Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy new year...

Happy New Year
This has been a full and blessed year - heart-break and joy were mixed with hard work and wonderful rest - and as it comes to a close I am grateful for the whole of it. I look forward to a new year that is at LEAST as full and rich - and pray that our paths may cross sometime soon, too because that would make everything even better. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Becoming the body of christ...

It was still storming when we left for worship this morning - we got about another 5" last night - and it looked intense when we pulled out of our driveway.  But about 65 hearty New England souls showed up for the celebration - and it was a blessed and sacred time.  A few thoughts cross my mind before my Sunday afternoon nap...

+ First, my emphasis today was on what do we learn when the whole family worships together on a regular basis?  It was a good conversation, but incomplete as became clear because sometimes not everyone in a family can be part of worship on a regular basis. Sometimes work schedules make it impossible; so, too with blended families and the complicated nature of visitation schedules. There are also some families with profoundly different spiritualities and theologies that make regular participation in shared worship complicated.  I want to honor these realities - and pray that families will take the time to honestly sort all of these things out and share their decisions with their children in age appropriate ways - because honoring our differences is important.

+ Second, I also want to be clear that sometimes the self-centered nature of our culture needs to be challenged.  On behalf of the common good - and the spiritual formation of children - there are also times when partners need to practice a little generosity of spirit and make the effort to be present in worship.  Children learn by what they see the adults in their lives doing so showing up matters.  An old salt told me a story from the life of Marva Dawn who was once told by a man after church, "You know, I just didn't get anything out of worship today." To which the educator replied, "Well you know we didn't come to worship you, right?"  Hmmm.... a little theologically snarky, yes but also to the point. 

IF - and this is a big if that warrants serious family conversation - if the spiritual formation of a child is important, than there are times when we adults have to "suck it up" and show up.  That doesn't mean theology can't be argued, nor that people must stoically endure life draining liturgies and sermons.  Not at all - just know that your participation (or lack thereof) communicates a great deal about what is important to your children - and should be part of the equation, too.

+ And third, people shared some great insights today about why it matters to be a part of an inter-generational community of faith.  "We learn about God's presence in our life no matter what our circumstance," said one young woman.  "We get to see how our small family is a part of a larger community born of God's love," said another.  "Children show me how to get over myself and my worries," said yet another.  And there was almost unanimity about how the generations - young, old and middle aged -can learn from one another if we are committed to showing up.  Proximity matters...

... so when we all gathered in the Chancel around the table to serve one another Eucharist, there was just one body this morning.  We were still filled with all our differences and clearly different ages, sizes and races, but we were much more one than before we started.  As the invitation says:  This is the joyful feast of the whole people of God. Men and women, children and youth, come from the East and the West, from the North and the South and gather about the table of the Lord.   

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rest in peace dear ones: 2012 in rock and roll...

Our friends at the College of Rock and Roll Knowledge just posted a list of those artists we lost in 2012 - women and men who brought some joy and verve to the world - and added to the rock and roll cannon.  It is a pretty staggering list and I've annotated it a bit by way of gratitude.

Larry Reinhardt 1-2-12 Iron Butterfly:  I saw these guys at the Fillmore East - and I'm not ashamed to say we used to play "Inagaddadavida" for a time back in high school - for what can a poor boy do but to play in a rock and roll band, ya?
Etta James 1-2-12:  one of the best and the brightest from "At Last" to "Tell Momma!"
Bob Weston 1-3-12 Fleetwood Mac
Tom Ardolino 1-6-12 NRQB:  totally hot and crazy rock'a'billy boogie band
Johnny Otis 1-17-12:  a leader in the jump bands and great influence on early rock and roll who discovered Etta James, produced (and played drums) on "Hound Dog" with Big Momma Thorton and brought "Willie and the Hand Jive" into popular consciousness.
Mark Reale 1-25-12 Riot
Don Cornelius 2-1-12 Soul Train:  brought more soul music to the world than anyone else and made sure white kids saw the newest dances by the hottest black dancers!
Whitney Houston 2-11-12:  a mighty and soul-filled voice brought low by her own demons way too early
Michael Davis 2-17-12 MC5:  kick-out the jams MFs!!!
Davy Jones 2-29-12: a total Beatles' rip off but still tons of bubble gum fun
Ronnie Montrose 3-3-12
Michael Hossack 3-12-12 Doobie Brothers
Earl Scruggs 3-28-12:  the hippest banjo player in creation!
Adam Yauch 4-4-12 Beastie Boys:  my Cleveland youth group turned me on to these guys and the world hasn't been the same since
Jim Marshall 4-5-12 Marshall Amplifiers
Dick Clark 4-18-12:  started watching the man BEFORE the Twist was poopular and never quit
Greg Ham 4-19-12 Men At Work
Levon Helm 4-19-12: I reviewed the first Band album for my high school newspaper and have loved them since 1968; saw them with the Allmans and the Dead at Watkins Glen.

Donald "Duck" Dunn 5-13-12:  THE most soulful bass player who graced so many songs starting with Booker T through the Stax-Volt groove.  A real gift to the world.
Donna Summer 5-17-12:  too damn much fun and a powerful voice for women and those who need to shake their booties!
Robert Nix 5-20-12 Atlanta Rythm Section: loved their groove
Robin Gibb 5-20-12:  I mostly loved to hate the BeeGees but I couldn't stay in my seat whenever their disco stuff came up... and we sang some of their faux Beatles' stuff back in high school, too.
Doc Watson 5-29-12:  the finest flat-picker on an acoustic guitar I've ever heard
Bob Welch 6-7-12:  didn't like him in Fleeetwood Mac and HATED "Sentimental Lady"
Jon Lord 7-16-12
Kitty Wells 7-16-12:  country music great
Bob Babbit 7-16-12 Motown session legend
Marvin Hamlisch 8-6-12:  who could forget reintroducing America to Scott Joplin?
Hal David 9-1-12:  the great lyricist with Bacharach
Mark Abrahamian 9-2-12 Starship
Joe South 9-5-12:  a HOT Southern guitar player with a wicked sense of humor
Scott McKenzie 9-24-12:
  I still sing "If You're Going to San Francisco..."

Andy Williams 9-25-12: never my cup of tea but still loved "Moon River"
Big Sullivan 10-2-12 UK session legend
Steve Paul 10-21-12 The Scene NYC
Michael Dunford 11-20-12 Renaissance:  saw them at the Fillmore East, too
Dave Brubeck 12-5-12:  the first jazz player to grace TIME magazine's cover and the man who kept it real for music and civil rights ALL of his beautiful life.

Ed Cassidy 12-6-12 Spirit: loved these guys from the first sound
Ravi Shankar 12-11-12:  Harrison made him popular and I spent lots of time loving his tunes
Lee Dorman 12-21-12 Iron Butterfly:  ibid
Mike Scaccia 12-23-12 Ministry
Ray Collins 12-24-12 Mothers of Invention:  oh man my life was changed by going to the Garrick Theatre in the Village during the summer of love and seeing the Mothers at the late show.  We even did their songs in CHURCH!
Fontella Bass 12-26-12:  she rocked my world with "Rescue Me" but blew me away years later she tore it up with Cinematic Orchestra - freakin' brilliant

Thanks for the blessings and great times:  rest in peace dear ones.

 ©The College of Rock and Roll Knowledge 2012.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Reflections on the holy family...

NOTE: Here are my worship notes for this coming Sunday, December 30th 2012 on the Holy Family.  And after a nice walk in the woods, I added some more inclusive words about ALL types of parents and families.

In some of the high church traditions of Christianity, this Sunday is known as the Feast of the Holy Family:  a quiet and gentle time offered to us for the consideration of family life from the perspective of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. 

·       I like that idea – a lot – so while I revere and treasure our Reformed wisdom, I also think something of value was lost when we discarded so much of the oral tradition back in the 1500s. 
·       Time and again I have come to realize that like theological adolescents who are dead certain of our own integrity and convinced beyond reason that everyone else is corrupt, we Prods threw a lot of the baby out with the bathwater back in the day – and we’re suffering for it now.

·       We lost mystery and so many of the practices of contemplation – we gave up using our bodies in prayer – and most of our senses in worship.  We lost touch with the wisdom of Mary and the list goes on and on…

So I would like to retrieve a little bit of the Feast of the Holy Family with you this morning because, you see, in the year that is to come – 2013 – we’re going to be spending a LOT of time reclaiming some of the forgotten, lost or even discarded practices of authentic Christianity.  Not only will they help us grow closer to God as both individuals and a congregation, but they will give us something important to share with those who aren’t here every week.

Throughout Advent, for example, remember that we vowed together to take one minute in every day – with our loved ones if possible – and rest quietly in the loving grace of the Lord?  That simple practice of taking one minute every day and setting it apart as holy is part of the ancient contemplative tradition.  It not only brings us inner refreshment, but also teaches us to wait in a culture that is already too self-absorbed and busy.

·       In the poetry of Isaiah – chapter 40: 31 – there is a beautiful verse that someone put to music.  It goes: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as the eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faith:  teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait.

·       Do you know that one?  When you sing it – and spiritual masters have known this for a long time – the music helps you remember it, right?  Would you try that with me?  And you have a copy of the music so don’t let that be an excuse – we handed them out at the start of worship – so take a listen to the tune and then give it a try…

Integrating music and the wisdom of Scripture – beauty and prayer – is one of the ancient but too often forgotten practices – or spiritual disciplines, if you will – that we’ll be playing with over the course of the new year.  And let me share with you why I have come to believe the time is right for us to do this: 

·       All throughout Advent – and into the season of Christmas feasting – I received a variety of emails and notes from you about how important taking that minute had become.  Some of you sent me poems you had written born of that silence.  Others told me that you had quietly encouraged your wider family members to join in the practice, too.
·       And I even found out that people well-beyond our walls were joining us in this simple, daily practice – they were gathered with us in silent thanksgiving in places all around the world – because they realized that they needed to slow down and be still.

·       How does the Psalm put it:  fret not… be still and know that I am God?

And if I’ve learned nothing in the past year, I have discovered just how important slowing down and letting the unforced rhythms of God’s grace nourish us are for our families – older folk, too – but especially our families.

So let me tease out a few insights for you from today’s Scripture about practices that healthy and holy families might learn to share with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, ok?  These are important for those without families, too – and those whose families have moved away – so it is ok for you to listen in, too.

First, there is the fact that the Holy Family regularly worshipped together.  It wasn’t just Jesus being sent off to Hebrew school – or Mary going to prayers – it was the whole family making pilgrimage to Jerusalem:   Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

·       Why do you think worshipping as a family is important?

·       If dad - or mom or one partner - doesn’t go, what does that teach our children?  If the parents just ship the kids off to Sunday School what does that communicate?

Children model the behavior, values and ethics they see reinforced everyday; it doesn’t work to tell them:  do as I say, not as I do.  If intimacy with God is really important for you – if you want your children to have values deeper than the market place – if you believe there is more to life than rugged individualism and grabbing all you can get for yourself:  you will make worshipping with your family a priority.

Second, you will also do this on a regular basis – not just on Christmas and Easter – but with enough regularity that your children will grasp how much you value worshipping together as a family.  The Scripture tells us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph went up to the temple as was usual for the festival.
·       Earlier in Luke’s gospel we read that Christ’s parents presented him to the priests in the Temple, had him circumcised as was their tradition and then regularly attended to honoring the feasts and fasts of Judaism.

·       Preacher Kate Matthews Huey puts it like this:  for Jesus and his family the Temple had become a home to them – a resting place of wisdom and renewal – a center for quiet prayer and deeper conversation about the things in life that really matter.  Is that true for us when it comes to this church?

How much do we see the church as our home? Is church a place where we can… "talk together about things that matter"? And are we paying enough attention to the young people in our midst who may have gifts and thoughts to share with us, and who need the church to recognize what their parents might miss in an everyday, close-up relationship? Are we helping our young people to discern God's gifts in them, and God's call to use them for the sake of the reign of God? Barbara Brown Taylor says that "Jesus grows sturdily from his religious roots, not in spite of them," and comes to understand himself as "Sophia's child – that is a child of spiritual wisdom – as well as Mary's, whose first awareness of his parentage comes to him in his Father's house." What sense of identity does the church give to our children? What roots do they have in the church?

What do you think about that?  What does that say to you about how we care for and nourish the spiritual lives of our own children and families?

And here’s another thought:  the church in our day, like the Temple in the days of the Hoy Family, is an inter-generational, inter-cultural place unlike most of the rest of the world.  Most of our children spend their days in schools – and lessons – surrounded by other children and young adults.  But in the Temple, Jesus encountered both Simeon and Anna – two ancient prophets filled with wisdom but close to death in their old age – who shared blessings and insights with the Holy Family in ways that helped them both and gave them hope.  Same is true here – if we take the time and nourish the relationships – and do it together intentionally, yes?

Let me cut to the chase:  I believe we live in a time when in spite of all the blessings of our free market and democracy, our souls have become sick – in some cases sick and tired – and in many cases sick and filled with fear and despair.  I also believe that neither the market place nor our politics or educational system have an antidote for this sickness.

But we do… if we take it to heart – as do some of our cousins in the other spiritual traditions.  Only the way of the Lord brings healing to the heart and hope to souls filled with fear.  St. Paul made it clear when he told his small congregation back in the 1st century that those who follow the way of Jesus are to live:

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, (people who know how to) clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body… be thankful and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Our world – our era – needs women and men and children – families and congregations of all shapes and varieties – gay and straight, blended and traditional - who know how to live as a holy and beloved alternative to the status quo:  you see, we have been called by God not only to bring comfort and joy to the walking wounded, but also to offer them another way – a better way – the way of Christ’s peace.

·       I do not believe that the massacre in Newtown is what it looks like to be created in the image of God.

·       I refuse to believe that the cynical posturing of our politicians is what the Lord had in mind when we were invited to love one another as Christ loves us.

·       And having tasted something of God’s grace I cannot believe that the status quo of fear and greed is either inevitable or in any way connected to the kingdom of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

We are to live – and embody – and share what it means to be God’s holy and beloved.  Just as Jesus increased in wisdom and grace as he matured, so must we; for this is where the good news will be found for those who have ears to hear.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A time to be still...

Last night it began to snow with a ferocity we haven't seen for a long time.  It was bold and demanding - it drove dear Jesse and Michael home a day early in pursuit of safety - so when I awoke I expected the town to be closed.  It was...
So today became a time to be still.  The snow muffles all the ordinary sounds of life in the Berkshires.  It keeps people inside (mostly) so the roads are quiet, too.  And it blankets the earth and trees in a beautiful cold padding that also brings out our need for periodic solitude.

Later in the day, we tried our new snow shoes - what GREAT timing, yes? - and hiked a bit out into the woods.  Then we brought goofy Lucie outside for her first deep snow.  What a gas.
I spent most of the day finishing year-end reports for church - the January newsletter and my annual overview of our shared ministries - and held my daughter, Michal, in prayer as they travelled home from San Francisco.  (They made it safely.) Once, while taking a midday distraction on Facebook I found this from one of my dear friends - a buddy from Jr. High whom I love but haven't seen in decades - and it seemed to give this time for stillness both shape and form.
My hope is that this simple truth guides my ministry - and life - this year.  Now it is time for tea and some quiet Christmas rest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So i've been thinking...

So I've been thinking - a lot - over the past few days about ministry and my particular calling at this moment in time.  Doing three celebrations on Christmas Eve - and having my family here - helped put some things into perspective.  It always does my heart and soul good when I can simply rest in the music and liturgy and just be present with the people - and my family - and that happened over Christmas.

+ For example, between 4 and 11 pm about 275 people came into our Sanctuary for worship. All types of people - young and old, believers and those with more questions than clarity, Buddhists, Jews, tons of lapsed Catholics as well as the raggle-taggle faithful of our current renewing congregation.  Everyone came to the table when I offered the invitation (well, nearly everyone) because in addition to the quiet and the candles, the prayers and the carols, breaking bread together and sharing the common cup was a way of being part of a community of deep faith on this strange and mystical night.  Our differences were real - and obvious  and they won't easily evaporate or change- but they were far less important to all of us on Christmas Eve than God's embrace, so everyone came came to the table in grace.  That's a clue for me - it has been a hunch about this ministry since I celebrated my brother and sister-in-law's wedding in secular San Francisco nearly 20 years ago.  Even people who hate the church (and sometimes that includes me) ache to be a part of something profound, compassionate, real and rooted in the mysterious rhythms of creation. (Check out this from the NY Times @

+ The whole night - the childrens' unrehearsed pageant as well as the post-modern lessons and carols worship (a la Brian Wren) with jazz and the candle light Eucharist - was bathed in gentleness.  Everything was informal but tender - and in a time like this tenderness speaks volumes about God's grace.  After the massacre in Sandy Hook I sense this to be a kairos moment for peace-making of the deepest kind.  Yes, many of us will rally to get some meaningful - and strict - gun control because no matter what anybody says when you limit access to semi-automatic weapons and an abundance of ammunition, the slaughter and mayhem goes down. 

But beyond that, this is also a time to start a deeper conversation about how do we rebuild the common good in the US.  Just looking out for number one is not enough and more and more people of every political hue is starting to sense the pathological side of our rugged American individualism.  I sense, therefore, that this year is the one God has asked us to embrace after waiting and watching and aching through the silence. And it will have to be done gently, playfully, carefully and oh so tenderly given both the wounds and brittleness of so many of our people...

Jim Wallis of the Sojourner's Community recently wrote: This quote dates back to the fourth century: This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors. (John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407) People long for a vision of the common good that includes us all. That is what our work is all about: an understanding that young people, women, immigrants, and people of color are not special interest groups. The common good means all are vital members of God’s beloved community.

+ Families - in all their varieties - are going to be essential to advancing the common good, too.  Not the NRA, not, not the Republicans, Tea Party or the Democrats but families:  young, old, same sex, traditional, wounded, whole and real.  Artists are going to be helpers, too in ways our utilitarian and pragmatic old world never imagined.  In what may be the best book about jazz ever, But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer, the author notes that "jazz has always had this thing..."

... having your own sound so all sorts of people who maybe couldn't have made it in other arts - they'd had their idiosyncrasies ironed out - like if they were writers they'd not've made it 'cause they couldn't spell or punctuare or painting 'cause they couldn't draw a straight line. Spelling and straight-line stuff don't matter necessarily in jazz, so there's a whole bunch of guys whose stories and thoughts are not like anyone else's who wouldn't've had a chance to express all the ideas and shit they had inside them without jazz (that's the key line, yes?)  Cats who in any other walk of life wouldn't've made it as bankers or plumbers even: in jazz they could be geniuses, without it they'd've been nothing.  Jazz can see things, draw things out of people that painting or writing (or dare I add business, politics and religion) don't see. (p. 42)

So I've been thinking that joy and grace - tears and families - the arts and a deep ecumenism that cuts beyond all the bullshit so that we can embrace the common good and compassion is what the next year is what next year is all about, yes?  I'm going to get some rest over the next few days - and use my new snow shoes, too (a storm is a'coming) and I'll get back to you son - because something is starting to break open. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas morning...

It snowed about an inch late last night - everything is quiet and fragile in a bright dusting - and I'm the first one up!  Of course, after three worship celebrations - and conversation with the NYC contingent late into the evening - no one got to bed before 2 am.  So I am off to walk the dogs and then get the turkey roasting.  Hot tea and presents will commence soon, too.

This is a blessed day - not just because it is a feast with family (although I'm totally down with that) - but also because of the spiritual mystery of God's presence being born in powerlessness.  In many ways I am like Mary, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Blessings to you all.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas eve reflections...

NOTE:  I rarely "preach" or teach on Christmas Eve - the carols and lessons tell the story quite well without me - although I often share a few thoughts.  This year I have been moved by the words of wisdom Fr. Richard Rohr has shared re: the incarnation and wanted to put them out to my congregation as they are wise and filled with hope.  So throughout this short homily I have added the insights of Rohr along with the Christmas story.  Blessings to you all on this holy night. 

I am keenly aware this Christmas Eve that the “rifts and chasms between good people today sometimes seem impossible to bridge.”  (Richard Rohr)  Just think of the obvious ones: male versus female, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, NRA enthusiasts versus gun control advocates, Republicans versus Democrats, “Pro-Choice” versus “Pro-Life,” straights versus gays, whites versus people of color and on and on it goes.

This reality reminds me of the exasperation the Apostle Peter felt when Jesus told him that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.  Like me, Peter gasped, “Then what are we to do, Lord?”  To which Jesus said, “Dear friend, with people some gaps are impossible to mend, but with God ALL things are possible.”  Tonight is about trusting the Lord to mend all the gaps and fears and overcome the divisions and wounds.

This is the Feast of the Incarnation – Christmas – where the impossible, healing Word of God becoming Flesh within and among us.  And as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “When God gives of God’s self, one of two things always happens: either flesh is inspirited or spirit is enfleshed. This seems to be the way God works and I am somewhat amazed that more have not recognized this simple pattern: God’s will is incarnation.”  God overcomes our divisions, God bridges our chasms and God fills our emptiness. Against all of our expectations, it appears that matter really matters to the Lord for time and again God, who is Spirit, chooses to materialize.

Fr. Rohr goes on to tell us that:

This Creator of ours is patiently determined to put matter and spirit together – to bring what seems impossible to us to pass – almost as if the one were not complete without the other. This Lord of life seems to desire a perfect, but free, unification between body and soul. So much so, in fact, that God appears to be willing to wait for people like you and me to will and choose this unity for ourselves—or it does not fully happen.

You see, our willingness to say yes to the impossibility of God’s peaceful ministry of unity is essential for the healing of the world.  That’s part of what Mary makes clear for those who have eyes to see.  So just as God’s messenger, Gabriel, once asked Mary, “Will you let the Spirit of the Lord lead you into the birth of Christ?” so, too are we invited by the spirit of this night to trust God more than ourselves.

·       I sense that the Spirit gives us both the courage and conviction to confess that we can’t fix the brokenness of the world all by ourselves. 

·       In fact, when we’re honest, the Spirit says that most of the time we keep separating life into what we can comprehend and control when we really need to trust that the Lord is the only one able to bring it all together. 

And here’s the good news:  when we let go of trying to be in control, then we are able to experience God’s blessing in our lives as “a Presence you intuit and meet! It is more Someone than something” (Rohr) as the Christmas story suggests. The ancient masters tell us that on Christmas God materialized in human form so that we could fall in love with a real person – which is the only way we fall in love, right?

And that real person comes to us as a vulnerable child…

This wasn’t a mistake – or part of some sentimental fable or myth – for it seems that the love and power of God in the Christian tradition is always hidden in powerlessness.  From the cradle to the Cross and beyond, God touches our hearts and bridges the great divide with vulnerability and tenderness.  “In a weak and little child, God is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed – fully lovable – and this is the mystery we celebrate tonight.” (Rohr)

Christmas Eve is an invitation to fall in love with God again so that what is impossible might come to pass in our broken, frightened and confused lives and world.  I know that tonight I am ready to fall in love with God again and embrace the Christ Child… maybe you are, too.  And so we sing together this love song…
Silent night, holy night: all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild: sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly.
Silent night, holy night: shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly host sing hallelujah
Christ the Savior is born - Christ the Savior is born.
Silent night, holy night: son of God, love's pure light,
Radiant beams from they holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace: Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Let's wake up...

Parker Palmer, one of my spiritual elders, is a Quaker who reflects on the call to serve God's people with depth, integrity, courage, hope, faith and love.  I am not usually drawn to Quaker reflections because of the underlying flaw in their theology; namely, that with enough time and education, we will figure out how to do the right and loving thing.  I believe that the history of human sin debunks Quaker optimism as flawed and unhelpful.  Still, Palmer regularly cuts to the heart of things in ways that I find helpful.  His reflection for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, rings true to me - and I am grateful.
Theological complexities have always left me cold. That's why I love the warmth and simplicity of the Christmas story. A vulnerable and helpless child is born into a dangerous world, but is able to survive and thrive because of the love of the adults gathered around the manger...

As Christmas 2012 approaches, I've been dogged by a simple but demanding question the story presses on me: "Are we doing all we can to help children survive and thrive?"

Tragically, the answer is no: 
+ On Dec. 14, nine days ago, twenty kindergarten children were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. And in Chicago, there was one Newtown massacre every four months on average this year, as sixty-two school-age children were killed by gun violence.
+ Sixteen million American children live in poverty, and one in five American children goes to school hungry.  For decades, children have been sexually abused by some church leaders, while some colleagues have conspired in covering up their heinous crimes.
+ The "reforms" imposed on our public schools (e.g., high-stakes testing) are doing our kids—and the teachers who care for them—more harm than good.

That list of offenses against children could go on and on. And every

item on it arises from the fact that too many adults value political leverage, economic self-interest, or protecting institutional images of sanctity or success over the well-being of kids.

I know that the Christmas message is about hope and joy. But if those of us who celebrate Christmas want to take the story seriously, we must face the sad fact that there's not much hope and joy in the lives of too many children here at home, to say nothing of the rest of the world. If "Joy to the world!" is to mean anything, it must mean working to create a world where everyone's children can survive and thrive.

This Christmas especially, we must bear witness to truths that may lose us friends—such as the fact that keeping children safe at school will not be achieved by making more guns more available to more people. That way lies madness, not the manger...

"The Night Before Christmas" is a poem some of us learned as children. It ends with the words, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!" Now that we are adults, maybe we need a different ending: "Happy Christmas to all, and let's all wake up!"

Lord, may it be so within and among us.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry christmas 2012 greeting...

Sent out our annual Christmas letter and update this evening... life will be full with church and family for the next few days so I may not be posting much.  But that is all good, too.  Grace and peace to you all.

Merry Christmas 2012 Greetings from James and Dianne…

What a full and rich year we have shared since last year’s letter:  it has been a time of music-making and ministry, spending time with family in celebrations and sorrows, learning to take life a little bit slower and bringing a new puppy into the mix!  Here are some of the highlights…

v  In an act of love and generosity, First Church Pittsfield celebrated the 30th anniversary of James’ ordination.  Over 100 people came to a feast and “gentle roast” including Jesse and Michal and their loved ones as well as Mark Clark from Cleveland, OH and Linda and Larry Schloss from Tucson, AZ. Our band mates created special songs in RJ’s (Reverend James) honor, don E and Stranger sent words and songs from Tucson and the congregation presented James with a scrapbook overview of his ministry and a collection of Mako Fujimura’s artwork marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible.  It as a sweet and sacred time.  We have also worked at strengthening our confirmation process with young people – making it more of a family commitment – and rethinking our entire approach to Christian Formation.  The work of renewal continues to be challenging but also profoundly satisfying.  (You can check out the church @  or search for “Sunday Street” on )

v  In June we spent time at the Montreal Jazz Festival – an incredible event – and Jesse had a chance to come visit, too.  Every day there were free events spanning the depth and breadth of jazz and we also took in two special concerts at Club Soda:  Bill Frissell’s presentation of the songs of John Lennon, and, Victor Wooten’s jazz/funk extravaganza.  We discovered sensational new eateries, spent lots of time at Marche Jean Talon (the local farmer’s market) and celebrated our birthdays at Rumi’s (a 50/60 birthday gifts from our children.)  We then spent a week in Ottawa – and later returned for time in the Eastern Townships (wine country) – because we are smitten with this part of Canada.  We hope to spend more time in this sweet place and James longs to move here whenever retirement might arrive (not for a few more years, for sure.)

v  We both continued to make music in an assortment of ways this year:  Sometimes it was with the Sister City Jazz Ambassadors – a local jazz ensemble with whom we toured Turkey last year – in which we shared a number of jazz workshops in schools throughout the region and continue to play a monthly gig at Patrick’s Pub and Mission Bar and Tapas. We also were able to give a new focus to our art in our own band: Between the Banks.  Every week, we find new ways to create songs of beauty and hope for Sunday worship.  What’s more, we hosted two benefit concerts raising thousands of dollars for local ministries on Fat Tuesday and Thanksgiving Eve and created another Good Friday music and arts liturgy blending prayer, lament, visual art, the cry for justice and music.  (If you’d like to check out the music making, please go to: .)

v  And there were family changes, too:  James’ sister, Beth, died in early August after an extended illness. Dianne had her second hand surgery in the fall.  Jesse and her husband, Michael, are well and continue to live in the highest point in Brooklyn (a real blessing after the hurricane.) Michal and her partner, Winton, are well, too living in Plainfield, MA and raising goats, vegetables and pigs on their sustainable farm.  Casey, our old dog, is tired and hurting but still mostly well – and he has a new little sister and sometimes antagonist, Lucie, a wonderful but huge shepherd-hound mutt who came into our house in October.  Life hasn’t been the same since she arrived and that is (mostly) a total blessing.

Like most of our country, we grieve the loss of life and peace after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.  James actually went to that school back in the day and received his first Bible at the Newtown church.  We pray that this tragedy will strengthen our resolve not only to enact stricter gun controls but also to challenge the American culture of violence.

Today we share love with you – and the fact that there is always room for you at this inn should you ever find yourselves in New England. Right now the days are short and darkness comes upon our com-munity early; but soon that will change and the light will bring renewal – and eventually warmth.  Come see us when you can.
Some pictures to put the year into perspective, too.

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge...

T. S. Eliot once wrote:  "Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" For a few days this past week, I lost touch with the life and wisdom of this season because of grief.  Like most, I was stunned by sadness and imobilized by an aching encounter with darkness.  It was in the darkness, however, that I caught a glimpse of the light - and for that I am grateful.

Intellectually, you see, I know that sorrow fades. Theologically I understand that in God's own time creation moves from Advent to Christmas and Epiphany - or from Good Friday to Easter - or even from solstice to equinox.  And experientially I know what it means to journey through the dark night of the soul into a deeper grace.  But I had forgotten how small rituals can act as friends of the holy along the way towards healing. 

During the week between Thanksgiving and Advent I, my daughter and I had put up our outdoor lights.  Usually I would follow this by pulling out the Christmas decorations and eventually cutting a tree.  She had already opened our suitcase of Christmas CDs and had started filling the house with the sounds of the season. But for a variety of reasons this is where things stopped:  lights and music. When the massacre in Sandy Hook took place last weekend, it felt sacriligious to go hunting for a tree.  It just was not the right season for decorations.

In time, almost in obligation, I found one in a mostly discarded tree lot on the way home from a meeting and grudgingly brought it home.  But when we set the tree in its stand, and the deep pine aroma drifted through the house, I felt something within me shift.  The next day, while putting lights on the tree, I found myself wanting to hear some of the lonely tunes of Advent and put on Lorenna McKennitt's CD, "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" followed by George Winston's classic "December."  As Dianne and I began to decorate this tree - telling stories or simply remembering the history behind each ornament - I sensed more shifting taking place within my soul.  Memories of joy and sorrow visited for a while, thoughts of the children growing through the years passed by as well as recollections of those who have come and gone in our lives as each unwrapping revealed yet another connection with a shared past.

And when the tree trimming was over - and our Southwestern ornaments hung by their new friends from Quebec, Scotland and London - it hit me:  like praying the Rosary, this physical act of reverence helped me reconnect with a wisdom greater than the limits of my current sadness.  Opening the boxes, unwrapping the ornaments, hanging the glass iciscles helped me remember the stories.  LIke making the sign of the Cross before prayer and after Eucharist, these small embodied rituals opened my heart and alerted me to the Life that exists even beyond my current living. 

Today I'm ready to go shopping for our family feast.  The grief and sorrow are still with me, but so is something of the grace and joy. 

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:...