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This Sunday is Pentecost and I forgot. This troubles me in a big way. I realize for many the word has little if any meaning. But for me as a believer and as a pastor in a Christian church this is a big deal.
Pentecost is that wild, bizarre day when everything and everyone became un-hinged. A day we are told in Acts 2 when that mystery we call the Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus and they were transformed. It was as if everything became clear, all confusion fell away and each person knew that they were loved and known by God and each person knew they loved everyone and everything. Scripture says it was as if they were ‘on fire’ with this new awareness. It was a time of profound enlightenment. Everything was new. Everything was different.
And I forgot Pentecost.
It was only when Julie, my pastoral colleague leaving for vacation wished me a ‘good Pentecost’, that I realized I’d forgotten. My sermon, the music chosen, the prayers offered would have had no reference to this extraordinary day when the fledgling, fragile church of Jesus Christ was born.
My excuse for forgetting are many: I’d been away on vacation and attending meetings as a college trustee; my Mom’s health needed attending; the car needed to be repaired; families at church were in need; church meetings needed to be planned for etc.
But what troubles me is that Pentecost, when we remember that the Spirit moves in wondrous ways, had (at least for the moment) become secondary both for me and I suspect for some in the church I serve and the church universal.
What troubles me is that I know that the only path to renewal and spiritual transformation for me, the church I serve and the church universal is through openness to that great mystery we call Spirit.
What gives me hope however, is knowing that the Spirit has a habit of breaking into our carefully constructed lives and making all things new. We can’t constrain or contain the life-giving force we call the Holy Spirit.
The Good News is that Spirit comes even when we forget.
When I heard that David Letterman was retiring after 33 years as the host of the Late Show my heart sank. I’m at the age when my generation’s cultural touchstones are beginning to retire.
I was 25 years old, fit and sassy when Dave came on the air. He was picking up the torch from my parent’s icon Johnny Carson. Over the years Dave has been my companion. He was with me during grad school and moves around the country. Dave was with me when I got married and our kids were born. He’s been there during good and hard times always able to make me laugh.
Over the years there have been two camps. Those who watched Jay Leno and those of us who were with Dave. Jay had higher ratings and from my perspective was the safe choice. One knew where Jay was going, predictable, mildly enjoyable like music on an elevator.
Dave was the un-Jay. He was the loveable curmudgeon who took you to places you’d otherwise not go. While Jay played it safe, Dave celebrated that which was weird. He was willing to take comedic risks. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but when you tuned in you knew that Dave wasn’t phoning it in.
He also had prophetic side which challenged those with power, whether it be corporate, cultural or political. Dave got mad at injustice and called it like he saw it. He knew that some things just weren’t funny.
An intensely private person he could be wonderfully transparent as when he had heart surgery and brought out his medical team on stage to thank each of them. On another occasion when being threatened with blackmail for having a sexual relationship with an employee, Dave a married man with a young child, went public and admitted his mistake and was ready for the consequences.
On May 20th I’ll tune in for Dave’s last show. I’m glad that Steven Colbert (a cultural touchstone for my daughter’s generation) will be taking up the mantle of the Late Show. I think he too will be willing to take risks and take us to places we’d otherwise not go.
Thanks Dave. Well done.
I grew up at the edge of a wetlands in suburban Rhode Island. This 100 acre wetlands became the playground for neighborhood children released from the prying eyes of parents. In that swamp the opportunities for entertainment were endless. In the summer we would catch frogs and turtles. In the winter we would skate on a pond and roast hot dogs over a fire.
All the kids knew this special place as ‘Smokey Bear Land’. There was no official designation, simply a name passed on by the children. It was a place to watch the wonders of nature unfold. I vividly remember coming across a family of Ruffed Grouse and running home as the mother grouse chased me from her brood. Another time my cousin and I found the dead body of a red fox and over the course of months we returned to watch the carcass decompose so that we could retrieve the bones and skull for a science project at school.
In Smokey Bear Land (named for the mascot of the National Forest Service), we immersed ourselves in the cycles of nature. It was our playground and our teacher. In a time before laws protected such sensitive places we watched as homes gradually nibbled at the edges of the wetlands, from 100 acres to 50.
It has been a longtime since I was ten years old. But when I return to my old neighborhood I am glad that 50 acres remain. It is still a place where tadpoles hatch, birds nest and brook trout swim. Families still walk in the woods and are grateful that this wetlands continues to be a refuge, a home for neighbors who fly, swim, slither and walk.
On this Earth Day we know that such special places remain only because citizens like us demand and support legislation and zoning that protects. We know that all of life is interconnected and to be good stewards of our corner of the earth is a gift for the children today and for generations to come.
For two years the Boston metro area has been processing the trauma of the Boston Marathon bombing. Four innocent lives were taken: Martin Richard age 8, Lingzi Lu age 23, Krystle Campbell age 29 died in the bombing. MIT police officer Sean Collier age 27 was murdered in cold blood. All had long lives ahead of them leaving behind family and friends. Over 200 others were injured, many losing arms, legs, sight, hearing. In truth the entire psyche of the region has been traumatized.
The perpetrators were two brothers Tamerlan age 26 who was killed during a manhunt by police and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev now age 21. This week a jury convicted Dzhokhar of 30 counts including conspiracy and deadly use of a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of the counts are punishable by death.
Now the decision of whether to put Tsarmaev to death is in the hands of the jury. The jury is asked to weigh what is a just and proportionate response to the monstrous act of murdering and maiming so many. Whatever decision they come to, the jury of our fellow citizens deserves our respect and gratitude.
Of course the debate as to what is a just and proportionate response is being debated throughout the region. Which is the most fitting punishment death or life imprisonment? What do you think?
Some argue that the death penalty is the most fitting price for such a monstrous act and a deterrent to others. Some believe that the death penalty is morally wrong and never acceptable. Others suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers were seeking martyrdom (in a perverted understanding of Islam) and that a death sentence would give the younger brother what he wants.
It is an open question whether the death penalty or life imprisonment will bring any degree of justice and closure to those maimed or who lost their loved one. Each person will seek their own path towards a measure of healing and acceptance and deserve our support and prayers.
While I understand the reasoning of those who call for the death penalty I can’t agree. On a deeply emotional and spiritual level I think the death penalty further inflicts an emotional and spiritual toll upon the psyche of a community. In short there is no such thing as a righteous killing.
Surely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must and will be held accountable for the evil he and his brother committed. I don’t buy the defense strategy that the younger brother was a follower and not the leader. Each of us are accountable for our actions.
I believe that a life in prison is an appropriate punishment. With the loss of freedom this young man will be held accountable for this rest of his life. Will this bring a measure of healing and closure to those victimized? I hope so but I don’t know.
One lesson we have learned over these past two years is that there is a deep reservoir of compassion in the greater Boston area. Drawing upon this compassion has brought out the very best in us and provided an inspiring witness to our nation and the world. My hope and prayer is that we continue to draw from this deep reservoir in the months and years to come.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her wonderful book ‘An Altar in the World’, tells the story of an old priest inviting her to speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” “Come and tell us what is saving your life now, ” he answered.
Brown writes: ‘All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to figure out was how to stay as close to that reality as I could and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.’
What is saving your life now? What does your life depend upon?
The art of life is discerning what is most important and then staying as closely connected as possible. It requires and open mind, heart and spirit to that which is life giving. It helps to recognize that life is dynamic and that which graces our lives with meaning may evolve and even change over time.
Mary Oliver is a poet who lives in Provincetown at the end of Cape Cod. Her neighborhood consists of a pond, scrub forest, beach and ocean. In her beautiful poem ‘Messenger’, she reflects upon what her life depends:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
What is saving your life now? What does your life depend upon?
In Christian theology the word salvation is from the Latin ‘salve’ which means to be whole, complete. What is it that makes your life more whole and complete?
As the old priest asks: ‘What is saving your life now?’