Categotry Archives: Main Blog

Sermons and theological ramblings of an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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Out Standing in Our Field: December 10, 2017

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Categories: Main Blog

The great Jewish artist Marc Chagall, while immensely talented, would probably have never achieved the fame he would come to enjoy, much less the commissions and sales, if he had remained in Belarus, if he’d even survived Stalin’s purges. Paris called and Chagall answered, not once, but twice, before and after the revolution. It is the City of Light, drawing painters and poets like moths to the flame, a thousand locks weighing down a lovers’ bridge, dissolute genius

Toronto has its own charms, but it is no Paris. There must be dissolute artists in Toronto, but I’ve never heard of them. Nonetheless, in the same way that Paris acted as the incubator for the genius developing in Chagall and countless other artists, musicians, and writers, so Toronto acted as an incubator for an American genius. Continue reading →

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In the Bardo: December 3, 2017

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“The earliest star coined out of the dark coping to the south hanging in the dead wickerwork of the trees along the river.”

Not quite the sparse prose of Hemingway, nor the overflow of Faulkner, but clearly American, woven from the fabric of the West, a mouthful of the vernacular. These words come from “The Crossing,” the second book in the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy, a great American novelist. The first book in the series, “All the Pretty Horses,” was filmed, as was “The Road,” a later and un-related bestseller, but film does not do justice to McCarthy’s writing, for while it captures the narrative action, which is powerful, it does not capture the salt and sweet of his words, the feel on the tongue, as he describes moments of breathtaking beauty and equally breathtaking violence. McCarthy is the literary reader’s Louis L’Amour, unapologetically dusty, guns and horses, the permeable border between the US and Mexico, the grace of bodies in motion and emotions embodied. Continue reading →

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From the Jaws of Defeat: November 19, 2017

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Sermon delivered November 19, 2017
at First Congregational Church in Blue Hill (UCC)

The pharmaceutical companies, churning out new products daily, have become the masters of making up brand names… no more “Dr. Sharfenberger’s Magic Elixir,” today we have Flonase, to insure that air flows through your nasal passages, though some products, like Viagra, seemingly a combination of the roots for life and farming, leave me mystified.

Of course, brand names are meant to connect, to convey, to match the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time. Maybe that is why the Plymouth Valiant was only manufactured for a couple of years after the end of the Vietnam War, the zeitgeist not celebrating war after that mismanaged and lost conflict, when valor felt hollow.

It was into a Valiant that we all piled, three mothers and too many kids, sandwiches that would soon live up to the sand part of the name, towels and buckets and no sunscreen in sight, week after week through the summer for days at Oceanview, a spot where the James River met the Chesapeake Bay. If only we had known what was in that water! If only we had known about skin cancer! Continue reading →

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Not A Sermon

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Last summer, I was asked to take part in the Open Mic at Blue Hill’s first ever Pridefest. My remarks touched on a Disney Channel program. Below are those remarks from June, followed by an update:

A revolution happened last night, captured in the three words “Cyrus looked back,” but you probably didn’t notice.

But the story, at least for me, starts decades ago.

Born in 1963, I grew up with no positive gay images. Looking back, I realize that there were gay and lesbian people all around me in my childhood, teachers, neighbors. I mean, those two housemates across the street were not just housemates.

The only use of the word gay I ever heard was on the sitcom “Soap,” where Billy Crystal’s character was strenuously not gay because the man he loved was transgender, though pre-operative.

By the time I got out of the Army in the mid-1980’s, I had the language I needed, and a pretty clear understanding of what would happen if people knew you were gay, as I watched more than a dozen members of my unit face prosecution and discharge. Nonetheless, I came out shortly after I returned to college. Continue reading →

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Vogue: November 12, 2017

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Sermon delivered on November 12, 2017
at First Congregational Church in Blue Hill

The run up to Thanksgiving feels as fraught this year as last, maybe more so as people dig in and refuse to sit at table with other family members after last year’s debacle. Uncle Fred didn’t know his niece was dating a person of color, and grandma’s comment about “queers” wasn’t really aimed at her grandson, but the damage was done and the wounds are not healed. There is no doubt plenty of “but it’s their turn” and “no way, I’m not going,” going on in households across the country.

It is hard to stay in relationship at the best of times, and the “me-first” rabid individualism of our consumer age is not the best of times. Add to that the Molotov cocktail of white nationalism and “us vs. them,” and it is surprising that any two people can sit in the same room, for while scripture may declare that where two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, he too will be there, so am I convinced that where two or more are gathered there politics will be also. Reinhold Niebuhr famously called politics “where conscience and power meet,” but there isn’t always power, sometimes there is only longing for a world that could be, whether it is a world of some romanticized past or a world that is the stuff of dreams, Dickensian ghosts of what was and what might be. For the ghost of the present, politics is a free-floating anxiety, the elephant in every room. Continue reading →

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The Storm: November 5, 2017

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I am not a gold card sort of a guy. Sure, I made some nice coin when I was in the tech industry, but not enough for platinum or titanium, and I’m not really that flashy. But I do have one gold card. With it, I can pay for my Grande Mocha at Starbucks, not much use around here.

It never occurred to me that Mocha meant more than the intersection of two amazing things, coffee and chocolate, but it turns out there is a Mocha Island, just off the coast of Chile, and historically inhabited by the Mapuche people. Considerable evidence has emerged in recent years that the Mapuche had contact with Polynesians, of great interest to anthropologists, though it is something else that happened in the waters around Mocha that still captivates our attention, even if we don’t know it. In the early decades of the 19th century, the region was home to an albino sperm whale called Mocha Dick. Continue reading →

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Port and Call: October 15, 2017

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Sermon delivered October 15, 2017
at First Congregational Church in Blue Hill (UCC)

Early this week, Steve Pocock stopped by my office with a bottle of fine port. I’m not sure how he knew, whether there was a stray comment over dinner, or if it was pure luck, but port is one of my vices. In fact, I’d absolutely say yes to service as a Yeoman in exchange for the promised glass of port. Sadly, I am not qualified for that task.

The Yeomen of the Guard were created by the British monarch King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field during the War of the Roses. Today, while they are still understood as bodyguards of the monarch, the role is purely ceremonial. The sixty yeoman are appointed, each retired after distinguished service in the British military. Their uniforms are similar to those of a more familiar group of Yeomen, the Beefeaters.

The payment in port happens as part of the State Opening of Parliament. This day-long event is, on one level, completely mundane. It is the functioning of government in a constitutional monarchy, where the Queen delivers a speech, called the Queen’s Speech, or King’s when there is a male on the throne, a rarity in the last two centuries, that outlines the ruling party’s legislative agenda for the coming session. Continue reading →

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Between Here and Promise: October 8, 2017

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I have a lover’s quarrel with country music. I’m from the south, grew up listening to Hank Williams and country stars of the 1960s and 70s, though by the middle of the latter decade I was hooked on Led Zeppelin, Rush, and rock and roll, with all of the associated sins. I did my best as a teen, young adult and soldier to check every box I could. Though seriously, with all of the boozing and adultery in country music, I’m not sure why rock has such a bad reputation. I rediscovered country music about a decade ago, though it sometimes feels like juggling chainsaws, moving between rock, country, classic and hip-hop, from Pearl Jam to Puccini, from Kendrick Lamar to Kenny Chesney.

It is a lover’s quarrel with country music because so many of the songs speak of love and fidelity, simplicity and hard work, family and faith, things that matter to me, what we might rightly call virtues. But many other songs and far too many of the singers engage in idolatry, worship America’s new gods, the flag, the gun, football. The irony is lost on so many country music fans, the US Armed Forces honored and the US flag venerated by the same folks that celebrate the treasonous Confederacy, the flags of the warring sides side by side from the back of a Ford F-150 pick-up, a bold proclamation of racism. Continue reading →

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Entebbe : October 1, 2017

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With the country more and more divided by the day, it seems that few subjects are safe for discussion in public. Seriously, even sport is now mostly off limits. The weather isn’t safe. That fellow in the checkout line might be a climate change denier with a gun in the truck. We have forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable. Forget “road rage.” We have “nation rage.” Continue reading →

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The Trickster: September 24, 2017

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It is seriously just one step above money and a package changing hands under a flickering light in an otherwise dark parking lot. It was clearly happening before the internet, but the web made it that much easier. The source was overseas traffickers, of course, but once it was in the US, copies were made on VHS and eventually DVD, this illicit video, packages with handwritten labels, and the mere mention on Facebook making tempers flare and bringing racist trolls out from under the bridges.

It is “Song of the South,” a 1946 Disney film I mentioned early in the summer, one that combined live action and animation, Uncle Remus telling tales. It was based on the stories of Joel Chandler Harris, originally published in seven volumes during late Reconstruction. Some would call it cultural misappropriation, for the stories belong to the African-American tradition, and Harris learned them down on the plantation during his childhood. To borrow from another Disney film, they are tales as old as time, with analogs in African folktale. Continue reading →

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