Sunday, November 30, 2014

We do not have to wait for death to know her blessings...

"We are all eventually heading towards (a) collapse: "Sister Death," as St. Francis calls her in his Canticle of the Sun, is coming for each one of us. As frightened as we are of her, she is our sister. She comes in love to free us from our ego - the ego of our nation, our religious tradition, our species, our culture and our many separatenesses. We will all eventually need to meet her, at the moment of our death. But we do not have to wait until then to get to know her blessings. For it is now that we need to do the work of dying to the way in which our ego claims to be the center, rather than serving the Center. It is now, both individually and collectively, that we need to be freed from the imprisonments that keep us in exile from the true heart of one another." (J. Philip Newell, Rebirthing God, p. 55)
What a marvelously upside-down and paradoxical blessing, yes? "We do not have to wait until (the moment of our death to meet "Sister Death") to know her blessings." We can be free now as we practice dying and letting go over and over and over. And even while I resist and try to hang on to control of so much of my life, I know this dying to self to be the grace-filled way of the Lord. St. Paul states this with clarity in I Corinthians:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through education and obvious reason, God decided, through the foolishness of the gospel, to save those who believe. For some demand signs and others desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to the old religion and foolishness to those caught up in the status quo, but to those who are the called and listen – people of every race, gender, age and class – Christ reveals the power and the wisdom of God: and God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

All week long I have been aware of the sacred invitation to let go: my favorite
music event of the year had to be cancelled because of the storm; the heavy, wet snow took out some of our most beautiful trees; my grief over my father's death was unlocked in waves of sorrow; my anxieties about serving a lively but struggling congregation in transition were brought up to the surface; and my nation's ugly and fear-based history of race hatred broke through our collective denial again after the grand jury in Ferguson chose not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.  That is a lot of external death and dying - and there is more to come to be sure. In Newell's small gem of a book, however, I keep finding clues that point me back to the blessings Sister Death aches to share.

+ In a chapter on Thomas Merton, Newell writes: "... in order to be strong for the work of the transformation of the world...this involves dying to the way in which the ego wants to be the center - whether that be our individual ego or our collective ego - the ego of our nation, religious tradition or species. Jesus said, 'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain.; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.' (John 12: 24)" He goes on to write: "We need to die on a certain level of our being in order to find ourselves alive and free at another... (because) spiritual practice is about being turned completely inside out."

+ In another section of Rebirthing of God, where Newell considers the wisdom of Carl Jung, he writes: "We live in a painful fragmentariness... a division of the parts. We have separated what God has joined together, the oneness of the universe." What is needed for healthy and holy living, he continues, is the embrace of creation's opposite. "There is the sun and the moon, the feminine and the masculine, the east and the west. Nothing exists without its opposite: everything has its complementarity. Life wants all days to be followed by nights, the emergence of seed-force in spring to be balanced by seeds falling back into the ground in autumn." All too often, however, we live in captivity to the opposites rather than their embrace. Consequently, Jung calls for us to "celebrate a Last Supper with our ego. We need to die to the way in which our ego claims to be Lord so that we can truly live the dignity of our selfhood in the commonweal of relationship with all things. And we need to celebrate this last supper not just once, but again and again and again, in every moment, encounter and relationship if we are to be truly free."
+ And in yet another chapter on Mary Oliver, he includes the following: "My work is loving the world,' says Oliver, 'which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.'"

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones, just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Sister Death is speaking clearly to me these days - even when I don't want to listen - urging me, luring me, encouraging and guiding me to let go so that I might have more room within for the blessings of grace. I am a slow learner. I get angry when I can't play the songs that make my heart sing. I become resentful when congregational leaders let themselves be captured by fear or loyalties to the old status quo. I tremble with insecurity when asked to help others deepen their spiritual intimacy; hell, I am stumbling all over the place with my own journey. And I weep tears of sadness at the oddest times remembering my father's absence.
At the same time - simultaneously and concurrently - I trust that the wisdom of the cross reveals the greatness of God's grace. Not always very well do I trust this. Sometimes it is just a faint intellectual notion in the back of my brain; other times it is a haunting but calm chant from somewhere deep inside that I hear, but not clearly. Maybe that's why I feel so grounded in the poetry of Mary Oliver:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

I know this and trust this even when I don't always feel it. I am so grateful to know that we do not have to wait for our own death to know the tender gifts of Sister Death. I pray that I might practice being with her and dying a bit to myself each day of this Advent quest.
photo credits: Dianne De Mott

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Remembering to see...

Today we spent time preparing the Sanctuary for Advent. I like the expression "dressing the Sanctuary for the season." It speaks of intentionality. It honors beauty. And it strengthens our commitment to radical hospitality. Just as a table well set evokes welcome and a sense of place for all the guests at a dinner party, so too a well appointed Sanctuary. Whomever chooses to gather for worship will be put at ease through their senses. 

Like the Eastern Orthodox know, there is a spoken and a sensual dimension to good liturgy. One without the other flattens the entire experience - and our worship must always be an experience. Thomas Merton taught that, "We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time... in people and in things and in nature and in events... But the problem is we don't see it. Spiritual practice (worship included) is about remembering to see." (John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, p. 61)

Everything about our sensual and spoken liturgy, therefore, points to the mystery of this season: remembering to see God in the most unlikely places. This year we are hoping to encourage the practice of quiet contemplation throughout the faith community during Advent. Western culture abhors silence and restful waiting - and Western Reformed Christianity is like our culture on steroids. We are uber productive beings who define our value and sense of purpose according to our usefulness. We want our worship to "give us something useful" to make our lives work better. We want our prayers to evoke a satisfying response from the Lord. And we want our liturgy to compel others into social action. 

At the same time, we want to be spiritually refreshed and renewed - and often entertained. This is an impossible challenge for Sunday morning, so we've decided to abandon it this year with no regrets. In its place we'll reclaim the new/old practices of quiet prayer, candle light, simple songs of supplication and the celebration of Holy Eucharist. Newell has written that "so much of our culture, including our religious inheritance, has felt lost when it comes to spiritual practice." He goes on to note that:

When the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that God is dead, he was not making an ontological point. He was making an existential point. He was not announcing that God had died, but that our experience of God had died. This was due, in part, to the way in which Western Christianity had focused its attention not on spiritual practice but on spiritual belief. It had confused faith with a set of propositional truths about the Divine, rather than personal experience  with the Divine that could be undergirded and sustained by particular
practices and disciplines. (p. 61)

Each week, in addition to lighting a candle on the Advent wreath and speaking
with the children about the Christmas Creche, we'll read the appointed lessons of the day and talk about them together. Then, for 3-5 minutes, we will sit in the quiet together to see what the Spirit is saying to our soul. There will be reflective music shared along with the invitation to light a candle as a sign of our intention to act upon the wisdom of the Gospel. Most of our prayers will be silent or sung. Most of our movements will be receptive: sharing the light, receiving Eucharist, opening our hearts to the Spirit. Like Mary, we will take all these things into ourselves and ponder them in our hearts for the entire season of Advent. As Merton once noted, "when we penetrate the innermost ground of our life... we are able to find our true meaning not from the outside, but from within."

My prayer for myself and the whole community of faith is that we start to trust and honor the wisdom and beauty God has already poured deep into each one of us. For when we know this grace from the inside out, then we can live in the world as bearers of peace.  Mary Oliver wrote:

To live in this world

  you must be able 
  to do three things:
  to love what is mortal,
  to hold it

  against your bones knowing
  your own life depends on it,
  and, when the time comes to let it go,
  to let it go.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Come and make all things new...

The morning reading from the English Jesuits @ "Pray As You Go" (check it out @ http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/home/) was taken from Revelations 21. It is one of my favorite passages of Holy Scripture. It begins like this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’


Some of the questions that were posed in this contemplative prayer were: what new creation is aching for renewal in you? What words captured your attention today - and why? What do you want to ask God to do for you based on this reading.  In between these questions and the Scripture, the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was playing "Khayelihle Khaya Lamie" - My Beautiful Home - words that mirror the promise of the Bible in Revelations.

Fr. Richard Rohr's weekly reflection on God's love included these words:

To be fully conscious would be to love everything on some level and in some way—even our mistakes. To love is to fall into full consciousness, which is contemplative, non-dualistic, and including everything—even “the last enemy to be destroyed, which is death itself” (1 Corinthians 15:26). That is why we must, absolutely must, love! And why we must not be afraid of death.

Didn’t Jesus tell us that we must love even our enemies? When we can on some level even love our sins and imperfections, which are our “enemies,” we are fully conscious and fully liberated. God, who is Universal Consciousness itself, knows all things, absorbs all things, and forgives all things—for being what they are. If Jesus commands us to love our enemies, then we know that God must and will do the same. What hope and joy that gives us all! It takes away all fear of admitting our mistakes, and allows us to forgive our primary enemy which is often our self.

Let’s end this wonderful week with one of my favorite quotes from the Catholic Bible:

Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.
And how, had you not willed it, would a thing persist 
in being? How could it be conserved if not called forth by you?
You spare all things, because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable spirit is in all.  

                                                                —Wisdom 11:24-12:1

It is so easy for me - maybe you, too - to forget that with God's call to love our enemies we are also being reminded that God does this to us: the things we hate about ourselves, our failings and brokenness, our sins they are ALL loved by the Lord. "What hope and joy INDEED is ours..." It is one of the ways ever tear shall be wiped away from our eyes right now. Not after this life is over, not in heaven (although I trust that, too) but right now. 

From time to time I find myself overwhelmed with the demands of ministry - especially as I own my grief. And when I get overwhelmed with both the hurts and needs of others - whom I truly love - it is so easy to slip into self-pity and resentment. I know that broken hiding place all too well. Not that there isn't foolishness and selfishness among some that would try the patience of a saint; but that's not going to change, right?  So rather than chuck it all - or get all bent out of shape - it is clear to me that (once again) I need to make certain to find contemplative time every day. Not just when I remember, but every day. 
In my worship notes for this Sunday - Advent I - I wrote that the hard words found in Mark 13 need some upside-down interpretation.These words appear just before Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem and faces his betrayal and death upon the Cross. As Christ and the disciples are walking into Jerusalem, those with Jesus look up at the grandeur of the Temple – the majesty of the city – and exclaim: isn’t this a beautiful and powerful tribute to the Lord our God? To which Jesus replies:  why do you STILL not get it? This Temple shall be destroyed – along with all the other symbols of traditional power and wisdom – because God’s grace is not revealed in the Temple or the Academy or the institutions of power and commerce.  

It is found most clearly in the Cross.  You are NOT going to find the wisdom of the Lord’s love inside the gates of the city.  You are going to have to leave and look on the periphery of things – among the poor and wounded – within the pain of living and the challenge presented by despair. Look to these things – the unexpected and hard places of life – for there God will be revealed.

So what I hear first as troubling words could be more of a restatement of the wisdom and folly of the Cross:  God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than all our power. I am being called to be alert and awake – to be impatient with distractions and diversions that seduce or deaden me to God’s small but very real presence in the world – so that I might be fully made new with the Lord.

One preacher put it like this:  in the apocalyptic words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus at his pastoral best. That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God's victory. Out of the theological turmoil and confusion surrounding the destruction of the temple will be a new presence of God. Out of the suffering and death of their Messiah will be new life. God's new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.” (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher)

As I keep learning over and over again, God is not and will never be where we expect to find God: isn’t that what we heard last Sunday on the feast of Christ the King? “Where did we see thee, Lord, hungry and feed thee, thirst and give thee drink, naked and clothe thee, alone and in need of comfort? Whenever you cared for one of the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you did it unto me.”

I am ready and waiting for Advent: come, Lord Jesus, come...
photo credits: James Lumsden, Dianne De Mott

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Storming inside and out...

Only two times in 34 years have I missed making or joining the music making over the Thanksgiving weekend. The first took place when my Aunt Donna was dying of cancer and we had just moved to Tucson. We flew out on Thanksgiving Eve, had a feast with our daughters the next day and spent some time with my Aunt before she passed from this life into life everlasting. I should note that we did make it into Cambridge for Bob Franke's gig at Club Passim on that trip, so maybe it doesn't really count as a full miss.

But last night did. There was a wicked bad storm that dumped at least a foot
of heavy, wet snow on us. As the storm fell throughout the day, I received more and more calls and notes asking, "Wouldn't it be wise to call off our evening concert?" I knew my colleagues were right - I could see the weather going from bad to worse - but my heart just didn't want to quit. In time, I let reason and prudence rule the hour and we postponed the gig. But it hurt and left me feeling angry, empty and alone. 

Now I understand my feelings - I don't often like them - but I understand them and know that what I am feeling is rarely the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You see, there is a wisdom to our wounds that we can learn to honor over time. And while I often fight the wisdom trying to break through my inner despair, I know it is there. More often than not, it is calling to me with blessings if I will just be still and listen. Most of the time, you see, the wisdom of our wounds ask us first to listen and feel what is going on inside, and then act in ways that are the polar opposite of our feelings. We are never asked by God to bury our feelings, just own them and learn from them. 

So I spent a very agitated night trying to practice what I so often preach. Mostly I felt like throwing in the towel on almost everything I do. There is a lot more to say about that, but not right now. I just realized that every time I tried to figure out a way to reschedule this concert, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. "Fuck it," I finally said, "there's just no point. Everyone's lives are too fucking busy to reschedule this... and now Advent and Christmas are upon us. Fuck it - its not worth it." That is how I was feeling - and am still mostly feeling - but there are a few deeper truths co-mingling with my feelings.      
First, the hurt I felt in cancelling this gig has a lot to do with bringing to close a long history of tradition. When I was in seminary and my babies were small, we started going to Carnegie Hall to see Pete and Arlo do their Thanksgiving weekend shows. When I took my first church in Saginaw, MI, I was inspired by Bob Franke's song, "Thanksgiving Eve," so we made his tradition our own. Gathering up some singers, we called out to our friends in the community and invited them to join us as we sang and played the songs of the Americas. My children tell me they developed a love for group singing from those shows and that is a blessing that warms my heart still after all these years. As churches and locales changed, we kept gathering together musicians and calling out to the community to join us in song - so from Cleveland, OH and Tucson, AZ to Pittsfield, MA - Thanksgiving Eve became a tradition filled with a little taste of heaven for me. Forsaking it last night meant more than giving up making music with my friends. It meant letting go of the joy of our harmonies and the fun of creating something unique and beautiful together. It meant letting go of a unique and sacred tradition for me - not for everyone, I know - but certainly for me.


That is probably the genesis of the second hurt: most of the year my public life is offered up to the Lord on behalf of my congregation. I have a friend who says that many times what we do in ministry is both for the well-being of the congregation as well as our own soul. We practice giving up and letting go - pastor and congregation - and learn the foolishness of Christ and wisdom of the Cross. A few times each year, however, I want to worship in a community of musicians where I can be embraced by God's comfort in song.  That is part of what Thanksgiving Eve has become for me: a time of worship where I can sing and play, sit back and soak up the songs, share with others as best I am able and revel in the goodness and beauty of the moment. For a few hours, time seems to change in ways that are sacred to me. Last night I felt a crack open up my inner longing for God's comfort: when we had to pull the plug on our small concert an enormous ache was exposed that I have been looking to soothe. Small wonder I was overwhelmed with grief and melancholia when I had to give it up. 


That should be a clue, of course, right? Ain't it just like the Spirit to blindside me with something I cherish: where do you find your hope and grounding now? Have you made an idol of your music-making? What does it feel like when your consolations come to an end and you have no control? That is the third hurt I'm carrying around these days. It begins with the death of my father but has much deeper roots. I know that for the past 6 weeks I've made myself busy, immersing myself in work and music-making so that I didn't have to feel the sorrow. I have been holding back my grief like I always do. I've been aware, too, that something would come along and crack my sadness open unexpectedly, I just had no idea how and when it would arrive. And damn but didn't it sneak up where I least expected it to kick me in the gut?

Like most of us, I hate not being able to be in control of the things I love the most. I hate having my father gone from this life. I hate sitting beside other loved ones as they move towards death. I hate having to rethink my calling at this stage in my life as I see it, too inching towards some type of end. I hate it - and there's nothing I can do about it. Except accept it - and listen for the new song God wants me to sing when the endings are completed. I know this and trust this by faith and I still hate it.

Like the weather outside last night, there was a lot of storming within me. In the light of Thanksgiving Day, the raging has abated for now. We'll feast today and be together in the quiet of our warm little house. We'll watch some movies and mysteries and savor the goodness that is still ours to hold. And I will keep waiting and listening - sometimes gently and then in a rage - to see where this leads. This is much bigger than Thanksgiving Eve. I don't know if we'll be able to reschedule our concert. It would be sweet, but it may just be too much work for this moment in time. Like Siddhartha, I'm back at that same place before the river yet again saying: god damn there are still some things I have no control over! To paraphrase the late St. Ray Charles: "The grieving time has come... you're going to leave me... I can see that far away look in your eyes..." 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Evolution of a cancellation...

The evolution of a cancellation: last night, before the snow, we were all filled with bravado and jubilation.
Things still felt optimistic at 9 am this morning when there was only a modest dusting of snow on the ground.
Doubt began to creep in, however, about 12 noon when band members started expressing their very real concerns. I was stubborn but increasingly receptive.
At 2 pm I had experienced a change of heart and knew the gig was off even if an official call had not yet been announced.  As we were walking out in the woods I said, "Hmmm, someone just lost a tree." When we got out of our snow gear - and started to read more emails - Di said, "That was OUR tree." The handwriting was on the wall and Mother Nature was confirming her judgment. (It missed our roof by inches!)
After scrambling to let people know the gig was officially off - but would be rescheduled - I received a collective sigh of relief via email, FB and texts. It feels weird NOT doing this show - it is the first time in 32 years we've had to cancel - but we do not live in Kansas (or Tucson) anymore, Toto. 
So, we'll stay warm and safe, give thanks to God for great musical friends and colleagues and hoist a pint to all that is sacred. Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A quiet sacramental act of love for thanksgiving...

So the weather predictions for Thanksgiving Eve - Wednesday, November 26 - range from 4-8 inches of snow to 8-14 inches. Hmmmm... we in the Berkshires can handle the first in our sleep, but if you get over six inches at night we might have to pull the plug on our concert. We have rehearsal tonight so we'll caucus and take the pulse of the band. Who knows what will really happen? Last year, time and again, the apocalypse was forecast but only modest snow actually fell most of the time. But then there was a massive blizzard on the last day of October two years ago, so... who knows?

At any rate, we're ready for whatever even while hoping the show goes on. In anticipation of Old Man Winter, we cleaned off the deck this afternoon and cleared out the garage, too. (We have to park the truck in there so that the snow plow can liberate us should things turn bad.) While moving things to the store room, I came across a box of tea cups my sister Karen packed up for me last May. I went down to visit with my dad - and pick up his old deacon's bench from the parsonage in Stamford, CT days - and because he was closing up his house to move in with Laura, some remembrances were divided up among my siblings.

Truth be told, I couldn't face opening that box back then, so it sat in my garage for six months. But now, after about six weeks since my father's death, the time felt right. So, with a quiet joy I didn't expect, I unwrapped about 20 tiny tea cups that my mother had collected over the years. They are all stunning and I was speechless for a bit. I don't think I'd ever seen this little treasures. Each one is hand-painted with a delicate touch that I never knew my Mom appreciated. I can only say that I am so grateful that Karen made the effort to carefully select these cups for me - and each of us. It is clear this was a sacramental act of love for us.  She couldn't couldn't change my father's health. She couldn't fix things. But she could share small sings of the beauty and love of our family. And she did. And while this brings tears to my eyes right now, I am so very grateful, too.
I know that one of the reasons I am so eager to do this year's show is that so many of this year's songs are tender-hearted. I will be singing Tom Waits' "Hold On" - a song I shared at my dad's memorial service - and it feels right and holy to do at this time of the year. So I will keep you posted re: what's happening tomorrow night. In the mean time:  Hold on and have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Silence, planning and prayer...

After watching the press conference concerning the St. Louis County grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Mr. Michael Brown, I found myself channel surfing for 20 minutes. How, I wondered, would CNN spin this news vs. MSNBC and FOX? How would FOX find some way to denigrate President Obama? How might MSNBC sound like they were acting in support of the President's call for prudent and constructive social engagement while also pandering to their constituents limited perspective? 

It didn't take long for the respective political and media spin doctors to jump into action. Nor did it take much time for some key players in the quest for racial and social justice to articulate what was wrong with today's grand jury verdict. All of which left me wondering: where are the voices of quiet reason and prayer? 

Please don't misunderstand: there is something tragic and ugly about racial profiling, the militarization of America's police forces, urban despair and poverty, gangsta culture and the polarization of our nation that keeps us all in fear and confusion about one another. But here's the thing: with the instant analysis that has become the norm in the USA, we no longer expect any depth, nuance, careful reflection or real understanding from our media. Ours has become a public culture without intellectual discipline or moral focus. And without the ability to use critical thinking to imagine and plan for compassionate and just solutions, we rant for a few minutes before becoming distracted by the next manufactured extravaganza or tragedy.

As I was reading and reacting to the varied posts on Facebook I thought: I
should write something pithy and challenging about all of this. And I started to give it a try but caught myself saying, "Dude, don't become what you hate." Shut up. Be still. Hurry up and do nothing so that you might think and pray and listen for what is sacred in all of this. Then I saw Cathleen Falsani-Possley's MLK icon on Patheos - and her MLK prayer - and took that for a word of confirmation. So I hit delete and wrote instead:

There is more - much more - to be said about this, but for now we should pray. Dr. King also said that when evil people plot, good people must plan.(When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.) So let our plans and responses be of good will, true equality, moral sensitivity and courage in this broken and hurting time.

There is a place for a straight, white clergy person to speak out about racial and economic injustice. There is a place for me to invite my community to take police violence seriously. And there is a place for me to be in solidarity with sisters and brothers of color, too. But not instantaneously - not on auto-pilot - and not reflexively without careful discernment. Already, my national church leaders have issued their necessary quasi-theological broadsides - and there will be more to come. Oh well... now is the time for prayer and grieving. And then it will be on to planning and building from within the glories of love.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Groovin' at pratice...

A few shots from tonight's practice as we get ready for Thanksgiving Eve 2014. Here's a long view from the back of the Sanctuary.
And here's a candid shot with the band in focused mode. This year maybe the most eclectic yet with Spyra Gyro, Warren Zevon, the Band, Joni Mitchell, original tunes fitting together with the Wailin' Jennys, Ryan Adams, John Fogerty and Beck.
If you can be there, I know I've pushed this a lot, but it will be a gas: Wednesday, November 26, 2014 @ 7 pm.
photo credits:  Win Ridabock

Friday, November 21, 2014

This is the world I want to live in...

In just a few minutes we are off to share an early Thanksgiving dinner with part of our beloved family who reside in the hill towns.  But before we go, I wanted to post these two quotes because they express so profoundly what is on my heart these days. The first is from the genius Ursula Le Guin at last night's National Book Award.

Hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words... The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

The second from another of my favorite writers, Naomi Shihab-Nye in a small essay she calls: "This is the World I Want to Live In."

"Peace" in Arabic - calligraphy by Dr. Shams Anwari-AlhoseeyniWandering around the Albuquerque AirportTerminal, after learning my flight had been detained four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”  Well – one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,” said the Flight Service Person. “Talk to her. What is her problem?  We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”  I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. “Shu dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her – Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends.  Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions.  She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts – out of her bag – and was offering them to all the women at the gate.  To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo – we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend – by now we were holding hands – had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in.  The shared world. Not a single person in this gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Thank you to Carolyn and Sue who brought these two blessings to my attention.  I am so very grateful. And now, as Arlo might say, we're off to a Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat! (And come out to join us next Wednesday evening - Thanksgiving Eve - when we do our part for a shared world, ok?)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

And the trees shall clap their hands...

NOTE:  Every month I write something to the people of my faith community. It is usually a practical update - sometimes my interpretation of a specific mission commitment - but this month, in anticipation of Advent, I was called in a different direction. Throughout Advent (and I'm not trying to rush into the season because I am way too excited about Thanksgiving) we will be worshiping in a more contemplative style:  candles, quiet times, gentle songs of the season and Eucharist. Here's how it is feeling to me right now.
There is a passage from the Scriptures that I cherish even if I don’t grasp its
wisdom completely. It is from the 55th chapter of the poet Isaiah’s words to ancient Israel:

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the  earth,
making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
I love the image of the mountains bursting into song and the trees clapping their hands in joy and gratitude. That seems to be the essence of faithful living, don’t you think? Not long ago I purchased Mary Oliver’s new volume of poetry wherein she offers her take on scripture in a poem entitle, “The Country of the Trees.”

There is no king in their country
and there is no queen
and there are no princes vying for power,
     inventing corruption.
Just as with us many children are born
and some will live and some will die and the country
     will continue.

The weather will always be important.

And there will always be room for the weak, the violets
     and the bloodroot.
When it is cold they will be given blankets of leaves.
When it is hot they will be given shade.
And not out of guilt, neither for a year-end deduction
     but maybe for the cheer of their colors, their
          small flower faces.

They are not like us.

Some will perish to become houses or barns,

     fences or bridges.

Others will endure past the counting of years. And none will ever speak a single word of complaint, as though language,
     after all, did not work well enough,
     was only an early stage.
Neither do they ever have any questions
to the gods – which one is the real one,
and what is the plan.
As thought they have been told everything
already, and are content.


Long ago, I was told by a poet that if you have to ask “What does this means?” you are missing the whole point of a poem. (I think it was my wife…) I sense that wisdom applies to many of our Holy Scriptures, too. They are not linear advice nor prescriptions for successful living. Rather they are poems that invite us into deeper mysteries and truths too great for words. So mostly all we can do is sit quietly in their presence and let their grace seep slowly into our souls. That’s what Advent is like for me – never frantic – always still albeit obscure.

This Advent our worship will offer you a taste of that quiet, gentle obscurity. I hope you will be present to savor it. Embrace it. Ponder its beauty in the stillness. Not long ago, Dianne and I were walking in the woods when we came upon this gift. Her photo, I think, evokes the heart of our quiet Advent longing.
photo credit:  Dianne De Mott

the Buddha or the Boss I don't care: sorting through MORE stuff

The penultimate sorting in our basement took place today - and in the process I discovered that its far harder for me to throw away my dec...