce he wrote about friends taken by cancer and suicide that I listened to prayerfully over and over 15 years ago while my sister, Linda, died a miserable death of cancer of the cervix.

Life's like forever becoming but life's forever dealing in hurt
Now life's like death without living
That's what life's like without you
Life's like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind's eye strangling on your tongue
What's good is knowing such devotion
I've been around - I know what makes things run
What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good's a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good - no good at all
What good's a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good's a disease that won't hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all
What good are these thoughts that I'm thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all
What's good is life without living
What good's this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It's not fair, not fair at all
What's good?oh, baby, what's good?
What's good?what's good? not much at all
Hey, baby, what's good? (what's good?)
What's good? (what's good?)what's good? (what's good?)
Not much at all
What's good? (what's good?)what's good? (life's good)
Life's good (life's good)what's good? (life's good) but not fair at all




Life is good - not fair at all - you got that right, Lou. And still however you slice it - with sweet words or coarse - this was a beautiful day. And I have to say thanks be to God.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

When children become our rabbis

This morning I want to speak to our children – and their families – and all who gather in this place and love these children and their families. I also want to speak to those of you who don’t like children and would rather they weren’t around to make things noisy and messy – you know who you are – people who like church quiet, well-ordered and nice. And what I want to speak with all of you about is how important it is to welcome children not only into worship, but also to the table of grace we sometimes call Holy Communion.

You see, I believe it is absolutely necessary to not only break open our celebration of Holy Communion at First Church to accept children without reservation, but I have come to believe that we have to do so in a way that is intentional, bold and wildly inclusive. You may have gathered by now that I don’t think Jesus was kidding when he told us that unless we are ready, willing and able to embrace the kingdom of God like a child, we are going to miss it! What’s more, I suspect that some of us are missing it because we haven’t figured out the difference between being childlike and being childish when it comes to welcoming – or embracing – God’s radically upside down kingdom. And that gives the presence of children around the communion table an increased importance to us for they can become unintentional rabbis if we have eyes to see. Eugene Peterson puts it like this in today’s gospel:

Knowing the correct password—saying 'Master, Master,' for instance (or going through the motions) — isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here. These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

You see, what Jesus is saying – and what so many children understand intuitively – is that all the BS in the world doesn’t matter one iota to the Lord. Would you agree with me – especially those who either have children or work with them – that children have great BS detectors? Oh I know somebody is going to get their nose out of joint because I said BS in this fine New England pulpit, but let’s get real and quit being Kleenex Christians with tissue paper feelings as Clarence Jordan used to say: young people know when they are being fed a line of garbage. And that’s the first reason that Jesus told us that in the upside down kingdom of God children would become our rabbis: they can smell bullshit a mile away and they say so. They want life – and religion – to be about things that matter: life, death, love, hope, integrity and joy.

I love the story of the 7 year old girl who just hated to eat Brussel sprouts: one day, after her mother had worked hard all day and cooked a dinner that included these dreaded little cabbages, the girl lost it. She refused to eat them and staged a virtual sit down strike. So her mother said, “Sara, you will make God very unhappy if you don’t eat those Brussel Sprouts – and I will have to send you to bed without any more supper.” Well, that just set up a test of the wills and Sara refused to budge. So momma sent her baby up to bed without any more dinner and when young Sara got to her room, as fate would have it, it started to rain and thunder like cats and dogs. About 30 minutes later, wondering what was going on, momma went to the top of the stairs to check on her daughter only to find Sara looking out the window shaking her head slowly at the storm saying: “Lord, I don’t see why you have to make such a fuss, they were only Brussels sprouts!”

“If you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life,” Jesus said, “you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." I call that: slip slidin’ away – and because children have a shorter attention span than some of us adults – I’m going to invite my musical friends up here to sing that great Paul Simon song for you as a way of reinforcing this idea. (One of my favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuPJzzcV6jA)

Now the second reason that I am pretty sure Jesus wants us to welcome children around our communion table is that this is one of the best ways for them to learn what is really important in our faith. You may recall that there are three tables we Christians use when we get together: The first is the Passover Table which is a supper designed to help everyone remember and participate in the goodness of God’s love, right? And children are an integral part of the Seder: they ask special questions, they have key roles and they help keep the whole feast fun and focused. The second table is the one the disciples gathered around in the Upper Room on the night before Jesus was given over to death – and it, too, was a Passover feast but with a slightly different emphasis. At this table we recall how Christ’s love was so great that he was willing to give himself up for us – it is a much more somber feast than the traditional Passover Seder – and helps us connect with the importance of sharing love in sacrificial ways.

And the third table is the one our Risen Lord shared with his disciples along the Emmaus Road: it is the table of fellowship and learning – the scripture tells us that Jesus interpreted the Bible for them so that their eyes were opened at the breaking of the bread – it is a feast of discovery and community. Three different tables – three different experiences – and all are essential for forming authentic disciples. Children learn a great deal by what they see the adults in their lives doing – they come to understand what has value and what doesn’t by observing what their loved ones give their attention to – so we had better include our young ones at these tables, don’t you think?

If the New Covenant is to matter to our children, then like our Jewish great grandparents we, too, need to: Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder and teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you'll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth.

Our spiritual heirs, of course, were not speaking of Jesus and his love; they were not talking about the three tables of Holy Communion but, rather, God’s love as experienced in the Exodus from slavery. And the way they remembered this – and what they taught their children and wrote on the doorposts of their homes – was the Shema Yisrael: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God and is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and all your might. (Deuteronomy 6: 4)

But the principle is the same: if you want your children to know the heart of your encounter with the One who is Holy, then you have to teach it to them and talk about it and include them in the celebration of the blessing over and over and over again. Some old folks like to say, “Well, you know, you really can’t include children in communion until they understand what they are doing.” Let me respond with these words from our friends at the Seasons of the Spirit learning group:

It was Anna’s birthday and everything was ready. One candle had been carefully positioned in the middle of her cake. Balloons were hanging from the ceiling, her grandparents came in through the back door with an armload of presents and Anna’s brothers were busy teaching her how to open her gifts. For the birthday lunch, Anna sat in a special place reserved at the head of the table. And after the meal, everyone joined in singing “Happy Birthday” and helped her blow out the candle on her cake. This special meal was new to her but as Anna took part in the celebration she felt loved and a part of the family. She didn’t understand what it all meant… or did she?

It was David’s first communion and everything was ready. The candles in the chancel had all been lit, the special banners were hanging in the sanctuary and a family brought the bread they had just baked on Saturday to the front, placing it carefully beside a jug of wine. As worship began, David sat with his family near the front of the church. He watched intently as the bread and cup were passed from one person to another. As his mother passed the bread to him she said, “The bread of life for you, David” and he took a piece eagerly. Then the young boy passed the bread to his father saying, “The bread of life for you, Dad” and he did the same with the cup. This special meal was new to David but as he took part in the celebration he felt loved and special – part of the family – but he didn’t understand what it all meant… or did he?

These are foundational words, words to build a life on, words to shape the lives of young disciples: today I have brought before you the way of life and death – blessings and curse – and invite you to choose for such is the upside down logic and blessing of the kingdom of God where children can become our rabbis in the Spirit of Jesus.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dig it...

A bittersweet holiday weekend is upon us in the USA but I did a sweet wedding for two lovely young people today, met a GREAT new comrade in musical arms only to have the day close with discovering this hot singer from West London: Martina Topley-Bird.

OMG... do I dig it when she sings this song! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0i44tRDKDA&feature=related

This incredibly sultry groove says:

Tell it face to face you got you a race
Ain't got no time to taste, low stars in fire
If I went away, you could walk today
Time walks a world away: screw me, you try
You're gonna kill some
You're gonna free some
You're gonna lose someone
You're gonna fake some
You're gonna want some
You're gonna believe someone

What you're feedin me, don't make a mark on me
I don't bruise so easily, no scars inside
I tell it face to face, got no time to taste
My memory's your fate: no scars inside

You're gonna kill some, you're gonna free some
You're gonna lose someone
You're gonna taste some, you're gonna want some
You're gonna believe someone

Send me alone, I'm solemn and sorry

I'm gonna need some, I'm gonna need some
You're gonna need someone
Did you believe some, you're gonna breathe some
You're gonna free someone: send me alone
Tell it face to face, you got you a race
Face to face, you got you a race
Tell it face to face

So dig it... cuz this girl makes you want to shake your bootie in all the right ways. Blessings to you as we explore beautiful Providence: be sweet and safe until next week, precious friends.

Why do we pray...

Not long ago someone at church asked me to pray for him: there are profound medical issues in his life and some complications in his personal life. I said I would pray. A few weeks earlier, a new friend was diagnosed with a cancer that is very complex and hard to treat; we have been praying for her and her family, too. And I have been thinking a great deal about prayer in my own life as I try to find my way through the woods with a loved one who is hurting and in trouble and alienated from my love.

So, why do we pray? Clearly, we pray for God's intervention - God's presence - God's healing. And sometimes we experience all of this and more, yes? In my first church, a man facing an operation to remove cancer from 2/3s of his face woke up right before surgery to discover that most of the cancer was gone. Cured. Totally absent! And I have been with countless souls who have come to a totally new life through sobriety and working the 12 Steps. As we like to say, clearly God has been present for life became manageable when we turned over control to our higher power.

But what about the times when there is no healing? When loved ones remain wounded and in the dark? When cancer doesn't go away? When the scars of abuse never heal over? When wars rage and fear reigns? Is God absent? Is it all a farce? An illusion? What does it mean that after Mother Teresa sensed her call to minister to the poorest of the poor in India she never again felt God's reassuring and comforting presence?

Well, if you read one of my favorite blogs, The Dude Abides (listed on the side) the God Girl aka Cathleen Falsani has a posting re: prayer in which she concluded with a note from C. S. Lewis who said, I don't pray for obvious results. "I pray because I can't help myself — the need flows out of me. It doesn't change God; it changes me." And so it is with me, too. Like St. Paul so clearly says in Romans 7, more often than not the good I want to do, I cannot do; while the evil I hate I find myself encouraging." I pray because I can't help myself - I need to be changed and God is the only one who can do it. This prayer from the Community of Iona (Scotland) really speaks to me:

You are the unseen guest at every table;
You are the unknown goal to which all strive;
You are the unnamed source of inspiration;
You are the untamed grace on which we thrive:
You are our Savior... and we are your people.
Welling up in the song of children,
Willing laughter in a friendly room,
Crossing paths coincidentally,
Smiling in the face of doom:
You are our Savior... and we are your people.

Taking time to weave tomorrow,
Taking care to mend today,
Taking thought where we are thoughtless,
Noting what we meant to pray:
You are our Savior... and we are your people.

For this, our gratitude. For you, our yes.
AMEN.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In remembrance of her.. and him... and all the rest

Because we are considering the importance of remembering today - in honor of Memorial Day, to be sure, but beyond it, too - I'm going to invite you to take some time to go deeper into each of the readings from the Community of Iona. They ask us to remember both some of the people we tend to forget in our tradition, and, some of the truths about ourselves we pretend don't exist. Let the music take you deeper into remembering these truths, too, because remembering is part of what it means to be spiritually faithful.

In this week's Christian Century magazine, Senior Editor James Wall notes that President Jimmy Carter's recent peace-making trip to the Middle East was so powerful not only because he insisted on speaking with all the players involved - Hammas as well Israel - but also because he remembers history and calls others to remember it as well. "Most Americans have forgotten," Wall observes, "if they ever knew, that 30 years ago, in a peace agreement with Egypt, Israel agreed to full autonomy for the occupied territories, and also agreed not to permit Jewish settlements there. These promises have been forgotten by Israel which continues to build and expand settlements in the West Bank. But Carter has not forgotten, and his memory may be a factor in the hostility towards him - a man who remembers prods the conscience of those who want to forget." (CC, May 20, 2008, p. 44)

Elsewhere in that same edition, German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, reminds us that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, seems to have forgotten the historic commitments of Vatican II in his understanding of hope and God's grace. Where once the Church spoke of its "deep solidarity with the entire human family," Moltmann writes, now Benedict is mostly interested only with church insiders: in fact, he "limits Christian hope to the faithful and separates them from those in the world who have no hope." (p. 31) What is missing in this loss of memory he asks?

What is missing is the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed. What is missing is the message of the lordship of the risen Christ over the living and the dead and the entire cosmos that we find in the apostle Paul. What is missing is the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come as it appears in the creeds. What is missing is the salvation of a groaning creation and the hope of a new earth where justice dwells. In short, what is missing is the hope of the all-encompassing promise of God who is coming... By limiting hope to the blessedness of souls in eternal life, Benedict also leaves out the prophetic promises of the Old Testament so that Christian hope becomes hard to differentiate from a Gnostic religion of salvation.

There is a great deal at stake when it comes to remembering and forgetting... so today we choose to remember. After the meditative readings - and the music - we'll talk about what all of this caused you to remember and why that matters.

FIRST READING: Disciples of Christ

Let us remember and celebrate twelve of Jesus’ disciples – people who were touched by him – and who shared his ministry of hope and compassion. Remember Mary, the girl from the country town, the poet and singer, who became pregnant with God, by God and for God’s sake. Remember Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin, who shared Mary’s excitement, who born John the Baptist herself, who was friend and mentor of our Lord.

Remember Anna, the old widow and faithful believer who saw and eight-day old baby and recognized that the Messiah had come.

Remember Martha, the cook and housekeeper, the plain speaker, who gave Jesus her anger so that he could give her his love.

Remember Joanna, who with Susanna and many other women, provided the hospitality and resources for Christ’s ministry and were essential to the living gospel.

Remember Peter’s mother-in-law, who was so grateful to be healed that her first act after recovery was to serve Jesus a feast.

Remember the Samaritan woman whose conversation with Jesus was full of double entendres, but whose life was so changed by him that she became the first real evangelist.

Remember the Canaanite woman, who called Jesus on his racism and gave him a hard time, taking his exclusive language to task until he saw and admired the wisdom of her tough insights.

Remember the hemorrhaging woman who contaminated countless men in
her struggle to touch Jesus who saw her faith as the root of her cure.

Remember the poor widowed woman, who, in giving the smallest coins to God, gave Jesus his model for generosity.

Remember the woman caught in adultery, who let Jesus show how the grace of God is greater than the moralizing of men. Remember her whose perfume filled a room with fragrance – a woman who did something beautiful for the Lord – and whose costliest gift to God was love.

SILENCE AND SONG

Won't you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgWftNI-E3Y&feature=related

SECOND READING: I Will Not Always Be with You

He had never said that kind of thing before… You will not always have me. He had warned us about Jerusalem, about going up to the city, about how he would be hounded and rounded up… and other things which we did not want to hear. But this was Bethany! You will not always have me.
Who did he say it to? That was the problem. We could not all see, the room was crowded, and other people were talking. IT was not as if time stood still and everyone froze to watch the action. No, no, James and John were arguing – as ever – a woman with a demented daughter was screaming for attention, Martha was shouting for help in the kitchen and somebody who was allergic to olives was vomiting in the corner… No, you will not always have me.

Some of us thought he said it to Mary. There had been talk… well, there was always talk… She doted on him, hung on his every word. So maybe it was his way of telling her to back off, to put clear limits on their relationship, to say, “That’s enough, Magdalene, there are others you should attend to. I’ve got more to do than be feted by you…” You will not always have me.

But more of us thought he was talking to Judas. For Judas was a rat. He was the kind of guy who was so smug that it made you suspicious. You know the kind of person who is
always saying the church isn’t doing enough for the poor but who would never put a penny into the begging bowl? That was Judas.

He was our treasurer. He always complained that we didn’t have enough money. He suggested one day that if Jesus cured somebody, we should ask for a donation. And he would have pilfered every penny if Matthew hadn’t kept an eye on him.

So we thought it was him that Jesus was talking to… telling him that there were plenty of opportunities to exercise his concern for the poor… if only he would take them. Or was he, in his own way, telling Judas that he knew what he was up to – and that both their days were numbered? You will not always have me.

Or was he speaking to us – to all of us – was he giving us a last chance to say or to show whether we loved him? And maybe that’s what made us jealous of Mary… she always showed that she cared and the rest of us presumed we didn’t need to tell him. I remember thinking: if my mother was dying, I’d give her all the time I could, I would take her a red rose and tell her that I loved her. I would read her the psalms she wanted to hear and sing the songs she had taught me as a child. And here – with Jesus making clear he was soon to leave us – what did we give him? What did we tell him? Why did we hold back? You will not always have me…

SILENCE AND SONG

Like a mother who has borne us, held us close in her delight,
Fed us freely from her body: God has called us into life.
Like a father who has taught us, grasped our hand and been our guide,
Lifted us and healed our sorrows: God has walked with us in life.
Though as children we have wandered, placed our trust in power and might,
Left behind our brothers, sisters: God still calls us into life.

CONVERSATION AND SONG: What Kind of World Do You Want?



Anticipating Memorial Day 2008

This year another 4,000+ US soldiers have died and will be remembered on Memorial Day - or not. Americans, you see, rarely bring honor and solemnity to this holiday any more: we drink beer, crank up the grill, mark the start of summer and visit family. All of which is good - maybe even blessed - but it has nothing to do with Memorial Day. Politicians, of course, will try to lay claim to this day but they usually come off as the pandering buffoons they are and we are the worse off for their words. I think the poet, Longfellow, rather got it right when we wrote:

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest on this Field of the Grounded Arms, where foes no more molest, nor sentry's shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet at the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death no sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath, no wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace, untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease, it is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be as sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been, The memory shall be ours.

But we no longer remember for we cherish social amnesia. The way I understand it, this national holiday began during the American Civil War when the grieving women of the South went to decorate the graves of their fallen dead. After the war, freed Black slaves honored the graves of Union soldiers until 1868 when General John Logan encouraged folk to decorate the graves of ALL soldiers - from the North and the South - as a sign of honor and remembrance. After WWI the holiday of Decoration Day had taken root and whole communities gathered in quiet dignity to bring flowers and flags, prayers and poems to local graveyards where their military dead had been laid to rest.

Today all that is lost. As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang after the deaths at Kent State, we no longer know what it means to "find the cost of freedom." We have been forbidden to see the bodies returning home. We have been distracted from the agony of Iraqi deaths and injuries and have been lied to by leaders with no shame and even less understanding of the morass they have created. Sadly, most Americans are more upset by $4 a gallon gasoline than their 4,000 dead.

So it will be left to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and lovers of the most recent military dead to count the cost - and remember. They will recall that their loved ones died in a war that most of us knew was not needed. They died serving God and country - mostly with dignity - and often with great courage. And they died understanding that they were part of an ugly disaster with no clear short-term objectives and absolutely no hope of long term success. They will remember because most of us are too busy, too ashamed or too distracted to consider the cost of freedom.

It makes me think of the guys (mostly men) from my last church in Tucson who had been former military officers in Vietnam (and a few of the infantry grunts, too.) They wept on Memorial Day. The spoke to me of losing loved ones and strangers in combat. They told me how much they hated war and would do anything in the power to keep it from happening again. And they made it clear that freedom and hope are never abstractions for them, but always realities filled with the real blood of people they knew and lost. And then there were the Desert Storm vets - and a few who had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan - who told me similar stories and wept similar tears. These women and men have blessed me - and all of us - and I give thanks to God our paths once crossed for they have helped me reclaim Memorial Days as a time of sober remembrance.

The poet, Rudi Raab, once wrote:

We are the children of the holocaust.
We are both germans and jews
We are the children of the victims
We are the children of the oppressors
We started out on opposite sides
But the memory of the holocaust will join us forever
We shall never let the victims be forgotten
For if we do, we will forget that the perpetrator
Can be in all of us.

Take a listen to David Gilmore (of Pink Floyd fame) and David Crosby and Graham Nash singing their old prayer, "Find the Cost of Freedom." It will help you remember and makes it all real... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-Y0SMitMpk

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Come on up for the risin'

I weep a lot - like Arnold in the movie Twins or some old guy at church who had a stroke - I have stopped trying to keep the tears back. I used to fight them and really struggle to keep them back, but now I just let them flow. A beautiful flower, a laugh with a small child, an episode of West Wing, a kiss from a loved one, a poem, a song, a movie... it doesn't matter: the flood gates open and I am filled to overflowing with emotion. Frederick Buechner once wrote: That's what sin really is - you know - not being full of joy. Tell the people that their sin is forgiven because whether we know it or not, that's what we want more than anything else... In fact, preacher, that's your job: what on earth do you think you were ordained for?

I wept tonight watching Barack Obama - no apologies and no regrets - I wept: who could have imagined that in the United States of America a BLACK man could be so close to winning the nomination for the Presidency?!? Not me. I still recall watching Dr. King as a small child during the March on Washington. I still remember April 4th 1968 sitting in my church hall (practicing for our 200th church anniversary) when a member of my youth group - and I was the youth group president - said to me: I hope you are happy now... cuz now your nigger has been shot! I still live with the memory of Robert Kennedy's assassination a few months later... and the reaction of Nixon's silent majority and all the rest. I still recall like it was yesterday being with Cesar Chavez in the early 70s and fighting the good fight (Obama's victory cry, YES WE CAN, is the English version of the Farm Workers chant on the picket line: SI SE PUEDE!) So I weep... tears of joy, tears of rage (thank you, brother Dylan), tears of hope and tears of prayer like Jesus weeping for his friend Lazarus.

I give thanks to God tonight for tears - they are truly a way of praying sighs too deep for human words - and one of the songs that always makes me cry is Springsteen's "The Rising." I love it in every version of this song and have sung it with a full rock band and in a simple gospel acoustic setting... but this one is particularly haunting. Not bold, not in your face, just tender and sad, hopeful and heroic in the the best sense of the word, all at the same time. Check it out:

And that's how I feel at this moment in life: it is a sad, joyful, hopeful and heroic moment that could help us all move towards common ground, or, greater fear and polarization. I say, "Come on up for the rising'!"

IMAGES FROM: 1) Chris L. Peterson; 2)http://www.stealthunit.net/message.aspx?intBoardID=3&intMessageID=367059 3) www.afreeman.org/.../03/bruce_springsteen.jpg

Monday, May 19, 2008

An ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment

One of my favorite writers, Joan Chittister, has noted on more than one ocaision that at the heart of her spirituality is a commitment to live an ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment. "As the Zen masters teach," she writes in her The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages: One day a new disciple came up to the master Joshu. "I have just entered the brotherhood," the disciple said, "and I am anxious to learn the first principle of Zen. Will you please teach it to me?" So Joshu said, "Have you eaten your supper?" to which the novice answered, "Yes, I have eaten." So Joshu said, "Then go and wash your bowl." (Makes me think of Leonard Cohen going to the Zendo in LA only to be told to wash his dishes; it scared the crap out of him and he ran away and didn't go back for a few years. And when he did, the Roshi told him to quit the crap and become his cook - which he did for a few years - and then came down the mountain with a bunch of great new songs. Listen to his song, "The Future"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_drEFOaPaK8&feature=related)

And so another day in ministry comes and goes filled with simple blessings. It started with a 45 minute morning drive through the countryside to sit with a father wrestling with the Byzantine realities of family court as he tries to maintain joint custody of his young daughter. Some times all you can do is show up, yes? And maybe listen and try to share the grief, fear, hope and uncertainty of the moment. After a few hours of waiting and just being present, however, nothing happened except another hearing date was set so we drove away which meant that I got to have another 45 minute return trip through the countryside before preparing for a potluck feast with my film/faith discussion group.

It was so much fun - and the food was so incredible - that it was hard to believe that it wasn't planned: our only commitment was to bring a picture that showed a small sign of hope and some food we loved to share. We had pasta with pesto, strawberry shortcake, decadent chocolate delights, hummus, corn salsa, bratwurst, wine and tons of good bread and laughter.

What stories this group of former strangers shared: stories of faith, hope and love - stories of doubt and pain - stories of real life in war and peace. We began this group 4 months ago watching the movie, Chocolat, during Lent and nobody wanted to quit when Easter came. So we watched Babette's Feast and Shawshank Redemption and met to talk about how small choices can change the world. Now, after Memorial Day, we'll meet again in June to watch and discuss the Chronicles of Narnia. Even the group's pictures were powerful and nourishing: lovers holding hands, grandchildren, lilacs, blooming trees, the first picture of Mother Earth sent back by the astronauts, a street sign encouraging laughter. And just to totally surprise me, my dear wife got us a gonga deal for the holiday weekend in a place we've always wanted to visit - thank God for Priceline.com, yes? All very little things but all filled with blessings: sitting with an anxious man, breaking bread and laughing, sharing photographs and quiet time with a lover. Take nothing for granted, yes? To be sure, these small joys do not diminish the horror, shock and awe of cyclones and 78,000 dead or earthquakes in China. For these I grieve in bewilderment, and, at the same time pray Psalm 131: O Lord my heart is not proud: my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with matters too great for me or with marvels that are beyond me. For I have stilled and made quiet my soul, like a weaned child nestling to its mother, so like a child my soul is quieted within me. Trust in the Lord from this time forth and forever.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sheena is a punk rocker...

So I've been watching a documentary on the Ramones - who when they first came out I HATED but have since come to appreciate - and it gave me a whole weird sense of time and perspective. When the Ramone's burst on the scene I was living in San Francisco - in the Haight - as a very earnest young man with a very young family. I had just left the United Farm Workers Union (for ideological reasons - which is to say because Cesar was acting crazy) and was finishing my undergraduate work at San Francisco State University. My degree was in Political Philosophy and my thesis had to do with violence and nonviolence. Shortly after leaving the city of love I was in seminary in NYC pursuing a commitment to urban ministry, peace and justice and being a good, earnest young white boy.

But I had opted out of much of popular music in the 70s - too vapid for me - and was listening to James Taylor/Cat Stevens (finger picking and blues) and lots of roots music (especially Dave Von Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt - more finger picking.) In fact, I was trying to opt out of a lot of the 70s (which was short sighted in some ways, but still true.) My first baby was born in LA (at home with hippies) and then we were off to a little studio apartment on Haight Street and exploring the inner world. When the Ramones hit, my gay next door neighbor and I used to joke that we could not tell whether they were "white punks on dope" or "white dopes on punk!" The Sex Pistols played the Fillmore and it all sounded like noise. To be sure, Talking Heads grabbed me - as did "Darkness on the Edge of Town" - but the rest did not register.

Jump ahead 30 years and I am the Senior Minister of a significant church in Tucson, AZ and I am having dinner with a family interested in membership. They have two children and as mom is serving up a home cooked meal she tells me, "I came alive when I heard the Ramones!" It seems that she and her husband played in a Kiss cover band, they toured with Alice Cooper and worked as roadies with Kiss in Japan. What's more, the lead guitarist in my church band was a big Kiss fan. Now about three years before this dinner, I had been hanging with a local bar band, the Rowdies, and building a friendship with their guitarist, Chris, and one of their HOT songs was a Ramones medley: I Wanna Be Sedated/Beat on the Brat. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMD7Ezp3gWc)

It brought me back in touch with the Ramones' energy and what they were REALLY trying to do back in the middle 70s. And just as I was trying to opt out of the plastic bullshit of the era, so were they: I was going inward and mellow and they were going crazy and loud. But it was the same protest against the horrible malaise of the era. (Think Bee Gees or "making love in my Chevy van!") So I have come to love the Ramones - and all their punk friends from Television to Richard Hell and the Voidoids - and while I don't often play their music... they touch my heart and soul.

In fact, I think they were one of the voices of the Living God in that era pleading with young people not to sell out their souls. They nailed the spirit of the age when they sang: "24, 24 hours ago, I want to be sedated, nothin' to do and no place to go, I want to be sedated!" In their own weird way they sound like the prophet Isaiah to me: "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me and I am weary of bearing them... wash yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow." They were screaming against not only boredom but being co opted of meaning, hope and life with passion.

Me, too! And interestingly I find U2 and Springsteen taking up the hopeful side of this quest. Ani De Franco, Sarah McClaughlin and others, too. Not with the nihilism of the Ramones and so much of the punksters - who all burned out or sold out - but with a modest sense of speaking truth to power... and I'm still playing "I wanna be sedated!"

If you want to kiss the sky better learn how to kneel...

Tonight our acoustic music (mostly) band played during the Third Thursday street fair in Pittsfield. We added some new tunes - "Mysterious Ways" and "Beautiful Day" - shared some of our favorites - "Slip Slidin' Away" and "One of Us" - and had a ball singing "Let It Be," "Isn't It a Pity," "Changes Come" and "Anthem." My two vocalists, who also play drums and recorder (and a little keyboard, too) are excellent musicians - they sing like angels - and can harmonize with one another like they were sisters. And while we are still finding our groove, there is a sort of Cowboy Junkies feel to many of our arrangements - slow, plaintive, slightly edgy with a sensual beauty - that feels very cool.

(check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHRFZFmEq9o)

In our candle lit sanctuary we sang songs of faith through the experience of contemporary secular music. I am especially loving "Falling Slowly" by the Swell Season and our very funky and sensual take on U2's "Mysterious Ways." That line: "to touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal if you want to kiss the sky better learn how to kneel (on your knees boy!)" sounds like an affirmation of faith to my rock'n'roll ears. Better than many creeds and a whole lot easier to comprehend. And the other - "you have suffered enough and warred with yourself its time that you won: take this sinking boat and point it home we've still got time" - should be required listening for every preacher in every seminary. Life is hard enough without all our guilt and confusion making it worse! (end of sermon) The quiet sensual pathos of "Falling Slowly" continues to be a prayer of solidarity for me. And then to play with Paul Simon's, "Slip Slidin' Away" - with that line about God's ways being unavailable to the mortal man..." - is just too much fun. And so another day comes to an end and I rejoice in the music and the friends who make it all possible.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A sacred conversation begins...

Today throughout the United Church of Christ, our parent denomination, a sacred conversation about race relations is beginning: it is the start of what many hope will be a loving leaven within the soul of America to help us rise again into a that beloved community of conscience and compassion Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once celebrated so eloquently. It is the start – not a onetime event – but the start of what we hope will be a long and loving look at what is real – good and bad – about race relations in 21st century America. And it is intended as an act of embodied prayer that could, with the Lord’s blessing, advance the cause of healing and hope in our still too fractured and unequal homeland.

It is hard for me to believe, but it is true, that for the most part we white Americans have not seriously considered or wrestled with the legacy of racism in our beloved nation for over 40 years. Dr. King, you may remember, was gunned down on April 4, 1968 – and after a profound outpouring of anger and grief – serious progress in the realm of race ended. Think about that: 40 years… of wandering in the wilderness. 40 years of injustice and inequality festering just below the surface in ghettoes and middle class neighborhoods of color; 40 years of denial by the silent majority who suddenly rise up – with the help of talk radio and right wing cable news companies – to act terrified and morally outraged when a black preacher from Chicago speaks truth to power in the midst of a political campaign.

40 years – sounds almost biblical doesn’t it? Which may have something to do with the timing of this conversation: it is time we came in from the desert – it’s time we exchanged the old ways of moral obfuscation for some days of radical investigation into the realities of why we are still so divided, afraid and angry with one another. In 1963, Martin noted with penetrating clarity that:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Today we would be remiss if we didn’t also add women of every race, color and creed, too, amen?) And yet it is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

And that reality has not been overcome. To be sure, segregated water fountains and lunch counters have been eliminated – amen – and true progress has been made in some areas of education and economic opportunity – amen and amen! What’s more, each younger generation since 1968 has deepened their commitment to social and racial equality in ways that are healing and hopeful.

And yet – and when it comes to race in America there is always and yet – and yet it would be an ugly and pathological delusion to “believe that we have made significant progress in addressing and reversing the alarming divisions” in our land. Our national church leaders put it like this in their Pastoral Letter on Racism in America (copies of which are available for you after worship):

We have witnessed a systematic assault on affirmative action policies at the state and national level. In the wake of our so-called “war on terror,” our Arab American and Muslim brothers and sisters contend daily with discrimination, racial profiling and misunderstanding about the true nature of Islam. As unemployment increases and jobs are outsourced overseas, frustration and rage are unleashed upon the most vulnerable within our borders – immigrants and those some call “illegal aliens.” After more than two years, thousands of dispossessed residents of New Orleans are still in Diaspora, awaiting our government’s promise to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods. The divide between rich and poor is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Despite the rise of a Black middle class over the past 40 years, the average net worth of White families in 2008 remains 10 times greater than the average net worth of Black families. And racial segregation in our public schools has intensified and even been condoned by the United States Supreme Court.

And just to make matters worse, out of nowhere it seems there comes along a cocky, brilliant, charismatic, hard-hitting, soul-gripping, truth-telling, fact-stretching, fear-inducing African American preacher from Chicago by the name of Jeremiah Wright – edited and manipulated to evoke our worst fears and political nightmares I might add – and all hell breaks loose, beloved, because you can’t turn on your TV without seeing him rant and holler like a wild man.

Now I know Jeremiah – not well by any means and not intimately – but I have studied with him as the only white man in a group of ghetto pastors in Black Cleveland, in the midst of other young urban ministers trying to learn from a master of church building in Detroit and as a parishioner sitting at the feet of one of America’s most gifted preachers. And I can say without reservation that I respect and value the ministry and life-changing commitment to the poor and neglected that Dr. Wright has embodied for over 30 years at Trinity Church in Chicago. I have borrowed and made my own one of Jeremiah’s aphorisms: beloved, I know from experience that God can take a nobody and turn him into a somebody who can tell everybody that anybody can be made whole and pure through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I have learned a lifetime of lessons from the music director of Dr. Wright’s church, the late Jeffrey Radford, who knew how to blend high European hymnody with down and dirty street music and sanctified Black gospel to created THE best blended and thoroughly integrated worship you could ever want to experience – black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Indian – and I mean EVER!

And yet – see what I mean – and yet sometimes the stridency and verve of Dr. Wright – and yes the arrogance as well as the very different social realities between a ghetto preacher and most middle class White Americans – can get in the way of our sacred conversation. It has become a distraction from our quest for the beloved community – and while it would be fruitful to explore and better understand the unique challenge of preaching hope and liberation in the Black Church – Jeremiah is not the issue: racism is.

So let’s take a moment to recall that while our churches may have been built on the back of racism in American – not exclusively, of course, and often simply because they were not sufficiently different from their culture – think of our Puritan forbearers and the Indians or even the Founding Fathers and their slave plantations – at the heart of God’s word is a different vision. Let me share three key texts with you that must take on renewed value if we are to reform our own lives and deepened our commitment to this sacred conversation.

Consider the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2. Scholars Norman Gottwald and Laura Lagerquist-Gottwald note that: Genesis Two is a parabolic narrative about how earliest humans fell out of favor with God, while Genesis One is a liturgical declamation that places humans at the pinnacle of creation. And at least two insights are important for our living in light of our concerns about racism here: First: the biblical text – not some ideological editor – but the Bible tells us that in the beginning God created humankind. Not man but truly earthling – adam ha adamah – being made from the mud. And what does God do but create earth beings, male and female, formed in God’s own image.

Second: there is no racial division created in God’s image, is there? There is social and gender equality – adam ha adamah – but no black or white, Jew or Gentile, free or slave. This, you see, is where our old friend St. Paul gets his insight in Galatians 3 that in Christ Jesus, “…by faith you are all children of God…. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesse Jackson put it like this: we may have all come to America in different kinds of ships, but we’re in the same boat now. And that’s the first insight from scripture: God’s vision is very different from our own. God did not create a Constitution that deemed people of African descent as merely three fifths human. God did not decree that we should build ghettoes and implement red-lining to keep people divided. And God did not call us ugly racial epithets that demean and degrade. Not at all, in the beginning God took the very basic salt of the earth and mud of the ground and formed it into adam ha adamah – male and female he created them in God’s image – and then blew the Holy Spirit into their nostrils so that they became nephesh chaya – earth beings filled with spirit and soul and God’s very life.

I believe a comparable testimony is at work in the gospel reading from St. Matthew – that scripture we know as the Great Commission – speaks to us of making disciples of all the nations. Now pay careful attention to this because what we see in this text foreshadows one of the blessings of the Christian Church: the ever expanding circles of hospitality and welcome into the covenant of God’s grace.

It may be obvious to you but the first circle of Christians to follow Jesus were Jews; yes, he expanded the circle to include women and those who were often ritually unclean, but still the promise was initially shared only with Jews. After the resurrection, however, there is a dramatic change and the territory to be welcomed into the covenant begins to expand:

In Matthew, written about 80 CE, Paul has already been at work for 50 years bringing non-Jews into the fold. Peter has also been doing some of this after his vision gave him permission to reach out to beyond the dietary codes of his tradition. So scholars tell us that what began with Jews in Jerusalem and Judea now includes all of Palestine, Transjordan, Syrophonecia and most likely Egypt. And let’s not forget that those touched by Paul had pushed the circle to Italy, Turkey, Greece and more – and soon there would be Christians sharing the grace of God with the Celts and Slavs well beyond the boundaries of Israel. I will never forget my awe as Dianne and I stood in the great English cathedral of St. Paul’s which marks the place where worshippers have been gathering since about 400 CE.

What Matthew’s words are telling us, therefore, is that Christ calls us to break down barriers – to go out into all the nations – and build communities of faith, hope and love. There were ugly divisions in the Lord’s day between Jew and Gentile, Jew and Samaritan to say nothing of the ethnic conflict between Celts and Slavs and those that continue to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East. And amidst all of this – a real racial and ethnic cornucopia – Jesus continues to tell us that the mark of an authentic disciple is that we “love one another as he has loved us.”

Jesus’ love does not look like a Crusade: it does not resemble the tumult of an empire’s occupation forces, it has nothing to do with holy wars and jihad, it is the polar opposite of the Long March into Indian reservations and calls internment camps for Japanese American a blasphemy. Rather the love of Jesus has to do with ordinary people putting a towel around their neck and washing one another’s feet so that we cleanse away the crap away that keeps us distracted, defiled and deformed.

Remember: we were formed – created – in God’s sacred image. Male and female we were created – black and white we were created – beyond rich and poor we were created… and so a new sacred conversation has begun. It is my prayer and intention to keep it alive within and among us, too.

Yes, I know today is the start of our capital campaign and we’re going to commission our leadership and kick things off upstairs in just a few minutes so we won’t have a time to talk about my observations today – but we will starting in June. Every Sunday in June I’m going to hold a sacred conversation circle of faith, hope and love after fellowship hour so that might listen and talk and hear one another’s hopes and fears about being a part of God’s beloved community of racial reconciliation. I’ll give you some reading and reflection material, too, so that we might stretch our hearts and minds. And I even think there’s some work we need to do here in Pittsfield – especially with our historic Black sister congregation Second Congo just down the road. More will be revealed to us, sisters and brothers, as we move forward and hold one another’s in the Lord’s sacred hands. But this much I know: the time has come to reclaim that vision that is deep in the Bible but also in the fabric of our hearts.

It is a vision where the descendants of former slaves and slave owners are able to sit down together at a feast table along with Native peoples and immigrant peoples and their descendents to share our hopes and dreams about life, death and community. It is a vision built upon grace and courage and even speaking truth to power in love. And it is a vision deeply rooted in all that we hold as sacred. Remembering with gratitude those who have gone before us and relying upon God’s healing spirit, let us covenant again to treat the wound of our people with the care that it deserves. My friend, and president of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas says:

In the midst of peril, these sacred conversation offer promise: for those of us who are White, neither the sins of our ancestors nor our own past failures to confront racism need mire us in guilt. For those of us who have suffered the ravages of racism, neither our rightful indignation nor our temptation to despair need keep us from trusting once again. We are each blessed by the abundant grace of a forgiving God, a God who knows our pain and will be present in our healing. Our call is to trust that reconciliation is possible, but can only be achieved by beginning the process together. As Christians, we profess and proclaim the outrageous conviction that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Set free by that unconditional love, and emboldened by the faith of our sisters and brothers, we can find the courage to raise our voices for justice and to make American and the church all that they ought to be.




(NOTE: for a little musical treat you might enjoy listening to U2 sing with a gospel choir at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OCxE22DOac. And for something equally wild but in a different way, check out the boys from Dublin with the Boss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVdZ0Rdm8zI&feature=related)

trusting the sacramental wisdom of autumn as american civil religion is shredded...

To a degree, I get why so many mostly white, working class women and men are unsettled these days. Stability and tradition offer us a sen...