The Rev. J. Gary Brinn

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Sausage Revolution: May 14, 2017

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He was studying to be a lawyer when he was caught in a thunderstorm. It was quite the storm, or at least we can assume it was, for he prayed to Saint Anne, a fictional character, supposedly the mother of the Virgin Mary, to intervene. He vowed to enter the monastery if he lived, and he did live to tell the tale, and the rest, as they say, is history. This coming Halloween will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s defiantly nailing his theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of a church in Wittenberg, often used to post notices, though the original doors are long gone, burned by invading French troops during the Seven Years War.

In 1522, five years after Luther’s defiant act and four hundred and sixty seven miles to the south, in Zurich, another religious revolution would develop, or maybe an offshoot of Luther’s, it is hard to tell. If Luther’s reform can be said to have started with 95 theses, the Zurich reform can be said to have started with, of all things, a sausage. That sausage was boldly and publicly consumed during Lent, a violation of Roman church discipline, an intentional provocation. Continue reading →

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Submission: May 7, 2017

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You know this story. I sat with a colleague for awhile. I stopped at a church to pray, though the pastor had to intervene and let me in, as the secretary had locked all the doors in fear. It was several hours later by the time I came down off of the Queensboro Bridge.There were F-16s in the air above us, a burnt electric smell in the air. There were men with those little grocery carts every apartment dweller in the city must have. They were Pakistani small business owners, and they were giving away the bottled water from their bodegas. Little did they know that they would soon be the targets of hate crimes by some of the very people they were assisting, as would Sikhs, a completely unrelated religious minority.

But mostly, the country came together. Like Pearl Harbor, the tragedy of 9/11 produced, for a period of a year or so, a truly United States. Then, as often happens, we lost our better selves, fell subject to bickering, division, selfishness. By the time we invaded Iraq based on fake news and trumped up claims of weapons of mass destruction, the country was as divided as ever. The ripples of discontent were even felt here in this congregation. It was not so different after the Second World War, if we are honest with ourselves, for soon after Johnny came marching home, American turned on American, neighbor on neighbor, McCarthyism and the Black Lists, the hounds unleashed in Selma. Continue reading →

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Mercersburg: April 30, 2017

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Japanese royalty either have really good genes or a whole lot of secrets. The myth is that they are descended from a sun goddess, and that there in an unbroken male lineage stretching back 2600 years, roughly to the time of the Babylonian Exile. If only Henry the Eighth had been so lucky! Or more accurately, if only the first wife of Henry the Eighth had been so lucky. Or the second, or the third, etc., etc. But this is Japan’s story, their myth, this continuing lineage.

Every country, tribe and family has its own myth, a story that gives shape, that builds and sometimes destroys. Some of these tribal and national myths are healthy, some not so much. Our founding myth includes religious refugees, the Puritans and Pilgrims in New England, William Penn’s liberating colony to the south of us. But this version of events, this founding myth, over-emphasizes the role of religion in colonization. The vast majority of those who came to the Americas from Europe came for one reason, and one reason only: economics. Continue reading →

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Nag Hammadi: April 23, 2017

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If you were filming it, you’d have to cast someone like Matt Damon in the role. It is 1975, an we are in a jeep. Sitting on the dangerous “village-side” is the biblical scholar James Robinson in an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. Across from him, wearing Robinson’s own clothing as a disguise, is Muhammad Ali al-Samman. He is in disguise because of a long-standing blood feud between his village, al-Qasr, and the neighboring village, Hamra Dum, a blood feud that claimed al-Samman’s father, led he and his brothers to murder the murderer, that left a bullet-wound in his own chest. They are entering Hamra Dum turf, going to the foot of a cliff where, thirty years earlier, al-Samman was digging fertilizer for his sugar cane field when he dug up a sealed clay jar. Continue reading →

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Bonnaroo on a Brush: April 16, 2017

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Western art, that is the art of Europe, the European diaspora, and those reshaped by European colonialism, pretty much comes full circle when you follow it from the stick figures of the cave-dwellers at Lascaux to the stick figures on the walls of New York City by Kieth Haring. This trajectory might also take in the wild and raw work by Haring’s contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Banksy, the heir to Haring and Basquiat, is a personal favorite of mine, and while serious attempts have been made to unmask the mysterious artist, I’m a religious person, and more that a little okay with mystery. In a world where hedge-fund gazillionaires, petro-sheiks and kleptocrats, buy up art and hide it in their private collections, there is something awesomely democratic about the art that just appears on a wall. Continue reading →

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Just Breathe: April 9, 2017

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Yes I understand
That every life must end
As we sit alone
I know someday we must go
Yeah I’m a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah others they got none
Stay with me
Let’s just breathe

These words, from up there on the stage, in Buffalo, New York. Crowd singing, waving cellphones where once they waved lighters. Everyone swept up, including my sister and I, attending a Pearl Jam concert, but where others were just swept up in the hit song from the new album, Amy and I, and no doubt some others among the thousands, had tears in our eyes, for the song “Just Breathe” is about a life coming to an end, and it had not been that long since we had buried our father, who died of congestive heart failure and COPD. Just breathe indeed. Continue reading →

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Homilies for Holy Week 2017

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Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Sunrise Service

Maundy Thursday

It was one of the six original red grapes of Bordeaux, France, then, in 1867, disaster struck in the form of Phylloxera, a tiny sap-sucking insect related to aphids. Other varieties recovered, but Carménère never did, and it was eventually presumed to be extinct.

Over a century later, in 1994, Chileans, trying to explain why their Merlot was so different from that grown in other regions, discovered that certain vines that ripened at an odd time, perhaps 50% of their Merlot stock, were in fact Carménère, descended from imports during the 1850’s, before the infestation struck France. The climate in Chile is not favorable to Phylloxera, so the pest never spread and the grape had survived. Continue reading →

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Wholly Unburied: April 2, 2017

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Jobs can be frustrating for all sorts of reasons. You might work in a toxic environment, with bad bosses, runaway sexism and racism. You might play a role that is under-appreciated. We all like clean spaces, but our culture does not treat those who clean our spaces and remove our waste with the dignity they deserve. Entire essential sectors are treated with such contempt that no American will take the jobs. We would all starve without immigrants, particularly upsetting to me is that the dairy industry is most at risk, which threatens ice cream. We can all expect food to take a much greater percentage of our budgets in the coming years if we continue on the current course.

Jobs can go bad for other reasons. You might find yourself in a field subject to the culture of exceptionalism and complaint, particularly brutal on our teachers these days. You might not have the right tools for the job, be asked to do something that is completely beyond your control, like so many in the human services. Then there are those of us who are called into the breach between humankind and mystery, religious leaders, obviously, but also publishers. Continue reading →

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Eclectic: March 26, 2017

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Wikipedia lists dozens of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, including Viking Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, Gothic Metal, Metalcore and Grindcore, though the two that most intrigue me are Folk Metal and Stoner Metal, which seem to me to be oxymorons.

And I listen to none of them. Led Zeppelin is about as hard as I rock out. Heavy metal may be the only style of music I avoid completely, but there are portions of other genres I can do without. I can’t listen to the rap music that is filled with misogyny and glorifies drug violence and cop killing, though there is a sub-genre called alt hip-hop that I love. Continue reading →

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Moishe Shagalov: March 19, 2017

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How displaced he must have felt on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. At least he could find a newspaper he could read, find a few people that understood him, for while he had mastered several languages, he could not speak English. Thank goodness for Yiddish newspapers, allowing Moishe Zakharovich Shagalov to follow what was happening in the war. Or maybe it wasn’t goodness, for those papers told him that his hometown had been completely destroyed, his people crushed, ashes on the wind.

But we are too far into the story. It begins in in the little village of Liozna, just outside of Vitebsk in what is now Belarus but was then a part of the Russian Empire. This was the Russia of the Tsars, of sanctioned anti-semitism and pogroms, but he managed to get an education. He could have hidden, pretended to not be who he was, but instead he chose to embrace his Jewish identity. In 1910, at the age of 23, he moved to Paris, where he would study and paint for several years. He was back home in Vitebsk, a visit that was supposed to be brief, when the The Great War broke out, leaving him trapped, leaving him to witness the October Revolution of 1917. Like many Jews, he had no great love for the Imperial Russia, but the revolution was dangerous as well, a mad beast unleashed. He was by then one of the country’s most respected artists, so he was offered the post of commissar of visual arts. He wisely took a less prominent, less exposed role. He did important work during those early years of the Soviet state, including his first foray’s into theatre design. In 1923, he returned to Paris, this celebrated Russian Jewish painter known to the world as Marc Chagall. Continue reading →

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