Saturday, June 30, 2018

the story isn't over yet...

A friend and colleague in Canada recently said to me, "Well, when the next world war happens, perhaps Germany will be one of the good guys?!?" I've been haunted by the wisdom, sober realism, emotional/political challenge, and totally upside-down-from-my-world-view logic of these words. It was yet another wake -up call for me to see a vision larger than my own habits, limitations, fears, and self-importance.

One of the great ones of this era, Representative John Lewis, put it like this in a meme that went viral on Facebook: Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. He was, of course, speaking to the shock and awe many white, middle class liberals are experiencing as the Trump regime ripens. 

The equilibrium and commitment to diversity, justice and measures of social cooperation that many of us grew up with are clearly coming to an end. Like much of contemporary Europe, nativism, misogyny, racism and economic myopia are ascending. Unlike Europe, however, the US lacks the insights of a long obedience. We are consequently condemned to relive our own tragic ignorance, naiveté and arrogant isolationism as we usher in a 21st century gilded age where American robber barons buy and sell presidents, Supreme Court justices, elected officials and regulatory agencies. Lewis asks that we not harbor any illusions: fascism 2.0 is the rule of the day in these once modestly United States. But this is not the end of the story.

Three other quotes have ministered to me as my soul wrestles with staying focused, faithful, and real in this season of cruelty. One comes from Pema Chodron, the wise Buddhist elder, who is crafting an authentically Buddhist message for the West. She writes:Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.  Many of us who have been part of various US liberation movements know the old aphorism: Each generation must make freedom their own. Too often, however, I have considered this to be a linear truth when, in fact, it is inward and circular. "Things fall apart and then come together again before once again falling apart." Right now, things are clearly falling apart. This isn't the end of the story. The healing, as Lewis and Chodron know, is making room for the wounds and chaos. I am not good at this at all - but my heart tells me it is true.

Another quote comes from Toko-pa Turner who urges us to make space for the wisdom of our elders (like Lewis and Chodron.) She writes: If you are without elders in your life, or if the older people in your life aren't the wise ones you are longing for, consider befriending some in your community. Find those whose eyes still sparkle, who carry some gravitas, who are using their lives in service to something greater than themselves alone. Make a respectful courtship of them by showing up to support or keep them company in a consistent way. Listen to their stories, ask them for guidance, learn what they’re willing to share with you. While in Canada last week another wise friend told me that over and over she experiences big hearted young people who ache to live for compassion. What they lack are guides and elders who can help them go deeper. One of the challenges before those of us who are chronologically closer to the end of the race than the start, is to become soul friends with those ready for gravitas. And hope. And sober realism during this harsh season. Remember and trust: the story isn't over.

And then there was this article by public theologian and former Dean of the
Chicago Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite. In an article based upon the recent public heckling of members of the Trump regime as they went out for dinner, she writes: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a Virginia restaurant, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Pam Bondi, the Florida Attorney General who has supported Trump throughout his tenure, and Stephen Miller, a Senior Trump Advisor, have all been recently heckled in public places.

Today, I am persuaded that this kind of prophetic witness is needed in light of the intolerable words and actions of this current administration and that it stands in the same line as the prophetic witness of the biblical prophets and Jesus of Nazareth. The massive amount of systemic cruelty, especially to immigrant children, and the extreme bigotry that has incited prejudice and even violence against minorities, is intolerable. When these are combined with consistent lying and undermining of constitutionally guaranteed rights, as this administration has done, these actions must be confronted. They cannot be allowed to become normalized. This isn’t normal. This isn’t right. And when you collaborate with it, you should be called out. 

Her point - one that I endorse - is that normal public civility often becomes tacit support of unjust cruelty when a nation embraces fascism. Not ad homenim attacks, but rather calling out public figures' complicity with evil. She continues:

Theologian Dorothee Soelle, who grew up in the Germany that had been so morally corrupted by the Nazis, has written powerfully about why societies cannot tolerate the intolerable. For example, in her book The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, she counsels against tolerating massive intolerance. She argues, in her profound way, that “if we love heaven, we find ourselves less and less able to tolerate hell.” (pp. 69-70). Make no mistake. For a child to be ripped from her or his parents’ arms and locked in a cage is the very definition of “hell on earth.” This administration has admitted plans to build concentration type camps on military bases for persons trying to enter the United States. The President has advocated denial of due process for these individuals. How much more evidence do you need that what America is becoming today is intolerable? Do not tolerate it.

Our elders are calling some of us to live as elders for those ready to go deeper into the way of compassion. Let us care for one another tenderly as we let go of our addiction to "passing the tests" of things falling apart. Shit happens. But it doesn't last forever. Shit gets better. Yes there is pain. To be sure there is struggle. But we can resist and even thrive as we make space for the shit, trusting that it has a place within the cycle of life and death, joy and sorrow, dancing and mourning. Holding my baby granddaughter this week in Brooklyn - laughing with my precious grandson, too - made those words flesh for me. The story isn't over yet - and our young ones need us.

Monday, June 25, 2018

notre quartier le jour de la fête de Saint Jean-Baptiste

Yesterday was The Feast Day of St. John the Baptist in the Christian world. It is also the Quebecois festival of cultural and national sovereignty. Canada Day is July 1 but the Quebecois decided in 1977 to begin their Fête Nationale on what is considered the French equivalent of St. Patrick's Day. The former premier of Quebec, René Lévesque, made it a paid provincial holiday at the height of the movement for independence and it is now vigorously celebrated with parties, concerts and lots of alcohol. We spent a little time last night in Gatineau listening to the Quebecois Rednecks at a street festival. Clearly, a good time was had by all.

In Tucson, St. John Day was a water festival. It marked the traditional start of the summer monsoon season when rain swells the arroyos and dormant wild flowers break out unexpectedly into a surprise desert bouquet. In North Country it is a fire festival more akin to the summer solstice. Both are wonderful to behold! The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is paired with the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth - the only two birthday celebrated in Christianity - set six months apart at times in the Northern Hemisphere that approximate the summer and winter solstices.

Today was going to be another day of exploration, but already it feels too lazy. Sometimes, as the old song says so well, you need to "lay around the shanty, momma, and put a good buzz on." It has been a satisfying sojourn: I was able to work out next year's calendar of participation at L'Arche Ottawa, say farewell to a L'Arche assistant returning to his home in Paris and a new career as a lawyer, honor another assistant's birthday, check in with my friends at Mountainview and enjoy quiet time with my sweet heart. We'd forgotten that in notre quartier le jour de la fête de Saint Jean-Baptiste. That was a bonus. I will meet with another L'Arche community leader tomorrow morning and learn more about the unfolding changes.

Before we head back to the US - and a quick visit to loved ones in Brooklyn - we will celebrate one more chill day in this great town.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

what famous musican are you...?

Last night leaving the Lake Street Dive concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, while waiting in line to drive out of the parking garage, there was a gentle tap on my side window. Startled, I looked up to find a man about my age standing and smiling. I put the window down and he said, "I was wondering about the Haddad Brothers bumper sticker on your car: what does it mean?" It took a few seconds to register before I replied, "Oh, that's the name of the car dealership where we bought this great old car." He smiled and said, "Ok, I get it. That's my name, too and I was just curious. Its common from the old country."

"Lebanon, right?" He smiled again. "Where in Massachusetts are you from? We have family we visit often in Connecticut." When I told him Pittsfield he noted that they travel through there regularly on the way to see his brother. He waved goodbye - and then I realized one more thing. "Oh, not only is Haddad the car dealer's name, but it is also the name of the drummer in our band!" "How sweet is that?" he mused and headed back to his vehicle.

Earlier that afternoon, while looking for yet another bracelet, the street vendor said to me, "Are you a famous musician?" When I returned her smile with, "Not yet famous," she continued, "I met Chaka Kahn's bass player yesterday. I get a lot of musicians during the jazz festival. Can't wait to see her Monday night." I guess my look gave me away... It was a fun exchange.

On Friday, July 20, 2019 @ 7 pm our band, Famous Before We're Dead, will play a house concert to support the essential work of RAICES - the Texas based law consortium - fighting to reunited immigrant families with their separated children.


House Concert 7-9 pm
(90 minutes of new music plus refreshments and a chance to connect)
This is a unique time in our culture. We’re inviting you to James and Dianne’s home to hear our new groove, share a drink, and raise emergency funds for RAICES: the best legal group assisting migrant children and families with boots on the ground in Texas. Our new music will encourage and challenge you. Being together in solidarity will strengthen your spirit. And it will be a whole lotta fun. Rain or shine.
Learn more about RAICES @
For more information go to the Famous Before We’re Dead FB page @

Thursday, June 21, 2018

don't quit now...

Off to Ottawa - then Brooklyn - in the morning. Laundry and lawn work are the order of this day. Last night's full band practice was smokin' with some great new arrangements of original material. We are planning on hosting a small house concert mid July at our place to raise funds for RAICES (check them out @ https://actionnetwork. org/campaigns/endfamilyseparation) Watch for details here (or at Famous Before We're Dead @ https://www.facebook. com/famoushal/Two comments before I go AWOL for a week:  

+ First, let us rejoice soberly that the regime was impelled to end part of its onerous and inhumane treatment of migrant children and their families. At the same time, do not forget that the agents of hatred and incompetence have no plan for reuniting the 2,300 children already in concentration camps. This will fall to NGOs (hence our fund raiser for legal help.) Also never forget there is a line connecting this outrage that touches the original Muslim band, the lethal neglect of Putt Rico and fear mongering about "hordes of brown gang members" swarming across our southern border.

+ Second, our commitment to birthing a new way of being Americans together in solidarity continues. Please consider reading the following from Valerie Kaur et al and acting on it.

The stories are nauseating. Babies torn from their mothers while breastfeeding; children led away "for a bath" to be warehoused in cages instead; others forcibly torn from their parents. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents so far. This is state-sanctioned torture of children happening in our name, on our behalf.

We cannot go numb.

We cannot look away.

We can stop this. But only together.

Remember the wisdom of the midwife.

Breathe. Then Push.

Today the President reversed his family separation policy. Let's be clear: The administration's zero-tolerance policy will still detain children indefinitely, just with their parents. We are against child prisons — and family prisons. There is also still no plan to reunite the 2,000+ children who have been separated from their parents. We are pushing 3 major mobilizations this month. Which one will you join?

MARCH. Saturday, June 23rd:
Pack the National Mall in DC for a mass rally to restore the moral conscience of America with Rev. Barber and the Poor People's Campaign.

MASS CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. Thursday, June 28th: Join mothers who will put their bodies on the line in a mass civil disobedience in Washington, DC, led by the Women's March.

RISE UP. Saturday, June 30th:
Rallies are planned all across America for a National Day of Action for Children. Find an event near you and bring your sign #RevolutionaryLove.

Please take good care of yourself. Let us take good care of each other. We will not let the unapologetic cruelty of this administration take away our ability to respond with love - for others, our opponents, and ourselves.

Scroll down to find more ways to #BreatheAndPush with us.

In Chardi Kala - ever-rising spirits even in darkness,

Valarie, Amy, and the Fellows of the Revolutionary Love Project

There are many more ways to push. Which one can you do today?

GIVE: Support the advocacy groups on the frontline of this fight with a single donation. Donate here.

CALL. Demand your legislators take action for immigrant families. Here's how to call.

SPREAD THE WORD. Forward this email to your friends and family and post on social media. You can stay updated on the latest actions with this living document from Feed Our Democracy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

small is how the world is healed...

Over the past week, more and more people in the USA have expressed anguish, anger, and astonishment over the forced separation of innocent children from their migrant parents who were seeking entrance at our Southern border. As fact checkers have noted, it is not a felony to attempt to enter the USA illegally. It is a misdemeanor. Given the Trump/Sessions/Miller policy of moving a minor crime from immigration courts to the jurisdiction of federal Marshals - the so-called 0% tolerance for any immigration violation - our nation now weaponizes children to inflame Trump's political base. (NOTE: check the facts here @

That means in 6 weeks, we have incarcerated nearly 2,000 children in wire cages. This has now been condemned by everyone from the US Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, Republican senators Cruz and McCain as well as four former First Ladies of the US (Carter, Clinton, Bush and Obama.) Still, the current regime has cynically and cruelly stated that their hands are tied and they are only enforcing the law. This lie plays to their nativist, often racist and paranoid political supporters, but it officially makes child abuse the law of the land.

As this horror unfolds in public, two competing truths have been wrestling in my heart: first, this barbarism clearly disgusts and angers all people of conscience. Barbara Ehrenriech has written: The sound of a baby crying leads to hard-wired responses of pain and alarm in adults. The sound of 2000 babies crying can lead, when suitably amplified, to revolution. Our collective reaction is authentic. Such action is not who America wants to be in the 21st century.. At the same time, I have a second - perhaps contradictory - sense that such racist activity is part of our political DNA. We may hate it in 2018, but for most of our history we have denied it by white washing our true history from the annihilation of First Nations people to slavery, Jim Crow and the school to prison pipeline.

Not long ago one of my colleagues for justice said tome, "What you white liberals are experiencing in the US under Trump is America's shadow unveiled.. something people of color have known and experienced forever." He is right. So much of our collective anger, fear, inertia and/or exhaustion is a dying to privilege. It IS costly. And unnerving. Painful, too. I trust that from our shared pain we can find the courage to challenge the wounds of racism, sexism, environmental greed, homophobia and classism with solidarity as sisters and brothers of true humility. I believe that Valerie Kaur and William Barber are both right: birthing a new world is messy, loud and painful. It is going to be a tough birth - but well worth it - as new ways of being together take shape and form among us. I pray that the angst so many Americans are feeling and expressing over the treatment of migrant children forcibly ripped apart from their parents is a part of a new America. 

The disgust and confusion so many of us are experiencing right now has to do with powerlessness. For so long, white privilege has trained us to believe we are masters of our destiny. The Trump election smashed that illusion. It is a psychic and cultural death - and all deaths are traumatic. My deepest prayer is that as America's churches and civic groups rise up in compassion that we reclaim a sacred perspective: small is holy. Small is how compassion grows. Small is how we stay grounded to love and experience joy. Small is where we can make a difference. Small is the only place we have any real control. So let's honor it and nourish it. Small is beautiful. And small is where all that is holy breaks into our shared humanity and makes us whole.

Monday, June 18, 2018

mustard seed ramblings: part two...

Here's the thing about choosing to live into the way of Jesus: the way of the mustard seed is a lifetime commitment. We will get it wrong at least as often as we get it right. That is how we grow in humility and trust. Honoring the "little way of love," you see, isn't heroic. It is very, very ordinary. Everyday there are blind spots in our shadow to contend with; there are our unique wounds and demons that are always waiting to make an appearance, as well as expectations that our journey downward will one day be accomplished, too. Ours is the road less traveled, entrance by the narrow gate, acts of ordinary love shared with those nearest to us with consistency. T Bone Burnett once sang about illusions in "Trap Door" noting that the funny thing about humility is that as soon as you think you've arrived, you've missed the mark.

The little way of love invites us to have few expectations, to act with tenderness in our immediate circumstances, and to trust that God will lead us deeper by grace. Showing up, opening our hearts to God in prayer, and welcoming real forgiveness is how we incrementally mature into people of Christ's mustard seed blessings. Even with a Damascus Road-like conversion practicing the way of the mustard seed is essential. Remember that Scripture notes that after St. Paul's dramatic awakening, he too went away to practice the upside down wisdom of the mustard seed in a desert community. For three years he lived and trained with wiser elders who showed him the essentials of this new way of living. Small wonder that when St. Paul talked about this he described little acts of love:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m

nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

We drive ourselves wild aching to attend to all the wounds of the world. But this is not the revolutionary little way of Jesus and his love. It is the path of anxiety and inertia. We have been invited to practice - and make flesh - radical hospitality and ordinary generosity with those whom we can touch. Those who are closest to us. Yes, we can raise funds for lawyers and activists fighting the forced separation of children from their parents on our southern border. Of course we can share resources and prayer for a world engulfed by fear and greed. But then we must translate our big picture concerns into little acts of love in the neighborhoods where we live. This not only brings a measure of hope and healing to those closest to us, it strengthens our own hearts with joy.

One of the sobering truths I encountered in my departure from local church ministry is that too often fear or habit drives our decisions, words and actions. This was true for me at times, I know, and likely true for others as well. Sadly, contemporary people are often too busy to make time to listen to others beyond our fears. We hear sounds and voices, but don't have ears to hear or eyes to see. Eugene Peterson cuts to the chase when he illuminates Psalm 40 like this:

A brilliantly conceived metaphor in Psalm 40:6 provides a pivot on which to turn the corner; literally it reads: "ears thou hast dug for me" (azenayim karîtha lî). It is puzzling that no translator renders the sentence into English just that way They all prefer to paraphrase at this point, presenting the meaning adequately but losing the metaphor: "thou hast given me an open ear" (RSV) . But to lose the metaphor in this instance is not to be countenanced; the Hebrew verb is "dug."

Imagine a human head with no ears. Where ears are usually found there is only a smooth, impenetrable surface, granitic bone. God speaks. No response. The metaphor occurs in the context of a bustling religious activity deaf to the voice of God: "sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire . . . burnt offering and sin offering" (40:6). How did these people know about these offerings and how to make them? They had read the prescriptions in Exodus and Leviticus and followed instructions. They had become religious. Their eyes read the words on the Torah page and rituals were formed. 

They had read the Scripture words accurately and gotten the ritual right. How did it happen that they had missed the message "not required"? There must be something more involved than following directions for unblemished animals, a stone altar, and a sacrificial fire. There is God speaking and must be listened to.But what good is a speaking God without listening human ears? So God gets a pick and shovel and digs through the cranial granite, opening a passage that will give access to the interior depths, into the mind and heart. Or–maybe we are not to imagine a smooth expanse of skull but something like wells that have been stopped up with refuse: culture noise, throw-away gossip, garbage chatter. Our ears are so clogged that we cannot hear God speak. God, like Isaac who dug again the wells that the Philistines had filled, redigs the ears trashed with audio junk. The result is a restoration of Scripture: eyes turn into ears. (Working the Angles)

When we lose touch with one another's humanity in our busyness, we not only
quit trusting God's grace, we prevent ourselves from nourishing trust with one another. Trust cannot ripen without time and real time presence. Electronic media has a place, but it cannot duplicate the charism of breaking bread with one another. Or listening carefully to your deepest sorrows. Or just catching up on what is happening in your everyday, walking around life. Peterson puts it like this in his restatement of Romans 12: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

The little way of love that Jesus shared is built upon a foundation of everyday listening, loving, forgiving and starting over. Fear, busyness, and habit always work against the blessings of this little way of love. As I look backwards over my years in the local church, I have to own the mistakes I made through fear and busyness. The good news is that there is wisdom in these wounds if I am open to the spirit of that mustard seed.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

thoughts on the mustard seed...

For the past few weeks, there hasn't been a lot within me that's warranted a written expression. There have been feelings, of course, and some reactions to the madness that continues to infect the United States, but others have said it better than I ever could. A poem by Carrie Newcomer. The wise and insightful summary of Scripture that Diana Butler Bass shared from the work of the late Marcus Borg re: Attorney General Jeff Sessions' bastardization of St. Paul's pastoral wisdom in Romans 13. But it was their words that were essential - not mine.

Like St. Lou Reed railed in his over-the-top musical rant, "Starman," from the masterpiece New York, the world simply doesn't need more  empty, wasteful acts of self-importance: 

We who have so much to you who have so little
to you who don't have anything at all
We who have so much more than any one man does need
and you who don't have anything at all, ah
Does anybody need another million dollar movie
Does anybody need another million dollar star
Does anybody need to be told over and over
Spitting in the wind comes back at you twice as hard...

So it is with a measure of hesitation, therefore, that I lift up these thoughts on a sweet, sunny morning in the Berkshires. As is often the case, it was something in the words of Jesus in today's Gospel that called to me. (See: Mark 4: 26-34.) The ancient Psalmist of Israel spoke of a similar longing with perfect poetry:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God...
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

"Deep calls to deep..." With a tender clarity, the deep but simple words of this morning's Gospel called out to a deep and simple place in my heart: "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Parables are the way of the Lord for me these days: ordinary, mystical revelations that take time to ponder - and behold - before their nuanced truths become clear. For over 40 years I have been thinking about this mustard seed and its wisdom continues to illuminate. Fr. Thomas Keating used to say the tiny mustard tree stands in contrast to the mighty cedars of Lebanon: one is a fast growing, ritually unclean scrub bush, the other a majestic tree of great stature used to build parts of Israel's first Temple. Jesus is challenging our illusions of power and importance. Certainly during his ministry, Israel was anything but powerful. It lived as an occupied and subjugated territory within the Roman Empire. One truth this parable suggests is that any nostalgia for the past - whether sentimentality for days gone by or an addiction to illusions of grandeur - does not advance the cause of God's presence in our lives.  

In truth, God's presence in the world is revealed in little things - even a mustard seed. God's presence can also be encountered in unexpected places like that scrubby little mustard tree crowding out other plants in the garden. What are the places of nuisance or annoyance in my life? Is the One who is Holy inviting me to look at them more carefully? How might they lead me into greater love? Hope? Trust? In that light, I've been thinking a lot about my movement out of local church ministry from the perspective of this mustard seed. For a long time, I was angry and hurt over the pain of this departure. I was ready to go - but not because of burn-out or any frustration as some have wrongly concluded - but rather because God had called me out. Living into this truth was complicated for us all and a variety of mistakes were made by everyone myself included. 

What I am starting to see, however, is that even through the harsh duplicity of some players - and the inability of others to show support when I felt at my lowest - God was still leading me. It was not the journey I wanted, however, but one shaped by an inner humiliation essential for my soul. I had to learn to honor being without power - and know both its pain and truth from the inside out - if I was to mature in tenderness. At the close of my sabbatical, I knew I was being called out of one ministry and into another. I was just too arrogant and confused at the time to realize that the new way would be shaped by the Cross. Step by step, this hard truth was revealed: if you want to ripen in gentle love, you must let go of your old ways and let my love be your guide. Like Jesus told St. Peter at the close of St. John's gospel: when you were young you went where you wanted and did as you saw fit; but now that you are older you must let another lead you by the loins and take you into those places where you do not want to go. I wanted to move into the way of radical tenderness, but apparently I first needed a three year course in humiliation before I was empty enough to trust God at my core. I still wrestle with this but such is another truth of the mustard seed.

There is also this from Fr. Mark Simone: 

Ezekiel’s cedar may have symbolized a majestic and ancient Israel, but it was also a plant that grew slowly and was all too easily toppled. The kingdom that Jesus revealed grew fast, recovered quickly from damage and flourished anywhere it sprouted. Jesus also called attention to the mysterious way seeds sprout and grow. That something so tiny could give rise to something so much larger than itself suggested divine activity. After sowing, a farmer had little more to do until harvest. “Through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” 

The disciples of both Jesus’ day and Mark’s needed a reminder that the success of their mission was in God’s hands, not their own. Their cooperation was important for planting and harvest, but the growth came from divine power. Jesus’ disciples today also need to trust in the promise of small beginnings and in the power of grace. The kingdom contains as much mystery as a tiny seed, and its growth is as inexorable as kudzu. Many of us dream great dreams for the church and the human community, but the kingdom is ultimately God’s dream, not ours. Our role is to till and sow and then look on in wonder as God brings it to fruition.

So often as a straight, white, bourgeois male I believe - and act - like what I want is the will of God. This is white male privilege speaking, not the parable of the mustard seed. I have lived in this privilege most of my life and it will always infect my perception. But infection, habit and culture need not be the whole or only truth: the mustard seed shows that God's grace is bigger, more mysterious, and even more inventive than all of my wounds. And that is worth saying out loud. Thanks be to God.

Friday, June 15, 2018

first they came for the toddlers...

For people of conscience - of a particular faith, no faith, or all of the above - the current Department of Justice policy of separating children from their parents who have tried to enter this country between official US/Mexico border is mean-spirited and wrong. To enter the US without permission is a misdemeanor. To be ripped from a mother's breast is a crime against God, neighbor and all that is decent. All too often, however, that is where our current leadership draws their inspiration: not from whatever is good, true, noble and beautiful (as the Apostle Paul truly urged) but rather whatever is cruel, viscous and of short-sighted political advantage. To be sure, the Attorney General can quote Scripture out of context to bless his ugly actions, but he won't go unchallenged.

Yesterday, one of my go to scholars - Diana Butler Bass - shared a synthesis of the true Biblical context for Romans 13. You may recall that Jeff Sessions quoted this text as one justification for tearing immigrant children from their parents. Mr. Sessions doubled-down on his immature and self-serving reading of the Bible again today but the local Roman Catholic bishop in Scranton, PA ripped him a new one with a deep comment about God's will towards the stranger, the immigrant, and those who are vulnerable. Ms. Bass summarizes the scholarship of the late Marcus Borg re: St. Paul's rational for urging Roman believers to lay low as follows:

Some contemporary scholars believe that (Romans 13 offers) a parenthetical section in the text because the overall argument does not flow in ways typical of Paul's writing. Others insist that these verses were not universal principles of political theology. Instead, Paul was addressing a very particular problem of Jewish Christian who lived in Rome, c. mid-50s. The Roman church was ethnically split between Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jews were influenced by politics in Palestine, where a rising ride of revolutionary Jewish nationalism was occurring at the time of this letter's writing. A large group of Jews had just returned to Rome from exile in Palestine and were, most likely, influenced by this revolutionary spirit. They joined the Roman Christian community, which was largely Gentile and pagan in background. Thus, there was probably an emerging schism within the Roman church. And, with Nero now on the throne, the LAST thing Christians in Rome could afford was a split. They needed to be unified to face down imperial pressure and persecution.

Thus, Paul was writing with a pastoral and ecclesiastical concern: church unity. Paul's plea to be subject to governing authorities must be understood in this context -- he wanted to contain an emerging radical Jewish nationalism that could have undone the fragile unity of a community under threat. In essence, he says that Jewish nationalist Christians should accept the rule of the Empire in order to prevent another expulsion from Rome. Paul knows Rome stinks. He knows it is a brutal, unjust, horrible empire. It murdered Jesus for pity's sake. Most Paul's works are subtle or not-so-subtle subversions of Rome. He sometimes seems to argue for submission on occasion -- mostly as a way of protecting the safety and well being of the church. He freaking hates Rome. 

If a political authority usurps this verse to enforce obedience, it is an abominable misuse of the Bible. It isn't an instruction for citizens. It is a specific teaching for a particular problem in early Christianity-of the potential for nationalism to override Christian love. Romans 13:1-7 is Paul the Pragmatist at work, not Paul the Universal Theologian.

Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit, hits it out of the ball park with this concise summary of what REAL Scriptural on this matter looks like.

Earlier today I saw protest signs, "First they came for the toddlers..." In truth, the contemporary paraphrase of Pastor Niemöller's confession should read: First they came for the immigrants - and I did nothing because I was a white citizen of privilege who is afraid of foreigners. Then they came for the immigrant toddlers and...." Resistance is tiring. It is costly. It is what the Lord asks of us at this moment no matter how you understand the word Lord.

In early July our band, Famous Before We're Dead, will be hosting a series of house concerts as fund-raisers to fight this administration's unholy and anti-American actions. Watch for details...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

all is not lost...

Some days are too full for words. Some slither by at an agonizing and torturous pace while still others barely register themselves at all. And then, from time to time, beyond all control and reason, there are days replete with reverence.  I always fail to see them coming. That's probably true for us all. But these days when I am gobsmacked by grace, I like to claim a moment of quiet gratitude in my heart. It might happen in a coffee shop. Or in the car on my way to band practice. Or picking up a frozen pizza for supper late one night after everyone else has gone to bed. A silent acknowledgment for the holy ground shared with me that I was able to notice. 

The singer-songwriter-poet, Carrie Newcomer, evoked my sentiments exactly in her poem, "I Want to Tell You." Maybe it will nourish you, too.

I Want To Tell You
I want to tell you,
About the kindness of strangers,
About the young woman in the airport
Who was so exhausted and harried
By her rambunctious and restless toddler
That she finally sat down on the floor near the gate
And started to cry.
I want to tell you about the seven women
Who immediately flowed in from all directions
One pulling out a little toy from her purse,
One asking if it was alright to walk around for a bit
Hand in hand with the boy
Of course, always in sight of the mother.
I want to tell you about being breathless and worried
And running so late I was sure to miss my flight,
About the long snaking line of other weary travelers
Who parted like the sea
Stepping in union to one side.
About a man I met who makes soup and bread
And the nurse who volunteers every week with traumatized children
I want to tell you about text I got when I was lonely
When a friend took the wheel and I didn’t object.
Let me tell you about all the people I met,
Who keep extending themselves,
Braving the risk
Of being told its none of their business,
Who offer a hand, an encouragement, a couple of bucks,
To walk a fussy child down around the gate.
Because its the kind thing to do.
I want to tell you that its not all lost
I want to tell you about the graciousness
I encounter every single day
With fanfare and without fail.
I want to tell you it will be alright
Even though no one can really promise that.
I want to tell you that there is help
But often not where you think you're going to find it,
And tell you that there is always the other side of each valley
Where we will surely stand panting
and imperfect
But always

The chaos around us is maddening. Frightening, too. But blessings abound every day too if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. I smile at the faux Latin aphorism, Illegitimi non carborundum, for don't let the bastards get you down. Scholars suggest the correct translation would be "non ergo in te vocabo" but that hardly rolls off your tongue, right? At day's end, I am off to play a music gig with loved ones.  All is not lost.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

beholding ripens...

One of the incredible - and unexpected - blessings of my life at this moment in time is the chance to make music and share love and compassion in community. For reasons greater than my ability to comprehend, not only have I been given the opportunity to share music and prayer with my beloved friends in the L'Arche Ottawa community, but the Spirit has brought me back into communion with Hal and our newly formed band: Famous Before We're Dead. It is a time of rejoicing for me. "Behold" said the Blessed Virgin Mary, "I am a handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word." (Luke 1)

While on retreat in Canada a few months ago, I sensed that this was to be a year of "beholding" for me. That is, an extended season of watching and waiting what God was already bringing into my life rather than fretting and anxiously rushing to control events. This word, behold, appears over 1,298 times in the Scriptures. Sadly, I have not really given it much attention. Further, I am not very good at beholding - noticing sacred truth as a trusting novice - so it is essential for me to pause from time to time to see what God is already doing right before my eyes. 

Two realities demand my careful and loving attention: my deepening connection with L'Arche and the birthing of a new musical experiment with beloved friends.
Next week, we will be in Ottawa to look at possible housing options as my connection deepens. It will take us at least a year to bring things to a close here as there is so much "stuff" to deal with. Further, this is a time for beholding, rather than rushing, so we're going to take it slow. I will have a time to be with L'Arche friends, be in conversation with community leadership, and commit to next steps.

This week, our new band - Famous Before We're Dead - will be playing two gigs: Wednesday in Florence, MA and Saturday in Copake, NY. Today I spent three plus hours practicing and talking with my Famous brother in music, Hal, as we work out performances, rehearsals and a recording session. What a rich time of creativity and caring. I am blessed beyond words.

So while I don't have much to say about the state of the world these days - to everything there is a season, yes - it is clear that beholding is bringing me two blessings I could never have imagined. If you're in the area, drop by either Brew Practitioners in Florence between 7-10 Wednesday, or, the Copake Farmers' Market on Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm.

Monday, June 11, 2018

turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...

Each morning for the past week, a light, cool breeze has carried the scent of lilacs across our back porch and into the house. It is heavenly. And now the perimeter of our same porch is lined with pots of fresh herbs. Truly a simple but sensual way to start each day: sipping hot tea surrounded by lilacs, thyme, oregano, mint, basil and dill. This summer I have also placed a flower box right outside my study. It feels as if the time is upon me to do all in my small life to amplify beauty

Every day there is a constant barrage of images, stories and acts that reinforce the cruelty and chaos of creation. I am not suggesting we ignore the pain or deny its power. That would be equally harsh. No, the disorder and confusion of this era is real - it is part of the challenge to birthing a new way of being - so we must be "wise as serpents and gentle as doves" in our alternative. Not reactive but creative. Not addicted to the drama of the moment, but quietly steadfast in nourishing, strengthening and honoring beauty. The late John O'Donohue suggests: "When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.” To break free of the drama and live creatively rather than reactively takes practice. In his posthumous book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, O'Donohue writes:

What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation. When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.

Ours is a culture informed by busyness and shaped by arrogant impatience. The US President is the most obvious and offensive personification of this way of being. He tromps all over our historic allies, refuses to listen to those far wiser than himself, and insists that whatever he is feeling in the moment is the total truth. He is ignorant, boorish, and mean-spirited, bringing harm to millions every day without understanding the consequences of his selfishness. But he is not simply an odd American aberration - just the clearest distillation of our collective shadow. Tom Hayden once wrote in 1972, "The love of possession is like a disease with them." It is a quote from Sitting Bull in 1877 who experienced the link between the genocide of First Nations people and a greed driven world view born of conquest. 

When Gandhi said, "You must be the change you desire to see in the word," he wasn't kidding. A change from fear to trust, greed to creativity, lust to beauty takes a life-time. It happens slowly. Always in small ways. So, in the years that remain I find that I am planting flowers. And herbs. Practicing scales and giving my days over to music-making with skilled and loving colleagues. Traveling six hours north to be with my soul friends at L'Arche Ottawa. Nothing very big. Just small forays into the practice of beauty. One of my favorite John Lennon lyrics puts it like this: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream..." Perhaps one day you'll join us.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

sharing the load...

A cool and slow-moving day for us in the Berkshires. With hearts made heavy by the death of Anthony Bourdain, and bodies worn-out by two days of serious landscaping, not much is going on at chez Lumsdemott: planting a few herbs and some tomatoes, marveling at the butterflies on the lilacs, listening to some quiet blues. "To everything there is a season," my friend Pam reminds me in a note, "and a time for every purpose under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3)

A  time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

This is clearly a season of silence for me. A time to consciously honor the unknown anguish we carry around unseen every day. A time to own my own limitations. A time to share small acts of tenderness whenever possible. A time to listen more and speak less, wonder more and worry less, breathe in and breathe out more trusting a grace that is greater than my ability to understand. I have been chanting/praying this bridge to a song I'm currently wrestling with:

There's music in this madness when I have the ears to hear
There’s beauty in my brokenness when I release my fear
There’s joy inside my sorrow if I take the time to sing
The blues within creation that gives birth to everything

It is ALL about the blues: the sadness and the solace, the emptiness beside the presence, the paradoxical marriage of heart and mind, the wisdom of wounds that can pave the road into peace. Wynton Marsailis said, "Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance. It's about a man and a woman. So the pain and the struggle in the blues is that universal pain that comes from having your heart broken." Taj Mahal added, "Particularly with the blues, its not just about bad times, its about the healing spirit."  And the late Ralph Ellison hit it out of the ball park when he wrote:

The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.

One of life's mysteries - and blessings - has to do with sharing our blues with those we love and trust. More than anything else, it can be salvific. I don't know why it works (at least most of the time), but I have found that when I risk exposing my brokenness to another, the pain can be shared. Not eliminated, but at least lightened. And for that moment, at least, that is enough. Time for a little soul food with sister Roberta...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

small is hard, small is real, small is how the world is healed...

Every day for the last week I have taken a seat in my study to ponder and share a written reflection for the day. Some-times these have involved music, often I share thoughts on matters spiritual or cultural, and from time to time I lifted up aspects of my own journey into faith. Curiously, as this week matured,  I found that I just didn't have anything of value to say. Or write. Or comment upon. Mostly, you see, at this moment in life I just want to smell the lilacs, play music with the band, Famous Before We're Dead (check it out @ https://www.facebook .com/famoushal/?ref=bookmark), make supper for my family, do yard work, or get back to my faith community at L'Arche Ottawa.

I have been writing a new song, but it isn't going well. I am trying to ground it in Jean Vanier's wisdom re: "The 10 Foot Rule." He reminds us that there is a connection between hope and proximity. As the founder of L'Arche, an international community of people living together in love with those with intellectual disabilities, Vanier has observed that too often our hearts become broken because we obsess on tragedies too far away from our daily lives. Why not reach out and touch the wounds of those close by he asks? These are the people we can really love. Help. Cherish. These are the souls who might also heal our own wounds. The charism of L'Arche is simple but profound: ordinary people are invited to make a disciplined commitment to small acts of love - not inflated acts of heroism - just little acts of human compassion within the context of everyday life. My chorus gets close to capturing this blessing:  

Small is me, small is you, 
Small is love that rings true
Small is hard, small is real, 
Small is how the world is healed

Most of the verses, however, still feel clunky. Part of one rings true, but more work and time are in order for the rest:

Touch the wound in front of you – this is all that you can do
Keep it close – not far away – cherish what is real today
Small is holy

For a guy who has had a LOT to say about life, culture, spirituality and faith over the past forty years, it is a little disarming to find myself so quiet. Clearly, this is a season for sitting with a new reality and letting it nourish me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

famous before we're dead...

Something unexpected happened this weekend: our recently formed band, Famous Before We're Dead, won the Infinity Music Hall open mic contest. Nine other performers/bands were in the running and the judge selected us for first prize. Talk about being stunned. 

To be sure, Hal and I have worked hard at honing our sound: we take the creation of beauty seriously. To share new music in public is always both a gift and a responsibility. It demands practice, concentration, trust as well as vulnerability. It is one thing to strum a few chords on the guitar at a sing-a-long party. That experience can be holy ground for sure, but expectations are low and rarely meant to be savored. It is music for the moment that is pleasant but quickly forgotten. 

Sharing original music - or select covers - with others in a performance setting 
requires a whole other level of engagement. At its heart, this music seeks to evoke a sense of solidarity. It is an act of claiming common ground in a culture infused with loneliness - so there is nothing casual about it. It is like good worship: thoughtful and well-crafted, saturated with space for spontaneity as well as symbols to carry us deeper.  In one of his early masterworks, "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan challenged us to "know our songs well before we start singing." That means lyrics must be accessible as well as poetic, the melody must touch head and heart, and the groove must hold the promise of refreshment for a group of strangers gathering together with an inchoate hope for renewal. Poet/singer-song writer, Carrie Newcomer, put it well in "Pre-Dawn." The song is always an invitation to trust what is about to be born within.  

There is something new framing your life. A barely perceptible, mostly intuited pre-dawn light. What are the birds you hear singing at this moment? What is calling you to the edge of the next growing edge, the next knowing? What is the hope that allows you the breath you need between sighs?

There is no way to soften,
No thin candy shell to cover
Such suffering,
To try to do so would be dishonest

And ultimately disrespectful.
And yet,
Something on the edge of understanding
Is holding me steady,
Or at least
Allowing deep breaths
Between sighs.

There is something new framing my life,
A deliberate adherence
To who I most deeply am
And what I most deeply love.
And yes, all of this is happening,
Like the last moments before dawn,
In the barely perceptible,
Mostly intuited light,
Evidenced only by the first fragile songs,
Sung by the most faithful birds,
Who open their throats,
As the shadows fold up,
And the night cries become as distant
As a faraway bell or the Doppler effect
Of a lone passing train,
Like the owls and the bats,
Who glide in and dip low,
Bank the last silent curve,
And finally go home

Humor is another important ingredient in this type of sharing: an artist can't take him/her self too seriously lest we become heavy-handed or sentimental. At the same time, our offering must have a measure of gravitas. It is a fine line to perform midway between a creative intentionality and an honest vulnerability. All too often we crash down on one side or the other. But such is the sacred challenge of music-making: to leave room in the shared song for new possibilities while making meaningful connections between the human and the holy. The ordinary and extraordinary. The personal and the political. 

It has been fun and even uplifting to spend the weekend basking in the promise of our prize. Not only have we been awarded free time in a state of the art recording studio, but the chance to be the featured artists at Infinity sometime this summer and open for a national act, too. The unexpected gift of this prize helps me celebrate what we've been working on since the start of the year. Tomorrow, however, its back to the nitty gritty of rehearsal. I am so ready! 

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:...