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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Seventh Sunday in Easter, Rising:Unbroken Circle


Andre, Stephanoie, Bob and Jillian

It’s the seventh, and last Sunday in Easter.  It’s AIDS WALK Sunday. Streets filed with marching people. Outside the Amsterdam Street festival is in full swing, inflated play spaces right outside our front doors. This will be a crazy day. Our them e today is Rising 6:  Unbroken Circle. One last time we will begin with  singing our Alleluias. Our first song will be the much maligned Kum Ba Yah. I’ll explain it’s intriguing trans-Atlantic journey back and forth between the US and Africa until Pete Seeger brings it back in it's African form. It deserves better than it’s current image as a camp fire song. 

Our first lesson this morning  is from Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26, the meeting to replace Judas. Following the First Psalm, we sing We shall not be moved. And then a brief reading from John 17: 10-14.

. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost… 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 

Our reflection begins and ends with music from our guests Stephanie Johnstone and Jillian Buckley. Songs from their new project, Love Songs for the rest of Us. (

Stephanie and Jillian sing with us

Our theme this morning is the unbroken circle. We begin with the story about replacing Judas. He’s a character that has continued to capture out imaginations from Jesus Christ Super Star to the recently discovered gospel of Judas where Jesus needs someone very special to play this role and determines only Judas is strong enough to fulfill it. At its base is the need to need to keep the circle complete…

I’ve said many to me here form my experience in Oklahoma that my Native American friends always said that once a circle had been created it would always remain.  Our circle once made always remains…

The question has meaning for us. We have  lost numbers…how do we replace the people who have left? How do we complete our circle? Our situation is not dissimilar to main line   Christianity  as a whole, although  some congregations are doing quite well and will continue to do so. So how do we?

But reflecting on Stephanie’s project took me to a deeper place…how we have kept people out of the circle..

At the recent Rock Stars and Prophets celebration at Stony Point, a gathering of the people who worked and fought  all these years for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, I couldn’t help but think of   all those lost years, of rejection, of excluding….of my friend and fellow Yale student Chris, his ordination kept on ice for nearly 35 years…lost in our  celebration of inclusion, now won, is some kind of amends, an apology,

Young people today are  so  much cooler…In the Black Lives Matter movement self named  queer leadership is on the front of the struggle arm in arm with everyone else, It's a new day. 

Here’s what Jesus had to say:

10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost… 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 

Hear those words:
protect them…
guarded them…
not one lost…

If, as we have through this season, we are looking for Jesus, then we must look  at the edges, the margins, the outside of the circle…let us welcome him and join in his work of guarding, protecting…so we might be one…

Stephanie and Jillian share another song with us. And we pray. And receive the offering. An we conclude with Will the circle be unbroken? As I have adapted it. 

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?
In the joyous days of childhood
Oft they told of wondrous love
Pointed to the loving Saviour;
Now they dwell with Him above.
You remember songs of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice.
Do you sing new songs of freedom
And with loving hearts rejoice?
Once we gather in our circle
That circle shall remain
We will be one in spirit
Until we’re home again.

After we sing our Amens, we share peace with one another. Tome to walk outside, explore the life of the street fair filling our street. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Un hombre sin nombre


I see him asleep on the steps as I approach the church. The front doors are locked. Apparently Charles has left for the day.
Me perdon, Senor, se necesita salirse. No es permiso a dormirse en las escaleras duriente el dia.
Di me, he says, demandingly, di me.
Me dijo que necesita salirse las escaleras. No puede dormir en las escaleras.
Pero me no estoy durmiendo.
No importa. No puede esta como este en las escaleras.
Y quien es usted?
El pastor de la iglesia.
No.  Usted es caminando en la calle.
No. Yo soy el pastor.
Ok. Me voy dentro la iglesia y me voy abrir las puertas.
Ah man, why you bother me Jus leave me alone.
Can’t do that.
You follow me everywhere.You follow me..
No sir, I don’t.

So I go in the church. I open the doors.
That other man, he leave me in the church. Say it’s OK.
And it is. You can sit there. He enters and sits down. I look out and realize he has two SUV shopping carts tied to the scaffolding.  I sigh.

My coffee man brings me a coffee. I tell him he  can play the piano. He points to Luli and a friend pointing and talking.  It’s OK, I say. Soon Martin is there. Pigeons again. He has a friend. She wants to take a look, I agree. She comes back with two dead birds. And some fresh eggs. She’s not sure what to do. You don’t want me to kill them  do you?
No, I say.
They’re gonna die anyway, says Martin.
She seems to have a plan.

Hugo arrives. With a bag of leftover food from work. I turn to our friend, sitting in the back charging his cell phone. Homeless. SUV carts. And a cell phone. Es el tiempo salir. Yo nececito cerrar las puertas.
He nods.
Tiene hambre, senor? He nods again.
Hugo opens the bag and our friend  selects what he wants. Ensalada de pollo, pan…

While I close up, I hear Hugo ask him his name. He responds that he has no name. He leaves. Hugo locks up. As we leave, Hugo tells me the man told him he has no name. Yes, I overheard, I said, Un hombre sin nombre con hambre….And Hugo laughs.

When I come back from a good dinner and  conversation, the man is asleep. In the north doorway. Out of site of our new security cameras.

Inside, there’s a private swing dance class going on in the sanctuary. I follow the music upstairs to the gym where the weekly Syncopated City swing party is, well, in full swing .Walking up the stairs, it could be the 1940’s. Despite the wholesale renovation of the lower floors, the gym still looks like the Weimar era Berlin Spiegelhall when it reopened after having been locked down by the Nazis and
kept mothballed by the DDR only to be rediscovered after the wall fell. Like that. And the dancers swing on.

One floor down, RL has another appointment with Nero Wolfe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Maybe it wasn't pigeons

Typical urban ministry day. I take a turn sweeping the steps, removing an empty Smirnoff bottle. Working with Martin to plan his summer staging of Antigona at West-Park. Another question every day. But so exciting to be anticipating this unique production born at West-Park to be performed at West-Park. Serious issues about smells emanating from the pigeon tower. (We’ve been seeing more walking  wounded from up there who’ve made their way in somehow…) Seems the Koreans were upset enough to send people out for a picnic.

Time to make a plan. See if  Bill Tripp from Portland’s Light Tower project might finally be ready to take off and be a way to tackle this.  I get the info off to our councilmember, Helen Rosenthal. And resend to our leaders. (

I hear an exclamation from Leila in the sanctuary. I look up, she comes in, well, aghast. It might not have been the pigeons, she says. And she takes me in.  Under a large corner table in the rear of the sanctuary, she found a large blanket stuffed under it. And when she removed the blanket, she found our large white Easter basket that we use for brochures, etc. Someone had used it as a port -a- potty. Yeah, that’s right, someone shit in the Easter basket. There are several other questionable items under the table. I ask her to go get me gloves. And a large trash bag. And I do what I always used to do on the steps. I clean up. Pick everything up, bag it, dump it outside in the trash. She heads for bleach and cleanser.

 A lot's about to happen. The Farmigo food has just arrived. Soon Dion will be here to run the distribution. The Riverside Orchestra is arriving for rehearsal. We do provide the best atmosphere of any Farmigo pick up spot. No one knows what just went down.

It’s just Russ and me for Bible study tonight. We’re looking at Genesis 9 and 10. So no more vegetarianism, the meat market is now open. But rare steak, steak tartare and blood sausage, well, no. Blood is pretty special. (9:4) So special any spilled blood animal or human, it seems, must be paid for in blood. Death penalty. (9:6).

Noah takes to agriculture. Plants a vineyard. Makes wine. The first vintage. Gets drunk, sprawls out naked. Poor son Ham walks in, unsuspecting. Sees him. Tells his brothers. There’s a comical scene of them walking in backwards with a blanket to lay over him. When he wakes up, hung over as Eugene Peterson puts it, he’s in a foul mood. Curses Ham  for what he had done to him. Huh? Like how was he supposed to know?

It’s a part of a set up to provide a back story for later narrative enemies. Ham has three sons, Cush ancestor of Africa, Egypt, who will enslave Israel (and be the father of the Philistines) and Canaan, who will be driven out to make space for the homecoming Israelites. And those Philistines and Canaanites will by myth become Palestinians.

We find this in the table of nations, which you’d like to skip over, but frequently familiar names pop up, Sidon, Gaza, Sodom and Gomorrah. I wish I had a guide to all the names and their meanings.

Cush fathers Nimrod, who will become the first mighty warrior. Who is said to be mighty before the lord, IE, in front of the lord. Confronting the Lord. In his face, so to speak. While Genesis is ambivalent about this, our guide Wes Howard-Brook is not. Nimrod’s rule is one of violent domination. He’s all about building cities. Occupying territory. This is new ‘reshith, a new beginning, the first time that word has been used since God’s creation, the first word of the Bible.

Nimrod runs around building cities, including the big one, Babel (or Nineveh, or Babylon…). We have here also a narrative undermining of the Enumah Elish founding of Babylon story. Nimrod has  built an alternate kingdom to the realm of God. And for Howard-Brook, an alienate religion.

What puzzles us is that up until this point, Howard-Brook has presented the farmers as the bad guys and the hunters as good. And now it’s a hunter who takes us down the empire road. What is clear is that Nimrod is acting in defiance, on his own. These cities are his creation, not part of God’s divine order.

Almost all the food has been given out. The orchestra is wrapping up. I’m gong to try and catch my friend Alex at her gig downtown and maybe my tour mates as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The 5th Sunday of Easter. As simple as this....


It’s the Fifth Sunday of Easter. And we’re dealing with love. Our theme today in our resurrection living series is It’s a simple as this. We begin with our alleluias. And a classic Easter hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.  After reading  1 John 4: 7-21 and John 15: 1-8, I sing Come on people Now, smile on your brother try to love one another right now…and then it’s time for my reflection.

All you need is love… I remember when the Beatles sang that. Today I sang the Youngbloods’ C’mon people now…but I had found this amazing Youtube video with Joni Mitchell, Crosby,Stills  and Nash and  John Sebastian…people dancing around, twirling , tie –die, uh, wow…

There was once a minister who fell in love with a woman who happened to be Jewish. Not a few people raised questions about this. So he spoke to his friends. His priest from the Roman Catholic  Cathedral said that it was a sign of God’s  greater unity. And an associate at the church where he worked who said:
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God .Seems like case closed.

It’s easy to get caught up in complicated conversations about  theology and some people love complex doctrinal discussions, although I think fewer and fewer. On this 5th Sunday if Easter as we look at resurrection  living, we’re making a simple claim….it’s about love. If we’re looking for Jesus this week, where have you seen, where do you see love?

One of the most moving  images to come out of Baltimore last week was the one with over 100 clergy placing their own bodies between the demonstrators and the police. The most moving part was when the clergy kneeled in prayer, several of the officers in the front row facing the clergy removed their riot helmets.  That took courage.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

It doesn’t always work: Rachel Corrie stood in front of a tank in Gaza. And got run over. It cost her her life. 

The new life takes shape in a community in which people know that God loves and accepts them in spite of what they  are. They there fore accept themselves and love others, knowing that no one has any ground on which to stand, except God's grace

 I was asked to lead a discussion on the Confession of 1967 this week. The first pastor i worked with was one of its authors. That’s one of its basic quotes about what our new life, what our resurrection life is like. That document focused on a call to reconciliation, As we are called to reconciliation with God, we are called even more to reconciliation with each other.

I was also asked to speak on kairos Palestine…a statement from Palestinian Christian leaders reflecting in confessional language about their current situation. Had this to say about love:

4.2 This word is clear. Love is the commandment of Christ our Lord to us and it
includes both friends and enemies. This must be clear when we find ourselves in
circumstances where we must resist evil of whatever kind.
4.2.1 Love is seeing the face of God in every human being. Every person is my
brother or my sister. However, seeing the face of God in everyone does not mean
accepting evil or aggression on their part. Rather, this love seeks to correct the evil
and stop the aggression.
Resistance with logic of love…

Love casts out fear, but I have also seen that  fear can cast out even perfect love. I’ve seen it over and over and over again…

The 1982 General Assembly had as its theme Love So Amazing. Ofelia Ortega, the delegate from the Presbyterian Church in Cuba said, No me tengo interes en amor maravilloso…me quiero un amor eficaz…I have no interest in amazing love. What I desire is effective love.

And as far as effective love goes, we know it when we see it. And as far as Resurrection living goes this week, it's as simple as that.

We sing Be Thou My Vision. We celebrate the Eucharist. And for our closing hymn Martha plays Beethoven’s Joyful, Joyful another Easter classic. We make our circle and sing our amens.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The 6th Sunday in Easter: Rising...Mothers' Day

Today is Mothers’ Day. We open with our Easter Alleluias and some good music…Spirit of the Living God and Cantad al Senor  ( I remember when we did it with actual trumoets…) Afterbour scriotures,  1 JOHN 5:1-6 and JOHN 15:9-17, I begin the reflection.


Today is Mothers’ Day. I know it can be, well, an ambivalent day at best for many. I sent greetings to many people.
* One whose husband died and who’s alienated from his family
* Another who struggles with her own children, though loves being a grandmother
*Another who lost her only child
There’s also this:
* A friend who posted on Facebook the pain of people sending Mothers’ Day greetings when she is not despite always wanting to be one..
And this:
Some of us did not have happy experiences with our mothers…
This day is more complex than the romantic Hallmark image..
And it’s also time to give thanks for those who were mothers to children not their own….

Let’s go back to look at it’s origins. In the wake of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, Julia Ward Howe wrote this:
Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! 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 out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough 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 council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind 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 peace.
—Julia Ward Howe                                                                     18


(Actually it was Anna May Jarvis who actually  succeeded in getting Mothers’ Day recognized as a national holiday. But she had her issues, too.
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
—Anna Jarvis.

Our gospel this morning ,you might say in our Resurrection living series ,could be seen as

Rising through Laying down.

As we move towards end of Easter, the time of the risen Christ on earth,we turn to  Jesus’ farewell discourse, to reflect on how to carry on when he’s no longer with us in the flesh.
…so that my joy may be in you and your joy be complete…he says. To be honest, joy is not easy for me…I’ve learned to understand hope as a spiritual/theological reality…but I an still working on joy… the whole ideas is a bit counter-cultural for an old-school Presbyterian.

When I was in church youth camp, a song leader had us sing Slap bang hear we go again, jolly Presbyterians. I brought that home to hear my own Sunday school teach her say, that is not Presbyterian.

Once in Pittsburgh, our Presbytery had a retreat led by someone from the Church of the Savior, the intentional Christian community in Washington, DC. He ended every session with a recording of Don’t worry be happy by Bobby McFerrin… …at first it was OK, but after 5 or 6 times I was ready to shoot myself or someone else. I didn’t yet understand the theological point he was trying to make. (You might want to check out his 23rd Psalm for Mothers’ Day….)

By reading James Cone, I learned how African-American worship was filled with joy….the creation of liberated space…even in the midst of slavery…and when you think of
Desmond Tutu, what image do you have but that ever present joyous smile, even in the depths of apartheid.  Then there were the More Light worship services at our national general Assemblies, even at the darkest days for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Jesus speaks of laying down one’s life for his friends..we read this only in John…why? so that you may love…As someone once said, friends get you through times of no lovers better than lovers get you through times of no friends…

My cousins were Quakers…there official name was the society of friends

Laying down for Jesus, meant going to the cross. Willingly. Voluntarily. To take away the power and fear of death. To set us free from that fear, that anxiety.

But for us…the question is, what do we lay down? And how? What risks do we take and why?
And can we truly be friends?

That is our question for Mothers’ Day.

For our offertory today, I sing my version of Rock of Ages.

After worship, our session meets again.  To consider our future. There are serious questions to decide. We are due for an annual meeting.

It is a beautiful spring day.