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.