Sunday, November 29, 2015

advent one...

One of my favorite times in my life as one who serves God in a congregation is "hanging the green." Call it decorating the church or dressing the Sanctuary, when we do it as an inter-generational group, it feeds my soul. Usually it is barely controlled chaos, but always with a big heart. Today was no exception so I returned home grateful and exhausted to be a part of the whole mess. 

For one thing, these times are the "whole" body of Christ - young and old, focused and
scattered, happy and sad and everything in-between - where everyone is welcome. Some could only stay for 15 minutes but there was a task they could do - so they had a part to play. Others were in for the duration and their role was important, too. Perhaps that's why I am coming to believe that more of our church functions - meetings, mission events, social events, etc - might become one-time only gatherings rather than committees, boards or even ministry teams. People want to be connected, so why not help this happen?

Another thing that happens during these times is conversation beyond the superficialities of Sunday fellowship hour. There is a place for coffee hour (although it really doesn't work for introverts or guests) and certainly there would be dis-ease if I didn't greet people at the conclusion of the liturgy. But I don't get to know what's going on in these occasions. Putting up the tree, hanging tapestries and setting up the Christmas Creche, however, gives us time to talk and listen to one another. I get caught up on how youth in a former confirmation class are doing in school - and life. I get to see mommas and poppas and lots autnties and uncles interact with our youth and children. I get to talk about the morning message with adults who were really listening.  I get to listen to what's going on in a young artist's heart. And I get to see real people make room for one another in real time. 


I also get to invite others into a remembrance that all of this is sacred. At the close of today's decoratng I asked if we might sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" together. And without prompting, one young man kicked it off with a sweet boy's choir voice that was pure prayer. Incredible. We all sang the first verse and chorus and then paused in gratitude silently. Then it was time to move on to other tasks and responsibilities. But for just a moment we realized and reclaimed that moment as holy - and it was enough.

That is one of my prayers for myself during Advent: to pause four times each day and breathe in and out as I acknowledge God's grace all around and within me. I started an "Abbey of the Arts" on-line retreat tonight that speaks to this prayer, too. Perhaps I will have a chance to visit with a colleague in town who is also doing this retreat. That would be a gift. We shall see. 

Tomorrow I take Di to yet another round of tests in the hope we might find a diagnosis for her mystery pain. I will be prayerful in the waiting room for that is holy ground, too. Tonight there is much to be thankful for...

credits: Eva Perri, James Lumsden

Jung and Jesus walk into a church for Advent...

Today I began an Advent series - Prayer and Temperament - utilizing the work Chester
Michael and Marie Norrisey have done with spirituality and personality type. As one person said after worship: Wow... Jung and Jesus for Advent! It is one way to both "stay alert" as the gospel for today urges, and, connect our 21st century lives with ancient wisdom  

This week was an overview of the Myers Briggs typology. Next week we'll look at two discrete prayer styles - Ignatian (Sensing /Judging) and Augustinian (Intuitive/Feeling) contemplation - that respectively resonate with these different ways of interacting with the world. During week number three of Advent, we'll try on Franciscan Prayer (Sensing/ Perceiving) and Thomistic Spirituality (Intuitive/Thinking) with the final week given over to conversation, questions and commentary.  

My hope is two-fold. 1) Those who know about the Myers-Briggs types mostly know it from their work places and have not used it for the inward journey. And 2) Most of us need all the help and encouragement we can get when it comes to nourishing our inner journey. For without a strong and mature spiritual life, we tend to be trapped in the fears, shame and pain of our broken world. That is, we are reactive rather that directive from the perspective of God's grace and compassion.

So here's my take-away/home-work summary for the First Sunday in Advent.

The first temperament involves the polarity between extroversion and introversionThis is all about where we draw energy for living. It has to do with our preferential attitude towards our relationship with the world.

+  Extroverts are people who rely on other people or things to receive psychic energy and enthusiasm for living. They love to be in public and thrive on human interaction.

+  Introverts are those who rely on the inner world of ideas, concept and spirit to find the energy to live rich lives. They are much more private and thrive on quiet, alone time.

The second temperament is more psychological and involves how we both gather data and information and what drives our decision-making process.  This polarity involves those who are either sensates or intuitives – very different ways of both perceiving reality and what to do about it.

+  Sensates are individuals who look at the facts – the physical, real world as it is – and make decisions about what is the best choice at this moment in time.  Their emphasis has to do with what is happening right now – and dealing with it.

+  Intuitives, however, process reality in terms of possibilities – what COULD be rather than just what IS – so they go inward and ponder the creative potential of a situation.

The third temperament or personality type is defined by the thinking or feeling function. It is directly related to how we use the information we discern and what type of decisions we are likely to make as a consequence.

+  Some of us process information in a thinking way: we are rational, objective linear and head-oriented. We just want the facts, ma’am because we’re compelled by truth and fairness.  This category has been called the thinking function.

+  Others among us process information from a feeling function: we are heart people who explore the context and compassion of a situation – the relationships that are involved – before making a decision. This grouping involves the feeling function.

And fourth there is the way different people sense individuals should act in public: this is the distinction between judging and perceiving temperaments.  Those shaped by the judging function are interested in public order and personal morality; while people guided by the perceiving function always want more information before making a call.  They tend towards watching and waiting. So you have some seeking a structured and decisive way of life while others want to be flexible and open-ended.

A simple recapitulation:

+  Some of us were created to be public people and others favor a more private approach:  extroverts and introverts.

+  Some of us look to the present moment and want to act on what is visible right now; while others take reality inwards and want to consider the creative possibilities of what could be: the sensates and intuitive.

+  Some of us are primarily objective while others are essentially subjective: the thinkers and feelers among us.

+  And then there are those who favor acting on what SHOULD be right now while some need more information and flexibility before acting: judgers and perceivers

For more information – and on-line resources – please consider the following:

+  A free, brief Myers-Briggs quiz to give you the basics of your temperament:

+  The official Myers-Briggs site with information and an in-depth test for $45:

You might also enjoy Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey’s book, Prayer and Temperament, as well Marilyn Bates’ book, Please Understand Me.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

a regained innocence as an alternative to cynicism in advent...

During this past week, my small part of the world has held these things close in
prayer: the on-going mystery pain that continues to plague Dianne, a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, the agony of more race violence and fear of the police throughput the USA, the downing of a Russian fighter plane by Turkey, the infectious and healing laughter and hugs of my grandson Louie, the stunning performance of Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia" at church joined by dear musical friends Hal and Linda, a few days of deep rest and quiet, the plight of Syrian refugees and  the anxiety of new domestic terrorism against the Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado Springs, a concert by Arlo Guthrie and a few trips to the pharmacy. I have also cleaned the house, prepared worship notes for the first Sunday in Advent and completed a few books.

At the close of one, Barbara Brown Taylor quotes Rumi whom Dianne has been reflecting on during her illness and I have cherished as a soul guide for the past 25 years. I will use this quote to close my Sunday meditation on the apocalyptic words of Jesus in Luke's gospel:

Today like every other day we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

All around us - every day and always - there is emptiness and fear. Stephen Mitchell notes in both his commentary on Job and his words in "the gospel according to Jesus" that since the beginning of time life has been an embrace of joy and sorrow. It is an illusion with dangerous consequences to conflate the human with the humane. There is always both darkness and light, hope and fear, clarity and confusion. I sense that is why all four Gospels include some version of St. Mark's "desolating sacrilege" passage  This week's version from Luke 21 puts it like this:


It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking… But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.

Every day this is true. Every year and every life, too. Advent gives us a chance to remember not only the movement of these polarities in reality but also a chance to honor them.  One of my guides through the liturgical seasons, Gertrud Mueller-Nelson, writes:

During Advent, we are invited to be vulnerable to our longing and open to our hope. Like the pregnant who counts the days till her labor and prepares little things for the child on the way, we count the days and increase the light as we light our candles and prepare our gifts... (First) we turn off all the lights and see how dark it really is... Then we watch the growing light penetrate the darkness as we light the first candle on the first Sunday in Advent.

It is always both: never just the darkness, but never only the light. That is why, I continue to learn, the great contemplatives invite us into quiet prayer: we must know both the hurt of the world and the blessing deep within - know it as a fundamental truth - so that as we engage the world and its people with justice and compassion we are not naive. Or cynical. Cynicism, in my view, is what happens when a big heart is unwilling to do the hard work of the inward journey. Naivete is simply a station in life born of innocence. It can become cynical - or lazy - or even cruel and selfish.after a broken heart or betrayal. It can also mature into a soul sharing compassion and solidarity with profound generosity

Lisa Dougan posted this from the Center for Action and Contemplation:

Our world desperately needs for each of us to be and cultivate activists who are seeking regained innocence, because the work of justice demands more hope and kindness than the cynical activist can offer.

Tomorrow, at the start of worship, I am going to ask one of the ushers to turn off ALL the lights in the Sanctuary. We need to sit quietly for a moment in the semi-darkness. Then we will hear the Advent invitation and light the first candle. I will start an Advent series focusing on prayer and personality temperament, too before closing the day with a "hanging of the green" ceremony after worship. There will be light and darkness, fear and joy, solitude and community. The wounds of this world are weeping for activists who consciously live out of this type of regained and renewed innocence. Because "the work of justice demands more  hope and kindness - tenderness - than the cynic can offer." Lord, may it be increasingly so within and among us.


Friday, November 27, 2015

I hear you sing again...

Last night I heard a song that blew me away. It is an Arlo Guthrie/Janis Ian composition based
on Woodie's lyrics. In so many ways it says what is in my heart these days.  I also finished Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World, last night and she concludes with the importance of ordinary people offering blessings for one another. 

All I am saying is that anyone can do this.Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.

What I love about this song is the simple blessing it recognizes. Arlo spoke in an earlier interview about how important it is that different kinds of people get the chance to sing songs together: we are so divided, so polarized, so afraid. But when we sing together, at least for a moment, we become one. And that is a blessing that we need a lot more of these days, yes? On this clip, Arlo's son, Abe, is playing keyboards with his dad as Poppa sings the words of his dad.

So take a listen to this sweet song - a tune about memory and presence and passing on blessings one to another - and know that you are blessed.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving to you all...

Today is the Feast of Thanksgiving in the USA and it has been a week of gratitude for our household. First, Dianne was able to sing in the "Missa Gaia" despite her unknown inner pain. We give thanks for powerful meds and her inner strength.
The Missa was a blessing to perform and share - and while I grieved the illness of Rebecca - I reveled in Carlton's skill and beauty in bringing this complicated composition to birth in the Berkshires. He brings great joy to my life and to all the work of our shared ministries.
After the gig, we had a chance for an early Thanksgiving feast with Michal and Winton for whom I give thanks to God every day.
As the week unfolded, I found myself connecting with individual members of the congregation in need of someone to listen. This, too, evoked gratitude for a decision to spend more time giving attention to what I sense is a ministry quiet presence. It was fortified as we celebrated midday Eucharist, too.
And then Jesse, Mike and Louie arrived for another feast, mezze and French wine, along with LOTS of Louie-loving time.  We had a Thanksgiving breakfast of fresh muffins, Irish bangers and tea and coffee before they headed out.
Later this afternoon, we'll cook a stuffed pork roast and feast in quiet joy thinking back over a full year of blessings. This has been a sacred year for Dianne and me - not only a time of rest and renewal spiritually but also within our marriage - and I rejoice in her presence in my life. It is fitting that we will "do" Thanksgiving with a measure of solitude.
After a Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat - and probably a nap - we'll watch Arlo do his 50th Anniversary "Alice's  Restaurant Complete Massacree" show on PBS (a gig filmed here in Pittsfield at the Colonial Theatre.)  
Tomorrow we'll spend some time at another doctor's office - for yet another ultrasound - and then spend some time walking before seeing "Suffragettes." The kids will be back Saturday morning and we'll chill with them for a short time before they hed back to Brooklyn - and then it will be Advent.  Grace and peace to you all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

starting to enter the stillness...

It is a good thing that Thanksgiving will be here in two days. I love the movement into the stillness. It is a quiet yet hope-filled winter holiday - and my soul is ready. This year feels like a totally new season in our lives: we are no longer doing our Thanksgiving Eve gig and Di no longer has to work on Black Friday. Our daughters have created their own Thanksgiving traditions, too. For decades by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we were exhausted from musical performances and apprehensive about having to descend into consumer madness. Now, we are free to be reflective as we feast and honor the goodness of the fall harvest. 
To be sure, Dianne's continuing illness and pain are troubling. A new round of testing begins on Friday and continues throughout the following week. Through the generosity and creativity of others, she now has better pain medication and that's nother reason to enjoy a more contemplative holy day. We got to feast with part of the family on Sunday evening and the Brooklyn contingent joins us for an overnight tomorrow. So our prayers ascend as we await insights about what is causing her so much agony. Once a diagnosis is found, then real treatment can begin. Until then we affirm the old 60's slogan: better living through chemistry!

Three realities in my life are worth mentioning today: our performance of "Missa Gaia," the exceptional generosity of our our small community of faith, and our coming to terms with being a humble congregation.

+ MISSA GAIA: This started out as a crazy idea last winter. The Missa is a complicated composition and we quickly discerned that we should not attempt a performance in the Spring but rather a more seasoned event in the Fall. Good call because it took 10 weeks of rehearsal to get the chorus ready, willing and able to sing this sweet music. Sadly, a few key players and singers encountered illness and had to drop out along the way. But this forced the existing choir to kick up their game - and they delivered like pros! The instrumentalists gave us their hearts and skill, too and the volunteer dancers added grace and movement. About 175 people turned out - most of whom were not from this faith community - so they got a chance to see what we are all about in action:  beauty and compassion shared freely as an alternative to hate and fear. I have never been more proud of our folk and never more satisfied with a performance.
+ GENEROSITY:  For the past four years the churches and synagogues of Pittsfield have been collaborating on a town-wide Thanksgiving dinner for our neighbors in need. Our first task was to bake 300 pies - something that seemed outrageous at the time - but we delivered over 400. Each year the challenge has been increased and this year our little group baked over 802 pies! Other congregations got into the spirit, too with 16 groups serving over 1500 dinners yesterday. It is clear that even with the economic recovery many Americans have experienced in the last few years, not much has changed for those at the bottom. (Here's the local paper's take on it all with some good video clips by Ben Garver http://www.berkshireeagle.com /news/ci_ 29156944/hundreds-brave-cold-thanksgiving-angels-program) Here's a picture of our pies in the refrigerator before Monday's food distribution.
+ HUMILITY:  Our congregation was once a powerhouse. It was home to the power brokers and exerted power upon the social, cultural, religious and economic life of Pittsfield. To say that this is no longer true would be an honest and humble assessment. 251 years after our founding, we are small in number - 60-80 on an average Sunday - far from the seat of authority or influence, and still a bit unsure of how to reconcile ourselves with this new reality. The whole town grieved and wept when the major employer, General Electric, closed up shop in the 80's. Many have stayed prisoner to that tumult and live mostly into their loss. Others have succeeded in re-imagining our town as they invest in it with creative eateries, galleries, night spots and cultural venues. It is still a struggle. It is clearly rooted in a gritty, blue-collar vibe. And, the demographics continue to work against us. Nevertheless, there is an emerging cadre of people working hard to renew Pittsfield albeit in ways that don't make sense to many old timers. Our future is not to be found looking backwards. Our ministry is neither about nostalgia nor lament. Our calling must be among those "seeking the welfare of the city" as it thrives right now in 2015. After the holidays, we are going to have to give up some of the trappings of our powerful past - from selling parts of our real estate to letting go of outdated governance habits - so that we can minister to the emerging Pittsfield with creativity, joy and integrity.
  
So now we're cleaning house for Thanksgiving and then it is on to Advent: a season of hopeful waiting and tender anticipation amidst the harsh of reality of refugees, homelessness, war and violence. It was true at the birth of Christ and not much has changed. Except, of course, those who have been called by Jesus to be his Body are now empowered to live as he did in a broken world. We have been invited to bring light into the darkness and solidarity into the loneliness. We have been asked to model silence together in community, pausing from the rush to consume so that we might use our resources for love rather than greed. We have been encouraged to connect ourselves with all who seek peace regardless of what God - if any - they honor. 


Monday, November 23, 2015

post missa musings...



Today is down time for some of us who were intimately involved in "Missa Gaia" - and it is a well-deserved rest. My colleague, Carlton, created something unique and beautiful out of Paul Winter's masterwork: a concert that simultaneously offered us an embodied antidote to the hatred that swirls all around us, and, an encounter with music that seamlessly wove musicians of varying abilities into the songs of the earth so that performers, audience, music and prayer become one sacred whole. It was an ecstatic blessing, something one guest described like this:

The Missa Gaia Earth Mass by Paul Winter was an amazing experience for me today. Traveled far to see my friend Carlton Maaia II who put it all together, and the talent he gathered was stunning. The whole thing moved me very much. It's hard to describe, but it's a musical piece that uses whale songs, wolf songs and human and mechanical instruments to celebrate a mass. It's what the world needs now! I closed my eyes and for a moment I saw the earth as one place, without borders or walls. We are all creatures inhabiting a planet. Some other creatures are doing a better job of maintaining the earth than the human creatures. I'm so glad I went!   Gregory Cortelyou

Public experiences like the Missa are one of the things that our small church does well. From time to time insiders fret - and even carp - over the time, money and effort that goes into producing these events. But for those present, at least for a moment in time, we felt in our flesh what God's alternative vision for creation is all about: shalom. For a brief but profound time, the ancient words of Psalm 85 were realized and we knew that there is something better than the brutality of the status quo.Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what

God the Lord will speak, for God speaks peace to the people, to his faithful, to those

who turn to him in their hearts. Surely healing and hope is at hand for those with awe… (In this) steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

That is the foundational reason why I insist that we make the effort: we live in a culture and era that has lost a capacity for awe. We are so stressed and busy by work and the events of the world that we are malnourished and blind when it comes to the beauty God sends every day for our mutual encouragement. Another ancient Hebrew poet prophesied:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. In that day the beautiful young women and the young men shall faint for thirst.

That, of course, is what the Scriptures really mean when they speak of the "wrath of God." It is an absence of awe, a famine from hope and compassion, the inability to encounter a love greater than ourselves. St. Paul is explicit in Romans 1 that God's essence has been revealed to the whole world since the beginning of time through the first word of the Lord: nature. But we think we are smarter than God. We start to worship work. Or politics. Or money. Or sex. Or drugs and alcohol. And before you know it, we're addicted and in trouble. So like a wise and loving parent, God steps back and says: I hate to do this, but hitting bottom is the only way you are going to change so... experience some of life without me for a spell. I want you to return, but you have to be ready:

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven… For what can be known about God is plain because God has shown it to us. Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made (nature…) Claiming to be wise, we became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever! Amen.

Presenting the beauty of God's creation in a safe and tender place extends an invitation to those who are weary and afraid. And it is worth every cent we spend on musicians, advertising and honoring copyright laws! That's one reason for maintaining the feast. It is our way of embodying God's invitation into grace.

Another reason we persist is that these events celebrate what I have called genre-bending - or artistic desegregation - by bringing classical musicians into un beau melange of jazz, rock and folk performers. Whether it is Spotify, Sunday morning or social clubs, America remains a vastly segregated nation when it comes to culture, race and class. Our music-making in support of local justice ministries not only gives the musicians a chance to create outside our comfort zone, but models authentic diversity and respect for those who gather for these gigs.

My favorite part of Missa Gaia - besides the incredible breadth of music performed - was the inclusion of an 10 year old girl in the chorus. She is a pure light through and through - and she was thrilled to be a part of the mix. But more importantly, we found a place for her within this composition that honored the blessings she brought to the table. Our conductor never patronized her or diminished her participation. And to see her belting out this complicated music standing along side her very talented momma... well, let's just say that was another glimpse of what God's kingdom is all about.

Very few people go to church these days - mostly for good reasons - and I share some of their  indifference and critique. At the same time, I believe we have discovered or reclaimed a unique role for the church in contemporary society and pray we can strengthen it. As another woman said at the conclusion of "Missa Gaia" yesterday evening: "Where do all these incredible musicians come from in this little town? It sounds like Manhattan... and it is Pittsfield? What a delight!" What a blessing, too. And oh yes: abouot 175 people turned out and helped us raise over $2K for BEAT.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

breathing prayers and dress rehearsals...

Today is dress rehearsal for Missa Gaia - three hours of intense work - in anticipation of our benefit concert.  As I was sipping tea this morning I read Richard Rohr's weekly summary of his daily insights into 12 Step spirituality and was struck by the beautiful simplicity of this practice. I suspect I will be using it before, after and during our rehearsal. Check it out...

Practice 
The Yahweh Prayer

The breath is a primary example of how we cannot control our happiness despite our best efforts. Our bodies breathe automatically, without contrivance, clinging, over-thinking. The air is freely given. We can only realize our dependence upon the air that surrounds us and surrender to the gratuity of air coming and going.

A rabbi taught this prayer to me many years ago. I write about it in the second chapter of my book The Naked Now. The Jews did not speak God's name, but breathed it with an open mouth and throat: inhale--Yah; exhale--weh. By our very breathing we are speaking the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.

Breathe the syllables with open mouth and lips, relaxed tongue:

Inhale--Yah
Exhale--weh

During a period of meditation, perhaps twenty minutes, use this breath as a touchstone. Begin by connecting with your intention, your desire to be present to God. Breathe naturally, slowly, and deeply, inhaling and exhaling Yah-weh. Let your focus on the syllables soften and fall away into silence. If a thought, emotion, or sensation arises, observe but don't latch on to it. Simply return to breathing Yah-weh.

You may be distracted numerous times. And perhaps your entire practice will be full of sensations clamoring for attention. Contemplation is truly an exercise in humility! But each interruption is yet another opportunity to return to Presence. 


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Gateway to Silence
Breathing in--receiving mercy; breathing out--letting go 

Friday, November 20, 2015

missa gaia and sabbath resistance...

As our ensemble, choir and band shift into high gear in anticipation of this weekend's "Missa Gaia" concert - Sunday, November 22, 2015 @ 3 PM -  there is one aspect of this event that warrants a comment: Sabbath. Yes, yes, I know I've been all over Sabbath/sabbatical stuff for the past year. Yet still I find new invitations and insights about this discarded and holy act almost everywhere I look. Last night, I read these words:

Sabbath is the great equalizer, the great reminder that we do not live on this earth, but in it, and that everything we do under the warming tent of this planet's atmosphere affects all who are woven into this web with us. Just because the land and the livestock cannot hire lawyers does not mean they have not been violated... (clearly) other gods go on getting their way. Where there is money to be made, there is no rest for the land, nor for those who live on it. 

In the rural county where I live, developers bulldoze the laurels by the river where the raccoons taught their babies how to fish. An entire pine forest comes down to produce the paper for one mail-order catalog. People who have already run out of closet space work overtime to pay the interest on their average $9000 credit card debts, while economic predators send teenagers applications for their own preapproved cards in the mail. No resistance to such ravenousness will come from those who are heavily
invested in its revenue. 

The resistance will have to come from elsewhere, from those who live by a different rhythm because they worship a different god... Sabbath is the true God's gift to those who wish to rest and to be free - and who are willing to guard those same gifts for every living thing in their vicinity as well. Remember the commandment? It is not just for you. It for your children, your employees, your volunteer helpers, your hunting dogs, your plow horses, your fields and your migrant workers.

It does not matter in the least whether they believe in your God. YOU DO so they get the day off... Practicing Sabbath over and over again... gradually (helps) us resist the culture's killing rhythms of drivenness and depletion, compulsion and collapse.

Consider two of Barbara Brown Taylor's insights:  1) the resistance will have to come from elsewhere; and 2) it does not matter in the least what others believe when it comes to Sabbath rest.

+  One of the unintended consequences of an established religion in small communities is the way being official and respected has robbed us of our identity as resisters.  We are the church, god damn it, not renegade counter-culturalists! We maintain the integrity of order and strengthen both the moral and legal contours of this society. We are the elected officials, the sitting judges, the lawyers and physicians and teachers. We are the elite with a clear role to play in maintaining order. Law and order, to be precise. 

The upside of noblesse oblige has always been the commitment of the privileged to provide charity for the wounded. Public service on behalf of the less fortunate has been an historic obligation. The downside, of course, comes when the so-called best and brightest get bored and move on to new projects leaving the poor forgotten and hurting. In the 21st century, there are very few of the old timers with the money, dedication and time to actively care for the common good. They have long ago died or moved away. What remains is the legacy of their theological blindness: an inability to recognize our role as counter-cultural activists for justice and compassion.  So many of us in the mainstream have been trained and conditioned to consider ourselves a part of the movers and shakers that we chafe and rebel when charged to resist our culture's avarice and addiction to activity. This may be shifting given the polarization taking place around Syrian refugees, but our spiritual amnesia has deep roots and won't give up without a protracted battle.

+ The other is the inherent generosity explicitly anticipated by those living into the resistance of Sabbath blessings.  Nobody got it better than Stephen Colbert recently when he said, "If you want to know if somebody is Christian, just ask them to complete this sentence: Jesus said ‘I was hungry,’ and you gave me something to eat, ‘I was thirsty,’ and you gave me something to drink, ‘I was a stranger,’ and you _______" If they don't say "welcome them" they are either a terrorist or a candidate for President."  (check it out here: https://youtu.be/lkRpAK3OtqQ)

The two candles on a Jewish Sabbath table teach us that the whole point of Sabbath living is to become more like God. The first represents the initial creation story in the book of Genesis:  "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them and then He rested on the seventh; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it." All the other days of creation were called good, but the Sabbath was named holy - it is sacred - and those who learn how to rest like the Lord let themselves be re-created in God's image. Rest is how we practice letting God strengthen and renew all that is holy within our humanity.

The second candle points to the other articulation of Sabbath keeping in Deuteronomy 5: "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." Barbara Brown Taylor writes: "Resting every seventh day, God's people remember their divine liberation - and that is what the second Sabbath candle announces: made in God's image, you too are free!" 

Sabbath is not only God's gift to those who have voices to say how tired they are; Sabbath is also God's gift to the tired fields, the tired vines, the tired vineyard, the tired land. Leviticus 25 shows divine concern for grapes, for God's sake. It promises both the tame and the wild animals in the land enough to eat, along with the hired hands who presumably have time tot take up wood-working and water aerobics during the year that the tractors stay parked in the barn. (The Jubilee Year according to tradition.)

The blessings of freedom and rest - the call to stand and speak for those without a voice and resist our perpetually consuming culture - is what Sabbath is all about. And so, we come back to this weekend's Sabbath concert: it is a way to experience and sense the promise of Sabbath in the hope that it will evoke the spirit of compassionate resistance. The dancers will share their creativity in an embodied way. The singers will mix their songs in solidarity with the songs of the timber wolf, the humpbacked whale and birds of the air. And the instrumentalists will take up the sax and cello, the guitar and drums, the organ, piano and bass and give expression to the heart of Sabbath living. To use Taylor's wisdom:  all spiritual truth must take up residence in our bodies and actions in order for them to be true.

From within our culture of consumption - a culture currently obsessed with fear-mongering in addition to possession - our small concert is a way of resistance. I hope you will join us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

imagine...

Last night I read these words in Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World:

When people wanted Jesus to tell them what God's realm was like, he told them stories about their own lives. When people wanted him to tell them God's truth about something, he asked them what they thought. With all kinds of opportunities to tell people what to think, he told them what to do instead. Wash feet. Give your stuff away. Share your food. Favor reprobates. Pray for those who are out to get you. Be the first to say, "I'm sorry." For those who took him as their model, being fully human became a full-time job. It became a vocation in itself, no matter what they happened to do for a living.


Today the overwhelming majority of our House of Representatives - most of whom consider themselves serious and even fundamentalist Christians - voted to deny hospitality and hope to Syrian refugees.  It is an election year so pandering and fear-mongering of the worst type are rampant. It is also one of the consequences of blurring the lines between love of God and love of country - and it breaks my heart..

I understand fear and anger. We all give in to it countless times every day; it is part of human nature. I fell victim to the lure of fear and anger after September 11th and got caught up in "getting them" like so many others.. But here's the rub: fear and anger only brings people together in solidarity against a common enemy for a short time. Its allure wears off. Then, like a junkie in need of a fix, we need more fear and violence to remain focused. We need more scapegoating and selling our soul to our lowest common denominator to maintain our momentum. It is the cycle of violence the late Rene Girard exposed so brilliantly:

People can desire anything, as long as other people seem to desire it, too: that is the meaning of Girard's concept of "mimetic desire." Since people tend toward the same objects of desire, jealousy and rivalry are inevitable sources of social tension -- and perfect themes for the great novelists. After his successful writings on modern literature, curious to find out how well his "mimetic theory" of imitative behavior might explain the human past, Girard studied anthropology and myths from around the world. He was struck by another series of similarities: myth after myth told a story of collective violence. Only one man can be king, the most enviable individual, but everyone can share in the persecution of a victim. Societies unify themselves by focusing their imitative desires on the destruction of a scapegoat. Girard hypothesized that the violent persecution of scapegoats is at the origin of the ubiquitous human institution of ritual sacrifice, the foundation of archaic religions. Girard then turned to the relationship between rituals of sacrifice and the many acts of violence recorded in the founding documents of the religions of the modern West (including the secular religion known as the Enlightenment): the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Gospels. Girard interpreted the Bible as a gradual revelation of the injustice of human violence. The culmination, Jesus's crucifixion, is unprecedented not because it pays a debt humans owe to God, but because it reveals the truth of all sacrifice: the victim of a mob is always innocent, and collective violence is always covered over with a lie. (http://www.imitatio.org/mimetic-theory/a-very-brief-introduction.html)

His startling conclusion is that over and over history repeats itself as we surrender to fear and hatred. Jesus exposes this "original sin" - our desire for security through killing the scapegoat - but tells the story not from the perspective of the victorious, but rather the vanquished. Jesus shows us how we become viscous, self-righteous hypocrites who terrorize the innocent in the name of "national security" and religion. He shows us the consequence of our fear and violence and offers an alternative when he prays: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." And keep on doing over and over again.


So let's be clear: the alternative Jesus offers to remaining addicted to fear and anger is called compassion, forgiveness and contemplation. In prayer, we confront our own demons so that we don't dump them out upon the world and pass our confusion and terror on to to others.  In forgiveness we interrupt the cycle of violence and bring it to resolution within our flesh.  And in compassion we begin to see the essence of Christ in the flesh and blood of those who are most vulnerable. Matthew 25 is instructive: when did we see, Thee, Lord...? Whenever you fed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visited the lonely...you did so unto Me.

There is empirical evidence that America's mainstream is becoming more fear-based, angry and open to violence. We are hostile and afraid of those who are not white and middle class, more so than at any time in the last 50 years. PRRI's recent survey of American values - Anxiety, Nostalgia and Mistrust - makes this clear. (check it out: http://publicreligion.org /research/2015/11/survey-anxiety-nostalgia-and-mistrust-findings-from-the-2015-american-values-survey/#.Vk5sjNKrSt9) Donald Trump's neo-Nazi rants about registering Muslims and John Kasich's appeal to nativist, so-called Christian hysteria are just the tip of an ugly ice berg. This is the soil upon which facism flourishes.

How many times have you heard people complain: where are the moderate Muslims to condemn this act of terrorism? I confess that I've said it and maybe you have, too. Well, now is the time to ask: where are the moderate (or radical) Christians who will stand with the innocents and call out the fear and hatred of our sisters and brothers in Christ? The time has come to boldly challenge them with the alternative of contemplation and compassion. In ways I could never have imagined, today I feel more solidarity with secular French allies who make music in the face of guns and boldly reassert the power of love in the public square rather those who cower in our churches and foment fear, anger and bigotry.  

This Sunday - at 3:00 pm - we're going to share some compassion and beauty and love in a tender, contemplative way -. and I hope you will join us for MISSA GAIA.  This concert wasn't intended to be a protest against the fear and anger of this era. Rather, it was conceived as part of our sabbatical experience wherein we offered a benefit concert for one of our mission partners. But in my heart, making this music in concert with this group of musicians has become a living a testimony to the world I want to live in. 

It calls to mind the pianist in Paris who dragged his instrument on his bicycle to the Bataclan to play "Imagine" for those still in shock. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one... I hope some day you'll join us and the world will live as one."


I truly hope this day you will join us.

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