Tuesday, January 31, 2017

what would marian anderson say to us about humility...

NOTE: Here are my worship notes from Sunday, January 29, 2017 on the occasion of
our annual meeting and my last Sunday as a full-time pastor.


Today is our time for blessing: blessing one another, welcoming the Lord’s blessing in each of our unique lives, blessing the broken but beautiful world we live in, and blessing this moment in time with a commitment to humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said. “Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope, blessed are you when your heart is broken… for when there is less of you, there is more of God and God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 5)

Blessings saturate our scriptures today, but we may need a little help honoring this truth for our era. So let me call to your attention the way Ernest Kurtz speaks about blessings and humility in his little book: A Spirituality of Imperfection. It is one of my favorites. Using the 12 Steps of AA as a lens through which to organize his thinking, Kurtz writes: “To be humble is to learn to live with and even rejoice in reality.” (p. 190) Humility rejects perfectionism and challenges all-or-nothing thinking. Like St. Paul told us from inside a prison cell, humility empowers us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Not just when we feel like it or when it is convenient; not simply when we’re well fed and rested or when we know someone in authority Is looking – but always. To embrace the blessings of Christian humility is to learn to live with and even rejoice in reality. Leonard Cohen put it so poetically when he sang: “There is a crack, a crack, in everything: that’s how the light gets in.”

Like the Bible, he knew that the world is broken – our politics are broken – some of our finances are broken – and many of our hearts are broken, too. That is how we were made back in the beginning. And when we slow down long enough to recognize reality, we see that everything is broken and this can make us want to laugh or cry. I know that there have been times when all I could do was howl in outrage and agony. And there’s nothing wrong, weak or shameful about our tears. Jesus wept, right? Tears can be a sacred body prayer when we only have sighs to deep for human words. “To everything there is a season,” said the sage of the Old Testament, “a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time for silence and a time to speak.” When the tears are over, however, humility – rejoicing in the blessing of reality – asks us to learn how to laugh, too –mostly laugh at ourselves tenderly. It is a spiritual paradox – a theological conundrum – even a part of the sacred dialectic that becoming a person of balance, integrity and compassion is fundamentally about knowing when to laugh at our brokenness rather than fight ourselves and the way the Lord created us.

This morning, therefore, on the occasion of our annual meeting that follows today’s worship – as well as my last Sunday as a full-time preacher of Christ’s gospel after 35 years – I feel called to speak with you about laughter and brokenness, blessings and serving God in a new way at First Church that pushes us out into the community. This will be my take on the foolishness of the Cross through the lens of the 10 foot rule – a reflection on why it matters that the words human, humor and humility all have their origins in the word humus .

To be human and humble starts with earthiness – being grounded – for that’s what humus means in both science and Scripture. Humus is defined in the dictionary as “a brown or black substance resulting from the partial decay of plant and animal matter.” And what does the Lord our God create man and woman out of in the oldest Hebrew story of our origins but… humus!? Genesis Two is wonderfully gritty: in the beginning, God formed from the dust of the ground human beings and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. In this the mud man and woman became living beings – adam ha admah – people of humus filled with nephesh chayyah: the breath of life given by God. Our ancestors in faith understood that humanity is always a mixture of dirt and dung filled with the Holy Spirit. To appreciate this unique combination, let alone honor it, we’re asked to learn to laugh at ourselves. For if we’re honest, we’re a real piece of work: from dust we came and to dust we shall return and at the very same time we are created just a little lower than the angels both at the same time.

One of my favorite stories from the Jewish tradition tells of the rabbi who in a moment of religious passion rushed into the Sanctuary, fell to his knees before the ark, began to beat his breast and cried out, “I am nobody, Lord, I am nobody!” The cantor of the synagogue, impressed by this example of humility, joined the rabbi on his knees saying, “I am nobody. I am nobody!” Watching from the corner, the custodian couldn’t restrain himself either; so he rushed forward to join the other two on their knees, crying out, “I am nobody, Lord, nobody!” At which point the rabbi nudges the cantor with his elbow, points at the custodian on the floor and says, “Look who thinks he’s nobody!”

Humility is about honesty and earthiness. When we can laugh at ourselves, celebrating both the humus and the Holy Spirit, we’re close to what the ancient prophets taught about the purpose in life. The heart of God’s righteous requirement, prophesied Micah, is all about doing justice, sharing compassion and walking with humility in the presence of God’s reality. And do you know when I knew that God still had plans for First Church in this community – that God had not yet finished with us yet?

Ten years ago when I was candidating to be your pastor and you spontaneous doubled over in a wave of laughter when I told you the story about the minister, the priest and the rabbi who bet one another they could convert a black bear to their religious tradition. Remember that? If you had simply tittered, or acted like the frozen chosen, I would have known you were toast! There is a link, you see, between humor, humility and the movement of the holy spirit in our human hearts. The willingness and ability to laugh at ourselves is proof that the Spirit is at work bringing blessing to our lives even when we don’t realize it. We are not in control. The Spirit blows where it will – and if we’re receptive it will bring us joy and our laughter will be spontaneous. That’s the first blessing I want to remind you about today; and the second has to do with the way our own humility can empower us to connect our brokenness with the wounds of the world.

You know, when I first arrived here, besides the laughter, we were kind of stiff about some things. No one had ever felt they could wear jeans to Sunday worship before. Every single door in this place was bolted and locked. And we had serious arguments about what color to paint the hallway. Now here’s the thing about the old ways: if they help us serve God’s love, tradition is beautiful. But when it becomes calcified, tradition becomes tradionalism – and that becomes a prison. When this congregation was at the center of community life – the FIRST church – filled with the elite and powerful, those old traditions probably served us well. Not so much any-more, right? Now circumstances beyond our control have pushed us to the periphery of power in Pittsfield so that we might become partners not only in the preservation of our building, but in the renewal of our town – no longer as movers and shakers – but in a way that is more humble.

That’s how I understand St. Paul when he speaks to us of the foolishness of the Cross. “God decided to use what looks like foolishness – brokenness and powerlessness – to save the world. Some trust their knowledge, others use their influence and wealth, but we look to the Cross as the power of God even when this seems like folly to the world. We know, through Jesus Christ, that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God on the Cross is stronger than all human strength.” (I Corinthians 1: 18-25) Please recall that Paul didn’t learn this in school, business or on vacation; this wisdom came through the failure of his arrogance that drove him to his knees. Like each of us, Paul came to trust God’s revelation on the Cross only when he ran out of power, influence, wisdom and pride. “God chose what is weak in the world, despised in the world, low and on the periphery of the world… to bring about healing, hope and right relations between people.”

And that’s where I see our second blessing in 2017 – from the side-lines, not the center– standing without significant influence in order that we might serve as authentic allies with others working for the common good. I think we have been humbled so that we might live as Christ’s disciples in our shared brokenness. People who practice more listening than speaking – women and men of hospitality rather than titles – adults who live more like children of God than CEOs, administrators, financial advisors, engineers, educators and all the rest. After last summer’s cottage meetings, you clearly stated that you wanted to remain in this beautiful place to worship and to celebrate being a radically Open and Affirming congregation. You also recognized that we could no longer afford to do this like we used to. And I believe that you were right in both areas – we can no longer afford to do things the way we used to – but not simply because money is tight. We don’t worship a balanced budget – that’s idolatry. No we’ve been called to exchange old fears and habits for the blessings of being a more humble church guided by the foolishness of the Cross.

At least that’s how I see it as your pastor – even your part-time pastor. It is my task to do something unique in our life together. I am called to study God’s word given to us in Jesus Christ, listen for God’s spirit shared with us in community and attempt to give these blessings shape and form so that we can act upon them. Our tradition calls this mission interpretation and claiming a vision for God’s people because without a vision… what? God’s people perish! Here’s the way I see it in 2017: The time has come to lay aside all anxiety. We are no longer a large and influential church for God has now called us into a season of greater humility. This is a blessing. Our legacy in privilege and power has come to an end so that we might mature in servanthood and solidarity. This renewed calling frees us to practice radical hospitality in a harsh and fearful culture. Without old fears, we can support the grass roots renewal of Pittsfield with our time, talent and treasure in creative ways. And celebrate God’s grace in worship so that we might live as partners with God’s compassion in our Pittsfield.

This is where the 10 foot rule becomes instructive: it actually shapes what Matthew’s gospel is telling us. The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount are not general words of piety filled with abstractions; rather they are blessings born of solidarity with the real lives of God’s people in history. One scholar suggested that if we generalize these blessings without understanding their historical context for Jewish Christians gathering in fear after fleeing the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem and the war Rome waged on ancient Israel between 66-70 CE, we sanitize the upside-down wisdom of Jesus Christ, stripping his blessings of their true significance and rendering them impotent and sentimental when they are anything but harmless.

So here’s the real deal – and why it matters to us – on this day of blessings. Matthew is interpreting the ministry of Jesus to a first century community of Jewish Christians who not only know but cherish the Old Testament. Matthew’s goal was to inspire his people to keep the gospel real even in the midst of oppression, fear and disappointment. It is not accidental that Matthew opens his story with a genealogy connecting Jesus to King David – son of Abraham – nor is it a fluke that other beloved Old Testament stories are reinterpreted in a new light. And the key story that sets the stage for the Sermon on the Mount is Rachel weeping and wailing for her slain children. New Testament professor, Richard Swanson, puts it like this: 

Rachel was brought into the story from the deep memory of the Jewish people who knew she mourned the exiles being force-marched into oblivion. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BCE.The Temple had once given the people a sense that life was stable, safe, and predictable. They had lived through Assyria destroying 10/12s of Israel just a generation earlier, so they clung to God’s promises to Sarah and Abraham and David and the Temple… only to be scattered and thrown to the wind by Babylon. Matthew takes this story of Rachel from 500 years before Jesus to focus attention on another act of destruction: King Herod’s likely murder of innocent Jewish toddlers under the age of two. What Matthew’s people were experiencing, you see, was not grief in general; it was grief still fresh and raw as the corpses of little children littering the storytelling stage of this community and this memory is vividly alive. (Richard Swanson, Working Preacher.)

It is these mourners – these broken hearted, humbled and bereft refugees of the first century who are only ten feet away from Matthew – who Matthew is trying to comfort. And we must be clear what this comfort meant for: “it is NOT the comfort of hand-holding in impotence. The New Testament Greek word for comfort, paraklethesontai, calls a mourner out of the immobility of grief and into action.” (Swanson) Specifically, this comfort calls a mourner to speak the truth about an injustice in their live out loud like a witness would in court – a witness who had experienced the horror of seeing innocent children murdered for crass political power. Now, these voices could not undo the evil. Yet something restorative takes place whenever broken people find their voice and speak that truth in public. It both interrupts the inner cycle of shame and creates a climate where others are encouraged to embrace us, help us carry our burdens, and become partners with us in sharing the agony of the Cross. In a word, their voices unlock our solidarity and compassion. And lest there be no ambiguity, Jesus goes on to tell us that those who are poor in spirit – literally those whose breath has been broken within them by sobbing – that’s what the word pneuma translated here as spirit can also mean – breath.

Those sobbing with broken hearts and jagged breath are promised the healing of God’s kingdom come to earth as it is already done in heaven. Do you see how very specific these blessings are, Christian friends, do you see the relevance of the 10 foot rule in this embodied humility? Well, it doesn’t stop there but applies to those who are persecuted because they hunger and thirst for righteousness, too. Do you know that the word persecuted – dioke in Greek – means those who are hunted? They are being hunted for cherishing the way of Torah – doing justice, sharing compassion and nurturing humility with God – hunted, in a word, for being Jews in the heart of the Roman Empire.

Now, if you are anything like me – if you watch even one newscast a week or casually glance at a newspaper even once a month – you can’t help but notice that all around us are people who sense that they are now the hunted: because of their faith, because of their race, because of who they love. Back in the fall when Jewish Family Services held a meeting at the Athenaeum about welcoming 50 Syrian refugees into Pittsfield, some rose up in anger and fear wanting to lock the doors of love in our town to those who worshipped Allah. Look, it wasn’t all that long ago that Jews were hunted down in Europe – or excluded from towns like the one I grew up in back in Connecticut – and now we want to do it again to Muslims? Such sentiments have traction in France, Poland and much of Europe these days. And now there’s serious talk about building a wall at the Mexican border, registering Muslims, outlawing righteous, nonviolent protest in five US states and turning back the clock of compassion on LGBTQ marriage equality! Have I been clear that the blessings Jesus spoke of once were never abstract pieties, but always shared acts of compassion for very specific people who felt hunted? Nothing has changed today.

Authentic Christian humility must always bring healing and hope to specific wounds. We must always carry and share the burdens of our sisters and brothers in solidarity.

That is why I do not believe it is a coincidence that God has brought us to the possibility of partnering with Pitts-field in humility at this moment in our history. In our weakness, God makes us ALL strong. Once we were leaders; now we can be allies in the foolishness of the Cross. Once we were at the center, today we must be out on the streets joining others carrying our neighbors’ burdens as if they were the Cross of our Lord. And the more we practice and learn from Mother Humility, the greater the blessings. Some of you know that FDR’s grandson, James Roosevelt, was in our Sanctuary three weeks ago – and he was in awe of this place. He said, “Do you know my grandmother once spoke here – and that Marion Anderson sang in your parlor, too?”

Two or three other people went out of their way last week to repeat that story to me – and it got me thinking about what the great African American opera singer, Marian Anderson might want to say to us about humor, humanity and humility before our annual meeting. That's when I came across a story that Ms. Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, used to tell.

He often said that Marian Anderson had not simply grown great, she'd grown great simply. "A few years ago” he said, “a reporter interviewed Marian and asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. I was in her dressing room at the time and was curious to hear the answer. I knew she had many big moments to choose from. There was the night Toscanini told her that hers was the finest voice of the century. There was the private concert she gave at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She had received a $10,000 Bok Award as the person who had done the most for her home town of Philadelphia. And to top it all, there was an Easter Sunday in Washington when she stood beneath the Lincoln statue and sang for a crowd of 75,000 people including Cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, and most members of Congress. Which of those big moments would she choose? None of them," said Hurok. "Miss Anderson told the reporter that the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she would no longer have to take in washing anymore."

God chose what is weak in the world, despised in the world, low and on the periphery of the world… to bring about healing, hope and right relations between people.” This is the blessing of the foolishness of the Cross and God is calling us to affirm it and rejoice in its reality. O Lord, may we have ears to hear.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

when did we see thee Lord...?

Have I made it clear why I continue to raise concerns - challenge the "alternative facts" we used
to call lies - and call out the current regime every time they violate one of our core values? It is because I am a person of faith who loves my country and knows a measure of history. When the Tea Party Movement began - funded by the Koch Brothers and other ideologues without a conscience - I started to draw fascist/nazi parallels. That was nine years ago and the downward spiral has only gotten worse. Samuel Freedman, writing in Israel's Haaretz, cuts to the chase in "The Dawn of the Dictatorship."

It has taken only nine days of the Trump presidency to see that we are in the dawn of a dictatorship. One of his first executive orders pushed forward a $25-billion plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. Another slammed shut America’s golden door on refugees from the Syrian civil war and both immigrants and already-approved resident aliens from seven majority-Muslim countries. That measure also gave explicit preference to Christians, a religious test for admission that has never existed in American history. Our nation knows by now that it was a fantasy to have expected the Republican Party to act as any kind of brake on the extremism of Trump and his personal Goebbels, Steve Bannon. Well before Trump even took office, all but a handful of Republican senators and representatives had proven themselves gutless wonders. The primary-election opponents he mocked and subjected to conspiracy theories – “Little Marco” Rubio, Ted Cruz, son of that supposed participant in the JFK assassination – endorsed their bullying tormentor.(check it out @ http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.768325)

I was at a regional social justice meeting tonight for BIO - Berkshire Interfaith Organizing - held at Temple Knesset Israel. My friend and colleague, Rabbi David, spoke of how the most recent executive order re: immigrants has caused a wave of fear and uncertainty into his life because his wife holds a green card. Five thousand protesters descended upon New York City's JFK airport yesterday in solidarity with those being forcibly detained or even pushed back on to planes because the Border Patrol has no guidelines for enforcing the President's punitive edict. In 24 hours, our small New England burg turned out 800 people to stand up for refugees in the bitter cold. As another colleague confessed tonight, "this is no longer about Right and Left, it is about Right and Wrong!" Mr. Freedman continues:

If one mistake for those of us in the resistance is to expect an iota of integrity from Republicans in Congress then a second is to believe that even the best investigative reporting will change the minds of Trump’s hard core – those 36 to 40 percent of Americans who approved of him in recent polls. Thanks to decades of efforts by right-wing Republicans to delegitimize reported, factual news as partisan bias, efforts that began with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the late 1960s, a substantial share of the citizenry cannot be persuaded by truth if it contravenes predisposition. At best, some of Trump’s voters will change their mind only after experiencing his unkept promises first hand – when the revival of coal mines and auto plants doesn’t happen, when trade wars kill jobs dependent on the import-export economy, when working-class whites lose their Obamacare coverage in favor of a wholly insufficient tax credit, if even that. Trump’s base must suffer before it learns.

These next few years are going to be bitter, ugly and violent. Good people are going to be hurt and innocent people are going to be ruined before we see the light of day.  The interfaith community's of the USA must seize the moment and articulate a clear "call to conscience." it will not impact the regime, of course, but this is the moment when St. Paul's "foolishness of the Cross" becomes clear. The ONLY litmus test we now have is Matthew 25:  "When did we see Thee Lord and wound, abuse, neglect, jail or starve you? Whenever you did so unto one of the least of these my sisters and brothers you did it unto me." It is one thing for Christian congregations to celebrate a radically open table. It is another entirely to collaborate with those who willingly crucify our Lord. The forgiveness necessary for table fellowship of this magnitude falls to the place of Christ's grace beyond this life. For in the realm of this world, the dialectic of sin and forgiveness is predicated on repentance - learning the consequences of our brokenness and changing direction - anything less is cheap grace. Think about it...

Our congregations, synagogues, mosques and other houses of prayer have now been put on notice that this is the hour we can challenge American fascism. It will take discipline and action. It will demand solidarity beyond our comfort zones. And it will become a matter of life and death before we're done.  My agitation is not partisan: it is born of seeing the face of my Lord in the stranger, the alien, and the one who is most vulnerable. 

This coming Sunday I will begin to teach my congregation about the radical Christian witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was martyred by the Nazis for his opposition to their hatred. In 1933 he wrote:"The church might find itself called “not only to help the victims who have fallen under the wheel, but to fall into the spokes of the wheel itself” in order to halt the machinery of injustice... The Church is the Church only when it exists for others . . . not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” If you are in town, please join us: Sunday, February 5, 2017 @ 10:30 am.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

to everything there is a season...

Tomorrow is the final sermon I will share as a full-time pastor. Yeah, yeah, I know:  I will be back at church the following week - and for some time to come - so for some people they won't even notice the change. But I do - and as the Bard of Vermont is clear to say: we are called to listen to our lives and my life is singing "the party's over!". I shaped tomorrow's message in my head carefully over the past month and committed my first draft to laptop on Tuesday. Since then I have edited a variety of on-line and hard copies about 10 times. We shall see. I will post my final draft after things wrap up tomorrow evening. Two thoughts as this day comes to a close:

+ There is something exhilarating and simultaneously sad about experiencing this 
chapter in my life.  I feel like a burden has been lifted from my soul and I can more fully be authentically the radical disciple of Jesus I have longed to be in public. At the same time, like all good-byes, there is sorrow. 

+ The timing is fortuitous - given the Trump regime. As our resistance ripens, it will become more costly. How serendipitous that I have been rereading/studying Bonhoeffer of late? I loved seeing many of the young and innocent out at today's protest against the regime's ban on Syrian refugees and other Muslim nations where the President doesn't have business holding. But when the intimidation begins - and the threats and violence - many will have to fall away. For this I am glad to have lived through both the 60s and the non-violent campaigns of Cesar Chavez et al.

Three events bring everything full circle for me tomorrow:  worship, our congregational annual meeting and our regional social justice advocacy organizations annual meeting. Each is sacred to me. Each has been close to my heart. And to each I have given much of my soul. Last night I went to sleep soundly at 11:45 pm and then woke up wide-eyed at 3 am with an anxiety attack. Some things never change, right? Farewells are hard for me and while almost invisible to others, tomorrow will be a biggie for this old dude.

Friday, January 27, 2017

thanks for the memories dear friends...

So many friends from so many years and places have been in touch over the past 24 hours after yesterday's blog post that I am overwhelmed - and so grateful. As you each said in wildly different ways: these 35 years have been a blessing given to us all as we shared ministry together in our various towns. It has been my privilege to do this work with you and I thank you profoundly for taking the time to be in touch. Your notes and FB updates filled me with gratitude as they brought back memories that I cherish. I even had a two hour phone call last night with a dear friend I haven't spoken to in ages. Such grace!

It made me think of some of the sweet music we have shared in our various ministries - and how I have been linking popular culture music with the lure of the Spirit in church since 1968. That's almost 50 years!  Back in Darien, CT we played Dylan to start with but soon moved to Quicksilver Messenger Service and even the Mothers of Invention. 

At my ordination (at my home church in Darien) we put together an eclectic opening medley that included "The Internationale" along with "In Christ There Is No East or West" and "De Colores." We did "Good News" by Sweet Honey in the Rock and mixed it up with Dylan's "You Got to Serve Somebody" too. My old buddies Sam Fogal, Al Phillips and Ray Swartzback rocked the house with their words of grace and prophetic challenge.
When we got to Saginaw, MI it took me a few months to get my bearings but then found that "Cats in the Cradle" spoke a true word to over-worked executives while Springsteen's "My Home Town" rang more true for assembly-line folk and the recently unemployed. Given the collapse of the US steel industry in those days and its aftershocks in the auto industry, those were hard times.  We created the first of our Thanksgiving Eve gigs back in that sweet town, too and had a blast singing and sharing together even in the hard times.
Cleveland was a wild ride as we tried to figure out how to do urban ministry in a changing neighborhood. My music director had been in undergraduate school with Dr. King and when we revived the Thanksgiving Eve programs, he brought into my awareness some of the African American classical compositions I had never heard - plus a bit of Scott Joplin.  We tried every possible type of music in those days - from praise and worship songs, the folk music of John McCutcheon to jazz standards and rock and roll - and as I look backwards I give thanks to God for it all. The late Don Wooton turned me on to Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born" and it doesn't get any better than this.

In Tucson we started small but soon created what I thought of as "the liturgical Grateful Dead meets country" with Stranger. Sometimes for our Thanksgiving Eve shows there were 15 people on stage (and in Pittsfield we took that to nearly 30 one time)  I think some of our finest moments outside of those great shows came when we reclaimed the music of U2. We also did some incredible Good Friday gigs mixing David Bowie with Eva Cassidy, Appalachian lament with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bessie Smith. What a blast it all was with incredibly talented musicians with big hearts. For me, this song says it all...

And now Pittsfield - a decade plus of intense beautiful music - with wonderfully generous and gifted musicians. Our Good Friday events have continued to deepen my experiment with non religious music including our take on John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" but also previous years where we mixed U2 with Paul Simon, Allison Krause with Mose Allison, and Benjamin Brittan with John Fogerty. The wildest combination put the prayers of the Easter Vigil on top of a hip hop remix of "Purple Haze." And let's not forget the Thanksgiving Eve shows that created a quasi-gospel choir for "Candle in the Rain" and "Down to the River to Pray." This community is ripe with talent so we've been able to have horn sections, singer song writers, rock and soul and crazy bebop jazz. Here's a few tunes from our first BIG show that was just a total gas...
Now, I'm going to be around these parts for a while to come, and will be working outside my church commitments in an emerging dance band, a rock and roll revue filled with Beatles' tunes and a jazz/interfaith prayer experiment, too. So the music is NOT going to stop - it will just shift a bit - and we'll continue to mix it up in new ways on Sunday worship, too. So thank you from my heart for being in touch. Now let's keep it rockin!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

my full-time gig comes to a close in five days...

In less than a week I will end my calling as a full-time minister in the United Church of Christ. After 35 years of ordination, I will move into a very part-time gig involving 20 hours a week. And while I will still be serving my current congregation for the foreseeable future, inwardly this is a huge change for me. For many, the external manifestations won't look all that different.  I will still preside at Sunday worship, attend and consult with our lay ministries, and offer pastoral care and support to those in need. I will continue to celebrate Eucharist and Baptism, bury the dead and visit the sick, too. But I will do so in a highly circumscribed manner. And it is this radical shift in how I will now use my time and energy, I suspect, that feels so all encompassing.

Over the past two years I have been reading about colleagues in ministry moving into retirement. Some have loved it while others have fought it. Many say they are not yet ready to give up their public identity as clergy. I am experiencing something a bit different, I think, as I sensed I was ready to let go of my public persona as pastor two years ago during our sabbatical in Montreal. There, for the first time in three decades, no one knew me as a minister. No one had any preconceived expectations of who I was or how I should act. I was just the old dude speaking crappy French, loving jazz and grooving on a world class city with abandon in the company of my sweetheart. For the past two years I have wrestled with what to make of all this:  can I be pastor without becoming trapped by others expectations?  (Not really!) Is it possible for me to do ministry in new ways without being dragged back into old and life-draining habits? (A little bit.) What do I want to do differently as I continue to serve God in community? (That is still emerging.)

Two clues continue to take shape and form, however, and I am now ready to explore them with gusto. On Wednesday next, February 1, 2017, I am officially retired. I will still work part-time in our church for a season or two, but only Sunday, Monday and Tuesday each week. That gives me four days out of every seven to direct my life towards:

+ First, the study and practice of spiritual direction:  Almost 20 years ago I discerned that I wanted to do spiritual direction. I started the doctoral program at San Francisco Theological Seminary with that in mind and was working in their joint spiritual direction/doctor of ministry track when I melted down.  When I returned, I postponed the spiritual direction work for a time so that I could concentrate of becoming a more compassionate pastor. That eventually led to our leaving Tucson. For ten years I have explored trying to meld music, spiritual direction and pastoral ministry together in ways that are creative for others and life-giving for me. It has been a good run and I have been mostly blessed by the entire ten years. But now it is my time to take the next step into more rigorous one-on-one spiritual development. So, I'll be reading and exploring Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen and some of the Enneagram masters over the next few months. I'll be heading out to L'Arche in Ottawa, too so that I can experience how Jean Vanier's commitment to tenderness works transforming lives in community. My hope is that by July 2017 I might start to seriously work in this field in a part-time capacity.  

+ Second, the practice and playing of all types of music:  I have two friends playing wildly different types of music with whom I will start to collaborate next week. I want to help people dance. And sing. And experience solidarity across our differences. And I want to do some experimental jazz work in prayer and interfaith compassion, too. So, now I have dedicated time to getting my bass chops back and seeing where the Spirit leads in this realm. My reading in Bonhoeffer of late suggests that this is one of those places where his notion of "religionless Christianity" might take root. The key is nourishing and encouraging people of good will to feel their common ground - and then act from that place rather than their fears and habits. 

I know this is an important, life-changing moment for me that is largely invisible to everyone else. I was with a younger colleague yesterday in support of her candidacy for ordination in our United Church tradition.  After the regional body affirmed the movement of the Holy Spirit in her life, the meeting's chair said to me, "Good work, man, you brought in another winner." I had been thinking about that for a few months and replied, "Yep... one every three years since I arrived!" My pastor when I was in high school, Sam Fogal, once said to me while I was in seminary, "If you can replace yourself in ministry before you retire, you are doing the Lord's work." At the time I wasn't sure I even understood what that meant - but 35 years later I do - and I am grateful that I have encouraged at least five people to enter this crazy life of service to Christ. 

Maybe I'll find a way to do that through spiritual direction or a new dance band, too! Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

day three of the trump regime: an ironic homage to zappa

Back in 1968, as a part of his critique of bourgeois hippie culture and right-wing politics, Frank Zappa released "We're Only in It for the Money" with The Mothers of Invention.  The album clearly advocates for freaks - those creative, non-traditional artists and social visionaries in every age who celebrate freedom and new vistas beyond the status quo - while making it clear that the flower power conformity of suburban hippies is just as aesthetically bankrupt and morally compromised as straight MOR corporate goals.

The closing track, The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny, urges listeners to first read Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" and then listen to what will become standard operating
procedure whether phony hippies or crypto-fascists win the culture wars. On day three of the Trump regime, Zappa's prescient insights are sobering.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

the ten foot rule starts at home...

I was struck today by the congregation's receptiveness to Jean Vanier's "Ten Foot Rule." We playfully considered what it might mean for us personally and as a congregation Rather than fret over the suffering we cannot change, what would it be like if we gave our love and creativity to those in need who are 10 feet away? This started a creative jag for some - and there's likely to be some new liturgical art in the Sanctuary by next Sunday's annual meeting!

Think about it: in a circle with you in the center, you can fit about 75 people into your sphere
of influence, love and compassion. You can touch them. And love them. And know them. And listen to them, too. One of the constant comments that I heard two weeks ago at the Four Freedoms March and Rally, and again yesterday at our Sister Rally in Support of the Women's March on Washington, DC, was this: I didn't know so many people felt the same way I do. I am SO hopeful and encouraged! Social media has its place, don't get me wrong, but as I spontaneously confessed in this morning's message: I need REAL hugs in my life. I like the virtual ones, but I am flesh and blood and need to know I am loved. Jean Vanier put it like this in a conversation with Krista Tippett. They were talking about how technology makes the world smaller and maybe more compassionate when he said:

Or (technology can) take us away from (compassion.) As I had said, you see, I mean, as you look at that Iraqi child and you were wounded and wanted to do something, yet, you were confronted by your incapacity because the child was not in front of you. If that child was in front of you, you could have taken the child in your arms. So we're going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long distance, see things far away that appear as close. But you can't touch them. They're close to the imagination, but they're not close to the body. So let's come back to the reality of the small. There, we can …We can touch them, we can be with them. The difficulty with L'Arche, which is also a beauty — I say it's our difficulty, it's our beauty, is that it's small and it's just very little...

This rings so true to me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

why we march and go to rallies...

Today we joined a "Sister" Rally and March as nearly one million women, men and children made their way to Washington, DC for The Women's March on Washington. (for more information, https://www.womensmarch.com/) Apparently there are over three million people engaged in 637 sister marches across the world, too. We were blessed to see friends and church folk in attendance - and had the privilege of sitting behind these two angels.
For many who have never been engaged in social activism for justice and compassion - and that would include millions of our sisters and brothers in multiple generations - being a part of a march and rally might seem like folly. I know that I have often been circumspect about joining in such events. And sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, there are better ways to use our time. But there are three essential strategic reasons why we march and make the effort to attend rallies like the Four Freedoms March and Rally in Pittsfield two weeks ago and today's Women's March on Washington:

+ First, our presence is a public witness of resistance. The vast majority of Americans do not support bigotry and prejudice. The overwhelming majority of our citizens did not vote for this President. And, the super majority of our neighbors want a homeland that is safe, loving and respectful for all people regardless of faith, gender, race or class.  I believe this is true whether they voted for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. There is an abiding generosity to the American people that historically honors justice and hope.  Sometimes it is scrambled or confused by fear - or overt manipulation, too - and then our lesser angels reign down judgment and corruption on our dreams. We gathered today, however, to celebrate"an uprising of love" knowing that there is a better path for the United States to travel upon than the one Mr. Trump spoke of during his bitter inaugural address.  We march and rally to offer an alternative of love and resistance to the way of hatred - and the fact that this rally was significantly larger than the inaugurations speaks volumes about this moment in time.

+ Second, our gathered presence helps others move into action. Being a part of a huge crowd committed to compassion diminishes isolation. So many of us mostly engage in social media communities that we don't know what it feels like to be embraced by sisters and brothers working for solidarity in the flesh. Rallies and marches (like public worship and some concerts) renew the human dimensions of love so that we no longer feel alone. As a number of people told me as they filled our Sanctuary two weeks ago for the Four Freedoms Rally on January 7: "I had no idea there were so many people who felt like I do! More than anything else, being in the presence of this new community has filled me with a sense of hope that I could never have imagined if I wasn't here in the flesh!"  We march and rally to strengthen our souls in solidarity and overcome our fears with love.
+ And third, we gather together to practice living as part of the beloved community. This is neither sentimental idealism nor pious political hyperbole: these events, when they are well organized, are saturated in love and respect. People look out for one another here - and as we experience this caring community in the midst of strangers - we begin to sense how life could be lived.  Rallies and marches are prefigurative encounters with the beloved community where we have one another's back, where there is a place at the table for everyone, and where we are encouraged to practice sharing by all so that there is scarcity for none.  These events are about living into our highest values together and they are a living antidote to cynicism and sarcasm. We march together to become our best selves.

Now, after the marches and rallies, we must be engaged in disciplined action like calling our elected officials every day and helping them understand our support for love, justice, and compassion and why it matters. Still, there can be great value in simply coming together with like minded sisters and brothers in the flesh from time to time. I was blessed by being a part of today's rally - and I hope you were, too!  

Last night, as Dianne was crocheting her "pussy hat" I wondered what difference this little symbol might make. And then I saw hundreds of women and men wearing them - we even passed her hat on to our buddy Andy who was coming into the rally as we were leaving - and it hit me: this was another, tangible way of creatively and lovingly sharing what we hold dearest. We are each unique and precious children of God who have been called to protect and cherish each and every one of us as family. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

you can do this hard thing...

The wise Parker Palmer recently posted "The Soul of a Patriot" over at Krista Tippett's excellent sight: On Being (http://www. onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-the-soul-of-a-patriot/9146) The essay cuts to the chase with these words:

On January 20, 2017, the country I love will inaugurate a man who embodies many of our culture’s most soulless traits: adolescent impulsiveness, an unbridled drive for wealth and power, a taste for violence, nonstop narcissism, and massive arrogance. A man who has maligned women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and Mother Earth — a man who’d sooner deny the obvious than apologize for the outrageous — will become President of the United States.

How do I stay engaged and whole on the shadow side of democracy? I’ve been putting that question to my soul, and the response has been unnerving. It seems I’m being called to become a “patriot,” a word I scrapped years ago when it was co-opted by the “God, Guns, Guts, and Glory” gang. But a passage about patriotism by pastor/activist William Sloane Coffin — who spoke in the voice of the soul — has me looking for ways to reclaim that word for myself: There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.

That gets it as right as can be gotten for me:  in an hour a vulgar, pseudo-populist authoritarian huckster will be sworn into the office of President of the United States. Mr. Trump's claim to credibility is his business acumen - what America needs is a savvy business man he tells us - although his track record is dubious and his business ethics appalling. What he's really selling, of course, is nostalgia and fear under the barely disguised mantle of white supremacy. He has seduced American evangelical Christians into making a bargain with the Devil (see Mt. 4:8-11) and crudely lied to the world about his business finances, conflicts of interests and all too cozy
relationship with Russia. And to add insult to injury has nominated a slate of cabinet officers as his policy enforcers who are fundamentally unqualified and woefully ignorant of the tasks they have been assigned to implement. Betsey De Vos for Education? Ben Carson for HEW? Rick Perry for Energy? (To be fair, a few others are wise and potentially credible, even if I disagree with their political perspective.)  Ironically, this inauguration is as if Mr. Trump decided to parody Gil Scott-Heron's biting proto-hip hop masterpiece, "B Movie" without understanding that Mr. Heron was pimping Ronald Reagan as a cheap imitation of John Wayne. 

To engage our new reality instead of denying or degrading it, Palmer offers four ways to live as a patriot as we enter the Age of Trump. His insights are worth reviewing.

First, it must be a quarrel about what is and isn’t true. The president-elect’s enablers have proclaimed truth passé. To cite three of them:

“There's no such thing…anymore as facts.”
Scottie Nell Hughes

“You [journalists take] everything…so literally. The American people…[understand] that sometimes [like at a bar] you’re going to say things [with no] facts to back it up.”
Corey Lewandowski

“You [reporters] always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth…”
Kellyanne Conway

We who hold the quaint belief that it’s often possible to tell whether what comes out of

a mouth is true or false need to assert the facts every chance we get. Last week, for example, the man who says that only he can save our economy claimed that there are “96 million… wanting a job [who] can’t get [one].” False. There are “roughly 96 million people not in the labor force, but that includes retirees, students and others who don’t want jobs. Only 5.5 million of them want work.” The unemployment rate, which neared ten percent every month of 2010, was five percent or less every month of 2016.

Facts are so tedious, aren’t they? And they won’t change the minds of true believers. But we need to preserve them for the same reason Medieval monasteries preserved books: the torches have come to town. Let’s try to remember that science and the Enlightenment gave us ways to test the truth-claims of potentates and prelates, laying the foundations for our little experiment in democracy. Until someone blows up the lab, we must proclaim the facts, then tuck them into a fireproof vault until we need them again.

Propaganda and intimidation depends on our ignorance, laziness and fear so let us not throw in the intellectual and ethical towel just because we feel defeated. As Winston Churchill used to say:  In defeat - defiance!  Let it be so among those who cherish compassion and truth.

Second, we must engage in civil discourse across political divides, without compromising our convictions. That’s been a daunting task to date, it’s going to get even harder for a while, and we’re not very good at it. But this much is clear: for dialogue to succeed, participants must have something in common.  I believe we have all kinds of shared interests. We breathe the same air, use the same roads and bridges, depend on the same institutions, and must find ways to live in harmony for the sake of our children and grandchildren. But appeals to the obvious have yet to bring us together. So my hope lies in a shared condition that isn’t yet with us, but soon will be, I believe.When he fails to deliver, people who were political enemies in 2016 will find common ground, and a Coalition of the Disillusioned will become possible. I’m disillusioned by the shell game that took this man to the White House. People who supported him because he promised to bring back lost jobs, revive the middle class, restore law and order, and kill ISIS will become disillusioned soon enough. That prediction brings me no joy, but it seems highly likely.

Less than two weeks ago, over 2000 Berkshire citizens came out in sub-freezing weather for the Four Freedoms March and Rally. As they filled our Sanctuary and streets, it became clear that these good souls were hungry for solidarity. They wanted to know they were not alone in holding out for compassion and hope. They ached to community. And as countless participants said at the closing, "I just needed to be here. Knowing that there are so many others who live and feel the way I do is healing enough for this day."  Bonhoeffer, whom I am currently studying again, used to teach that in every society there were a majority of people who may not be a part of a faith community, but who aspired to the values of Christ. They consciously chose to live for life rather than death, hope instead of despair, compassion in the face of oppression and violence. This is the hour when our work must reach out to this community:  they are waiting and will respond but need encouragement. 

Third, this lover’s quarrel needs to surface what’s not being said. This is a form of
fierce-love truth-telling as critical to the health of our civic relationships as it is in our intimate relationships. Amid all the talk about the “why” of the election results, we’ve not talked enough about the fact that, by mid-century, over half of U.S. citizens will be people of color. After 250 years, we’re at the beginning of the end of white dominance in this country. It’s no coincidence that white votes were key to the election, nor that white nationalists and supremacists rallied so enthusiastically to the winner’s banner, with precious little push-back from him. We’re either in the death throes of a culture of white supremacy, or resuming our unfinished American Civil War. Either way, we who care about the fate of this land and all who live in it need to invoke the soul’s help in trying to steer these death-dealing energies toward life-giving outcomes.

Finally, if it’s going to be a lover’s quarrel, we need to keep the love alive.Paradoxically, this means remembering that this country we love has forever fallen short of its own values and visions. I can truly love another person only if I don’t romanticize him or her. The same is true of loving my country.
The next time you hear the fanciful notion that we must make America great again, think slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Joe McCarthy, Iraq, homelessness and hunger, the greed-driven financial meltdown of 2008, and much, much more. Then note how we double down on our illusions by claiming that we are “a shining city upon a hill.”

There is new and exciting work to be done in this age of despair. It is soul work. It is the work of cultural healing - and truth telling in tenderness - for this is the age of reclaiming integrity from the inside out and sharing it with courage and trust and humility. Like many of my sisters and brothers, I won't be watching the inauguration today. I will be listening to Carrie Newcomer and other doctors of the soul who invite me into the "beloved community."  We can do this hard thing...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

... both alike forgiving.

One of the gifts I have discovered of late is Bonhoeffer's fierce commitment to the dialectical reality of Christian faith. Some might speak of faith paradoxically, too but this might blur the important tension in the dialectic. A poem from Letters and Papers from Prison, DB gives expression to the both/and of this challenge when he wrote this in July 1944.

Men go to God when they are sore bestead, Pray to him for succour, for his peace, for bread, For mercy for them sick, sinning, or dead; All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

Men go to God when he sore bestead, Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread, Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead; Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

God goes to every man when sore bestead,
Feeds body and spirit with his bread;
For Christians, heathens alike he hangeth dead,
And both alike forgiving.

In Letters and Papers it is called "Christians and Unbelievers." In a 1990 reworking from A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (eds GB Kelly and FB Nelson (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1990), p. 549, the poem becomes "Christians and Pagans."

People turn to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God’s own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God’s own bread,
takes up the cross for Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

In spite of the exclusive language, I favor the first rendering even as I appreciate the intent of the second. What is clear in both, however, is the dialectical nature of grace: God shares grace with all whether we grasp, understand or commit to responding in gratitude. Others have said that verse one describes the human condition, verse two sheds light on the calling of the committed, and verse three points to the radical nature of God's love. "For Christians, heathens alike he hangeth dead and both alike forgiving." describes the essence and activity of the one who is Holy..

In another section of Letters and Papers, Bonhoeffer confesses that all we can know about God has been articulated in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as Christ. What I find compelling in this, even in its challenge, is the unsentimental weaving together of Christ's humanity and divinity. It is not one or the other, but always both at the same time. This keeps me away from making pious statements about Christ that are not born out in his flesh. When I ask myself, "How have I learned about humility?" for example, I know there is a strong correlation between experiencing humiliation and eventually discovering the humor of my state of being. Maybe irony, too. At any rate, I have fundamentally learned to be silent after failing, sinning, and falling on my face. Humiliation. From sorrow, pain and disappointment, too. My working hunch, therefore, is that what is true in my flesh, was equally true for Jesus. For the past week I have been making a list of what human experiences may have helped Jesus grow in humility through the humiliations he experienced as a child, a refugee, a fatherless boy with questionable paternity, a Jew living under Roman occupation and so much more. 

By doing this, I am discovering that my faith and trust grows - Christ's weakness does not diminish my faith, but strengthens it - as I have come to experience in the foolishness of the Cross and all its emptiness. There's more to say about this, but for now the wisdom of the dialectic is helping renew my faith in this strange journey called life.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

trading places - the united church gets it right - and I am grateful...

I have made it clear over the past 18 months that I see the Trump movement as akin (but not identical) to the rise in fascism in what became Nazi Germany in the 1930s. I am not flip nor facile with this analogy. There are significant differences in the 21st century versions of the current authoritarian populism that is rising to the surface in Western democracies and we should not blur the truth to bolster our emotions or advance our partisan politics.

At the very same time, however, let us not be blind or optimistic about this moment in time. Neither let us be pious or sentimental about the office of the President of the USA. Our German relatives chose to excuse, ignore and appease National Socialism in the Wiemar Republic only to act stunned at the deadly consequences.  One of the Christian spiritual disciplines that mature believers practice is "saying yes and saying no." Understanding that we must take a stand beyond propriety from time to time, we let the Cross clarify that our stand will not be driven by fear or self-aggrandizement. Bonhoeffer spoke of Jesus as "the Man for others" and that must always be our standard for evaluating our yes or our no.

My church, the United Church of Christ, released an on-line video today that speaks to this challenge. It is entitled, "Trading Places." It is not coincidental that it was released just two days before the Trump inauguration. It may be the best gift the national church has given to our nation in decades. Today I give thanks for this strong, tender but boldly clear-headed invitation to compassion and solidarity in these trying times. Please share with abandon.

Monday, January 16, 2017

returning thanks and thinking deeper about mlk...

Marking MLK Day is a sacred ritual in my life of faith. Too often, however, the Dr. King I hear about in public ceremonies and newspaper testimonials bears little resemblance to the man who was martyred. Equally troubling is how MLK's birthday has been transformed into yet another three-day weekend. Small wonder King's colleague, Vincent Harding, called him "an inconvenient hero." For most Americans we have frozen MLK in time, sanitized his history, stripped away all revolutionary temperament, and recast him as a humble Black preacher singing "Kum Ba Ya."  Such a caricature emasculates King's complex challenge and call to justice for too many among us who thrive on social amnesia.  Quoting poet Carl Wendell Hines, Dr. Harding cuts to the chase saying now that King is safely dead:

Let us praise him
build monuments to his glory
sing hosannas to his name.
Dead men make
such convenient heroes: They
cannot rise
to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.
And besides,
it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world.

It is clear that America's quest to overcome our racist history and habits has entered a new phase. Neo-Nazi and and white supremacist allies of  Mr. Trump and his ilk have awakened a new struggle against white privilege in 2017. We
 would be remiss in our quest for a more perfect union if we ignored the wisdom Dr. King has to offer about race relations, equality and the pursuit of the American dream for all people. Nearly 50 years after his assassination, however, MLK's more radical agenda demands a hearing, too. You see, he was not gunned down in Memphis like an animal because of his dreams, but rather because of his deeds. 

After starting to dismantle American apartheid in the South, he moved North to take on the issue of housing and job discrimination. He called out the connection between our military-industrial-technological wars in developing nations and the fact that most of our cannon fodder came from communities of color.  And, he was organizing the Poor People's March on Washington to help us all dismantle the greed and fear that poisoned our whole nation not just the wounds of the most oppressed. "Whatever affects one directly," he told us, "affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."  

Let us not sentimentalize this all too human hero nor put him on a shelf to be dusted off once a year and then ignored. Rather, let us choose to let MLK make us uncomfortable so that we that his dream becomes our deeds.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

blessed are those who mourn...

And so it begins, the dismantling of our social safety net, just as they promised:  an all night Senate session started the process to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. It will, of course, not all take place at once. Nor will last night's act immediately penalize those with contracts through 2017. But if the Trump regime acts in such a way as to keep the US Treasury from funding carriers, then insurance companies can and will bail from their commitments even in the middle of the year. TIME Magazine wrote that this could mean life or death for cancer patients in the middle of treatment. Senator Bernie Sanders said it will likely mean 36,000 unnecessary deaths every year. 

Next door, President Obama awarded VP Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a surprise farewell to his comrade in compassion. The dignity and love -the gravitas, humility and humor - of this ceremony stood in such stark contrast to the cowardice actions  of Congress - not to mention the recent press conference of the PEOTUS - that I felt impelled to share with you this poem by one of my favorite writers: Diana Butler Bass. These are grave times, unlike anything the US has experienced in our long history, for this is our era of American fascism. I read this poem and wept because it resonated with my heart - and the way of the Cross my Lord calls me to follow . In ten days white people of conscience and faith will begin to live into the truth of what people of color and social vulnerability have always known in the US::  we may deeply love our country and be hated and despised by its practices.: 

Inaugural Parade
Diana Butler Bass c. 2017

Stripped naked,
hungry, left in a ditch

to die

They paraded by
All of them,
Gold-plated glories
hailed by reluctant bands
and choirs of tear-stained angels

We are great again

Dig deeper.
There - at the side of the road -
leave the losers there.

Unhuman really

They marched forth flaunting their spoils:
No food
No doctor
No aid
No help
No equality
No rights
No peace
No justice
No truth
No Samaritans
No Jews
No Muslims
No Mexicans
No Women

No black, no brown to obscure the whitened perfection of the Unconquered Sun.

The crowd swelled the litany:

We have NO king but Caesar!

Yet one: yes

lifting the wounded toward a different light
and whispering: this is the Way

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted
credit: Ted De Grazia

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

four freedoms coalition takes aim at hatred and fear...

I would never have prayed for the arrival of Mr. Trump as the President-Elect of the United States - and genuinely fear for many of us when he takes office in ten days. Nevertheless, as I experience people of conscience and compassion responding to his threats with creative, compassionate and constructive vigor, I must confess that I am grateful to be living in these times. Let's be clear: these next two years (before mid-term elections offer a corrective) will be trying and ugly for many of us. This is especially true for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees.  

Now is the season defined by inaugural hubris during which a host of mean-spirited and cruel actions are certain to take place. Some will involve legislation, others will come from individuals and groups who feel free to act out their fears and hatred. After eight years of well-funded Tea Party hate talk,race baiting and legislative obstructionism, we should expect nothing less for the United States is reaping what we have sown. And yet, o felix culpa (happy/joyous sin from the Easter Vigil liturgy), there is a growing resistance taking root throughout this land in a variety of religious congregations, arts councils, solidarity alliances and more that will surround our vulnerable neighbors with love and join them is securing safety, hope and dignity in the face of all threats. It is genuinely a unique moment in our history. This past weekend 2000+ Berkshire citizens marched and gathered in our Sanctuary on a frigid afternoon - 1% of Berkshire County - to dedicate ourselves to opposing the bigotry, fear and hatred that has been unleashed by the new administration.
In ways I never imaged some are reclaiming a commitment to nonviolent action and public resistance to evil. Others are learning to integrate community solidarity with alliances beyond ideological barriers. And still more are starting to plan strategically for nourishing a deep moral center that simultaneously takes politics and legislation seriously but is not limited to the confines of any political party. Check out our local story @https://theberkshireedge.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

ain't gonna let nobody turn me around...

The darkness of winter feels especially profound to me tonight: we were able to extend the joy of Epiphany for two full days in our home first by celebrating with two thousand plus Berkshire friends and neighbors in the Four Freedoms March and Rally; and then by feasting and opening Christmas gifts with our Brooklyn family last night. The light was ecstatic - making the darkness even more pronounced.

Tomorrow I will likely return to my Bonhoeffer reflections. In less that two weeks the USA begins the official era of Trump-mania. Brother Dietrich once said: Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. He also made this stunning observation: Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. All too soon, we who choose resistance and love will know explicitly what this means for our generation.

For tonight, therefore, I choose to bask in the goodness of love, solidarity and the tenderness of this Epiphany weekend knowing that they will soon become public acts of resistance. At no time in my life have I felt the paradox of Christ's Cross so vividly. And like Bonhoeffer, I give thanks to God. Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear ... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.

Here are some pictures from the light of our Epiphany weekend...

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:...