A Christmas Wish

This Christmas, the children at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew did something radical. In the spirit of the radical love we celebrate on Christmas, they dared to share their love with children in Bethlehem. On Halloween, as we were decked out in our costumes, we started to talk about the miracle of Christmas. We sent Christmas cards to show mow mcuh we love. On this Christmas, I hope that we all find the kind of love that children do not question. Share in this simple joy with this short video at http://www.umtv.org/newitems/Christmas_Cards_To_Bethlehem.htm. And yes, that's my voice asking "Who can tell me what happened in Bethlehem?" Those are the wonderful kids that I minister to who made me remember that the miracle of Bethlehem happens again and again and again.


The Love of a Child

Not only did I used to live in Park Slope which spawns a whole other realm of affection, but I am touched and warmed by the love offered from our children. Perhaps we can learn something from young Miss Brantl.

The New York Times
December 18, 2005

Park Slope -- Park Slope is no stranger to luxuries, among them hot stone massages, artisanal cheeses and puppy manicures. Now it is home to a refuge for lonely dolls whose owners may be headed for the slopes of Vail or the beaches of St. Bart's.

The purveyor of this newest luxury is a rosy-cheeked 7-year-old named Elizabeth Brantl, who started the Home Away From Home doll care service shortly after Thanksgiving.

"Do your special dolls and cuddly stuffed animals need a home while you're away," asked fliers posted outside local doll-owner hot spots like the toy store and the veterinarian's office.

Sitting in her frilly pink bedroom the other afternoon, Elizabeth swept through the deluxe accommodations available to guest dolls at Chez Brantl. Although monogrammed robes are not available, dolls are changed into their own pajamas at bedtime, a service, one might note, not even offered at the Waldorf. They are then put to sleep next to Elizabeth's own favorite stuffed animals, Blue Teddy, a bear, and Lovey, a lamb.

Twice a day, they are fed a gourmet mixture of paper clips, Snapple bottle caps, miniature plastic hamburgers and invisible food from a domino case.

"A lot of people have a special doll," Elizabeth explained, noting, like a true concierge, that she "would love them as much as I love my other dolls."

Although she has yet to receive any clients, some of her second-grade classmates at Public School 321 sounded interested when she described the service.

Would she consider lowering the $1-a-day fee she is charging? In response, Elizabeth cast a confused look at her father, Bob Brantl. "She'd refer it to her business agent," Mr. Brantl replied.


A Sermon for Christmas

Let’s start from the very beginning. Some might say that it’s a very good place to start. We think of the beginning as the very first thing. It’s what happened before everything else. It is “in the beginning.”

We tell this story with it’s own beginning. We tell this story from our faith as if the very first thing was the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. This story begins with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Of all places, this story begins in a barn. No matter how unlikely, we are perfectly content to hold onto our story that begins in that barn in Bethlehem.

But, John is not so certain as he pens the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John challenges us to rethink our beginnings. He wants us to read his words only to scratch our heads and flip back to those opening words in Genesis. John evokes the imagery of formless blackness but challenges us not to get stuck there.

In tune with the ancients, John understood time as something that was not marked by past, present and future. The present wasn’t just the here and now. It was everything in living memory. What would our present extend to if we included everything in living memory? How would our conception of time expand if we were to include everything in visible prospect? As daunting as this seems, John and the ancients would have understood the past and the future as truly daunting. These markers of time were God’s time. In this space between God’s time and our present is where the beginning resides.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is the same Word that created the world in seven days. But, as you know, this isn’t a past event. Instead, this beginning is in our present. It is part of our living memory as we continue to retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem. It is not enough for an angel to come and announce, “’and he shall be called Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’” God is not only with us. God is in our present. God is part of our living memory. God is right here with us.

As many times as we retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem, this is not our beginning. This is not where it all began as God’s story continues to be a presence here with us. The formless blackness of creation still creeps into our present. In the seasons of our own darkness, we wonder if this can really be true. Our world so often seems dark. Our president continues to appear on frustrating televised press conferences. MTA and other unionized workers are scorned for their struggles toward safety and security on the job. Religious divides intensify as our nation quibbles over taking the Christ out of Christmas. And our troops are still overseas while here at home, we gather to celebrate our first holiday without the laughter of an uncle, the joy of a mother or the companionship of a dear friend. Our darkness seems hopelessly opaque even two thousand years later.

John reminds us that there is a light that shines in our darkness. It is the Word. It is the same word that created the skies and the earth. It’s this Word that releases the creative power of God’s revelation. It is this creative power that John calls us toward in our beginning. On the longest night of the year, we light four candles to remember that God is indeed with us. We light four candles of hope, peace, joy and love to overcome the darkness that threatens to overcome us. Two thousand years later, when we struggle to start from the very beginning, John offers us the metaphor of light. A light that shines in our darkness. Filled with this light, we celebrate that God will always be part of our present. This is our endless beginning.


We Should Be Dancing

Bopping down the street somewhere in the East Village (or perhaps somewhere in San Francisco, as the case may be), Rosario Dawson sings "Take Me Out Tonight." The streets are deserted. She has just gotten out of work -- and she's dancing. She is surrounded by a community that shares in the hardships of living with AIDS in 1989. But, she's dancing. What a great image to celebrate life!

There are so many times that I want to dance down the streets of the city. When a good song pops onto my iPod, there are times that I really want to bust out dancing. But, something always stops me. Am I afraid of what people will think? Am I really so constrained by what is socially acceptable that I resist this urge to dance?

For the love of God, we should be dancing. We should be dancing to celebrate the many that died of this disease. We should dance in their memory and cherish the blessings that they have offered us. We should dance for my friends Paul and Durrell. We should dance for the people that still dance when disease overcomes their bodies. We should be able to celebrate in all of the wonders of our human connection -- where two men kiss on the silver screen. We should dance in celebration of l'vie boheme. We should dance when the parents of two women can bless their union. There should be priests and ministers that are offering God's blessing upon Angel and all of those that have died. We shouldn't be afraid. We should be dancing.


2,000 Dead

This morning, the first of many emails arrived in my inbox. It was the first of several of my activist emails that I am too quick to delete these days. It was the first to announce that the death toll of American troops had reached 2,000. While rain storms the city, 2,000 American women, men and children are dead today. Dead in a war that some of us never wanted. Dead in a war that I don't know how to deal with. Dead, like Rosa Parks. May they all rest in God's peace.

Does this mean it's the end of an era? Is the civil rights movement really over with the death of this courageous woman? Do 2,000 more need to die in the name of terrorism and freedom for us to realize the injustice? Is this really only the beginning of the end?

Tonight, I gathered with four of my fellow students and sang about hope. Perhaps out of season. Perhaps just a little too early. We lifted our voices to the God among us singing "Come O Come Emmanuel". The last verse of this hymn (rewritten by Henry Sloane Coffin) speaks the words on my heart:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease
Fill all the world with heaven's peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


Gospel Celebration?

Greeted by signs to validate parking and security rope at the entrance of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, I can’t help but wonder about sacred space. As I wonder up the stairs to the balcony of this theatre, I notice the murals on the walls. A black man baptizing a white child in a river is the first to strike my eye. Next t it, a white preacher preaches to a large auditorium. Walking through the doors, I realize that we are in an auditorium. This is truly a theatre. And again, I wonder about sacred space?

We were pushed (or guided?) to the far right of upper balcony to allow worship participants to fill in the space closer to the door. No matter how much I urge people to the front rows of the chapel to create that same space, I’m hurt by this weird sense of welcoming. I feel like I should be looking at my ticket for the right seat.

But, it seems that I should have a ticket. I would need one to be on the inside of this gathering. I would need a ticket to know that I’m in the right place. With the purchase of this ticket, I would know what I was getting into. I would be prepared for this kind of experience. My wanderings about sacred space are only compounded by a forced notion of praise. I had a wonderful morning, the kind of morning that makes me sing in celebration of the vocation that has chosen me. But, as I enter this space, I wonder about what would happen if I was having a bad day. What if I wasn’t ready to praise? What if I needed to lament? There was no space for this in the midst of the singing.

But then, I saw why. As the pastor introduced a couple that had lost their daughter last week to a brutal murder, there was only praise. There was only hope that this woman was with God. There was no space for these parents – or the deceased woman’s children – to feel any other human emotion. Grief was skipped over. Sadness was obliterated in joyous singing.

“How can I keep from singing?” This was a hymn that I heard played during the Introit at worship this morning. It is a song of joy and praise, unlike the songs that I heard belted from the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Perhaps music has the power to transcend words, but I don’t believe this to be true. As the choir sang, I felt explosions. I felt the bombs of spiritual warfare explode in my face. And I knew that I could keep from signing. I felt numb. As this music overwhelmed my mortal frame, I felt nothing but weakness. I wanted to curl up into a fetal position. I wanted to retreat.

But, as I looked around me, I saw the rest of the congregation singing along. I saw these worshippers lifting their hands to reach toward a God that is ever separate from their experience. I saw this congregation participate in the charade. And I couldn’t help but wonder, why? When I want to retreat from this place of intense spiritual violation, why are these people relishing in the experience? Or am I missing something? Do I lack the ability to be wrapped into the presence of the Holy Spirit in this place?

Or was the Holy Spirit even there? Was this anything more than a theatrical spectacular? The pastor referred to the congregation as an “audience.” He requested that the musician “play some music to divert attention from the noise on the steps” as the choir descended from the stage. The lights raised and lowered to focus our attention on certain aspects of the service. The pastor waited impatiently filling time with empty words “before we go to black,” while the choir returned to their seats. Like a spotlight directing our attention, the entire worship experience was oriented around providing us the proper guidance as to what we should be paying attention to in this space.

If music is what carries this congregation, then why can’t they keep from signing? What lifts their voices to be able to sign these terrible songs filled with brutal images of blood and empty images of Heaven? Does this music offer a saving experience or does it manipulate the congregation? Interspersed with film clips about saving stories about Born-Again Christians, these songs sing of a certain kind of faith. These explosive songs of Christian soldiers sing of a faith that is without any area of grey. These violent songs manipulate the emotional state of the congregation to create a particular response. Is this worship? Or is this theatre? Or is this just plain spiritual violation?


Hip Hop Church

Tonight, I went to a worship service outside of my own context. It's a different tradition. It's a different environment. It's just plain different on many levels. And perhaps what was most different about this service was the music -- hip hop. I'm surprised (and I must admit a tad disappointed) that this church is the only one in Harlem that is "brave enough" to welcome children and youth into its doors to play with worship. Kids were rapping. Kids were moving about in the space. Kids were talking about what God really means to them. It was real. It was worship should be about -- especially with our children.

I think the music was great. It's not what play on my iPod. But, I think it's great. What I don't like is our differences. I know that we do not have the same theology. But, there is something about this that truly bothers me. But before I begin whining about this difference, let's start with the Word. As the preacher said (and I really liked this), This is the Word of God for the People of God that we might not hear the Word but that we might do the Word. But, in this case, read and I will do my bit:

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
John 15:12-15, KJV

The preacher focused on that middle bit about friendship. We all have someone that we can count on. We have someone that will be there through thick and thin. Great, I hope that we are all that lucky because that is truly a blessing. And Lord knows that true friendships are rare and precious. Then, he jumps into this thing about if that loyal and trusting friend would die for you. Now, my boy Martin Luther King Jr. once said that you haven't found a reason to live if you haven't found something to die for. I struggle with this. While it elevates the precious gift that life truly is, doesn't it also affirm all that terrible atonement stuff? Aren't we falling back into this mode of needing to be a good Christian? This is that self-sacrificing stuff. We are supposed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. This faith teaches that we are supposed to offer our own lives to follow the will of God. I just have to ask: how can you be so certain?

When women stay in abusive marriages because they are doing the right thing by Christ, how can you be so sure? When a child never hears an affirming word from a parent, how can you be so sure? When a woman is raped but believes it was the will of God because she was in that place and that time, how can you be so sure? The permutations are endless. The abuse doesn't stop. The violence only increases. How in the world can you be so sure?

And if you are sure, then why is offering one's life the only mark of friendship? What about how Jesus healed? What about the love that Jesus offered before the cross? What about the sharing of food? What about all of that other stuff? When we spend time to reflect on the kind of friend that Jesus was... to Mary, to the Beloved Disciple, to Peter, to John... do we find no other alternative than self sacrificing love? Is there another way that Jesus demonstrated his vast and awesome love for humankind? If we think about this kind of love -- where Jesus washed feet, shared what he had and kept the party going in Cana -- isn't there another kind of friendship? Isn't this what that last verse is really about? Or is it tied up in this will of God that you nor I can define simply because we are not God.


Conversations until 5 am

Every once in a while, you have one of those conversations. They are the kind of conversations that charactertize college. You know the ones. Where you hang on every word and share talk about... well, everything. Every once in a while, they happen in seminary. But it seems that these amazing conversations that last until the wee hours of the morning usually happen with college friends.

So I got the honor of one of these conversations with my old friend Brent last night. I met Brent ten years ago (which surprised us both last night) when he was my RA at a summer art program at the college we both attended -- though I would not enroll until after he graduated. We don't see each other very often but like good friends -- time and distance doesn't really affect friendship. You just pick up where you left off.

Smoking cloves, we started to talk about what really matters. We talked until 5 am. Though it's messed up my day and I won't get most of the things that I should have gotten done today, I'm so glad that I got to talk to my old friend Brent. I'm so excited that I got to spend that time with him.


Hear my prayer?

A friend of mine introduced me to Amos Lee when she burned me his one and only CD. It has been my favorite soundtrack for easing my anxiety in the midst of subway congestion (as every moment has its own unique soundtrack). But, of course, this soundtrack on my iPod is nothing compared to hearing this young man croon from the stage of a packed concert hall. Lee has this intensely humble presence on the stage, which may be simply because of his newness in this business. In this humble man, I was most touched by his sincere and deep love for the music. You could hear it in his voice with each note he sang. You could see it when he turned away from the audience to relish in the sound like a teenager in a garage band. You could feel his intense love and passion for this music. And dare I say, it was contagious.

It was contagious without all of the bells and whistles. Lee’s melodies did not need all of the flashing lights. What is it with flashing lights at concerts? In fact, why do some churches recreate this sort of experience in worship? What in the world does it say about our God or the people of God? Do we need all of this flashy nonsense to discover who we are in God’s image? That just seems silly. I think the same is true for Lee. He only needed one spotlight – one simple spotlight – that would wander from Lee to the other dynamic members of his band. When one’s sound is that contagious, you don’t need more than a spotlight.

And yet, packed in with all of these other people, it seems that it was not enough. We have this tendency to need to create things bigger and better. But, I found myself sharing Lee’s frustration in this hullabaloo. With every frustrated glance he gave to the eager teenagers singing along, I found myself wanting nothing more than to dive deeper into the music. I wanted to swim into the sound that his band created. I wanted to be immersed in whatever this weird energy was. It’s not the toe-tapping kind of music that makes one want to dance. But, nor was it music that you want to roll down the windows of the car to sing along with on a hot summer day. Instead, it’s the kind of sound that transports you to another place. And yet, I have no idea what that place was.

Wherever this place may be, it is most definitely a place of protest. It is a place of dissent. Maybe it will be a place like Qum’ran, where people gather out of frustration with what is or was to create something that will be. This would be a place where the set list would be followed, as requests need not be made with the gentle and humble leadership of the cantor. And Amos Lee would be just that cantor. He would sing about our frustration and anger. He would call out injustices. He would name them with the words that we failed to find in ordinary speech. He would sing them as he did in his second to last song,

Anybody out there?
Hear my prayer?

With these words, Lee invited us to pray – just as a cantor leads the people to reach toward God. While my parallels to Qum’ran may tarnish the authenticity of this moment, I was truly moved by the power of this call to prayer. I wanted there to be more. I didn’t want this mantra-like chant to end. I was truly caught in the power of prayer. But, as with most secular settings, moments of prayer get lost just as easily as intelligent lyrics about how Jesus would not pay taxes or support the troops fade into the beautiful harmonies.

As a future minister who even today struggles to teach children songs that might sing their faith, I am left with the question of how do we continue this spirit? Without the silly lights and glitz of the stage, how do we capture that powerful action of song in a way that transports us to an idealized place like our own Qum’ran? Couldn’t the church be just like that?


Blessing All Creation

This morning, I went to the Blessing of the Animals at St. John the Divine. It's one of those services -- or rather events -- in New York City that people say you MUST see while living in the city. Now, it's a worship service in the Christian tradition in all actuality. And yet, sitting in this packed Cathedral, I was disappointed with the lack of the holy. To bring animals into a worship space and celebrate God's creation is a wonderful, important and prophetic action. St. John the Divine has been said to do it best. And yet, how do we claim a sacred space? I mean, let's really celebrate all creation. Great. But, don't silence the congregation in doing so! Dogs are welcomed to bark and yap while children are hushed. Animals process down the aisle in all their glory while the congregation is not called forth into any procession. How do we cherish our own sacred creation when we are not invited to sing, dance and pray from our own hearts and with our own voices? To celebrate God's creation is to celebrate all of these noises and awkward movements. Are we really supposed to sit idle and lame while the clergy and dancers do all the action for us? Doesn't this come awfully damn close to something that should be found in the Theatre District rather than God's house?

The Dean of the Cathedral preached about evolution. While I appreciate his stand on including the value of scientific exploration within a practice of faith, I squirm with this lack of concern about the federal government's role in this divide. We cannot be prophetic without criticizing the forms of power that oppress God's people and creatures from relishing in divine glory. To speak of President Bush without questioning his place in this is pure bullshit.

This is unique day that we celebrate St. Francis where the people from all over the city (and animals from Westchester) arrive at the doors of St. John the Divine. This is day that we should be talking about how we relate to this created world and each other, right? At least, that's what I thought. Perhaps we should even dwell on the Scripture in Matthew 6 (though perhaps an exegetical sermon is too much to ask). How can we not worry about clothing or food? How can we not worry about tomorrow when our world faces destruction? When levies have broken, tsunamis have flooded, rainforests are destroyed and our air is filled with toxins, how can we not worry about tomorrow? Where in God's name is the the realm of God in this mess? How can we only worry about today's worries? Perhaps we need to stay with this question a little longer. It should be part of our search toward wholeness -- not something limited to academia and its ivory towers. To commune with nature and realize our place within it's blessed creation doesn't require my study of John Cobb, Sallie MacFague or Larry Rasmussen. It comes when I pet a neighbor's dog. It happens when I smell a flower. It happens in a Farmer's Market on 116th Street. It comes when we step outside and realize that we are all a part of God's wonderful make and creation. This is what we should have celebrated this morning in the middle of this performance at St. John the Divine. Or should I say, this is what we should begin to celebrate at St. John the Divine and continue outside its regal doors.

God forgive us.


Talking about Peace

Sundays are impossible. I drain all of my energy in the morning hours with the children and families at church. At the end of the day, I just want to have my own time to worship. I want it to be quiet and introspective. I'm not overly eager about sharing on any level.

And yet, I found myself at a service tonight with peace activists from around the globe in the seminary chapel. It's a service that revolves around the shared meal and the value of conversation. Everytime we have this service, I'm in some weird mood where the last thing that I want to do is talk. Such was the case tonight. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was seated at the same table as my favorite professor. While I love her for all of the ways that she challenges me, there are things about her that drive me nuts. Tonight she drove me nuts.

These peace activists are gathered to talk and pray about the coming of peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama will arrive tomorrow for this event. It's huge and wildly exciting. But, who am I to sit with a bunch of actvists and talk about peace? I was speechless and not eager to share until my professor asked me to speak about justice efforts I have advocated for here at Union. This past year, I have been active in removing Coca-Cola from the seminary campus. She wanted me to talk about it. I don't know what to say. I still don't know what to say. It's about solidarity and understanding the amazing connections of human relationships, but peace advocates don't need to hear that from me. Honestly. I just want to quietly worship... and maybe sing a little bit.


Operator of Joy

My coworker and colleague called me this afternoon. Though I didn't call her back until later this evening (as is true to my form), she called with something delightful. It's rare that one gets a phone call filled with glee, isn't it? Emily is the Associate Pastor at the church where I am Children's Minister. As my ministry is the children, I leave worship after the Children's Sermon. The kids, teachers and I go to do the education part of worship in another part of the church. So, I miss the sermon. I miss the prayers. I miss all of the good hymns. It's frustrating sometimes.

But, this past Sunday, Emily called to tell me that I was celebrated. As the congregation uplifted their Joys & Concerns, a man that I have yet to meet stood to talk about the light that shines within us. He spoke about the metaphor of hope within this light that we hope is rekindled in the wake of Katrina... soon. He spoke about the light of our church. And he spoke about me. A man that does not have children who I have yet to exchange words with, uplifted me and my ministry as a joy. How amazing is that?


Remembering and Renewing

O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation.
In Christ you stilled the storms, raised the dead,
and vanquished demonic powers.
Tame the earthquake, water, wind
and fire, and all the forces that defy control
or shock us by their fury. Keep us from
speaking of disasters as your justice; keep us
from adding to their fury by our slowness
to respond or our callousness of spirit. Help us,
in good times and in distress, to trust
your mercy and yield to your power,
this day and forever. Amen.

This was the prayer that began our worship this morning. I was struck by my inability to be composed. I wept over the first few lines of this prayer. It captured my heart. It spoke of my fears. In the wake of Katrina, how do we face 9/11? When wounds are still fresh in this city, how do we face another anniversary? My prayers these past few days have been marked by remembering those in grief this weekend. I remember the few friends of my own and wonder about the countless others who are not on the list of names read from Ground Zero these past four years -- the undocumented, the illegitimate, the lonely. I wonder who remembers the nameless faces that once marked our city's streets.

Wiping away a tear, I found myself in the midst of the rite of baptism. On this day of destruction, this little baby boy affirmed hope. His squeals of glee sang through the entire sanctuary. He was darling and delighted.... until the water came to bless him. The water was not his favorite part but he was easily distrcted by the dancing mic. Wiping away my tears, I was reminded of new life. I was struck by the courage of these parents to welcome, affirm and bless their small child on this day of all days. On a day that we need to wonder about forgiveness (what does 70 times 7 mean?), this family snubbed the masses and said "To Life!"

Thanks be to God.


Vaginas in Worship

The Director of Worship at my seminary asked me to do the Scripture reading yesterday. Of course, I was thrilled. I love to be involved in worship. But, without really thinking, I wore my V-Day (www.vday.org) t-shirt that boldly reads: "Value Your Vagina. Vote." It was one of my purchases of protest approaching the election last year.

So, per request, I get up to read the Scripture reading from the First Letter of John, Chapter 4, beginning with the 16th verse. I read about perfect love while my chest boldly proclaimed "Value Your Vagina." I met smiles while I read --- not realizing the connections that people were making.

After worship, I was told by a number of people how much they loved my t-shirt, though they had no idea what the Scripture reading was. But, perhaps this is what I have to give to my liberal faith communty as my friend Durrell chided, "And Miss Thang brought her perfect vagina to worship."


Old Friends

Tonight, I had drinks with an old friend. I'm always amazed at reunions. I remember more than I expect. I feel like there is tons of time to catch up on. I feel like there is something I need to share -- whether worthwhile or not. I love that excitement of seeing an old friend. And tonight, I reconnected with someone from my past. I reconnected with my life before seminary who reminded me of who we were before I began this journey. We spent three months together in Appalachia while doing what might be called service work. We share a vocational call -- but I've always felt a tad more connected to my dear friend. And I had the blessing of reconnecting with her while she shared with me the wonders of her new life. I can't help but thank God for the blessings of friends -- but especially this dear friend.


For the Workers

All of last summer, I was trying to gather support from local congregations for a group of workers struggling to unionize in Lower Manhattan. They won -- whether by the support of the churches or not. There were people of faith to support these people. Last summer, Labor Day meant something. It bothered me that we didn't recognize workers in worship the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. It bothered me that we failed to elevate their experience.

This summer, I wrote a Children's Message about the Gospel reading. I spoke about the presence of God where two or three are gathered. But, I didn't mention workers. I didn't mention the importance of all people in that small congregation of two or three. I didn't recognize how hard it might be for those workers to gather due to exhaustion or work duty. I didn't mention the people that I had met last summer. Did I think the children would not understand?

Today, I passed my day off in the sun. It was a beautiful day where I didn't have a care in the world. And only now as my day comes to a close am I thinking about those workers that support our nation and our world in prayer. Only now am I remembering those that are deprived from the right to organize to create better opportunities for healthcare, job security, wages or simply on the job safety. Only now -- as midnight approaches -- am I remembering those that we honor on Labor Day. May all workers find peace on this day and everyday. And may the rest of us be restless until we remember them in our morning prayers.


Down the Toilet

While I have heard a number of jokes about President Bush's lack of awareness about Guantanamo Bay, I can't understand how we can't respect each other's humanity. President Bush can claim that there are no human rights abuses in the world. He can claim this but what logical sense does this make when he choses to intervene for the sake of humanity? Justice, my ass. He may think that it was American genius that "eliminated" violations against Afghani women. That was never a reason for us to intervene and our troops did not change anything -- anymore than our policies. Instead, we seem to assume that we have the right answers to everything. We have the right nationality. We have the right religion. We have the right set of moral values. Hell, we even have God.

And somehow, this arrogance grants our patriotic brothers and sisters to reject the humanity of another. This is what is happening in Guantanamo Bay. How in the world can we assume that we have the right text? How can we know that we have the only vision of God? I've been told by too many Republicans that I should respect their beliefs. In a city where they are the minority, these GOPs feel oppressed. They meet in secret. They are bizarre. And yet, they want me to respect their beliefs. Sure, fine. You are entitled to your own opinions. But, my understanding of the gospel leads me to believe that anything that denies the humanity of another is sin. It would be a sin for me to not beiee that poverty should and will be eliminated. It is a sin if I do not work toward this change for the least of these. It is a sin tht I do not embrace every child of God -- no matter what nationality, race or creed -- as my sisters and brothers. It is a sin for me as it is for all of us.

CNN reports, "A U.S. military investigation has found four incidents in which guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison mishandled the Quran, but said that it was detainees who threw the Muslim holy book in the toilet." How can we disrespect another's belief? If we are to respect the Bible as God's sacred word, how can we disrespect the revelation of God in another form? Christians -- including myself -- don't always believe that the Bible is actually God's word. It is inspired by God, but not actually the literal word of God. This does not disregard the sacred nature of this text. This does not eliminate God's sacred revelation or erase the power of Jesus Christ. In Islam, Muhammed recoreded God's word as it came to him. It is God's literal word -- and even if we do not share the visions of God as Muhammed received them -- how can we flush anything holy down the toilet?


Writings on the wall

Yesterday, I was taking a walk through Riverside Park. It's a walk filled with detours and tunnels from construction and traffic flow (though that's not what one commonly imagines in a park). Somewhere around 79th Street, the word "FAITH" greeted me. It was scrawled across the interior of a tunnel. It may have been a girl's name. It may have been some young romantic longing for his or her love, Faith. Or maybe the artist's intention echoed my sentiment.

Greeting this word in a tunnel of New York, I was reminded of the wonders of life. I was reminded to continue to seek for new and extraordinary possibilities in perhaps unlikely places. I was reminded -- quite simply -- to always have faith.


No Easy Answers

I am entering into my last year of theological education before being launched into the world outside of these safe ivory towers that I presently call home. Perhaps this is true for any life experience, but I'm caught in this place where I feel like I should know more. I should have more experience. I should have righted more wrongs in the world. It's the impossible place of a justice-seeking overachiever. There is always something more to do. Entering into this last summer before the "real" world, I am filled with all of these questions of what I must do before I complete my seminary education. This is what primal screams are made of. What experiences do I need to be an effective pastor? What knowledge do I need to gain? And yet, it seems that these are questions that will fill my whole ministry. There will always be something new that God is doing. There will always be some new, creative and wondrous way to experience God. There will always be a new circumstance that challenges how we know God. Of course, I am bold and naive enough to believe that I can answer all of these questions in the next 12 months.

You should scream at that -- or perhaps laugh. Or maybe it is more appropriate to cry. That sort of cockiness doesn't make me any better than the pastors in the South and the Midwest that think that they have a monopoly on God. No one can really own God -- I don't care what you think about the filibuster. God can lead you. But, go back to the Bible. Let's look again at what prophecy looks like.

Anyhow, prophecy aside, I'm trying to understand where God is leading me. I'm trying to understand how I can say "Here I am Lord" like my man Isaiah. This past year, I was a Pastoral Associate at a church on the Upper East Side (which is a fancy way of saying that I was an intern). I completed my service to that community a month ago. Though I'm not sure if service is ever complete, I felt that God was leading me somewhere new. There was more of God's work that I had to experience. My prayer has lead me to believe that I was to focus on my studies in the next year -- this last year in seminary. But, God apparently had something else in mind as She steered me back to the Upper West Side. It wasn't something that I was looking for. But, I am keenly aware of my call to step out of the pews.

So yesterday I found myself at a second inteview for ministerial position at a church on the Upper West Side of our great city. I am not sure what I am looking for. It seems that this opportunity would be ideal. I could wax on and on about dream jobs -- as much as I could talk about an ideal church. I'm not sure that either of these things exist. I do know that there is something -- something that I hesitate to name -- about this church. I know that there is something about this position that delights and inspires me. But, does that mean that that is where God is leading me?

It doesn't answer my questions or clarify my confusion. It doesn't make the tough questions any easier to answer. I don't know where God is leading me. I'm not sure what will happen next year. I'm not sure what will happen tomorrow. I only know that I need to listen. I need to listen with my whole heart. Perhaps easy answers will emerge.


Tongues -- not crosses -- of fire

Did you see this story on CNN today?

Cross burnings investigated in North Carolina
DURHAM, North Carolina (AP) -- Three large crosses were burned in separate spots around the city during a span of just over an hour, and yellow fliers with Ku Klux Klan sayings were found at one location, police said.

Read the whole story at http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/05/26/crosses.burned.ap/index.html.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the season of Pentecost. After Easter, we move toward this celebration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In my home church, the confirmation kids become full members of the church. In countless churches, we move toward reaffirming our understanding of how the Spirit is present and working in our midst. On this Sunday -- and God-willing throughout the whole season -- we remember our unity as the disciples first experienced it some 2000 years ago. On this Sunday, where we understand each other in new and profound ways through the power of the Holy Spirit, we read the story as it first happended. For the lost, confused and bewildered disciples, it went like this:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Tongues of fire. Not crosses of fire. This story reminds us that no matter how many things that we think separate us, we are still linked. We are still connected. Seemed to be tongues of fire. But, we each got a little piece of that action. It rests on each of us. We all share in this weird experience that quite frankly could take 1001 shapes today. But, no matter how we tell the tsoyr in our present context, we are still "all together in one place."

And yet, there are some that want these tongues of fire to deny the humanity of others. How by the grace of God can this be? How in the world can it be that during this season -- after the prophetic witness of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement -- that we can be burning crosses anywhere? We all play a part in this. I don't care if it happens on a church lawn or a junkyard. I don't care if it was the Klu Klux Klan or some teenagers that thought it might be funny. I care that we are not living into the season of Pentecost and cherishing each other while sharing our food, lives and love. The story is supposed to end where "All the believers were together and had everything in common." What in the world have we done wrong?


Galatians 3:28

I really like artistic experiences that remind me -- and perhaps all of us -- about how we connected we are. Tonight, I saw Paul Haggis' Crash (http://www.crashfilm.com/) which accompolished this very thing. In the opening scene, we see only a shadow of a man's face as he talks about living in L.A. where glass and metal separate people. He reflects that this lack of connection -- this lack of touch -- propels people to crash into each other so that perhaps this is a film about auto safety or road rage. And yet, that's not enough. For a film that dares to critique our social systems (to the glory of God), there are many things that this film could be about of which racism, gun control and sexism would only scratch the surface.

But, what fascinates me is this concept of barriers. What are these barriers? Are they limited to glass and metal? Or do we continue to construct them ourselves from intangible materials? Hate seems to be one of these primary building materials. We build walls to divide ourselves from our fellow humanity from hate. I'm not sure what hate is. Haggis seems to infer that this leads to racial divides. But, I can't get over the fact that so much of this hate stems from ignorance. No, that's not true. Some of it is. The ridiculous statements we make about Blacks, Mexicans and "China-men" are partially ignorant. But, some of it is fear as so much of who we are comes from some deeper, darker fear we dare not name. And still some of it comes from lack of relationship. There is no touch. So, do we crash into each other?

I'm overjoyed to see a filmmaker wrestle with the images of Middle Eastern culture post-9/11. I'm still sick from the violence of this ignorance hatred that has been perpetrated before and after the attacks on the Twin Towers. It's refreshing to not see images of war as the "crash" that causes us to wrestle with our understanding of our fellow humanity. And yet, I wonder how we are touched. Does this require physical contact? Or can one be touched by a child? Obviously, this is possible. And yet, I pray to the dear Lord above that true touch can be found in the young as well as the old. Children bring us wonderful moments of peace but to see a child and be touched while trying to kill her father seems a tad problematic. Can we not be touched by all of God's creation? Does it really take a violent crash -- an accident, a gun shot, a verbal assault, a sexual violation -- to begin to realize that we are all connected?

But, clearly, we don't get it. We just continue to crash into each other. Our Christian narrative is testament to this. We have made so many people into the other -- the ones that didn't get it. We've led crusades and inquisitions to only continue this violent crash proving that we don't get it. And here we are today, fighting more wars, forgetting about injustice in our own towns, and ignoring the plights of many in the Sudan, Indonesia and other far away lands. In her new book Plan B, Anne Lamott quips, Christians "speak in reverent terms of grace, justice, equality, mercy and then we despise people who are also created in God's image, who are Her children, too." Lamott wants us to love George W. -- but tonight, that's just too much for me. Instead, I want to wonder what his cabinet (as clearly they do Bible studies together) makes of Galatians 3:28.

The apostle Paul reminds us that these barriers -- these barriers that we have manged to build of our own hate, fear or ignorance don't actually exist. Instead, we all belong. In a Christian community, we all belong to Jesus Christ. But, this could be broadened. Don't we also all belong to God? Or more importantly, don't we all belong to each other? Not that we are our brother's or sister's keeper -- or at least not in the sense that this passage is typically exegeted -- but instead, we are all responsible for loving each other. Lamott reminds us that we must realize that we are all family. So why not sing along with Sister Sledge? Sing out and proudly. And please, sing with love.