Equal Liberty of Conscience
Galatians 5:1, 13-15
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
First Central Congregational UCC
12 April 2015
On October 31, 1948, Reformation Sunday, my predecessor in this pulpit, the Rev. Dr. Harold Janes, preached a sermon entitled "Why We Are Protestants." A couple of years ago the printed version of that sermon came into my possession, and I've cherished it as illustrative of the values that have long guided this congregation.
Now, the sermon also has a weakness. It was written prior to the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church and the subsequent thawing of enmity between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Thus, there is much anti-Catholic bias evident in the sermon. So, one must filter out the bias.
According to Dr. Janes there are four key Protestant values—salvation is by individual faith and not mediated through the church, religious liberty, the priesthood of all believers, and the holiness of ordinary life. These four values hang closely together, but today I want to talk about religious liberty.
I'm drawn to the topic because it has been much in the news of late with the reactions to the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that various states have passed or tried to pass. The law in Indiana created an immediate backlash that was stunning in its scope with everyone from NCAA basketball coaches to Wal-Mart to religious denominations and human rights organizations opposing it because of the way it could be used to discriminate against LGBT people (and also because it opened the door for all sorts of other forms of discrimination). It was easy to conclude that this was a sea-change moment in which the broad mainstream opinion in America was revealed to be opposed to discrimination against LGBT persons. As a gay man, it was quite a shock to suddenly see Wal-Mart as an ally.
At its core, however, the recent public debate is not solely about LGBT civil rights. It has been framed as a debate about religious freedom. So, I think it is important for us to explore this topic. What is religious freedom and how should we as people of faith understand this current debate? More on all of that in a moment. Let me first return to that 1948 sermon by Dr. Janes.
This is his description of religious liberty as understood by our Protestant tradition:
[The Protestant] is certain that no one religious group or order has a complete insight into all of God's truth. Each group sees a part of the truth. "We know in part," as Paul said. Only as we share our truth with each other is it possible for us to have a growing knowledge of God's purpose for our lives. . . . Only as we have freedom to search for that truth, without ecclesiastical or political restrictions, will the Lord be able to reveal that truth unto us, and so the true Protestant declares himself in favor of complete religious liberty and echoes the words of Paul, "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
There are key ideas here that I want to develop, but first I want to add a warning that Dr. Janes gave in 1948 that I think is relevant for us in this public debate in 2015. He said, "We [should not] be deceived by those who claim they are interested in religious liberty when they are only interested in liberty to impose their interpretations of religion upon others."
In order to better understand all these ideas, I want to return to the Epistle lesson for today, from Galatians, for it is also the passage that Dr. Janes quoted in his 1948 sermon. This passage comes as Paul is arguing for the freedom of grace as opposed to what he calls the slavery of the law. Followers of Jesus, according to Paul, do not need to be bound by obedience to the law because they live according to grace and love. We are free, not having to earn our salvation by work and effort. But our freedom is not license to do whatever we personally want. Our freedom is shaped by love, the kind of self-sacrificial love revealed in Jesus. The kind of love that respects and values our sisters and brothers.
The great Scottish scholar William Barclay, commenting on this passage, wrote:
Now Christianity is [a] true democracy, because in a Christian state everyone would think as much of his neighbor as he does of himself. . . . The Christian is the man who through the indwelling Spirit of Christ is so purged of self that he loves his neighbor as himself.
Barclay then picks up on Paul's final statement:
In the end Paul adds a grim bit of advice. "Unless," he says, "you solve the problem of living together you will make life impossible and unlivable at all." Selfishness in the end does not exalt a man; it destroys him.
As both Dr. Janes and William Barclay point out, our Christian tradition of liberty is rooted in the love of neighbor, the removal of selfishness, and humility about our own views. Liberty, then, is a form of love towards others that enables us to live together. This is the essential quality of religious freedom.
When our Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors came to this continent, it was to freely practice their faith. However, once they arrived, they weren't so good about passing along the same freedom to others. This was particularly a problem for the Puritans. They went to war with the Natives. Burned some they thought were witches. Tried to force Anne Hutchison to conform to the doctrines of the majority. And ran off Roger Williams, who then established Rhode Island, the first colony devoted to complete religious liberty.
It took a while before our tradition fully embraced religious freedom and its attendant doctrines—disestablishment, separation, governmental neutrality. But once we did embrace these notions, they became central to who we are as a people. Our commitment to religious liberty is what underlies our commitment to human rights. Because we value the rights of conscience, even of those who are different from ourselves, we fought for abolition, Native American's rights, the equality of women, the full inclusion of persons with disabilities, and the equality of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and persons who are transgender.
Roger Williams is the key early American person who promoted the equal liberty of conscience. Williams was kicked out of Massachusetts by the Congregationalists and went off to found Rhode Island and the first Baptist church in America. I had ancestors who took that journey with him and were founders of that first colony and that first church devoted to complete liberty of conscience. When, almost four hundred years later, I left the Baptist tradition in which I was raised and made the reverse journey of my ancestors, joining the United Church of Christ, it was for the same reason—freedom. Contemporary Baptists, particularly in the South, had largely abandoned their centuries-old commitments to separation of church and state and individual liberty and replaced those with an effort to assert conformity to established doctrine and to legislate their own particular views. This I could not abide, as my ancestors could not abide.
Baptists abandoned their historic principles because they gained too much secular power, and power corrupts. But that should not mean we forget the essential role that Baptists historically played in the American democratic experiment. And should you want to read an inspiring call to religious freedom from a Baptist perspective, I recommend the great sermon "Baptists and Religious Liberty" preached on the steps of the U. S. Capitol in May 1920 by Dr. George W. Truett the legendary pastor of First Baptist Dallas.
For Roger Williams the core problem was the same as that which St. Paul referenced—how are we to live together in love. Williams was troubled by the settlers' treatment of the Native Americans and by the human tendency to impose the ideas of a majority upon a minority. He was troubled by these things because they violated individual consciences, and he held individual consciences to be "infinitely precious" demanding respect from everyone. Writing about Roger Williams, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum says, "Williams thinks of consciences as delicate, vulnerable, living things, things that need to breathe and not to be imprisoned." Therefore it is essential for consciences to have that breathing space. In a just society, everyone will respect each other's conscience, and give each other space.
From these ideas would develop the American tradition of religious liberty. And should you want to read a history of the development of that tradition and all its complexities, I highly recommend Martha Nussbaum's book Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality. In it she presents the six principles that have guided America's complicated history balancing religion with the public life of a pluralistic democracy. There is much to say about that constitutional and legal tradition, but my focus today is upon the religious roots of liberty.
Essential to the American tradition derived from Roger Williams is the idea of a public space in which everyone's views are allowed to interact. For this public space to exist, everyone must be granted equality and mutual respect. It does not mean that you have to agree with everyone else, quite the contrary. It means that in the public sphere you cannot try to impose your views on someone else. Instead, you must grant them the respect and the equality that is their fundamental human right. You must acknowledge their dignity, their conscience. Or, as St. Paul put it in the letter to the Galatians, quoting an even more ancient text, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
And this, my friends, is why I'm so deeply troubled by the recent misuse of the concept "religious freedom." Let me state emphatically, and so that I am not misunderstood—in the public sphere no one has a religious right to discriminate against another human being.
Discrimination, not treating another person with the respect that they are entitled to, refusing equal treatment—these things are direct contradictions of religious liberty. They are hostile to it.
It is brazen dishonesty to wrap your biases in the language of religious freedom. It risks substantial harm to the Republic. To the entire American democratic experiment. And even to the Christian gospel.
It is Orwellian to use a term to describe its exact opposite. This dishonesty must be resisted.
Religious liberty, as historically understood, as rooted in the biblical tradition, as enshrined in our Constitution, demands equality of all persons, demands mutual respect of all persons, demands that in the public sphere everyone be treated the same.
Now, that does not mean that these issues are simple. They are in fact quite complex, with broad gray zones that can be difficult to interpret. Legislators and judges must constantly examine those areas where the values of our society create complexity and conflict. They must examine and decide with reason and compassion, nuance and patience.
And there is a clear difference between the public sphere and the private spheres of religious practice. Essential to our American tradition of religious liberty is the idea that internally a group can establish its own doctrines and practices. Yet as we engage in the public sphere, we must accommodate one another. There is, therefore, a difference between the pizza place that wants to treat customers differently based upon religious beliefs and a religious school who only wants to hire those who align with their doctrines. We may disagree with the doctrines. We may encourage dialogue within and among religious traditions in hopes that those doctrines might change. But it is essential to religious freedom that the rights of religious institutions be understood as different from the rights of businesses engaging in the public sphere.
The task of ensuring the equal liberty of conscience for all falls not to our public officials, but to us. It is a social practice. It begins with overcoming selfishness and our human tendency to exclude those who are different from ourselves. It manifests in kindness and hospitality. It is guided by humility and generosity. For it is rooted in the commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
You were called to freedom. Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Love one another.
This is the 37th post in my cd collection series.
Bush and Cake stand next to each other in the alphabetical order of our cd collection. They make me think of the 1990's and my roommates and friends
Michael brought the Bush album into the marriage. Though I did listen to them because friends owned their albums. At the time I was, of similar bands, more into Live. Listening to Michael's Bush album makes me think of visits to the Dallas-Fort Worth area with Derrek Housewright when we'd be glad that our car radio finally picked up the alternative stations we couldn't get in Oklahoma. Bush makes me think of driving around Dallas. It was also when I went through my own obligatory period of shoulder length hair.
Cake I loved. They are a much better band, though the one time I saw them at ACL, I thought they phoned it in, which was mighty disappointing.
There songs were fun, their lyrics were clever, and they recorded great covers, such a this one of "I Will Survive" which was never convincing. By that I mean that you knew Gloria Gaynor was in fact going to survive. Cake, you weren't quite so sure. And that really fit our mood in our twenties.
The Christian Response to Death
I Cor. 15:1-26
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
First Central Congregational UCC
5 April 2015
Do you remember the classic Disney film Pollyanna staring Hayley Mills? My sister looked a lot like Hayley Mills when she was young and because in the early days of cable television the Disney Channel repeatedly showed films from their collection, I grew up watching a lot of Hayley Mills movies. Parent Trap may have been the household favourite, but I also saw Pollyanna more times than I can remember.
The main character, Pollyanna, is a perennial optimist. No matter what happens to her, her disposition remains sunny and positive. Which leads to one of the funniest scenes in the film. She attends her grandmother's church for the first time. It is an austere and solemn congregation with everyone sitting stiffly and silently. Who knows, it might have been an old-fashioned Congregationalist church? When it is time for the sermon, the pastor emerges from a door to the side of the chancel and marches up a steep set of steps to one of those old-fashioned pulpits which towers over the congregation. The minister has a grave bearing supplemented by his dark black robes. He looks out over the congregation with a scowl and quite startlingly bellows, "Death comes unexpectedly."
One of the subplots of the movie is how young Pollyanna will charm the minister into embracing a more world-affirming, life-enjoying, happy religion.
But that line "Death comes unexpectedly" has always stuck with me. Not simply because I made a childhood vow never to become that sort of preacher, but because while being funny in the context, the words are startlingly true.
The ancients who wrote our Holy Scripture viewed death as a malevolent power. They faced it far more often and immediately than most of us do. So it is easy to understand why for them death was not simply the end of life, brought about most often by natural causes such as age or disease. Death was a force, often personified, which struck randomly and with abandon.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, that ancient Mesopotamian story that is in many ways the fountainhead of our literary tradition, deals profoundly with the issue of death and grief. It is the story of Gilgamesh, king of great-walled Uruk and his friend and companion Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Enkidu survive many dangerous adventures, only to have Enkidu die of some mysterious illness. Gilgamesh's grief overwhelms him. He flees his city and his responsibilities and sets out on a journey around the world seeking immortality, an answer to the problem of death.
Near the end of his journey, Gilgamesh finds Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim is the builder of the ark and the survivor of the great flood. His story pre-dates the account of Noah in Genesis, and many scholars think that the Noah story is simply the Israelite retelling of this even more ancient story.
When Utnapishtim sees Gilgamesh, he asks him why he looks so bad:
Why are your cheeks so hollow? Why is your face so ravaged, frost-chilled, and burnt by the desert sun? Why is there so much grief in your heart? Why are you worn out and ready to collapse, like someone who has been on a long, hard journey?
Then Gilgamesh answers in one of the great laments in world literature:
Shouldn't my cheeks be hollow, shouldn't my face be ravaged, frost-chilled, and burnt by the desert sun? Shouldn't my heart be filled with grief? Shouldn't I be worn out and ready to collapse? My friend, my brother, whom I loved so dearly, who accompanied me through every danger—Enkidu, my brother, whom I loved so dearly . . . the fate of mankind has overwhelmed him. For six days I would not let him be buried, thinking, "If my grief is violent enough, perhaps he will come back to life again." For six days and seven nights I mourned him, until a maggot fell out of his nose. Then I was frightened, I was terrified by death, and I set out to roam the wilderness. I cannot bear what happened to my friend—I cannot bear what happened to Enkidu—so I roam the wilderness in my grief. How can my mind have any rest? My beloved friend has turned into clay—my beloved Enkidu has turned into clay. And won't I too lie down in the dirt like him, and never rise again?
Utnapishtim responds to Gilgamesh, basically scolding him for his grief and lack of gratitude and then warning him that he must change his life:
You have worn yourself out through ceaseless striving, you have filled your muscles with pain and anguish. And what have you achieved but to bring yourself one day nearer to the end of your days?
Yes: the gods took Enkidu's life. But man's life is short, at any moment it can be snapped, like a reed in a canebrake. The handsome young man, the lovely young woman—in their prime, death comes and drags them away. . . . suddenly, savagely, death destroys us, all of us.
Utnapishtim sounds rather like the minister in Pollyanna—"Death comes unexpectedly."
We do not share the ignorance of our forbearers that led to their fear of death as a malevolent power. Death is no longer such a mystery to us. We have a better grasp of biology and understand death as part of the life cycle of a biological organism. For many of us in the developed West, life itself is no longer "nasty, brutish, and short." We are privileged to experience family members and friends living reasonably healthy lives into their nineties and beyond, ultimately dying of natural causes. Though even those deaths grieve us, they are not tragedies.
With our knowledge, we may no longer experience death as a malevolent force, but we are still familiar with it as a tragedy. A life cut short through accident. A poor person with limited access to health care. Lives shortened by war, violence, hunger, oppression, and neglect. Airplane crashes, outbreaks of infectious disease, and mass shootings still startle and frighten us. The martyrdom of 147 Christians in Kenya this week.
In the Bible, sin and death often go hand-in-hand as powers which rob us of life. And though we may use different language than the ancients, we are still aware of how sin and death go hand-in-hand. So much death is avoidable. So much death results from our gluttonous consumption. Our failures to care for ourselves and for each other. Our unjust social practices. The human addiction to violence.
The Bible often speaks of death as a power to be defeated. In our day, we can think of these avoidable deaths resulting from our sinful social practices and the flaws in human nature. These sorts of preventable deaths must still be defeated.
Then there is the personal side to death, experienced by the bereaved and sometimes feared by the living. Death can be experienced as a loss of personal identity, meaning, and community. This loss is the source of Gilgamesh's painful lament. After his long journey, he discovered no answer, no solution. He returns home, fully aware that death awaits him and afraid that this impending death makes his life meaningless and absurd. Some of you may have experienced this sort of grief which leads to fear and anxiety about the end of your own life.
"I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord." Those are the words which open the Christian funeral service. And at the close of that service, when we commit a body to the ground, we pray this prayer:
In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our sister or brother, and we commit her to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her, the Lord lift up his countenance upon her and give her peace.
Yes, we Christians die, but death has no power over us. Resurrection is the Christian response to death, and in I Corinthians 15 St. Paul narrates the resurrection story. He opens with these words:
Now I remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you also stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
There is something revealing in this phrase, "which you in turn received." As the Scottish theologian William Barclay says, we do not have to invent the gospel for ourselves. This good news is not something we have to discover. We don't have to be like Gilgamesh and travel around the world, striving hard, searching for good news. The good news is proclaimed to us, we receive it from someone else.
We receive it because we have experienced it in other people. We have observed how the gospel changed someone's life. How a beloved mentor lived differently than other people because of faith. How an acquaintance from church faced their impending death with courage and hope. We believe the gospel to be true because we have witnessed its effects in the world. This is not belief in the abstract, in some intellectual sense. It is belief built out of our relationships with other people.
Therefore, we do not lose community when we die. Ruth Robinson, my kindergarten Sunday school teacher of whom I have often spoken, is long deceased. But because she played a significant role in the formation of my own faith, Ruth is here with us now. She continues to participate in the body of Christ, because of the faith I received from her. She continues to influence the world for good because of what she taught me that I now try to pass on to others.
And I know that the many children and teenagers I've taught (even though some of them are now in their thirties and have their own kids, which is what really makes me feel old) that those young people, who will outlive me, already live lives changed by their encounter with the gospel. Long after my own death, I will continue to participate in their faith and witness.
We do not leave the body of Christ at our deaths, but continue to participate in the on-going life of the church. We share in ecstatic fellowship with our fellow Christians, including all who came before us and all who will come after us. The circle is unbroken, to answer the question posed by the Carter Family's classic song. And the circle continues to grow, reaching out farther and farther, spreading our life and our influence. By participating in the life of Jesus, we are in communion with God and therefore with all of creation in an interrelated whole. When this perishable body ceases to function anymore, this life will go on.
This truth of the resurrection, this good news, is something in which we stand. The good news we have received fills us with the hope . . . . and the courage . . . to live as Jesus lived.
Jesus lived a certain kind of life, which was very different from the way most people live. Jesus lived in solidarity with the poor and the outcast, and he challenged the powers which enslave people: Things like purity codes used to exclude those who are different. Religious practices that separated people from God rather than drawing them closer. Economic practices which robbed people of land and the ability to provide for themselves. Imperial policies which used violence to oppress.
When the imperial forces crucified Jesus it was a challenge to the way Jesus had lived. It would have been easy to interpret that the life Jesus lived was a waste and, therefore, no model for how anyone else should live. But that is not how Paul and the other apostles interpreted the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead, they saw the crucifixion itself as the moment which revealed God's victory. Why was this? Because they experienced Jesus as resurrected from the dead. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then the life Jesus lived was vindicated. It received God's seal of approval. In other words, God was saying, "this is the sort of life I desire all humanity to live."
Because of our own experiences of resurrection, we know that if we stand firmly in the good news and live lives of justice, love, and peace, that we will not have lived in vain. That our lives are part of God's on-going victory over the powers of sin and death.
That means the more we live lives of justice, love, and peace, the more those needless forms of death come to an end. By our lives and our witness, we continue to minimize the effects of poverty, inequality, war, and the other sins which lead to needless death.
Death, the malevolent power, is defeated because we have learned to live life the way Jesus did.
It is this good news through which we are also being saved, Paul writes. Gilgamesh feared that his life lacked meaning, that the reality of death made life an absurdity. He felt the need to strive in order to create his identity and meaning.
But we Christians do not need to do this, for our identity and meaning are not of our own creation. They come to us through the grace of God when we are baptized into the name of Jesus. Our identity and the meaning of our lives come from God, not from ourselves.
Therefore, we need not fear our own death or the death of our loved ones. Our lives are not absurd. Our identity and meaning are not lost, because they are forever part of God.
I do not know what awaits us when we die. But I do know that my life has meaning. That it will continue even after this body ceases to function. Why?
Because I have lived as Jesus lived. And we know from the story of the resurrection that such a life is not lived in vain.
This is post number 36 in my cd collection series.
It wasn't until the early Aughts that I collected one of the great albums of the 1990's--Jeff Buckley's Grace. It opens with his hauntingly beautiful voice singing this song "Mojo Pin."
The album is filled with his gorgeous singing, most hauntingly captured on his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
I remember many a late night drive through Eastern Oklahoma or Western Arkansas listening to this album, captivated by it.
That Buckely died in 1997, drowning during a nighttime swim in the Mississippi River, never having released another album simply ads to the mystique and the value of this record.
This in today's e-mail from poets.org
For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,
oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,
and in each of the mirrors their children’s photos,
smutty cartoons, postcards from Machu Picchu.
I was happy in any chair, though I liked best
the touch of the eldest, who’d rest his hand
against my neck in a thoughtless, confident way.
Ten years maybe. One day the powdery blue
steel shutters pulled down over the window and door,
not to be raised again. They’d lost their lease.
I didn’t know how at a loss I’d feel;
this haze around what I’d like to think
the sculptural presence of my skull
requires neither art nor science,
but two haircuts on Seventh, one in Dublin,
Then (I hear my friend Marie
laughing over my shoulder, saying In your poems
there’s always a then, and I think, Is it a poem
without a then?) dull early winter, back on 18th,
upspiraling red in a cylinder of glass, just below the line
of sidewalk, a new sign, WILLIE’S BARBERSHOP.
Dark hallway, glass door, and there’s (presumably) Willie.
When I tell him I used to go down the street
he says in an inscrutable accent, This your home now,
puts me in a chair, asks me what I want and soon he’s clipping
and singing with the radio’s Latin dance tune.
That’s when I notice Willie’s walls,
though he’s been here all of a week, spangled with images
hung in barber shops since the beginning of time:
lounge singers, near-celebrities, random boxers
—Italian boys, Puerto Rican, caught in the hour
of their beauty, though they’d scowl at the word.
Cheering victors over a trophy won for what?
Frames already dusty, at slight angles,
here, it is clear, forever. Are barbershops
like aspens, each sprung from a common root
ten thousand years old, sons of one father,
holding up fighters and starlets to shield the tenderness
at their hearts? Our guardian Willie defies time,
his chair our ferryboat, and we go down into the trance
of touch and the skull-buzz drone
singing cranial nerves in the direction of peace,
and so I understand that in the back
of this nothing building on 18th Street
—I’ve found that door
ajar before, in daylight, when it shouldn’t be,
some forgotten bulb left burning in a fathomless shaft
of my uncharted nights—
the men I have outlived
await their turns, the fevered and wasted, whose mothers
and lovers scattered their ashes and gave away their clothes.
Twenty years and their names tumble into a numb well
—though in truth I have not forgotten one of you,
may I never forget one of you—these layers of men,
arrayed in their no-longer-breathing ranks.
Willie, I have not lived well in my grief for them;
I have lugged this weight from place to place
as though it were mine to account for,
and today I sit in your good chair, in the sixth decade
of my life, and if your back door is a threshold
of the kingdom of the lost, yours is a steady hand
on my shoulder. Go down into the still waters
of this chair and come up refreshed, ready to face the avenue.
Maybe I do believe we will not be left comfortless.
After everything comes tumbling down or you tear it down
and stumble in the shadow-valley trenches of the moon,
there’s a still a decent chance at—a barber shop,
salsa on the radio, the instruments of renewal wielded,
effortlessly, and, who’d have thought, for you.
Willie if he is Willie fusses much longer over my head
than my head merits, which allows me to be grateful
without qualification. Could I be a little satisfied?
There’s a man who loves me. Our dogs. Fifteen,
twenty more good years, if I’m a bit careful.
There’s what I haven’t written. It’s sunny out,
though cold. After I tip Willie
I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like,
and then I’m going to write this poem. Then
Ari Ezra Waldman gives a good legal analysis of the Indiana RFRA and why we shouldn't settle with changing it, we need to change the federal RFRA as well. His conclusion:
We may win "clarifications" of Indiana's RFRA to make it more like the federal RFRA. That's not a victory. In fact, it's much more dangerous: it implies that the federal RFRA is a good thing that we're willing to accept. It isn't and we shouldn't.
My cd collection series continues with this, post number 35.
Tom Nix would occasionally play special music at Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City. Tom would play piano and sing. Once he sang this song:
I liked it so much that I began to request it. Eventually Tom gave me the cd Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino. A variety of stars from Art Garfunkel to Liza Minnelli perform the songs on the album, all written by John Bucchino. They are easy listening with smart lyrics. This is not the music I normally listen to.
But when we drove a few weeks ago to meet the woman who had selected us to adopt her child, I grabbed a bunch of cds that I thought would be relaxing. This was one of them. Michael had never listened to it before.
As we drove back from the meeting, I played this song "Grateful" and then the song "This Moment" sung by Kristin Chenoweth:
Since then, I have played these two songs repeatedly as I've imagined holding my newborn son.
This is the 34th post in my cd collection series.
As I've written previously, my generation fell in love with the music that our Boomer parents had largely rejected, the American songbook of our grandparents. Harry Connick, Jr., who was big when I was in high school, helped with this.
In the early 21st century Michael Buble emerged sounding even more like Sinatra. I initially bought his first , self-titled album after hearing it at a party because I thought it was sexy. It opens with "Fever."
But I was like most about listening to this album now is dancing with my husband. I like to put it on in the kitchen when we are cooking together and during "For once in my life" I'll grab him, and we'll dance around the kitchen.
My favourite part of that song is:
For once I can say; this is mine you won't take it
Long as I know I have love I can make it
For once my life I have someone who needs me
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
First Central Congregational UCC
29 March 2015
This is a hymn of praise to God. Blessing God for God's salvation. This is poetry. This is song.
And the lyric asks us to use our imaginations to envision a God who, according to Boston College professor Pheme Perkins, "encompasses the whole cosmos and who is active in all of creation."
Just imagine—all those images of deep space, of supernova and pulsars, of stars being born and galaxies colliding. Imagine the workings of a cell—the mitochondria, the DNA replicating itself. Or the sub-atomic level—the electrons snapping around their fields of probabilities, the mysterious Higgs Boson, the fundamental forces and particles of existence.
The One who encompasses all of that desires our salvation. Desires that we be whole. That we be our best selves. And in order to achieve that, God has reached out to us, offering the path of holiness as the way to salvation.
It is in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One that the redemption of God has been made manifest. The profound claim of this song of thanksgiving is that the entire cosmos has been ordered according to the Body of Christ. Everything from those fundamental sub-atomic particles to the supernova have been shaped by Christ. For, as the song tells us, it is in Christ that God will gather all things together. It is in Christ that we can hope. It is in Christ that we are delivered unto glory.
The Quaker pastor Richard Foster, upon whom I have relied throughout this Lenten sermon series, wrote that "Holiness gives us our truest, fullest humanity. In holiness we become the persons we were created to be." Holiness is the transformation of our inner selves, our character, to be closer to God. We are invited to follow the path to holiness laid down by Christ so that we too might participate in God's dream and become whole.
Like these cairns, which many cultures use to mark paths, Christ is the trail marker for us our journey to being whole. We follow the path marked by Jesus of Nazareth, who demonstrated what it means to be divine by demonstrating what it means to be a human being. His life of love, joy, healing, and hope is our model. As we imitate and participate in the life of Jesus, we are drawn closer to God and we become whole.
"A holy life," Foster wrote, "simply is a life that works." It works because it is a life in touch with reality. For a life modeled upon Jesus is a life in tune with God's design of the cosmos.
Holiness, then, is not about rules and regulations. Not otherworldly. Not ascetic or perfectionist or pietistic or exclusive.
Rather it is the world-affirming, harmonious, gracious, incarnational, attentive, disciplined, joyful, habitual, and loving embrace of the way of life that Jesus revealed. A life that transforms us into our best and truest selves.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses this theme in his own song of praise:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
Christ plays in ten thousand places. The holiness of God is manifest in each of us and in the beauty of the cosmos—in the birds and insects and stones tossed down wells.
And the one thing we must do to become truly ourselves, Hopkins sings, is to let loose the Christ that dwells within.
So be in Christ for Christ is in you. Take up our crosses and challenge everything that opposes God's reign. Become God's agents of love and forgiveness, justice and hope, that God's will might be done on earth as it is in the heavens. And you will be transformed.
On this Palm Sunday and throughout this Holy Week, God beckons to you "Be holy that you might become whole."
The 33rd post in my cd collection series.
My more serious acquaintance with jazz began in the late nineties when I would attend jazz nights at the favourite local coffee shop in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The coffee shop went by various names over the years as it changed hands, but it was a regular hangout throughout my college and grad school days. It felt very grown-up to hang out at a coffee shop with cool music playing.
I liked the jazz music, but was ignorant of it, so I was quite excited when Ken Burns announced the upcoming Jazz documentary series on PBS. I would use that series to introduce me to the genre, its history, and major stars and movements. Once the series was over, I began to collect the major works of the genre and others that I'd really liked from the TV show. So, as this blog series continues, you'll see more of those jazz greats appearing (I've already written about Louis Armstrong).
One of the albums I bought after the Ken Burns documentary was Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Time Out includes "Take Five" the biggest-selling jazz single of all time. Here is the description on Wikipedia:
Written in the key of E-flat minor, it is famous for its distinctive two-chord piano vamp; catchy blues-scale saxophone melody; imaginative, jolting drum solo; and use of the unusual quintuple (5/4) time, from which its name is derived.
Just listen to this fantastic piece of music: