today wrapped up the advent series at covenant. i might have remembered today as the day that lexie and i navigated our way through the latin version of veni, veni emmanuel, or as the day chris, carl and ellen performed a beautiful canon of dona nobis pacem, or the day that we merged advent iv and christmas eve lectionary content fairly seamlessly.
instead, i will remember this morning as the half-naked pancake morning.
the mystics, cyncics and pilgrims (mcp) were having a christmas gathering thing this morning over pancakes and coffee. after we ran through the worship set up at church, we drove over to jim's, a well-known san antonio diner.
halfway through breakfast i or someone noticed a two-inch hole in the sweater i was wearing, right along the seam on the inside of my arm. my being slightly threadbare was nothing new; we chalked it up to bad workmanship, and went back to food and conversation. moments later someone else noticed another similar hole on the other arm. then another. more laughter: okay, i can take some jostling, ha ha, but why the heck was my sweater full of holes? and how had they escaped me earlier in the morning? we were all laughing at this point — in fact i'm realizing as i'm typing this isn't going to translate well on the page, not mearly as funny as when it was happening. you know those kinds of things… by this time, tim noticed a few more holes on the side seam of the sweater as well. by that time i felt half-naked and was certain i'd be standing up leading worship and the rest of my clothes would be falling to the ground, a quarter-bolt at a time.
i am just vain enough to have paid up, excused myself, crossed nacogdoches road, run into a large store which shall not be named, grab an $8 shirt, toss it on and run back to church to tune up for the worship service. i apologize here and now to whatever kid in whatever country made that $8 shirt. i am sorry.
so today was the day of the sweater-eating-virus. or whatever.
"We are small people in this world. Small
people with tiny purple and pink candles. Who would lay a wager on this
motley crew of candle-carrying dreamers? And yet, here we are, year
after year, telling our story and shining His light." — Gordon Atkinson [via]
My friends Chris and Meredith Alvarez lit these three advent candles Sunday morning, so my sketch took on new meaning for me after-the-fact.
Chris played cello again. I'm really enjoying that. It's a perfect instrument for that size of a room. Adrian played a single snare at my request during a verse of the offertory* and it worked well. I hope my asking him to do that is not akin to someone coming up and asking me to only play any one of the six strings I'm used to playing.
We finished The Way of a Pilgrim in MCP, and are moving on to Annie Lamott's Traveling Mercies, which I first read in 2005. Should be fine, but this makes two texts in a row I was pretty much already familiar with when assigned (I was gone the week everyone picked the new text.). I'm not bothered by it (I love Anne's work) but rather a little ambivalent about re-visiting a known text for weeks at a time. Trying to decide if the MCP is where I'll land long term during that hour. I think the other choices would be to teach a kids' class, attend a class currently taught by Gordon (using a contemplative prayer approach to the lectionary text: I could totally get into that), or facilitating a social justice discussion group (not that I have the time).
I'm contemplating what my bandwidth is, when it comes to some kind of role leading and planning worship at this our new church home. My friend Barry Brake leads worship part time, as does my friend Chris Taylor. They've worked it into the rhythm of their life.
Sunday after church we went caroling up and down the halls of
Graceland (the assisted living facility across the street and down a
bit from Covenant). Wes' dad lives there.
I played guitar at church and at the caroling. My fingers were toast, because my callouses weren't built up for that
much playing on the steel strings. Barre chords always hurt the most,
so when my fingers start hurting I prefer songs in the key of G major.
The least painful key: the I, IV, V, and relative minors all feel
pretty good. Major second can hurt a little. Compare that with something like the key of F major. Yeesh. Ouchville all around.
I have more in my head, but my eyes are growing sleeeepy.
*we covered a song by Steve Hindalong called Babe in the Straw from the City on a Hill series. Hindalong was one of the two founding members of the band The Choir, who totally kicked in concert.
The drawing above is of my friend Tim — the associate pastor at Covenant — and some of the kids of the church. One of the best rituals I've found at our little church is Children’s Time on the Blanket. Kids from two to maybe ten or so come up in the middle of the service, not for a children's sermon, but rather just for a time for the pastor to talk with the kids, to take up their offerings for a given missionary family, and to pray together.
Emma (our almost three year old) will walk up front to 'blanket time' and always catch herself mid-step, five or six paces into it, and do an about-face and come back to us for money; we'll give her a dollar bill or a quarter to put in the bag (like most kids she prefers shiny, weighty coins to paper currency any day) and then she and the other kids will go up to talk with Tim or Gordon.
Thanks, Tim and Gordon, for keeping this tradition alive.
I think if some of our present-day world leaders had, as children, walked
up for Children’s Time on the Blanket, the world might be a more
Wednesday I asked another friend up at church to sing and play our Call to Worship for this morning, and she said yes. So this morning she got up with her guitar and voice and brought something that was wonderful: a simple Advent spiritual, Come, Lord Jesus (Come and be born in our hearts), delivered with a calypso strumming pattern — she told me it was the way the song had been passed down to her.
I hope the congregation received the song with open ears and hearts. Sometimes I wonder how this friend feels because of her present situation: She is a new San Antonian not by choice, but is here because she was displaced from her native New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. She lost everything, relocated. She still brings her infant granddaughter weekly, and they come to worship God. They get a ride up to church because she cannot afford a bus pass. She gets by without internet or email. I met her at the Franciscan retreats we have up at church, and since then we've talked about guitars and songs and her old life back in New Orleans. She's got a lovely singing voice, and in a strange way, I really feel like she's one of the reasons I'm there up at Covenant these days.
I picture her learning today's spiritual, chord-by-chord, decades earlier in Louisiana, perhaps singing with family or friends around her New
Orleans living room. Perhaps she picked it up by taking in the sounds
flowing out of the African-American congregation which I'd imagine she
once regularly attended. Now days, her stories come in trickles, perhaps a little cautiously,
usually while we're tuning instruments or handing out chord sheets. I'm
convinced there's a deep well of story there.
Imagine my surprise when, close to the end of the service today, I looked up and spotted a couple of Emergent Village folks filing into the back of the church — the esteemed Glen Barbier and the inimitable Lance White, as well as their well-spoken sustainable gardener friend Steven Hebbard — all had made the morning road trip from Austin. I understand they got a little turned around, so they missed a good bit of the service.
But, as is often the case, a shared meal proved deeper and perhaps just as soul-satisfying as the service anyway (not to diminish from the service this week, or from the thoughts of John the Baptist swirling in my head). We all headed to Chipotle and spent at least two? two-and-a-half? certainly not three? hours eating and talking and connecting. When tribes collide.
One more missive. This afternoon Amy took a page from the Soupablog School for Nabbing a Christmas Tree this year, and went out and got back with a nice tree in well under an hour. Maybe more like 40 minutes. My kinda woman. Hunters: 1, Gatherers, 0. We had that sucker in the stand and unfurled in record time. Now our house smells like pine, and we'll have to bring in some ornaments over the next few nights. We're usually Late Decorators when it comes to Christmas. Lots of reasons, but if I explained them, it might sound like I'm railing on you Early Decorators out there.
Kate (see note, right) says I should draw a picture of our pretty tree. Maybe once it's decorated. I've got other pictures I'm drawing too, but how can you say no to a note like this?
"Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late / he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will win, so on the edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins...
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play..." —David Wilcox
this sketch is pretty much what church looked like today, except even if you squint, you can't see chris alvarez sitting up front playing cello. and the windows in the drawing aren't interleaved by the beautiful hanging banners of advents past. and you can't see me sitting there wondering if i'm going to have enough energy to explain the deutero-isaiah theory to anyone in my family today (i didn't have to). somewhere in the cross-hatchy composition you can also imagine my friend tj visiting today, sitting there over on the far side, next to liz and jason.
this morning my pastor and friend gordon reminded us all that in advent we trade 'ramping up' for 'slowing down' (i give lip-service to this all the time; today i'm really considering how to live this corporeally and not just let the idea make my head nod); we don't get louder, we search for silence, etc. (this one i can handle usually). also his message gave me pause — i had to be open to a new way of understanding proto-isaiah's prophecy here (as largely unfulfilled prophetic utterings rather than esentially fulfilled or not-yet eschatological hope). not sure i agreed with it fully, but i was certainly willing to travel alongside as this got unpacked. a really good sermon: i wish i could take you all to church with me, but that would quash the innocence of this little stone church hidden amidst the juniper trees.
but what really hit me this week wasn't the sermon or the worship or even the onset of advent. instead it was a few well-aimed words (lobbed in my direction) from some smart women in the mystics/cynics/pilgrims class — i had been talking about some longtime frustrations when [thanks to their insight] suddenly the whole situation unfurled like a starched sheet amidst cerulean sky in a well-directed laundry soap commercial, and i knew that in an instant everything had changed. a burden had been lifted.
from now on at least this one issue will be framed in the language of acceptance, forgiveness and possibly mourning, rather than the posture of my insistence for change or for [the individual in question] to opt-in to my point of view. it was a free therapy session which netted a hammered stake and a new fence vector.
if you're interested in alternative worship, you already know about smallfire.
it had been a while since i'd visited, and was again amazed by all of the creativity and collaboration across the pond. here's some screen grabs. thanks steve collins, for all the work you've done documenting this phenomenon.
collins writes: "Alternative worship is what happens when people create worship for themselves, in a way that fully reflects who they are as people and the culture that they live their everyday lives in.
most forms of church have become culturally disconnected from the wider
world, alternative worship can seem like a radical break with
conventional church practices. It uses the technologies and
media of our everyday lives - TV, video, CDs, computers - things that
we take for granted in a domestic environment but seldom see in
churches. It takes much of its content from the secular world - the
music, the language, often the imagery - because it sees the presence
of God in these things, and knows that spirituality has to make sense
in the context of our secular lives if it is to nourish us and help us
be salt and light.
At the same time, alternative worship searches the traditions of the Church for resources that fit the needs of the present.
Christianity has rich storehouses of spiritual treasures. Many of these
lie neglected or forgotten, but have renewed relevance - others have
been exhausted by overuse and need to be rested, or have become
irrelevant to the current needs of church and world. Alternative
worship tries to interpret tradition faithfully into new contexts - but
this may mean changing the form in order to preserve or revivify the
Alternative worship is deeply concerned for community.
Community is a place of honesty, commitment and support, where people
grow through relationship. Community is essential to living any kind of
authentic Christian life in societies which work against it in fine
detail. Community is not clique, but reaches out to others, maybe
locally, maybe globally. Whenever we meet as God's people we are aware
of those not present who are also God's people. And we are aware of
those who do not consider themselves God's people but are, more than
they ever think.
Alternative worship is intensely concerned with creativity.
Partly this is because reinventing worship requires it; but more
because of a belief that creativity is essential to human wholeness and
should be offered back to the Creator in worship. Since we are made in
the image of a creator God, we are all creative - but life, and often
sadly the Church, conspires to tell us that we are not, that we have
nothing worth offering. Alternative worship offers people the chance of
creative expression in worship. Not just the team making things to be
admired by the congregation, but the congregation making things as
worship, to be admired by the team...."