Tuesday, May 07, 2013
A Place At The Table: A Homily from the Welcome Table, to the Phillips Theological Seminary community
A Place At The Table
Homily by Rev. Ron Robinson at Phillips Theological Seminary
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 Noon Chapel
Acts 2: 43-47
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.44All who believed were together and had all things in common;45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/ The official film site link. Go see trailer and film clips that were shown today at Phillips, and find how to see the full film.
One of the things that the documentary A Place at the Table gets right is about the presence of hidden hunger and food insecurity in our land. It is hidden to the extent that many Americans have a television image of what hunger looks like. I just came back from another trip to the Philippines where you can easily see that picture of hunger along the streets. But, even here, it is not that hidden really; it is just that we don’t put ourselves where we will see it.
I know a woman, 86 years old, all of it spent on Tulsa’s northside, from the days when family structures took care of those falling through the cracks, to the days of the working class structures and union jobs and when people knew how to grow their own food to the more recent days of the neighborhood and family decimation and death of all the places where people met others in shared common life together. She came to one of our community holiday festivals where our group provides free entertainment and food; she watched as we had to go to the store six times during the night; she saw the people of all ages eating everything, including the healthy food, and stuffing pockets and piling plates high to take back with them.
I saw her, who lived in the midst of these neighbors, see a part of their lives for the first time. In terms of the language of Acts, it was a sign and wonder that changed how she saw the world and what God was calling for in response. It is what teachers see on Mondays when the students return to school. It is what social workers see who hear the stories of individuals and families trying to dig out of holes of all kinds of illnesses, or to put their lives together after prison, and having to rely on the pittance of assistance that is gone in a SNAP. It is what you would see if you go to Warehouse Market at midnight on the first of the month when they stay open two extra hours when benefits kick in for even just a percentage of folks. It is what we see each week during our Food Days. And the truth is that if we held our Food Days everyday, as would be nice; if we continue to triple the number of people we serve each month, if we were serving ten times as many people each month, we would continue to see it. For the documentary is also right that the need is too great and diverse in its causes for non-profits alone, especially those with all volunteers like ours, or philanthropy and business alone, or government alone. But I believe, as they say in the film, that it is possible to make hunger and food insecurity go away in my lifetime.
We begin by creating Acts 2 relationships, where we see that we are all bound together, with mutual relationships, and that to form those relationships we must be with one another, talking or planning or acting not just about the poor but with them, and that the issue of food is bound up with other issues; in our area, for example, it is connected to the lack of sidewalks and street lights and transportation; so that people must often walk for more than a mile to get to a grocery store, taking the store’s cart to carry food back home, often in the middle of Peoria Ave. if it has been snowing or raining, or they are in a motorized scooter.
The film also addresses the problem of the kind of food assistance the poor receive, not just the lack of adequate purchasing power. In fact much of the food one purchases at the local stores in poor communities, or much that one receives through the food bank, through us apart from what we grow in our community gardenpark and orchard, is part of the problem. For high calorie, low nutrition foods are just another addiction that many of our neighbors have, adding to the life expectancy gap of 14 years in our zipcode. Such food, readily convenient especially for folks who struggle so much in other ways that they look for convenience where they can find it, such food contributes to the bad emotional responses, to the short day to day subsistence cycle of lives unable to project a future to live and transform toward.
It is also a hard but at times necessary addictive choice, too, because of the choice we force on them between the needed nutrition and the needed calories for daily energy demands. Top chefs like Mario Batali who have been trying to live on food assistance and food pantries have not been able to navigate those choices. If you are at our cornerstore, and have a certain number of items per household, and you have to choose, for example, between lettuce and mac and cheese, you are likely going to choose mac and cheese—it will give you the calories your body needs, especially if you are doing physical day labor trying to make some money each day, or walking or biking for miles looking for work or food or shelter. But, as the chef found out, it is difficult to ever feel full, and the process of trying to find food, prepare it, and eat it is tiring, and meals that become chores are also not going to have any interest, nothing special in them. I wonder how that in itself drives people to seeking flavor in all the wrong places because they aren’t getting it in the daily ordinariness of life. For a growing number of people we take something, our daily meal, that scripture and our Christian tradition, as well as that of many other traditions, says is an act of sacred living, and we take the sacred life out of it. The result? We grow lives without a sense of the sacred, damaged from daily life itself, and we punish them, we put them out of sight and out of mind, and making it easier for them to get access to guns than to healthy food and health care so we can keep them out of sight and out of mind. It is the opposite of an Acts 2 culture; in fact, where the Acts community expands and grows its relationships, our dominant culture is shrinking its circles of common life.
I know the Food Bank and our folks are aware of this and working on it, and we are getting more and more healthy food items, more vegetables and fruit, if not fully local and fresh. It is one of our dilemmas, but we say that what we are trying to do is to give what we can, in order to gradually grow in relationships to be able to influence food choices; what we are trying to do is to make it just a little bit easier on a few folks to be able to have a little bit more agency in their lives, a bit more dunamis, in order for it to be easier to make a few more right decisions. When you are hungry it is hard to think ahead, to think straight, to think evenly. Anything we can do to mitigate against that in just a few lives, we believe, makes a difference that affects many. We are becoming a part of an initiative between the Food Bank here and the University of Oklahoma called FeedHope. It is based on cultivating three factors that lead to more hope-filled lives: instilling more of that sense of agency (not just urgency) in lives; providing real pathways for people to take to change once their new sense of agency enables it; and helping them set goals in life for coming through those pathways into a more abundant life.
Where the film leaves off, or leaves out, is where I believe the deeper solution lies. Yes, increase immensely the resources and capacity for food banks and meal ministries and school programs to help take that edge off of hunger and food insecurity. But the real win-win is to get more people growing, cooking, and sharing their own food, from their own homes, own neighborhoods. As guerilla gardener Ron Finley in South Central L.A. says, growing your own food is like printing your own money. It is also taking your own health back into your own hands. It is making blighted communities into beautiful and bountiful communities. It is reminding the world as Jurgen Moltmann says that the opposite of poverty is not property, but the opposite of both poverty and property is community.
To that end, many such groups as ours are beginning the risky and difficult process of getting new generations of people to taste what healthy food is like, to give it a try, and from that to make it as convenient as possible for them to both get it and grow it, through gardens, kitchens, markets, mobile healthy food trucks, neighborhood events, a re-emergence of true home economics in schools, and yes even in churches of many shapes and sizes and missional communities. So far though these all too often are still located and resourced in places away from communities with the most need of them. You can use SNAP to buy fresh local grown food, and you can use SNAP to buy seeds, but even if you are convinced you can do it (when so much of your life you have seen yourself and been told that you are unable to do anything) and even if you have a place to grow, you have to be able to get to where the food and the seeds are.
What we want our still emerging abandoned trashed out properties turned into a gardenpark and orchard to be is not so much really THE place to come rest and play and grow and connect, but A place to learn and be inspired so that our neighbors will go back to their own homes and own blocks and cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets full of abandonment and do the same right there. Our goal is to create Apostles of Abundance, those who are Sent to the world, Sent back to the world of their own street and home. Not only every school then a garden, every church a garden, but every subdivision and neighborhood a garden. And When that happens every garden itself then will become a school, a civic group, a church, a temple.
That would be a sign and a wonder. We have seen shining glimpses of it already. Come and see.
Posted by Ron at 1:17 PM
Monday, May 06, 2013
Jesus' Lost and Found: Coming Alive Again In Community...Sermon given at the 58th Anniversary Celebration of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental
Jesus’ Lost and Found: Coming Alive Again through Community
Rev. Ron Robinson, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship
To The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Philippines on the Occasion of the 58th Anniversary of the Church.Text: Luke 15: 11-32
Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons.12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them.13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.16He would gladly have filled himself with* the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”*22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
Thank you for inviting me back to be with you, and to help you celebrate this anniversary. The story of your 58 years together is one that has inspired me, and my ministry and people. Your story of relating and embodying God to the people of your communities is about being in right relationship with those around you.
In Jesus’ time and place, in the ancient world and Roman Empire, there was very little question about how to be in right relationships with others. According to how the world worked, everyone had their fixed place in the Great Chain of Being, their fixed responsibility to others, and preserving that status quo was a divine purpose. The purpose of life, according to the world of the Empire, was to gain honor from others by helping more powerful others to gain honor in the world. Honor to them was about having power over people. Avoiding being shamed and not bringing shame to others was the way you kept in right relationship. First, according to the world, the primary one of honor was the family Father, and then the Village Head, then the Governor, then the Emperor who was treated as God. When the fathers or leaders received shame and not honor, they regained honor, they regained what was considered their right relationship, through fear and punishment, often severely.
That is because of how they thought God acted and should be viewed too. But then into this world, into this worldview, came Jesus. His stories, like his actions, changed the world by re-imagining and re-defining God and pointing people to a different understanding of what it means to be in right relationships.
The parables that Jesus told, and the way he lived them out, show us how very different his view of right relationships was from that commonly practiced in the culture of his time, and still practiced too often by all cultures in our world today. He saw relationships, and God, not as being about controlling others, but about cooperation and commitment to one another even when we are abandoned and when we abandon others, when we are disappointed and when we disappoint others.
Jesus said God’s community, God’s family, is like when a father has two sons. Now they are most probably adult sons, and yet the father is still considered their master. The father had almost complete power over the sons. Right away though we find out that this father, this family, these relationships are going to be different from the ones the ruling Empire and culture sought to enforce. The story starts when the younger son goes to the father and demands that he get his inheritance now so he can go out on his own, away from land, away from family, which were the two most important things in life and the way someone achieved immortality. When the younger son did this it was the same as telling his father to Drop Dead.
To those first hearing the story, at this point they would have expected the father to banish or kill his son, with little thought or regret, in order to retain or regain his honor. Instead, when he gives the money to his son, when he actually divides his life, they would have thought him foolish and even more shamed and dishonorable. They wouldn’t have been surprised by what happened; the younger son goes and wastes it all and ends up living with pigs, which were considered an unholy animal; he was even eating what the pigs ate. No one could be more shameful to them. At that point he decides to return to his family but to return to them as one of their slaves not as he was before. As he returns home he practices how he will beg his father to treat him as a slave.
Next, in Jesus’ story, we see the father again. Instead of ruling his estate from inside his house, we see he is out by the road, looking with longing eyes off to the horizon, hoping his son will return. The hearers of the parable expect the father to make the son grovel and beg, and for the world to then be once again in right relationship after the son disrupted it with his behavior and attitude. They got something very different. When the father saw the son approaching on the road, he lifts his long robe and runs out to meet his son, and there he embraces him and kisses him deeply. The listeners might have expected that from the mother but not the father. Then The son begins to beg his father, but the father stops even that. He tells his slaves to prepare for a party, to kill the prize cow for a feast. He says that his son was lost and is now found, was dead but is now alive. It is clear though that he always thought of his son as part of him, part of the family, no matter what he had done. It is clear also that In the world’s eyes the father has now lost all honor and respect and sense of himself. The father has disrupted the world’s view of right relationships even more than has the younger son.
To many people this is where the story ends; many church stained glass windows depict this parable and show the father forgiving and embracing the younger son, the way God will forgive and embrace us. But that is only part of the story.
There is another son, the elder brother. We almost forgot about him. He is out working in the field while all this has been going on, the way he has been throughout his life, serving his father, silently doing the thing expected of him, keeping in right relationship. He sees the activity at the house and asks a slave what is going on. He is told that his brother is back and his father is throwing a party. This upsets the elder brother and he stays outside working, feeling betrayed, bothered by his father’s shameful actions and attitudes, just the way those who are hearing the story imagine they would feel. When he doesn’t go into the house, into the place of family intimacy and relationships,his father then goes out to him, too. Another act of shame, not making the son come to him. He keeps going out to others, to listen to them, to let them know they are not alone. The elder son affronts him as never before, tells him of his anger, his jealousy, feeling abandonment by the father who never threw him a party even though he had done everything right for so long. The father says to him that he has always been there with him, that he always will be, that that is what counts, and he goes on to say that all that he has will still be given to the elder son. The younger son will be a part of the family, but perhaps not quite in the same way as originally, but that is not really important, who gets what, who gives what, not really the ultimate reward of being in right relationship; it is the relationship itself and all its possibilities of a future unfolding that we can’t imagine. When we are in mutual relationships with one another, and with the God of forgiveness, that love is worth more than anything, and in that world anything is possible.
And there is where the parable ends.
That is when we get to the point of the story about what kind of God God is, what kind of right relationships we should practice. Jesus’ story about what God is like ends with the elder brother standing outside in the field, thinking about what to do next. He, like us, has a choice. He can stay there, away from his family, just another kind of prodigal, cutting himself off from others, alone in his rightness, strong in his sense of righteousness and honor, waiting for others to come to him, pay homage to him, the way an Emperor does, the way God was depicted. Or…Or, he can lay all that aside and answer the call, the invitation to join the party, to be a part of the family, to welcome his brother as a brother, to grow the relationship through participation and cooperation, not through fear and control and conquering. He can go inside and focus his world on the future and what love and justice it might hold, or he can stay outside the party and focus on the past and let it control his future. To Jesus, God is found in the newer and stronger relationship especially because it has been seeded by what the world views as mistakes, bad judgements, selfishness, vulnerability, loneliness, shame. Jesus walks a very different path of right relationships than that created by Emperors.
What that means for us today is that real strength in community comes through our covenants, our bonds and right relationships with one another and with our world beyond ourselves and with God, bonds that are like those of a certain father with two sons.
In the United States, our Unitarian Universalist Association was founded by some of the oldest churches in the country, some that are more than 400 years old, and while they were strongly Christian they were still founded ultimately not so much on the creeds they professed but on the covenants that had created them in the first place. One of our church historians, Conrad Wright, has written that there are several major covenants or relationships that need to be nurtured for a church to be a whole church. [See “The Doctrine of Church for Liberals” in the book, Walking Together]
These are the relationships between a person and church; between church and its elected leaders, including ministers. Also between churches themselves; and between ministers themselves. These four covenants are our mostly internally-focused covenants of our association helping to establish right relationships and our Identity. They are like the materials of a ship that hold it together and give it, the church, its own particular shape. But there are two other more externally focused relationships, ones shared by all churches: one of those is between a church and its world around it, and the other is between church and God. If the first four sets of relationships are what, like a ship, give the church its unique shape, these two broader relationships are like the Sea and the Wind; they are what give the ship of church its purpose, its reason for having its particular shape, and are what sets it on its journey. As they say, a ship may be wonderfully built, but if it stays in its harbor it is not being what a ship should be.
The four internally focused covenants are often the relationships we spend most of our time dealing with; they are the ones that present us with urgent matters; they are the ones we often have conflicts over and the ones we most often celebrate on occasions like this and in ordinations. But if a church is not grasped by the other two relationships, with the world around it and with God, the church will not be complete, not be church; instead it will become, as Conrad Wright also said, merely a collection of religiously-oriented individuals.
Just like in the parable of the father and sons, the right relationships are all inter-connected. When we have breaks in any one of the relationships it affects the bonds of the other relationships by putting extra stress on them. But the good news is that when we focus on any of these relationships, like we are doing this week, and make them stronger, especially when we grow in right relationship with the world and with God in the way of Jesus it will also in turn affect each of the others, growing the kind of trust and loving justice that can change the world, the way Jesus did 2000 years ago and the way Toribio Quimada did 58 years ago here, and the way we all can do today and in the years to come.
Posted by Ron at 9:05 PM
Sunday, May 05, 2013
What would a "truly Christian economy" look like? Those who live in places where the American economic life have abandoned their regions, as money has followed rooftops during white flight and the loss of living wages and the working class culture where one full time job was enough to care for the financial needs of a family, often live with a different view of "unbridled capitalism" than those with the privileges and access to the system. What about a system that has morphed into ownership of property not in the hands of people who live in the area anymore, but who live farther and farther away from the ones who live here, and so there is little accountability to neighbors from "neighbors"? Was an Acts 2 kind of shared possessions economy, as well as a morally-driven capitalist free economy situation, workable only in cultures where peoples were gathered into small communities unlike our global community today? And what does this have to do with the mission of the church and spiritual life?
Using the metaphor of giving a person a fish to eat, or teaching the person to fish, these questions get to the heart of that often unseen part of the metaphor: what kind of water and environment do we provide for the fish and the angler?
And, as Perkins reminds us, this is not just about free enterprise and its effects in the world at large, but how has the "baptism of free enterprise" also affected and effected the church itself in North American context especially? How are our churches following more the American Dream than God's Dream is a constant call to discernment by Perkins.
What role should the church have to mediate in situations of abandoned places and places of oppression and with cultures who have been oppressed through the years as they seek to engage with the forces of free enterprise in order to make up for years of being kept out of the system? Can those individuals do it all on their own? In my neighborhoods the minority owned businesses are struggling because they have chosen particularly to stay and serve their own community, and yet that makes it harder for them economically, and so they often don't have the growing resources to be able to compete on a wider scale with similar companies owned by whites who will come in to get contracts on big projects or to expand into our neighborhoods. It is harder for them than it is for others located elsewhere to comply with all the rules that governments impose to be eligible for projects that are being built here in their own neighborhoods. The irony is that those who seek to serve the poor often are kept poor themselves in the process, while those who leave the neighborhoods of the poor and make money elsewhere are then better able to come back in and make more money off the poor, be it through franchise restaurants versus the neighborhood resident owned restaurants, or various service companies. As Perkins says, there is little even playing field to begin with for centuries, and still little now in reality. How can the church, besides being witness to injustice, help to correct it?
Church as Co-Op Creator is one of the responses Perkins recommends, but over the years he said experience taught his community that direct coops as businesses didn't work as well as coops such as credit unions which can loan funds to idnividuals in poor areas to enhance their own businesses and empower them. Creating businesses that operate primarily in areas that other businesses have abandoned,but are businesses created to meet needs not greeds has been one of the ways in theory to do Redistribution from within a community, instead of relying on Redistibution to come from good or committment from those outside of a community being served. It gives a more local, empowering, and moderate characteristic about Redistributing goods and The Common Good than people think of when they hear the term redistribution.
These are grander visions than simply giving out food or clothes, for example. But they also can begin with simple growing of relationships, particularly between people who have experience in the free enterprise system and those who do not. Perkins maintains that the vision of Redistribution will drive the means for how to do it; that there will be multiple ways needed. In this way he links all back to the experience needed of Relocation, because he says we ultimately Redistribute ourselves. And one model for personal living is to live simply so that others may simply live, for by doing so we create more within ourselves to be able to give to others. And this, he says, goes for the church too in how it is able to simplify its life for the life of the community beyond it. Look for ways that people living in close proximity to one another can better share life together, for the purpose of growing in relationship and the Body of Christ but with the byproduct of creating more shared possessions.
Engaging in the vision of redistribution brought many unexpected lessons to Perkins, and it deepended his understanding of the way oppressive cultures tend to keep people impoverished. He learned to focus on economic opportunities that created a sense of agency within people,and not a sense of dependency, and he sees that the resources for doing this need to come from that three-legged stool of more government help, more free enterprise business help, and more nonprofit and church help. About churches, he makes an interesting but illuminating statement as one of his final sentences in this section. In the vision of what will happen when economic justice becomes the forefront of efforts, he says there will be "nurturing churches" as a part of this community development. Notice that it is the churches who are nurturing the people and the neighborhoods in which they exist; their purpose is not to get the people and the neighborhoods to nurture them, flowing into them as institutions, as was the old way in the churched culture, but now the church is found in how it nurtures what is beyond it.
Questions for Reflection and Responses:
1. How do you, or would you, teach and preach and relate the scripture of Acts 2: 44&45 to a congregation today?
2. What do you think it will take to stimulate business development in and with poor communities, and how might the church participate?
Posted by Ron at 2:22 PM
Redistribution and The Spiritual Life, part one: The Final and Scariest of the 3Rs of Community Development
Background Lecture Notes on John Perkins' book With Justice For All, from my community ministry class at Phillips Theological Seminary this semester.
Redistribution might be the scariest one of the three R's---relocation, reconciliation, redistribution. In these two chapters, Perkins begins to confront that reluctance head-on, drawing from examples local, national and global.
Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian archbishop, said (in a quote often attributed to Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement and houses of hospitality here in the U.S.) "When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are hungry, they call me a communist." Perkins moves in the same direction, but note he is also critical of the way the government has been involved in efforts to ostensibly help the poor.
In the movie, Entertaining Angels, about Dorothy Day, where they do attribute the above quote to her, she is also quoted after it, when people talk about what a saint she is for her efforts at housing and feeding the poor (not so much her opposition to war, interestingly) "Don't call me a saint. Don't dismiss me so easily." Not only was Day an unmarried mother, a big stigma in her day, and had radical left leanings and activities which brought her much controversy. The film shows some of the struggles that her life caused for her daughter. When people can identify or make idols of people like Day and Perkins (or any minister too by the way), it can be a way of distancing themselves from the responsiibility needed to be shared by all. It works against the Body of Christ (as 1 Corinthians 12 for example displays the needed mutuality of leadership and responsibility). It can be a way to actually hinder the work that called forth the efforts of people like Day and Perkins, and us, in the first place.
The hard work of acting on redistribution, as Perkins describes it, of the whole self, including financial resources but not limited to that, will often cause us to look for any detour from it that we can, including creating saints. Another form of this selected sainthood is to turn any one model or avenue of redistribution, such as church charity or non profit philanthropy or government assistance, into that one above all system. Sojourners editor and author Jim Wallis says, in a nod of sorts to the model of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, that the most effective actions or projects designed to break poverty include not just one main source of redistribution, but will draw from government, from business, and from nonprofits including faith communities; all are needed for the legs of a stool to make it effective, he says; without any one of them, the stool to support the anti-poverty effort will be lopsided and not work.
Posted by Ron at 2:16 PM
Monday, April 15, 2013
On this day of sudden tragic violence and loss, on days like this in Boston, days we are having all too often it seems of late, I think of these words written by my colleague the Rev. Burton Carley of Memphis. No words work, or suffice, which is part of the point of what he is saying, but the works of love we give to one another making the loving and healing God present, still I hope you find meaning in these words.
..."At this occasion, whatever words we say seem inadequate. It is such a hard thing we do today, seeking to redeem a sudden and tragic loss. When you are hurting, you want answers and you need reasons. And we come up with them, from the silly to the sublime. But the truth of the matter is that even good answers aren’t enough.
Even knowledge cannot save us. Oh, it may teach us much about the cycle of life from birth to death. It may offer to us the facts about disease and the insight that nature is not partial to those we love. Even if in a thousand years all the secrets of creation were unlocked, science would not be able to explain what poets and artists express in their work. Or why a beautiful and brilliant fall [or spring] day can move us to tears; or why we may hear music so lovely that we are overcome with some glory or sweet sadness.
No, knowledge is not the answer to our grief, the gift we seek today. This is because what we know is less than what we are. This is because you don’t stop the pain with reasons or even answers, even though they are helpful. They don’t get to where it hurts in the gut and the heart. That’s because the problem of suffering, of grief and loss, is not about something; it’s about someone—someone in your gut and in your heart. [And even when it comes to Boston, when you didn't know anyone there, for some of us I know that the mere fact of where it happened hits the gut and heart because we/you know Boston as a someone].
The gift we seek today is not found outside of human tragedy, but comes to us from within it. I speak not about the consoling power of reasons and answers and knowledge, but about the work of love for that is how we redeem anything.
This work of redemptive love is the very essence of God--that transforming power which dwells within us and without. We are and what we are reflects the divine image. This is the essence of the message in [First] John [where it is written]: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
In our loss we grasp for answers and reasons, but in the end, as [St. ]Paul says, our knowledge will fail us. The gift we seek is a response to the loss of what was so precious and now is gone. The gift is to love even more, by loving life more, being more aware of life, of our relationships, of the earth. The task is to claim the goodness against the pain, to respond with faith "though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." The task is to accept the loss and still live, still love. Thus we honor [those who have died] by taking [their] goodness and making it our own so that we can share it with others.
Posted by Ron at 3:54 PM
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Vision and Realities of Reconciliation, Part Three
Lecture Notes From Perkins, chapter 14 and Update
Rev. Ron Robinson
This is a key chapter with issues deep into ministry, and life itself, through the struggle along the spectrum of “Doing and Being.” As Plato said: To Do Is To Be. As Aristotle said: To Be Is To Do. As Sinatra said: Do Be Do Be Do…
As Perkins says, the focus should be on our complete holistic Being, for that is only achieved when it contains Doing, the living out of our Being, our Being in God. This is contextual, as he says, but in our Western cultural worldview, and Western religions worldview, and particularly American and Protestant Work Ethic worldview, we tend to find it more convenient to focus on programs than people, on a to-do list than a to-be list. This also tends to accentuate the individualist nature of our cultural and religious worldview, instead of the being approach which leads to a focus on the Body of Christ.
I like to use the mirror words of imitation and initiation. How are we Being? Is a question that reminds us that we are to be imitators of Christ, and to live as if the Kingdom of God were here; and in this way we help to initiate it; of course, sometimes we simply have to start helping to initiate it, to act our way into new thinking and being, just start doing, or jump-start our doing with others, and let that lead us into the Deeper Being from which more doing will come.
He says we must be the Body before we can do the work of the Body, but that it is not simply enough to be a community that does nothing but see itself as a reconciled community; that is a departure point not a destination point. This is all a part of how Perkins keeps coming back to a sense of holistic ministry. Social action in the neighborhood is necessary but not enough; being in a racially reconciled congregation with people of different races, or working regularly with those of other races, is necessary but is not enough. He sees evangelistic action as necessary to bring “unbelievers” to Christ, but it is not enough without social justice. I see it as one of the differences that Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost talk about between “community” and “communitas.” Community is inward looking and dwelling whereas communitas is a relational community that is externally looking and dwelling.
We each need to know, as he discerned about himself, toward which end of the spectrum of doing or being do we tend to emphasize and which do we neglect; in what ways do we lose our balance between doing and being?
Being in community, which is the deepest sense of Being, is difficult, he says, because it means inherently to be in tension with others, to struggle, to engage with conflict. (One of the reasons why it is difficult to grow in community among and with the most vulnerable is that the very community which would be most liberating and saving for them means also an increase in struggle and emotional pain and conflict, and being vulnerable they are already experiencing much of that from simple life itself; becoming a part of a community is harder for some people than others. This is where his admonition that we need to discern our gifts and diverse strengths and let them lead us in and through community is helpful.
Particularly, but not limited to, racial reconciliation work, he lifts up the importance of self-differentiation. He says persons of one ethnic group, of those in dominant cultures for example, can not hold themselves and their gifts back as a way of trying to further the lives of others and the reconciliation effort, because reconciliation needs the fullness of all who engage with it. Neither can they hold onto their natural inclination to set the cultural norms and to always be the leaders in the group, but must be willing and eager to submit their leadership to others who have been in abandoned areas longer, or who have suffered from the unjust systems and have grown into leadership through their own hard experiences in the local area. To be self-differentiated emotionally means to be able to hold the pain and vulnerability of one’s self and others without giving in to it; it means being able to risk the hard conversations about race and culture and class and privilege without the fear that making mistakes in that conversation, or the fear of change, will keep us silent and a part from one another.
I have refined and reframed the steps of covenant and community that were modified from the work of Tich Nhat Hanh particularly. Our task in community is 1. Show up. This act of simple doing, simple presence. 2. Look Up. Pay attention, be empathetic, hear others into speech. 3. Speak up. The truth in love. 4. Act up. Commit to working together with others. 5. Show up. When all else fails in steps one through four, have the trust to start it all again and not let the disappointment and disillusionment stop us.
How in community are we committed to one another through being committed together to the mission of the community? This is true for a small community oir congregation; it is also true he says for working in the broader perspective where it is congregations or people groups working together, especially if it is between a community that has relocated to a poor area and a church or group that has been there before and remained. This brings us back to his primary focus of the 3Rs on the need for ways to Relocate in order to facilitate the deepest kind of reconciliation, to meet God most fully in transformative work. (And yet, still he makes room for people to be engaged in reconciliation work even if they can not relocate with all of their life; for example, how a white woman enrolled in a black college, or even arranging for opportunities for people of different ethnicities to socialize together (preferably I would add in not just one setting which might be the safest for the host).
In the update in the revised edition of the book, Perkins even updates the reconciliation aims beyond race which has been his life’s story and work. In the years after Sept. 11, 2001, he says now there is need to work on reconciliation with Muslims more, and people of diverse cultures and beliefs. I would add in reconciliation with people of different sexual orientations as well. He ends the Update as he begins chapter 14: reminding us of the mission of loving God AND loving our neighbors; loving our neighbors AS loving God. This stance of reconciliation grows out of Relocation because relocation reminds us that when Jesus talks about our neighbors, as in the parable of the Samaritan on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, that our neighbors are those we fear, those we despise, those who are different from us, those we want to stay away from, etc.
Can you illustrate from your own life, the problem of trying to be without doing at the personal level? What about the problem of putting being ahead of doing? Which of these two tendencies do you have to guard against more? Which does your church, and why?
Posted by Ron at 12:44 PM
See below for the first post in this three-part series of lecture notes based on John Perkins' book, With Justice For All. The 3Rs that guide our community here. From my seminary course I am teaching this semester in community based ministry, through www.ptstulsa.edu.
The Vision and Realities of Reconciliation, Part Two
Notes on Perkins Chapters 12 and 13
In the opening story in these chapters, Perkins describes an event where he met a white man after a talk, an encounter that happened because the man stayed behind in a faculty lounge when all other white faculty members had to leave to go to class; he did not want Perkins to think that they were boycotting him because of his race. From that moment of empathy, of sensitivity to the feelings of another different from himself, a relationship was built. How do we and can we use our resources to cultivate empathy for its own sake, because one never knows what might come from it? Reconciliation does not come out of nowhere; it itself is a result of deeper feelings and experiences.
This is the chapter where the realities of ministry dedicated to the 3Rs becomes evident. Meetings begin with great illusions and end with disillusionment. This is something to bear in mind with all ministry; people invest a lot in hopes for a ministry and a minister, and bubbles burst, human foibles are manifest, and the higher the illusion to begin the deeper the disillusion occurs. The task is then to know this from the start and to plan for it and to continue to show up when the illusions burst. It reminds me of spiritual steps attributed to Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh which I have altered just a little: 1. Show Up. (much reconciliation happens just when we show up to be with others in hard times and for hard issues) 2. Pay Attention. (this is where empathy and other emotions can communicate; just showing up and staying within our own minds does not advance relationships; we need mindfulness). 3. Speak the truth in love (be authentic, be vulnerable, speak from your own experience; speaking truth without love will backfire, as will holding back your experiences of truth from fear of hurting others feelings). 4. Understand your goals, your mission, but be flexible on how to reach them; don’t be too attached to fixed preconceived outcomes; sometimes the process is the goal when it comes to reconciliation. 5. When you fail at steps 1-4, show up again.
Sometimes reconciliation realities set in when those who are caught up by the spirit and vision of reconciliation bring different outcomes in mind then the group does. Sometimes, as in the case Perkins describes where the student is upset because of a Statement of Faith, people who are relocating and stepping out of their comfort zones will look for ways to make their new environment as familiar to them, and to their culture, as they can be in order to have a semblance of homeostasis. Note too how Perkins, in a misisonal mindset, puts first stock on the statement of purpose, what calls them together, and later shore it up with a Statement of Faith as a way of sustaining their purpose; this is a move that puts external focus first before the internal group. It emphasizes “acting our way into new thoughts”, rather than “thinking our way into new actions.” In many ways Perkins approach fell between the cracks of people’s expectations. His stance on the Billy Graham Crusade was an example of this: he pushed people to go deeper and consider what kind of Christian they were seeking to grow? What characteristics of Christian life, not just beliefs, should we be focused on?
Note how Perkins breaks down dichotomies or ends of the spectrum between faith and works, spirituality and service and social justice: reconciling one’s self with God means reconciling one’s self with one’s neighbors, and especially the notion of neighbors as exemplified in the parable of the Samaritan along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, with those who are different from us.
Also, note here in this section about being reconciled with those who are closest to us; his anecdote of creating ill will with his closest followers due to his decision to cut off ties with their ministry so they would learn to be independent; it drove him to remember the need of living in right relationships in his inner circle.
When the mission is to form relationships of reconciliation, for the sake of the relationships, it may lead to both disruptions in relationships but also to amazing acts of reconciliation; the integration of the churches is an aim for him, but he found that, as he said for whatever reasons (can you imagine what they might be?) both the white and black churches did not want to broach the subject, and instead by focusing on mission together that created a common culture which then led to instances of integration.
In his chapter, Ten Years Later, Perkins takes us on a tour of amazing places where his ministry has had an impact on his community. It leads me to pondering the question of “Where is the church?” Is it in the housing developments, the health clinic, the farm, and the many other programs they helped to initiate? The spirit of Jesus is made visible in all those ways. At the same time (p. 134) he claims, in bringing us to the sanctuary where worship takes place, that “the church fellowship is at the heart of everything we do.” Worship is the heart beat that creates the blood that is pumped into all the limbs of the body that are outside the sanctuary engaging the community; together they create a manifestation of the Body of Christ. But can you have one without the other and still have a healthy body?
Not only that, but when Perkins talks about the way that different community contexts require different forms of organizing, he gives us the example of the work in New Hebron. There the holistic ministry is not like the spokes of a ministry that has a church organization and worship at its hub; instead (p. 142) there the primary embodiment is the ministries that are not explicitly “Christian identified”, though they work in close cooperation with churches in the community, and are not seen as a separate church body that could be seen in competition with the other churches in the community. There is also the more organic than organizational , informal, relational “body life” gatherings that many of the staff people in the programs coordinate to support and nurture their faith that they live out in their daily work and life. Is that not “church” too?
But let us not forget that all of the visible ministries, and the sanctuary and worship too, were grounded in his desire to promote avenues for racial reconciliation; that struggle is a primary one and is intertwined with what it means to be reconciled with God and God’s justice. There is a danger in how even that goal can be sidelined with the attention paid to all the forms of ministry and church that were developed by Perkins. So he is observant to how racial reconciliation emerges and is challenged and defeated and rises again through those various and diverse manifestations of “holistic ministries.”
One way to promote the integration of the church is to pay attention to the different nuances between “a church” and “the church”. The more we focus on being a member of “a church” then all of the difficulties arise when that sense of “a church” is bound up with its history and geography and ethnic culture and traditions that make it difficult for people not a part of all of that to cross the threshold and become a part of it, whether, for one example, it is blacks going to a white church or whites going to a black church, etc. But if we find our ultimate membership in being in “the church” with different manifestations in different places and people, and yet times and places and ways that those different manifestations can come together to more fully approximate and embody “the church” then some of the identity markers and the history and separate traditions, all of which have their place and are nurturing, won’t hinder the movement together of racial reconciliation.
1. What story of Perkins in these chapters moved you the most, and why?
2. Give us a tour of a vision, as specific as you can be, for ten years from now of what your community service organization or project might look like; what impact is it having, ten years from now, on its wider community?
Posted by Ron at 12:40 PM
Friday, April 12, 2013
A photo of before, and one of now....
Three years ago, we began the Miracle Among the Ruins project here in far north Tulsa and Turley area, turning blight into beauty, eyesores into places of community, and working on the poor health and food insecurity of our 74126 and surrounding zipcodes.
Today, Saturday April 13, we hold our Big Event Spring Planting Day at The Welcome Table Community KitchenGardenPark and Orchard, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave., taking it into our next phase of creating a space for people to become neighbors, to find peace, to grow and share healthy food (twenty varieties of tomatoes, 18 varieties of peppers, a dozen varieties of melons and squash, a Three Sisters Garden (corn, beans, squash), a Vegetable Village of edible playhouse gardens for children, a Kiwi Dragon garden art and play space, 25 raised beds, 50 fruit and nut tree orchard, berries of all kinds, damaged trees turned into art and storytelling places, old tires into art, and restful places amid the ruins of abandoned buildings one of many of which just burned two nights ago right across from the park after years of neglect by owners and officials. Stop by today to tour, to help, to put in a bed for your family, your church, your civic group, your friends, or yourself. Free lunch for helpers. Things for all ages and skill sets and physical abilities to do. Start the day at the community pancake breakfast, 7 am to 10 am, at the Lodge Hall, 6227 N. Quincy Ave., $5 all you care to eat, then come to the park about half a mile away.
Two years ago we began using the largest, oldest church building, that had been abandoned for several years, at 5920 N. Owasso Ave., one block west of Peoria Ave. as our Welcome Table Community Center, with library, meeting space, computer center, clothing and more room, and food pantry, and art space. We continue to work on repurposing all of the property into community space, and our centerpiece now is the expanded Welcome Table Free Cornerstore Pantry where people come and select their own food items, as they would in a commercial for profit grocery, but with nutrition counselors, and where we have a counselor to help them sign up or ask questions about food assistance cards from the Dept. of Human Services. We provide opportunities for people who receive to give back to others too; and we will have our next Big Food Event, the Mobile Van Food Giveaway, on Friday, May 3. We are partnering with McLain High School on this event. Volunteers are needed to come help us from 9 am to noon, and receive a free lunch after the event. The very next day, Sat. May 4, from 11 am to 1 pm we will have a Community Food Day that combines our regular First Saturday gathering with a followup from the Mobile Van the day before. Volunteers are always needed at all events, including our weekly Wednesday Noon to 4 pm Community Food Day at the center.
But first, at the Center, on this Sunday, April 14, at 3 pm we will hold our open-sourced leadership circle to brainstorm and develop ideas and relationships and projects that keep us on the radical edge of growing community in abandoned places. It is where the idea for the expansion and change in the pantry emerged. On Sunday we will explore ways to turn requests for financial assistance into deeper relationships of economic investment in people no one else would invest in, as well as exploring ways to create a barter economy, and economic co-ops. And you never know what the Spirit will reveal.
Also this Sunday, we will leave from the Center at 4:30 pm to go to the 5 pm Taize worship service (or invite any who cant make the brainstorming to meet up with us there), with communion, and meal at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown at 5th and Cincinnati Ave. This is a missional act as well, as we are moving from creating "a church" to growing our participation as members in "the church," that people of God seeking in a myriad of ways to make the loving and liberating Jesus visible in the world. This past Sunday, as we will on the First Sundays, we held worship and communion with one of our local partner churches, Turley United Methodist Church, across from the gardenpark and orchard, and then we held a picnic lunch in the park. On Second Sundays we will go to Trinity downtown. On other Sundays we will worship with other churches across denominations, making connections, and growing relationships with them, moreso than feeling we have to create our own identity through worship each week, and sometimes we will still gather and lead worship in our own spaces at the park or center or out in abandoned places of the community, as it emerges organically, not organizationally.
(A personal missional aside note: Sometimes it seems worship, or rather liturgy, as wonderful as it is, can get in the way of the deep soulful community relational connecting with and through God and one another, especially if it begins to feel forced or added onto for its own sake. It has always been here one of the four paths of manifesting church: missional service to and with and for others, community and relationships among us, personal spiritual growth and learning, and also community worship. Experiencing worship with other diverse groups, retreating more, holding spiritual check-ins, even partying and sharing lives more all has a way of loosening us up and opening us up to the promptings of the Spirit, and moving us yet another way out of ourselves, over ourselves, de-centralizing ourselves so that we can serve others and God better. At least that has been part of the discernment underway, and the continiuing experiment with trial and error and epiphany that we call missional community. I will be looking at ways we incorporate prayer and response into as many of our missional moments together as possible, and also creating a separate spiritual center space as well for those who come to receive food or information or for meetings, etc, and wish to find worshipful space and resources, so worship may become more thoroughly infused into our work even as it becomes less something "we" do to create a sense of "we" on a set day and time.)
We are looking ahead to the weekend after this one already too for great community engagement. On Friday April 19 at 4 pm the McLain School Foundation meets at the school near us; and on Saturday, April 20 there is much community sports activities at O'Brien Park, and we will be focused on helping with the Global Youth Day at 10:30 am and the following Community Resource Fair at the new Health Dept. Wellness Center from Noon to 2 pm, all at 56th St. and Martin Luther King Blvd (formerly known as Cincinnati Ave.). Come experience and learn about what all is going on with many of the nonprofits in our area, and support the youth of McLain and northside schools and neighborhood youth regardless of where they go to school. Then at 6 pm on Saturday, April 20 you won't want to miss the McLain and Booker T. Washington Alumni Classic Basketball Game to be held at the BTW Nate Harris Field House, where we will have a booth for the McLain Foundation.
For the rest of the month after that, I will be out of the country in the Philippines as I go preach and talk and learn from the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines as it celebrates its 58th anniversary, having begun as an indigenous Christian Universalist church in and around Dumaguete in the Negros Oriental. I will be preaching on "Jesus' Lost and Found: Becoming Alive Again In and Through Community" based on the parable of the prodigal sons in the Gospel of Luke, and talking on The Missional Church, and planning how the UUCP and the UU Christian Fellowship can grow together and help us launch a new global initiative for progressive Christians within, related to, and beyond Unitarian Universalism and other faith communities. You can learn more about the church at www.uuphilippines.org. And about the UUCF at www.uuchristian.org.
I am also working a lot these days on the Missional Revival 2013 in New Orleans: Jesus, Justice, and the Mission of the Post-Katrina Church" to be held Oct. 10-13 this year at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal at the First UU Church of New Orleans. All are welcome and invited to come help us work in New Orleans, and much worship, and have small group sessions and great social times, especially during the acclaimed Louisiana Seafood Festival. Our panel on the theme will include two dynamic local preachers and activists, Rev. David Billings, a United Methodist minister and anti-racist organizer, see www.revdavidbillings.com, and Rev. Dr. Dwight Webster, an African American Baptist minister and seminary professor and community activist from New Orleans, see http://www.christianunity.org/index.php/pastor/1-pastor-biography. If you want to stay at the Center itself in the intentional spiritual community space, you will need to reserve space with us by June 7. We will have online registration up soon. But let me know if interested. We will also have a block of rooms reserved at the Garden District Hampton Inn for those who wish to stay there or register closer to the event. That hotel is right on the St. Charles Streetcar line and close to the church too. You can see lots more on the schedule, the worship services, the Center and more at our Facebook Event Page at https://www.facebook.com/events/155450421288980/.
Finally, for those in the Tulsa area, keep Saturday May 11 in mind to come these way and experience Street Cred 2013, a community neighborhood makeover event for 36th and N. Peoria area, sponsored by Tulsa Young Professionals and others; we will have a booth at the event fair part of this glimpse into what renewal in the area can look like. Fun and Justice going together, growing together.
Thanks, blessings, and more soon,
thanks for all the prayers for all the above,
Posted by Ron at 10:34 PM
Saturday, March 30, 2013
A Special Easter Message from the 74126: A Community of Resurrection
By Rev. Ron Robinson
(Prayers for God's presence of love and healing for the families of those who were killed here a year ago, and for the lives of those who were injured and for their families, and for our neighborhoods where the victims and the shooters lived for the neighbors were injured too; prayers of healing and unconditional love also for the two men arrested a year ago Easter morning, and for their family members, and for all those who may be harboring feelings of hurt and abandonment and rising violence within their minds and spirit and who struggle to grow in and with God. And prayers for those in the justice system. Prayers that we keep asking why this might have happened; not for excuses, not for simple explanations; but if we are serious about reducing the violence, we need to keep digging deeper into its many sources)
A year ago this weekend we gathered for the Easter sunrise service outside at our Welcome Table KitchenGardenPark, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. We gathered in the wake of the Good Friday shootings in our area. As we held the sunrise service we heard about the arrests which brought a modicum of relief to our area, and many questions. But when we gathered outside at first the tension of the violence and its wake were still present. Echoes of violence and fear and segregation from the past, and not just the race massacre past of 1921, but the continuing fear and racist responses of white flight and redlining and neighborhood decline and abandonment and the summer a few years back when every night there was a shooting we could hear, or heard of.
Just today, for example, we were inviting a person to come to the garden to plant a bed with us to help his hunger needs, and not just use our Cornerstore Pantry, and he, a white person, said he didn't want to because there were too many shooting there in the area where the garden is. We tried to convince him otherwise, but no use, and it probably wasn't the real reason anyway. We hear this all the time from people who say to us, or to others who are coming to work with us, that people have told them not to come because of how dangerous it is. Even though statistics and our own presence here belies this fact. Even though as white, and as American Indian, and as bi-racial families, living and working here in a majority African American service area in our two mile radius, we are still priveleged and are safer on average than many of our African American neighbors. Still the stereotypes and the fears persist.
And there was heightened fear in our community a year ago; fear by the residents of color that if they went outside some "white guys in a pickup" might gun them down too. It was a reality based on what had just happened; and fear by "white" residents that there would be violence of retribution, as they were also ethnic minorities in the zipcode. We had already heard stories and rumors of white people being attacked in the area the day before, and black clergy colleagues were busy, they said, helping to prevent such things from a few they encountered. It all reminded me, when I thought of it later, about those days of the years of integration from my seventh grade to senior year at Monroe and McLain schools, when ever so often, more often than not, stories and rumors of racial fighting or plans to fight would ripple through the school corridors, dividing friends, based on some minor incident or just rumors spread to be violent in itself and to feed into the spirit of fear and scarcity and fear of diversity and unity that was wrecking the community outside the schools.
On that Easter morning when news of the arrests occurred, and we began to find out who it was, and to find out the connections we all had, for some of us perhaps with both victims and the ones arrested, there was of course some relief, but not much, for our area itself seemed to have been violated, feeding into more of the stereotypes about our area held by others. And there was then the continuing attempt at explanations and rationalizations. The fact that the shooters had come from upbringings filled with violence is important to know, but it is often the case, and it should make us more committed to the environments we create for children regardless of their race; what I am saying is that so often my white neighbors would be quick to point out the sufferings of the "white" shooters (one with American Indian ethnicity too, but that is a part of the conversation to keep having) but they are often silent or uninformed about the sufferings and upbringings of those who are black and commit violent crimes; and yes, we had to keep pointing out, there are cases where blacks had attacked and killed white people in our area, and recently, but that the incidents were not the same; those had been acts with other motives like robbery; this had been one of projected revenge and race was an apparent prime motive. Deeper still were the echoes of violence and suicide and depression, and yet these are almost always present in all who commit such crimes regardless of race. It all should have made us more empathic; at times, even months later, it sometimes, from all, made us less empathic. Now we have issues that came up that involve the death penalty for the case still being prosecuted. I have long been against the death penalty for all, and especially because of the way it is carried out in greater percentages against people of poverty and color. I, like at least one of the surviving victims, don't think justice would be served by the death penalty in this case, or any case, but it is hard to speak about it since I am white and the shooters come from the same poor white culture I have; so, if anything, regardless of the outcome, it should make me re-double my own commitments to a broader understanding of justice and reparations especially for people of color in our society. Just as it should, again we say, make us re-double our care and concern for the gun culture that puts such weapons in the easy reach of the impulsive and the addicted and the greatly mentally disturbed.
These have been the continuing thoughts over a year when Good Friday has continued in our community; it didn't or doesn't just happen on one day when in the zip code with the lowest life expectancy, where businesses and so many agencies and any kind of investment has fled over the years; when (despite recent attention and good news on all the abandoned burned out structures here I have been promoting in this space) you can still drive down the major streets and into the subdivision culdesacs and see so much neglect and abuse, and know that it reflects the continuing struggle of the area (even though we have great homes and neighborhoods and families and lives and it is a blessing to live here). Overall we have kept silent and have been nursing wounds and fears. The crimes, for some, brought racism and all the other issues that have been raised connected to the shooters mentioned above back up to consciousness; for some they can't any longer deny the continuing race and ethnicity issues that they thought might have been gone once the majority of white flight was over. For some, I hope it also made our overall zipcodes here more visible, and that attention can not just end at the city limits line, but that the lives of people who live just over the line impact what happens on the city side the same as the county side, and vice versa. We need a plan and commitment that involves both city and county for the area that is increasingly becoming as one, demographically and with ties of where people shop, play, go to school, work, etc.
I write this all on Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, a time for a day of reflection itself, of prayer, of listening, of waiting, a day of transition between despair and renewed hope. The day for the traditional "harrowing of Hell" when it was emptied out. A good day for emptying out all that has been bottled up by shame and fear; Christ went to bring liberation and to end Hell, as the tradition puts it that I like, and so what better day to empty out the shame that comes, and to begin again the holy conversations needed for our times and place. We do not do Good Fridays well; we aren't expected to; we deal with shame on these topics and events; we do not have good guides through all the emotions, all the reactions; we make mistakes; I will make mistakes in just how I try to convey my thoughts here. Holy Saturday reminds us it is all right, if we come together and just reflect, and if we commit to keep walking together, together toward the tomb that we do not know yet is empty.
What I know is that we can experience, because we do so in glimpses all the time, in the ways people help each other in our many undertakings and partnerships, we can experience a Community of Resurrection. Sometimes, when we come together like at the service of memory and healing today, or right after the event, we get glimpses of it. Other times it comes up from the hard work of planting seeds and combatting cynicism and skepticism in all the issues and activities you read about that we are involved in (continuing struggles and new plans at McLain, all the renewal efforts with the Health Dept, the ways we partner for basic needs for our residents, and even our times when we can come together in worship). I think, on these moments, that in the Resurrection stories in the gospels, that Jesus appears only briefly for the most part; short encounters, sometimes just rumors of the appearance after the crucifixion, and then he is gone; for most the faithfulness comes from seeing the changes that were effected in the lives of others. So it continues for us today.
It has been ten years since the first Easter service in the church plant that is now known as The Welcome Table missional community. It is time for us to look again at what it means to be a community of resurrection. How best can we take our core value of the missional approach to church and reflect it in our worship? For the time being as we work on these questions, we will merge missional relationships and worship and create community by participating more often with the worship of others. Some at the local Methodist church partners here; some as we did at the wonderful contemplative Taize service downtown with Trinity Episcopal; some with our Unitarian Universalist partners, some that we lead here. We are also looking at ways to create more worship here throughout the week in all that we do, so that we don't take something as vital to community growing as worship and put it only on Sunday; creating an ongoing spiritual prayerful space here, at the center and at the park, and in other ways that will emerge. Our sense of community that is now forged in mission can itself be resurrected, as part of what our wider community needs, seeds of resurrection that stand alongside of, and stand against, the Good Fridays.
I will close with Holy Week short reflections that go a little deeper into how each Day, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, is like a Four-Act Play, each day with its own theme, its own lessons for our lives, together.
Today is Act One: the meal, the presence of abundance in the midst of fear and scarcity, the commandment to love one another as we have been loved, reminder that nothing to come, nothing done, can separate us from the love of God, the attention to the bodies around us, to the hurting feet; it is all about the anointing, sharing the belovedness. In the way of the Psalm, this is the day of lifting up the original blessedness, our orientation to the Divine intersecting, intertwining, with us.\
This is Good Friday, this is Act Two, the sudden dis-orientation, the disillusionment, the dashing of hopes, when the truth that another world is possible, and is emerging, is revealed to be a lie, the day of abandonment, forsakenness even, when injustice and oppression and the way things just are rule the day, the bottom drops out from under us and from all life and from creation, again, again, just when we thought maybe...there is nothing necessary about this Day, though perhaps inevitable, for what do we expect when we line up the roads with crosses, with a punishment culture, and there is nothing good in it, though good may come wringing its way in response to it, though we can't feel it or imagine it this day; this is the day, so often repeated in our history, when Incarnation, that glimpse of divinity and love, what we herald at births just so recently, culminates in violent death, mocking the very flesh of God in us and among us. This is the day when the House of Hope is barred by the threshold of despair, and we know where we must go to cross it, but we can't yet, and so we turn away, and even if we draw close and embrace it, embrace what is left of You, we can't hold the pain, it keeps slipping from our grasp, and even when we want to find meaning in how much pain we bear, we can't. We pray that Your presence might be with us even in Your Absence, but we can't even remember the words or what your presence felt like.
This is Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, this is Act Three, the deepening of the disorientation, the sitting with the loss, but also the tradition says the day of the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended to release all those who had died before his coming, to be with them even in that place, to be even with those, and I like to believe to close it on his way out. This is the day of pondering, questioning, and of emptying our minds as Christ empties Hell; a day when emptiness caused by what happened to us, from outside us, can prompt us to reclaim the emptiness within us and move us from a position of isolation and aloneness to one of purposeful solitude. This is the day when we live fully in the in-between, but can not see what is to come. This is the day that reminds us that the More that is to come after our times of loss may simply be the dawn and the noon and the dusk of the next day, but that even this is something; it shows us that there is a force beyond us holding us, moving us forward, that we can simply rest in the day, and wait for the next day. There is much going on that we, on the outside of the tomb, with our gaze turned inward on our own suffering, cannot see or know.
From out of nowhere, comes Easter. This is Act Four. This is the day not about the miracles of nature and the nature of things we can figure out and know; this is the day about the way nothing we prepare for prepares us for the reality of love that overcomes death, overcomes shame, overcomes all that seeks to deny its truth. This is the day when we are confirmed in the truth that another world is possible, not only is possible, but is happening, and our task is to go be where it is happening, receive its grace, and participate in the communities of resurrection. This is the day that reassures us that nothing we or anyone can do or think or imagine can separate us from the love of God. This is the day when we wake up to the rising of the soul, to the wonder that defines who we are. This is the day when we set aside our struggles to understand, and find ourselves by losing ourselves in the story that God in mystery will align what is broken and askew, will justify what injustice has created. This is the day when we remember, as colleague and mentor Carl Scovel wrote, God’s other name is Surprise! That on this day we get a glimpse that, as he also wrote, there is at the heart of Creation a Good Intent, and that we come from, live in, and will return to that Goodness. Aleluia Aleluia Aleluia is first sung by the Cosmos, is embodied in Christ, and breaks forth from our lips. This is the day of Re-Orientation, not only to our home we began with, but to our home of abundant everlasting Spirit. That Easter’s good news invariably and inevitably is cast aside, even on this day, as so much within us and around us can dampen even our most heart-felt alleluias, does not change its truth; it is still here, beckoning us toward its sun-split horizon.
Posted by Ron at 5:58 PM