Sunday, March 31, 2013

Grace trumps karma...

"You ought to live your life with such freedom and joy that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation.”  Today we celebrated the Lord's resurrection with ceremony and humility, song and humor and Holy Eucharist.  It was a sweet culmination of a full and very satisfying Holy Week... As Bono has been known to say:  Grace trumps Karma - and on Easter we honor this blessing in spades.

For the next few days, however, I'm going to be out of the loop - time to sleep, read, pray and do some yard work - and well as take Lucie for some long walks in the woods.  I suspect there will be some French movies thrown into the mix, tea in the late afternoons downtown and planning for our summer of jazz in Canada. I get the chance to play two jazz gigs at week's end (Thursday = Patrick's Pub and Friday = Mission Bar and Tapas).  And also spend some time with a local LGBTQ teen support group being interviewed for a film project designed to help other young people.

As Easter winds down, I give thanks that I've been given the freedom to be a part of an open and truly affirming congregation.  We had a ton of fun this Holy Week and I think we did some creative, important work on behalf of God, too.  And now, as the scripture says, it is a time for rest.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Love wins...

NOTE:  Here are my notes for Easter Sunday - join us if you can @ 10:30 am.

Every preacher I know wants to give God and their congregation the BEST they possibly have on Easter Sunday – I know that I do – and who wouldn’t?  This is the high point of our faith – the Feast of Feasts for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but all too often, we miss the mark on Easter Sunday because we try too hard. 

·       Some preachers feel the need to try and explain the Resurrection of our Lord logically as if we are capable of articulating the full grace of God in 20 minutes or less on a Sunday morning. 

·        Other preachers get themselves so worked up about sin and hell that they try to chase away the evil by appealing to fear and guilt until Easter becomes one super-sized altar call.

·       A lot of preachers in our tradition look at Easter as their own existential conundrum and drag into the light all the questions and fears THEY have been worrying about all year in private. Or else make the case that Easter is just a sanitized Christian version of an ancient nature religion that honors the arrival of spring with a reassuring predictability.

And still others choose to celebrate our most sacred holy day as something fundamentally sweet and amusing and tender:  they tell us heartwarming stories of pastel drenched children saying the most adorable things until the Feast of the Resurrection starts to resemble a community Easter Egg Hunt rather than a day of true shock and awe.  Look, I’ve tried them all from the cute to the challenging.  I even quit preaching on Easter for a time leaving the message to the spirit of the music and the prayers, but that’s not faithful either because beyond the traditional habits of this day, somebody here – and I don’t pretend to know who you are – but someday here today is actually searching for something of the Lord. 

So here’s what I want to say to you whoever you are:  our Feast of the Resurrection asks us to hold together two often contradictory truths at the same time.

·       First, Easter is supposed to upset us:  as preacher Anna Carter Florence puts it, “if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?”  Easter breaks all the rules, shakes up our entire understanding of how the world works and throws us off balance.  That’s what happened to the women and the men in the Bible story and that’s what happens to us if we are paying attention, too.  Everything changes and this isn’t an accident or a mistake:  God wants us to be unsettled and upset.  That’s the first truth…

·       And second, this shock to all that is predictable can become a source of great comfort and blessing for us even as it shakes us to our core:  the women in our story came to Christ’s tomb to do their duty – to fulfill their loving obligation and follow the rules for the dead – but the left energized and filled with a whole new way of experiencing God’s love in the world.

Two truths – shock and blessing – are at the core of Easter Sunday.  And rather than fall into the trap of trying to say too much today, I’d like to quietly think out loud with you about what some of this might mean for us as 21st century people.  I’d like to share three insights from the Biblical story and then ask two questions about living a resurrection faith, ok?  Is that clear?

Now I probably should tell you that my model for doing this kind of Easter message is Pope Francesco I – a humble and wise pastor – who faces the enormous problems before him with a gentle grace and profound prayer.   The very way he speaks reminds us that when God upsets us and awakens us to new possibilities, it is always to bring us comfort and joy.  It is always to bring healing and hope to our wounds.  Ad it is always to nourish us from within and bring us to the rest we so desperately desire. 

So, come with me into the Bible for a few minutes knowing that I’m going to ask you twp questions about living a resurrection faith at the end of this message, ok?
Now to start off let me remind you that Luke’s gospel begins the story of Jesus with women and angels and ends the same way:  the entire drama of redemption in Luke’s gospel includes Elizabeth (1:41-45), Mary (1:38-56) and Anna (2:36-38) right from the start – and each of these women offer a prophetic voice that describes the grace-filled way God works in the world.  What’s more, Luke tells us more stories about the faith of women than all the other gospels:

·       There is the woman whose son had died and Christ brought healing because he had compassion for her.  There was the woman from the streets who crashed the party to anoint the Lord’s feet with oil.

·       There was Mary Magdalene who was blessed with grace and peace through Jesus, Mary and Martha who served and prayed with him, the woman in the city who spontaneously offers Jesus and his mother Mary a blessing of love and gratitude, the woman crippled and bent over for 18 years who was healed, the woman who kept pounding on the judge’s door until her prayer was answered and so many more.

So just as Luke’s gospel begins, so it ends – with women and angels – because, you see, women in this story are at the core not the periphery.  It has been said before, but must be said again, in first century Palestine women were NOT social leaders nor did they hold political, economic or religious power.  But in the world of Christ’s gospel, everything is turned upside down, right?   The last become first, the forgotten are embraced as treasured guests, children become valued rabbis and women – particularly Mary the mother of our Lord – become the new model for living faithfully in the world. 

For much of our history, the Christian Church has spoken this story – and then ignored it – by excluding those whom Christ loved and making allies with the powerful rather than seeking the wounded and lost.  Thanks be to God that in our generation most people don’t CARE about the Church any more – now we can be free to be radically faithful.  Now we can turn our attention to the women – and to Mary – and learn how to live a resurrection faith that is free from the cynicism and mean-spirited judgment of our day.

That’s one insight from today’s Bible story.  Another is that even the women in this story had to have their habits and expectations challenged and upset before they could fully embrace the gospel.  They didn’t go to the burial tomb of Jesus expecting the resurrection – they expected to find him dead.  They went to the tomb to perform a religious ritual – they went to follow the rules and keep them – only to experience  the love of God in such a shocking way that when they told the men of their community what had happened they were considered crazy.

·       Yes, I know the story in English tells us that the men interpreted the resurrection story of the women as “idle chatter” but that is way too tame.  As one scholar puts it, “to call this an idle tale is a fairly generous translation of the Greek word: leros.  For that word is the root of the word delirious… meaning the men thought these women were crazy, nuts, filled with utter nonsense.”

·       And the women themselves were not entirely clear about what was really going on, too because… resurrection blessings are always upsetting before they are comforting –  even God’s chosen women in this story were thrown off balance.

Which should be good news for most of us:  if we don’t get what the resurrection is all about today – or tomorrow or for a long time – we’re in good company.  The women who went to the tomb were just as perplexed and challenged by all of this as we are: they expected the bad news to remain bad news.

It took time and questions and experience in community before they could see that God can bring new life out of death – and “reconciliation out of conflict” – and hope out of despair and healing out of our hurts.  Easter upsets everything and takes some time before it brings us comfort and joy.

But that comfort and joy is also part of the story – and let’s not ever forget that.  Since Christmas time, those who have been here most Sundays know we’ve been reading the story of the life of Jesus from Luke’s gospel.  And one of the themes that Luke plays with comes to a climax with Easter; namely that God’s love is always better than what we expect.  In much of our life, we have come to expect that we will be let down…

·       Our politicians – left and right – often sound good but they can’t really deliver.  That new hair conditioner makes the model’s hair look all sleek and silky on TV but doesn’t really work on our nappy heads.  That new lover feels good at first but soon the buzz wears off… and we’re just as disappointed and frustrated as before. 

·       Enter the Easter story in Luke’s telling and everything starts to look different.  Think back to the Prodigal Son rolling around in the mud of the hog pen.  “The most he hoped for was to be received back in his father’s house as a servant.  Instead, however, he received restoration in his father’s – or his mother’s – open arms.  He received much more than he expected.” (African American Lectionary Reflection)  Same is true with the women who first went to the tomb:  they expected to find Jesus dead – but got MUCH more than they ever dreamed was possible

For that is the promise and truth of resurrection living:  we KNOW how to expect the worst – and often look for it, too – but Easter upsets all of that in pursuit of God’s comfort and joy.  So let’s be clear that we will never fully understand, comprehend or be able to systematically categorize the blessings God. On Easter Sunday, “God raised Jesus from the dead because God was creating a new reality” saturated in shocking, upsetting and life-changing comfort and joy.
And that brings me to my questions:  first, what makes believing and trusting in the resurrection hard for you; and second, what are some of the clues and experiences that have helped you wonder, doubt and maybe even hope that Christ’s resurrection could be true?  Are you with me?  Is that clear?

·         What makes it hard to believe such a thing…?

·         What makes you wonder – and maybe even trust – that it is true…?

It took Christ’s first disciples a long time to live into resurrection faith – but when they did everything in creation changed.  And that is what God offers us this Easter:  a way to begin – or deepen – our walk in wonder and maybe even faith so that all things in heaven and on earth might be redeemed and renewed by grace.  From my experience, some days will be better than others in this pilgrimage – some days there will be more fear and doubt than trust and comfort and joy – that goes with the territory.

So let me share with you the best way to practice a resurrection faith.  Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the smartest preachers in our land, puts it like this:

Start by loving God – and love a neighbor, too.  Be a neighbor – and don’t complicate things by arguing about specifics. You know what it means to do love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of it, so remember that knowing the right answer does not change a thing. If you want the world to look different the next time you go outside, do some love. Do a little or do a lot, but do some – and do not forget some for yourself.

The good news for those who have ears to hear on Easter Sunday is this:   Christ is risen – and love wins.  Go now and do likewise!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Disoreintation comes alive on good friday...

I am so grateful to everyone who joined us tonight for Good Friday:  Disorientation.  It was beautiful and edgy, spirit-filled and outside the box all at the same time.  After a lot of prayer and editing, here's how I explained it for the 100+ people who were present:

The poet, Mary Oliver, recently wrote:

The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,

his deep findings.

While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.
That’s why we’ll mostly be making music tonight – music that is comforting and disorienting, music that wrestles with the questions of God’s presence in the midst of our pain and music that comes from almost everywhere except the church – but  before the music I’ve been asked by my comrades in arms to say a few words about why we do what we do  So, with the risk of saying something too puffed up, let me try this on for size:  tonight’s meditation in song, silence, scripture and solidarity is our artistic expression of what it feels like for God to come to us as light in the middle of our darkest time.

We share a belief that the holy aches to be with us in our suffering AND brings healing to whatever is wounded – that is a core belief – something that almost every spiritual tradition holds as true.  In the Christian world we say that in all things God works for good – NOT that all things ARE good nor that all things are as God wants them – but rather that God can take the worst the world throws at us and redeem it.  That’s what the Cross tells us:  even shame, suffering and pain can be transformed by God’s loving into something greater and even something holy.  And when we discover the sacred presence in the midst of all our muck, it is disorienting…

You see, most of the time when we operate according to conventional wisdom, we don’t trust this truth.  We live like God isn’t really God because we believe that we have to fix everything, heal every hurt and take control of our destiny because that’s what healthy, constructive and successful people do.  And when we wake up to find out that playing by these rules still leaves us powerless over some things – or that being a “good boy or girl” has become destructive, addictive or even ugly – ooh Lord THAT is really disorienting.  Cut to the music we’ve chosen for tonight.
·       We began by trying to give shape and form to the feeling of disorientation by using an ancient prayer – o blessed fault - o necessary sin – felix culpa – with the weird industrial groove of “Purple Haze.”  If it made you uncomfortable, it was supposed to because our hope is that this creates something of the tension that exists in how God brings healing and hope into the ugliest human realities:  surrender and serenity, you see, are married to acceptance – and this always feels disorienting.

·       As the music continues it tells us that we live in a “Mad World.”  We may start to know that something is going wrong and want to “get outta Dodge,” but we don’t know where to go – and don’t know what to do – so we keep on keeping on and  Keep the Car Running” even when bad becomes worse.  If nothing changes we wake up to discover that all our “Roads” lead to despair – and we find ourselves “At the Bottom of the River.  More often than not, it is only when we run out of options – when we have no more “High Hopes” – that we let God greet us with grace and begin to sense that even in our worst moments, God doesn't give up on us
This is a truth found in all spiritual tradition:  In Judaism this truth is honored
in the observation of Passover, in Islam in the stories of Allah’s guidance thatleads the Prophet through his darkest hour, in Buddhism it comes when Siddhartha endures the fears of illusion before enlightenment awakens and in Christianity it takes place between Good Friday and Easter.  We’re talking about an emptying – a hitting bottom – that is never just about us but always pregnant with grace bringing light into the darkness.
Tonight’s meditation is a musical pilgrimage that begins in madness but concludes by saying:  love wins – grace trumps karma!  And knowing this – trusting it – and practicing it can make all the difference between life and death.  The playwright, poet and one-time Czech President Vaclav Havel put it like this:

Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it does turns out.
Our conviction – as musicians, theologians, poets and artists – is that God can work good in all things.  I am grateful to work with such creative souls – and to have the artistic freedom of the pulpit that is part of this congregation’s long history.  So let me offer these closing practical words:

·      Tonight’s program will be like going to MassMoCA – you will probably love parts and hate parts and not grasp what the devil is going on in other parts – that happens to me every time I go there.  And that’s ok, it is part of the creative process.  Give yourself time to wrestle with it all.

·       If you’ve brought a donation – or money or toilet paper – there are places you may leave your gift, ok?  Towards the end of the evening, when we are playing “Don’t Give Up,” if you feel inspired to light a candle as a prayer – or a sign of protest against the darkness – please feel free to come forward and do so.

·      And when everything is done, and the band has left the Chancel, you are welcome to sit here for a time in the quiet – or share a conversation about what touch you in all of this.  Give yourself time to let it simmer.
And now let me invite you to go deeper with us into a musical Serenity Prayer of sorts as we share with you:  disorientation.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The great three days...

NOTE:  As we enter the Great Three Days, I shared this note with my congregation...
Today is Maundy Thursday - Holy Thursday in some traditions - the start of the Great Three Days of Holy Week for all Christians in the Western tradition. For the past 40 days many of us have been on pilgrimage with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem and the Cross. We have studied and prayed, we have looked for gentle ways to share more compassion, too. We have confirmed our teens, celebrated Holy Communion together every week and tried to get our hearts ready for Holy Week. And if you are anything like me, by about this time in Lent you realize two things:
+ First, no matter how hard we try, the power of the Lord's passion is always greater than our ability to comprehend. We are so easily distracted while Christ remains steadfast. We had the best intentions when Lent began, but somewhere along the way we lost sight of them while Jesus continued towards the Garden of Gethsemane.
+ Second, some of us will become discouraged by how easily we lose touch with our Lenten commitments and others will decide there is no point to observing a Holy Lent because it is so hard - but that is the point of our Lenten disciplines: when we honestly own how hard it is to remain steadfast, we begin to accept that our journey into grace by faith is about God coming to us rather than achieving holiness or "nirvana" on our own steam.
We live in a "type A" world where striving and success are the high marks. But Lent turns all of that upside down and says: No matter how hard you try, you won't get it right. Peter will deny me. Everyone will fall away. The religious and political authorities will use their gifts to kill me. And the whole of creation will despair. So pay attention: this is what it looks like when you live life all on your own. There is denial and betrayal, there is death and fear and emptiness. So are you tired of doing the same old things every year and expecting different results? Are you worn out by trying to make everything work out right and still failing on your face or hitting bottom? Why not come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy-laden - and I will give you rest. This is the message of the Great Three Days:
+ Maundy Thursday: Jesus washes the feet of his disciples - he takes on the role as servant and slave - and tells them: this is my new commandment, you are to love one another as I have just loved you. On your knees. In humility. Without any hope of reward. At 7 pm tonight we remember this part of the pilgrimage and close our gathering in silence and darkness. It is a time of symbolically waiting with Jesus in the garden before he is taken by the authorities to the Cross.
+ Good Friday: after a religious and political trial, Jesus is condemned to death - an agonizing, degrading and ugly death - and all we can do is stand and watch. In a word we are confronted with our own powerlessness. The wisdom of this time of worship is to embrace our powerlessness - when we are truly empty, God can fill us with grace and new strength - so we gather to watch and wait. This year there are two times when we will do this: a) Friday @ 1 pm we will watch and wait together in the streets of Pittsfield starting at First Baptist Church. And b) @ 7 pm we will gather in our Sanctuary for a musical meditation on our powerlessness and complicity using contemporary music and art. (NOTE: this year's presentation is particularly powerful and beautiful and I hope you will make and effort to join us. Our friends from Zion Lutheran, First Baptist and South Congregational will be joining us.) 
+ Easter Sunday - the Feast of the Resurrection - at 10:30 am: At the heart of Easter Sunday is God's grace that comes into the world by love - not by any of our work or striving - a love which raises Jesus from death into new life. Indeed, all we can do is respond with joy and bewilderment. We can sing songs of gratitude and join together at the Lord's table of feasting and all of that will happen.
The new Roman Catholic Pope, Francesco I, put it like this at a recent public address: 
In Holy Week we live the highest point of this journey, this loving plan that runs throughout the entire history of the relationship between God and humanity. Jesus enters Jerusalem to take the final step, in which His whole live is summarized: He gives Himself totally, He keeps nothing for Himself, not even His life. At the Last Supper, with His friends, He shares the bread and distributes the chalice "for us." The Son of God is offered to us, He consigns His Body and his Blood into our hands to be with us always, to dwell among us. And on the Mount of Olives, as in the trial before Pilate, He puts up no resistance, He gifts Himself: He is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, who stripped himself unto death (cf. Is 53:12).
Jesus does not live this love that leads to sacrifice passively or as a fatal destiny; certainly He does not hide His deep human commotion in the face of a violent death, but He entrusts Himself with full confidence to the Father. Jesus voluntarily consigned Himself to death to respond to the love of God the Father, in perfect union with His will, to demonstrate His love for us. On the Cross, Jesus "loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Each of us can say, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Everyone can say that "for me".
What does this mean for us? It means that this is my, your, our path. Living Holy Week following Jesus not only with the emotions of the heart; living Holy Week following Jesus means learning how to come out of ourselves: to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence, to be the first to move towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help. There is so much need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love! Living Holy Week means increasingly entering into God's logic, the logic of the Cross, which is not first of all that of pain and death, but of love and of self-giving that brings life. It means entering into the logic of the Gospel. Following, accompanying Christ, remaining with Him requires a "stepping outside."
These are beautiful, demanding, full and unsettling liturgies:  my prayers are with all who will be leading worship and all who choose to participate, too.  May we be emptied that we might be filled with grace by faith.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Small steps, LGBTQ allies and faith...

Just as I never thought I would live to see the day a person of color was elected as the President of the United States, I never believed that marriage equality would be argued before the Supreme Court in my life time.  "I believe, I believe, Lord, help my disbelief." So today, during the front end of Holy Week, I want to return thanks to God for the slow but very real changes taking place in my homeland.  In 2013 the majority of Americans support marriage equality for all people.

Tomorrow my daughter Jesse will be coming up from Brooklyn to visit for an evening before the Great Three Days.  A few months before she was born, her mother and I were transferred from the Kansas City United Farm Worker boycott office to work on a campaign in Los Angeles.  During that time, one of the men on my team, Kevin, was busted in a public restroom for solicitation.  After we got him bailed out, I sat and talked with him about what had happened because, truth be told, I was very green about the whole gay world in 1976.  To make a long story short, he spent a few hours over tea trying to bring this very straight, white middle class boycott leader up to speed about his experience of homophobia, entrapment and so much more.  We became dear friends and while our paths parted after the 1976 election, I hold him close in prayer to this day.

In 1977, we left the farm workers movement so that I could complete college on the road towards seminary.  And as fate would have it, we relocated to San Francisco and moved into the Haight.  As we cruised the city looking for apartments to rent so I could finish my political science degree at SF State, we often passed through the Castro.  And with total innocence I remember saying to my wife:  "I don't know, but I think there are a lot of gay guys living here, don't you?"  (This often brings down the house at GLBTQ gatherings  today but back then I was totally serious.)  Everywhere you looked, "Castro clones" were grooving on the streets and Harvey Milk had just been elected a city supervisor.  In time, we wound up in a small Methodist church in the Haight and the pastor's wife was an assistant to Mayor George Moscone.  We were at their home cooking dinner with Bill  waiting for Jean to arrive when word broke out that both Moscone and Milk had been assassinated by Dan White.

There is much more to say, of course, mostly old war stories of learning how to become a straight ally but these tales really only interest other old straight allies.  So I pray tonight that the Supreme Court will be led by the Spirit of God found in the exodus, in the resurrection of Jesus, in the inspiration of Mohamed, in the enlightenment of the Buddha, in the quest for women's suffrage and civil rights for all that we might take another step on the road towards freedom.  Lord, may your will be done...

On Sunday evening, after confirming six sweet young teens into the community of faith, I received an invitation to be a part of a film being made by some LGBTQ teens in our town.  They received a grant to create a resource to help other young teens find comfort and solace in their discernment - and wanted to include some straight allies.  Last year, after a bullying incident, the group's resource people invited me to visit and talk about the love of Jesus rather than the hatred, fear and homophobia that so often infects the church.  Again, there is much that could be said about this conversation - they were so precious and real and vulnerable and sacred - and I was deeply moved to be welcomed after all the hatred Christians have expressed.  Later two of the guys stopped by our jazz gig that night and it felt so good to welcome them into the music.  And now they've asked me to come back and be with them as a part of their film resource to help other young people... I even heard back from the group's counselors that they will join us for our "DISORIENTATION" meditation in music on Good Friday.

When I first came to town, we had a sign posted on the front of the church:  QUESTIONS WELCOMED HERE.  This same LBGTQ group held an art show and our sign was featured - only the comments were, "They lie... no church wants us... they say they are open but they really hate us."  And now, after time and many small steps, we find we are allies in love.

Over and over I find myself praying, "I believe, Lord but help my disbelief."  And over and over again God takes me deeper into compassion and the way of solidarity.  I kept thinking of my new GLBTQ friends as we practiced this song tonight for Good Friday and I will dedicate it to them.

Monday, March 25, 2013

o blessed fault...

We worked tonight for three hours on our Good Friday "DISORIENTATION" musical meditation - and it was sweet.  With only five days to the event, this is the first time ALL the musicians were together in the same room.  Thank God everyone simply checked their egos at the door and tried to find a way to make beauty and blessing come alive in the music.  It is a very edgy liturgy - a reflection on how hitting bottom can be a life changing blessing - without turning away from the agony of real life, too.

Theologically the Christian tradition speaks of this as the Paschal Mystery - how God chooses to be present with grace in even the worst situations - and offers both atonement and redemption to those humble enough to accept the gift.  Not everyone is will to surrender or be empty, of course, so their pain remains.  Every spiritual traditon seems to honor this paradox - giving it different names - and it is clearly a minority report in the triumphal and shallow Christianity of contemporary American culture.  But that is one of the real blessings of "disestablishment" - we can now go to the edge and be honest - because we really don't have anything to lose.

We're going to open the liturgy with this instrumental track adding voice over from the Easter Vigil using variations on the text:  o blessed fault, o happy sin... o sweet gift of grace in the midst of hitting rock bottom.  The musical groove finally came together tonight and while we have a few "glitches" to work out tomorrow, I think this is going to be important.

Naomi Shihab Nye puts it like this in her poem "Kindness" ~

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Returning thanks for the body of Christ...

Today I had the privilege of confirming six young people into the Body of Christ:  it was our Protestant bar/bat mitzvah as we welcomed them in as sons and daughters of the community.  We also shared an adaptation of Walter Wangerin's powerful and interactive retelling of the Passion.  And closed with Holy Communion.

Afterwards, I stopped by a number of homes for post-confirmation parties - shared lots of fun conversation with a variety of guests and family members - and even hoisted a few in the name of the Lord, too.  Two thoughts touch my heart as this day closes:

+ First, when a community is small enough - and the connections between adults and youth are healthy, safe and creative - being a part of one an other's growth in trust and spirit is a life-changing blessing for everyone.  The words spoken by this year's confirmation mentors were tender and true:  each of us was blessed by choosing to help the other - young and old - active participant as well as passive congregation.  As one mentor said, "I had lunch earlier this week with MY confirmation mentor and it hit me:  this can be for LIFE!"  What a gift in these all too fast-paced and disposable times.

+ Second, taking the time to chill with the family members after worship takes our relationships to a deeper level.  Not only can we laugh and let our hair down, but we can ask questions and go to a more profound level than public worship allows.  Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for being connected in community through worship.  And I find that unless those connections are nourished by intimate sharing beyond Sunday mornings, they can become flat or stale or incomplete.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself in each of the homes I visited today and felt Christ's love between us ripen.

Tomorrow will be more intense preparation for Holy Week worship plus some hospital visits.  Thanks be to God for a sweet and spiritually satisfying Sabbath.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Please, please me...

BBC-America reminded me yesterday that it was 50 years ago that the Beatles recorded their first album, Please, Please Me, at Abbey Road studios - and when they debuted on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night TV program, my life changed.  Sometime in the fall of 1963 I remember reading a short article about these guys in Life Magazine - and then started to hear them on my little red Japanese transistor radio in September '63 when "She Loves You" hit the charts.  I know I was aching for a Beatles' album for Christmas of that year but had to wait until January 1964.

Three things grabbed me about the Beatles right away:

+ First, they played GREAT US R'n'B tunes.  Because the first rock and roll record I ever remember was when my Aunt Donna put on Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti," I was ready for their action.  Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Dion and Jerry Lee Lewis were the sounds I loved in elementary school.  I liked some of the "girl groups," too but HATED the faux soul guys like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee, Fabian et al.  In fact, I can still recall the summer before "She Loves You" came out aching to hear something new that ROCKED - and then the Beatles showed up and everything was different.

+ Second, these cats sang and played their own instruments and wrote their own songs.  They could harmonize, play rock and soul and country, were smart and cocky, playful and melodic all at once - and both Lennon and McCartney could scream like banshees! In fact, my own rock and roll scream is based on what Lennon does in the Beatles' version of rockabilly legend Larry William's tune "Slow Down"  and what McCartney does on both "Kansas City" and "I'm Down." To me they were the real deal with wit, intelligence and lots of attitude!

+ And third the Beatles looked so freakin' cool:  black boots with Cuban heels, styled long hair, those collarless jackets and all the rest.  And they kept getting cooler whether it was their early posh thing, the wildass Carnaby Street scene or their explosion into the world of psychedelia, I totally loved the way the Beatles dressed.  About 10 years ago, we made a pilgrimage to Liverpool - and I bought a pair of Beatle boots that I still cherish - and wear.  These sequence with Harrison in "A Hard Day's Night" says it all...

There was a time in 1964 when the Beatles held 8 of the top 10 songs on the pop charts.  And every night I took my little red transistor radio to bed and first listened to the count down on WBZ out of Boston.  And then, if the air waves were right, I could then check in with Murray the K out of New York City on WINS.

As the Beatles matured together - and their music took on greater depth - I loved every minute of the ride.  As Springsteen once said, "Music saved my life..." and for this geeky, little chubby guy in Jr. High I know that was true for me:  I practiced my chords, danced in front of a mirror, practiced my John Lennon scream, memorized lyrics and eventually found some other guys who wanted to start a band in the summer when Sgt. Pepper was released.  I give thanks to God for the Beatles... and still love what they do.

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:...