#CometoTheTable2015 Bible Study (Rev 21)

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As part of the Synod of the Northeast’s Come to the Table 2015 Event I was invited to be one of the Bible Study leaders on Revelation 21:1-5.  After my group worked together I was asked for the list of questions so here’s the Bible Study design.   The idea behind this is to ask questions that open up the reading for us and get everyone talking and theologizing together!  As we rotated around after each question, we got to know each other around the room, and hear each other’s voices.  For time, there was four minutes for each question, two minutes per person.  

Open with Prayer

Set the chairs up in two circles, facing each other so that each chair has a partner.  Participants will rotate however you’d like them to so they have new conversation partners for each question.

Read the Scripture 

Silence

Questions based on the passage:

  1. What do you hear in this passage?

  2. What is new in your ministry context?

  3. What is passing away (that needs to to make space for the new) in your ministry context?

  4. What are tears you have (personally) that need to be wiped away?

  5. What breaks God’s heart in your community?  Where is God calling you to go in ministry to respond to this heartbreak?

Pause to read the Scripture passage again

  1. What is the prophetic call of God that you hear in this passage?

  2. Where is the prophetic call of God right now in your life?

  3. What will be different about your ministry as you return home from Come to the Table?  What new heaven or new earth will you seek to engage?

  4. What tools have you gained this weekend for the next season of ministry you are called to?

Read the passage

Close in prayer

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Anti-Racism Training Module

Below is the information about a training in September 2015 that I led for the activist council of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  We have covenanted to deal with questions and learnings around race and privilege each time we gather.  

Thank you to Abbi Heimach who helped work on this module for training and Joe Paparone from Labor-Religion Coalition who helped co-facilitate.  

This was a training created specifically for a group that was mostly Euro-American (white) and is at a beginning phase of its thinking/interrogating collectively and personally.  We noticed that as we got into the Q&A time there were varying degrees of receptivity and difficulty going deep and personal into self-interrogration or self-interruption of internal racial cues.  We set the room up in round tables and people were invited to mix into different groups for conversations/discussion.  We had pauses for conversation and time for “report back” and group reflection.    This was broken into two parts:

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Part One:

We began with the setting of ground rules.  These come from Eric Law’s work around Respectful Communications Guidelines.

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We then introduced the topic with a reminder of our covenant to work on this issue as a group.  We discussed how we will take collective ownership for our conversation, that if there are parts that concern or upset/offend any of us, we should feel free and safe to bring them to the group for conversation.  

We began with biblical reflection on Ecclesiastes 3.  We read this often quoted passage about time and invited us to consider the conversation about anti-racism and undoing racism in ourselves in the context of time:

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We asked some opening questions:

“Why are we still a nearly all white organization that has as its core ideas like “transformation,” “nonviolence,” and “peacemaking?”  This requires we not only take a very hard look at ourselves, but also work on our learning on these issues at every opportunity we have, because the fact that our organization is set up the way it is means that we have a problem.  What is it about the system that we have that makes it inhospitable to people of color?  What are the subtleties at play as an organization and for us as individuals that create this inhospitable climate that we barely even recognize?”

We then set the stage with the watching of a video by Ta-Nehishi Coates, as a way for the group to listen to a “younger” voice who is not from the generation of the Civil Rights Movement (which is what the Peace Fellowship often listens to).  We also wanted to push a group committed to nonviolence to listen to someone who is not committed to nonviolence.   As a group committed to Christian faith we wanted to push the limits to listen to someone who self-describes as atheist.  

We chose this clip to challenge a number of boundaries but to also offer an opportunity for deep listening.  Click on link below:

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2015/9/7/ta_nehisi_coates_on_police_brutality

Part Two:

Pre-reading was assigned, in the form of an article by Robin DiAngelo on the concept of White Fragility.  The article can be found here.  

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We then broke into our groups and invited small groups into times to interrogate a series of questions in small groups and then to process in the larger group.  The groups were invited to think in deep and personal ways about each of these questions.  The first slide was to discuss the larger themes in DiAngelo’s work and what White Fragility looks like:

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These were the four questions we asked, going into greater levels of difficulty with each question.  We noticed that some went right into personal interrogation with these questions, others were not able to do that internal work and so stayed on the surface and dealt in organizational dynamics.  Every one of us is different in our ability to enter into these conversations.  It was clear that at the end there was a sense of tiredness in the room, this is difficult work!  Nothing was answered, nothing was finished, this was just one step in the holy work we have before us to know ourselves more deeply and understand our own internal cues as we seek to build beloved community.  

Question One:

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Question Two:

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Question Three:

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Question Four:

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Additional Questions that we had prepared based on DiAngelo’s work but that we did not have time for in this training:

  1. How do you react when it is suggested that your viewpoint as a white person comes from a racialized frame of reference? (challenge to objectivity)
  2. How does it feel to you when people of color talk openly about their own racial perspectives?  (such as the video we just watched) (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race)
  3. What does it feel like when you are provided feedback that your actions had a racist impact?  (challenge to white racial innocence)
  4. Do you feel that access is unequal in different racial groups?  How does it feel when people of color describe this unequal access in our church? (challenge to meritocracy)
  5. What is it like for you, really like for you, when a person of color is in a leadership position?  (challenge to white authority)
  6. What it is like for you to watch a movie or go to a show, or read a book when there are no white people represented and the entire drama/story is all around people of color, but not in stereotypical roles?  (challenge to white centrality)

Love and Listening | A Sermon

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I was blessed to be invited on August 20, 2015 to lead worship at the famous and historic First Reformed Church of Albany.  This is the second oldest congregation in New York State and it was fun to preach in their pulpit bought by 25 beaver pelts from Holland.  I decided to use my time in a place of so much history to reflect on one of the most important and transformative roles we might live into as those of “historic mainline” congregations today….the role of listening.  The Scripture readings were from the Song of Solomon 2: 8-13 and James 1: 17-27

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Today’s readings are from two of the lesser used books of the Bible.  The Song of Solomon and the Letter of James, or the Epistle of James.  Both are relatively short, and both contain controversy.  

The Song of Solomon is considered by some to be too “racy” to be included in the Bible.  Images of two lovers, details of their encounters with each other, sensual descriptions of love.  The Letter of James was famously referred to by the reformer Martin Luther as an “epistle of straw,” mostly because Luther (and others) wanted to argue that faith saves us, and not our “works”.  It is an age-old debate and I would suggest, probably not as black and white as some theologians on both sides of the argument have made it out to be.  

So why, on this last Sunday of summer, read and reflect on these two passages, from these two somewhat controversial Books of the Bible?  

And where do these two different books of the Bible fit together?  

What I’d like to suggest today is that they come together around the theme of listening.  

In the Song of Solomon the two lovers listen to each other.  One is able to identify that their love is on the other side of the wall because they hear the voice of the other.  The passage for today starts with this short sentence, “The voice of my beloved!”  Not the sight of my beloved.  But the voice!  Identification comes through hearing!  Is there a voice of someone in your life, maybe your beloved or maybe just someone you love, and the sound of their voice is a cherished sound?  You hear it before you see the person.  And you react to it before anything else?   

Not just people but animals react to the sounds of those who are most loved and cherished.  In the movie from years ago, March of the Penguins, as Morgan Freeman narrates it, he carefully explains that as the one penguin in the mating pair leaves before the one and only egg that is produced in a season hatches, that during that time the mate and the other talk to each other, over and over and over again.  And when the penguins return, after the baby penguin is born, and brings food back, the way they find each other is through the sound of their voices. Hundred of penguins are huddled together, all looking identical—and it is the voice, the listening that allows them to be reunited—a matter of life or death.  And the cycle repeats year after year.  

“The voice of my beloved” says Scripture to us today—“Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.”  

The sacredness of love, the intensity, the singularity, the individuality, the perfection of love.  Poetry in the Song of Solomon to describe some of our deepest ways of connecting and knowing another person, perhaps even another part of the creation, maybe even understanding some of the mystery of the Divine.  

“Arise, my love, my fair one….and come away….”   

James offers another view about listening.  His instructions are clear:

Be quick to listen.

Be a “doer” of the Word, but not merely a “hearer” who deceives him or herself.

If you do not listen, you “forget what you are like”

Do not be a hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts.

And what is the only religious practice James calls us to?  Care of the least of these, the widows, the orphans (who in his time were those who were forgotten) and to stay “unstained by the world.”   A living testament and response to the God of love.

I wonder to myself—about the importance of listening.  

As we listen we figure out what is really going on with someone.  Those who suffer the most in our world today do so for so many reasons, but their suffering is most amplified because no one is listening to them any longer.  There is a reason James raises the case of orphans and widows—they were those cursed in his time with being “invisible”, “un-listened to.”  

Studies show that prisoners remanded to solitary confinement have changes to the chemistry of their brains after as little as 72 hours, because of what they are experiencing—or rather not experiencing: human connection.  No wonder solitary confinement is defined as torture by so many countries!   And there are many outside of jail who also suffer in this way—the incredible suffering of isolation.  

James’ letter is all about this.  About not forgetting, not deceiving ourselves that we are somehow doing enough or “the right thing”, and finding ways to be committed wholeheartedly to God’s original calling—justice.  

How often do those of us with the greatest privilege in our own culture of such deep separation of various groups of people intentionally place ourselves in the position to listen intently to someone who is radically different than ourselves, to really hear what they are saying, and to understand their reality and allow our actions to be transformed into real, true and lasting action for justice by this listening?  So often we want to “do”, to go and “build something” for “those poor people” on a mission trip.  

But what about mission that is just listening?

As North Americans most of us wouldn’t think we accomplished anything.  But we also live in one of the cultures in the world where listening is among our most ignored activities.  This lack of listening leads to an ignorance around the needs for justice, and I would argue—this lack of generations of deep listening, intentional separating of people one from the other has landed us in the place we are today where xenophobia and racism are not just par for the course—but acceptable ways of behavior.  

As one theologian writes, “these smalls acts [listening] are the nuts and bolts of daily life, holding together scaffold on which we build community and the social order.”  

I would argue that true listening as James invites us to engage it—listening for the sake of justice-filled action, is not a small act—but it might just be the greatest and most prophetic act we can take in this divided and hate-saturated time we live in today.  Listening, real listening has the power to transform us into discipleship in Jesus Christ—which can only be filled with real and not paternalistic, justice.

How often do we take the time to really listen to God?  Maybe the reason we avoid listening well to others is because we are terrified of the transformation that the listening might invite into our own lives.  Or terrified by what God might do with us next?   

A few weeks ago I listened to a conversation between three #BlackLivesMatter activists, among them a member of the clergy.  The language in that conversation and the conversation itself was not the sort of language those of us in mostly white, “mainline” churches are used to hearing.  But it needs to be heard.  The reason people are on the streets of our country is because we have failed to listen!  

I wondered to myself, as a white person, as a leader in the church—what risk would I take among my peers if I invited a group of us to just listen to that conversation, watch it in a meeting and discuss it for example?  

The truth is, I know I’d face retaliation in some circles of my work.  

Isn’t that one of the reasons that sometimes we do not say what we are really thinking, and trust others enough to listen?  We are fearful, and sometimes most fearful in our own “tribes.”  Nearly all of the Epistles, the letters after the Gospels in the New Testament are written to people like you and me, insiders.  There is a reason for this—transformation, a return to the justice God seeks—we have to embody it first in our own communities if we can ever dream of attempting to engage with it in communities we have long ignored!

Let me close with a story that comes to me from a friend of mine who works in New York City and spends much of her time on the subway.  She related the story that one day she was on the train and a homeless man was in the car alongside her and other commuters.  He was talking and asking for help.  No one was listening, everyone was turning away from him.  Finally she got up and went over to the man, sat down next to him and talked with him.  He burst into tears, “It’s like I’m invisible!” he yelled in pain and anger, “It’s like no one even notices me.”  A deep well of hurt and pain, almost unbearable to bear witness to.  She said she wrapped her arms around him and held him in a hug.  She said to him, “I notice you.” He sobbed in her arms, all because she offered him the gift of a listening ear—a reminder that he is not alone.  

As one who aspires to be a lover of God—who have you failed to listen to?  

Who can you listen more deeply to?  

In trust how can you allow your life to be transformed?  

In discipleship how can your commitment to God’s justice be renewed?  

Where are the wells of deep pain and isolation that you notice in our communities today—and how can listening be a place of transformation not for “those places” out there but for you?

As an agent of the living Christ in our world today—how can you live out the radical message of Jesus without fear and with abandonment born out of love?

Because as in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “You may be the only Gospel someone reads” (and I would say, experiences…through your listening and then prayerful action-filled responses)

Arise, my love, my fair one….and come away, calls the One who listens to us….

Arise, my love, my fair one…and come away….

Amen.  

HOT Tomatillo Salsa

My latest recipe was put together over the weekend because I was given a bunch of green tomatillos from a friend’s summer garden.  Tomatillos are sort of like tomatoes, but covered with a husk.  They are great for cooking.  

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Ingredients:

About 10 tomatillos

Peppers – For this recipe I used one large bell pepper, about six habañero, 5 serrano and 8 jalepeño (use any variety you want)

One large white onion

Salt (to taste)

Cilanto 

One large tomato

6 cloves of garlic

Process:  Take the tomatillos and de-husk and wash.  Tomatillos are sometimes sticky on the skin, that’s normal.  Wash and then cut the tops off the peppers but do not deseed.  Place the tomatillos and peppers on a baking sheet and place on the top rack of the oven, right under the broiler.  

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Heat up under the broiler until blackened, taking the baking sheet out and turning the peppers and tomatillos over to get all sides completely blackened.

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While this is going on in the oven (keep an eye, its a rather fast process) – cut the tomato up into quarters and put in a blender and puree.  Put the tomato puree into a mixing bowl.  Repeat process with the onion and garlic cloves.  

Remove the blackened tomatillos and peppers from the baking tray and place in blender.  Puree down as with the tomato, onion and garlic.  Transfer into mixing bowl.  Stir all the ingredients together in the mixing bowl and add in as much salt and cilantro as you’d like.  There will be some water, etc. that will come out of the tomatillos and peppers as you grill them, put that into the mix too, it’s good!  Don’t lose that from the baking sheet!

Now you have HOT salsa!

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Peace | A Sermon

On Sunday August 23, 2015 I was invited to preach at the Korean Presbyterian Church in Albany.  My sermon was inspired by this photograph of a Syrian father escaping on a boat with his children.  During worship we put this image up on the screen in front of us and looked at it as we read scripture and as we mediated on the Word of God.  

Much of my sermon exegesis was inspired by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns in Ambassadors of Reconciliation

Scripture for the Sermon: Ephesians 6: 10-20

To give to help in Syria please visit the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website.  

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Photo credit: Daniel Etter @DanielEtterFoto

On Monday of this week, at nearly 4AM local time on the shores of Kos, Greece a Syrian father walked off a small boat that was built for three people but ferried eight to safety. As he worked his way off the boat, that was badly damaged, he sobbed as he cradled the head of his young son who was leaning against his father and crying. In his arms he carried his young daughter, her little body held safely in a green lifejacket. Their mother was behind them and also about to get off the boat.

 

We know this because a freelance photographer from the New York Times[1] was also there and caught this moment on film. A mix of emotions, gratitude, pain, and grief—all caught up in one photograph. During this month of August over 100 thousand refugees have attempted to gain access to Europe—fleeing one war or another. And like in our country, there has been a backlash of ugly, hate-filled anti-immigrant language and propaganda against these refugees. And this photograph of this father, sobbing as he walked onto shore has been a counter-narrative—to show the human face of war. And the human need that every parent has, to make a place of safety for their children.

 

I tell this story as a way of framing our scripture for today. Paul is writing to us from jail. He is writing with deep theological conviction about the “divided house” of his time and creating it anew, based on race, class and gender equality, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) As we see in Ephesians, and in our world today, that challenge, fight, and divided house is very present.

 

In Pauls’ time it was Jews and Gentiles, Romans and the underclass, wealth and grinding poverty.  

 

In our time there are many lines of division, the ones that haunt us the most these days are human-made divisions of race and country.

 

How can we hear Paul’s words from so many years ago in a new way today?

 

How can we hear in Paul new things to help us in our ongoing work as disciples of the risen Christ?

 

Can we, as disciples of Jesus Christ—find new ways to live into our calling to be peace-makers and peace-seekers, especially in this time we live in?

 

Let us listen to Paul in Ephesians again:

 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these,[b] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[c] for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 

I must admit that this is a passage from Ephesians that has long has been a challenge to me. The images that on the surface, seem violent, even warlike have troubled me theologically. But how can I see these images in a new way, and how can they help us as we seek to be Christ in the situations we encounter today—situations that are so complex and so full of hatred and division?

 

And lastly—how can we name Evil when we see it? Paul does not shy away in this passage from using that name—Evil, to address the spiritual forces of divisiveness in heavenly places. The Evil of hatred, of division—one of my deepest questions today is, “What do we do when Evil is cloaked and excused by theological language or even our communities of faith? How deep must our spiritual work be as people of Jesus to root that out?”

 

Let us turn and listen to the metaphors and imagery that Paul puts before us today, perhaps in a new way:

 

  • The Belt of Truth—Paul tells us to “fasten this around our waist.” This reminds me of the image of a worker, who has their tools fastened to their belt. When then put their belt on in the morning it has everything in it that they might need. In the same way as followers of Jesus we are called to fasten a Belt of Truth around our waists. Rather than physical tools what might be in our belt? Scripture, our faith, our experiences and interactions as those seeking to live out the way of Christ. Paul is not the first one to invite this image, it first comes from Isaiah 11, the messianic promise, He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.”
  • Breastplate of Righteousness—Paul continues his use of Isaiah with the image of the breastplace of righteousness. A breastplate as something we put over our torso to protect it, especially our hearts—from injury or harm. Later in Isaiah 59 we hear these words, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.” Paul brings us back to the idea in Isaiah that God is displeased with the idea that we do not handle evil for what it is, or that we do not intervene when peace or justice is at stake. This is a challenge that is issued to us and that that Paul was issuing to the community of faith around him at the time—to stand up, to act, to intervene, to get in the way. Even Paul, from jail is encouraging his fellow followers of Jesus to take bold peace-building steps of faith—even if it might land them back in the place where he is. Paul is inviting us to be protectors of vulnerable communities—taking God’s breastplate as our protection.
  • Shoes—Paul tells us to put on our feet whatever “will make you ready to proclaim the Gospel of Peace.”       Isaiah writes these words that Paul seems to be alluding to: “How welcome on the mountain are the feet of the one heralding peace.” (Isa 52:7). One translation of this passage from Isaiah that I love is, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings peace.” It is no wonder that Paul and Isaiah before him uses feet as the metaphor here.       Feet in their time were dirty, they were not perfectly kept as so many of our feet are today, pedicured, placed in beautiful shoes, just another fashion accessory that we might have. Feet then were naked, or maybe with just sandals to protect them. The ground was dirty. Feet were oftentimes not beautiful. Years ago I preached a sermon on this passage in Isaiah and the title of my sermon was “Beautiful Feet.” Do you have beautiful feet? Do I? Do We?       Our feet are only beautiful when they are the part of our body that carries us, walks us, runs us into the places where we bring about Christ’s peace. Where do your feet take you every day? Do they take you to a place where you are a peacemaker?       This is the challenging question Paul is asking us here.
  • Shield of Faith—In Psalm 91 the Psalmist writes these words, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” It is true that as we seek to follow God, to be the people of peace we are called to be, that arrows will come our way. Some will seek to discredit us. Others to stop us. Paul of course, is very familiar with this issue; he is, after all, writing from jail! God will protect us—and Paul writes these words to remind us of God’s love, care and protection.
  • Helmet of Salvation—Again, this image comes to Paul from Isaiah 59, it completes the image of the breastplate—together a helmet and breastplate were the best protection one had in battle in the time of Paul. He is turning militaristic imagery on its head to repurpose it for God’s peace—a powerful message as he was imprisoned by soldiers. A helmet’s purpose is to protect our heads—and what is inside…our brains, one of our most important and most vulnerable organs. What is most vulnerable in our communities? What is most in danger, or most unable to protect itself?       These images we have of those who have been made vulnerable this summer—refugees, victims of war, children, the pastor and members of the church in Charleston who were gunned down simply because they were African-American. This is vulnerability—and I see God’s Spirit putting a new sort of helmet around them, a new sort of protection. How can we serve as God’s helmet of protection around those who are most vulnerable? How can doing so be our act of faith in Jesus Christ?
  • Sword of the Spirit—the Word of God: God’s Word is our ultimate tool. We are reminded by Paul that it is not just our actions, but our words. It is not just how we are—but by what code we live. It is not just what we do but what we say. The Word of God is a gift that brings us new life in every stage of our lives and the life of this world. The Word of God is what we learn as children and then spend our entire lives deepening our understanding of. The Word of God is what gives us hope and what brings people to faith.       As we proclaim peace—it is important that we do not just proclaim what we hear or what is said around us, but that our words are rooted and come out of the well of God’s peace, God’s love and God’s life that we see in Jesus—who was the living Word.

 

The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit—the tools God gives to us to do the work of peace that is so urgently before us.

 

Let me close where I started. The image, the picture of the father clutching his children, tears filling his eyes as they got to a place of safety.

 

As the Church, the body of Christ, we are the heirs of the call to be peacemakers.

 

This is a call that is full of cost, danger and also promise.   This summer we have seen and continue to hear the loud voices of racism and xenophobia all around us. As we enter into an election season in this country, these voices are especially loud. They are rewarded in our culture by television news shows that follow the god of ratings, money and viewers. And in doing so, these voices are amplified. And their harm increases.

 

The killings of African-American church goers earlier this summer haunts my soul every day. Since that day in June I just cannot get that massacre out of my mind. We are living in moments in the life of the Church and in the life of our faith that are pivot-points.

 

The invitation of Christ comes back to us again and again:

 

Follow Me.

Follow Me.

Follow Me.

 

Amen.

 

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/kos-crisis-the-story-behind-the-photograph-of-a-syrian-father-shared-by-thousands-online-10461933.html

CSA Dinner

Tonight we made dinner from our ongoing sampling of veggies etc. that comes in our CSA bag each week.   These recipes use the zucchini, scallions, portobello mushrooms and onions from this week.  

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Zucchini Fritters

Ingredients:

Zucchini

2 eggs

2/3 cups of flour

Bunch of scallions (about 7)

Salt/Pepper

Take your zucchini and after washing it grate it (with the skin on).  Mix the grated zucchini with a little bit of salt and let it stand for 10 minutes.  After the water has drained from the zucchini roll it in paper towels to get a lot of the water out.  Put the zucchini in a bowl.  Add the two eggs, the cut up scallions (all the way to the green ends!) and flour together in a bowl and mix together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

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Heat a little bit of oil in a saucepan and then drop some of the zucchini into the saucepan and lightly pan-fry.  Place on paper towels to drain.

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Dressing

Ingredients:

2/3 yogurt to 1/3 mayo 

Italian and Dill seasonings

Whisk everything together and place in a bowl

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Steak with Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

5 steaks

4 Portobello Mushrooms

2 small onions

4 cloves of garlic

1 can of capers

Red Wine (any kind you have around)

Red Wine Vinegar

Salt/Pepper

In a large saucepan put a little bit of butter in the pan and place the onions and garlic cut up with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and some salt.  Sauté.  Then place the cut up mushrooms into the pan and continue to stir.  Add in some of the wine and red wine vinegar (about a cup of wine and about 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, but to be honest, I do not measure).  After everything comes to a boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and add in the capers and then the steaks.  Stir everything together and cover the dish to simmer for about 50 minutes for the steak to get very tender and the juice incorporated.  Stir occasionally.   

Who Sails the Ship?

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Today it was my joy to share worship with the United Church of Stillwater as they elected their Pastor Nominating Committee and began their journey to calling their next pastor.  The sermon text is Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and the Disciples in the Storm.  Blessings to the Stillwater Church as their search process begins! 

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“Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”

Pastor, do you not care about the membership numbers?

Pastor, do you not care about the youth group?

Pastor, do you not care about my mom who is in the hospital?

Pastor, do you not care about the strawberry festival?

Pastor, do you not care about the leaking roof?

Pastor, do you not care about how we format the worship bulletin?

Pastor, do you not care about what hymnal we use?

Pastor, do you not care?

You can imagine Jesus sleeping in the stern of the boat as it bobbed up and down on the sea, gently rocking him to sleep.

Jesus finally getting the opportunity to rest.

He had just engaged in healings and teachings. He had struggled with his family relationships.

He has been going non-stop.

He must have been exhausted. He must have been tired.

And so as he goes out onto the sea with his new disciples, most of them fisherman and night falls, he allows himself to fall asleep and take the rest he has been needing. To get a night’s sleep.

To let others be in charge and steer the ship.

To take a rest from leadership.

No sooner does he fall asleep than a storm begins.

Jesus still does not wake up. He is so very tired.

And then he is woken up in the most unceremonious way.

Hands shaking his body.

Pushing him.

Poking him.

Yelling at him.

Accusing him.

“Teacher! Do you not care that we are perishing?!?!?”

Can you imagine?

Any of us who have been woken up when we are sleeping, bothered when we are trying to take a break, harassed when we have been trying to rest.

Can commiserate with Jesus.

What is wrong with the disciples?

Why are they so stressed out?

Why are they so worried?

Why are they not trusting their skill set?

After all they are the fishermen.

They know the sea.

They must have been in other storms before.

Jesus is not a fisherman.

Jesus is not an expert on sailing.

What is wrong with the disciples?

What is wrong is that they are anxious.

Anxiety robs us of our ability to think clearly and to behave rationally or politely. Anxiety causes us to lash out, to not trust our instincts or our accumulated skill set. Common, every-day occurrences make us behave differently.

The disciples are anxious.

I would like to suggest this morning that their anxiety is not about the storm. They know what they are doing. They are the experts of the sea.   But they have been hanging around with Jesus for a few weeks or months perhaps and what they have seen thus far is beginning to scare them. He’s taking them to the other side of the sea, to new territory and they know what is over there on the other side—people who are like the walking dead, victims of violence and terror and who are not right in the head. And Jesus is taking them over there. They’ve seen Jesus touch untouchables; heal those who no one else cared to heal. They’ve seen him talk back to his family.

And they are at that moment when you have started something new and you are starting to have misgivings.

They are in the middle of the sea.

There is no turning back.

And they have decided that their skills no longer work, they are leaving all of the control in the hands of Jesus.

They have sunk into a spiral of anxiety.

For me, this is an excellent passage to meditate upon as you begin your journey of beginning to look for your next pastor. What kind of leader do you want? What kind of responsibility do you want to take for the search and the relationship with your new pastor? Because she or he is out there—and God already knows who he or she is. The Spirit is already preparing the way for you.

This passage raises many questions. I’d like to focus on just two today:

One of them is: how is ministry practiced?

The best pastoral leaders are not what I call “Christian Performance Artists” but leaders. But oftentimes what we want is the Christian Performance Artist. The pastor who does the leadership of Christian faith for us. The pastor who makes all the hospital and shut in visits so we do not have to. The pastor who organizes every worship service. Who takes care of the building. The pastor who does it all. For the world we live in today, the communities we are a part of in this part of the country where conservatively 30% of people identify as “none”, as in no religious affiliation of any kind, be it Presbyterian or Catholic or Jewish or Muslim, Buddhist….anything—and are not looking—we need pastoral leadership that leads every single member of every single faith community to be a leader. For the congregation to take on the work of visitation, building maintenance and other tasks so that the pastor is free to spend 90% of hers or his time equipping others for ministry. Being a teacher.   Being out in the community talking to people who have no affiliation but are looking for a place to belong about Jesus and about this congregation. Helping every single person who is a part of this community of faith deepen their discipleship. Pushing the envelope and never slowing down. Being an encourager, a coach and a cheerleader. Not becoming a specialist in everything—but being a specialist in one thing only: sharing the love of Jesus Christ, teaching and making disciples and multiplying ministry while at the same time being an interpreter of today’s culture and engaging in innovative practice to reach new people in one of the hardest times for any of us to be engaged in this practice we call being Church together.

The second question is: what kind of a sea do we like?

Most of us if we are honest prefer tranquility, peace and calm. Like the disciples in the boat we prefer (and I include myself in this!) a sea that is clear blue water. Looks like a mirror on top. No waves. A light breeze that takes you exactly where you want to go. But that was not what the disciples got that night. And that is not what we are going to get into the future. Let us remember the historical backdrop to Mark’s Gospel: “As best we can discern, Mark’s church was living in the shadow of the traumatic war of the Jews against Rome that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.” The sea around them was not calm. It was disturbed and traumatized from years of war and violence. Symbols and structures of importance had been destroyed.

We are in one of those in-between, liminal times today. We are still recovering from an economic crash—some places will never recover. We have been at war for years. Our communities struggle. The sea around us is not calm. We might not have the same exact situation that is being faced by those in Mark’s Gospel—but we can relate to the feeling of wanting a calm sea. Dreaming about smooth sailing. As your next pastor begins this will not be the case.   Of course there will be joy and love and a new beginning. But there will also be greater challenges ahead of you than you have faced in your past.

Living out and sharing the Gospel in this time is difficult work. Your pastor will be tired. She or he will want to take some time to rest.  Ministry of our present-future requires a new level of commitment to constant change and constant learning. The work of community building will be more difficult because we are blessed to be living through the next reformation of our Church. A new awakening. So we have to be prepared for rough waters, choppy seas—the seas of change and renewal of the Church. That is the sea we are facing. Just like the sea in today’s Gospel passage.

Here’s the Good News!

Today you begin anew! Today you take the first steps towards calling your next pastor! And I believe that God has already called that person. He or she is out there and does not yet know the amazing adventure they are about to undertake with you.

But God knows.

God knows about the choppy sea and the needs you have in navigating them.

And God has already planned and provided for your next pastor.

And here’s the Good News!

You are not alone!

I am here, Lois is here. Pastor Aline is here. Your Presbytery is here. We are here to work with you, to walk beside you and to help you. I know the last time we did this together it was hard and it was a struggle that deeply affected your congregation. I know this. I was here with you 18 months ago in worship on one of those difficult days. And I promised you then that we would work together to make a new way. God sent Pastor Aline who has walked this journey with you. God sent new people in our Presbytery who stepped up to walk beside you. And now the Holy Spirit is working and weaving the next steps in the process.

The sea may be chopping but Jesus is steering the ship.

No one else.

And we are not alone.

And the way and new beginning has already been provided for.

The Good News, for you and for me.

Alleluia. Amen.

+Photo credits, Shannan Vance-Ocampo of Stillwater United Church (July 2015) and Lake George, NY (October 2014)

Zucchini Flowers for Dinner (and one guest)

IMG_5691-Zuchini-flower-Squash-blossom-750 Did I mention that I love our CSA?  They are so thoughtful!  We get delivery of our veggies and NY cheese on Wednesdays and just before my pickup time we got this note and warning:   Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 5.53.45 PM I love it!  Bees – happy bees!   So of course I opened my package of zucchini blossoms on the porch because well, I didn’t want one in the house.  Unfortunately, I did have a bee, but he/she didn’t make it.  More on that in a moment.   A new adventure!  I have never cooked zucchini blossoms!   In preparation I spent about an hour last night watching videos online and deciding my plan of attack to this new adventure in cooking which is one of the main reasons Juan and I decided to get a year-round CSA, it forces us every week to come up with new recipes and try out things we haven’t had before, which is about 80% of the joy for me, figuring out how to cook new things and expand my skill set.  There are many preparations for the beautiful zucchini flowers, but the consensus online among professional chefs seemed to be that cheese is the best filling.  And I have cheese!  Lots of NY cheese!  From my CSA!    First the ingredients (this was my set up before I started cooking):   IMG_1373   Ingredients: Vermont Quark that also had local honey and black pepper in it (the honey gave a great slight sweet taste to this!) Moonlight cheese A little bit of milk (or you can use half and half or full on heavy cream)  I decided to use milk so that I can say I made a “healthy” choice…..    Baby green onions More fresh cracked pepper (I put this in everything) Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, best when the cheese is room temperature.  You can use any cheese you want or like, but they need to be soft cheese for mixing.   And if you want to put something else in this (I know some of you might want to put, say, bacon in!) I guess you could do that.  All of my cheese also came from my awesome CSA and it’s all local.   IMG_1376   Next you need to CAREFULLY get the stamens out of the zucchini flowers if that hasn’t already been done.  This is the hard part. It took a lot of effort and patience so I didn’t tear the flowers.    And that’s when I found my bee who didn’t make it.  S/he died in the flower, after s/he had overdosed on zucchini pollen.   S/he died happy.  RIP.     IMG_1374   Next you load up the cheese into the zucchini flowers and close them up.  One of the shows I watched last night suggested using a tiny spoon to do this because even a teaspoon won’t fit.  Luckily, Juan and I kept the baby spoons from 12 years ago and so I used one of those (Parents: if you have a baby right now and wonder, “What will I do with these adorable little baby spoons?” you should keep them!  Don’t throw them out!  They will be very useful for gourmet cooking later!).     You also are supposed to put a small amount of cheese into each flower so it’ll cook better (I may or may not have made that rookie mistake…..) IMG_1378 Next you tuck some of the flower petals in and around the cheese.  I did the best I could.  This was the first time I was doing this after all!  Here are my zucchini flowers all organized with their cheese in them.  See the big one?  That’s the one where I went too far with the cheese!  IMG_1379   Now, there are a ton of ideas about how to cook them.   Some cooking shows have a way of deep frying them, others say pan fry.  There are baking recipes, and other ideas out there. I decided to go with pan fry.   Let me just say it didn’t turn out as it did on TV (as in perfect).  I learned a lot this first time, and think if I did it again I would be nearly perfect.   The reason it wasn’t perfect was because I didn’t listen to the advice about overdoing in on the cheese.   

Finished Product!

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A happy husband!  

IMG_1393 (opening photo credit, Food and Wine Network)

Sermon | June 28, 2015

I was honored to be invited to preach at the United Presbyterian Church in Schoharie, New York on June 28, 2015.  This was also Confirmation Sunday.  The sermon was on Mark 5, Jesus’ healing of two women.  

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The text for this sermon changed quite a bit so I am uploading the audio only.  

Some Thoughts on Race and Leadership

It has been very hard for me to put into words some of my reflections around the murder of the nine members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC.   Nothing feels adequate.  

This is what I wrote to Albany Presbytery for our e-news this week.  A beginning of where my thoughts and prayers are.   Peace….

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Monday night I had the opportunity to worship at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Albany.  Jim Reisner and some of the members from Westminster/Albany also joined the open invitation of the new pastor of the congregation for anyone who wanted to come together to pray and talk about the racially-motivated murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church.  At the end of the candlelight vigil the Pastor urged us to turn to the people near to us and that we did not know, to hug them and say, “I love you.”  

I found myself wrapped in the embrace of and offering an embrace back to an African-American man perhaps a bit younger than me who I was meeting for the first time in this hug.  

He said to me, “I love you.”  

I said to him, “I love you too.”  

And he held onto me for a few extra moments.  

And I could feel his body shaking as he cried.  

I was also crying.

And so we held onto each other, strangers.  

It was a beautiful moment of the love of God, two people embracing as brother and sister in faith, even though strangers.  I will cherish that embrace.   

Pain and sadness is around us.  

Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr. Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.  

These nine people were murdered inside of their church last week during Bible study.  They welcomed their killer into their midst with Christian hospitality.  And they were repaid with hate, violence, terror and racism.  

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I am completely broken hearted over what has happened.  It is unfathomable to me.  It might be easy for me, a white person, to dismiss the actions of the killer and believe that as a white person I can distance myself from this act.  In some ways I can, but in other ways, of course I cannot.  None of us is immune from this sin of racism.  I know my life isn’t.  

And I also know that as a white-majority denomination we have a lot of work to do around questions of race.  Our polity, leadership, educational and worship style is Anglo-centric.  Many of our congregational traditions from the decorations of buildings to the food we serve at coffee hour are part of that heritage.  We are organized for Anglo-centric culture.  

As part of my personal commitment towards ongoing reformation as a disciple of Jesus, I have been meeting once a month on a weeknight evening via online video conference to talk about what it means to be White.  I haven’t made every call and I need to be more diligent.  This is a group of colleagues from around the PC(USA) who are reading the book, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It.  These are hard conversations but I am finding them to be holy conversations where space is opened up for us to work on ourselves as leaders in the larger church and to be honest with ourselves.  Perhaps this is a resource you might want to share with a colleague-group or a small group that you are a part of for learning and conversation.  We take a chapter a month and rotate facilitation.  Attending the White Privilege Conference earlier this year in Louisville with a team from across the PC(USA) and meeting for evening conversations facilitated by Rev. Molly Casteel of the Office of the General Assembly was also helpful.  Molly will be repeating this opportunity in 2016 when this conference comes closer to us in Philadelphia and I commend it to you.  Hard spiritual work is an essential piece for me as I engage the ongoing journey of living into my ever-changing calling to ministry and discipleship.  

These are important questions related to our transition work in the Presbytery as we seek our missional future.  

The question we raised in March of “What is God’s preferred future for Albany Presbytery?” remains an important one.  

The question of “What breaks God’s heart in your community?” posed at Silver Bay is also key.  

How can we hold these questions and our need for repentance and God’s grace before us not only in this time of transition but in our lives as disciples of the Risen Christ?  What learning and soul searching do we need to engage in?  

The night that shots rang out in the Sanctuary of Mother Emanuel the congregation was engaged in Bible study.  The New York Times reports that the passage they were studying was Mark 4:16-20:

“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Thank you for bearing with my extended reflections in this edition of e-news.  I appreciate the space to share them.  Below are some resources around these issues.  Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to accompany and challenge us in our continued holy conversations…

church2Resources:

Belhar Confession [English, Spanish, Korean]

Gun Violence, Gospel Values  [PC(USA) Policy and Resources approved by the 219th General Assembly.   There is also a documentary video Trigger: The Ripple Effects of Gun Violence that goes with this curriculum.  I have a DVD at the Presbytery office if you would like to borrow it.]

Facing Racism, A Vision of Beloved Community [Approved by the 211th General Assembly]

Allies, The Time for Your Silence Has Expired [written by PCUSA Teaching Elder Tawnya Denise Anderson and reprinted in the Christian Century]

Images:

Najee Washington holds a photo of her grandmother, Ethel Lance.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Mother Emanuel AME Church