Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dark is the night

During my first semester of seminary a painting hung in the chapel, behind the altar. The painting was entitled "Incarnation," and it took a pretty good swipe at my theology on that topic. I wish I could post an image here, but I'll try to describe it.

First, it was about eight feet tall by three wide. The bottom third was mostly black, with some gravel embedded in the paint. The top section was varying shades of deep blue. From the top center down to the horizon, there was an straight-but-uneven, energetic swath of yellow and white varying from 4-8 inches wide, streaming directly and forcefully downward into the black earth, where it became an orange glow.

In other words, a field of deep darkness, through which came a stroke of glory so powerful that it turned the very earth to embers where it struck.

Sweet-smelling straw, gentle animals and smiling humans...not present. Just radiance and power.

It got me thinking. About the meeting of heaven and earth. About the story that I knew by heart, with the sentiment removed. About the starkness of the contrast between light and dark, despair and hope.

I couldn't form words around it for quite a while--not until I'd experienced some despair firsthand. A couple of years later, my personal ground was laid; I was at the lowest point of my life, and trying to re-energize myself at the St Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology and the Arts.

I had signed up for a hymnwriting workshop led by the wonderful Mel Bringle. On the first day of the workshop, we were supposed to write a text to go with a particular tune (Bill Rowan's STILL WATERS, to be precise). It could have been about anything, as long as the syllabic count and speech rhythms matched the line. This text flowed from my green felt-tip, almost of a piece. It was finished by day's end; the easiest writing I've ever done. It's about the world that so desperately needed (needs) that stroke of glory and light, which I'd come to understand as I hadn't at first view of the painting.

Dark is the night, quiet and cold;
all earth waits for Love's bright dawn.
Send us your light, promised of old:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!

Whisper of wind, blow through the trees:
heaven's breath, meet flesh and bone!
Stir us again, life-giving Breeze:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!

Rupture the night! Sing in the stars,
Radiant One, make us your home!
Bathe us in light; blaze in our hearts:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!

Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!

Blessed Advent, everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Come to the table

My friend Daniel is a composer. I've sung--and programmed-- several of his works, with my congregation and with three different choirs. My favorite of those works is a hymn he wrote, which is part of my personal canon of hymns; it could easily have been included in my post of a few weeks ago (in fact, several of you did just that in your response to my question!). For those of you who haven't heard it, the words are
Come to the table; come as you are.
Come as you're able; see whose child you are.

There is room at the table of the Lord.

Bring your burdens and your cares;
take them to the Lord in prayer.
In our weakness God is there; can't you see?

Come to the table; come as you are.
Come as you're able; see whose child you are.

There is room at the table of the Lord.

In the mercy that abounds,
and accepting love we've found,

by the blessed tie we're bound as family.

Won't you come to the table, come as you are,
come as you're able--see whose child you are.

There is room at the table of the Lord.

(c) Daniel L. Pederson

There's a persistence in this text--I think it does a really good job of painting God's utterly open invitation to all comers. I like that it puts that invitation in our mouths. I like that it acknowledges our burdens, our need for mercy. I like the combination of plural and singular pronouns that sets a context of "us," instead of only "me" (and yet, it feels personal to sing it). I like that it assures that mercy and grace are available for the asking. Most of all, I like that it helps us to sing our way into a love that's so much bigger than we are, it can't help but spill over the rim of any cup that tries to contain it.

Perhaps inevitably, as a member of the GLBT community, I care about that. Not for the sake of using a hymn to promote "diversity," but because it's authentically healing. Beloved and I chose it for our wedding; a lesbian friend later told us that it moved her to tears with its radical welcome at a time when her own recently-former church community had made her decidedly unwelcome. This hymn has offered the same message to many other people who have felt themselves outside the embrace of God and community, whatever their reasons.

It's robust, bountiful.

Musically, it sings with the ease of a hymn, in four parts...and yet, there's a harmonic and melodic freshness that accomplishes what so many don't--it bridges styles to the point at which style is no longer a question. It's eminently singable and, well, just appealing.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and we'll go to my sister's house, to her welcome table. Today, I woke up before the alarm (thanks to Linus's paw on my nose) with this hymn playing in my head. In the half hour or so before the beeping began, I started compiling my "I'm thankful for..." list. It's a long list. Afterward, I popped out of bed, humming "Come to the Table."

Thankfulness is powerful. I think it's helpful that a day is set aside for it on the American calendar this week, in the midst of so much anxiety about the economy and many other, very real boogeymen of this period in history. Because thankfulness is an antidote to anxiety: it grounds us in our giftedness; it locates us in relationship to God and to one another; and on this particular day, it plunks us down at a table of comparative plenty to receive again the gifts of the land and the fruits of our (and many others') labors. We finally take a moment to notice the people and the things that make our lives meaningful...that make them possible. And while our eyes are fixed on those gifts, we turn away from the fears that cow and shrink us. We live large, inside the promise of goodness to come...of goodness that has already come.

It's a holy communion table.

And so, friends, my hope for you on this holiday is that you come as you are to the table, remembering who--and whose--you are.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conspiracy theology

Yep, you heard me--not a theory, a theology. A living, breathing, do-something-meaningful, embodied theology.

For behold, I bring you sensible tidings of great sanity and compassion:

More information is available at

Because, after all, that McGiftcard may not be as powerful as you think, where the spreading of joy is concerned:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Be not afrayed

It's always fascinated me that some clothes are sold "distressed," with holes ripped, collars and hems frayed, bleached-out spots, etc.--as if we were sitting around and wondering when we'd have time to make our clothes look worn.


That doesn't seem to be a worry for me. The fraying and spotting just, well, happen when I'm not extra effort required. It seems to me that my clothes actually conspire to look "lived in."

And so it goes with the dailiness of my life. A number of its finer points seem to dull in late November and December; e-mails go unanswered, clutter heaps in the kitchen, and by the time I get home in the evening, I'm too used up to do much about it. Cumulatively, I don't feel like I'm at the top of my game, but rather in a "put your head down and muscle through it" kind of period.

It leaves me feeling frayed at the edges of my self. The things that quiet me and mend me seem to be the only "optional" items on my agenda...reading, writing, family time, time to just be. (Hmmm...maybe I need to stop regarding them as "optional," no?) Music, which normally feeds me, is a substantial cause of the drain in this season--there's just so MUCH of it! Everything just ramps up, this time of year, for musicians and church geeks like me.

Add to it our context right now--the part of the lectionary cycle which depicts so clearly the darkness and the light of the world. Lamps go out and talents lie buried; God keeps promises, saves us from outer darkness and invites us again into relationship. Likewise, the news cycles of recent weeks tell of disasters all over the world...war and financial peril, blood and hunger and pain, set against a hopeful new chapter in American political leadership, arriving even as we're on the brink of our several potential disasters.

Pain and hope, death and renewal, darkness and light.

We're coming into Advent, my favorite liturgical season. Because it's a time (if we dare to keep it) in which we can acknowledge that, as temporal beings we're sometimes weary and lost...that we're frayed and even a-frayed. And that this is not The Final Answer. That kairos shines behind our smoky, cluttered chronos. That, even as we're the people who walk in darkness, we also live in the promise that we'll see a great Light. That, on hearing that promise repeated, we remember that we have seen it: a rip in the fabric of the chronos, through which Light pours, throwing everything into sharp relief, making sense of the layers of chaos around us and dispelling the cold dark.

As Tony Campolo often trumpets, "It's Friday...but Sunday's comin'!"

Be not afrayed, friends.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Page 56

Thanks to my friend, the proprietor of the Swandive, for this fun idea!


* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions on your blog (or facebook wall).
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Addendum: feel free to post the sentence in the comments, and you are tagged.

Here's mine:

Santy Claus is going to come and the turkey won't be tough and we'll all get along.

Funny that should be the case--the character who says this is in the middle of a mini-soliloquy that snarkily anticipates a pain-in-the-butt Christmas. Which is my general feeling about the holiday season. Love the theology and fresh/authentic interpretations of the music, love the goodwill that always presents itself in lots of ways, HATE the shopping and crazy schedule and slap-on-plastic-grins-even-though-we're-
collapsing-from-stress cultural side of it.

Oh, and the ever-present mechanical music. Did I mention the mechanical music? If God had wanted plastic trees that beep out "Here Comes Santa Claus," we'd find them in natural forests, not retail ones.

The other funny thing about the way this turned out: the book is "The View from Mount Joy" by Lorna Landvik. I always look forward to her next book. They're all funny and insightful and just good stories, that have sweetness but not treacle. They're also about people I recognize, sometimes literally: she's a daughter of the congregation I serve! She isn't a member any more, but her stories take place in neighborhoods that are very reflective of mine. That's just fun. :-)

Incidentally, if you haven't seen Home for the Holidays, I thought it was hilarious!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So I have my MOTHER to thank for it

I knew it couldn't possibly have anything to do with emotional eating or just a general love of all things's my favorite answer!


Friday, November 7, 2008

A tale of two princesses

Thank you, John Corvino, for your eloquence!

Friday five: see you in the funny papers

Presbyterian Gal (of RevGals fame) writes:

After an exhausting election here in the states it's time for some spirit lifting! Join me with a nice cup of tea or coffee or cocoa and let's sit back and read the Funny Papers!

1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?

Peanuts, of course--even now, my puppies are named Linus & Lucy! Schulz was a genius who could articulate deep truths with just a couple of little strokes of his pen--and he lived up to Oscar Wilde's advice:
If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh--otherwise, they'll kill you.

Maybe that's true of ALL cartoonists!

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?

I'm a fan of both Hilary Price's Rhymes with Orange (sort of Far Side-esque) and Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For (lots of characters I recognize!).

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?

I think I have most of Snoopy's playfulness, a soupcon of Charlie Brown's "everyman" melancholy, Woodstock's willingness to take the scenic route, all of Schroeder's musical obsession, a dash of Peppermint Patty's control-freakiness and, mostly, I aspire to Linus's wisdom.

And if we're going by stereotypes, Peppermint Patty, Marcie and I share one other trait...ha ha ha.

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?

Sure--I think the writers of a lot of strips have a better handle on human nature than many people I know...and the brilliant, economical ability to say big things in four small panels! Smart, smart people--Gary Larson, Berke Breathed, Scott Adams, Lynn Johnston, Bill Watterson, besides the ones I've already mentioned--blazing insight, groans of recognition, affectionate chuckles, gutbusting laughs.

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?

Part of it is honesty; part is nostalgia; part of it is the cathartic ability to laugh at ourselves in a safe way. And, again, the writers are smart.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
So many--but my top three would be Peanuts, Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes. I have so much affection for all those characters!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stretch out with your feelings, Luke...

...and next time, use The Force only for good.

This is a complete waste of 4:10, but I promise you'll laugh!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The deeper truth of a defining American moment

If there is anyone out there who still doubts
that America is a place where all things are possible,
who still wonders
if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time,
who still questions
the power of democracy,
tonight is your answer.

--President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, 11/4/08

Last night, I wept openly as I watched history being made by an articulate, visionary, cool-headed, brilliant man; as inspiring a president-elect as I have witnessed in my lifetime. I am grateful to have been a tiny part of that moment; one little star in the Obamaverse.

A large part of the beauty of his campaign, for me, is his insistence that America belongs to all of us. I heard one Minneapolis civil rights activist describe it thus, on the radio this morning:

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.
Barack Obama is that dream.

YES. I am hopeful about so many things today:
  • That the American electorate is re-enfranchised, re-energized, and has wrenched the reins away from those driving us apart and driving us to destruction.
  • That Obama might find a new way of governing, in which every person is valued and nurtured and not only welcome, but expected to offer her/his best to the common good; in which we don't have to be each others' enemies; instead, maybe we can be partners in solving the serious problems of today.
  • That the next Supreme Court justices will be chosen by such a man/administration.
  • That he has a Congress which is situated to help him.
  • That perhaps the bitterness of Rovian politics is over, or at least knocked out for a while; that we can attack the issues instead of one another.
  • That the Republican party now has the opportunity and incentive to reinvent itself--to know that the hawkish, screeching divisiveness of its recent years has contributed to their upset yesterday; to remember how to be the party of Lincoln and an important counterbalance to the Democrats.
  • That the world witnessed what happened here, and may again take us seriously as a partner, as a leader, and as an idea.
  • That the symbolism inherent in this election may heal some of the hurt and division that bleeds our country of its power and goodness.
But I don't believe that we're finished with discrimination, and I worry that we'll become more self-congratulatory about it than is healthy. Yesterday represents HUGE progress from a racial perspective; however, it looks at this moment as if Proposition 8 is going to pass in California. And anti-gay ballot measures also passed in Florida, Arizona and Arkansas, supported in large part by people whose lives have been shaped by racial discrimination.

I don't get it.

The same forces that held African-Americans down for centuries are at work on GLBT Americans. The Bible was used to support slavery; "this is how the system works" was the cultural argument espoused by many slaveholders; a prevailing attitude of "their actions have brought them to it" on the part of white people has been used to justify the raging economic and social inequalities of the last 150 or so years since slavery was abolished. And many people who have spent their lives experiencing and opposing these forces voted against marriage and adoption rights for people like me.

I'm not trying to blame one particular group of people for the oppression of mine. It's not fair, and it's counter-productive. Please understand that I truly want to move forward into a new in which Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are accessible for everyone, without qualification. It just mystifies me that a society that is so excited today about how much better we've become around issues of diversity is still willing to overlook--to enact--blatant discrimination against 10% of its members.

Donna Brazile told CNN this morning that this is a moment in which people chose to throw off the labels that divide us and see ourselves as Americans. I wish I could completely agree with that statement. I think that's true to a greater degree than ever before, but we're not there yet. It's still OK to see GLBT folks as "other."

I don't mean to be a wet blanket on this wonderful day, but I can't completely celebrate yet; even in the face of the blazing hope of an Obama presidency, GLBT folks took four more body blows yesterday. I hope that, now that Americans seem to have recovered most of our collective senses, we can truly all get to work together...that we can make Donna's statement true. That President Obama can help us to remember who we are, and to dream of who we can become. That we can truly live into the idea that faith, hope and love are all-encompassing, and that the greatest of them is love.

For all of us.

Congratulations, America, on embracing as much of this ideal as you can get your arms around today. This is an incredible moment. I have a dream that our minds and our arms can continue to open a little bit wider...that tomorrow we may embrace an even broader American identity than the one we hold today.

Yes, we can.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes, we CAN!

Like so many others, I have waited my whole life to hear that speech, from that man. He's a real leader...and a grownup.

I am awed, grateful and full of hope. America is finding herself again. Thank God.

Beyond election day

Bob Herbert hits it out of the park.

I'm in a state of agitated hopefulness today; can't really concentrate on anything but the election. I cried a little when I filled in the oval next to Obama's name this morning. Voting felt good and important again, for the first time in a truly long time. I felt like a citizen instead of a victim.

I'm full of hope.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's time to lift America's spirit

Yes, MA'AM. :-)

I've long been an admirer of Maya Angelou as a multifaceted artist and as a moral leader; have posted about her before. There is a peace that permeates her presence--both physical (I heard her speak last winter, and was seated no more than 50 feet from her) and on the page. I think it results from the wisdom and confidence to call things by their right names, combined with hopeful compassion, the ability to see the good in every person.

She is a gift.

Would someone please unplug this woman from FOX?

Seriously. What can she be thinking?

Whatever your political proclivities, this boggles the mind.