Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupying Thanksgiving

This past Sunday at the Welcome Table Community we had our Thanksgiving worship service co-led by Christy Moore, founding pastor of StoneSoup community in Tulsa, using a missional worship common meal, singing and sharing prayers and readings and sharing meal preparation and cooking and sharing communion and conversation about food and justice and the environment around us. You can read all about it at

We ended our worship with our reverse offering where we gave away money, even to people who showed up to be with us for the first time, and commissioned them to find ways to change the world with the money. We then blessed our compost and our recycling, and we prayed a prayer of confession for the trash we were sending to the landfill, which is very much a part of our home here in the Trash Mountain that has risen up over Turley as a rival to the God given Turley Hill. We followed all this with the movie about the missional monastic community in "Of Gods and Men" and the blessings they found, even unto death, serving God by serving people of a different faith in a spirit of cooperation and trust. (I will put an appendix here that includes the final letter written by one of the monks that embodies what the movie's message of common service and forgiveness is all about; powerful words to be thankful for).

All in all from 9 am to 4 pm we were enacting and embodying what an alternative community is like, an "anti Black Friday" community where success is measured in what you give away, not what you get, and by the love in the giving.

Tomorrow we will create "fictive family" by throwing open our doors at noon at our community center at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. to see if anyone, or you, is in need of a Thanksgiving meal community, or simply community. We don't plan these out; we don't make the newspaper listings of free dinners; we spread the word person to person through our contacts, through our biweekly food pantry days. We trust in the theology of potluck, that who and what arrives will be enough to provide. Movies will be watched; we have games; and conversation. This past week we have fed many with giveaways of turkey dinners, as a way we will help them be at welcome table community wherever they are and with whomever they are; we have been giving fresh vegetables away through our pantry that have been grown in our kitchengardenpark and orchard so many of you have helped us with.

The Thanksgiving Communion words were about vulnerability. As we break open the bread, as we break the vine and pour out its juice, as Jesus' life was broken open and the status quo of the world then and now is broken open, so our lives and communities must be grown through being opened to one another, risking being hurt, disappointed, and in fact being hurt and disappointed, and yet in the sharing comes the strength and sustenance of community. We talked about how being vulnerable was back then, and still is today, a counter-cultural God kind of way to live, when all about us in the media and in institutions seeks to make a virtue out of self-containment, strength, showy status, appearances, competition.

When we ate our meal this past Sunday we fixed a plate and gave it to another, and we received the plate and bowl made up for us by another. Receiving opens us up, makes us vulnerable, grows the spirit of trust and permission giving that is the heart of any community that exists for something beyond itself. We sat down with people we had not met before and ate with those we did not know, and otherwise might not ever meet, and we made a virtue of vulnerability, the same way Jesus lifted up vulnerability in his ministry, and how God lifted up Jesus and turned the cross from what it was meant to be, a symbol of shame, and made it a symbol of hope that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even that, not even what we face today.

We talked about the vulnerability of those souls who came to rest at Plymouth in 1620, our religious ancestors, and the pewter cup and plate we used for communion came in fact from the Plimouth Plantation, and how the covenant and committing of walking together they shared in the spirit of the One who is on a mission to be with those most vulnerable is a covenant and commitment for us today. That vulnerability is always at risk of being lost and turned into a fortress,as it was so often for those who came to power in this country, but at its heart what the legend of the Plymouth Thanksgiving gives us is a lesson of the welcome table's vulnerable radical hospitality, a lesson that goes back to the act of Jesus sitting down with tax collectors and sinners, a re-enactment itself of the prophetic call to live as strangers in a strange land, welcoming any who need shade and a meal, because in doing so we welcome God. And we hope as we leave and return to our lives that we take some of the vulnerability, some of the practice of the welcome table, out with us.

The root of the word vulnerable comes from a latin word for wound. It reminds me of the root of the word blessed going back to a meaning of being marked with blood as a sign of sacredness; in french blesse still carries the meaning of being hurt. Part of our mission then as a people of God is to live lives of vulnerability, first because that is how we open up to God, how we honor the spirit of the vulnerable Jesus, but also because true trust can only come from a place of being vulnerable, and without trust community that is authentic can not be created, and without a community we cannot take on the great tasks and work of transforming that we are called to bring about in our neighborhoods and lives.

It is a hard path for many of us raised precisely to be not vulnerable, or whom have been wounded by others or ourselves and sought protection and our very definition of self in how we avoid vulnerability. It is hard when all the messages and rewards around us are for those who find victory in strength and self, in convenience and contentment. From our political systems to our financial systems to our cultural systems of stardom, even to our religious systems and how we view our churches and their mission, there is an underlying focus on "the elect", the striving to be the one percenters, or like the one percenters, those who will never know vulnerability. This focus, as understandable as it might be in a time of great change in history, is still not the way of life truly abundant and everlasting Jesus pointed to.

This Thanksgiving may we find ways to land on shores we never thought we would call home, to be strangers, never fully at ease, helping to make a space in our world with others for the surprises that bless us. Call that space occupying the world with God's vision. Or call it doing what some followers of Jesus have always done, going to be with people in and for the places others turn away from.

On Sunday, Nov. 27 beginning at 9:30 am we will hold the first of our Advent worship services as we begin our walk toward Bethlehem. We will be watching the video Justice for the Poor featuring Sojourners editor Jim Wallis, a call to always put the real needs of the growing poor first in our spiritual lives and spiritual communities. We will watch a different part of this video series each Sunday in December, for the way to prepare the way for the birth of Jesus is to seek ways to focus on that which he focused on.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, we will help at the community meeting at 7 pm at OBrien park as we learn more about the lives around us and we focus on business development in our area at the Vann Green Park project, and we finish working with the community on dreams and ideas and plans for reclaiming the abandoned Cherokee School building and property.

On Thursday, Dec. 1 we will begin the first of our 6:30 pm Advent Vespers Services. At both our Sunday and Thursday worship services we will be discussing sections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Advent and Christmas sermons, and selections from the new book "Christmas Is Not Your Birthday" by Mike Slaughter, both calls to re-orient our lives during these sacred days of the year.

We are also raising funds for McLain High School parent program and Greeley Elementary School programs, and for our food pantry and needs for the computer center, and getting ready for keeping the building heated as a place for people to come in from the cold again. Thanks for all holiday donations through

Finally, Here, as an added Thanksgiving bonus to this meal of words from our community to yours, we include the letter of deep thanksgiving and forgiveness and hope for a better world that was the last will and testament of one of the murdered monks who stayed and served in an abandoned place during the midst of a civil war in Algeria: His words are my benediction, or my prayer for you on this day:

“If the day comes, and it could be today, that I am a victim of the terrorism that seems to be engulfing all foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, and my family to remember that I have dedicated my life to God and Algeria.

"That they accept that the Lord of all life was not a stranger to this savage kind of departure; that they pray for me, wondering how I found myself worthy of such a sacrifice; that they link in their memory this death of mine with all the other deaths equally violent but forgotten in their anonymity. My life is not worth more than any other—not less, not more. Nor am I an innocent child. I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around, even that which might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, to ask for God’s pardon and for that of my fellowman, and, at the same time, to pardon in all sincerity he who would attack me.

"I would not welcome such a death. It is important for me to say this. I do not see how I could rejoice when this people whom I love will be accused, indiscriminately, of my death. The price is too high, this so-called grace of the martyr, if I owe it to an Algerian who kills me in the name of what he thinks is Islam.

"I know the contempt that some people have for Algerians as a whole. I also know the caricatures of Islam that a certain (Islamist) ideology promotes. It is too easy for such people to dismiss, in good conscience, this religion as something hateful by associating it with violent extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are quite different from the commonly held opinion. They are body and soul. I have said enough, I believe, about all the good things I have received here, finding so often the meaning of the Gospels, running like some gold thread through my life, and which began first at my mother’s knee, my very first church, here in Algeria, where I learned respect for the Muslims.

"Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all those who dismissed me as na├»ve or idealistic: “Let him tell us what he thinks now.” But such people should know my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At last, I will be able—if God pleases—to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.

"I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You—which says everything about my life—I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers—thank you a thousandfold.

"And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen! Insha Allah!"

(Written in Algiers by Dom Christian of Abbaye Notre-Dame de l'Atlas, December 1, 1993; two years prior to his murder)

blessings for a deep Thanksgiving spirit in your life,


1 comment:

Liberty, Justice, & Grace said...

THANKS, RON. Keep me in the loop, please.