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Friday, December 08, 2006

Love Song from a Higher Power

Love Song from a Higher Power

To the tune Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
(Made more recently famous by Rufus Wainright as heard in “Shrek” or John Cale as heard on “Scrubs” or Jeff Buckley on “The OC”)

When something’s right and something’s wrong
It sometimes takes a quiet song
To bring you to the center where I knew you.
I thought you followed in the dance
I thought you knew another chance
Was how I said you’ll find your hallelujah.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
You found the place where demons dwell
You saw the day the eagles fell
There were so many ways that they could fool you
You cried “There is nowhere to go!”
You thought I was from long ago
A nothing, just a feeble hallelujah.
Done with people, done with care.
The only train that got you there
The one thing you could count on overthrew you.
People call it down and out
That just makes you want to shout
“Spare me all your god damned hallelujahs!”
Like Bill and Bob who came before
You found this place, you walked this floor
Just to find out what good it would do you.
Maybe in another’s eyes
You might find an end to lies,
You might find just a whispered hallelujah.
Here are those who’ve done the worst
Here are those who always thirst
Here are those who try to tell it to you.
Come because you know you must
Come to try, to learn, to trust.
Come and hear the broken hallelujah.
The road is hard but we have found
A way to get on firmer ground
Just take a step and then just let it rule you.
It won’t be easy, so you’ll ask.
It is your road but for each task
The next guy has a helpful hallelujah
If you can find another’s soul
And trust enough to make the goal
The oneday that is just one day to prove you,
Then you have found me!  I’ll be there
And you can find me everywhere
I’ll hold you with my grace-filled hallelujah.
Every honest tale you hear
Is a prayer that brings me near
Like a gentle breeze that comes to cool you.
Take the risk! O take the grace!
Show us all your humble face
Come and claim your oneday hallelujah

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hope in Advent

The theme of Advent as a whole is that somehow God is coming, God
will save, and that is a source of hope.

It's not a message that works as a practical analysis in our fairly
secular religious context. Consider how we see the pain of the world
- or choose not to see it. We easily despair because governments and
institutions; people aren't fixing it. We ourselves don't even want
to think about prisons, hungry persons, or people with no prospects
because there is so little that any one of us can do, it seems. This
is despair. More gently, the response someone like me proposes,
which is that we can act within our "sphere of influence", is a make-
do posture. It is reasonable but it can limit our effectiveness by
limiting our dreaming. Inaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,
if you will. That is, “I can't help, no single person like me can, so
I don't try and, see, I didn't help, just like I predicted.”

What answer do we have? Well, in Advent, we say that God is coming
and God is going to save. If that is going to happen, then the cause
is not lost! We can look forward to that day with happy
expectation. At least, we who are really powerless can look forward
to this day of saving. Consider a Haitian teenager who is not gifted
with talent, charm, unusual intelligence, looks, or the ability to
throw a baseball 95 miles per hour. That person would really look
forward to the possibilities brought by a saving God, a Christ. Then
what of the others of us who do have gifts of one sort or another,
who do have expectations, who are doing well? For us, the Advent
message is that our efforts to liberate, to feed, to get to know, to
empower, to clothe, and to heal; even our meager efforts will not be
ineffective. We can throw off despair because we expect a God who
works with people, who sees people as the way things get done; a God
who is a creator, yes, but a co-creator who expects to find us busy
doing the right things. We expect a God who, in our story, comes as
a needy person. Don’t you see? The least of us could bring a baby
something to help keep warm, some added bit of protection, some
little gift. The least of us could play our drum.

That's what we mean by hope in Advent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Repeat the Sounding Joy

It is hard to be a disciple.  Jesus explains this in Mark's telling of the day Jesus called the righteous rich man to follow.  The man was righteous because he had kept the commandments.  The text says that Jesus approved and "loved him."  But when Jesus proceeds to call him  to discipleship, by selling all that he owns and following, the man turns sadly away; broken-heartedly, is my guess.  "How hard it is, children, for a rich man to enter heaven?(Mark 10)"  We overhear the whole event and ask ourselves how we ourselves can ever come into the kingdom.

 “The Christian ideal, it is said, has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
 G.K. Chesterton

In October 2006, I attended a big party for my friend's 60th birthday.  Among the conversations were many catching-up moments.  One would say, "Tell me how the kids are doing, where's Adam now?"  A subtext for these conversations was an expectation, a hope, a yearning even, for our young people to latch onto something that would engage their talents and passion - or that would at least pay the rent so they could move out again!  We hold an ideal of a motivated life.  This is an ideal that we put on a shelf with some other ideas we hold dear and we get on with our lives.

As followers, as disciples, as Christians, we hope to find motivation.  Maybe we don't all take holy orders.  Rev. Paul Clayton once  gently reminded me that one doesn't have to become a minister to be a Christian.  But even those who avoid that challenge may find passion as disciples.  Many of us are reasonably righteous, keeping within the boundaries of many laws and trying to be honest and truthful and caring in our lives.  With that good record, we aren't about to respond to threats that we won't make it to heaven.  There is another threat, though, and I think it matters to each of us.  If we don't become disciples, we miss the passion and abundant life that is waiting for those who follow in the way. 

The secret is this.  Discipleship is the unexpected source of joy.

In the famous speech from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Tom Joad says, "“Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there."

In those words, you can hear the hope of the world, made human  once again.  You can hear how Tom has finally got hold of a passion that comes from discipleship, and he is filled with joy.  It is a choice.  The results of that choice are going to take many different shapes, aren't they?  Following Jesus in mission will look different for each of us and the excitement you feel is unmistakable!  There is a work for each of us to do - work that may be different at different times of our lives.  Turn toward that path.  If you can't see it today, well then that's our work!  We'll do it together won't we?  That's being church!

It is in the pursuit of what is just, right, and hard that we show forth how we transcend our otherwise bounded lives.  When we take this path, then we are there in all those places, we become part of something bigger than ourselves.  We become the hope of the world.  We fill with joy, repeated and repeated, just like the joy heard by shepherds at least once upon a time, as they watched their flocks on a night filled with stars and new life.  Everytime we turn to the road of discipleship, the joy sounds again!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

He Will Remember Us

Darling, sing this song in the morning of a day so rare.
The worst had come unseen; it was all despair.
Women were slaves and the children were soldiers.
The papers they called wisdom the same story over and over.
Something stirred inside me or was it coming from the sea?
Somehow the whole world I could see.
You were there with me all of us surrounded by the view.
We couldn’t turn away ‘cause now our time was overdue.
(What was that sound? “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”)

We thought we had a handle we all thought we could make a cure
But we saw powers, I mean Powers we could not endure.
We knew things were bad but this made our fear look small.
There was nothing we could do. Was there nothing at all?
People laughed like in some Stephen King story.
All the cruel things were done. Were they done for the glory?
Everyone was afraid and cried, “Death to [the other]!”
We cried out for God, our great Father, our great Mother.
(Was that weeping? “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”)

Along the watchtower we could see armies on the plain.
Over one there were stars and a sound like metal rain.
Beneath the moon, a billion others came marching.
Both carried crosses and crosses they were stomping.
Then towers arose in lands old and lands new.
These structures restructured gave dollars to the few.
Take down the forest and ship it all so far away.
Let the virus take hold, it’s just another day.
(In the canyon was a sound: “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

If only I could say it was just this one really bad time.
Or three bad guys, evil women, spoiled meat, bad rhymes.
If only I could tell you, it’s the roll of the dice,
Or the stars, the karma, or the bad advice.
But it was a black magic mixture of the cruel, bland, and kind.
It was in their souls – in theirs and in mine.
And though we tried some of us tried to make each one whole again.
We knew one of these days the horsemen would ride, the horsemen
should be coming, we thought again.
(Still I thought I heard some voices sing, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”)

We were ASKING for it! For the sword to be ours Dear God can’t we
fight them and win once in awhile!
This child’s gonna die and that lake is dead and the generals think they’re right.
We can’t stand anymore promises! Don’t give us Matthew, Mark, and go.
We hollered, You must be Dead, Dead a long time ago!
‘Cause it’s gotten so bad I can’t take anymore.
Take our own guns to the streets, the fields, out the door.
And when we’ve cleaned out this sewer we’ll come back to the light.
When the dirty work’s done we’ll come back to the light, maybe back to your light again.
(Now I surely heard, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”)

We saw something, no someone, I don’t really know how to say.
It was big and close and bright and it was so far away.
We stood terrified, dried up, we were frozen in our shoes.
We would have screamed and run or wept, you know, but we had nothing left to lose.
I thought it was an angel, the sun, I thought it might be a bird.
Then I thought it might be God, or God’s child, or God’s word.
And the whole world got warm, there was something in the air.
Were those chimes of freedom I was hearing everywhere?
And that morning star sang loud, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Guns ready, we started for the generals and the greed.
But the child spoke - and we forgot every creed!
We heard thunder, the earth cracked, and it started to rain
and the voice said

“There’s been enough pain, I know, there’s been too much pain.
Let the destruction cease.
The prisoners all release,
Your tortured souls, all of you.
I now make all things new.”
Now we were weeping and we joined the singing, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

“I remember you! You are what life can be!” he said.
We sang, "This yearning to be free, is to run home to you!" He said,
“Let’s make the rivers roar! The oceans we will cross.
We’ll travel this whole world. Nevermore will you be lost!”
And all the heaven and earth did sing! “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Thursday, August 31, 2006

One of a series of letters to a class of teenagers in a Massachusetts confirmation class.

Dear Class,

We Christians base our practices and beliefs upon the notion that people are a certain kind of being. They have certain natural characteristics and behave in certain ways. We also have hopes for the way people should behave. For example, in our church tradition, we expect people to be thinkers and doers. We expect people to care about each other and to act upon that caring. We accept that people make mistakes and we practice a tricky thing called forgiveness. We talk about the relationship a person has with God and we mean something special and personal.

As you learn other ways to think about what it means to be a person and what it means to be a Christian, you will ask questions and seek answers. Questions like yours have been asked for centuries within Christianity, and in Judaism from which Christianity grew. In fact, people from all faith and philosophical traditions have probed the mystery of what sort of being we are.

Much of what we know about people is taught us in school, through studying biology, health, and social studies. Also in school, we learn about how people behave through studying history and English (i.e. poetry, novels, plays, and other literature). Does Christianity contradict this school learning? When we talk about the creation story in the Bible, do we mean it really happened that way? Can the truths that Christianity claims be proved?

Your church tradition, the United Church of Christ, is one that embraces the knowledge that is uncovered in all these fields of learning. For instance, we look forward as a church and a faith to the ever more complete understanding we gain about how our genes work. The more sociobiology teaches us about the genetic code of life, the more we are interested.  We embrace the continued efforts of those who try to peer into the way the universe started with a big bang.

When we consider a person who is experiencing depression, we believe it is valid to talk about their biology, the chemical basis of depression, and to derive a pharmaceutical treatment from that understanding.  We also believe that that it is valid to talk about the formation of a person’s personality, the psychology of depression, and to derive a “talk therapy” or “cognitive therapy” from that understanding

Yet, we know that there is truth that lies elsewhere.  As far as valid ways of looking at depression, we honor the tradition that there is a spiritual component to depression.  We find many places in the Bible where people cry out from despair.  We find voices affirming that God is present with us in times of despair.  So our faith derives what are now unfashionable ways to respond to depression and despair.  In the dull, dead-ends of our lives when we see no alternatives, when our pain is great and our future unthinkable, what does the Bible teach?  What does our tradition teach?

·      We say that God is present in our time of need.  The Bible has stories of people who trusted that presence and found strength to carry on in the face of enemies, in the aftermath of disaster, in the emptiness of loss, and in even in the dryness of doubt. Mark 9:24 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  “`If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

·      We say that God does not turn away.  We say that misfortune and disaster are not God’s punishment for something bad we have done.

·      We say that God has set people free.  People are not bound by what God says.  We are free to obey and to not obey.

In your confirmation class, as in your earlier learning from your family, from church, and from Sunday school, you have an opportunity to learn how to look for that ‘truth that lies elsewhere’, and to know it for your own.

Peace and Blessing,



When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist.
Dom Helder Camara

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

I hit solid with an accelerated bat head.

No, this is not about rodent abuse.

Stan Grossfeld wrote a report in Today's Globe about a guy who helps athletes across many sports by teaching them
a. to visualize
b. to practice getting in the Zone (remember the Kevin Costner character in "For Love of the Game" who could "work the machine?"
c. to think postive thoughts

Alex Rodriguez uses the phrase, "I hit solid with an accelerated bat head." as his zone invoking mantra. Pretty interesting.