Sunday, July 29, 2007

Let's Hear It For An Inclusive Church!!

Imagine a stage filled with city rockers...speakers thumping, drums pounding, guitars humming. Now imagine the cheers from the crowds erupting as the cymbals clash, sounding the end of a song. The lead singer grabs the mic and shouts out, "Let's hear it for the band! Let's hear it for a great Saturday night and most importantly let's hear it for a Church that is open to all people!!"

Cheers and whistles and shout outs rise from the crowd as a group of young people, most with no church affiliation at all cheer for a vision where all are welcome.

That was the scene last night at our First Annual CWM Rock Benefit Concert featuring Jennifer Greer, Sharon Crumrine, Watcher, Sera del Fuego and The Milling Gowns.

As I watched the people pour in to hear the bands, I noticed as they slyly picked up the pamphlets we left on the table. At first, they seemed nonchalant, not quite interested, but somewhat bored between sets. Then suddenly, as they read the words, you would watch surprise come over them. Could this be? A church that is open and affirming and progressive? Many folks would read and re-read the pamphlet and then turn and point it out to their friends.

We are thankful for a night, not just of fundraising, but also witness, where perhaps for the first time some folks came to know that there was a Church where they were truly welcomed! Thanks be to God!!

Shout outs to Mark, Sharon, Michelle and Trevanna who hosted this great event! And to the Cantab Lounge for donating the venue!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Poetic Interpretation of the Jesus Prayer

In crafting the liturgy for Sunday, I have come across a wide variety of versions of the Jesus prayer.

Below is a poetic rendition based on a translation of the Aramaic. Enjoy!

A Poetic Rendition of the Jesus Prayer

(Prayers of the Cosmos, Harper & Row, 1990)

O Divine Womb, birthing forth the river of blessing which runs through all,

Soften the ground of our being, and hallow in us a space for the planting of thy presence.

In our depths, sow thy seed with its greening-power that we might be midwives to thy Reign.

Then, let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with thy desire.

Impart to us the wisdom to bring forth the gifts of the earth and share them daily according to the needs of each being,

And restore that which has been usurped by injustice to its rightful owners, as we restore to others that which is not our own.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our purpose, but make us sensitive to the moment at hand.

For from thy fertile soil is born the creativity, the life-energy, and the dance, from birthing to birthing. Ameyn.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Praying the Jesus Prayer

This week the lectionary reading includes Jesus' instruction to the disciples as to how to pray (Luke 11:1-4). Over the years, the prayer has been translated in various ways so as to help people throughout differing time and cultures understand and appreciate the prayer as Jesus taught.

The diverse versions, both translations and paraphrases, help us gain a new perspective on the traditional prayer and open ourselves to new interpretations. One of my favorite versions comes from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Eternal Spirit

Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all.

Loving God, in whom is heaven.

The hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the earth!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.


What are some of your favorite versions and how do they speak to you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stay on Target

"Stay on target. Stay on target."

Do you remember that phrase? Many of you might remember it from the climactic last scene from the original Star Wars. Luke is barreling down the tight alleyways of the death star with a small rag tag band of rebel fighters, dodging imperial tie-fighters while trying to line up perfect aim with their target, that small 2 meter exhaust shaft leading to the Death Star’s main chamber.

Do you remember? As Gold Five approaches the final run, he tries to focus and calm himself and his wing-man…stay on target…stay on target.

While that may be a memorable scene, I most often hear that phrase not on the silver screen, but in my own home. It is the phrase my partner uses to help me focus when I am lost in a sea of panic. Whether I am frantically trying to find my keys or my cell phone, whether I am scurrying around the house trying to make it spit spot before a visit, or whether I am hurling frustrated curses toward any one of the many pieces of technology I can’t use, I hear that phrase… “Stay on target. Stay on target.”

While it began as a joke, it has become an important reminder for me to slow down, focus and pay attention to the task at hand. I don’t know about you, but there are times when it seems almost impossible to dodge the many distractions thrown my way. Focusing and paying attention to the present become difficult as I navigate my way through a life filled with a myriad of things to do. Not only do I find myself distracted by a seemingly endless to-do list, but I find myself easily swept off track by a media culture that offers instant access to stories and pictures from around the world. Some days just checking my email without getting rabbit tracked to stories and links about rare-giant squid or human oddities can be tough. I lose sight of what is really important both distracted by the details of life and lured away by the insignificant and trivial.

In the Scripture we read today, Jesus tries to help sisters Mary and Martha stay on target and focus on what really matters. Jesus has invited himself over once again, this time to the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. While Martha is busy with the household duties of hospitality, Mary is far more interested in listening to what Jesus has to say. When Martha scolds Mary for shirking her domestic duties, Jesus replies with what have felt like a quick and cutting remark aimed at Martha, saying, “Martha, Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Ouch.

The message seems clear. Focus on what really matters, what is really important in life. Keep your eyes on the prize. Look to Jesus. Don’t sweat the small things. Stay on target.

What Jesus tries to help Martha understand is that the domestic details and quotidian tasks that worry and distract her pale in comparison to the task of listening and responding to the good news of the kin-dom of God. In the end, Jesus tells her, life’s long to-do list is meaningless. Whether the house is clean or the meal on time, doesn’t matter in the long run. While worldy concerns are fleeting, the words of good news are eternal.

At times this is a message we all need to hear, isn’t it? Sometimes it is difficult not to get distracted by the many small things that compete for our time, things that in the long run and fleeting and meaningless. It is amazing the way certain things seem to derail us, sending us into a tail spin over what is in the end, nothing very important after all.

In a book by Fannie Flagg, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, (Random House, 2006) the protagonist, spunky ninety five year old Elner Shimfissle does get to heaven and there she has an encounter with the Divine, who turns out to be for her a beloved couple from her past; happy homemaker Dorothy, from the Neighbor Dorothy radio show, and her partner Raymond. Far from the painful judgment she expected to hear, tales of all the things she did in life to disappoint God (or now, as she sees Dorothy and Raymond), Elner is invited in for tea and cake. Rather than a list of should haves, could haves, would haves from a damning divine, Elner is encouraged to ask questions, anything she wants to know. And so she asks, what the meaning of life is after all.

This is how the Divine pair respond:

“Seriously though, to put it as frankly and simply as I can…life is a gift.”

Dorothy smiled at Elner. ‘That’s right, a gift from us to you, with love.’…

Elner shook her head in amazement…’It’s kind of funny, really, a;; these years everybody has been so busy trying to figure what life was all about, and all the while, it was just something for us to enjoy.”

“That’s right,” said Raymond, ‘You see…life is not nearly as complicated as people think.”

‘No,’ said Dorothy cheerfully. ‘It’s kind of simple really.’

Raymond turned around…and pulled down a large picture of a carnival…’You see, Elner, life is like one big roller coaster ride, with all kinds of bumps and twists and turns, and ups and downs along the way.’

‘Ahh,’ said Elner, ‘all we have to do is just sit back and enjoy it.’

Raymond said, ‘Exactly. But the problem is…most people think they are steering, and get so busy trying to control it that they miss all the fun parts.”

Flagg has an interesting take on heaven above and life down here. There is something right about paying attention to life’s twists and turns and enjoying the present moment for what it brings. In many ways, it echoes the traditional interpretation of the passage we read today, encouraging people to take the time to pay attention to what really counts…not some pie in the sky paradise to come, but to the present moment, the here and now, life’s pleasures, life’s joy, life’s fun parts, life’s gifts.

It is a simple, comforting message that helps us stay on target in the present moment and enjoy the gift of life God has given us. Yet, there is something not right about it, something that doesn’t quite fit, just like there is something not right about the traditional interpretation of Martha’s sin and Mary’s virtue.

What I think is wrong about these simplistic lessons on life’s values is that they miss the target. The target becomes isolated and individual. While for some, the target becomes a very narrow understanding of the good news found only in the literal interpretation of scripture, the target for Flagg becomes individual enjoyment. The focus in both on a very narrow interpretation of the one important thing misses the target that Jesus was trying to get both women to pay attention to.

Remember that scene in Star Wars…Gold Five who keeps intoning the phrase “Stay on target. Stay on target,” does indeed succeed in staying on his target. Unfortunately his narrow focus gets both him and his wingman blown up.

The success in the cosmic story of Star Wars comes when Obi-Wan reminds Luke to “Let go and trust the Force.” This isn’t a “let-go-and-let-God” moment, but rather a widening of focus, a widening of target to encompass the whole picture rather than just the two meter target, or the narrow interpretation of scripture or the isolated individual take on life’s joy.

Both Martha and Mary were too narrowly focused on what they were doing. They became easily distracted because their focus was too small. Jesus tried to help both of them understand that the reign of God was wider than that. It was not about a clean house or a perfect meal, but neither was it solely about sitting and learning. The gospel is about a holistic view of the world so that one can move past the distractions to see the whole of God’s call for a world of peace and justice. It is about both the already and the not yet.

The one needful thing is the vision of peace and justice that God has given us. It is a wide and broad view that extends not only to the ends of the earth but to the end of time as well. It is an eternal arc that bends toward justice. As we journey together toward that vision we must keep that wider, broader view focusing our eyes beyond these four walls, beyond our annual conference, beyond General Conference, even beyond the United Methodist Church. We must stay on the target of justice that God has given us, moving closer and closer to the kin-dom.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In Loving Memory of Our Mother in Faith

Our mother in the faith, feminist theologian, Letty Russell, has passed. News of her death was posted on WATER's website as follows:

"Letty Russell, feminist theologian, died peacefully at home last night (July 12, 2007) after a valiant and graceful struggle with cancer. Shannon Clarkson was with her. They were accompanied near and far by legions of friends and colleagues. May she rest in the peace she envisioned and worked for throughout her life of scholarship, service, hospitality, and friendship. WATER extends sympathy to Shannon on this great loss. May Letty's memory be a blessing and her work a source on inspiration to the many people around the world whose lives she touched." Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual,

Words cannot describe the influence her work has had on my life and ministry...not only her academic work, but her powerful presence as a woman of faith who created change in the Church. It is Russell's vision of communities of faith and struggle that informed the creation of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries and continues to this day to inspire my own ministry within the institutional Church.

Russell was a great Crone of the Church, a foremother who led the way for so many of us as a brilliant scholar, courageous activist and powerful role-model. She will be deeply missed.

In her honor, I invite you to listen to her final lecture given last year at Harvard University or pick up one of her many texts on hope, faith and struggle.

A full obituary can be found posted on the Yale Divinity School website.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sowing the Seeds of Gentleness

“If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore them in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted…” - Gal. 6

A spirit of gentleness...

This week the lectionary text presents us with a call to gentleness from Paul. Simple it may seem, but it comes in the midst of a bitter battle between two separate factions within the churches in Galatia. Paul advises this spirit of gentleness precisely because things in Galatia were not so gentle at all.

Recently new Jewish Christian missionaries had arrived in Galatia preaching a different gospel. These rival missionaries were not trying to lure the Galatian Christians from their belief in Christ, but rather were trying to persuade them that circumcision was required for full entrance into the community of faith. This new gospel was a gospel based on a strict, literalist reading of the Mosaic law. The problem was that this law created two classes of church members, dividing the community into separate factions, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, the practicing and the non-practicing, so to speak. At its root, this was a conflict about identity, a struggle to define who was in and who was out…an identity that focused on ethnicity, gender and genitalia.

Sound familiar?

For Paul these missionaries “perverted the Gospel” by creating barriers to full participation in the life of the Church. The Gospel message of Jesus had obliterated boundaries and distinctions between classes of people. How dare these new missionaries try to erect false boundaries to Christ's table? Just a few chapters back Paul reminds the Galatians of their own baptismal formula which declared that in Christ there was no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male and female. In Christ all had been made one. This new message of the missionaries that made grace dependent on law was antithetical to the gospel itself. Dividing Christians into separate classes based on human law divided the community and tore asunder the very Body of Christ itself!

Paul recognized that the fundamentalism of the missionaries arose not just from their reading of Scripture, but from the conditioned social norms they sought to preserve and protect. Isn’t that true about most fundamentalisms? Laws are used as rigid barriers to protect the status quo, no matter how damaging or oppressive they may have grown to be.

While for the missionaries, Jewish Christian identity was dependent on this social custom of circumcision, Paul was convinced that no law or doctrine could ever define our identity. Rather Paul understood that our identity as Christians is ultimately rooted in Christ and Christ’s promise of the kin-dom of peace and justice. “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is everything!” A new creation…that is everything!

For Paul Christian identity is not to be found in ecclesiastical laws of who is in or who is out. Rather, our identity is rooted in our common mission to bring forth God’s kin-dom.

It seems 2000 years has not changed much in the communities of Christ. Still we find ourselves bitterly battling with one another over issues of identity, wrangling to decide who is in and who is out. The debate in our church over sexuality is not really about scripture or sin, or in the end even homosexuality. Rather, it is a debate about the very nature of the Body of Christ and our common mission to bring forth the kin-dom of God. When we exclude persons from the Church based on a gospel of law, we abandon the gospel of grace and wound Christ’s body.

Our identity as the Church, specifically as the United Methodist Church, is bound up with how closely we follow or stray from the Gospel message. Can we be the Body of Christ when we cut off members solely on the basis of socially conditioned norms based on gender and genitalia? Paul certainly didn’t think so. In fact, he called that type of two tiered membership a perversion of the Gospel.

Dividing Christians into separate classes based on human law continues to divide the community and tear asunder the very Body of Christ itself!

The good news is that we are called to a life of gentleness, in which our identity in Christ supersedes any and all human barriers to fellowship. We are one in the Body of Christ, equal in God's sight regardless of ecclesial laws or social norms. When we let go of outdated social norms as definitions of who we are, we find that our community of faith is set free to be in ministry in new and exciting ways. Set free from the bonds of a gospel of law, we find ourselves able to embody the kin-dom of God in new, radical ways that further the cause of love and justice, not just in our own communities but in the world in which we live.