Archive for April, 2011

Unread books

April 30, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

What books are on your nightstand? There are stacks of books in every room at the parsonage that sadly remain unread.

Kate Braestrup’s New York Times bestseller Beginner’s Grace has an engaging way of bringing prayer to life. And yet, I’m stuck in chapter 4. With weather like today, I’m not likely to get much further.

Every time I turn around, some magazine is recommending American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us — its being called a major achievement, a groundbreaking examination of religion in America and I know given the current political divide I “should” read it but but at 688 pages, I’ve having trouble getting started.

There are several good ones out by one of my favorite Hebrew Scripture professor, Walter Brueggemann. From the introduction of An Unsettling God:

The big idea of this book is that the God of ancient Israel is a God in relationship, who is ready and able to make commitments and who is impinged upon by a variety of “partners” who make a difference in the life of God. Such a notion of God in relationship that pervades the Old Testament is both a stark contrast to much classical theology that thought of God only in God’s holy self, and to the modern notion of autonomy whereby God and human selves as well are understood as isolated and independent agents who are only incidentally related to each other. (xi)

That kind of shocking, new understanding appeals to me right now when surrounded by the new signs of spring everywhere I look.

Or maybe you want to read some of Catherine of Siena’s monastic wisdom having heard the Bishop of London begin the royal wedding sermon with this quote from her
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

What appeals to you? What have you been dying to read or perhaps there’s book club selection you need a push to read? Tomorrow morning at 8:35, we’re meeting in the parlor to discuss upcoming possibilities for adult Sunday School. You’re welcome to bring a recommendation–it can be a topic or a book, a movie or a concern. Be a part of the conversation about where we head next.



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April 22, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Sitting in the Day Chapel for their appointed hour, many members report that the time flies quickly, that this annual ritual is one of their favorite…. I thought I should bring my prayer kneeler because the presence of the rocking chairs in the chapel were just too comfortable for a time when we were supposed to accompany Jesus through his crucifixion. But then it occurred to me that there is perhaps no better chair for prayer, as a rocker. For surely more prayers have been uttered from that location than any other by parents with a child in their arms. Perhaps, when Mary was at the foot of the cross, she thought of her rocking days cradling Jesus.

The vigil began last night after a stirring Tenebrea service that someone said was the “best Maundy Thursday service ever”–I hear this frequently about this particular Holy Week service– the readings, the candlelight, the music (there must be more stirring choral music written for this one evening than Easter)–they all lend themselves to memorable and meaningful worship. I know what they mean though about last night’s service – the spirit was moving and the presence was palpable. The choir sang “Mary, did you know, that your baby boy has come to make you new? . . . Did you know when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God.” And there was this beautiful sung response, “Holy Darkness” that we sang 4 times but we could’ve kept singing it all night long. Powerful and edgy poems from the Iona community took us through each day of this Holy Week. Inspiring artwork and images carried us through the stories. There were moving, poignant, surprising moments and synergy with the readers and the readings (thanks to all the volunteers!). And the worship team, as always, graciously ushered out the light and stripped the church of all its refinements leaving two crosses draped in black.

On her way to Pennsylvania today, Theda wrote she was grateful for the opportunity to pray with folks in their need and offer anointing. She said their faces and requests stay with her, long after the words of the prayers are forgotten. It is a lesson in humility she says (yet another word for the vocabulary of faith surrounding us in the sanctuary).

Several people mentioned the power of anointing and prayers – when we can share who we most truly are and most truly need with another and together invite the spirit’s moving in and through our lives. And of course, there’s always fun and comments when we try to serve one another communion. What a glorious body of Christ is at the corner of Chestnut and Somers.

“Holy Week is full of moments when those closest to Jesus let him down” says Anne Jernberg in the article “Staying with Jesus” in The Christian Century.  And famed preacher, Anna Carter Florence says

Matthew’s story of the Last Supper shows us exactly why we need this bread so much. In one seat, we have Judas, the disciple who is going to betray Jesus. In another seat we have Peter, the disciple who is going to deny him. . . . Judas and Peter, with every possible advantage, and they totally blow it. . . .That is how life is, for disciples of Jesus. East, drink, and remember. Deny, repent, turn around. Keep coming to the table. Keep passing the cup to one another.

Joyce (the person I relieved in this tag-team prayer vigil event) tells me that every year as folks pray in the Day Chapel, there is a bird that comes tapping on the stained glass window and looks in, like he too wants to accompany Jesus in this time.

What I take from this time, at the foot of the cross, accompanying Jesus, is that his life, and ours, are full of failure and triumph…. and it just might be that those inhabit the same moment. The good news is that we can be hospitable to both–the shining moments and the shadows–and know we are loved in it all.

Tomorrow night, the cross will empty and we will light the new fire at the center of town with our sisters and brothers from other traditions. Then the light will be walked up to our building. Funny story about this. We, UMs, didn’t have a “proper” candle for the Easter vigil fire so the sisters from St. Michael’s offered us the “stub” of their last year’s paschal candle. Which we happily accepted. These candles start off over 6 feet tall so they can be burned throughout the Easter season (50 days), they are ornately decorated, and cost hundreds of dollars. Well the “stub” turns out to be several feet tall still and heavy(!) so it will offer a weight lifting challenge for Chris and Linda getting it up the hill. We’re welcoming them with a tailgate– I was thinking a handful of people with some chips & salsa and I found some special chocolate popcorn that looked like a festive Easter treat. Then Linda bought a glow-in-the-dark frisbee and some glow sticks, and Rick started talking about bringing a grill and doing peppers and sausage. So bring a lawn chair, a golf umbrella and your favorite beverage if you want to join us on the front lawn Saturday night to welcome the new fire–the first signs of new life.

And speaking of new life…. there’s a duck nesting under the bush by the back office door and she’s caring for 5 eggs Dave Richie tells me. So park in the back when you come Sunday morning (to allow visitors the prime front row spots) and walk quietly by the bushes offering a prayer for new life in all the ways it greets us.

Shalom from the foot of the cross,
Pastor Kelly

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April 15, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Spirit,

What do you do to prepare yourself for the holiest week in the year? Our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters down on Prospect Street have been fasting in Lent in preparation for their 13 services this coming week!

I wonder what Jesus did to prepare himself for going to Jerusalem and for the holy celebration of Passover. The gospel writer Mark reports that when Jesus got to the city, “he went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” But this is Year A in the Lectionary Cycle so we’re studying Matthew’s account. For Matthew, the first action after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was cleansing the temple of the buyers and sellers. So what do we need to clean out in order to prepare ourselves?

One of the things that helps prepare me for the week ahead is the incredibly powerful, moving music associated with the Passion, like When Jesus Wept.
Or Richard Einhorn’s VOICES OF LIGHT which merges the legendary silent film masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc with a live performance of a beautiful work by composer Richard Einhorn. It’s an incredibly moving and popular composition for solo voices, chorus and orchestra which I saw live at Emory University years ago. The music (audio sample)
speaks of the tragic torture and killing of a person for their faith–an appropriate entrance into Holy Week.

If you’re more a movie person, there’s a NOVA special showing now on PBS about digging up Biblical history. And Agora is now out on DVD. It’s a historical drama set in Roman Egypt, when Christianity was on the rise and in conflict with the pagan worshipers and Jewish people. It’s a deeply disturbing account of how faithful people can get caught up in their own self-righteousness and persecute all those considered impure. At one point in the movie, the early Christian church, seeking unity of beliefs, actually carry rocks with them and become a religious and political mob like the one who persecuted Jesus. It’s a haunting reminder of the human tendency to impose our certainties on others.

In preparation for the week ahead, when Jesus will ask his followers to stay with him, eat with him, worship with him, and accompany him through trials and death, may we not only consider the journey of those disciples, some who would betray and abandon him, but may we also reflect on the political environment that demonizes the other, and in so doing makes killing another palatable.


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