Monday, May 31, 2010


so i haven't written in a while. I could excuse myself in that i'm hobbling around on crutches, and there are just less hours in the day when it takes 15 minutes to get dressed. But i'm trying not to do the self-pity route.

REALLY, then, the reason I haven't written is because all my mental energy has been consumed with writing two thoroughly mind-blowing papers. Dear Dr. Balch gave me an extension (on both papers) and for that I am eternally grateful, because it has given me the opportunity to have my mind blasted to bits, which wouldn't have happened, you know, if I rushed the papers in two weeks ago & half-assed. I've had a nice two weeks reading heretics, feminists, and textual apparata... a rougher time trying to wrangle the papers down to 12 pages, as they each aspired to 20 or more and had to be harshly sliced up (not to mention undergoing ferocious attacks in font, margin, and spacing)... and a delicious time thinking about What This All Means for me and my relationship to the texts I hold sacred. When I pick up all the far-flung pieces of my mind, I'll report back, so stay tuned. =)

Monday, May 10, 2010

size doesn't matter, but what about position?

Tomorrow I'll be performing my liturgical dance in class. I'll give you a beat for that to sink in, because if you've seen me recently, you've admired my pretty blue crutches and my intimidating medical boot. It's been two weeks since my injury, and a slow healing.
But yes, tomorrow I'll be performing a solo dance. From a seated position.

The first Sunday of these weeks of injury, I sang in choir seated (while the rest of the choir stood). That felt ridiculous, so ever since, when I sing, I've been standing up on crutches. Tiresome, a little wobbly, but there is just something you lose when you sit down. A little volume and power, and a lot of the sense of actually being there.

I practiced a sermon (Fallen Grapes, below) in a chair and just about boiled with frustration... for a couple of reasons. One is expressive. You can't lean, sway, or get up on your toes for an important point when you're seated. The other is a funny thing about authority. Think about it -- in most churches the preacher is elevated, either theater-style on a stage, or medieval-style in a pulpit. In some cases you are as high as five or six feet above the congregation (in cathedrals, even more). They do this to you because they believe something in your words will be out of the ordinary, even divine, and worthy of greater attention. When you are face-to-face on a level plain, there is no such implicit expectation.
When I preached in class I asked for a stool, and someone scoured the building and found me one. This way I was able to preach from the pulpit -- for which I was grateful. It was exactly the same height as I would be standing, but somehow it still limited me. I stood up on one foot for the last minute of the sermon, possibly frightening my more anxious classmates. I had to -- there was too much energy coursing through me, and like electricity it needed to be grounded to the floor, and reach up to the sky.

Dancing while seated will be an interesting adventure. Apparently (and ahead of time, mind you), I inspire my classmates. If I can do this awkward task, they feel they can get over their hesitations and just dance. I'm hoping I will be able to "just dance" myself, forgetting all the turns and leaps I've left out of the choreography, forgetting what is not and focusing on what is -- hands, arms, back and head are all working perfectly well. I have to let whatever dance (or sermon, or poem) I have within me have its place, even when the legs don't cooperate.

Number one comment I get about my singing is... "such a big voice from such a little body!" I like surprising people with that. And usually I use body language and position to extend the Authority and Presence that my tiny body doesn't give me naturally.
But it is hard to be made even smaller than I am, not in body but in position, by being sat down when I want to stand, by having crutches in my hands that keep me from gesturing, by slowly slowly hopping places instead of striding confidently. I guess I have to be even more hidden, more secret, and hopefully more surprising, as I lose the external supports and only have the core of the message that I bring.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

sermon: Where are the Fallen Grapes?

Leviticus 19:9-10
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:9 is an important verse. Unfortunately it’s stuck in a long and boring book, full of shalts and shalt nots, and festivals, and sacrifices... but at its essence what the book of Leviticus is about is negotiating the lease on the land of Israel. You see, back then, the land belonged to God, and the people were renters. And the rules of God’s rental agreement included how you can and cannot harvest “your” produce.
The entire book of Ruth was brought to us by Leviticus 19:9. And because I have such a highly educated congregation before me tonight, and because we heard Ruth’s story preached so well last week, I will assume knowledge of that story as I use it to unpack the full richness of Leviticus 19:9 and 10.
The story of Ruth is a good story. For one, it’s well told. It has character development, crisis and redemption, a rich plot. It starts with Ruth and Naomi in total desolation, moves through bold unexpected action and love interest, and ends triumphant. It’s a good story.
It is a woman’s story. Women who by all tradition in that time and place were insignificant people or sub-people, in THIS masterful story are the actors, the players, the manipulators. We know next to nothing of Boaz, and even less of the other male relatives. Scholars including Irmtraud Fischer have even suggested that a woman was the AUTHOR of Ruth. The world of the Old Testament was entirely a man’s world, but the story of two bold women has slipped into our sacred texts.
The plot of Ruth hinges completely on Leviticus 19:9 and 10. You shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest. This law was salvation for the destitute Ruth. It was her point of entry into Israel. The law was God’s way of creating a generous nation. It’s not that God could legislate generosity into the people’s hearts. But the LAND belonged to God, and the Israelites, being temporary tenants, had to follow God’s rules. Systemic generosity was written into the lease, like it or not. You shall not gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. They are for the poor. The word of the Lord. The law of the land.
The story of Ruth and Naomi is a good story that we don’t hear often enough, in the good land that is the United States of America. Of course there are still some fables floating around, about the rags-to-riches American Dream, but Ruth really didn’t even have bootstraps. The story where a desperate outsider just shows up, opens her hands, and receives, is a story we don’t hear, or see, or encounter enough.
And I wonder why it’s such a rare story. I don’t think that there is any shortage of desperately poor outsiders. I don’t think there’s any real shortage, even, of noble and generous heroes. I do believe that there is more than enough to go around, in terms of food, and resources, and power, in America today. But we don’t hear a story like Ruth’s because the leases on OUR land are written differently. We don’t live in God’s country.
Leviticus 19:9 says you shall not reap to the very edges of your field. The edges are what lie along the road, where people pass by, some of whom are hungry people – and so the edges are basically public property – a living food bank. In America, we don’t really HAVE edges to our fields. Because we have electric fences... and laws against trespassing... and because rich landowners have joined field to field and house to house until you can’t really FIND an edge to a field. The land that once was occupied by several hundred farmers and their families, stretched out across the plains, is now all the property of ConAgra, and there are no edges on this kind of farm. There is no public property, and there are no fallen grapes. They are harvested by machines that are constantly being improved to be sure there are no fallen grapes. We don’t live in God’s country.
Two thirds of agricultural laborers in the US are immigrants. Many not dissimilar to Ruth and Naomi. They come seeking refuge from poverty in another land. 14 percent of them will be able to find full-time employment in our fields and orchards. Only ¼ will earn more than $10,000 annually.* They will break their backs to provide US residents with high volumes of food at low prices, but they themselves will be some of the LEAST food-secure people in our country. They will work in endless fields of food, but they won’t get to eat any of it... They’ll eat packaged junk instead, because they have no money for better, and they will lose their health and strength. They will breathe in pesticides which slowly poison them and their children. And there will be no fallen grain for them to gather up, and take home, and feed their families. This is how we welcome the immigrant. There are no fallen grapes in America.
My friends, we do not live in God’s country. We live in a land of illusion – where we believe that we own the land, and that by owning it we have the right to treat people however we want. We believe we HAVE to pick up every last grape, squeeze every last dollar, and cut every possible corner, in order to have a good life – and let the pieces fall where they may.
And recently there have been some people saying that in the pursuit of picking up every last grape, we need to keep certain people out of “Our” Country. I could talk about Arizona’s insane new immigration law, but let’s not pretend it is only happening “over there.” In San Rafael, just over the Richmond bridge, this week, kids are staying home from school because the ICE is patrolling around schools at 3:30 every afternoon, waiting to grab some “illegal” schoolchildren as soon as they exit the property. I don’t need to say anything more about the injustice here. You know as well as I do that God calls us to care for the stranger, the alien, and especially the poor. I don’t need to tell YOU about the many outsiders, immigrants, and “illegals” like Ruth the Moabite - who are represented in the Jewish ancestry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
You’re preachers... you’re pastors... you speak out about injustice. And you are as shocked as I at the lengths some people will go to, trying to keep “their land” to themselves, and to fence off the very edges of their fields.
But if you’re like me, you’re getting tired of this nonsense. What do we DO?
Well, friends, we speak out, and we write letters to our senators, and we march in San Rafael, and we tell our friends who live in Arizona what we think about their disaster of a law, and we vote – we vote – we vote – these things are important and we must not get discouraged. But sometimes we need to stop fighting and just start planting. As much as we should and will fight for justice here, the kingdom of God is not going to wait for Arizona to come to its senses. Jesus said the kingdom is AMONG YOU, and we’d better start living as if that were true. Just like the book of Ruth – a tiny book, written by women, slips into this male-dominated volume. She doesn’t fight, she doesn’t tear the others down, she just gets an elbow in and says “I’m here too.” The kingdom of God is here too, even when we can’t see it.
We can start living as if the kingdom of God were our primary reality, even in the midst of this world. For us to start living as if the kingdom IS among us, we’re going to go back to Leviticus 19:9, which tells us that the edges of our land are public property. And we can live that way.
Five words.
Grow Food And Share It.
If you live in Oakland there’s a new group called Forage Oakland, which makes neighborhood maps of where the fruit trees are, and goes around knocking on doors, asking “can I have some fruit?”and going forth to share it. Forage Oakland.
Grow Food and Share It.
Plant a fruit tree! And tell your neighbors they can pick.
Some of you will gladly think you’re excused because you don’t have a backyard, but think again, because I grew up in New York City and all we had was a fire escape, and we grew tomatoes. Therefore, you can do it too.
Grow Food and Share It.
Buy one heirloom tomato at the grocery store, scoop out the seeds, plant them in big yogurt tubs. It’s not rocket science. We can do it. And then share it! We’re going to have to TELL people that they can have some of this food, because they don’t know that the edges of OUR land are different, that OUR land is public property, because the fruit of the earth belongs to GOD and not to us.
We can do this.
We can leave the world of insane scarcity where every fallen grape must be gathered, and we can start living under the power of God’s abundance. If there are no fallen grapes in the fields, we can start throwing grapes all around the side of the road for the people who need them.
Go forth – grow food and share it – and live as if God DID write the lease on your land, your money, your life. Live in the kingdom of God, now. Amen.

*some sources available at:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


In the next 2.5 weeks I have a lot of things to conquer, from papers to party-planning to watching my friends graduate, but let's take a study break and look at the bright, bright upcoming summer plans!!

1) Heaven On Earth Agrarian RoadTrip (aka HEART) to the US Social Forum with the Presbyterian Hunger Program!
(PS join us, the application deadline isn't until Friday)
We'll be bopping around in a couple of (biodiesel?) vans from farm to church to community-organizing-food-justice-project, all woven together around the theme of sustainability in our agriculture and in our eating. Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia & West, Ohio (Oberlin!!), Detroit Michigan.

2) I will of course be at the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, as a gopher/lackey/ i think they call us "assistants." I know part of the job includes tech support for people who are less tech-savvy than the under-30 generation, and part of it is just hauling piles of paper around from room to room, but I'm just excited to BE THERE.

3) Lots of quality time on Amtrak, (California Zephyr!!) plus a couple of overnight greyhound buses just to pinch the pennies, yknow.

4) In the midst of this, I will learn German, AND I will read one book per week on the topic of New Monasticism and Christian Community. This is a reading group at school. We're focusing on the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism, reading one book per mark, 12 weeks in the summer. The details are still being worked out, BUT there may be opportunities for distance participation in said group, AND i might blog too =)

5) Much of this is predicated at least a little on the eventual recovery of my ridiculous torn ligament in my ankle. I'm still on crutches and I really shouldn't mention in polite company what I think about that. Let's just say, healing is on the summer agenda.

6) Garden. my little plots are woeful compared to last year in Lostine!!!