Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Kyrie Eleison!

Sunday, November 11...St. Anne's in North Hollywood...I decided to attend the Arabic liturgy at St. Anne's today...and was moved by the entirety of it, the beauty of it, the glorious iconography, the liturgy, the children engaged in just about all of it.  I love the way the children and priest walk the Gospel around the sanctuary, up and down the aisles.  I love the way "kyrie eleison" weaves the entire liturgy together, from begining through eucharist to the blessing at the end.  Lord, have mercy!

Most dear to me: the reading of the Gospel in Arabic.  This week...the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  We were given the option--if we wished--to move into a side chapel for a sermon in English.  But I stayed behind, with the others, understanding only tiny bits of the preacher's vocabulary (peace, mercy, God)...but letting the gospel of Jesus wash over me just the same.  The compassion.  The tenderness.  The courage of God.

Not far away, fires scorched hillsides in Thousand Oaks.  In France, a wanna-be dictator made a mockery of decency and friendship and even history.  But at St. Anne's, among the sisters and brothers of God, I could hear the voice of Peace, the voice of Christ, calling us all to joyful, sweet, courageous resistance.  "Which of these was neighbor...?"


St. Anne's Melkite Catholic Cathedral

North Hollywood, CA

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Weeping God: Oklahoma City

Mile after passing mile on Interstate 40--from the rusty foliage of West Virginia to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis across the rolling Ozarks of Arkansas--I've mixed things up, media-wise.  Tried to take the news in moderation: Trump repudiated in election, Trump wins the election. Trump sacks Sessions, RBG breaks ribs.  Turned to a couple of well-conceived podcasts ("S-Town", then "Last Seen").  Yammered along with a new Spotify playlist (Paul Simon's "Graceland" and Springsteen's "Oklahoma Home").  

And then, this morning, Oklahoma City.  Where the Alfred P. Murrah Building once stood.

Never been through Oklahoma City before, and I know there's much more to it than terrorism and history.  But 4/19/95 seems both distant and near.  The grim violence unleased by white nationalism.  The stunning contempt for civic institutions that manifests in the slaughter of civil servants and children in daycare centers.  I'd heard so much about the Oklahoma City National Memorial that I made a point of stopping by.  Especially this week. 2018.  

I felt an unnerving mix of nausea and deep sadness going through this museum.  The methodical planning of bombers.  Their gruesome contempt for government and neighbor.  Most unsettling is the question poking, prodding, jamming me: Have we learned from this?  Are we smarter, wiser, more generous in 2018?  Or have we accomodated Timothy McVeigh and Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump--to the point where it's only a matter of time...?  There's no way--and no reason--to tie all violence together; but the nausea in my gut this morning reminded me of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Dachau in Germany and, yes, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis just yesterday.  "O when will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?"  

Perhaps the harshest moment in the museum is when a guide ushers us into a replicated conference room--where a tape-recorded Water Resources Board hearing captures the moments just before McVeigh's truck exploded the building.  And then--as mayhem ensues--the pictures of dozens of the dead appear on the wall just behind the desk.  The kind of nationalism Trump is courting these days does just this: justifies contempt, stirs despair, encourages violence.  Timothy McVeigh built the bomb in Oklahoma City (with others)--but he was inspired by a whole network: prophets of grievance, broadcasters of hate.

"Jesus Weeping"--In front of the Catholic Church, across the street from the museum.

I remember--as many do--the picture above: a firefighter cradling a child injured in the blast that day.  The child died a while later--but the picture captures something that outlives Timothy McVeigh's hatred and Fox News' vitriol.  Public service.  The commitment of women and men to the common good.  The best of who we are.  Timothy McVeigh sneered at firefighters and Water Resource Boards, at ATF agents and State-run child care centers.  In a lot of ways, Donald Trump and Sean Hannity are sneering still.  But if the idea of America means anything any more, if the future of this country still shines, it shines in pictures like the one above.  In the care of public servants for the vulnerable.  In the brave careers of Water Resource Board officials and ATF agents.  In the teachers who show up at child care centers to make the world safe for children and better for their parents.

Weeping God, Loving Spirit, Reconciling Hope of the many who make this one nation: Bless by your grace the servants who care for us and keep the dream of America alive.  Bless our government employees, our civil servants, our firefighters and police officers.  Bless our elected officials. activists and advocates; our counselors and chaplains and the many teachers across the land.  Where there is contempt in our hearts--for one another, for our democratic project--cleanse us of this despair, cleanse us of this distrust.  Turn our minds and hearts to the possibilities of shared endeavor, and to the common good that invites our best efforts and biggest dreams.  By your sweet and empowering spirit, comfort those who've lost so much to terror and violence, in the name of politics, in the name of religion, in the name of nationalism and fear.  Join us to one another in a bold commitment to a more perfect union, in which all of your children find meaning and light and purpose in one another, and for one another.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Sweet Lorraine

I wept this morning, unexpected tears, at a display in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.  There was so much to see, so much to feel.  There's the balcony where Martin Lutther King was shot and died in 1968.  There's a detailed and moving exhibit on the slave trade and its lasting impact on American wealth and culture.  Meaningful, provocative connections between the Memphis Sanitation Workers' movement in '68 and Black Lives Matter today.  But another display snuck up on me, a storyboard about the Lorraine Motel and its owners, Walter and Loree Bailey.  The two were dedicated business leaders, innovators; they were committed to justice and integration.  After buying the motel, they expanded it and insisted that white and black visitors alike find welcome and comfort within.  Walter named the place the "Lorraine" after his beloved Loree, and in a nod to a favorite 20s jazz tune, "Sweet Lorraine."

Some of the world's great political and artistic leaders found a home at the Lorraine: Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding and Martin King.  It was said around town that Loree made the best fried catfish sandwich anywhere--and this is the meal King and his colleagues ordered in their rooms for lunch on April 4, 1968, not long before an assassin took King's life and turned the world upside down.

I didn't know Loree's story until this morning.
Loree, Carolyn and Walter Bailey
So brutal was that evening, April 4, so chaotic and devastating, that Loree Bailey had an unexpected and catastrophic stroke in the early hours of the morning.  She was in a coma for a few days, but never recovered; and Loree Bailey died on April 9.  She left her three daughters, her family, her husband, her city and community in shock.  Memphis lost a bright, brave, innovative leader.  Dr. King was not the only martyr in Memphis that week.  Loree Bailey gave her life, too, "in the name of love" (as Bono sometimes sings).

There are so many of these "hidden histories" among us, stories and lives that bear witness to the decency and courage of spirit that rise when we need these most.  Shuffling through the National Civil Rights Museum this morning--housed in the old Lorraine Motel--I tell myself to keep watch.  To keep watch for the saints like Loree.  To be mindful of their spirit in the streets, in the motel lobbies, in the pews.  The empire's madness is no match for such decency and courage.  Loree Bailey's spirit rises above the noise of race-baiting and caravan-blaming and nastiness in politics today.  Her spirit is the promise of our future, and the pathway toward it.

See more: https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/from-the-vault/posts/lorraine-motel.

Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN

Memorial, King's Last Motel Room, Balcony

"They Changed History"


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Merton on my Mind

Election Day, Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, KY

Church Light, Abbey of Gethsemani

Church Entrance, Abbey of Gethsemani

Cemetery, Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, KY

Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, LaRue County, KY

Election Day 2018, Bardstown, KY
It rained hard last night, in Bardstown, Kentucky.  Sheets of rain beat against my hotel window.  Eighteen wheelers roaring through the wind and rain on the highway just beyond.  This morning, the skies are blue, with huge clouds, dark and dangerous, drifting over autumn and election day.  The air is clean, the countryside open to possibility.  I'm dumbfounded by the way this fall's unfolded, but eager to see what today might bring.

I'm thinking, even now, about my good friend David Wellman, who teaches in Chicago but has spent huge chunks of 2018 canvassing for Democrat Randy Bryce in Racine, Wisconsin.  We talked by phone yesterday: me doing 75 down a Kentucky highway, David walking the streets of Racine with colleagues, building support, casting vision.  Whatever happens this evening, David's a hero, and a democrat...and I have so much to learn from his capacity for hope and action and creative, disciplined service in a country ripped to the heart by violence and demagogery.  (Bryce is running to 'flip' Paul Ryan's congressional seat, by the way.  If he does, we'll have David and so many other heroes to thank!)

I'm thinking too of my three daughters--and how desperately I hope tonight marks a new beginning for them, and for the Democratic Party, and for decency in American politics.  I want them to believe in this process, and to correct what's wrong with it, and to invest their energies (as David's invested his this summer/fall).  Whatever else nonviolence means (spiritually, ethically, morally, theologically)--doesn't it have to mean a commitment to this kind of electoral work, this kind of organizing and canvassing and showing up to vote?  

Rolling out of Bardstown this morning, I drive fifteen miles south to the Trappists' Abbey of Gethsamani.  What peace to pray there, in silence, amidst the slanting rays of fall and so much history!  I turn a corner this week, from a clearly defined path in my 57th year to something much less certain.  The silence here--at this particular abbey, this particular place--seems to wrap itself around me, sitting all alone in the large church at the abbey's center.  I want to trust this silence.  I think I can.  The sun's light through the windows is generous and reassuring.  

As I stumble into an unexpected transition--heading for California this week--I find flimsy hope, but unmistakable grace in Gethsamani's own Thomas Merton and his prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself; and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually do so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope I never do anything apart from that desire.
And I believe that if I do that, you lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will not leave me to face my perils alone.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Poem: "Prospect Hill"

Prospect Hill Cemetery, NE DC
Sun falls, waves of gold, among these stones, 
Green fields bright with satisfying grace.
Wisdom meets me at the path
Where a snapped branch blocks the way.
I step around it, onto the soft grassy earth,
And this is the needed thing, to wander
Off the sensible path, to feel
The planet tender, the gentle hands of God.

Resting here, I close my eyes to wait

On spirit, on the singing of birds, on an ambulance
Rushing up the busy city avenue, to serve, to help.
Kyrie eleison.  Christe eleison.  Kyrie eleison.
Among these many names, and broken stones,
In a field of memories, paths perfectly unkept,
I am yours, O Wisdom, O Grace, O Christ,
And all my tears and hopes pool gladly in your hand.



Saturday, October 20, 2018

"This is an Organized Effort"

An aerial view shows the migrant caravan waiting on the Guatemala-Mexico international bridge in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, "This is an organized effort."  And this is precisely right.  When human communities are brutalized by corrupt power, when human families are marginalized by economies of greed, we organize ourselves and we march.  We organize ourselves and we cross borders.  We organize ourselves and we seek better worlds for our children and neighbors and lovers.  "This is an organized effort."  Indeed.  

In his classic book Exodus and Revolution, Michael Walzer writes, “We still believe, or many of us do, what the Exodus first taught… about the meaning and possibility of politics: first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt; second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land; and third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching“.


Praise God for every one of these brave souls--joining together and marching.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

POEM: "Failing Fabulously"

Jonah Icon, Holy Transfiguration Melkite Church, McLean, VA
Leaves fall from the avenue’s lofty trees,
Spilling from branch to branch, aimlessly
Tilting toward the glossy rain-soaked asphalt.
Letting go, slipping from their perch
Above the capitol city, wet autumn night,
Most have yet to turn from green to yellow,
Or orange, or the radiant reds of maples in the north.
Still they slide to the street, or land sadly
And forever on unaware windshields
Of commuting cars, drivers eager to get home.

Jonah tossed from the rail of his escape,
Swallowed whole by a great fish and
Wallowing in his disappointment that
Things turned out the way they did.
Peter too, cowering by the station fire,
Retreating to the safer regions of privilege
And illusions of safekeeping and immortality.
Is this inevitable, this falling, this yielding
To fears unexamined and the driving rains of October?

Years ago I sat with inmates in a small
County jail, chapel walls painted with icons.
Reading stories of prodigals lost, prodigals found,
Sharing a loaf of bread, broken into pieces because
Jesus was too, broken into pieces, buried by loss.

A sad boy across the circle wept for a child
Far away, who didn’t call and didn’t come;
And another looked up, and recognized the sound,
The pain, and then (I swear to God) he stood and
Walked over to the weeping one, and sat by him,
Held his hand, and he said to him:
“My brother, you are not alone,” just like that.

So I want to say to Jonah and Peter, and to my own
Fabulously failing self: The eyes of God are upon you,
The lovingkindness of God steps toward you now,
And the falling leaves of October are gathered up,
In the invisible cycle of Gethsemane and Calvary,
Friday’s piercing grief, and Sunday’s golden light.

The jailed brother sits, holds out his tattooed hand:
“My brother, you are not alone.” 
Just like that.

11 October 2018
Washington, DC

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Make Me An Instrument...

First Street at T in Bloomingdale, DC

Monday, September 17, 2018

SERMON: "Imagine a World"

imagine a world
a sermon for september 16, 2018
dave grishaw-jones
luke 15:11-32

When you walk out of here this morning, when we’ve sung that last thrilling verse of “Amazing Grace,” when you’ve recycled your program and you’re off to lunch, your challenge is this:  TO IMAGINE A WORLD like the one Jesus imagines in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Maybe you’ll take a walk this afternoon, or go for a run up in Rock Creek Park.  Maybe you’ll bless the fertility of the land and assemble a great green salad for good friends at dinnertime.  Maybe you’ll hunker down and read a book or a poem or the crazy colors of a Potomac sunset.  In all these things, dear Christian, your challenge, our challenge is the same: TO IMAGINE A WORLD like the one Jesus imagines in this parable.  To imagine ourselves as midwives to that world, choreographers in that world, disciples of that world.  Where grace abounds and forgiveness heals.  Where broken things come together again.

What God needs most urgently is our imagination this week.
  What Jesus cultivates most creatively in this parable is your courage.  Not your entrenched conviction around finer points of theology and philosophy.  Not your well-schooled cynicism around all the ways the world's going to hell.  What God needs--today, tomorrow, this week--is your imagination, your courage, and your capacity for hope.  Whatever else Jesus is after in this parable, it has something to do (maybe everything to do) with your imagination.  Where you live.  Where you work.  Where you study and play.

Will you see what I see? Jesus asks.


So let's talk about that this morning.
  Let's talk about the importance of imagination in your life, in your spiritual life, in your walk with Jesus and God's grace.  Because it strikes me somehow that that's what Jesus' most famous parable comes down to--in the end.  When it's 110 in the shade and not a square meal to be found, the younger son imagines his own homecoming.  When his father sees the young boy stumbling down the road, staggering toward home, he imagines their reunion and wastes no time rushing to welcome him home.  
Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
You see, where there's no imagination, there's no grace, no hope, no possibility of healing and peace.  Where there's no imagination, there's nothing like the boy's long walk home or the courage needed to keep walking when his feet ache or the fabulous feast with the fatted calf or the beautiful robe and the precious ring.  Where there's no imagination, I guess you could say, there's no parable at all.

And isn't it possible that this whole story--this story that's as fresh and contemporary as any other in scripture--isn't it possible that this whole story comes down to the question of the older brother's imagination?
  That day when his brother comes home.  That night when the band's warmed up and the dancing's begun and the feast is spread on a dozen tables.

The father's weeping tears of joy.
  The candles are lit, the house is rocking with love.  The fatted calf's been killed.  And the whole story comes down to the older brother’s predicament.  Can he imagine laying aside his well-earned bitterness and cynicism?  Can he imagine lacing up his own dancing shoes?  Can he imagine forgiveness and reconciliation, a new life of friendship, collaboration and celebration?

The French theologian Claude Dequoc says: "Forgiveness is an invitation to imagination.
  It is not forgetfulness of the past, but rather the risk of a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past."  Let me dial that up again: "Forgiveness is an invitation to imagination.  It is not forgetfulness of the past, but rather the risk of a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past."  Can the older brother risk a future other than the one imposed by memory--other than the one in which his kid brother runs off free and unencumbered?  Other than the one in which he's left behind to work the fields and manage the money and take care of the aging parents?  Can he lay aside his well-earned bitterness and risk a future of grace, a future of reconciliation, a future of forgiveness?

Now, to be honest, Jesus doesn't say.
  And that's just the kind of teacher Jesus is.  That's his provocative style in every one of these parables.  It always comes down to you and me.  It always comes down to our faith, to our courage, to our imagination.  This whole business of mercy and forgiveness: it’s not easy and it’s surely not routine.  But…as Gandhi and Emma Gonzalez keep telling us…we get to be the change we wish to see in the world.  It always comes down to us.