Saturday, September 30, 2017

down by the riverside: honoring the holy on river sunday...

On Sunday, October 1, 2017 we'll focus our attention on River Sunday.
It is the close of the new/old liturgical "Season of Creation" cycle. My thoughts start with this poem by Maren Tirabassi from September 27, 2017.

I am tired to tears of tweets.

I want a long story
full of narrative twists
and wondering what the motivation
of some character is.

I want a persuasive argument
that weighs opposing sides
without instant
condemnation or approval,
and recognizes values that inform
different points of view.

I want a subtle sermon
that only jolts me awake
hours later when I am walking the dog.

I want a conversation
that could never be called a chat –
one where people
who respect one another
can let some silences settle
and consider
the words to come next.

I want a symphony,
rather than a jingle,
a photograph of the Grand Canyon
that is not a selfie,

a long community mural
on a city wall,
a commitment to therapy
in an imperfect relationship,
the beginnings of negotiation
that will not garner political perks
for maybe years,

the accompaniment
of those who have faced
natural disasters beyond photo op
and into life.

Increased character limit
was not what I had in mind.

Next, there are three biblical insights from the story of Noah to consider:

+ What are the metaphorical and theological connections between the creation story that opens Genesis 1 and the flood of Genesis 8?

+ What does it mean for us to know that throughout the early mythology of our Hebrew cousins in faith, the Earth accepts the consequences of sin and violence much as Christ does?

+ Why was the rainbow chosen to be a sign of God's covenant for both creation and the Creator?

My closing includes "Down By the Riverside" and these words from poet Maya Angelou:

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.

The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.

The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.

Friday, September 29, 2017

what do you want to do before you leave...

One of my dear friends and colleagues, Lee from Chicago, recently said to me: if there is anything you have always wanted to do in ministry but haven't yet accomplished it, make sure you give it a shot before you depart. Wise and even sobering words for me as I consider what would honor the heart of Jesus over the next 120 days. (Who is counting?) I've done most of the big projects over the past 35 years. Consequently, I don't feel a compelling drive to do anything more except... lead a closing worship series based upon Jean Vanier's writings on the mystical blessings found in St. John's gospel.

The light of God... was hidden and yet revealed in all creation... the light of the world, God, is hidden in the conscience of each person, so that we can all become children of God.

If I have learned anything during my days in ministry, it is this: unless we experience from the inside that we are truly God's beloved, we won't live like Jesus' brother or sister on the outside. We will remain trapped in the values and goals of a consumer culture. We will concentrate on ourselves - our anxiety, grief, achievements and status - rather than let love guide us in every moment. We will treat God as an add-on to our busy and even frantic existence rather than our core. We will build lives where we act like we are the crown of creation.  Jesus offers an alternative. It is quiet, hidden, rarely discerned at first because the way of Jesus is not flashy.  Vanier writes:

Why did the Word-made-flesh (the essence and totality of God's wisdom) need someone (like John the Baptizer) to prepare the way for him? Wasn't it because he did not want to be seen first of all as a powerful person, creating fear and awe in others? Jesus did not come in power and majesty, but as a lamb, in humility and littleness. John the Baptizer was a spectacular person. He attracted people because he lived like a prophet, austerely in the desert... He cried out and challenged people as other prophets did. But Jesus was not spectacular. He dressed simply. He did not live in the desert but in an obscure village with ordinary people like us. He loved to be with people who were poor or sic, people who felt rejected and excluded from society. He became their friend... It is Jesus who will lead us in and through the dailiness of life into something new: a simple, loving friendship with God where we will be free from fear, hatred and violence. Free to love people, particularly those who are weak and suffering.

My mentor, Ray Swartzback, used to say that if we couldn't make the gospel real in our broken urban centers, where human pain was obvious, there was no way in hell it could take root in our suburbs. In our affluent and bourgeois
communities. anguish is kept well hidden. Human suffering is masked beneath distractions, addictions, pretty clothes, fast cars, nice home, manicured lawns and a super abundance of activities. I knew that "Swartzy's" wisdom was true 40 years ago when I served as his pastoral intern. And after 35+ years of ordained ministry as a pastor to the middle class, I have experienced this truth in my bones.

So, I think my swan song will likely be a midwinter series using Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus as my guide. Vanier writes in the introduction:

The life of God which Jesus came to give us through a new birth and growth in the Holy Spirit.. is a life of friendship with Jesus that brings us out of self-centeredness to a centeredness in God and others - into a new (experience) of God. (It is worth noting that) the author of John's gospel refers to himself as "the beloved disciple." He never calls himself by his name and this is significant; he speaks of himself only in relationship to Jesus, as if his real value and identity flow from this relationship... By signing the gospel as the "beloved disciple," perhaps the author wants to reveal that each one of us can identify with him and become a "beloved of Jesus."

That's is my deepest hope as I prepare to close this chapter of a blessed life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

or you could just be silent...

One of the many reasons I find myself drawn to the people, spirituality and practice of tenderness at L'Arche has just become clear to me: at the core of this community is the radical acceptance of one another in love. Jean Vanier has observed that meeting another without trying to change him/her is essential for living in the heart of God. As an intellectual, I often think of this in relationship to others. But what is beginning to dawn on me is that I, too ache to be cherished just for who I am. Not what I can do for another, not as a commodity to be used and discarded, and not as a resource. Simply for who I am. In other context Vanier notes that each of us long to belong.

There are many layers to this longing in me including age, vitality, commitment to Christ, retirement, white male privilege and so much more.  Let me simply say that while all of my layers are real and have value, what I have rarely owned is my profound inner loneliness. I know there are times when I have been useful. I know that I have often been helpful and necessary, too. But there have not nearly been as many times when I was valued just for being. As I enter into the retirement groove, it does my heart good to know that L'Arche is ready to welcome me as me. Of course, there are things I can bring to the community - music, prayer, presence, the wisdom of experience and the ability to write with clarity - but mostly we recognize a mutual attraction that cuts deeper than words. How does St. Paul put it, "The Spirit groans for us with sighs too deep for human words."

An example of this took place recently when I freaked out about my limited
ability to converse in French.  I was reassured that there would often be some bilingual folk around to assist me so I need not worry. "Or" wrote the director, "you could just be silent." Isn't that perfect? For a preacher? Shut up and just BE there? Don't try to think it through, control it or beat yourself up for what you don't have. There will ALWAYS be things beyond my control. Why not just be present and be still?  Again I think of the invitation to "be still and know that I am God."

As I read, pray and wait my way into this next phase of faith, I am discerning that I clearly have a place in this small L'Arche community. I don't know why. And I don't really have to know why. I just know it is so.

Monday, September 25, 2017

let it go...

One of the realities I am beginning to experience since choosing to move into full retirement (and not part-time ministry which is a misnomer if ever there was one) is an odd mixture of grief and relief. My grief has multiple levels: I regret the things left incomplete, the sorrow over the times I failed to deliver, the sadness in leaving cherished members without trusted pastoral care and so much more. At the same time, I know in my soul that this is the right time to let go - and my heart feels one hundred pounds lighter. As I've realized before, there truly IS a time for all things under heaven.

One aspect of feeling liberated has to do with letting go of fretting. Oh, I am certain I will find replacements, but a lifelong pastoral dilemma has been worrying about stupid administrative decisions. I've made more than my fair share over 35 years. I have learned how rushing towards unreflective efficiency can become trouble, too. Especially when I sense that theological consideration and waiting upon the Lord has been abrogated. Such is the human condition, yes? But now I am starting to practice letting it go. it has been - and will continue to be - the challenge of my existence.

Yesterday, however, while driving into a late afternoon blazing sun, I listened to Jennifer Warnes' exquisite take on Leonard Cohen's "Joan of Arc." It is operatic in ways that I've missed before. It is cathartic, too. So as unexpected tears ran down my face, I sang along from some place long buried deep within, from the safety of my rental car.

Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc

As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armor bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white

To wear upon my swollen appetite

It really IS time to let it go.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

a time for quiet...

Taking a wee break from writing over the next week. After meeting meeting our blessed granddaughter, Antonia, and spending lots of time with her wonderful brother, Louie, this week, it is time for some inward reflection.  I made the decision two weeks ago to finally leave pastoral ministry. It has been two years + in the making and I feel a deep, deep peace (My departure letter is below.)

So now it is time to listen carefully for new directions. I have a few clues and will follow up on them as the new week unfolds. But mostly this will be a time of solitude and Sabbath trusting that the One who is Holy not only knows better than I do, but that she will help me gain clarity as it becomes necessary. Last week, as I prepared my worship notes for this morning, I was struck by the fact that after his call into public ministry, Jesus went into the desert.

Traditionally this has been interpreted as a time of testing - and that is true. But based on the insights of Vanier and Rohr I have started to believe that it was also a deepening of his commitment to becoming little. Open and alert like the small child Jesus often says is the one most receptive to the presence of the kingdom of God.  Jesus waits upon the Lord in silence. He becomes less so that God can become greater. Vanier writes: when we, like Jesus, recognize our own weaknesses, we can ask for help. We can work together. We can become the Body as we realize we need each other.

Fr. Richard Rohr recently wrote something similar: The root of violence is the illusion of separation - from God, from Being itself, from being one with everyone and everything. When you don't know you are connected and one, you will invariably resort to some form of violence to get the dignity and power you lack. Contemplation gradually trains you not to make so much of the differences, but to return to who you are (your true self in God)( which is always beyond nationality, religion, skin color, gender and sexuality... (For) when you can become little enough, naked enough and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. At this place of poverty and freedom, you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. You can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs.

I trust this is true at my core. I am stepping out in faith and
bringing one ministry to a close so that another might unfold. And I am going to listen quietly for a spell as a child to see what might be shared. (NOTE:  the following is my letter of retirement.)

September 15, 2017

Dear Colleagues and Friends at First Church:

It has become clear that the time for me to move fully into my retirement is upon us. While away in Quebec recently I wrestled vigorously with this decision. I thought there might be creative alternatives to explore. I was mistaken. There are three fundamental reasons why I believe now is the right time for me to fully retire from pastoral ministry at First Church:

• Many of you know the agonizing health crises my family faced this past year. When I prayerfully look at whatever years remain for me, I sense God’s insistence that I claim a new way of living with these precious people now.

• The work our community is doing re: financial responsibility – using our facility as a resource rather than an albatross – continues, albeit in slow and complicated ways. This effort will bear fruit in the long run, but I do not have the stamina necessary to see this project to completion.

• Two years ago I discerned that just as God once called me into pastoral ministry, God has now called me out. For 35+ years I have served the Body of Christ with joy; that joy is now concluded. I trust that the Lord has something new in store for me even if I am not fully clear what that means. So, listening with my heart, I will begin another leg of my journey in faith beyond parish ministry.

I am working out the details with Personnel to include a public celebration of our ministry together sometime early in the New Year. During this transition I want to be intentional in saying our farewells carefully in the spirit of Christ. I cherish the people of First Church and Pittsfield and seek to use this time to faithfully bring our shared ministry to a respectful close. This has added significance for me as I am not moving on to a new congregation, but a whole new way of living as I enter full retirement.

I am grateful for the hard work and sacrificial love many of us have shared in Christ’s name. I am touched by the kind words the Moderator has offered in support of my retirement. I give thanks to God for the fulfillment of my season at First Church even as the Spirit leads me towards new vistas.

Grace and peace to you,
James Lumsden

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

reflections on vanier at 89 (part three)

In part three of this series of reflections on the work and wisdom of Jean Vanier at 89, please consider this insight by Hans S. Reinders, Bernard Lievegoed Professor of Ethics and Mental Disability at the Free University of Amsterdam. Vanier has learned, Reinders, writes that "community is not about trying to live a shared idea."

Rather, it is about learning the truth about oneself and others. Contrary to a frequent misreading of its experience, L'Arche has nothing to do with an ideal community that is shaped my morally exceptional people. Instead it has everything to do with people learning to be with each other and be accepted as who and what they are. Thus understood, learning to live in L'Arche is not about following a pattern or a plan according to which the moral self must be shaped. Its gestures of community are about accepting brokenness and limitation in order to create the freedom of celebrating difference.
                                      (The Paradox of Disability, ed. Hans S. Reinders, p. 6)

For idealists, romantics or those of us driven by a disembodied notion of doing "God's will" with our lives, living into this truth can be simultaneously frightening and disorienting. We hunger and thirst after righteousness (justice and authentic compassion.) We are striving, however, to participate in a healing in the world that we have not yet encountered within our hearts. With zeal, we fight against the social forces that wound the vulnerable. We earnestly challenge oppression and passionately critique the status quo. In solidarity, we whole-heartedly link our identities with various movements for collective transformation. Only to discover one day that we have burned out. Or become disillusioned with leaders who are imperfect, women or men with feet of clay, who break our hearts.  

In such moments, it is incomprehensible that our despair also holds the key to our happiness. All we know is darkness, not light; anger, not joy; confusion, not clarity. Consequently, some become cynical and quit trying. Others self-medicate their pain and try to push it away with externals. And a few seek the counsel of those wiser than themselves and practice going into their suffering so that they might be embraced by vulnerability and spiritual resurrection. "As Vanier has explained many times, there is no way of doing something for other people if you do not first learn how to receive whatever gift they have to offer, which presupposes your willingness to accept that you also are a person in need. The L'Arche community is about learning to receive other people as God's gift." (ibid, p. 4)

Speaking from within my own experience of activism for peace and justice in the 1960s and 70s - including organizing with Cesar Chavez's farm workers union - my early motivation had to do with building the kingdom of God on earth. My go to Biblical texts were: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Mt. 6: 33) and "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9: 62) In pursuit of becoming a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, I became a vegetarian. "How can I be a person against death," I asked, "if I eat death to live?" In fact, those type of questions dominated my quest to eradicate contradiction from my being. I genuinely believed that with enough effort and education, I could train myself to become a true man of peace. Like other young people of good will and idealism, I was certain that if I failed at something, I just needed to try a little harder and I could make it work. 

So, when things went south with Cesar, the bottom of my world dropped out. I couldn't fix things so I became despondent over his frailties and disappointed with his cynical and faulty leadership. I couldn't make it better and became angry, too. How could a once revered icon of nonviolence turn out to also be a small minded demagogue with cultist tendencies? I was vicious with my critique and ran into the embrace of the Church seeking yet another external expression of healing. In time, it was inevitable that I would discover that it too was more the broken body of Christ than a community of the committed. Often, it was petty. Or fearful. And it's vision was shaped more by its wounds than the grace of God. Again, I was hurt and angry. Same was true for my work in traditional electoral politics. And when that turned out to be less than I hoped for, I still didn't look within - or own that my quest for outward healing was driven by my own inner suffering - until my divorce. That is when I had to face my own fears and failures.  In the 12 Step movement this is called: hitting bottom. 

Now, the thing about hitting bottom is that it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. It is humiliating - the curse - but can nourish humility - the blessing. It is a total failure and hurts even as it holds the possibility of new life. Vanier put it like this in The Heart of L'Arche describing how he came to accept the presence of the Lord in people with intellectual or physical challenges at a time when he was at wits end:

If, at times, some people with disabilities awakened a new tenderness in me, and it was a joy to be with them, at different moments others awakened my anger and defensiveness. I was frightened that they might touch my own vulnerability. At times I felt agitated and ill at ease with them, just the opposite of the peace and openness I needed to be present to them. It is hard to admit the darkness, fears, anguish, confusion and psychological hatred in our own hearts, all of which hid our past hurts and reveal our inability to love. If we love only those who love and affirm us, is it really love? It it not simply self-love? 

For those who like me, have always been able to do what they like and have always succeeded, it is difficult (to learn to love); at the same time it can be a real source of salvation and growth to discover our poverty and our powerlessness, and to be confronted by failure. I had to accept my own difficulties and poverty, and look for help. Faced with my anger and inability to love, I came into contact with my own humanity - and become humbler. I discovered that I was frightened of my own dark places, always wanting to succeed, to be admired and ready with the right answers. I was hiding my poverty... (what I came to realize) is that to become a friend to people in need, I needed to pray and work on myself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and with good human and spiritual accompaniment... I had to learn to accept myself without any illusions. I had to discover how to forgive and discover my own need for forgiveness. Little by little, the weak and the powerlessness helped me to accept my own poverty, to become more full human and grow in inner wholeness. (pp. 34-35)

He discovered that if he let the wounded lead him into those places he dreaded, in time there was blessing. There was peace. There was love. By going into the darkness with others saturated in patience, he came to experience - and then trust - a love greater than his fears. Jesus promised as much to Peter in St. John's retelling of the resurrection: after Peter's betrayal and anguish - after the disciple's alienation and awareness of his own conflicted nature - not only would there be Christ's forgiveness, but also a life beyond dread and panic. "Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (John 21: 18)

The charism of Vanier's work in L'Arche is "to reveal to an age obsessed with
achievements that the essential value of each person lies not in the intelligence, but in the wisdom of the heart." (The Heart of L'Arche, p. 12) It is a small gift. A mustard seed in a field of confusion. And it points towards the peace that passes all understanding that we ourselves cannot obtain alone.  Effort, education, wealth and status cannot bring us to the place of peace: striving does not work. T.S. Eliot brilliantly summarizes human folly like this:

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

("The Rock," T.S. Eliot)

Vanier's alternative to human arrogance is nourishing the love of God: letting others see my poverty gives them space to love me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

becoming smaller...

Once upon a time, o so long ago, I asked a wise believer for some clues about "how to discern the will of God" in your life? The reply has been pure gold: 1) Is it possible? 2) Is there support and encouragement from three other wise, time-tested people you trust? 3) Is it resonant with the heart of Jesus? 4) Is it lasting - or just the ebb and flow of emotions? Over the past three days - in four separate conversations, in my study for Sunday's message, and in my on-going reading of Vanier and Rohr - one theme kept crashing upon the shore of my consciousness:  now is a season of becoming less so that God can become more. Fr. Richard Rohr put it like this yesterday:

When you can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. At this place of poverty and freedom, you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. Here you can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is even a basis for fear or greed—the things that usually cause us to be angry, suspicious, and violent.

Vanier puts a slightly different emphasis on this truth, but the heart is the same:

The poor person is one who is in need, who recognizes this need and who cries out for help. Weakness is frequently considered a defect. Yet are we not all weak and needy in some way? We all have our vulnerabilities, our limits and our disabilities. When we recognize our weakness, we can ask for help; we can work together. We need each other. It is obvious that the weak need the strong, but, as we are discovering in L'Arche, the strong also need the weak.

Later in his extended essay, "The Heart of L'Arche," Vanier continues:

(The weak) awakened a part of my being that had been underdeveloped and dormant. Through them, a new world began to open up for me, not the world of efficiency, competition, outward success and power, but the world of the heart, of vulnerability, communion and celebration. They were leading me on a path towards healing an wholeness.

There may have been inward (and a few external) conflicts in moving into retirement. But the deeper blessing is that it liberates me to take another step on the road of becoming smaller. More vulnerable. In solidarity so that I may go deeper into tenderness. Later this week, we will have a chance to meet our new granddaughter in Brooklyn. Talk about tiny. Next week I will spend a few days with the L'Arche community in Ottawa sharing supper, sipping tea, participating in a time of formation. I have completed my paperwork to become a volunteer because shame on me if I don't honor the confluence of these events, words, prayers and writing, yes? Tonight I give thanks to God.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

love these pictures....

While waiting to celebrate the second Sunday in the Season of Creation - Land Sunday - I took this shot from the unique vantage point of the preacher's seat.

Here's another taken from the Nave of the Sanctuary showing the recently added birch trees. The Choir sang "Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace." Jon and I played Cat Stevens' "Where Do the Children Play?" And I reflected on the arc of the Hebrew creation stories as a critique against living as if we knew better than the Creator. The whole movement of Genesis 1-11 highlights that when we move out of balance with nature, we begin to manipulate and abuse the soil. The more accustomed we get to abuse, the wider it expands until the land, God's creatures and even our sisters and brothers are destroyed by violence.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

a deep thank you...

Let me pause today from my Vanier reflections to simply note here what some in Pittsfield have already learned: I am moving into full retirement mode after the New Year. How did David Crosby put it back in the day when he could still get along with some people? "It's been a long time comin... gonna be a long time, long time gone."

Already my friends, clergy and lay, have been sending notes of gratitude, sorrow, encouragement and counsel - and I am deeply moved by their tender wisdom. I am particularly touched by the insights my clergy friends have chosen to share with me. One noted that after decades of holding the secrets of others, we wear out. True in spades for me. Another said it is a sacred privilege to carry so many truths that cannot be spoken out loud to another in our hearts and flesh; and, there comes a time when we are all full up and must let it go. Some have noted how our older bodies (and ears or knees or backs) don't quite hold up the way the used to. Others have confessed they lost the ability to smile and be silent when they wanted to cry "Bull shit!" And a few articulated that the Body of Christ is always broken. Jesus knew this and not much has changed since his death, resurrection and ascension. Besides, they wryly smile, even Jesus only hung around for 40 more days! In other words, to every thing there is a season.

Shortly after arriving here one of my doctoral profs called and asked if I would speak to a class about to graduate from the Masters of Divinity program about "what I wished I'd learned in seminary." It was an honor and I gladly participated. During that hour I underscored things like:

+ Ministry is a public relationship - so make sure you have friends outside the congregation, too. In fact, MOST of your friends should be beyond the parish.

+ Understand from the get go that congregational leadership really doesn't believe that Jesus was the Word made Flesh. if they did, they would have to pay you a living wage. In fact, as most Conference Guidelines suggest, they would have to pay you so that you and your family could live like they do. (Check it out if you think I exaggerate whatever your denomination.) Rest assured, friends, I told them, it almost NEVER happens - and if you don't know this going in, it will make you bitter and drive you out fast.

+ Two thirds of those who gather on Sunday morning treat church as an add-on. They're NOT bad people for doing this. They are not adversaries. They simply have a minimalist commitment to discipleship. Most are too busy. Some have never learned the wisdom of the Cross. And a few have consciously chosen to cede their children's ethical development to popular culture. Now I have given 25 years to celebrating a still speaking God who uses popular culture to nourish compassion, awe and justice. But you have to have ears to hear, otherwise you treat beauty like garbage and fail to claim the sound of the angels in the midst of the chaos.

+ Never ever do ministry expecting gratitude. Your blessings come from becoming smaller - a servant - not one of the celebrated guests. 21st century culture doesn't honor clergy the way it did 50 years ago. But even if it did, besides the cloying and patronizing displays culture offers in public, the way of Jesus is not about getting thanks or respect from society or even the congregation. That means you need a spiritual director so you don't put whipped cream on bullshit or give in to despair. And you need an inner life so you aren't addicted to outward praise.

+ And last but not least: never give up your call as theologian in residence. You are the one trained theologically. You are the one who consciously thinks about Jesus in building a budget. Or hiring a staff person. Or using the building as a resource rather than an albatross. And all the rest. This is where St. Paul's analogy of the body is essential:  lay leaders have their gift and YOU have yours. When they are blended - when business insights are bathed in theological depth - holy decisions can be made. Jesus taught his disciples to "make friends with unrighteous mammon... to live as wise as serpents and gentle as doves." When one or the other of these elements is missing... let's just say in 40 years I have seen it go south real fast.

So a profound thank you sister and brother clergy for being in touch with me over the past 24 hours. I love you more than ever. Nobody knows who you are but my heart rejoices today in ways it hasn't for some time...

Friday, September 15, 2017

reflections on jean vanier at 89: part two

"When the student is ready, the Buddha appears" has long been an aphorism that speaks to me:  it is without judgment, avoids preachy or pious words, and suggests that I don't have to have life figured out all at once. My call is to simply continue on the journey. In time, when I am able to grasp a new way of be-ing, another layer of insight will be revealed. But not until the time is right for my soul. A Sufi story about the trickster-holy fool, Nasrudin, puts this truth in a humbling way:

Hussein told the Mullah, "I have terrible pain in my eye. What do you advise?" Nasrudin though for a moment and then said, "Pull it out." With shock and bewilderment, Hussein said, "You can't be serious." To which the Mullah replied, "Well, last month my tooth hurt horribly for weeks, until I couldn't bear the pain anymore. So I had the tooth pulled out - and then I felt much better. So, if it worked for my tooth, it should work for your eye, too, right?"

The first is gentler, to be sure, but no less compassionate than the second. Both are reminders that we are here to ripen. That wisdom is not one-size-fits-all. That binary thinking is a trap that encourages ignorance and arrogance. In true Christian formation the whole point of "missing the mark" is not judgment but rather discernment on the road to tenderness. The second century St. Irenaeus was clear: we were created incomplete on purpose. Through our failures, pain, brokenness and all the other ups and downs of living, we learn what we don't know so that we might be healed. Incrementally we become more like God: open, whole, compassionate, humble and creative.  Sadly, the Western Church has suffered under the influence of St. Augustine's Manichean heresies since the early 5th century CE.  To be sure, the saint from Hippo was brilliant, but so driven by his previous sexual obsessions and an ugly addiction to duality, that he re-framed the Jewish story of Adam and Eve in Genesis as "the fall." In the East, dear Irenaeus was far wiser:

Irenaeus incorporates Genesis 2 (like Augustine), but comes up with a very different explanation and theory for the enigma of sin in the world. Essentially, this perspective says that the story of Adam and Eve is really an allegory for all humankind rather than a literal history (the Hebrew term "adam" means simply "mankind"). Following from this thought there was no original state of perfection (unlike Augustine), and therefore no "fall from grace," but rather a developing of the human person and the culture over time to reach this perfect state. He also cites a different reason for our human tendency toward sin. Since we have been born into a world full of sin, it is only natural that we will sin. Individuals, societies and systems within societies constantly sin. When we, as children, are surrounded by these actions we cannot help but succumb to them ourselves, which further perpetuates the system of sin. This is the "original sin" Irenaeus speaks of.
(Thom Parker @ theteachingsofirenaeusoriginalsinasahopefuldevelopment/

In other wards, humanity is ripening, maturing and "developing toward a state of perfection." (NOTE:  Perfection here means maturity rather than without brokenness.) Jesus shows us what holy human maturation looks like - and this is where our journey can take us if we are quiet, aware, open and willing to live into the blessings of the Buddha when she appears on the road. 

One of the reasons I continue to find the earthy and ordinary teachings of Jean Vanier so compelling is because he has learned how to ripen.  He trusts that he doesn't need to know everything. More over, experientially he has lived into the wisdom of compassionate community where whatever gifts he doesn't possess are likely to be found in another. "Some people have a true gift of discernment. They can seize what is essential in a complicated discussion or a confused story. They are quick to understand what is really needed and at the same time, if they are practical, they can suggest the first steps towards putting people on the road to healing. Some people in a community who do not have an important position may have this gift of light for us. We must learn to listen to them."
(Community and Growth, p. 253)

Too often, however, the gifts of another remain hidden under a basket - unrealized - until we're small enough to honestly ask, "I need your help. Can you help me?" Vanier underscores that wisdom and spiritual maturity are born of being small and vulnerable. When we accept this truth like a small child, we can then ask for help and unlock the holy gifts others were born to share. "All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves." (Community and Growth) In The Heart of L'Arche: A Spirituality of Every Day, Vanier puts it like this: A poor person is one who is in need. It could be physical need or emotional or spiritual need. In this, we each know poverty:

The poor person is one who is in need, who recognizes this need and who cries out for help. Weakness is frequently considered a defect. Yet are we not all weak and needy in some way? We all have our vulnerabilities, our limits and our disabilities. When we recognize our weaknesses, we can ask for help; we can work together. We need each other. It is obvious that the weak need the strong, but, as we are discovering in L'Arche, the strong also need the weak. (p. 14)

What a relief, yes? What a blessing, too. To be liberated from striving for strength - or perfection - or measuring up to another's demands and/or standards? Instead, the way of the heart treasures and honors our weakness for as St. Paul observes, "In our weakness, God is made strong and grace becomes sufficient" for all. It has taken me 65 years to honor this truth. I have yearned for it all of my life, but only now know it to be part of the bread of heaven.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

the paradox of humility and healing: thoughts about Vanier on his 89th birthday (part one)

Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche Communities, turned 89 this past Sunday. For the past two years I have been slowly and seriously reading his extensive works. Not only have I been attracted to his non-doctrinaire approach to living into the love of Jesus, but his "spirituality of tenderness" gives shape and form to my own maturation. In a video, "Belonging: the Search for Acceptance," Vanier says:

Power and strength can separate people; whereas weakness and recognition of weakness and the cry for help brings people together. When you are weak, you need people. It's very easy. When you are strong you don't need people, you can do everything on your own. So, somewhere the weak person calls people together. And when the weak call forth the strong, what happens is they awaken what is most beautiful in a human person--compassion, goodness, openness to another and so on. Our weakness brings people together... We have to find a spirituality which is not running away form suffering but entering into suffering and discovering a presence of God, and a presence of people, in pain.

Talk about upside-down, paradoxical, mystical insights about the kingdom of God! As he observes elsewhere, the call of Jesus is to love others - often those who outwardly seems unlovable - without trying to change them. In Hans S. Reinders fictionalized account of Vanier's life and work, The Second Calling, there is a lengthy retelling of how this wisdom became embodied in L'Arche. It seems there was a wounded young woman who was beyond Vanier's ability to love as Christ commands. He could neither fix her nor tolerate her agony. In despair, he consults the Prioress of an urban convent saying: "I hated this girl's chaos, the complete reign of impulse governing her life. So when I was trying to be truthful about my feelings, I could not find anything in her behavior that I actually appreciated." To which the old nun replied, "Which means you're a romantic." (p. 339)

The exchange that follows in the novel is clarifying: the nun tells Vanier that his moral impulse to help this young woman is not a problem, but his inner naiveté
is. In fact, believing he can be all things to all people is at the root of his woe. To know that others will affect us differently, she continues, is one thing: "to accept it willingly is quite another."

That takes an effort, a painful effort. I can tell you from personal experience. In your case, given your position... it means to accept that the community is not you, nor is it dependent on you... (Your perspective currently) puts you in the center of the universe, the typically romantic posture I might add, which certainly is not where you belong. God has blessed you with friends who can do what you cannot do. Don't you see what that means? God wants your work to succeed! The good Lord has put money into your work... that would never have arrived if the community's success was only dependent upon you!

In time the humbling revelation arrives that what God wants from Vanier is not only to accept help from others, but to honestly ask for it. God's servant cannot fix or help this wounded woman by himself. She needs gifts Vanier doesn't have. Romantics believe they can fix everything and grow disheartened and resentful when things don't work out. Asking for help, however, is the way to healing - a healing that includes everyone involved.  Small wonder The Second Calling starts with this quote from Vanier's Community and Growth:

Those who come close to people in need do so first of all in a generous desire to help them and bring them relief; they often feel like saviors and put themselves on a pedestal. But once in contact with them, once touching them, establishing a loving and trusting relations with them, the mystery unveils itself. At the heart of the insecurity of people in distress there is a presence of Jesus. And so they discover the sacrament of the poor and enter the mystery of compassion. People who are poor seem to break down the barriers of powerfulness, of wealth, of ability, and of pride; they pierce the armor the human heart builds to protect itself...This is the second calling, when we accept that we cannot do big or heroic things for Jesus... We feel useless; we are no longer appreciated.

In a word, we experience and embrace humility and then the living presence of Christ is revealed in the most unexpected places and people. "Little did I know that I was on the road to an amazing discovery, a goldmine of truth, where the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor would be brought together in community and find peace, where those who were rejected could heal and transform those who rejected them." (Vanier, Our Life Together) Incrementally over the past 40 years I have tasted this new wine. Now I am ready to take another step in cherishing it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

and mary pondered all these things in her heart...

Today a colleague and friend asked me:  "Where is your Christianity going?" Wow, what a honkin' GREAT question! Where, indeed?!? There is MUCH more to say and ponder when it comes to a well-formed answer and I trust that in the months to come the Spirit will bring more clarity. (BTW just as this question was articulated, what should be playing on the coffee house PA but Sam and Dave's "Soul Man!") For tonight, I think that part of the answer is to be found in a button I have been wearing of late...

I love the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my overly intellectualized Reformed world, she is everything that is missing from my tradition: she is female, intuitive, fleshy, earthy, mystical and filled not only with Jesus, but more questions than answers. In Luke's gospel (chapter 1: 26-38), the angel Gabriel visits a young Palestinian Jewish woman from Nazareth. 

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

After the birth of Jesus, when the shepherds came and paid the baby Messiah homage, the text concludes: Mary treasured their words and pondered them in her heart.  She didn't fully comprehend what birthing Jesus meant. But she didn't thwart the movement of the holy within and among her; she pondered it in her heart and lived from her heart. Clearly that is where I have been headed and now more so than ever before. Mary isn't part of the religious tradition I inherited. The path of my formation was saturated in sanitized anti-Catholicism. Those early New England Congregationalists believed that even a Cross in our Sanctuary was idolatrous. But like many trained in an aesthetically anemic spirituality, once I was on my own I was all over icons, candles, prayer beads and incense like "white on rice!" Indeed I have come to claim a sacramental spirituality at my core rather than just an intellectual one. An increasingly inter-faith mystical path, too. After the High Holy Days, this conversation will continue - and I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

returning thanks over nearly 40 years...

In looking backwards over the course of nearly 40 years of serving the church, a few accomplishments stand out. I had the privilege of visiting the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe four times including a tour I led with 50 of my Saginaw teens and their parents and another I organized under the auspices of the National Council of Churches and the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ. I was twice elected to the Cleveland Board of Education as part of an interracial reform team and served as its Vice President. It was my joy and honor to preside as the Moderator of the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, pastor the first Open and Affirming congregation in the United Church in the Arizona, and participate in the historic General Synod that came out in support of marriage equality. In Cleveland, Tucson and Pittsfield I worked to launch faith-based community organizing efforts in concert with the Gamaliel Foundation, IAF and the Inter-Valley Project. And I give thanks to God that I have been able to encourage seven different adults to enter into full-time, ordained Christian ministry.

Each and all of these experiences have been blessings. But there are four very different encounters that have given my life in ministry meaning and depth - and for each of them I will be eternally grateful. The first was putting together a folk band, the Saginaw Rounders, that worked to revive Pete Seeger's commitment to group singing. I loved each of the members of that small troup and am grateful that through Facebook we've reconnected. This song has been embedded in my memory and always makes me think of those good times.

The second involves being connected to Fr. Jim O'Donnell's Oasis House in Cleveland. His ministry of quiet presence and prayer gave me a model I have yearned to incarnate. His wise counsel saved my soul when I was crashing and burning amidst divorce. And his association with both Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen opened my heart to a new way of living. His transformation of wounded, urban neighborhoods took place parcel by parcel, person by person. I aspire to go deeper into this ministry of presence in whatever time remains for me in this world. Sally Rogers' take on Bob Franke's masterpiece, "Thanksgiving Eve" will always evoke this blessing for me.

The third was our band in Tucson: Stranger. They were soul mates. They were my micro faith community while I served a larger congregation. And their creativity, love and courage showed me how to marry popular culture with spirituality and worship. Together we fashioned Good Friday experiments that used sound, sight and silence in radically new ways.  Our weekly Eucharists enriched my love of this holy sacrament. And the beauty and energy of playing with Don E, Linda, Kim, Dianne, Brian, Erik, Sean, Thomas, Ina and Elie not only kicked up my love of music but kicked up my chops, too. Leaving this band - and all they represented - broke my heart. It was necessary but agonizing and I miss them nearly every day. This was our go to standard...

And the fourth was our Pittsfield band:  Between the Banks. We started small - two voices and an acoustic guitar. Then Jenna joined as a vocalist. Then Brian on guitar. In time Eva, Sue and Jon became integral in the spirituality of our creativity - and Carlton, Dave and Elizabeth, too. As a small ensemble with tight four part harmonies, this band kicked ass.  We could rock out with David, go blue-eyed soul with Brian, be totally jazz when C brought in Charlie, Andy and Jon (on drums) or pure spirit when we channeled the Wailin' Jennys. Over the years we raised thousands of dollars for emergency heat in the Berkshires as well as serious bucks for our eco-justice mission partners. We played Coltrane for Good Friday one year and Paul Winter for an early November concert another.  The music and camaraderie was sublime. When we were cookin' we attracted other artists and locals who had grown weary of traditional worship. I will love these people forever.  For me, Herbie Hancock's remake of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" defined this era.

One old salt said to me: You don't get many chances to work with truly holy people in your career. It happens once, maybe twice, so cherish it when you find it. As I look over my time in ministry, I've been blessed by sacred encounters in each of the four churches I have served. I am grateful when we taste the kingdom like this and sad when it departs. But such is the ebb and flow of death and resurrection, yes? 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

where are the poetic and passionate eco-justice songs?

Not many good, poetic and passionate "eco-justice" spirituality songs out there, are there? Yes, Marvin Gaye nailed it in "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)." Everyone digs Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," too. U2's "Beautiful Day" has potential but only obliquely (much as I love this tune.)

So I'm wondering tonight where are the moving anthems to feed our soul? The subtle and poignant songs that clarify and compel us beyond guilt, shame or inertia? Are there works of art out there that move beyond rhetoric and polemics? Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia" is a complex collection of beautiful songs, but I submit that it needs a context: the opening and closing cuts play with "For the Beauty of the Earth" and could be stand alone selections but radiate more insight when heard within the "Earth Mass" setting. Bob Dylan's "License to Kill" moves in the right direction, but is more of a blunt object than a work of art. Another leap in the right direction is the Pretenders "My City Was Gone." It is totally funky with a ton or irony and heart, as well. Tom Paxton's "Whose Garden Was This" once moved me but no longer has much juice. And Pete Seeger's war horse, "Garbage" doesn't stand the test of time.

To my way of thinking, the three best so far include Cat Steven's "Where Do the Children Play,"  Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" as interpreted by Patti Smith, and St. Lou Reed's "Last Great American Whale." Each song incorporates poetry with passion, conviction with creativity, with a healthy dose of compassion thrown in for good measure. I can listen to these songs repeatedly, savoring the melody or lyric, because there is nuance here instead of a sledge hammer.
Pound for pound, I find Lou Reed's work the most demanding both artistically and politically. Neil Young evokes a new world order in outer space after the apocalypse. Yusuf Islam evoked pathos for the coming generation. But St. Lou just tells us a story - and stories are what allows people into the emotions and experience of an artist. Stories transcend the fervor of a topical rant. They endure. 

In "Last Great American Whale" our old denizen of the dark, God rest his soul, is one part self-deprecating trickster, one part Old Testament prophet, and one part Jersey kid in the Village backed up with a garage band. When this first came out, Reed made it clear that we should "stick a fork in ourselves because America was done." In 2017, his tale of right wing vigilantism elevates this song to essential quality: his warning was prescient, his poetry was proactive and his delivery remains timeless.  Ignore this song at your own peril.

If you know three better than this, please let me know, ok? I am aching to expand the canon.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

lucie and james some five years later...

One of the biggest changes I have experienced in the last five years involves learning to love, cherish and accept a hairy, messy, often messed-up and totally neurotic comedian friend by the name of Lucie. When my daughters spoke about her as a pup - a farm mutt who was the runt of the litter not far from Plainfield, MA - I was not interested. They told me of this sweet little dog during the "roast" for my 30th anniversary of ordination.

Let the record be clear: I've always liked dogs, but have rarely understood them. What's more, I like my independence more than pets and did not want to get tied down yet again. Been there, done that. But when we all went to visit the farmhouse one afternoon, (NOTE: this is ALWAYS a mistake if you really don't want a new pet; once you arrive for a visit, you WILL leave with an animal!) this little shepherd-hound mutt befriended me and won over my hard heart. Thirty minutes and forty dollars later, a quiet little beast was asleep in the back of my car. 

She was a sweetheart. She would go to sleep on my foot and always wanted to get in the car with me when I went shopping. She was kind of nutty during a winter of house-breaking - and could be bratty and a bit aggressive with women - but with me she was my "little buddy." Looking backwards, she was always socially awkward and afraid of new guests. But I didn't really notice. Lucie was just being Lucie. This trait intensified as the years multiplied, however, and she became more and more anxious. To me she was simply a comedian who loved to snuggle and wrestle and go running through the fields, the snow and the woods. Around others... something different.

The first real clue that she was in trouble out in public came when we tried to include her in a blessing of the animals liturgy. She became totally wiggy: she was afraid, snappish and unsettled. It was worse the following year so she and St. Francis remained strangers. During my sabbatical in Montreal, she became unglued. She howled and fretted on the five hour drive to Montreal. She flipped out every time she had to go to the park to do her business. She's a strong little miss and could almost pull you over trying to run away from the big city buses. And when she completely melted-down and moaned in terror in the hotel room in Ottawa during the Jazz Festival, it was time to consult a professional. Sadly, he told us that nothing could be done in the short term - except maybe give her beer before going out - so Lucie acquired a vigorous taste for Labatt's Blue. It was then decided that Lucie was best at home in the country.

I learned a lot about myself during Lucie's Montreal meltdown - a lot I didn't really like. Especially how impatient and angry I become whenever I'm confronted with a wild ass animal howling and trying to escape on a city street as people stare in horror. Part of this is my socialization as an American man: the only emotion we're trained to express is anger. So fear becomes anger. Confusion becomes anger. Shame, grief and all the rest come out as anger, too. Lucie showed me that in spades as she broke down over and over. If the sabbatical was to continue, it was me that had to change because Lucie wasn't - and didn't - and couldn't. She needed support. Love. Space.

It was almost as if the Spirit was saying to me: So you are writing and thinking about a "spirituality of tenderness" but sometimes you want to kill this dog who is your friend. Guess what? You're the one with inner work to do, brother, so get to it!  So true. A lot of tears were shed that summer. Jean Vanier, who I was just starting to read in earnest, wrote that being with another in love means truly wrestling with our own demons and learning to move through our capacity and inclination for violence and fear. I am still on that journey five years later - although now, at least, I know it is happening - and am slightly better when Lucille flips out.

This afternoon, after a long hard day of being Lucie, she fell asleep on my legs as she often does late in the day. It is a time of refreshment and reassurance for us both. Today, I give thanks to God for my furry mentor, Lucie. I continue to HATE all the hair she leaves around the house, but I cherish her precious being more than ever and the peace she brings to my heart.

Friday, September 8, 2017

becoming smaller so that...

When it comes to the realm of false equivalencies, while 45 is a master, he is not alone. Context, experience and living from the heart trump so-called objectivity every time. Every person is unique, every soul is both wounded and beautiful. Applying a one-size-fits-all solution upon any one is arrogant, foolish and often unintentionally mean-spirited. A volume I purchased while away in Quebec, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning through Storytelling, makes this point precisely. It is the follow-up to A Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham first published in 1992. I cherished that book - and 22 years later they were ready to add their unique life experiences for our consideration. The story that spoke to me involves the mystical fool of Islam, Nasrudin:

Hussein told the Mullah, "I have terrible pain in my eye. What do you advise?" Nasrudin though for a moment and then said, "Pull it out." With shock and bewilderment, Hussein said, "You can't be serious." To which the Mullah replied, "Well, last month my tooth hurt horribly for weeks, until I couldn't bear the pain anymore. So I had the tooth pulled ouot - and then I felt much better. So, if it worked for my tooth, it should work for your eye, too, right?"

I've been there and done that - maybe you have, too?  Assuming my experience entitles me to share what amounts to wisdom without context, I've offered up solutions, commentary and even moral judgment when listening carefully and quiet reflection was in order. Robert Bly and others have suggested that men tend to do this more than women - given our mono-minded nature and a socialization geared toward problem-solving - we often hear people in general (and women in particular) asking us for an answer. In a bottom-line culture, addicted to market place metaphors, we're all too willing to share what we think will "fix" things before moving on to something else. Truth be told, however, most of the time what another needs from us is not answers, but space to be heard. Listening, I continue to learn, is far more precious than commentary without context. 

This past week, returning from a week away in quiet reflection and rest, I became aware once again of all the different ways my full-time colleagues are engaged in ministry. In broken times such as these, there is so much to be done. And they are responding powerfully with creativity, compassion and verve. Not so for me given my part-time context: there is only so much I can accomplish in 20 hours.  I can listen. I can be present and prayerful in hard times. I can celebrate Eucharist and teach the faithful about the time-tested tools of contemplation and spiritual commitment. I can write (on my own time) and even use social media to connect people to public acts of justice. But long term programming?  Not so much any more.

Candidly, there is some grieving for me as I practice accepting this new reality. It goes with the territory.  And I suspect that it means at least these two truths:

+First, with age and change, I am being called to practice what John the Baptist once said in the gospel according to St. John.  When Jesus came upon the scene, the man of the desert confessed, "I must be less so that he can become more." It is time for others to be bold and engaged in social transformation. I have had 35 years of ordained ministry and nearly 40 years of service to the church given my internships at seminary. They were all full-time. They were all action oriented. They were all a combination of grace and feet of clay. Now, as my old way of serving comes to a close, letting go is my charism. I can be supportive. I can be collaborative. I can even listen carefully and, if asked, share my experiences. But now is the season where I am to become less so that others can become greater.

+ Second, this change in pastoral leadership necessitates a profound shift in the way our congregation works, too.  Will it be as complicated for them as it is for me? I don't know. We'll see. My hunch is that learning to be a community of collaboration and solidarity rather than a fount of leadership will likely be a real challenge for our community.  For over 250 years we have been first - and now we're not.  Such a change makes sense for us. It is modeled on Christ's call to live as loving servants in a downward trajectory. And suggests finding new ways to partner with others as allies in supporting the beloved community. Without full-time pastoral leadership, this more humble path is a necessity - and none of us are well-practiced in it. And I can't offer a whole lot of insight about how to do this as a congregation because my grieving and practices as a retiring pastor are different from their world as a church engaged in the world.  I am becoming less but they remain a vibrant albeit different community of faith in a small community.     

These next few months leading up to Advent/Christmas will be fascinating. As Jesus says to Peter after the Resurrection:  "When you were young, you went where you wanted and did what you desired. But now that you are older, you must let another lead you and gird your waist as you are led into those places where you do not want to go."  And so the journey continues and away we go...

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:...