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.

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. 

Chasin' the Trane
2010-10-26 by Rina Terry

Many years ago, I had occasion to attend an urban ministry conference in San Francisco.  On Sunday morning, I wanted to worship and I didn’t want to “conference worship.”   I had heard there was a church somewhere in San Francisco, “The Church of St. John Coltrane.”   As a major Coltrane fan, I decided that would be my worship destination.I went down to the front desk and asked if there were any jazz fans working and was pointed to one of the hotel porters.  “Excuse me, sir.  The man at the front desk said you’re a jazz fan.”  He grinned.  “I’m wondering if you know where “The Church of St. John Coltrane is located.”  He grinned wider.  He gave me an address on W. Divisidero and told me where to get the bus the next morning. Coltrane and I share a September 23rd birthday—he, 1926.  I didn’t come along until 1948 but on September 23rd, over the years, many legendary musicians were born on September 23rd.   Amongst those saints are:  jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry; the infamous Ray Charles; the amazing Les McCann; (and, still living, Rocker, Bruce Springsteen).  When I arrived at the storefront church on W. Divisidero, I had no idea what to expect.  It was a very narrow building with an unbelievably high ceiling. There were beautifully painted iconic portraits of Coltrane painted on the walls on both sides of the small sanctuary.  It was (I have since heard they lost their lease on the building) an African Orthodox church.  Shortly, two African Orthodox priests, both in elaborate priestly garb, both carrying a saxophone, came out and began to play, “A Love Supreme.”  A man in layered ragged clothing pulled a sparsely spangled tambourine out of his pile of bags and began to jam.  A young man in the pew in front of me,  student age I'm sure, began to play hsi sax.  A mainstream looking man began to play his guitar.  All sorts of people were gathered in that sanctuary to praise God through the music of John Coltrane.  It was a wonderful two hours before I made my way back to the hotel.  It’s been at least fourteen years since I sat in the pew at that church and I still remember that worship service more than any other.  I think it was after that service that jazz became my primary spiritual discipline.  I feel closer to God when meditating to straight ahead jazz than at any other time. Yes, Coltrane died at age 40 from liver disease.  He did not live a perfect life.  Yet, if you read his bio you will find:    decades after his departure his music can be heard in motion pictures, on television and radio. Recent film projects that have made references to Coltrane’s artistry in dialogue or musical compositions include, "Mr. Holland’s Opus", "The General’s Daughter", "Malcolm X", "Mo Better Blues", "Jerry McGuire", "White Night", "The Last Graduation", "Come Unto Thee", "Eyes On The Prize II" and "Four Little Girls". Also, popular television series such as "NYPD Blue", "The Cosby Show", "Day’s Of Our Lives", "Crime Stories" and "ER", have also relied on the beautiful melodies of this distinguished saxophonist.Coltrane’s Meditations, three movements entitled:  Father, Son, Holy Spirit, speaks in tongues.  Toward the end of his life, he communed with God in his music and I come closer to God every time I listen to his music.  “My goal,” he said, “is to live the truly religious life, and express it in my music--My music is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being.”  .  I’m thankful for the witness of John Coltrane.

Resistance, Persistence, & Openness
2010-10-26 by Stephen Schuette

If you’re going near Reformation themes this week, regardless of which text operates as your basis, it’s fair to say you’ll have to come to terms with what in traditional theology was known as the “doctrine of man” (sic), or theological anthropology.  It’s a basic question whether you’re using Jer. 31:27-34 or Luke 19:1-10 or John 8:31-36.

It’s odd that who we are remains to us mostly a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma (with apologies to Churchill).  Like V’ger in the old Star Trek movie we are driven by motives we don’t completely understand as we long to discover our true purpose and yet that doesn’t stop us from acting with zealous conviction based on what we think we know.

And isn’t everyone vying for the opportunity to define us?  The markets would define us as consumers.  Politicians would define us as votes.  To management we may be labor.  The theological question is, “Who are we to God?”

That God continues to persist in the belief that we can learn who we really are even after all our failures to grasp it must tell us something about ourselves.  It at least reassures us that even if we’ve given up on ourselves, God hasn’t.  Evidently God holds that we have hearts that can be written upon enabling us to live in genuineness of relationship with God.

That we can be moved, changed, transformed, defined and opened by grace is the remarkable assertion of the Reformation based in scripture.  So the story moves forward not so much because of our faith in God, but that God continues to have faith in us.  And along the way, in a brief moment, perhaps when we’re up a tree someplace, we may get a glimpse of who we really are and rather than deny it come to believe it ourselves.

Welcome, Rina Terry!
2010-10-25 by David Howell

A warm welcome to our returning guest blogger, Rev. Rina Terry!

The Reverend Rina Terry is currently pastor of Cape May United Methodist Church in Cape May, New Jersey.  That's Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway.  She is a published author and former college administrator.

She spent much of her clergy career as Supervisor of Religious Services at Bayside State Prison, an adult male facility with a population of 2,400 men.

Jazz is Rev. Terry's primary spiritual discipline. 

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