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Showing posts from 2009

Christmas Eve

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Whose Story Would You Rather Believe?
Luke 2:1–14 [15–20]

With the intimate associations of Christmas to home and family, comfort and security, Christmas Eve is not always seen as an evangelical opportunity. And this may not be the best time to pressure people into making a personal commitment for Christ.

Yet Christmas is a crucial time when we can choose whose story to listen to, whose story to believe.

One story blares on Caesar’s Network News. This story shows the Emperor literally ruling over the world. Images of Caesar and Roman gods fill every city, proclaiming “Caesar is Lord.” This story reinforces the message that you had best submit, in order to enjoy the blessings of Roman-imposed peace. Significance and value are defined by how you fit into the Imperial story. In this story, Joseph and Mary were a flyspeck among countless conquered peoples, their role simply to pay tribute and glorify Rome.

Yet there is this little bitty baby...

If it were up to Caesar, you would never hear his …

Unbalanced Load Error

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My long-distance friend Erik Doughty writes weekly prayers based on the lectionary. This week's seemed especially timely. (Prayer based on texts for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, year C.)

"Unbalanced Load Error" blinks at us from the washing machine, which does not work well now, despite the Frequently Asked Questions online, and the Knowledge Database. Someone will need to arrive with the ability to repair it, soon.

That washer is not the only one
with an unbalanced load error.
We carry with us the weight of Too Much--
Too Much Responsibility,
Too Much Stuff
Too Much to Afford
Too Much to Understand
Too Much to Do
Too Much to Bear.

Arrive soon, Christ Jesus,
with mercy and strength.
Re-balance us, that we
who have Too Much
may share with those
who have need;
and what pain and struggle
no one needs
take from us and destroy.

You who give grace to the unremarkable and unexpected, grace us too. Wash us clean, right our balance, send us out to get our hands dirty in your world as we continu…

Peace be upon Fort Hood

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Coming out of the bank today, I heard the guy in front of me exchange a greeting of peace with someone: "Salaam Aleichem - Peace (or well-being) be upon you." So as I approached him I wished him the same, and he answered back.

As we walked to our cars I called out to him, "One of the things I love about Islam is that you cannot get though the day without speaking peace."

Only a little while later I heard from a friend, soon to deploy to Egypt with the National Guard, about the shootings at Fort Hood, and the report that a shooter had an Arab name. One is always on unstable ground if one rushes to simple explanations of tragedy. But it is not hard to imagine that violence can infect and affect those exposed to it, sometimes fatally, and that words of peace must be butressed with works of peace.

God, all-powerful, all-compassionate, all-knowing, all-merciful: dwell with all those touched by violence, and minister to any who are tempted to hatred. Grant rest to those sl…

All Saints

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On Sunday, the church observes All Saints Day (also known as All Souls or All Hallows) Day. At All Saints, the church remembers all those who have gone before us in faith, and especially those who have died in the preceding year.

The word Hallowe'en is a contraction of All Hallows Evening, the night before All Saints Day. It was an Irish and Scots custom to place a candle in their western (sun-setting) window on the eve of All Hallows' to honor the departed. There has also been a folk belief that the souls of those who have died continue to roam the earth until All Saints Day, and from this comes the association of Halloween with ghost, witches, ghouls, gobblins, monsters.

Then on All Saints Day, we remember the new life that Christ has promised. At St. Matthews in Jersey City we will remember our loved ones who have died, writing their names in a memorial book. We will light yahrzeit candles and bring them one by one to the high altar, so that the memory of the blessed dead is …

A Prayer

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God of wind and of rain, God of sunlight and shadow, ruler of seasons and turnings, nurture and sustain in us trust in thy goodness and confidence in thy loving faithfulness, that, as we are turned and tossed by changes beyond our control, we may always turn to thee and seek thy grace, trusting in the one who lives in us and gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Art by Liz Wright, "Determination, or Weathering the Storm."
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Children and prayer

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Prayer Corner - October, 2009

Our gospel readings lately have had Jesus involved with children. The gospels do not describe him teaching children to pray, as he did with his older disciples. But prayer is a natural desire of young people, just as it is with those of greater years. They, and we, long for One who will hear our inmost voice. And just as with other forms of speech, children benefit from examples, teaching, and practice.

There are at least three basic things adults can do to help children develop a prayer life. The first is to pray yourself, so that people – including children – can see that prayer is part of your life. Even better is praying together with the children in your life, holding hands as you pray, or they pray, or you say the same prayers together.

This leads naturally to the second basic way to help children with prayer. Teach them. Teach and repeat prayers they can use, and teach habits and times for prayer. The world’s prayer warriors most often began with sim…

September 11th - Eight years later

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We notice anniversaries, sometimes in our flesh and bones, even when the calendar date is not consciously marked or observed. It still strikes me as a little jarring when September 11th (2009) is referenced simply as a date on the calendar, when ordinary meetings are scheduled, bars hold happy hours, and movies are premiered. I’m ok with that - it's natural and even good. I’m just noting it as my reaction.

Eight years of living means that much has happened since that morning when the sky was bright and clear, and an ordinary day became so deeply marked, profoundly affecting to so many.

Those four planes striking the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, and those two collapsing towers, sent out ripples which are still being felt.

We have had eight years of wars, with costs far exceeding the heavy toll of 9/11/01. The cruelty perpetrated eight years ago has unfortunately been multiplied in military and civilian casualties, in expressions of ethnic prejudice, in to…

Who do you say that I am?

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The gospel reading for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Mark 8:27-38.

Of course, Jesus' question is not about his identity - who he really is - but how people see him and relate to him. Our answer, of necessity, says more about our self than it can say about Jesus.

It seems significant to me that this question comes at a particular place in Mark's gospel. It is the setup for the Transfiguration story, where Jesus' God-given identity will be revealed, shrouded, and misunderstood. But it also comes at a particular place. For the first time in Mark, Jesus is in Roman territory. It is when he approaches the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi that he asks the question. Identity politics were not invented in our generation.

Jesus' identity - or how he is seen - has a particular meaning in relation to the empire. The rest of the gospel turns on this point. Is he the Son of God (divi filius, the same appellation used of Emperor Augustus)? Or is he a rebellious slave who mus…

Oh say, can you see?

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I receievd an email today, forwarded who knows how many times. It contained a picture of the Statue of Libery photoshopped to overlook a freeway, with photoshopped highway signs. One pointed the way to "Welfare Dept," "Social Security," and "Free Medical." The other announced "Entering Meximerica." [I have reduced the photo's resolution so it cannot be used for its intended purpose.]

The original author of the email then provided commentary: "No apology for sending this! After hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Spanish - enough is enough. Nowhere did they sing it in Italian, Polish, Irish (Celtic), German or any other language because of immigration." It goes on to decry Spanish versions of the Star Spangled Banner. And it is followed by other comments claiming the author has nothing against immigration, but that immigration today is not like it was in the good old days, presumably when their ancestors came.

But the or…

A new day in Iraq

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There are many pictures which reflect the past six years of war in Iraq. Far too many show destruction, blood, and death. Today, even as U.S. military forces leave Iraqi cities, the conflicts and interests which have made Iraq a place of violence have not been transformed. Yet we look forward in hope that a step away from occupation is a step towards better governance for the people of Iraq, and a step towards healing some of the wounds of war.

God of justice and God of hope, lead the nations of Iraq and the United States of America to peace. Heal the wounds of warfare and of division, that your people may prosper. Thwart the aims of the wicked, and restrain the hands of those who seek to do violence. Help us to know the immense cost of war, and let us seek always to build rather than bomb. Strengthen us in the ways of peace and the bonds of reconciliation, that we might overcome the next temptation to attack, trusting in the goodness of your desire for us and your hope for the world. …

Prayer and revolution

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There are all kinds of things which make a celebrity. In the face of the on-going press of urgent competition for the world's attention, I would like to briefly recall someone from whom the media gaze will soon pass.

Neda Agha Soltan has become a symbol of the violent suppression of dissent in Iran. Neda's name means "the voice" or "the call" in Farsi. She studied philosophy, took underground singing lessons, and was engaged to be married. On June 20, 2009 ahe was shot and killed, apparently by government security forces, during a Tehran protest against the Iranian election results.

The graphic video of her death (Neda Agha Soltan, killed 20.06.2009) has helped make her death a focal image for seeing the conflict in Iran (perhaps similar to images from the U.S. killings at Kent State in 1970). Her bloody image has been used in protests, and pictures of her have been used in memorial gatherings. And the killing of a peaceful demonstator, when seen in this way,…

Gambling with leadership

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Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying he could not believe that God plays dice with the universe. Not so, apparently, with apostolic succession!

“And the believers cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:26

I like this story. It is, of course, possible to read this in a determinative way that sees God as in charge of every last detail of the universe, therefore the dice had to land the way God wanted them to, ensuring that the "right" disciple replaced Judas to complete Jesus' twelve-man leadership team. For me, this approach runs counter to my faith, and begs way too many questions. (If the Twelve were so important to Jesus and in Acts 1, whatever happened to that institution? And a myriad of issues related to predestination and theodicy. Did God "set up" Judas as the betrayer and did God demand the murder of Jesus? If God is in charge of everything, is not God then the author of evil? And this theo-logic…

The Word goes where it will

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Notes on Acts 8:26-40 for the fifth Sunday in Easter.

Everything about this story is incredible. Did you really expect to see an Ethiopian eunuch, a man at once powerful and marginalized? Add to this the fact he is either a very marginal Jew, or a God-fearer who has found in the God of Israel something that speaks to him. And speaks strongly enough for him to acquire and study the holy writings of Israel. Have you ever tried to read a Hebrew scroll while bouncing along a wilderness road? The appearance of the water itself is a surprising thing in the desert – but perhaps not as exalted or lush as painters have imagined it. We picture an oasis, but it might just as easily be a humble waterhole.

The eunuch asks: "What is to prevent me from being baptized"?

Well, almost everything. The eunuch is missing the sign of the covenant (circumcision) for Jewish males. And, missing his testicles, he would not have been permitted in the Temple to worship. He could never be a "full memb…

Augusto Boal

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Augusto Boal, actor, activist, teacher, humanitarian, died early on Saturday, May 2nd.

Augusto Boal is best known internationally for developing Theater of the Oppressed (T.O.), what he called a "grammar" of theatrical methods, related to Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. T.O. aims to help people, using their senses and bodies, perceive, analyze, and transform situations of oppression. It invites spectators to become spect-actors, fully involved not simply in theatrical performance, but in the life-work of liberation.

Because of his work, Boal was viewed as a threat by Brazil's military rulers. Iin 1971, Boal was kidnapped, tortured, and eventually exiled to Argentina, then self-exiled to Europe. This period of exile led to the publication of his first major theater text, Theatre of the Oppressed, and to the spread of his method to Europe and North America. Since then, T.O. has literally traveled aroud the world, with active and beautiful work on every contine…

Easter

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When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [Mark…

Holy Saturday

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The day between Good Friday and Easter does not get much attention. Seemingly, nothing happens. The gospel texts lay Jesus in the tomb before the sundown beginning the sabbath. And then, nothing until morning of the following day.

Tradition has filled in the gap, having Jesus descend to the dead, breaking open the gates of hell, and bringing his resurrection to the righteous dead of earlier generations.

It is also a day for churches to be busy with preparations for the Resurrection celebration of the vigil service or Sunday morning.

But that day after his death, Holy Saturday, deserves its own place. It is a time where one thing has ended, and the new thing that is to follow is not yet visible. "A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how" [Mark 4:26b-27]. Buried in the earth, out of sight, under the radar a holy mystery is taking place.

In the "real world," his followers are ob…

Good Friday

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We pray to you this day mindful of the sorry confusion of our world.

Look with mercy upon this generation of your children, so steeped in misery of their own contriving, so far strayed from your ways and so blinded by passions.

We pray for the victims of tyranny, that they might resist oppression with courage and may preserve their integrity by a hope which defies the terror of the moment.

We pray for wicked and cruel men, whose arrogance reveals to us what the sin of our own hearts is like when it has conceived and brought forth its final fruit.

O God, who resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, bring down the mighty from their seats.

Excerpt from a prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr. Artwork by Edward Boccia, Stations of the Cross - Station XII Jesus Dies on the Cross (1964).
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Prayer for Binghamton

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Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy;
Christe eleison – Christ have mercy;
Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.
Like most acts of violence there are likely many strands which came together to produce today's massacre.

It is tragically easy to find a scapegoat. But there has never been a scapegoat that deserved the weight of all the sins cast upon them.

O God, you came among us and suffered the pain of violence and the loss of your life. Have mercy upon our fallen world. Receive the dead into your care. Lay your healing hand upon the wounded and suffering. And bring forth compassion and mercy among your people, that violence be met with love, and that which is senseless may bring forth better understanding among your people. Amen.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke - People embrace outside a Catholic Charities office where counselors tend to relatives of victims of the shooting in Binghamton N.Y., Friday, April 3, 2009.
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Hosanna

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This Sunday is Palm Sunday - the last Sunday in Lent and the entrance into Holy Week. For centuries, Christians have turned again and again to the story of Jesus' Passion.

This story exposes the work of sin which condemns righteousness to death, makes sacrificial offering of others, and leaves a trail of broken bodies. And this story also reveals God's mysterious work of salvation, realized in forgiveness, self-giving love, and the breaking of bread.

Come - let us turn our hearts to the mystery of Holy Week and the victory of God. The shouts of "Hosanna!" which Christians so often hear as triumphal hope, actually means "Please save!" or "Save now!" One of the roots of Christian praise is in our experience of God as savior. And, regardless of nuance, our approach to God is always connected with our need - to be made whole, for forgiveness, for deliverance.

As we draw near to Jerusalem, as we prepare to ascend to the place of pilgrimage, let us pray.

O…

Amazing

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It's amazing what the world wide web will tell you.

Amazing Grace is a three bedroom, three bathroom mountain top chalet with beautiful views... (Amazing Grace Chalet - Pigeon Forge, TN)

Amazing Grace (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a large weeping tree up to 35' tall and more tree-like than typical weeping katsuras...

Amazing Grace is mostly vegetarian, but they do serve some chicken and turkey dishes... (Denver Skiing Lifestyle)

Amazing Grace is our best selling fragrance and was created to make a woman feel and smell infinitely feminine. Amazing Grace allows you to wear a beautiful dress every day of the week... (philosophy amazing grace for women perfume collection)


This week we will hear the Gospel of John give a different take on grace: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be…

I read the news today

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I noticed a headline today: Obama's plan to hike taxes meets fierce opposition. NPR told me that the wealthy no longer wish to flaunt private jets, and that television producers are no longer greenlighting projects with "tricked out people living their tricked out lives" (Marketplace: Less bling on TV screens next season). Bernie Madoff says his $7 million penthouse and $62 million in investments belong to his wife and have nothing to do with his theft of billions (Madoff: NYC Penthouse, $62 Million Are Mine).

In completely unrelated news, a friend called seeking help after receiving a foreclosure letter. Another acquaintance, evicted from their apartment, is almost lucky to be sick enough to be in the hospital rather than on the street. The local liquor store reports that business is good. 12.5% of the world (900 million people) is hungry; two thirds of Americans (200 million) are overweight.

"Gluttony (from Seven Deadly Demons),"Artemio Rodriguez.
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Prayer at the start of Lent

How hard it is to contemplate a fast, Lord, when we already feel starved for what we need. How difficult to walk into the desert, when we already feel barren and alone. Help us in our distress. Whatever our circumstance, give us the grace to know your abundant presence. Feed us with your abiding love. And strengthen us with courage and trust to follow you wherever you would have us go: to wilderness or urban jungle; slum or suburb; hut, skyscraper, or marbled hall; to cross, to tomb, and, we pray, into your eternal kingdom, through Jesus Christ, our fellow pilgrim and Lord. Amen.
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Ashes and Lent

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Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

So began the day, so begins the season. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, marks the time in the church year when we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross.

The ashes remind us of Jesus' journey to the cross and of human sin which grieves God. They remind us of our own mortality. And they also serve as a mark of God's grace. As we carry Christ's cross with us, so also we share in his resurrection.

This morning, lay ministers from St. Matthew's offered ashes to more than 160 commuters at the Grove Street PATH station, the sixth year now. It is always a bit amazing the way people will stop, sometimes turning around, when they feel that God is close, reaching out to them, touchable.

This year our congregation's approach to Lent is to keep it simple. Sunday worship. Wednesday evening gathering for prayer and contemplation with scripture. We'll join with another congregation to walk a labyrinth.

Som…

Prayer of the day

For whom this day do we need to pray?

For the people answering customer service hotlines...
For everyone in debt...
For those who work outside in the cold...
For those who are homebound...
For everyone trying to make a budget or a payroll...
For those who are imprisoned...
For child soldiers...
For those who prepare meals...
For Rod Blagojevich...
For doubters, and still more for the cynical...
For all those who work for the church...
For musicians and artists and poets...
For AA and NA and OA and GA and DA and all those seeking recovery...
For the past and present readers of this blog...
For prophets...
For parents, siblings, children...

And for ourselves, dear Lord, that you may dwell in us. That we may have what we need. That we may be known by others. That love may grow in our lives and relationships. That prayer be often on our lips, that we be blessed to give and to receive, and that you see us safely home to the peace we have in Ch…

This Land Is Our Land

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The post I want to write will take me a little longer. So let me simply offer a few snapshots.

I am very fortunate in that I live, work, and attend church in places which have ethnic and other kinds of diversity. But not everywhere I go looks like that. The people on the Mall looked like America. The buses came from everywhere. I talked with a teacher from DeKalb, Illinois, a group of Native Americans from eastern Oregon, local folks from DC. The American idea has always been that we are more than the sum of our parts.

[The photo is of Lisa Bellan-Boyer, singing "This Land is Your Land."]

During the inauguration ceremony, the area surrounding the Capital, Mall, and parade route was temporarily the 5th largest city in the U.S. The DC folks should have consulted with United for Peace and Justice on crowd management. The numbers were through the roof – the planning was not.

My favorite official picture of the day: President-Elect Obama with his hand on the Bible used to swear in Pr…