upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GC Blogs that I Read

General Conference is almost over, but a good bulk of the plenary work is being done in the last days of the assembly. I am keeping up by reading at the official UMC website, but I also am reading a number of blogs. These are the ones that I have kept up with. Who are you reading?

Jan Bolerjack - page from the PNW
The PNW delegation is blogging, too.
Reconciling Ministries Network is maintaining a GC site.
The official UMC GC site.

As I keep up with the legislation and watch via streaming online the sermons and addresses, a mixture of feelings bubbles around deep in my insides. Hearing the president of Liberia? Very inspiring. Listening to the address about the ELCA and the UMC moving closer to full communion? Very hopeful. Watching the failure (55% to 45%)legislation to pass that would name the division in our church about homosexuality? Demoralizing, disheartening. Reading petitions that want to prescribe how we interpret scripture? Scary (but heartening that it failed).

I try to keep my eyes on the long road ahead. I remember that God hasn't finished with us yet. We aren't perfect. We are very imperfect. GC just reminds me of how imperfect!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Today is World Marlaria Day...Uh, Let's Celebrate? No, Let's Do Something

Today is World Malaria Day.

My hometown in Mississippi had a legacy of death from malaria (as well as yellow fever and typhus) in the 1800s, but Americans have, by and large, been unaffected by this disease since that era. Yet people all over the world are dying form Learn about this preventable condition. Last August when I spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I met too many people living with malaria and heard about too many others who had died from it.

Through water treatment and maintenance, the distribution of bed nets, education, and the availability of medicine, we can prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Learn more about malaria and how you can help.

Committing to Sabbath...Maybe

I have written several posts that highlight my increased awareness that Christianity - and the people that make it up - would be stronger, more spiritual, more connected to God and one another, more committed to justice, and more healthy if we were to embrace the practice of Sabbath. I have preached on this in my church and I have read widely about the importance of setting aside one day for God. I guess it's now time to put up or shut up, so I've decided to try keeping Sabbath...in my own way...soon.

What I've learned is that I am not particularly invested in keeping Sabbath as defined by observant Jews - that is, by refraining from the 39 activities used to build the Temple. I have also learned that keeping Sabbath will be less informative to my spiritual life and less effective if I do it alone - outside of community. So, I've been meeting with a friend for several weeks to discuss what Sabbath might be for a group of Christians. And now I've talked with a few other friends who have mentioned some interest in joining the conversation.

This conversation is only part of something I've dreamed about for a long. Ever since divinity school I've wanted to be part of an intentional community based on Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service. Circumstances have been kind to me and I've had the opportunity to participate in a couple of intentional communities; they were wonderful experiences. They stirred up a sense of hope that a community centered on Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service is possible. The overall hope is to create a covenant community of just a few people who will covenant to a shared understanding of Sabbath and Service (and take part in Holy Communion regularly) eventually adding a living community in the city that will share Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service with one another. One day we will hopefully have a farm/retreat center.

In addition to these covenant communities, I see the addition of physicians, physical therapists, nutritionists, spiritual directors, life coaches, chiropractors, trainers, and other professionals who will work with people seeking a holistic approach to life. The would help people set goals, keep focus, care for our bodies and connect them with our spirits. Eventually, this would become a holistic coop in which all people could participate, but one that would have a special emphasis for working class and poor folks who could never afford these services in the free market.

The goal is to create an ever-expanding community with varying commitment levels for people to seek centeredness in life with a core group focused on the power of Sabbath. This is a dream that has lived inside of me for a long time.

But I have to start somewhere and I'm starting with gathering serious people to dialogue about the initial covenant to Sabbath. I'll see where this goes.

Any history of participation in like communities? Let me know...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Earth Day Stuff

The Earth Day Network has several resources for faith communities to help with the observance of Earth Day.

Earth Day Television also has a panel discussion about climate change and communities of faith. The info is interesting; the format a little less than riveting.

Coinciding with the "Seeds of Compassion" activities in Seattle, the Episcopal Church hosted a conference called "Healing Our Planet Earth" (H.O.P.E.). They have posted information from that gathering on their website. Check it out!

One of the best resources that I've seen on Christian stewardship of the earth is produced by the United Methodist Foundation of the Northwest. The publish a weekly e-bulletin on "radical gratitude" which serves to remind us that stewardship is a whole life issue not simply a finance drive at the local church. You can subscribe to their their e-newsletter and it's more than worth it. It's an outstanding resource!

If you are are in the Seattle area, Earth Ministry has monthly calendars of events for both April and May posted.

I am always looking for more resources for and by people of faith in addressing earth stewardship. If you know of one, please tell me about it.

Happy Earth Day - It Isn't Easy Being Green

Earth Day is today. Does it make a difference? How many people will do anything differently today - much less change ingrained habits - than any other day?
Even the Wall Street Journal is asking whether the hype about this day might be obfuscating the importance its message. Have we commercialized Earth Day into another marketing gimmick much like Christmas?

We have now reached a point where changing a light bulb and separating recycles just won't be enough. The reality is that while we can make many small changes in our lives that may impact the earth in little ways, deep commitment is needed for the earth to be healthy and vibrant once again. As that great frog Kermit once sang, "It isn't easy being green." And...why should it be? Isn't something worthwhile worth making significant changes for? I think so. That's one of the core messages of my faith.

Rather than succumbing to a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the enormity of our environmental problems, wouldn't it be wonderful if they could serve to wake us up to sacramental lives and set us on a life path rooted and anchored in deep stewardship? My faith teaches me that with every breath I can be a better steward - of the earth, of the air, of plants, of my community, of my church. To be a steward is to be one who cares for the integrity of another. It's a holy obligation that we have to care for one another and for all of creation.

Like everyone else, I stumble around trying to become a better steward of the earth. Like everyone else, I have a long way to go. Earth Day may be wrapped in too much commercialism, but it still serves to remind me that radical stewardship is needed and that it is needed from me. It may not be easy to make the deep and radical changes necessary to do what I can for God's great creation, but that's no excuse not to try.

Here's a shameless plug:

One way I stay connected to "on the ground" work for the conservation of some of the earth's most precious species is by financially supporting the work of Wildlife Direct. I've decided that Wildlife Direct is where I'm putting my green bills partly because they are active in a variety of places in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, two places which I adore and to which I feel connected. They do a brilliant job through their blogs of keeping supporters updated on day to day activity, real time needs, and breaking news. I also value the ability to give in specific ways to each conservation effort. This is a commitment that I've made, but there are many great environmental groups that need financial help.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reflection on "Seeds of Compassion" with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu

While the rest of the United States awaited Pope Benedict XVI, Seattle braced itself for a week long event called "Seeds of Compassion." Organized to highlight the importance of teaching compassion to children, over the course of five days teachers, lecturers, workshops, and presentations of all kinds invited the entire city to explore the power of compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke in several venues and on Tuesday for the concluding panel he was joined by several prominent religious leaders from various religious traditions. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the people who took the stage with the Dalai Lama along with Sister Joan Chittister, Rob Bell, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Rabbi David Rosen, and others.

I was fortunate to attend the closing event on Tuesday (along with 9,999 lucky souls!). My church had 65 tickets and we spent the whole day listening as the panel discussed compassion, interfaith dialogue and respect, hope in the midst of despair and destruction, and the inviolability of the self. This event not only helped us remember that children need to learn about compassion; it also reminded adults that compassion is possible in a world too often characterized by war and injustice. The panelists spoke from their own contexts and told us about real acts of daily compassion that make the world wonderful and rich.

Archbishop Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama played around on stage like 4 year old boys. It was really pretty wonderful - humanizing and personalizing. At one point Archbishop Tutu told the Dalai Lama to behave and to "act like a holy man" should. All of the speakers were joyful while very aware of the pain that exists in the world. We prayed for the Dalai Lama and for the people of Tibet as well as for those everywhere who struggle for justice and liberation. The energies of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu made everyone on stage seem a little brighter. They both give off feeling of love that is deeply rooted in histories of pain. They have found the ability to rest in the present - fully and wholly in the present - and see the divine, even when it isn't pretty or easy. I'm sure that I won't ever have the words to express how this has affected me.

The Seattle Symphony and chorus provided music throughout the lunch break. Those six hundred people brought "Ode to Joy" alive for all of us.

I was also fortunate to attend a dinner on Thursday evening at which Desmond Tutu spoke. I will always remember how humbled I was to shake his hand and to break bread with him.

If you would like to watch the events from that week, you can find them online at the Seeds of Compassion website.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marsalis Writes Jazz Mass

Marsalis' Mass Blends Gospel and Jazz
By CHARLES J. GANS Associated Press Writer

Apr 9th, 2008 | NEW YORK -- Wynton Marsalis will be turning the House That Jazz Built at the Time Warner Center into the House of the Lord when he premieres his first jazz Mass, which blends the gospel and jazz traditions in a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York State's oldest African-American congregation.

The 100-plus Abyssinian Baptist Church Bicentennial Choir will lift their voices in song as they make their way through the Rose Theater in the traditional Processional to join forces with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to perform Marsalis' "Abyssinian 200: A Celebration," a 19-part piece based on the liturgy found in many African-American Baptist churches.

"When we get in there, it's just a big musical auditorium, but when we do the Invocation, it becomes a sanctified place because God's presence enters into it," said Abyssinian's pastor, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who will deliver a sermon on "the uniting power of prayer."

"I see this jazz Mass as an opportunity of not only bringing together the jazz and gospel traditions, but as a way of talking about the unique and important contributions of the African-American religious experience to life in America and around the world," he said.

The Mass, with "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" actor Avery Brooks serving as the stage director, will be presented Thursday through Saturday nights at JALC's main hall, with the last performance recorded for later broadcast on XM satellite radio. The following Saturday there will be two performances at the Harlem church.

Marsalis says that though the piece was commissioned by JALC to celebrate the Harlem church's bicentennial, the music has a deeper, personal spiritual meaning for him. The trumpeter says he wrote the piece for his grandmother and great-aunt, both born around the turn of the 20th century.

"Both of them were domestic workers and very religious and quiet spiritual people," said Marsalis. "I love those people because of the feeling they had and the religion gave them a large part of that feeling. It was a feeling of warmth and of a soulfulness and an engagement with the world ... not by escaping things but through confronting them with the power of love."

Before composing the music, Marsalis spent hours talking with Butts about the significance of each part of the prayer service. He further drew upon his diverse influences: his music professor father's lessons about traditional spirituals, hymns and gospel music; his own experience as a classical trumpeter playing the religious works of Bach, Handel and Palestrina; and his encyclopedic knowledge of all styles of jazz dating back to its roots in his native New Orleans.

Marsalis also highlighted the common links between jazz and the African-American religious rite by including call-and-response patterns and leaving room for improvisation.

Both Marsalis and Butts acknowledge that such a collaboration would have been unlikely a century ago when many black preachers denounced jazz as the "devil's music."

"A lot of that feeling came out of ignorance born of the fact that people of African descent had been stripped of a lot of our culture and followed the lead of those who enslaved us ... and were taught to really hate ourselves and our music," said Butts. "But now we've come to understand ... that this is truly the only real American music and it's beautiful music."

Marsalis says Louis Armstrong helped change attitudes when he recorded the first jazz version of a spiritual in 1938, "When the Saints Go Marching In," and many other jazz musicians drew inspiration from black church music, including Duke Ellington, Horace Silver and John Coltrane.

Butts says the Abyssinian Church has its own links to the jazz tradition. Nat "King" Cole was married there, and the church held memorial services for Count Basie and Art Blakey.

In the early '90s, Marsalis performed his only other major religious work at the Harlem church — "In This House, On This Morning," a suite the trumpeter wrote and recorded with his septet. Marsalis' adviser on that project: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who preached a sermon on the trumpeter's album "The Majesty of the Blues."

Butts says the recent controversy surrounding Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, has resulted in "a little bit of the maligning of the black church."

"I'm hoping that people will come away with a better understanding of the importance of our religious experience and what it's meaning truly has been for America and the world," Butts said. "I want this expression of jazz music and the African-American religious and sermon tradition to serve as a foundation for unity among all people. That's the height of our religious expression in America ever since we were enslaved people. We've been trying to make sense out of the madness, and reconciliation, unity, peace, prayer, this is what we hope for."


On the Net:

Jazz at Lincoln Center
The Abyssinian Baptist Church
And, click here to listen to Marsalis' first religious piece, "In this House, On this Morning"

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Americans No Happier Now Than Forty Years Ago

On April 2 the Wall Street Journal's podcast highlighted a study that says despite the gains in workforce productivity and an increased standard of living, men and women are no happier today than they were forty years ago. It seems that men work less than forty years ago, women work more than forty years ago, and both spend much more time sitting in front of the television. According to the study, we are not happier because we are not good managers of our down time. Rather than spending time with friends, at the gym, outdoors, in church (or other faith communities), Americans find it easier - if less satisfying - to sit at home at watch TV.

I know that after a long day it's my temptation to enter the fantasy world of television. I also know that I long to leave the boob tube behind so that I can more fully live my life. I wonder how church could play a role in lessening the effect of television in our lives, how community might supplant the temptation to isolate, hibernate, and fantasize, how discipline and order could help us live more routinized lives that take for granted slow time/down time/sabbath time.

Just thoughts after listening to a much too brief discussion...

So, Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and the UMC go into a bar...

What sounds like a joke isn't these days. Ted Turner has joined the efforts of the UMC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ELCA, and the NBA to fight malaria in Africa.

This is the article in today's Seattle Times:

"Turner gets religion

Ted Turner, 69, who once called Christianity a "religion for losers," Tuesday launched a $200 million joint health program with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Methodist Church to fight malaria in Africa. The CNN founder said his thinking on religion had evolved and he regretted his words. "Religion is one of the bright spots as far as I'm concerned, even though there are some areas ... where they've gone over the top a little," he said. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation chipped in with a $10 million grant to be used to help publicize the campaign in churches."

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