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Christmas 1

The last 48 hours belied expectation.  The house, stacked high with bags and boxes and bows simply could not be put to rights by Christmas morning.  Not one, but two batches of candy failed - runny caramel and crumbling toffee. The mall, which we expected to be open until 11 p.m., closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  Our favorite carol was left out of the Christmas Eve worship service.  And, there was not that quaking sense of rebirth for which we'd spent weeks preparing. 

There seemed, in the final Christmas countdown, no end to disappointed expectations.  Do you ever notice how little disappointments mount?  Kind of like the lime build-up on the shower head--little by little and the next thing you know, water is spraying everywhere but the place you expect it.

The lectionary for this first Sunday after Christmas is largely about thanksgiving - about establishing a real understanding and appreciation for the incarnate deity that was Jesus - a child of flesh and blood, born of Mary amidst the sheltering care of a bewildered Joseph.  It also moves the story forward and sets up for the reader a series of failed expectations.  It sheds light on the role shattered expectations played in the early life of Jesus and the role dashed expectations might play in our lives.

The Isaiah passage echoes the now familiar theme of the covenant relationship between God and Israel.  A key here is the assertion that "It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them."  The words foreshadow a time when the LORD, in concrete presence, saves the people.

The Psalms passage calls all of creation into thanksgiving and praise for the LORD.  From the sea monsters to the cattle to the sun and moon and stars, all of creation is called upon to recognize the LORD's good works and praise him.  The passage also further asserts the LORD's favor for those who are faithful.

The Hebrews text was written for second generation Christians - possibly Jews that were now following Christ.  It is a text full of Old Testament references.  The selected text focuses on the importance of Jesus' humanity to the establishment of a new with everyone-Gentiles as well as Jews. It is a text that already begins to foreshadow the role Christ's ultimate death on a cross plays in the establishment of a new covenant with all of humanity.

These three texts stress the themes of Jesus' human birth redefining and renewing the covenant relationship between God and the people, and then the passage from Matthew drives us further into the narrative about the life of this incarnation of God. 

After a weary arrival in Bethlehem, a less than comfortable birth in a stable, and a visit by wise men bearing precious gifts, Joseph thinks that all of the drama is over. And then he receives another angelic visit.  This time he is warned to flee to Egypt to save his son from Herod's jealous wrath.

Now, we need to take just a moment to really process what has happened in a short of expanse of time surrounding the virgin birth of the Son of God.  We know that this tiny baby was born into a society oppressed and weary from political upheaval and tyranny. How many expectations were violated by this chain of events?  How many people had their expectations dashed?  What motivated these people to continue to faithfully follow God?

Beginning with Zechariah (John the Baptist's father and husband to Elizabeth), we have an aged man resigned to being childless (not unlike Abraham and Sarah) who, because of his commitment to his own expectation is rendered mute until he recognizes the miracle God has performed in his life.  His expectation was dashed and replaced with a gift from God.

Then we see a virgin, engaged to a hardworking carpenter, who turns up pregnant before she is married.  All of this is unthinkable in her society.  She has shamed her family and that of her husband to be, all because she trusts God to care for her.

And what about Joseph?  He has every right to have this woman stoned.  And somehow he understands that this is not about his expectation, nor about what the society around him believes to be acceptable and right.  Something bigger is happening here and he sets aside his own agenda and rolls with the action. 

Then there is Herod.  He knows he is in trouble.  He knows that the people hunger for a savior...a remarkable act that will save them from his tyranny.  He instructs the wise men of the East to bring him news of this birth which some say was prophesied thousands of years earlier.  Instead, the wise men shirk the expectation of Herod and skip town.

When we enter the story this week, we have a couple ready to move past the shock and awe of the unconventional birth of this baby boy. They are ready to move on with life.  And then Joseph is told to take his "wife" and "her" son and leave his hometown because this tiny baby has rocked Herod to the core and he is in a terrible temper.  He's going to destroy this child if they do not flee. 

Dashed expectations...plans turned topsy-turvy.  The story belies expectation.

It is easy to count the disappointments and the failed expectations that surround us.  It turns out that a life open to God's Spirit is without predictability.  When we open our lives to Jesus we are left to figure out how our expectations and God's callings can be reconciled. 

+Will we listen for the voices that help us see the next move? 
+Will we have faith to make that move as advised?
+Where are the places that your life has been unexpectedly upended?
+Who was present with you in those unexpected twists and turns?

When we are spent from the labor and longing to rest in our deliverance, when we hunger to stay in the celebration and crave a lasting Sabbath, you tell us this is where our work begins.  For the labor that is never over, give us strength; for the healing that is ever before us, give us courage.  May our resting be for renewal, not forever; and may we work for nothing save that which makes your people whole.   (Jan L. Richardson)

So may it be.  Amen.

Back to Normal

For the first time in 23 years I’m glad that Christmas is over.  I always thought the day after Christmas was the most depressing day of the year; the spirit of the season fades away, the day you’ve been anticipating for weeks has come and gone, Christmas music is off limits for another 47 weeks or so, and everything goes back to normal.  Well, “back to normal” is what I’m looking forward to this year.  The energy at Sisters Of The Road shifted when Thanksgiving rolled around and has been on a steady decline ever since.  Customers seem to want to ignore the holiday season all together because it’s only a reminder of what they don’t have.  Here are two stories of people whose life has touched my own this Christmas season.

Gail is about 4”10, has brown curly hair, and is from the


.  She’s a feisty woman and has that brash Northeast attitude that I so love.  She barters in the cafe quite often and I have had some great conversations with her over the past few months.  She’s a recovering heroine addict and moved out to


when her daughter came out here to go to college.  One evening I was dropping the mail off, and I saw Gail smoking outside of her apartment building.  I stopped to talk with her, and she began to tell me that her daughter decided to go back to

New York

without telling her and left her all by herself.  Her eyes were swelling with tears, and they started pouring as she told me about her son who died of a heroine overdose a year ago.  I gave Gail a hug unsure of what to say.  She let me hug her for a moment and then told me to “Get outa here. You’re making me cry.”  She wiped her tears away and looked the other way while inhaling deeply on her cigarette.  I gave her a smile and said goodnight.


I ran into Gail two nights later in the same place.  I stopped and asked her how she was holding up.  The tears appeared instantly as words came pouring out about her loneliness.  I rubbed her shoulder as she cried and listened to her as she spoke.  When she was done venting her feelings, I asked her if she had others that she could talk to. Gail responded by saying that everyone has their own problems and they don’t need to hear hers.  She then told me that I always make her cry and she laughed a bit through her tears as she said “get outa here”.  I teared up myself as I walked away.  My heart broke for Gail not only because she didn’t have any family around, but because she didn’t even have anyone to talk to.  She was usually surrounded by a crowd of people and often took on the role as the center of attention, yet she was all alone. 

A gentleman in his 40s came into the cafe one afternoon last week and asked me if he could do a 15 min. job.  He was staring at the ground as he asked and it wasn’t until I asked him what kind of job he would like to do did I realize that he had tears in his eyes.  I looked at him intently and told him not to worry about working and that I would cover his meal today.  He just didn’t look strong enough to work.  We walked back to the register and he put his elbows on the counter and his head in his hands so that I couldn’t see his eyes.  As I took his order I noticed tear drops rolling down his chin and splashing onto the countertop.  I asked him if he was ok, and he said between sobs, “No. I’m so lonely and depressed.”  Usual comfort words like, “It’s ok,” or “Things will work out” seemed like completely ridiculous things to say in that moment. So I just put my hand on his shoulder and rubbed his arm for a few moments.  I hoped that my physical touch was expressing my care and concern better than all the right words I could not think of to say.  After the gentleman sat down, I asked a floor manager to go over and talk with him a bit. (That’s the wonderful thing about Sisters...we offer more than food, we provide hospitality.)

On Friday of last week I saw the same gentleman again.  He looked in much better spirits and he made me laugh because he had this t-shirt tied around his head that made him look like Moses or something.  He came up to me smiling and asked me if he could do a 15 minute job.  I began to sign him up to wash the windows and it was then that I caught whiff of the alcohol on his breath.  He was heavily intoxicated.  I helped him get the window washing cleaner and kept an eye on him as he wiped down the windows.  I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad for this man.  I felt a bit happy for him that for a few hours he would be numb to his loneliness and depression and have a smile on his face.  I think I felt mostly sad for him though.  Sad that he had to resort to alcohol to feel better about himself.  Sad that his happiness was only temporary and artificial.  Sad that he appeared content, but inside he was lonely.  Sad that the Christmas season, the season of hope, only intensified his sense of loneliness.

My concentration was fading as I sat in mass on Christmas Eve.  I was barely listening to the gospel reading until this verse caught hold of me:

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke



Good news of great joy for ALL people.  How can a season that celebrates this good news give joy to some and pain to others?  And how did the blessed ones, the poor, the meek, and the humble, be the ones who end up pained by this season and the rich, the elite, and the self-seeking end up with the joy?  Why doesn’t the Christmas season offer the homeless and poor an renewed sense of hope and joy that a savior has come to restore his kingdom of peace and justice on earth, and rid the world of the oppressive systems that humiliate and degrade them?  I came to realize this past Christmas season that there is something inherently wrong and backwards with the way we, especially as Americans, celebrate this good news of great joy that was intended for all people, not just those who can afford to buy tons of presents and have family close by to them.  I wonder what it would look like to radically change the way we celebrate Christmas so that it really did spread a renewed sense of hope and joy to those who are in need of it most.  It’s worth thinking about, but for now, I’m glad things are back to normal.       

Beyond Impossible

Anne startled me this morning in worship when she introduced our scripture reading from Matthew that describes Mary's visit from the angel Gabriel who tells her that she is going to become pregnant with a child who will be a saviour, Jesus. Instead of directing our attention to Mary's willing embrace of God's work in her, or to Gabriel's prediction of Jesus' significance to the world, Anne asked us all to make a connection between Mary's life and our own. "Think of a time," Anne said serenely, "when God has asked you to do something that seemed impossible or unacceptable according to the standards of the world. Did you submit to that request? What made it possible, or impossible for you to do that?"

Then she went on to read the scripture. I looked around the room as she read, and no one seemed particularly stunned by what Anne had said. Only at KC, I thought in some amusement. People have been talking long enough and seriously enough around here about having a "calling" from God that they are able to consider that there is a connection between Mary's life and their own without falling off their chair in fright.

I'm not quite there yet. I have yet to receive a visitation from an angel who identifies himself as such, and who delivers a message to me direct from God. Whenever I talk about a call from God, I describe myself as getting nudges, as getting an inkling, or of trying to figure it out. I think of that as being modest, but now I'm wondering. Maybe my tentativeness is really just a way of protecting myself from the kinds of life-alteration that God's call often demands.

After worship, I had lunch with Caitlin, a friend of our congregation who is spending the year in Portland, Oregon, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Among the many impossible things she's done since September, Caitlin has twice broken up fights between guests at the cafe where she works and figured out how to feed six adults for a month on less than what I spend feeding my family for a week. She described these things to me in a totally matter-of-fact way, and I found myself thinking again about Anne's invitation, and Mary's response.

Each year, around this time, I run out of steam. I had energy through more of December this year than I often do, despite an unusual amount of complaint and an unusual number of business-related meetings here at KC. I was powered, in large part, by my intense anticipation and excitement about our first-ever "Jazz Advent Liturgy" which was, in my experience, just about the Best Thing Ever. But after that service was over, I had to face the things I don't particularly enjoy about this time of year--gift buying, travel, and family differences. Now, I find myself saddled with my annual despair about ever having a Christmas that reflects, even remotely, the values that I believe were at the heart of Jesus' message and mission. It seems impossible to change anything, and so this time of year I tend to go into the mode of just waiting until it's over.

But after hearing from Anne, Mary and Caitlin, I'm feeling nudged--dare I say called? In God, nothing is impossible. So, I'm praying for some wisdom, some courage and some insight into how to welcome Christ this year, and not just celebrate Christmas.

Advent 4

As the two of us sit here in suburban Maryland, it is tough to imagine being a first century Jew or living next door to Isaiah as Jerusalem (and eventually the Temple--the Home Court of God) is about to fall.  Saying we are worlds apart is an understatement.

Of course, we can share with ancient Israel frustrations about how our leaders function and we can speak with foreboding about what our country and culture may come to if we continue at this speed; but really, we (at least the two writing this) are not feeling too much of a sting.  We both have places to live, we both eat warm meals every day, we both have cars to drive, and we both have jobs to drive them to.  We really do not live in fear of the government or of someone persecuting us for the things we believe or the things we commit to, and we are not afraid of our country or religious center being destroyed by invading armies.

The Messiah (Savior) these writers were looking for seems to be dramatically different from one we can understand--they were looking for a military/political leader to rescue them from national disaster and today it seems our yearning toward a savior has more to do with an individual relationship.

For most of the history of Israel there was a covenant connection between The People and God.  They knew that God would always be their God and that they would always be God's people.  As time moved forward and the relationship vacillated from better to worse and back to better again, we see Israel (as a people) moving closer to and further away from God (as we do today as individuals).  But they always knew that, in the end, God would be faithful to being in relationship with them--"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20.2)

The ancient Israelites wanted a King--a human, political, military, social representative of God.  And eventually they got a line of Kings that began with Saul and eventually (officially) ended with Zedekiah in 587 BCE when the Temple was destroyed.  Ahaz is the Judean King descended from David (as promised in 1 Samuel 16) faced with increasing political instability in the region as Assyria threatened the lesser powers.  If Assyria defeated Judah and killed Ahaz, this would end the Davidic line--that is a lot of pressure on one's historical lineage.  And Isaiah is advises Ahaz to stand firm in his faith and accept God’s promise, ignoring the political landscape around him. 

Ahaz was looking for the political fulfillment of the prophecy, not the eternal fulfillment of promise toward relationship.

In the Psalm we get another political plea.  It is a lament (estimated to be written also during the reign of Ahaz and near the fall of Judah) by a people who perceive that all of the turbulence and unrest around them is punishment by God.  Their request for God’s face to shine is a request for reprieve from their constant struggle for land and autonomy.  Save us God...send us power.

The Matthew text immediately follows the genealogy which establishes Jesus through Joseph’s family as a descendant of David.  From what we can discern, Matthew's primary audience were Jews, and so the connection of Jesus to King David is vital.  The writer is overtly making a connection his Jewish audience would appreciate and that would legitimate Jesus as the Messiah everyone was awaiting.

The salutation of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome was probably written to a mixed community of Jewish Christians recently returned to Rome after being exiled in the mid 50s, and Roman Gentile Christians.  In these first lines (3-4), Paul also affirms Jesus was a descendant of the Davidic line (a king by historical/societal/political standards) and the son of God.  The great move of Paul is that he also affirms that the message of Jesus is also to the Gentiles--he’s calling for unity established through God’s grace.

But the difficulty that presents itself is that Jesus’s Davidic connection is about the only thing that the Jews were expecting.  He was not the overpowering political or military leader.  Instead, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phillipians 2.7).

It is this tension of the historic expectation of a political/social solution that puts Jesus at the crux of controversy and ultimately results in his crucifixion.  The expected Messiah who would preserve the Temple and continue the Davidic line instead brought a message of love for more than just the Torah adhering Jew. 

Today, there are many different individual and corporate interpretations of what it means for us as "God's people / children" that continue to cause confusion around what we all expect in, and from, a Messiah. 

It would be easier to picture the need for a savior if one is fighting a war in the Middle East, or if one is homeless on the streets of Baltimore, or if one is living in constant fear of rape and murder in Sudan.

But what about those of us that live relatively warm, safe, dry, violence-free lives already?

Does living a cushioned life make it impossible for such people to understand the deep need for a savior?  Have we made a connection between physical safety, comfort, and health and our own salvation and the coming of the Christ?

+What is it we are yearning for? 
+Do we need hope, meaning, rest, fulfillment, companionship, purpose, love, acceptance?
+What do we hope to be "saved" from? 
+What do we need / desire a messiah to come and do in our individual lives and in our world today? 

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.  Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The Soundtrack of Life, the Soundtrack of Worship

I went to hear one of my favorite bands in concert last night--Cake, in concert with four other bands traveling together on something called the Unlimited Sunshine tour. Cake was in concert even more bitter than they are in their recordings, and while I enjoyed them in a kind of schadenfreude sort of way, the band I loved most was one I had never heard of before--King City from San Francisco.

King City came on twice, serving almost as a filler in between the other bands. Their music was all-instrumental and at one point they introduced it as "cartoon music". The band consisted of an upright bass, an acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, a trumpeter and two guys playing percussion of all sorts--drums and spoons and lots of other stuff. They were having so much fun playing together that I wanted to run up on stage and join the band. At the very end of their second set, the drummer stood up on his chair to hit his cymbals with a final flourish and fell over backwards off the side of the stage. The audience just stood and cheered.

I realized as I was looking for King City's music on the web today why it hit such a chord with me. I think it could be the soundtrack to my life. I can imagine a documentary about my day today with some of their music running in the background, and suddenly my life has a kind of crazy momentum, a quirky but sweet flow.

One of the things I've learned this year at KC is that even worship can benefit from having a musical soundtrack, a "signature". We started to realize this by about the third or fourth time Rick LaRocca played for our Candlelight Evening Prayer service which we began last Fall. We put together the service and then looked for a musician who would accompany the songs we had picked, but Rick brought so much more to the service that musical accompaniment. He brought his own distinctive voice, his own guitar style, and even his own music, some of it composed specifically for the service. It's his music, more than anything else, that gives that service its "sense of self".

When we began another evening service this fall ("Evensong: Worship in Words and Silence" on the fourth Sunday of each month) the design team decided that we did not want people to have to sing during the service. At first, we thought we'd just use recorded music to soften our entrance and exit, but then decided to experiment on using live music as a introduction to the silent meditation period at the heart of the service. When Jason Reed played the Japanese koto at our last service, we knew we had found our musical "signature" for that service. I have a feeling that the koto will become as integral to that service as Rick's music is to Candlelight Evening Prayers.

In some ways, the idea of letting music "brand" a service is a shift for me. For years, I've led churches and religious groups where the variety of musical taste is broad, and so we vary music constantly to give everyone at least a little of what they like over time. So, at any given worship service, we might have 3 or four different kinds of music.

In contrast to this, the new churches that I've enjoyed most over the past years definitely have a musical signature. One church I love plays all old Americana music, another plays all jazz. They've chosen this music not because its everyone's favorite, but because it facilitates the kind of worship they want to lead, sets a mood, a tone. And, perhaps just as importantly, it gives the service a soundtrack, a sense of itself that is consistent from one Sunday to the next. As a result, the church feels like something in particular instead of like something in general.

This is something to think about as we move forward musically at KC. What, for you, is the soundtrack of your life? What's the soundtrack of your worship life? Are they similar--or very distinct?

Advent 3

The readings for this third week in Advent are unified by the expectation and fulfillment of dramatic, circumstance-altering, physical transformations that God enacts and that continue to connect the birth of Jesus to the Hebrew prophets. We are preparing to witness the fulfillment of centuries upon centuries of expectation born out of a culture whose faith in God is based on experience of covenant – promises made and relationships restored by the turning of Israel toward God and God toward Israel. The hope was for another miraculous covenantal act…thunder on the mountains, plagues, or liberation. No one was looking for the for the physical incarnation of God…God’s Son born of a woman.

In the previous week’s reading, John confidently announced the coming of one who would baptize the repentant with fire and the Holy Spirit. As time passed, and as the scrutiny of Pharisees and of Herod intensified, early believers held their breath. They watched and waited. Imagine their mix of emotions as there was no massive political upheaval, no broad sweeping societal shifts. Can you feel the awkward silence?  The building doubt?

In our 21st century world, as we await the birth of Jesus, it seems odd to be reading about John the Baptist inquiring from prison about the validity of this teacher he hoped would be the Messiah. The Matthew text this week foreshadows the questions that inevitably rise in our own hearts as we await the birth of this Son of God each year. John is desperate for assurance that his teaching and sacrifices have not been in vain. He sends word…Jesus, are you really “the One?”

In Isaiah, the prophet comforts a people in exile, recently defeated by the Babylonians, accustomed by their history to cycles of success and hardship, by casting a vision of a desert transformed not just with a stream or river, but radically altered to be a swamp teeming with life. The lame will walk and the speechless will sing with joy. These are dramatic and abundant reversals.. And in their longing, the people also recognize that God has delivered them through miracles time and time again.

In Psalm 146, the author praises God for creation and for justice and for changing physical circumstances--feeding the hungry, freeing the imprisoned, opening the eyes of the blind. These wonders have been experienced and are surely reminders of God’s covenant with the descendants of Abraham.

The Luke passage is taken from the Magnificat, The Song of Mary – Mary praises God for the honor of using her body for the birth of the Son of Man. She references the strength of God’s arm and acknowledges that he has fed the hungry, fulfilling real human need. God’s actions through the ages have been a cycle of returning to covenant relations with the people of Israel. She remembers the kings that God has brought down and the lowly that God has lifted to great heights.

The letter from James was probably written to the first generation of Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine. These communities were not far from the experience of Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. They were still expecting the imminent return of their Messiah – still living in a covenant expectation. They were probably victims of great political upheaval preceding the final destruction of the Temple. James encourages these early Christians to have high expectations for altered circumstances. He reminds them that the rain does indeed come in its season to nourish the crops. He draws them back to the tradition of the prophets, and through them to the covenant that has been the underpinning of Jewish society, and encourages them to be patient in their suffering.

Returning to Matthew, Jesus almost echoes the Psalmist in his response to John “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Tell him what you HEAR with your ears and what you SEE with your eyes. This Jesus has altered the physical circumstances of people time and time again. This is no philosophical Messiah…this is not just about theoretical change. This is a man who is physically altering those he touches, those with whom he prays, those to whom he speaks. This is a man among the living with dirt on his feet and the smell of real people on his hands.

Is this what John expected? Is this what the people of the covenant had waited for over the centuries? Their experience historically was one of commandments, fidelity and sanctions. Were they anxiously waiting for a baby that would became a humble carpenter who taught us how to love, to forgive and to be forgiven rather than becoming a superhero, a politician or a king who took the world by force?

In the first week, we pondered our own expectations of how the story will end. In the second week, we considered whose voices might be revealing God’s work among us today. This week’s readings call us to look for the tangible physical signs of God in our lives and in the lives of our whole world; then we, along with John, must decide if we believe this is the Son of God.  And then, if we do, we must each what difference that might make in our lives and in our community.

+Who is this Jesus, whose birth we await?

+What do I know about covenant? How does the history of covenant shape me as a Christian?

+Do I really expect Jesus’ presence in my life to bring about radical, physical, circumstance-altering change? If I do, do I share that expectation and faith with those around me?

Oh come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free, and conquer death’s deep misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thinking about space...

When I was in


this summer, it seemed that no matter which way I turned, poverty was everywhere.  This feeling only intensified as I made my way through the “streets” of one of the largest slums in


, Kibera. I distinctly remember walking through Kibera and feeling extremely uncomfortable, not necessarily because of the extreme poverty surrounding me, or because I was in a foreign space, but because I felt like I was on display.  I, a white American English speaking educated upper-middle class female, was the exception in that environment not because I chose to be any of those things, but because I inherited my status, class, and privilege.  Everywhere I walked people stopped what they were doing and looked at me.  Little children paused their play and stared at me with curiosity.  I’m sure my skin color immediately drew their attention, but there were other things that also set me apart.  For instance, I tried not to make it too obvious that I was carefully maneuvering each of my steps so as not to dirty my expensive Asics sneakers in the mud and sewage, but I’m sure onlookers noticed.  The Kenyans didn’t seem to care where they placed their feet as they walked barefoot through the alleys, or had sandals on that hardly seemed to serve a purpose as they trod through the muck.  My clean hair was tied neatly back in a ponytail indicating that I not only had access to a shower and clean water, but to a mirror as well.  My clothes were clean, my appropriate size, and even matched, indicating that I had the privilege to choose and construct my own appearance.  There was no hiding or disguising my privilege, and I felt ashamed and exposed in that moment not because of my inherited privilege, but because I never paid attention to the signs of my own privilege until I realized that everyone surrounding me was taking notice of them.

That feeling of being the outsider, of being in a neighborhood where you feel you don’t belong, is how I expect many of the homeless people feel that I work with here in downtown


.  Sisters is located just one block away from the Pearl District (I think you can gather what that part of town is like just by its name).  This means that there are often woman clacking by on their high heels, men strolling by with leather briefcases, people casually chatting on their cell phones with a holiday red Starbucks cup in their other hand.  They don’t realize that as soon as they throw away their coffee, a homeless person will dig it out of the trash and bring it into Sisters so they can take some coffee to go for only 25 cents.  I don’t say this to make people feel guilty for having these privileges.  Heck I kind of miss wearing high heels and the clicking sound they make on the floor, and I definitely miss buying my Starbucks grande skim toffee nut latte (no whip).  But when you live in a society where these signs of privilege are the norm, you often forget, or even worse, never realize just how privileged you are. 

But to the exception, to the homeless person living on the streets, they are constantly reminded and can painfully never forget the position they’re in.  Their lives are constantly on display because unlike the majority of people in the city, they have no space to call their own.  I walk by the same people every morning, sleeping in doorways while the world watches as they pass by.  I try not to look at them because when I do I feel like I’m seeing something I’m not supposed to, that I’m somehow invading their privacy and space when they ironically have none.  There is simply not enough affordable housing.  There are also not enough spaces to shower so the homeless go days without washing their hair or their face.  There are no spaces for them to prepare their own meals so they are at the mercy of the soup kitchens, missions, and Sisters to provide good and nutritious meals.  There are no spaces to go to the bathroom overnight so many homeless people resort to wearing Depends rather than risk being arrested for urinating in public.  There are hardly any secure spaces for them to leave their belongings so they are forced to carry every possession they own with them wherever they go…including inside public bathrooms, inside soup kitchens, along the sidewalk, to interviews, to appointments, etc.  There is no privacy, no space to go and be alone, no space to go and be quiet.


Being reminded almost everyday that not everyone has the privilege of private space, I now have a deep sense of gratitude for the spaces in my life….space to lie my head down, space to take a warm shower, space to have an intimate and vulnerable conversation, space to hang out and laugh with my community, space to cook meal, space to put my stuff down at the end of the day, and to be perfectly honest, even space to be naked.  Yet what I am even more thankful for is that exposing moment in Kibera that gave me a profound awareness of the privileges in my life that I never took notice of before.  That transformational moment continues to feed my passion to work with the people suffering from the injustices perpetuated by our societal system.  I share this with you KC because I feel that this moment should be yours just as much as it is mine.

I will be home the week of Christmas and will be at KC on the 23rd.  I look forward to seeing you all very very soon.             

Three Cups of Tea and Other Small Solutions

Charlie sent me the following reflection and asked me to post it for him....

I just finished an incredible book that I want to recommend. It is "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Relin.

The book is an account of an American mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, who was lost and delirious after a failed 1993 attempt on the worlds second tallest peak, K2. Greg was rescued by residents of Korphe, a remote village high in the Pakistani Himalayas. Grateful for their assistance, Mortenson vowed to build the villagers a school. He returned home to San Francisco, sold everything he owned and then worked on raising money to build this school for the girls in this village. He sacrificed everything to bring this to fruition.

I was impressed at how he learned their language and lived as one of them. He first learned what THEY needed, which was a bridge to bring the supplies to build the school. Then, he made alliances with the leaders of the village to work together to meet their needs.

Greg was able to transcend tribal chiefs' skepticism and overcame their fears of his motives. Mr. Mortenson worked in many other villages in the Taliban heartland under almost impossible condictions.

After 13 years in which he has brought 58 schools to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mortenson remains convinced that terrorism should be fought with books, not bombs. "Terrorism" happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future, Mortenson told a gathering of U.S. Congress members not long after 9/11. Three Cups of Tea is an astonishing tale of compassion, committment and a selfless attitude without any ego satisfaction. It offers a model of how one person can make a difference in the world.

How can we participate in this work? Go to his website: Read his book. I hope we can find a way to support this remarkable example.

Also tonight Nan & I watched the Lehrer Hour. There was a segment about "Engineers Without Borders". These engineers go into remote villages and help bring clean water or sanitation to these people. It was encouraging to see some positive solutions to some of the worlds problems and how the people working on the projects had changed as they worked with these people. Are these some modern day "Prophets?.


Amazing Grace Coffeehouse

I recently attended the Amazing Grace Coffeehouse at KC.  It was an inspiring fun-filled evening.  I only planned to stay for a couple of songs in the 2nd set but the the music was so wonderful I could not leave. 

The worship space was filled with the wonderful holy energy of people who are excited about their faith and how their faith blesses their life.  For me the experience was a praise worship service because the artists were mostly performing songs they had written and before the song they often gave a mini-sharing about what was going on in their life that inspired the song and how God helped them through.  There was a lot of sharing about the value of having a strong relationship with God.  Some places would call the mini-sharing's a
"personal testimony".  The sharing's were not done in a preachy way.  They were genuine and heartfelt.

There is now a web site for the Coffeehouse. The web site says:  Each of us have a life story ... and we welcome you into ours  AND I truly felt welcomed!

All the music was great.  The song that most impacted me tonight was called "A Day Like No Other".  The song was inspired by a nursing home ministry of the artists father. There was a lady who lived at the nursing home who used to stand up every time and hold her hands up over her head and say:  "Praise the Lord, this is a day I have never seen before".  Because of this song the blessing of this nursing home resident now flows through the artist who wrote the song and into my life.  The artist was Richard Walton.  The song was by  "Straight on Red".   The group consisted of a guitar, a violin and a conga player who also played the rain stick and a really neat sounding set of double chimes.  I did not know a person could make such a great variety of sound come forth from conga drums.

The other song that always inspires me is the LaRocca song called "Dream Giver".   You can link to the web site for the Coffeehouse and hear these songs.

My thanks to Tracy Wade, Neal Buck and Rick LaRocca of the EXPRESSIONS Care Group for creating this event!

Next month the guest artists will be Denise Dovel, she will be appear with her husband, comedian Andy Dovel.

Advent, Aging

A member of our congregation, Florence Miller, who works in the Altzheimer's unit at Sunrise Senior Living sent these Advent thoughts:

I recently was given some materials from a training a close friend attended on the mind and spirit of the person with dementia. This inspired me to report/write about it in an article I was to create for the Sunrise newsletter. The thoughts moved me and are a part of my prayer this week as we end the liturgical year and I take time for remembrance, letting go, and silence in the presence of God.

I've attached the article and hope it speaks to you of the deep silence we come from and go back to, of the messages of the ancient prophets of all religions and their relevance to the spirit in us today. Our lives are so short. Our little piece, our little gift to the Great Life of the universe can be, for good or ill, so very long.

Recently I read a study guide entitled "When Those We Love Become Strangers", an exploration of how we care for persons with Alzheimer's and dementias. It reminded me that in biblical times 'age' was often synonymous with 'wisdom'. Elders were leaders and judges. They demanded respect. Leviticus states "You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old." But since memory is indispensable to wisdom and leadership, what happens when one cannot function as an' elder' ?

When Moses descended Mount Sinai with the ten commandments, he heard the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf and was so deeply angered that he threw them down, shattering them! Later the sages gathered the shards and placed them in the Holy Arc with the whole Tablets that Moses got when he went to Sinai the second time. Thus Rabbi Ben Levi said, "Take care to respect an old person who through unavoidable circumstances has forgotten what he knew, for scripture says that both the whole tablets and the shattered tablets were placed in the Holy Ark".

The elder who has lost his/her memory is compared to the broken shards of the tablets - no less sacred as a result of having been shattered. The body is present but the memories and personhood have been shattered; yet they are the creation of God deserving of respect and tenderness. This is often very difficult yet can be seen as our call in our effort to provide home, comfort and respect to our residents.

Psalm 88, a lament, goes in part,
Oh Lord soul is full of troubles
and my life draws near to Shoal
I am counted among those who go down to the pit
I am like those who have no help
like those forsaken
like those whom you remember no more.
You have put me in the depths of the pit
in the regions dark and deep...
You have caused my companions to shun me
you have made me a thing of horror to them
I am shut in so that I cannot escape
My eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you.
Are your wonders known in the darkness
Is your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

Is this the cry in the heart of those struggling with Alzheimer's? Are these the thoughts of the daughter sitting helpless in the presence of a mother who has become a stranger through dementia?

I believe this is the profound task we have: to acknowledge the pain. And I believe it is a profound act of compassion to find ways to 'be with' the resident or family tenderly in this pain. I hope we strongly resist the temptation to trivialize, deny, or repress the harsh reality of those who find themselves in this difficulty. We can do nothing more or less than to break the silence of suffering with acknowledgement and understanding and share it by listening, by forgiving the reactions we often encounter, by comforting ourselves as we live in the presence of all this loss. We can be thoughtful and appreciative of our fellow workers with the relief of humor, a hug or a word of encouragement. We can do this and be made whole and full ourselves through the doing.