Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Folklife discussion

On Memorial Day, Rich was asked to be a part of a panel which discussed to work of clergy.

Folklife Panel Discussion 5/27/13 Opening Statement
When we talked about this panel we discovered that the three of us were pulled in different directions. The direction that I wanted to go was not so much about the WHAT of my work, the what is quite broad… Since entering into seminary my calling has led me to the bedside of the dying and to lead celebrations of a birth, from joining some in marriage to sheltering one from an abusive spouse, from creating poetry, painting and pottery, to balancing budgets. I’ve unclogged toilets for Jesus, cleaned up puke and feces and dug latrines. I’ve broken laws and been arrested. I’ve shoveled lots of snow sometimes off the roof of the church. I’ve helped a farmer in crisis clean out a barn full of dead chickens. I’ve cooked for scores of folks, slept on sidewalks and in the basement of my church alongside those who were homeless. I’ve led teenagers in games and senior citizens in protests. I’ve listened to the stories of homeless people, and shared those stories with Senators. I’ve organized little old ladies to stand against the militarization of space and others to stand against the sale of the land under their homes. I’ve had my life threatened, been cussed out, and been fired from my job as a minister because of my faith.


The what of ministry can be pretty interesting and I have lots of stories but I’m here to talk about the why. As a pastor it is my job to support and guide my community of faith, but why? In this I am not speaking for my colleagues here much less clergy in general. I am only speaking for myself; and for me, all of the things that I do are so that those around me might experience a real alternative to the world view that has formed and dominated our civilization.


Through ritual and story, through poetry and song, through art and public action my job is to help the people of my congregation live into their role as those who preserve and promote a radically alternative view of what human life and civilization can be.


It started with that foundational experience of the Exodus. Deep in our ancient past a group of slaves had the world changing, audacious idea that God was on their side. Despite the evidence, the fact that their masters lived in luxury, had the support of scores of priests, worshipped in magnificent temples, and had a far superior ability to utilize violence; these slaves believed that the formative and sustaining power of the universe was not apathetic to the plight of humans, or on the side of those with the power to dominate but was passionately, actively on their side, seeking their liberation.


Civilization as we have come to know it was formed by systems of domination. So we tend to think of domination as being the natural order, and even the divinely mandated order of the universe. Many tend to see God as the Dominator in Chief. Those who had obtained the power to dominate were thought to be blessed by God, and the blessings of God were and are measured in terms of such power, the power to control others through the use of wealth or violence.


But what if God was really on the side of the victims of domination? What sort of God would that be? What sort of thing would be understood to be power? What form would the human community take? What sort of economic system would we have if our primary concern was for the most vulnerable and not the most powerful? What sort of political system?


For me, the Exodus broke open human history, later thinkers in the Bible and elsewhere have sought to answer some of the many questions that arose when trying to understand the nature of the God who stands with slaves, and the nature of the human community built on the foundation of faith in that God. Ultimately it led to a Christian thinker proclaiming that God is agape or self-giving love.


If that is true, if the formative and sustaining force in the universe is self-giving love, then violence has no place in a community, greed should not be the foundational motivation for economics, war and poverty and hate need not be the norms of the human community.


The Bible and history shows us that communities built on the foundation of this radical notion can, over time, be twisted back into conformity with the values and practices of domination. But history also shows that even in these twisted forms their lies the seeds of this radical alternative awaiting fertile ground. That’s how I think about my Baptist upbringing. That even in that domination based form of Christianity these stories were preserved.


Everyday in the world the themes of domination are blasted at us, in newspapers and television, in adds and cartoons, books and games and movies. We are told that our identity is found in what we own and consume. We are told of the necessary and redemptive virtues of violence. We are taught to fear strangers, to envy the wealthy and beautiful, ignore the sick and disabled, and condemn the poor for their poverty. And unless we continually challenge these messages they will pass into our heads and become “common sense.”


You don’t need to be a Christian to promote this alternative perspective. You don’t need to believe in a passionately partisan Spirit of the divine. But metaphors help us get at these concepts, rituals help us make them sacred for a community, and a community can more effectively preserve and transmit these ideas than isolated individuals.


So I help maintain a community of faith, and that community seeks to use its resources to promote forms of self-giving love like social justice, social service, non-violence, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness.


My congregation is small but because they are committed to this vision they keep open a space for the seeds of this vision to grow. This past week at my church, a Taiwanese Christian Community worshipped, the Peace Chorus and the Labor Chorus rehearsed, the Dances of Universal Peace danced, the Seattle Insight Meditation Society Meditated, community members came together to organize against climate change, and others came together to see a film and talk about preserving wilderness areas. Buddhists, Sufis, Atheists, Agnostics, all find a home in Keystone because we know that this vision is bigger than religion, and more important than the things that divide us. 



Friday, May 24, 2013


Cover Photo

Different Colors, different shapes, one fire.

Pentecost is the season in which we celebrate the Spirit of God, symbolized in wind and flame.
Pentecost is the season in which we are reminded that our faith isn't just about events and people in the past but about what the Spirit of God is calling us to do and be right now.

Welcome to Pentecost