Shuck and Jive
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Monmouth Presbytery voted in favor of the new G-6.0106b, the first presbytery to do so. Only 86 more to go!
Remember kids, that old church camp song: It only takes a spark...
First Presbyterian Church
November 30th, 2008
First Sunday of Advent
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
“One of my least favorite liturgical seasons is Advent.”
Thus writes Peter Gomes in his book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?
Why is Gomes so grumpy about Advent? Isn’t it the season of hope, peace, joy, and love as the banners around our sanctuary attest? Gomes gripes not about hope, but cheap hope. He writes:
“The conventional wisdom is that Advent is the season of hope, and we light our Advent candles, one more on each Sunday, not simply anticipating the light but increasing it. Although Advent is, like Lent, meant to be a season of penitence,…it has become a month-long dress rehearsal for Christmas and a commercial phenomenon that is beyond the power of mere Christmas to defeat. Years ago, when in October I saw the first Santa Claus in a store window and heard tinny carols in a department store elevator, I knew that Thanksgiving could not be far away and that the battle for Advent had been lost. What I find difficult to take seriously about Advent is the note of false rather than authentic hope that is imposed upon people.” P. 214I will get back to Peter Gomes in a minute. Here is my story that resonates with his.
In my first congregation, for several years I had a bit of a kerfluffle with my choir director, and the choir, and frankly the whole congregation. Fresh out of seminary, convinced of the correct way to do church, I insisted upon no Christmas carols during Advent. Instead we need to sing those dirge-like, minor key, Advent hymns. After Christmas we can sing Christmas songs all the way into February! But, of course by then, after the present exchanging frenzy and after the city has taken away the wrappers and boxes we have left at the curb, no one is in the mood for Christmas songs.
I had a good argument. During Lent, we don’t sing Jesus Christ is Risen Today. We don’t hear all the joyous Easter anthems. We let Lent be Lent. It is a season of personal discipline, repentance, and spiritual reflection. On Easter and after, we celebrate the mystery of Resurrection. Then and only then, do we sing out the Allelulias.
I continued my argument. The reason there is no pressure to sing Easter songs during Lent is because Easter has not yet been bought by the corporations to the extent that Christmas has. If Easter was a major shopping holiday that needed two months of build up, and if Easter hymns were played non-stop in the Wal-Mart during Lent, you can bet we would be singing Easter hymns in church during Lent as well.
They were intrigued by my argument, but not motivated. They said, “So, can we sing just a few Christmas songs during Advent?”
I gave in. Like grumpy Gomes, I conceded that Advent was a lost cause. I knew that if I didn’t compromise a mutiny would result and I would have a stake of holly driven through my heart. I did hold out for one Sunday, this first one. After that, Christmas indulgence was too overwhelming a force to curb.
What is Advent? Advent is the light of a single candle at the far end of a dark cave. That is its message. It is survival hope. You need that candle or you don’t get out.
But when we are in a shopping mall flooded by manufactured incandescent bulbs, holding up an Advent candle for light is preposterous.
“We don’t need your candle, bub, we have ten million megawatts of Christmas joy.”
America is not ready for Advent. It may be some day. Not now. Not when we still have the resources to spend 450 billion dollars each year at Christmas to indulge ourselves. To proclaim Advent hope in our context is either nonsensical or blasphemous. It either cannot be processed or it becomes a cheery optimism. Worse yet, it becomes a divine blessing for our materialism.
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace, and I warn now against cheap hope. Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is the more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us….This kind of hope requires work, effort, and expenditure without the assurance of an easy or ready return.” P. 220.The texts that we have for Advent, like this one from Second Peter, sound out of place. In our context, these ancient words of hope are like a candle in the middle of a huge Target store the week before Christmas. Too much artificial light keeps us from seeing the real light.
Let’s try anyway:
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.The context of this scripture, as is the context for much of scripture, is necessity. It comes from the dark cave of hunger, injustice, oppression, loneliness, grief, longing, and suffering. It looks with desperation for the light of the candle. It is this cry from the psalmist:
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,I wonder if those who are in a position to hear the message of Advent hope are too depressed to be in church in the first place. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we need to feel guilty for not suffering or for not feeling hopeless. Nor am I assuming that you are not feeling hopeless. I don’t know to what degree of suffering any of you are experiencing.
and put away your indignation towards us.
Will you be angry with us for ever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85:4-7
What I am suggesting is that the season of Advent assumes darkness and hopelessness. It starts there.
Again, quoting Gomes:
“Hope works where nothing else does. If we want to know how and where hope works, we should look at the most desperate places and among people who suffer, for that is where hope is both necessary and evident. Hope, let us remember, is not the opposite of suffering; suffering is the necessary antecedent of hope.” P. 223The obliterating artificial light of materialism doesn’t even give us an opportunity to be aware of our own suffering. Our culture doesn’t give permission to be sad. We are unable to acknowledge that we have any dis-ease. Certainly nothing that Christmas carols, toys, and technology can’t fix. What do we hear?
What a wonderful time of the year.
What a wonderful time of the year.
What a wonderful time of the year.
In the midst of this glaring brightness, any attempt to point to the candle light of Advent makes one look like a curmudgeon—a sourpuss at the office Christmas party.
“Everybody is happy, don’t depress us.”
However, for those who are aware of the darkness and who are in it, there is a candle.
• For those who can step out of the artificial light, because they know it is not a true light, and risk stepping into the darkness, Advent is for you.
• For those who are not convinced that the global economy and our technological prowess will move us onward and upward into the post-petroleum age without any significant change to our way of life, Advent is for you.
• For those who have lost a loved one and for whom this season is especially heavy, Advent is for you.
• For those who are doubtful that we are going to halt climate change and who are suspicious of political messiahs, Advent is for you.
• For those who feel the pain of a broken relationship, the angst of aging, a lingering illness, or an uncertain future, Advent is for you.
• For those who worry and wonder how we are going to sustain a hungry and thirsty planet of people, and are sick at heart at the extinction of our non-human relations, Advent is for you.
• For those who lay awake at night worrying about your job, your home, or your finances, Advent is for you.
• For those who cannot bear to watch another violent news story, Advent is for you.
• For those who look at our children in our church, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and wonder what their lives will be like when they are our age, Advent is for you.
• For those who just don’t feel as happy as you think you are supposed to feel, Advent is for you.
• For those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired and no longer can pretend to bury the darkness under the artificial light of cheap hope, there is a candle. Advent is for you.
Advent is for those who would dare the darkness. It is for those who are acquainted with the night. Advent is for the author of this poem:
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” is an appropriate Advent poem.
I titled this sermon “A Thousand Years in a Day” from that sentence in 2 Peter:
with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
This text and this image provide encouragement in the midst of desperate longing and disappointment. When that dark cave is long and deep and damp, and it doesn’t seem like we will ever get out, this is the message:
The Universe and whatever is beyond it is a lot bigger than we are. A day is but a thousand years and a thousand years are but a day in Divine time. Divine hope is not on our timetable. It is a reminder that our hope is from a place yet untapped, yet unimagined. It is something not calculable. It is a source of strength not yet discovered and yet it is discovered as we need it.
It is a hope that is stronger than suffering, but it comes from suffering. This hope is not cheap or easy. It is formed from our character as we honestly engage our suffering and the suffering of all living things.
Peter Gomes tells us that if we remember
“…that genuine hope, a hope worth having, is forged upon the anvil of adversity, and that hope and suffering are related through the formation of character, then we will realize that hope is much more than mere optimism. Hope is the stuff that gets us through and beyond when the worst that can happen happens. P. 220-1Genuine hope comes from our experience of adversity as it relies on a place yet untapped and deep within. It invites us to be honest with the darkness. In the words of Robert Frost, to be “acquainted with the night.”
Whether we admit it or not, we are amidst a darkness that cannot be obliterated by the light of ten thousand Wal-Marts. This darkness can only be lit by a candle. Advent points to that candle. This candle shows us just enough light so that we can take one step. It is an honest step taken in honest hope about our real condition.
Even as we step with this muscular hope, in the words of 2 Peter:
“…we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Kentucky Law Requires Homeland Security to Credit GodComment:
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A lawmaker says the state’s Homeland Security office should be crediting God with keeping the state safe.
State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister who was instrumental in establishing that requirement in 2006, disapproves of the fact that Homeland Security doesn’t currently mention God in its mission statement or on its Web site.
The law passed under former Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who prominently credited God in annual reports to state leaders. But Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration didn’t credit God in its 2008 Homeland Security report issued last month. “We certainly expect it to be there, of course,” Riner, DLouisville, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The law that organized the Homeland Security office first lists Homeland Security’s duty to recognize that government itself can’t secure the state without God, even before mentioning other duties, which include distributing millions of dollars in federal grants and analyzing possible threats.
The religious language was tucked into a floor amendment by Riner and passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly. It lists the office’s initial duty as “stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.”
Included in the law is a requirement that the office must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
Thomas Preston, Gov. Beshear’s Homeland Security chief, said he is not interested in stepping into a religious debate. “I will not try to supplant almighty God,” Preston said. “All I do is try to obey the dictates of the Kentucky General Assembly. I really don’t know what their motivation was for this. They obviously felt strongly about it.”
Riner said crediting God with helping ensure the state’s safety is appropriate.
“This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky,” Riner said. “Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government.”
But state Sen. Kathy Stein, DLexington, a frequent critic of mixing religion and government, said requiring the department to credit God takes away from Homeland Security’s mission.
“It’s very sad to me that we do this sort of thing,” Stein said. “It takes away from the seriousness of the public discussion over security, and it clearly hurts the credibility of this office if it’s supposed to be depending on God, first and foremost.”
The problem is that God doesn't like Kentucky very much and takes a rather hands off approach. You could almost say the Almighty is passive-aggressive when it comes to protecting Kentucky. The legislature might want to look into a more Kentucky-friendly deity.
In general, YHWH's record in regards to protection isn't so good. That is why the psalmists are always whining at him.
If Kentucky wants protection, it might consider Odin. Odin doesn't have a perfect homeland security record, but the Norse folks for the most part seem to be doing all right.
Friday, November 28, 2008
You and I aren't the first to puzzle over our fundamentalist neighbors. Walter Davis wrote an insightful article a few years ago, The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism. He writes:
My effort will be to describe the inner structure of the psyche implied by fundamentalist beliefs by examining those beliefs in terms of the psychological needs they fulfill.He examines four central beliefs of fundamentalists as to what they do for people psychologically. The four beliefs are:
- Inerrancy or biblical literalism, the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally as the word of God;
- conversion or the experience of being reborn in Christ;
- evangelicalism or the duty of the saved to spread the gospel; and
- Apocalypticism or Endism, the belief that The Book of Revelations describes the events that must come to pass for God's plan to be fulfilled.
This guy pulls no punches. There is a temptation for the religious moderate or liberal to dismiss what he writes because he casts the net wide.
Religion remains of course the one thing we are enjoined to treat with kid gloves as if this is the one area of life where criticism and a rhetoric that tries to energize the force of criticism is verboten. Violating this rule is also the quickest way to lose what current statistics indicate will be the 93% of one's audience who say they believe in God. It is thus important that I indicate up front that this is not a contract I can honor. Like Freud, I think it can be demonstrated that religion is a collective neurosis. In fact one implication of the following examination is that Freud didn't go far enough. But let me reformulate this hypothesis in a more convivial spirit. Let's bracket the whole question of whether religion has an object. On second thought, let me concede it, the utter ontological truth of all the basic beliefs, ever each one. Only then perhaps can we focus on the question that constitutes the inherent and lasting fascination of religion. Not what people believe, but why. The consideration of religion as a psychological phenomenon-and as such perhaps the one that offers the deepest insight into the nature of the psyche and its needs.In short:
What after all is religion but a desire displacing itself into dogmas all the better to assure the flock that what they desire is writ into the nature of things?Even as I question the reduction of religion to neuroses in toto, I have to admit, it explains a lot of it. If I were to be totally honest and even aware, neuroses account for some of my own motivation for religious practice.
Here is a quick summary of the psychology of the four beliefs, using his words:
Literalism is a cardinal necessity of the fundamentalist because it guarantees the primary psychological need. For a certitude that in its simplicity puts an end to all doubt, even to the possibility of doubt. That is what one must have and once attained what nothing can be permitted to alter.Conversion:
Splitting. Which as Freud and Klein show is the most primitive mechanism of defense employed by a psyche terrified of its inner world. The conversion story raises that mechanism to the status of a theological pathos....Here, then, is the real truth of conversion. Fear and hatred of the psyche and a desperate desire to be rid of it. The psyche is that which one must find a way to escape and then to deny.Evangelicalism:
Evangelicism offers the fundamentalist the only way to sustain the reborn self: by trying to recreate the experience of one's conversion in others in order to reenact an unending exorcism. In the other one locates the split off self one once was now placed totally outside oneself.Apocalypticism:
For the only way both to satisfy and to purge one's hatred is to express it on a massive world-shattering scale. The death one seeks projected into the death one delivers. The self is thereby done with life and freed for transport of the saved split off self to a realm of bliss freed from all cares. A psyche wedded to thanatos has found in thanatos the final solution. One's resentment against life has been turned into a righteous and of necessity cosmic attack upon it....Apocalypticism expresses both the final evacuation needed to prevent a return of the projections and the jouissance required to fulfill the demand of thanatos for that complete unbinding that can only come by putting an end to everything. The hatred in which the psyche is grounded requires no less: it is total in its control over the inner world and thus demands a matching totalization.In short:
- Inerrancy as the need to reduce all complexities to the literal in order to confine the mind to its simplest operations;
- Conversion or the use of the primitive psychological defense known as splitting to establish an absolute separation of the saved psyche from the damned;
- Evangelicalism or manic activity as the way to sustain and project that split;
- Apocalypticism or thanatos incarnate as the desire for an event that will satisfy the hatred and the death-drive that has come to define the fundamentalist psyche.
Fundamentalists live in a world obsessed with sexuality. It provides the primary texts of Biblical citation. It's the concrete referent of the fulminations against secularism, secular humanism, post-modernism, ethical relativism, feminism, deconstructionism, etc. It's also what the vaunted claim of "moral values" is all about. Morality is not about a life of charity, or the pursuit of justice, or the opening of oneself to the depth of human suffering. It's about avoiding certain sexual sins and fixating on that dimension of life to the virtual exclusion of everything else.....Fundamentalism fixates on sex not by accident or divine decree but by the exigencies of immediate experience. Eros is that force which binds us to life as that blessing which can be lived and loved as an end in itself.This is a fascinating and informative article. Hat tip to Why Won't God Heal Amputees.
....Because it poses a comprehensive threat to the fundamentalist project eros must be poisoned at early as possible. Ironically there is, however, only one way this project can succeed. Through love.
....To put it in more concrete terms, from an early age one must be indoctrinated by those one trusts and loves in the primary lesson: that obedience is the price one must pay to retain love. And so deep must become one's need for this love that one becomes willing to make any sacrifice it requires.
....All natural functions are turned into matters of intense preoccupation. All innocent curiosities nipped in the bud. Spontaneity itself becomes a source of inhibition. The reign of the literal is born. That which most intimately attaches us to life becomes the thing upon which a ceaseless attack is waged. All natural instincts must become evidence that the only way to experience the body is as a site of sinful desires. Embodiment itself must become something one hates and fears, a condition in which something evil and disgusting is always at work. Everything that desire opens up in the subject must be turned back against itself. Sin, shame, and guilt must come to define the relationship that the subject lives to itself. The goal of fundamentalist child-rearing is to create a subject preoccupied with waging war on itself, with battling against its own desires under the gaze of a judgmental, punitive super-ego.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Harvey Milk was assassinated on this day, thirty years ago, November 27th, 1978.
The movie Milk was released yesterday.
I checked to see where it was playing in the Tri-Cities and got
Sorry, this movie is not currently playing in or near the location you have selected.
Please enter a different location.
Check out Harvey Milk Movie News for all about this film.
We also want to remember George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco, assassinated on that same day.
You can follow me on Twitter.
If you Twitter too,
Then I can follow you!
I started using it just this week in response to this Twitter of Faith thing. I posted about it here.
Give your "faith statement" in 140 characters or less. Folks are twittering their dogma all over the internet. Now that it has spread beyond the faithful, the statements are becoming more interesting. People are "twittering" their philosophies, their life's meaning, or just some stupid phrase they heard yesterday.
Unlike the Christians, they have no requirements of course to use Christian tropes and lingo like the blood of Jesus, resurrection, or what have you. They can say what they want without any desire to proclaim truth or to convert others.
You can read all the statements here and add your own.
I liked this one from someone who calls herself cartoongoddess, who
"believes in acceptance, tolerance and equality for all in a peaceful world. We can learn from one another. Appreciate difference."
I appreciate my colleagues, Adam and Shawn, for starting this thing. These guys are cool, young, justice-oriented, "emergent" Christians and Presbyterian ministers. It is all in good fun.
Yet it brings me to this point. I am suspicious of any evangelistic enterprise. Not that this is one, or was intended to be, but it could be. When someone wants to proclaim the gospel, I want to duck. I think I am being charitable when I suggest that the church's evangelistic history is ambiguous.
On the other hand, freedom of speech--and now freedom to be a twit--is a value I cherish, serve, and protect. If you resonate with my views, the answer may be for you to be a twit in return.
Twitter your philosophy in 140 characters or less and join the movement to express your freedom of thought! Or not.
In either case, the Goddess smiles.
"Liberals want us to mourn and be angry or feel bad about commemorating our own cultural death," Rolo said. "Meanwhile conservatives blame us for our condition. Can you imagine having to sit around a Thanksgiving table with those folks telling us how to be while trying to digest a meal?"Here is a good resource from Chuck Larsen of the Tacoma School District: Teaching About Thanksgiving
For an Indian, who is also a school teacher, Thanksgiving was never an easy holiday for me to deal with in class. I sometimes have felt like I learned too much about "the Pilgrims and the Indians." Every year I have been faced with the professional and moral dilemma of just how to be honest and informative with my children at Thanksgiving without passing on historical distortions, and racial and cultural stereotypes.He recommends the book, The Invasion of America by Francis Jennings.
The problem is that part of what you and I learned in our own childhood about the "Pilgrims" and "Squanto" and the "First Thanksgiving" is a mixture of both history and myth. But the THEME of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of the Plymouth Plantation. (Read More)
Traditionally, historians have thought of American society as a transplantation of European culture to a new continent—a "virgin land." In this important and disturbing book, Francis Jennings examines the real history of the relationships between Europeans and Indians in what is ordinarily called the colonial period of United States history. From the Indian viewpoint, it was the period of the invasion of America.
In Mr. Jennings' view, the American land during the period of discovery and settlement was more like a widow than a virgin. "Europeans did not find wilderness here," he writes, "rather, however involuntarily, they made one. . . . The so-called settlement of America was a resettlement, a reoccupation of a land made waste by the diseases and demoralization introduced by newcomers."Basing his interpretations on an enormous amount of hitherto unused ethnographic and anthropological literature, Mr. Jennings summarizes what is now known about the Atlantic Coast Indians encountered by Europeans. He then concentrates on a single region, New England, as an illustrative case study. The result is a radically revisionist interpretation of Puritan history (both as the Puritans wrote and lived it) in relation to the aboriginal population.
For today and every day, A Thanksgiving Prayer from the Iroquois (Seneca) People
Gwa! Gwa! Gwa!
Now the time has come!
Hear us, Lord of the Sky!
We are here to speak the truth,
for you do not hear lies,
We are your children, Lord of the Sky.
Now begins the Gayant' gogwus
This sacred fire and sacred tobacco
And through this smoke
We offer our prayers
We are your children, Lord of the Sky.
Now in the beginning of all things
You provided that we inherit your creation
You said: I shall make the earth
on which people shall live
And they shall look to the earth as their mother
And they shall say, "It is she who supports us."
You said that we should always be thankful
For our earth and for each other
So it is that we are gathered here
We are your children, Lord of the Sky.
Now again the smoke rises
And again we offer prayers
You said that food should be placed beside us
And it should be ours in exchange for our labor.
You thought that ours should be a world
where green grass of many kinds should grow
You said that some should be medicines
And that one should be Ona'o
the sacred food, our sister corn
You gave to her two clinging sisters
beautiful Oa'geta, our sister beans
and bountiful Nyo'sowane, our sister squash
The three sacred sisters; they who sustain us.
This is what you thought, Lord of the Sky.
Thus did you think to provide for us
And you ordered that when the warm season comes,
That we should see the return of life
And remember you, and be thankful,
and gather here by the sacred fire.
So now again the smoke arises
We the people offer our prayers
We speak to you through the rising smoke
We are thankful, Lord of the Sky.
Chuck Larsen, Seneca
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Ryan is smart enough. He and Jesus, his homeboy, has one about movies we need to see over Thanksgiving.
I will leave all of that up. I am also looking for a way to format it, perhaps in some sort of on-line book or study guide.
Any ideas are welcome!
Put the anti-imperial, anti-consumerist, pro-justice, pro-non-violent Christ back into your Christmas!
I posted on this book last year.
But what I didn't write about in that post is the importance of the narratives and their anti-empire, anti-consumerist message. I may need to resurrect one of last year's sermons:
Is Jesus Your Personal (and Political) Lord and Savior?
Do we really want Christ to spoil our Christmas?
We may be forced to rethink what we value.
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.
From the Daily Buddha:
Earth, water, sun and air, all live in this food I prepare. I feel gratitude for my food and all those beings involved in bringing it to my table. I prepare the meal with love, understanding and compassion, knowing these feelings will nourish those I feed.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
My hunch is that you have heard that song a number of times already this year. There is a great deal of pressure during Advent and Christmas. Not the least of these pressures is the pressure to be happy. That pressure can make the sadness we feel even more poignant.
Christmas is for many of us a painful reminder of what we have lost. From losing a loved one to a son or daughter moving away from home, to a relocation, you name it, Christmas can be a time that highlights our loneliness.
We want to recognize that. In addition to our celebratory services we are adding a service, “Tidings of Comfort” a special reflective service to acknowledge the blue in our Christmas. It will be a service of readings, music, candle lighting, and silence.
This service is open to the public and will take place, Monday evening, December 15th at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary.
The beauty of the Incarnation is that at the darkest the light shines.
We hope you will have time to join us in all of our celebrations and services this Advent season, including Dances of Universal Peace on December 7th, our progressive dinner, December 14th, and our Christmas Dinner, December 21st with communion. The theme is Colonial Christmas as we celebrate our 225th anniversary (I guess it is 226 by now!) : )
Sunday morning, December 21st we will have a special music Sunday. We will also have a Christmas Eve service at 10 p.m. with candlelight and music.
Throughout Advent we will have alternative giving opportunities. Look for details in the White Spire.
I leave you with these words from the theologian/poet, Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
Tidings of Comfort and Joy,
The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love.So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.
And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?
What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?
Welcome to Advent Conspiracy.
Our little club of bandits is having The Alternative Christmas Giving Project. We have in the past used Heifer Project. This year in addition to Heifer we are highlighting other local, statewide, and global projects. Details to come.
We think http://www.shuckandjive.org is written by a man (78%).
Curiously, RevGalBlogPals are men as well:
We think http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (65%).Please analyze.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Allergic reactions, I hear, can only be treated with a bit of the original allergen. In other words, the literalisms of God-talk can be cured not by atheism but by an alternative theology."
Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process, p. 16
I grew up driving tractors on our farm in Montana. It can be a bit monotonous going around in a circle all day. I heard tell that some tried to brighten the experience with a mood altering substance on occasion.
This was generally not a good idea. These pictures (sent to me by my mother) show what can happen when you farm under the influence.
This guy won't be getting a bonus.
The funny thing about big empty fields is that lakes sneak up on you.
You can only perform this feat when you are stoned.
This one requires at least two bottles of Boone's Farm Peach and some mushrooms.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
More Light Presbyterians posted an interview with him earlier this evening. Take time to read it, you will be inspired and hopefully encouraged to take risks as well. Here is an excerpt:
I did have a lot of fear coming into the exam. I was surprised how scared I was about this. I've done a lot of things in my life many are scared of, traveling around the world and a lot of things. I don't get stage fright, I don't get nervous about performance. But I've never felt anything that compares to this fear I felt before going before presbytery. Part of that was because I was already invested in the congregation and I really wanted to come here. The presbytery's judgment on me was in some sense going to be the whole church's judgment of me as a potential pastor. I was surprised how much that affected me, how very scared I was coming into this. And yet I couldn't do it differently.
The advice of most people going into this, including people I love and respect who've been fantastic mentors to me, was "just shut up and play it safe and get ordained, and once you're ordained you can speak out at presbytery and vote to change the denomination." Part of me really, really, really wanted to do that. I wanted to be in ministry, and practically speaking we were in a tense financial situation. My wife doesn't work and I'm the sole source of income for our family. There would have been honest consequences. We were very seriously looking at having to sell everything we own and seek help with public housing or something. I had the very practical fear that if this falls through, I could be unemployed and potentially homeless soon. So part of me really wanted to accept that advice.
But I was losing sleep. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn't take the idea of actually doing that, for the reason that there are people I know and love who I am convicted to the core of my being are called by God into ordained ministry. That means the service of God in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Presently by any fair reading of our denominational polity, they are forbidden ordination. Meanwhile, based on the happenstance that I was born straight, and married to a woman I have no temptation to be unfaithful to, I'm not going to be submitted to the kind of scrutiny that would prevent me from being ordained. People aren't going to go into my personal and private life to see if I live up to the standards in the book. That isn't acceptable. I wouldn't ever in the future see myself as anything other than a hypocrite as a member of presbytery going into examinations that examine people that way. I couldn't take that level of hypocrisy. Some people see no contradiction with coming in to a broken system and trying to change the system from within. I felt I could do that in regard to some things, but on this I cannot affirm the brokenness of the system. (Read More)
This is no surprise. All of these presbyteries are conservative and always vote the wrong way on these measures. The strategy of the conservative presbyteries is to vote no early to show that there is some kind of momentum.
It is good to check out what the right is doing. The LayMAN and the Presbyterian Coalition are putting a lot of money and effort into defeating this amendment.
There is no momentum. We have a long way to go. All over the country presbyteries and congregations are holding conversations about this amendment. It is not time to sit around and wonder. It is time to talk it up. Find out when your presbytery votes. Make sure your session knows about it. Set up conversations. Talk to the moderates and fence-sitters. Have conversations in your adult Sunday School classes. Do what it takes.
This conversation is not just for whoever will vote in your presbytery. It is for the entire church. There are plenty of resources including films, books, and study guides available. You can have your congregation "knit for justice."
I have some resources on this sidebar. Go to More Light Presbyterians, the Covenant Network, and That All May Freely Serve for more ideas.
The General Assembly did us a great favor. We have an opportunity to witness to justice in the church. We haven't had this opportunity since 2001 and who knows, it could be that long again.
In the meantime, sessions and presbyteries can ordain and install openly gay and lesbian persons now. The current G-6.0106b is a bad "blue law" and it needs to go. But it is mostly made of gums and no teeth with the changes made this summer in San Jose.
It needs to go so we can unequivocally remove prejudice in our ordination practice and be the church Christ calls us to be.
It is time to do this. You can be a part of making this happen. You need to be a part of making this happen.
There is no good reason why this amendment should not pass this year. Berkley was right and wrong about one thing. He wrote:
The wholesale revision of Christian sexual morality can and will happen if good people do nothing.Berkley is right that when good people do nothing bad things happen. Berkley is wrong in that he thinks he even knows what "Christian sexual morality" is. The current G-6.0106b is immoral. Homophobia is immoral. Injustice against our LGBTQ sisters and brothers is immoral. The General Assembly voted out the Authoritative Interpretation because it was immoral.
That was a major victory for morality. We are nowhere near finished. Now is not the time to rest.
You can be the change. Speak out for true Christian morality and support the new amendment B.
Looking for that perfect Christmas gift? A new book to be released this week could be it:
Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays by Patrick Chapman. Here is the book description:
"Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays" by Patrick M. Chapman, PhD, is an anthropological critique of the arguments used against homosexuals and same-sex marriage, drawing upon current scientific research and biblical scholarship. This timely book has been endorsed by prominent academics and even Christian leaders, including and the professor of biblical interpretation at the Auburn Theological Seminary, . The foreword is written by Daniel Helminiak, author of "What the Bible Really Says about ".
The book presents the latest scientific research on what causes homosexuality, can homosexuality be changed, how homosexuality is expressed in non-Western cultures, the presence of same-sex marriages in non-Western cultures, and issues related to Christianity, including what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.
The author is a gay Christian anthropology professor in Olympia, WA who underwent ex-gay therapy in an attempt to change his sexual orientation. He has spoken numerous times at both the Olympia and Tacoma, Washington PFLAG meetings.
Here is a review in the Washington Blade.
Check this video:
Adam at pomomusings has started something interesting. Actually, I guess Shawn started it. Seminarians looking for their first call worry themselves senseless over designing a statement of faith to be pored over by their presbyteries of call. These statements are tricky. You can't just copy the Apostle's Creed but you can't be too creative either.
The worrywarts of the presbytery check to make sure you include all the stuff that is important to them. By my tone, you can imagine I find the process tedious.
These statements of faith are supposed to be one page (or so). Every time you seek a new call you update it. Here is my latest.
The new game that Shawn and Adam have started is Twitter of Faith.
You have to make your statement in 140 characters or less (the space allowed by one Twitter comment).
I think that should be the rule for new statements of faith. If you can't say it in 140 characters, you are way too into words.
Here is my Twitter of Faith:
I trust in a free mind, the surprise of mystery, love, and good tunes.
You can read others here. If you want to know how to post yours and get on the Twitter Train, Adam has a ticket.
Statement of Faith
Who Do You Say That I Am?
Jesus, you are a living presence in my life.
You are the Risen Christ.
You are my Comforter.
You have been there throughout my life in times of sorrow and anxiety.
You were there with me at the side of my brother through his accident.
I felt your reassurance and confidence for him and our family.
You are my mother’s prayer, my father’s wisdom, and my wife’s love.
You are the joy of my children, my friends, my congregation, and my community.
You are there as I counsel others in my ministry.
You are the words of hope and care that I do not have on my own.
You were there when I baptized a stillborn baby in the hospital.
You are there at the funerals of old friends.
You give meaning and hope to my life and to all of life.
You are the hope that in life and in death we are the Lord’s.
You are my Encouragement.
You are my source of hope when I feel discouraged.
You give me the courage to be a voice for the voiceless.
You call me to speak for others when I would rather play it safe.
You encourage me to keep on and to follow the narrow path of justice.
You are the courage to preach your kingdom.
You are my Conscience.
You point out the beam in my own eye as I worry over the speck in others.
You remind me that justice without love is harsh and cold.
You call me to love and to understand my enemies when I would rather play the victim.
You are the Victim.
When the church has marginalized others,
--when the church has executed those it has called heretics,
--when the church has denied access to your table,
--when nations do violence in your name,
You are crucified with the dying.
When I have done violence through harsh words or deeds,
You are the victim of my violence.
For that I seek forgiveness.
You are my Forgiveness.
You are the grace that nothing I have done can make you love me less.
In your grace, I have the confidence to repent and start again.
I experience this forgiveness,
As I forgive others.
You are my Advisor.
Through the counsel of wise colleagues and friends,
You make me re-evaluate my motivations.
You call me to admit hasty and insensitive decisions.
You present me with ideas and visions.
You open my imagination.
You are my Savior.
You save me from all forces that would deny my dignity.
You save me from myself, from my depression, from my addictions, from my pessimism.
You save me from distractions and false ideals.
You save me so that I may be a loved and a loving human being.
You are my Passion.
Through you I am energized with the zest for life.
You invite me to consider the lilies.
You invite me to love wastefully,
and to breathe in deeply the aroma of your creation.
You are a Mystery.
I cannot claim you.
My sisters and brothers across the planet know you by other names.
Creation itself knows you in non-human terms.
Your mystery humbles me.
You are the Truth.
You encourage me to seek and to learn.
You spur me never to be satisfied with what I know.
You constantly show yourself in unexpected places and through surprising people.
You are my Hope.
As I participate at your supper,
you give me a glimpse of a banquet
--where all are welcomed, loved and valued.
--where all have food for body and soul.
You invite me to work for a world in which all
are housed, clothed, fed, educated,
and all are able to use their gifts.
You enchant me with the realm of God.
You show me non-violence and love.
You give me a vision of the lion and lamb and fatling together.
You speak to me of humanity that has forgotten how to fight.
As I minister in your name,
You are my source of strength.
Without you I am dry and lifeless.
Without you, my efforts are empty and vain.
You are laughter.
You are pleasure.
You are my Joy.
To personalize the words of my childhood hymn...
You live, you live,
Christ Jesus lives today.
You walk with me and you talk with me
along life’s narrow way.
You live, you live,
salvation to impart.
When they ask me how I know you live,
I can only answer,
“You live within my heart.”
--Joanna Macy, Welcome to All Beings
First Presbyterian Church
November 23rd, 2008
Thanksgiving/Reign of Christ
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Today marks the intersection of two holidays of importance to us. One is Thanksgiving, a cultural holiday. Many things are connected with Thanksgiving Day. Some of these are healthier for us in mind, body, and spirit than others. Yet, the practice and truth of thanksgiving is critical for our lives. Show me a person who is happy, productive and peaceful and you will find a person who is grateful.
The other holiday or Holy Day is specifically Christian. Today is Reign of Christ Sunday, traditionally called Christ the King. It is the final Sunday of the church’s liturgical year.
On Reign of Christ Sunday, we consider the fullness of the Universe in order, in place, in perfect peace. As we read this beautiful poetry of Ephesians:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.Christ is at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places. This is heavy duty Christian mythology. Mythology is the language we use to speak about value and meaning. All religions have myths, symbols, and metaphors. One of the unfortunate things about Christian mythology is not the mythology itself, it is that we have insisted on it. When you take a metaphor and turn it into a descriptor, you are going to have problems. I will mention three. We have to mention them and then move on so we can appreciate the truth to which the text points.
First, we have made an idol of the “maleness” of our main character, the Son at the right hand of the Father. One piece of evidence is enough to make my point: The first woman to be ordained to the ministry in our denomination, Margaret Towner, is still living. Christianity has been around for 2000 years and Presbyterians ordained the first woman in 1956. And we are the liberals. We weren’t the first. The Society of Friends or the Quakers were the first in the early 1800s.
The vast majority of Christian organizations around the world do not ordain women. In the Roman Catholic tradition priests are male specifically because of the maleness of Jesus. That is the theological rational for denying ordination to women.
Of course the historical person of Jesus was a male. The church saw something more in him and used mythological language to describe that something more. As the myths were created, rather than transcending maleness, they divinized maleness. They could have said Jesus Christ is fully male and fully female. Why not? We said Christ was fully God and fully human, which is much more of a stretch in logic.
The church did not, so far. Males were too interested in maintaining unbalanced power relations. This is not simply a matter of politically correct language. This is about power and access. It is also about the location of the sacred. As feminist theologian, Mary Daly pointed out nearly forty years ago, “When God becomes male, the male becomes God.”
There is nothing wrong with Father and Son language as one metaphor for the Sacred. The problem is our history. We have used this language at the expense of other metaphors, particularly feminine images. This is why I think it is important, at the very least, to engage in holy mischief and change the pronouns.
Second, Christian exclusivism has tainted this metaphor. Rather than seeing this metaphor as an expression of universal truth, Christians all too often have made Christ “our god” who is better than “their god.” Language such as “put all things under his feet” is not liberating language for those who have been put under the feet of those who think they are the vicars of Christ. This language has fostered Christian dominionism.
Rather than see Jesus Christ as one of many names for the Holy (which we could have done and still can do), we divinized exclusivism. Rather than emphasize the connection of Christ with the figures of other mythologies, Christianity put its figure at the top of the pole and denied the validity of other figures.
In the Gospels Jesus preached an important message. Move beyond your tribalism. So what did we do? We turned him into the god of our tribe. This is again about power and access. When Christians claim exclusivism for Jesus Christ, we do not honor Christ. We honor ourselves. When God exclusively becomes Christ, Christians become God.
Third, where is heaven and where is the throne upon which Christ sits? When our cosmology knew that Earth was in the center of creation surrounded by the heavenly bodies, the planets and the stars, with the topmost outermost sphere being heaven, this image worked. We all had our place in the cosmos.
Our modern conception of the universe has no place for heaven if we insist that heaven is beyond us. By insisting that the sacred, the holy, God, or Christ, transcends the universe, we have stripped the universe of its sacred dimension. Rather than Christ on the throne in heaven as metaphor for the sacred order of the universe, it has resulted in the absence of God. This coupled with human greed has turned the universe into something profane. It is material to be used rather than holy ground to be honored. The living things of earth are objects for exploitation rather than subjects inherently and innately divine.
The problem is not with the author of Ephesians. The problem is our 2000 year history of interpretation.
We can deal with that. We can let those idols go.
• We can substitute a feminine image. Christ is fully female and fully male.
• We can celebrate Christ as our name for the universal presence of the holy that has many names.
• We can imagine that heaven is within, among, and through all that is.
If we can navigate around the stumbling blocks, then we can wrestle with the real scandal that this text presents to us.
On this Holy Day, we are invited to affirm that all is well with the world. At the core of Reality, at the heart of the Universe both visible and invisible, there is order and peace. Because Christ is in her proper place, granting peace and strength, we can breathe more easily. That is the claim.
Martin Luther King Jr. said the arc of the Universe bends toward justice.
I cannot find the source for this but Albert Einstein is reported to have said that the most important puzzle is whether or not the Universe is friendly. Is it just up to us to find meaning in this indifferent world or is there something friendly about the whole thing?
The writer of Ephesians would say the universe is friendly because our divine friend, Jesus Christ, is on his throne ruling with love and justice. Other religious traditions say similar things in many different ways.
Last night at the United Religions Initiative we sang a song that contained the phrase, “that love may reign.”
Maybe we should just call this Holy Day, Reign of Love Sunday.
That is the point the author of Ephesians wants to make. That is the claim of faith. Divine Love holds us and all will be well.
Our thoughts and our feelings tell us that all is not well with the world. We look around and we do not see order, peace, or fullness. We see a lot of chaos, violence, and emptiness in our own lives and in the lives of the beings of Earth.
We are in an anxious time. I know that many of you are concerned about your jobs, your pensions, and your homes. You are concerned about the planet. You are concerned about our future. Are we going to be OK? Can we turn this?
I don’t think it was any easier when Ephesians was written than now. They struggled as we do. Near the end of the letter, the author offers this advice:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Eph. 6:10-12These are the powers that in the first chapter of Ephesians, Christ has under his feet. They are ultimately under his feet while at the same time we have to put on the armor of Christ and deal with them.
Last Sunday I quoted Reinhold Niebuhr from his book Moral Man, Immoral Society. Niebuhr concluded that work by saying:
“…justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” p. 277I think Niebuhr is right. And I think what the author of Ephesians is promoting is a sublime madness in the soul.
That madness tells us that all is well with the world and all will be well.
Now get out there and make it so.
Theologian Sallie McFague, in her latest book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, concludes her work appropriately, with words of hope. She writes:
Hope is trust, trust in God—not in things, events, or people. To trust in God means God can be counted on to hold one’s life and all life in trust, safekeeping. It means that one can rest one’s life—and the life of the whole planet—in God, knowing that this trust will somehow be honored.She goes on to say:
This, then, is an odd kind of hope. It does not mean that things will necessarily turn out “as we hope,” nor does it mean that we will be successful in our attempts to “save” the planet, but it does mean that God will “make all things well….”We cannot see how it will work out. We cannot calculate it. Trying to calculate it can lead us to despair. That is no good for anyone. The great wisdom, the deep wisdom of our spiritual traditions reminds us that through our trust, a way is shown. We don’t know what that way is now. We cannot see it. We will find the way in time. It may not be us. It may be our descendants who find the way.
This is not sentimental or romantic hope that things will turn out okay, but rather the faith that however they turn out, the world and all its creatures are held, kept, within God. Pp. 170-1.
At the center of Reality, to use Christian language, Christ is where she needs to be. She is at the center within, among, and through all living things. She is in us. We are the divine reflection as is all creation. She has been with us for this universe’s 14 billion year history. She has made all things and all things are holy.
It could be that this shaking of the foundations, to use a phrase from theologian Paul Tillich, may open us to a deeper sense of who we are. It could be a time to discover what we value. This could be a time in which Christ is inviting us to turn toward one another.
Even as I am a snarky skeptic, I know from my own experience that I am able to get things done, and get good things done, when I operate from a sublime madness in the soul. When I put my trust in the hope that all will be well, that the friendly universe bends toward justice, that love reigns, and that I am in the loving care of Christ, I tend to be more creative and less despairing.
I am going to close with a poem by Christine Fry. I found this on Joanna Macy’s webpage. She included it under poems that she loves.
We read this last night at the United Religions Initiative dinner.
THE GREAT TURNING
You've asked me to tell you of The Great Turning, of how we saved the world from disaster.
The answer is both simple and complex.
For hundreds of years we had turned away as life on earth grew more precarious.
We turned away from the homeless men on the streets, the stench from the river, the children orphaned in Iraq, the mothers dying of AIDS in Africa.
We turned away because that is what we had been taught.
To turn away, from our pain, from the hurt in another's eyes, from the drunken father or the friend betrayed.
Always we were told, in actions louder than words, to turn away, turn away. And so we became a lonely people caught up in a world moving too quickly, too mindlessly towards its own demise.
Until it seemed as if there was no safe place to turn. No place, inside or out, that did not remind us of fear or terror, despair and loss, anger and grief.
Yet on one of those days someone did turn.
Turned to face the pain. Turned to face the stranger. Turned to look at the smoldering world and the hatred seething in too many eyes. Turned to face himself, herself.
And then another turned. And another. And another. And as they wept, they took each other's hands.
Until whole groups of people were turning. Young and old, gay and straight. People of all colors, all nations, all religions. Turning not only to the pain and hurt but to beauty, gratitude and love, Turning to one another with forgiveness and a longing for peace in their hearts...