Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hallelujah Corporations: Or I Can't Resist a Hallelujah Chorus

With all the anger about corporate excess and the brave actions of the OCW people across the US I recommend this YouTube video for those who love Handel as well as the Capital Steps.

Wade sent the link this morning.

Hallelujah was conceived, rehearsed and filmed in Tamworth, NH, a small town with a population of 2556 that has as its backdrop Mt Chocorua, the most photographed mountain in America. Tamworth is part of Occupy The Mt Washington Valley. Tamworth was the summer home of President Grover Cleveland
Nicely done. Clever writing too.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moses and the Northwoods Park

Mt. Katahdin, Maine
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Next Sunday will be my last one at  two lovely churches, one in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin and the other near the lovely Lincoln Lakes. I have decided that with everything else going on in my life, I do not, physically or emotionally, have the strength to do this for a year. The bishop supports me in this.

Last Thursday I attended a somewhat contentious meeting at the local high school. Proponents and opponents of a feasibility study for a Northern Woods National Park met with Secretary of the interior Salazar. He was a generous listener and I hope opened up some hearts to listen to the possibility and to decide on information rather than fear and emotion.


What a difficult time it was for the descendants of Joseph and his family when there was a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. They had really grown in numbers and were probably viewed as a threat to the Egyptians. What if, they became so numerous they would took over the place? Not something any self-respecting dictator would put up with. So they were put to work as slaves making bricks for Pharaoh's projects.

That didn't stop the Israelites from finding ways around this oppressive system. When Moses was born, his mother had him hidden in the reeds of the Nile near where Pharaoh's daughter bathed and had his sister watch the whole scene so she could recommend a wet-nurse, who was really Mose's mother. Moses was fortunate enough to be raised in Pharaoh's household. God was watching over his people, silently providing for a leader.

Watching the evening news about the struggle the Libyans and Syrians are having trying to overthrow their dictators can't help but make me think of Moses and the Israelites. And then this past spring we watched as Egyptians freed themselves from their dictator. It is no longer a group of strangers kept captive in a foreign land struggling to be free, but people native to a country oppressed by their own brutal leaders. There is something in the human spirit that yearns to be free. My home state tells it well: "Live Free or Die." Now I know some wags say that slogan is a threat, but there is something about not being free that can kill bits of your soul.

I wonder what it is like to overcome the fear of being beaten or killed or having your family members put at risk to fight for freedom. Fear is a powerful emotion--one of our most basic and primitive ones. It gets the adrenalin going so we can fight or flee. I think I am the type who would flee, but I don't really know. When we are fearful, or have any other powerful negative emotion all we seem to be able to do is act instinctively: creative solutions go out the window.

I remember telling a fractious Vestry some years ago, that I was going to show episodes of The Vicar of Dibley (a British comedy) to them for the first half hour of our meetings so they could do problem solving instead of bickering.

God must have given the Israelites a sense of humor so they could come up with creative solutions to Pharaoh's edicts. Like the midwives saying the women were so healthy they gave birth before the midwives arrived.

I was thinking of the need for a sense of humor at the meeting on the Northwoods Park last Thursday. I know there is a lot of fear in the town over the mill closing and the lack of good paying jobs, or jobs of any kind. An unemployment rate of over 20% is frightening. I wonder if that fear is keeping some people from being able to look at possibilities other than a mill. In situations like this, it is hard to view any change as having the potential to be positive. And I know there is a lot of history that complicates matters.

If we look a bit forward into Moses' story after he gets Pharaoh to "let my people go"--what happens--they complain bitterly that things were better in Egypt. God had a plan for these stiff-necked people, but it was in the future and neither Moses, nor that first generation would get to see the promised land. That is a bit like doing interim ministry, you can lead people for a bit, but the future is in their hands. Someone else will lead them into the future with God's help. We never do any of this alone.

Our Epistle this morning tells us "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness." What a great image of a church or any community of people!

Each one of you has a special gift that this church and this community needs to form a strong body. Each one of you is different and special in the eyes of God, and, I hope, in the eyes of each other. Imagine the power of a smile to a stranger. Imagine the power of a hand of friendship to someone who has no family or whose family is far away. Imagine the power of a gentle sense of humor when there is a tense situation. Imagine the strength of shared experiences to build bonds between people. Imagine the satisfaction of guiding someone else's child find the security that comes in learning that God is love. Imagine the gratefulness of finding other people who share your love of this church and this area and joining with them to serve.

In Matthew, this morning, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" And "Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

If we believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God -- the one sent to show us the way, then like the Israelites of old, we may grumble and complain, but as long as we keep struggling to break free from whatever bonds keep us as slaves to our Pharaohs, God will be there. As the psalmist tells us: "Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's No Fun Without David

I love doing interim or transition work, at least I used to.  I did not realize, though, that my ability to speak with David nearly every day, helped make this exhausting work fun.  I know it may become fun again, but I'm concerned that right now I cannot do the work these two congregations need for me to do.

Yesterday I was in a real blue funk.  I kept wanting to reach for the phone to speak with him.  It's not that we often spoke of what was on my plate, but after patiently listening to his latest ideas on medicine or (his latest) how he could contribute to the issue of overpopulation in the world, he usually had some uplifting things to say about me or us or nothing in particular.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Resurrection of a Galaxy

July 24, 2011 Millinocket and Winn

NASA Hubble
Spiral Galaxy
The second chapter of Journey of the Universe by Swimme and Tucker, is about the formation of galaxies.  When the universe was about a half a million years old, it was like a huge cumulus cloud growing ever larger.  You know, the big puffy kind of cloud we’ve seen in the summer sky over the last week. But, instead of just continuing to grow and expand, the gigantic single cloud split into many smaller clouds.  Each of these clouds collapsed into itself and formed a galaxy of stars.  After each galaxy “jelled,” it started on its own unique journey: moving farther and farther apart from the other galaxies.  
In some ways you could also say this is the story of St. Thomas’ and St. Andrews’.  Years ago there was only St. Thomas’, but as the Magic City rose out of the woods in the early 1900s, St. Andrews’ started its life joined to St. Thomas.  I wonder if you could look at this phase as the marriage of Jacob to Leah.  Maybe not exactly what was wanted, but necessary at the time.  It wasn’t long though, before Jacob was able to marry Rebecca.  Jacob was then able to separate his family from his father-in-law’s.
But in to the story of the universe: we might well ask the question: “What broke this initial cloud so it could form galaxies”?  Scientists have discovered that there are waves that were present from the initial exhalation at the birth of the universe:  waves that are fluctuations in the density of matter that also grew as the universe expanded and eventually got large enough to break the cloud apart so smaller clouds could form.  We can think of these waves as something like the  sound waves we create when we speak or when we make music, or when we jackhammer concrete.  These waves go from our mouths or our instruments and disturb the air around us so that the waves hit our eardrums making them vibrate and so we hear.  Sometimes these sounds can be disturbing, grating or loud.  Sometimes we hear the vibrations as music, sometimes as a whisper.  Some people have called these waves in the universe the “music of the spheres.” Try to imagine this cosmic music as what “moved the universe into the next phase of its journey.”  The phase of galaxies forming.  The natural next phase of St. Andrew’s and St. Thomas’ was as separate parishes with separate identities in separate communities.  And that has brought your two parishes to where they now are.  This brings up the question of a center.  Where can the center of these two parishes be?  I know it is not in the middle of the Penobscot River or in Medway.
Let’s answer this by looking at where the center of the universe lies?  In  times past we humans believed it to be here on our lovely blue planet: in Jerusalem, or Mecca or on a special mountain in Tibet or Africa.  Each culture has its own explanation of where the center was, but over time, we realized this was not literally true.  The center of the universe was not a city, nor the earth itself, nor our sun, nor our galaxy the Milky Way.  In fact, we have learned that the Milky Way is just one galaxy in an universe that has millions of galaxies and the Milky Way is part of a supercluster of galaxies that revolve around each other.  This is a concept that is very difficult to grasp: each supercluster of galaxies is at the center of the expanding universe.  In other words, there are millions of centers in our universe.  Not only is that concept a hard one to understand it goes against all the logic we’ve been brought up with.  How can there be multiple centers, yet one expanding universe.  All we can do is say with the psalmist (Psalm 105:5a) “Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, ... “  The more I learn about the wonders of God’s creation, the more I am awestruck by the complexity and creativity that is present in all of God’s creation.  
What might be useful for us is to consider today is what it means to have multiple centers. For St. Thomas’ and St. Andrew’s it is a fact of who you have become.  The communities in which you exist are different centers, yet there are lots of things in common.  Multiple centers seems to be a way of being in the universe.
But going back to our own galaxy, the Milky Way: we know it has spiral arms, and those spiral arms turned out to be important. Density waves pulsing through our Milky Way causes the cloud to condense in certain places.  This condensing forms stars: stars which burn brightly for millions of years then either explode or die out.  Spiral galaxies are the birthing places for new stars.  On the other hand, elliptical galaxies are doomed to die out because they cannot produce new stars:  it takes those spiral arms like those in our Milky Way, reaching out, to form new stars. Creativity in our universe is not uniform, but it is there.

NASA Hubble Photo
Large Magellanic Cloud—Star-birthing Area
But don’t think that is all there is to the creativity of our universe.  We have a satellite of our Milky Way, called the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).  Some think it was once a spiral galaxy that experienced a major calamity.  What that calamity was we don’t really know, but whatever happened, the LMC could not produce new stars and was dying.  But then, something truly amazing happened. After billions of years it came within reach of the gravitational pull of our Milky Way and the two galaxies interacted: the LMC was able to produce new stars again.  Both the Milky Way and the LMC  were changed by the interaction.  The creativity present in one led to creativity in the other. It wasn’t just the creativity either, there was a generosity in sharing.
All of Jesus’ parables this morning about the kingdom of heaven speak of God’s incredible generosity.  Generosity in the smallest of seeds growing to the size of a tree.  Generosity in a huge amount of leavened flour that would make enough bread to feed a small army.  Generosity in a treasure found in an unexpected place or a pearl of great price and even generosity in fish from the sea, even though some will not serve as food.  The story of universe is also one of incredible generosity, creativity and awe.  A galaxy has come to life again.  The story of God’s people is always one of coming to life again. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is pre-eminent among them.  Jacob didn’t give up on marrying Rebecca, even though he was tricked by Laban.  Although, I must admit I do hear a common refrain in Laban’s words “this is not done in our country--giving the younger before the older.” makes me think of the frequently used: “that’s not how we’ve always done it.” And yet there is always the possibility of resurrection.  God doesn’t give up on any of us.
Matthew reports Jesus as saying” “And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’”  All of you here at St. Andrew’s and St. Thomas’ are scribes being trained for the kingdom of heaven and I challenge you both to look at your treasures of time, talent and money to bring something new out of the old  Like mustard seeds, new leaven, new treasures in unexpected place this is also resurrection.
I say with Paul: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor the present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

David W. Gregg, Ph.D., RIP

My friend David died on July 6.  He had open heart surgery and was in the hospital for a week. They agreed to his request to go home,  although they recommended he go to a skilled nursing facility to get stronger. David was insistent.  He loved watching the deer and foxes and turkeys and quail that came on his patio and the majestic views of the hills beyond his home. We had decided to get him at-home help after I left, but it was clear over the course of the day that he really needed to go to a facility and he said he would do it in the morning.  Morning never came.  He dropped dead in front of me as he was getting back to his chair for the night.  The paramedics couldn't revive him. I'm still processing my loss.  I already miss our nearly daily phone conversations.

Let me tell you a bit about our relationship.  I met him in 1974 when he was working on Underground Coal Gasification at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and at a meeting on that topic at Fallen Leaf Lake, we went sailing together and got drenched from a sudden rainstorm that appeared over the Sierra Nevada, but he insisted on sailing the small boat back to shore in spite of wind and rain and the offer of a tow.  We dated briefly, but I moved on to Denver, then Washington, DC then Vienna.  David needed to have someone in his life every day.  He couldn't be alone after dusk and he did not want to marry again after two failed marriages and a failed live-in relationship, but he really needed someone to be present with him at that time of day.

When I returned from Vienna he had just started going with a lovely woman.  They each had their own homes, but he had someone to spend the evenings with, to go out to dinner with and  to travel with.  He even rented a room in her home so he had a place to stay overnight. Since her health began to seriously deteriorate a few years ago, he found other ways to fill this need like taking friends from his church to dinner and/or dancing.

David and I began our weekly brunches after my return from Vienna.  On Saturday, after he played tennis, we would meet for food and conversation, and what conversations they were.  David was interested in researching health issues and I designed a web site for him to put his findings.  It turned out I also had to upload his files for him as well, although I could manage to get him through the process over the phone as well.  He had quite a following and was active in holistic health circles.

David came to my graduation from Seminary and to my ordinations and when I moved around to do my interim ministry we started what became daily phone calls to continue our conversations.  Since I've been in Maine he has talked about moving here, but he really didn't want to leave his beautiful home.  We spoke about traveling together after he recovered from his surgery and I finally retire from ministry, but alas that is not to be.
Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
David was a unique character:  full of enthusiasm and boundless energy.  He was constantly thinking outside the box and when he decided something was right, you couldn't get him to change his mind.  The world has lost a very good and very creative man.  Did I love him?  Yes.

Heaven has gained another saint.  David was generous with his friends and unlike Auden, I do believe that love lasts forever and that good can come from the most difficult and trying times.  The stars and sun and moon and ocean and wood will come to good.  To quote Julian of Norwich "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."  It will just take time.

Farewell my good and faithful friend.  Let light perpetual shine on you and there be no more fear of the night.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bonding and Creativity

Sermon for Sunday, July 16
St. Andrew's and St. Thomas'

These four images are among the first observations made by the new Wide Field Camera 3 aboard the upgraded NASA Hubble Space Telescope.
The image at top left shows NGC 6302, a butterfly-shaped nebula surrounding a dying star. At top right is a picture of a clash among members of a galactic grouping called Stephan's Quintet. The image at bottom left gives viewers a panoramic portrait of a colorful assortment of 100,000 stars residing in the crowded core of Omega Centauri, a giant globular cluster. At bottom right, an eerie pillar of star birth in the Carina Nebula rises from a sea of greenish-colored clouds.
My summer reading includes Journey of the Universe, by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker.  I was struck in reading it the parallels between the story of the universe and the story of ourselves as created beings. In fact, that is one of the points of the book. and maybe as the summer goes along those parallels might strike you as well.  
Since the Pentecost season has begun we’ve been hearing some of the foundational stories of our faith, especially if you’ve been reading the Genesis option for the Old Testament.  If this is so, you have heard the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The story of how Isaac married Rebecca. The story of the birth of Esau and Jacob and how Jacob stole Esau’s birthright.  Now we have Jacob at the beginning of his adulthood and his encounter with God in a dream.  Stories are important, they help ground us and remind us of who we are.
So I think if we look at the story (or the journey) of the Universe and use it as a springing off point for the stories of St. Andrew’s and St. Thomas’, we might be able to find ideas and ways that will help us in what the authors call “The challenge of creating a shared future.”  
At the start of the book the authors describe the beginnings of the universe, with the forces of expansion (from the big bang) and forces of attraction (gravity), reminding us that the universe is "shaped by these two opposing and creative dynamics" and that we who are alive are also shaped by processes of expansion and contraction such as breathing or the beating of our hearts. To quote them: "At the very least we can say that because of the great exhalation at the start of the universe, life and humanity have emerged and are breathing within it now."
After the initial "bang", or exhalation, particles began to collide and interact; sometimes bonding, sometimes separating.  This bonding, which resulted in the formation of increasingly complex communities, started with elementary particles and bonding seems to be the way of the universe. In order for bonding to occur, the particles have to give up part of their mass and release it as energy.  "Even from the first moments, our universe moved toward creating relationships.....This bonding is at the heart of matter."  
Forming a complex community is what we will be about over the next year.  I’ve been pondering what it would mean in terms of giving up some mass, but more than that, what kind of energy will be released that will benefit both churches and the communities in which you exist. 
And then there is the relationship part of bonding, as well. Did God create the whole universe, not just us, in God's image?  If bonding is at the heart of matter, then bonding or relationship has a lot to do with God. I would like to think that relationships or bonding are as critical to the nature of God as to the nature of the universe God created. 
This bonding and separation are not without cost. In Romans we hear Paul saying:  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Patience doesn’t seem to be a characteristic that is much in use in our culture.  But look at the patience of a God who waits for his universe to unfold and display its glory. We tend to want things now.  We want to know what the outcome will be and go for it.  Yes, we are looking to be set free from bondage to decay, but the more we learn about the creativity involved in our universe, the more we need to look at the creativity within ourselves and to recognized the need for relationship to help that creativity along.
In today’s story, the promise that God made to Abraham is repeated to Isaac in a dream: "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.”   And we are blessed as part of God’s family as inheritors of the tradition starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and a long-long line of faithful followers of that tradition of which Jesus was a part and so are we.  
In the morning we are told that Jacob was afraid: “and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’  With the vision of angels going up and down a ladder I guess we would all think of that place was the gate of heaven.  But what of our new perspective of the universe.  We can say of the universe God created too, “How awesome is this place.”  This is a universe that has created stars and galaxies and a world that can support we human beings.  It is an awesome place with fiery deaths and exploding life continuing to be created.  It is an even more awesome place that  Jacob could have ever imagined.  He, like you and me, was made of stardust.  Imagine that!
So far the images used to describe the universe were a breathing lung, an expanding heart, and a system that becomes increasingly complex.  The authors give us a fourth image: that of a developing seed.  The process is complex, but orderly:  first roots, then leaves.  The universe started out focusing on building nuclei, then it stopped and other processes began.  “The astonishing fact is that if the universe had continued building nuclei all the way up to iron, for example, iron nuclei would have predominated for all time.”  But what happened instead was when all the light nuclei were formed the conditions for building the nuclei changed.  And this stopping and changing happened again and again over the fourteen billion years it took to get to us.  As with seeds developing one process stopped so something new could take over.  Something that would eventually become living, breathing creatures.
In Matthew’s gospel we hear:  Let both of them (wheat and weeds) grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'  Now Matthew goes to great length to explain what this means, but we could also interpret it to include not just people, but what it is a church or a community does.  Every place has weeds and wheat and telling the difference isn’t always easy, but when the time for harvest comes it will become clear.  There are dead ends in God’s creation.
I think what is important for the coming year is summarized in this quote: “We can begin to contemplate an idea that is remarkable: perhaps the nature of the universe as a whole is shaped by the creativity of its parts.”  I think the one thing a parish needs, especially in transition times, is creativity and I pray that together we will be able to contemplate and tap into the creativity that is already in these two places.  Maybe this is one of those stopping points where something new begins to happen.  Where with Jacob we can say a year from now: “How awesome is this place.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Journey of the Universe" and Trinity Sunday

A Rose Made of Galaxies
NASA Hubble Telescope
Wikimedia Commons
I have started to read "Journey of the Universe" by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker.  I've been waiting to see the film they made of this, but haven't been near a showing.  The prose is striking and poetic and for a "geek" like me, the story of the universe is compelling reading.

In the first chapter while describing the forces of expansion (from the big bang) and attraction (gravity), they remind us that the universe is "shaped by these two opposing and creative dynamics" and that we who are alive are also shaped by processes of expansion and contraction such as breathing and the beating of our hearts. "At the very least we can say that because of the great exhalation of the universe, life and humanity have emerged and are breathing within it now."

After the initial "bang" particles began to collide and interact; sometimes bonding, sometimes separating.  The formation of increasingly complex communities, started with elementary particles and seems to be the way of the universe. In order for bonding to occur, the particles have to give up part of their mass and release it as energy.  "Even from the first moments, our universe moved toward creating relationships.....This bonding is at the heart of matter."

The words above had me pondering once again The Trinity.  Thinking about God breathing out the universe makes me contemplate 1John "In the beginning was the Word."  I wonder what the "great exhalation" sounded like.  Big Bang doesn't really have the elegance or the awe or the wonder that the term "great exhalation" does.  A great shout of joy and love and unimaginable power that started all that we know and began time and space. And if the Holy Spirit is inspiration, then we have the breathing in and out of the universe in both exhalation and inspiration.

But there is the relationship bit too. Did God create the whole universe in God's image?  If bonding is at the heart of matter, then bonding or relationship has a lot to do with God.  I wouldn't dare try to explain The Trinity, but I would like to think that relationships or bonding are as critical to the nature of God as to the nature of the universe God created.

I know I'm only on the first chapter of this book, but I needed to stop and think a little about the relationship between the faith I profess and the science I love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Limestone and Living Stones

I gave this sermon at Good Shepherd, Houlton, Maine yesterday.  It was a gorgeous sunny day,the first sunny day in what seems like forever rain.  Izzie and I took the long way home down Route 1.  When we stopped for dinner in Machias, I think Izzie had had it with being in the car, but after a short walk and some dinner, she settled in the back seat for a snooze.

The Sermon

Moritzbrunner Altar (limestone)
Wikipedia Commons
There is a bit of a chemistry lesson in this sermon.  Don’t panic.  There’s not going to be a quiz and I think the lesson will be relatively painless. After all if we’ve managed to get past the second coming yesterday, and I don't know of anyone taken by rapture at 6 pm, then thinking a bit about how living stones get formed shouldn't be nearly as fearful.  In a very physical and scientific sense, as well as a metaphoric one, we are all living stones.  Our own bodies, especially our bones contain a lot of calcium. So does limestone.

Limestone is a form of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) called calcite.  It is often made out of coral or the bodies of other living things, although it can also be precipitated out from groundwater depending on several factors, including the water temperature, how acidic or basic the water is, and what the concentration of CaCO3 is in the water.

Limestone is a common building material, and you can find it in many landmarks around the world, like the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt.  Many medieval churches and castles in Europe are made of limestone.  It is easily available and relatively easy to cut into blocks or carve into statues. It is also long-lasting and stands up well to weather, but not acid rain. Train stations, banks and other structures from the 19th century are often made of limestone. Limestone was also a very popular building material in the Middle Ages since it is hard, durable, and often is found nearby in easy to quarry surface deposits.

But all of this is about dead stones.  They may be stones made out of the skeletal remains of living creatures, but dead never-the-less.  Peter calls us living stones, and we are.  Now I know that this building is made of wood, but imagine it as being built of living stones: you and all those who have gone before you. You are the building blocks of this body we call the church. Some of you are the solid stones that form the walls and keep out the storms, some of you are a bit fancier and might have been carved into interior spaces, fluted to please the eye or made into chambers that resound with music.  Yet no matter what your function is, it is needed.  It is needed because it is part of this foundation of living stones that started with the disciples including Stephen, and his stoner Saul, and with the words of Peter, we are called to become a holy  priesthood, building this spiritual house we call the church.

And Paul, that Saul who persecuted the followers of  Jesus, speaks of Jesus as being the cornerstone for our living stones. Now when you make a stone building, the cornerstone (also called the foundation stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a stone building.  This stone is important because all the other stones are to be set in reference to this stone.  So the position of the corner stone impacts the whole building.  In our New England, the corner stone is more likely to be made of granite, a more common type of stone, rather than limestone as it is stronger and not so subject to erosion from acid rain and so many of our churches are made of wood instead of stone, but the cornerstone is there non-the-less, only it is usually more of a ceremonial stone set in a prominent place on the outside of the building with an inscription on it usually with the date the building was constructed.  Sometimes there is a time capsule included and sometimes the ceremony of laying the cornerstone includes placing an offering of grain, wine, or oil under the stone, reminiscent of both Old and New Testament  times.

The grain, wine and oil were symbolic of the produce and the people of the land and how they earned their livings. This in turn derived from the practice in still more ancient times of making an animal or human sacrifice that was laid in the foundations. I learned that this practice wasn't so ancient in a cultural center in Fiji where we were told of how enemy warriors used to be buried under the four corners of the foundation of a building. Their strength would make the foundations strong.

While looking up materials about cornerstones i came across this report from The Cork (Ireland) Examiner of 13 January 1865: (Wikipedia)

“...The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Munster, applying the golden square and level to the stone said ; " My Lord Bishop, the stone has been proved and found to be 'fair work and square work' and fit to be laid as the foundation stone of this Holy Temple".' After this, Bishop Gregg spread cement over the stone with a trowel specially made for the occasion by John Hawkesworth, a silversmith and a jeweller. He then gave the stone three knocks with a mallet and declared the stone to be 'duly and truly laid'. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Munster poured offerings of corn, oil and wine over the stone after Bishop Gregg had declared it to be 'duly and truly laid'. The Provincial Grand Chaplain of the Masonic Order in Munster then read out the following prayer: 'May the Great Architect of the universe enable us as successfully to carry out and finish this work. May He protect the workmen from danger and accident, and long preserve the structure from decay; and may He grant us all our needed supply, the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy, Amen. So mote it be.' The choir and congregation then sang the 100th Psalm.”

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and in some Western Churches as well, the cornerstone is a solid stone cube upon which a cross has been carved. In the top of the stone a cross-shaped space is hollowed out into which relics may be placed. If no relics are inserted in the stone, the inscription may be omitted, but not the cross. We are reminded as we look at these buildings that Jesus is the cornerstone. And he is the cornerstone of how we build our lives and our communities.  If we try to use some other cornerstone, we risk putting up a foundation that is not true and risks falling down.

Auden speaks of limestone in his poem, In Praise of Limestone, where he mentions geology, and history and ends up with a religious questioning. I'll only recite a part of the poem, but I recommend the poem to those of you who like to wrestle with layers of meaning.

................. these
Are our common prayer, whose greatest comfort is music
Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,
And does not smell. In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

Christ, the cornerstone of our faith, is a faultless love; a love whose resurrection made a promise of our own resurrection to come.  Christ is the cornerstone, whose resurrection promises us a home, a dwelling place, with Him and with the Father: a place prepared for each of us, where the foundations have been well and truly laid. We, the living stones, are called to build block by block the church, which grows in spite of our own imperfections. We, the living stones, are called to become perfect because the cornerstone was laid true.  The cornerstone in whom we are able to get a glimpse of God our creator.  Our precipitation or laying down of our own calcium carbonate into the underground stream of living water leaves a legacy of our faith to those who follow and the pattern of the divine architect will continue being built until it reaches perfection when we are in God’s time.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yoga for Yankees

Fred Marple has us Yankees down pat.  I needed a bit of laughter today.  His "class" looks to me like the usual suspects in any New England town.

The Maine Labor Murals-a more "balanced" perspective

Our governor, Mr. LePage seems to think that the murals, depicting the labor history of Maine and which used to be in the Labor Building are too one-sided and had them removed.  This YouTube video tries to correct that.

Hope you enjoyed that.  It lets us see all 11 panels, even if some of the faces have been replaced. I've been following the controversy in daily posts on Facebook, but this is too good not to share more widely.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Marmelade, the Dead Sea, and Masada

The day started with Doug making marmalade with kumquats and lemons from his yard. He asked me about his "ornamental orange" which turns out to be kumquats and with the number he has, marmalade was in order.

We then headed off toward the Dead Sea to have a look at Masada. We stopped at one viewing spot where the smell of sulfur was very strong. Saw a yellow trail going into the sea, just like some hot springs in California. In fact the whole area reminded me of the Salton Sea area, only with really high hills on both sides of the sea. The sky wasn't completely clear, so seeing the hills on the Jordan side was problematic.

Lunch at the cafeteria in Masada, then up the cable car to the top. It's hard to believe that Herod built a palace here. What amazing views! I will add to this a bit later.

Unlike many of the tourists, especially youth groups, we took the cable car back down. Stopped at En Gedi to see people swimming in the Dead Sea, then back to Jerusalem for a Gin and Tonic and cheese.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday at St. George's Cathedral

Doug and I went to the 11am Eucharist. Good message. It was about walls and the city of Bethlehem. The Palestinians there, both Chrstian and Muslim, are walled in by a thirty foot high wall. It is almost impossible for them to get out to visit relatives, to get medical care or to tend lands that are outside the city. The message was the difference between our ability to go in and kiss the star in the Church of the Nativity, in essence to "see" Christ, and our inability to see Christ in all of God's people.

We talked a bit about this over a beer. Doug works for UNICEF and he says Palestinians, who are behind the walls have little access to medical care, since it is primarily in Jerusalem and the Israeli authorities won't give permission for people to leave. Nitrates in drinking water is a big problem for the little ones. There are inadequate amounts, and pollution control is negligible. Many of the children under two are "blue babies". The US Center for Disease Control is getting involved, but it is hard to get them into the West Bank or Gaza because of security issues, so much of the work needs to be done remotely. Can you imagine your doctor not being able to see your child. In addition, schools are not being built because they can't get building materials in, so kids are not being educated.

Addendum: Since I cannot directly add photos to my web page via the blog, you'll have to go to Facebook to see any pictures. If that changes, you'll see it here.

After church, we walked through many bazaars, bought some Zatar (a spice I just live on bread), and then went into West Jerusalem, with it's fancy shops for a sandwich. Quite a contrast. We passed David's tower and two gates to the old city, did a quick run through the Holy Sepulcher (crowded,but I'll go back during the course), then stopped for the beer before heading back.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Day in Jerusalem

It is fascinating that on one side of the highway the homes have black tanks on the roofs to hold water in case the supply is shut off. The other side doesn't have to worry about whether they will have water. And this is in the city of Jerusalem.

Robert Frost said something like "something there is that doesn't like a wall." well I was completely offended by a walled-in Jewish settlement we accidentally came upon while trying to drive up to the Mount of Olives. The settlement walls at one spot seemed far higher than those across the way for the old city walls across the valley and are of ugly concrete.

The views at the top are lovely. Some peaceful gardens of olives going down the hillside, the gilded-domed Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, the old walls with Lion's Gate, the Dome of the Rock, and little boys trying to sell olive branches and a man with his camel selling rides (or getting money to take a picture). Tour busses would have gone a totally different way so tourists would not likely have seen what we did.

I left my camera behind, but I'm sure we will return during the Palestine of Jesus class which starts Wednesday at St George's College. I'm curious what we will learn about the settlements, though, if anything.

My friend, and host for the next couple of days, Doug, cooked us a wonderful slow cooked roast beef dinner. That and a glass of wine knocked me out. Of course I had been up for over 24 hours with some sleep on the plane.