Thursday, April 26, 2007

Prom Night 2007

Last Saturday night was Prom Night 2007. The last prom for these two. The senior prom. Hmmm. We (Kathy, Jordan and me) rode with Conor out to Abby's home on Saturday evening so that we could take the car back home (Conor and Abby took her parent's car to prom). We stood around in the living room taking photos in front of the fireplace and then some pictures out in the yard out front (where this one was taken).

In just another day Conor will make his college choice. In a little over a month graduation will happen (May 30th) and then we will hit the road a few days later (June 4th). This is what they would call in India "an auspicious time." Indeed.

I hope that we will all be able to see and enjoy and soak in the goodness of these days. They seem to sneak up on me and then the next thing I know I've blinked and they are gone. I hope Conor and Abby and their classmates can enjoy them fully and well, too.

These are good days. They are hard days, too. But good. Really good. And I hope to keep seeing that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Four Gs

I have just started a book by Max Perutz entitled I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Scientists, and Humanity. In the preface are these words -- "According to Paul Ehrlich, the father of immunology, scientists need the four Gs: Geschick, Geduld, Geld, und Gluck (skill, patience, money, and luck)."

I think that it's not only scientists who could use those four things. I think the rest of us could benefit from them as well. At least I could. I've been thinking a lot about my ministry in the last few days as we prepare for our time on sabbatical beginning in early June. I feel like I've been doing a lot of soul searching...and I gotta confess -- I ain't findin' a whole lot.

I have real questions about how I'm being helpful to the congregation I serve here. They are a truly wonderful group of people. They dream big. They laugh a lot. They hurt some. They take big risks. They have an incredible and rich history. And I feel like I'm lettin' 'em down. Probably that is the clock ticking on our heading out of town. But it is something I'm aware of these days.

The Easter season, as the passage about "doubting" Thomas attests, has a full measure not of triumphalism (at least the original Easter) -- but instead a time of searching and questioning. I often feel like the rhythms of the church year are my own rhythms -- and that certainly seems true, today. So -- my own Easter struggles, and the struggles of others around me -- are good reminders that we are simply going through what the early disciples of Jesus did in the wake of Easter. A time of questioning, struggle, and tentative steps. So, when I read those words in Max Perutz's book this morning I maybe thought -- hmmmm....maybe I should hold on and pay attention to those things around me.

Having said all that -- let me pay tribute to one of my favorite writers -- Kurt Vonnegut. Jordan goes to the school he graduated from. And one of my very favorite passages of his can be found in his book TimeQuakes.

I still quote Eugene Debs (1855-1926), late of Terre Haute, Indiana, five times the Socialist Party's candidate for President, in every speech:
'While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.'
In recent years, I've found it prudent to say before quoting Debs that he is to be taken seriously. Otherwise many in the audience will start to laugh. They are being nice, not mean, knowing I like to be funny. But it is also a sign of these times that such a moving echo of the Sermon on the Mount can be perceived as outdated, wholly discredited horsecrap.
Which it is not.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Holy Saturday in the City

I was catching up on reading some blogs I enjoy but hadn't been able to get to in the last few busy weeks - and I came across something on John Hay's blog a week ago on William Stringfellow and his reflections on ministry and the city. The passage Hay quotes was written back in 1963 by Stringfellow.

William Stringfellow was not a theologian, by profession, he was a lawyer. He was a Christian by calling. After graduating from Harvard Law School he moved into Harlem to begin to practice law. There he was a keen observer of both social life and the church and its practice of Christian faith in the life of the nation.

Back in the early 1980's I was fortunate to have spent some time with Mr. Stringfellow. My father had first introduced me to his writing about the time I was heading to seminary in reading "An Ethic for Christians and other Aliens in a Strange Land." I was struck by the clarity with which he saw his life in this world and the role of the church. I persuaded one of my professors who was a fan of his to allow me to call him to set up a dinner in New York City for the two of them -- if I could come along. And that's what happened. Later I would give Mr. Stringfellow a ride to the seminary to address our chapel service and then have conversation with the students and faculty. I was glad I took the time to do that -- he died a short time later. But I find myself often going back to his writing and quoting him in a variety of different situations.

This week I met with a pastor of a suburban congregation in our city. Among other things he talked with me about a debate he had "presided" over at a conference, between Adam Hamilton and Leonard Sweet. It seems that Adam Hamilton was arguing that, as pastor, he tried to speak to the middle. Leonard Sweet to umbrage at this and suggested that there was, in fact, no such thing as "the middle." The pastor I was speaking with seemed energized and interested in this debate and where he fit into it. The thing I realized is that I had little interest in the debate - it doesn't seem to concern me at all. It isn't where I live. I don't think that most people care whether I speak to the middle, or even whether I believe there is a middle or not. I think the question really is - what happening in God's presence in the world around me and how can I share that as clearly as I can with others? I think about the people I know in our congregation who are grieving. Do they care where the middle is? I think of the family of the women and girls who have died in fires in this neighborhood over the last two years. Do they care where the middle is? I think of the people here and around the world - who struggle every day for a little dignity and a roof over their head -- Do they care where the middle is?

Stringfellow wrote these words:
"Little can be said about the present estate of the churches in the city which does not sound as if the churches are ridiculous. Some churches, for example, have physically quit the city- closed down, sold out, and moved to the suburbs, only to find out that the problem of the mission of the church to the city still plagues them. For suburbs are satellites of the city and commuters spend much, if not most, of their time in the city. Perhaps the churches which have remained physically in the city have eluded the church's mission to the city more effectively-by virtually full-time preoccupation in ecclesiastical housekeeping, in massive indifference to the excitement and conflict of the city, or by plain malingering."

"Some churches have fled the city, but the churches that have remained, for the most part, have been hiding out."

"Consequently, of course, the city pays little attention to the churches, save for some patently absurd or innocuous event in which the churches manage to call attention to themselves. Recently, a clergyman convened a press conference in New York to announce the discontinuance of pew rentals. If that is all that the churches have to report to the city, it is probably shrewder to suppress the news. But that is just the sort of thing by which the churches are normally, albeit not yet exclusively, identified in the city."

"The notorious fact about the churches and the city at the present time is that the churches do not know the city. And yet the rudiment of the mission to the city is the immersion of the churches in the common life of the city and the dispersion of Christians within the turmoil and travail of the city's existence. The rudiment of mission is knowledge of the city because the truth and grace of the Incarnation encompass in God's care all that is the city. Mission for the church, and hence for the churches and for Christians, in the city means a radical intimacy with every corner and every echelon of the city's actual life in order to represent and honor God's concern for each fragment of the city."

The debate between Hamilton and Sweet is not a debate I really care to enter. It's not a meaningless one. It just needs to be lower on the priority. At a church conference it would seem to me that there would be a lot more important things to talk about -- and that there is not -- is perhaps the biggest of the problems we have.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday In Rhythm

It is a strange thing in the nature of the Christian faith that we call this "Good" Friday -- the day that Jesus was killed. But there it is. "Good."

At Broadway Christian Parish we would begin the Easter Vigil at 5:15 on Easter morning, outside around a fire on the darkened street. The new paschal candle would be lit and one of the church members would carry in the light, while singing. Some of the first words of what that person would sing would be "O happy fault..." The words "Happy" and "Good" striking odd notes for this week, this Holy Week.

It is odd and a bit incongruous. Today I was thinking as we walked on Good Friday, that this day truly does "feel" different to me. And the word I would use to describe that would not be "happy" or "good." It wouldn't be "bad" or "evil" though, either. It would simply be different. Let me try and say it this way -- it feels like the story of Jesus that day, this day, somehow feels "in rhythm" with my life.

It's strange for me to describe it as "in rhythm" because I never quite feel like I "connect" to music on Good Friday. At least I haven't found any that I've heard on that day that adds to the day for me -- even though I've heard some fine music already today (and will hear some more this evening).

Years ago, over 20 years ago, when I was regularly in jail on Good Friday, I would sing a song, by myself, in my cell, that I had been taught my first Good Friday in jail by my cellmate. It went Crucem tuam, adoramus domine, resurrecionum tuam, laudumus domine. Now maybe my latin is rusty and so I haven't spelled these words right. But they sounded right, echoing off the concrete walls of my cell. A lone voice on Good Friday (even if it was my own).

But the goodness of the day I find in many places today, much to my surprise. I talk and walk with an old friend as we reminisce about people we both care about and know. I sit and talk with a friend who has recently lost a person they love more than anything in the world. And though the grief at his partner's death is real and strong, so is the life that is in him. And so is the memory of his dearly beloved alive still in his own life. We talk and we pray. And then there is this - we walk and pray at the home of a woman, Bonnie, who died in a fire about a block and a half from the church. Piled on the steps going up to the abandoned and burned out home are white teddy bears, that have accumulated ash and rain in the months since Bonnie died and her friends and even strangers memorialized her with these bears. We haven't forgotten. We stop and pray -- for her and with her. And that, strange as it sounds, is good.

Later I laugh with some other friends as we talk about our work together at Broadway. These folk here - how amazing they are to work with -- a joy, truly "good."

Later the boys and I run out to pick up some things for Kathy for her birthday on Easter Sunday. We pick through the cards in the store, laughing at most of them, keeping one each for ourselves to give her.

In a few minutes worship will begin here at Broadway. Folks will gather - much is going on in people's lives here, as always. We will tell the story, their will be a somberness in the room, even though the story is "good." It's one of my struggles with how to "celebrate" this day. But perhaps I've already done it. Maybe I'll feel the rhythm.