Monday, June 30, 2008

Another year comes and goes...

In two days I will be 56 - another year comes and goes - and all too quickly. Last year at this time we were slowly driving across the United States spending time in small "blue highway" towns a la William Least Heat Moon or maybe even Kerouac. We took our time, drank great local beers and watched as summer worked the earth and sky.

Then it was on to London for a month of wandering and learning about our Muslim sisters and brothers - and a ton of great music and theatre to boot! Living in a small flat in the "Middle East End" awakened me to how easy it is for Americans to act like the world revolves around us - and at such a cost. I give thanks to God for hearing this song by The Cinematic Orchestra, "All Things to All Men," one rainy day for it shook me from a slumber I wasn't even aware I was experiencing.

Look at the monster you make
Look at the monster you pay
But you claim no responsibility
But you claim not
We're searching for Jezus
But I'll be damned if I'll be crucified

By 10,000 spies - compulsive lies
They Hate Me - They Love Me
They Hate Me cause I'm All Things to All Men
All of the Women, All the Children
Just say when and I'll take you to my Tardis
Who's the Hardest, Who's the Hardest


Back from London we went into daughter number two's wedding, learning about life in small town America and then starting a new gig in a new church and a new band, too: Between the Banks. Three songs have shaped this year as I think back on it:

+ Thunder on the Mountain by Bob Dylan (in which a seriously old guy does his best work while having fun and preaching some good news, too - we used this at my installation)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5uKHa9Gmks
+Falling Softly by Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from the movie, "Once" which we did for a contemporary reality Good Friday worship experience)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=938XY6DX02w&feature=related

+Need One by Martina Topley-Bird (so soulful, compassionate, salty and embodied that it makes me certain that the Word can become Flesh in any one's life!)

And now, as I come upon almost a year of working with my new friends at our new church - and as next week brings another wedding for daughter number one and the death of my long time friend and mentor Sam - I think of the poem by William Bulter Yeats that speaks to what I have discerned this year:

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.'
Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.''

Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.'

A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'
Thanks be to God for a full and wonderful year.

Reason to Believe

In 1981, Bruce Springsteen released the stark album Nebraska to a bewildered audience. Gone were the familiar sounds of his New Jersey rock band - drums, electric guitars, keyboards and sax - and all that remained was a lone acoustic guitar and harmonica. Gone, too, were his songs of love and lament over innocence lost. Instead, Springsteen offered a collection of sobering musical vignettes about the multiple wounds ordinary people endure every day - from dead dogs and broken hearts to stolen cars and economic recession - as well as humanity's courageous commitment to find grace and hope amidst the pain. Part Flannery O'Connor and Woody Guthrie with equal doses of Robert Johnson and St. Paul, too, the songs on Nebraska paint a picture of the Paschal mystery for contemporary culture: that is, "we know all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God's purpose." (Romans 8: 28)

The closing song, "Reason to Believe," is a lament. It takes the phrasing of the blues and evokes an incarnational spirituality which weaves together a tapestry of hope and sorrow. The front man for U2, Bono, speaks of lament like this in his introduction to Eugene Peterson's new translation of the Psalms in The Message:
Before David could fulfill the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quiet a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God... and this is where David was said to have composed his first psalm - a blues. That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me - the blues - with man shouting at God, "My god, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? I hear echoes of this holy row when un-holy bluesman Robert Johnson howls, "There's a hellhound on my trail" or Van Morrison sings, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Texas Alexander mimics the psalms in "Justice Blues" when he sings: "I cried Lord, my father, Lord kingdom come. Send me back my woman, then thy will be done!" Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favorite psalms... and while the Psalter may be the font of gospel music, for me its despair that the psalmist really reveals in the nature of his special relationship with God... crying "how long... how long?"

Lament - blues - the Psalms - is what Springsteen makes real in "Reason to Believe." And like the best blues, it continues to work in every generation. What sounded haunting in the era of Reagan continues to be reworked by the Boss so that when he sang it 3 years ago in the Devils and Dust tour, it was a wired and angry techno-rant while its current incarnation sounds more like Z Z Top and a mad Texas shuffle. Sociologist Richard Mouw has written that it would be wise "to examine popular culture for a legitimate critique of the shortcomings of theology that has so distanced itself from people struggling to believe... we must probe the hidden places... looking for the signs of eloquence and grace to be found there; listening for deep calling to deep; searching, not only for the Deeper Magic, but also for the Deeper Quests, the Deeper Hurts, the Deeper Plots." (Mouw, Blackwell Guide to Popular Culture, p. 6-7)

Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-Nbxzmjr1k

Not surprisingly, then, Springsteen wails in his latest recording, "Radio Nowhere:" This is Radio Nowhere is there anybody alive out there - this is Radio Nowhere is there anybody alive out there? I was sitting around a dead dial, just another lost number in a file, dancing down a dark hole just a-searching for a world with some soul!" Sounds like "my God, my God why hast thou forsaken me..." with electric guitars and a riff borrowed from the Police. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmLt6kcZ72Q

Thank you, John Thomas...

The pastor/president of my denomination, John Thomas, recently joined the Campaign to Ban Torture. As a pastor who has served congregations with active military personnel - and as a person of faith and compassion - I applaud and support John's commitment. His statement is clear and to the point... and it astonishes me that any person and/or president who calls "Jesus Christ his favorite philosopher" could think otherwise. People of good will may disagree on a host of issues but torture is really a non-negotiable - just read the Passion narratives, yes?
I am the Rev. John H. Thomas. I am the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and it is my honor to be a signatory to the "Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Order On Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty." Torture is an issue of deep importance to military leaders and to all who are concerned with insuring national security. But, at its heart, torture is a moral issue. Christians believe that all people, by the very fact of their creation, are endowed with the image of God, a source of dignity and worth that cannot be erased by thoughts or behaviors, no matter how reprehensible or dangerous. Just as my colleagues today will tell you that torture cannot be justified on strategic grounds, I tell you that torture cannot be justified on moral grounds, for it so demeans, so diminishes, and so denies the presence of God's image in a person as to be a violation of the very intention of our Creator.

We do live in a dangerous world. Those who would injure the vulnerable, those who would attack the innocent, do need to be restrained, brought to justice, and punished. To call for an end to torture is not to be naïve about the very real threats we face. It is, however, to attest to the truth that no threat is so great as to justify our surrendering the most central values of what it means to be a Christian. My faith teaches me that human life is sacred, even if that life is embodied in a person who considers him or herself to be my enemy. Such a faith challenges me to see the sacred even in the face of the enemy, to honor the integrity of God's image even when the person who bears it is threatening to me. Today I join many in saying to my President, "not in my name." Not in my name will you justify torture and allow it to be used.

I speak today not only as a church leader. I also speak as the father of a son currently serving with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan. With parents across the country I worry about my son's safety, and am deeply concerned when the use of torture by the United States could be used as justification for the use of torture against him or his fellow soldiers. Even more, however, do I fear how policies of our own government on the use of torture could place him not just in physical peril, but also in moral peril, making him complicit in acts violating his own faith.

As a citizen of the United States, it is shameful to live in a country that refuses to categorically ban torture. As a Christian, I am compelled to speak out against anything that denies and disgraces the integrity of the divine image planted within each human being. As a father, I plea for a ban that will help protect the physical safety of our children and, even more, that will protect them from agonizing and impossible moral choices. It is time to say, “not in our name.” It is time to ban torture
.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy Birthday dear heart...

Today was my sweetie's birthday: you rock, D-woman! We met so long ago on a peace trip to the former Soviet Union. And then, after many changes, troubles, heart aches and surprises we found one another again and have been married for 13 years. She is a great mother to our daughters, a wonderful musical collaborator, a sweet lover and my dearest friend. So... here's to you, dear wife: happy birthday. She is the one who opened my heart to poetry - and then to life - and even more to love. In a bookstore in Ohio, I read these words of Rilke and knew God was calling her to be my wife:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

And so we go forward - with two of our favorite songs:

Friday, June 27, 2008

One more time...

Amidst the busy days we all lead, it is sometimes easy to miss the deeper truths and changes that are taking place within and among us. As I continue to reflect on the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, these observations from Marcia Ford deserve serious attention for they suggest the twilight of the culture wars in these so-called United States. They also point towards a generational shift in our spiritual communities that holds the possibility for a greater emphasis on compassion, creativity and commitment to justice issues. As Newsweek observed last year, when young evangelicals are asked who they admire, it isn't Dobson or Robertson - it is Bono!

The theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, wrote:
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past - whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.

And so we see that today:
+ Seventy to 87 percent of all Christians expressed dissatisfaction with the political system and the direction the country is taking. Imagine what we could accomplish if we turned that level of dissatisfaction into action.

+ Even though 48 percent of evangelicals prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services, 57 percent believe the government should do more to help the poor, even if it means going into debt. That may seem incongruous, but I don't think it is. To me, it indicates that evangelicals place a higher value on helping the poor than on some other governmental services.

+ Fifty-four percent of evangelicals believe stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost. That's compared to 64 percent of mainline respondents, which dispels the long-held myth that mainliners and evangelicals are clearly divided on this issue.

+ The gap between evangelicals and mainline Christians is also much narrower than was once the case with regard to foreign affairs. Fifty-four percent of evangelicals and 52 percent of mainliners believe we should pay more attention to domestic problems than to international problems.

As the G8 Leaders prepare to gather once again - and the gap between their rhetoric to compassion and the actual dollars spent increases - you might want to go to the ONE site and "poke" your political leader. http://www.one.org/

It is, you see, part of what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 12 about not being conformed to the culture all around us by being transformed to live into our spiritual worship: So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
PS: and lest all this earnest talk leave you thinking I am without a sense of humor - as people of faith can sometimes be - you might want to also enjoy this fabulous look into prayer by Mrs. Betty Bowers - you won't be disappointed:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And you will know them by the fruits they bear...

Three religion stories made the headlines in the United States in the last 24 hours - all are fascinating in different ways. The first has to do with old school evangelical, James Dobson, who has just criticized Barrack Obama for a 2 year old speech. In his Call for Renewal the Democratic nominee for President said that "the United States is a highly diverse nation, and no one religious belief has a monopoly on moral values. Even within Christianity... there are many ways to apply the Bible's moral principles." (NPR)

"Would we go with James Dobson's [interpretation] or Al Sharpton's?" Obama asked the cheering crowd, referring to the two widely different religious leaders. "Which passages of Scripture would guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which says that slavery is OK but eating shell fish is an abomination… Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount — a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?"
Peter Gomes, in the most current edition of Yale Theological Seminary's REFLECTIONS, writes: In the early church a Christian was one who believed, on the authority of the witnesses to the resurrection, that Jesus is Lord. In the early twentieth century, some Christians, eventually described as fundamentalists, imposed a series of fundamental belief onto Christianity, including belief in in the literal truth of Scripture, the virgin birth, the second coming and substitutionary atonement. Those who affirmed those things were Christians; those who did not, were not. In the 1920s, Harry Emerson Fosdick condemned fundamentalism for its lack of charity and its refusal to share disputed ground with Christians of other persuasions. He predicted that the kind of narrow, doctrinal piety with which he associated the aggressive fundamentalists of his day would expire in the light of modernity and higher education. He would be surprised and perhaps more that a little disappointed, to find that the modernist position that he espoused has long been in retreat, and that the cultural tune is more often called by an evangelical piety having much in common with the fundamentalism to which he was so adamantly opposed."

Enter James Dobson et al who seem to have forgotten that Jesus has not only given Christians the final exam, but it is an open book take home test. Go to Matthew 26: 31-46 and read about the sheep and the goats. The answer to who will experience blessings now and eternity with their Creator has NOTHING to do with which version of scripture we read, or which denomination we attend or whether we can sign off on the fundamentals of this or that evangelical demigod. No, it all boils down to compassion and justice: when you fed the hungry, cared for the wounded, set free the imprisoned and clothed the naked you did so to the Living God. Indeed, we shall know them by the fruits they bear: compassion or fear and hatred?

NOTE: You may enjoy these two replies to the vitriol of Dobson from two different camps. The first is from within the evangelical world, Kirbyjon Caldwell from Houston, and is called, James Dobson Doesn't Speak for Me at: http://jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com/

The second is Jim Wallis of Sojourner's Magazine reply at:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/06/dobson-and-obama-who-is-delibe.html


The other two stories suggest that maybe Dr. Fosdick's disappointment need not be complete. Not only has a recent poll discovered that most Americans are no longer as dogmatic as they used to be about their faith - could it be that the culture wars have sickened us all? - but 92% of Americans believe in a loving and just God.

Peter Gomes writes: If there is any good news that is truly good news for everybody and not just for a few somebodies, it is this: God is greater and more generous that the best of those who profess to know and serve him. This is the radical nonconformity against conventional wisdom that Jesus both proclaimed and exemplified, and, alas, it cost him his life. Will we hope to fare any better, as disciples of his nonconformity?"

Not at all - and it would seem that more are coming to that same conclusion. Indeed, it has only been 2000 since the Gospel of John asked the same question Joan Osborne sang: what IF God was one of us?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvqBd-X0tNg&feature=related

Weave me the sunshine

Weave, weave, weave me the sunshine out of the pouring rain
Weave me the hopes of a new tomorrow and fill my cup again...


These were the words we prayed and sang over my daughters, Jesse and Michal, when they were baptized as infants. While working and living with the farm workers movement in California – filled with an innocent quest for social justice in the spirit of Jesus – our daughters were baptized when the community of faith gathered for evening prayer – and as they were dunked and blessed we sang: Weave, weave, weave me the sunshine out of the pouring rain, weave me the hopes of a new tomorrow and fill my cup again… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBGRKYIaO4w&feature=related

Today, as we take some more time to think about baptism and its significance for this community of faith, I found myself singing that old folk song over and over again for in it is the sweet paradox of this sacrament: we die and we rise, we acknowledge both sin and forgiveness, joy and sorrow, our wounds and our healing to say nothing of commitment and grace. Baptism is so rich and so deep that it doesn’t surprise me that there is often confusion about it in the church – there always has been and always will be – because there is so much going on all at the same time! St. Paul told us:

When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. Romans 6: 1-11, The Message, Eugene Peterson

Before I go deeper into this, however, let me ask you if you any thoughts or questions came up for you over the course of last week that we should think about now or try to clarify? Ok, first let’s review the three essential theological insights our tradition affirms about baptism and then consider how we might reclaim a deeper and more mystical understanding of this blessed sacrament. You may recall that at the heart of my message last week was an emphasis that baptism is not really about what we do, but what God shares with us. To be sure, we must walk the walk of faith, but baptism is grounded in the Cross – in the power of God at work within and among us – which leads the Reformed theologian, Howard Rice, to conclude:

Our baptism is an engrafting with Christ… in this union his Spirit strengthens us and transfers his power to us… (so) the central meaning is that the blessing is accomplished without any cooperation on our part… (just) as it was on Golgotha at Good Friday and the empty tomb on Easter.

Are you with me here? In baptism, we are joined to God’s love in Christ by grace, not any effort on our part, but purely out of God’s loving heart – which means that all the blessings of baptism begin and end in the Lord. Our new lives are to be a reflection of God’s kingdom as made visible in Jesus Christ, but remember: God’s grace is never earned, purchased or deserved. It is always a gift freely given and gifts evoke… gratitude, not obligation, right?

That’s what all of Christ’s disciples discovered the longer they followed the way of the Master. Peter, once so hard-headed and stubborn, spoke of learning how to cooperate and bear one another’s burdens. John “in the twilight of his life wrote only about love.” (Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 35) And that crusty old fundamentalist Paul became a champion of grace: “Where sin abounded, grace has trumped it; and just as sin once reigned wherever there is death, so grace will reign to bring eternal life thanks to the blessings that come through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5: 20-21)

That means no more shoulda/oughta words or thinking in this place! No more guilt trips or scolding or wagging those fingers or looking down your nose at another in the church of Jesus Christ either. We live by grace in gratitude: Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ… and what we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection and never again will death have the last word...

That is why, you see, we make no distinction between infant and so-called believers baptism. “The baptism of infants and the baptism of believers is one and the same sacrament… and the two are alike in all necessary respects: the person is baptized and incorporated into the body of Christ” whether that happens when we are young or old. (Rice, p. 58)

Because we trust that God’s grace is not dependent on us, we joyfully baptize babies. But let’s be clear: we do not baptize out of a superstitious fear that the unbaptized will go to hell! No, that is a tragic remnant of the worst aspects of wooden Roman Catholic theology and we reject that lock, stock and barrel. Do you know how infant baptism came to be normative? It seems that adult baptism was the general rule in the early days of the church – although it is also clear that sometimes whole households were baptized including the children – but by the 4th century of the Common Era Augustine of Hippo had brought his considerable wisdom to the question of original sin – and one consequence has been that infant baptism became mandatory for believer’s children.

In an overly simplified way, St. Augustine concluded: first, that original sin – the alienation from God introduced into creation by Adam and Eve – was passed on from one generation to the next not spiritually or symbolically, but through the birth canal. That made women the primary bearers of sin for all of humanity. Now a case can be made that lack of medical wisdom was partly to blame for Augustine’s theological curse – and that would be true – but it is equally true that his misogyny and commitment to neo-Platonism also advanced the case that sin was passed on to all creation by women as it was in the beginning. NOTE: now is not the time to unpack all of the problems with such thinking but be forewarned that we will do so at a later date!

Well, can you see where this is all going? If women pass on the stain of original sin to all humanity during birth – and if the consequence of sin is damnation to eternal suffering in hell – than shouldn’t believers do everything possible to save babies who cannot act for themselves from this horrible fate? Of course, the church universal replied, and promptly made certain that before 10 days had passed all babies born to parents of faith needed to receive the sign and seal of salvation in baptism. The first theological insight of our tradition is that God’s love is freely given to all – infant and adult alike – and we seek to honor God’s generosity by welcoming all into the faith community.

Our tradition also rejects both Augustine’s starting point in original sin as well as the superstitious reactions of popular medieval culture that continue to survive even into the 21st century. And let me tell you, dear people, they are alive and well for when I ask folk why they want their baby baptized, you wouldn’t believe how many times I hear these two replies: I want to keep my baby outta hell – or – I want to make sure my baby has all the blessings he or she can have to get a good start in life!

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to learn from Brother Augustine, and I believe that there are still important spiritual nuances yet to be explored when it comes to sin and its origins, nevertheless, be clear about this, too: we do not believe that unbaptized children are condemned to hell – or limbo – or any other place of spiritual purgation any more than we believe that people outside the Christian faith are condemned to hell. As Peter Gomes, Minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University has written about such nonsense:

The notion that God may know more about the salvation business that we do is often more that a true believer can bear… When devout Christians believed that only those of a particular doctrinal stripe have access to God, that, for example, God hears their prayers only, they stand in cosmic immodesty. The Christian Bible more than once makes the point that God’s ways are not our ways and the mind of God is vastly different from our own minds. Thus, when Christians state categorically that Jews or Muslims or believers in other faith systems are outside the provisions of the Lord, they utter arrogant nonsense. If God is the God of all, and not just a tribal deity, then God has made provision – not necessarily known to us – for the healing and care of all his creation and not simply our little part of it.

And so when a child is presented to us in baptism, we see first a rainbow not a sinner escaping hell – a sign of covenant and promise – one more clue that God has not given up on us yet. We think of Noah and the blessing of covenant. For, you see, covenant – or spiritual vows between the One who is Holy and creation – guides and inspires our tradition, not superstition. Is that clear? Do you have any questions?

We begin with God’s promise in covenant that grace comes from above: all are welcomed and all are equal. The second theological insight builds upon this commitment to grace by making the symbolic connection between circumcision – Israel’s sign of the covenant – and baptism which is our sign of the new covenant. Again, Howard Rice is helpful:

(In Judaism) circumcision meant reception into the covenant community that God had established on the basis of the promise to Abraham and Sarah and their children’s children. Similarly, for Christians, baptism meant reception into the body of Christ… the church – the covenant community established through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…One becomes holy by participation in the fellowship of the saints – whether that is the people of Israel or the body of Christ – the crucial difference between baptism and circumcision being that in baptism the distinction between men and women is erased… Christian baptism by its inclusiveness erases gender distinction so that Paul can declare in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ there is no longer male and female. Rice, Reformed Worship, pp. 57-58

Are you still with me? First, grace – second, no superstition – and third, a radically inclusive covenant that welcomes children and adults, women as well as men, those who have been born into the tradition as well as proselytes as equals. One of my favorite writers, Martin Copenhaver, puts it like this in his delightful explanation of our spiritual tradition, To Begin at the Beginning:

We are welcomed into the church (at baptism) not because of our faith, but because of God’s actions. In baptism we claim not that we have grasped God but that God has taken hold of our lives. We put our trust not in our love of God, but in God’s love for us. So we baptize any who stand in need of God’s grace. There is, therefore, no right time to be baptized. God’s unqualified gift, of which we stand in need at every hour, is available to us at any time. Children and their grandparents can be received into full membership in the church through the same baptism because we all stand before the baptismal waters as new born children of God. p. 160

In this commitment to baptism I find something of Christ’s call to become vulnerable if we are to enter the empire of the Lord. There is a sense of his admonition that unless children become our rabbis we will miss the blessings of the Creator as well as St. Paul’s reminder that there is no room for childishness, too, for when I was a child I thought and acted like a child but now I have put such things away. And throughout there is the awareness that now we see as through a glass darkly, only later shall we see face to face.

Now there is one thing more I have to tell you – and then I will be done (for now!) While all of the spiritual insights I have just shared with you are important, there is one practical commitment God asks of the church: we have to take our vows seriously – and all too often this is where the contemporary church falls down and works against the Lord.
We are asked to live as the body of Christ with the one being baptized.
Specifically, we are asked:

1) Will you who witness and celebrate this sacrament promise your love, support and care to the ones about to be baptized?

2) That is and listen extra carefully: will you make the radical grace and extravagant love of God as expressed by Jesus Christ flesh in ways that the one about to baptized will see it and understand what it means to bear another’s burdens? Will you weep when they weep and laugh when they laugh?

3) Will you care for this one as a part of your new spiritual family – living into the demands of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan and even the Cross – so that the one about to be baptized never has to face the harshness of life all alone?

4) And will you go the extra mile – whether you think they deserve it or not –so that they sense in the heart of hearts that you are a servant with them on the journey of faith?

Anything else, beloved, is cheap grace and not worthy of our Lord and his Cross. And I put it to you like this because for generations, we Congregational intellectuals have cultivated a relationship with God that is “impersonal, cerebral and a part of the cosmic mystery.” Brennan Manning notes this always breeds a “religion that is noncommittal and vague… But trust in an intimate God who loves consistently and faithfully nurtures confident and free disciples (and) this fosters a deeply loving people.” (Manning, p. 39)

And more than anything else, we need more free and loving disciples – for those who are baptized and those who are not. “Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut (that) cuts through cozy domestic arrangements and frees you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me.” (Matthew 10)
Oh... weave, weave, weave me the sunshine...

Monday, June 23, 2008

The paradox of technology

Ok... I don't usually carp (on here) about how poor our so-called "service economy" has become (although I have lots of experience with fast food places) but this really wins the prize. About 7 weeks ago my personal laptop computer's hard drive gave up the ghost. Mind you, I bought it new in October. That makes it... let's see: 7 months old! And now it was dead. I had all the warranty stuff - and the extra service protection plans - so I was assured by my techno buddies at the Geek Squad that "you should have this back in less than 2 weeks better than new."

Now I am generally a trusting man - I see the glass as half full - but something about this assurance didn't pass the smell test for me. So, thinking of President Reagan's axiom, "trust but verify," I handed my baby computer over to the wizards and told them, "I will call back at the end of the week just to stay on top of things." Good thing I did because when I spoke to my computer experts on the phone 7 days later I was told (and this is an exact quote): "Oh... uh let me see how to put this... we had a little problem. Some how this was sent out as a PC so it went back to the shop and now they've sent it back to us because... um, uh... it isn't a PC but a lap top." To which I replied (another exact quote): "Help me understand how such a mistake is possible, isn't your department called the "Geek Squad" because you are the COMPUTER EXPERTS?"

For about 20 seconds there was dead air on the phone - and then the young voice says, "Sorry, man, I don't know what happened." I wanted to say, "We already KNOW what happened - you totally f****d things up; what I want to know now is what you are going to do about it!" But, instead, I said, "What do you think our next move should be?" Ummmmm..... well I guess we can send it out again today EXPEDITED, ok? Sure. Fine. Whatever. I'll call you in a week.

That was FIVE - count them - 5 - weeks ago and when I spoke to the manager today, after some checking he assured me that, "Yes, your computer is here and ready to be picked up. Somebody called you on June 3rd..." Now, friends, that never happened - and I told him so - but being happy that my old computer friend had been restored to better than new I drove over to visit with the Geek Squad again. As we were entering the store, my wife looked at me in earnest and said, "You aren't going to have attitude are you?" Moi..?!!? No hun... unless it is necessary.

And then for the next 30 minutes two Geek Squad professionals searched and searched and searched some more for my computer only to have to tell me: "Well, man, it IS here but... it never got shipped out. Somehow - and I don't know how this happened, man - but some how somebody put it in the received pile instead of the ship out pile... and so it hasn't had the hard drive replaced." I have been known to be ruthless - even cruel despite my calling as clergy in similar situations - but for some reason all I could do was ask, "So how are you going to fix this problem of... some body's?"
After a little more running around and frantic data entry into some cosmic keyboard, the chief Geek Squad guy said, "I am going to replace that hard drive right here and upgrade you by about 100 GB, ok?" "When might this miracle take place," I asked quietly? To which he told me: tomorrow by 4 pm. As we left my wife said, "You were a good boy and what did we learn from all this? That when you are nice... people are nice back to you." (Such a saint.)
Well, my friends, we shall see. The paradox of all this technology is simply that I bought this damned computer because it promised to be the fastest one around - with the best service plan - and now almost two months later for some reason it can't get its ass out of the shop.
Simon and Garfunkle were right, after all: slow down you're moving too fast... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoWF2YalYvI&feature=related

A hard opportunity

Today, after worship, 10 people joined me for our "on-going sacred conversation about race" in the United States (an initiative of the United Church of Christ.) This was our second gathering and as we reflected on this portion of the UCC's Pastoral Letter (If we fail to acknowledge honestly the racial tensions or to examine their underlying causes, the anger, backlash, and misunderstanding that are resident in our communities will only go underground and fester. We will continue to be susceptible to the tactics of those who wish to keep us racially divided and distracted from addressing the issues we share in common.) two hard opportunities began to take shape:

First, with two guests visiting the area from California, we told stories of how we experienced "conscientization" ( a term coined by Paulo Freire to speak of how our conscience is awakened and we learn to perceive and expose social and political contradictions. Conscientization also includes taking action against oppressive elements in one's life as part of that learning.) Some of us realized racism was real when we experienced the powerlessness of being a minority, others (who were racial minorities) spoke of what it was like to be ostracized by their own race for seeming too "white" and all of us told of key events that opened our hearts and minds to the divisions so deep within our society (reading Black Like Me, MLK's first speech in Washington, travelling to Ecuador with missionaries, etc.)

Second, we began to tell the very complicated story of our own congregation and town. It seems that the city of Pittsfield chose to vote with the South when it came to returning runaway slaves because our local industry depended upon the plantation economy. What's more, while our church officially celebrates our role in bringing to birth Second Congregational Church as the first African American congregation in the Berkshires, the reality is that the wife of the Rev. Dr. John Todd would not take communion from the same cup as our Black members and the African American church was created to make sure that the races didn't have to mix at the communion table! To be sure, we were generous and helpful in starting this new congregation but somehow that New Testament insight of St. Paul's - that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female - seemed conveniently forgotten.

So the hard opportunity that became clear has to do with educating 21st century white folk in our congregation of this very complicated history and then initiating a public act of repentance. We cannot move into a deeper relationship with people of color without owning our sins and asking for forgiveness. And so we shall...

I had no idea that this would become one of the realities of our ministry when I left Tucson, AZ for the Berkshires last year but that's how the journey of faith goes. 141 years after the end of the American Civil War perhaps we can find our way to being able to sing with honesty the old hymn: In Christ there is no East or West. We shall see...

For more information:
-The United Church of Chirst Pastoral Letter on Racism http://www.ucc.org/sacred-conversation/pdfs/pastltrracism.pdf

-BlackPast.org re: the first pastor of Second Congregational Church: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/harrison-samuel-1818-1900

Friday, June 20, 2008

An act of gratitude

When the patron saint of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, found himself besieged on all sides by adversaries both political and spiritual – when he was plagued deep within his body and soul by fear, self-doubt and physical pain – he cried out: “I am baptized – and through my baptism, God, who cannot lie, has bound himself to me in covenant.” I am baptized…

St. Paul, that crusty old Pharisee who had a spiritual change of heart and became a disciple of grace, used to regularly call upon the blessings of his baptism as a reminder that no matter what life threw at him – neither death nor life, angels nor principalities, things present nor things to come, not powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation – nothing would be able to separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus the Lord because… he had been baptized. And John Newton, who came to write what is now America’s favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” understood that it was his baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ that “saved a wretch like me… who once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” after leaving behind his part in the human slave trade. I have been baptized. This morning’s text in Peterson’s translation tells us:

By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you up in an adult faith wardrobe – Christ’s life, death and resurrection – as the fulfillment of God’s original promise. Therefore since you have enter this new family there can be no divisions among you – no Jew and non-Jew, slave or free, male or female, (Republican or Democrat) – among us all are equal because we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ… heirs of God’s blessing through the promises of the covenant. Galatians 3: 25-20

And yet today, twenty one hundred years after Christ’s own life-changing baptism at the hands John the Baptist, the sacrament of Holy Baptism is not only treated like some magical rite that is the automatic privilege of anyone who walks through these doors, it is also fundamentally understood backwards – as if we are doing something for one another or God – instead of responding spiritually to God’s presence, power and grace-filled invitation. William Willimon, United Methodist Bishop of Alabama, describes a baptism in a “typical North American church in the late 20th century” like this:

A young mother phones the church office and asks to have her new baby “done” next Sunday. One of the baby’s aunts will be in town that weekend and it would be nice to have her there. The pastor hesitates for a few moments before responding, since he only sees the baby’s mother in worship occasionally and has yet to meet the father whom the mother describes as “not the church going type.” But, since everybody will be in town this weekend and since the pastor feels that he could not begin to explain to the couple why he feels uncomfortable baptizing their baby, the pastor agrees to “do” the baby during next Sunday’s service. “We’re already having a rather full time of it next week because we’re in the middle of our fall stewardship emphasis and the choir has planned two anthems… but I guess I can wedge the sprinkling in during the first part of things before the baby gets restless. You go ahead and bring her down on Sunday.” (Copenhaver, In the Beginning, p. 143)

I’ve been there, done that as they say: I’ve wrestled with trying to respond to the lowest common denominator of some folks’ spiritual life, tried to sort out how to teach my congregations about the high calling and sacrificial nature of their baptismal vows and never been wholly satisfied with any of the one size fits all solutions to this dilemma whether that’s refusing to baptize people who are not active and faithful members of a church to doing whatever people ask and letting the Lord sort it out later.

I take Jesus very seriously when he tells us Matthew 10: Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me. If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me.

So what I want to do today – and next week, too – is explore together some of what’s at stake in how we practice baptism. First, I want to ground us in an understanding of the origins and early practices of baptism in the church. Next week we’ll review the three essential theological truths in the paradox of baptism and consider why all of this matters to us as people of faith in the 21st century. But right now let’s think deeply and carefully about what it means for the whole congregation to take responsibility for welcoming a child or adult into the blessings of God’s grace promised in baptism – not just the pastor or the individual believer – but the whole body.

Yousee, the scriptures tells us that there is one body and one spirit; we have been called into one hope through one Lord, one faith and one baptism given to us by the one God and Creator of us all. Reclaiming and renewing the integrity of baptism, I suspect, has something to do with the way we – as one body – make our commitments flesh. And to do know where we are going requires knowing where we’ve been: scholars tell us that sometime during their exile in Babylon, “Judaism began the practice of baptizing proselytes coming into the faith from other religions.” (Howard Rice, Reformed Worship, p. 48) In this ritual bath, parents and children were washed in the water together. All male children were circumcised, too, shortly after birth – both Jews by birth or those by choice – so that “baptism and circumcision came to be signs of belonging to the covenant people of God.”

About 500 years later, John the Baptist took this type of baptism and “applied it to all Jews who, he said, needed to be baptized as a confession of sin, as a washing for forgiveness and in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.” You may recall that John immersed people in the waters of the Jordan out in the desert wilderness, a place symbolic of Israel preparing to enter the Promised Land, and Jesus was baptized in this manner. So first what we have is baptism as a human response to God’s call: the convert is responding to a spiritual invitation, the penitent in the River Jordan is responding to a change in his/her heart and everyone is responding to God’s loving invitation to cross through the waters of the wilderness into a new life of promise and community.

The origins of baptism begin with the Lord and evoke our response, not the other way around. One of the prophetic texts that shape this understanding of baptism is found in Isaiah 42: Take a good look at my servant says the Lord, I'm backing him to the hilt.He's the one I chose and I couldn't be more pleased with him. I've bathed him with my Spirit, my life. He'll set everything right among the nations… (But) he won't call attention to what he does with loud speeches or gaudy parades. He won't brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won't disregard the small and insignificant, but he'll steadily and firmly set things right. He won't tire out and quit. He won't be stopped until he's finished his work—to set things right on earth.

Baptism is a comeback to God’s grace, an act of gratitude, not a magical rite that evokes it: it begins with God and ends with God and calls us to reply with our lives. Now the early church had only this model to consider when it went public after Pentecost – and at first this was enough. But in time it would seem that baptism took on other meanings, too. Paul teaches that baptism is an adult’s free choice to be immersed into the cross of Christ so that by faith we might die and be raised by God into a new life. Again, this is not something we do, it is Christ at work within and among us, so that baptism is our response to Jesus’ invitation: pick up your Cross and follow. Christ does the work – Christ does the calling – Christ does the healing just as God brought Christ from the tomb into the resurrection of Easter without anyone’s help.

Originally, Christian baptism took place as soon as a person sensed a change in their heart: it was immediate. As more time passed, and the consequences of saying “Yes” to Jesus and “No” to Caesar became more costly, the early church celebrated baptisms on Sundays before communion and eventually reserved them for the Saturday before Easter. This change asked people seeking baptism to show the evidence of Christ within them. In many cases this meant three years of study that were evaluated not by your knowledge of theology but by lives dedicated to compassion and service.

In Colossians 3 we have what is likely an early summary of how candidates for baptism were evaluated: Now you must get rid of all such things as anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of our creator… as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience… and above all clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

First baptism is about being called into a new relationship with God by conversion, then it takes on the cleansing of repentance; and in its Christian form becomes a way for believers to enter the death of Christ so that we might be raised by God into a resurrection like Christ’s. And just to keep things interesting, there is all this water imagery surrounding the theology: water at the start of creation that God’s Spirit gives shape and form and order to; water that brings death in the flood during the era of Noah; water at the Red Sea that allows the children of Israel to escape from oppression into freedom in the Exodus while bringing death to their captors; water in the Jordan River to be passed through on the way into the Promised Land and now the water of life and death in the Cross.

Now all this water is paradoxical, isn’t it? It means many different things all at the same time: there is blessing and curse, life and death and so much more involved and all of it is taking place during baptism. (For fun take a look and listen to Allison Krause singing, "Down in the River to Pray" set to pictures of water. Pretty cool: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1FQqSGxBso)
Our baptismal prayer puts it like this: We thank you, Lord, for the gift of creation called forth by your saving Word. Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth all the earth to sustain life. In the time of Noah, you washed the earth with the waters of the flood and your ark of salvation bore a new beginning. In the time of Moses, your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the Promised Land. In the fullness of time, you sent Jesus Christ, who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb. He was baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well, washed the feet of his disciples at the Passover Seder and sent them forth to baptize all the nations by waters and Holy Spirit.

So tell me: what truths and images, nuances and insights, do you hear in this prayer – and what do they mean to you? The water of baptism: brings order out of chaos and sustains life, leads us into death and returns us to new life, is all about Passover and freedom as well as birth and humanity, repentance and compassion, welcoming outsiders, living in humble service and welcoming the world into community

That’s the context – and the promise – and the mystery of the paradoxical symbols of this sacrament: baptism is born of God’s love and our response to grace. Next week we’ll talk about the theologies of baptism and what they mean for us today, and, we’ll consider some of the ways that we can deepen our own commitments as a church body so that we encourage one another to really live into our baptismal vows.

But that’s for next week, right now I want to tell you why all of this matters: when we authentically and honestly respond to God’s grace it means we are getting real about our true selves – the ones we don’t let other people see – the ones we pretend aren’t really there but sneak out when we’re tired or hungry or under stress. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The theologian, Douglas John Hall, put it like this: “… the besetting sin of North American mainline Protestantism has been its “unreality” – its tendency to play at religion – to fake it by pursuing forms of religion and worship which do more to conceal… than communicate.”

I think Hall is right: so much of what passes for church life is fluff and show – empty tradition or sanctimonious judgment designed to control us by guilt or shame – rather than set us free by grace, faith and forgiveness. Let's be honest: Jesus did not enter real life – endure the agony and humiliation of the Cross and experience the awe of resurrection - to give birth to a museum of so-called saints. Nor was his life, death and renewal conceived as an act of piety or something so fragile and remote as to exist only on a pedestal.

No, the Lord became flesh to help us get real – to show us our worst broken selves in the mirror that we might cry out for healing - and when we find that we have been renewed by grace not judgment....then the good news has become flesh. Baptism is our act of gratitude for God's grace. So let those who have ears to hear, hear.

OMG...!

I was getting ready to close the day with prayer and came across this poem by Eavan Boland of Dublin. What a treasure...omg!

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Anthem

Our little band - Three Marys or First Fruit or Two Skirts and a Kilt or something yet to be decided (maybe "Between the Banks") - played tonight in our Sanctuary for our second Third Thursday in Downtown Pittsfield. It was a lot of fun and we sounded pretty fine doing our Cowboy Junkies versions of Collective Soul, U2, Joan Osborne and others. We threw some Cat Power, Over the Rhine, the Beatles and country gospel into the mix for a lovely evening. I think about 50 different people unrelated to the church wandered in for some music and refreshment. Two church photographers displayed their works, too, which made the Sanctuary even more engaging.

It is really refreshing to live in a community where people respond to civic pride; hundreds of people were out tonight walking up and down the main drag to visit, eat, listen to music and check out the art downtown. They come out for the Halloween and Fourth of July parades, too. Very refreshing indeed and I am grateful to live in this place. I know there have been hard times here - especially in the 80s when economic collapse really kicked the town in the teeth - but people are working in creative ways to rebuild and I can celebrate their careful optimism. Tomorrow, for example, we are going to a dinner/dance to support the musical ambassadors of our town as they get ready to visit our sister city in Ireland. I've hit it off with the lead musician who is a delightful man and great guitar player - and he's asked me to bring my guitar (and cowboy hat) and sit in. Too much fun.

There were four songs tonight that really touched me: hearing my wife, Dianne, sing Paul McCartney's ode to the US Civil Rights movement, "Blackbird" brought tears to my eyes as did our singing partner, Jenna's solo version of the gospel "Eyes on the Sparrow." Then the teamed up for a duet on Leonard Cohen's "Anthem" that was so damned good I asked them to do it again later - and they did! And we closed with my little tribute to Tim Russert by reprising the song Springseen sang at his memorial service: "Thunder Road." After it was all over a young woman said to me wistfully, "I've never heard Springsteen in church... it works though and belongs." I agree - same with Cohen's "Anthem" which quietly rails against fundamentalism and political religion only to remind us, "there is a crack, a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in!" Amen, Leonard, you wildass French Canadian Zen Buddhist Jew with an attitude and a soft spot for Christianity's mystics. This version by Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen is too hot. I love it. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dIv2MXU7_4

Thunder Road...

Today one of my heroes, Tim Russert, was laid to rest. We just finished watching the public portion of his time of remembrance and it was too, too sweet. A big, passionate Irish man of faith who loved America, God, his family and Springsteen: what's not to love about this guy?

It is late and I have work to do - and music to share tomorrow (our little band, the Three Marys, will be playing for another downtown party in Pittsfield in the Sanctuary) - but I wanted to return thanks to God for Tim. Dianne and I feel like he helped carry us through some of the best and worst of this political season. And who can forget his hair during the days when George Bush stole the election from Al Gore? What a treasure of wisdom, hope and integrity.

Like many I was stunned and saddened by the news of his death last Friday. As our daughter, Jesse, said to me after we'd checked into the hotel (we were in Indiana for a wedding): "58 - oh Dad, that cuts too close to home!" And it does... which is one reason I am so glad the Boss made the time to sing "Thunder Road" for Russert one last time from the road in Europe. It is such a sad and hopeful song all at the same time... maybe I need to start singing it again... maybe tomorrow?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Last dance with mary jane...

The sounds of Tom Petty were in my head all weekend -"she grew up tall and she grew up right with them Indiana boys on an Indiana night" - for I just returned from a wedding in an Indiana town on an Indiana night and it was a sweet time.

After a flight from Albany, NY to Lexington, KY my 31 year old daughter and I drove another three hours to offer support and love to young Kris (that's right his momma loved Kristofferson) on his wedding day. It was a long way to go for a short visit, but it felt important for this young man has seen more than his share of grief and loss and we wanted to add our small gift of encouragement. So with a few other members of clan Lumsden - and about 150 local Indiana farmers of German background - we rejoiced as Kris and Amy shared their vows to the sounds of Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood. Later they danced to Bob Seeger and Meatloaf while their families ate fried chicken and drank beer.

It was a hoot to be in the German Midwest again - lots of beer, blondes and bratwurst - and even more fun to share it with my brother, Phil, who is a decidedly bi-coastal kind of boy. I have served congregations in Saginaw, MI and Cleveland, OH, but he's mostly lived in New England with a number of years in hippie Florida followed now by almost a lifetime in San Francisco. So he had no idea what was happening when the kids started acting like birds, clapping their hands in rhythm and laughing hysterically to the "Chicken Dance." But he had to admit it was hogs heaven eating that post wedding feast of hearty German fare. It was a whirlwind 48 hours of breakfasts with the wider family, laughter and tears and just a little worry for some of the family's children who are having a rough time right now.

And, as so often happens for me, all that time in the car on the way to family gatherings evoked a host of memories: the last time my daughter and I traveled together in a car for a family event was the funeral of Kris' five year old brother who died 20 years ago. Since then his mom (my sister) and his grandma (my mother) have gone, too. There wasn't a dry eye in the Lumsden clan pew when almost in unison we read the back of the wedding bulletin: Today we remember that loved ones are missing, ones our hearts hold on to as we travel along life's way, loved ones who made life special for all who have gathered here, ones who won't be forgotten but cherished from year to year. And now as we pause to remember, let us fondly recall how dearly each of us loved them... and how they loved us all. How does the New Testament preacher put it: since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...? What's more, I discovered that both my mother and I LOVE Reuben sandwiches WITHOUT the usual American 1,000 Island dressing (and so does my youngest sister!)

I am back home in the Berkshires (after a tough flight) with my loved one and a faith community I love, looking forward to our daughter's wedding in just 30 days - and I can't help but meditate on this poem by Kabir:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think ... and think ... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.
If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,do you think ghosts will do it after? The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic just because the body is rotten --that is all fantasy. What is found now is found then. If you find nothing now,you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death. If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire... So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is, believe in the Great Sound! Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Every day is a winding road...

I love Sheryl Crow: she is hot, talented, funny, a great rocker, dealt with cancer and heartbreak and a friend to those who love compassion. As today unfolded, I was struck by her song about how weird life can be if you are paying attention:

I hitched a ride with a vending machine repair man
He says hes been down this road more than twice
He was high on intellectualism
I've never been there but the brochure looks nice
Jump in, lets go, lay back, enjoy the show
Everybody gets high, everybody gets low,
These are the days when anything goes
Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine
He's got a daughter he calls easter
She was born on a tuesday night
I'm just wondering why I feel so all alone
Why I'm a stranger in my own

Yesterday was hot as sin here - but today it is heaven. This weekend I will be in Indiana with my dear daughter, Jesse, participating and celebrating my nephew's wedding. It will be a mini-family reunion as my brother, Phil, and his wife, Julie, as well as my dad will all be in attendance. The celebration with Chris is important for many reasons not the least is that he is the only child of my late sister, Linda, to still be connected to the family. His older brother, Don, is bi-polar and has disappeared from family life and his younger brother, Michael, died on the operating table at age 5 many years ago. Chris had been in prison - one of the sad by-products of my sister's death - but cleaned up his act and was released on parole so that he could be with my mother in hospice care during the last month of her life. Wild, yes? So much pain, so much death and still there is new life and hope. So, we will rejoice with Chris at this wedding and party like it was... 1999?!?

I've been living in a sea of anarchy
I've been living on coffee and nicotine
I've been wondering if all the things
I've seen were ever real, were ever really happening
Me, too, Sheryl, me, too! And then, from out of nowhere and old friend from forgotten days named Chris is in touch and... everyday is a winding road.

finding jesus in a wheelchair...

When I travel north to L'Arche Ottawa, I have an extended time of solitude in the car. The visuals are lovely - rock cliffs, rushing riv...