Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Journey to Becoming

Minister Message

Journey to Becoming

We are in the midst of Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. The week commemorates the journey Jesus took from his home in Galilee into the Jerusalem during the festival of Passover. As so often happens the Christian story of Easter runs parallel to the Jewish Festival of Passover.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday which was last Sunday. Borrowing imagery from the Hebrew text of Zachariah (9:9), Jesus comes to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah will herald the coming Kingdom of God riding on an ass. As we explored last  week Jesus is widely believed to be the one who would save the Hebrews from the Romans. They stand out waving palm fronds as if to hail a new King. But Jesus comes not as a king but as a sacrifice according to Christian teaching.

On Holy Monday Jesus enterd the temple and clears it of money changers, proclaiming a new kingdom is at hand. On Tuesday Jesus is said to have told his disciples that his death is imminent and with it to prepare for the Kingdom of God to arrive on earth.

Spy Wednesday is said to be the day when Judas made a deal with the Jewish authorities to turn Jesus over to the Romans. It is believed that Jesus knew of Judas’ betrayal and that he now had a spy in the midst of his disciples.

On Maundy Thursday Jesus and his disciples sit  down to the Last Supper wherein he proclaimed the Eucharist; that the bread shall be his body and the wine shall be his blood. It was a somber affair as Jesus proclaimed that he would be betrayed and that even his closest disciple Peter would deny him three times. This is also the time when Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples to model servant leadership in the days after he was gone.

Good Friday is anything but good other than it sets the stage for his resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is the day Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to death by crucifixion. By that evening, Jesus was dead and laid in a tomb. Black Saturday was the time of waiting. A vigil was kept in the dark, as the tomb is dark as those who remain wait for his resurrection.

Easter Sunday, the stone is rolled away from the Tomb and Jesus is gone, risen to God. This is the story which defines the heart of Christianity. Jesus died for our sins and is now at the right hand of God.

In many ways this journey from peasant to messiah to the Son of God is a story of becoming. It could mirror our lives as well. All of us have had high hopes for our future, perhaps even a dream of greatness. Those in their twenties and thirties are often consumed with pursuing this dream, starting careers and families and imaging how their lives will be. But as with all dreams, reality sets in; we realize that there are limits to what we can do. Raising a family is harder than we imagined. Relationships seem wrought with troubles. We march into the future but we soon realize that we are not as royal as we once thought we were.

And then comes the hard work of mid-life, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of our lives. Here we began to realize that we are not satisfied with the material world, we search for meaning that goes beyond the tables of money we see before us. We may also imagine our own mortality for the first time as we find ourselves facing health issues or children (or elderly parents) that have issues we couldn’t imagine. This can be like falling into the valley of trouble, and we yearn to find our way out again.

By late mid-life, you climb out of the valley towards a second mountain, you struggle through your Good Friday towards a new day. This is the real resurrection that we all go through. As David Brooks in his book The Second Mountain puts it “You don’t climb the second mountain the way you climb the first mountain. You conquer your first mountain. You identify the summit, and you claw your way toward it. You are conquered by your second mountain. You surrender to some summons, and you do everything necessary to answer the call and address the problem or injustice that is in front of you. On the first mountain you tend to be ambitious, strategic, and independent. On the second mountain you tend to be relational, intimate, and relentless.”

Many of us are in the midst of this journey from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, especially in this pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones, others are dealing with illness, and some of us are struggling to make ends meet. We are climbing out of the valley unto the second mountain, moving from our old life into a new life. Like Jesus, all of us are on the Journey to Becoming. Let us keep the hope of that rebirth before us.

With Grace and Grit,

John

 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Grace Happens




Grace is a funny word. Christianity views grace as an unbidden gift from God. For me grace is any time we are given insight, meaning and purpose to our lives. Grace lives in the everyday of our experiences. Grace happens when we least expect it.
Several days ago Francis and I were dealing with the town tax office. For some reason we were still being charged vehicle property tax on a car that had never even been garaged in that town. As was my wont with bureaucrats I came loaded for a confrontation. We had all our paperwork in order including a paid receipt from our current town showing we paid the tax. Francis, who is often kinder than me, began by asking the town employee’s name, and then introduced us. She then explained the situation. The tax lady was more than kind. She explained how the system worked and how we could fix it. She and Francis then got into a conversation about how difficult her job is and how most people come in filled with righteous anger instead of understanding how the tax system worked.

By the end of the encounter, we departed as civilians, in the best sense of the word, cognizant of each other’s humanity in the midst of forces often beyond our control. We had all experienced the grace of civility and kindness. May we look often for these moments and see them all around us. 

With Grace and Grit, John

Friday, January 24, 2020

Facing Grace


Grace Happens

Grace is a funny word. Christianity views grace as an unbidden gift from God. For me grace is any time we are given insight, meaning and purpose to our lives. Grace lives in the everyday of our experiences. Grace happens when we least expect it.

Several days ago Francis and I were dealing with the town tax office. For some reason we were still being charged vehicle property tax on a car that had never even been garaged in that town. As was my wont with bureaucrats I came loaded for a confrontation. We had all our paperwork in order including a paid receipt from our current town showing we paid the tax. Francis, who is often kinder than me, began by asking the town employee’s name, and then introduced us. She then explained the situation. The tax lady was more than kind. She explained how the system worked and how we could fix it. She and Francis then got into a conversation about how difficult her job is and how most people come in filled with righteous anger instead of understanding how the tax system worked.

By the end of the encounter, we departed as civilians, in the best sense of the word, cognizant of each other’s humanity in the midst of forces often beyond our control. We had all experienced the grace of civility and kindness. May we look often for these moments and see them all around us. 

With Grace and Grit, John

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Poem by Toko-Pa Turner

I read this poem in church the other day and it spoke to many:

I Want to be Alive with You
by Toko-Pa Turner
 
I want to be guided by older-ups. 
I want babies to be born where old people die. 
I want to be sandwiched in the middle of a messy togetherness.
I want to be warned before I do something stupid. 
I want to be forgiven when I do it anyway. 
I want wisdom to be tapped out on my eardrums and not Googled. 
I want transitions to be recognized by fire.
I want gifts to be educed from children. 
And teenagers and adults and I want to mean something to my community. 
I want to get drunk on substance morning and night.
I want to hear your dreams. 
I want to raise a revolution for gentleness. 
I want to call out the bullshit on consensus reality. 
I want to get rich so I can billboard the highways with validations.
I don't want to be another faker. 
I don't want to show you my good side and hide my humanity.  
I don't want to dole you out my Self in digestible status-chunks. 
I want to challenge you in long, drawn-out rituals and still find you interested.
I want to feed you seventeen course meals made with spices I crushed.  
I want to recite you circular poems, each beginning cutting a deeper grasp. 
I want to make you feel something, even if it's awkward. 
I want to sing you songs which are ancient and new.
I want to carve stories in trees with tools my elders fashioned. 
I want to keep sharpening them. 
I want to find places we've never been. 
And then, I want to return there, but backwards.
I want to shuffle up words so we don't sleep through them. 
I want to learn things and then be splashed into never forgetting. 
I want to make you feel seen. 
I want to hold your pounding heart in my gentlest of hands. 
I want to make your thing feel like my thing.
I don't want to miss a moment. 
I want to dig at the bottom and find it false. 
I want to turn up unknown depths. 
I want to stand in this hurricane and sing the sweetest, 
most naked song you can bear.
I want to be alive with you.
.
.
.
.
 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Language of Reverance


As progressive people we often shy away from words that either reminds us of a religious past we would just as well like to forget or because the meanings of these words might be committing us to a belief system we don’t fully endorse. Words like God, holiness, faith, grace, prayer, salvation, atonement, sacrifice, theology and the real stumbling block, sin. It is true that many religious traditions use these words in ways that many of us disagree with theologically; prayer is often associated with a supplication to a higher power, sacrifice reminds us of the Christian faith in salvation through Jesus  and grace in its the Christian meaning is an unbidden gift from God. But I contend that we do ourselves a disservice to avoid this rich language.  The language of reverence is ours to use as well in ways that better fit our own understandings of the universe. Indeed, each of these words is used richly throughout literature from the Bible to Walt Whitman.

I am very careful in how I use these words with you. Many have noticed, for instance, that I rarely use the word God in my preaching. Mostly, I do this to avoid confusion, realizing full well that there are at least as many understandings of God as there are people in the room, but also because I am not sure what that God entails. My own definition is rooted in nature and human relationships. To unpack all of that as I am trying to convey a deeper message seems more trouble than it is worth. This doesn’t mean the word has no value, only that its value is greater than the words I have to express it.
Grace is a word I use often. My blog is titled “Facing Grace”. By grace I mean those opportunities and gifts we are presented with that help us to change our outlook on the world and make us better people. I don’t require a God to believe in grace, just the possibility that what comes our way may have more meaning than we might normally give it. I have met people, for instance, that give me insight in some unique way to a problem I am facing. I need a direction, and a direction appears. As the Jedi master once said “A solution will present itself”. That is grace.

Faith is another such word. I realize that some of us are more than a little uncomfortable with faith. It suggests “blind faith”, a complete surrender to something we are required to believe in. That is not how I use this word. For me, faith is that assurance that what we hold to be good and right and true is, in almost every instance, good and right and true. I have faith in the general goodwill of people to care for one another. I have faith that science and modern medicine will continually improve our lives. I have faith in democracy. Having faith doesn’t mean we have to stop being concerned or stop working towards these ends. Now, more than ever, we need to work towards preserving our democracy. What it does mean is that I have an assurance that there is a high probability that what I have faith in will in fact prevail.

Yours in Grace and Grit, John

Monday, September 10, 2018

Crossing Borders


One of many sojourns this summer took us to visit our daughter Emma in the countryside just outside Asheville, NC. Emma and her partner Zanny are building a house, made mostly from recycled materials. What does that mean? Picture this, Francis and me hovering over old oak siding from a barn, planning it board by board to make a floor in one hundred degree heat. But we had fun didn’t we? Emma and some of her friends have bought adjoining properties at the end of a Blue Ridge Hollar, or Hollow, a road that branches off the main road and winds its way into a small valley or cove that dead ends  where the hills are the steepest. In the midst of that paradise lies a very large house, an old mansion actually, that she and others are turning into an alternative school for change agents. It’s called the Cabbage School, named after that plain and lowly vegetable that has such nutritional utility. The school now in its third year is loosely patterned after the craft schools of Appalachia, schools where adults can go to learn the basic skills of small sustainable agriculture, small building skills and such esoteric skills as wooden bucket making. In the midst of this curriculum is a commitment to advance the causes of locally based social justice. So while I was there there was a course on persevering fruit with daily meetings on how to affect sustainable agriculture in your home communities, conflict management, and the principles of anarchy. To name a few. The school has a small but loyal following, progressive millennials from Asheville to as far away as New York. So successful is this endeavor that every Sunday they hold a community potluck at the school and dozens of people show up, some of whom live on the road and many who consider this their vocational and spiritual home.

After the first year they were operating, my daughter in law Zanny who works in Asheville as a social worker for the county and encounters real poverty every day, asked why aren’t they reaching out to their North Carolina neighbors, people, who have lived on this land for generations, many of whom are dirt poor. So they did, and several of their most immediate neighbors including two brothers who live directly across from the school started to come to the potlucks. Reluctantly at first, these brave folks entered into the hub bub of scores of millennials, few of whom are from NC who spoke of such things as “disruption” and “gender politics”. You can imagine how foreign these two worlds seemed to each other. But then something remarkable started to happen, the young people asked their neighbors to help them build a sauna. Jeff and Roger two brothers who lived right across from the school in a trailer were more than willing even if that weren’t sure what a sauna actually is.

And so one summer day, Jeff and Roger, two North Carolinians and six 30 something folks from the school went about building the wood fired sauna. Turns out the brothers knew a thing or two about building with recycled material and after several days they produced a marvelous little sauna house. When I sat down next to Jeff at the potluck, now two years later, I asked him what he thought of all these kids. He smiled his toothless grin and said “We wasn’t so sure about these kids, seemed like hippies to us. But they are real neighbors, they have been there for us more than a few times.”
As I drove back home through the blue ridge to the East Coast, I thought long about this remarkable community these most unlikely neighbors have made for one another. In an age, where my daughter and her friends voted for Bernie, if they voted at all, and Jeff and Roger voted for Trump, here was an example of the best of what we could be as Americans. A vast gulf between generations, political identities, gender politics and wealth had been bridged. And I thought, why can’t we do that everywhere?

With Grace and Grit, John