Celebrating our OWN Carnivale...

One of our growing "spiritual disciplines" is the embracing of carnival before Lent.  Call it Mardi Gras - or the often anemic Protestant "Shrove Tuesday" - the goal is the same:  enter into the fatness of life - especially those practices you are going to forsake during Lent - with real abandon. Some have said that the word, carnival, "comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means "farewell to meat", signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival) Wherever it comes from, it is a good practice but only if part of a larger commitment.

Now, Dianne and I do not like to do ANYTHING half-assed whether that is carnival or Lent - or music - or loving.  What's more, given the demands of observing a Holy Lent as both pastor and individual person, we find that it is easy to lose touch with one another during the 40 days before Easter. There are just too many demands - personally and professionally - to really be deeply present with one another.  So, over the years we've started taking a little time off before Lent for both personal reunion and carnival - and THIS year we did it up right!  We spent four days away - four days of walking all over Cambridge - four days of feasting and loving - four days of buying TONS of new music - drinking great wine - and listening to new indie bands!

Ok, it isn't Saturnalia - or even a T'Ohono O'Odham New Wine Festival - but it makes sense to us.  I've been thinking about carnival a lot - both for myself and my congregation - and one of the reasons I think it makes so much sense is that it is an invitation to embrace life fully, deeply and passionately.  It is a commitment to practice not taking people or God's grace or joy for granted.  Eating and feasting and celebrating is just as important a spiritual practice as fasting and praying and waiting in silence:  one helps you embrace the abundant blessings of the ordinary while the other trains you in patience and presence during hard times.  And both are part of reality in this realm, yes?

My sister-in-law, Julie, sent me a note while we were feasting that one of my San Francisco heroes - Johnny Nitro - passed from this life to life everlasting.(http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/21/BAN81HR1FE.DTL) 

I've been loving me some Johnny Nitro since my doctoral work at San Francisco Theological Seminary ten years ago.  Phil and Julie still had a small apartment on Green Street in the heart of North Beach in those days.  So every Friday after a week of intense class work, I would catch the ferry across the Bay and head to North Beach for a time of GREAT San Francisco rhythm and blues at The Saloon - THE local bar to hear local bands and shake your booty, too! 

I would catch two shows every Friday night, join my family for some fun during the day each Saturday, dance until 2 am on Saturday and then catch the Sunday night show as well.  EARLY Monday morning I would jump the ferry back to San Anselmo to start my doctoral seminar on the "problem of evil and God's love" at 9 am all over again.  I made it a point to turn my children on to Johnny Nitro when they were in the area and brought my beloved, Dianne, there to dance into the morning whenever she could join me.  He was a delight and part of my pilgrimage after I was awarded my doctorate.

Now there are too many shaggy-dog stories to tell about Johnny Nitro and me at The Saloon (http://www.sfblues.net/Saloon.html) with Phil and Julie; let's just say I was testing the limits of my endurance.  So when news of his passing came to me during our more modest carnival in Cambridge this weekend, it hit me hard - and I redoubled my commitment to embracing all the joy God shares in each ordinary day as preparation for a Holy Lent. I think that is what carnival is for - to wake you up to the shortness of life - and push you into seeking God's joy.

We also did two other things that are causing me to be reflective tonight:

+ First, we went out each night to check out live music!  No couch potato stuff or whining about being too tired.  Life is ALWAYS hard so shut up!  We put our butts in gear and made a point to hear some live acts that were to die for - something we need to do back home in Pittsfield, too.  Life is too short to waste it watching TV, yes!  

Two of the performers who knocked me out were Lake Side Dive (www.lakestreetdive.com/) and Anne Heaton (http://www.anneheaton.com/) Very, very different acts - both excellent in their own right - and the bass player from Lake Side Dive ALSO plays with a group I've come to love:  Joy Kills Sorrow (http://www.joykillssorrow.com/Joy_Kills_Sorrow/News/News.html)

+ Second, we took time to walk - and talk - and explore.  Today, for example, taking the back roads home we went to pay homage to Thoreau at Walden Pond (never been there.) And as we were winding out way towards the highway it became clear that we were just a few minutes from Sudbury where I lived when I was 12-13.  So we took a detour, stopped at the Town Hall and eventually made our way back to our old house.  It was a fun, silly and very tender way to spend the afternoon.  

We also headed into Worcester for a late lunch - and what a revelation that was! 15 years ago I interviewed at a downtown church there that was offended and put off by Dianne's more eccentric dress!  We weren't called there and went to Tucson instead - which was a profound blessing - and trying to find a place to eat in Worcester today made that clear in spades.  This is one hurting town - and while I have a commitment to ministry in hurting places - it is clear that this city is going to have to bottom out before anything gets better.  Very, very sad.

And now we're back - there is writing and getting ready for Ash Wednesday to do tomorrow - and heading off to hear my buddy Andy's Dixieland band for one last taste of Mardi Gras before the fast begins.  This trip confirmed to me that the rhythm of the the church calendar is sacred, but only if the joy and feasting part is embraced as fully as the waiting and fasting part.  Too often it is all somber ashes and emptiness - and that is not the totality of God's presence incarnated in Jesus but a LONG shot.


Black Pete said…
Wow, we both used to live in Sudbury, and Joyce is also from Sudbury (Ontario Canada, that is! ;))--a very important place in our journey.

Shrove Tuesday--anemic is the word! But I'm going to that this evening anyway and having some pancakes and sausages (I hope), followed by the Ash Wednesday service a day early. It's because of the notion, "Why not do it while they're here?"

Then, getting down to some serious Lentenness.

Looks like you had a wonderful Carne Vale! Glad you (and your blog) are back, James!
Di said…
AND I'm planning to make some absolutely DISallowed-by-the-diet goodies to eat at band practice tonight! Maybe we should call it CARBivale?!?
Black Pete said…
That's why they call it FAT Tuesday, man!
RJ said…
Yeah, I am glad we are back up and running - seems our little trip to Cambridge flagged something with google but now we're cool. Sudbury - another fascinating connection - and I'm hoping for a brew with the Mardi Gras brothers at baba Louie's after our Carbivale!

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