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burning like matchsticks in the face of the darkness
 
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Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Time Event
9:39p
[SCBC] adult ed: "What Happens When We Pray?" [2009-02-22]
Last week's bulletin listed it as, "Contemporary Christian Living Group," but it seemed to be colloquially referred to with terms like, "Sunday School."

Pastor Vic remembered my name, which I was pleased and impressed by, as we interacted once late last October.

People who were there last week had a handout (TheThoughtfulChristian.com), and we started with the last page, which has various quotations about prayer, and Owen invited us to think about which one seemed closest to our own experience/understanding of prayer.

As we discussed, I was particularly struck by this commentary on intercessory prayer:
But when we pray for others we stand, as it were, beside them in solidarity with their pain or their expectation.  And in doing so, we make clear to God what are the priorities of our compassion.
-John L. Bell
We then started going through the handout from the beginning (and will definitely be spending more than one session on it), and I really liked the ideas that "prayer changes people and people change things" and "prayer enhances us rather than changes things in the world."

As I skimmed through the handout, I realized that it was actually presenting a variety of perspectives on prayer, some of which were in tension with each other, and didn't seem to have a definite "this is the correct belief about prayer," which given that I was sitting in this Sunday School at a church more conservative than anywhere I would make my "home" (where the participants definitely seemed to have a theology of prayer that I wasn't entirely comfortable with), I was surprised and impressed.

Owen exhorted us to read Psalm 106 this week.

Edit: Someone mentioned Jesus' "let this cup pass from me ... not my will but thine be done" prayer, and I was reminded of a blogpost I had read recently -- which wasn't relevant to the conversation, but which I had found interesting.
I reread this passage and I saw a new possibility. Christ was not agonizing over the difficulty of the task; Christ was not dreading the pain or embarrassment as I had always thought. Christ loved his disciples, Christ loved his work and ministry and being with the crowds and maybe, just maybe, Christ was agonizing over the thought of having to leave all those whom he loved. Facing the loss of both life and those relationships I treasured, I too fell to my knees and prayed: “Oh God, if it is possible, may this be taken from me.” The gift of life, love, community, relationships and sharing became very precious.

“For God so loved the world. . .” How can we begin to imagine the depth of God’s love as it is shared in Christ Jesus? I had a glimmer- a glimpse- of God’s deep and abiding love for all people as I watched Jesus agonizing in the garden- not in fear and dread but with cutting pain by the realization that he was to leave his precious brothers and sisters.
9:41p
[Reunion] [2009-02-22]
[I forgot to look up exactly where it was before leaving my house, so I took the Orange Line to Back Bay and then looked at a station map.  I had about twenty minutes, so esp. since I didn't have a printed map, I opted for walking up Boylston and then just turning left on Dalton.  I missed Dalton the first time, but when I hit Mass. Ave. I knew I had to have missed it, and as I walked back I saw the street sign.  Coming back, I easily walked directly back to Prudential and took the T home from there.]

I was unimpressed -- and was reminded that I am turning into something of a high church person (it's all relative, yo!).  In some ways my standards have been adjusted so low, though.  After Glide, I was so stoked that there were greeters who handed me a bulletin.

The bulletin doesn't actually have an Order of Worship, but it does include a Welcome, which mentions (among other things), "Offering: If you are a guest at REUNION don't feel obligated to give.  Offering is a time for those that consider REUNION their church home.  The giving of our tithes and offerings is a part of our worship and reflects a grateful heart for all God has given us."

The service opened with a live band doing a few praise songs which we stood and sang along to (the melodies were relatively easy to follow, but because the PowerPoint projection screen wasn't very high up, it was often a bit of a challenge for me to read the words).

Then we were invited to greet our neighbors, which I felt kind of awkward about.  I considered saying, "Peace be with you."  And no one around me seemed really extrovert welcoming friendly greeting me, which didn't help me push myself to actually say hi to these strangers when I had no model for what (if anything) I was supposed to say besides just hello and my name.

The there was the 40-minute sermon.

This week the sermon was on Sexuality and Marriage, and I took notes (duh), but I wasn't really moved by any of it.  Blah blah blah, Song of Songs, God is pro-sex (but only within the context of a marriage of one man and one woman!), and various other things I had heard in the first two sermons.

Then there was Communion, which was a pleasant surprise for me, except... The guy was all blah blah blah reconciliation and being made new and this can happen every week when we take Communion and the ushers will be at the front and back of the room and you can go up at your own pace, and you dip the bread into the juice, and the bread is a symbol of Christ's body and the juice is a symbol of Christ's blood shed on the cross for us.  I was so thrown that the not-really Words of Institution (or whatever you call that part of the liturgy) felt almost tacked on.  I was one of the first people to go up to get Communion, and I walked up to a person who was holding a metal tray with pre-torn pieces of bread and a metal chalice, and he didn't say anything.  I almost crossed myself, just to make it feel like an actual religious event.  They dimmed the lights, and the band played nice mellow music, so they did create space for it to be a spiritual experience, but it was still somewhat bizarre.

Then there were a couple more songs, a closing prayer, the offertory, and another closing prayer.

There's no Joys & Concerns.  The Welcome Card [I like that on the info side it includes checkboxes for "I'm a first time guest" / "I'm a second time guest" / "I come here often" / "I consider this 'my church' " ] has plenty of space on the back for Prayer Requests, and I think this was mentioned at the beginning, but it was somewhat weird to me to not have this made more a big deal out of, since I feel like that's an important part of being community, of being church.

There was no Coffee Hour.  There was a table with coffee and ice water, and that was it.  They have Community Groups that meet evenings during the week, but I kept feeling like, "How am I supposed to feel at home and in community here?"  Yes, I could have stuck around, but I felt a little weird because I still owed the pastor a reply email from Thursday, and yeah, I bailed rather than try to make conversation with strangers (which is not a strength of mine to begin with) who are clearly not exactly My People, when I feel not really equipped to make small talk with people I already know and like (though admittedly brand-new people I can talk about all the churches I hang out at and my job and never even need to get to what's currently going on in my life).
9:57p
[CWM] Transfiguration Sunday [2009-02-21]
Prelude and Silent Meditation
"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."
-James Baldwin


Scripture Lesson: Luke 9:28-36
Contemporary Lessons: "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar and "Masks" by Sonia Sanchez (excerpt)

Tiffany opened her sermon by talking about masks (and actually wearing one).  She talked about Mardi Gras and how people would wear masks so they wouldn't get found out -- and the debauchery got so bad in New Orleans that the wearing of masks was made illegal in New Orleans.  She talked about how masks limit our own ability to see (and hear, and etc.).  She talked about how we construct masks for ourselves and also often get handed masks.  She talked about the social convention of "How are you?" / "Fine." (which is totally one of my Issues) and said that FINE can be "Freaked-out, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted," which is how "when I'm feeling really harried, I can say that I'm fine with integrity" (heart!).
     She talked about the Transfiguration story, when Jesus took off his mask so to speak, and how she thinks that the disciples didn't get it because they were still wearing their own masks.  She said that Peter says, "You can stay up here and be glorious."
     She talked about how those who appear with Jesus are not David and Aaron (royalty and ritual) but Moses -- who led the Israelites out of oppression -- and Elijah -- who was called (by someone who's name I didn't recognize) "the troublemaker of Israel."  She said that this tells us what kind of Messiah Jesus is.
     God says, "listen up," and Jesus tells them to go back down from the mountain, back down to the people, to the work.

***

Bulletin insert (with my comments in the bold brackets -- it's a checklist which you're invited to think about; obviously you're not required, or really even encouraged, to do all of them):
Lenten Disciplines

As part of my Lenten journey I plan to strip away those trappings that keep me from God and to create space to listen to God's call in my life by committing to the following: cut because this got longCollapse )
***

We had Church Council, and Dan introduced me as the new Financial Secretary (replacing Thi) and later DavidP. commented that I seemed to still have both my arms intact (i.e., I didn't have to have my arms twisted to the point of breaking).

After Council, we had the last session of the Racism and White Privilege study (though we may come back to it later -- we already have a post-dinner study for Lent), and we talked specifically about the institutional level.

Near the end, Sean said that's hard for us to talk about the ways that we fail, said that when Joy had asked us to look at the chart on p. 234-5 and say where we thought CWM fell, "There was an uncomfortable silence across the table, until Elizabeth bravely said, 'Well, it is a factually true statement that CWM is mostly white people,' but that's still distancing..."

MarkM. mentioned a joint meeting of Fellowship (predominantly African-American) & ONA and how there was this big culture clash.  Joy said that was a really good point -- to not just look at how we worship, but to look at how other people worship.

We talked about ways to be welcoming, and Tiffany mentioned that we don't provide translations, and she speaks Spanish so there are visitors who are more comfortable speaking to her in Spanish than in English, but what about the large community of Portuguese-speaking people, for example.

I brought up the food that we have, referencing a passage from When the Drama Club is Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students (scroll down here).

Afterward, Sean and I and Joy and Tyler were in the church office, and Joy was trying to keep track of all the different stuff Sean does, and Sean said he does gay stuff in three different jobs -- but he doesn't do gay stuff at College Ave.  Joy said that was just youth stuff, right? and Tyler asked (in a kind of joking tone) if he had any gay youth, and Sean and I kinda looked at each other, and I said, "Do I count?" and Sean kinda shrugged and he and Tyler said I would have to answer that for myself, and I said I could be the token queer, libertarian, under-30 person, and someone said that every organization needed one of those, and I agreed :)
11:52p
"standing in the gap"
Friday night I was cheerfully telling everyone I was "good," and I was doing basically the same thing yesterday -- because I had no desire to try to boil down my two primary stressors to something easily comprehensible and fit for public consumption.

This morning, after Sunday School, Emily was chatting with me, and I said I'd been having a rough few days and gave her the sanitized version of, "A friend of mine and I have been important but difficult conversations about our relationship, but he's on vacation now, so the timing was really bad, and I'm concerned that I dumped too much negative stuff on him in my last email, and finding that appropriate balance is hard..." and she didn't entirely get it, but she was sympathetic and interested in having a genuine conversation, which was really nice especially from someone who barely knows me.  And talking out things (even in the requisite vague way) was helpful to me.

re: how he's on vacation in the middle of this conversation, she said that we're in Pause Mode, which I thought was a really apt descriptor.  She said (entirely innocently) it was like when you're first dating someone -- that uncertainty as to whether they're gonna reply to you or whatever.  Ha ha.

[I was thinking later about how last year I ended up weeping Ash Wednesday morning -- which apparently I didn't mention in the entry; wow Ash Wednesday was early last year.]

My facebook status says "Elizabeth is practicing patience (again)."

This then got me singing the Gabe Dixon Band's "All Will Be Well" (though the line is actually "I am practicing my purpose once again").
Even though sometimes this is hard to tell
And the fight is just as frustrating as hell
All will be well
As I walked up College Ave. (in misting rain, which made me happy) after Reunion, Gary and Andrea were walking down, and we greeted each other.  Gary told me that FCS was having an 80's Prom tonight from 6-8pm.  I'd seen the announcements and knew it was a Mardi Gras sort of thing.  I said I thought I'd pass, but, "have fun."  Gary said, "not as fun without you there," and I smiled and thanked him (genuinely, 'cause it really was a sweet thing to say).

Oops, I was scheduled to be lay reader at CHPC today.

Leaving CWM tonight (about quarter past eight) it was snowing -- big flakes which looked pretty in the streetlights.

I hadn't heard from L. since we had lunch last Monday, and I don't have anything to smalltalk about, and I was gonna email her about the status of this coming Friday's Lilith meeting but I've been kind of worn out.  She called a little while ago, so I feel less bad about the fact that I was up past my bedtime doing church writeups.

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