Wednesday, January 31, 2018

a certain irony that has not gone unnoticed...

There is a certain irony that has not gone unnoticed in our home: after worship on Sunday, my last as a local church pastor, I came down with a wicked head cold that has shut down my voice. That is as it should be, yes? I am done with most of my public work. I have run the race set before me as St.Paul put it and now is the time to be quiet. Maybe even silent for a spell, tu ne penses pas? Already I am getting requests to preach here, do some board work there and even help out with an emergency health concern. It has only been three days!  It could be the silver lining in a storm cloud, this damn head cold, as I have neither the energy nor the inclination to do anything but veg out. 

On Saturday, my family will gather with a few precious musical mates for a
soirĂ©e. The next day, my first Sunday away from church, we'll sleep late and then meet my dear Sunday School teacher from CT days, Malcolm Bell and his beloved Nancy, for brunch out in Plainfield. Slowing down after a wild month of travel, parties, leave-taking and good-byes - including a ganga concert with the Post Modern Jukebox in NoHo - feels right.  It often happens this way for me after a big finish: I get sick and have to lay low. My hope is that this pattern will dissipate some as I shift perspective and activity in retirement.

I have sorted through all my church books and added them to my home study. (Now I have to sort through the new collection and shed another layer of texts.) And I will complete working through plastic bag upon plastic bag of papers we threw together on Friday while cleaning out my office. This is NOT a task I want to delay. Mostly I find myself throwing it all into the trash. There are a few photos and editorials to stash in my memory book. And a few files to return to the church office, too. But who wants to look at old sermon notes? Certainly not me! Yes, we did some creative work - and I loved working with my colleagues - but that chapter is finished. The thought of reading through 10 years of sermon notes has no appeal whatsoever. And I still haven't cracked the boxes of sermon notes we moved from Tucson, Cleveland and Michigan. But that is for another day.

Tonight we will eat chicken and pasta, complete my discarding most of my Pittsfield papers while we watch British mysteries on TV, and just rest. Tomorrow
we'll sit down and plan a February trip to L'Arche Ottawa - and work on our new limited financial plan - as we want to look at long term housing options. This is just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, January 29, 2018

bringing it all back home one more time: retirement begins now!

Yesterday, Sunday January 28, 2018, I celebrated worship for the final time as a local church pastor. It was an experience chock full of emotions:  I led the sacrament of Holy Baptism for the great-grandchild of one of the congregation's saints who passed from this life to life everlasting late last year; I experienced the choir's blessing through two particularly important musical selections - "Jazz Alleluia" and "Peace Piece;" I shared a message using the music of St. Bob Dylan and St. Lou Reed to reflect upon how the Spirit has encouraged me to increasingly honor smaller acts of tenderness as my true ministry; and I celebrated Eucharist one last time. As a surprise, a young guitar protoge played "Blackbird" in honor of our shared friendship. And dear friends made the effort to be in the house for this closing Sunday.

Our trip to Tucson helped give me perspective for this finale. As some know, the past few years have been conflicted both within and without. I have known my time in this ministry - not just my church, but more generally in the entire realm of local church service - was complete. What I didn't know was what God had in store for me next. That meant 30+ months of wandering in the wilderness, trusting that when the time was right, I would find the clues to help me cross over into clarity. There were also the inevitable administrative struggles as we sought to resolve new staffing in a balanced budget. My style is horizontal and collaborative. Others tend towards hierarchy and directives making a clash inevitable. In yesterday's message, I reminded my folk that I once believed Don Corleone's dictum in "The Godfather" to be true when he ordered a "hit" on an opponent saying: "Understand this is not personal, it's business." 20 years ago I was shown that ALL of ministry - even administration - is always personal. We deal with precious and broken human beings so must honor the presence of God within them even with the most complicated choices. Tucson gave me the clarity to sort out the many layers of conflict I was carrying - and let most of them go.

I was able to look backwards over the totality of nearly 40 years of ministry as
well as consider the accomplishments of the past decade. I was able to speak with old friends who know my light as well as my shadows. I was given a chance to walk quietly in the desert. I spent hours in conversation with two of my dearest friends, our hosts, whom I treasure. I had time to rest, read and reconsider what was of the Lord and what was just my wounded heart acting out. They are often connected, to be sure, but as the Hebrew Bible text put it in yesterday's worship:  My ways are not your ways says the Lord. By the time we touched down back in Albany, my heart was full to overflowing with gratitude for our time in Pittsfield.  

Cleaning out my books and papers from my church study helped, too. It was exhausting. My back still aches. But as we wrapped art work and chalices, as we tossed 10 years of papers into plastic bags to be sorted during February, as we laughed at some of the memories that popped up unexpectedly: another layer of joy took root. I suspect that as I take the next month to sort through the mess in our basement, more blessings will be revealed. I am not doing anything but this - and going to Ottawa - for all of February.

Part of the farewell liturgy the United Church uses for a retiring pastor includes words about asking for and sharing forgiveness with the congregation. In Tucson I realized that even my mistakes are covered by God's grace. So I truly have no regrets. I didn't get it always right - but neither did the church - or Christ's own disciples. Still, we opened our hearts to the way of Jesus in a radical way during these days. We made beautiful music together for both praise and justice.  We kept reaching out to those on society's margins with a message of grace. And we created a new way of doing the politics of church administration that are admittedly incomplete, but hold the promise of tenderness for the future. 

Now, it is chill time. Time to bring my instruments up from the basement. And add hundreds of books to my home study bookshelves. And throw away pounds and pounds of paper. And prepare to make new music with my dear friends. And get back to the community of L'Arche Ottawa. And visit with my family. And walk in the woods with my dog. And rest gently with my beloved.

Friday, January 26, 2018

back from Tucson for our closing weekend...

When we left Tucson yesterday morning, it was 73 F. When we got into our car at Albany Airport about 10 hours later, it was 13 F.  In so many ways that fact is illustrative of our trip at the close of my ministry. It was a warm time of reflection for me as we soaked up the sun and memories. We laughed, cried and feasted with precious friends. We walked in the quiet of the Sonoran desert. And we basked in the ever present presence of the Virgin of Guadalupe as often as possible. There is much more to say about what I discerned looking backwards over nearly 40 years of ordained ministry, but that is for another time. To note that it was refreshing and rewarding would be an understatement. What's more, I have a better sense of the beauty and fidelity we shared during our Pittsfield sojourn, too. But now I need to get the U Haul van and load up a life time of books, papers and art work in anticipation of my send-off on Sunday. Let these picture suggest the depth and breadth of our sojourn until later...

Friday, January 12, 2018

a wild and crazy close to a beautiful ride...

These next three weeks already feel like a whirlwind. Last Sunday, we hosted the Four Freedoms "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity" concert. It marked the one year anniversary of the coalition that challenges the current culture of fear and hate in an intentionally non-partisan manner. (See the Berkshire Eagle's editorial on this event @,528959?

On Monday my congregation and I held an "exit interview" to reflect carefully, tenderly and honestly upon the past 11 years of shared ministry. My written commentary closed with these words: "I love the people and commitments we have made together over the past 10+ years. I am deeply grateful to Carlton, Becky and David as creative and compassionate colleagues. I have an abiding gratitude to Lauryn who stepped into leadership at a demanding time in her life and the life of the congregation. I value what each Council Member brings to the table and pray that they will share their light more boldly in the days to come. I give thanks to God to those who have wrestled with the financial challenges of First Church. I have rarely agreed with your process, but affirm most your calling to be faithful stewards. I have been blessed one hundred fold by the various incarnations of Between the Banks and loved sharing music on a weekly basis – including choir practice – with my colleagues in choir. Being a part of the birth, life and death of so many faithful people has changed my heart and helped me mature in my own faith. I am so thankful for my sabbatical: while it led me to realize that God had called me out of local church ministry just as certainly as I was called into it in 1968 into ministry, the entire experience was a revelation for Dianne and me. I give thanks to Di and our family for their patience when the demands of the church took precedence over their loving lives. Thank you."  It was a moving and Spirit-filled gathering and I am glad the way the participation
turned out. God is good.

Then I started rehearsals for this Sunday's worship and "mini-salon" with old friend and new musical collaborator Hal. Since last October I have wanted to do a music and conversation event with him and now, just two weeks before I leave ministry, it is coming to pass. We are working on three beautiful and insightful songs for worship. Afterwards, we will reprise these tunes, invite conversation about music, truth-telling and beauty in this broken culture and do more songs. Two additional musical colleagues, Jon and Winn on percussion and flute, will join the mix. It is rumored, too that an other old friend - and member of my high school band - could be present. Stay tuned!

I have been furiously cleaning the house today in anticipation of the arrival of the Brooklyn fam. Tomorrow, Saturday, the congregation is throwing me a retirement party and my daughters and their loved ones will be present. It, too, will be wrought with emotions. And then on Monday (after Sunday's concert) we slip outta Dodge for ten days in sunny ol' Tucson. There will be a little get away to Bisbee worked into the the chill time along with the world's best Mexican food, dear and precious friends and a music scene that can't be beat. When we return, two days later is my farewell Sunday. And joy upon joy, I will celebrate both Eucharist and baptism that day before taking vows of release.

If I am not on-line much until February, reread the notes above and know that I will be trying to take it all of this in. February 2018 will be my DO NOTHING month (except a trip to Ottawa and L'Arche.) I want to mostly be still and listen, rest and be prayerful about what is now unfolding in this crazy thing called life. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

critique, confession and gratitude as resistance: songs and sounds of solidarity part one...

NOTE:  This is part one of a three pronged reflection re: my take on the intersection of doing church in the 21st century and resistance to the current regime.

Today's reflection will be part critique, part confession and part expression of joy and gratitude for those who have collaborated with me during my years of ministry. This analysis springs from my imminent retirement from the local church on January 28, 2018. Each part arises from a place deep within. It is, therefore, fundamentally written for my own clarity; but also stands as an articulation of what I believe is essential for the church of Jesus Christ at this moment in history. Except for the most opaque, my commentary will not come as a surprise. Like Phylis Tickle and Brian McLaren before me - and Gertrud Mueller-Nelson and Richard Rohr before them - I see the third great reformation emerging in Western Christianity from within the matrix of tender sensuality, beauty, the arts, mystery, mysticism, radical hospitality in a broken world, humor, humility, partnership with all creation, poetic liturgy and a 21st century  sacramentality. Right doctrine - orthodoxis - is no longer sufficient without right practice - orthopraxis.  The flesh and spirit are not enemies. As Bono likes to say: Grace trumps karma every time - for all are part of the whole

CRITIQUE:  At our recent "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity" concert, I experienced yet again the power and promise of spiritual renewal - palpable hope and bread for the journey - within a diverse, multi-faith community. Our celebration was constructed upon the scaffolding of well-crafted and carefully selected music, brilliant original poetry, physical movement, cultural diversity and radical truth-telling. St. Paul taught that no one has a monopoly upon the truth. That's the inner wisdom of his "body of Christ" metaphor: we need all the gifts and burdens of every part of the community in order to be whole.

It is my conviction that giving time, attention and resources to this work rather than mere institutional survival is what the Spirit is saying to the churches in 2018. Committing to the hard and creative practice of interfaith collaboration for compassion and social transformation awakens our souls. There is a hunger for deep community in our broken culture. There is a yearning for life-giving alliances beyond our all too obvious differences. And there is an invitation from the Sacred to learn to dance together through our fears. Yes, our histories and traditions can be respected. Our very real question can be honored, too without maintaining the spiritual segregation that currently inhibits our collective renewal.

At Sunday's event, 400+ responded with verve when the Berkshire Jewish Musicians Collective shared the sounds of klezmer. We were on our feet as individuals fully aware of our shared journey. One of my colleagues spoke of this moment as "a bridge over troubled waters." The same communal embrace occurred when my Christian jazz ensemble performed "Don't Give Up." You could feel the crowd responding to the searing - and then gentle - guitar improvisations. You could sense our tears of lament as well in the whispered promises of solidarity in the closing crescendo of the chorus. When the Step Team chanted and marched to "Black lives matter... we shall overcome," all of us were empowered. When the poets spoke truth to power, not only did a sea of individuals find a unified voice, but a catharsis took place carrying us through grief into healing.  As the local new paper reported, this was a time for us to stand up for love in opposition to fear and hate.(http://www.berkshire stories/from-energy-to-health-care-to-social-justice-4-freedoms-coalition-still-pushing-a-year-later,528901?

The ancient prophetic poet of Israel, Isaiah, put it like this:? Why waste your money on that which does not satisfy? Ho, come to the feast. Having given most of my professional days to living in the tension between institutional survival and building interfaith alliances of hope, my gut tells me that more time for the later is the better option. Local congregations still matter, but the 21st century is calling us beyond the shackles of our safety zones into wildly new forms of spiritual solidarity. (Here is a link of Sunday's presentation that looks and feels to me like the real deal: TRMSVOD/28629-4Freedoms2018-Medium-v1.mp4)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

feasting with kings and queens...

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany for the Western Church - and a feast it should be! Unlike the talking-heads, overly rationale and anti-sensual Reformed Church, those in the Roman and Orthodox worlds know how to do this day up right.  Beyond the blessing of our home, there is swimming outdoors in the middle of Northern winters (to mark Christ's baptism in the Jordan) and eating a rich Three Kings Cake (to mark the arrival of the Magi in the West.) 

+ The Western Church highlights the Three Kings on Epiphany, a way of celebrating God's good news being shared/extended to the realm of the Gentiles. In the East, this feast is all about the baptism of Jesus and the enfleshment of God in our world. Both work for me as both are earthy, sensual and all about blessings.

+ I really wasn't born to be a Protestant - I'm too sacramental - but probably not a Catholic or Orthodox believer either (given the downsides of those traditions, too.) Organically, I am a Celtic Anglican as they have the best of all worlds - and the best costumes, too!

So now that all but the final details for the Four Freedoms "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity" concert are in place, I'm partaking of rich French bread, earthy Italian cheese and a hearty blast of Pinot Noir in honor of the Magi and God's presence in our flesh and blood. Hmmmm... probably need to make a gateau des rois, too. (https://www. 2018/01
/06/575958258/ quebec-s-galette-des-rois-tradition)

credits: the painted prayer book @ 2009/01/06/feast-of-the-epiphany-a-calendar-of-kings/

Friday, January 5, 2018

songs and sounds of solidarity in the berkshire eagle...

Four Freedoms Coalition to mark year anniversary with concert

Posted Thursday, January 4, 2018 8:12 pm
Berkshire Eagle

By Haven Orecchio-Egresitz, The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — One year after more than 2,000 people endured the bitter January cold to march down North Street in support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four freedoms, the Four Freedoms Coalition is celebrating its anniversary with a free community concert.

The event, "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity," which will feature local interfaith musicians, a youth step-team and spoken word artists, is an attempt to mimic the 1960's culture of using music and performance arts as a means to keep the spirit of civic engagement alive, according to James Lumsden, the concert's organizer and master of ceremonies. It will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Park Square.

Lumsden stopped short of calling Trump's election a "catalyst" for the founding of the Four Freedoms Coalition last year, but he said that it was a renewed culture of hate speech and threats to the well-being of people of color, women and the LGBTQ community that spurred the movement to support the freedoms outlined by Roosevelt in his Jan. 6, 1941, speech: the freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of religion."I don't think anyone expected the broad-based solidarity," Lumsden said about the rally last January. "We knew that there was concern, but we didn't know how wide and deep it was."

At a town hall event in Pittsfield in October, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said it was the Four Freedoms march that "kicked off" a whole year of demonstrations and marches across the state. Markey, a Democrat, spoke at the rally that followed last year's march.

When organizers saw the overwhelming and unexpected turnout of people who gathered at the rally, "hope, rather than fear" became the driving force for the organization, Lumsden said. Organizers began to realize that there was a need in the Berkshires to train people about the basics and the "nitty-gritty" of civic engagement so the group held three events around the county.

"There was an awareness that there were probably one or two generations in the Berkshires that had not been trained to be civically engaged," he said, referring to millennials and individuals their parents' age. "There were people who really didn't know how to run for office or how to vote... how to participate in a public way." While the compassion to be involved was present from the beginning, the basics of having civil discussions with people with different viewpoints or how to interact in a meaningful way with elected officials was not, he said. It became a goal of the organization to offer training to individuals who wanted to get involved, and it's a mission that will continue into 2018, he said.

But being engaged civically can be tiring, and sometimes even discouraging, so Sunday's concert, the first Four Freedoms event of 2018, is an attempt to keep the spirit among the group. "Gospel, spirituals and folk music have been important tools in American freedom movements," said Shirley Edgerton, a co-founder of the Four Freedoms Coalition, in a statement. "They have uplifted and motivated marchers, giving strength and evoking peace and love where there has been brutality and hate."

The coalition also has been working with the administration at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to organize a civic training some time in April, aimed specifically at North County residents, he said. Today, the Four Freedoms Coalition is made up of more than 140 organizational members, from cultural institutions, to environmental organizations and local businesses, Lumsden said.

Performers at Sunday's event will include the Youth Alive Step Team, the Hoping Machine, the Williams College Gospel Choir, Mary Verdi and the Sacred Heart choir, a gathering of Jewish musicians from synagogues throughout Berkshire County, the Latino Ensemble from St. Mark's Church, Linda Worster, a jazz ensemble, and three spoken word poets. Sheila Sholes-Ross will also serve as the emcee.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter, and 413-770-6977.

If you go ...
What: "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity: An Interfaith Celebration of Compassion, Justice & Respect for All Peoples"
When: 2 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 1 p.m. for an open house with partner organizations
Where: First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Park Square, 27 East St., Pittsfield
Cost: Free

And here's yesterday local Internet News Show clip...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

every picture tells a story don't it...

Ok, this is SOOOO freakin' politically incorrect, but damn if I still don't love this song:  Rod Stewart tearin' it up with "Every Picture Tells a Story Don't It!" The damn guitars are outta tune, Ronnie Wood is outta control and somehow it still all comes together IMHO.

So today I did publicity all day long for the Sunday Four Freedoms Concert: Songs and Sounds of Solidarity.  Early morning radio, cable TV, an interview with the local paper and then a regional internet "Today Show" where MY guitar kept going out of tune because of the cold. As I spoke and played and shared the story with my colleague, Colin, all I could do was give thanks to God for this ride. The show on Sunday will be heart-warming as we stand in solidarity with one another. And what a blessing to come into the TV studio when another colleague from Mexico was being interviewed about her decision to leave the USA for the next year because of white hate. These are hard times, beloved, so let's strengthen our hearts for compassion.

Here are the pictures of this day as we caught the tail end of a Nor'Eastern blizzard that is still raining down snow. Brother Rod and Ron write towards the end:

I firmly believed that I didn't need anyone but me
I sincerely thought I was so complete...
Look how wrong you can be
And if I had the words I could tell you
To help you on your way down the road
I couldn't quote you no dickens, shelly or keats
Cuz its all been said before
Make the best out of the bad, just laugh it off
You didn't have to come here anyway
And remember... every picture tells a story don't it

Monday, January 1, 2018

listen to your life...

St. Francis of Assisi affirms that there is "only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. This is “the mystery of incarnation,” the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.” (Richard Rohr meditation, 1/1/18) Frederick Buechner says much the same thing in less theological language when he writes: "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

In my encounter with incarnation and life, today was constructed upon the quiet and littleness of the Christ Child's birth within and among us. We rang in the New Year by watching MST 3000 at home, sipping red wine together and being at rest on a chill-some night. Last year we endured a blizzard to get to Montreal, but there are other roads to travel in 2018. So, after breakfast tea and newspaper reading, I cleaned the kitchen before spending a few hours adding insulation to our windows. Our home, you see, was built in the 1950s, well before up-to-date insulation was a concern or even a possibility. Temperatures will be hovering at 0 F for the next seven to ten days, so now was the time to seal out the frost. This was the most significant act of the day - and it felt holy to make our home a little more cozy and warm. Not a great feat, but a small and loving act of caring for one another.

When it grew dark, I lit the Advent and Christ Candles again: honoring the full 12 days of Christmas makes my heart sing. Soon, we will cook up a peasant supper of beans, rice, cheese and greens as yet another way of marking our journey into a simple 2018.  Without knowing it, I found my heart was singing "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos" by Rachmaninoff as I was writing this. This is how I feel at the close of a warm and quiet day. Thanks be to God...

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:...