Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Letting Go

I have been spending this week a couple of hours north of Vancouver working with shakuhachi Grandmaster Alcvin Ramos, both on my playing and learning how to make shakuhachi. Al has been pushing me on developing bigger, more energetic sound (a goal that I don't think Jeannine will be excited about!). And somehow, the harder I push, the smaller my sound gets. When I (occasionally) am able to be less tight, and push less hard, paradoxically, I can get more energy and more projection.

This dynamic has a very similar feel to aikido summer camp last week. Whenever I was trying to "do a technique," on a partner, I got resistance and the technique failed. When (occasionally, again) I was able to let go of my desire to get a specific reaction from my partner, and focus on changing myself, paradoxically, I could get the result I wanted.

I have spent a lot of years of my life pushing hard to get some goal or another accomplished. But I am coming to wonder if sometimes my desire for a certain outcome, or my attempts to force that outcome, actually have the opposite effect of what I intend. I think that, perhaps, if I focused more on myself, and the way that I engage a situation -- if I paid more attention to the energy that I bring to the situation, rather than the obstacles that are "out there" -- maybe the results would be better.

Clinging and holding tightly to what I want, seems like a sure way to loose a sense of what God may want in a situation. That doesn't mean that I don't have goals, and that I don't work hard for them. But it may mean that I hold them a little more lightly, and get better at seeing when I am actually the obstacle to getting there.


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Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflecting on Water

Two weeks ago, my sister Beth and I were backpacking with our daughters Julia and Caroline on the Appalachian Trail. It was the full backpacking experience with a tent (and camping hammocks), and carrying everything on our backs. It was a great trip, and we all had a lot of fun.

I had done some backpacking many years ago, but I had forgotten how much work it is to carry everything you need on your back (or maybe I'm just a lot older now). I was particularly struck by how heavy water is and how careful one needs to be with its use, when you don't know where the next water might be.

I can't think of the last time I had to ask myself "Do I really need this water now, or should I save it for later use?" Water is just there -- whenever we need it (or Diet Coke, or beer, or whatever I happen to be in the mood for). And I was struck at how easily I take many of the things in my life for granted, because they are so readily available.

Part of the reason, I suspect, that I (and many of us) wrestle with needing to be better stewards of our environment, is because everything we need is so readily available. We just turn on the faucet and have as much water as we want. We take our trash out, and it magically disappears (whereas backpackers carry every bit with them, which is an important lessons as well!). I hardly ever even think of what a miracle it is to have all those essentials so freely available.

So I am grateful to have been reminded, even briefly, of what a blessed life I lead, and how easily I can have the necessities of life. And I am very grateful for water.

-- Charlie

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Appalachian Service Project

Saturday, July 5 - Saturday, July 12
This month, we celebrate our 40th year serving families in Appalachia.  The region has struggled for decades as jobs are often scarce and good education is often hard to find.  We will be working in Wayne County, West Virginia, where we will be outside of cell phone range.

We will be doing home repairs for families to make their homes safer, warmer, and dryer.  The families we serve live in poverty or are disabled and cannot afford the repairs themselves.  In the past, we have helped to install plumbing, build walls, reinforce foundations, replace roofs, and install wheelchair ramps.  Without the work of ASP, many families would be left with homes that literally have holes in them.

This year, we are taking 25 high school students and 10 adult leaders.  Some are longtime members of the church while others will be connecting with us for the first time.  This is a truly life changing opportunity for our young people as they see and experience firsthand the work that God is doing in the world. Learn more about our youth ASP mission trip!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

2014 Vacation Bible School

Our 2014 Vacation Bible School, “The Workshop of Wonders,” was a great success!  Every day about 40 children and youth learned to imagine, build, grow, work and walk with God through stories, songs, crafts, construction projects, science experiments and games.  Sunday night, we enjoyed a special intergenerational VBS session as about 30 adults learned about the Book of Esther and the holiday of Purim from Temple Micah rabbinical intern Daniel Reiser, while the children made hamentaschen and groggers (noise makers for Purim). Special kudos to Courtney Leatherman who envisioned the sets, recruited the volunteers, and worked countless hours to make VBS work. 
Many thanks to all the volunteers and the entire Metropolitan church staff who helped with Vacation Bible School.  We literally could not have done it without you! Pictures of our fun week are below.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Refuse to go quietly

I subscribe to the Stillspeaking Devotional, a project of the United Church of Christ. Every day a new message comes across my desktop. I keep a few for future reference and the rest I delete;  I do read every last one of them. The subject matter of the devotionals changes so it keeps me on my theological toes.

A certain number of LGBT folk reject Christianity or the Bible because they cannot find themselves in the story.  In light of June being Gay and Lesbian Month and the suffering endured by others and the hands of the denomination, I would like to share the following devotional. This is the struggle that so many people face, whether it is the limitations which we put apon ourselves based on a perception or limitations imposed by the legal and political system. To use the Quaker phrase, it speaks to our condition. 

Kerm Towler

DD Spring Friday
Refuse to Go Quietly
Emily C. Heath

"Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 'Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.' When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching." - Acts 5:17-21 

When I was 18 I was scared to death to tell my dad I was gay. It wasn't because I was scared of him. It was just that it was 1994 and every friend I had who had come out to parents far more progressive than my own had faced immediate rejection. And so, I told my mom first. And she told my dad. And when he called me in my college dorm room I braced myself for what he was about to say. 

45 years ago, in June of 1969, police came to arrest the patrons of the Stonewall Bar in New York City. And in that moment they did what few other LGBT people had ever done before: they refused to go quietly. That day was not the start of the LGBT rights movement, but it was a major early catalyst, which is why in most places we celebrate Pride weekends right about this time of year.

So what does any of this have to do with the book of Acts? At first glance, maybe not that much, but for me the stories of the early disciples remind me that there has always been a cost for those who wish to tell the truth about who they are, and what they believe. The disciples are jailed for testifying about their faith. But that's not the end of the story. Because Scripture tells us that the Lord refused to allow the fear of some to imprison God's people. And when morning came, the ones who would have kept the apostles captive got quite a shock. Not only could their fear not contain them, but more importantly they could not silence them. 

When I picked up the phone in my dorm room, my dad's voice filled the line. "So, your mother tells me you're gay." 

"Yeah, dad…I am," I said.

"Well, there's nothing wrong with that. And I'll tell you this. There's are going to be people who are going to try to hold you back because of who you are. And you can't let them. Okay?" 

He was right. And so every time I come up against a barrier, I remember that day. And I remember that even when we find ourselves held captive, either by the fears of others or ourselves, God can help us make a way back out into the light. Whether it's in a jail in Jerusalem, or a bar in New York City, or a dorm in Georgia, God is ready to set us free.  

God, thank you for calling us out from our fear, and into the public places. Grant us the strength to not allow anything to hold us back from claiming the life you have in mind for us, and the love you give so graciously to us. "No matter who we are or where we are on life's journey." Amen.

Devotional Author Emily HeathABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily C. Heath is the pastor of West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in West Dover, Vermont. She also serves as the chaplain of a local fire department, and as a speaker and writer on Christian faith and social justice.

Every Movement Beautiful

North of Kyoto is a small city called Uji, which is the birthplace of the tea ceremon​y - ​a ceremony begun by a Buddhist priest in the 15th century. While visiting Uji, my fellow shakuhachi students and I participate​d​ in an abbreviated version of the tea ceremony (the full event takes from 3-5 hours), and I was struck by the enormous grace and carefulness of each of the movements throughout the ceremony. Each hand gesture and the placement of each utensil was done with great, and intentional, beauty, which lent an air of sacredness and mindfulness to the proceedings.

Later, as I reflected on this, I remembered occasions where a shakuhachi teacher would say to me, "OK, you know the notes, now make it beautiful." Or an aikido teacher saying to one of my fellow students ​when he was asking if he was ready for his next belt test, "Do you want to ​just ​pass, or do you want it to be beautiful?"

We place a great value in our culture on authenticity and directness. And sometimes, I think, people feel as though actions done with beauty are too contrived and artificial, and therefore less authentic and true. I wonder, however, if there is a deeper reality: that things done with beauty are, in fact, more genuine and truthful, because of the nature of beauty itself.

The Greek philosopher Plato taught that truth and goodness and beauty are all manifestations of the same reality: that what is good is what is true and is what is beautiful. Beauty, in other words is not just a nice add-on -- not a veneer overlaying reality; it is reality itself, which is why good art touches us on such a deep level.

That would seem to argue that just as doing good things (e.g. engaging in the work of justice) brings us closer to God, so also doing beautiful things brings us closer to God. There is an old shakuhachi expression that goes "ichi on buttsu" -- through one sound comes enlightenment -- which means, that if one played a single note with enough beauty, one could achieve enlightenment.

I wonder what it would look like, if instead of simply doing our daily tasks to get them finished, we took the time to do them with beauty -- if our movements, and how we placed our utensils were done with grace and carefulness? I can't help but think that the world might be a little more holy.

-- Charlie

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rev. Frank Schaefer Appeal Decision - Our Reactions

Yesterday, we learned that Rev. Frank Schaefer won his appeal before the United Methodist Appeal Committee and his orders were restored. Read about the decision here. Below are reactions from Rev. Frank Schaefer and a few of our members that attended the hearing: 

I can't even begin to describe how meaningful this "refrocking" is to me. I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son Tim. The committee of appeals understood that my defrocking sought to penalize me not for what I did but for what I might do in the future. 

But more importantly, today’s decision by the committee is a hopeful sign for our LGBTQ community. They recognized that I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against. How hopeful is this decision for the transgender sister who shared with me that she was no longer allowed to worship at her church. How hopeful is this decision for the brother who was made to feel “the worst of sinners” based on his sexual orientation. Today's decision is a sign that the church is starting to listen! 

Today's decision shows that the church is moving toward love over legalism. It is the path that so many in the church have been modeling already. Indeed, people throughout the United Methodist Church, who invited me into their pulpits, sat with me at their dinner tables and supported my family with their donations, have refrocked me already. Their movement of love embraced me and together we are moving forward to bring about that day when our denomination no longer excludes any of God’s beloved children. And I will continue to work toward that goal. - Rev. Frank Schaefer

What a day to be a United Methodist! We gathered in an effort to move forward on a very contentious subject and those gathered to rule on the next step did it respectfully and with a sincere desire to rule with fairness. All parties involved were sensitive to the precedent that was being set. We began with song, scripture and a powerful homily by Mr. Scott Johnson, a laity member of the Committee from Buffalo, NY. The testimony given and questions asked showed the importance of why we were gathered and the sea of rainbow stoles was amazing. I was very proud to be a part of this important day in the history of our denomination, and to be witness to the process. I believe that we witnessed a shift in mindset and assurance of a place at the table for all God's children reminding me of the hymn, "For Everyone Born, a Place at the Table." - Mary Jo Marchant, Metropolitan Memorial UMC

We are hopeful that Frank Schaefer's appeal will result in the resumption of his ministry[as a United Methodist elder]. The Rev. Scott Campbell's argument for restoration of Frank's credentials was very persuasive.
- Ned Bachman, Metropolitan Memorial UMC

The sight of so many and varied rainbow stoles in the audience that had gathered for the hearing was witness to the prayerful hope that our beloved denomination can resolve complaints against clergy, not to punish, but with an eye to mercy, grace and just resolution.
- Ellen Bachman, Metropolitan Memorial UMC

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thin Places

One of the wonderful gifts of my trip to Japan this month was the opportunity to visit a number of "thin places," which is a term from Celtic spirituality denoting a place where the boundaries between ordinary and the sacred are a little thinner, and God's presence is felt with a little more fierceness.

One of those places was a wondrous place called Koya-san, a mountain several hours south of Kyoto (Cathy and Bill Anderson's son Nate told me about it).

During the Edo period, there were nearly 1,000 temples on the mountain, of which 117 active temples remain (many of which host visitors to the mountain). On the mountain's east side is a massive cemetery of over 200,000 tombs and mausoleums. I walked through the cemetery as night fell, and wandered among tombs, some of which were 1,000 years old.

On the western side of Kyoto is a beautiful bamboo grove called Arashiyama. The grove is just outside the Tenryu Temple, and has the feel of a cathedral, as the light filters down through the amazingly high bamboo.

To the immediate south of Kyoto is a marvelous Shinto shrine called Fushimi-Inari, dating back to the 8th century. The mountainside is covered with miles of paths, largely covered with thousands of torii gates, and interspersed with small shrines. Climbing this mountain reminded me of the words of New York Times writer Eric Weiner that, "Getting to a this place usually requires a bit of sweat." (NYT article)

It is quite a magical place, where centuries of devotion feel as though they have worn thin the veil that covers the face of the divine. Which makes me wonder if thin places might be created (or enhanced) by our work of devotion. Can we help make our church a "thin place." It also makes me wonder, if maybe the purpose of a thin place is to remind us that God is always a little closer than we're aware.

- Charlie Parker