Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My sweetie's birthday...

Today is my sweetie's birthday: June 29th. We've both been talking about this whole aging "thing" a lot over the past year as we reflect on her mother's death, the changes in our bodies, the things we really want to do with the time we have left and all the rest. A while back she said something like, "One day you wake up and realize you don't have all your options in front of you. You really can't just go back to school and start again. You neither want to nor does your brain work as fast as it used to... so you start to come to terms with what is rather than what could be."

So today we're going to celebrate what is: being together, loving our kids and their loved ones, enjoying a feast and good music (we're off to a French wine bar and then a Rosanne Cash concert) and making the most of the hand we've been dealt. We have both been blessed with reasonably good health, great opportunities and the chance to be together.

One of my dearest friends in Tucson recently wrote to me saying that he really misses Dianne and her "chill" ways in the old band. Not only could she put up with me - not always the easiest thing to do in those days (and maybe still) - but she could bring out the best in the other singers, help keep our drummer in the groove and articulate what my guitar playing buddy was thinking but couldn't quiet express. Dianne IS chill - and grace - and a whole lot of quiet fun, too.

My birthday is Friday: I had a really ugly time with the truths of aging throughout my 40s but thanks be to God my 50s have been a whole lot more grounded. We'll be feasting and digging some tunes then, too. Tonight it is the great Rosanne Cash and her slightly outlaw country take on life; then it will be on to a local jazz quartet and their sweet/hot sounds in the spirit of Berkshire jazz. And after worship on Sunday, we're off to Tanglewood to experience the sweet soul music of James Taylor and Carole King during their 40th Anniversary Tour.

There is something to be said for the words of the old preacher in Ecclesiastes: "There is often nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil for this is all from God. And apart from the Lord who can eat or have any enjoyment? To be sure, to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven." The Psalmist got it right from my perspective, too: "Do not fret...trust in the Lord and do good...be still before the Lord and wait patiently... refrain from anger and do not fret... wait upon the Lord." How did the Wailin Jennys put it? "Worrying is like praying for things you don't want to happen!"

And so we celebrate tonight - and this week - for the simple blessings neither of us want to take for granted. An old birthday prayer puts it like this:

O Lord our God, our times are in your hand: look with favor, I pray, on your servants as we begin another year. Grant that we may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen our trust in your goodness all the days of our lives; for we seek to be yours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Happy birthday dear lover and friend...

Perspective and practice in God's grace...

NOTE: Here are my worship notes for Sunday, July 4, 2010 - part three of our in worship consideration of Paul's Letter to the Church in Rome - and a brief reflection on part of chapter 2. I am also using the lectionary gospel in Luke 10. If you happen to be in town - maybe heading to Tanglewood for the James Taylor/Carole King show in the evening (we'll be there) - why not join us earlier for worship at 10:30 am?

As we enter more deeply into St. Paul’s insights in the book of Romans – and put them within the context of both Christ’s gospel and our own culture – I think the key word for today is perspective. Call it God’s unique and upside down perspective – or a vision of life given to us by faith so that we embrace the way of the Cross rather than the simply our own feelings – or maybe just call it discipleship. Whatever words you use, the perspective I am talking about gives us eyes to see beyond the obvious – and nourishing such counter-cultural vision takes practice.

Not long ago I heard about a young man – a recent high school graduate – who went into the auto parts store down on North Street and asked for a seven-ten cap. The woman behind the counter had no idea what he was talking about and called out to her colleagues: “Anybody know what a seven-ten cap is?” Nobody did… so she asked the young man, “What else can you tell me about this thing?”

• And he said, “It sits right on the engine and somehow or another mind got lost.” “Well, tell what kind of car do you drive?” she continued and was told a Honda Civic.

• “Ok… and how big is this thing?” and he said about three and a half inches in diameter. “And what do you think this thing does?” to which the young man replied, “I have no idea but it’s always there and now it is gone.”

• Totally perplexed the woman behind the counter said, “Let’s try this, can you draw me a picture?” as she gave the young graduate a note pad. And, without hesitation, he draws a circle about three and a half inches in diameter with the number 710 right in the middle.

At which point the clerk almost fell on the ground because she was laughing so hard. And when she was finally able to gain her composure she said, “Sir, I think what you’re looking for is… an oil cap.” And with a totally straight face the young said, “710 cap, oil cap, I don’t care what you call it, I just need one – and I don’t see what’s so funny about that!” Are you still with me: see what I mean about perspective and practice?

Both Jesus and Paul want us to understand that while doing God’s will begins in our hearts – remember how the prophet Jeremiah put it when he said, “There will come a time when the very essence of God’s way will be written on your hearts not in a book or on a scroll?” – it takes practice.

• Jesus sends his followers out two by two to practice living from the heart; he wants his disciples to learn how to listen for God’s still speaking voice and then respond to it. This is one of the ways that the words of the gospel become flesh, right?

• St. Paul says much the same thing in chapter two of Romans when he uses a woodworking example: If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you're from, what your parents taught you or what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up.

Being a Jew (or a Christian) won't give you an automatic stamp of approval for God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. God makes up his own mind. For, example, if you sin without knowing what you're doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you're doing, that's a different story entirely. Merely hearing God's law is a waste of your time if you don't do what God commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Now two important insights are suggested here: 1) That we have to learn to see life from God’s perspective – sometimes it is obvious, but often it is not; and 2) Simply knowing the way of God without doing it, doesn’t cut it because God expects the Word to become Flesh. Here’s what I think St. Paul is trying to help us appreciate and practice:

• The way of Jesus – or the perspective of the kingdom of God – is often counter-intuitive. The way of Christ honors the weak, it values the forgotten, it treats children as wise rabbis and brings everyone to the banquet of God’s love – and for almost every society this behavior is unnatural, right? We build bridges rather than celebrate segregation. We search for peace (sometimes...)

• In the natural order of things, animals leave their sick and weak to perish, but the people of Jesus organize hospitals and hospice and health care. We live and act as if we have another world in view and often become our best selves in doing so.
In a collection of very challenging and wise essays entitled, The Death of Adam, novelist Marilynne Robinson – who wrote both Gilead and Home – reminds us that in our best and most deeply faithful selves, those who follow the way of Jesus practice an ethics of compassion that defies the so-called natural selection of Darwin, Nietzsche and others because we see life from a different perspective.

• “We may see as through a glass darkly now,” but we always begin by looking for the sacred within the secular, the holy within the human, the extraordinary within the ordinary.

• Robinson says: The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don’t behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people… so the Bible reiterates this endlessly.

No wonder our perspective in Christ always incorporates the blind and the lame, the wounded and the maimed: while the so-called “realistic” or even “market-driven” voices say, “let them die because they drag us all down and cost too much,” we, following Jesus, say: we are a part of the same body. What hurts one hurts us all – so we will carry our brother and nourish our sister even when there is no obvious benefit and tons of cost – for this is the way of the Lord.

• Are you still with me? St. Paul and Marilynne Robinson – along with John Calvin and so many others in our tradition – remind us that we have to practice the way of Jesus.

• As she likes to say: we are more than DNA striving to create more DNA. We are those created in the image of God just a little below the angels – but we must learn to see it and claim it and nourish it.

That is St. Paul’s first insight and the second is equally vexing: just because we’ve claimed something of God’s grace for ourselves – calling us children of the Lord as Christians or Jews or Muslims or whatever – if we don’t give shape and form to that claim, we are phonies. As Bible scholar Paul Achtemeier has written:

What we’re talking about is appearance as against reality… human responsibility and the connection between what we say and what we do… for the appearance of doing what is right is not enough… God is not fooled by such pretense… so let us acknowledge that grace is not a message of indolence or irresponsibility… rather it is a summons to accept responsibility for one’s acts and act in a manner that strengthens God’s love in the world.

Take, for example, today’s worship: many people say they believe in God but rarely take time away from business or pleasure to worship the Lord. It takes practice – prioritizing – and perspective for the Word must become Flesh. Or you might say it takes some effort. I think of another story about a Midwestern preacher who got a note in his email from a woman who was terribly dissatisfied with the choir.

So he invited her to come to his office and talk the problem over with him. She accepted and brought to his attention a number of ways that the whole music program of the church could be strengthened. Gratefully, the preacher celebrated the wisdom of her ideas and said, “You are really creative and your ideas make a whole bunch of sense. In fact, I think that you are the person to head up this recruitment plan: will you take the job?” To which she said immediately, "Oh, no, I don't want to get involved. With my hobbies and golf and the hours I put into other things, I just don't have the time. But I will gladly advise you any time.

The preacher's answer was classic and completely in the mode of St. Paul: "Good, gracious, lady, that's the problem I have now. I already have 400 advisers. What I need is someone who will do the work."

What a huge harvest – and how few the hands,” Jesus said. In Peterson’s translation he continues saying: “So get on your knees now for the time has come to ask the Lord of the harvest for workers.”

• Dear people of God, we come to Christ’s open table to learn – to practice following the way of the Lord rather than our own feelings – and to be filled from the inside out by grace.

• We don’t come to express an opinion – or to put on a show – we come to be healed and loved and then sent out to share the blessings.

So, in Christ’s name and in Christ’s way, I invite you all: come for all things are now ready…

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oh well...

Yesterday during Sunday worship things were humming, I was feeling the Spirit and life was good. Then, in the middle of an illustration about a frog and boiling water, I noticed that as I moved to the conclusion one of the science teachers in the congregation was shaking his head in loving disagreement. "So," says I, "Scott... am I to gather that a frog WON'T remain in a pan of water that is gradually heated until it is boiled to death?"

Smiling but with all seriousness he said, "No... eventually the frog will jump out!" Now, for those preachers out there, you will recall this illustration about the insidious and gradual effects of cultural corruption, right? I first heard it from George Barna and it has been in circulation for decades. But my science-guy was insistent so... I just tossed away all my preaching notes (literally) and said, "Ok, let me see..." And started to think up another illustration to make my point.

The folks in worship roared - and waited. Eventually I came up with something related to the escalating violence in so-called entertainment that drove my point home. (My grandmother used to fear that I was being corrupted and desensitized by watching "The Man from UNCLE" - a very tongue-in-cheek parody of the popular James Bond movies of the 60s. Her point was, "It starts off very gently, but before you know it this acceptance of shooting leads to an acceptance of other kinds of violence. Sadly, she was right both culturally and personally.)

After worship was over and I got home, there were two notes from recent guests to our church telling me how much they loved the conversation, laughter, honesty, music and ability to accept our humanity that they've been experiencing in worship. One went so far as to say, "When you threw away your notes and laughed at yourself today... well, man that said more than the whole sermon!" Made me think of the old Fleetwood Mac song. "Oh Well..."

It was a good day inspite of my efforts, yes? And when I got to the church office today I found out our silent auction raised almost $2K for Greg Mortenson's ministry of building schools for girls in Afghanistan. That means: 2 full time teachers for a year, 5 sewing machines and school supplies for 25 childre for a full year!
PS: just for good measure - and full disclosure - my science-buddy sent me this link to keep me honest! What a blessing he is... check it out: http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/frogboil.asp

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Life is full and good...

Just got word from the West Coast that my brother's cancer is responding very well to treatment and all things look good. More news awaits the September update, but this first official reading is excellent. I also celebrated a memorial service earlier today - and then taught my little buddy, Ethan, a guitar lesson - and all three events remind me of how full and good most of life is: yes, there is pain and death. At the same time, neither is the end of the story... Not that grief and emptiness are an illusion - I totally disagree with Buddhism on that - for grief brings an unimaginable aching to the body and soul. And pain - be it physical, emotional or spiritual - is equally agonizing.

+ And because so much of the culture is defined by spiritual sentimentality - which is a half-truth (or a lie) - grief and pain are masked, denied and hidden away. If you have been to any memorial service in any Protestant tradition there is always somebody who offers up the poem about "I have not really died..." which is bullshit. Death is real - bodies that are dead are cold - touch one and you'll agree. The deceased are not simply "moving beyond our sight." They are dead and gone - and that emptiness hurts. Often it hurts for a long, long time.

+ Another aspect of our culture asks us to always reference the bottom line: it is the metaphor of the marketplace that tells us there are things to do, money to be made, property to be purchased and deals to be nailed down. This part of American culture doesn't deny grief like sentimentality; rather it puts a time table on it - and a cash clock - and insists that all grieving needs to be done quick so we can move on to things that really matter. Give the grieving a week off - two if they're not paid - and then let's get back to the things that are important.

+ And let's be brutally honest: sometimes there are those who either get trapped - or addicted - to their drama and pain until the wounds are what give them an identity, too. I think of the story of St. Francis who would go from city to city singing. And as some of the beggars and lame and blind heard him, they hid because they knew Francis brought God's healing - and for whatever reason they were not ready to let go of their agony.

Thankfully this memorial service was not sentimental nor market driven: it was simple and beautiful. The family told stories about their mother, I spoke of God's grace amidst the grief and the assurance that grief is not the final story and my colleague shared uplifting music from the great tradition of Christian hymnody. Then we prayed - and sang some more.

From death I went to teach my little 10 year old friend a new guitar lick. His assignment from last week was to work on a 12 bar folk song progression in the key of G - AND - to nail the guitar riff from Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." (see above) OMG!!! This little dude rocked my butt of with his riffing - stone cold perfect - I was stunned. So, after a few more pointers on changing chords - and playing his dad's favorite tune, "Margaritaville" - I gave him this week's challenge: turning the riff into the Beatles' "Day Tripper." I know by July 4th he'll have THIS down, too.

This roller coaster - death and life as well as grief and grace - keeps me rooted in the moment. And as the day comes to a close, I am grateful. Tomorrow we'll worship and then I'll join another colleague in helping a local congregation try to discern if they have a future in ministry. They have fallen to about 13 members, so we shall see what the Spirit has in mind, yes?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dylan and the Beats: Part Four

We last left our heroes - the Spirit of the Beat poets moving through the creative genius of Bob Dylan in 1965 - during the creation of his masterpiece: Bringing It All Back Home. But then there was only time to consider the bold break Dylan was making with the constraints imposed upon him by the commissars of the folk music. To be sure, Electric Dylanland was saturated with Beat attitude and poetry along with snarling Fender guitars, honking harmonicas and rock and roll drums.

But side one of this magnum opus is only part of an equally fascinating and Beat-infused side two... for those who remember flipping their vinyl album over, side two of Bringing It All Back Home opens with "Mr. Tambourine Man." Not the great jangly rock and roll version covered by the Byrds and reduced to one verse, but the totally trippy, four verse acoustic acid sounds that float towards you like fog or incense and invite you to follow wherever the Spirit might lead.

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

There are cries of loneliness in this song as well as the ache of waiting for the muse of creativity, too. Many have obsessed on the tune's heavy drug images - and it would be foolish to deny them - but to my mind "Tambourine Man" is what Jack Kerouac's On the Road would have sounded like if he'd mixed it with guitars and replaced the Benzedrine with pot. It is a gentle ode to searching for integrity and joy amidst a life that can often drain you of hope and beauty. A crazily Beat song with Bruce Langhorne's haunting electric guitar whispering in the background.

+ After all, Dylan began writing this song on his own 1964 road trip to New Orleans - and there is just a little melancholy after Mardi Gras happening here - along side the jingle jangle lines from Lord Buckley that weird Beat comedian whose image grace's the album's front photo montage.

+ And there is a wonderfully ironic playfulness to the song that follows all Dylan's wildass rock and roll on side one: as one critic noted "Tambourine Man is rock's most feeling paean to psychedelia - and creativity, too - all the more compelling in that its done acoustically."

But the man doesn't stop here: rather he barrels ahead with three other very long, acoustic tone poems that batter the senses with images and challenge the ears with new ways of thinking about American folk music:

+ "Gates of Eden" is apocalyptic in the way it challenges the innocence of the 60s. Christopher Ricks in Dylan's Vision of Sin writes that no sooner does the master invite you on the joyful trip of "Tambourine Man," than he reminds you:

Of war and peace the truth just twists
Is curfew gull just glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when 'neath the trees of Eden

Each verse - and there are 8 of them - grows bleaker with stinging surrealist commentary on the state of the world until he brings it all to a crashing halt with the final two stanzas:

The foreign sun it squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and others, strangers
From their fates try to resign
Leaving men holy and totally free
To do anything they wish to do but die
And there are no trials inside The Gates of Eden

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell me what's true
There are no truths outside The Gates of Eden

+ Then there is "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleedin'" - a lament that lambasts all the forces that suck life out of our creative souls. Dylan wants us to know without ambiguity that often our fiery insistence on this or that type of political engagement becomes just as corrupt and brutal as the evil we were fighting. Like the prophet Jeremiah, Dylan wails about the sickness of the human condition much like Allen Ginsberg with a ferocious guitar:

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

And then over and over again, that freakin' tag line: It's alright ma... The whole song - all 15 verses and four interludes - whispers and sneers that it AIN'T alright only to be followed by his tender assurance. The last cluster has been my favorite in this song for 45 years:

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

I don't think there has been any contemporary rock song that nails the bitter sorrow of life driven by the bottom line better than "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleedin.'"

+ And just when you thought it couldn't get any harder, Dylan closes this album with the perpetually sad: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." There is so much we must learn to say good bye to: lovers, security, old friends, old notions of self, old habits and addictions, innocence, health - no wonder so many stay locked in nostalgia: the past is always easier than moving toward the frontier. So Dylan aches with us as we move towards reality - there is NO sentimentality here - and his poetry won't let go of you even when the music is over. He begins by saying:

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

And finishes like a man well-acquainted with grief...

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Small wonder that he returned to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival and sang "Baby Blue" after being booed for going electric. People loved - and hated - this album. They didn't know what to do with the rock and roll on side one and were overwhelmed with the intensity of the poetry on side two. It was like NOTHING anyone had ever heard before.

I remember buying this record - I still have the original although I've replaced it with CDs, too - and feeling like I had found my dearest lost friend. The rock and roll was edgy, rough with a hip political sensibility: ain't NOBODY gonna make me work on Maggie's Farm no more. And then side two... it was trance-like - prayer-like - heart-breaking and beautiful all at the same time.

And then the public confusion with Dylan turned to rage when he shared Highway 61 Revisited... but that is for another time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grief, rejoicing and the odd flow of things...

Earlier this month, while I was visiting my brother in San Francisco, I happened upon this 1958 poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti that I used to cherish but had forgotten.

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

It caused me to note - and wrestle - again with some of the irony and mystery of everyday life:

+ Sensitive people - loving and compassionate individuals - who are simultaneously so self-absorbed that they are often cruel and judgmental without ever knowing it...

+ Good people (in the worst sense of the word to quote Mark Twain) who inflict pain on innocents in the name of love or God or "helping" (whatever that really means...)

+ Spiritual people who get so trapped or lost in their feelings for an extended period of time and lose all sense of the Spirit's presence in their lives...

+ Those people who have made peace with their physical and spiritual pain and NEVER utter a complaint...

+ Ordinary people who have discovered how to let suffering take them into greater compassion...

+ Seemingly nonspiritual people who are filled with wisdom and patience and acceptance...

+ Warriors and soldiers who are more committed to peace-making and tenderness than some self-identified pacifists...

+ Poets who are heavy-handed...

+ Historians who hide and obscure the truth...

+ Academics who are ideologues rather than advocates of the intellectual quest...

+ Politicians who have never considered the common good...

+ Educators who hate children...

+ How tired I can feel while still loving those closest to my heart...

+ Mother Teresa never feeling God's love AFTER receiving her call to India...

+ The fear that is so often just below the surface of most lives...

+ The anguish and pain that fills every soul no matter HOW blessed the individual...

+ The grace of God that passes all human understanding...

Ferlinghetti wrote of another collection of ironies in another poem, "Pity the Nation," that goes like this:

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation - oh pity the people
Who allow their rights to erode
And their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

And after I spend time with all of these ironies - and more - I go back to St. Paul: now we see as through a glass darkly, LATER we shall see face to face... three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is... love.

1) Claude Bently @

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I am not ashamed of sharing Christ's grace...

NOTE: So here are my notes for worship for this Sunday, June 27, 2010. For most of the summer I will be sharing ideas, thoughts, insights and questions culled from Paul's letter to the church in Rome. This week I am looking most carefully at Romans 1: 16-17 and 1: 23-25. Interestingly, just as I finished putting these notes together I received this You Tube clip that in non-religious language speaks of Paul's passion. Hmmm.... pretty wild. If you find yourself in Pittsfield this Sunday at 10:30 am, I would love for you to join us for worship. And if you are passing through the Berkshires for your summer vacation time, why not stop by - or give us a call - and we can share tea?

There is an old, old story that periodically resurfaces among preachers that tells of the woman who found herself at the end of life standing before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates of heaven. “I want to welcome you to the eternal kingdom of God,” Peter said, “but before entering you have to answer a few questions – and score 100 points.”

• "So, tell me,” Peter begins, “how often did you go to church?" to which the woman says: "I went every Sunday and Wednesday." After a pause, Peter replies, “Ok, that’s one point.”

• “One point,” she thinks to herself, “I thought all that time in church was worth more than that: wow!” Peter continues: “And when you went to church, did you make a financial contribution?” to which the woman said, “Oh my Lord, yes, I tithed and gave 10% of my income every week.”

• "Well, let's see," Peter says, "that's worth about 3 points. Did you do anything else that might help?” After a long silence, the woman finally says: "Well, right off hand, I can't think of a whole lot. I just did mostly what I thought I was supposed to do." Which prompts St. Peter to reply: “Ok, we’ll give you 5 points for good behavior – can you cup up with anything else?”

As you might imagine, by this time the woman is completely flustered and beside herself so she blurts out: "To be totally honest, I can't come up with anything else that I’ve done. It looks to me like no one can enter heaven except by the Grace of God!" To which St. Peter smiles, opens his arms wide and says: "100 points! Come on in!"

Grace – and God’s love in our lives – is what we’re going to talk about this morning because grace is at the core of what St. Paul wants us to grasp in his letter to the church in Rome. So as we go deeper into our summer long study of Romans – a series that we’ll continue until the middle of August – I want you to stay grounded in Paul’s commitment to grace and the radical sense of amazement it evokes in his ministry.

Not only does he begin the book of Romans by telling us about God’s grace – in Christ Jesus our Lord we have received grace and a ministry of sharing this grace with others by faith – he centers his whole ministry in grace: “I greet you all with the generous grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” because – and here is the central message and focus of Paul’s ministry located in verses 16 and 17 of chapter one – because…

The gospel of Jesus Christ is news that I am most proud to proclaim – for it is an extraordinary Message of God's powerful plan to rescue (and heal) everyone who trusts God, starting with Jews and then right on through to everyone else! The gospel is God's way of putting people right and shows up in acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: "The person in right standing before God by trusting the Lord is really alive."

Are you with me on this? Do you follow the rhythm and logic of St. Paul’s proclamation? He is telling us that he has a joyful obligation to preach because he has experienced God’s grace in such a way that not only brings meaning and hope into his life but also offers these blessings to everyone regardless of race, class or gender.

One of my favorite bible scholars – and yes, I know that makes me a church geek because it is true that I have some favorite bible scholars – well, one of them is Paul Achtemeier who used to teach at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. In his commentary Achtemeier unpacks these verses by reminding us that what Paul is doing here involves a series of questions and answers about what is most important to him. To a world that was ruled by blood lines and birth rights, Paul is saying that God’s love is bigger than nationality, political party or race.

In fact, God’s love is so big that you can find a way into the Lord’s heart by… faith. Achtemeier puts it like this:

• I, Paul, a slave to God’s grace, am under an obligation to share the gospel to the civilized and the barbarians, the cultured and the uneducated, the wise and the foolish which is why I am coming to Rome.

• Why Rome? Because I am not ashamed of the gospel and sense it needs to be shared even in the heart of the Empire. Why am I not ashamed of such an outrageous idea as grace? Because it shows God’s love and power for healing the world through faith, first to the Jews but also to the Gentiles and Greeks.

• Are you saying that God’s grace is available to everyone? Yes, the ancient scriptures teach that those who are in right relations with the Lord will know the essence and meaning of life. Well, how can that be? Here’s the deal: God shares divine wrath with those who choose evil or dishonesty in their souls.

• What does wrath mean? It means letting people experience the essence of their sins. God suppresses truth and hope for those who choose wickedness – not really to punish them – but to help them want the alternative of grace. For when human beings act like they are God – creatures who act like they are the center of the universe – God let’s them experience the fullness of this mistake.

• In fact, God gives them up to the foolishness of their selfish minds and habits and deeds in the hope that after living for a while like animals or reptiles they might want to reclaim the image of God born within them since before the beginning of time.

That is what energizes and motivates Paul: he has seen people live like animals! He has seen what it means for human being created in God’s image to experience God’s wrath – and it is ugly, terrifying and fearful. I love the way Achtemeier puts it:

When we exchange serving the Lord for following our lord… we have handed ourselves over to some creature instead of the Creator. Ignoring the clear evidences of God’s presence, human beings instead chose for themselves other lords. And inevitably, one comes to resemble that to which we give our devotion. If we give ourselves to God and the gracious love made flesh in Jesus Christ, we will come to resemble Christ… otherwise we begin to become bestial. (p. 38)

What do you think about that? Can you think of examples – personally or in the news – where serving another god leads to idolatry or even the bestial? Achtemeier offers these closing words:

Will anyone who reads contemporary newspapers or watches real news programming deny that our society – and world – shows signs of bestiality? Does that not reflect the idols to which we give our devotion? If in our desire to overcome a competitor in whatever area – whether as a business man or woman – we take as our model the rapacious drive of the beast of prey, sweeping all aside in our desire to overcome, is it any wonder that our society becomes bestial? If our goals are set with no final regard for the will of the true God as expressed and made flesh in Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that we become less than we as human beings made in God’s image out to be? Do we not in fact come to resemble the idols to which we devote our lives? (p. 39)

In Paul’s day – and our own – sharing the gospel and spreading God’s grace is a mission of mercy, yes? And here’s the other insight for today: because without being grounded in God’s grace we will experience God’s wrath. And how did the old preacher talk about God’s wrath?

• Not as thunderbolts of punishment from heaven or hellfire and brimstone but… the absence of God.
• I’ve mentioned this to you before, too, but it also warrants a summer refresher course. When we give up living as those who follow God and start serving ourselves as if we were God, the Lord says: ok, have it your way.

That we are totally incapable of functioning as our own creator, and hence as our own Lord, does nothing to hinder us. Thus we show our incorrigible ignorance: substituting the darkness of our own desires for the Light of God as Lord of creation, we grope about, lashing out at all who hinder our desires… and this is why Paul is so urgent: the root of human suffering and malaise is the substitution of something other than God as the lord of our lives. (p.39)

It could be alcohol, it could be drugs; it could be sex, it could be greed; it could be arrogance, it could be power; it could be war, it could be hatred. There is no question, you see, “of whether or not we are to have a lord over us. As creatures of the Creator, we have no choice in the matter. The only real question is who is lord?” What God do we serve? And does this lead us to hope and light or addiction, fear and darkness?

I love the way St. Bob Dylan put it in one of his best ironic songs about sin called “Everything Is Broken.”

Broken bottles broken plates - Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts - Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken: everything is broken.

I tell you, Dylan just NAILS the heart of sin – and then he keeps hammering home his point:

Every time you leave and go off someplace things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs - Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools - People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking: everything is broken

That is the heart of Lent and the message of St. Paul on sin all wrapped up in a little self-deprecating humor coming in at less than three minutes! And BECAUSE everything is broken when we are enslaved to sin… Paul is impelled to show us God’s way out.

This, of course, brings us back to grace: we do not have to live addicted to idolatry nor do we have to live in the frightening and ugly absence of God’s wrath. Jesus was abrupt and to the point in this morning’s gospel text when his crew seemed almost willfully dim:

"First things first, man: Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God's kingdom… I’m not interested in wasting time or life so no procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day."

And that, dear people, is not only enough for this morning it is also the good news for today for those who have ears to hear.

credits: I found myself particularly taken with the artist C. Robin Janning at Gramercy Galleria this week.
4) Compassion @ http://www.gramercygalleria.com/
6) Measures and Means @ http://www.gramercygalleria.com/
7) Mothers of the World @ www.gramercygalleria.com
8) Green Moon @ www.gramercygalleria.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dylan and the Beats: Part Three

More than ever before, Dylan pays homage to his Beat family on Bringing It All Back Home - his fifth album (released in March 1965) - like NO BODY'S business from the pictures on the front and back covers to the liner notes - to say nothing of both song cycles (electric and acoustic) - this is the promise of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti writ large!

Let's start with the front cover that is a visual Beat cornucopia laden with clues and insights about what is important and formative. In addition to the hip beauty of Sally Grossman, wife of the main man's manager Albert Grossman, check out the "artifacts scattered around photographer Daniel Kramer's frame..."

+ There are five record albums that point towards Dylan's eclectic influences: The Impressions - a soul/doo-wop gospel band from Chicago that featured the work of Curtis Mayfeild; a recording of Kurt Weill songs by Lotte Lenya; the sitar master from India Ravi Shankar; as well as a collection from both the king of the delta blues - Robert Johnson - as well as Harvard Square's white bluesman Eric Von Schmitt. Dylan not only recorded Von Schmitt's "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" on his first album, he also "goosed it up with electric guitars" backed by the Hawks/the Band a few months later. This was a man defying simple categories and embracing the wild fullness of life.

+ Then there are the visual clues: a Lord Buckley album - one of the rude kings of comedy in the Beat world - as well as a partially hidden copy of his own Another Side of Bob Dylan. There is a sign from a fall out shelter, gossip columnist magazines alongside of a TIME Magazine featuring President Lyndon Johnson. The man is even wearing the "cuff links Joan Baez gave him that she references in 'Diamonds and Rust (1975.)"

+ And before you ever get to the music, there are the liner notes wondering why Ginsberg was not invited to read at the Presidential inauguration, why some people think Norman Mailer is more important than Hank Williams and why there is such a cult of the dead instead of a celebration of the living: it is an anti-war, anti-conformity rant that is totally current while honoring its Beat origins.

I'm standing there watching the parade/
feeling combination of sleepy john estes.
jayne mansfield. humphry bogart/morti-
mer snerd. murph the surf and so forth/
erotic hitchhiker wearing japanese
blanket. gets my attention by asking didn't
he see me at this hootenanny down in
puerto vallarta, mexico/i say no you must
be mistaken. i happen to be one of the
Supremes/then he rips off his blanket
an' suddenly becomes a middle-aged druggist.
up for district attorney. he starts scream-
ing at me you're the one. you're the one
that's been causing all them riots over in
vietnam. immediately turns t' a bunch of
people an' says if elected, he'll have me
electrocuted publicly on the next fourth
of july. i look around an' all these people
he's talking to are carrying blowtorches/
needless t' say, i split fast go back t' the
nice quiet country. am standing there writing
WHAAT? on my favorite wall when who should
pass by in a jet plane but my recording
engineer "i'm here t' pick up you and your
lastest works of art. do you need any help
with anything?''


my songs're written with the kettledrum
in mind/a touch of any anxious color. un-
mentionable. obvious. an' people perhaps
like a soft brazilian singer . . . i have
given up at making any attempt at perfection/
the fact that the white house is filled with
leaders that've never been t' the apollo
theater amazes me. why allen ginsberg was
not chosen t' read poetry at the inauguration
boggles my mind/if someone thinks norman
mailer is more important than hank williams
that's fine. i have no arguments an' i
never drink milk. i would rather model har-
monica holders than discuss aztec anthropology/
english literature. or history of the united
nations. i accept chaos. I am not sure whether
it accepts me. i know there're some people terrified
of the bomb. but there are other people terrified
t' be seen carrying a modern screen magazine.
experience teaches that silence terrifies people
the most . . . i am convinced that all souls have
some superior t' deal with/like the school
system, an invisible circle of which no one
can think without consulting someone/in the
face of this, responsibility/security, success
mean absolutely nothing. . . i would not want
t' be bach. mozart. tolstoy. joe hill. gertrude
stein or james dean/they are all dead. the
Great books've been written. the Great sayings
have all been said/I am about t' sketch You
a picture of what goes on around here some-
times. though I don't understand too well
myself what's really happening. i do know
that we're all gonna die someday an' that no
death has ever stopped the world. my poems
are written in a rhythm of unpoetic distortion/
divided by pierced ears. false eyelashes/sub-
tracted by people constantly torturing each
other. with a melodic purring line of descriptive
hollowness -- seen at times through dark sunglasses
an' other forms of psychic explosion. a song is
anything that can walk by itself/i am called
a songwriter. a poem is a naked person . . . some
people say that i am a poet

(end of pause)

an' so i answer my recording engineer
"yes. well i could use some help in getting
this wall in the plane"

Let there be no doubt, Dylan is stating even before the music ever begins, that while this record picks up where Another Side... left off, it charts new territory with electric guitars, Beat/Zen poets wandering through the entire musical landscape while new ideas and American/Beatles/blues influences shape and restructure the songs of this man beyond limits.

And goddam... the songs! Ginsberg is working with Dylan on the first ever rock video - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - that is part Chuck Berry and part Ginsberg/Kerouac all thrown into the psycho-blender of Dylan's emerging rock and roll aesthetic. Let's make this "Too Much Monkey Business" reworked through a whole new vision of music - driven by rock and blues - in pursuit of the politics of ecstasy. This is the Declaration of Freakin' Independence for ALL artists - especially in 1965! (Too damn bad the original isn't currently available on You Tube, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers get the spirit JUST right... they make it clear that Dylan and the Beats WERE the precusors of rap - nourished, of course with the other fathers and mothers like Langston Hughes, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston...)

The album keeps moving like a train about to wreck with "Maggie's Farm" - THE quintessential anti-conformity song of any age that holds unique importance given the Bard's break with the folkie/PC commissars of art crowd - and keeps on pushing with both "Outlaw Blues" (recorded during the previous album and reworked with more piss and vinegar) and "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - an acid-driven talking blues that throws Jung into a rant about American history and the quest for freedom.

And that's only side one! The first seven songs are totally a new/old, outlaw, Beat, absurdist anti-conformity broadside filled with crazy and troubling images, harsh observations and side-splitting rock and roll attitude. As a recent musical revolutionary - Rage Against the Machine - put it in cover the grandpa: THERE IS NO WAY IN CREATION I'M GONNA WORK ON MAGGIE'S FREAKIN' FARM NO MORE!

(This alBum CHANGED MY WORLD. Tomorrow - or there about's - it will be on to side two... and all of its glory.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Easing back into the groove...

Dianne and I had three sweet days away at a family wedding - a lovely wedding, too - and 10 hot hours being together in our 15 year old, non-air-conditioned car riding to and fro the blessed event. It was good: time to talk (sometimes) and lots of time to think. The physicality of being "on the road" is one of our favorite ways of being together and we are almost always up for a road trip. (When we head out to Halifax later this summer, however, we may take the truck which has a most excellent air conditioner!)

Daughter, Jesse, called earlier this evening to wish me a "Happy Father's Day" and when she heard that we'd spent most of the day in the car she said, "Well, you sound great."

I love being on the road - this trip felt long because of the heat but it was all good - for it is one of the few unstructured times I have for thinking. One result will come to pass tomorrow when I work on "Dylan and the Beats: Part Three." Another is this quick posting at the end of the day: if one part of the Beat essence hails from New York (albeit it transplanted to San Francisco) a la Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, it would be wrong to forget the brilliance of both Ferlinghetti and Snyder.

+ Snyder was the key to both a new Americanized Buddhist spirituality as well as a new reverence for Mother Earth that celebrated the eternal link to living that most Westerners are only beginning to grasp at this late date. His earliest poem, "Riprap," laid a foundation that he is still exploring.

Lay down these words
re your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way.
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles –
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

+ And Ferlinghetti not only wrote sweet and demanding poems of the soul within the body politic, but also brought much of the Beat literature to print through his City Lights Bookstore and Publishing. In 1958 he put it like this...

I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
Of a new symbolic western fro
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the second coming
And I am waiting
For a religious revival
To sweep thru the state of Arizona
And I am waiting
For the grapes of wrath to stored
And I am waiting
For them to prove
That God is really American
And I am waiting
To see G
od on television
Piped into church altars
If they can find
The right channel
To tune it in on
And I am waiting
for the last supper to be served again
and a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the great divide to be crossed
and I anxiously waiting
For the secret of eternal life to be discovered
By an obscure practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and TV rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am waiting for retribution
for what America did to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for the American Boy
to take off Beauty's clothes
and get on top of her
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeting lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

There really is something "spiritual" about being on the road. Sometimes Di and I find we are on a pilgrimage where the journey is often more important than the destination. Sometimes, as Stephen Edington, says, a road trip is the antithesis of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness where you simply live into whatever happens - and sort it out later. And often it is a little of both with LOTS of time for thinking and reflection.

Serendipitously, Adam Gopknik in the current edition of The New Yorker, writes that often the edgy spirituality of Jesus as recorded in the gospels sounds a lot like Jack Kerouac: not some programmatic radicalism of a national revolution, but "the Kerouac-like-satori-seeking-on-the-road" of the Beats at their best. Hmmmmm....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A note to my congregation...

NOTE: Every week I write a "prayers and programs" note to my congregation. Here is what I shared this week...

Some of you know that I have been studying (and blogging) about the importance of the Beat poets (i.e. Ginsberg, Kerouac et al.) in shaping a culture of justice and compassion in the United States after WWII. A decade before most churches and synagogues threw their support behind the movement for Black civil rights, the alienated intellectuals of the Beat generation (not their caricature - the beatniks - but the real deal) were searching for meaning amidst the jazz bebop artists of the day as well as the early pioneers of eco-justice, abstract expressionism, and peace. One commentator puts the challenge of that era like this:

Life was pretty uncertain after two world wars and two atomic bombs in too little time. By 1945, it could go either way and everybody knew it. Edward R. Murrow was on the wireless delivering poetic nightly accounts of the bombing of Europe. Centuries-old nations were tumbling by the month. Blackouts, rationing and depression were a way of life. The end was surely near. But leaning forward into this tension wind were some courageous artists transforming their media into gloriously honest expressions of the furthest and sometimes most beautiful reaches of our mind. Through a door opened by Freud and into a room lit by Jung, Reich, Stanislavsky, Breton and others, the expression of the subconscious self - the center, the soul, the truth - became the new goal of artists all over the world, some who happened to be drinking together and others who were drinking alone: Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning...Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis... Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry... Marlon Brando, James Dean... and so many more. (Abstract Expression: From Bird to Brando by Brian Hassett)

A full generation earlier, Protestant theologian and pastor, Paul Tillich, discovered that after WWI it was the artists of his day who were best able to capture something of God's still speaking voice. Churches were caught up in their fears - or sentimentality - while the painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians of the early 20th century were giving shape and voice to both the human condition and God's puzzling presence amidst the turmoil. Fifty years later, it was the Beat poets who rediscovered this insight within their own world while churches were caught up in a building frenzy that sacralized the spirit of consumerism in America. No wonder most congregations were stunned and terrified when American cities exploded and burned in the 60s: God was speaking to us through our boldest artists, but most of us were not listening. And so the guitars were electrified, the volume was pumped up, and everything grew more intense.

I underscore this during this week's Prayers and Programs because we are at another key turning point in America. The world is more inter-connected than ever before and what we do ripples across every continent to say nothing of the sky and oceans. So, we can either listen carefully and try to discern what God's still speaking voice might be saying to us amidst the Gulf Coast catastrophe, our two wars, and the on-going economic turmoil - OR - we can try to keep doing what we've always done only to discover that such a life is unsustainable. Repentance, you know, means changing our direction - turning away from what is sinful, destructive, and unhealthy - and moving towards the true image of God in which we were created. Poet Robert Bly put it like this:

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

One voice that offers a wise, sustainable and faith-based alternative to the current madness is Brian Mclaren who just "blogged" his reaction to President Obama's recent Oval Office speech concerning our addiction to oil, the BP disaster, etc. If you are looking for hope - or a light in the current darkness - you may want to read Mclaren's remarks at:

Here is a prayer litany for this week from our partners at the National Council of Churches:

Creator God, author of life, source of all meaning, you made a universe of infinite complexity and beauty and entrusted us humans with the care of a tiny jewel called Earth. With the passing of time we came to believe we were owners, not fellow creature dwellers, of this bountiful planet and its extravagant web of life. We have used God’s creation without regard for the impact our rapacity had on the other creatures with whom we share our earthly home. We have acted with craven disregard for complex ecosystems we barely understand.

Our self-deception has led us to assume we have the capacity to manage environments we exploit to sustain lifestyles that defy the intrinsic interdependence of all life. Now we face the consequences of our idolatry. We thought we were gods; but our recklessness has brought us to our knees, to ask for your mercy and forgiveness for the chaos we have brought about. We pray for the oceans and all the creatures that dwell in it. We pray for the forests and the abundance of life they nurture. We pray for the very air we breathe, now laden with the toxic gases we produce. We pray for our children whose earthly home we have so imperiled. Loving God, have mercy on us, grant us forgiveness and the strength to make amends.


AN ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS There are no sins so great that the mercy of God cannot forgive. Go with God’s grace to make amends. Embrace lifestyles that will help restore balance and harmony to our Earthly home. Care for those whose environments have been destroyed by our actions and inactions. Amen.


God, we come to you today with heavy and humbled hearts. We ask that your healing, comforting and strengthening presence be with all those affected by this unfolding tragedy:
For workers injured, missing, and presumed dead from the explosion on the rig and for their families and friends, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

For people working tirelessly to contain the spill and protect fragile ecosystems and communities from its toxic impacts, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

For individuals and communities whose livelihoods depend upon the Gulf of Mexico, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers .

For your good Creation – from the smallest of sea creatures to the birds of the air - and all your magnificent handiwork at risk of exposure from our human errors, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

For wisdom to understand our dependence on You and strength that we might walk humbly in the path of justice and right-relationships with all Your Creation, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

(Tomorrow we leave for a weekend away at a family wedding... when I return I will be ready to move into Dylan and the Beats: Part Three.)

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:...