Tuesday, December 4, 2012

[unrelenting War on Advent] playlist

At the gym this morning, a trainer and her client were like, "Yay, Christmas music!" and my first response was "Unrelenting War on Advent!" and then I realized the song playing on the radio was "Let It Snow," which isn't actually a Christmas song. (In contrast, at Trader Joe's on Sunday I heard "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and cringed for multiple reasons.)

The trainer said that one year it was like the last day before Break and barely anyone was in and she had Christmas music on and someone asked her to turn it off and she did but she thought, "Grinch." I did not say, "Unrelenting War on Advent!"

She talked about some class she does where she plays holiday music and she really does try to be inclusive -- e.g., including the Chanukah song. (On reflection, I assume she means the Adam Sandler song -- which is trufax an amusing song, though, hi, I bet Jews have lots of songs they sing at Chanukah, because they're Jews and thus have lots of songs for every occasion.)

Somewhere in here the client commented that there aren't really a lot of "Advent-y" songs, and in my head I was like: THANK YOU for acknowledging that the season of Advent even exists! -- Advent songs aren't peppy upbeat radio songs (like "Let It Snow") because they're about expectant waiting, and also they're explicitly religious so they're not radio songs and ugh, we mostly don't play explicitly religious songs on the radio period for obvious reasons (though, okay, I have a Josh Groban album (no, I don't remember why -- possibly a gift from Singspiration) which has actualfax Jesus songs on it, so probably so does every other album, of which there are many since apparently everyone needs to make a Christmas/holiday album [Edit: And on that subject, on Thursday night, someone I know from high school posted to fb: "How was I completely unaware that Sufjan Stevens released another amazing 58 song, 5 album Christmas extravaganza? So ridiculously excited right now! http://www.npr.org/2012/11/19/165470944/first-listen-sufjan-stevens-silver-gold " /edit ] -- because people need 87 different renditions of the same few dozen songs for their parties? idek.), so when we talk about "Christmas music" we probably mostly mean either generic winter stuff (which varies in quality, and obviously elides the entire Southern Hemisphere) or songs about "Santa" -- which I want to burn in a fire because, ugh, lying to your children.

I am not trying to take away anyone's holiday joy* but seriously, if you want joyful music in the darkness, go for it. If you want it to explicitly reference the cold/snow/dark of the season, go for it. Please don't subject me to crappy music, and please respect my desire to observe my personal spiritual/religious practice of expectant waiting during the ~4 weeks of Advent and then celebration during the 12 Days of Christmas (see also: Lent and Eastertide); see also: my desire to not have "Christmas" cantatas or carol sings during Advent.

[Later today, someone on facebook linked to: The Daily Show with John Stewart: "The War on Christmas: Friendly Fire Edition" (it gets good about 4 minutes in -- "Christmas is so big now it's eating other holidays").]

* posts I have read recently include:

When I was thinking about secular radio not playing Advent songs I remembered that on Sunday, @OccupyAdvent shared their #adventplaylist:

and then today they Tweeted the YouTube playlist link.

I am debating including Ani DiFranco, "The Waiting Song" (or "Second Intermission" -- yes, I ran a lyrics search for "wait").

Edit: @OccupyAdvent added:

And friends of mine suggested:
  • Joni Mitchell, "River" (Coming on Christmas, waiting)
  • Avril Lavigne, "I'm with You" (I tend think of Avril Lavigne's "I'm with You" as describing my relationship with God in general, but it strikes me as pretty darn Advent-y)
Plus, obvs., given my joy sadhana this season: Bob Franke, "Say Yes"

And after Wednesday's concert, possibly: Jenna Lindbo, "Angels on the Subway"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

[Advent 1: Hope]

Last night I read the d'var Torah that Velveteen Rabbi offered that morning at her shul on this week's parsha, "Vayishlach."

She talks about Jacob wrestling with the angel and says:

Having received a new name, Jacob bestows a new name: he names that place, that bend in the river, Peni'el, literally "the face of God," saying, "For I have seen God face-to-face, yet my life has been spared."
(which is really interesting in and of itself, given the multi-vocality of Scripture on seeing the face of God -- e.g., God to Moses in Exodus 33:20 "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.") and then talks about Jacob's encounter with Esau, where he says:
No, please, if I have truly found favor in your sight, take the offering from my hand; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God.
She closes with the bit from the Talmud about each individual human being being created in the image of God but each of us are unique -- unlike identical imperial coins each stamped with the mark of the secular leader.

This all seemed quite a lovely connection to Molly's "Light Gets In" Advent theme. But then she closes the post with her 70 Faces Torah poem on this parsha, which ends with such a downer:

For one impossible moment Jacob reached out.
To see your face, he said, is like seeing
the face of God: brother, it is so good!

But when Esau replied, let us journey together
from this day forward as we have never done
and I will proceed at your pace, Jacob demurred.

The children are frail, and the flocks:
you go on ahead, he said, and I will follow
but he did not follow.

Once Esau headed out toward Seir
Jacob went the other way, to Shechem, where
his sons would slaughter an entire village.

And again the possibility
of inhabiting a different kind of story
vanished into the unforgiving air.

The theme for this year’s Advent is Light Gets In. No matter what walls we throw up, what boxes we climb in or that circumstances put us in—Light gets in. Light will have its way.

This Sunday in worship, I’ll be preaching on the walls humans throw up that block out Christ’s light. We’ll begin building an actual wall in the sanctuary, that will grow each week up until Christmas Eve, when the Light will get in. Will you bring cardboard boxes to church anytime you show up, and leave them on the chancel, and help us duct-tape them together to build our Babel-wall up toward heaven and obscure the cross?

-Molly in This Week at First Church

To my mind, Advent is about the light slowly breaking in (we light first one candle and then a second, and so on), so I don't love this theme.


Pre-service lectio divina happened in the Parlor, and as a result we could hear the pre-service choir rehearsal. I heard "Emmanuel, Expected Jesus," and fell into Advent.


We did Luke 1:5-25, and I was struck by Gabriel's statement, "I stand in the presence of God."


Before service, I picked up a hardcopy of Molly's Advent calendar.

December 2
First Sunday in Advent: Put on your sparkle cream. Glow.
Unison Prayer of Confession


We offer you our repentance.
We replace holy days with holidays.
We hurry past opportunities to give the gifts of kindness and honesty.
We do not listen to angels in our dreams, forgive those dearest to us,
Or welcome into hearts and homes, the poor and the stranger.
If all sin is separation, forgive us for all the walls we throw up, and let your Light in.

-Maren Tirabassi, adapted


Jamie facilitated an Advent Devotional Workshop, which I attended.

I was starting to investigate the art supplies when the horde of kids who had been playing war or something all came in and decided to do art (well, Simon was like, "Guys, can't we go back to what we were doing before?" and got ignored by all the kids wrapped up in doing art, so he compromised by making pictures of e.g. ninjas) so I stepped back from the chaos and worked on poetry.

Sue D., to her husband, later: "I was looking for the kids, and I found a craft fair, so I sat down."

I think I definitely want to go back to Art Night.


I really liked the Call to Worship we used at CWM tonight:

[One] How shall we prepare God's house for the coming of the Promised One?
[Many] With fragrant branches of cedar, the tree of excellence and strength.
[One] How shall we prepare God's house for the Christ child?
[Many] With a stable and a manger where in the weeks to come, the mystery of the Advent story will be revealed and where the entire creation will welcome the Promised One.
[One] How shall we prepare God's house for Emmanuel, God with us?
[Many] With garlands of pine and fir, whose leaves are ever living, ever green -- symbols of our faith in the living God.
[One] How shall we prepare God's house for the prophet of Galilee?
[Many] With sprigs of holly and ivy, telling of Jesus' faithfulness, even unto death and resurrection.
[One] How shall we prepare our hearts for this revelation of God?
[Many] By hearing again the words of the prophets, the stories of the ancestors of Jesus, and the promises of God.
[One] For in the story of Jesus we see revealed the transforming power of God, and we are reminded anew of God's vision of wholeness, justice, and peace for all creation.
[Many] Thanks be to God!

Marla preached on Isaiah 11:1-9 and 1 Samuel 16:1-13. I was mostly meh, but she closed with talking about the fact that we ignore the parts of the Biblical stories that don't seem "proper" or "dignified" and inviting us to think about, if Jesus were to come as a baby a second time, what unexpected places that baby might show up in -- and her shocker suggestion was: born to a Wall Street executive (I thought of the Buddha).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[Advent] "Do not be afraid."

Sunday, I decided that my joy sadhana verse for Advent would be this from the Bob Franke concert I went to on Friday:
Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you
Worlds without end depend on you
Bless'd is the one whom you bring forth
Whom no one else can bring
-"Say Yes," Bob Franke
and then Monday afternoon this came up on my GoogleReader:
The Angels of Advent are saying, "Do not be afraid" -- we bring good news of immigration reform.

And what does fear do to us?

Although I vaguely registered the post title ("Been There, Bordered That. So Why Are We Still So Afraid?") when I first glanced at it on my GoogleReader, but my eyes didn't actually register the "we bring good news of immigration reform" portion when I glanced at the screen, so my entire takeaway was the reminder that the angels of Advent tell us "Do not be afraid."

Yes, on reflection I remember that arguably one reason the angels routinely open with this declaration is that people were likely to be scared of the angels -- God often asks scary things of us, plus angels themselves are creatures of wind and fire

Seraphs were in attendance above G!d; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. -Isaiah 6:2
Things I learned on Monday: "seraphim" literally means "burning ones."


I still think the general message of, "Do not be afraid," is powerful and relevant. Or rather, "Feel the fear and do it anyway" (and now I can't find the Felix Baumgartner article I saw linked a while ago, alas). Insert DBT evangelism here or something. Which, yes, obvious caveats about legit danger &c.

I'm actually not interested in the framing of being not afraid of what God Wills for us -- "I know God won't give me more than I can handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." -- but rather the general idea of actively moving through our lives less caged in by fear. Breathing through the fear. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

disability and theology texts

I was really uncomfortable with Molly's sermon a week ago Sunday (for a take I like better, check out SarcasticLutheran's sermon).

Molly and I chatted on her porch on Friday, and we agreed to continue to engaging with the issue.

So I wanted to put up a list of the books on theology+disability that people recommended when I crowdsourced that Sunday (thanks to those who signal-boosted and/or responded).

  • A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability (Kathleen Black)
  • This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies (ed. Hector Avalos).
  • round-table discussion about disability & Biblical studies in Women in the Hebrew Bible (ed. Alice Bach).
  • Spirit and the Politics of Disablement (Sharon V. Betcher)
  • The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nancy L. Eiesland)
  • The Wounded Healer (Henri J.M. Nouwen)
I also went to my GoodReads to pull up the stuff I read 2-3 years ago (NB: not all of these texts explicitly deal with theology -- this is more to share some of the context that I have when I approach this issue):
  • Disability and Christian Theology: Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities (Deborah Beth Creamer)
  • Deaf Liberation Theology (Hannah Lewis)
  • Theology Without Words: Theology in the Deaf Community (Wayne Morris)
  • The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (Susan Wendell)
  • Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism & Other Difficult Positions (Lennard J. Davis)
  • Desiring Disability: Queer Theory Meets Disability Studies (GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies #9.5)
  • Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (Robert McRuer)

Friday, July 27, 2012

stars not crosses (except maybe yes crosses)

Monday night I was gchatting with Batshua and she asked:
How do you feel about prayer beads?
I am drooling at them.
I already have two sets and am not buying more.
But this woman does lovely prayer beads for … pretty much anyone.
I'm not much of a prayer beads person myself, but I browsed and we had this conversation:
me: I keep looking at the Jewish ones and going "ooh!" and then remembering that oh, that's a Jewish symbol, not a generic star. Why's my religion gotta have its core symbol be one I'm so not into?
her: Well, I don't think there's anything WRONG with having something with a Jewish star on it just because you like it?
I mean, it's not like you're gonna nail Jesus to it.
That would be weird.
me: Fair -- it still feels somewhat appropriative to me, though.
her: <— is an eclectic pagan
her: <— politely appropriates all kinds of stuff
Later, I read Sarcastic Lutheran's "Sermon about Mary Magdalen, the masacre in our town, and defiant alleluias," and was surprised to find that in reading it I found a way to approach/embrace the Cross that makes it more palatable for me.

Nadia writes:

My Bishop Allan Bjornberg once said that the Greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.

And in some ways Mary Magdalen is like, the patron saint of just showing up.

Because showing up means being present to what is real, what is actually happening. She didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think….but none of that is nearly as important as the fact that she just showed up. She showed up at the cross where her teacher Jesus became a victim of our violence and terror. She looked on as the man who had set her free from her own darkness bore the evil and violence of the whole world upon himself and yet still she showed up.


And then after Beer & Hymns we sat in a noisy Denver bar and sang Vespers together, we sang our prayer to God, and in our singing I heard a defiant tone. The sound of a people who simply will not believe that violence wins, a people who know that the sound of the risen Christ speaking each of our names drowns out all other voices.

It drowns out the sound of the political posturing, the sound of cries for vengeance, the sound of our own fears and anxieties and the deafening uncertainty – because all of it is no match for the shimmering sound of the resurrected Christ calling our name. Because in baptism we are a people marked by the cross of Christ. Upon our foreheads is the mark of violence and death but this violence and death has been overcome by the love of a God who in the 3 days between Good Friday and Easter reached into the very bowels of hell and said even here I will not be without you. //This is the God to whom we sing. A God who didn’t say we would never be afraid but that we would never be alone. A God who shows up. In the violence of the cross, in the darkness of a garden before dawn, in the gardener, in a movie theater, in the basement of a bar.


Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples like Mary Magdalen.

Because to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is to show up. It is to be a people who stand – who stand at the cross and stand in the midst of evil and violence and even if we are uncertain we are still unafraid to be present to all of it. We are unafraid to name the dark demons of evil and to call a thing what it is. And to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is also to be a people who weep. A people who show up to the tombs and weep. Weep for ourselves and weep for each other and weep for our city and weep for dead 6 year old girls. And to be disciples like Mary Magdalen is to be a people who listen and turn at the sound of our names. Amongst the sounds of sirens and fear and isolation and uncertainty and loss we hear a sound that muffles all the rest: that still, small voice of Christ speaking our names. And finally, the very reason we can do these things is not because we happen to be the people with the best set of skills for this work. Trust me, we are not. But the reason we can be disciples like Mary Magdalen – the reason we can stand and we can weep and we can listen is because finally we, like Mary are bearers of resurrection. We know that on the 3rd day he rose again. We do not need to be afraid. Because to sing to God amidst all of this is to defiantly proclaim like Mary Magdalen did to the apostles, that death is simply not the final word. To defiantly say that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness can not will not shall not overcome it. And so, evil be damned, because even as we go to the grave, still we make our song Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.


The idea of thinking about the Cross as (Deity) facing the horrors of the world, showing up, knowing that this is not the end of the story, persisting in and through the darkness.

In some ways I worry that this is retrojecting the Resurrection onto the Cross (I don't think my theology is that the Resurrection was already contained in the Cross), but Nadia's sermon reminds me about showing up in the darkness. At interfaith discussion last night, Jane(?) talked about having faith ... not necessarily that things would turn out "well" but being at a point where "good" and "bad" don't matter in a way (I didn't think of this language at the time, but I think relaxing into that it Just Is).

And at Rest and re/New this week, we heard an excerpt from Living Buddha, Living Christ in which Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the Eucharist using language of "the body of God" (instead of the "Body of Christ" language I'm more familiar with) and talking about the cosmos.

(The fancy crosses still creep me out, though. The Cross is not a fancy decoration.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

[Jesus and Kink] Thomas and Jesus' wounds

Apparently our current Rest and re/New series topic is "ways to/of faith," and this Wednesday (April 11) we began with our bodies/senses.

This upcoming Sunday (Easter 2), the lectionary Gospel is the story of Thomas who refuses to believe without touching the wounds of the Risen Christ.

Jeff said he thinks Thomas gets a bad rep. (I was reminded that at EDS' Second Sunday ~service on Easter Sunday, Eda said she wishes we would call "Doubting Thomas" e.g. "different epistemology Thomas" -- he just has a different learning style :) )

First he pointed out that no one else in John's post-Resurrection story had believed without evidence. Mary finds the empty tomb, runs and tells Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who come to the empty tomb and also do not believe.

(I pointed out that John tells us the beloved disciple believed, he just didn't understand -- at H!PS on Monday, Becky had preached on Ecclesiastes 3 and John 20:1-16, and in reading the John I was struck, as I always am, by John telling us that the beloved disciple believed and then in the very next sentence telling us that they did not yet understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead [which makes me ask: so what did the beloved disciple believe?!].)

Jesus appears to Mary in the garden, who goes and tells the disciples: "I have seen the Risen One!" John doesn't explicitly tell us that the disciples don't believe Mary, but the next story we read is of Jesus appearing to the disciples locked up in the room, who THEN go on to proclaim, "We have seen the Risen One!" And Thomas just has the misfortune of not being in that room.

Jeff M. went on to say that Thomas wants more than to just see -- Thomas also wants to touch; Thomas wants a Close Encounter not just of the First kind but of the Third kind (though looking at that scale, I think it maybe doesn't mean exactly what Jeff M. was presenting it as meaning).

He said there's lots of art of the scene -- with Thomas sort of poking at Jesus' wounds, and that seems almost pornographic to him... that he imagines it as more of an embrace.

He talked about Jesus' willingness to let Thomas touch Jesus' "most intimate, most vulnerable, most wounded places," which I found a really powerful framing.

I was reminded of the "Jesus and Kink" series we'd talked about last week*, and the thoughts/conversations I'd had since then about how to do such a series. I'm less interested in proof-texting that Jesus condones/endorses kink than I am in the really queer ways people have engaged with Scripture/Divinity -- like the polyvalences of Christ's wounds ... interaction with bodily orifices as sexual, interactions with wounds as kink, the ways in which Jesus' blood on the Cross can be coded as generative/reproductive, the ways in which fluid-producing orifices can be coded as feminine, etc., etc.

I'm making my way through my best friend's copy of Queer Theology: Rethinking Western Body (ed. Gerard Loughlin), and in Chapter 7, Gerard Loughlin says, "for all these elements [Averil Cameron's 'central elements in orthodox Christianity -- the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Eucharist'], the body is not just a symbol of their truth, but the site where it is realized."


*Before Rest and re/New last Wednesday (April 4), Keith and Jeff M. were talking about doing a Mindfulness series next (in a way which suggested it was continuing a conversation they'd had previously). Keith talked about maybe using the upstairs Sanctuary space. And then I don't know how we got there exactly, but Keith was joking about Jesus on the cross and hitting people with reeds.

me: "I don't think that would exactly draw the kind of crowd you're looking for."
Jeff M.: "Oh, it would definitely draw a crowd. (This is Davis Square, after all.)"
me: "Oh, I know -- that's what I was getting at. I just don't think it would be quite the crowd you're looking for."
Keith and Jeff M.: [make noises about being an inclusive and welcoming, big tent kind of church]
Jeff M.: (deadpan) "Jesus and Kink is our next series after Mindfulness."
me: "If I thought you were being serious, I would be so excited -- but you're not."
Jeff M.: "How do you know I'm not?"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

[34] This is not really a sermon on The Cross [Lent 2B, CWM]

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus.

8:33 But turning and looking at the disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

8:34 Jesus called the crowd with the disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Promised One will also be ashamed when that one comes in the glory of the Divine Parent with the holy angels."

This is not really a sermon on The Cross

Last week, Pr. Lisa mentioned the discomfort many progressive Christians have with the concept of “sin.” I apparently was acculturated differently, because I do not have a knee-jerk negative reaction to sin talk.

If you ask me, “What is ‘sin’?” I say, “Sin is that which separates us from God” -- and if I’m really thinking, I add that it also separates us from each other, and from ourselves.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Our consistent missing the mark is a part of the human condition, and our strivings to ever draw closer to the Divine are our best selves at work in us.

While I don’t have a problem with discussion of sin, I have basically zero interest in the glorification of Jesus’ suffering and death. I have, in fact, an active resistance to it.

I absolutely, full-stop, refuse to believe in a God who requires the brutal death of a Beloved Child in order to reconcile the world to Godself. That’s abusive and cruel and irreconcilable with the God of Love who is at the center of my faith.

So I tend to not engage with the Cross much.

And fortunately for me, today’s lectionary doesn’t require that I come up with a coherent theology of the Cross that I can live with.
8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
This isn’t because God requires some sort of torture in order for Jesus to be an acceptable sacrifice -- it’s because when you subvert the Powers, that’s what happens.

In preparing for this sermon, I couldn’t find my copy of Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire, but I could find my copy of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The First Paul. In the chapter “Christ crucified,” one of the section heading is, “As the revelation of the character of empire.” They write:
In the first-century setting of Paul and his hearers, “Christ crucified” had an anti-imperial meaning. Paul’s shorthand summary was not “Jesus died,” not “Jesus was killed,” but “Christ crucified.” Jesus didn’t just die, wasn’t simply murdered -- he was crucified. This meant that Jesus had been executed by imperial authority: crucifixion was a Roman form of execution. In Paul’s world, a cross was always a Roman cross.

Rome reserved crucifixion for two categories of people: those who challenged imperial rule (violently or nonviolently) and chronically defiant slaves (not simply disobedient or difficult slaves). If you were a murderer or a robber, you would not be crucified, though you might be executed another way. The two groups who were crucified had something in common: both rejected Roman imperial domination. Crucifixion was a very public, prolonged, and painful form of execution that carried the message, “Don’t you dare defy imperial authority, or this will happen to you.” It was state torture and terrorism.

To proclaim “Christ crucified” was to signal at once that Jesus was an anti-imperial figure, and that Paul’s gospel was an anti-imperial gospel. The empire killed Jesus. The cross was the imperial “no” to Jesus. But God had raised [Jesus]. The resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus, God’s vindication of Jesus -- and this also God’s “no” to the powers that had killed [Jesus].

(p. 131-2)
Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to the world (Romans 1:122 -- see p. 139 in the book), and the Cross is a powerful reminder that Jesus came not to prop up the systems of the world but to subvert them.
8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus.

8:33 But turning and looking at the disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
We don’t get the details of Peter’s rebuke, but we do know that in the Garden, Peter takes up a sword to defend Jesus from arrest. Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time were desperately hoping for a Savior -- and many of them expected that Savior to be a Davidic king, a warrior who would violently overthrow the Roman occupiers.

Obviously, this is NOT the kind of Savior that Jesus was.

I think one of the things Jesus is saying here is that Peter is still so locked in to the ways of the world, still so insistent that Jesus behave in that way, wanting Jesus to win a game that Jesus refuses to even play.
8:34 Jesus called the crowd with the disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Promised One will also be ashamed when that one comes in the glory of the Divine Parent with the holy angels."
I don’t think Jesus means losing one’s life in a really unhealthy self-denying way. Jesus doesn’t call us to martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom, nor to suffering for the sake of suffering.

But to want our own will at the expense of the Will of God? THAT’S a problem.

In The First Paul, Borg and Crossan talk about “participatory atonement.“ They say:
We participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, die and rise with Christ, and thereby enter a new life in Christ. Participatory atonement does not mean Jesus died for us, and therefore we don’t need to. Instead, it means we are to die and rise with Christ. It is metaphorical language for a process of radical internal change. (p. 137, emphasis mine)
At First Church Somerville this morning, Molly preached on Galatians 5:16-24, in which Paul talks about our selfishness and all that stems from that as being crucified.

Borg and Crossan suggest that a better word for “redemption” as in “The redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) would be “liberation” -- “the liberation that is in Christ Jesus” (p. 146).

We are called to give up our ties to the domination systems of this world, to give up our addictions and our political jockeying, to die to all those death-dealing systems of oppression, so that we can be resurrected with Christ into new life -- life abundant and everlasting.

May it be so.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[33] "Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready." [Song of Songs; H!PS: Sophia Circle; Feb. 13, 2012]

“Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.” (NRSV)

My dominant impression of the Song of Songs is a passionate love song -- overflowing with that positive energy of being so very much in love. Somehow it’s easy for me to forget about all the moments of withdrawal, of absence, and even of violence.

While the two lovers spend much of the book caught up in their love for each other, this is not a love without risk.

The Shulamite woman is black and beautiful. As Christopher King points out [in The Queer Bible Commentary, p. 358]:
She is as exotic and elusive as the black shelters of desert nomads (‘tents of Kedar’). Yet, as she has come as close to the privileges coveted by Jerusalem’s insiders as the ‘curtains of Solomon’ are to the intimacies of the king’s bedchamber.
This is the first thing she says to the daughters of Jerusalem -- the song opens with a hymn directed at her beloved, but when she first explicitly addresses the daughters of Jerusalem, it is to say, “I am black and beautiful.” She has worked for her family -- this outdoor work implicitly contributing to her appearance being other than model perfect -- and now her brothers reject her.

Life is full of tradeoffs -- who she has become is someone who might well be undesirable to many potential partners, but having found someone who desires her just as she is, she finds herself rejected by her family. Our whole lives, we risk rejection.

She moves on to praise her beloved, building to descriptions of her fantasies of their physical activities together and she adjures the daughters of Jerusalem, "Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready." (Song of Songs 2:7b)

“Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.” (Song of Songs 2:5)

In reading through the Song of Songs in preparing for this preach, one of the things that struck me was how frightening this intense love is sometimes. The ways in which the overwhelmingness of this love is frightening (and later, the withdrawal and the seeking) really resonated with me -- to be so caught up in one’s passionate adoration of, and desire for, another so as to feel faint.

In their book Radical Ecstasy, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy talk about how ecstatic experiences dissolve the boundaries that define our sense of ourselves as existing separate from other people, from the rest of the world, and from the Divine.

They cite Merriam-Webster’s definition of ecstasy as “a state of being beyond reason and self-control” -- reminding us that this experience isn’t always a “feel good” experience, even though “bliss” may be our primary connotation of “ecstasy.”

I love that the Song of Songs puts forward this so very embodied love as a good good thing -- and I also appreciate that it acknowledges the real complexities of such passion, including the not so nice parts.

As we move on in the book, the Shulamite woman praises her beloved again -- this time from more of a distance ... watching him traversing the mountains; being entreated by him from outside the wall, outside the windows, outside the lattice. He entreats her: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." (Song of Songs 2:10b)

But then she does, and she cannot find him.

"Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer." (Song of Songs 3:1)

She goes out into the city, is encountered by the sentinels, but then,
Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
(Song of Songs 3:4-5)
And for the second time she adjures the daughters of Jerusalem, "Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!"

A love like this, it will challenge you, it will pull you out of your comfort zone, put you in conflict with those who have power over you… Do not get yourself involved in a love like this unless you are ready and prepared for what lies ahead of you. And the Shulamite woman certainly has that strength and determination -- “I held him, and would not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house.” Her brothers may be angry with her, but she is determined to bring her beloved home with her -- and she will not lose him again.

As the book continues, we continue to telescope temporally and/or geographically -- once again the Shulamite woman beholds her beloved approaching and praises him to excess. He responds with erotic invitations ("I come to my garden, my sister, my bride" [Song of Songs 5:1a]), and they approach consummation ("My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh" [Song of Songs 5:4-5a]) but this consummation is not to be -- "I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone." (Song of Songs 5:6a)

This time she adjures the daughters of Jerusalem, "If you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love." (Song of Songs 5:8)

At this the daughters of Jerusalem respond for the first time -- "What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?" (Song of Songs 5:9)

Despite all the praises they have been listening to from the Shulamite woman about her beloved, at this moment they ask, "What's the big deal about this guy?"

Christopher King plays up the Shulamite's outsider status versus the insider status of the daughters of Jerusalem, including the way this is negatively valenced re: her physical appearance -- but here they call her, "O fairest among women."

I hear them sympathetically here -- "Listen, girl, you are AWESOME. This guy's being a big tease and here you are falling for it. WHAT is so great about this guy that you are so focused on him, so determined to win him back? You could do better, girl!"

She praises his physical attributes and concludes, "His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." (Song of Songs 5:16)

Given the emphasis on the beloved’s physical beauty, I am struck by the line, “This is my beloved and this is my friend.” The contemporary ideal of romantic love between equals, soulmates and all that, isn’t something we encounter much in the Bible, but here it is.

I am unconvinced of her beloved's merits, but the daughters of Jerusalem, whether they buy it or whether they merely recognize that argument is futile, agree to help -- "Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women? Which way has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?" (Song of Songs 6:1)

She tells them, and in this way she seems almost to narratively enact the meeting -- she tells them where he has gone, and then we switch to praises directed at her, voiced by her beloved. Initially I actually thought that SHE was speaking to her beloved -- "terrible as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me!" (Song of Songs 6:4) This is not language we expect from a man to a woman, certainly not in Biblical texts.

“I went down to the nut orchard, to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.” (Song of Songs 6:11-12)

And again we are regaled by praises. And once again the Shulamite woman expresses her desire to bring her beloved home with her:
O that you were like a brother to me, who nursed at my mother’s breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of the one who bore me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
(Song of Songs 8:1-4)
This logistical mapping of where she would like her beloved’s hands echoes the early section where she is faint with love --
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
(Song of Songs 2:4-7)
This time we have combined the risk of rejection, her desire that their relationship be accepted, with her yearning desire for physical intimacy with him. “Do not stir or awaken love until it is ready” -- be prepared for all the yearning you will experience, yearning for things to be different than they are.

But there is a firmness underneath this yearning, grounding it and sustaining the one who is yearning.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of their house, it would be utterly scorned.
(Song of Songs 8:6-7)
For all the risk we have encountered in this story -- risk from others and even risk from the beloved -- we are still reminded of the fierce strength of love.

The book continues, with the Shulamite woman’s brothers re-entering the conversation, and the book ends with the lovers again not yet reunited --
O you who dwell in the gardens, my companions are listening for your voice; let me hear it. Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices!
(Song of Songs 8:13-14)
But for me, that passage is the culmination of the text -- “love is as strong as death.” Which I can’t say without adding that love is STRONGER than death -- God who is Love, incarnated as Jesus the Christ, triumphed over death. The love that God has for us, like the love between the Shulamite woman and her beloved, makes us faint sometimes, frightens us sometimes, but it always endures, bidding us out of our comfortable places -- and so perhaps the ending of the Song of Songs isn’t so off-putting after all … that promise of union that is both already and not yet.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

[32] of joys and covenants [Christmas 1B, CWM]

First Sunday after Christmas Day

Psalm 148
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

[This is the text I preached off of. My delivery was more colloquial.]

of joys and covenants

Today, the 8th Day of Christmas, many Christian churches celebrate the circumcision of Baby Jesus. I was telling my friend Shoshana that I’d agreed to preach on this Sunday. Being Jewish, she talked about circumcision as covenant and various other covenant moments in the Old Testament. I said that while “circumcision” is a catchy hook into talking about the day, the Gospel reading is mostly about Simeon and Anna’s songs of praise -- and that the other assigned readings for the day follow this praise theme. She said she would still talk about covenant.

I didn’t really have a theme in mind, and this one grew on me as I thought through the lectionary. (Yes, I do like having other people write my sermons for me.) I realized belatedly that of the 3 lectionary options for today, I’d actually picked the one that’s for the first Sunday after Christmas Day, whose Gospel reading begins the verse AFTER Jesus’ circumcision.

Mary and Joseph have shown up at the Temple to offer purification offering, and to present Mary’s firstborn to God. These commandments hearken back to Leviticus and Exodus, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, the Written Law. While the Law often gets something of a bad rap in Christianity, the Torah was a good gift from God, a guide for the people as to how to be in right relationship with God.

And this theme of covenant relationship continues in today’s texts.

Simeon was promised, “You will not see death before you have seen God’s Messiah,” and guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognizes in this newborn baby, the Messiah, the one who will not only be for the glory of God’s people Israel but also a light for revelation to the Gentiles -- salvation prepared in the presence of ALL peoples.

Simeon is hearkening back to Isaic prophecies. Thursday’s assigned lectionary speaks to us from Isaiah: “It is not enough [...] to restore the tribes of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6).

God’s salvation is not for a select few but is for the whole of creation. And this is a beautiful, wonderful, celebrative thing. Our reading from Isaiah introduces the language of marriage, but it stops before my favorite part:
Never again will you be called Forsaken. Never again will you be called Desolate. But you will be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land will be called Married. For HaShem will take delight in you and your land will be joined with God in wedlock. For just as a young couple marry, you will be forever married to this land; as a newly married couple rejoice over each other, so will HaShem rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
God will rejoice over this new relationship with us.

This helps me make some peace with the Galatians text. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that we are adopted as God’s children through Christ -- because we are ALREADY God’s beloved children by virtue of our existence.

But the Isaic texts remind me that pre-existing relationships can change. People who are to be married are still in love and committed prior to the actual ceremony -- but the ceremony change something about that relationship, both for themselves and for their community. There’s an intensifying that happens there.

And that’s sort of like what happens with the Incarnation -- though in some ways it’s as much an expansion as it is an intensification. For a long time, the Israelites were God’s chosen people. And that doesn’t always work out well -- Israel frequently lusts after foreign gods, upset that HaShem, the supposed God of Israel, isn’t giving her what she wants. This comes up a lot in the prophets -- HaShem calling Israel a whore but saying, “I still love you.” So Promise #1 is that HaShem and Israel will finally work out their issues and get married. Promise #2 is that transformation and right relationship will extend not just to Israel but to the whole world. Yes, God is singing the “Boom De Yada” song -- “I love the whole world...”

Through Christ, we are adopted into God’s family in a way that is somehow different than we were before -- as children; and if children, heirs; heirs to a promise.

So what do we do with this promise we have inherited?

As Jeff Mansfield (Associate Pastor at First Church Somerville) pointed out, now that the anticipatory season of Advent is fulfilled, we are faced with the newness of the Christ child, so what are we going to do with it?

[This is where my text ended. I extemp'ed about being bearers of that already-and-not-yet salvation and reconiliation, about remembering that this is not just between us and God in an individually relational way but is about the whole world.]


Editing the NRSV was fairly straightforward (initially I de-gendered Simeon, but then that got too clunky, so I let the masculine pronouns recur partway through; and Anna remained female the whole time), but I really liked what I did with Psalm 148 (adapted from the NRSV, The Inclusive Bible, and Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying) and wanted to share:
1 Alleluia! Praise God! Give praise from the heavens, and from all the ends of the earth!
2 Give praise all you angels; give praise all you hosts!
3 Give praise, sun and moon; give praise, all you shining stars!
4 Give praise, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the Name of Love, by whose Word they were created.
6 God established the enduring pattern of Creation.
7 Give praise from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 Fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling God’s Word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild and domesticated animals, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Rulers of the earth and all peoples, leaders of all nations, all the judges of the world!
12 Young people of all genders, old and young together!
13 Let them praise the Name of Love, which Name alone is exalted; whose majesty transcends heaven and earth,
14 And who has raised up a horn for God's people, praise for the faithful, the children of Israel, the people dear to God. Alleluia!