Monday, December 27, 2010

No More Singing Telegrams

I am so, so, so done. The last few days tested my endurance, as I did 4 or so each day while last-minute orders came in. Although a few days before I'd been wondering if I could find a way to do singing telegrams professionally & full-time, I definitely hit my "max" and fizzled out. They are all available on my youtube if you're concerned about missing any of them.
The good news is that this project raised $500+ for Children of Uganda's music and dance program, and is going straight to the work on the ground in Uganda as our dance troupe has a special training over December and January break, in getting ready for a September 2011 Tour.

The blizzard has hit New York, where I'm spending Christmas. We had great fortune - left the city just as it started, had some fun up in Albany with a lighter snowfall (12"), and then came back as the sun shone and as people dug their cars out. New Yorkers are so WEIRD - they shovel snow by tossing it away from their car and into the center of the road. One, this means you can barely drive. Two, the snowplow comes and shovels it right back on the car, and then they have an excuse to bitch and moan - is this why they do it? or they just don't understand the principles of shoveling? Anyway, we were planning to find a vacant parking space and spend an hour or so digging the snow out so we could park our car there, but by some amazing luck we found one that had JUST been vacated - and no snowplow had come by - meaning we slid into a pre-dug parking spot, right across from our house. Sweet deal.

I wrote this

Meditation for Dec 27th, SFTS Devotional

Today’s passage: Proverbs 8:22-30
This passage speaks of a personified wisdom – Sophia. The Hebrew Hochmah and Greek Sophia are both feminine nouns and so have been understood as a glimpse into the feminine aspects of God. The Hebrew understanding of Sophia includes the kind of wisdom that Solomon was reputed to have, with insight and understanding of complex situations, but also includes skills and abilities. Sophia was with the carpenters, weavers, and other workers who constructed the tabernacle. She indwelled them to such degree that they were said to have “the spirit of God.” (Ex 31:6). Her grace-filled gifts are given not only to the mind, but to the hands as well. She is, above all, creative.

We can understand this Sophia as God’s first creation, made not begotten, but we can also see her as a female manifestation of God and of Christ. She is “the first of God’s acts of long ago,” just as Christ is “the Word, in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). She is a co-worker in creation, a “master worker,” similar to the Word through whom “all things came into being” (John 1:3). Paul calls Christ “the wisdom of God” – God’s Sophia (I Cor 1:24).

As we continue to celebrate his marvelous coming into the world, let us seek to be in touch with Christ, the wisdom of God.
The one who makes fools out of the worldly wise;
The one who is understood by fools, women, shepherds, pregnant teens, tax collectors... and dismissed by many others;
The one who came to her own, and her own people did not accept her;
The one who has been “daily God’s delight,” on whom God’s favor rests, descending like a dove;
The one who has seen the creation of all things, who creates, who recreates, who allows us to be recreated.
All these things, wrapped tightly together in story-cloth, laid in the straw he created – all these things made real in one tiny baby.

God – Sophia – Christ.
Be in our hearts and minds and hands today.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A lot more singing telegrams.

We're going gangbusters in the singing telegram business! Children of Uganda has received at least $400 so far from these efforts, and possibly more. If you're wondering what this is all about check out my original pitch at http://presbybug.blogspot.com/2010/12/singing-telegrams.html

Boisterous angels


The Twelve Days of Christmas, Oregon style:


A Barbra Streisand fantasia (my personal favorite):

A music-box singalong


"Star Child" for Stephen, who is always a child at heart

Monday, December 20, 2010

putting the pieces together

More singing telegrams coming soon. In the meanwhile, I had some thoughts about SCHOOLWORK even though the semester is over.
A theme running through class this semester (and by "class" I mean the only class I cared about, my elective in Old Testament) was how to take our complex thoughts out of the academy and into the real world.

I've worked on my elevator-speech (you know, the one you give when you only have 20 seconds to speak) about what my thesis topic is, and I've settled on "analysis of the verse "She shall be saved by childbearing" through the lens of greek medical treatises on women's health in chastity and in pregnancy," which is a mouthful but it's accurate.
The paper I wrote in the Old Testament class is not so easily distilled to one sentence. The class focuses on the Persian period, post-"exile" if you choose to call it that, the 6th century BCE to the 3rd or so, as narrated by Ezra and Nehemiah's stories and witnessed in the many other Biblical texts produced during that period of time. It takes THAT complicated a sentence to even DESCRIBE the class? So no wonder the paper seems obscure. Anyway, when I started my paper, I had the idea that I would find evidence for a change in the Judean society (it's still developing and can barely be called Jewish - agh, more qualifications on my statements), a change FROM a rural society of a not very stratified social structure, with family (extended family) centered agrarian production.... TO a structure with an urban elite (those are the ones who do all the talking, and writing biblical texts) with an ignored or oppressed rural population. I looked for this change by checking the vocabulary of Biblical texts - statements such as Genesis 2's focus on the soil and its cultivation indicating a population who cared about the land - and prophets such as Hosea who call the land as partner in lament over the broken relationship between God and people. In the older texts there is a clear sense that God, land, and people are all interwoven in relationships together, and the land and its weather frequently communicate for God. We don't typically understand God that way anymore, so we go looking for when it changed, and people often point to the exile, when the Hebrew people got citified, and when they stopped understanding God as localized and saw God as universal. so that's what i went looking for.
Guess what. I didn't find it. I found that the post-exilic texts were AS concerned with caring for the land, with God's communication to God's people through the land, and with the rights of God's people to work the land and get their basic family subsistence off it (rather than working for large landholders in a more commercial arrangement.)
Conclusion: The idea of a people (and a religion) being wholly disconnected from the land that supports them is our modern fantasy, unfounded in Biblical realities. If we continue to pursue such a disconnected lifestyle we will find it unsustainable; if we continue to justify it based on the Bible’s alleged disregard for ecological and agricultural issues, we will find ourselves trapped and condemned by the very text we look to for justification – no matter what time period of text we look to.

HA.
and what, you ask, am I going to DO about this?
I'm going to start writing little bits about this, hopefully weekly, starting in January - bite-size bloggable bits about how much the Bible thinks land is important, and how wrong we are in our modern mentality of ignoring it.
coming up. more bloggage. hurray!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two more singing telegrams

It was getting tedious to post them every time i made a new one.
Here's the deal:

***Singing Telegrams for Children of Uganda! Donations made in each recipient's honor will support COU's music and dance program. For a $25 suggested donation you'll receive a singing telegram, completely customized for your recipient. Donate at www.childrenofuganda.org and email talitha (at) childrenofuganda -dot- org for your telegram!***

Here are the telegrams.

Douglas Serrill compared to Douglas Fir


And ... "Rudolf moves out."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bill's telegram

This is what you get when you put the Given-Phillips family together to make a telegram for their FAVORITE family friend and fiddler!

emily's telegram

for Emily on her birthday...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Presenting: Singing Telegrams

This is my FUN fundraising program for Children of Uganda. All donations will support our music & dance program as they prepare for a 2011 performance tour.


To ORDER a singing telegram, you should simultaneously
1) Donate at www.childrenofuganda.org (specifying it's for a singing telegram)
AND
2) send me an email at talitha ((at)) childrenofuganda //dot// org

Sacred songs, secular songs, Christmas carols, and sea chanteys are all options.

If you live nearby / are my friend, I can do them in-person, but anyone can get one through YouTube - completely personalized, or I can make a video that's not posted, and send it to you through email.

Sliding scale depending on what you can afford and what features you want. $25 is the basic price. If I'm delivering it in person, please add to your donation at least as much as I'll spend in gas to get there. And if you are MORE generous with your donation you may receive bonuses in the forms of lights, costumes, background singers, etc.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Eco-nut


I'm feeling hedged in, a bit. Partly I think it's a case of Nature Deficit Disorder. Normally during this time of year I cope with the shortened hours of the day by spending plenty of time well-bundled up and working up a sweat on the hiking trails... but my ankle is still healing and it's hard to keep warm when you only go about 1.5 mph. I have a longer leash, now that I can walk nearly 1/2 mile per day, but that doesn't quite do the trick.

Partly, though, it's the seminarian's conundrum: so much thinking, so little action! Our ethics class (on food systems) read Animal Vegetable Miracle together and I am practically hopping up and down with the pent-up desire to DO the local-eating, mad-farmer-for-fun thing, but hopping is hard on one foot, and gardening is hard work too, and I'm barely finding the time to keep my basil plants trimmed.

On Sunday I preached yet another incarnation of my manna sermon, going off script to tell stories from last summer's Presbyterian Hunger Program Roadtrip. I compared the US' food system to Egypt and the food movement (an amalgam of the locavore-gleaner-community-gardening set) to the Hebrew people setting out into the wilderness. I want it too. I want OUT of the enslavement of Egypt, the cheap bad food that's poisoning us. I want to no longer have any complicity in the enslavement of my immigrant brothers and sisters in unspeakable field labor conditions, or in the dumping of cheap corn on the international market, destroying traditional agriculture worldwide.
But it's nice in Egypt, because my food is delivered to me by the industrial food complex. It's convenient. I don't have to get my hands dirty. So i'm still here, idly wondering when I'll get around to getting the heck out.

What's interesting is how much my ethics professor's prodding DOESN'T affect my desire to get out of Egypt. She writes long lists of things we should feel guilty about on the board, and I get stubborn and reactive and dig my heels in. Don't you dare try to guilt-trip me out of my time-honored ways. When I leave, I'm running not away from guilt but toward a better life. When I leave, I'm leaving for love and joy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Retirement Home Preaching

So I say "I'm preaching in a retirement home tonight" and you think -- easy peasy, how cute, I hope the residents don't fall asleep during your sermon. The Vespers service is at 7 PM (isn't that past their bedtime?) and we have retirement-home food for dinner at 5:15. "Harvard Beets" and potatoes. When was the last time I ate dinner at 5:15? God knows.

However, Piedmont Gardens is no typical retirement home. I'm not saying that I wasn't asked some very alzheimery questions several times in a row, or that nobody nodded off, or that the pianist didn't play Somewhere Over the Rainbow for the prelude. But I came to realize that I was preaching for several former professors, including a professor of my seminary, and for a former moderator of the PC(USA).

Duly humbled.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call

My beloved housemate Elizabeth preached a great sermon on Monday. Taking Matthew 18 as her text, she talked about conflict, church conflict, world conflict, and finally she landed on "being conflicted" rather than causing conflict. The Gospel will cause us to be conflicted within, she said, and spoke of being "conflicted with our call" to ministry.

I understand this well. Although we sang a different song in chapel, the song that came to my mind in response was "I have decided to follow Jesus." That solemn and slow spiritual... none going with me... the cross before me... no turning back, no turning back. And I think of the times when I have steeled myself to sing that song, conflicting myself inside, as if the song were a bitter medicine and I a weak patient. I sang it to myself in a bare little room in Uganda, willing myself to face the day and work harder, love better, and for goodness sake not to get so squeamish over children's illnesses and injuries. Sometimes I've used my "call" and even the name of Jesus to justify punishing myself (so that I can ultimately feel proud of how humble I've become, of course...). Conflicted with a call? Sometimes it felt like nothing but conflict. Afflicted with a call is closer to it.

But that song - and my call - opened up this summer on my amazing roadtrip. It was by a campfire in North Lima OH where a young Goodness Grows intern picked up a guitar and sang that song, upbeat and with a hint of bluegrass twang. And she added a verse. Her clear voice rang out:
//When he calls me
I'll come running //
Maybe my call could be like her song - jubilant, wholehearted, free. Maybe it could untwist from its snarly harshness, and taste less like medicine and more like freshness. I like that idea and I've been following it, trusting it, leaning into it. This is a good place to be. But still the sense of being conflicted does come up. Even in church work, sometimes. A dissatisfaction arises after a long day of planning logistics - doesn't someone want to just talk about God with me? Or at seminary, where we are famously stuck in our heads - doesn't anyone want to quit talking about God and actually DO something?

The call conflicts us because it never ends. No area of our lives can be considered off-limits. Jesus calls us ever and always away from the grooves we've worn for ourselves - those well-trodden paths of exploitative power, chemical dependencies (sugar and petroleum are chemicals), abuse and denial. He calls us forward and out, calls us toward all that is good and lifegiving and just and beautiful and resurrection and Yes.

The call never ends - not when we're working 50 hours a week "for the Lord," not when we're professor emeritus of Deep Pious Thoughts, not when we've singlehandedly saved the orphans of one small nation or another. The call never stops.
But the ultimacy of the call is not why we follow. We follow because the one calling is joyful - jubilant - irresistible.
When Christ calls - let's come running.
O be swift, my soul, to answer God!
Be jubilant, my feet!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

barnyard leadership

So this blog got reviewed in Presbyterians Today, and they included a little pic of farmer talitha:
They gave it a caption - "church leadership in her future?" And one might think, yes! in some kind of barn-church.

Right. So the word "pastor" means "shepherd" as in sheep. In fact that small animal in my arms is not a sheep but a goat, long-standing symbol in Christian literature of an outsider/bad person, as in fact are dogs (and Samaritans). Score. Pastor to the less than perfectly sheepish. I could live with that.
But I was reminded that my sister & brother-in-law have definitely got me beat in terms of ministering to the less stereotypical flocks. They did a brief stint in Uganda as pig missionaries.
So if you ever tire of the sappy Christian songs about shepherding, or just DON'T WANNA BE A SHEEP, rest assured that my family has got the rest of the barnyard metaphors covered.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Listening to the Locusts

Preached today at Broadway Presbyterian in NYC. There was a lot of good music courtesy of Patrick Evans & our choir... my favorite is a song called "the blue green hills of earth."

Here's the sermon... Listening to the Locusts.
(That's a picture of a locust swarm btw)

read these scriptures first:
Psalm 65
Joel 2:21-32

It’s a pleasure to be back home at Broadway Presbyterian, and a privilege to preach for you. It was a particular pleasure to find these two passages from the First Testament scheduled for me in the lectionary. These are beautiful and poetic passages, with a lot about nature and the goodness of God’s creation.
Psalm 65 is especially lovely, and especially for reading now in the autumn, around harvest time. I love the line “your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.” It can be hard to relate to that in the city where grocery stores always overflow with abundance... but imagine if you will a farmer going out in the fall to harvest his vineyard, with his family and a few neighbors. Usually they have no trouble fitting the entire harvest into a single wagon. But the harvest is bountiful this year and even though the children are eating fistfuls of grapes right off the vine, armload after armload keeps coming in, until the wagon is loaded to the very top... and spilling over. When they are done, and headed home, people walk alongside the wagon keeping their hands ready if anything falls, but there is more than anyone could manage to catch, and besides, the harvest is so much more than they need, and everyone’s so busy laughing and having fun... that they leave a long line of fallen grapes behind in the road.
That’s what our God is like. Nature may bestow this kind of abundance on a farmer once every few years, but God’s wagon tracks are always overflowing with abundance.

The Scripture lesson from Joel also tells us about this aspect of God, the generous God who blesses the land. “Do not fear, O Soil!” The prophet talks to the fields and the creatures as if they were dear friends. Do not worry – in fact, be glad – God is sending you blessings of rain and produce. God is giving you food and drink.
This is a beautiful passage. But it hints at a darker side. To be fully honest, we skipped most of the book of Joel, and the rest was much more somber. Often prophets work like that – they start with the bad news, and then move on to the good. But often WE like to read the blessing and skip the cursing.
The prophecies of Joel, pleasant as they sound, were actually given in response to a very unpleasant, massive swarm of locusts that destroyed all the crops – a hostile army’s attack. So listen to just the first few verses of the prophet Joel that were NOT included in the lectionary reading for today:
Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.


This is in-your-face nature. Farmers everywhere throw their hands up in surrendur. There’s no fighting this army. The digestive tract of a locust is specially adapted to accomodate just about anything. They are eating machines. Whatever you’ve planted, THEY will feast on, and lick the wagon tracks clean. It’s a good thing locusts and grasshoppers are technically a kosher food, permitted by traditional law for Israelites to catch and eat (Lev 11:20), because after the few hours it takes for them to devastate your year’s labor, that’s about all you will have left... a plateful of bugs.
So there goes the mythical and romantic notion that nature is always kind. Nature is awesome, and powerful, and majestic, and at times, overwhelming.
God is, at least somewhat, like that too. Surprising. Mysterious. And far beyond our comprehension.

God (as the Israelites understood God) communicated in a variety of ways. There was written law, of course, and traditional stories passed down, and priests who interepreted these, and prophets who defended them. But one of the other primary ways the Israelites experienced God was directly mediated by the world around them... by wagon tracks full of spilled grapes, by the constancy of sunrise and sunset, by the long-awaited spring rains, by water in the desert, by fire on the mountain, and even by swarms of locusts. These were the ways they learned about God’s generosity, God’s constancy, and God’s awesome power. What’s more, the people had a contractual relationship with God – a lease on the land, if you will – telling them how they could and could not live on the land. The land belonged to God, and the people were tenants, and sometimes when the people were not honoring this three-way covenant, the land itself would express God’s dissatisfaction. A few centuries before Joel, the prophet Hosea made this connection clear, between the people and their land:
Hosea chapter 4.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.


The biblical scholar Ellen Davis puts it this way: As a rule of thumb – in the Hebrew scriptures – the best index for the health of the relationship between God and God’s people, is the health of the land. From the lush garden of Eden to the harshness of the desert, the condition of the land mirrors the relationship between human and divine.
So Joel is speaking a well-known language here. When he says “God has poured down for you abundant rain,” he is saying “God loves you.” When he says “God will pay back the years the locust has eaten,” he is saying “God is merciful and generous.” And Joel’s fellow Judeans understand that language. They have to! because they live in close contact with the land. Mainly, because they are farmers. They may not live at a day-to-day subsistence level, but they certainly live harvest-to-harvest, or year-to-year. Any little change in the weather could mean the difference between a year of feasting or of famine. They understand the connection between spring rain and God’s love, as easily as we connect a diamond ring and an engagement. They speak that language – the language of the land. Jesus spoke it too, and his parables are infused with agricultural language.
Unfortunately, those of us who are not farmers are missing out on deeper meanings throughout the Bible. We say “the Lord is my shepherd,” blah blah blah, but we don’t GET it in the way they did. Something like weather is a curiosity in an urban world where no crops depend on it. It’s a trivial conversation topic, or an inconvenience. It’s not important to us. And so we don’t understand how a swarm of locusts can be a life-or-death matter.
We might miss half the meanings in the Bible because of this, but there are other parts, of course, which we hold onto. For example, you may have noticed that the Joel reading was in two portions. There are two promises, two forms of consolation. The first promise is tangible – that God will pour out rain. The second is spiritual – that God will pour out the Spirit. And THAT is the famous one, that gets repeated at Pentecost. In our reading of the Bible, we have chosen to value the one and abandon the other. We will pray for the spirit, but we don’t really pray for rain.
Maybe we don’t want to be caught praying for rain, because it seems superstititous. We think that we are more enlightened now, and have our minds on higher things, and so we assume that God does too... that God cares about deep intellectual thoughts more than about grapes and grasshoppers.
Or maybe it’s just easier to ask God to bless us with some kind of intangible thing, so that we can’t really be proven wrong if we don’t get it. It’s less risky to ask for inner peace, sometime, please... than it is to ask for rain, and I need it, this season. It’s really going out on a limb, to believe that God would directly bless us, here and now, with tangible, edible proof – with the kind of grace that you can chew.
The other thing is, we really value our disconnection from the land. Dirt is dirty, after all, and we have invented a lot of machinery to keep us from touching it. We’ve got machinery to keep even our agriculture nicely insulated from the variances of the weather. We irrigate. We fertilize. We keep the locusts away with tons & tons of petrochemical pesticides. And we also just get away. Over the past few decades Americans have made a mass exodus from farms, turning the work of the land over to a few corporations. Farming is done by specialists with machines, helped by immigrant day laborers.
The loss of our cultural connection to the land extends even as far as losing our connection with the very food we eat. We eat fresh strawberries twelve months of the year, even though ten of those months they taste like styrofoam, but we don’t notice they taste lousy because we’re shutting down our own bodies. We only pay attention to them for the work they can do, or their usefulness in delivering pain or pleasure signals. And we approach the spiritual life the same way - just give me a shot of deep thoughts straight to the brain, please, and let me get on with my disembodied life!
We forget that the first person – Adam – was created out of the earth – the Adamah. We forget that the human was created from the humus – from the soil. There is ancient and timeless wisdom in the Hebrew Bible, about practical and physical stuff... wisdom that we simply skip over, looking instead for interesting thoughts to distract us from the very physical, concrete reality of a life lived in right relations with God and our fellow humans – and with the land. A Christian spirituality can never truly abandon this ancient sense that our lives are physical realities, interconnected with the world around us. If we disconnect from the land, we disconnect from our fellow humans, and we disconnect from God. And that is our loss.

When we disconnect we lose other benefits as well. For one, it’s healthy to be connected. It’s good for the body... and good for the soul. A little story about Children of Uganda... just a few years ago there was an agriculture project started at the orphanage... with the goal of feeding the children from our own land, instead of solely relying on USAID and the local vendors for a steady supply of 100-lb sacks of corn flour. They started a huge garden, a fruit orchard, and a chicken house. Now the project has done little more than inching slowly toward the goal of not needing to buy sacks of flour. THAT goal is not within reach. BUT even without that goal, they discovered that farming is totally worth the time and energy. The children participate, and learn to wonder at strange and marvelous new vegetables, they take pride and joy in raising their food, and they even express compassion as they gently nurture their chickens... or even their squash plants. When we take care of the earth, the earth takes care of us.
Another benefit of feeling connected to the land is that we often find it very easy to connect to God when we’re out in nature... mountains, trees, lakes, rivers... Sometimes it’s a sense of being stunned or overwhelmed by beauty, and sometimes it’s a quiet sense of peace and calm. Spending time in nature can be such a powerful experience that people honestly feel more connected to God there than they do in church. There’s nothing wrong with that. We are natural beings, we belong in nature. And God does still speak to us that way.
It’s an unfortunate loss for us that we should have turned away from the land, and forgotten its language. I’m not saying that we should all go back to subsistence farming. But we could do a better job of paying attention to God, and to hear God speaking to us through creation.

So first, pay attention. Look for the joys. There are still wagon tracks overflowing with abundance. The sunrise and sunset skies still shout for joy, as the Psalmist said, and it only takes a second to lift your gaze from the sidewalk below you and notice what’s above. The wind still whistles around playfully shaking up leaves on the sidewalk. The world around us teaches of God’s generosity, and constancy, and playfulness. How could a God who created chipmunks not be playful at heart? We may be losing our ability to communicate well in the language of the land, but that language can never completely leave us. If we take time to find a sunset to look at – or even just a single leaf – and to wonder at the beauty there, we can always see the fingerprints of God. I remember well Bruce Johnson, a member of this congregation who passed away last year, who took note of these signs. Every spring, there would be a time when he would stand up in church during the community announcement time, and simply say “go to Central Park! The cherry blossoms are in bloom!” He helped us all to pay attention.
Pay attention as well to the harder parts. Listen for the dreadful swarm of locusts telling us we’re not in charge of things – that life is painful – that things just aren’t fair. Listen for the cries of seabirds in the gulf, months after the bp accident, who are still struggling to clean their feathers of the oil. Listen to the mournful cries of land across the country: mountains falling for the sake of coal, and formerly fertile fields being stripped of topsoil by the wasteful, harsh practices of industrial agriculture. This morning’s opening hymn called us to “join the happy chorus which the morning stars began.” Join that chorus, and you may notice that the ranks keep thinning. Our choir is missing some seabirds, and entire species of frogs, and the tops of many mountains. When we hear these things we know that God is calling us to more reverent and careful ways of interacting with the land and the creatures entrusted to our care.
In the second part of our reading, Joel introduces the idea of an apocalypse. Apocalyptic thought was developing in early Judaism, especially in the few centuries before and around the time of Jesus. Joel says “the sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.” And Jesus repeats similar ideas. Apocalyptic thought can be very important, especially when people are being oppressed and need to know that God will ultimately redeem and vindicate them. We need to be careful, though, because in regard to the land, such lines of thinking have lead many Christians down a dangerous path. The danger is that if we believe we are getting a new heavens and a new earth, real soon, that we decide to trash the land we have. This makes about as much sense as an addict saying, “well, since I’ve decided to get clean and sober tomorrow, tonight I’ll go all out.” And the Christian scriptures witness against the idea that this is a disposable earth, and we’ll get a new one. It is THIS world, this creation, that God loves and cares for and wants to restore to its original beauty and dignity. Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:22) speaks of all creation groaning, in labor pains, longing for redemption by God. Note: not just people. All of creation. And even the book of Revelations, which is full of terror and destruction, has an ultimate plan of redemption that includes the earth. Chapter 22: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through 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.
No... we should not turn away from the earth God created. The land has cared for us since the beginning of human existence. It has expressed to us something about who God is. It has called to us in joy and in distress. And it is part of God’s ultimate plan. We will not be saved alone, but in the company of all creation, to which we are bound.
We should not turn away from it. But since we – collectively – as a culture – HAVE turned away, we are now invited to turn back toward the earth. Teach our hearts once again to speak the language of the land. Listen to the locusts... listen to the seabirds... hear the cries of all creation, both rejoicing and groaning. Listen to nature, not as an audience member in a symphony hall, but as a friend.... with an open heart ready to be touched and moved to action.

Let us pray.
God, may our hearts and minds be open to listen to the messages you send us in so many ways. Give us wonder and reverence for all your creation. Give us compassion for everything that suffers. Speak to us, Lord, help us to listen, and show us a way to respond. Show us the paths that lead to justice and peace, and that help everything in creation to flourish, to live, and to rejoice before you. May we be your instruments of mercy and renewal in the world. Amen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moderation

I got to be madam moderator for a whole hour on Tuesday, while my polity classmates and I examined two candidates for ordination and membership in the Presbytery of Mock. It was a fun presbytery, made up of minister members from such churches as "Heritage Presbyterian Church of Narrowville" and "Happy Presbyterian Church of Sunnyside" and "the church of we never dress up on sundays."
It was simple work... our candidates were eminently ordainable, no one wanted to interrogate them on their understanding of church governance. We didn't even have any points of order raised, and I got the sneaky feeling that not everybody there thought Robert's Rules were the funnest thing since skip-its.
It's ok. I read Roberts Rules for fun. G-E-E-K.
I embrace that about myself.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Still on crutches?

Five & 1/2 months ago, in a liturgical dance rehearsal, I tore a ligament in my ankle. I've been the butt of many a joke since then but it's finally starting to work a bit better. I do half an hour of physical therapy a day, ride a bike daily for 6 minutes exactly, and sometimes I walk without crutches. I have a cane, a very stylish little thing, and tap around with that sometimes. I walk slowly around the house, completely unaided. But I've never made it to school without crutches. The one block walk up a hill is just too far to manage. So every day I continue to receive oh-so-sympathetic comments, mostly along the line of "I can't believe you're still on crutches!"
Believe it, people.
But I don't want to complain. It may feel ridiculous, but my recovery is only a little bit slower than scheduled. We're moving forward. Mountains (or at least big hills) are in my list of goals for the end of 2010.

And other than the stretch-before-dancing lesson, I've learned a lot of other important things from the experience. For example a bit of patience, and not being ashamed of asking for help. Priorities, too. At least for the first few months, the crutches slowed me down so much that there were just not enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted to. So you decide. What's important? I move slower now... I take my time. I used to bounce everywhere, and bounce off walls in the meantime, and I can't really do that anymore. I asked a friend what the difference felt like to her and she said "it's easier to connect with you when you're not jumping up and down." Point taken. It's also easier for me to connect to things myself. I went to the beach last weekend, and between concentrating on the difficult work of walking on sand and bugging my friend to slow down to my pace, I found the time to notice the sand beneath my feet. That sand was frikking beautiful. Not just a PT exercise, it's amazing, colorful, pebbly stuff, and different from any other beach. They say when one sense is taken away, the others sharpen. When speedy/unencumbered motion is taken away, perhaps, the looking-listening-paying ATTENTION parts of me get strengthened.
So I've been richly blessed. And am willing to keep waiting. But I have my eyes on the prize, and won't stop pressing forward... I WANT TO SKIP AND JUMP!

Godly Play

Yesterday at Montclair Presbyterian Church we had children and youth incorporated into the morning service. Instead of a sermon, the youth gave their slideshow and report from last summer's mission trip. The children provided some of the music, and young people of all ages participated in leadership.
Joy of all joys, though, *i* got to do a Godly Play story with the children for the children's sermon time. Godly Play, for those who don't know, is a Montessori-based education method for Sunday School, and we use it at MPC for preschoolers through 6th graders (in separate classrooms). It's not a didactic teaching style... the "teacher" is called a "storyteller" instead, and for most of the story they keep their attention not on the children but fully on the story they are telling through the use of toy-size props. The stories are very rich in the tangible sense... the story items are well-made of wood and cloth, with significant use of color. Most people's favorite item is the "desert box" (which is not a playground sandbox! but you might mistake one for the other...) where the various Old Testament stories of desert wanderings are all told. Following the story the storyteller will bring their attention back to the children and ask "wondering" questions - open-ended and creative. The children are then given free time to work on art projects, to re-tell a story with props, or to freely play with the story elements. They re-gather for "the feast," share joys and concerns, and pray. It feels more like church than it does like school, even Sunday School.

So I shared the story of "the Good Shepherd and World Communion," based on John 10 but incorporating Lord's Supper references, with a mixed group of children, at the front of MPC with all the grown-ups watching. Godly Play storytellers don't usually wear lapel mics, nor is there usually an audience, but circumstances called for adaptation. We had set the communion table with white and green linens, and in front of it we put a smaller, child-size table, also draped in white and green, and I told the story on that. On the story board was a tiny table with dollhouse-size bread and wine... so we had a table on a table next to a big table... a story within a story within a story. The Good Shepherd led his sheep around the sheepfold, over to the good grass, and gathered them around the table. Then I reached down and picked up a basket of people-figures and started adding people to the circle, until finally the table was surrounded by people of all races and ages and manners of ethnic dress.
At the end of the story I asked the wondering questions. The first two flopped - no responses - but then I asked "I wonder if you have ever seen such a crowd of people gather around the table of the Good Shepherd?" The littlest ones bantered back and forth "i did." "i didn't!" "well I did," until one child's voice rang through - "I see it! right here right now!" and we suddenly entered into sacred time & space.
We kept wondering. I wondered who was invited to the table, and was gravely informed by a little boy, "all the people, and all the aminals too." I repeated his answer for the group, with only slight spelling correction.
I wondered where the people came from, and whether the people were hungry, and what they might say when they got to the table. "Thank you!" "MMMMMMM!" "hi to the Good Shepherd." "yummy." "Thanks."

Spend as long as you will in confirmation classes and catechumenate, I will contend that these kids "get it" - the essentials of communion. The food is good, everyone's invited, we are one family in the Lord. What a holy moment, and a privilege to facilitate it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happy to be Presbyterian

I'm taking polity this semester, (church governance & PCUSA history) which is draining a LITTLE bit of the joy out of being Presbyterian, fun classmates notwithstanding. There are problems in our church... one of my friends was recently booted out of the ordination process by an unsupportive congregation... I could write the "unhappy to be Presbyterian" entry in honor of those who are still excluded, and in mourning over the congregations closing their church doors each week.
BUT even so, today when facebook informed me it was international "Happy to be Presbyterian" day I decided to be happy. I'm glad to be in a denomination that spans churches from my current "home" at St Andrew, a small congregation in a traditionally African-American neighborhood, where we sing traditional gospel, and say "amen" whenever we feel moved, and where we open the doors of the church (nearly but not always quite an altar-call) every week... to my current job at Montclair Presbyterian in Oakland, demographically much richer, where the men of the church still wear political slogan buttons from the 60's, and the sacred music is Bobby McFerrin, and where not all the teenagers in youth group even believe in God at all. I love the fact that these wildly different congregations are part of the same church, and that they gently pass me from one to the other and expect me to contextualize the good news of God in words that make sense to everyone from adopted 4th graders to octagenarian matriarchs. The Presbyterian Church (at its best) is diverse, varied, and seeking to speak truth to people in all kinds of situations. That's the church I love.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Yes, i do blog

sometimes.

The important thing to know right now is that living in community is JOY. I've lived in Trinity House since I first arrived at seminary God-knows-when ago, but this year is shaping up to be one of the best times we've had. It's seminary housing, a big old house that used to house professors back in the days when professors had more than half a dozen children. Now it has room for 8 students, and with 7 full-time members and a few visitors, we're full up half the nights of a week.

Usually the nicest thing I have to say about living in community is that "it teaches you how to love, when it hurts." That's big, and important. We have our disagreements and get through them, pray for each other even when we're cranky, and treat dishwashing as a form of expressing love to one another. It's work... it's a trudge. It's family life, with the ups and the downs... yes, that's true.
Somehow, though - maybe I got an attitude adjustment - maybe the new housemates just ROCK - it's quite nearly pure joy this semester. We've had house dinners with at least a few of us sitting down to eat together, 4 or 5 nights a week. We've had random cookies baked, random acts of cleanliness, and two surprise parties already (i was the recipient of a great one). This weekend we had a "thrift store disaster" potluck, doors thrown open wide to anyone who wanted to come, provided they wore the least stylish item they could find. The band that formed that night around the campfire featured 3 guitars, a ukelele, both mountain and hammered dulcimers, and bass of course.
I keep looking around for trouble... for disagreements to mediate, strife to pre-empt, dirty dishes piling up, or something... and finding nothing but spunky smiles, offers of some snack or another, ridiculous items of clothing, and brilliant ideas for outings and activities. It's hard to trust it - that life in the house is just that good, and that it could just stay that way. Sometimes it's hard to trust happiness... but that's the assignment I've laid upon myself. Just to live it, enjoy it, soak it in, and give back what I can.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ode to my Bookgroup

This is the first Tuesday night in a while I haven't spent eating, drinking, praying, and talking with a particularly awesome group of people - my Christian Community reading group. But, well, school started. sigh. trudge.
Keeping my mind in the happy past - we had a really awesome summer reading program! We did 12 chapters in 12 weeks of this book written by many, many people and edited by Rutba House, a community in Durham NC.
We also read (more or less) 12 other books, from Benedict's ancient rule for monasteries to Thomas Merton's reflections on the contemplative life... to Wendell Berry's call to care for the land, to Mary Elizabeth Hobgood's call to dismantle the privileges of race, gender, and sexuality... and to the Transition Handbook's take on impending oil collapse and how we need to Restructure Everything into a localized and inter-dependent economy. These all have something to do with our wide sense of call as young Christians, wanting to live out our faith with 100% of our lives, and to do it together - building and participating in community, learning to truly love one another, and listening to the call of Jesus and the early church to share our possessions and life with the poor and with one another.

Dear bookgroup! how do I love thee? let me count the ways...

* there was that time when we were reading Dorothy Day, and hospitality, and feeding the poor, and learning about multiplying loaves and fishes... and so that week we ended up having bookgroup on the borrowed floor of someone else's house, and dinner was tea, and cucumber salad, and cinna-twist-sticks, and somehow it was enough.

* there was the lovely check-in question "how is it with your soul?" that finally the last week erupted into a chorus of "it is well, it is well..."

* there was the chance to read Merton together. Once upon a time I encountered a few words of Thomas Merton's writings, and was so thoroughly enthralled that I immediately put the book away. For a long time I would not read him at all, for fear that a word of his would touch my heart deeply enough to prevent me from living any life other than his -- a life of contemplation. As in 100%, and in a monastery, in a habit, avowed, & forever, or it's worthless. Having discovered, however, that I am most certainly NOT called by God to be a contemplative nun, Merton got back onto the "safe" list.... and it was great to unpack his rich treasures of wisdom with such a great group discussion for perspective.

* there was that time we took "mid-term break," played some salt n pepa, and talked about issues of SEX that come up in community houses -- how much privacy do married couples need? what about single people - especially those who are circumstantially single but don't intend to stay that way - how do their respective bf/gfs fit into the mix? and ACK, what if someone has BABIES?

* there were all those times the various brewers brought their various homebrewed beer. Brian's coffee stout and Grant's Saizon (sp?) were highlights.

* mostly, i loved the irony of the fact that I drove across the Richmond Bridge in order to talk about living lightly on the earth, and that I left my housemates (and other people left their neighbors) in order to talk about being closer in community, and that we used a heck of a lot of technology to organize ourselves to do some very simple work. It was a beautiful, beautiful mess of all kinds of things, and so many different people over the course of the summer, and overall I just want to say wow, and thanks to them for sharing their hearts & minds, and to God for helping all our lives briefly align!

Monday, August 9, 2010

blogging

hey, i'm behind on the blogworld - sorry. My life goes on, (in endless song), with much German to learn, which is distracting me. At this point, 3/4 through a 4 week intensive, I'm confident of passing the final and thus of qualifying to start my MA thesis in New Testament... but I am much less convinced of my ability to play in the academic sandbox with such a majority of biblical scholars working in German. My German instructor is rigorous, yes. She introduced the class with the memorable words "the structure of this class is, we begin every morning at nine, and we go until you faint" ... but she's turning out to be very kind and not too harsh after all. My thesis advisor, on the other hand, is in a whole 'nother world of demandingness, as she told me that after this summer she will no longer use English with me -- German exclusively.
All this to say, I'm busy.

BUT I am still reading and thinking in English, and I made some new feminist blog-friends over at Elizabeth Esther's Saturday Evening Blog Post which I didn't get to on Saturday evening, because I was singing sea chanties on a ship, which is just how much my life rocks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glorious Nature

Thoreau told me once:
"My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know God's lurking places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas, in nature."

Usually when I bring this to mind I have a solemn moment with me and God and a tree or something, and a bit of Beethoven comes to mind.
But today's contemplation was definitely of the comic opera type - opera buffa. I am housesitting, dogsitting, goatsitting, beekeeping, chicken-tending for a friend of a friend. The house is great; it's a wonderful gig. The goat has two little kids about 3 weeks old. They climb on top of one another to try to be king of the mountain; they jump off of high things and stumble; they dare the dog to chase them.

Yes, God is like this too. It's not always about splendor and majesty. Sometimes God does not go disguised as stunningly powerful and timeless lakes and rocks and stuff, but would prefer to sneak up behind you and nibble on your boots and say PLAY WITH ME! And we do.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Future Church


Over at Patheos where I have contributed a few blogs, the mainline Protestants are all discussing the future of the Church. As part of that they asked me what a vibrant mainline church "would" look like... with an eye to the future, i think... but I choose to remain in the present. My answer is a church that is very much already in existence.

On the amazing HEART roadtrip with the Presbyterian Hunger Program last month, we visited Common Ground Church Community in North Lima OH (near Youngstown). The story, in a nutshell, is that they were a NCD (new church development) meeting as a "house church," owning no house nor land, and wanted to remain that way, but through a turn of events they ended up buying property. The property they bought, however, used to be a seedling nursery and mail-order seed company, so with their main building they also got greenhouses, fields, acres of forest, and a tractor. They turned all these into local mission projects, and learned to work the land. They now feed hungry people, train the uneducated in agricultural skills, wonder at creation, and call for a large-scale relocation from industrial agriculture to local and sustainable food systems. They get covered positively on local news too.
I fell rapidly in love with this church... and not just because of their hospitality. They welcomed us (weary travelers) enthusiastically, fed us well, provided a campfire and singalong for entertainment, and let us take over their sermon time in worship the next morning. They shared their story, walked us around their gardens, let us ramble in their woods (cross-country crutching, my new Special Olympics sport), shared their passion for the creative permaculture methods with which they are experimenting.
I like the way this story happened. They didn't get interested in local agriculture, make a strategic plan, and then achieve their dreams. They didn't do this. God did it to them, inflicted greenhouses upon them, dumped a challenge in their laps. They said the all-important "yes," of course, and with enthusiasm... but it seems they got caught up in God's dreams for the agricultural land so rapidly being abandoned in so many places. They took up the orphaned land and learned to be a blessing on and with and through it.

I came to realize, over the course of our roadtrip, that my interests in local, sustainable, and community-oriented agriculture are not necessarily going to be a burden that I would have to convince a congregation to take on. In fact this passion is part of a movement, and it even seems we might be bold enough to say it is part of the future of the church. I know my future in church needs to be mission, local mission, and I am thrilled to discover that it may not be horribly hard work, but in fact a blessing and a natural joy. I might not have to fight for it -- it might just grow.
I drew that picture on the last day of the roadtrip in reflection upon my dreams for the future. I believe that the Church of the future will increasingly look like Common Ground: the withdrawing to an alternative lifestyle, the healing and giving, and the engagement outward with the powers that be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Agrarian Roadtrip

I have a backlog of blogs in my brain, some of which are in progress, others in extremely inchoate forms, BUT the good news is that others take up the slack. yay for community. So please, if you're interested in the agrarian roadtripping wonderfulness that was HEART, take a look at Bethel's latest post: http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith/2010/07/agrarian-road-trip-part-six.html

and at the whole blog: http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ten random little things I LOVE about General Assembly #ga219

1) Courtesy. Madam Moderator. Mister Vice-Moderator. “Thank you, commissioner...” Formal scripts not read drily but with enthusiasm for our orderliness!

2) Working until an inhuman hour and then getting roped into drinks til the even-later-hours. Meeting members of my Presbytery without an agenda before us, or a standard by which they wait to approve or disapprove of me.

3) The Witherspoon Society Dance. I do believe that John Calvin himself was in attendance. I wonder if he’d ever danced to Lady Gaga before?

4) Networkings of inspiration: randomly meeting people who come from AWESOME congregations and who give me hope for a fun future in pastoral ministry.

5) Worship songs before each plenary. Singing loud. Also, there was that time when all the bow-tie-d men on stage, Stated Clerk included, got up and shook whatever Jesus gave them to shake. In bowties.

6) Bowties.

7) Young Adult Advisory Delegates. Those who dared to break the conventions of appearance and formality, and to appear in tie-dye, bandana and barefoot like Jesus himself. Those who spoke trembling through shyness on something that Mattered to them. And of course those who led us in crazy energizer dances!!

8) Westminster Presbyterian Church’s hospitality. 2 blocks from the church, they had free (& high-caliber!) concerts every day, and lunches at reasonable cost, and free chair massages which my crutch-weary shoulders did surely appreciate.

9) National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen (NAPC) and their luncheon. I appreciated (1) being allowed to use my per-diem to pay for the luncheon, but more so (2) being in a room of ordained, affirmed & affirming women in pastoral leadership. I think it’s time to re-start that feminist reading group that has been hibernating at SFTS... PC(USA) may have been ordaining women since 1956, but even if it's old news, some of us will still take jobs in towns where an ordained woman has never preached, and besides which, we think differently than men do, and we need to ask each other if our heresies might actually make good sense.

10) OUR FANTASTIC MODERATORIAL TEAM!!! Follow them on facebook. They rock.

5 things I DON'T love about General Assembly #ga 219

1) Fighting the raging desire to be 18 places at once. Slightly better than 2 weeks ago at the US Social Forum, where I wanted to be a full 50 places at each hour of the day, but still a source of significant gnashing of teeth on my part.

2) Confronting the fact that collectively, we are a multibillionaire, and that it’s a drop in the bucket to spend a couple million on our grand Assembly.... when our Savior and Boss said “sell all you have and give it to the poor,” and while I’m looking for role models in the effort to take him seriously.

3) Polarization. 49-51% votes, winner take all. Winning. Losing. Knowing that some commissioners read speeches pre-written by advocacy groups (whether left or right).

4) Staying in fancy hotels. I may be channeling the spirit of my Quaker grandmother... who, when placed in a hospice facility for the final days of her life, though nearly blind, was able to see clearly enough to pronounce the chandeliers “too fancy” and petition for a less decorated room. Also, I’m reading Dorothy Day, who believed there was “always enough for one more if everyone takes a little less” – whether food at supper, or blankets on the floor.
Anyway, I oscillated rapidly between basking in luxury on my double bed with 347200 count cotton sheets, and questioning my beloved Church – did you really have to buy this for me?

5) Looking for healthy food. I wondered if one could get scurvy in a week. Actually, this will be a whole nother blog post. Upcoming.

Protests, Consensus, Community.

On Friday, 18 protesters entered the General Assembly hall, marched past some temporarily absent (volunteer) gatekeepers, held up signs, stood at the front of the hall, and sang while our moderator first led us in prayer and then called for a temporary recess. They remained, singing, until they were carefully arrested in a very orderly fashion -- they had informed the police of their plan in advance -- and taken out in handcuffs.
Their signs said: "prayer!" and a checklist: "Ordinations. Marriage. Pensions." referring to the 3 areas of discussion where LGBTQI issues were in play at the Assembly (ordination standards, the definition of marriage, and extending coverage to church employees' same-sex partners and the partners’ children). Two of this issues had already passed favorably to LGBTQI folks (ordination standards is once again, as in 2008, sent to the presbyteries for ratification, and the insurance is effective now)... so somehow I was not sure if they were protesting the 2/3 that had passed, or advocating for the 1/3 that had failed and not been revisited.

So... when they came in, I was on stage running Session Sync. You'll note from my previous entry that this was a challenging job because of the kind of neutrality it calls for. You can only imagine the unsettledness I felt when these folks entered. I had a bit of a "what is going to happen?" moment and a confused moment (who were they? left or right? do i agree with them? are they here with authorization, or trespassing?) but then as the moderator abruptly closed debate and advised us to stand in prayer, I got a very sinking feeling that I was in the wrong place – that maybe I was supposed to be on the floor with the radicals, not up in the institutional, status quo, center of power on stage. It didn't help that I was standing next to lawyers in suits who put on a bit of a secret service face. I was not ready to play that game.


you'll notice my institutional (& prayerful) presence in the upper left hand corner... (btw it feels SO wrong to know you're being photographed while you pray)

I do believe now, however, that I did not want to be in that group of protesters. The news clarified the details: the group, Soulforce, is an LGBTQI advocacy group standing in protest of our assembly's decision not to look at marriage questions. I support their goals 100%. But I do not like the method.

I'm liberal. If I'd had voice privileges I would have spoken on just about every issue in a leftward direction. If anyone with voice asked me to, I would've slipped them a carefully worded substitution motion or two (just kidding! so wrong!). I hate the idea of making up voting sheets ahead of time as the Layman did, checking off which way to vote on each issue, but if I were to make one up it would be easy -- take theirs and reverse it.
From this perspective I can easily count the Assembly up in terms of liberal gains and losses, votes and non-votes, 51% in my direction, or 51% to my enemies. But if we all do that, we're all losers. The intention behind GA is not to have a debate between two sides, winner take all. Commissioners and Advisory Delegates are instructed to come not as representatives of a demographic or constituency, but as spiritual people seeking the will of God. And this works, because you end up seeing people change their minds in committee and even in plenary. In communal process you see entrenched "sides" moving toward mutual forbearance, toward understanding, and even (!) toward consensus, where one is allowed to either actively agree with or passively "live with" the decisions made. I love it when I see conservatives moved thusly in a more liberal direction. LOVE IT.

I guess I got a taste of my own medicine. I had my liberal mind changed in a mildly more conservative direction. I would still NEVER vote for the measure they took on Thursday night -- to dismiss all pending items in the civil union/marriage debate and give the presbyteries and congregations 2 years to discuss the study papers created in that area -- because justice delayed is justice denied. But looking at it in retrospect, although I cannot in decent conscience actively agree with this decision, I can live with and hence submit to it. I can believe myself to be in "consensus" with the assembly whose conservative members cried out "too much! this is more than we can chew! Give us one task at a time!" I disagree, of course.... *I* think they should buck up and deal with the issues of justice. I think they're being ridiculous. But I hear pain in their voices, and I have not yet walked a mile in their shoes.

We have a lot of communal processing to do. In the next two years, congregations and presbyteries are supposed to discuss civil union and marriage, and vote on the Belhar confession, changes in ordination standards, and the New Form of Government. I know presbyteries will vote, but may not discuss. Some may as well submit their votes now -- they do not intend to have their minds changed. I know that many congregations will not even look at these, much less discuss. But in order to prevent our church from looking like our government (two entrenched opposing sides) we NEED more discussion, more communal process. I believe that the depth of our relational & communal processing might make or break our unity as a denomination. Minds are never going to be changed by 51% votes one way or the other. They were apparently not changed by Soulforce's protest. They will only be changed by relationships.
The question before us is whether we are a relational church or not - a church that knows and loves one another. We are in relationship, but a dysfunctional one where there's a lot of divorce talk... "I'll leave if XYZ..." I wonder if this dysfunctional relationship needs outside intervention as Soulforce tried to supply, or needs a vacation from our issues, (a tactic favored by conservatives -- but LGBTQI folks don't have the privilege of taking a break), or whether as an alternate tactic, we can ask God to somehow rekindle our love and commitment to one another. Like a 30-day “marriage mender” course, adapted to churches? =) The problem is, one side will ask "how can there be love where there is injustice?" and the other will want to love the "sinner," but cannot love the "sin"... but I want to believe that love can in fact break down those barriers. We cannot force love, but we can ask for it. I pray that this will be God's gift to those of us who stay in the denomination: that we will be afflicted (even against our own desires) with a holy compassion for those against whom we are currently entrenched. That the conversations shared over the next two years will enable us to re-engage with firmness and confidence, neither stalling nor forcing others to rush. This is MILES from where we are now... but we serve a great God. We can imagine, ask for, trust in, and act upon our best hopes and intentions.
conversation. compassion. a ferociously loyal, caring love. Too much to expect, yes -- but not too much to ask! PLEASE GOD - MAY IT BE SO.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Self-Segregation #ga219

Yesterday a seemingly innocuous overture came up.... appearing as only 3 lines in the committee report. It asked for the creation of a new non-geographic presbytery in the Synod of the South Atlantic. Generally our governance is a series of groupings: many congregations (in an area) make up a presbytery. Many presbyteries (in a larger area) make up a Synod. All the synods gather to create General Assembly. But sometimes within a synod there will exist a non-geographic presbytery, such as the Hanmi presbytery (Korean-speaking).
This overture was to create a new Korean-speaking presbytery in the South Atlantic Synod. It would allow them to conduct all business in Korean. The Korean congregations made this request, and without much controversy it was accepted -- unanimously at the synod level, and 43-2 for it at the GA committee level. It looked like a shoe-in (shoo-in? definitely not a shewin).
However, when this recommendation to approve the creation of the new presbytery came before the assembly, a few young female Korean pastors stood up to speak against it. Their contentions were that Korean-language presbyteries segregate and insulate themselves, cutting their actions off from local accountability, and that they nurture dangerous cultural attitudes that prevent women from serving in ordained positions and shush (if not silence) the voices of all but older men.
The assembly, having heard vibrant speeches to this effect (as well as opposition) voted 514-125 to deny the creation of such a new presbytery. And I rejoice in it. I don't want the Korean congregations leaving us alone -- i want to keep our presbyteries multiracial. But I recognize that rejecting this overture takes us way less than halfway there. It is one thing to say to a group "please don't leave," and another entirely to say "be welcome here." To truly address the relationships between Korean-speaking and English-speaking churches, we must work away from self-segregation and toward INTENTIONAL integration.

Concrete ideas toward this end?
(A) Provide translation at all presbytery meetings, into Korean, Spanish, or any other actively used languages. Practice the radical idea that it is a person's RIGHT to participate in their native or preferred language.
(I wonder if any presbytery that already does this would consider sending an overture to this effect to GA220?)

(B) Practice cultural engagement. Taste some kimchee. Get curious about the strangers in your midst. Coax them, by your love and invitation, out of self-segregation.

(C) White people. this is to you. Get off your cultural supremacy horse. Everything does not need to be done according to our tradition. At my seminary luncheon, a Korean staffperson insisted we all stand to recognize our president. I rolled my eyes at this mandatory deference, and a friend hissed under her breath at me: "you are SO white!" In Korea you cannot deny such honor to a person of high rank. And sometimes even if we are in America, we out of love and respect for another choose to participate in their cultural norms. We volutarily give up the privilege we have of always feeling comfortable -- of being an "insider" -- because in Christ there is no worldly rank or status. We need to willingly give up our dominant status (do you have dominant status? think about it), and to serve one another as Christ did. May it be so.

Poker Face

On our first day of training, we student assistants were given staff name tags, ID cards to give us platform access, REALLY attractive blue smocks, and instructions: we may not accessorize these symbols with pins, scarves, or T-shirts from any advocacy groups. As representatives of the GA we must appear neutral. Difficult as this is, I understand, and I now appreciate what it does socially -- conservatives don't IMMEdIATELY look at me askance.
Last night my job was to run pc-biz Session Sync, a computer program that allows commissioners and observers alike to be updated on the business before us in real time. To do this I was seated ON STAGE (!) and sans smock, to be in plain view of the assembly. I sat there through assembly actions on Arizona's SB 1070, on our marriage/civil union taskforce's report, and through the completion of unfinished business on G-6.0106b's ordination standards. Being of plain view, of course, my neutrality was of even heavier importance. No raised fists (as i could do backstage), no jumping for joy or consternation (as it may be), not even a sympathetic nod or visible gasp. I watched our moderators. They poker-faced it. They do have opinions, i know, but their sole job is to facilitate the conversation. They cannot sway it.

Being a very physically expressive person this was torture for me. I splurted a few tweets out to relieve some of the pressure, but mainly I tried to channel the Zen that our moderators appeared to convey. I like the challenge. And it will be so necessary for civil discourse. We do not applaud when our favorite overture is passed. We do not groan when it fails. We say silent prayers. Joy. Sorrow. Petition. Over it all, empathy.

We sang today to Christ:
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness;
No harshness hast thou, and no bitterness.
Lord, grant to us the grace we find in Thee
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

we're far away -- but in trust we pray -- let it be so.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

n-fog at #ga219 - yay acronyms =)

It is with great joy and dancing (would be cartwheels, if not for my crutches) that I announce the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted 468-204-6 (69%-30%) to recommend we adopt a new Form of Government (n-FoG). I was excited about it at the 218th GA (2008) where it more narrowly squeaked by, and I kind of knew it would *pass* but I'm just overjoyed to see how very many people have gotten on board and envision it as a part of our future!

We Presbyterians have an enormous Book of Order, one part of which the n-FoG would replace, if it's ratified in the next year by 2/3 of our presbyteries. The BoO is larger & heavier than many Bibles, and in many cases harder to understand. It has been amended 300 times in not very many years (how many times has the US' constitution been amended? think about it). The new FoG will not bring our document down to the concise level of a constitution, but it reads MORE like a constitution and less like a manual of operations. Where the old FoG gave 27 responsibilites to presbyteries (G-11.0103), the new proposal says three things: Provide that the Word of God may be truly preached and heard; provide that the Sacraments may be rightly administered and received; and nurture the covenant community of the disciples of Christ. The same three calls are given to church, presbytery, General Assembly. Each is explained (for example "nurturing the community" for the presbytery includes ordaining, dismissing, and disciplining ministers) but it's all under a much more sensible (and to my ears, spiritual) rubric. Plus, it's all about mission, and so am I.
The stripping away of rules and regulations is hard for some people to stomach. I heard someone say that we would need to be "so much more alert" to the dangers of misuses and abuses. Yes. He was right. But maybe we'd also need to be more alert to one another, and to our faith, and to the church. We are risking some pain and struggle, but are we not also "risking" great benefits? Maybe we'd wake up and think about things instead of consulting a manual that tells us what to do next. The question asked might be "what would Jesus do?" instead of "well what does the BoO say we have to do?" While we can never quite govern a church based on a bracelet slogan, it would not hurt to have that question more active and alive, and if we need to break out of complacency and force ourselves to ask that question, I believe that the n-FoG will provide many options for such questioning.


If you want to geek out (btw i am getting SO in touch with my geeky side here...) take a look at the comparison of old FoG to new: http://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3565

I'm cross-posting these blogs at http://www.patheos.com/community/mainlineportal/

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Race, Nationality, Immigration, Solidarity?

When assembling, the Presbyterians gather as a whole first for the selection of a moderator, but then they break into 18 groups and do business there. Starting tomorrow these committees will reassemble and present their findings to the assembly, but the decisions made in committee tend to heavily sway the decisions of the body as a whole.

Just two notable ones for today...
In the Middle East room, we appear ready to make strong statements against the continuance of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but less ready to adopt positions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many positions have been proposed and rejected, so we remain at a middle ground. An overture to call the Israeli occupation of Palestine "apartheid" was rejected as "too offensive" to many ears. In particular, we are charting an uncomfortable middle line with regards to Caterpillar and their involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict. For those who don't know, Caterpillar is a major supplier of the equipment used in demolishment work in Israeli settlements in Palestine. The committee recommends that we denounce Caterpillar's profit-making off such non-peaceful endeavors as settlement-building, BUT would not go so far as to recommend we divest from Caterpillar. The discussion mainly centered around what would be effective in terms of swaying Caterpillar's actions (i.e. if we keep our investments, we as share-holders can remain ethical conversation partners....?) and steered clear of language of solidarity. To me the pressing issue is that of solidarity -- that we should refuse to take profit from what hurts our far-away neighbors -- than of tactical engagement. To me it seems that our tactics so far have failed. The interesting thing is that the commissioners who opposed this overture, those who have more complexified connections due to Caterpillar being a major employer in their area, would actually prefer that we quietly divest and that we not denounce. As it is, we keep our money in the company while scolding them. I doubt it will be effective OR that it will seem to Palestinians that we are in solidarity.

However, in another committee we seemed to make great strides toward a kind of solidarity. Social Justice Issues (B) recommends a resolution that we as a church refrain from having conferences or major events in states where our ethnic minority members are threatened by such measures as Arizona SB 1070. The text of this resolution can be seen at http://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3587 ... After much discussion at a late hour (they were the last committee to adjourn), the tenor of the committee conversation shifted from "what is to the advantage of our hispanic brothers and sisters in Arizona" (some of whom, to be fair, in the short term would benefit from us having conferences there, because we bring money into the area, some of which they receive) to "are we a white church? or a multi-racial one?" Because if we are indeed multi-racial, SB 1070 targets us as a church, not "them" the others. So in this case we are choosing to throw our lot in with the victims of a policy we condemn. If only we were able to say "we are Palestinian, too" as easily as we can say "we are Hispanic, too," we would be able to make the same kind of stand. Would that all people of this earth could recognize their brother and sister in any human face, not only of their own race or nationality.

Virtuous Consumption?

I went looking briefly through the “global village” upstairs in the Exhibit hall. It's totally guilt-free shopping. The principle behind the gifts for sale is that instead of just throwing money at charitable endeavours, we can purchase items produced by organizations in partnership, to help them empower themselves and their community. Instead of dropping kids off at orphanages, women form cooperatives, create textiles, sell them to us, make money, put their own kids through school. Super. I love it. It’s important. The ancient charity model (literally giving money to the poor) is great when you’re in a face-to-face relationship with someone, and can negotiate the power problems you create by charity, but it begins to massively break down when there are miles, oceans, cultures, languages, and glossy magazine advertisements separating the donor from the recipient. Money is never given with truly “no strings attached,” and the longer those strings get, the more they get tangled in outside issues (moral judgments, cultural domination, international relations...) The alternate model of commercial empowerment isn’t string-free, but they are transactional strings only as long as the distance between the product and the price. It at least looks simpler and more helpful. I give money not with expectations of some poor person's gratitude, but with expectations of a tangible item in return.

All this to say, I support purchasing items from partner organizations. I was actually pretty excited about this global village, because I need a new bag, and I could get one there.
I was disappointed, however. You see, I was looking for a useful bag, and all they offered were pretty bags. They were a little on the flimsy side (I wouldn’t carry a computer in one) but most importantly, none had more than one or two pockets. I'm willing pay a higher price for a fairly made product, but not for a bag whose main value is in appearance, not function. And the transaction seems less than perfectly straightforward now. A line from one of the vendors explaining why the partnership was valuable: “they know how to sew, but they need to know what gringas will buy,” caused my heart to sink. Women who are perfectly skilled at creating useful items for home use are taking lessons in the school of creating flimsy, pretty things that white people will buy. They are feeding our addiction to consuming trivialities, and building for themselves a dangerous dependency on foreign buyers. If our fashion tastes change, they are left with useless product until someone transmits the valuable information of “what gringas will buy.”
So I’ll continue to use my ripped and fraying bag until I find (or make) one that is sturdy and serviceable. I wish I could participate in the “empowerment via consumerism” deal, and send a few of my dollars in the right direction, but as long as it’s marketing impractical and luxurious goods (if not outright luxuries) I have to step out and look for better things to do with my money, my purchases, and my fashion statements.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Habemus Mamam #GA219

When the Catholic council of superarchbishops or whatever it is gathers to choose a new pope, they sequester themselves in a room and send up a plume of white smoke when they come to a choice, and the word goes out: habemus papam! we have a pope! Presbyterians do much the same, minus the secrecy, plus electronic voting machines which do a little better than Florida's (but you have to do it slowly so the elderly get their votes in - the 8-second timer didn't go over so hot), plus about 3,000 more folks present, and tweets instead of white smoke, and, well, it's a she, so... habemus mamam?

The Moderator of the 219th PC(USA) General Assembly (like pope for two years, minus the discretionary power, fancy garb, and infallibility) will be Cindy Bolbach, a lawyer, elder, and co-moderator of the New Form of Government (n-fog) taskforce.

The election was quite a deal. There were SIX candidates. SIX. Each was presented by a 5-minute speech, and spoke in person for 5 minutes. Some chose to tell stories, some to preach, some to share songs, poems, jokes... and some to lecture on their Theories of Everything (i do believe the phrase epistemological parochialism was used). I timed that, which was easy work, but the hard part was NOT to get to exercise that timer during the open debate & questions (90 long minutes). Cindy might have won because she was concise and didn't go on pastoral tangents, OR maybe because of her dry humor - when asked "what's at stake for the church if you are not elected moderator?" she kicked off her reply with "total chaos."

Our electoral process is a bit unique. We vote and re-vote until someone appears with a clear majority. Standing orders are not to drop anyone from the race (although if it had gone on longer it appears the assembly would have been ready with a 2/3 vote to overrule that procedure). The first round of votes had Cindy slightly ahead (near 30%) but all the other candidates were evenly matched. The Ecumenical Advisory Delegates' first advisory vote was split exactly evenly -- the six of them gave one vote per candidate. As voting went on (there were 4 rounds) she began to gain ground, as other votes shifted around to second choices -- or perhaps as the Spirit moved. We did ask for that to happen, didn't we? And we trust that it did.

cross-posting at Patheos

Friday, July 2, 2010

We Assemble #GA219


Nearly 3,000 Presbyterians have descended upon Minneapolis, with nametags flapping, outfitted in everything from suits to sloganed T-shirts, meandering like tourists around the convention center & associated hotels. We stick out like a circus. I watch us bumbling around and wonder -- what ARE we doing?

When we invest gadzooks of money into a week of imposed togetherness in some chosen city... one of the bluntest ways to put it is that we are taking our collective temperature. How hot are we on gay ordination this year? Because it comes up year after year, and a slow shift has been taking place. So every GA we test it -- is the church prepared to make a change, or has it not yet reached critical mass? And some of the issues change over time. The situation in Palestine has been worsening -- are people ready to get outraged? Of course we know that some are, and some aren't, but we get together to take a lot of votes and see where the median and majority lie.
....that hardly makes sense, though. That's a wickedly expensive poll -- I could administer one through surveymonkey.com for zero dollars, and have it done ten minutes ago.

To put it in a more positive light, we're struggling together for common ground. We gather from far-flung lands, states, schools and theologies, and try to affirm the things we can all agree on. Sometimes our minds get blessedly changed in the process, and sometimes it's just an exercise in holding on to the major things and letting go of the minors.

But most of all (though most invisibly) we come together to try to see Christ in the other, see God in our common work, and open our hearts to Spirit above, around, and among us all. We gather to seek transformation and inspiration together, and to hold one another accountable. We surround our communal impasses and ask God to make a way. We wait, quieten, listen, pray, read Scripture, and look up for the Spirit brooding over us - we try to get on that ride. Sometimes it sweeps us off our feet and sometimes our heels are stuck in and dragging, but God always shows up. May it be so this week at General Assembly!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

GENERAL ASSEMBLY #GA219

Hey folks,
I might have another blog or two in me regarding the awesome HEART trip, BUT the next item of business, closely approaching, is General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis MN! I arrived way too early this morning, and God bless the Hilton for giving me early check-in before 7 AM. I proceeded to nap all morning, and finally ventured out to find a farmers' market not three blocks from the hotel! Orientation as an "assistant" begins today. Most of the assistants are doing gopher stuff. Me being on crutches, I suppose we'll find less running-around types of activities for me to be helpful with. And of course there's always helping folks with the online system pc-biz, which I am CLEARLY qualified to help with, because I navigated to the website already. Nevermind forgetting my password, and other failures of technology. Hopefully that'll get straightened out before I try to help others =)

I am a preacher

My preaching class (“New Treasures from the Old Testament”) at ABSW last semester was taught by an amazing older man, honorably retired and serving as Pastor Emeritus (Pastor E for short), J.Alfred Smith Sr. His classroom manner was gentle and encouraging most of the time, but nearly every week we had a little fire put into us. We’d all stand up, make a fist for emphasis, and repeat after him:
I am a preacher!
I am a preacher!
I didn’t come to seminary to become a preacher!
God made me a preacher!
I came to seminary to become a better preacher!

This refrain runs in my head often, but it took on greater meaning during the HEART trip. I was kind of hoping to acquire a new identity, maybe an “I am a community organizer!” or an “I am a food justice advocate!” or even an “I am a farmer!” They are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the trip gently showed me that at the heart of it, though I love me some compost, I am a preacher.
We started of course (three weeks ago, though it feels like months) with Ellen Davis’ amazing Old Testament exegesis, which woke me up inside and inspired a sermon I gave in three different incarnations through the course of the trip, all well-received. And my experience at the USSF ended happily with an encounter with Ched Myers! He had collaborated on the creation of Tevyn East’s Leaps and Bounds (http://www.affordinghopeproject.com ) and was present for its performance. I owe that show a blog entry of its own, but suffice it to say it took the impending crises of population explosion and resource depletion and wrote them in Biblical terms, from creation onward to hope and resurrection. After that I participated in a Bible study Ched led on Sabbath Economy, and thrilled at his exegesis of Mark 9:43-48 in terms of our societal addictions to the things that are killing us, and his reading of the implicit “body” in that passage as the corporate and not the individual body. This is what I want to study! And preach on! And live! There is no doubt that Friday’s performance and Bible study meant more to me than any other of the other legitimately amazing workshops I had attended at the forum. So I’ve come to realize where my joy lies: speaking sacred, ancient text to troubled postmodern ears. And I can preach about community organizing, food justice, and farming – without struggling for expertise, status, and identity in each of those areas. I can be amateur in those, in the root sense of amateur, which is one who does it for love (latin amare).

Of course the next thing that comes to mind is... if I’m not called to be a farmer, maybe I can just marry a farmer and get some recreational raised veggie beds, restoring-of-creation, and strawberry feasts thrown in the bargain. Keep your eyes peeled on my behalf... =)