Friday, November 16, 2018

finding jesus in a wheelchair...

When I travel north to L'Arche Ottawa, I have an extended time of solitude in the car. The visuals are lovely - rock cliffs, rushing rivers and streams, open fields that are sometimes fallow and at other times full, and the ever-changing colors of north country maple, elm, ash, beech, aspen and oak trees - turning my drive into an extended meditation. Travel time, at least so far, has been one of the unexpected gifts of being connected to this community. Like they say in AA: wherever you go, you have to take yourself with you. So each month, as I settle into the groove of the journey, I have 13+ hours (round trip) of quiet time to listen to what's rushing around inside my head and my heart. It has become my hermitage on wheels, my 21st century pilgrimage, and I look forward to it. 

One of the contemporary authors on pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau, put it like this: "In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred... (for) that which you looking for may be calling you to seek." That rings true for me: in the silence of this journey, I listen to the noise within as it moves slowly towards silence; in the music I play in the car, I get clues as to what is hurting as well as grateful in my heart; and in preparing for travel, I discover how frantic or grounded I am in real time. Like Thomas Merton observed: The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.

This month was centered upon three inter-related commitments: 1) structured quiet time for the L'Arche assistants to reflect on their experiences; 2) talking and listening to the whole community's hopes and fears for the future; and 3) inviting house leaders to share their wisdom with the spirituality team re: what we can do to support their lives in community with core members as well as assistants. Given my quiet time in the car, I came to see that our discernment this week was the practical union of the spiritual and the material. It was a way of giving shape and form to Words of faith becoming Flesh. Or, as Psalm 85: 10 says: "Steadfast love and faithfulness will embrace; justice and compassion will kiss." Jean Vanier is clear that true community unites heaven and earth:

Some people may find material chores irksome; they would prefer to use their time to talk and be with others. They haven't yet realized that the thousand and one small things that have to be done each day, the cycle of dirtying and cleaning, were given by God to enable us to communicate through matter... We are all called to do not extraordinary things, but very ordinary things, with an extraordinary love that flows from the heart of God... A community which has a sense of work done well, quietly and lovingly, humbly and without fuss, can become a community where the presence of God is profoundly lived... and in this the community will take on a whole contemplative dimension.

Our first day was about telling our stories, going inward in silence to listen for the stirring of the Spirit, and then sharing aloud part of our discernment. It was a tender and vulnerable day filled with laughter and tears. Over and again I heard us say that we were each called to L'Arche to help others. Yet sometime early on we discovered that we, too were in need of help. Healing. Love. And more often than not, it has been our core member friends who have led us into our deepest blessings. Vanier writes: We have to realize that this wound [of loneliness] is inherent in the human condition and that what we have to do is walk with it instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit in a mysterious way is living at the center of the wound.

Throughout the first day of retreat this was woven into our private and silent times, our small groups and conversations, our larger gatherings as we listened carefully, and at our evening meals with their ordinary grace. It was for me as if we were channeling Vanier: To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.

The second day started with an intense three and a half hour public process to hear what the whole community - core members, assistants and leaders - hoped for and feared as L'Arche Ottawa ripens over the next four years. This was the culmination of personal reflection and small group conversations that had already taken place. Each table of ten talked together - and I found this to be holy ground saturated with trust. As the day progressed, we ate together, rested in quiet, experienced some beautiful dance moves through the leadership of a Persian dance instructor, and then celebrated various core members and assistants anniversaries. 

One of the L'Arche traditions is to make a stole for those living in community. This symbol comes from the liturgical stoles of the Christian church worn by deacons, clergy and readers. Not everyone knows that the stole has its origins in the acts of Jesus as recorded in St. John's gospel. On the night before his betrayal, Jesus gathered his friends for a meal, and before sharing supper he knelt at their feet and washed away the dirt from the day's journey. While doing so, he wore a towel, symbol of a humble servant, and this became both the liturgical stoles of worship as well as L'Arche's symbol of our life in community. On each stole are tactile objects that portray part of each person's story. What a genuinely brilliant way to celebrate a person's gifts! Our day together ended with a liturgy of Eucharist. Afterwards, I shared a simple supper with another house and played a few tunes on the guitar.

Day three was grounded in listening to house leaders consider how our local spirituality team might support their life in community. For an hour we "checked in" with one another, sharing honestly what was on our hearts with clarity and openness. Then the house leaders shared their reactions to the question: "What do you need to deepen the spirituality of L'Arche in your unique home?" I was struck again with the willingness to listen to one another carefully rather than control the conversation or talk over one another. The house leaders were explicit: they did not need more tasks; rather they looked for well-crafted suggestions as to how they might integrate conversations and prayers shaped by the values of L'Arche into their existing practices. Two themes quickly rose to the surface: no one needs MORE to do, and, everyone yearns for the suggestions offered in our discussion to become real. Without both our time will have been wasted and disappointments will deepen. I couldn't help but think of the way Vanier put this in Community and Growth

Many people believe that community life is made up of a series of problems to be solved. And consciously or unconsciously, they are waiting for the day when all the tensions, conflicts, and problems . . . will be resolved and there will be no problems left! But the more we live community life, the more we discover that it is not so much a question of resolving problems as of learning to live with them patiently. Most problems are not resolved. With time, and a certain insight and fidelity in listening, they clear up when we least expect them to. But there will always be others to take their place!
Our time was closed by sharing Donna's fresh pumpkin soup, cheese, bread and fruit at a common table. It is these small acts of tenderness that feed my heart's emptiness when I travel to L'Arche Ottawa. It is the ordinary but honest ways that people love one another - even when there is confusion or anger - that gives me hope. The love of Jesus is palpable. Not inflated and never phony. Just simple and real. 

In my homily at Eucharist, I started by saying: "When I was very young, I asked my grandmother, a pastor's wife, when might I see the face of God?" As a rational, Unitarian mystic, she wasn't able to answer my 6 year old question to my satisfaction. I added that it had taken me 60 years to find the answer, but I finally found what I was looking for at L'Arche. (Think U2.) This community has shown me how to find the face of the Lord in one another. When God's love shines out from out hearts, we discover eyes to see and ears to hear. It is the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy: This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. This prompted one of my dearest friends from the Mountainview home, Terry, to say out loud: "We are Jesus in a wheelchair." God knows he was right.

Driving home early the next moorning (so that I might avoid the impending snow storm) I kept thinking about 
Vanier's insights as shaped by Terry's confession:

A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.

I believe that my connection with L'Arche Ottawa is bathed in gifts - including the long drive - but so much more, too. Phil Cousineau got it right: "I am convinced," he wrote, "that pilgrimage is still a bona fide spirit-renewing ritual. But I also believe in pilgrimage as a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler. With a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path below our feet, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform, even the most ordinary journey into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage." 

At breakfast this morning, as Di and I spoke of my time away, she smiled at me and said, "Hmmmm, think you've found your new calling in retirement? I've wondered if the feeling had passed. But judging from the look on your face in those pictures from the retreat, there's NO question: this IS your calling!"Je le pense aussi, ma plus chèrie, je le pense aussi ...

photo credits: John Comfort and Donna Rietschlin
special thanks to the Spirituality Committee and Community Life Leader, Henrietta Kelemen for bringing this retreat to fruition

Thursday, November 15, 2018

an encounter with joy...

Nearly every month I have the privilege of being present with my friends in the community of L'Arche Ottawa. Throughout the month I hold the core members, assistants, friends and various leaders in my prayers. I often write and reflect on what a spirituality of tenderness - guided greatly by the wisdom of Jean Vanier - means for this moment in my life and culture, too. And then once a month, after driving six hours one way, I have the joy of sharing a few days in community in Ottawa. Sometimes I am blessed to sleep and share meals in one of the L'Arche community homes. Other times those who live in solidarity with L'Arche welcome me into their homes. Always I am blessed by my visits whether it is for a spirituality committee meeting, a retreat, Eucharist, or simply the chance to share an evening meal with those I have come to love.

I don't have any illusions that these monthly visits bear any relationship to the day in/day out rigors of the L'Arche assistants - or core members. Generally, I live a life of solitude. Yes, I make a small commitment of time and resources to travel north each month, but it is a very modest act in comparison to the profound lives of service in the homes of L'Arche. (NOTE: for those unfamiliar with L'Arche nomenclature, assistants are the full-time, live-in support personnel who provide care, compassion and accompaniment to core members; core members are individuals with intellectual disabilities who share their lives, their wisdom and their love with the whole community.) Most homes are 10 people with and without intellectual disabilities practicing living and loving life together. Every month the whole cadre gathers for community night. There are supper exchanges every month, too as well as a variety of shared celebrations, events and encounters with the wider Ottawa community. My small but sacred part in all of this is to periodically bring music, participate fully in the spirituality committee and share Eucharist, reflection or whatever else might be useful whenever I can make the trip north.

There is SO much I would like to write about my recent trip - but I am worn out - mostly from travel but also from my encounters with joy. As an old dude, I am learning that there is a time for me to be engaged and then a time to step back and rejoice in the energy of others. So let me share a collection of photos (taken by others at L'Arche) that hint at the blessings we experience whenever we are able to reconnect. Tonight,as the first serious snow of the season brings us its beauty, I give thanks to God for this community.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

gratitude for l'arche ottawa: preparing to be away

There is a blog post simmering on the back burner about the arc of the ministry God has guided me into for over 40+ years. but it is going to have to wait for a few more days. Tomorrow I leave to be with my L'Arche Ottawa friends for four days of reflection, conversation, eating together, and listening carefully to one another in retreat. It will be a deep privilege to join the new and seasoned assistants for this first formation retreat. It will be a joy to be part of the musical team, too. And a humbling honor to celebrate Eucharist at the close of our time together. Even the six hour trip up and then back is filled with blessing as it is a time for silence - some music, too - and a lot of thought and prayer. I give thanks for this journey to and fro throughout the seasons. Like Mother Earth, I find myself ripening and then turning inward, sharing abundantly and then withdrawing for introspection. Seeing the movement of the seasons is yet another way of staying grounded in God's quiet but real presence.

One of the truly unique gifts that I have experienced at L'Arche is the joy as well as the freedom to share life with judgment. So much of my existence has been shaped and deformed by judgment. As a child of alcoholic parents, I know the demon of shame all too well. I know what it means to strive to overcome the demon with hard work. And perfectionism. And the relentless judgment of never quite getting it all right. Exhausting, yes? What's more, my chosen calling in the church as a pastor was one where workaholism was rewarded. In time, even expected. So God forbid that the clergy truly practice self-care and healthy boundaries re: the inward/outward journey of being engaged and available as well as stepping away from the fray for quiet rest and renewal. 
One of the paradoxical conclusions I have realized in retirement is that I knew blessing upon blessing as a pastor. It was a grand and holy time. Yet often simultaneously, it was saturated with the critical judgment of others or my own doubts, fears and insecurities. Small wonder one of my cherished passages from Scripture is Matthew 11: 28-30: Come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.

I have done a lot of inner work coming to terms with all of this over the past year as I have found a new rhythm in retirement. And one of the most healing aspects of this time has been my deepening commitment to L'Arche Ottawa. My experience with the community is grounded in gratitude, not judgment. Not that we get it all right all the time. That wouldn't be human or even possible. But gratitude is the starting place at L'Arche, not judgment. As they say throughout L'Arche Canada: the L'Arche community is a unique model of support where everyone belongs. Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, put it like this: "Genuine healing happens here, not in miraculous cures, but through mutual respect, care, and love. Paradoxically, vulnerability becomes a source of strength and wholeness, a place of reconciliation and communion with others.” Earlier today I read these words at one of the prayer sites I am finding helpful.

Luke 14: 3b-5: And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took (a wounded man) and healed him and sent him away. Then he said to (his opponents), “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out even on a sabbath day?”

We like to judge more than we like to reconcile. From religion to

politics, from education to immigration, we are usually far more interested in assigning blame than looking for healing. This is not a problem unique to our place in history—it seems to have been the case in Jesus’ time as well. The hard path, the path Jesus is leading us to follow, is to find solutions to problems. Jesus issues a call that is about seeking reconciliation with those from whom we are divided, divorced, or disenchanted. So where might we bring healing in the lives of others today? Are we willing to work for it? (

Gratitude and the unforced rhythms of grace have always called to me. And now I have the space, time, privilege and ability to embrace them ever more fully. At L'Arche I find I am able to do this with clarity, depth and authenticity. So it is with a quiet trust that I prepare tonight to head out to Ottawa in the morning. At the close of our retreat I will share some additional reflections. Until then, I won't be engaged in social media for much of the next week.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

praying and living beyond my antisemitism: psalm 69

Many of us who grew up in the American Christianity of the 50s and 60s learned that the portrayal of God in the Old Testament - the Hebrew Bible - was qualitatively different from God's depiction in the New Testament - the additional texts of Christianity. The short hand summary goes something like this: the God of the OT is judgmental and violent while the God of the NT is forgiving and kind. My experience suggests that this caricature was just as true in the Reformed churches as it was in the Anabaptist or Roman Catholic traditions. It was said by well-educated preachers from the pulpit, well-intentioned Sunday School teachers in our classrooms, and shaped the conversations of countless confirmation and catechism classes for decades. Sadly, it is still alive in 2018 as the recent massacre in Pittsburgh documents.

That this vulgar misrepresentation is untrue didn't matter: after about 250 CE, the Christian Church has been riddled by and polluted with antisemitism. What began as a theological argument between Jews in the first century of the Common Era became codified as tradition in the second and amplified as creed in the third. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine cut to the chase when she noted that: “Residual Marcionism, the view that God had a personality transplant somewhere between the pages of Malachi and Matthew, is still alive and well in churches today; it is also still a heresy.” (Short Stories by Jesus.) James Carroll, a former priest in the Roman Catholic realm, articulates it well:

Saint Paul lives in the Christian imagination as the chief sponsor of Christian contempt for Jews, the avatar of law versus grace, flesh versus spirit, works versus faith, Moses versus Jesus, the Old Covenant versus the New. This brutal dichotomizing was attributed to Paul most influentially by Martin Luther, who used a perceived Jewish legalism, materialism, and obsession with externals as stand-ins for the decadence of his nemesis, the pope. “Because the Papists, like the Jews,” he wrote, “insist that anyone wishing to be saved must observe their ceremonies, they will perish like the Jews.” After Luther, both Protestants and Catholics read Paul as the preeminent tribune of Jewish corruption—a misreading that had terrible consequences, especially in Luther’s Germany, where the Volk were defined in ontological opposition to Juden. (Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age)

I mention our historic theological and ethical corruption by antisemitism as prelude to reflecting on today's Psalm. There are, of course, a variety of ways to pray the Psalms and each has its own wisdom. If, however, we only read the Psalms with an eye for finding references to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we will likely reinforce our hatred of Judaism without knowing it. From time to time I use the Orthodox spiritual practice of looking for Christ in the Psalms as a meditative practice. It is one way to do lectio divina (sacred and contemplative reading with Scripture.) But if this is my only use of the songs of prayer from ancient Israel, I will strengthen my already distorted view of the Hebrew prayers and nourish an ignorance that renders Judaism incomplete at best - and more likely defective, dangerous and superseded as well. 
Remember super-secessionism was found to be heresy by the Roman Catholic church only during the final days of Vatican II. (see James Carroll's exhaustive but illuminating history Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews - a History for details.) The liberal Reformed tradition quickly embraced this new perspective, but it has remained outside the norm for Baptist, Anabaptist, Pentecostal and Evangelical congregations and institutions even in 2018. That is why whenever I use the devotional resource, Christ in the Psalms, by Patrick Henry Reardon, I must also read Robert Alter's commentary, The Book of the Psalms, for balance and depth. The first is takes me deep into my Christian story and I find it useful; but without the careful exegetical analysis of both key words and original historical context in the second, there can be trouble. So, suffice it to say that I know my opening commentary takes too long to note that the most common way God is described in the Hebrew text is as the source of steadfast love and kindness. Psalm 69: 14-16:

As for me, this is my prayer to you at the time you have set, O LORD: In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.

Mercy is how most English translations render "the paired terms hesed and 'emet" which Alter tells us literally mean "kindness and truth but with the idiomatic sense of 'steadfast kindness' or even 'dependability as partner in a covenant." (Alter, p. 238) Elsewhere hesed suggests compassion as in Micah 6:8 where doing justice (mishpat) and walking in spiritual humility (tsana) are linked to cherishing compassion (hesed.) One of the essential Christian commentaries on this truth is found in what I consider Matthew Fox's finest work: A Spirituality Named Compassion - Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice.

Compassion is not the eleventh commandment. Why not? Because it is a spirituality and a way of living and walking through life. It is the way we treat all there is in life -- ourselves, our bodies, our imaginations and dreams, our neighbors, our enemies, our air, our water, our earth, our animals, our death, our space, and our time. Compassion is a spirituality as if creation mattered. It is treating all creation as holy and as divine... which is what it is. (See "altruism vs compassion for a summary @

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine writes that compassion is a feeling that becomes a living and embodied commitment as mercy and justice embrace. Such is the core of fulfilling the dual commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and, love our neighbor as ourself. I see the  prayer of this Psalm as a cry for both the rescue God's steadfast loving-kindness brings as well as a commitment to share this mercy with others in the mire and deep waters of a broken world. Clearly the love Jesus enfleshed this compassion. And it would strengthen our resolved to do likewise by remembering that he learned it from his mother's compassion. She shared the merciful wisdom of Israel with her child as part of his spiritual formation. This is how Jesus knew to trust God even in the emptiness of his passion. God's steadfast loving-kindness endures for ever.

One contemplative suggests a merciful way to meditate on this text as a search for ways we can go deeper into the cost and joy of discipleship:

What do I do when confronted with something I don’t understand? Do I flee or fight? Do I acquiesce or seek out understanding? Fleeing or fighting is easier than considering my other options. They require nothing of me other than to operate out of some primal urge. Seeking wisdom is the harder path. Whether I acquiesce in the mystery of something greater than myself or seek meaning in that mystery, I am making a conscious decision rather than giving into an urge. In choosing to seek and serve Christ in the world around me, I am allowing the Holy Spirit to help turn my will into action, as I work out my salvation in fear and trembling. (

Part of my embodied prayer today is taking in and living into the paradox of compassion. One of my mentors, Joni Mitchell, just turned 75 and put it like this in her earliest days.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

gratitude for the saints who have loved me...

Today many congregations will observe All Saints Day. As one who grew up in a highly intellectual low Reformed congregation, I didn't know much about this feast day. Hell, I didn't know much about ANY feast day! In time, however, my soul settled within the sacramental/liturgical part of the Christian family. It is where I am most nourished and at rest. 

While serving Trinity United Church in Cleveland, my German friends turned me on to their version of All Saints Day: Totenfest. Prussian members of the German Evangelical Church celebrated their "Feast of the Dead" on November 25 right before the start of Advent. Totenfest marked the close of the Christian calendar, too. Obviously, Totenfest 
had roots in both All Saints and All Souls day that was institutionalized by Pope Boniface IV in 609 CE. The Roman observance started in the grassroots as a way to "remember the virgin Mary and all the martyrs. In time it was officially added to the church calendar on November 1st in 837; All Souls Day, a time set aside to pray for the souls of the departed who where in purgatory, was formalized as November 2." ( worship/ worship-ways/year-c/p/pentecost-totenfest.html) As the Reformation ripened:

The Prussian Emperor Fredrick William III wanted a church feast to not only "remember the war dead, but also church members who had died in the previous year. It was observed on the last Sunday of the church year, right before Advent began. This was also the time of clearing garden sand fields of the summer’s growth in preparation for winter.

My Cleveland friends told me that in parts of modern Germany, Totenfest is still a time when families visit the graves of their loved ones to "clean off the flowers of summer and cover the graves with evergreen boughs for the winter." After the anti-German hysteria of WWI, Americans of German heritage tended to shift this feast to what we once called Decoration Day in late May. As I learned of the old ways we worked to revive them in that old church, but now in ecumenical harmony with the wider church's celebration of All Saints Day. After the call to worship and opening hymn, we would read aloud the names and dates of those who had entered "that great cloud of witnesses" in the previous year. Each name was followed by a bell chime and extended silence. The collect for All Saints Day found in the Book of Common Prayer closed this liturgy of remembrance.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Two texts appointed for today hold unique meaning for those of us who mark the passing of loved ones, and, trust by faith that they continue to share love and prayers with us as a part of what the NT book of Hebrews calls "that great cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 11: 1-2)

Since, therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

In the OT book of Ruth we are given a story of a stranger to the tribe of ancient Israel - a foreigner - who had come into the clan during a time of famine and exile. By tradition, when Ruth's husband died, she was released from any vow of obligation and free to return to her own people. But, the text tells us, Ruth not only refused to leave her ancient mother-in-law Naomi, but promised to care for her as if she were flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  One commentator observed that in Ruth's promise, we are given: "the voice of God promising never to leave us, never to abandon us. I often find myself clinging to this promise of God. The way is not always easy in life, and God does not guarantee a smooth road, but God promises never to leave us and on that I depend." (http:// 1&y=2018)

In today's gospel, Mark 12, a comparable revelation about God's fidelity and our intimacy with the Lord is articulated. When Jesus is questioned by those who are suspicious of his authority, he answers in a way that is both faithful to his tradition but also as boldly inclusive as Ruth's promise, too. "Which is the greatest of our commandments?" Mark puts it like this:  

Jesus replied: The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'-- this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

Like Ruth before him, Jesus affirms that loving God and those we can touch is
our calling. This not only renders us faithful, but makes God's promises flesh in our lives. Theories, doctrine and dogma have their place, but if we have not love then we remain "far from the kingdom of God." This is, perhaps, one of the reasons I continue to treasure All Saints Day. It invites me to remember those real saints who have given me love - or showed me the way of love - in my ordinary life. To that end, we are preparing Mexican "Bread of the Dead" as well as French roast chicken for our evening Sabbath feast. 

Today I give thanks to the following saints who have opened my life to the way of gracious love. May they keep me grounded in small acts of compassion until I, too, rejoin them in that great cloud of witnesses. Thank you, Lord, for:
MLK and Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hammer, Lou Reed, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, Ray and Jane Swartzback, Sam Fogal, Roger Anderson, Mike Daniels, Jim and Betty Lumsden. Linda Cain, Beth Lumsden, Phil and Bessie Mescall, Donna Johnston, Aretha Franklin, Dolores Brown, Mike Daniels, Rick Webber, Kathy Artz, Don Wooten, Bob Strommen, Alfred Schmaltz, Anthony Bourdain, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, and Dorothea Soelle. 

Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

praying with my eyes...

A year ago in November, I received a gift of this small candle at the close of our community retreat at L'Arche Ottawa. It has become the center of my small prayer altar on my home desk. Behind the candle is a picture of the L'Arche community taken in May 2018 after another retreat. A Russian theotokos, my prayer book and a wee pumpkin sit on a prayer cloth I found in Istanbul. Every day I return to this place for silence, reflection and prayer. Often I use the opening words for Morning Prayer taken from Psalm 51:

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Give to me the joy of your saving help again, and sustain me wit your bountiful Spirit. All glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

On the other side of my prayer altar are icons including two paintings from Harry, a core member of L'Arche Ottawa, as well as a French icon showing Jesus celebrating the Eucharist and one by Tommie De Paola set in a Latin American context. The Serenity Prayer from a retreat house in Michigan shares wall space with the Prayer of St. Francis I found in a monastery in Tucson. I have added an Islamic call to prayer tile alongside an olive branch my daughter Jesse brought back to me from Assisi. 

These visual and physical "friends" are important to me because sometimes I find I don't have words when I sit for prayer. I may read the lessons and a few of the liturgical prayers, but there are times when all I can do is sit and rest in the beauty and grace of God. Jean Vanier has written that people with intellectual disabilities don't have a cerebral relationship with God. They just know when they are loved. I experience that most when words fail me and I just sit with my L'Arche candle lit in the presence of my icon friends. The late Henri Nouwen put it like this in his little book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons.

Acting, speaking and even reflective thinking may at times be too demanding (for us), but we are forever seeing. When we dream, we see. When we stare in front of us, we see. When we close our eyes to rest, we see. We see trees, houses, roads and cars, seas and mountains, animals and people, places and face, shapes and colors. We see clearly or vaguely, but always we find something to see. But what do we choose to see? It makes a great difference whether we see a flower or a snake, a gentle smile or menacing teeth, a dancing couple or a hostile crowd. We have a choice. Just aw we are responsible for what we eat, so we are responsible for what we see... and we do not have to be passive victims of a world that wants to entertain, distract (or disturb) us. 

Using icons to "pray with our eyes" in silence is a time-tested way of being prayerful. Nouwen writes that "gazing is probably the best word to touch the core of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. Whereas St. Benedict, who has set the tone for the spirituality of the West, calls us first to listen, the Byzantine fathers focus on gazing." This makes sense to me. It speaks to where my heart is on some days. So I choose to "behold" (there's that word again!) the beauty of the Lord. The goodness of God's grace. The rest and assurance that even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou, O Lord, art with me. Sitting quietly here is enough. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

more thoughts on a year of beholding...

When Di and I found it essential to embark on this journey into retirement - and a new way of being in ministry - we went to the Eastern Townships of Quebec for a few days of solitude and silence. It was essential because the old ways had outlived their usefulness and vitality. To go into a new way of being - a new way of living, loving, serving, and honoring the Source of Creation - required some quiet time for discernment. 

As I have noted in the past, often a word or phrase from Scripture comes to me during these retreats to bring a measure of focus to my sorting. My earliest days of ministry were shaped by Luke 9: 62: Whoever puts his/her hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. (Ah, precious clarity of youth!)
Later and for a long time, it was Psalm 37: Fret not... be still and know that I am God. Later still, Matthew 11: 28-30 offered guidance: Come to all ye who are tired and heavy laden... and I will give you peace. (Especially Peterson's retelling: Are you burned out? Come to me and I will teach you the unforced rhythms of grace.) For the past few years, Isaiah 55 has been a constant reference: Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near ... For 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.

On our retreat, a new text captured my imagination, and I have used it to guide decisions, actions and options for living into this new way of being. The text is Luke 1: 31: Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. It is spoken by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary about how it is she shall bring Jesus into the world. I love the Blessed Virgin and believe the heart of ministry has to do with giving birth or making flesh the words of Christ in daily life. 

So as I began to ponder and study how behold is used it rang true for a year of discernment. Behold, you see, shows up often in Scripture as a call to see and respond to something remarkable God is creating. In Hebrew, hinneh, is often translated as behold meaning: pay attention. Chazah also suggests perceiving and understanding with the intellect. In the Greek New Testament behold is how ide is rendered - mirroring the Hebrew hinneh - for taking notice of something in reality that holds significance. So for the past nine months (hmmmm?) we have been noticing. Beholding. Watching and looking for the things God is sharing in our lives right here that likely have deeper significance. It is a sacramental way of seeing, where nature and events point towards something deeper even as they have authenticity in themselves.

So what's popped up in all this birthing, noticing and perceiving? 

+ First, our lives have become noticeably smaller. On a fixed income, we can no longer afford to do many of the things that once were common place. Like spontaneous travel. Or movies and concerts. Or subscriptions to favorite periodicals. Or unplanned shopping and dining out. Out of necessity, we have now eliminated a host of expenses - including our denominational health insurance - so that we can live into what is most important: sharing love with our children and grandchildren, being present to L'Arche Ottawa, making music. and being fully alive with one another. Being small has helped us discern what is most important for whatever time remains. There is a loss in this, to be sure, but such is the way of love: beholding is helping us to say yes with clarity and no with conviction. 

+ Second, living smaller also means living slower. Every day there is time for prayer, study, walking, talking, making music, taking in the PBS News Hour and a bit of British mysteries with Di at the end of the day. We go to bed earlier. I get in a few hours of reading, too. Moreover, I am no longer in a hurry to get any place. I have time to talk with everyone I meet at Wal-Mart - and do! Same with Aldi's or Stop'n'Shop. I can go to the hospital and be there for hours with someone if need be. Or take as long as is needed with colleagues in conversation. Living slower has taught me how to behold who is right in front of me so that I can use the time that is for what's most important. Loving. And listening. And being.

+ Third, being smaller and slower gives me time to be a home-body: I bake bread, prepare new recipes almost every night, clean our house and do little repairs. As an organizer, a student and then a pastor, most of these simple things went by the wayside. I was often too busy, too tired or too distracted to give mundane matters my attention. Now, however, I have time to send notes. Or be a neighbor. Or learn from my baking mistakes. I have mastered the Middle Eastern salad, fatoosh, and figured out how to cook falafel, too. I get to be with Lucie every morning as she wakes up and help Di prepare for her work. Additionally, I have the space to be outside cutting grass. Raking leaves. Weed whacking. Gardening. Walking. Feeling the wind. Or the rain - and soon the snow.

+ And fourth I am learning a new way of practicing my Christian faith. For most of my life I have been connected to a faith community. Now my community is six hours away in Ottawa. I cherish our time but am only there once a month. That means it is up to me to find a way to read and reflect on Scripture because it is no long a part of my routine. It is up to me to reclaim contemplative practices because I no longer have to prepare liturgies according to the seasons. And it is up to me to find new/old ways of letting the rhythm of everyday lead me closer to the love of Jesus. As I told my blogging buddy in Brooklyn, this small, slow way of living has lead me into what I call being a secular monk. It makes sense to me and grounds me, too. 

Now that I have tossed out most of my sermon notes from nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry - sorted through most of my books and music, too in a quest to simplify and stream-line living - there's very little in my life from the old days. Oh, I have all my Eucharistic gear and my prayer icons on display, but that's about it. My new life has become quiet, small and slow where it used to be public, big and busy. Tomorrow I'll go to Connecticut to practice music. Thursday I'll head to Brooklyn for a few family days. When I return, we'll turn our attention to All Saints and All Souls day. Later in mid-November I'll be in community at L'Arche Ottawa for conversation, Eucharist and music. And then back to our retreat. By Thanksgiving 2018 we will have sorted through art, book, papers, clothing and all the rest so that in come spring time we can sell the house and find a smaller, quieter place to continue this new life. "Behold" says the Scripture, "I am making all things new." I am so grateful.

Monday, October 29, 2018

arrested development, the rabbis of pittsburgh and talkin' about a revolution of values in solidarity

I have been thinking about the opening cut from the 1992 Spike Lee film, "Malcolm X" - by Arrested Development - called "Revolution."

It is still brilliant. Poignant. And timely. I heard it in my head last night while reading the words of the open letter the rabbis of Bend the Arc sent President Trump. (check it out @
letter_to_president_trump) Their well-reasoned yet passionate words resonate with the vibe of Arrested Development's anthem. It reads as follows:

President Trump:

Yesterday, a gunman slaughtered 11 Americans during Shabbat morning services. We mourn with the victims’ families and pray for the wounded. Here in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, we express gratitude for the first responders and for the outpouring of support from our neighbors near and far. We are committed to healing as a community while we recommit ourselves to repairing our nation.

For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.

Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.
The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees

The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.

This means all of us.

In our neighbors, Americans, and people worldwide who have reached out to give our community strength, there we find the image of God. While we cannot speak for all Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say:

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.

This is a call for a revolution of values. A revolution of attitudes. A revolution of vision. And a revolution of ethics. It will not happen simply because these bold rabbis seized the moment and gave expression to their grief and anger. But it is an important start. Note that the rabbis align themselves with others who have experienced violence, discrimination, shaming and oppression: people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Note, too, that they do not equivocate in calling out the President's fear mongering:  The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees. And finally note that the rabbis understand that their faith and the common good link the personal to the political: The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. This means all of us.

In the early days of the Third Reich, as Nazi leaders and sympathizers consolidated their power and usurped the moral authority of the Christian Church, Bonhoeffer was equally unequivocal: “Only he who cries [out] for the Jews may sing Gregorian chant.” In yesterday's Guardian there was an article by Michael Segalov entitled, "The Pittsburgh Attack Affects Jews World Wide." Two quotes are worth sharing: the first clarifies the context of the attacks and the second speaks to a spirituality of resistance:

Number One: The reality is an attack like the one in Pittsburgh has seemed impending for some time. Antisemitism – both dog-whistle and explicit – has made a return to the mainstream on both sides of the Atlantic. From conspiracy theories to straight-up fascism, antisemites are increasingly emboldened. Whatever one believes about Trump’s position on Jewish people, one can’t deny that he has been content to indulge antisemitic views. The president has regularly courted the support of far-right groups including neo-Nazis, and was disgracefully slow to disown support offered to him by the likes of the KKK’s David Duke. He told a Jewish Republican crowd: you won’t support me because I don’t want your money; he tweeted Hillary Clinton next to a star of David and cash. When fascists and anti-racists marched through Charlottesville? He said both sides were to blame.
Number Two: Normally, when a Jewish person dies, he wrote, we say a prayer: Baruch dayan ha’emet – blessed is the true judge. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact we understand that God, a higher being, works in ways we cannot understand. It’s a nod to the notion that however painful our grief is, the ways of life and death go beyond our understanding. But when Jews are killed by antisemites in attacks such as the one in Pittsburgh, there’s an alternative phrase it’s customary to recite: Hashem yikkom dama – may God avenge their blood. To my mind this is because violent acts of hatred can’t be written off simply as something that elicits sadness: rather we must respond directly to ensure such horrors can’t be normalised lest they happen again and again.It’s not a matter of simple vengeance – the rule of law will ensure that the killer is held to account. To truly be vengeful in these circumstances is to continue to be unapologetic in practising and celebrating what the far right attacks our communities for: whether that be our religion, our skin colour, our sexuality, our gender or our race. But to do so, free from fear of violence or persecution, minorities rely on more than silent support. Jews make up just 0.2% of the global population. To take on antisemitism – and to protect ourselves in a time of rising hatred and danger – we’ll rely on more than condolences and otherwise empty words.

A friend from Canada recently wondered aloud how it can be that the US President is still in office: after almost two years of official lies, slander and emotional manipulation - and a previous year of ugly campaign rhetoric - the question is right on the money. At the same time, however, there is a world wide movement of right-wing nativism that has captured parts of Eastern Europe, Brazil, Italy and even Ontario. This movement is wreaking havoc in the UK as well as Germany and Sweden, too.

That's what elevates the rabbi's letter to revolutionary status: it calls out the hatred, names names and invites nonviolent, public resistance to the current regime. I am not one to throw around revolutionary slogans, rhetoric or ideas easily. Been there. Done that. Rather, my heart looks for authentic game changers - and I sense this could be one. Segalov closes his reflection with a call to action that cuts deeper than solidarity vigils (as important as they are for us all) and warrants our supportive action: 

To take on antisemitism – and to protect ourselves in a time of rising hatred and danger – we’ll rely on more than condolences and otherwise empty words. That means refusing to excuse hatred for political expediency; it means mobilising when the far right marches in emboldened efforts to renew its support. It means not turning moments like this into debates about Palestine. It means linking the dots and seeing the correlation between all oppressed groups being vilified, abused and attacked. Diaspora Jewish communities understand how precarious our safety feels wherever we find ourselves; centuries of pogroms, assaults and state-sanctioned genocide ensure we’ll never be able to forget... Defeating racism takes time and perseverance. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours; demand better from our political leaders and protect each other from what may next come. It’s this that will avenge the lives lost so grotesquely in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

a sermon for today IF I were still a preacher: gimme shelter

Not long ago, a colleague posted a meme on Facebook declaring: Yes, this IS who we are, America! Perhaps you've seen it, too? It is a short hand reminder that racism, antisemitism, misogyny, violence, and fear of the stranger are not new things for our nation: rather, hatred has been woven into the fabric of our history. It has been a part of us since the beginning. Sometimes it seems dormant, other times it awakens to become the dominant energy in our politics, and always it shapes and forms our patrimony. Overtly or covertly, the story of the United States is one saturated in hatred. 

Let's be clear, however, it is not the only fact of American history. Such a claim would be untrue and critically unbalanced. There is a legacy of kindness and generosity that also boldly runs through the American experience. It periodically breaks through both the organized and spontaneous acts of our hatred as well as the crass and selfish machinations of our dominant culture. Sometimes our better angels appear as individuals: think Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Clara Barton, A.J. Muste, Dolores Huerta, A. Philip Randolf, Fannie Lou Hammer, Cesar Chavez, Joe Hill, William Barber, Gloria Steinhem, Sitting Bull, Carrie Newcomer, Denis Banks, Maya Angelou, Valerie Kaur, Harvey Milk, MLK. At other times, the holiness becomes organized: the Abolitionists, the struggle for women's suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, the labor movement, the peace movement, the women's movement, the movement for LGBTQ equality, the American Indian Movement, our ecologists. The aching of our hearts for freedom has been strong and consistent. It has also been systematically compromised, violated and defiled. No one captures the ambiguous agony of America's hopes and dreams better than Langston Hughes in his poem, "Let America Be America Again."

Let America be America again. 
Let it be the dream it used to be. 
Let it be the pioneer on the plain 
Seeking a home where he himself is free. 
(America never was America to me.) 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above. 
(It never was America to me.) 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty 
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, 
But opportunity is real, and life is free, 
Equality is in the air we breathe. 
(There’s never been equality for me, 
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

We are a romantic and often naive nation. We tend to see only part of the truth at any given moment in time. We rarely appreciate paradox and often deny the irony of our history. What's more, we haven't yet learned the importance and necessity of corporate confession and repentance - a peculiar oddity given our Puritan roots. Germany learned to confess after orchestrating the Holocaust. South Africa, Rwanda and Canada have explored repentance too albeit imperfectly. At the height of the Cold War, America's wisest public theologian, the late Reinhold Niebuhr, who was equally insightful and blind to his own shadows, described our history in his masterwork, The Irony of American History:

The tragic elements in present history are not as significant as the ironic ones. Pure tragedy elicits tears of admiration and pity for the hero who is willing to brave death or incur guilt for the sake of some great good. Irony however prompts some laughter and a nod of comprehension beyond the laughter; for irony involves comic absurdities which cease to be altogether absurd when fully understood. Our age is involved in irony because so many dreams of our nation have been so cruelly refuted by history. Our dreams of a pure virtue are dissolved in a situation in which it is possible to exercise the virtue of responsibility toward a community of nations only by courting the prospective guilt of the atomic bomb. And the irony is increased by the frantic efforts of some of our idealists to escape this hard reality by dreaming up schemes of an ideal world order which have no relevance to either our present dangers or our urgent duties... Our own nation, always a vivid symbol of the most characteristic attitudes of a bourgeois culture, is less potent to do what it wants in the hour of its greatest strength than it was in the days of its infancy. The infant is more secure in his world than the mature man is in his wider world. The pattern of the historical drama grows more quickly than the strength of even the most powerful man or nation.

Today - after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa and a week of attempted political assassinations of President Trump's most vigorous critics by pipe bombs - we are no closer to embracing, confessing and repenting our shadow than we were after the white nationalist rebellion on the streets of Charlottesville, the carnage at the Pulse Club in Orlando, or the slaughter of the innocents at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. No closer. Some thought Colombine might be our turning point. Or the bloodshed at the University of Virginia. I was certain it would take place after Sandy Hook. But our addiction to violence, the virulent denial of American hatred, and greed runs deep. I see no reason to believe that the events of this past week will awaken us.

No, we will enter the mid-term elections as a nation divided and remain so afterwards for the elections will only solidify our polarization. Republican ideologues will likely triumph in the Senate; and Democratic challengers will surely pick up momentum in the House. The Senate elections are mostly in large, rural states with small, conservative populations. The contests in the House will occur in highly populated urban and suburban centers where white, educated women might vote their disgust with the President. It is an important election and holds the possibility of restoring a bit of balance to the equation of power in Washington. 
But it will not heal our souls. It will not evoke a change of heart nor a call to corporate conversion. This will not take place because we are obviously not ready to get honest. Or vulnerable. Or heart broken. Or courageous. Apparently, there must be still more grieving in these so-called United States before there is room in our beings for radical, transformative, healing grace. So let us grieve: publicly, repeatedly, boldly, relentlessly, and honestly. Let us join the Psalmist and lament:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann has written that the Hebrew prophets of ancient Israel have something essential for us to learn: lament opens our hearts. Grief drives us to our knees. Confession exposes us to the possibilities of repentance. And then, when we least expect it and never deserve it, at God's own unique and mysterious time, a vision of a new heaven and new earth is shared with the human imagination. Then, and only then, when we are open to the wisdom of our wounds and thoroughly vulnerable, can a measure of healing take place. It is always beyond our control. It is never a consequence of linear thinking. It is, however, congruent with our brokenness and grounded in our despair. 
Brueggemann makes two points: First, to prepare our hearts for God's healing:

The prophetic task (is) to break that denial, and that can only be done by honest, public acknowledgement that takes the form of grief for what was that is being lost. Ours is a society of great loss; that loss, moreover, generates fear and anxiety. But until the denial is broken by the public acknowledgement of grief, we are unable to come to terms with the reality of our social condition. Old patterns of privilege and entitlement cannot be sustained any longer!

Second, as we wait upon the Lord, God's prophetic servants must name and claim our grief or the despair that results from denial:

The failure and loss of the ideology is not acknowledged, there is enough awareness of loss and failure to lead to despair. There is no doubt that our society is in despair, hopes for nothing, and does not believe that there are gifts still to be given. Such despair characteristically results in violence, either against others or against self. Readiness for violence in our society (see the militarization of the police and the force of the gun lobby) is a measure of our despair... (But) despair is countered in prophetic parlance, by acts of vigorous hope. The prophets articulate what God has yet promised on which the faithful rely. Such hope is voiced, for example, by Martin Luther King in his mantra, “I have a dream.” The dream he dreams is the promise of God; such prophetic hope insists that the circumstance of social failure has not defeated God’s capacity to generate new social possibility.
(see Brueggemann, Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Prophetic Tasks)

It is my sad conclusion that the lies of the President - his naked racism, his vicious shaming, his disdain for the Earth, and utter disregard for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers - must continue. Not because God wills it, but because it is the natural consequence of our denial. And until we are sick and tired of grief and despair, the violence and fear will grow. You see, the terror that we are now experiencing as white folk has been a long time coming: it has been present since our origins, it has always been a part of the experience of people of color - women, indigenous, minorities and LGBTQ people, too - and now, to paraphrase Malcolm X, "the chickens have come home to roost among white people of privilege." Our brokenness is palpable. Two thirds of our nation knows it to be fact. 

So our work is to own this grief. To feel it profoundly - without denial - to express it visibly and regularly. Even as we trust in a love greater than our sorrows, now is a time to weep - to sing and dance and wait creatively, too - but mostly to weep.

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity...
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun...
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

I may not live to see the healing in my generation. My father said this at the start of President Obama's bid for the highest office in our land - but it came to pass. My grandmother said it about equal voting rights, too - but that which was not imaginable came to pass in 1965. I may not live to see a just peace win the day in the US again. But by faith I trust that compassion and justice are at the core of God's heart - and by faith I know that God's will wins. Love wins. As St. Paul wrote after encountering the presence of the resurrected Jesus:

We celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Our sisters and brothers have lived through times like these - and worse. The rise and collapse of fascism in Europe. The middle passage into American slavery. The Holocaust. Jim Crow. McCarthyism. The internment of Japanese. Sexual violation and exploitation. The trail of tears. The Underground Railroad. Martyrdom in all its multiple forms. The rise and fall of communism. In solidarity with those we love, with song and prayer and encouragement, with earth shattering lament and just a little bit of faith - like unto a mustard seed - we can do this hard thing. We can. We have. And we shall again. 

And I know this to be true both by faith and because I have already experienced the sacred imagination giving us glimpses of our new day through artists letting their grief be transformed into healing by God's love. In their vulnerability and honesty, the holy takes our shared pain, leads us through our agony and points us towards repentance and a measure of hope. If you listen to NOTHING else this week, please give yourself time to take in Lisa Fischer's transformative interpretation of "Gimme Shelter." She is proof that we CAN do this hard thing...

finding jesus in a wheelchair...

When I travel north to L'Arche Ottawa, I have an extended time of solitude in the car. The visuals are lovely - rock cliffs, rushing riv...