Archive for January 2015
In 2000, the film director Joe De Francesco began an audacious project. He volunteered to work with prisoners in San Quentin who were interested in putting on a play. It would be a play for the other prisoners and a few invited guests, and it would require memorizing lines and becoming familiar with old fashioned language, as well as learning all the things that go into doing a theatrical production. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be to work with whoever else decided to show up, no matter how you felt about him.
Eventually nine prisoners, all either murderers or career felons, made the commitment to prepare the play “John Brown’s Body”, and they spent over three years together. Their experience changed them, as they grappled with issues of race and injustice and their own ability to confront the choices and circumstances of their lives.
Joe De Francesco did a documentary about the process and it was released to the public last year. I was able to see it in May, with others of the Northern California/Nevada Conference at our Annual Gathering, and I was very moved by the production. As gritty and dark as prisons are, this is a film about healing and redemption in the midst of all of that. It is a film about people who dig deep and offer much, and watching it touched the spirits and hearts of everyone in the audience.
We are privileged to be sharing that film with our community on Saturday evening, February 7th. It is part of our initiative to use our resources and facilities to foster discussions and learning about the difficult issues of our world, such as the racial divisions in our society and the injustice many young men of color face at the hands of our legal system. The director and at least one of the actors will be with us that evening, and we will have the opportunity to watch and hear and share in conversation with them.
You are invited to be part of this conversation and to bring friends and family, as well. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors– and then spent the rest of his ministry radicallyexpanding our understanding of who our “neighbor” really is. Part of loving our neighbors is learning from the experiences of people whose lives are very different from ours—and yet who share with us a common humanity and a desire for a more loving world.
“John Brown’s Body” is one story of how different people from different walks of life embodied that desire as they built relationships with one another.
Come to be inspired.
Come to be stretched in your understanding.
Come to be drawn more deeply into the Beloved Community of God.
We are so blessed to have the space and the resources to show this remarkable film.
I hope to see you there, Kim
The San Mateo Juvenile Detention Center (also known as “Hillcrest”) sits up high on a hill overlooking highway 280. It is a relatively new facility, with individual dorm units built around a track with a green field in the center. In order to go inside for our monthly bible study, we drive up the hill, gather in the small lobby area, and after going through a metal detector, move into a larger waiting room, then up the stairs to the housing area. There are about 20 or so of us who come together from several different congregations, and though each church group has its own unit, we do get to know some of the other volunteers after awhile. Who’s been sick and missing the past few times, who has a spouse or a child having problems, what’s happening in other churches. Before we finally go into the locked units, we always gather in a circle and share a prayer – for the kids, for us, for grace.
Last month it took longer to process us all so we were late getting inside. When we finally made it up the stairs and started to gather for our regular prayer, the staff member in charge informed us that we had to move along quickly in order to get into the units. As we shuffled down the halls, through the various locked doors leading us deeper into the residential areas, I heard someone say: “But what about our prayer?” Another voice replied, “Well, tonight I guess we are praying with our feet.”
Sometimes we have no time for words, or no words right for the time, and so our actions become our prayer. Anything we do with the intention of connecting with God’s intentions is a prayer. Just ask the marchers for civil rights, or immigration reform or climate sanity. They are praying with their feet – aligning their hearts and their minds and their bodies with what they understand to be God’s loving purpose.
Our Prayer Group has met at First Church for decades. Every Wednesday, the current group meets faithfully to hold the concerns of the congregation and the world in loving prayer. It is a privilege and an honor to do so. We usually share a short reading or two, and often discuss articles in the paper or timely issues. We lift up the names of people we know, we go over the prayer list in the newsletter, and we share a time of silence, as we envision the love of God surrounding each person and each circumstance.
This past Wednesday, Annette Howitt suggested we add a new dimension to our group. Each week we will bring a canned item for the food barrel, and share a special prayer for the hungry in our world. It’s very simple, really, and won’t change much about the overall time we have together. But this addition gives us the opportunity to experience a bit of what it is to “pray with our feet”—joining prayerful words and prayerful actions into one.
People all around us are praying with their feet. Our world is better because of the visiting and caring and serving that is done in the name of God. May we each find more ways to be the prayers that we pray.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The movie Selma has just come out. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is being praised as the most realistic portrayal yet of the Civil Rights movement that swept our nation 50 years ago. I will go, to honor what happened then, and I will go to be inspired to face what must happen now, for we have been brutally reminded these past few months that the cancer of racism lingers in our body politic and is killing us all. I will go to be reminded of the vision of the Beloved Community that Dr. King found in his Christian faith, and I will seek to find ways to expand that vision to include people of all faiths and no faith.
There are people in this congregation who will be at various commemorations and demonstrations on Martin Luther King Day, and they will be living out their faith in actions they hope promote a more peaceful and just world. There are others who will spend time reflecting on racism and our faith response by reading, or talking with others, or watching something that brings greater understanding to the issue. Whatever you do next Monday, I hope you will take time to consider and pray this Prayer of Confession taken from our own United Church of Christ prayer resources. We have a long way to go as a society, but we are sustained in our belief that we do not go alone. God walks with us, continuing to create the Beloved Community where everyone is welcome and everyone is free.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God, we long to co-create with you the Beloved Community which looks to the common good; privileges all equally, and creates societal systems which celebrate the humanity and the gifts of all. And yet we focus on our differences, envy each other’s gifts, devalue manifestations of you, O God, that are not like our own.
Perhaps our sin is a slow wait for justice:
We allow the voices of brothers and sisters who do not look like us, love like us, or worship like us to be silenced. We have told them to wait for freedom, justice and equality. We foster in them a denigrating sense of nobodiness. Lord, have mercy.
Or perhaps we have kept silence ourselves in the face of their struggle for full human life.
For it is not solely hateful words and actions, but also appalling
silence that follows the path of oppression. Christ, have mercy.
Perhaps our sin is to give in to weariness, discouragement, bitterness:
You have called us to be drum majors for justice, peace and righteousness, Yet the work of peace and justice overwhelms us at times. To build with God the Beloved Community seems impossible, and we grow weary. We cry, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace within us or around us. We find ourselves on the path of hatred and oppression, violence and war.
Lord, have mercy.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Sisters and brothers, God is at work in us and with us!
God has promised:
“I will not keep silent and I will not rest until the vindication of my beloved people shines out like the dawn and their salvation like a burning torch.
My people shall no more be termed ‘forsaken’ and their land shall no more be termed ‘desolate.’”
We remember that you have given your Beloved people a new name:
“My delight is in them.”
Thank you, God for delighting in us even now, for forgiving us our slow action, our silence and our weariness, for empowering our work and
inviting us once again to create with you the Beloved Community you long for.(from Creating the Beloved Community: Prayer Resources; ucc.org/sacred-conversation; words in italics are those of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
…(Spiritual) New Year’s Resolutions…Guilt Free!
New Year’s resolutions have a venerable place in our lives. They provide, at best, a focal point for intentional change in the forseeable future. At the very least, they are an interesting conversational topic as we wait for the ball to drop. Weight – let’s lose it! Sleep – let’s get more of it! And clutter – let it be banished from all homes in 2015!
By mid-January, most of us have pared down our expectations considerably. And with that comes the requisite guilt of having let our (best) selves down yet again. Ah well.
So the suggestions I offer below, for a new year of deepening spiritual life, are meant to be completely guilt free. Glance over them, see if anything appeals to you, and, if you are so drawn, try it. Not because you must, but because you may. Not because God requires a perfect result, but because God invites you to try new ways to be closer. You can be assured that even the attempt is a step toward that blessing. So, baby steps. With kindness – and no guilt!
What are your most satisfying times in prayer? In the early morning, when you first wake up? At night, as you review your day and bring to mind the people you were with? In a
community setting, where prayers are lifted and shared, and God’s presence is felt in the warmth of others? Through reading the words of others, in the newsletter or online or in books of prayer?
Spend a moment or two answering that question, then do it more often. It’s just that simple.
* Choose one other form I listed above and try it a couple of times. Or more. See what happens.
What words do you take into your mind and heart on a regular basis? Do you often pick up your bible and turn to a special section? Have you always wanted to just read through the whole book of Psalms, or read one chapter a day of one of the Gospels? Is your heart, and soul, touched by poetry that illuminates the holy? Do you find essays by modern writers like Richard Rohr or Anne Lamott Pema Chodron, or Jim Burklo to be challenging and uplifting? Do you read a daily devotional, like “Daily Word” or “The Upper Room”?
Spend some time thinking about the words you absorb every day, through print and social media.
* Resolve to decrease the cynical and negative things your read. That may mean changing some FaceBook settings, or turning away from writings that only serve to reinforce prejudices. Notice when something you have read stirs you up in a non-productive way. Put it aside.
* Add in one piece of writing that makes you feel kinder or more loving or more courageous. Read it more than once. Share it with a friend. Post it on social media.
* Keep a book of writings – prayers, scripture, essays, poetry – beside your bed. Read one thing, even if it is short, before you go to sleep. If you wake in the night, pick up your book. Let it connect you, wirelessly.
Where do you feel the greatest need in the world around you? It is so very hard to carry the cares of the world without losing hope. There is a very real danger of compassion fatigue – if we forget that we are not alone.
* Let your first response be prayer. When you hear a siren, or watch the news, or get word of a tragedy, share your experience with God. Hold your grief and concern in the light of your faith, and be reminded that God’s love is already moving in the situation.
* Listen for ways you can help. Not fix, but help. God’s hands are working through people right now, to bring healing and justice in difficult situations. Find those people. Support them. Join them, if you are able. You are part of something much bigger than your own efforts – you are part of a community of care-ers. Join your love with others, in small and large ways.
How do you intentionally focus on the holiness of life? Do you pray with others? Walk in nature? Sing the old (and new) songs of faith? Do you meet regularly with people to share your struggles and thoughts and insights as a child of God? Do you find ways to grow and stretch and still be reminded of your foundations? How are you with God and others in unabashedly spiritual settings?
* There are so many ways to worship the Divine. It is most
* often about the intention we bring into the settings. All of life, in fact, can be seen as worship if we open our hearts fully to God in every circumstance. Most of us, however, find that having certain times of the day and week set aside for communion with God and others strengthens us. Find your way to worship, and do it more often. Find another way, and try it out, as well.
You know who it is you need to forgive. Set your intention this year to find a way to move in that direction. Ask God’s help. Pray for the person you wish to forgive, even or especially if you don’t want to. It’s okay. God accepts all kinds of prayers, even half-hearted ones. If you can’t muster the desire to forgive, then pray for that desire. * Baby steps.
May your 2015 be filled with laughter, kindness and a growing awareness of how loved you are by God.
*for an example of how to pray for someone from whom you feel estranged , turn to God of Many Voices, on page 10 of this week’s Newsletter.
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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