Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chronos in service of kairos...

Yesterday I traveled to Western New York state again to be join Dianne after her mother's recent death. It has been hard for us both to be apart during this time so it was a joy to see and hold her again. Today the wider family - three sisters ALL of whom are clergy - will do some thinking and planning about the upcoming memorial service. These words came to me...

The rhythm of life for a kingdom dweller puts chronos in service of kairos, the cyclical in service of the directional, the calendar in service of the kingdom... As we submit our anarchy to a rhythm, in a sort of earthy, mystical way, all of life is lived lucidly, intentionally and to the glory of God. Every washing becomes a baptism; every eating a communion. Every sleeping becomes a dying and every rising a resurrection. (Kenneth Gottman)

I once read that William Stringfellow never used to say table grace when he had dinner guests because, "I've prayed over this food the entire time I was cooking it - showering it with love - in anticipation of the feast." I love this sacramental way of living and hope to claim it more deeply as yet another death awakens me to the short, sweetness of life.

Monday, April 27, 2009

prayers for the departed...

My mother-in-law, Shirley, passed from this life to life everlasting last night at about 3:00 am. She had suffered a series of strokes over the past few weeks beginning on Easter Sunday. For the last three days she has been beyond regular communication - and now she is gone.

The people in my congregation - and the wider Facebook community - have been beautiful, tender and loving. Many are pastors - many others are friends I have made in ministry over the years - and they know that there is nothing that we can say that takes away the emptiness or pain. Death is almost always shitty... but we can own that and still connect... because the connections matter.

I was stunned when my own mother died three years ago - and my sister and nephew 15 years before that - how much cards and quiet embraces meant to me. I thought I was a "sensitive, new aged guy" who was in touch with my feelings - and in many ways I was - but the cards, notes and hugs of others touched me deeper than I can ever express. They didn't take away the hurt, but they made it a little lighter. How does that hymn put it? "I will bare the Christ light for you in the shadow of your tears, I will hold my hand out to you speak the peace you long to hear."

All day I was in a kind of fog: Dianne is five hours away and I am going through the motions of my everyday work. Harvey Cox notes in Common Prayers that there is something real and healing and essential about the Jewish practice of sitting shiva after a death. Taken from the Hebrew number seven, this practice grounds us in mourning and marking our loss. We Christians need to find a way to make something similar our own because we shouldn't try to fake it in times like this. Sure, there is business to take care of but there are also souls to caress and care for, too.

I will leave to be with my wife tomorrow after completing a graveside service here. Tonight there's laundry and Chinese food to deal with. So come on, Joni, sing to me now: I need your magic...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We are both drums and wind instruments...

Tonight the liturgical poet, preacher and musician, Tom Troeger, spoke to a gathering of clergy and church musicians in the Berkshires. It was a hot day in the mountains - spring was here on Friday and suddenly it was 80 degrees and summer. Still, it was an engaging talk about three inter-related ideas that continue to shape and inform my commitments to the church:

+ First, he noted that we are all simultaneously percussion and wind instruments - heart and voice together - and music is one of the ways we reconnect to the primal blessing of being created in the image of the Creator. Our hearts beat by the grace of God. Our communication was born through our cries and laughter. And music brings all of our creativity into communion with the very heart of creation.

+ Second, the music of worship - when it embraces the totality of the human experience - helps us reconnect with this primal blessing. It cultivates depth and breadth, beauty and trust - and is the only human activity that engages the whole brain. Too often much of the contemporary church avoids tunes in a minor key because "people want something upbeat." Now, guild members can be snobby and elitist as hell about playing dead and uninspired music, but Troeger's point was well taken: human beings weep and celebrate, live in confusion as well as clarity and unless the music of worship takes us into those "hard places," we will only have exposure to sentimentality and half-truth. And as Gertrud Mueller-Nelson likes to say: a sentimental half truth is... a lie.

+ And third, because music has become ubiquitous in the 21st century - think the blessings and curses of our IPOD existence - the worship experience may be one of the few places where we can join our voices - and bodies and souls - together in doxology. Music, in other words, is a way to break through our isolation and strengthen our best selves in community.

Two stories are illustrative (and I have experienced them in my own way over the years in ministry.) As anyone who has ever spent time with aging people know, long term memory is the last to go - and many times I have sung "memory bank hymns" with people in the hospice unit when no other form of communication seems to work - and the experience is life changing. "Precious Lord, take my hand..." becomes a whole other thing in this setting - a prayer as well as communion - and we need to do everything we can to keep these connections happening.

Then Troeger spoke of a man who had once been strong and faithful but fell into hard times and lost his sense that God was real. "Did you stop attending worship?" Troeger asked. "No, I kept going, but I only heard the organ prelude... and the postlude. I don't remember ANY sermons or prayers or scripture. Just that beautiful, soulful music. And then one day - after years and years - it hit me that there MUST be a God - something more - if music that beautiful could be created and played and shared." Music, you see, was this man's path back to faith. And then he started to weep because he confessed that he had never told his church organist this story - and what her music meant to him - and now she was dead.

In a vastly different setting, Anne Lamott says much the same thing about her journey into faith: she used to sit in the back of her church and weep and weep over the hymns. She left before anyone could speak with her but kept coming back over and over again for the hymns. And eventually, those old, old hymns paved the way for her sanity, sobriety and faith.

One of Troeger's new baptismal hymn's puts it like this:
What king would wade through murky streams
And bow beneath the wave,
Ignoring how the world esteems
The powerful and brave?
Water, River, Spirit, Grace,
Sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced
In sculpting me.

Come bow beneath the flowing wave.
Christ stands here at your side,
And raises you as from the grave
God raised the crucified.
Water, River, Spirit, Grace,
Sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced
In sculpting me.

I was blessed tonight as I sat in the church that Jonathan Edwards preached in after his congregation kicked him out of Northampton. Stockbridge was once the western most boundary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony - and most of the congregation was made up of Indians. Some of Edwards' most mystical and beautiful writings took place here and I am grateful that the way of music is not only the way our heart reconnects with God, but that more and more of us are awakening to its original blessing. One of Troeger's communion hymns says...

Save me from the soothing sin of the empty cultic deed
And the pious, babling din of the claimed but unlived creed
Let my actions, Lord, express what my tongue and lips profess
When I dance or chant your praise, when I sing a psalm or hymn
When I preach your loving ways, let my heart add its amen
Let each cherished outward rite thus reflect your inward light.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good vibrations...

Back when I was a fat kid in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City, I fell in love with Brian Wilson's masterpiece, "Good Vibrations." It was rock'n'roll church for me and whenever I felt down or confused by life - or the circumstances of life - I couldn't help but feel better and smile whenever I played that song. Maybe you know it...

This version comes from the completion of a project Brian Wilson began 40 years ago. Can you dig that? Forty freakin' years ago - 40 years of wandering in the desert, 40 years of being afraid and among the walking wounded, 40 years of fasting and prayer and fear and loathing, being tossed about by the flood like Noah - only to arrive in the promised land and... experience in the flesh the blessing of resurrection.

I just finished watching the documentary re: the making of Wilson's magnum opus, Smile, which he described as a teenage symphony to God - his take on the best of our American values from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii - music we might actually be able to pray to. And he is right: it is all of that and more.

I won't bore those of you who don't know his story (it is worth learning) but I will say that Wilson is the word of redemption made flesh by the beauty of music and the power of love.

+ I wept when he was finally able to beat back his demons and sing the songs that have been in his heart for all this time. Watch him come to life through the music and the love.

+ I laughed out loud hearing the pure power of pop when he played "Heroes and Villains" again - a song rendered strangely appropriate all these years later as the Obama team exposes the ugly practice of torture and degradation. NOTE the opening strains of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" that frames this song.

Back when Pet Sounds came out - and I got it as part of the 12-4-1 deal with the Capitol Records club - I listened to his music over and over. "Caroline No" was sooooo sweet and sad - it gave expression to all my unfocused laments. "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" was over the top romanticism pure and simple. And the two instrumentals - "Pet Sounds" and "Let's Go Away for Awhile" - were some of my first meditative experiences with music. They set me free from the fear, the alcohol and all the other bullshit... gave me hope that there was a better way of living because I COULD FEEL IT in these songs.

But then Brian - like the 60s -fell apart. Imploded. Self-destructed. And all the innocent beauty of those dreams got locked inside - ridiculed by some and degraded by others - until the time was right for a more mature expression. Brian Wilson gave voice to his hopes and dreams and prayers again - and we are all the better because of it. Such is one of the on-going charisms of rock music: it can connect us to God's playful, hopeful and prophetic spirit better than many other forms of prayer.

I am not suggesting, like old Country Joe MacDonald, that we should "bring back the 60's man!" - not at all - they were ungrounded and self-indulgent in all the worst ways. Just read Joan Didion's The White Album for a taste of the excess and paranoia. But as Harvey Cox noted in his Feast of Fools, more than ever our world needs a sense of play and hope - committed love and deep prayer - that can critique the greed and offer a gentle and joy filled alternative to the ugliness and mean-spirited heart of the status quo.

Brother Brian Wilson is part of that healing. So is Brother Lou Reed, Brother Curt Cobian, Sister Aretha Franklyn, Sister Sheryl Crow, Sister Joan Osborne and Brother Jackson Browne. Soul preacher, Bruce Springsteen, once said that Jackson Browne wrote about the underbelly of the beautiful American dream that Brian Wilson shared with the world. I would add that at his best Jackson is like Lou Reed and Brian Wilson mixed in a blender of sound.

How does the psalmist put it? "How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity!" Thanks be to God for all these good brothers, sisters and rock and roll preachers... dig this one:

(special thanks to the pix of Gordon Atkinson's outdoor 'way of the cross' for the guitar pix.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Berkshire sabbath time...

For some strange reason the sun is out, the temperature is heading towards 65 and the day is totally beautiful. My garden is calling to me on this Berkshire sabbath and I plan to honor it... a little putzing with the garden fence, maybe planting some vegetable seeds but no work. God knows there is work to be done, yes?

+ Musicians to be interviewed and hired
+ Congregation members and friends to be visited and prayed with
+ Kitchens to be cleaned, phone calls to be returned... let's not even mention emails!
+ Theological articles to be written
+ Planning for a "virtue worship gig" with my friends in Tucson (and learning the technology to make it happen)
+ Worrying about Di and her mother as they take her into hospice this weekend

You have your own list, too, yes? But Rabbi Heschel keeps calling to me from beyond his grave: if you make time to rest on your sabbath then you will come to know that God is truly God. So, I try... and often realize that it will take my entire lifetime to really honor sabbath time. What a paradox: it will take my entire life to learn how to rest enough to know deep in my soul that God is God - and that I am not!

Maybe that is one of the reasons I have been drawn to some of the words of Frederick Buechner who tells me over and over again that Jesus shows us what God's kingdom is like with a Zen-like sense of humor: What is the kingdom of God? Jesus does not speak of a reorganization of society as a political possibility or of the doctrine of salvation as a doctrine. He speaks of what it is like to find a diamond ring that your thought you'd lost forever. He speaks of what it is like to win the Irish Sweepstakes. He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise... Indeed, I suspect that Jesus spoke (his parables about the kingdom) as a kind of sad and holy joke and that that may be part of why he seemed reluctant to explain them because if you have to explain a joke... well, you might as well save your breath.

That rings true for me: like a poem by Billy Collins or a Joni Mitchell song, there is nothing heavy handed about this kingdom/sabbath stuff: it is a lovely surprise - a way of living that is restful and profound at the same time - the unforced rhythm of grace as Eugene Peterson has observed. Yesterday, sitting in Dottie's Coffehouse discussing life and death and music and God, Joni Mitchell was playing underneath our words - and her tender sadness and deep joy brought the whole place a little serenity. A man just new to town threw himself into an overstuffed chair with a massive sigh and said, "she just puts me at rest."

Perhaps these words of counsel from the Wisdom literature of Israel deserve another hearing for this 21st century new testament guy: Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life; don't for a minute lose sight of them. They'll keep your soul alive and well, they'll keep you fit and attractive. You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip. You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, because God will be right there with you and will keep you safe and sound. (Proverbs 3: 21 in The Message).

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes says: "we work to feed our appetites, meanwhile our souls go hungry." (6:7) So... it is off to the garden, a few insightful films and some Billy Collins poetry - soul food - for Berkshire sabbath time.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keeping vigil...

Tonight my dear woman is keeping vigil with her sisters as her mother moves closer to death. There has been a host of ups and downs over the past week but... to everything there is a season, yes? So after a full and good day here in Pittsfield - a day of blessing and deep connection with sweet and important people - we spoke on the phone a few times before she headed back to the hospital for a night watch.

Strange as it might seem, as I started to rewatch season two of "The Wire," Tom Waits' version of the theme song just jumped up and grabbed me like an unexpected prayer. One of my favorite tunes...

One of the things about popular culture that fascinates me is the insight that as a society becomes more outwardly secular, different cultural sectors take up the role of sharing a message of spirituality. That's the observation of Conrad Oswalt who noted that contrary to the predictions and fears of those who worried about the end of civil religion's dominance, our still speaking God has not faded away - nor has God's "voice" been lost. It is just being expressed and shared in non-traditional ways.

For example, two of the most theologically sophisticated TV shows - The Sopranos and Six Feet Under - were often way too crude and rude for many middle of the road church audiences. But they both wrestled with the themes of life, death, the quest for meaning and the role of morality far more effectively than... Touched By an Angel. In a different way, Barbara Hall's, Joan of Arcadia, explored the theme of grace and presence in an age of confusion with humor, humility and insight.

And let's NEVER forget the depth, theological sophistication and use of popular culture music in Homicide: Life on the Street. They set the standard for listening to a still speaking God in the heart of culture. Dig Suzanne Vega's "Blood Makes Noise."

And then there's Springsteen who takes the prayers of his Roman Catholic youth and makes them part of popular culture with his lament: Souls of the Departed. Freakin' brilliant...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Using the Bible in a new world...

NOTE: Here are my Sunday sermon notes for April 26th 2009. My sweetheart, Dianne, left for Western New York this morning to be with her mother. There was a sweet grace-filled revival from the strokes last week but now she is slowly fading away. My thoughts and prayers are elsewhere today so.... not my best effort to be sure. Still, I think it gets close to the new way some of us wrestle with the tradition. Blessings to all who sent me notes of encouragement and prayers during this past week. And if you are in town at 10:30 am on Sunday, please stop by.

In some places, Christians – along with Muslims and Jews – are known as “the people of the book.” And for us the book in question is the Bible – New Testament and Old – which actually includes 66 separate books; 1,189 distinct chapters; 31,101 unique verses and a total of 78,137 words. As pastor Martin Copenhaver likes to say: the Bible is our sacred library – “a collection of various literary genres – including history, prophecy, song lyrics, laws, love poems, sermons, legends, letters and a host of books that combine some or all of the above.” At the same time, however, “the Bible only really tells us one story: the epic story of God’s interaction with God’s people – Israel and the early Church – and why that matters.”

+ Some of us love the Bible.

+ Some of us have been beaten up with the Bible.

+ Some of us are totally in the dark about what the Bible really says – and for some of us the “Bible has become a stumbling block” for our faith.

So this morning I want to try to share two key ideas with you about the Bible so that: First we can reclaim it as an instrument of God’s grace for our generation; and second we might rescue it from all who would use God’s word as a weapon of hatred, fear or bigotry.

One wise and talented soul summarized the essence of the Bible – the heart of our tradition – like this in something she called: the Bible in 50 words.

God made – Adam bit – Noah arked – Abe and Sarah split
Joseph ruled – Jacob fooled – Bush talked – Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued – people walked – sea divided – tablets guided
Promise landed – Saul freaked – David peeked – Prophets warned –
Jesus born – God walked – Love talked – Anger crucified – hope died
Love rose – spirit flamed – word spread – God remained

It isn’t perfect – it leaves out most of the women of the Bible and breezes past hundreds of the essential stories – and yet this little ditty does give us a clue about how to reclaim the Bible as an instrument of God’s grace. Because, you see, it interprets the stories, yes? It puts them into a perspective that both evaluates their importance for our contemporary lives, and, leaves out the parts that get in the way of what God’s love might look like for us the 21st century.

+ In other words, because so many contemporary people are rightfully unable and unwilling to consider the words of scripture to be literally true in every case…

+ Because, as Marcus Borg observes, “contemporary biblical literalism – with its emphasis on infallibility, historical factuality and moral and doctrinal absolutes – is an obstacle to faith for millions of people”…

It is important for some of us to offer the world creative and faithful alternatives that still maintain the wisdom of God’s grace in the Bible without getting trapped in the trappings. We are called to interpret the texts – something our Jewish sisters and brothers have always done with creativity and imagination – and something that could help all of us at this moment in history. John Dominic Crossan, a total theological scamp with a quick Irish wit, likes to say, for example, that when the scriptures tell us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, it does not mean that… Mary had a little lamb.

+ There is poetic language, right? Nuance and metaphor – just like some of our best sports writers.

+ Anybody here like baseball? I know there is a fascinating battle between Red Sox and Yankee fans right here in this sanctuary – and while I don’t propose to know ANY way to resolve this rift – I do think we might all agree that when a sports writer tells us that the Red Sox slaughtered the Yankees… she wasn’t speaking literally, yes?

So if we know how to think metaphorically with sports, why do so many Christians have such a hard time doing the same thing with the Bible? Do you have any ideas…? Let me go on: if you accept the value of interpreting the Biblical texts for differing contexts – and can see the importance of thinking metaphorically in some cases rather than literally – can you take the next step with me and trust that there are different and sometimes competing ethical standards for human behavior in the scriptures, too?
Biblical scholar and ethicist, Walter Wink, speaks of three often competing but sometimes compatible ethical codes in the Bible: the holiness codes, the prophetic demands of a people searching for justice and the love ethic of Jesus. These are not always mutually exclusive – and each tradition is regularly refining and deepening their theological insights – and yet it is also true that each of these different perspectives comes to very different conclusions about human behavior – all of which are Biblical – but not all of which are always compassionate or consistently meaningful.

+ In his essay concerning homosexuality and the Bible, Wink notes that the holiness tradition of both the Old and New Testament clearly condemns homosexuality as an abomination; three Biblical passages that are without ambiguity – Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20 and Romans 1 – clearly understand same sex love as outside of God’s intention in nature.

+ Now, if we brought the story to a close here, the ethical debate would be over but… the sexual mores of ancient Israel raise a LOT of important questions for 21st century people. For example, polygamy was normative then – for men – but is now considered both immoral and illegal. Same is true for the “social regulations regarding adultery, incest, rape and prostitution…” which at one time were centered around a man’s property rights but today are grounded in respect and compassion – a very different context.

Wink writes: Today we are moving, with great social turbulence and at a high but necessary cost, toward a more equitable, non-patriarchal set of social arrangements in which women are no longer regarded as the chattel of men. We are also trying to move beyond the double standard. Love, fidelity and mutual respect replace property rights. We have, as yet, made very little progress in changing the double standard in regard to prostitution. As we leave behind patriarchal gender relations, what will we do with the patriarchalism in the Bible?

And then, for fun, let’s throw in the love and compassion ethic of Jesus – love one another as I have loved you he told us – and where does that leave us when it comes to claiming a sexual or love ethic based on Scripture?

I love his conclusion when it comes to sorting this entire thing out: The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. In reality the Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period… and which demands our careful interpretation.

Are you with me here? Do you grasp the significance of his point? There are often competing human perspectives in the Bible – that stands to reason given the deep span of history involved – but really only one sacred story – the story of God’s love made flesh in a variety of settings. And to grasp this love for our realm takes work… And isn’t that part of what the gospel story for today tells us? The Emmaus Road tale is all about Jesus interpreting the truth of his story for even the earliest disciples. He has to teach them again about the law and Moses. He has to awaken them to the heart of the prophets.

+ And even then they aren’t very clear headed… for the story tells us that it is only when he broke bread with them were their eyes opened.

+ The text says that when Jesus became the embodied love of God in the flesh – when he became a host embracing his guests – they saw the holy in his humanity and said… “Didn’t our hearts and minds burn as he explained to us the scriptures?”

There is teaching – there is interpretation and wrestling with our context – and then there is embodiment – ministry and mission in the real world. All are important if we are to reclaim the grace of God in the Bible for our generation. And all are essential if we are going to be a part of the movement of rescuing the Bible from the fear, hate and bigotry mongers.

The Emmaus Road story is one we need to go back to over and over again: it tells us that Jesus is always with us – often in the form of a guest we don’t even recognize. Moreover it tells us that in order to grasp God’s will for our lives in the Bible we have to think and learn – reflect and question – and then put it into action.

The word must become flesh within and among us – the bread must be broken and shared – the wine poured and consumed. John’s letter reminds us that we are called children of God – God’s little love creations – called to share that love in the world around us.

So it matters not only how we understand the Bible – but what we do with it, too – and from God’s perspective it’s all about love. So let me leave you with this great tale about the importance of preaching the right biblical message that comes from our Jewish cousins in the Ukraine.

One day, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak entered the House of Study in Berdichev. At the pulpit was a guest preacher, one of the wandering maggidim who made their living speaking in one town after another. Levi Yitzhak listened to the preacher enumerate the failings of the people, giving a vivid account of their sins and unworthiness according to God’s holy word.

And when the sermon was over, the gentle rabbi lifted his eyes in prayer and said, "O Master of the Universe, please give this man some money!" Now the people in the synagogue looked at the rabbi in shock. Their rabbi was praising this man who preached such a harsh and judgmental word? Their Levi Yitzhak – famous for his compassionate defense of the Jewish people – how could this be? But the prayer continued: "Obviously, Almighty One, this preacher needs the few coins he is given for these bitter sermons. So I beg you, please give him some other source of income so he will no longer speak such ugly words to your loving children!"

Lord, may it be so among us, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

rock and roll prayerbook... emerging

Three killer songs re: hearing God's prophetic voice in popular culture music would HAVE to include:

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - the Beatles
2. Sign O the Times - Prince
3. All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

To my mind, each lament expresses the heart of God breaking as human beings find ever new and diabolic ways to wound one another.

Harrison/Clapton/Beatles create a truly modern lament: how can we sing the Lord's song by the waters of Babylon? This Clapton tribute to his old buddy, George Harrison, with Paul and Ringo joining a MASSIVE band is the best ever - you can feel both God's heart break as well as the anguish of friendship lost in grief. A masterpiece...

Prince (there are no clips of this tune available) is a contemporary blues that takes the old Barth line about preachers needing to hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other to new depths. He not only lets the headlines weep and moan in all their brokenness, but he gives us the sound of the city, too.

This first clip is a pretty spot on cover that gives you the feel of Prince's groove - much gritty than even Stevie Wonder's genius on "Livin' in the City" to my mind. This second clip is just witty and creative and lets you grasp the angst of the lyric...

And then there is Hendrix... the way he transforms Dylan's rambling folk song - making it sound like "Waiting for Godot" on acid or TV's "Lost" with electric guitars - speaks to our collective sense that "... there MUST be some kind of way outta here!" It is chilling, challenging and compassionate all at the same time and simply has to be experienced over and over again... you can hear the origins of "Machine Gun" and so much more brewing here.

As I work on this rock and roll prayerbook, I would love to know what you think makes sense re: social justice/prophetic laments, ok? Hit me, man... and take another journey down weeping guitar lane as Prince (along with Tom Petty and Dhanni Harrison) rock the crap out of that song in another way.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

my sweet lord...

One of my all-time favorite songs is George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Yes, I know he had to pay out the wazoo for ripping off the Chiffon's for "He's So Fine" - and the similarities are all too obvious - but no more obvious than "Hang on Sloopy" vs. "Farmer John" or even "Louie, Louie," yes? Well, anyway, I digress(or as Groucho Marx would say... pardon me while I have a strange interlude.)

Back to "My Sweet Lord" - today's worship was gentle and healing and grounded in a tender sense of God's grace - my friend and musical colleague, Jessica Roemischer, was our guest pianist and she brought her friend, Tanny, a special needs musician who plays improvisational piano with her. We prayed, talked about faith as trust and commitment and then listened to the musical meditations of Jessica and Tanny. Cumulatively we sensed that amidst all the worries over the economy, our families and the state of the church, God really was still in charge and it was all fine. Not easy but... in the grasp of one who's love is greater than our imagination.

Two different people spoke to me after worship today of how important our emerging community is: both have been parts of other churches and both are clear that they NEED a community. That is one of the gifts that I think we are growing here: a community of faith - not a collection of individuals - but a body where Christ is alive within and among us. Another young man embraced me with gusto and said, "You have been in my heart all week long, man." And he wasn't bullshitting me. (NOTE: Dianne's mother still wavers between recovery from her stroke and hard times... and we will be on a roller coaster for a while.) Then a man with whom I share a love of music and spiritual exploration spoke to me of working on a project to get the word of God's grace out to the wider community through podcasts. It was another affirmation and I felt blessed - just like George Harrison sang!

And when I worked on my garden - OMG - it was a little bit of heaven on earth. One of the things I missed in the Southwest was gardening. I love getting my hands dirty. I cherish raking leaves and planting seeds. I dance when the daffodils blossom - and with temperatures hovering about 65 today - it was a total "Dancing in the Streets" kinda afternoon.

So as the day comes to a close, I rejoice in the blessings. There will be hard times in the days to come. Dianne's mother is still not out of the woods. There will be debates and difficulties as we work on this church renewal. And God knows my own insecurities and addictions will raise their ugly heads when I least expect it and get the best of me. But... as Julian of Norwich noted amidst the Black Death of the 14th century plagues: "all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Dig this small sign of hope and God's wellness in the wider world from the YMCA in Jerusalem...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

a rock and roll prayerbook...

I have been thinking for a long time about 100 great songs to start my rock and roll prayerbook. The categories would have to include celebration and lament, prophetic critique and personal faith as well as love, hate, birth, death and resurrection.

Right now - as I am in a waiting and encouraging place with both my wife (whose mother is rock and rolling after a stroke) and my congregation (as we keep at the work of renewal) - my soul FEELS like the Allman Brothers singing "Midnight Rider" with its slow country blues groove, sweet moaning harmonies, longing sense of uncertainty mixed with those incredible blues/rock guitar licks while Greg's Hammond B-3 keeps swirling and rolling under everything.

In a book I wrote for my doctoral dissertation (which I hope one day to publish) I identified 10 songs from five different eras of rock that spoke to the prophetic and grace-filled critique of our still speaking God. They included:

+ "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley for its celebration of both sexual ecstasy and racial cooperation
+ "Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry for his joyful mixture of being taking on the role of Jester (jokester/holy fool) while blending country music with rhythm and blues years before the Civil Rights movement and integrating dance halls, too

+ "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan for the way he added politics and beat poetry to Chuck Berry along with the jubilation of the Beatles
+ "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by the Beatles for its fusion of spirituality, social lament and compassion
+ "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye for bringing social protest and hope to Motown
+ "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel for mixing lament with world/gospel music in a totally genre bending way
+ "Like a Prayer" by Madonna for her sensual spirituality and lament over racism
+ "Born in the USA" by Springsteen for bringing the anger of protest music into the stadium with a killer back beat
+ "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana for its anguished cry from the underbelly of the American dream

+ "Angel" by Sarah McLaughlin for its mix of feminism, spirituality and longing
+ "Vertigo" by U2 for bringing the words of Satan in the garden into prime time culture

Each of these songs certainly do not fully define their decade and limiting my choices to 2 from each era was an artificial discipline: where's Hendrix? Zepplin? Zappa? the Clash? the Who? Smashing Pumpkins? Eels? Portishead? Jeff Buckley? Ani? I know, I know... and that's why I am starting to explore the 100 songs that might fill in a rock and roll prayer book. If you have any thoughts, drop me a note or leave a comment ok? I would really love to hear from you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

come all who are tired...

We are back home in our sweet little Pittsfield house after a totally wild ass five days of ups and downs - fears and hopes - and lots and lots of prayers. Dianne's mother, Shirley, while still in the very early stages of recovery after two strokes on Easter Sunday is very much in the working hard phase of getting better and will enter rehab sometime next week. So, we slept late, visited her one more time in the hospital and then headed home on a gorgeous Spring day.

As we trekked through the rolling hills of New York into the Berkshires, Dianne asked me about this week's message in church. "It is about faith - the beginning of our 'everything must change' series - and rethinks the realities behind the word faith as something more like commitment, trust, fidelity and looking for God's vision rather than merely various ideas and abstractions."

After a long pause she said, "Maybe you and I could do Yvonne Lyon's tune, "Come," as part of the prayers or the sermon? People have been asking when the band's going to play in worship again and... it feels right."

I love this song. Di first heard it on a London TV show a few years ago while I was out at worship. We shared it with our new church community on our first Sunday, too. It is all built around that wonderful invitation from Jesus to "come... all ye who are tired and heavy laden" and has been one of the ways we have tried to emphasize God's grace rather than judgment.

To say that we have both felt tired and beaten down by life this week would be a total understatement; but it also true that we have been strengthened, encouraged and lifted up, too. So maybe the best way to share this sweet, paradoxical reality is to reclaim this song as an invitation to go trusting and searching for a glimpse of God's vision - we're likely to find it in the strangest places!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blue and lonesome...

Today was a sweet day of recovery for Dianne's mother - hard and slow - but also real and grounded. After being tossed upon death's door by two strokes on Easter Sunday, she is now recovering slowly and will move to rehab for 30 days sometime next week. After visiting with her and the wider family - and talking with the nursing case worker - Dianne and I retreated for a bit of quiet time, a dip in the family hot top and sitting outside in the cool sunshine. Two enormous turkey vultures swarmed overhead and we both fell asleep in the cold afternoon sunshine.

After a family dinner with all the De Mott sisters and brother, spouses and children in the area (at Denny's) we retreated home for a glass of red wine, dark chocolate and conversation with Di's oldest sister. She is a clergy person (as are all of Dianne's sisters) who has recently taken up mandolin. She already plays guitar and other stringed instruments but is in LOVE with the mandolin. She likes playing Celtic and Bluegrass tunes but is lifted into heaven with Renaissance music and she played us a selection before we headed back to bed.

Made me realize that it may be time to not only get my banjo fixed and added to our band's line up but maybe some mandolin, too a la Bill Monroe. Here's a song Di and I have been aching to do and it is a sweet song to close the day...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What's FAITH Got to Do with It???

NOTE: Here are the sermon notes for April 19th 2009. I am writing from New York State where we went in anticipation of my mother-in-law's death after two strokes on Easter Sunday. But she is a tough old bird with an incredible will to live; and on Monday she began to come out of the coma, on Tuesday was laughing and speaking and today had them take out the feeding tube so she could get ready for rehab. Truly amazing. Both Dianne and I are grateful for your prayers. We also give thanks that Shirley is recovering so well. We will be back in Pittsfield at the end of the week and ready to go for church on Sunday. So, if you are in the area... please join us.

MORE NOTES: This is the first in a series of 8 messages inspired by Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" series. I am also using many of the insights of Marcus Borg and Peter Rollins. A film series on Monday nights is a part of the mix, too. We begin with "The Third Miracle" on the 20th at 7 pm.

Once about a hundred years ago – in what has got to be one of the most perplexing and frustrating pastoral visits in almost 30 years of ministry – I found myself being grilled theologically and challenged intellectually by a local scientist and his spouse to defend my Christian faith. “We think you are a closest fundamentalist” she said with a totally straight face. “All this talk about Jesus and the Bible – spiritual commitment and God’s grace – what do you really believe anyway?”

To say that I was shocked and stunned would be an understatement: I was a Christian minister serving a local church for God’s sake – a person of faith in a mainstream denomination – not a Buddhist monk, Jewish rabbi or Muslim imam. And as much as I value and celebrate the wisdom and integrity of other faith traditions – and learn a great deal about God and all of creation through them – as the old hymn says, “I have decided to follow Jesus” and walk and teach and serve in his footsteps.

This was turning out to be one of the weirdest pastoral visits ever when they laid this question on me that I will never forget: “Do you believe and affirm all the ideas and insights of the historic Christian creeds as true?” “This is turning into a mini-inquisition” I thought to myself and I am likely to be skewered one way or another no matter what I say. Because, you see, while I DO affirm the blessings of the historic creeds as a collection of beautiful albeit incomplete notions that point us towards God’s grace, I don’t treat them as literal facts or even tests of faith.

+ And way back when I didn’t have the language or experience to talk about this distinction. I didn’t know how to describe the Apostle’s Creed as a poem or the Nicene Creed as a collection of metaphors about God in Christ Jesus or even how to spell simulacrum.

+ And I certainly wasn’t wise enough to say to my provocative so-called hosts: “You know ‘credo’ does not mean I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of the following statements. Rather, its Latin roots combine to mean ‘I give my heart… and allegiance to’ these poetic insights about God.” (Borg, p. 40) I hadn’t yet read or reflected upon the work of Marcus Borg, Karen Armstrong, Brian McLaren or Peter Rollins. So I didn’t know how to say that when I confess out loud during worship that:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ who, for each of us and our salvation, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, made man… crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures; who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

… what I am really saying is that I give my heart and allegiance – credo – to the God who is the Creator of all creation… the one I have met in Jesus, who has become the Christ for me and shows me a spiritual path that includes the life, death, suffering and resurrection of Jesus. That is, as Marcus Borg so rightly observes, “belief – faith – credo – is about beloving God and all that God beloves… faith is about our love for God and is the way of the heart.” So I stumbled through more and more of their interrogation - and eventually they left the church because I could not respond in a way that made sense to them.

And that is what we’re going to explore for a bit this morning: what faith and belief might mean for us beyond literal facts and harsh tests of doctrine. To paraphrase that great old Tina Turner song of the 80’s, I want to playfully but reverently ask, “What’s faith got to do with it… got to do with it?”

Because, you see, for far too long we’ve been taught a very narrow way of understanding faith – and it has out lived its usefulness. Specifically, this morning I want to:

+ First share with you four different historic understandings of the meaning of faith so that you might see the breadth and depth available.

+ And second encourage you to embrace these insights in what some are calling a “generous orthodoxy” or what others describe as a deep but loose commitment to the way of Christ. This is the way of the heart to me… and I will say more about it as I wrap things up, ok?

And now, before we go any deeper, let’s take moment to quietly center ourselves in God’s gracious presence…

It should be clear to everyone here that faith is central to what we do as a community, yes?

+ For 500 years our tradition has affirmed that we are “saved” – that is, reconnected to God’s love – by faith not by what we do or think or say.

+ For two thousand years we have celebrated a way of walking with God that is grounded in the words of Jesus, “Your faith has made you well.”

+ And even just last year – as we discerned our new statement of mission and ministry – we stated that: “In community with God and each other we gather to worship, to reflect on our Christian faith, to do justice and to share compassion.”

But what do we really mean by that word – faith – and why does it continue to be so important to us? I have found one very helpful answer in a book called The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg – it will be one of the resources for this series on change – and I commend it to you highly because it is so clear-headed, respectful of tradition and boldly creative. You see, Borg has very carefully observed a trend that Newsweek Magazine reported on again just last week: the decline of American participation in organized religion. Like Thomas in this morning’s text, more and more Americans are realizing that the old answers no longer work and the former truths have given way to questions and doubt.

+ In 1963, for example, almost 65% of Americans believed that the Bible was the literal word of God; in 2001 this figure had dropped to 27%. (Borg, p. 4)

+ In 2008, New England – the very home of Christianity in the Americas – became the region with the greatest growth of people who have abandoned any religious affiliation. Twenty years ago that was the Pacific Northwest but now it is in the cradle of Congregationalism. (Newsweek, April 4, 2009)

What’s more, fewer and fewer Americans are interested in a religion that is primarily about rules, regulations, requirements and rewards. We want a spirituality that connects us to God’s love, shapes our ethics with compassion and justice while guiding our families and communities into practices that sustain life and foster integrity. We are clearly less interested in heaven and more concerned about earth. We want less literalism and more truth. And we are increasingly attracted to faith traditions that help us bring the sacred words to life – they have to become flesh for our generation – sacramental, visible and gracious.

+ No wonder Brian McLaren, in his book Generous Orthodoxy, included this subtitle: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic, contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, Anabaptist anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.

+ Like my man, Bob Dylan, said so many years ago: the times they are a’changing! Theologians call it a paradigm shift and it is bold, real and on the move.

So let’s talk about what faith’s got to do with it in this new 21st century mode. For just like those at the dinner table with our old friend Doubting Thomas had different understandings and experiences of faith in Christ Jesus, so do we – and it is high time we embraced them. Borg suggests that there are essentially four different categories of faith.

First there is faith as assensus – the Latin word for intellectual assent to certain facts – which is not the oldest tradition but has become the dominant understanding of faith over the past 500 years. This notion of faith – that Christianity is primarily about agreeing with or to certain key facts – renders the way of Jesus “a head matter.” It is primarily about ideas – especially the right or correct ideas – and the goal of this type of faith has to do with correct thinking or “right belief.”

Now Borg makes two important observations about limiting our faith to certain facts or literal truths: first it defines all doubt as inferior or even sinful; and second “it suggests that what God is most looking for is the beliefs in our heads – as if having the right things” is what motivates God’s love. (Borg, p. 30) Where is the healing power in that type of faith? Isn’t it possible to believe – and know – “all the right things inside and still be relatively unchanged? Where’s the transforming power there?”

Our first reading this morning from I John actually challenges such an abstract notion of faith – and the embracing of Thomas’ doubts takes it even deeper – making it clear that faith is greater than ideas:

Here's how we can be sure that we know God in the right way: Keep his commandments. If someone claims, "I know him well!" but doesn't keep his commandments, he's obviously a liar. His life doesn't match his words. But the one who keeps God's word is the person in whom we see God's mature love. This is the only way to be sure we're in God. Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived!

Faith is about living – living and walking in the way of Jesus – so let’s just say the time has come to restore wholeness and depth to our faith. It includes assent and deep thinking, to be sure, but like today’s psalm tells us there is more: How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell in unity – when head and heart embrace – when earth and heaven are all wrapped up together, ok?

So first there is faith as assent. Second there is faith as fiducia which is the Latin word for trust. Jesus regularly spoke of faith in this way: consider the birds of the air… the lilies of the field… fear not… be not anxious… trust in the Lord always. This type of faith goes well beyond ideas and starts to make a difference in our lives. It can free us from our fears, release us from our anxieties and set us on the path to hope filled power. Do you grasp the difference – and potential – in faith as trust?

Assent – trust – then faith as fidelitas – the Latin for fidelity. This way of being faithful has to do with commitment and might best be understood by considering its opposite: adultery – or even idolatry. When we live in fidelity to God we seek out God’s way – like the prophet Micah said so long ago: you already know the way of the Lord and what the Lord requires: do justice, share compassion and walk in humility with God and one another. To embrace a faith of fidelity is to do what the Lord requires. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. It is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and strength. “It is paying attention to our relationship with God… remaining attentive in worship, prayer, practice and a life of compassion.” Theologians speak of this type of faith as ethics.

Are you still with me? First there is faith as intellectual assent and ideas, second there is trust, third there is fidelity and fourth there is faith as visio – from the Latin word for vision – particularly seeing the whole picture. Some people just see part of God’s whole, right? The pessimists and cynics see the sadness and pain. The Pollyannas and idealists just see the sweetness and light. But the soul with vision – faith in God’s vision – sees the whole picture: light and darkness, sadness and celebration, night and day, life, death and resurrection. Remember the words from Ecclesiastes? “To everything there is a season… a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to sow… a time to war and a time for peace and a time for love and hatred, too.”

When we see the fullness of God’s love by faith – when we see the blessings and presence of the Lord in all things – our response is grace: we don’t have to push and fight to get our way because God’s vision is shaping our action. We don’t need to worry or fret because we know that God is in control – even if we can’t find the evidence. And we don’t have to argue and sweat the small stuff because… most of what we waste our time on in church and beyond is really trivial.

Embracing these new/old – time tested but often forgotten - dimensions of faith is one way to enter into a 21st century spirituality that embraces the best of our tradition while recognizing that our context has changed radically over 2,000 years. It encourages us to be generous with our orthodoxy so that we promote understanding rather than harsh religious judgment.

And it invites us to be playful and humble – going always deeper without ever claiming to have a complete monopoly upon the truth – for we have seen and experienced how dangerous it is when religious commitment becomes hate-filled.

To be faithful, to believe, is to love: humanly, imperfectly and inspired by God’s grace. Faith is thoughtful – it is also filled with commitment, loyalty, compassion and trust. Our God is big enough for our doubts and bold enough for sisters and brothers to embrace in unity. So, too, our faith – our relationship with this still speaking, always loving God – who calls us towards our best selves.

Those who claim to be intimate with God by faith ought to live the same kind of life that Jesus lived!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Precious little control...

Serious illness seems to be the most common way for me - and many who are blessed to live in the industrialized West - to smack up against the fact that I have precious little control over the really important things in life. It is always humbling to learn... and relearn. And it would seem that I will continue to learn and relearn this spiritual truth in different ways for the rest of my life.

Yesterday Dianne's mother faced certain death - on Saturday she was lively and funny - this morning she has come out of a comma and... who knows? We will be at the hospital again soon to visit, pray, laugh and cry and see what is in store next. Yesterday felt like this...

Today is less certain - curiously hopeful - and totally beyond our control - except for prayer and presence. And maybe that is the second part of this relearning process: yes, I am NOT really in control AND my reponse is to be fully awake and prayerfully alive in that awareness. The Cinematic Orchestra puts it like this in my other prayer this morning...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Saying goodbye...

We were planning for a little retreat in Vermont - quiet rest, bookstores, music and art museums - but today we are headed back to New York State to say goodbye to my wife's mother. It appears that she suffered a stroke late on Easter and is now on life support until the family can gather and say their farewells. So little control in all the stuff that really matters, right? And so little time, too. (I know the mystics tell us that we have all the time that there is but... it never feels like enough.)

JT and Carly sing one of my favorite goodbye prayers: my late sister, Linda, asked me to sing this at her son's funeral (he was only 5) as we were both James Taylor junkies - and two years later I sang it at her funeral, too. This John Updike poem, "Evening Concert, Sainte-Chapelle" comes to mind:

The celebrated windows flamed with light
directly pouring north across the Seine;
we rustled into place. Then violins
vaunting Vivaldi's strident strength,
then Brahms,
seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness,
bit by bit, the vigor from the red,
the blazing blue, so that the listening eye
saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes
of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held the holy glowing fantasy together.
The music surged; the glow became a milk,
a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed
until our beating hearts, our violins
were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead.

Blessings to you all... more later.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter joy, blessings and time away...

The boldness of the Easter Triduum is over - and we are getting ready to get away to Vermont for three days of quiet and reflection. One of my favorite prayer/meditations is the way George Winston puts it on this tune from Vince Guaraldi, a reworking of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

It is just long enough for some deep thinking but not so long that you forget why you are in prayer. I have that same connection with David Crosby's old, "Music Is Love," too. Blessings be with you all... back in a few days.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Waiting in the darkness before Easter...

I got two notes this morning that touched me in different ways - more clues that God really is urging us to ground ourselves in this beautiful but challenging community and be a part of it all: the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. The first is a poem by a retired clergy person who worships with us - a man who has served God's people faithfully for a long time - and also known his own share of sorrow.

The most beautiful line
in the resurrection narratives
is punctuated with poignancy:
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
Mary Magdalene had followed Jesus,
was a faithful disciple of her Lord.
Mary Magdalene was crying;
two angels stood in the empty tomb.
"Woman, why are you weeping?"
Why? Can’t you see?
His body is missing! Moved? Stolen?
Mary’s emotions centered on tragedy.

It’s a fascinating thought—the empty tomb—
for us, the sign that Jesus of Nazareth
has risen to become Jesus the Christ.
But Mary did not yet know.
Our world loves the empty tomb,
celebrates the empty tomb
with all the joys of Easter,
proclaiming "Christ is risen!"
And I join the glad response,
"He is risen indeed!"
With song and speech and the Easter crowd,
I celebrate Easter, God’s great victory.

And yet I stand weeping with Mary,
looking into the tomb that is not empty,
the tomb that holds the beaten bodies
of the world’s sacrificial victims—
The emaciated starved bodies of children,
the rape-ravaged bodies of women,
the tortured bodies of political prisoners,
the torn bodies of young soldiers.

Then the gardener approaches Mary and me,
the gardener, caretaker of God’s good Earth,
the gardener, dressed in working clothes,
with his tools in his hands.
and the gardener says to me, "Luther!"
Jesus says to me, "Luther!"
And he says, "Here, take this spade and hoe,
and join me in cultivating this garden, our Earth."

(As you read the last verse substitute your name for mine.)
Rev. Luther C. Pierce
Easter 2009 - Resonating scripture: John 20: 1-18

So true, so tender and honest. The second came from a Facebook friend who worshipped with us on Good Friday. She wrote: as I sat in the candlelit, Spirit-filled, love-drenched little room last evening, it felt very early-Christian to me. But mostly I think it felt like an early house-church experience because it captured the mystery, and honored the ageless reality of darkness as well as light in our world and lives.

In an age that aches for mystery but simultaneously hates it - in an area of the country where more and more people are leaving organized faith traditions in search for something deeper (see Newsweek's current issue) - and in a community long wounded by economic uncertainty... I can see small signs of the light as we wait together in the darkness for Easter. This all feels to me like Mindy Smith's breakthrough song and prayer...

Friday, April 10, 2009

paradox - part two

So our Good Friday gathering is over - about 80 people gathered on a rainy Berkshire night - to consider what a still speaking God might be saying to us at this moment in time. Some people wept at the beauty of the music - it was genuinely sweet. Others were moved by the readings and poetry and art. Still others grasped something of the new life that is being claimed by people in this once and still struggling congregation.

During a slow and soulful version of "Turn, Turn, Turn," the gathered individuals began to become one body as they shared harmonies and lifted their voices. As the U2 tunes - songs by Joni Mitchell and the Eels matured alongside Taize chant and gospel hymns to say nothing of sweet and honest readings - the singing got better and better until the a capella verses to "Were You There?" rocked the house. We lit one another's candles and closed with the Wailin' Jennys' song, "One Voice" which embodies the theology of our band and its ministry: and EVERYONE was singing along - in harmony - for by this time we could feel the Spirit in the house.

One man said to me afterwards, "It was beautiful and sad and encouraging to be together all at the same time." I think he was right. I am grateful to my musician and techie colleagues for their hard work and commitment. I am blessed to explore ministry with a congregation that is increasingly able to color outside the box. And I am humbled to be trying to do this ministry in the spirit of "sacred ignorance." Very few people understand the complicated nature of ministry at this moment in history - hell, I rarely understand all the challenges - but it is clear that tender faith, honesty and encouragement matter more than ever. Lord may it be so on the way to Easter.

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...