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 /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. 


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