Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bestowing Admiration

A few weeks back I read a novel called Pearl by Mary Gordon. In it I came across this passage: "Until she met Pearl, Breeda had never felt admired. Perhaps we forget that admiration is something large numbers of people never feel but yearn for without being able to name. Admiration is a luxury, a big-ticket item. And yet it can't be bought or even asked for. It must be bestowed. Pearl bestowed admiration on Breeda, and Breeda felt its richness; suddenly she was, to herself, a person of wealth."
At the Children's Moment in worship in the First Sunday of Lent I encouraged the children not to give up something for Lent , but to add something -- the thing I encouraged in particular was laughter. Today I'd like you to think about bestowing admiration on someone for this week of Lent. It's a gift beyond measure. It costs nothing. And it will mean the world to someone.
Today Conor and I are down at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. It's one of the two schools he is deciding between for next year. We walked around the campus and it was a terrific atmosphere. It got me thinking about what we gain from the "professional educations" we receive. Experiences at places like this can be a wonderful gift. But it is the bestowing of admiration that we do every day that creates the kind of school of the spirit that I want to live in. When Troy and I visited with Richard Florida on Monday one of the things he said, very excitedly, was "you are talking about community as school!" We hadn't thought of that...but I think he's right...and not just as school. There is much research to show that bestowing admiration brings good things. Many if not most of them cannot be measured. But it is where the real joy lies.
On Tuesday afternoon Marc McAleavey and I went for a walk and a talk. The subject (really) was happiness and joy. We walked along Fall Creek in the beautiful spring air and the man sitting in front of the apartment building at Park and Fall Creek greeted us warmly. He had never met us. We didn't know one another's names...but he was just exulting in the day -- and the joy of sitting outside in the sunshine. It's hard to describe but what was in his voice sounded a lot to me like freedom for the oppressed. What was in his voice was something deep and powerful and true. It was what Marc and I were trying to talk about. How do we not get in the way of such joy? How do we multiply people's experiences of it? How do we give up our notions of success and adopt the sense of God's delight in us and Her desire for our delight in one another and the whole created order?

The Prophet Isaiah Weeps

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
--Isaiah 58.6-9

I was embarrassed and angry. At myself. At last night's Wednesday evening vesper service one of the saints of Broadway chastised her congregation. She feels that "we haven't done anything for the homeless for years. Lots of churches, smaller churches than we are, are part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network that allow the homeless to stay in their church buildings. But we don't do that. I have one other person who will do that with me -- isn't there another?" The Rev. Dr. Vanessa Allen-Brown was leading us in worship. She had challenged us to medidate on the passage from Luke 4.14-21 where Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah announcing "freedom to the captives." I wanted to weep myself.

"Freedom to the captives" is a night, one night, even a months worth of nights in a church? I've slept many a night in the church -- it's not nearly as nice as a home. I've spent many a night in a homeless shelter for that matter. It's not nearly as nice as a home. Freedom to the captives is food from a food pantry? Isn't it a pantry of one's own stocked to the gills? Or at the least isn't it the warm welcome of every home that has a full pantry that one can take a seat at the table and join the feast?

How is it that we in the church have grown so far away from the roots of our faith that we are much quicker to think about opening our church buildings -- than we are to open our homes? I think I know. It is fear. We are afraid of the fear that Jesus announces. We are afraid -- what if someone who we invite into our home steals our stuff? What if they rise up in the night and hurt me or my family? We are afraid. Let me "outsource" this problem. Forget freedom to the oppressed -- let's talk about a bed for the night.

We have so scaled down our expectations that we barely even think about it even more. And then what is even worse - we beat ourselves up over the fact that we have not sustained the system by creating institutions that don't even pretend to offer liberty to the captives. The salt has lost its savor.

Why do churches spend so much of their time stocking food pantries and so little time really getting to know the lives of those who come in to visit those pantries?

Around a table at a conference a few weeks ago, one of the Broadway members suggested closing the food pantry at Broadway. I felt myself revolt against it. But maybe that would be closer to Isaiah -- if we closed the pantry and opened our homes. But will we do such a thing? Will we really open our own dining room tables -- our own hearts? I don't know. But I do know this. We won't if we don't try.

I embarrassed myself last night by using the invitation to communion to challenge what had been said. I said something like "as we serve one another bread from each other's hands, let us also open our homes to those who God has announced are set free from oppression. Besides," I added, "it's a lot better to sleep in a bed in one of our homes, than it is to sleep in this church." That wasn't necessary. It wasn't gracious. It wasn't "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Isaiah weeps - over me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mari and Fran and Chocolate

Tonight was the delayed and second annual "Mari, Fran and Chocolate" event at Broadway. It was delayed due to snow on February 13th. But it is now 70 degrees and March 13th (not to mention the early time zone shift). So tonight we gathered. Mari Evans and Fran Quinn read their own poetry and Fran read the poetry of a few others -- what a night. Carol and Dave both mentioned to me how good the last two weeks have been with the reggae concert less than two weeks ago and then this evening today. And it has been a full, full, full day for me. It started early in the morning with me still flying high off of the experience with Richard Florida yesterday. I still can't believe it really. After telling a few people around Broadway about it this morning I headed off to visit Mari (it is Tuesday morning after all). We talked about my visit to Washington, DC and her reflections on race around the city and in the country. Always interesting...Then back to the church and a quick lunch with Kathy and then off to meet with lay leader Scott at his work place - where we talk about the glory and grace of the people of Broadway. We talked about the joy and energy and spirit of Broadway. We talked about the places and people who need prayer around there. Scott, as always, gave me wise advice. Then I began walking back to the church, Scott Semester picked me up and we headed up to the district office to meet with the district superintendent, Ned. It's always a struggle for me to head into the district offices. You are stopped by the armed guard at the door. You sign in and then are given a badge which you used in the elevator to flash in front of a laser light which allows the elevator to take you to the floor. It is at the United Way building just north of 38th Street on Meridian Street. What strikes me is that the United Way building with its stated mission of serving the poor and needy of the community and the United Methodist Church which shares a small part of the building -- both are so scared of the people of the city that they surround themselves with all this protection (practicing "safe religion" and "safe community service" one supposes). I'll return to this theme of fear in a few moments. Scott and I met with Ned to get his approval for a letter that would come from him to support the ministry of Broadway. He agreed. Then back to the church to meet with Ann Reynolds, the community ministry staff person, from Tabernacle Presbyterian in our neighborhood. Ann is delightful. She saw my book by Richard Florida and told me she had heard him speak awhile back. She asked me if I had ever heard him speak. "As a matter of fact...," I began - and then told her of Troy and my trip the day before. We went on to talk about some of the ideas we have been kicking around Broadway about building on our ministry in our parish in the summer. This year, perhaps, instead of having a program in the building for children and youth in the neighborhood, we could hire 10-20 youth and adults to be "Animators of the Spirit" who could have as their job descriptions "find the talents and gifts of your neighbors, or people who share the same interests as you and find a way to invest in them for mutual delight and the strengthening of our common life." For example, as my friend Chad pointed out, you could have a "Roving Barber" who went and talked with people doing hair in the community -- in home and salon -- and in the listening found a way to invest in what people care about. Perhaps some of the people doing hair would want to have a community festival where hair gets cut and "judged." Perhaps some of the hair folks would want to start a small business that could potentially grow into a career. Who knows. We could have Roving Artists, who would find other artists, maybe invest in the public art (sculpture, murals) that some might want to do -- others might want to teach classes -- in their homes, in churches or around the barber shop! We could have Roving Scientists, Roving Naturalists, Roving Gardeners, Roving Entrepreneurs, etc... These "Animators" or "Rovers" would gather a couple of times a week and share their stories. Ann and I talked about the Animators meeting in different churches or other public spaces and telling their stories while others listened in. It was fun to talk with her. It was fun to dream with her. Heck, dreaming with folks is what it's all about isn't it? Then off to meet with Scott who stopped by for a few moments. And then De'Amon and Marc and I met with Ray Newbill from South Bend who had an inspiring story about his rise from a violent and crime filled past -- and now he is an emblem of responsibility, and nonviolence, and community action. The frustrating part is that he wants to solve this by doing mentoring programs, etc... Things that I believe have been proven ineffective (as programs). What I would love to do is to hire people like Ray - with inspiring stories - to cook their barbecue (as Ray loves to do) and hang out and encourage and bless others around him with his story -- without it being part of a program. We could call it "The Men and Women of Scars!" I didn't have much time so I had to move him quickly through things -- so I just was direct and say, "I don't want to do programs....but let's keep the conversation going." I left him with De'Amon and Marc and I went for a walk. And we talked about joy and happiness and struggle. Along the way we ran into Jim Fore who walked with us. What a joy just to be walking with these two good men. Then back into the building with Marc, to sit and share some more about life and joy and genuine hope. Then off to the Finance Meeting -- what a great turn out and discussion. Very impressive. Roger Sell is doing an awesome job (with things at church it can be an awful lot like herding cats). Then off to Mari and Fran and Chocolate...back where we started from.

I love the language and the clarity with which Mari speaks. And Fran -- my God he sees connections and depth in things that I am always missing. He talked for a few minutes about gargoyles. He talked about how the people who made gargoyles made them to try and reflect their fears. Then they put them up so that they could see that their fears where held captive in stone and wood and not roaming the earth. And - when your enemies came to face you -- they could see that you had already faced your own fears and they had better turn back if they couldn't bring anything more fierce than what they were facing. What a gift. What a gospel gift.

It was an important reminder to me to not let myself be held back by fear -- but to take it out and face it. To "sin boldly" as Martin Luther urged. As we face the future my role as the pastor is to find a way to encourage the good gifts of God that are in the good people of our parish...many of them in the room tonight. People like Jan Hirschman, and Pat Pearson and De'Amon Harges, and Tom Williams, and Seana Murphy, and Jim Hartsock, and I could go on and on. What a gift, what a gift, what a gift.

Well I'm off to make my gargoyles and head to sleep!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Richard and Troy

Today in Washington, DC my friend Troy (on the left) and I met with Richard Florida (that's him on the right -- just in case you thought it was me). Richard wrote the book The Rise of the Creative Class. Both Troy and I wanted to meet him so I e-mailed him and another six weeks later we were winging our way on a late Sunday night to Washington. This morning we rose early and headed off to our meeting place. Four or five men walked in the coffee shop and we wondered if each of them were Richard. Then a car pulled up outside and a guy got out and Troy said "That's him." And he was sooo right. What a great conversation.

We thought we would have about an hour conversation -- we ended up spending two and a half hours talking together. Richard was very encouraging of the work we are doing at Broadway. And quickly suggested some ways that we might be able to work together! It was a wide ranging discussion which I'll try to write about when I'm more awake. But it touched on inequality in income, it touched on the openness of communities to gay and lesbian folks, it touched on creative work going on around the globe. It was fascinating. He told stories about conversations with Jane Jacobs that I just lapped up. Anyway...what a great day. Troy was the one who made this happen. He told me how much he liked the things that Richard wrote and we talked about how it would be great if we could talk with him. That gave rise to this visit -- which I think will have an impact on our lives and our community/parish -- for years to come.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Jayber Crow

I love to read the following by Wendell Berry during Lent -- It's from "Jayber Crow" (and it's Jayber who is speaking) --

For a while again I couldn't pray. I didn't dare to. In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal himself in power. I wanted to tell him that it was time for his coming. If there was anything at all to what he had promised, why didn't he come in glory with angels and lay his hands on the hurt children and awaken the dead soldiers and restore the burned villages and the blasted and poisoned land? Why didn't he cow our arrogance?...
But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them. I knew who had thought such thoughts before: "Let Christ the king of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide?
Where did I get my knack for being a fool? If I could advise God, why didn't I just advise him (like our great preachers and politicians) to be on our side and give us victory? I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself.
Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn't he do it? Why hasn't he done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?
I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, he hasn't, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.
And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.
I would sometimes be horrified in every moment I was alone. I could see no escape. We are too tightly tangled together to be able to separate ourselves from one another either by good or by evil. We are all involved in all and any good, and in all and any evil. For any sin, we all suffer. That is why our suffering is endless. it is why God grieves and Christ's wounds still are bleeding.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Just Another United Methodist Fundraiser

Pretty bad picture I know. But it's the best I could do with my cell phone. It's a picture down in the community room at Broadway United Methodist Church last night. While the picture may be fuzzy -- the feeling as folks gathered last night was anything but!

It was a fundraiser for the SECO radio station at Broadway (91.9 on your FM dial). The radio station only broadcasts for a few blocks around Broadway (can't afford that FCC licence). McKeith Pearson and Jordan Mather-Licht are the two main young people involved in this. Both are 7th graders at Shortridge Middle School. Their adult sponsor is Kwanzaa Popps who plays drums and sings with the Indiana Reggae Band.

This particular fundraiser was billed as a tribute to Bob Marley. I laughed out loud when I thought of that -- for many reasons. It's not many churches that host a tribute concert to Bob Marley, for one thing. Back in the early 1980's I read a book by Timothy White about Bob Marley. I was impressed with Marley's commitment, real commitment, to peace. In Jamaica the two main political parties were literally killing each other in the streets. Marley brought them together in a concert billed as "One Love" (a title of one of his most well known songs). He made the politicians shake hands and entreat their followers to stop the violence and come together as one nation. I tried to imagine an entertainer in this country showing that kind of leadership and courage (we could really use it these days, it seems to me).

One of the other things that tickled me is that I knew that today (Saturday) there is going to be a concert put on by the American Guild of Organists at Broadway. I thought of these two events happening less than 24 hours apart -- and thought...hmmmm...the way to complete this circle is to have a country western concert on Sunday afternoon! I loved it. I'll have attended both of these concerts and I'll have a little bit more joy in my life because of it.

As I was talking last night with Carol Neu-Frauman and Dave Frauman I said - "now this is a Lenten discipline I really enjoy -- one that adds joy to my life." Lent is seen as such a penitential season that I think we forget the things that happened along the road to Jerusalem. Things like the feeding of the five thousand and lots of healings and lots of eating with tax collectors and sinners. If we are going to be facing days like Good Friday -- crucifixions, challenges to our faith, feelings of oppression and injustice, grief, etc... -- attending a concert with old friends and making new friends as one feels the music sweep over you -- can give you courage for the days and the Holy Weeks ahead. Or so it seems to me.

There are plenty of days that are tough...that's why the times to dance and rejoice in the company of others is so important. One of the things that was so interesting about last night -- is that this was a very, very diverse group -- folks who would not have ever found themselves together, before, I'll bet.

There were lots of children running around and dancing in the delight of the music. There were old folks and young folks. There were folks from Carmel and folks from the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood around Broadway. There were more dreadlocks in the Community Room than at all other times combined, I'll bet and there were bald heads like my own (and a few others). There were people from the Broadway congregation -- and people who had never set foot in the church building ever before. The room was full of smiling joy - filled people. Folks who were getting to know one another. There were folks recovering from recent divorce, other folks going through the pain of the death of a loved one, others who feel mistreated by their parents, others who feel tension in their most intimate relationships, others who are struggling with desires unfulfilled. But last night -- the reverberations from the speakers did more than shake our bodies -- it caused us to vibrate like tuning forks that were finding that we were truly in tune with one another and with God. From the Chicago physician to the financial executives, to the railway worker, to the unemployed single mom, to the Butler students, to the utility worker, to the funeral directors -- we were all together - a time when you felt like the realm of God was just a little clearer.

There were connections happening around the room...some of the planners of a Spirit and Place event were meeting some good cooks who could cater an event this fall. Some folks from St. Luke's UMC were thinking that maybe they needed to get one of these reggae groups up to perform at their church! Some folks were simply meeting each other for the first time and enjoying getting to know one another. A neighbor, who works in youth ministry, grabbed me and said -- do you think we could have a youth music event here this summer? Who knows? Why not?

The concert featured two reggae groups: Mystic Rain and the Indiana Reggae Band. It also featured a hip-hop group called "The Philosophy." I liked them all. But I've kept noodling with the name of the group The Philosophy. My own philosophy (simple as it is) -- is that "people are weird." (and that certainly includes me). Last night the philosophy to me was clearly -- "we are all one." It was no more clear than in the putting together of this event. Kwanzaa used his connection with the musicians and the DJ -- DJ Dicky Foxx (he was great, as well) to give their time to support this effort. Tom worked with Kwanzaa to help organize the publicity and the logistics of the event. De'Amon is the one who brought all these people together in the first place. Truly a special night.

On to the organ concert -- the Anglican Chorale!