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Saturday, August 12, 2017

You give them something to eat


Rendall Church

Today is the first of  my four August Sundays that I will spend as the guest preacher at Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church  in Harlem, about a mile or so north of where I live.
Today's preacher
Although I have heard that they are growing again and beginning to attract young people, today’s congregation is mostly older people. Everyone in attendance is African-American save for the music director, his wife, and of course me.

There are a number of unique touches, like all the women elders of the church wearing white. Including, of course, hats. And gloves. I am moved watching the ice of the tall, dignified elderly elder who brings the offering and makes his prayer eyes looking heavenward as the plate is extended to me. And the women coming forward with a wash basin for a hand washing ceremony before handling the communion elements…something I’ve never seen before. 
The Rendall Sanctuary

After the  reading of scripture, Matthew 14: 13-21, this was my reflection:

Good morning. We are Into that last third of summer. When it gets quiet around here. Lots of folks gone. August. If you’re like me and really haven’t gotten away, you feel like you want to. And today we find Jesus wanting to get away. It’s all in one of those so familiar Bible stories, the feeding of the 5000. I’m certain I could ask anyone of you to tell the  story and we’d get a pretty good rendition.
The table ready for communion

SO let’s take a closer look.  I said that Jesus wanted to get away….do you remember why? He has just received the news that his cousin John the Baptist has been killed. This following on the heels of being rejected after preaching in his home town of Nazareth.  Let that sink in a minute.  Try and imagine what he must be feeling….to see the faces of the people he’d grown up with turned against him…unable to do any works there because they couldn't believe  in him..and then to get word that his cousin has been put to death by Herod the King.  Is he wondering what might lie ahead for himself?  Is he dejected? Depressed? Questioning?  This is not a summer vacation break he’s looking for here….Let’s feel that with Jesus for a moment…

SO he wants to get away….to a deserted place…but what happens?  People follow him….Lots of people…and what happens?  He could go, man, can’t they leave me alone for just a little while? He could feel annoyed, exhausted, like he’s got nothing left.  But as he looks at them, he sees their need and he is filled with compassion. In the King James Version, it says he was moved in his bowells, ie moved in the deepest part of his guts…and he cured their sick. Maybe when he looked at them, he saw in the what he was feeling. maybe seeing their pain, their seeking, drew him out of his own sense of desolation….and his power returnslooking beyond himself his power returns…

As it gets late, his disciples come to him with a very reasonable, practical idea. Send them away so that hey can buy food for themselves…a very good idea…

BUT…not for Jesus …They need not go away he says….. you give them something to eat…

Just note that…when the practical solution people say, send them away, Jesus says bring them near….to the chorus of voices all around us saying about so many people send them away….Jesus says NO…bring them closer…

But that second part is equally  important …you give them something to eat…

To which  we get the expected reply…we don’t have enough resources….just five loaves…and two fish….and hear this carefully….Jesus says Bring them to me….

and he blesses them and they pass them around and there are 12 baskets of leftovers (one for each disciple to take home, I guess…)

How often are we tempted to send people away because we just don’t have enough? Jesus says you give the something to eat…he doesn’t want to hear about how  little we have…he doesn’t want to hear about scarcity….he says Y’all have enough to do something…
as individuals
as a church
as a city 
as a country
we have enough…….

A few thoughts…when i was learning to do community ministry, i was taught how to do needs assessments….remember those?  Until someone realized that as long as that’s where we focus our energy we will always be depressed and defeated…because we will never have enough…and we will always be looking  for the answer to come from outside…so instead we started to think about beginning  with capacities assessments…what do we already have? what can we do with what we’ve already got?

But here’s the thing…he says …bring them to me…we’ve got to offer what we have up to him for HIS use for it to work…that’s when miracle making happens …when we offer up what we already have to him for his use…

People have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened here…
Some say, Jesus used his powers to multiply those loaves  and fishes, created more food  out of thin air
Others say he knew the disciples had more food stashed away or that in starting to pass food around , people would open up and share what they had brought…’s all interesting but in the end doesn't matter…

The real miracle here is not production, the real miracle  is one of distribution….perhaps the real miracle is in the  sharing

We hear a lot thee days about the deserving poor…like  there’s undeserving poor? Like If you can’t afford health care, it’s your own fault…about deserving immigrants vs non deserving….send them away….the chorus says…NO says Jesus let them stay…and YOU give them something to eat…

I recently heard a Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, ask what would happen if we knew our church only had 5 years to live? That we no longer had to worry about survival?  Would we give it all away? Risk wildly in love and extravagant generosity? Live without fear? His point is that if we lived that way NOW, we wouldn’t have to worry abut survival because people would be so attracted to who we are…

Let’s review what we’ve got here…

  1. See in others what we feel in ourselves…look with compassion
  2. Don’t send then away, bring them near
  3. Take what God has already given us and offer it up to Jesus for HIS work…and then
  4. Watch the miracle happen

I have heard that you all have had a bit of a miracle yourselves…that you have taken what God has has given you and offered it up…that’s what I’ve heard…and that God is blessing  this church community…if that’s right, don’t stop NOW!

And let us as well be bold enough to call our city and nation to moral accountability…and show our neighbors what righteous living in Jesus name is all about..

Jesus said…you give them something to eat…

and let those with ears to hear, hear….

After the sermon, we end our service with the sharing of communion, in the old passing of plates and mini cups style. Holding each element until all have been served and taking it together. We sing our final hymns. Maker final prayers. Say our farewells. And go out into the Harlem streets. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Goose 2017 Postscript: Of health care. And beer


wild Goose signpost

Goose 2017:  postscript

After living through a week of  watching a Senate debate about health care that defies belief, I thought back to Wild Goose 2017 once again. Dr. William Barber had very detailed analysis of what the  effects of various proposals would be. Dr. Barber and his movement are doing the best work I’ve seen in terms of specific polices in the public process. But as I recall it was Otis Moss III who used the phrase murder by policy. He said, they say, well, there won’t be people dying in the streets. But in fact there will be. It’s murder by policy, plain and simple. That’s what gets lost in the coverage of the debate. There’s this drive to  undo a program, simply because it was the work of President Obama. The real life impact on millions of us is simply not part of the equation.  I honestly don’t believe the President even understands what the current system is and what dismantling it would mean and most Republicans simply don’t care. The emerging congressional political consensus seems to be that health is a privilege to be earned not a human right to be provided by society. If one cannot afford health care, well then one simply doesn’t deserve it. This from people who whipped up panic by talking about nonexistent death panels. Congress itself is now a death panel, deciding who will live and die…..


And now for a few words about beer. I’ve been reflecting on the role of beer in Wild Goose culture. On one level, nothing mysterious here. A few beers among friends is a good thing. And any seminarian can name the pub where theological  discourse was passionately pursued until the wee hours.  In New York City, I had a young friend who dreamt  of an urban monastery that produced a really  fine craft brew. As Benjamin Franklin didn’t actually say, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Or on this 500th anniversary of Luther, we should recall what Luther had to say on the issue:
“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”I often imagine his voice joining the nightly Beer and Hymns.

But I suspect there is  more. From the theological happy hours to the craft beer tent to the official Wild Goose beer glass, it is clearly a part of the culture.
Official Goose beer glass
Some of it is a bit tongue in cheek.  But it goes deeper. Many of the Goose family are children of American evangelical culture, a culture that for the most part is teetotaling. Who can forget the role the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in bringing prohibition? In those days, prohibition was seen as part of a social gospel witness on behalf of the (especially) urban poor. 

Thus for even progressive prophetic and post evangelicals, a simple beer has transgressive content, becomes a way of declaring an emotional, intellectual and spiritual independence. For those who were part of communities that were countercultural, it becomes a way of becoming part of American culture one way while exploring new ways of becoming counter. Sharing a beer with friends  becomes,  in a way, liturgical. And for someone like our seventh generation Nazarene friend, becomes a very serious act. For her, she felt she needed to leave the denomination to participate in this simple act without hypocrisy. 

So as we drink one final toast to Wild Goose 2017, let ’s consider what a difference a beer makes….

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wild Goose 4: What is my part?


Sunday worship with the Trinity UCC Church

Wild Goose 4

In a conversation with Frank Schaeffer about how he moved away from the theology of his childhood, Frank responded that the first time he changed a diaper, he knew there was no such thing as intelligent design…

In a last conversation with Brian McLaren, Brian says we need to seize the time. We are organized for the wrong reason. We need to redefine evangelism as an invitation to people to be part of the solution. 

He described a ministry called The People’s Supper ( that pledged to do 100 dinners in the first 100 days of the Trump administration for conversation. Brian says we don’t need safe space, we need brave space. And we can make a difference…we can raise our children to be brave, courageous and strong. 


The choir from Trinity United is back one more time to lead our parade and lead us in worship.  The much anticipated preacher is Sister Simone from nuns on a bus.
Sister Simone
When thinking about Paul’s analogy of the body, Sister Simone sees herself as stomach acid on the body of Christ. She speaks the importance of radical acceptance. And the need not for push back, which only reinforces resistance, but to fight for. 

She asks us where are you?  and what breaks your heart? Certainly in her experience gender and gender based definitions have been heart breaking, even in a changing catholic church. 
She calls us to four virtues:

  1. Joy. When are our hearts are broken open, joy is possible. And  joy is most of all a communal virtue.
  2. Holy curiosity.  We are called to understand, not judge. 
  3. Sacred gossip. Sharing our stories….these two ( 2 and 3) weave our communities together. 
  4. Doing your part. All we’re called to do is our part, not all parts. And we can help each other discern what our parts are.
And it is in community where we will find  the energy to keep going.

The service ends with a shared Eucharist. And its time of the Goose to pack up its tents and move on. 
Bob, Kristen  Leigh and Russ


Russ’ Goosecast tent was down after his last ‘cast, before last night’s concert. Sad to see it go…..

I go back to my campsite and break down my little space, packed up and ready to go.
From my campsite
I walk through the festival site to go get my car, watching the world that came together for a few days deconstructing itself. Of course the Desanka folks stay until the end, sharing food. I’ll pack up the car. Head south to Asheville. Catch a ballgame. Play some music. Visit some old  seminary friends. Wild Goose 20017 is over. 

These are my personal reflections, vignettes of my experience. Others would have different stories. Even about the same events. We each have our own. I leave filled with excitement and ideas. Amazed (and overwhelmed) at how much others have already done. Anxious about my own capacities. How can I make my website happen? Revive my blog? How do I figure out the book business? What is the reality and possibility of my music? What is my community? My usually buzzing mind is working double time.

I missed the temporary tattoo artist. I want to do my Zuni sun sign again and am not quite ready for permanent ink. I miss the woman who made the purple batik shirt I enjoy so much. And I missed the songwriting contest. I continue to feel there’s something missing in the whole approach to music. We need to move beyond the progressive end of the Dove playlist. There needs to be a way to not just have performance and artist led sing along jam sessions but time and place to share creativity, projects in process with peers. Rev. Vince has other exciting ideas like filling the grounds with busking stations. I want to be a creatively contributing participant, not just a consumer. Maybe with Kristen Leigh, we could get a whole tent together. 

The Goose still needs  to extend beyond their circle of friends and those who are visibly famous. (That is, by the way, understandable, but…) There needs to be an openness to other voices. People who have been working in other gardens who have come to the same questions. (Where are my Presbyterian brothers and sisters? Of course I saw 2 or 3, but…)

I come back with an ever-expanding to do list.  I think that’s how it’s supposed to be….

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wild Goose 3:Is it the darkness of the tomb or darkness of the womb?


The Goosecast Sign

Wild Goose 3

Awakened in the morning by the righteous sound of the Trinity UCC Choir warming up the audience for Otis Moss III.  In a passionate sermon, Moss stated clearly why All Lives Matter is a negation of Black Lives Matter. That only when Black Lives Matter can All Lives Matter. He shared a parable about how some need to smooth the path to the river so that others may enter and cross. And shared  the seldom told story of Vernon Johns, who preceded Martin Luther King, Jr at Dexter Avenue  Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. How he had to talk his way into Oberlin Seminary and then graduated with honors. He challenged us to honor those who have gone before us…and to open the way for those who come next. 

Diana Butler Bass asked that  we consider the theological  implications of gratitude using the story of Zaccheus. She described the First Century culture in which gratitude functioned within a pyramid of privilege. In his role as a tax collector, Zaccheus had become an agent of the empire participating in the oppression of his own people. His place in the tree symbolic of his place in society. Jesus challenges Zaccheus, and thereby us, to come down from  our pyramid of privilege and join in a community of solidarity.


In the Lecture Hall tent, Brian Sirchio led a conversation about the 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music ( and his new company The Convergence Music Project. It’s an effort to move beyond praise music to music with more complex theology while seeking to draw traditional evangelicals and prophetic evangelicals into a convergence of music. For Siricho these marks include:
  1. A sensitivity to peace, justice and the fullness of human experience.  The need for the Biblical genre of lament. (Rev. Vince says every worship service needs at least one break up song).
  2. Inclusive language….our language matters. We live in a  time when our language reflects what we believe, true inclusion demands inclusive language. I raised the fact that we have a real lack of attention to language around disability, And that this requires us to enter into some painful areas. EG, Amazing Grace is a dearly beloved song. (You have to hear Rev. Vince sing it Blind Boys of Alabama: House of the Rising Sun style..) But it uses the language of physical infirmity as a metaphor for spiritual infirmity. (When an African-American music director said, but it’s just metaphor, the response was , Yeah, like wash me and I shall be whiter than snow..) Who has the power to control the use and meaning of metaphor is always a matter of privilege.  There is also the issue my associate Katherine spoke of when she said But I can always sing things I could never say
  3. Progressive theology 
    1. A focus on the good and the process of transformation
    2. No personal substitutionary atonement language
    3. No “only one way” language
    4. No supercessionism or triumphalism
4.  Emphasis on both individual and community
Gospel calls us to community
Personal must lead to communal
5.  Emotional authenticity
Must provide psycho social meaning
Head and heart together
Make sure lyrics are deep enough to hold repetition (like Taize, e.g.)
Musically accessible
No bloody Jesus
No boyfriend Jesus
6.  Need for fresh language, lively metaphors, moving beyond didactic

Welcoming is being invited. Belonging is they miss you when you’re gone…be careful to avoid how “our” can become tribal.

It was also noted that choir singing is becoming non-normative, no longer part of our common experience. (Right here is where we need the participation of Orion Stephanie Johstone whose radical choir songs  are shaping communities of resistance..(


Meanwhile, back at the Goosecast tent, Russ
Russ Jennnings
 is ready to host his own podcast Love In a Dangerous Time with his new cohost, Kristen Leigh.
Kristren Leigh Southworth
( Their first broadcast together is with Goose co-founder Jeff Clark. 
Jeff Clark
Kristen Leigh and Russ join in conversation with Jeff as he shares his journey from the burning desire for something more to the first gathering of a few dozen to today’s gathering of 3000 plus. The experience of exploring uncharted territory. He reminds us of Sikh activist Valerie Kaur’s comment that what we are experiencing right now as a nation may not be the darkness of the tomb, but rather the darkness of the womb. Kristen Leigh ends the podcast with a song: 
We’re gonna keep on walkin’forward, never turnin’ back…

Let it be said, we appreciate Jeff’s work as MC of the
Goose MainStage…and his shameless old white guy dance…

Up next, two of my favorites, Charles Breten and Chris Henson of the podcast A Jew and a gentile walk into a bar….mitzvah.
A Jew and a gentile.....

Their show is a unique blend of theology, sardonic humor, detailed cigar critique and exploration of the human condition. ( Feels a bit like a  theological Car Talk…) Part of the power of their podcast comes from a personal relationship begun with a mutual appreciation of humor in a steam bath and a profound shared experience of depression. Part of their mission is to bring the conversation about depression out of the shadows and into the light to take away stigma and allow others to know they are not alone. Through the clouds of fine cigar smoke, the love…and intelligence…shine through.

Then Goosecast Happy hour continues with Pub Theology’s Bryan Berghoef and friend and special surprise guest emergent church guru Bryan McLaren.
Pub Theology
Its an interesting conversation. One guest speaks of the importance of Rotary Club in his life. The idea of Service above self. And I remember how seriously my father took the Four way test…applied to everything we think or do:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

      Bryan McLaren recalls that Phyllis Tickle has said that every 500 years we need to reset the table every 500 years. And that earlier today, Otis Moss had said that we need o let what is dying die and what is dying is whiteness.

We are in a process of ongoing co-creation with the creator. That we need rituals to release the hurt done to us. And that Baptism is an entry into a mission of shared humanity.
( I later said to Bryan that this was the answer to the question as to why Jesus was baptized. An ultimate expression of his solidarity with humanity, his oneness with humanity in every aspect of life. )
Someone asks "If you had it to do over again would you?" The answer was not easy.

Russ, Bob and Kristen Leigh


The evening saw the introduction of side stages where there were performances during stage resets. Molly(formerly of Me & Molly) Stevens ( )played a set of classic Nashville Country. Former Christian music (I still find that an odd term…what about Bach? Mozart?) Jennifer Knapp talks about her journey and the process of coming out and  shares her music.( Methodist pastor Sherry Cothran has her own solo set( and the night ends with the big sound of John Mark McMillan, including a Springsteen cover with his originals. (

The music slowly fades. Beer & hymns comes and goes. Our conversation continues. From music to the Nicaean Creed and feminist virgins. Another day at the Goose comes to an end….

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wild Goose 2: What if we only had 5 years?


Rev. Barber wakes us up

Wild Goose:2

From inside my tent I hear the wake up music from the main stage. It’s the unmistakable bluesy growl and rolling keyboard line of The Rev. Vince Anderson.
Rev. Vince Anderson
(More about Vince later.)
I get up, go to the Desanka tent to grab an oatmeal and coffee  and then to the main stage.

There to wake us up in more ways than one is the Rev. William Barber from North Carolina. Founder of the Moral Mondays movement and now Repairers of the Breach ( and planning a new Poor People’s Campaign. Barber as always is in his red and black clerics, complete with a red stole (usually signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit) as if to proclaim every public prophetic witness is a liturgical event.

It seems to be Barber’s moment now as commentators compare him to Martin  Luther King, Jr. much to the concern of some of his friends. It’s a heavy—and dangerous — mantle to carry. We don’t need another King, they say. A Barber is enough. 

Today he wants to tell us what time it is. But before he gets there, he’s got a litany of what time it is not….

To name a few:
  • It’s not the time of Trump. We were facing the evils of white privilege and racism; police violence, mass incarceration and gentrification long before Trump.
  • It’s not the time of Russia. Our elections were hacked by acts of voter suppression and race based gerrymandering to deny black votes long before Russia hacked in.
  • It’s not the time  of white working class deplorables. The majority of Trump voters were upper income , those who benefit from his policies. The white working class are victims of economic exploitation as well with whiteness used a means of dividing natural allies and diverting class struggle.

SO what time is it?  The voice echoes and booms…it’s movement time! It’s moment time!  It’s movement time!


Barber also reported a visit by African American pastors to try and find common ground with Franklin Graham, who makes his father Billy look like a flaming liberal. Of course he served us fried chicken and watermelon, he said. 


Jim Wallis of Sojourners is next up. He’s currently been portrayed by the New York Times as the godfather of the progressive Christian movement and it’s “inside man.” ( More than anything Wallis has served as bridge between the evangelical world and the world of mainline liberal protestantism. The Times article didn’t seem to get that many of the “liberals” they were lifting up are actually progressive prophetic evangelicals. Wallis is very clear that the single most important issue for us to be working in right now is white privilege. 


What followed was an all star panel of Nadia Bolz-Weber, Michael Waters and Doug Pagitt. 
Round table conversation

Last night Nadia had described a t-shirt that proclaimed   " Radical protestants: nailing shit to church doors since 1517.” She had described repentance as the “freedom from thinking the same over and over and over again.” That our sense of sin keeps us in shame. To which she says, remorse, yes, shame no. Our jagged edges connect us to each other and to God. 

Today Nadia reminds us that its the work of pastors to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments and proclaim the forgiveness of sins. She refers to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and asks us to think about what it would be like if our churches only had 5 years to live.

We could give it all away. 
We could be free people 
Christ came to set us free. 
Free people are forgiven people.
Forgiveness of sins is REAL.
Free to speak truth to stupid.

What if we only had 5years?


I go to catch Rev. Vince Anderson’s set in the Cafe. 
Russ Jennings and Rev. Vince
I first encounters him when I was on the Great Open Mic Tour of 2015 and we landed at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. ( you here for church? they asked. I looked in. Saw this bear of a man in a Hawaiian shirt and white Panama hat. Turns out it was Rev. Vince and his Barstool Tabernacle. Which I learned was the successor to Jay Bakker’s Revolution church.  (Vince’s Barstool has now been folded into the Bushwick Abbey ( he directs music) You hear traces of Tom Waits in his music well as a bit of Randy Newman and Dr. John but his style of dirty gospel is all his own.  He shares with us music from his new psalms project. After his set, Kristen Leigh and I spend some time talking with him. Maybe we could put together a whole tent next year?
Robert Brashear and Rev. Vince


Podcast guru Tripp Fuller leads a conversation at the Seminary Happy Hour asking us to ask ourselves three questions about our seminary education:
  1. 1. What was our ‘Oh shit!” (or 'Oh Schnikies”) moments when we realized everything we knew was about too come undone. 
  2. 2. What was the “MMMMM yes, but not quite enough” moment..and
  3. What was the “I may not know for sure but I'm putting my stake in the ground here” moment?


The Goosecast tent hosts an everchanging eclectic collection of podcasts. Like Matt Inman’s “Ineffciency” (  celebrating the value and importance of inefficiency in experiences and relationships and use of time.
Or Carla Ewart of Holy Writ( interviewing Tina Schermer Sellers author of Sex and the Conservative Church.
Tina Schermer Sellers and Carla Ewart
In their conversation, the two women explored the damage done by the (so-called) Purity Movement and Ms. Sellers’ work bringing a Biblically based sex positive perspective to evangelicals.
The day ended with the Brew Theology crew:Ryan Miller, Janel Apps Ramsey, Shane Oram and Andy Millman. ( ) They shared their stories and how Brew theology works, meaningful conversations…and beer. The casual relationship with beer, so much a part of this scene, i snot without deeper implications. Janel, for example, speaks of being seventh generation Nazarene and deciding to leave the denomination rather than live hypocritically. Each person’s journey has its own unique marks. 
The Brew Theology crew


An important discovery  is the Desanka Diner tent.  Taking its name from an African word meaning Joy, Contentment and Pleasure, the Desanka community provides an invaluable service by providing simple free food every day for Goose volunteers and everyone else. A simple act of hospitality that makes thew Goose possible for many and opens tables for unexpected conversations. So a hearty thanks to Desanka (…..

My favorite concert of the festival is Friday night with David Wimbish and the Collection.
David Wimbish and the Collection
They have a special place in my heart since the band spent a night at West Parka couple of years  back following a concert at the Rockwood Music Hall celebrating their Ars Moriendi album. Th next day, they had vehicle issues so they spent the day hanging out and playing music in different configurations throughout our church. I was impressed that so many musoicians would come together to help bring David's music to life. Their music is carries the indie vibe of Mumford, Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes etc. with its own unique orchestral flourishes. The music is also driving and infectious and explores issues of mortality, spirituality and young adult angst. When I first saw them there were at least a dozen musicians with multiple horns and other instruments.  Tonight’s Collection includes in addition to the standard rock lineup a  harmonium and one horn player. With a larger stage and fewer musicians, the players jump around the stage with a punk sensibility. Although as Kristen Leigh says, in North Carolina, genre boundaries are more fluid. Songs from  the new album “Listen to the River”are featured and the music satisfies, intelligent, creative and catchy. (
After show conversation
The Collection

David and his new partner join us at our table and we talk about music and intentional communities. “How great thou art” resounds form the Beer and Hymns tent….