God Where We Are
2010-10-31 by Guy Kent

The Battle of Opis took place along the Tigris River near present day Baghdad in the year 539 BCE. Cyrus the Great of Persia was the victor over Nabonidus of Babylon. It was a fortuitous day for the Hebrews in captivity in Babylon. Three years later the victorious Cyrus would issue an Edict that allowed the descendants of Abraham to return to their homeland, a place they'd not seen in fifty years.

It's not a difficult task to imagine the clash of personalities, beliefs, priorities, and approaches that confronted this newly re-populated Jerusalem. Here were Jews who had no memory of what Jerusalem “used to be” coming home to be greeted by those left behind who clung to a distant memory of that day when their nation and their God was so prominent.

Halfway through my ministry I took a detour. Actually, it was a couple of detours. For several years a prominent businessman allowed me an executive position in his company. That, in turn, allowed me to recruit, train and employ inner city youth whose prospects for climbing out of poverty were slim. That adventure was followed by almost a decade of serving as the chaplain at a secondary military school. And then my self-imposed exile ended and I returned home.

I was like a lost refugee in search of an identity. Everything had changed. The laity were assisting in the celebration of the Lord's Supper; preachers were wearing golf shirts. I felt not only old-fashioned but down right out of touch in my Sunday best dress suit. There were screens on the walls where the lyrics of the songs were projected. And the songs, oh my, we were not singing The Lily of the Valley anymore. This was a different music.

It was culture shock. And I don't have the foggiest why it should have been. I had found God in the hallways of that business where forgotten youth learned of the God of another chance. I found God among the cadets of many religions in that military academy. It took me a while to get accustomed to the changes from the church I'd left to the one to which I returned. As such I can identify with those Jews Cyrus set free to return to Jerusalem.

So often our lives are caught between where God used to be experienced and where we hope to someday experience God. But our hope lies in the message of Haggai that we find God where we are and not where we wish we could be.





One-eyed Saint
2010-10-30 by Rina Terry

Alan Ginsburg once said of fellow poet Robert Creeley that he saw more with one eye than most of us see with two.  For me, the day poet Robert Creeley died was a profoundly personal day of mourning.  His work, and that of Emily Dickinson (also in my Saints Hall of Fame), were and remain the two greatest influences on my own writing.  For some time, I did pursue a career as a writer and, if the call to ministry had not become so overwhelming, it would have remained my career.  Creeley was the first writer-in-residence for the new Creative Writing graduate program I entered some years ago at Temple University.  He was the reason I applied.  I had the opportunity to sit in single workshops with him, built around his arrival for Readings  at the undergraduate level, but the opportunity to spend a whole semester was enough to restrict my two children and I to a Campbell’s soup diet for much of that time and take student loans that took years to repay.  The blessing of children who supported me in my educational pursuits has been one of God’s richest blessings in my life.That semester was one of the most prolific of my three years in that Master’s program.  I submitted very little during the course of the semester and felt enormous anxiety when the time approached for my individual appointment during which he would evaluate my entire portfolio.  I was so in awe of him I’m afraid I had behaved, much of the semester, like a star-struck adolescent. When I look back on this now, I realize that he must have thought I was more than silly; he must have thought I had no ability.  I knocked on the office door, went in and sat down.  He looked up and said, “You know, you’re good.  You have talent.  You need to focus on your writing and keep writing—find your voice, speak…”  It was such a relief to know that I would not have to drive over the edge of the Ben Franklin Bridge into the river on my way home!  I smiled.  He asked me if I had any questions.  In response, I said that I had asked them during the semester but that I did have a request.Einstein had the correct idea about memorization.  If you can look it up, why memorize it.  Yet, I had read Creeley’s poem, “The Rain,” so many times that much later, when I went to share a line with someone, I found that I could recite the entire poem.  The day of my evaluation, I told Creeley that I simply wanted to hear him read that poem in his own voice.  He took the request very seriously.Another student asserted herself and kept knocking until he opened the door.  She said it was time for her appointment.  He told her she would get her time and closed the door.  He ran his fingers through his hair, a very reflexive gesture for him, and began to read the poem.  He stopped and said, “No, that’s not right,” and paused a moment, looked out the window, and then began again.  It was a sacred moment for me and he seemed to understand that.  It wasn’t about me, or him, it was about art—the gift of something larger and more full of spirit than we truly can understand.In that poem, if you listen carefully, you will hear the rhythms of rain—not one kind of rain, but many.  You hear the yearning of the human spirit--the desire for connection, the gnawing hunger and craving for love, the consummate happiness that comes with physical and spiritual connection with another human being.  I believe we fall short if we do not look for God in all things.  I believe God is found wherever God chooses to reveal God’s self.  I believe in God and in the words of the poets, especially those of Robert Creeley.



Thanks to Rina and Stephen; Reformation; Psalm 46:10
2010-10-29 by David von Schlichten

Rina Terry provides sensitive and evocative reflections as the guest blogger this week. Stephen Schuette offers thoughts about a key Reformation theme: the defining power of God's grace. Scroll down to soak up the wisdom.

My sermon will be on Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." This verse calls us to cease our silly fighting and focus on the God who breaks the bow and shatters the spear. In the ELCA, we are busy being nasty to each other over homosexuality. God says, "Be still. Come on. Stop fighting, and focus on my amazing grace, including by being gracious with one another." What if we really did that?

Of course, being still does not mean that we never debate or disagree, but it does mean that we learn to debate and disagree in the holy context of God's grace.

Luther is one of my heroes, but he was not always good about being still and knowing that God is God. Luther could be vicious with his words. While I have drawn endless wisdom from his writings, some of them are embarrassing at best, while others are abominable. 

Maybe part of reforming today is working on being still, stopping the fighting, even as we disagree. Bask in God's grace, and be gracious to one another.

My sermon will be something like that.

Striving to be still, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Forsaken?
2010-10-29 by Rina Terry

Forgive yesterday's absence--away for a denominational training.

Which brings me to today's blog.  Lloyd Rediger, the author of Clergy Killers and other books, was the presenter.  He is a lovely man who truly cares abou the way clergy are treated.  As he shared a couple of the book's examples, he became a bit overwhelmed, his voice shaking, and apologized, "Even after all these years, it still moves me."  He had counseled many of the persons whose stories are in the book.  He told us about the 501c3 organization he is helping to found that will provide assistance to clergy, and their families, when they are brutalized by congregations or individuals in congregations.

He told us, as well, about a documentary on just this subject, that is in the making, "Forsaken," that will speak to the way clergy are sometimes treated.  How timely, given the recent articles being published which place the blame for denominational declines on pastors.

So, today I want to remember a pastor named John Garrahan and encourage you, in your ruminations if not your sermons, to remember pastor's who were often beleaguered but  were a powerful witness in your lives.  The Rev. Dr. John Garrahan was never formally ordained in the process through which I became an elder in the UMC.  He told me the story of how he stood before a group of, of course at that time, men.  He said they asked him a couple of questions and then told him he was a pastor and that was it. 

For 25years, Dr. Garrahan as the part-time licensed local  pastor at the church in which I spent the first 40 year of my life.  He and his wife were a wonderful ministry team.  She was a Christian Educator who ran our Christian Education program, a choir director who led three choirs for children, youth and adults, and in Dr. Garrahan a pastor, Rogerian counselor and able teacher (he taught at a local college.)  All this for the grand price of a parsoange always in need of repair and 10K.  I think his salary actually went up to 15K at the close of the 25 years.

Were people satisfied?  Of course not.  If I were to list the number of complaintslodged over the years, you would be astounded--or maybe not.  John and Martha took in an unwed niece who, when she abandoned the child, adopted the little boy.  Complaints! 

Martha ran the Youth Group and I was present and saw her, in her cotton flowered house dress, bar the door with her body when the police came looking for one of the kids in our town.  She told them the parsonage was an extension of God's house and was a place of sanctuary.  The young man may not have led an exemplary life after that but he never got in trouble with the police again. 

John refused to dumb-down his sermons; he preached the lectionary and he preached the Gospel--that offensive book that convicts us in our behavior.  Complaints!

They took a rebellious, obnoxious teenager under their wing and never stopped loving me in spite of my mistakes and my tragically dysfunctional family.  They counseled, mentored, encourage and supported me until the day, wearing Dr. Garrahan's red stole, the Holy Spirit propelled me forward for the laying on of hands during my ordination.

Dr. Garrahan gave me three gifts that day.  A book that encouraged women in ministry called, The Stained Glass Ceiling, a stole of my own and a little portable kit for taking the sacrament to those who could not come out for worship.

Yet, I remember him best because of a time, as a lay minister in our church, he defended me against "the mob."  I had become separated from my husband.  Since I had gone to Dr. Garrahan for counsel, he know the details.  A man in our church gathered a vigilante committee to have me censored and thrown off of every Board, committee, role in which I was serving.  I called my pastor to tell him I was resigning from everything and would find another church.  I can still hear his voice,"You will do no such thing!  God called you and you will not say no to God.  They are getting my Irish dander up and the Church of Jesus Christ does not tolerate bullies or vigilante mentality!"  Obviously, he convinced me.

For all the Saints who did not give in and those who did not have support and fell, let's give witness to the love of God manifest in their ministry. 





Eleanora Fagan
2010-10-27 by Rina Terry

If you have never read Frank O'Hara's poem, "The Day Lady Died," perhaps now is the time to do so.  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171368

Billie Holiday, nee Eleanora Fagan, reigns supreme, along with Ella Fitzgerald, in my  female jazz vocalist collection.  The first time I heard Lady Day sing, "Strange Fruit," like O'Hara in his poem, I stopped breathing.  That lynching, something so heinous, so tragic, so horrific could be expressed in song taught me about the profound dignity of the Blues.  

Child of a single, teenaged mother, rarely properly cared for, put in a home for troubled girls at age 9, sexually molested, exploited emotionally and financially by men she thought were offering her love, an object of extreme racism when she became the first black jazz vocalist to sing with an all-white band, imprisoned for her drug problem, enslaved by her substance abuse, Billie Holiday died at 42.

If your opinion is shaped solely by what "critics" say, you will find many who will disparage Holiday's singing style and her vocal ability.  Her voice, admittedly, became as strained as her lifestyle; yet, I can listen to her for hours.  Her voice tells the truth about suffering, about injustice, about hard times and harsh realities. 

Isn't that something for which we admire the saints whose lives we wish to emulate, the fact that they were truth-tellers?  I am not glamorizing substance abuse, nor am I suggesting that there were not moments when Holiday could have made better choices or taken different paths. 

In my mind, the tragedy of her life is that people packed the clubs, the cabarets, the concert halls where she sang and took from her the raw gift of her pain and received it simply as their due--something for which they had paid a fee to receive. 

 When she sings, "If I go to church on Sunday, and then cabaret all day Monday, ain't nobody's business if I do," I hear not pretense or rebelliousness, I hear the failure of a church that did little to ease her pain.

When she sings, "God Bless the Child," and I hear the lines, "Rich relations give, crust of bread and such, you can help yourself, but don't take too much," I don't hear a cynic, I hear the voice of one who was never truly introduced to the one who gave everything for all those who had nothing.

Sometimes, I believe it takes a Saint whose descent into Sheol did not reverse to magnify the truth, that righteous and virtuous people know that they, too, are capable of truly contemptible behavior.  On days when I feel alone and abandoned, I listen to Billie sing the Blues.  On days when I feel abused or maligned, I listen to Billie sing the Blues.  On days when I want to lie down and not get up, I listen to Billie sing the Blues.  On days when the world seems like and ugly place that is only getting uglier, I listen to Billie sing the Blues--and I am comforted.  It is then, in that comfort, that I begin to pray the Blues and receive the Breath of Life that fills me with the will to live, and love in Jesus name. 





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