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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pentecost: What do you hear?


celebrating new elders

Leila and Pat have decorated the chapel in red for Pentecost…
Martha Kato is our musical guest…

It’s been another one of those weeks…so Donald Trump has selected New Jersey Governor Chris  Christie to head his transition team. Last Friday night, my rabbi friend Steve Blane shared with me his fear: y’know, he might actually  get elected…and that he was beginning to understand how, well, the unimaginable happens.. It starts to be sadi…well, he’s not that bad….there are good points….he doesn’t really mean it, once he’s elected…we’ve been there before, Steve says.

I went to an interesting exhibit. Civil courage in difficult times. At Gallery MC. The little known (at least here) story of the Macedonian Jewish community and how the Macedonian people shepherded so many to safety in Albania, and yes, how Albania became a safe haven for Jews from southern and eastern Europe.

I went to two weddings yesterday. A Fools Wedding as one of our Theatre Dzieci friends got married at 2nd Presbyterian. And a wedding of friends from Union Seminary filled with  bright, (shining?) young people. Hmmm. Pentecost is about hearing voices…I’m hearing lots of voices…what voices have you been hearing? And too, who is hearing your voice?

Pentecost…it’s a day about speaking….and hearing…and understanding…a Christian holiday…the birthday of the church, actually…my friend Palestinian Christian Naim Atik when speaking in the United States is always asked…when did your family become Christian? And his answer, on Pentecost…. Our day set on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the festival of weeks, or as it was known in Greek, Pentecost, counting 50…

The Jewish festival celebrates Moses receiving the law on Mt. Sinai, amidst fire and smoke…and here the visitation of tongues of fire… what exactly did they hear? See?
If you hang out in the sanctuary, you’ll hear music that pulsates and throbs like rock music, higher and higher, people running and jumping and even falling out…and yes, ecstatic speech…I’d never heard that before…sometimes  I wish I could feel that…

But that’s not how we understand it…let's go back to Babel…we spoke last week about being one…that's kind of what they were about in Babel…but my friend and colleague Regi used to refer to as an enforced oneness, an authoritarian project…ONE tongue, ONE language…a joint project of seeking to have equal authority with God…like the German Christian movement in the 30’s …church and fuehrer, one….

Pentecost is …and is not….the reversal of Babel…it is in that unity is restored…it is NOT in that the distinct voices remain DISTINCT…the miracle is not a miracle of speaking but a miracle of hearing…a miracle of understanding…

It’s not just languages…God, Gott, dieu, dios, hashem, allah…I’ll never forget sitting in a Christian service in East Jerusalem and hearing God referred to as Allah…did you realize that? Palestinian and other Arab Christians pray to Allah?

We’ve got other languages. Cultures. Professions. Classes…How do we hear one another? Understand one another? I hear some fellow Americans speak and I feel we are not speaking the same language…

Bathrooms are in the news…I have a friend from North Carolina…she’s as progressive as you get…but she loves her people…she wondered how the southern wedding guests were handling the wedding scene, complete with trans friends.. ….you know most of us have never even met a trans person, she says…it feels like northern liberals who look down on us, see us  as inferior, telling us what to do…I don’t think my northern friends understand how arrogant we liberals can sound sometimes…The longer I live in New York City, the more sensitive I become to the class consciousness of the liberal elite…Couldn’t we just begin with conversation? She asks…

Do you know how we finally won gay ordination in our church? Well yeah, society was headed that way, but….It had passed 2 previous General Assembly’s only to be defeated at the local presbytery level.  After the second defeat, when a new opportunity arose, the grassroots lgbtq folks decided to change strategies. To pledge to no longer engage in dialectical partisan debate but instead to pledge to holding 1000 conversations in 2 years. Each of us had to promise what number we could lead.  Follow up was done 1000 conversations were held. Gay ordination passed, (even when the tall steeple liberals said it was too soon…)

We wondered…what if our pro-choice advocates could hold 1000 conversations?
(COW after Kent State…)One of the things that happens is that when people really open themselves up to other people, issues become personed…cognitive dissonance arises…and a person has to resolve that either in behalf of the principle or the person…most, (clearly not all) go with the person..

As a member of a church I pastored in Pittsburgh said, explaining why they fully welcomed a young gay man who had grown up in the congregation: Pastor, sometimes you just have to set principle aside and do what’s right…

It’s not a miracle of speaking but of hearing…who hears our voice? Who understands us? Who do we need to listen to?  I struggle with that in the Micah Instititute all the time, accepting my Pentecostal brothers..…and there are people in any congregation who just do not hear each other…

The message of Pentecost takes it beyond our personal capacities…another force enters …another reality…the Holy Spirit…it is the work of the Holy Spirit to enter into the places where we intersect and help us to hear each other…

What conversations do we need to have?
Come Holy Spirit, come…

Today during our offertory, I sing Blowin’ in the Wind..remembering how when I was a kid our preacher connected the song  to Pentecost…how the wind and the Holy Spirit were similar, if not the same..and the answer is indeed Blowin’ in the Wind..(although my long ago Pastor called him Bob DY –lan)

As part of our celebration today, we are ordaining two new elders, Russ Jennings and Pat Klein. 
New Elders Pat and Russ
I want to make it special. Because it is.  Their ordinations are as important as mine. In our tradition, they are ordained to rule, I’m ordained to teach. We share with them the hand woven stoles that for years stood a silent protest in our GA's. Represnting all the ministries, turned away, buried, denied. Today, with that battle over, they symbolize WELCOME. I am wearing the red stole given tp me by my friend TK when I celebrated with him the Buddhist day commemorating the giving of the light... the Holy Spirit color...I explain how they stand in a long line that goes all the way back to Peter. And when we do the laying on of hands, there are centuries of hands touching our hands as we pray. A long, long line, a great cloud of witnesses.  We sing Everytime I feel the Spirit…..and our worship is over…

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Seventh Sunday in Easter: One


Singing with Daniel from Lebanon

John 17: 20-26 from the Message by Eugene Peterson

I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
24-26 Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.

Today is Mothers’ Day.  Friday was the day of Daniel Berrigan’s funeral. Donald Trump seems to have the GOP nomination all wrapped up. Thursday was also Ascension Day…the day we celebrate Jesus leaving earth..fro the time being…after his 50 days of earthly, bodily resurrection. I remember being in Germany ‘Himmelfahrt” day, or “heaven journey”. “Fly up day”, like the Girl Scouts. And today we’re talking about ‘One” about being ‘One”…I can almost hear John Lennon:
I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together…..
I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g' job

SO what is this “one” all about?
In the list of many possible meanings of the Greek word "one," it is this particular definition that applies here: "in contrast to parts, of which a whole is made up." There is a healing of past divisions explicit in such unity; the wholeness is created through Christ, which is non-existent otherwise. The famous verse from Galatians is a fitting example of the fervent prayer of Jesus for his followers both present and yet to come: "There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are in one in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 4 comes to mind, too. "There is one body and one Spirit ... one hope ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." (Presbyterian Outlook)

All well and good. But so what?  Our society feels far from one. The greatest income disparity since Teddy Roosevelt and JP Morgan.  The super rich don’t even want to see people not like them.  (That’s the worst)  I believe what we see in the current election is vast numbers of people saying it just doesn't work for them anymore and that they’ve lost all hope in things as they are.
While I don’t believe that Trump supporters and Sanders supporters are two sides of the same  coin, both are expressing frustration. 

I really enjoyed Andrew Sullivan’s article in New York, where he wrote with empathy about the abandoned white collar voters who back Trump. I was especially touched when he wrote about how it feels when you’re barely able to hold onto the bottom rung of the economic ladder and up and coming young Ivy League men tell you to “check your privilege” and look down on you. Somewhere along the identity politics line the Democrats abandoned the working class.

We are NOT one, we are divided.
Since we’ve settled sexual identity issues in our church, new divisions are appearing:  big vs. small, rich v poor, the churches that are doing well and have pastors and the vast majority that do not.
We are not ONE. we see signs? Donald Trump wants to build a “beautiful wall”…in Acts, the wall comes
We’ve had as special friends the Seed group and Open Choir. Friday night, I attended their One Day; a Festival… in the Samuel Freedman Home.  (Itself an interesting story…built by Samuel Freedman during the depression days for broke millionaires, today housing neighborhood programs and housing for artists….) There was :
A Cuban bamba group
An African-American drum circle of young people from the South Bronx
An African-American gospel choir from a South Bronx Catholic Church
A Garifuna choir from the same church…
Oh…and me!

What moved me was the connections that had been made…these young people actors and musicians from all over the world accepted as full brothers and sisters by deeply Christian folk…and followers of Yoruba rooted religions…not judging, just feeling the inner connections…sharing each others music and dance…remaining themselves with their own unique backgrounds but also ONE at the same time…
At the Samuel Freedman home

When I do weddings, two candles  remain lit. The families  of origin always remain…even as the new family begins…the couple becomes one even as they remain themselves..

Oneness implies reconciliation. More than letting bygones be bygones. This summer, at our PC(USA) General Assembly, there will be an overture (taken to New York City Presbytery by West-Park and Jan Hus…) calling for an apology to the LGBTQ community for years of exclusion.  The Covenant Network, tall steeple liberals, have declined to support it because it is “divisive.” More Light, on the other hand has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like South Africa. To begin by telling stories. And listening. Sometimes all people ask is to be heard..

This church. Are we divided? Hmmm. Not sure. We certainly have lost people over  the years. What would reconciliation look like? Would it even be possible? Is there a first step? What would being one look like? Feel like?  If you have  any thoughts, let me know…

In the meantime, let us seek to find that place of being one…


As it is Mother's Day, here is the original Mother's Day proclamation from Julia Ward Howe, before it be came sentimentalized...

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Julia Ward Howe

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Do you want to be well?


Welcome back Seed  Group and Open Choir

Today our friends from the Seed group/open Choir have joined us again. They open our service with  songs from the southern African-American tradition; call and response, moving in circles. I wonder about the skein from this music to the full out high decibel rock in the Pentecostal service next door.

Our topic for reflection today is Do you want to be well?
I was in Louisville last week.  Another meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the national board of directors of the Church, so to speak. It was another trying and sad experience. Another wave of budget cuts in the wake of ever declining dollars. The loss of more staff, good friends, faithful servants.
In the midst of the depressing meeting, I need a break. So I went to Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar. Their Tuesday night open blues jam. There I found a community of people who had been playing together for decades. And they welcomed me a stranger from New York. They were supportive, encouraging. I heard stories of how they had been there for each other. I often find in the music community what it is the church is supposed to be. It’s what our brother Dion offers as the host of our Friday night Open Mics.

Russ reminds us that we should  have the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the  other. And the first thing that jumps out at me from the  newspaper is income inequity. What commentators call the velvet rope economy.
 The Time article. has this to say:

With disparities in wealth greater than at any time since the Gilded Age, the gap is widening between the highly affluent — who find themselves behind the velvet ropes of today’s economy — and everyone else.
It represents a degree of economic and social stratification unseen in America since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan and the rigidly separated classes on the Titanic a century ago.
When top-dollar travelers switch planes in Atlanta, New York and other cities, Delta ferries them between terminals in a Porsche, what the airline calls a “surprise-and-delight service.” Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. In other words, you basically get the Magic Kingdom to yourself.
When Royal Caribbean ships call at Labadee, the cruise line’s private resort in Haiti, elite guests get their own special beach club away from fellow travelers — an enclave within an enclave.
“We are living much more cloistered lives in terms of class,” said Thomas Sander, who directs a project on civic engagement at the Kennedy School at Harvard. “We are doing a much worse job of living out the egalitarian dream that has been our hallmark.”
Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that the top 1 percent of American households now controls 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from less than 30 percent two decades ago. The top 0.1 percent accounts for 22 percent, nearly double the 1995 proportion.
But even as income inequality and the wealth gap stoke the discontent that has emerged as a powerful force in this year’s presidential election, for American business it represents something else entirely. From cruise ship operators and casinos to amusement parks and airlines, the rise of the 1 percent spells opportunity and profit.
So in our other hand is the Bible. And today’s passage is John 5: 1-9:
1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.3In these lay many invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4, 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 8Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

That is the question:  Do you want to be well?
In this story, a man has been paralyzed for 38 years .(I can’t help but think of my mom, working her way through rehabilitation after a stroke…going from full freedom and movement one day to dependency on others the next..)The man describes the local health care system….a pool ….an angel troubles the waters…then the first one in gets healed…for 38 years he’s been pushed aside…the system doesn’t work…
So what does Jesus do? Does he helps him get to the water first? NO. He tells him to get up and walk…he avoids the stacked system altogether….moves outside the lines and creates a new reality.
That’s the Jesus question: Do you want to be well?
In addition to the bad news in Louisville, I also heard exciting stories from churches…moving outside the lines…
Like Madrona Grace church in Seattle…building their tiny houses….131 square feet…loft, kitchen, living space….first built for their  shelter volunteers, they realized, why not for homeless people? So tiny houses are soon to build for homeless people. At a cost of $12 to $20000 a house. The Wood Technology Center of Seattle Central College is providing all the labor, building the homes to specifications provided by the church. 
Tonight is our night to serve a meal at the shelter at SPSA. I hear more and more churches starting open table meals like Jan Hus…or Broadway Presbyterian …where all are welcome and break bread together…where all are served, volunteers and guest alike.  A new way to be church. Or perhaps a very old way. Metaphoric and existential simultaneously.
That is the question: Do you want to be well?
Our Washington DC ministry staff person J. Herbert Nelson had this to say in response to what was happening in  Louisville: Assumed attrition is not a vision…and certainly not a stragtegy…
The Presbyterian Outlook has important questions for us to answer:
1.     How do we address the problems inherent in our economic system while continuing to participate in them?
2.     What are some effective ways of challenging unhelpful myths about our economic system?
3.     How can faith communities play a prophetic role and help build a society that can make people whole? 

Do you want to be well?  Sharon Welch reminds us that the dominant ethic of our culture is that of  control. For good or bad intentions, either way, control is inherently violent to the spirit. What she calls for is an ethic of risk, that is where life is….that is where we can be well…where we can heal and be well again..
God grant is the courage to risk…
After we pray, we share bread and cup together, our own symbolic open table. Open choir and members, all together. Our friends sing again. And I close with these words from Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5
10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
John, Rachel and Mario