Monday, January 31, 2011

Got to check it out...

Dianne spent part of today getting up this site so that we can accept donations via Pay Pal for this summer's peace-making through jazz in Istanbul. It is HOT... check it out:

On Thursday we're back to Patrick's Pub for a set on LOTS of new tunes - everything from Miles Davis' "So What?" and Van Morrison's "Domino" to Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia" (how timely) and a little J.J. Cale's "After Midnight." We're even going to give "Fly Me to the Moon" a shot! Come on out - it will be a gas! Patrick's Pub: Thursday, February 3rd at 6:30 pm. On Park Square opposite First Church.

Favorite insights from Paul...

It is becoming clear that progressive spiritual folk from all different backgrounds really don't like old St. Paul, right? Most likely for a variety of good - and probably a few not so good - reasons. But before I list all the reasons to take issue with the oldest writings in the New Testament, I thought it might be challenging to share some of my favorite insights from the writings of St. Paul to see how they stack up.

After all, in many ways I have come to see the apostle as just another "slob on the bus trying to make his way home" just like the rest of us. Sometimes he misses the mark, but sometimes he is freakin' brilliant, too. So, here are my Top Five insights from the writings of St. Paul:

+ Number Five: So here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences... No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. (Ephesians 4)

+ Number Four: By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5)

+ Number Three: In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ's family, then you are Abraham's famous "descendant," heirs according to the covenant promises. (Galatians 3)

+ Number Two: So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12)

+ Number One: If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies... for now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face. (I Corinthians 13)

This is a winning hand as far as I can tell - a truly mature and joy filled testimony to the love of God - and I wouldn't want to ignore it. Tomorrow I'll consider some of the offenses that brother Paul - and the church - have offered the world. But for now I think it best just to revel in the beauty of his insights. (NOTE: I've used Peterson's The Message for the quotes so they may strike some as odd. I love them!)

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Two conversations that took place after worship were... well, complicated - and profound, too. The first had to do with my distinction between "baby Christians" who never mature and change and "grown-up people of faith" who make the spirit and essence of Jesus visible in their lives. "Maybe I'm missing something," one person said to me, "but I don't want to be like St. Paul if that's what it means to be an adult Christian. Jesus, yes, but Paul - who hated the body and music and women - never in a million years."

"Hmmm... sounds like old Paul needs some serious rehabilitating," thought I as the conversation deepened. Too often, the apostle is portrayed as the mature goal of the Christian faith rather than just one disciple trying to teach clearly about living into God's call in Christ. And my friend was right: how many times has Paul has been used to oppose the joys of life - incarnational and sacramental living that is sacred and sensual - in pursuit of a mean-spirited conformity? We have a lot of work to do reclaim the beauty of what a life of grace is really all about - and St. Paul could help if we were able to unlock the wisdom of Paul,so that a caricature of his life doesn't become normative in progressive Christianity.

Next I spoke with someone about the distinctions we are making in our faith community between members and those who sense a calling to work with us but aren't ready - or interested - in a formal relationship with the institution. At our annual meeting today, for example, there was a concern that our formal membership numbers had slipped over the past year. That is true, they have - and our worship participation and people involved in mission has increased.

Go figure: with a strategic and compassionate decision to emphasize participation in worship, prayer and ministry rather than formal membership we have more people engaged than any time in the last three years. Not everybody gets this - especially the spiritual accountants among us - but when my friends said, "I like that you don't emphasize the necessity of formal membership here because now I can respond to God's invitation with a sense of gratitude and commitment rather than obligation or guilt" I knew we were on the right track. "Let's just say," I smiled, "that we've found a winning combination: radical hospital and action born of our experience with God's grace."

It was a good day - a GREAT new cadre of leaders for the next three years of ministry was affirmed at our annual meeting - and worship was alive and full. What's more, after a brief afternoon nap, we had a four and a half hour jazz band practice that was smokin! On to Thursday night when we play Patrick's Pub again in pursuit of our peace-making through music trip to Istanbul in June.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Upside down living...

This morning Fr. Richard Rohr spoke of St. Paul's ideas about the church - and they resonate with me profoundly. Rather than "do" church as an "add-on" commitment to an already full life - or even something we go to - Rohr says that Paul lived as one who was always "in church - in the Spirit - in the Jesus life and went out into the world." Interesting shift, yes? We are those who are always IN church and go OUT into the world.

Such is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit - the upside blessing of the Jesus life - that is foolishness or worse to those addicted to the status quo. Peterson adds this:

The opposite of foolishness in Scripture is wise. Wise refers to skill in living. It does not mean, primarily, the person who knows the right answer to things, but one who has developed the right responses (relationships) to persons and to God. The wise understand how the world really works; know about patience and love, listening and grace, adoration and beauty; know that other people are awesome creatures to be respected and befriended, especially the ones that I cannot get anything out of; know that the earth is a marvelously intricate gift to be cared for and enjoyed; know that God is an ever-present center, a never-diminishing reality; an all-encompassing love; and know that there is no living being that does not reach out gladly and responsively to God and the kingdom community in which God has placed us. What's more, the wise know that there is only one cure for the fool: prayer that is as passionate for the salvation healing of others as it is for myself!

As I was driving home from an early morning tea and conversation time with a beloved colleague, I heard the Eagles signing, "Take It Easy" and wondered if the second chorus might be a prayer for our church as the Spirit confronts us: We may lose or we may win, but we will never be here again; so open up, I'm climbing in - and take it easy! To be wise in the upside down Jesus life is to open up and let the Spirit in.

To be a fool, however, is to stay addicted to the death and distractions of the status quo, yes Makes me think of another old Eagle's song, "Desperado" - a tune we're going to try and rework into a jazz thing for our next gig - because it is beautiful and poignant and oh so true...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tell me ALL your thoughts on God (practicing resurrection continues...)

NOTE: Here are this week's worship notes for Sunday, January 30, 2011. This will be our 248th annual meeting as a congregation, too! After worship, we'll move to another room to discuss our commitments to mission and ministry in the upcoming year - and then feast together with food and prayer and community. Please join us.

Fifteen years ago, there was a very sweet song that was all over the radio – Counting Blue Cars – by the American band Dishwalla: do you know it? It begins something like this…

Must of been mid afternoon I could tell by how far the child's shadow stretched out; He walked with a purpose in his sneakers, down the street
He had many questions like children often do. He said: "Tell me all your thoughts on God…
Cuz I really want to meet her! Tell me am I very far?"

The kids in my youth group in Arizona couldn’t get enough of this song and we used to do in worship a lot. Because, you see, it evoked a truth that St. Paul addressed in the beginning of Ephesians when he starts to tell us all of his thoughts on God.

Our “lesson” for today is really just one 201 word sentence that speaks of Paul’s joyous, over-the-top, mind blowing, ecstatic and life-changing encounter with God’s blessing – and he can’t help himself from telling us all of his thoughts on God.

• His world has been turned upside down: like the Prodigal Son he once was lost but now he’s found – like Lazarus he, too, had died but now lives to the stunning glory of the Lord – and like countless wounded souls in Christ’s ministry, Paul had come to experience what once he had been blind, but now he sees.

Man, this cat is the incarnational embodiment of the hymn: Amazing Grace, right?

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found – was blind but now I see

And that’s why Paul is so important – and why we give him a measure of authority in the church – he is one of those rare souls who has been boldly embraced by the love of God and found words to describe it. Not everybody meets God this way, right? Not everyone has a Damascus Road experience where you are knocked down and hung-up wet to dry only to awaken with your vision and heart turned upside down.

Some of us, for example, have known something of God’s tender love all of our lives. Some of us have found the Lord in nature – or music – or in serving others – or in peace-making. Some of us have had small epiphanies, too, that we’re stringing together – connecting the dots – so that cumulatively we sense that there is a love bigger than ourselves at work in creation even if we have tons of questions.

And some of us just have the questions – a gnawing sense that we don’t get it – and that, too, is a way of encountering the Lord. Spiritually it is known as the Via Negativa – the quiet or obscure path to God – that lets our longing and emptiness serve as a reminder of God’s living presence. I know I’ve share the poem by Rumi about this with you before but it couldn’t hurt to be reminded. Coleman Barks calls it “Love Dogs” and it says:

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah! His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So! I’ve heard you calling our, but have you ever
gotten any response?”The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because I’ve never heard anything back” he said.
“This longing you express is the return message.” The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection. There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.

Are you with me? Jesus tells us something similar in John’s gospel when he says, “Look, in my Father’s mansion are many rooms.” That is, not everyone is the same nor is everybody’s path to the Holy alike. There is light and there is darkness, there is experience and there is wisdom, there is fullness and there is emptiness and all roads lead to God.

So what I’m trying to say is that not everyone needs to come to faith like brother Paul – and that is not only a beautiful thing, it is also part of God’s plan – we have different gifts and different experiences and ALL of them are needed within the living body of Christ. And at the same time – and listen carefully here – and it is also always helpful for us as Christ’s disciples to have someone around like St. Paul who has really been blown away – filled with the Spirit – convicted and empowered from the inside out in ways that are visible and compelling so that we have some evidence and encouragement, right?

I know that’s true for me: sometimes I just need to hear some good Black gospel music. My soul needs it – my heart hungers for it – because it is so compelling.

• Now I love me some Gregorian chant – I’m one of the 7% of Americans who still listen to and enjoy classical organ music, too – and I regularly sing the good old hymns of our tradition to myself in prayer.

• But sometimes I need some of that sweet soul music of gospel that just grabs me by the heart and dances with me until I feel the blessings.

And that’s what Paul’s words in today’s letter from Ephesians are all about: they are the sweet, soul music of the New Testament pointing towards the blessings of God.

How blessed is God and what a blessing is the Lord as well! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) Because he wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Do you hear Paul’s gospel song in these words? Like the rock and roll band Dishwalla he’s telling us that from before the beginning of time, God has wanted us to live a life filled with celebration, integrity and peace – even in the shadows and our sneakers we have been called into the Jesus life – and the Lord has been using everything to lead us into this blessing: our pain, our problems, our loves, our work, our music, our fears, our shadows – everything – it is all calling us into the blessings of the Jesus life if we have ears to hear.

You see, Paul wants us to know what he has encountered about God – not in any abstract way – and not in remote theological language. That’s why in this wild 201 word sentence he gives us seven words to better grasp the heart of our Living God – and these seven words are not accidental. Not on your life: there are seven, of course, to evoke the Hebrew sense of perfection and Sabbath, right? In six days the Lord created heaven and earth and on the seventh… God rested and called everything good!

Well, it is from within the perfection of God that Paul shares these seven insights so that we might both trust God and do our part to grow up in our faith. What he wants for us is a way to grasp the magnitude of God’s grace – a way to stretch our hearts and minds into the vastness of God’s love – a path into the essence of God’s love. So using the wisdom of Eugene Peterson’s book, Practice Resurrection, let me share Paul’s words with you and then we’ll see if there are any questions.

• First the way of God and the essence of the Lord is BLESSED Paul tells us meaning that God is always reaching out to us no matter what our circumstances to bring us integrity, hope and peace – God is blessed. It is important that he starts with blessed – not judgmental, not punitive, not conditional – but first God is blessed.

• Second God has CHOSEN us you and me and all people – so that no one will be ignored or pushed to the sidelines. Everyone, like Jesus at his baptism, shall be called “the beloved of the Lord.” What’s more, to be chosen and embraced by God means that there is intimacy with God, too.

• Third, Paul wants us to know that our lives are CONNECTED to God’s in a way that isn’t random: they are destined to be a part of God’s grace – and we can neither comprehend nor control this destiny – because we aren’t God. This makes a lot of people crazy – we must simply receive God’s grace rather than try to earn it – but that’s just how it is.

• Fourth, God BESTOWS upon us this grace – it is a gift – a delight – not a passive happening but an active and conscious treasure intentionally shared.

• Fifth, this grace is LAVISHED on us – nothing cheap or stingy here – and Paul loves to us the word lavish in all its excess to speak of God’s grace. It reminds me of the prophet who speaks of coming to the banquet table of the Lord in Isaiah 55 as: Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and all without money, come, buy and eat. Come and be filled with wine and milk beyond measure as you feast and delight upon the fatness – the bounty – of the Lord.

• Sixth there is the expression God has MADE KNOWN – there are no secrets here – no mystery religions – and clearly no membership in a clandestine club – because grace is about bringing coherence to our lives rather than fragmentation or the alienation of fear and sin.

• And seventh God’s grace GATHERS US UP – connects us to Christ who is the head of the body – so that we live and move and have our being in the Jesus life – not random acts or even stumbling in the darkness. In Christ there is… light.

Seven words that both describe the love of God in action and the way of the Jesus life for you and me – blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed, lavished, made known and gathered up – so tell me what you get from these words and insights?

• What do you learn about God and God’s calling from these words?

• What do they suggest for how we live together in covenant?

One of the good things that religion is supposed to accomplish is the creation of a common vocabulary is that it connects us again – or gives us a way to consider again – that which is truly important in life. St. Paul – like the prophet Micah and Jesus – is very clear that without a higher calling the culture around us or our own wounds will begin to define the world we live in.

If it is the culture, then we will become like the culture: too busy, obsessed and addicted to consumption and violence, shallow and often mean-spirited even when we know better. And if it is ourselves that becomes the ultimate measure of life’s meaning… well, let’s just say there is a reason our Roman friends make certain that even the Pope has a confessor, ok?

To reconnect us with God rather than just the culture or our wounded selves, the prophet Micah was inspired to say that the road back to God’s grace is always paved with right relations between people, a commitment to compassion and the practice of humility before the Lord.

Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggeman put it like this:

God's response to our questions is simplicity itself, calling Israel back to covenantal faithfulness in three concise statements: "Do justice: (that is)be actively engaged in the redistribution of power in the world to correct the systemic inequalities that marginalize some for the excessive enhancement of others. Love covenant loyalty – which is much more than mere 'kindness' – for the word hesed means to reorder life into a community of enduring relations of fidelity. And then walk humbly with God by abandoning all self-sufficiency, to acknowledge in daily attitude and act that life is indeed derived from the reality of God" (Brueggeman et al, Texts for Preaching Year A).

Jesus just amplifies the prophet’s inspired wisdom when he says: You are closest to God – or blessed - when you're at the end of your rope because with less of you there is more of God and God’s rule. (Matthew 5: 3)

Paul wants us to know that we have been called by God to become our best selves – to live in a way that is holy and healing for ourselves and the world – and this takes practice and trust. We can’t do it all by ourselves. We not only need helpers and teachers, we also need friends to help keep us accountable and maturing in the practice of resurrection.

That is why God gave birth to the church – to help us practice and mature – ok? And here's the thing: unless the Church helps us become compassionate and connected and more interested in the common good and right relations between God's people... it AIN'T the church! It may be a club - or a cult - or a burial society, but it AIN'T the church of Jesus Christ.

So, on the occasion of our 248th annual meting, a history that is older than our nation, we have to ask ourselves:

+ Does our faith - and our church - make us more likely to forgive and to reconcile, to be patient and self-sacrificing, to put our own house in order before trying to rearrange the rest of the world's furniture? Are we agents of God's incredible grace and blessings.

+ Or are we stingy, fear-filled accountants who want to measure out love and compassion according to our atrophied sacred imaginations? Or worse yet, according to our self-centered sense of right and wrong that excuses the log in our own eyes while razing hell about the speck in the eye of a sister or brother?

I'm serious: unless our church is about maturing in Christ and practicing resurrection, we don't need to exist. Paul has encouraged us to live into a calling by telling us all HIS thoughts on God - and they are beautiful and grace filled. Let US accept nothing less. For this is the good news for those who have ears to hear.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Peace, love and understanding on a frigid evening...

Tonight - when it is -11F with a windchill of -25F - 12 hearty Berkshire souls came our for the winter semester of our Monday night study. Incredible! We are reading a volume Susan Thistlethwaite edited back in 1986 called: A Just Peace Church. And it couldn't be more timely. The original context was the Nuclear Freeze Campaign to end the arms race between the US and the USSR. During the 90s, however, the Just Peace conversation went into semi-hybernation. But given the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - and the rise of international terrorism and religious fundamentalism - the notion of reclaiming the humble mantle of justice and peace as a core Christian identity seems essential.

We know, of course, that our small congregation will not change international relations. We are equally clear that remaining silent is not an option either in times like these. So we began a conversation about how God may be calling us to take another step towards reconciliation in the world while also working on our own inner sense of peace and forgiveness, too. It is a both/and journey that does not separate the sacred from the secular nor the inward from the outward.

At the core of a Just Peace commitment is living into the sacred commitment best articulated by the ancient prophet of Israel who puts it like this in Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require but to do justice, love compassion and walk humbly with your God. Once, while wandering through the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, we came upon a small monument to Gandhi with these words on the sculpture's base:

If there is Light in the soul,
There is beauty in the person.
If there is Beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the home.
If there is Harmony inthe home,
There will be order in the nation.
If there is Order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.

Couldn't help but think of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Practicing resurrection - part five

We talked about growing up in faith today - and giving up any adolescent sense of the nature of the church, too - which always a lot of fun. The heart of the message had to do with "no more prolonged infancies among us, please" as Peterson puts Ephesians 4: 14 so that we might live "a life worthy of the calling God has shared with us." Next week, on the occasion of our annual meeting, we'll talk about God's calling - and how we embrace it - but that is for next week. Today, it was enough to think about how we're to grow up into adult people of faith and leave all the baby Christian stuff behind.

Two important clues have to do with living into my job as pastor and trusting Christ's subversive presence within and among us. Wendell Berry has collected his Sabbath poems from over a 20 year period in a lovely volume entitled: A Timbered Choir. Every Sunday he walks around his small Kentucky farm - and it's woodland - and writes a poem. Peterson has noted that as Berry embraces the land he has been called to - "respects it, cares for it, submits himself to it just as an artist submits to her materials" he - Eugene Peterson - inserts the word "parish" wherever Berry speaks of land or farm. In this, he helps articulate a clear sense of how a pastor can help her/his congregation grow up in faith.

The pastor's question is, "Who are these particular people and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?" My job is simply to be there, teaching, preaching Scripture as well as I can and being honest with them - not doing anything to interfere with what the Spirit is shaping in them... Am I willing to be quiet for a day, a week, a year? Like Wendell Berry, am I willing to spend fifty years reclaiming this land - with these people?

The pastor's work with the people, it seems, is to find ways of sharing what God is already doing - or notice where God is already leading - and help folk glimpse something of this reality, too. There is nothing heavy-handed or shame-based about it even though lots of pastors never grasp this truth. Rather this patient work for being church is all about living in God's time, not ours or any other sense of time.

And what I've discovered in three and a half years is that God is calling us to be a very intentional SMALL faith community. We were once the mega-church back before mega-churches existed. We set the tone for the culture, we gathered all the powerful and wealthy elite. And finances flowed NOT because everyone did their fair share, but because when a problem came up the bankers would meet at the country club and write a check to cover the hole. Now, we are neither wealthy nor powerful and there aren't any bankers or millionaires left to bail us out. So now we have to get to know one another more tenderly - pray and listen to one another in new ways, too - and trust that together we can hear God's still gentle calling.

I've discovered that we have to do it with joy, too. Gratitude not obligation is our working slogan - celebration in all things is essential - and honestly sharing our real lives in community. Compassion is another key for us in this discovery of what is making of us - compassion and lots and lots of patience. This is how I think we are coming to embrace Peterson's commitment to being subversive like Jesus. He writes:

Jesus' favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive. Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels only one has its setting in a church and only a couple mention the name of God... So people relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, these stories lodged in their imaginations. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts... Jesus WAS talking about God after all - and they had been invaded. Jesus continually threw odd stories down alongside ordinary lives (para - alongside - bole - thrown) and then walked away without explanation or altar call.

It would seem that just like Jesus, then, a pastor needs to share the stories and songs - new and old - and then get out of the way as God and our hearts take over. Little by little, I think that is what I have seen God saying to us. We don't always get it perfectly, to be sure, and certainly not all at once. This sense of being a joyful, intentional community of faith is very uneven work.
But after worship we had a "budget hearing" for our mission and ministry work for 2011 - and it was a very adult and loving gathering. We are still wrestling with financial concerns and will likely spend more than we take in; but that truth was held in relationship to both the growth and renewal that God is working within and among us, too.

As one wise teacher said, "When I was moderator of this church (about a hundred years ago) I was told that we were going to go under if we didn't change our ways.
Apparently that is something that has always been said - and now look at us -growing and engaged in God's mission in a whole new way." No altar calls, no ponderous explanations: just a lot of teaching and prayer and trust that God is at work.

It ALL has to do with growing up in faith, yes? And when it was all done, a young man told me he had narrowed down the seminaries he wanted to apply for and wondered if I would write a reference? Man, after a day like this I KNOW it is all worth it...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Practicing resurrection - part four

According to Wikipedia "synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance. The concept of synchronicity was first described by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in the 1920s.

The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be grouped by cause, they may also be grouped by their meaning. Since meaning is a complex mental construction, subject to conscious and subconscious influence, not every correlation in the grouping of events by meaning needs to have an explanation in terms of cause and effect."

In 1983, the Police issued their fifth album - Synchronicity - the same year that Arthur Koestler and his wife took their own lives before succumbing to the effects of leukemia. Sting had been reading Koestler's The Roots of Coincidence and was turned on to Carl Jung's ideas and insights and found himself drawn into an every more sophisticated blending of poetry with pop and world music influences.

I've been thinking of both the idea and the album of late as I've been riffing on the notion of "practicing resurrection." In St. Paul's words (or more likely one writing in the apostle's name and style) Ephesians 4 urges us to "grow up and mature into adults not tossed about like children." Clearly, Paul himself was of this mind when he spoke of "putting childish things behind" in I Corinthians 13. And also in Romans 12 where we are called into live as "a living sacrifice... by the renewal of our minds."

And so it fascinates me when I start to notice similar themes from other writers and artists working the same vein but in very different contexts. Yesterday, for example, Fr. Richard Rohr posted this in his series on being an adult person of faith.

Adult spirituality begins when you start learning to live with ambiguity, rather than insisting on absolute certitude every step of the way. Why do you think we call it “faith”? Up to that point it’s just juridical law, black-and-white thinking, but not the restorative justice exemplified by Jesus. You can perfectly obey the law with no need for any real “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10), or any need for subtlety, love, forgiveness, or patience. You don’t even need to pray for guidance and growth, because you have all your answers already in place.

Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ said that the mind’s deepest need is not for answers but for communion. I call this “living inside the unified field,” when you can live in union with God, with yourself, and in union with what is. Then you don’t need to perfectly understand everything, and surely not right now! You can live with more mystery, more insolvability, and surely much more peace. The dualistic mind, which is “all-or-nothing thinking,” is inherently and always un-peaceful and thrives on contention.

And then there was his posting from this morning:

St. Thomas Aquinas said in the thirteenth century: “If it is true, then it is from the Holy Spirit.” The important question is not who said it or where it was written, but “Is it true?” If there is indeed one God of all the earth, then it is this one God who is breaking through in every age and culture, and monotheists should be the first to recognize this one truth (Ephesians 4:4-6) and that God is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). As Rumi said, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

+ Many writers in the early Christian era called the radical shift away from the judging and separate self “contemplation.”

+ Buddhists called it meditation, sitting, or practicing.

+ Hesychastic Orthodoxy called it prayer of the heart.

+ Sufi Islam called it ecstasy or delight in God.

+ Hasidic Judaism called it “living from the divine spark within.”

+ Vedantic Hinduism (the earliest) spoke of it as non-dual knowing or simply breathing.

+ Native religions found it in communion with nature itself and the Great Spirit through dance, ritual, and sexuality, and often enjoyed “original participation,” as Owen Barfield called it.

Presence is experienced in a fully participative way, outside and larger than anything the mind can do by itself.

Eugene Peterson puts it like this: Christian spirituality means living in the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life - children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relations - and experiencing them all as an act of faith. No wonder I keep thinking that the Police have yet another song made for a church curious about an adult faith...


1) Annette Banks @

A little laughter and truth for a Saturday morning...

Just received this from a friend in Tucson - used to be the drummer in our church band - and as the Scots say: this is f***kin' BRILLIANT. Have fun... I'm still rolling to his take on brother Tom Petty.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Practicing Resurrection - part three

The wisdom of Eugene Peterson's to pastors - your work is to be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic - has been on my mind of late as another week of ministry comes to a close and I settle into my Sabbath. In some ways, this past week has been full to overflowing - blizzards and ice storms, a variety of complicated pastoral encounters involving pain, loss, betrayal and death - but also quite ordinary, too. And here is where the old master's advice is golden:

+ A pastor is to remain unbusy. Easier said than done, to be sure, but as one old salt told me, "Look, you already have all the time there is... so how are you going to enter it? That is something only you can decide!" What she was telling me is exactly what Peterson preaches to young - and not so young - pastors: treat you appointment book (ok, I am dating myself and should add smart phone and/or blackberry) as a sacred prayer book. Do NOT over schedule yourself. Do NOT let guilt or sloth guide your decisions. Do NOT let someone else's stupidity or addictions run your life. And do NOT forget to always leave space in every day for surprises, prayer and reflection.

Yesterday, for example, could have been a disaster because I almost overbooked myself and did not leave time for surprises: The morning began with tea with a beloved colleague, a quick trip to the medical lab for blood work for my physical and then an hour of quiet reflection. By 10:30 am I was interacting with my staff about our up-coming annual meeting, then visiting and praying with a person about some very serious changes in their health that could be devastating before receiving the news that one of our captain's of industry needed to place a cherished spouse into nursing home care because of dementia.

An old and sweet friend and I shared a Facebook conversation about his anguish over the cruel political charade of the Republicans over health care and then it was back to sorting out a few other administrative details for the annual meeting. There were a variety of emails to schedule future appointments, phone calls from clergy in the area about how best to handle the wounds of a colleague and a later afternoon pastoral visit to a dear man just a week after we buried his darling wife. As the sun set (and that happens about 4 o'clock in these parts) I still needed to prayerfully talk through some thorny problems with a few regional clergy re: counseling and renewal.

Twice in the flow of all of these events I thought, "Thank God I built some time into the start of this day for quiet and reflection or else I wouldn't know which end was up." Now, let's be honest, pastoral work is NOT heavy lifting of the ordinary variety and I am very, very grateful for my calling. I wouldn't last two days moving furniture or working on a factory floor.

Nevertheless, it is clear that without taking hold of my time - and daily calendar - it would be very easy to feel crazy and overwhelmed. and reactive. Most days are not nearly so full or jumbled - and that is mostly by design - but they are always an "emotional roller coaster" as my old mentor, Ray Swartzback, used to say. And only by working at staying unbusy can I be present to the challenges.

+ A pastor must always be subversive, too. Not in the political sense of the word, but rather like Jesus teaching through parables. Or Rumi spinning out spiritual insight through sensuality and self-deprecating humor. Peterson puts it like this: “I am undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am being subversive.” That is, I am going beyond the obvious, tenderly inviting the grace of God to take root in our often distracted and addicted souls, inviting and luring others into this journey, too often without their knowledge.

The point is patience in our subversive work - and trust. Like water upon a stone, the subversive grace of God changes hearts and minds - and in this, society too - in ways that traditional social activists or entrepreneurs cannot grasp. They want results NOW - they are practical - utilitarian - often ranting about the "bottom line." But not so with the subversive pastor who trusts that small and often invisible acts of love are longer lasting than most public and political demonstrations (not that they don't have their place.) What's more, the subversive pastor understands that she/he need not do everything: God has given gifts to everyone. The challenge is to encourage and strengthen individuals to share their gifts for the common good. This, too, is rarely appreciated marking the subversive nature of ministry as foolishness to the wise and a scandal to the bottom liners.

+ And then there is a commitment to living in an apocalyptic way. Dr. King and Barrack Obama speak of the "fierce urgency of now." God is present - God is calling - are we going to respond as God's people? Or are we going to distract and addict ourselves to other gods - idols - that look important, but do not bear the fruits of repentance? Peterson writes:

People are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the (traditional) pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God

So (often) pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in the godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.

A sense of apocalypse (urgency) blows the whistle on such messianic pastoring. The vastness of the heavenly invasion, the urgency of the faith decision, the danger of the impinging culture—with these pouring into our consciousness accompanied by thunder and lightning, we cannot stand around on the street corners of Sunday morning filling the time with pretentious small talk on how bad the world is and how wonderful this new stewardship campaign is going to be. If we have even an inkling of apocalypse, it will be impossible to act like the jaunty foreman of a home-improvement work crew that is going to re-landscape moral (or immoral) garden spots. We must pray. The world has been invaded by God and it is with God we have to do.

We are NOT called to waste God's time. We are NOT called to distract our congregations with meaningless busy work that sounds holy but is all empty calories. No, we are called into the fierce urgency of now with tenderness and patience - trusting all the while that God is in charge and we are not.

Maybe that is one of the reasons I am loving winter this year in the Berkshires: we have had a ton of snow - another 4 inches last night - making about 25 inches on the ground already. More is headed our way on Tuesday. Snow slows us all down. It takes me 45 minutes to get our drive way cleared. We've had a few snow days, too where all that you could do was sip hot tea and wait. I cleared the drive way after Sabbath breakfast and let the week's events rumble around my head for a bit - then I gave thanks to God for them all - and left them in the Lord's care.

Today is Sabbath - time for rest and refreshment and dinner with the kids down in Great Barrington this evening - it is time for practicing resurrection.

credits: thanks to Dianne De Mott for the great pix of various places around our house or from some of the extended walks into the woods.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Praticing resurrection - part two...

As yet more snow covers the Berkshires - we already have 18+ inches - my soul calls me to something the gentle prophet and poet, Wendell Berry, wrote in 1973: "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front." I wish I had known it 36 years ago, but better late than never - and it deserves a full sharing.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

The last line, of course, has inspired both Eugene Peterson and Nora Gallagher -Practice Resurrection: a conversation in growing up in Christ, and, Practicing Resurrection: a memoir of work, doubt, discernment and moments of grace - respectively. Both are among my favorites, albeit in very different ways. The heart of both their insights, however, has to do with practicing living into the way of Christ both consciously and in community - not an easy commitment in the feel-good churches of the United States in the 21st century. Today's devotions have turned up a few clues that also deserve sharing. The first, from Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, writes:

Ken Wilber says that he believes the function of religion is to grease the wheels of history so that we can move toward non-dual consciousness, or what I would call the contemplative mind. Quite simply, we are supposed to move toward love. Mature religion’s function is to make us capable of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, and care for others. When religion is not creating people who can reconcile things, heal things, and absorb contradictions—then religion isn’t doing its job.

When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection. Instead, it became “winners take all” and losers lose all. Despite all our universities and churches in Western Christianity, we learned to choose one side over the other and if possible, exclude, punish, or even kill the other side. That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people. Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won. That is ego at work and surely not soul.

And Eugene Peterson writes:

There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness... (That seems to be why) dissatisfaction - coupled with a longing for peace and truth - are the only way we set off on the pilgrim path of wholeness in God... As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he or she acquires an appetite for the world of grace.

Both of these wise old souls resonate with what I have discerned, too. And both go on to say that none of us can move deeper only by ourselves - we need community. I know many who are dissatisfied, but they still insist on exploring their anguish in solitude - or with just a therapist - and not community. There is a place, God knows, for both therapy and solitude but God's way also includes community - and most of us don't grow up without becoming part of a community. Dare I say that without community, we remain perpetual adolescents? That seems to be often the case...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Practicing Resurrection...

NOTE: After getting Eugene Peterson's new book, I sensed it wise to use it in an in-worship Bible study series throughout the Sundays lead up to Lent. So, here goes with round number one. I am grateful to Peterson - and Peter Santucci - for their study guide. If you are in town on Sunday, January 23, 2011, please join us at 10:30 am.

Shortly before Christmas I bought myself a copy of Eugene Peterson’s latest book: Practice Resurrection. As some of you know, I am a real Peterson fan and his latest title caused me to revisit the books that have had the greatest impact on my almost 30 years of ministry.

• When I first read his book to pastors, Working the Angles, I was blown away with the clear, practical and spiritual advice he offered me concerning the importance of Sabbath keeping, serious reading, prayer and walking in nature with my wife for the well-being of my inner life.

• The encouragement I found in The Contemplative Pastor – where he insists that the work of pastoral ministry must always be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic in our gentle pursuit of shepherding ordinary people through the traps of the mundane – was a gold mine.

• And I still find myself drawn to the clarity of God’s grace present in his reworking of the Bible – especially the Psalms and the letters of Paul – in what has come to be known as The Message.

No question about it, I am a Peterson fan. So, I was curious about what else Brother Eugene might have to say to me in his new opus; besides, I found the title intriguing: Practice Resurrection. What does that even mean?

Well, he tells us very clearly in the book’s introduction through the story of an unnamed friend who came to faith at about the age of 40. The way Peterson tells it, this woman had her roots in a “harsh fundamentalist atmosphere in abusive circumstances… as she grew up in Arkansas poverty.” When she escaped her family to California, it wasn’t long before she found herself alone and pregnant and 18 years old – but she loved this because she felt alive and free and connected to everything ecstatic in life. And then, a few weeks after the joy of her baby’s birth, life crashed in on her with a vengeance:

She started drinking and became an alcoholic. She moved onto cocaine and became an addict – and it wasn’t long before she was a prostitute… where she remained on the streets of San Francisco for another 20 years… And then one day she wandered into a church. The church was empty and she became a Christian. She didn’t know exactly how it happened, but she knew that it had happened.

Another pregnancy – another sense of life growing within her – spiritual life that thrilled and encouraged her; so, in time she started to worship regularly. And then Peterson brings it all home with these words: “But do you know what she found most difficult? American churches. Not that she wasn’t welcomed, she was… No the real problem was that these churches seemed to know everything about being born into Jesus’ name but seemed neither interested nor competent in matters of growing into a measure of the full stature of Christ.”

• They remained baby Christians – children of God rather than adults of God – with lots of doctrines and ideas and Bible studies but precious little insight and help into how to “grow up and mature into the way of Jesus Christ.”

• St. Paul puts it like this in today’s text:

(You were called into a way of living with) No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

And that is what it means to practice resurrection – it is to grow up and mature in the way of Jesus in this life – listen carefully:

The practice of resurrection is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in resurrection life, life out of death, life that trumps death, life that is the last word, Jesus life… Practicing resurrection, by its very nature, is not something any of us are very good at… (Mostly because) it is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life within the country of death that is all around us. It is an open invitation to live eternity in real time. (Peterson, pp. 14-15)

So is that first insight clear: that this in-worship Bible study – and the point of Paul’s writing to the church in Ephesus – is about growing up and maturing in the way of Jesus in our real and very ordinary lives? This is NOT so much about being born again – which has its place – and is something we need to talk about. Rather this is about living into the resurrection right now while surrounded and even obsessed with death. I love the way Peterson reworks Paul’s words from Romans 12:

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

The first insight has to do with Paul’s purpose – to help us mature and grow up from baby Christians into adult people of faith – and the second is this: God has created the church to be the place where this happens.

I know that sounds crazy – even problematic given what the church is really like – but that is how Paul sees it. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon creation and given birth to the church – the new body of Christ for our time – to be “a colony of heaven in the country of death” and a living witness to the kingdom of God. That’s what chapter four of Ephesians tells us, right?

I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with (unity in Christ Jesus.)

Our other readings speak to us of being called this morning, too, just like St. Paul. Isaiah tells us that the people who walked in darkness have been called into a great light. Specifically he is addressing what will happen to the two broken and captured tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, who had been overrun by Syria but now anticipated the Lord’s liberation and healing.

And in that very same region, the broken down places of fear and death called Zebulun and Naphtali, Matthew tells us that: Jesus “moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills… to complete Isaiah's sermon” with his words: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."

For walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work but Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to (lure) men and women (into the kingdom of God) instead of (just capturing) perch and bass." And they didn't ask questions, but dropped their nets and followed.

It would seem that we can’t grow up and mature as people of faith in the way of Jesus all by ourselves. We need others – we need accountability and encouragement – we need a place to practice resurrection and receive both instruction and correction. And this ought to tell us something crucial about the church that many people get wrong: while we are, to use the poetry of Taize, a parable of hope in the world, the church is always the broken and crucified body of Christ in the world. “We are not a utopian community. We are not God’s avenging angels.” (Peterson, p. 14) We are a collection of wounded souls hungry for grace.

A lot of people – perhaps most – have a hard time remembering this truth and grow disillusioned with the church – of every stripe and variety from Roman Catholic and Protestant to Orthodox and Anglican because the church is so human, so shabby and so utterly incomplete.

• Throughout time – and now is no different than then – baby Christians choose to believe that the church: “is a disciplined company of men and women charged to get rid of corruption in government, to clean up the world’s morals, to convince people to live chastely and honestly, to teach them to treat the forests, rivers and air with reverence; and children, the elderly, the poor and the hungry with dignity and compassion.”

• But it hasn’t happened, right? “We’ve been at this for more than two thousand years and we have just been through the bloodiest and most violent century in recent history – and the present century is hard at its heels on being hell-bent at surpassing it. Clearly, we are not making much headway in eliminating what is wrong in the world and making everything right: so what is left?”

Paul’s third insight has to do with how we comprehend – and practice – being the church in the world. It is NOT ideal. It is often wrong – and cold.

• In chapter two of the book of Revelation there is a list of seven of the early churches – Ephesus included – and we’re told something about the soul of each congregation. Do you know what it says about the church in Ephesus? The church Paul founded and gave three years of his life to shepherd and bless?

What does it say in Revelation 2: 2-5? They have become loveless – people who don’t practice grace and kindness and compassion – a church that knows the rules but has forgotten all about forgiveness.

So let’s be clear: perfection, social justice or even spiritual wisdom is not why we’re asked to look at the church in Ephesus. Rather it has to do with calling – specifically, to use Paul’s letter, “the invitation to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” There are three foundational insights here that are inter-related happening here:

First, scholars tell us that the word worthy – axios in Greek – has to do with a scale – a balancing scale. On one side is a standard weight, on the other an unknown ingredient with the goal of the scale being equilibrium. Paul is telling us that life will be in balance – holy and sacred – only when our actions – our walking and talking and breathing ordinary lives – are held in balance with God’s calling.

Second, this suggests that we won’t know how to live in balance without first knowing about God’s calling: if we are the only measure of things, life will be out of balance – filled with chaos – Koyaanisqatsi as the Hopi Indians put it about life in the fast lane where there is no time for love and forgiveness and beauty. God’s calling essential.

So first balance, second calling and third our ordinary lives – “lived congruently with the way of the Lord” so that we are worthy and mature and healthy and whole – this is what Paul begs us to grasp. Begs – pleads – aches and yearns for us. So that our ordinary – mundane – regular lives are connected with God’s grace from the inside out. It would seem, my friends, that St. Paul is telling us that we can only learn something of God and God’s calling – to say nothing of walking in God’s balanced way – from within the church. The church is where we will come to learn of God’s blessing and calling in a mature way – and I’ll be exploring God’s blessings with you next week – so I hope you come back.

• But understand that this notion of the church is humbling. It is also, to use Peterson’s words, just as miraculous, scandalous, surprising and overlooked in our day as was Mary’s conception of Jesus in her own.

• For just as Jesus was first born among the forgotten and marginalized, so God continues to choose those beyond the elite and talented to form our congregations in the shape of Jesus.

No wonder Paul told us that the good news for today was found in these words:

No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God and robust in love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monk and Hancock...

Most of this MLK day was spent listening to Monk and Hancock as part of my jazz crash course - and it has bee sweet. I've learned a lot - what grabs me first and most deeply, what I can hear if I pay attention as well as what I don't like. That's an important part of peace-making work, it seems to me, knowing what doesn't ring true aesthetically, emotionally, politically or spiritually. It doesn't make the other wrong, it just doesn't touch or move you, right?

+ I don't like hard bop - I get it intellectually and celebrate the passion, freedom and creativity it expresses - it just doesn't speak to my soul. Same is true with Mahler - or smooth jazz - or most trash rock: they speak to somebody, it just isn't me. Give me the Miles Davis of the 50s and mid 60s rather than a wildass Coltrane. Or maybe just Monk's, "Straight, No Chaser."

+ Same is true with some forms of religious expression or political ideology: I love high church Anglican worship, my wife doesn't. In retirement I could be at peace with a "smells and bells" Eucharist every morning; at the same time, the almost identical liturgy in a Roman Catholic setting leaves me frustrated and empty. The exclusively masculo-centric language of the Roman liturgy is part of the problem for me, but it is also political and a matter of liturgical aesthetics and ecclesiology. The Book of Common Prayer speaks to me - I use it in my private devotions - and I believe that women should be ordained. (Makes me think of the old Mark Twain zinger about "infant baptism." When the old man was asked, "Do you believe in infant baptism?" he quickly quipped, "Believe in it? Hell, man, I've SEEN it!" So, do I believe in women priests? Well, you get it...)

I am not saying that objective evil isn't real - or that morality is all a matter of relativity - that would be simplistic and naive. Believe in evil... I've seen Nazis and race-hatred and rape and war. It is real.

But I am saying that when it comes to music and politics and art and love it makes so much more sense to me to give one another a whole LOT of space and save our judgment for matters of life and death. This morning Fr. Richard Rohr wrote about judgment saying: too often most of our harsh judgments are not only half-baked, but they are destructive because so often they don't really matter. I love certain types of jazz guitar - and am bored senseless by other styles - I love the cool improvisation of Hancock and Miles and hot jamming of Dizzy not so much. Some cats don't consider the Chicago school of blues "real jazz" while others do (myself included.) Some can't handle any ballads written after 1950, while others like Herbie Hancock are still mining the world of music for what is best.

How did the later rock and roll theologian, Peter Green, put it? Oh well...

My friend from Thunder Bay, Ontario - Peter - has a quote on his blog from the poet Chris Abani - that gets this just about right: “What I've come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion. In South Africa they have a phrase called ubuntu. Ubuntu comes out of a philosophy that says, the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.”

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:...