Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Happens at a Creativity Retreat?

You may wonder what happens at a creativity retreat. I thought I'd re-run this photo essay from 2010.  If this post whets your appetite, it's not too late; the retreat begins this evening at Lutheridge in Arden, NC.

As you might expect, we do a variety of arts and crafts (if you're the type of person who draws a distinction). Here are some batik pieces drying on a line. I like the prayer flag image that we've unconsciously evoked.

We did a variety of interesting worship services. Where else can you worship God with a parachute?

Wind chime creating was one of the most popular activities.

I particularly liked the chair weaving. What do you do when the bottom falls out? Make a new chair and one that's more beautiful.

We did a variety of playful activities. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me when we did tethered balloon rides. But here's some hula hoop play.

We had a talent show at the end. Here are people contra dancing to our impromptu bluegrass band.

We did a balloon meditation (go here to read about how we did it on a smaller scale at a planning meeting).

At the end, we did a Communion sending service at the braided labyrinth. I like that I've captured the stained glass window on the far wall, and the pottery and wood baptismal font in the front.

Plan now for next year! The retreat will be the week-end after Easter--you should come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, April 27, 2014:

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is to live together in unity. (Ps. 133:1)

1 John 1:1—2:2

John 20:19-31

I love the post-Easter encounters with Jesus. It's as if the Gospel writers knew that we'd need to be reminded of the amazing thing that has happened. It's no wonder that Thomas said he wouldn't believe until he'd touched the wounds.

Jesus was dead. He wasn't just passed out or in a deep sleep or let off the cross early. He died and rose again.

Notice that here, as elsewhere, Jesus knows what humans need and meets them on that level. He doesn't get huffy. He doesn't say, "Well, if Thomas isn't glad to see me back from the dead, then I'm not going to talk to him. I'll just hang out with people who believe." No, he lets Thomas put his hands inside of his side wound, if that's what it takes.

He forgives the doubt. He forgives the disciples who ran away. He doesn't show up to berate the disciples for hiding in a dark room when they've got work to do. He forgives all the human ways we can't rise to the vision that God has for our behavior, for our blessed lives.

Notice in these post Easter lessons how Jesus roots his actions in the physicality of life. He cooks people breakfast when they've been off fishing. He breaks bread and blesses wine. He presents his very wounded body. For those of us modern Gnostics who want to deny that Jesus was as human as the rest of us, these lessons seem specially placed to help us work against that belief. Jesus was NOT just a mystical creature with a human form that he could put on and take off, like a special set of clothes.

Perhaps that should be a lesson to the rest of us as well. When we feel despairing, we should look for ways to root ourselves in our physical lives; maybe we should try baking bread or cooking a meal. Maybe when we're almost sick with missing the ones that live far away, maybe instead of moping, we should write a letter to our loved ones, telling them how much we love them. Maybe we should plant some herbs or flowers, get our hands in the dirt, remember our roots in the world that deserves our love and attention.

Perhaps this approach would make a good way to minister to others. Instead of some sort of theoretical approach to evangelism, we should look minister to our neighbors’ physical needs; then we can think about their spiritual lives. We should ask people to dinner instead of asking, “If you died tonight, would you go to Heaven?” We should describe the great potluck dinner that awaits them at church, instead of the Heavenly feast that we have to wait so long to experience.

God came to this world to become physically involved--we are called to do the same.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Our Work; Small Audience

I think we often want our art, our worship services, our work that we do for pay, to reach large audiences.

But what if we're more effective when our efforts only reach one or two?

How would our work change if we thought of it as being a deep conversation between two friends who sit in a garden?

Could that level of intimacy transform the work?

(I took these pictures at the Mepkin Abbey gardens that are near the gift shop; I took them when I was there in November 2009)

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Easter Baptism and Other Ways to Celebrate

Yesterday at our family service, we had a baptism.  If we had a video of the baptism, you'd wonder if we had staged it.  But we didn't.

The pastor said the first part of the baptism liturgy, about God making us God's own.  The pastor paused for a breath.  The baby clapped.

As the parents made their promises, the baby reached for the baptismal font.  When I handed the child's father the lit baptismal candle, the baby reached for it.

It made us all smile and laugh.  It was a great way to celebrate Easter.

We had a potluck breakfast.  In the past, we've had a cooked breakfast, but this year, the primary cooks are elsewhere.  Understandably, no one volunteered to cook in their absence.

I suggested the potluck approach, and it worked well.  We had some bread that was hearty, along with a variety of sweets.  We had yogurt parfaits and fruit, for healthy choices.  We even had some dyed eggs. 

People seemed relaxed, and the clean up was much more minimal than with the more formal breakfast.  It could be a rolling breakfast, which works well for the Easter Sunday we have, with the first service at 6:45 a.m. and the last one not over until after 1.  Food was always available, as was a less high energy space.

With the late service, we had lots of small children noise:  lots of laughing, the occasional crying, random whoops.  I liked it.  I like being part of a church that can incorporate those unexpected additions.  I don't want parents to feel like they have to shush their children or hustle them out of the church.

All in all, it felt like a good day--as Easter should be.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saying Something New About Easter

I'm one of those cradle Christians; I've been going to church much of my whole life, and even when I wasn't attending faithfully, I'd still be in church for the high holy days, since I was usually visiting family members who went to church and wanted us all to go.  I've been hearing variations of the Easter story on both a weekly basis and a high holy day basis for 48 years now.

I'm always interested in how we make the story new.  Here are some snippets I've found this week.

From this post:

"As for myself, I cannot escape these lines lately:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Wilbur Rees
"I think it is asking for $3 worth of God to view Easter as assurance of heavenly retirement. Resurrection means more, is more, does more. What does the priceless nature of Forgiveness standing near us, still dusty from the grave, calling us by name- what does that mean for us today? For how we treat others? For how we act in the world? For what we think of our own worth?"

From this post:

“Christ is not alive now because he rose from the dead two thousand years ago,“ writes poet Christian Wiman. “He rose from the dead two thousand years ago because he is alive right now.”

"This past weekend a friend related that, in a recent speech, the writer Anne Lamott offered this to-the-point, memorable one-liner: 'It’s not take and figure it out, it’s take and eat.' Similarly, the Church uses the phrase 'Easter Proclamation,' not 'Easter Explanation.'”

"[Richard] Lischer says that 'the purpose of the Gospels was never to provide an exhaustive history but to make Polaroids of Jesus the church could hold up in a hospital, prison, ghetto, or cemetery, so that we would know him when we meet him.'”

“In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian [and a preacher?] is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands. The way he carries his cross. The way he carries me.’” Frederick Buechner

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lent of Many Cancers

Our Good Friday service includes a series of meditations on the 7 last words of Christ.  Our pastor asks for volunteers from the creative writers and thinkers at our church.  I volunteered for "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

At the time, I thought I'd talk about the times that we feel abandoned, that if even people like Jesus and Mother Theresa felt abandoned, that we shouldn't let those feelings of abandonment unsettle us too much.

Then I experienced the Lent of many cancers--none of them mine, let me hasten to add.  But all of them afflicting people who are my age or slightly older.  I know that at age 48 I'm officially at midlife, perhaps slightly beyond the middle of midlife.  But still, it's disconcerting when so many people in such a short period of time come back from a check up with a cancer diagnosis.

I'm sure that God hasn't felt abandoned by me during these past 6 weeks.  I've prayed more than I've ever prayed before.

Have I felt abandoned?  No.  But I have felt baffled.  Who creates such a system, where cells can go haywire in such a way?

I've written before about a universe rooted in free will and how it means we will face mistakes, since we're not marionettes.  I've read the theories about evolution and how some dead ends, like cancer cells, lead to other types of evolution too.  But still, I'm unconvinced that God has done the best job possible with creation.

I recognize the hubris in saying this kind of statement.  The world is full of much that I don't understand or fully appreciate.

The Good Friday narrative that leads to our Easter joy makes no sense to me either.  The Bible is full of these kinds of narratives where good is fashioned out of ashes.  I do have faith in the Easter message, that death does not have the final answer.

So, I will celebrate Easter tomorrow, even as I still feel marked by the ashes of Ash Wednesday.  I will move through the coming weeks trusting that God has a bigger vision than I can understand.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ancient-Future Maundy Thursday

Our church has often done non-traditional services on Maundy Thursday.  Some years we've had a group of teens who take over; some years we've done something in a multimedia vein.

Last night, we went straight back to the roots of the Church.  We gathered for an evening meal.  We sat around one long table, to which we added two tables as more people showed up:  a cross shape!

When we began, I felt a bit fretful.  We had one pot of soup, a bag or two of dinner rolls, and two bowls of salad.  And people kept coming and coming.

It was supposed to be a potluck, but I'm guessing that many people shared my reasoning:  most people cook for 12, so if I don't bring anything, it won't matter.

Happily, a few people came late, and they came with more soup and salad.  As always, we had leftovers. 

My pastor and I had set up a simple art project.  We had 7 canvases and markers on several tables.  I asked people to write or draw the names of people, places, and things that they loved and will miss when they're no longer on Earth.  At first people seemed hesitant, but then, many of them got into the spirit of it.

We gathered around the table and ate our supper.  As supper drew to a close we did the Faith 5:  we heard the Maundy Thursday text, we talked about our highs and lows, we looked for ways the Bible reading tied into our highs and lows, we prayed, and then we blessed each other.

I rearranged the canvases into the shape of a cross, and the plan had been to paint a heart over the top of people's writing.  I had in mind an outline of a heart.  But I didn't count on the two elementary-aged girls who wanted to help.  I gave them the paint and the brushes and let them take over after I drew the outline of a heart.

They painted exuberantly.  Even as we dimmed the lights to have the Communion part of the evening, they kept painting.  I decided to let them, since their moms seemed OK with it.

Our pastor had made individual breads so that we could do intinction.  Each person communed the person beside them.  And then our pastor blessed us, and we were done.

The painters were done too.  Our pastor said, "It's what the Holy Spirit would look like if the Holy Spirit was made of red paint."  I felt a bit distressed by the tornado shape of the heart, but that metaphor for the Holy Spirit works too.

Everyone pitched in to clean up and to put the room back into its Fellowship Hall set up.  People seemed reluctant to leave.  It was a wonderful night, that ancient maundatum ("love each other") put into flesh.

I'd like to find a way to do it more often . . .