Sunday, July 30, 2006

Big Dig Boston Blog

James Taylor, Never Die Young
We were ring-around-the-rosy children
They were circles around the sun
Never give up, never slow down
Never grow old, never ever die young

Synchronized with the rising moon
Even with the evening star
They were true love written in stone
They were never alone, they were never that far apart

And we who couldn't bear to believe they might make it
We got to close our eyes
Cut up our losses into doable doses
Ration our tears and sighs ...

Oh, hold them up, hold them up
Never do let them fall
Prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin
That names us and claims us and shames us all
It's about time—lots and lots of time plus lots and lots of $$$, making the now-notoriously legendary CA/T Central Artery/Tunnel project, a.k.a. Big Dig the most expensive public works project ever in the history of this realm of the Americas; the latest cost quote I could find cited $14.6 billion, spelled out as $14,600,000,000. But trust Boston to do things right—maybe especially when it comes to scale! After all, when the Red Sox finally won the World Series, they wowed the entire world by coming back from 0 for 3 in that series, and from an incalculable disadvantage for oh so many seasons prior to 2004.

The Big Dig operates under the aegis of the Turnpike Authority! "Mass Pike" evokes drives to Lenox and Stockbridge; I have memories of betting $2.00 on Mass Pike to place or show at Suffolk Downs.

Most expensive...what then are we to say about this? From scripture's standpoint of covenantal justice, what was happening and what's going on now? Lots of pork doled out for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' congressional delegation's constituency: that's a fact. Has The Big Dig generated a lot of jobs? At what wages? Employment for people who otherwise might not have been working? How about the multiplier effect TBG has had on companies and corporations that mine and manufacture inputs for physical infrastructure? Kickbacks? Must've been a lot of those, and not only because TBG is about Massachusetts, but simply because Tip O'Neill's aphorism about back room deals always obtains.

Of course you gotta consider cost-benefit ratio; whenever I use the word "even" I always feel like apologizing, but even within the closely linked temporal/spiritual sphere, you need to give up some thing to get a desired other thing. Therefore let's ask, "Who has benefited and how? Who will continue to benefit?" While I was living, or sojourning - or whatever you want to call it - in Boston during summer 2000, my friend and housemate (landlord, too) Nick frequently ventured out to artistic and musical venues (churches, too, but Nick and church is another story for another blog). One afternoon he returned home and told me about a building-to-building art exhibition he'd just experienced in the South End. Among the details he described a couple of guys living in a loft that amazingly was appointed exactly according to the early 1970s—"red candles melting down the sides of Chianti bottles and a paisley tablecloth, too." Meanwhile, Nick exclaimed, the entire world outside their windows was being disrupted for about the 345,567,678th time, but between their nirvana and their painterly endeavors they remained oblivious. Immediately outside their studio loft home, TBG kept noisily rolling along. But I began this paragraph asking about benefits, and for sure government of all sizes has learned it is no more politically correct than it is morally so to dislocate lives and families by destroying their habitats and disarticulating their physical environments which, after all, have become an integral aspect of their psychological and spiritual milieus. JT speaks of sighs and tears, and agonizingly I recall tearfully sighing at yet another fire-gutted building, yet another boarded-up house. During my high school years, live experiences of blockbusting, white flight, redlining, urban blight and inner-city decay made me learn to cut up my losses into doable doses...just the same as my current style of operating. I'm not sure, however, those concerns need to be part of a chronicle about TBG?! No more razing – and killing – communities to present the outside world another Lincoln Center in the wake of needless unredemptive death; no more demolished West Ends...the world learned what transpired in those and closely-related "cases" hardly amounted to resurrection! But nonetheless, we did study them seriously in my Urban Studies program courses—you know Case Studies in Urban Renewal.

In the Hebrew scriptures God refers to the city Shiloh – one of the shrines of the Tribal Confederacy – as the place God's Name first dwelt. The city! Not the apparently forsaken desert of wilderness wanderings that yet was the site of identity-formation and teeming with undetected life beneath the immediately observable, but the city: communications, infrastructure, cash transactions, middle-class and middle-person, near-infinite cultural and ethnic and educational diversity, where people imagine they know the source and time of their next meal and next pay envelope or paycheck, imagining themselves no longer dependent upon gracious gift, imagining their living actually secured—but by what means, and by whom? There's well-developed theology about the concept of God's Name/God's Presence in the Hebrew Bible, and centuries later, we have Martin Luther's theology of the ubiquity of the Risen and Ascended Christ. Ubiquity: the Crucified, Risen and Ascended One indwells The Big Dig and all its artifacts and excrescences! Yes!

With at least a half-dozen more blogs in mind and needing to be in class at 7:00 tomorrow morning, I'll sign off from this with a couple more song lyric quotes; just in case you even wondered, I'll tell you JT is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. Beyond the referenced song and album, I'm not familiar with Martin Page or much more so with Eddie Money, whom I heard at a pre-Winter Olympics campaign rally in Salt Lake City during the mid-1990's, and a few Faith Journeys back I quoted "Peace in Our Time." I'll try to retrieve a copy of that document and blog it onto this far by faith.

Martin Page, "In the House of Stone and Light":

O Mount Kailas, uncover me
Come my restoration; wash my body clean
I've been walking along a crooked path
Where the walls have fallen and broken me in half ...
I'm telling you I will not rest till I lay down my head
In the house of stone and light
I make my way; O gonna be such a beautiful day
In the house of stone and light
Eddie Money, Peace In Our Time, from The Sound Of Money
Never gonna break down the walls
And build the prison with the stone
Cause you and I know what love is worth
We're gonna build a heaven on earth
Running in the wheels of fortune turning water into wine
Gonna make love the bottom line gonna find peace in our time
We're gonna build a heaven here on earth
Turning water, water into wine making love the bottom line
Finding peace, peace in our time

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Grace for the Journey

Proper 9B/Ordinary 14B/Pentecost 5/July 9, 2006

Mark 6:1, 7-13 NRSV

1 Jesus...came into his hometown; and his disciples followed him.
7 And he summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits;
8 and he instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—
9 but to wear sandals; and he added, "Do not put on two tunics."
11 "Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them."
12 They went out and preached that people should repent.
13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.

Prayer:

God, sometimes as thunder rolls, we barely hear You whisper through the rain, "I'm here with you," as Your mercy and grace fall upon us. God, we'll praise You through our lives; You are with us here; You never leave our sides or leave us on our own. We praise You forevermore, in Jesus' Name, Amen!

Casting Crowns' song, "Praise you in this Storm" from their Lifesong album inspired this prayer.

Proclamation: Grace for the Journey

We just heard a narrative about us from the gospel according to Mark. Jesus summoned or called his followers and sent them out "in pairs" – not alone, but two-by-two, with each other for companionship [explain further]. And Jesus tells them to travel with only bare essentials, to trust that God will supply their needs for food and shelter—through the welcoming hospitality of people they meet along their journey. That sounds a lot like here, too. [explain further]

Mark's account mentions Jesus' hometown, and in a real sense Jesus' hometown is what we have here, because wherever God's Holy Spirit gather God's people together, God dwells among them and within them; God dwells within us and among us, right here, as well.

Jesus sends them – Jesus sends us – to share meals and sustenance with each other but amazingly relying on gracious gifts of strangers they encounter along the way. All that spells interdependence—just like here!

Jesus gives his followers authority over unclean spirit: addictions, demons, distractions, consternations—everyone has some of those! And Jesus' disciples call folks to repent, to make a 180-degree turned-around attitude and a turned-around lifestyle. Each of us needs some changes of direction away from situations and behaviors that have become negative and life-defeating.

But in plain human term, all of this does not sound possible; it goes way far beyond a tall order and moves right into the realm of human impossibility!

Let's hear some words of scripture from the apostle Paul [explain Paul: Romans, Galatians]. In this passage, Paul begins by referencing life's experiences of contentment, well-being and success, but goes beyond that to talk about some of those more difficult times that happen to all of us, and sometimes far too frequently. I'm going to read from Leslie Brandt's version of 2 Corinthians, called Epistles Now! [explain translation and version]

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | From Leslie F. Brandt's Epistles Now! © Concordia Publishing House 1974, 1975:
Praise God for these cases of ecstasy that occasionally spice up our travels through the alleys and valleys of human suffering!

We cherish them—for ourselves and for others.

Nevertheless, our relationship to God is not dependent upon them, these mountaintop episodes in our lives, nor are the irrefutable proof of such a relationship.

God's Spirit indwells and empowers us regardless of the highs and lows of our day-by-day existence.

Over against the ecstatic high points of irrepressible joy are those balloon-puncturing experiences that flatten us in despair.

It may well be that we need both in our lives to keep us close to our Creator and Redeemer.

The remarkable thing is that the Spirit of God is often more obvious and more capable of using us during these low points of our lives.

They may actually, though indirectly, be the means by which we recognize and learn to rely on God's promised grace.

God is great; God accepts us as we are.

He can work out His purposes through us—even in spite of us.

We need only to submit to Him our whole beings—strengths, weaknesses, and all—and let Him have His way with us.
A more familiar, direct translation says, "my grace is enough for you because God's power becomes perfect in weakness." The word used for perfect literally says God's grace achieves its goal of filling and indwelling us when our human resources are so gone we have no choice whatsoever but reliance on God. Just as Pastor Leslie Brandt expresses it, God's Spirit often becomes more capable of using us for God's purpose during those times of total and near-total devastation and helplessness because they typically are the times we know we need to depend on God. So those are the times God's Holy Spirit fills us, making it possible for us to be the apparently humanly impossible presence of God in each others' lives.

The word Paul uses for grace, the free to us, unearned gift from God is charis exactly as in the word "charismatic." To be charismatic means to be a bearer of grace, to carry gracious, loving, welcoming acceptance to others wherever we go.

In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul charges us to "welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you!" How has God welcomed us in Christ?

In the cross of Calvary, Jesus draws all creation to himself so we live reconciled, put back together with God, each other and all creation. In the cross of Good Friday, Jesus is the supreme bearer of grace – the ultimately charismatic One – offering each of us unearned gifts of forgiveness and brand new beginnings. New beginnings? Yes! Because Jesus' God, our God, is the God who raises the dead to new life, and who would not dare trust such a God? Who would not want to follow the God who raises the dead?

Jesus calls us and draws us to himself, and in the Holy Spirit sends us out from his hometown—from here, where God has gathered us together. He sends us out with a Holy Spirit-filled measure of his authority, which is the authority of God, the power of heaven on earth, to cast out demons, to heal, to raise the dead!

How do we attain and maintain that divine nature, the nature of God? It happens when we obediently live connected to God in Christ, because then we live connected to God's power and authority, exactly like Jesus Christ himself. But how exactly? Some ways include attending bible study, participating in bible study, going to church, praying, reading the scriptures...[more]

God is here with us! Jesus Christ sends us out with his authority, the authority of the God who raises the dead, and who is with all of us wherever we go!

To God alone be glory,

Amen and amen!!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spaces Places

Here's a short continuation of Products and Packaging in the guise of another containers, borders, wrappings and enclosures essay; I'm still emphasizing church but won't take time to focus on anything specific.

Spaces, places: boundaries of spaces get named as particular places. The Great Church or Cathedral shelters Square and Marketplace, a prime locale for news, information and announcements and a trustworthy general gathering space. Quadrangles surrounding churches became the very first financial districts, original Central Business Districts—you know all about the CBD! Around the Grote Kerk's perimeter people still buy, sell, trade and barter hand-crafted goods as well as manufactured ones and garden-grown produce, with these days' offerings including local stuff plus imported goods and bads.

In casual speech even those of us who are theologically articulate refer to a church building as "the church." One can see church steeples from a distant and far land: "One if by land; two if by sea!" ...although there are very few of those steeples here in the Southwest. Nevertheless, church buildings of all dimensions in towns and cities of every size remain landmarks and tourist destinations, sometimes targets for inopportune activities, such as negative graffiti and arson.

Frequently a church building's interior becomes the space describing life's most significant events for both traditionally churched and not so church-wise: blessings and baptisms; quinciƱeras, nuptials; funerals, memorials and farewells. In some older European churches, people are buried underneath the church! University chancellors used to teach in the chancel of the church or cathedral, acquiring that privileged location in response to their academic position, receiving their title from the place called "chancel."

Let's bring time into this blog, too, because it serves a similar bounding function! In his his 1990 Brazilian Rhythm of the Saints, Paul Simon sang "Born at the Right Time":

Down among the reeds and rushes A baby boy was found
His eyes as clear as centuries His silky hair was brown
Never been lonely Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear Nothing denied to
Born at the instant The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering Born at the right time . . .

But among the reeds and rushes A baby girl was found
Her eyes as clear as centuries Her silky hair was brown
Never been lonely Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear Nothing denied to
Born at the instant The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering Born at the right time . . .

Announcing linear time, church bells ring out hours, half hours and quarter hours; at least as often, particularly in more rural areas in this country and abroad, church bells announce births, deaths and impending disasters. I heard about a town in rural Pennsylvania where every family had its own melodic bell pattern! Very cool, in my opinion.

We chronicle wind events, cardiac events, this current nation-wide ultra-hot weather event, terrorist events (too close for comfort?), Christ Event, all of these being measurable in longitude, latitude and calendar time. Human creatures need those parameters! We celebrate the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Yahweh of the Exodus, God of the Prophets, God and Father of Jesus Christ as One who supremely self-reveals in measured history, who became incarnate and still is incarnate in creaturely history.

Nearly everyone knows Robert Frost's "Good fences make good neighbors"; a little while ago the gates of this condo complex disappeared for needed repairs and since then several bicycles have been stolen and there have been a few incidents of less than welcome intruders, so it's possible reliable gates keep mischief at bay. That's all for this topic at this particular time; may the spacious place known as home welcome you at whatever time you need it to be there for you!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Products and Packaging

Late October 2007 update: on the PCUSA blog, Stushie recently wrote about picking blackberries.

My original title, since I needed to call is something: Ecclesiology Containers Conveyers Packaging Freedom
Paraphrased from an internet search:
From 1950 to 1975, the now late Container Corporation of America ran an advertising campaign, "Great Ideas of Western Man," in periodical publications such as Time and Fortune. Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer, who at the time was CCA's Art Director, commissioned eminent illustrators and designers to illustrate quotes from a many-centuries-long continuum of philosophers, writers, scientists, politicians, cultural and religious luminaries. But this is on desert spirit's fire, so clearly it's going to be theology!

Since around Christmas-time I have used up lots of time hankering after blackberries, checking the stores to find out if this week maybe they're on sale at a good price and getting a dozen packages whenever the blackberry acquisition fee has been right. I need to clarify I'm writing about edible consumables and not electronics—but you know that!

Interestingly, blackberries belong to the rose – Rosaceae – family, with thorns on their stems just like both wild and cultivated roses, and producing highly desirable results, just like roses. As they grow, the fruit-bearing older growth of blackberries makes brambles or briar thickets that sometimes seem impenetrable to humans, but serve as great refuge and shelter for some wildlife species. One easily could say the thorns, the brambles and those briars are a stipulation of enjoying the product: succulent berries. In other words, briarpatches are necessary conditions of having blackberry consequences! Yum! Although I enjoy other berries, especially straw and blue, so far as I'm concerned, blackberries wear the Berry Kingdom's crown.

My intro paragraph referenced CCA, and with bounded, boundless, contained, and uncontained I'm thinking sacraments and authority, too. One of the classical descriptions about sacraments cites them as evidence of the capacity, capability – capax – of the finite to contain the infinite. Contain. This is fire season in Southern California, reminding us a contained fire is not an extinguished one, but nonetheless, containment often leads to a beneficial outcome.

Just this past week a friend gave me my own copy of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy cover which has been on my Amazon wish list since I first heard about it. Without a doubt I'll be blogging about the book, but a few days ago I read at least one thing applicable to this blog I started a few weeks ago. Nothing I shouldn't have thought of, given this blog topic, but it was the word permeable. I'm writing about containers, containment, vessels, thorns, briars, roses, fruit and a long list of acquisitive concepts. Here in Alta California we live constantly aware of the permeability of the borders, the legal boundaries and sometimes the cultural ones between this territory and Baja California, but I want to compare the containers, boundaries and borders of ecclesiastical life with boxes, jars and envelopes where the content doesn't leak or scatter beyond the bounds, but the container exudes heat, or cold, or some kind of aura one can see or smell, maybe even taste. Compare ecclesiastical committees, judicatories and the formal "offices" (job descriptions plus associated buildings, floors and rooms) of denominational officers with briarpatches! At a later time I'll say more again about brokenness, shards, tatters and splinters, ruins and rubble: bread and lives, pottery, vessels, buildings, cities and civilizations, broken yet blessed and distributed ultimately to enable living as a result of that once un-wholeness.

Church buildings, and in many cases we find church complexes (double meaning intended) of not only a building with worship space or sanctuary but what we call a campus, with "country" as a possible connotation. Those buildings in some sense contain and in-clude the Church, the body of Christ, which is called to freely function as a living organism. In teaching and writing, often I refer to the Jerusalem Temple with its containerized deity, so remote from the free, elusive and infinitely faithful to creation Yahweh of the Exodus; frequently I talk about the Jerusalem Temple, so distant from God's self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ shows us the Divine not in formal structures and intricate liturgical rites, but in fully real presence alongside creation and in total response to creation's needs. Roman Catholic ecclesiology tends to focus on more visible, touchable external structures – probably a too vulgar way of saying something from a Traditio Protestantica (Martin Marty's phrase—in any case I got it from him) perspective that doesn't state the reality more than marginally, while Protestant ecclesiology is more about invisible, intrinsic ones.

Containers, etc.: as I observed in conversation a few weeks ago, the UCC, PC(USA) and the ELCA are splintering seriously because "a human institution cannot contain that much diversity!" Of course the flip, the B side is "a human institution can contain only so much diversity." By definition, any institution has limits. However, logically, if something cannot be accessed, in some sense claimed and contained, it's not worth much to us. How about "God-moments" some people talk about? Are there times we can recognize God's presence while we're thick in the experience or situation, or is that acknowledgment possible only in retrospect?

Containers: printed bibles; internet scripture; paper and ink on our more recent ecumenical accords; I'm particularly thinking of the so dear to my heart A Formula of Agreement and of course, the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith. Containers, packaging: the famous quote from Luther describing the Bible as the cradle in which the Word of God is laid. Luther railed against the way people try to domesticate, to contain God—again, recall the tamed and domesticated God (should be small "g" maybe) of the Jerusalem Temple and the Temple system's outcome in imperial religion? The Religion of Empire--perhaps similar to Dubya's far-flung, carefully-controlled empire. Remember the prophetic voices subsequent to The Temple's establishment: how about us, right here and right now? Do our words and do our actions help dis-establish imperial religion or do we make excuses to further entrench and ensconce it?

Regarding church buildings and their boundedness, a few days ago I told someone despite my feeling tremendously betrayed by the Protestant Mainline (caps?), still I cannot stay long away from the church; "The church is where I find the sacraments," I observed. Someone else mentioned Darrell Guder's in effect saying "God does not limit Godself to the means of grace." But speaking of boundaries, my semi-rejoinder to that needs to be, "Nonetheless, God does bind Godself to the means of grace." Think about it! Bounded freedom has become a familiar theological and psychological idea.

Another observation about Generous Orthodoxy: the author states he doesn't have the kind of formal theological education and credentials we in the mainline churches insist on; until he left in 2006 to pursue writing, McLaren pastored at the nondenominational Cedar Ridge Community Church, and a quote from Karl Barth banners the church's site. McLaren grew up in what he approximately describes as a twig on a branch on a limb of a church in a very conservative church tradition. Despite having been an English major and a professor of English, doubtless by now he's read a whole lot of theology, but he has not laden the first part of the book with heavy God-speak and the accompanying vocabulary we who have attended high-end and other seminaries regularly use to spice our speech.

Brian McLaren's intellectual abilities are what we hope for in our (possessive intended) churches that have a well-articulated, formal and long process for eventually attaining and obtaining (possession again) what we call ordination to Ministry of Word and Sacrament. One of the questions of any candidate for seminary and eventual ordination by a described, delimited ecclesiastical body (presbytery, diocese, conference, synod) remains "Does this person have the intellectual gifts?" Sacraments: by what and whose authority does the presider recount the history of God's faithfulness and invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and cup? Authority? By what authority are Brian McLaren and the other staff at Cedar Ridge Community Church declared ecclesiastical leaders? Checking them out, I noticed all of them have excellent academic qualifications but no formal theological ones. We talk about authorized ministry, whether commissioned, licensed or ordained; we also insist on a formal call or appointment process. "We" as opposed to "they"? "Us" and "them?" In the mainline Roman Catholic and Protestant and in the more conservative churches, we claim the Holy Spirit as ultimate authority, despite the human(oid?) appearance of those assorted Committees on Ministry and local church Call Committees.
Here's a relatively recent hymn:

God Marked a Line and Told the Sea

  1. God marked a line and told the sea its surging tides and waves were free
    To travel up the sloping strand but not to overtake the land.

  2. God set one limit in the glade where tempting, fruited branches swayed.
    And that first limit stands behind the limits that the law defined.

  3. The line, the limit, and the law are patterns meant to help us draw
    A bound between what life requires and all the things our heart desires.

  4. But discontent with finite powers, we reach to take what is not ours
    And then defend our claim by force and swerve from life's intended course.

  5. We are not free when we're confined to every wish that sweeps the mind.
    But free when freely we accept the sacred bounds that must be kept.

By Thomas Troeger, 1986; © 1989 Oxford University Press, Inc.
Christian marriage is a covenant; Jewish marriage is a contract. We Christians emphasize the covenantal nature of our interrelationships with one another and especially our relationship with the God of the covenants, The One those New Englanders of yore insisted never dealt with, interacted with humanity, with creation in any way other than covenantally. Do we in the churches need to look carefully at the contractual sides of our lives together?

To be continued.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Red Blog!

Something just for fun:

***Your Blog Should Be Red***

Your blog is full of intensity and passion.
You are very opinionated - and people love or hate you for it.
You have the potential to be both a famous and infamous blogger.

What color is your blog?