Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ

KMUCC News & Events

Photo: (c) iStock.com / SunnyGraph (image #695671848)

Photo: © iStock.com / SunnyGraph (image #695671848)

News and events information from KMUCC and the wider community.

 

All shall be well
All manner of thing shall be well.
- Julian of Norwich -

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can her her breathing, she is on her way.
- Arundhati Roy -

Owls 500x500The owls are nesting in our neighbor’s tree again – the tall fir whose lower branches hang over our shared back fence. Late at night, when the tv is off and the house is quiet I can hear them calling quietly back and forth –I assume they are a nesting pair, bringing food to their chicks. If I am very stealthy, and willing to sit still long enough, I can make my way to the deck and watch them as they come and go, hear the almost imperceptible whoosh of their wings, so quiet it is almost more feeling than sound. Their whoo who calls me back to the wild places I have known and loved-- the winter woods of my Pennsylvania childhood and the summer woods of Maine, speaking of life and its return.

In this time of enormous fragility, when war is being waged in places known and remembered and places remote from our imaginations, when COVID still lurks and our defenses have dropped a bit, when the weather systems of the whole earth are threatened by the climate crisis, in this moment it is a remarkable gift to hear again the quiet, ancient sounds, reminding me of the persistence and regeneration of life, season after season, year after year.

In the season of lent, we were invited to become reacquainted with our own fragility and limitations, to sit with our own contingency and imperfection and allow Jesus to re-introduce us to the wide-open acceptance of the Spirit. As we move into holy week, we are invited to hear again the stories of Jesus’ last days – last meal with his friends, last teaching, last burdened walk, last words from the cross -- and to feel the full weight of what human fear and rage can do.

And then to rejoice in the good news of Easter – that no matter how relentlessly human error does its worst, love is stronger still. Signs of resurrection are all around us: in the patterns of the earth itself, in Jesus living in us, in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, bringing new life into our own spirits and into our life as a community. I believe in the resurrection because I have seen it. We are a sign of the truth of the resurrection!

A joyful and blessed Easter to you!

Good Friday Lent Season and Holy Week concept. 1135048683 1185x889On March 2, Ash Wednesday, we turned the corner of the church year from the season of Epiphany into Lent, the forty days (we don’t count the Sundays, because as celebrations of the resurrection they are IN Lent, but not OF Lent) leading up to Easter.  Lent echoes the forty days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness after his baptism and before he began his public ministry in Galilee.  Through the centuries and across many denominations and traditions, Christians have prepared for the mystery and celebration of Easter by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.   

In past centuries fasting included absolute fasts on some days and abstention from meat, wine and dairy for the whole forty days.  For most in our branch of the Christian tree fasting has become “giving something up:” chocolate, wine, television, Facebook.  Even this kind of simple “fast” can be revelatory – showing us how dependent we are on having not just our needs but our desires met, how consumed our minds can become by an unmet desire.   And if we are attentive this can help us ask “what is the hunger beneath the hunger?”

Others echo the ritual prayer practices and almsgiving of earlier centuries by “taking on” some form of Lenten discipline – exploring a new prayer practice, adding devotional reading, giving to organizations that support people who are hungry or houseless, walking instead of driving short distances.  Or, perhaps as Jesuit brother Matt Wooters suggests, “sending letters to people you love, or folks on death row.” The goal is to add whatever will make your life more prayerful and loving.

This year as we turn the corner into Lent the world has also turned a corner into a new war with frightening geopolitical implications.  As I scroll through the news, I feel the internal drumbeat of urgency: “Don’t just sit there, DO something.”

And then, quietly, another voice responds: No, “don’t just do something, SIT there.”

This Lent we are invited to both do and sit:

As the lectionary focuses on the Gospel of Luke, with its clear call for justice, our mission and social justice team will help keep us informed about opportunities to act for justice in our world.   And we are invited to participate in the Lenten Series offered by the CPC Palestine Israel Network: “Embodying the Way of the Prince of Peace” (Saturday mornings at 10, beginning March 12).

On Wednesday evenings we will gather to sit together for virtual vespers, a quiet service of songs, silence, and different prayer practices--breath prayer, the loving-kindness meditation and the examen.  To facilitate your practice of “sitting there,” copies of Kate Bowler’s Lenten devotional “A Good Enough Lent” will be available in the narthex.  You can also download it https://katebowler.com/lent/

Together we will act and listen, open to the holiness of Lent.

Love Is Still PossibleOn the first day of Black History Month, fourteen HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) received bomb threats. For the past several months there has been a political backlash about what public schools teach about our country’s racial history and the persistence of systemic racism.

Meanwhile, a school district in Tennessee voted to ban Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman’s1986 graphic novel – a Pulitzer Prize winning account of his parents’ harrowing experiences of Auschwitz. And just last week Union Station in DC was defaced with dozens of drawings of swastikas.

It feels as if the white supremacy latent in America has been fanned into ferocious flame and married to the heresy of Christian nationalism. It is, frankly, frightening.

But, as Dr. Cornel West said so eloquently on CNN this week,

“We should not be going into a panic or be overly anxiety ridden. We cannot be surprised by evil. We will not be paralyzed by despair. We have to refortify ourselves and be ready to fight on every level, spiritual, political, economic, social. …. Where is the love, where is the courage, where is the vision, where is the solidarity, where is the willingness to serve…”?

I plan to refortify myself by reading again the Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas’ most recent book, “Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter.” In it she comes face to face with the temptation to despair in the face of ongoing violence against black bodies in America. Instead, she finds her hope renewed by the resurrected Christ’s call for his disciples not to stay at the cross but to meet him down the road in Galilee and join him in life-giving ministry toward God’s just future.

With what will you fortify yourself this month for the joyful work of solidarity and justice?

 

Happy New Year 2022I am sitting in my January-dark dining room, grateful that my Mama raised me the way she did: the Christmas tree does NOT come down until Epiphany – January 6.

Anything else would just be… I won’t say “wrong” because you may have good reasons to follow a different tradition at your house, but it would certainly leave me feeling incomplete. After the Christmas music goes quiet and most of the world has moved on, I treasure the lights and ornaments that remind me that the light and love of God came into the world and have not left.

Which, it turns out, is also why gathering with a congregation to sing and pray and learn together, matters so much to me. In the faces of the gathered community, in the love and care I see between church members, in the heartfelt prayers lifted for each other and the world, in honest questioning and joyful singing – in the wholeheartedness of the congregation, I am reminded that the light and love of God has not left.

As the omicron variant of COVID spreads the phasing forward team met and reviewed the latest information for faith communities from the Multnomah Health Department. We are recommending the following steps to keep our hybrid worship safe and vibrant for everyone.

For those coming to the building to participate:

  • Please wear an N 95, KN 95, well-fitted KF94 or double layered mask (either surgical and cloth, or 2 cloth). Surgical masks and KN95s will be available on the table in the narthex.
  • Please sign in when you arrive – this will make contact-tracing possible if needed.
  • Please observe social distancing during the service. Sitting closer together is safe for shorter periods, but is not recommended for the full hour of the service.
  • The congregation is invited to hum along to hymns while our (masked) church musicians and perhaps a choir member or two sing for us from the chancel.
  • Until the omicron wave has past, we will move from having coffee hour with refreshments to social time with art supplies on each table in the circle room. We can still be together – and we might even create something beautiful. Or silly.

For those participating via ZOOM: I would love to hear what is working well for you and what suggestions you have that might make hybrid worship more welcoming and inclusive.

God’s light is with us, leading us -- through delta, omicron and every other challenge.

God’s love is with us, among us, between us and within us. Thanks be to God that we get to be together to share it!

 

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

-Mary Oliver

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash.comThe booster and flu shots I had yesterday knocked me sideways so I spent much of the day snuggled under a blanket on the couch, shivering and trying to resist the temptation to doom scroll the news on my phone. I decided instead to re-read all the children’s Christmas books we have in the house. The picture book variety. Over and over again, I saw images of the manger from Luke’s version of the nativity story. The manger, which is in the text. And the stable, the animals and the cold-hearted inn-keeper – which are not anywhere in the text.

Like thousands of others, Mary and Joseph were internally displaced people, forced to move at the whim of an occupying force that had a deep love of counting things. Like thousands of others, they were vulnerable to Rome’s caprice. Like thousands of others, they relied on the hospitality of extended family to buffer the effects of Rome’s caprice. We know how the story goes: when the couple got to Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the “inn.” We hear the English word inn and our imaginations supply the picture of an ancient motel, complete with innkeeper. Much like the inn and inn keeper found later in the book of Luke, in the story of the good Samaritan.

But the author of Luke uses a different word here in the nativity story. Kataluma – can be translated as inn, but it more often referred to the hut or “upper room” built on the roof of some of the one-story, one-room houses common in that time and place. Katalumas were used to offer hospitality. And sometimes they were rented out. Imagine an ancient air bnb. It was this room, this kataluma, on the roof of a home probably belonging to one of Joseph’s relatives, that was too full for Mary and Joseph. So, instead of being shown to the room on the roof, the expectant couple settled down -- not outside, around back in an imaginary stable. Not in the gutter or a cave. But inside, down below with the rest of the family. Jesus was born as generations of his ancestors would have been, in the warmth of extended family. In an ordinary place, among ordinary people, receiving the tender care and hospitality of that community. In the kind of house with a central area where the very few animals owned by each family were brought in at night for warmth and security.

This is not a story of inhospitality. “Mary and Joseph found shelter in the kindness of people, presumably Joseph’s kin in his traditional homeland of Bethlehem. It is a story of what people under occupation have been doing for millennia: Looking after each other.” Now that is a story I want to sing. Of the extraordinariness and stubborn persistence of ordinary human kindness. Of hope that endures because God is present in everyday spaces.

God came uniquely in Jesus to teach us how to look and see and love the holy in each other, in our neighbor, in the stranger – in everyone.

A blessed, joyful Christmas to each and all of you.

 

Photo: © iStock.com / Olena_Z (image #1282751250)November is a tricky month for me. The trees begin to shed their glorious autumn colors, the gray sky settles down on us like a blanket, and every day we lose a few more precious minutes of daylight. I know Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away and advent and Christmas close behind, but still, November often feels like a giant gray pause.

But slowly, I am learning to embrace the pause. To see the grayness as softness, the darker days as an invitation into mystery. I try to remember with Wendell Berry that “the dark too blooms and sings.”

This year, the November pause has echoes for me of the pause that cultural anthropologists label the “liminal.” It’s a concept first named by Arnold Van Gennep. While studying tribal communities and their rites of passage, Van Gennep noticed that right in the middle of these rites there was an almost universal stage of ambiguity, or disorientation. A time when the person or group in transition was in between something that was ending (childhood for example) and a new situation not yet begun.

What was true of tribal communities and their initiation rites, turned out to be true for other kinds of communities and organizations and even whole cultures. Standing on the boundary or threshold (from the Latin word līmen) we have one foot rooted in something that is not yet over, while the other foot is planted in a thing not yet defined, something not yet ready to begin.

We can allow this pause to fill up with anxiety and dread – over what might be lost, and what we may not be able to do or achieve. Or we can allow this pause to be filled up with a sense of peace and possibility. As Pixar president Ed Catmull put it, “there is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to linger there without panicking.”

Standing here in the doorway, before the holiday season begins, before COVID ends, as America teeters on the edge of deep cultural change, before the church at large and this congregation in particular know what the future will hold for us…

Standing here together, let’s embrace the soft gentleness of the gray days and the mysterious beauty of the dark. Let’s linger here, reveling in gratitude for all that has been and breathing deeply as we hope in the future.

 

iStock Image 1278765757 by SmileusAs my younger son begins his senior year of college, as the days grow shorter and the trees brighten into their autumn colors, I’ve been thinking about impermanence and how we learn to love what doesn’t last.  

You don’t have to pay close attention to cultural trends to know that the role of religious organizations is changing in American culture.  Across the whole spectrum of Christian denominations membership and participation have been in steep decline for at least the last twenty years.  (There is a slight upward trend among Mainstream/liberal Protestant denominations like ours in the last five years, but not a rebound to mid-twentieth century levels, and that’s another article…)  It’s easy to look at the religious landscape and long to go back – back to how things used to be – to cling tightly to the past. 

But I wonder if there is another way to live faithfully amid changes we did not anticipate or desire. I wonder if we can get curious about the way Christianity has changed across its whole long history and imagine what possibilities the current moment holds. 

In 2014 Fr Richard Rohr wrote: “Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs.”  And then, almost overnight, the church went from the catacombs to the great Basilicas, from the margins to the very center of Imperial power.  

Perhaps in our moment the church is being cracked not apart, but open, so that we can find our way all the way back to the teachings of Jesus, and to the original creed of the church: “now there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.”*  Perhaps we are being called to let go of all our precious markers of identity, become traitors to our ethnicity, class, and gender and become a new people.  A people motivated by the transforming love Jesus taught and lived.  

As we continue our fall worship series on “revolutionary love,” I invite you to think about the saints in our community who have loved others, opponents, and themselves well.  Because even as the institutional church has often lost its way, saints and prophets have risen up within it, to call it back to itself.  Some of them right here in our community.   Who are or were those saints?  What did you learn from them about loving well?  What lesson of theirs shall we carry with us into the bright, uncertain, beautiful future?  

Will you share your memory with the whole community during our November All Saints Day and Thanksgiving celebrations?  Let’s gather and lean on our great cloud of witnesses.

                               

*See Stephen Patterson, “The Forgotten Creed: Christianity's Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism,” 2018