Friday, November 27, 2015

Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope – review

Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas on Amazon

Sent for AdventUnlike many print and online offerings for the liturgical seasons of advent and lent, this isn't a book of devotions, though it contains four – as in four Sundays of Advent – average length chapters and a short afterward chapter by Jorge Acevedo. I read it cover to cover in about an hour, and enjoyed how all four contributors told their real-life stories of discovering the presence of God in others, about becoming the divine presence for others in the context of a particular narrative. Yet as present as God always is to us, as present as people can be to each other, Advent remains a season of hopeful waiting, often silently, typically in darkness of many kinds (insert here another of my wonderings about how it might feel to celebrate Christmas in the southern hemisphere).

This isn't a book I'd expect to read again soon, but it is the type of book that would be an excellent Christmas gift or drop in to visit a friend offering. Mostly I see its value in (1) encouraging each of us first to look back a few months or years and tease out similar narratives from our own lives; and (2) looking around us wherever we go for opportunities to receive and to give to other individuals or communities with the time, talents, and treasures God has given us.

In chapter 4, "Dry Bones," Rachel Billups admits "pastors can bring incredible vision to churches, but we also can damage people's vision." Anyone who has spent any time in the church realizes that ultimately, pastors, local church officers, and other leadership are simply laity (literally "people" as the word laity derives from the Greek), called and sent by God, any of whom can bring amazing visions to church and world, any of whom can damage and denigrate dreams and visions. Needless to say, "Dry Bones" references the famously colorful account in Ezekiel 37 where the living Word of God breathes life back into the recently reassembled bones. Rachel also cautions us about the life-giving power of our own speech. If you're from the Reformation traditions, you may recall the Heidelberg Catechism telling us we move from Christmas with the mystery of Spirit in Flesh, to Ascension, with the mystery of Flesh in Spirit.

Jorge Acevedo's short concluding chapter uses Pastor Eugene Peterson's image of God moving into the neighborhood by sending Jesus. Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas brings actual accounts of real people who have brought hope by being the God's Presence wherever they were. Let's start looking around us wherever we are and wherever we go, writing our own chapters as God in the Spirit sends us to deliver gifts of hope to our worlds during the Advent-Nativity seasons and all year round everywhere.

my amazon review: Write Your Own Chapter about Delivering Hope

Five Minute Friday: Table

dwell thanksgiving table!

Friday 27 November: Table at Kate Motaung's place. For FMF we write unedited for five minutes. However, I type rather than hand-write these, so I always make sure auto-correct read my mind accurately.

For everyone born, a place at the table
For everyone born, clean water and bread
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing
For everyone born, a star overhead

And God will delight
When we are creators of justice and joy.
Yes, God will delight
When we are creators of justice,
Justice and joy.

by Shirley Erena Murray

The eschatological feast of the Eucharistic Welcome Table is our sacramental icon of the fullness of the time of salvation when all creation is healthy and whole, everyone has sufficient food (adequate shelter that also enables safe sleeping, clean water, breathable air). At least a couple of times I've quoted Walter Brueggemann's observation justice is important, but food is necessary. Basic human needs also include community—how telling there is no such thing as a solitary celebration of Holy Communion! We're talking nourishing physical bodies with the bounty of creation – and maybe you know the explanation that the Lord's Supper requires all four elements of air, water, earth, and fire? – and also meeting that ultra-basic, truly foundational need of human community to nourish our hearts and our spirits.

I took my featured photograph on Thanksgiving Eve when I helped prepare Thanksgiving Day dinner at one of the churches I've been attending since relocating to current city. It just happened that on Thanksgiving Day I sat at that exact table! Despite being full of gratitude and astonishment at the welcome that church and their pastor have offered me, amazed thankfulness this year I could invite people to a place at the table of thanksgiving dinner for the first time in over a decade, every now and then I sensed throughout my entire being an undercurrent of memories of times of rude exclusion, of not being welcomed, of being un-welcomed a few times, too.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Brueggemann: Out of Babylon

Out of Babylon by Walter Brueggemann on Amazon

out of babylon coverFrom Egypt to Assyria, to literal geographical Babylon, on to Persia and then Rome, the bible witnesses to a series of empires that dominated the daily lives of the people of God; scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even thrive in spite of foreign hegemony. Although Babylon in the book title serves as a cipher for imperial regimes everywhere, WB also writes extensively about the southern kingdom Judah's actual Babylonian Captivity during the sixth century, at the same time reminding us "Babylon" bears the weight of geographically relocatable interpretations (page 111).

Out of Babylon references Emmylou Harris' song "Doin' time in Babylon." When they sentence you to do time, you can't choose get out of jail free. As Christians can we live faithfully surrounded by empire and its deathly apparatus? Is it living faithfully with empire, living faithfully in spite of empire, or another possibility? Our contemporary situation in the USA closely parallels the exiles' in Babylon (faithful in Rome, Spain, Great Britain...) as accretions, outrages, attractions, and demands of empire surround and often seem to overwhelm us. Truly we cannot escape to some ideal oblivion, an unknown nowhere – remember erewhon? – and in the power of the Spirit we need to create local, covenantal life where we are―in spite of empire. And then there's another reality: God's overwhelming response of grace when humans don't quite measure up to the standards of the commands.

Late during the last century people rejoiced as the Union Jack of British imperialism stopped flying over one colony after another, yet every one of us in the USA deals daily with inescapable excesses of global USA political and economic empire. Most helpful for those of us trying to live faithfully in the Spirit of Life and within the spirit of the witness of scripture are WB's reminders of the creative ways some people operated (for example) within the imperial Persian government, apparently violated no laws, yet managed to finagle and finesse their work (ministry? we often call government officials "ministers," servants) for the good of the people of God, for the benefit of all people. When he insists the Church and the Churches in the USA have sold out to empire, have been unfaithful, Professor Brueggemann has it so right. What can we do as individual persons, as individual congregations to regain faithfulness? WB cites Babylon as "matrix for Jewish well-being ... a venue for Shalom." (pages 8 & 9) Can we celebrate and live Jubilee freedom amidst empire? Or rather, how can we live in the trusting freedom of jubilee in the midst of empire? You need to read Out of Babylon and get inspired!

Christians are a People of the Book, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In at least one other of his books I've read, Walter Brueggemann talks about our being (or becoming) fully texted people, gospeled communities. Out of Babylon provides some history and some ideas for ways those of us in the USA churches might learn the texts and live the texts of scripture more completely. In spite of empire is far from one size fits all! The contemporary church in the USA needs to learn diversity of style, response, actual cooperation and accommodation with the forces of empire in order to become more fully gospeled, more completely texted. Scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even flourish in spite of imperial domination. Not only is there room for many diverse approaches; a diversity of approaches to the presence of empire is essential.

my Amazon review: Walter Brueggemann on Empire

light and love Friday 5

light, love, laughter Friday 5 on the RevGals.

Host Julie has a healing idea: "For Friday Five this week, let’s keep the light, love and laughter going with a random selection of things to make your heart sing."

1. Music: a song or orchestral piece that stirs your soul

The Beethoven Symphonies – especially #1, 2, 4, and 7 – transcend time, place, and mortality (what? The Ninth Symphony didn't make my Bests List? Nope, it didn't and never does). Lately I've been listening a lot to Kari Jobe singing...
We Are

Every secret, every shame.
Every fear, every pain.
Live inside the dark, but that's not who we are.
We are children of the day.

So wake up sleeper, lift your head.
We were meant for more than this.
Fight the shadows, conquer death.
Make the most of the time we have left.

We are the light of the world.
We are the city on a hill.
We are the light of the world.
We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the light shine.

Songwriters: Chuck Butler, Ed Cash, James Thiele, Hillary McBride // Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group, Music Services, Inc.

2. Indoor Place: have you got an oasis at home that you can hide away in?

Hammer Museum atrium hammer museum atrium Hammer Museum Los Angeles

It's not in my actual current dwelling place, but one of my oases in the city is the Armand Hammer Museum. I always check in for special art exhibits, and I attend Mindfulness Meditation almost every early Thursday afternoon.

31. Outdoor Space: is it water, hills, woodland? Is it the fresh country air or the bustling city?

Ramsey Canyon Preserve ramsey canyon preserveRamsey Canyon Preserve

The Hammer Museum I mentioned in #2 is a sanctuary amidst urban bustle; for this line item it's one of the most ethereal outdoor spaces anywhere: Ramsey Canyon Preserve in Sierra Vista, southern Arizona. These views show Mount Huachuca in the background.

4. Picture: this may be a piece of art, something you created, something someone gave you.

In the interest of not continuing to search for famous artist art I legally can repost, I'l link to the liturgical art page from my design site. As my landing page tells the world,

In the beginning...a small bell chimed.
Creativity! It chimes like a small clear bell at the heart of the human spirit!

My own creativity makes my heart sing, my spirit ring.

5. Person: do you have a go to person, for when the world is crowding in?

No one specific at this time, but since I've been in this town I've met many many trustworthy, friendly, non-threatened and non-threatening people. I'll mention the fun and conversation at every Sunday post-liturgy brunch at the church I've mostly been attending; also, a couple of my current housemates are grace and peace to me.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Dwell

dwell dwelling place, living space!

Friday 20 November: dwell on Kate Motaung's site.

For FMF we write unedited for five minutes.

As an artist-designer I've always loved drawing and decorating pictures of houses; forever I've loved photographing houses! In fact, about a week ago I began my latest intentional endeavor of taking pictures of the houses in my current neighborhood—most are generous spaces that date from the 1920s, with astonishing variety of color and architectural style.

"Dwell" conveys a sense of settling down for a while, sinking into a deep cushion in a comfortable chair. Dwell is to stay a while, remain for the duration. There's a print magazine called Dwell, and also an online version of Dwell. I suspect I started getting their email updates because I loved the word dwell and the idea to dwell. I've illustrated this post with one of my very first ever computer graphics from when I realized it was time to begin... digitizing my art and design. We had some assigned exercises and projects to develop in class, but we sometimes got to choose our own design direction.

My intentionally urban Preservation Project blog is about dwelling places, living spaces. Houses, apartments, studios, offices, and studies where you can get comfortable, nestle and settle into a rhythm of creative work and play, where you can dwell long enough to become at home with your surroundings and yourself. Preservation Project is about Neighborhood revitalization, brownfield reclamation, storefront transformation, infrastructure rehabilitation... spaces and places for each of us, some of us, maybe all of us to dwell.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Weary

Galatians 6:9 nov 13, weary

Friday 13 November: Weary at Kate's place

For this almost mid-November Five Minute Friday, our host Kate Motaung chose a wintry-sounding one-word prompt: You know how these free writes go―write unedited for five minutes. Before I start writing I'll mention how well weary fits my recent synchroblog post on grace.

For the past few years I've enjoyed the slowing down, early sunrises, late sunsets [we're not supposed to edit these, so I only try to catch auto-correct's mistakes, but I meant to say late sunrises, early sunsets) and the push toward reflecting and simply being that autumn and winter bring. It's mid-November here in the northern hemisphere; in some sense all creation feels weary. After all, it's been through springtime, summer, autumn harvest. I am so ready to begin my annual ritual countdown to the winter solstice when the sun ever so briefly stands still in the sky; many of us humans became quietly still, too, and not only for a brief moment! Just as creation has, I've trekked through another year of planning, planting, feeding, watering, waiting, without quite the yield I'd anticipated. I've become psychologically, emotionally, and physically weary, though on the outside I always seem to have my signature high energy. By late afternoon some days all-around weariness pervades my body and spirit, yet for some reason it feels good, as if I've run a long, demanding race I'd prepared for to the best of my ability. Walter Brueggemann reminds us much of life – or is that most of life? – is sabbatarian, spent by humans and by all creation in sometimes weary waiting and hoping between the ninth hour on Friday and first light of easter Sunday.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November Synchroblog: Grace!

november synchroblog grace

The original synchroblog group disbanded last month, but one of the regular participants picked it up without missing a beat, so this month's topic is grace! K.W. Leslie's our host; he suggests:
Of course there are all sorts of directions you can go with this. You can bring up grace in the November holidays. (In the United States that'd be Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.) You can bring up grace in the Christian's relationship with God, with family, with fellow Christians, with non-Christians, with work, with whatever.

You can avoid talking about yourself altogether, by getting all theological. And we'll let you! 'Cause grace.

A blog pal gifted me with grace as my star word for 2015, so what better way than this synchroblog to sum up a year of moving house, meeting new people, leaving Previous City behind (notice the order of these events?), other random shifts and transitions, a year trying to focus on my star word grace, and the very soon to be conclusion of another liturgical year of grace.

Especially for Christians in the traditions of the Reformation with our emphasis on the Apostle Paul's theology, grace is a huge, truly overarching, theological concept. In Paul's world, grace and favor was a secular commonplace—particularly in the patron-client relationship. In this twenty-first century world where commercial transactions, payments, debts, and reciprocity rule, almost everyone has difficulty accepting a gift, simply basking in that occasional reality of receiving anything unmerited, unearned, not paid for—and not paid back. It's tough for most of us to contextualize a theology of grace because we have so little parallel experience in this culture, in this economy.

For many people, the month of November in the USA means a special offering of daily blog posts or Facebook updates about thankfulness. I didn't attempt formal daily online thanks this year, yet I need to express my thankfulness that I've come this far by faith and by grace!

I'd intended to blog more details about this past year of my life along with my rich grace-filled experiences during this past liturgical year, which, of course, has been a major part "of my life." I'm extremely tired on emotional and psychological levels, and writing here on my more formal theology blog makes me hesitate to say much, though in the past I've blogged a fair amount of self-revelation.

Short summary: the Sunday morning hour that's always good no matter what has kept sustaining me. No matter what, no matter with whom, no matter where, every week it re-minds and re-immerses me in my own history with God and with the people of God. I'm thank-filled and excited about beginning the church's new year of grace less than three weeks from now; what's not to love about the hope and renewal Advent brings amidst the darkest days of the year? In addition to every Sunday Word and Sacrament, relocating to a different city has given me near-boundless hope for a free and full future.

Again this year I welcome the gift of shorter days, longer nights, the all-around slowing down they bring. It's almost time to start counting the days until the winter solstice, and then by grace, the amazement of longer days, shorter nights, new life, and another summer.

Grace, mercy, and hope to you!

grace year

Friday, November 06, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Dance!


Dancers Silhouette from DodgertonSkillhause on Morgue File

Every Friday Kate Motaung hosts a 5-minute free write; Kate's prompt for today is Dance...


I could spend 5 hours writing about dancing and listing dances, so for only 5 minutes, a very short string of memories for this Five Minute Friday.

Every piece of music is a song; every piece of music is a dance!

Joining in the dance class in the room next to 105 where I loved practicing the small 2-manual Holtkamp organ back in music school. It was a School for the Arts, with music, visual/fine art and theater divisions; the dance teacher-coach noticed me and invited me.

Line Dancing in the Intermountain West and on the rural east coast...

Dave Grusin, "Mountain Dance" and "River Song".

Jazz dance classes at the church I served in City of History. A HS girl from our youth group offered one series; a seminary classmate taught the other. Both had been dancing all their lives!

Some of my favorite pieces in my piano repertoire are dances: Paul Creston, Prelude & Dance Opus 29, #1; Prelude & Dance, Opus 29, #2. Appalachian Dance by Paul Nordhoff. Many many MANY more I can't recall quickly enough to list in the allotted time.

I want to dance with Miriam! "Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." Exodus 15:20

from The River Is Here by Andy Park
Down the mountain the river flows
And it brings refreshing wherever it goes
Through the valleys and over the fields
The river is rushing and the river is here

The river of God sets our feet a-dancing
The river of God fills our hearts with cheer
The river of God fills our mouths with laughter
And we rejoice, for the river is here

The river of God sets our feet a-dancing, and we rejoice, for the river is here! Rivers, oceans, waterways, springs, and rejoicing always will be here to keep setting our feet a-dancing, as long as we take care of all creation.

nov 06, dance5 minute friday icon

Monday, November 02, 2015

What I Learned in October 2015

For each calendar month, Emily P. Freeman hosts a monthly roundup of what I learned... for October 2015 my highlights include:

1. After the privilege and gift of getting to facilitate Sunday morning bible study for the past few weeks, I learned I still love teaching (no surprise!), and truly enjoyed the participation, response, and compliments!

2. This learning strongly relates to my tendency to be goal-oriented and disciplined, frequently giving up my druthers for a future I know's never a guarantee. I've also been described as "controlled," though not remotely the control freak type people who don't listen carefully sometimes assume that means.

This month I finally learned it's totally okay not to like New England; it's okay not to be neutral or on the fence about New England—or any other place; it's *more than* all right even to dislike a lot about New England.

Backstory: I first saw light of day in the Deep South, and from kindergarten on, I basically grew up in New England, but the kicker is my family of origin was midwestern and southern, didn't live like or talk the same as NE natives, so NE attitudes and suspicions made me into an outlander and an outsider. I do appreciate "all the history," cuz it's impossible not to. I can thank some fabulous schools (and my above-mentioned goal-oriented self-discipline) for a phenomenal education, but despite happily acknowledging Boston as a Great City, NE still is too insular, too provincial, and way far too wicked cold in the winter.

October 2015 31 days of free writes3. During October I did 31 days of free unedited writes and discovered most of what I wrote was fairly complete and finished, and except for the three or four I wrote on one or another of my most frequent topics, they all were about the same length. Aside from correcting auto-correct's mistakes, I easily resisted temptations to edit but on some I wrote some explanation, but not a defense (way to go!). I gradually started varying my presentation style and began including some of my own art and photographs. I wouldn't want to do a month-long writing project of any kind every month, but every two or three months would be cool.

4. Water is life. Water still is life. Water always will be life!

Emily Freeman Learned in October

Sunday, November 01, 2015

All Saints 2015

As we remember and celebrate the people of God in every place and time, the RCL brings us three readings that are explicitly resurrection; three unequivocally creation-oriented.
• Isaiah 25:6-9

• Psalm 24

• Revelation 21:1-6a

• John 11:32-44
Here we are in the midst of a creation that in some places is broken, disenchanted, and near death. What about us? How about us?

psalm 24:1