upper room daily devotions

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Our Life Spells the Answer

In working on my sermon on Jeremiah 1:4-10, I thought of this quote from the great rabbi.

"God, who is more than all there is, who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our mind can answer, God, to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer." – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Review of Patty Griffin's "Downtown Church"

Recorded in an historic Presbyterian church in Nashville, Patty Griffin's seventh album "Downtown Church" is the slow ambling trek of a soul's journey. Mostly referred to as a folk singer, in this outing Patty slides into a soulfulness that one genre can't quite contain. It's just plain ol' good music. While she partners with Emmilou Harris ("Little Fire"), Regina McCray, Mike Farris, Buddy Miller and others, this album belongs all to Patty Griffin.

Of the fourteen tracks, I especially enjoyed "House of Gold," "Death's Got a Warrant" (with Ann and Regina McCray), "I Smell a Rat," and her stripped down, somber, and pure version of "All Creatures of our God and King."

In various interviews, Patty has said that throughout the making of this album she was working out her own faith, and her journey can be felt more than heard. It's not the most technically perfect album, but it is an honest one. And honest music is hard to find.

"Christian music" and "gospel music" are big industries. And, like all big industries, there is a great deal of redundant and derivative work churned out for the sake of a paycheck. That is not the case with "Downtown Church." The selections are perfect for Patty; they are substantive; they are varied; and, I found them meaningful for me. Not once did this progressive feminist queer Christian cringe at theology, language, or substance. And yet, I think that the most conservative person I know would acknowledge that something holy is happening in this music.

If you like folk/blues/hillbilly/soul/country, then check out Patty's new album. The only song that I found out of place was "Virgen de Guadelupe." This attempt at a cross-cultural experiment fell flat for me and seemd out of place with the rest of the songs, but overall, this is a solid offering in an industry overpopulated with bad theology, overproduction, and derivative sounds.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Health Kits Matter - Possible PNW Response for Haiti

In an appeal following the earthquake in Haiti on January 12, UMCOR, the disaster relief arm of the United Methodist Church, issued a call for health kits. For those not in the know, a United Methodist health kit is a gallon size bag with a few health essentials. Since secular news reports have detailed the enormity of the disaster and denominational news reports have focused our emergency response in helping people access water, people have asked me why health kits are important. They don't, after all, help first responders do the work of emergency relief. Two band aids, these folks say, won't save a life. And, when people are trapped under rubble and have no access to water, food, or sanitation, why are combs important? I think something wonderful is behind these questions - People want to help, really help, and they want to know exactly what is needed so they can provide it. And so, let me tell you why health kits are important...among other things.

The truth is that toothpaste, combs, and two band aids often won't mean the difference between life and death, but overall good hygiene does: the use of soap and water and the maintenance of good hygiene make a great deal of difference between life and death for people in stressed living conditions, with poor nutrition, and in the midst of disease and bad sanitation. For people who live with easy access to reliable water, soap at every sink, and proper nutrition, it's easy to discount how important those things are.

I am excited to read that UMCOR, who has suffered tremendous loss themselves through the deaths of the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb in this disaster, has made grants available to other organizations, is networking with other organizations, and has begun to mobilize into Haiti to assess what our denomination's response might be. This is in addition to other Methodist responses that began soon after the earthquake. Despite the loss UMCOR is experiencing, it has partnered with Global Medic, the Methodist Church in Haiti, Church World Service, ACT, and others who were better positioned to begin aid work right away. From the distribution of water to oral rehydration sachets, to purification tablets, to work on sanitation, the distribution of blankets, and relief kits, donations made to UMCOR for Haiti have already begun providing relief through our partnerships.

Health kits are one part of this very large effort, and we must remember that health kits are also being sent to other locations all around the world. In a phone conversation with Brian Diggs, Director of UMCOR West which was followed by a letter sent (you can read it below) to the conferences of the Western Jurisdiction, I learned that the depot in Salt Lake City shipped 22,800 health kits just in the past week and provisions had been depleted. Not only is it important for us to make up the difference for the loss of health kits, but we need to add to that number so that the depot is able to continue its work of sending health kits all around the world. Layette kits are also in need. In addition to basic sanitation and clean water, clean receiving kits also make an incredible impact on survival for infants.

We are a connectional church. UMCOR has asked that we respond to Haiti by giving to the Haiti disaster Advance fund (418325 ) and to provide the money for health and layette kits (Depot Advance number is 901440) as well as sending kits already assembled. By sending money immediately to UMCOR designated for depot use, the depot can purchase materials in bulk and replenish their shelves without delay. A health kit is estimated to cost $12 and a layette kit $35. I don't know what the Pacific Northwest Conference will eventually send, but I hope that we send at least $65,000 for kits (health and layette) by Ash Wednesday; that buys 5,000 health kits plus $1 for shipping.

Next, we need to send assembled kits. We need to do this to connect ourselves to this ministry and to this story as well as to reduce the amount of labor needed at our two depots (Salt Lake and Sager Brown). Churches can send kits directly to Salt Lake City to UMCOR West or churches in the Seattle District can drop off kits at Woodland Park UMC (302 N 78th St, Seattle). We are working with the conference to get kits shipped off. By mailing them directly, we keep the flow going, but at approximately $30/box of 50 kits via UPS, at some point it becomes financially advantageous to ship kits together. I challenge us to assemble and send 10,000 kits as an annual conference - 10,000 by Easter.

And last, United Methodists have already contributed over $2,000,000 do UMCOR for Haiti relief. This relief effort will take many years. I challenge the Pacific Northwest Conference to raise $200,000 by Easter for this effort. Our ongoing response will need to be evaluated and changed as needed. Individuals and churches may send money directly to the Advance or they can send it through the conference treasurer.

The leadership of the Pacific Northwest conference may come up with different goals and strategies, but until those are laid out, these are my ideas.

Health kits will not rescue people crushed under toppled buildings, but they will provide people displaced by the earthquake, people living in very stressful conditions, the ability to wash, to clean themselves, and to make themselves less vulnerable to the diseases that accompany disasters. Two band aids will not make a difference in a traumatic wound, but they can make a difference in a small wound becoming infected and turning life-threatening. Health kits, especially those we assemble, tie us to that other person on the other end of the process, whether that person is in Haiti, the DR Congo, or in another county in our own state. Kits lovingly packed make a difference for them and for us. They tie us to one another and to this denomination that is at work all over the world.

Here is Brian's letter from UMCOR West:

I am writing on behalf of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s UMCOR West Office and Depot which has been in operation since June 1, of 2009. We are a ministry that gathers, assembles, and sends disaster relief kits all round the world to the most vulnerable of populations. Along with UMCOR Sager Brown, UMCOR West is the second disaster relief depot. Except for Alaska and Hawaii, every western state has sent a work teams to UMCOR West to participate in our important ministry. You can find out more about our mission by going to UMCOR.org.

This last week has been particularly difficult for all of the UMCOR staff as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. As you may know, the Rev. Sam Dixon who was the head of UMCOR, along with the Rev. Clinton Rabb, head of mission volunteers, were killed in the earthquake. Your prayers for the UMCOR staff, the families of Rev. Dixon and Rev. Rabb, and for the people of Haiti are coveted during this grieving process.

On a more positive note, the people of Utah have responded powerfully to the call to help the people of Haiti. We have been working with hundreds of volunteers to assemble and send aid to the people of Haiti. Our first shipment of around 23,000 health kits will be sent from our warehouse in a few days!

As a result of this tremendous volunteer response, we are now running critically low on our disaster relief materials and we call on you to help. If you would like to help restock our warehouse in preparation for more supplies being sent to Haiti and other destinations you can:

Give financially through the Advance (gbgm-umc.org/Advance/ ) which is a powerful giving program in United Methodist Church. One hundred percent of the money donated goes toward the project you pick. Each mission project is assigned a number. The Advance number for both UMCOR West and UMCOR Sager Brown – our two UMCOR Depots – is #901440.

Consider putting together disaster relief kits at your home church. All of the information to assemble kits can be found at
www.umcor.org. If you choose to make kits at your home church we ask that you please focus on two kits, the Health Kit and Layette Kit. They can be sent to UMCOR West, 1479S 700W, Salt Lake City, UT, 84104. .

Thank you so much for your support and faithfulness! It is the work of United Methodists like you that makes a difference in the lives of people around the globe.


Rev. Brian Diggs, Director UMCOR West Office and Depot

Friday, January 22, 2010

Opening Prayer for Epiphany 3C

We become your people, O God, when you write your law and grace inside of us. We become your people when are living examples of your justice. We become your people when we unite into one body - the body of Christ - to be your eyes and ears witnessing the pain and wonder in the world, your heart and brain dreaming and planning for a new world, and your arms and legs working for your realm in every place in all times. Unite us, O God, with one another and with you, that our lives will be your living word uttered on this earth. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the Word become Flesh. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"A Blessing of Solitude" - John O'Donohue

With all that is going on in the world, I thought of this poem by John O'Donohue. Found in his book "Anam Cara" in the section "One of the Greatest Sins is the Unlived Life," he writes:
"The shape of each soul is different. There is a secret destiny for each person. When you endeavor to repeat what others have done or force yourself into a preset mold, you betray your individuality. We need to return to the solitude within, to find again the dream that lies at the hearth of the soul. We need to feel the dream with the wonder of a child approaching a threshold of discovery. When we rediscover our childlike nature, we enter into a world of gentle possibility. Consequently, we will find ourselves more frequently at that place, at the place of ease, delight, and celebration. The false burdens fall away. We come into rhythm with ourselves. Our clay shape gradually learns to walk beautifully on this magnificent earth" (124-125).

To help us find that "world of gentle possibility" and to help our clay shapes "walk beautifully on this magnificent earth," he gives us this poem:

A Blessing of Solitude
-John O'Donohue

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone,
that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for you own individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that
you have a special destiny here,
that behind the facade of your life there is something
beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride,
and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dear Seattle Times, Why Not List UMCOR

In an article today in the Seattle Times, a local couple who are in Haiti were featured for participating in relief efforts. At the end of the article, the paper lists a number of relief organizations, without listing UMCOR or any mainstream religious aid relief organizations. In the scope of the tragedy, it may appear ridiculous for me to write them and request that the paper include UMCOR and like organizations, but I thought it worthwhile. I noticed that NPR had omitted us along with several other mainline relief organizations; I contacted NPR to no response. Here is my email to the author of today's article in the Times:

"At the end of the article that highlights the efforts of a Seattle couple caught in Haiti, the newspaper lists several organizations offering aid in Haiti. What I noticed, as I do again and again in newspaper accounts of Haiti, is a number of very large aid orgs that are missing. The aid relief arms of major religious denominations are not listed:
United Methodist Committee on Relief: www.umcor.org has a special relief fund of which 100% of every donation goes to relief, none for admin. Almost no other relief org can make this claim.
Lutheran World Relief: www.lwr.org is already on the ground as is UMCOR.
American Jewish World Service: http://ajws.org/who_we_are/news/haiti_emergency.html also has a relief fund.

This is but a sampling.

I know there are literally dozens if not hundreds of aid organizations to which people can contribute, but I am struck that time and again mainline religious organizations are omitted in aid lists. Religion only seems to be given attention when fringe groups misrepresent the core values of the overarching religion, whether we are speaking of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. There are millions of people of faith from many religions giving millions of dollars and their time to relief work. Would you please list them as well?"

I encourage United Methodists, Lutherans, Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Mennonites, and others to contact your local news media with information about your relief organizations. Until we give voice to the power of our efforts to bring healing, not only will we remain left out of the conversation, but the people we have on the ground ready and and willing to help will be unable to do so for lack of funds and supplies. Religious groups, by and large, are the best situated to provide aid. Unlike the UN and nation-states, we don't have to mobilize and send people to begin the work; we are already there. They are needed for the heavy lifting and organizing, but there are people already in place ready to do the work; let's equip them.

UPDATE: The author of the article to which I responded got back in touch very quickly. He forwarded my email to the online editor. She emailed me just a minute ago and the Times is adding the three relief orgs I sent them. Perhaps I am too tough on the media. Perhaps I should be tougher on us for not keeping our name before the media, for not keeping the general public aware of our relief work, for not PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL DONE BY WORKS OF MERCY! So, thank you, Seattle Times!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A New Camera

I received a camera for Christmas from my mom. Despite what some of my friends might think, I don't buy every gadget that is made. As a matter of fact, I buy very few things at all. And, to date, I've never owned a digital camera. When a digital photo is a must (like to post a stupid photo on Facebook), I have used the camera on my phone. They're coarse, but you get a general sense of the intended subject. So, I finally decided that it's time to start taking pictures digitally as well as with film.

I don't think I'll ever completely abandon film. There's something wonderful about the process. I've been enamored with and fascinated by film for a long time. When I was a child and visited my paternal grandfather's house, I loved to explore the drawers of the many desks, dressers, and tables around the house. That house was crammed with new discoveries yet to be made. In my father's childhood bedroom in the bottom drawer of the dresser was an old Brownie camera. I would close the door and open the drawer very carefully to pull the camera out. Then I would sit on the floor and look through the view finder pretending I was a photographer. That view finder paired with my imagination's eye saw tigers, bears, camels, great ravines, mountains, and vast landscapes. From that moment on I loved cameras. I loved going through old family photo albums and looking for physical traits passed to me by my ancestors. In the grainy black and whites of those albums, I saw my dad at 2 years old riding a white horse, his parents young and vital, his siblings in frilly white outfits.

My new camera is a first step into the world of digital photography. I look forward to the memories we capture together, to the shots of cats bathing in sunshine, of family members laughingly caught on camera while unaware, of snow on tree limbs, of Christmas trees lovingly adorned, of places only fleetingly visited.

Why am I writing about this everyday object on a blog about religion? I don't know. Perhaps as the new year opens up for me, this new camera can serve as a metaphor. It offers a new view finder through which to see my world. Life seems to be bringing some interesting adventures my way, and I'm very excited; I am also quite anxious. Maybe having a new camera to help me look at the world will help me remain a little distanced from the new vistas opening before while opening my imagination again to the exotic and as yet dreamed. Perhaps it can act as both buffer and inspiration. I hope so. I hope I have something more than "another gadget." I hope it becomes a companion that does more than record life's happenings. I hope it becomes a companion that helps me interpret the world with new insight, helping me to see things in new ways with fresh eyes. As the new year gets going, I feel like that little girl in my dad's old bedroom surreptitiously playing with something both exciting and mystifying. I'm glad I have a new camera.

Blog Archive