Sunday, December 23, 2007

Light and Darkness

Contemporary Lesson
Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

Hope is born again in the faces of children.

It rides on the shoulders of our aged s they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,

Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

A Lesson from the Prophets Isaiah 9: 2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us,
an infant given to us; authority rests upon the child's shoulders;
and the baby is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Parent, Prince of Peace. The child's authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and the nation of Israel.
The child will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of our God will do this.

Advent Prayer “Canticle of Light and Darkness”

We look for light but find darkness
for brightness, but walk in gloom.
We grope in our own blindness;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight.
You are the light of the world; be light in our darkness, O Christ.
Blessed be your name, O God, for ever.
You reveal deep and mysterioius things;
You are light and the darkness.
Our time of darkness is passing away
and already your light is shining.
You are the light of the world; be light in our darkness, O Christ.

--adaptation from "Canticle of Light and Darkness" © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Glad Season

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightening sleeps quietly in the corner.

Floodwaters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 46-56

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies our God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of me a servant of the divine.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God's name. God's mercy is for those who stand in awe of the Divine
from generation to generation. God has shown bodily strength;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. And has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. God has helped the servant Israel,
in remembrance of Divine mercy, according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants for ever.’

The icon for today is the "Black Virgin of Guadeloupe" by Mary Hainline.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Come the Way of Friendship

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou (Random House, 2005)

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 35-38

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy and will be called the Child of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a child; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Advent Icon "Mary Goes to Visit Elizabeth" by Frank Wesley

"The figure of Mary is in the centre of an almost circular shape of bright, flat vermilion colour, symbolising the creation, pregnant with the creator. The peacock behind her represents the glory of Christ. Mary is clothed in the events of the future. The design on her skirt shows angels, kings and shepherds. Her apron has a phoenix design, suggesting resurrection. The thatched home tells of humble origins, the golden sky of happiness in heaven. The trees, the banana and the mango, are symbols of fruitfulness, touched in gold to indicate God's presence. Each bird bears a meaning: the crane denotes asceticism, the jacana happiness, the parakeets joy and the doves holiness. The waves in the pond are formed to suggest a multitude of fish, an early Christian sign." - From Australian EJournal of Theology

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Favored One

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou (Random House, 2005)

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?

We interrogate and worry God.

Are you there? Are you there, really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 26-34

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! God is with you.’But she was much perplexed by the angel's words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a child, and you will name the child Jesus. Your child will be great, and will be called the Child of the Most High, and God will give to your child the ancestral throne of David. Your child will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of that kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’

Advent Carol To A Maid Engaged to Joseph

To a maid engaged to Joseph, the angel Gabriel came.
“Fear not,” the angel told her, “I come to bring good news,
Good news I come to tell you, good news, I say, good news.

“For you are highly favored by the God the Lord of all,
Who even now is with you. You are on earth most blest,
You are most blest, most bless├Ęd, God chose you, you are blest!”

But Mary was most troubled to hear the angel’s word.
What was the angel saying? It troubled her to hear,
To hear the angel’s message, it troubled her to hear.

Advent Artwork "After Gabriel's Announcement" by Paula Rubino

Oil on canvas
40" x 43.5"

"Portrays the moment after the Annunciation, when Mary is left alone with the news she just received from the angel Gabriel. Mary is turned away from the viewer's intrusion, and she is both protected and closed in by a garden wall. This painting reflects the overwhelming feelings I had when I was expecting my son: the daunting and unique responsibility of being his mother, the immediate ferocious desire to keep him safe, and most of all, the realization that my life was irreversibly changed. The red slippers are an allusion to Dorothy's desire to be home and safe." - Rubino

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From Advent Into Christmas

This year at Cambridge Welcoming we have centered our Advent worship on the notion of God's peace. In our liturgies, prayers and meditations, we have contemplated this vision of peace known in scriptures and made incarnate in Jesus, our Christ.

As we prepare for Christmas, we will post a series of lessons and mediatations to guide you through the remaining days of Advent. The contemporary lessons come from the poem, Amazing Peace, by Maya Angelou (published by Random House in 2005).

We invite you to read the lessons, recite the poetry and prepare the way for peace to be born in your heart and life.

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightening rattles the eaves of our houses.

Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

A Lesson from the Prophets Isaiah 12: 2-6

A Hymn of Meditation "Joy Shall Come"

Joy shall come even to wilderness,
And the parched land shall know great gladness;
As the rose, as the rose shall deserts blossom
Deserts like a garden blossom. For Living springs
Shall give cool water, in the desert streams shall flow
For living springs shall give cool water, in the desert streams shall flow

This hymn is set to a traditional Israeli tune, written and arranged by Darryl Nixon, 1987.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-10 and Matthew 3: 1-12

Weekly Meditation:
"[One] who seeks to understand everything risks dying of anger."
- Arab proverb

Weekly Prayer:
Come Promised One!
Do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point
of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives, shatter
our complacency.
Make your word
flesh of our flesh,
blood of our blood
and our life's purpose.
Take away the quietness
of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace.

-Dom Helder Camara

The photo is taken from a scene from the National Center of Afro-American Artists' production of the Black Nativity in Boston.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Weekly Reflection: My Soul Proclaims: Submission and Subversion in Mary's Magnificat

Weekly Prayer:
"Eternal Source of birth and new life, help us to prepare ourselves for the coming Christ. Smooth out our roughness when it hurts ourselves or others. Lift up the hidden parts of ourselves - the talents, the visions, the tenderness - so that your love may be seen and your glory revealed among us. As this season unfolds, help us, like Mary, rejoice in your surprising love."

The prayer come from Flames of the Spirit edited by Ruth Duck (Pilgrim Press, 1985).

The image is by Yolanda Lopez, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe

God's Salvation

This week's text from Isaiah paints a picture of God's vision of peace and justice, salvation.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.”

In this vision salvation comes to all Creation...even those we demonize as dangerous, evil or bad. Here, those long associated with wickedness and evil no longer pose a threat. The sinful snakes of Eden, John's "brood of vipers," become playmates for babes, predators and prey snuggle together, and there is unimaginable peace on all God’s holy mountain.

God has already declared there will come a day when the pain-filled vipers of loneliness, isolation, discrimination, injustice, oppression, hate, greed, and inhumanity will have no bite. There will come a day when all sit together: wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, bears and cows. This is God’s understanding of salvation as a way of life that breaks down human hostilities and initiates an everlasting reign of peace. No kingly monarch need sit in judgment, for Creation itself will be at peace. There is no need to get right or get saved for a a future cosmic apocalypse of hellfire and brimstone. No, the salvation of which Isaiah foretells will usher forth a life of renewed peace. No longer will there be categories of "saved" and "unsaved," for God will redeem all of Creation.

Let’s be clear, the kin-dom is not fully here. The viper’s venom is still dangerously poisonous. The divisions and distinctions of our church and world still have the power to harm. But what if, what if we began to take seriously the invitation to seek reconciliation, to break down barriers that keep us separated, barriers of all kinds…not just the political divisions, but the social, religious, personal, and familial divisions?

What if we began to seek peace as a concrete way of being in the world even in the face of discrimination, rejection, pain and division?

What would it look like if we began by offering one another a place where salvation becomes real in concrete acts of compassion, love, tenderness, and care?

What if we began by stopping the name-calling, back-biting gossip?

What if we began to live our lives as if the kin-dom were already here?

Martin Luther King Jr. often talked about non-violence in three parts. The non-violent way of being is not just about non-violence of the fist…though it begins there. It is also about non-violence of the tongue. Words can be just as violent as actions after all. Added to these notions of non-violence of the fist and tongue is the idea of non-violence of the heart. That is, to be fully non-violent, we must not even harbor ill thoughts towards those who mistreat and malign us and others.

When we give in to violence whether it be in our actions, words or heart, we cut ourselves off from God and turn away from God’s vision of the kin-dom. We cannot live into the vision of the peaceable kin-dom when we harbor fear, resentment, and hatred for ourselves or for others. This type of violence is what is truly incompatible with Christian teaching. If we truly yearn for salvation, the type of salvation we know through Isaiah and the prophets visions, then we must prepare the way for its coming not just in the world but in our own hearts as well.

Non violence of the fist, heart and tongue. This is the order of salvation.

In this season of advent we are called to prepare ourselves, our actions, our words, and our hearts for the coming reign of peace where we no longer fear the sting of the viper nor lash out with poisonous words or thoughts of our own. Saved. Unsaved. Neither hold meaning in God’s vision of the future for salvation will be entirely irresistible!! We can’t help but be saved!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Reading:

James 5: 7-10

Weekly Prayer:

God of all hopefulness, help us keep alive your vision of peace and wholeness. Where hope is a small seed, teach us to have faith in its growing. Where people are finding healing and new life, teach us to recognize you at work. When you come to us in unexpected ways, may we know you, through the grace of Jesus Christ, amen.

Today's prayer comes from Flames of the Spirit: Resources For Worship, edited by Ruth C. Duck (Pilgrim Press, 1985, p. 15.)

Advent Longing

Have you ever longed for something? I mean really longed for something? You know, that deep yearning and desire for something you just could not wait to have or taste or experience or hold?

Perhaps it was the perfect Christmas toy tucked neatly beneath the tree or the delectable taste of sweet treats hot from the oven. Perhaps it was that brand new release from your favorite artist or the newest computer, gadget, phone or techno-accessory to go on sale. Do you remember the waiting of coming of age…to go to school or stay home by yourself, to drive or vote or even drink? Do you remember the not so distant longing for the end to that hectic and harried day or perhaps the dawn of a new morning, a fresh start divorced from the pain of the past? Perhaps you longed for one more day with a loved one, a familiar face in a strange place, or the passionate embrace of a partner.

Do you remember those feelings of longing and desire? Do you remember the expectation, the hope, the waiting?

Our longings are human: natural and normal desires for something more, whether it is as simple as a longing for a new possession or as complicated as a desire for another.

Our faith ancestors also had longings and desires, visions of a different life, images of an idyllic world of peace and prosperity. The reading this evening from Isaiah is one of many visions of longing recorded in Scripture. Written following the harrowing exiles of both Judah and Jerusalem, this prophetic vision articulates for the Israelite people their own deep desire for a different world, a better life, free from oppression, war and violence; a vision of a return to their homes and their families, a return to their way of life and to their God.

Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel from within their own place of waiting. Captives in Babylon, longing for the God of Sinai to tear open the heavens and come down, the people of Israel wait in the midst of a desperate and despairing world.

We too know what it is like to live in a less than perfect world and long for something better. We know what it is like to wait impatiently for the vision we proclaim in scripture and worship, don’t we?

On World AIDS Day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu described our waiting place in the world of the AIDS pandemic this way:

“We are well into the third decade of a scourge that has expanded exponentially beyond a small specific group to almost every corner of the globe. Whilst in some areas, incidence may have turned, prevalence continues to rise and will do so for a long time- more young people will be infected, more orphans will occur.

Yet, today still 70% of infected people don’t have access to life saving therapies. Many still face stigma, economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. Many still don’t have access to basic information or simple interventions that will reduce risk. This is not the time for complacency nor apathy.”

For nearly 20 years we have marked December 1st as World AIDS Day, remembering and mourning the loss of 25 million loved ones. We know the waiting place of AIDS well, don’t we? Our community has sat vigil while medical experts and government officials at first tried to ignore the epidemic, blaming it on a marginalized and scape-goated community. We have waited through decades of fear and uncertainty, ignorance and denial. We have waited through years of dreaded diagnoses, repeated hospitalizations, and pharmaceutical cocktails. We have waited through raw sores and racking coughs, T-cell counts and endless check-ups. We have waited as the disease ravaged the bodies and souls of our friends, standing as witnesses in the end at far too many funerals.

We have waited as the disease spread around the globe, infecting those at the margins of other worlds. We have watched drugs withheld for the wealthy, while the poor wither under the stress not just of the disease, but of overwhelming poverty, starvation, violence, and political upheaval. Today in Zimbabwe, where one out of every five adults is infected with HIV/AIDS, the greatest obstacle to care is not the availability of drugs, but the long wait for food and clean water. It is common for HIV/AIDS patients to die waiting for food than of the disease itself.

We know what it is like to live in a waiting world.

It is in the midst of these waiting worlds, that of the Israelite exiles so long ago and ours today, that these visions of a new world marked by peace become so powerful. Isaiah’s vision speaks to us all.

In days to come the mountain of the God’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it…Our God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

This vision of holistic peace comes in the midst of exile and despair to offer hope beyond destruction. It is a collective yearning grounded in God’s promise of salvation and new life. It is God’s promise of the peace that will be when God’s vision of the world is complete.

Swords and spears no longer needed are turned into plowshares and pruning hooks. The tools of destruction have become the tools of production…creation, construction, fruition. Peace for Isaiah is not just the absence of war, but the presence of wholeness, justice, mercy, compassion, love. It is a holistic peace that envelopes every aspect of our lives.

The vision speaks not just to ancient exiles or warring nations, but to us in our own waiting worlds. World AIDS Day is not just a day of mourning. It has become a day of action. In our longing for a better world, we find ourselves re-committed to the struggle, not just for a cure, but for the compassionate care for those 38 million living today with the disease. People with HIV/AIDS can live good and whole lives, marked by wholeness and peace, if we believe and act on that promise.

This vision of a better world is articulated in the themes chosen for each World AIDS Day. For the past several years the theme has been “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.” This image of promise is one with which we as Christians should resonate. For indeed as we enter the season of Advent, we enter the season of expectant waiting for the fulfillment of a cosmic promise. It is the same promise given to the Israelite people so many years ago; the promise God has given us of a world of peace and justice, a world where Love reigns and compassion and mercy know no end, a world where the message of the Good News is not just preached but lived.

This vision orients our journey of Advent, begun on World AIDS Day. As we enter Advent, we not only look to the coming of the Divine at Christmas, but we eagerly and expectantly await the fulfillment of God’s cosmic promise of peace.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Keep the Promise

Today the world gathers as a global community to remember and re-energize our efforts to end the AIDS pandemic.

For the past several years the World AIDS Campaign has mobilized its efforts with the slogan: Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise. This theme should strike a chord with those of us in the Christian church, particularly at this time of year as we celebrate the season of Advent. After all Advent is the time when we wait expectantly for the fulfillment of God's promise.

As Christians, we ought to take seriously this call to keep the promise...not just a secular promise to end the crisis by 2015, but a larger, cosmic promise we know from age to age...the promise God has given us of a world of peace and justice, a world where Love reigns and compassion and mercy know no end, a world where the message of the Good News is not just preached but lived.

“Not only is another world possible, She is on her way” - Arundhati Roy

You can join the campaign to end AIDS by becoming involved, whether globally or locally. Below are just a few links to help you on the way as you seek to keep the promise.

Aids Action Committee
Aids Alliance
Boston Living Center
Cambridge Cares About AIDS
HIV Stops With Me

United Methodist Global AIDS Fund

World AIDS Campiagn

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This week at CWM, the text we read for "Christ the King" Sunday was an alternative lectionary suggestion (Luke 1: 76-79). On the surface, out of context, it seems like just another hymn to Christ’s kingly, sovereign power to redeem and rescue humanity in ultimate triumph.

Yet, we must not jump too quickly to this conclusion. Contrary to what we might assume, this text is not about Jesus at all. It’s about John the Baptist. So why, in the world, on Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the liturgical season, the day when we are supposed to be celebrating the Christ would we be reading about John the Baptist? After all, he is just Jesus’ sidekick, right?

Think about it. John is like Robin to Jesus’ Batman, Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Gleek to the Wonder Twins. All great epics need sidekicks after all, you know those characters who act accompany heroes on their journeys, offering them assistance and support.

Which sidekicks do you remember?

The sidekick has the literary function of playing against the hero, often contrasting in skill, asking the questions the reader would ask, performing auxiliary functions and/or preparing the way for the heroes’ own wondrous feats.

John the Baptist can be read in this same fashion, can’t he? A cousin to the Christ, John shares in some of Jesus’ supernatural mystique. He, like Jesus, was divinely conceived, a child of a woman who had long ceased menstruating. Like Jesus, he too preached an edgy message, calling people out of the comfort of their homes to the margins of society that they might seek salvation.

Yet, John’s own power and significance is both inferior to and wholly dependent on Jesus. He is often called the forerunner to the Christ, the one who points to Jesus, who prepares the way. John himself declares, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal!” His presence in the gospels is not to proclaim the message, but to announce the messenger. John functions as a sidekick playing against the hero, Jesus, in order to spotlight the true Messiah, the real Christ. Clothed in a camel hair cloak and a connoisseur of locusts, he even had his own sidekick costume and quirky characteristics. Who needs Robin’s tights when you have camel hair and a leather belt?

Yet, this identity as side kick does not seem to do justice to the prophecy we read Sunday proclaimed by John’s father, Zechariah.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before our God to prepare the ways, to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

John is at the center of this prophecy, not Jesus. John is the one who leads to salvation through the forgiveness of sins, not Jesus. While we might be tempted to fit this prophecy into an easy interpretation of sidekick, with John playing the foil to Jesus’ Most High, it is clear that John’s role is much more significant than traditional understandings of literary sidekicks. Without John’s preparation and prophecy, would Jesus’ ministry have been at all possible?

Perhaps the problem lies in our overly simplistic understanding of sidekicks as nothing more than lesser heroes. In the 2005 film, Sky High, sidekicks take on a new role moving out from the shadow of heroes into their own light. The story follows a group of teenagers at Sky High, the first and only high school for kids with super-human powers, going through crime-fighting puberty. At Sky High, the student body throws flames with their footballs, studies Villainy with their Chemistry and is divided into "Heroes" and "Sidekicks" instead of jocks and geeks. It is this division between heroes and sidekicks that fuels the plot and provides a larger metaphor for our own human experience of being in or being out.

Each year new students to Sky High are subjected to an entrance exam administered by Coach Boomer during which they must demonstrate their super-powers. Those with cool powers such as super-strength, super-speed, or super-intelligence are made heroes, while those with lesser skills such as morphing into a guinea pig or glowing are labeled sidekicks. While the heroes go off to world-saving classes, the sidekicks are stuck in “hero support” class where they learn how to assist their heroes from All-American Boy, the one time sidekick to the famed hero, Commander. Now known simply as Mr. Boy, he teaches the art of assisting the hero. The classic rivalry between the cool kids and the nerds gets played out in the fantasy world of superheroes and sidekicks.

The movie follows Will Stronghold, son of the legendary Commander and Jetstream. Yet, upon entering Sky High, Will’s powers fail to materialize and he finds himself a “sidekick.” In a classic scene of coming out, Will has to tell his father about his abnormality…“Dad, here’s a hypothetical question, would you still love me if I were a sidekick?” A question many of us have asked our own parents, one way or another.

As the story progresses, however, it is Will and his fringe friends who end up saving the day. At the close of the film, the “Hero of the Year” award originally intended for Commander and Jetstream, is presented to the rag tag group of guinea pig morphing, liquid oozing, glowing sidekicks.

“But I'm afraid this doesn't belong to us. It belongs to them. The sidekicks. I mean, hero support.”
“Why don't we just call them what they really are? Heroes.”
And with that the final voice over fades in as the credits begin to roll. A little cheesy, a little predictable, perhaps, but a helpful re-imagining of what it means to be a hero.
You see, our easy division of superheroes and sidekicks, of who’s in and who’s out, of who matters and who doesn’t, isn’t really as neat as we would like it to be. Minor characters play major roles, both in fiction and in real life. It seems the old adage our parents taught us…don’t judge a book by its cover…is right after all. Who are we to judge the worth or value of others? We never know who is destined for greatness.
John’s role is after all essential to our Christian faith, isn’t it? Without John preparing the way, would Jesus’ ministry have been possible at all? Would we be here today proclaiming the Christ were it not for John’s role? 

CS Lewis describes it this way, “We keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters….but we can expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.”

While this metaphor is not perfect, it is helpful in illustrating the cosmic surprises of life that subverts the scripts of the world. You see, it is not really the part we are given, but how we play it that matters. The world gives us various scripts to play based on who we are, what we do, or who we love. Our parts are cast based on race, class, gender, age and ability, labeling us as majors and minors, sidekicks and heroes. Yet, the scripts of the world are meaningless in the end. How we are labeled or perceived by the world makes no difference. What matters most is that we are faithful to the script of the Good News of Jesus Christ that proclaims love over hate, hope over despair, life over death. This is the script we are called to follow…the script of love, peace, justice, mercy, hope and compassion…and in this script there are no boundaries on who gets to play which part, for all the parts matter.

You see, heroes are not forged by ultimate victories, but are molded through life’s daily journeys. We have the opportunities each and every day to make way for the Christ among us, just like John. When we choose actions of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, we subvert the dominant scripts of the world and prepare the way of the Christ and the Commonwealth of God.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stand Firm and Hold Fast

Heroes is a drama series about ordinary people who discover they have extraordinary powers. Last season commercials ran almost non-stop advertising the new show…pulsing music and snapshots of scenes were strung together with the tagline, "We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

As the story unfolds nine ordinary people scattered around the country begin to realize they aren’t so ordinary after all…one can hear people’s thoughts, one has superhuman strength, while another can stop the time-space continuum. As the show progresses the individual stories of these “heroes” begin to intersect through the prophetic art of one of them, Isaac Mendez. His paintings depict violent and disturbing images of the future…death and despair all leading to the destruction of New York City and the world as they know it. Although many of the paintings come to pass, the heroes are not content to let the world simply march on toward its own destruction. As each painting is revealed they band together to save humankind. For, despite the dire predictions of a not so far off apocalypse, they are certain that the future is not yet determined. Their choices, their actions, their lives, can make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Of course, Heroes is not the first show to play on the uncertainties and anxieties about the future that we all have. After all to worry, is human. Hollywood has certainly capitalized on this fear…apocalyptic, futuristic films have painted dystopia after dystopia on the silver screen…Planet of the Apes, Dune, Red Dawn, Aliens, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, The Matrix, Children of Men. Our imaginations spin with anxiety and worry and fear as we imagine these future-worlds.

Human anxiety about the future though predates Hollywood by millennia….isn’t that what our biblical apocalyptic literature is all about, after all? The Book of Daniel, Jesus’ Second Coming, the Book of Revelations. While we spend millions of dollars making our greatest fears come to life on the big screen, our faith ancestors wrote volumes upon volumes speculating about the future in the midst of dire contemporary situations.

The excerpt of the letter we read today to the church at Thessolonica addresses the community's fear over their future. At the time of writing this second letter, some Thessalonians have become frightened by increasing predictions that the second coming is at hand. In the midst of violent persecutions of Christians, the Thessalonians find their own anxieties heightened and their apocalyptic imaginations run wild…as is typical in times of social and political stress, isn’t it?

Part of my ministry is working with Reconciling United Methodists across the country….from Pennsylvania to Iowa, Ohio to South Carolina and everywhere in between. As I sit with these folks, some from places more culturally distant from our great Commonwealth than geographically, their anxiety about the future of our Church is palpable. As the unjust prohibitions against the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and now even transgender persons, increases in our denomination, so also does the worry and fear grow in the hearts of faithful Methodists.

With each new Judicial Council ruling, with each approaching General Conference, our own fears heighten as we worry about what will become of the Church we love.

Perhaps in times like these, we too need to remember the soothing words written so many years ago to the Thessalonians…

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose God called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

In the face of their own fears about an uncertain future, the author reassures the community to continue on in faith, hope and love for one another.

God chose you, says the author. God chose you for a purpose…that you might glorify God by your lives. God chose you for a purpose…that be the Body of Christ on earth… God chose you for a purpose…that you might co-create with the Divine God’s beatific vision of peace and justice.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Apocalyptic literature, just like contemporary futurist movies and television shows, utilizes dystopic visions of the future, not to lead us down an inevitable path of despair and hopelessness, but rather to provide a different angle of social critique on the contemporary situation. These visions allow us a glimpse not of what will be, but of what could be and in doing so help us to see a new and different way forward. Despite our best predictions, at the end of the day we must confess that future is unknowable, dependent on decisions not yet made, and the interaction of innumerable variables.

Our call is not to worry, but rather to be faithful. “Stand Firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of love and compassion, peace and mercy. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s love for all. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s promise of liberation, justice and hope.

Don’t worry, be faithful.

Our faithfulness translated into action can and will alter our future. We need no superhuman powers, for unlike the Heroes, we have our help in the power of the Holy Spirit, who by grace comforts and strengthens us in every good work and word.
You see, it is in and through the Holy Spirit working in our lives that we can and do make a difference. Every moment we have the ability to create the future together with the Holy Spirit. God is calling us each and every moment toward the good in life…the choice is ours to make.

Stand firm and hold fast to your traditions.

We, too, are the saints of tomorrow; ordinary people called to do extraordinary things day by day. We are called not to be great in a flash, but rather to cultivate and practice our simple acts of faith. It is in the daily living out of our faith, reaching out, reaching in that we build a foundation for bringing forth God's Commonwealth little by little. Together these simple acts of faith become the momentum of a movement of love, compassion, justice and mercy that will change the world.

Our choices, our actions, our lives will make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together with the Holy Spirit we can save the(hu)mankind."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Coming Out Liturgy

One of the rituals of our queer communities of faith is the rite of coming out. We mark it and celebrate it each year with a special service as we acknowledge who God created us to be. Far from being a rite only for those who identify as transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay, this ecclesiastical rite is designed to mark for all people, queer and straight, the calling God has given all us of to come out of the shadows the world seeks to place us in and into the light of renewed life in God.

Below is the liturgy we will use today at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries as we celebrate our Coming Out!

The call to worship is original to Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, while the Coming Out litany and Communion liturgy were adapted from Geoffrey Duncan's book, The Courage to Love (pp. 269-270; 279).


Prelude and Silent Meditation

“To be out is divine, to trust and not be afraid.

Coming out is strength and a song to the world.”

– Kittredge Cherry

Welcome and Call to Worship

One: Come into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

One: It makes weak limbs strong and silent voices loud.

All: It illuminates our inmost being and calls it good!

One: Come out into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

One: It warms our bodies and kindles the spark of the divine kept deep within our soul.

All: It ignites the fire of truth and sets our lives ablaze with color and

beauty and love.

One: Come out into the light!

All: God’s light brings life.

*Opening Hymn TFWS 2151 “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me”

v. 2 Fear had me bound,
v. 3 When I was ashamed,

Scripture Lesson Psalm 139: 1-14a

Reflection The People of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries

Litany of Coming Out

One: As Eve and Adam came out of the earth, as the people of Israel came out of slavery into freedom,

All: We come out!

One: As the exiled Israelites came out of Babylon back to their home, as the prophets came out of the ordinary to point to the extraordinary,

All: We come out!

One: As Lazarus came out of the tomb to continue his life, as Jesus came out of death into new life,

All: We come out!

One: We come out of our deserts into the garden, out of the darkness of closets of all sorts
into the light of new life,

All: We come out!

One: Out of exile into our homes, out of lies into truth, out of denial into affirmation,

All: We come out!

One: We name ourselves as God’s beloved transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian and heterosexual children! Each of brought out of ourselves to reveal God’s love to the world as saints of the Church.

All: Blessed be the God who has made us! Blessed be the God who continues to call us further and further out!

Lighting Our Lives

Parishioners are invited to light candles in celebration of their own coming outs, naming aloud or silently their own thanksgivings and praises for this liberation and deliverance by God.

All: Gracious and loving God, we praise you for creating us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made! We praise you for crafting us in your image as your transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and heterosexual people! For bringing us out of the closets of our lives in full life, we praise you! Amen! Amen!

Giving Thanks at the Table

Ours is an open table. All persons who desire God are welcome to the feast. Regardless of your denomination, your race, gender, class, sexuality, ability or age, Christ has invited you! Come!

One: Come out into God’s light!

All: God’s light brings life!

One: Open your hearts to God’s illuminating Spirit.

All: We open our hearts and our lives to the Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God moved over ancient waters. Light appeared as dancing dazzling rays, that called out from the deep the diversity of Divine Creation.

All: Brood over us, Creative Spirit.

One: The Spirit of God empowered prophetic voices, calling out saints of the church to lead us toward your kin-dom. Light dawned in the lives of the faithful and God’s passion was loosed upon humankind.

All: Disturb us, Vigorous Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God stirred in Mary’s womb, calling out Love made flesh. Light quickened a new life, heaven sang of peace and God delighted in human form.

All: Stir within us, Deep Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God beat in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, calling out a new way of living and loving. Light illuminated a path long tread by those who seek to be your faithful followers, giving it a daring new direction led by the Christ.

All: Empower us to follow, Strong Spirit of God.

One: The Spirit of God breathed into disciples, apostles and saints, calling out new leaders. Light brought life to God’s people through the ages and Divine love was made real for world in the church, the Body of Christ.

All: Embolden us to lead, Courageous Spirit of God.

One: Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.

All: “This is my body dwelling in you.”

One: Jesus took the cup, blessed it and gave it to all.

All: “This is my life, dwelling in you.”

One: Here is God coming to us in bread and cup.

All: The gifts of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

One: Let us join together as the priesthood of all believers in blessing the elements

before us,

All: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and the fruit of the vine. Make them be for us the bread of life and the quenching cup of blessing so that we may be the Body of Christ for the world, co-creating God’s vision of peace and justice until all are reconciled and feast together at your table forever. Amen.

Hymn during communion: "Come Out the Wilderness"

Going Forth

Closing Prayer

All this we ask in the name of Jesus: feed us daily, hold us fast, calm our fears and send us forth boldly, joyfully and ever faithful in your spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Questioning the Silence

News about the Judicial Council's re-affirmation of Rev. Drew Phoenix's appointment has spread far and wide. Even NPR posted a feature story on their main web page proclaiming that the United Methodist Church's historic vote to "keep a transgender pastor."

Yet, while this is good news for Rev. Phoenix and for our Reconciling movement, the silent gaps of the Judicial Council's rulings leave an ominous hole that some in the coming General Conference will surely seek to fill by including explicit prohibitions against transgender pastors. While the Judicial Council explicitly stated that a change of name needs no special action of the General Conference, the Council made clear that this decision does not determine "whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the General Conference." In making this statement, the Judicial Council leaves a wide open space for the General Conference to make such a determination when it next meets this coming spring.

Likewise, the decisions regarding funding for reconciling campus ministries did not directly challenge the unjust prohibitions of funding for welcoming ministries. Rather, the Council found that there was no evidence that conference funds supported activities that "promoted the acceptance of homosexuality." Implicit in both the rulings is that if evidence were to be found of conference funds used for ministry with LGBT persons, future funding would be cut and disciplinary action of some sort taken. In fact, the direction to the Western North Carolina committee on finance and administration to "investigate" the matter appears to give the green light to groups who want to play watchdog and police the activities of any and all church affiliated groups that seek to be in mission with LGBT persons, their friends and families.

While we celebrate the affirmation of these ministries, we must be careful to recognize the silent gaps that pave the way for further prohibitions as we near General Conference 2008. Sometimes that which is left unsaid is far more important than that which is actually said.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Judicial Council Issues Its Latest Rulings

Today the Judicial Council posted its rulings (1073-1088) for this past week's sessions that considered important issues such as the eligibility of transgender persons for clergy appointment, the use of funds for welcoming campus ministries, domestic partnership benefits for non-clergy conference staff and resolutions regarding inclusivity and membership.

In a historic decision, the Judicial Council reaffirmed Rev. Drew Phoenix's re-appointment in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference. Reaffirming Bishop Jon Schol's ruling that a gender change poses no barrier to re-appointment to elders in good standing, the Judicial Council clearly stated that elders in good standing cannot be terminated without administrative or judicial action.

In regard to the availability of funds for welcoming campus ministries (1081 and 1084), the Judicial Council left that determination up to the conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A). In the case from the Pacific Northwest, the Judicial Council ruled that the conference CF&A had thoroughly investigated the matter and found no violation of the Book of Discipline. However, in the case from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, the Judicial Council charged the conference CF&A with investigating the matter and issuing its report to the Council within 60 days. Funding for campus ministries and the North Carolina Council of Churches is still at peril, depending on the investigation and report of the annual conference's CF&A.

The Judicial Council also ruled (1075) that domestic partnership benefits for non-clergy annual conference staff did not violate the prohibitions regarding homosexuality in the Book of Discipline since the funds for those benefits were supplied by the participants themselves and not by the annual conference.

The Council did not rule on the resolutions on inclusivity and membership brought by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference (1080) because they lacked jurisdiction. The Council stated, they could not rule since "
the requests for declaratory decision were not separately debated and voted upon, but rather, were handled en masse as part of a consent agenda."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Catholic Spirit

2 Kings 10:15
Matthew 5: 43-45
John 13: 34-35
1 John 3:11

The verses above are the texts that John Wesley used in writing his sermon “A Catholic Spirit,” a sermon which eloquently calls for unity in Christian love. It is from this sermon that comes the famous Wesleyan quote, 'If your heart is as my heart', 'Give me your hand.' What many of us in the church never realize is that these words are not of Wesley’s own creation…they come from a particular verse in scripture.

As I prepared for this sermon, I went back to Wesley and the scriptures he quoted. The subtitle of the sermon is the verse from 2 Kings, the central verse of his sermon. But it is interesting to note that he does not begin there. Instead, he starts his reflection with a beautiful summation of God’s call to love found in the Gospels listed above.

Now I have preached a thousand times from Matthew, John and 1 John. I mean who doesn’t like preaching on love? But the text from Kings, I confess, was less familiar. I had a general sense of the historical time period, but didn’t remember exactly what happened before and after this one verse. So, I opened my Bible and began to read…

“Jehu slew all who were left of the family of Ahab in Jezreel, as well as all his powerful supporters, intimates, and priests, leaving him no survivor.Then he set out for Samaria, and at Beth-eked-haroim on the way, he came across kinsmen of Ahaziah, king of Judah. "Who are you?" he asked. "We are kinsmen of Ahaziah," they replied. "We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother." "Take them alive," Jehu ordered. They were taken alive, forty-two in number, then slain at the pit of Beth-eked. Not one of them was spared. And when he was departed thence, he lighted on Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him. And he saluted him and said, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart? And Jehonadab answered, “It is.” “If it be, give me thine hand.” Jehonadab gave him his hand, and Jehu drew him up into his chariot. "Come with me," he said, "and see my zeal for the LORD." And he took him along in his own chariot. When he arrived in Samaria, Jehu slew all who remained there of Ahab's line, doing away with them completely and thus fulfilling the prophecy which God had spoken to Elijah.” (2 Kings 10)

Christian love? My goodness.

From the context of Wesley’s sermon it is hard to believe that this verse is that which inspired him to write such a passionate plea for Christian love. Surely Wesley was no biblical slouch. He knew quite well the context of this verse, after all he reminds readers that Jehu was a “mixed character” at best and who tended to “drive furiously” in all things both secular and sacred (And here, we suspect “drive furiously” is a euphemism for slaughtering everyone in his way.).

Yet, still Wesley chose to use it as an example of Christian unity and love.

Wesley uses the interchange between Jehu and Jehonadab to illustrate the radical ways in which unity of spirit and love, can overcome diversity of opinions and practices. Even these two men, so zealous that they slaughtered those who differed with them, in this one moment overcame their own individual prejudices and predilections to come together. If these two could find common ground, perhaps it is not too much to ask of the church today that is likewise filled with vitriol and violence…in its own way.

It is a fact of life for Wesley that people differ in what they believe in religious, as well as common life. Diversity of opinions is perfectly normal, perfectly natural. And, for Wesley, there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

Some opinions will never change because they are held captive by what Wesley calls “invincible ignorance.” And by this, Wesley means the inevitable influences of social and cultural prejudices. He writes,

“Perhaps some cannot know. For who can tell how far invincible ignorance may extend? Or (what comes to the same thing) invincible prejudice; which is often so fixed in tender minds that it is afterwards impossible to tear up what has taken so deep a root.”

Invincible ignorance. No matter how hard we try to communicate with one another, there are some whose opinions, whether about secular things such as Republican or Democrat, Sox or Yankees, cats or dogs, or whether about religious matters of how to understand scripture, or be the Church or love one another, will never change.

Wesley reminds us that we cannot compel others to believe or act like we do. All we can do is strive in good conscience to live a life which embodies God’s love. It is our living out of God’s love in our life that will reconcile us to one another.

We have all probably at one time or another found ourselves in an argument with a fellow Christian, perhaps even a fellow United Methodist, going round and round about one or two verses of scripture, haven’t we?

“It’s sin.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

These arguments get us no where. Invincible ignorance. To belabor the point is to waste our time and energy. Rather, there is a better way.

Wesley’s use of the bloody tale of Jehu and Jehonadab in conjunction with the verses proclaiming God’s call to love, tells us something about the overarching message of the gospel. Perhaps there is a better way, than arguing and brute force. Perhaps, there are instances, sparks, glimpses of divine love and compassion even in the midst of the most brutal of battles, both secular and religious, that lead us to a better way.

Rather than persuade one another of our right opinions and practices, Wesley urges us to unite together in love of God and neighbor. Do you love God? Do you love Jesus? Do you have a faith that is energized by love? Do you strive to love your neighbor? Do you work to make a difference? If so, our opinions are nothing compared to the great love to which God calls us.

Wesley wanted to unite Christians in a love embodied in a common mission, the mission of God. For Wesley, this meant “promoting holiness of heart and life.” This holiness was both personal and social and referred not to mere individual acts of piety, but rather a predisposition of openness, love and right relationship. Holiness for Wesley was creating justice…just lives, just relationships, a just world. This was the common vision to which Methodists have been called.

I believe, we can all sit at the table together. But we must first commit ourselves to acts of love and justice. We must first be united in love as Wesley taught. This means that while we might differ in our understandings of scripture, reason, tradition and experience, in order to sit together, all must have equal access to the table, all must be permitted full participation, and all must be valued and loved despite their invincible ignorance.

Our unity as United Methodists comes not from our opinions or even practices, but to the extent to which we strive together to create a world where there is more love and more justice.

Is your heart like my heart? Then give me your hand.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Peace Day

Today thousands around the world gather to proclaim a word of peace in the midst of a warring world. CWM and friends will join the masses at noon today as we gather on the Boston Common as part of United for Peace and Justice's National Mobilization to End the War in Iraq.

Learn more about this national day of action, initiated by United for Peace and Justice, a 5-year old coalition of 1,400 groups.

Below are selections from the United Nations Peace Poem. Every primary (grades k-6), middle (grades 7-9) and secondary (grades 10-12) school (including homeschools) around the world was invited to submit, via e-mail, two lines of poetry about peace to the United Nations. Once collected, the lines were collated together into one long Peace Poem, and redistributed to all participants as well as posted on the Web.

In the spirit of this day, read the words of our children, prophets of peace in our own time:

Let the sun shine in the night time and please no more dying.
Please let us have peace and no more fighting. People are dying.

Southwest Elementary
San Antonio, TX, US

As I look around the world I sigh,
And think, We could at least give peace a try.
Exeter-West Greenwich Junior High
West Greenwich, RI, US

Peace without
Comes from peace within.
Glenala State High School
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Peace remained by my side until I understood
what she wanted from me—that I be free
Parque Ecologico
Porangaba, Brazil

Let it blow in your direction
Let it touch you, melt you and mould you
SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College, secondary school
Tema, Ghana

There comes an army; here comes another.
They meet in the middle and declare PEACE.
Holy Cross Primary School
Western Cape, South Africa

Peace is in the waves at sea.
Peace must begin with you and me!
Gander Middle School
Gander, Newfoundland, Canada
Peace is something the world should share
It’s all about loving, we dare you to care!
Elmcrest Elementary School
Liverpool, NY, US

The condition of the heart can alter the perspective of a person.
The condition of the hearts of a nation can alter the state of humankind—PEACE.
Walnut Ridge Middle School Library
Walnut Ridge, AR, US

From my mother’s womb I came out yelling for life.
It’s great I am surviving—but there’s no peace.
Joseph Nabbingo Primary School
Kampala, Uganda

Peace is the seed that sprouts all light,
We must lower the greed, and start the fight.
Silver Sands Middle School
Port Orange, FL, US

I wish I could have stopped what caused the first human
to be violent to another.
Then maybe the world would still be living in peace.
Asir Academy
Khamis-Mushayt, Saudi Arabia

In the sky we see a dove
The dove means peace, the dove means love
Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar Junior School
Deakin, Australia

If only PEACE were understood,
What couldn’t be now, in the future could.
Milwaukee German Immersion School
Milwaukee, WI, US

Judicial Council Update

This note comes from Rev. John Oda, a pastor in the Cal-Nev conference and a board member of Reconcilling Ministries Network. He has been an integral part of the planning and preparations for the Reconcilling witness at this week's Judicial Council.

He writes:

"I wanted to send out a quick note about the Reconciling Witness which took place yesterday evening, in conjunction with the UMC Judicial Council meeting.

We had about 70+ people gather at Justin Herman Plaza in downtown SF where we held a moving "Remembering Your Baptism" worship service. Troy provided a powerful introduction to remembering our baptisms. We then marched 1.5 miles with candles aglow to the Hilton Hotel where the Judicial Council was meeting. It was a beautiful sight to see this long row of faithful UMC's marching as dusk fell. I led the group which is closest I'll ever come to being Moses.

After arriving to the Hilton and a brief prayer, we visited the "Reconciling Witness" meeting room; directly across the hall from the Judicial Council meeting space. The Judicial Council was just adjourning from their meeting. It was an interesting moment but as we crossed paths we welcomed them to SF. Most of the Council members acknowledged our presence. Some people had longer conversations with some of the Council members.

Karen Oliveto should be praised for her leadership in pulling the Reconciling Witness together. Keep us in your prayers as we keep a prayer vigil and hold nightly worship services at the Hilton. Keep the Judicial Council in your prayers as the deliberate on a number of important issues including: (1) Are transgendered pastors in full standing entitled to a church appointment if they want one? (2) How much should campus ministries reach out to LGBT students as LBGTs? (3) Should domestic partners of lay church employees be eligible for church health plans? (4) Can churches, as they declare that they welcome all families, include LGBT families?