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.”