Monday, December 29, 2008

tagged by Brent...

An embarrassingly long time ago Brent Bill tagged me and introduced this meme challenge by explaining:
My friend and fellow blogger Shawna "meme'd" me and so I'm trying the same thing back at her -- and including you. I looked up "meme" in Wikipedia, and got completely and totally lost. So I reread Shawna's post and thought, well, maybe I can do this and so, here goes....
Meme "rules:"
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. Present an image of martial discord (as in "war," not as in "marriage") from whatever period or situation you’d like.
Brent's tag reminds me well that I picked up on a pair of ideas from Shawna's main blog way back last summer and have yet to finish blogging them, but meanwhile, here's Brent's post: Is a meme as annoying as a mime? Finally, here's my 7, though I'm not convinced any of them are weird except I decided to include numbers in all of them and given that everyone in the blogosphere probably has played or declined an invitation to play, consider yourself tagged and invited and let me know if you do.

life stuff button1. I love the number 5 and multiples of 5

2. I've lived in 3 parsonages

3. I hope for countless, innumerable – try 999,999,999 - tomorrows for everyone, for Jubilee Justice for all creation and for peace in our time

4. I've attended 5 professional schools: music; social work; divinity; biz (mini-MBA in entrepreneurship) and design

5. My 2 favorite jobs were about food: writing restaurant reviews for the local radical rag and working as a line chef at a semi-high end restaurant

6. I've moved house at least 20 times

7. I have 2 particular theological interests: ecological theology and liturgical theology

For an image of martial discord I'll cite too many local church and judicatory meetings I've experienced.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

grace in (fluff)land

(fluff) Friends have become a huge Facebook favorite for quite a few. These virtual critters (mostly animals, a few foods like radish and tofu) are friendly, social, generous, energetic gourmet types. I've adopted a leppit and named him WildSpirit; leppits look like rabbits but have trouble pronouncing rabbit. However, "leppit" is close enough to Lepus the hare the meaning shouldn't be confounding. fluff election results

(fluff) Friends developers keep busy offering new events (keep busy endlessly writing code) that recently have included a pirate ship treasure hunt, Halloween trick or treat and most recently, Christmas stockings and gifts. Around presidential election time in the USA, there was an exciting couple of weeks of (fluff) elections, so people ran around casting votes for each others critters. According to the way participants interpreted (fluff) press releases, the top vote-getter would become (fluff) president and receive perks like seal, podium, white house, (fluff) force jet and related. Runners-up would become ambassadors, secretary of (fluff) fence, vice-fluff and similarly influential political positions. Given the common perception that whoever got the most votes would win, everyone cast their hourly votes and waited for the outcome.

However, after the (fluff) polls closed and (fluff) owners went to check on election results, it turned out everyone had won the position of president! In other words, there was nothing anyone could have done to make the results any different, either any better or any worse: election results turned out to be an undeserved, unmediated gift of grace. I've no clue as to the history and background of any of the (fluff) developers, but this was yet another example of the world outside of the Church "getting it" more correctly than the world inside the Church. Just sayin'...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nativity 2008

With its retrospect and prospect of judgment, repentance, renewal, redemption and hope, Advent 2008 is past; the Feast of the Nativity and the season of Christmas have arrived! In the Bethlehem manger we meet God surprisingly come to earth amidst darkness and cold, pleased to share our common lot...of huge casino payoffs, sunny endless summers, mega-mansions and financially prosperous career tracks? Surely job layoffs, bankruptcies, brokenness, alienation, urban decay, ecological degradation, disillusionment, mining disasters, organizational disarticulation, loneliness and betrayal are far more customary than what the world typically covets and deems success, so God enters history in the thick of human need and in human need, too...

Yahweh's people Israel called the desert manna "Bread of Heaven," and for forty years of peregrinations it nourished and sustained them. In chapter 6, John the evangelist calls Jesus born in Bethlehem, Little Town of House of Bread, Bread of Heaven and Bread from Heaven, and because of Jesus' touching everyday lives with God's love in the commonest essentials of creation, today we have living manna blessed and broken, given and shared to sustain, to nourish, to mend and to heal.

But for you who revere my name the Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Malachi 4:2, NRSV

As we ponder the witness of scripture and discern God's call daily to live as his Presence, we discover a constant interplay of theological realities and current cultural inclinations; you can't contextualize the gospel into a culture you're not familiar with! Right along that vein, recognizing Jesus Christ as Sun of Righteousness reflects the Mithric feast of the Unvanquished Sun that in turn came into imperial Rome through evolution and syncretism.

The first two songs on this list made it into a special Christmas edition of RevGalBlogPals Musical Musings and you might like to check out some of the other wonderful suggestions. I'm also bringing a mostly musical Christmas greeting for this year!

First, lyrical beauty from Amy Grant, "I Need a Silent Night" by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant
I've made the same mistake before
Too many malls, too many stores...

And the angels said fear not for behold
I bring you good news of a great joy that shall be for all people
For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here

To end this crazy day with a silent night

With our frequent multitasking and sensory overload, still we realize we need the kind of peace only the Son of Peace can bring us, yet at times we imagine we can buy it rather than awaiting it as gracious gift; nonetheless, the Savior's birth arrives again and brings along with it an end of fear and the song of the angels, messengers of gospeled good news, and we receive a silent night conclusion to this particular chaotically noisy crazy day (and to tomorrow's craziness, too).

I really discovered "Valley Winter Song" by Fountains of Wayne on a December LLBean commercial and even found a very appropriate, sepia-toned Winter in New England video:

fountains of wayne
This song evokes the New England winters I've experienced and endured, with their gray, salted, slushy snow, wind chill temps below zero, trying to write papers, anticipating final exams, Lessons and Carols at Harvard's Memorial Church, house parties with eggnog and hot spiced glögg along with the assurance "summer's coming soon" because the winter solstice is finally here, coming "to those who wait"...what else to do but to bring to you a creative gift, a valley winter song?

You know the summer's coming soon

Though the interstate is choking under salt and dirty sand
And it seems the sun is hiding from the moon

And the snow is coming down
On our New England town
And it's been falling all day long
What else is new
What could I do
I wrote a valley winter song
To play for you
Faith Hill, "Where Are you, Christmas?"
Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away...
My world is changing
I'm rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes, too...
Christmas still is here, after all, as God constantly comes into the world, into each of our worlds, often in hidden not always immediately apparent sacramental ways, reminding us God is there if only we will look and often surprises us before we even think to seek God, because the God of Jesus Christ graces with unmediated Presence...and unanticipated presents.

Next, full tilt boogie with Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton, "Merry Christmas, Baby"

Feeling mighty fine, living in Paradise, lit up with gifts of creation (diamonds!) and light of the unvanquished Son of Righteousness...around 3:30 a.m., amidst deepest darkness the gifts of Christmas surreptitiously and surprisingly arrived in my very own dwelling, so "Merry, merry, merry, merry Merry Christmas, baby..."

Also via John chapter 6, Jesus calls himself the real manna from heaven, and promised anyone who ate that Heavenly Bread of Life never would be hungry, would live forever and never die! In revelation about the Logos, the chapter 1 "Prologue" to John's gospel identifies Jesus as the Word, the verb, God's action! The infant Jesus in the Bethlehem manger is the Word of Life, Jesus is the Bread of Life, Jesus is our manna and the entire world's manna. So finally for this Christmas, Amy Grant sings a rockin' "Little Town" with an unconventional melody that's neither St. Louis nor Forest Green along with tangy instrumentation:

"Little Town"

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year 2009, World!

PS Due to YT vids coming and going, I've been deleted all YT links in this blog but keeping the song titles so you can find your own.

Monday, December 08, 2008

advent 1, advent 2

Advent 1

This has been an Advent full of hope! We're again in Revised Common Lectionary year B, and this time my own journey started out with a jazz-tinged eucharistic liturgy at one of the Big First Churches here in Paradise, First United Methodist, though this one's in the Valley rather than Downtown. As Pastor Molly Vetter responded on Facebook to my asking if we'd be hearing the Isaiah passage that's the 1st lection for Advent 1B and one of my very favorites, of course--and Mark's little apocalypse, too: jazz, prophecy, and apocalyptic go together so very well! A chunk of Isaiah 64:1-9:
64:1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
Abram was an Ivri, a Hebrew, one from the other side. In Jesus we meet God from the exceedingly other side as God tears open the gates of heaven and comes to earth, permanently obliterating boundaries and distinctions between holy and mundane and confirming the covenant between heaven and earth. It's interesting we identify Abraham as our progenitor in faith, because both Old Covenant and New Covenant people of God form a gathered assembly and the solitary individual before God is the anomaly, the a-nomen, the "other than" the law rather than the general rule, yet scripture and history in general are replete instances of God claiming, calling and enabling a particular individual to a distinctive, transformative endeavor.

Regarding God incarnate in our midst, last week at The Rising we watched part of a DVD that reminded us 1) Joseph and Mary trekked to Bethlehem because Joseph was from Bethlehem and likely still had relatives there; 2) no, Jesus was not born in "straw poverty" (though I love that expression I heard a couple of Nativity seasons ago), Jesus was born as what a recent bank commercial would call a "regular guy," someone who "shared our common lot," in the words of the UCC Statement of Faith. Regarding the otherness aspect of Abraham as the prototypical person of God in being from the other side (of the hills, of this city, of mainstream culture, supremely from the other side of death), what does God's incarnation in the baby in the manger, the Nazarene carpenter and the cross of Calvary show us about us? Paraphrasing Jeremiah 22:15-16, Jesus ate and drank (no ascetic!) and did justice and righteousness, and it was well with him (and better with the world)...this not only is what it means to know God, but to be like God!

Advent 2

Sunday afternoon of Advent 2, featured another unforgettable liturgical event; this time it was the festival of Lessons and Carols in Founder's Chapel at nearby University of San Diego, and an exceptionally worthy piece of preparation for God's birth in our very midst, "fulfillment beyond all human reckoning," as one of the worship leaders described it. Angelo Musicante by Melozzo da Forl To call this experience perfect is a huge understatement! For the prelude music choir and orchestra exulted with Pergolesi's Magnificat, then more than a dozen (I didn't distract myself by counting) people jubilantly processed into the worship space with "On this Day, Earth Shall Ring," in an arrangement by the illustrious Alice Parker (I attended her hymn sing workshop at 1st UMC a couple months ago). Standard scripture selections, etc., and the gospel procession...back in City of History, after an Easter Vigil several of us went to, when I asked the senior pastor I served with his opinion of that congregation's liturgical style (I had my own opinions, of course), he replied he did not care for the gospel procession because it elevated The Book too much. But the gospel procession at the Lessons and Carols was something else altogether as it demonstrated and celebrated how God comes into human history to live as one of us so we can touch, see, smell, taste and hear evidence of God among us; this gospel procession on Advent 2 appealed to and teased all our senses. We had incense during the opening processional, the closing recessional and to accentuate the proclamation of the Word of Life. A couple of advents ago I asked "Is God among us not a Hallelujah moment?" Yes, a time for singing multiple responses of "Yahweh be praised" as we heard the gospel text. Finally, the recessional song was a West Indian Spiritual proclaiming...
The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy

The Virgin Mary had a baby boy,
The Virgin Mary had a baby boy,
The Virgin Mary had a baby boy,
And they say that his name is Jesus.


He came from the glory,
He came from the glorious kingdom.

The angels sang when the baby born,
And proclaimed him the Savior Jesus.
Mary's boy named Jesus brought the Glorious Reign, the Sovereignty of Heaven down to earth--Dietrich Bonhoeeffer speaks of God's "unfathomable condescension" and the Christmas carol sings "Pleased in flesh with us to dwell: Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us!" During this season of Advent 2008 we once again await the arrival in our midst of The Wild Guy from Nazareth whose presence among us levels mountains, makes valleys higher, shatters barriers, blurs distinctions that separate us and raises the dead.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Giving 2008

It is Good to Give Thanks!

Thanks Giving 2008
Glorify Thy Name

I love this Praise Worship CD! Christyl, my former neighbor who now teaches HS music and has served as a music worship leader gave me 2 copies—a real one and a copy. I tried hard to find an MP3 or video to
link to, but couldn't, but I'm posting the lyrics from Glorify Thy Name, a Hosanna! Music CD.

Psalm 92:1-4

♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ It is good to give thanks to the Lord
Singing praises to our God on high
Sing of mercies throughout the day
And Thy faithfulness by night
And Thy faithfulness by night ♫ ♫ ♫ ♪ ♪

Vs. 1
♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ I will rejoice in the work of Thy hands
For Thou has made me glad
Thine enemies scatter; they fall away
But the Righteous One shall stand ♫ ♫ ♫ ♪ ♪


Vs. 2
♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ from the strings of an instrument
My offering will poor
The God of Righteousness is my rock
Exalted evermore ♫ ♫ ♫ ♪ ♪

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reign of Christ

Reign of Christ: culture, Jesus, identity and…

As we anticipate
the season of Advent with its call to repentance and promise of hope along with the start of a new liturgical year, a couple of blogs inspired me. First, RevGalBookPals' selection for October was Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Jan Edmiston wrote an outstanding intro to the book and the comments added a lot, plus because I haven't read the book yet I can't say anything remotely authoritative, so to learn more you need to go to the RevGals' website. In referring to Jesus as our President I'm making a habit of the more corporate and covenantal "we, us, our, ours" and moving far away from a proprietary "I, me, my, mine."

Jesus for President Book CoverThis topic hardly could be more timely since slightly over a month ago I finished for now a 10-session Monday evening series, "Reading The Bible Economically," developed and hosted by Lee Van Ham. I attended 7 of the 10, did the reading for all of them and the journaling homework for all but two; our wrap-up for the course particularly reminded me 1) the way I initially learned to interpret scripture was highly countercultural, very economic and extremely political, as it constantly considered each person's embeddedness in and responsibility to the vitality of our church community's worship, witness and service, our relatedness to every aspect of the neighborhood surrounding us as well as our lives as political people at every level; 2) I do not regret in the least not continuing professional service in the church; 3) my current level of agitation and discontent regarding lack of opportunities to contribute to a degree consonant with my background, experience, and ongoing sense of call indicates something in my life needs to change.

A quote from Jesus for President:
"The construction of the set-apart people into a living temple of blessing is going so-so. The solution: God puts skin on to show the world what love looks like. But here is the catch: The Prince of Peace is born as a refugee in the middle of genocide and is rescued from the trash bin of imperial executions to stand at the pinnacle of this peculiar people. A strange way to start a revolution…"

In the book thread comments I wrote:

• Although I don't have the book, I wanted to make a couple of flag comments. From whence I came, neither national flag nor Christian flag ever had been an option in the sanctuary, but intense political activism was. I've heard that immigrant German Lutherans during WW I were the first to place a US flag in their sanctuaries because they wanted themselves and everyone else to be clear they were Americans now.

• Quite a few years ago during a conversation about worship someone pointed out that with adequate scriptural and historical citations it likely would be very possible to prevent a flag being installed in the sanctuary, but removing the flag forever probably would not and could not happen.

• Four or five years back on the old (2nd iteration, maybe?) online UCC forums someone started a thread about flags in sanctuaries. My immediate gut reaction was "what kind of theological idiot would even think to ask that?" but one of the replies opened my mind very wide. It essentially said, "Yes, we have an American flag in our church sanctuary. In our chancel the means of grace - font, table, ambo and cross - are on a raised platform; the flag is on the same level as the gathered assembly so the flag symbolically listens to and hears the prophetic word along with everyone else."

"Divided allegiances" segues into a closely related blog post for World Communion Sunday from my Facebook friend Presbyterian Hunger in Fasting, malls and the eucharist.

PH starts out by explaining, "I started out walking…in search of a church where I could break my fast with communion." His narrative then recounts how in turn he viewed a steeple (church, maybe?), a roof that hopefully signaled a Greek Orthodox church, a strangely shaped cross that proved to be a supermarket, then an Asian restaurant, and finally a car dealership. Finally, PH spotted a white steeple that actually was a church structure full of church people, so he entered the building and found a eucharistic liturgy well in progress in a packed, clearly multi-cultural congregation.

Post-worship and liturgy, PH feasted at a richly and abundantly stocked Panera and then attended another innings of the event he'd journeyed to that city for—a conference on community food security. He concluded his blog post with, "As I passed the cathedrals of capitalism, as whizzing cars passed me, I wondered how long this lifestyle could possibly last…"

Among the plethora of domesticated gods that include Egyptian imperial religion, Roman imperial religion, the Jerusalem Temple and contemporary urban consumerism, each of them and all of them subtly and not-subtly bring to their adherents a reign of death, not as gracious gift but at huge cost to the individual and to society. But the God of the Bible, God of the prophets, the God of Jesus Christ cannot be contained or domesticated in any way and by grace and without cost to us, this God raises the dead.

In "our" culture of consumerism we're close to being governed and owned by our desires for excessive consumption, so does the culture rule our wants or do our wants rule our lives? The biblical ideal demonstrated YHWH as sovereign, but we know the people longed for a king like those other nations had. As the authors of Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw observe, "The Prince of Peace is born as a refugee in the middle of genocide and is rescued from the trash bin of imperial executions to stand at the pinnacle of this peculiar people" Yes, and during his earth-life Bethlehem-born and Nazareth-bred Jesus socializes and celebrates with outcasts and marginalized, rejects conventional ecclesiastical and political authority, gets himself convicted and killed on charges of sedition and blasphemy and dies outside the city, far from the arena of civilization, from the crossroads of commercial and consumerist activity, from The Place where religion and spirituality usually (invariably, inevitably) become static, codified, rationalized and institutionalized, losing all power to save and transform. What a friend we have in Jesus? Jesus calls us friends, as possibly the ultimate accolade, yet his Lordship is one of servanthood, as is our presence in the world.

As the people of God we have been formed in the sparse economy(!) of many deserts where obvious signs of life are ultra-meager yet where life teams hidden beneath the surface. We have been uniquely re-birthed by Jesus' death and resurrection. We know the heart of a stranger, because we have been strangers to the dominant cultures and popular mores in all of our Egypts. Do we currently experience the heart and the lifestyle of strangers here in this 21st century consumerist culture? A Fourth World people is a nation without a state. How about us, wherever we pitch our tents? Are we a nation, a distinctly constituted people? Is Jesus our President? Are we stateless or citizens?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Rising

Recent Thursday evenings I've finally been getting to The Rising!!! Bruce Springsteen's song, "The Rising" is the eponymous source of the community's name:
Can't see nothin' in front of me
Can't see nothin' coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)...
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life)

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

© Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)
...a dream of life, dream of life, my dream of my life...God's dream about my life?

life stuff buttonThe Rising is the alternative, or possibly simply an alternative assembly of what several times I heard referenced as The Big Church, "The Big Church" being a sizable, relatively affluent congregation of an historic mainline denomination that has become increasingly ethnically, socially and theologically diverse over the past couple decades. Almost every Thursday evening a smallish group first gathers in the wrought iron-gated courtyard for potluck and then moves into the adjacent chapel for scripture study, reflecting, singing songs and listening to songs, worship, holy communion and Open Space. During the years I've been back in Paradise I've gathered some of my own history with the sponsoring congregation, but won't detail any of my prior history there expect to mention I'd previously attended several worship and other events in that chapel, now reconfigured without front-facing wooden pews so we could sit on couches in a circle, enabling participants to experience more than a single expression of "open space." Literally forever it's been clear to me a more conventional, predictable style of church never would have attracted me at the beginning or during those in between times, but The Rising has a more organic feel and presents with a better integrated reality than the typical Sunday morning worship experience. But you know how much I love the Church's historic liturgy and I'm something of a lectionary geek and I'm still seeking to find a regular place of Sunday worship... however, my experience with The Rising has been really nice! "Really nice" may sound tame and unfocused, but I haven't felt threatened, I've felt welcomed, listened to and heard, and I feel The Rising is an excellent fit. I've long been searching for people willing to learn my name and willing to trust me with theirs!

Toward the start of worship the first time I was there we heard a song by one of my favorite, most thoughtful Christian groups, Faith Enough by Jars of Clay; another lyrics sample:
The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight
Should the world rely on faith tonight
The group has been writing its own statement of faith, and together we confessed our trust in the 2nd and 3rd Persons of the Triunity (1st Person still is in progress). We've been having some discussion of the just past and passed local and national political elections and for now have finished the book of Acts, which will wrap up next week before taking a Thursday off for Thanksgiving. I love the Acts 27 passage describing Paul, 35After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves." As I mentioned to the group, from Paul we received the earliest account of Jesus' New Covenant declaration in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Together also, we prayed prayers and spoke words of the eucharistic liturgy, and at the end of the evening each of us individually got to hug each other and speak that evening's blessing.

Bruce Springsteen's The Rising possibly describes better than I'm able the lonely distances I've traveled, the overwhelming weight of raw grief and staggering loss, the tears, lack of tears, darkness and sadness I've been carrying along alone, the fear that's accompanied me near-countless years, the love and mercy and embrace I've dreamt of, the life I've hoped to recover. But then again, possibly I could describe my own experiences better in my own words, but I'm not ready to go all that public! I've told a few people "I crave an audience the way an addict craves cocaine," yet I don't quite dare unmask, publicly or more privately. I was convinced, I'm still convinced trying to free-lance everything was far better stewardship of my life than getting tied up in constraints and restraints of a pastoral position, current design trends, the ignorance and opinionatedness of music committees. I've been overrun with excuses, rationales and defenses, each containing at least a morsel of truth, but in the end, the painful truth remains that my phone never started ringing again, and most of my offers have been rebuffed, often met with horror.

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)—yes, but also a Tucson dark sky southwestern sunset...

Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)—indeed, but remembrances that help heal and shadows that protect.

I've been going down to the beach, or close to it, for The Rising Thursday nights and found friends. According to my view from here, most Thursdays I'll be going on up (down near the beach) to The Rising, dreaming of life while relying on faith all ways, always.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sin Boldly

A few weeks ago a friend and I were painfully wondering about the future of a local church community we both hold dear; echoing Genesis 18:16-33 that records Abraham's pleading with YHWH not to destroy the city for 50, then 40, 30, 20, and 10 righteous, my friend wondered if God found 9 faithful, only 9, would the community survive, would God keep covenant—but the question is wrong!

From Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, check out Sin Boldly her latest delight. Sin Boldly cover Writing to Philip Melanchthon from Wartburg Castle, Martin Luther, described by Cathleen as "that great theological hoodlum and father of Protestantism" advised his friend and colleague, Pecca fortiter, sed fortius et gaude in Christo—"Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly." On Facebook I've included that in my list of favorite quotes! Cathleen Falsani has written Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace in an easily flowing style without annoying asides or trite clichés; if along with most people you've ever wondered what God possibly could do to transform your pitiful attitudes and pathetic lack of alignment with the demands of the commands, this collection of stories from the author's recent peregrinations will give you hope and keep you keepin' on, since God lovingly reigns with showers of mercy-filled grace, no matter who, no matter what, no matter when.

Wrapping up a nicely compact just-right size for backpack or purse, the dust jacket of Sin Boldly presents in tawny earth tones and features a transparent-wingèd dragonfly. I couldn't find any information about the friendly rounded serif with easily readable tall ("big x-height," as we'd say in the trade) lower-case letters set in sepia. A small dragonfly demarcates some chapters into separate divisions and like a sage printer's mark announcing "I was here; I typeset this book," a dragonfly hovers around the concluding epigraph of each chapter. There's a bright turquoise foil-embossed dragonfly on the spine, too. Wiki confirmed some lore and symbolism I'd heard about dragonflies, including the way they reflect and refract light as they symbolize enlightenment, truth, change and transformation. Dragonflies originate in the water and immigrate into the air as they grow and mature, but are at ease in both elements throughout their lives. Dragonfly mythology suggests summer's warmth and sunlight finds dragonflies at their most mellow and influential as they effect prosperity, harmony and a sense of self. Not only do these ancient insects adapt well to the natural elements, but in the midst of flight dragonflies can change direction and fly backwards. Like the dragonfly we are birthed and re-birthed in water and we need to keep returning to the water as an unceasing source of sustenance and renewal.

On page 57 Cathleen cites a couple of "grace" examples that especially resonate with me: "Sometimes it's having the guts to rebuild, to take a chance, to follow your nose and your heart rather than your head." "Sometimes grace is finding out that your preconceived notions are dead wrong." "And sometimes it's a bowl of watermelon gazpacho when you were expecting Taco Bell." Yep, but Taco Bell is very right around the corner from where I live as well as tasty and inexpensive.

Relating some of her experiences and feelings in Kenya, on page 63 Cathleen realizes "how mzunga I really am," finding herself challenged "to understand with a heart not colored by my nationality, class or skin tone." Is that not part of everyone's journey? Having lived in many different socioeconomic, geographic, cultural (and ecclesiastical) milieus, I often wonder how my view of the world would look to someone else, at the same time realizing how I'm completely unable to track the subtle ways my worldview keeps changing. Sprinkled here and there throughout Sin Boldly I found a word my grandmother used frequently: lagniappe, a Creole word meaning an unexpected extra, a real surprise someone gives you at no cost. "In other words, a lagniappe [like grace] is getting what you don't deserve." [page 56] Here's Lagniappe Presbyterian Church's site—doesn't the name make you want to visit and find out what they're doing?

Discussing the possibility of following precise recipes for spiritual and religious experience and renewal [page 85]—well, there aren't any, also reminiscent of my grandmother, Cathleen describes herself as rhubarb pie with pistachio ice cream. I love both of those and I'm remembering bounties of rhubarb in my grandmother's garden, her fabulous rhubarb cobblers and how we all screamed for hard-to-come by pistachio ice cream. For too long now I've again been in a discernment phase but at the moment I can't figure out how to describe myself in food.

Cathleen's book chronicles God's "audacious" grace, as she sometimes styles it; I've named one of my blogs that's not currently public (due to its being even less active than the others) "Wild Grace," and in its free, elusive, characteristically unanticipated and unexpectedness, Grace is Wild as well as bold and audacious. But just as much, grace often is physically tastable, audible, visible, aromatic (...sometimes "odiferous," too) and touchable: incarnate and enfleshed; in that case, where can grace lead us?

God created each of us in an imago dei, in the Divine Image. To complete his genealogy, Luke the gospel-writer names "Adam, son of God!" In Christ Jesus and in baptism God endows us with another measure of divine identity; the Spirit of Pentecost irresistibly confirms our divine birthright enlivening the privilege of servanthood and the surprise of resurrection from the dead. Imago Dei?! Us, acting and just plain being like God, like Jesus, God's most definitive self-revelation? Yes, us. Taking risks, not expecting payment or even thanks in return, astonishing people in spite of themselves in the same way God has amazed us; keeping the redemption flowing and the goodness growing. Gifting people with the matchless grace of hospitality, just being with them without invading or overtaking their space while letting them be. Cathleen refers to her own [179] "moody faith" that could be grace for someone else, just as others are grace for her, and if we do this only a little of the time, it's right in line with Cathleen's suggesting [page 108] we can "hold space" for one another, rather than imaging fixing or controlling them into behaving the way we want them to. Doesn't God spend reams of time holding space for each of us, waiting until we finally sort of begin to get it? I cannot count the times I've realized only a few months, or weeks or days or possibly hours ago I'd been so clueless about whatever it was while at the same time extremely grateful God hadn't bonked me over the head (even with a copy of the Book of Confessions or Book of Concord) so I'd turn around and do or acknowledge whatever it was, because it's about growing into high summer's purposeful sense of self in our own time. Jesus exhorts us to be perfect, meaning not unattainably precise inhuman perfectionism but to reach our goal of becoming who we were born to be: teleological purposefulness! Like the multi-elemental, near-infinitely adaptable dragonfly, responding to wherever and whomever we find ourselves.

If only 9 remain righteous, simply 9, will God keep covenant? If God found only 9, or possibly only 2 or 3...? The question is wrong! If God found not one, not a single person faithfully righteous...God would keep covenant, God would shower grace on creation, God could do no other than to have mercy. God, the gracious, covenant-maker is endlessly covenant-keeper, lover of all creation in Jesus Christ. If we find only a few faithful or maybe perceive none as faithful, will we dare risk claiming the Divine gift of Divine image and audaciously dare to be agents of grace and means of grace? I hope so!

Here's my Amazon review of Sin Boldly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September Prayer

Here's the prayer I wrote and offered to open today's meeting of the Faith, Order and Witness Committee.

salt leaven lightHoly God, merciful Lord, reconciling Spirit...

You again have called us together as Your people in Christ Jesus; we again gather to learn more, to further enlarge our hearts and our minds, to discern paths of agreement, but above all to follow Jesus more fully and faithfully.

Amidst endless uncertainties and certain unpredictables, You call us and in the Spirit of Pentecost You enable us to be holy and righteous, merciful and loving, reconciling peacemakers, to be Your word, Your presence, Your very image everywhere You send us.

We ask You graciously to bless this time in the Name of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world,


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

season of creation

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This month again I got to do Musical Musings for the RevGals blog; because it's happening right now, I decided to celebrate the new Season of Creation liturgical emphasis—here it is!

musical musings: season of creation edition

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Orientale Lumen XII West

founders chapel USD door
University of San Diego Founder's Chapel Entrance Door


Again this year, Father George Morelli of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and a member of the Ecumenical Council's Faith, Order and Witness Committee arranged for committee members to attend the all-day session of Orientale Lumen West a few Wednesdays ago, on June 25. The website explains history and purpose of the annual event where "Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholics and Roman and pray together, learn from each others' traditions, and become friends together searching for a common goal: 'that they all may be one' in the One Church of Christ." My blog from last year's conference explains some basics: Orientale Lumen XI West. Last year's event started opening my life to the worldview of Eastern Christianity; the three talks we heard this year were exceptionally helpful in affirming some aspects of my own theology I've been thinking about a lot lately as well as attempting to explain to others.

Morning Liturgy

The Eastern Catholic Church, which is under the aegis of Rome, led the opening Eucharist. As I mentioned to my FOW colleagues, I could have gotten to Founder's Chapel at the beginning rather than close to the end in time to receive the antidoron, but intentionally didn't, since it is too painful to be excluded from the Lord's Table and my attending as a known protestant approaching the Table and being refused would have been not cool at all. Orthodox Christians couldn't commune, either...a pastor colleague from the committee told me he always gets "serious hat envy" whenever he attends an orthodox liturgy! For the past few months I've been trying hard to lighten up a lot, so his remark helped as did someone else mentioning my "lightening" attempts were most apt, given the conference is Light of the East.

Feasting and Fasting...

...according to the Byzantine Typicon, by Sister Vassa Larin and a panel discussion formed and filled our morning experience. Typicon is an ordinal liturgical book of examples rather than an obligatory code of laws. Sr. Vassa, the daughter of a priest in the Russian branch of the Byzantine tradition, is completing her PhD under Byzantine expert and Jesuit Father Robert Taft from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and Fr. Robert was a member of the discussion panel! In this section I'm combining observations from Sr. Vassa's talk and the following discussion.

You can search to find more details on the topic, but we learned there are 6 classes of feasts, from greatest to the 6th class of simple days. I like the way the Typicon denotes which is what with a graphic symbol, and uses "rubric," a word familiar to us in the West to convey instructions in ruby or red type embedded in a liturgical text (in the Lutheran Book of Worship we also had the "pink wash" phenomenon...). I love the way Sr. Vassa explained (my paraphrase) sacraments and liturgy need to be grasped with our senses and integrated into our entire existence so we are drawn wholly into the salvific meaning of the Christ event. Liturgy is meant to be for and by the whole church, for everyone in the church, rather than dis-integrating into rote lifelessness. But that's exactly what I've been trying hard to teach and explain: our worship describes (literally draws and writes, "en-scribes") what we believe about ourselves, about God, and about our relationship to God; in worship we demonstrate who and what we are supposed to be! How we live becomes based upon how we worship as our worship orders our lives. So if we worship money, contemporary culture, the beach, our career or anything else, that's what we become. Once again as I wrote recently (for sure not remotely original to me) "in worhsip we need to re-enact and re-appropriate the meta-narrative of our deliverance from death into life..."

Sr. Vassa described fasts as times of keeping watch, of anticipation and waiting, while feasts are fulfillment; there's penitential kneeling contrasted with eschatological standing. The purpose of the feast is to communicate, to "bring us together around the chalice," poignantly reminding me of the way we in the mostly mainline Protestant West have been working hard at achieving full communion agreements rather than continuing to go for organic unions—examples of organic union include the 4 church bodies that united to form the United Church of Christ, the 2 that came together into the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the 4 that joined and became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—one of those, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, originally was constituted as a uniting church...interesting (at least to me)!

"Liturgy confronts our lives with the image of a Savior who gave himself for all..." and we need to approach liturgy with a spirit of mimesis, of imitation that'll lead to a fusion of liturgy and life that creates a lifestyle (but again that's what I've been trying to say!). To quote myself from a while ago, "Worship that reflects and embodies God's Self-revelation and Self-giving in Jesus Christ." Iconography calls us to a wholly-lived life in which we become the icon, the image. Feasting is the iconological opposite of fasting and I'll say a little more about that in the Holy Time section of this blog.

Its name deriving from the same source as the English-language "type" and "typical," the Typicon points to an integrated lifestyle rather than a collection of rubrics. Fr. Robert described change in the Eastern Churches "like watching the grass grow..." but that's exactly like change in the Western Churches! Anthropological theology: the church emerging from anthropology, so in my estimation anthropology, "the word about the human" becomes ecclesiology, "the word about the called-out assembly (of humans)."

The East is legalistic?! But so is the West! A panel member observed in the olden days culture prescribed what we were supposed to wear to church (etc.). In my current spirit of lightening up, I'll tell about arriving at church on a summer Sunday morning a few years ago (I wasn't a worship leader). A friend observed, "this must be Southern California—you're wearing flip-flops to church." And yes, here in Southern California, I've preached in flip-flops as well as attending parties in them. But hasn't almost everyone?


This year we got to have lunch in a faculty dining room and sat in comfortable chairs at a wide table overlooking an expansive canyon. The University of San Diego campus is exceptionally open and gracious, with a feel that reminds me of broadly letterspaced type that tries to convey leisure and a touch of opulence. The posted bill-of-fare didn't allow us a wide choice, but it was very tasty, though they served us their choice of (an okay) pre-planned dessert rather than giving us a choice from the printed menu. Maybe I need to write a few more restaurant reviews? But not at this time about that lunch.

Ravenna Statement

A new agreed statement from the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has been published (15 November). The commission met from 8-15 October 2007 in Ravenna, Italy, and finalised the text, which is entitled: Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority. Ravenna, the same location as the Ravenna Mosaics. We experienced a pre-recorded DVD of Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia discussing some intricacies of this "Agreed Statement" between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. I love his "Church in Eucharistic Terms" and a reference to the book (I still intend to buy and read) The Church Makes the Eucharist-the Eucharist Makes the Church by Father Paul McPartlan, the Carl J. Professor at the Catholic University of America. (I'm sorry I haven't yet found a link.) Metropolitan Kallistos was born Anglican and currently serves as co-chair of the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. Eucharistic ecclesiology with koinonia, covenental community as the leitmotif. Patriarchal structure is an "institution of the whole church..." all this makes A Formula of Agreement and Called to Common Mission sound like simplicity itself! I don't know its origins, but a few years ago on the old United Church of Christ forums someone posted why are ecumenical relations like sex between Elephants? Here's why: it's done at a high level; it needs to be done very carefully; it's accompanied by a lot of trumpeting and braying; no one can tell if the elephants are coming or going; no one cares except the elephants! Metropolitan Kallistos also used the buzz-phrase "no bishop - no church; no church - no bishop." Describing the church as an icon of the Trinity reflecting the perichoresis of the Trinity reminded me of Miroslav Volf's (2nd, I believe) volume of free church ecclesiology, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Metropolitan Kallistos mentioned conversations and agreements because of multiple jurisdictions and autocephalus (a word I use neither casually nor lightly, since it's not exactly part of my everyday protestant vocabulary) churches.

Holy Time

I watched just a little of the after-lunch liturgy videos and then Dr. Richard Schneider, a specialist on iconography and a professor at Canada’s York University and at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, provided the day's final plenary that essentially was about time intersecting with eternity—liturgy does not belong to the structure of time, but rather is the breaking-in of eternity into time — I'd express it as integrated chronos and kairos. Again you can search and research, but Eastern Christianity claims 5 cycles of time: Daily Prayer at essentially the same (I think) hours as the Western Church gathers to pray; baptism, marriage, ordination (a whole series from acolyte and reader through the great habit); 8 tones; movable feasts and fixed feasts. Interesting to contrast with Western protestantism's 2 sacraments, though similarly we consider the Eucharist a foretaste of the feast to come and a proleptic realization of the reign of heaven. Ordination in the West is different, too—some church bodies formally ordain deacons and elders, other simply elect or appoint and install them, though ordination to Ministry of Word and Sacrament connects the ordinand to the entire church in every place and time and authorizes them to preside at Table


This year I again found the ornate liturgical style in both real-life real-time and on DVD with its shiny ultra-bling and fantastically vested all-male clergy extremely off-putting, yet I appreciate the appeal to the senses. One of the presenters mentioned Orthodoxy evangelizes by means of attraction, drawing people in with the bells, smells, splendors and visible mystery. I often remind myself it took the passionate, optimistic, activist and wholistic ministry style of the first congregation I was involved with for me even to imagine the Way of Jesus as anything I'd ever consider being involved with, and I suspect that's what it would take for me even now, despite "having a rather accurate knowledge of The Way." However, ultimately it needs to be about a style and expression that enables and supports a person's knowledge of Jesus and journey with the Lord of Life, along with a community of faith. Though I'll still insist on the necessity of vertical and horizontal connectedness, not every style of worship and preaching (or polity!) draws everyone and it's often different at different times of a person's life, as well as different days of the week. For example, for Lord's Day/ Sunday worship I come close to insisting on liturgy and proclamation that clearly reminds me Who God is, Who Jesus is, what the Spirit is doing, that reminds me I am baptized, called and accountable, yet live under a reign of mercy and grace. But on a day or evening during the week, a far less formal, songs and bible-study teaching or discussion format is fun and fine, often healing and nurturing. A couple months ago in my first blog about Brent Bill's Sacred Compass blog, I explained about myself:
Despite a few sojourns elsewhere, I've remained mostly in this Reformation tradition because of its consistent ecumenicity and catholicity, an emphasis on the sacraments and a sacramental worldview, a justice and advocacy oriented public identity and confessional theology (something meaty to sink my brains into—I do not believe I've ever mentioned in a blog that I've actually taught Book of Confessions...); besides, these are the means of grace churches!
These are the means of grace churches but I can learn from all of them, including others in the West and those in the East.

Friday, July 18, 2008

blog names 5

RevGalBlogPals what's in a name Friday 5

Today I'm answering for both of my blogs that are in the revgals ring:
desert spirit's fire! and this far by faith and I'm cross-posting.

1. My by-line is "leah," but my blogger tag is "desert spirit." I love words and combinations of words (I'm a theologian!), so I compiled and considered a list of 50 or 60 possible combinations, and desert spirit's fire stuck. I love love love the implications and especially the reality of the desert; spirit is about the Spirit of Life and our closely related and relentless human spirit; I've been told and concur that I preach and I play the piano with a touch of fire.

this far by faith, after the African-American hymn, was the only possible name for my testimony blog; it's also the title of the ELCA's African-American hymnal:
We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord;
trusting in God's holy Word, God's never failed us yet.
Oh, we can't turn back, we've come this far by faith.
We've come this far by faith.

1. Just remember the good things God has done,
things that seemed impossible;
oh, praise God for the victories won.

2. Don't be discouraged with trouble in your life;
God'll bear your burdens,
and move all the discord and strife.

text and music: Albert A. Goodson, alt.
2. In my blogs and in real life I refer to my current geographical location as Paradise, and sometimes I talk about City of History, where I used to serve. Why? weather people routinely call this Paradise and City of History was one of the primary sites where this nation settled and grew.

3. Just a single favorite blog title for today: You don't have to listen. I just like to talk. It sounds so much like something I'd say, but these days I need to talk and I need someone to listen.

4. I'll pass of listing My 3 Blogs, mainly because other than Friday 5's and some graphic design, mainly on sun country living, I've been neither blogging nor reading lately.

5. I've no idea when I first heard about blogs, but I started blogging during summer 2002, after I'd finished a year-long mini-MBA in Community Economic Development. I was relatively recently back in Paradise and anticipating spending some discernment time; getting some of my existing and older writing online as well as making a place to store notes and handouts from classes I'd been leading and even sermons seemed like an excellent idea, though later most of the class notes migrated to city paradise /...urban wilderness... and typing up sermons is too much trouble since by Monday they're already relatively dead.

The only blogger I know in real life is Erin, of Waves of Mercy, who pastors in this town. But I've talked on the phone with Laura, who blogs at Junia's Daughter and several other places.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

6 years!

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Today, all day long, desert spirit's fire! is celebrating its 6th blogoversary, as a comment from Teena in Toronto who manages the blogoversary site commented and reminded me. I've started at least 6 or 7 posts, but have been doing other things rather than writing much. It seems like an excellent idea to wish myself a fruitful year 7 of theologizing here, so that's what I'm doing!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christian Bloggers Network

Andrew Jackson has requested all members of Christian Bloggers Network on Facebook to post on their group-listed blogs (I've got two—this one and this far by faith) and to invite and encourage everyone who blogs on Christianity-related topics to join Facebook if they're not already there (and who wouldn't want to be on Facebook?), get their blog into the listings, write on the wall and participate in the forums.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Celtics 17

banner 17More Than a Feeling – Peace of Mind – It's Been Such a Long Time – Smokin'– Let Me Take You Home Tonight...

It happened 7 days ago, last Tuesday, 17 June, and arrogantly or not, for the record I'm turning this past Celtics season and their spectacular triumph in the NBA finals into a fable to parallel my own apparently non-victorious situation of the past dozen plus years. During game 6 at Boston (TDBankNorth) Garden someone held up a poster with the equation:
celtics banner 17
17, 17, 34, oh, yes! Series MVP Paul Pierce, whose website features The Man | The Player | The Community was graceful energy and determination throughout. Being interviewed at game 4 the previous Thursday he essentially said you don't think of the score--you simply play the game and gave us another explication of the famous "losing hurts worse than winning feels good," though that was prior to Tuesday...

Given that I'm making this a parable for my situation besides rejoicing in the Celtics win, the commentator who observed during an earlier game how a particular habit or trait frequently is both a person's or a team's weakness and their strength could have been talking directly about me. Assessing and surveying these too many years it's easy to see how one and the same characteristic has helped me get through too many rougher than rough patches just as in some cases it may have carried me to that point or kept me stuck there. I prefer how the word vulnerability translates into an easily-to-wound spot to "weakness," but the difference is negligible.

I noted the quote but not the date he spoke, but I loved that Los Angeles Lakers' coach Phil Jackson said "We don't stand as individuals in this game; it's a team game" and he quoted from Rudyard Kipling's "The Law for the Wolves":
Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
Immediately after last Tuesday's game and after we'd both posted "CELTICS!!!" status updates, Mike Lewis from church and I wall-to-walled on Facebook; here's part of our exchange:
me: [responding to Mike's Celtics status update] Oh, absolutely ! Was that not the SWEETEST victory, and even on their home court! It doesn't get any better than that--isn't Paul Pierce astounding!! Here's a high 5 for all of us, but especially for Boston and the Celtics!

Mike: Yeah, that was quite the exclamation point. KG finally came alive tonight and what a difference he made, he was a formidable presence. And how about Rondo, that little guy really was pesky and got in the Lakers business all night, he played a key role in getting the Lakers off-kilter. And finally, Paul Pierce, who after years of suffering finally got his due and cemented his place in Celtics lore. What a great season, after all these dark years it's finally nice to celebrate again!

Me: I so agree with everything you've said about everyone--and how wonderful that some of the greatest of the greats, maybe especially John Havlicek and Bill Russell were there to savor it all! I've been making these finals (actually the entire season) into a parable for my own life, since I've taken a truly unexpectedly excessive ton of hits over these years, but not to be modest, like the Celtics by grace I've been able to keep on keepin' on, all the while honing my skills in a lot of areas, and I'm waiting for my own splendid's a Bed of Roses for Boston!

banner 17Mike: I think the main thing to takeaway from the 07-08 Celtics is the fabric of their team; they were many components that meshed together as one unit. Together, they became as one and were victorious. They surrendered their desires for a greater good and emerged victorious! It was a win for the ages and very satisfying to witness this year.
Paraphrasing again, as Oprah told the teenager you know you can't do life by yourself, on your own. My innumerable attempts to reweave the fabric of my life all have pretty much failed and I've spent far too much time crawling rather than limping (let alone walking), yet I've done a ton of teaching, written a few 100 pages of substantial theology, won several design awards and produced several 100 graphic design pieces, all stuff that's ready to take me almost anywhere and none of which was there in this kind of relatively polished professional form when the recall committee hit nor even during the life stuff buttonyears immediately afterwards. Though I'll readily admit I'd accomplished a fair amount in those fields and I'll include the Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle in that series, I still have 5 more to go before I can claim to play the entire cycle to public performance true I've been chippin' away at Beethoven for a long time, but when serving a local church (teaching in a local school, being a caseworker, attorney or any of a myriad of direct-service oriented callings) one simply does not have much physical or emotional space to dedicate to projects like Beethoven. Just like Paul Pierce, for the most part I haven't been checking the score or adding up the years, though the few times I've taken a count I've gasped at the number of years traversed yet quietly rejoiced at the distances I've run. So who's even thinking or imagining "Lakers over Celtics" or "Yankees over Red Sox" or "World Out There over Leah Right Here?!" In Poetry Party 17 (there's that number17 again) at the end of April I quoted the lyrics and linked to a performance of Bob Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In." It includes, "And the words that are used for to get the ship confused will not be understood as they're spoken, for the chains of the seas will have busted in the night and be buried at the bottom of the ocean." Amen?! Amen!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sacred Compass 2

Today I'm blogging in growing green of Ordinary Time and starting with a backtrack from my Sacred Compass blog 1:

Sacred Compass is the latest book by Brent Bill, my friend who's a Friends (Quaker) pastor who lives in Indiana and sometimes hangs out on Facebook. Brent blogs at Brent Bill dot com and at the highly sacramental-sounding Holy Ordinary. Since I posted my first Sacred Compass blog Brent has started a Spiritual Discernment Blog; amazingly, blogger had reserved the Sacred Compass name in advance! I'd asked "is 'serendipitous' biblical theology?" I think maybe it is!

edited later: sacred compass blog spot no longer is active, so you can claim it for yourself.

Sacred CompassBrent is doing a great job keeping his book before the public and I want to be a loyal fan; after all, I'd like a few groupies surrounding me when my book (the one I haven't worked on at all for ages) debuts.

As we humanoids often observe, life is a long, strange trip. To name a handful who have walked in trust, like Abraham, Jacob and Paul and exactly like Bonhoeffer and MLK, those of us who commit to an often precarious path quickly discover it's far stranger and way more exciting than any human could invent.

Brent mentioned Mother Teresa's now-famous lack of conventional faith, suggesting her initial call to the ministry she performed may have been so blazingly glorious that almost everything in its wake plain lacked flavor. But was the Saint of Calcutta's experience unique or even unusual?? We all walk by Spirit-inspired faith rather than being led by physical human senses and plodding reason and in order to not stay stuck, everyone frequently needs to follow what seem like illogical signals. Amidst these discerning days I'm constantly reminding myself, "I'm a theologian! I can do ambiguity and paradox!" But living theology visibly out loud still take guts and generates anxiety.

What similar illuminations have I experienced?

In my first blog I quoted from one of my old commonplace books: "You won't know where you're going if you are always looking back!" And also cited a car commercial: "The need to make it home is basic, instinctual, undeniable..." on the same page of the same yellow-covered notebook I filled with mostly green writing, I wrote The road that leads you away will turn and lead you home.

In recent years a pair of extremely significant homecomings have happened to me and for me, despite my ongoing restlessness and doubts.

The first is (notice I'm present-tensing) a turning twisty road I walked in order to spend the last 18 months of my mother's life with her, a narrative easier to relate face-to-face than on paper or on the computer screen. I now recognize many of the ways God and circumstances were preparing my heart and my head to do what I needed to do and finally wanted to do.

The second road that led my heart home is the one I followed finally to become the graphic designer I'd aspired to be as early as pre-kindergarten. In my other blog I wrote:
I'd planned to become an artist, ideally to design textiles. I constantly feel and think in color and obsess about typography and I've taught art and freelanced some as a designer, but my narrative includes telling people "a greater Love than art found, claimed, and continued drawing me."
Precisely so, but I also think of the two scholarships to art school I received, along with my reasons for not going, and then the sudden opportunity I had to complete a certificate program in interactive media and graphic design. That kairos timing allowed me to gain proficiency and exposure to current softwares, something that wouldn't and couldn't have happened ages ago, and makes that part of the story very cool. Needless to say, I've had to keep updating my skills, but as an artist and designer I've come home to my heart to a satisfying degree. And as I noted, the intervening years were not artfully devoid in the least, so my experiences teaching and freelancing and always thinking in color, line and type prepared me well.

As a somewhat compulsive theologian who absolutely loves to read, study, write, teach and preach, the witness of scripture is huge in my life and world, especially as it reveals Jesus to me (of course) and particularly its revelation of how God has walked before other saints and set them free to hold wilderness feasts; I'm finally starting to own that story.

Recently I added to my list of quotes on Facebook from C.S. Lewis' Dawn Treader:
...said the Lamb, "For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world." ... "There is a way into my country from all the worlds," said the Lamb...and he was Aslan himself...
Sometimes by radically rooted trust and sometimes with reasonably clear vision and hearing, often by gracefully perceiving subtle signs and signs, I've been making my way into Aslan's country, but the past decade has been lonely beyond description. As part of this current discernment phase I'm praying to discover a community that will welcome me into its journey, a people who will take time to learn who I am and celebrate my gifts and sense of call...

...another big "thank you," Brent!

my Amazon review: circles, angles and trajectories

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sacred Compass 1

Sacred CompassOh, I've been so slow getting this written and posted, but maybe not too slow, after I've followed Spirit's leadings. It's now almost an entire month since I finished reading Sacred Compass, the latest book by Brent Bill, my friend who's a Friends (Quaker) pastor who lives in Indiana and sometimes hangs out on Facebook. Brent blogs at Brent Bill dot com and at the highly sacramental-sounding Holy Ordinary. I need to write this blog about discerning, trusting and following the direction(s) of Jesus' leadings in my life, but even more I need to pray, ponder and take yet another faith-filled leap into a relative unknown, trusting God cannot waste or squander any experiences, but will wrap them up and use them for the benefit of many in ways no simply human person ever could. I love the size and heft of Sacred Compass and the jacket design is beautiful, featuring my favorite yellow and blue color palette! For the past few weeks Martin Page's song from the mid-1990's, "In the House of Stone and Light," has been cycling through my head; when it was current it seemed as if every time I drove from Salt Lake City to West Valley City that song had to play on the car radio! Here's a lyrics selection:
O Mount Kailas uncover me
Come my restoration wash my body clean
I've been walking along a crooked path
Where the walls have fallen and broken me in half
I'm telling you I will not rest till I lay down my head in the house of stone and light
My spirit's been at war...
I will not rest till I lay my head in the house of stone and light!
Of course, the Rock is Jesus Christ is The Rock, Light of the World, calling us to live as His dwelling-place, house and home in the Spirit. I've probably mentioned an incident from long ago when I was teaching kids in VBS—I asked them what it means "for us to be the Body of Christ" and one of them replied, "That we can be city lights!" Exactly right!

In a (semi-obnoxious) hint of 1990's rhetoric, Martin Page also mentions "awake the child inside," leading me again to remember the diverse, activist inner-city church to which the Spirit led me and that re-birthed me in a way I cannot live differently from. Ten days ago we celebrated the Day of Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the Church's Birthday, while the secular calendar marked the same day as Mother's Day. People who know anything about me may have a clue about my fragmented, fractured situation with my human biological birth mother, but I still easily can identify gifts that brokenness has bestowed and enabled me further to give to the world. But out of necessity I frequently mark several places and times other than my initial official coming into the world as sources I find myself full-circling back to or more accurately, being sent back to. Witnessing a baptism or participating in the Lord's Supper sometimes gently, sometimes in a brilliantly illuminating manner reminds me of my origins and birth in Christ along with His promise and the Church's pledge to journey with me, however imperfectly and haltingly that occurs. After all, I've made and I've renewed those same covenants time and time again, and never fulfill them perfectly, either! Just as I've been doubly birthed in watery wombs and been sourced and re-created as part of the earth, the circular rhythms of the liturgical year do keep coming round again, despite our insisting God of the prophets, God of Israel, God and Father of Jesus Christ is God of history one of my old commonplace books I quoted, "You won't know where you're going if you are always looking back!" But I'll also cite a car (Toyota?) commercial: The need to make it home is basic, instinctual, undeniable...on the same page of the same yellow covered commonplace book I filled with mostly green writing, The road that leads you away will turn and lead you home.

A couple weeks ago I listened to one of the author's podcasts; Brent read the chapter about signs we need to look for, read and interpret. God engages us as whole people with mind, body, intellect, emotions, spirit (etc.), and I recalled a few observations that started me off in God's direction; I'll describe only one for now. Ages ago on a brief visit to Albuquerque everything about the Southwestern desert absolutely enchanted me; several years later I needed to seek new employment because I'd been serving a term call that was winding down and for some excellent reasons I'd rejected the local nibbles and overtures I'd gotten. I got a wild inspiration to find a job in NM, so I sent my updated ministerial profile to the judicatory that included New Mexico. When I read about Brent's ambivalent feelings about the Indiana farm his wife considered an instance of Paradise, I immediately revisited my own feelings when I found myself invited to interview for a church - in New Mexico? no, not! - in the Great Basin high desert with its dry cold winter climate along with snowy surroundings. Yes, I got the call to serve that church, and during those years some phenomenally significant happenings unfolded in my life—in God's way, believe it or not, but in ways God had been perfectly preparing me for.

After worship on Reign of Christ 2006, in the course of talking with Larissa (she was visiting from up north a piece, where she currently lives and works) on the church patio in a burst of recognition I said to her, "God called me to this church, Old Condo Shadows, just as definitively as God called me to any congregation I served on staff." I knew it in my head, I felt it in my emotions and in my body.

As part of writing our stories, Brent suggested answering why we have chosen or stayed in our particular church tradition—a great one for me to ponder, especially given the countless times I've dared open up enough to tell people I've felt "deeply betrayed by the church" and in response to their asking, "What church?" I always reply, "the protestant mainline, the only church I've ever really known." That ecclesiastical tradition, or maybe those ecclesiastical traditions whose theology, liturgy, activism and style first attracted, then enticed, then captured me and continues to shape and form me. However...originally (from pre-kindergarten!) I'd planned to become an artist, ideally to design textiles. I constantly feel and think in color and obsess about typography and I've taught art and freelanced some as a designer, but my narrative includes telling people "a greater Love than art found, claimed, and continued drawing me." Despite a few sojourns elsewhere, I've remained mostly in this Reformation tradition because of its consistent ecumenicity and catholicity, an emphasis on the sacraments and a sacramental worldview, a justice and advocacy oriented public identity and confessional theology (something meaty to sink my brains into—I do not believe I've ever mentioned in a blog that I've actually taught Book of Confessions...); besides, these are the means of grace churches! As I continue teaching and engaging in theological conversation with people in the pews, I'm constantly aware my own theological, political and social perspectives are far closer to those of the national denominational leadership than they are to most of the folks in the pews; almost every day I advise myself "shut your mouth and open your ears!"

I feel and I know I've spent too much time without significant otherships, but maybe they're not quite as important as discovering or following the Spirit's compass to a community that has a clue as to who I am, that can call me by name. Am I asking too much? Possibly, or more likely I haven't demanded enough of others—or of myself. This road I've been traveling almost alone has broken me badly, while all these years I've kept inviting others to join me and to friend me in real life, simply to help me stand at times. Our (my) survival depends on the health of our (my) environment; healing and remaining healthy takes both grace-filled time and open space.

For a while one of our local radio stations syndicated John Tesh's radio show—Intelligence for Your Life; on one of the shows John suggested we not ask what the world needs but the correct question is what makes you alive! After all, the world needs people who are fully alive. Brent Bill suggests the test, "does this choice generate life (or death)?" Absolutely true that spending my early years in a decaying inner-city neighborhood and then serendipitously (is "serendipitous" biblical theology?) being discovered by an activist congregation full of people who knew they could help change their neighborhood, the city and even influence national politics has led me to keep insisting, "I prepared for a life of service to the church and to the world," and I still need to see my worth validated by measurable, observable outcomes. In a note to Brent I mentioned how Reformation church types don't typically count the softer spiritual practices and disciplines among their specialties; in his reply Brent observed one doesn't often hear about presbyterian mystics!

John Heinemeier in The Other Side for May 1988 observed "A spiritual revival means a revival of confidence, of hope, of the ability to affect one's own future." (page 15) Spiritual revival, renewed confidence and hope and trust I can affect my own future while I continue this precarious trek by faith rather than sight is what currently I'm seeking, and I cannot bear to hear one more person tell me, "God laughs at our plans" - "Life isn't fair" when both my earlier experiences and the witness of scripture have demonstrated God has greater plans for us than we can imagine, and God also stewards everything about us and around us in ways no human could invent. One more commonplace book quote—this one's way well-known:
God will not send you
beyond where your heart can defend you;
God will not lead you
beyond where the Spirit can feed you.
After posting this I'm going to go to the Sacred Compass page on Facebook to post this blog link and especially to discover what other people have been saying. Pre-publication at least one person commented on the April1, "April Fool" publication date. I so love the Motown favorite, "Endless Love," sung by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, with its recurring, "And love, I'll be a fool for you." In Christ Jesus, God becomes a true fool for love of the world, love of humanity, love of all creation. How about us?

Recently I've written and talked about ways my theology can become my biography becomes my theology...discerning and trusting changes in the directions of my own Sacred Compass as well as observing those around me helps make that happen; regarding that reality, I have a few more events and incidents to blog about, but given that it's time to sleep and dream again, I'll post those in a few days. It might help if I'd refer back to the book before writing that post, because I know I've left out a whole lot that impressed me and I also missed the contest Brent announced—next time, then!

A closing observation for this evening: Brent mentioned his wife sending him visual cues and clues when he's preaching; one of them is "slow down"; another, more important one is "heart"...I tend to talk fast and I try hard to moderate my rate of speech, but I also know when my words begin running over each other, that's when my head's gotten out of the way and my heart's right in gear!

More on this topic in a few days; thanks so much, Brent!

my Amazon review: circles, angles and trajectories

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost 2008

Acts 2:1

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 KJV

Sunday, May 04, 2008

visions, dreams...

visions, dreams—Acts 2:17
As we live in the reign of the Spirit, yet anticipating the Church's celebration of the Festival of Pentecost next Sunday, here's a design for the day.

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:27-28 NRSV

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.'" Acts 2:14-17 NRSV

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Imaging and Enacting Heaven on Earth

I wrote this for the church I used to attend.

A single Sunday morning worship service, preferably no later than 10:00, probably would help encourage inquiring newcomers to return and also benefit those of us who like to attend adult bible study.

However, my primary concern is that we at Old Condo Shadows and in all churches offer public worship that reflects and embodies God's incarnation and Self-giving in Jesus Christ, which clearly happens whenever we celebrate a baptism or the Lord's Supper, but it also becomes possible with a carefully constructed order of worship sourced from scripture and history—including our own history here on this mesa.

As Christians, God's people in Jesus Christ, each Sunday is a day of resurrection, a time especially to remember who we are, Whose we are and Who has called us by retelling and re-enacting the meta-narratives of redemption, of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories within the context of public Lord's day worship; in these stories we find healing memory and discover hope for a free future. As we invite our neighbors and other people who don't have much church experience, we're hoping to meet and to reach them where they are and speak in a language they'll understand, which can be a precarious endeavor. But did God ever call the people of God to live in ways congruent with their local cultures? Or in a radically culturally incongruent, actually counter-cultural manner? Are we presenting inquiring newcomers with a choice, a real alternative to costly and deathly consumerism and related excesses? Are we telling and showing the world something very different from anything they've previously experienced? Do we dare imagine we can domesticate the wildness of Jesus? For sure it is about the ways our lives demonstrate faithfulness and obedience to the God Who covenants with us in Jesus, but it is equally about how together we worship the Crucified and Risen One, and it may require some explanation and interpretation, not only for so-called outsiders but also reminders for the insiders among us. It is strange; in many ways it is wholly "other than", this reality of a people (us!) who already have experienced their first death and their second birth, this reality of seemingly regular, ordinary, everyday people who follow a crucified outcast, trusting the God Whose ultimate word is resurrection from the dead.

Although I didn't grow up even on the periphery of the Church, the texts, colors, music and symbols of the liturgical year gradually came to shape my entire understanding of God's gracious encounter with all creation and God's redeeming work in Jesus Christ, so by the time I started preaching and teaching on a seriously regular basis, I naturally drew upon those understandings. Of course, as a life-long artist I'm very visual about everything!

And again, the church's historical liturgy is deeply rooted, not only in the practice of the early church (when to be ecclesia still was far more political and cultural than it was religious or theological), but also in the worship of God's people we first knew as Israelites and later as Jews. One of the many strengths of retaining some aspects of historical forms is the way those words and actions connect us vertically with the people of God in every place and time and also horizontally connect us here at OCS to the contemporary Church and churches around the world. Of course, the way of Jesus is comprehensive, but retaining historical liturgical practices helps move us out from our own concerns as individuals to the demands of the gospel for political and social justice and advocacy, something I don't see or feel happening nearly enough (anywhere, actually). By the way, our liturgy classes in seminary were team-taught, not only because I attended an ecumenical seminary but also because we can learn so much from other styles and traditions.

A few words about the assurance of pardon: needless to say we all sin far too frequently, but the rite of confession, pardon, absolution isn't nearly as much about announcing the fact our lives again have fallen far short of God's demands along with our need for grace and forgiveness as it is an opportunity to reflect upon God's claims on our lives in this community and in the world. Possibly it better could be expressed as a proclamation or assurance of our reconciliation to God, one another and all creation in Jesus Christ.

I'm asking questions rather than offering answers, and I'll conclude by asking if our presence in our neighbors' lives and in the world beyond this corner of Paradise can be partly in our own world, partly in our neighbors', and wholly in the sovereignty of heaven? Can our Sunday worship reflect such a way of life? There are no easy, instant answers, and we'll need to anticipate a lot more changes as the months unfold.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Worship Notes

Acts 2:42-43
Worship notes, etc. Saturday 26 April 2008

Since I'm playing once again at another church that once again is without an organist, I won't be at Sunday's potluck and discussion, so I'd like to say a little more today. Thanks for all the thoughts and ideas, everyone; Pastor M, thanks for this opportunity!

Like previous posters, I enjoy the lively energy of the music at the first service, and I love singing those songs. I also love playing arrangements of them on the piano—during the year plus I played keyboards for the Heritage Service, I always and inevitably played a setting of a contemporary praise song for the offering.

I particularly resonate with the comments by PB and LAW, but in the interest of posting this and possibly even getting it read, I won't specifically say anything about their remarks, but will offer a few more of my own.

Before I continue talking about this subject I'm so passionate about, I'll admit I don't know how many folks in this congregation besides LAW, PB, and the Sunday adult Bible study group know much about my background. I won't go into the long Pauline-style list of credentials, etc., or even the extensive list of Pauline-style shipwrecks and related disasters, but I'll mention that in fall 2000 I returned to SD after serving on staff at a church in North County before venturing back to the east coast to serve a term call there for an inner-city congregation, coupled with entering the candidacy process for ordination to ministry of word and sacrament and concurrently beginning an MDiv program.

In September 2000 it looked as if I might be in SD for only a year; there was about a 20/80 chance I had a PT position to return to in Boston starting the following September. Although the entire situation fell through, that possibility excited me because in addition to serving an inner-city church as worship specialist I'd have been developing new liturgical forms that still would focus on Word and Sacrament in a fully participatory manner, and in a highly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything setting…

Although I didn't grow up even on the periphery of the Church, the texts, colors, music, and symbols of the liturgical year gradually came to shape my entire understanding of God's gracious encounter with creation and God's redeeming work in Jesus Christ, so by the time I started preaching and teaching on a seriously regular basis, I naturally drew upon those understandings. Of course, as a life-long artist I'm very visual about everything!

And again, the church's historical liturgy is deeply rooted, not only in the practice of the early church (when to be ecclesia still was far more political and cultural than it was religious or theological), but also in the worship of God's people we first knew as Israelites and later as Jews. One of the many strengths of retaining some aspects of historical forms is the way those words and actions connect us vertically with the people of God in every place and time and also horizontally connect us here at NPC to the contemporary Church and churches around the world.

The way of Jesus is comprehensive, but retaining historical liturgical practices helps move us out from our own concerns as individuals to the demands of the gospel for political and social justice and advocacy, something I don't see or feel happening nearly enough (anywhere, actually).

A few words about the assurance of pardon: needless to say we all sin far too frequently, but the rite of confession, pardon, absolution isn't as much about announcing the fact our lives again have fallen far short of God's demands along with our need for grace and forgiveness as it is an opportunity to reflect upon God's claims on our lives in this community and in the world. Possibly it better could be expressed as a proclamation or assurance of our reconciliation to God, one another, and all creation in Jesus Christ.

Our liturgy classes in seminary were team-taught. That was because I attended an ecumenical seminary and because we can learn so much from other styles and traditions. Yes, I do understand all this is developing and evolving at NPC and everywhere else, but I'd be very happy to work together with Pastor M. and anyone else to write some orders of worship, prayers, and responses reflecting our scriptural and confessional grounding and this congregation's history and experience as a people of God in Jesus Christ here on this mesa.

LAW also has a great deal of knowledge and interest in worship and liturgy; given her involvements in church and elsewhere, I don't know to what extent she'd be interested in being part of this possible endeavor. I'm making this offer because of my concern for this congregation as my church community and because of my own need to use my gifts, education, experience, and skills to a far greater degree than I've been able to for the past dozen or more years. I have no regrets about not continuing to serve in authorized, public ministry; I trusted and still believe that choice was consonant with God's call to me and would lead to better stewardship of my life, yet very few of the opportunities I'd anticipated have happened. Besides, it could be résumé fodder for me, and might even form part of a book of worship resources I've imagined writing!

Prayers continue arising to heaven from here; be blessed!

bread cup eucharist lord's supper holy communion