An advent calling...

When I experienced my "call" into ministry, it was at a unique moment in the history and culture of my land: June 1968. Almost a year to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a searing anti-war sermon at Riverside Church in NYC, he was gunned down in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968. Dr. King had come to Memphis to stand in solidarity with striking garbage workers - the lowest of the low - and he was helping Americans connect the dots between racism, violence and class oppression. He was also incarnating a core truth in his prophetic spiritual tradition: whatsoever you do unto one of the least of these, my sisters and brothers, said Jesus, you do unto me.  
Robert Kennedy was assassinated two months later after winning the California presidential primary on June 6, 1968. The war in Vietnam was raging out of control as US confidence plummeted after the nationalist Vietnamese counter-offensive known as Tet kicked into high gear at the start of January 1968. And American cities once again were in flames as spring burst into summer. It was a frightening and ecstatic time to be alive. I was 16 years old.

My church youth group was completing a "mission discovery" caravan. About 27 teens and 5 adult driver/guides had left our wealthy CT suburb to spend time "seeing the body of Christ in action." We went to a rural home for orphans in PA, a social justice organizing campaign for West Virginia coal miner justice, a number of racial reconciliation projects in Washington, DC and an inner city church ministry in Baltimore, MD. (I still remember sitting on the steps of the Baltimore church listening and dancing to the transitor radio blast "Cold Sweat" by James Brown into the 'hood.) A few days earlier, during worship at the Potter's House in DC - the experimental "coffee house gallery" outreach to artists born of the Church of the Savior after WWII - I "heard" the voice of the Lord saying over and over: "You could do this!" 
And so it began: a 45 year quest of listening and exploration trying to understand  what  "this" meant. Mostly I've come to believe that it has to do with the marriage of art and ministry. Not like the Potter's House - although I still love that place - but in my own way and within the context of a traditional local church. And I share this mini-autobiographical note today because once again my nation is being rocked by a tidal wave of protests born of deep racism and our fear of confronting it. Once again I find myself at the inter-section of the arts and the prophetic word of God as my small congregation listens for our contribution in reconciliation. And once again I sense the paradox of doing this ministry: in the face of monstrous evil and fear all I can offer up is a tiny dose of beauty within a quiet invitation to trust. Indeed, my trust that God's grace is greater than any of the evils we confront is at the core of this calling. Only God can bring true healing and justice. For while we can choose to live as allies and disciples of the holy, unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Over the next few days I want to share a few thoughts about why I continue to engage in this calling. The embrace of creative worship and music-making is  clearly is not enough for this moment in time. It hasn't been for 45 years and it won't be into the future. And yet "this" is what my calling is about: living into and sharing the sounds of harmony as an alternative to the shrillness of the status quo - listening carefully and waiting in the silence of uncertainty rather than adding to the ugly rants of the hour that pander to our worst fears - tenderly trusting that as I share my teaching and music-making gifts openly, others will be encouraged to share theirs, too - just as God has desired since the beginning of time.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's masterpiece: A Love Supreme. This was his celebration of freedom, hope, beauty and creativity. It not only transformed his life, it changed the way music was heard and played though out the world. So this Sunday, December 14, we will raise up a jazz infused Advent as our reflection on the texts for the day - especially Isaiah 61 and Psalm 126. If you sense the "call" to be together in community, if you are hungry for soul food, if you have cried, "How long, O Lord, how long?" maybe you will want to join us.  We gather at 10:30 am trusting that:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn; 
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations. 


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