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Pastors, Politics and Pot (Oh My!)

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I was recently asked if a line in a sermon, referencing “egos swimming in a sea of privilege,” was about a particular political candidate. As it happens, I served on Long Island for the last several years, with a constant stream of news stories about sociopathic excess in the Hamptons, and that was what I had in view as I wrote. In the same way, this Sunday’s references to misogyny had nothing to do with the fact that we have the first female presidential candidate in our nation’s history, and everything to do with the fact that I am a feminist, something you will also have noted in my use of inclusive imagery for God.

This raises an important set of questions, especially in an electoral season that seems more divisive and fraught than any I have experienced in my lifetime. Many a pastor has been accused of politics (defined as anything about which a particular congregant disagrees) or been informed that being political in church is “against the law.” This bears some exploration. Continue reading →

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Want to be

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Many years ago I was interviewing Glen Phillips, lead singer of the once popular and newly resurgent band Toad the Wet Sprocket. I noted that many of their songs dealt with the mistreatment of women, and that this seemed unusual for a group made up of four young men. His reply, not completely suitable for the pulpit, boiled down to the fact that he knew few women who had not suffered at the hands of men. This theme continued to appear on his solo albums, including the poignant “Men Just Leave,” a bitter pill wrapped in a confectionary beat on his 2001 release Abulum.

I don’t know his story, don’t know why he is so awake when it comes to the misogyny that permeates our culture, don’t know why I am awake to the misogyny that permeates our culture, but I am, and am committed, like Glen Phillips, to naming it where I see it. And so it was, in 2006, that I had my encounter with Jake. Continue reading →

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Living: July 31, 2016

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It is a long road from being a black teen beaten by the cops to being the Borough President in what the musical “Hamilton” calls “the greatest city in the world.” Eric Adams joined the NYPD dreaming that he might be a part of much needed reform, and served for 22 years before entering politics. Today he leads the newly fashionable hipster-haven of Brooklyn, and was recently interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, tackling the tricky issue of policing and race, a subject he knows all too well. In response to a question posed by Terry Gross, Adams responded “Who would have thought that Steve Jobs would have such an impact on policing in America?” Continue reading →

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From the Desert

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Delivered by the Rev. J. Gary Brinn on July 17, 2016
at First Congregational Church of Blue Hill

They say we become our parents, and I can sure see my late father when I watch my youngest sister. Amy and her husband Paul live in an old house, and the closets were not designed for our oversized lives. The bath towels only fit if they are folded a very particular way, and Paul, who is out of work for six to nine months on disability and trying to be helpful, has not mastered towel origami. Faced with a stack of mis-folded towels, Amy is apoplectic. Like my dad, her way is the right way.

At least she can sleep at night. This is not always the case, for Paul is a cop. It is a scary time to be in law enforcement. Weapons of mass murder are in all of our communities, paranoia runs rampant, fueled by politicians and the press. We refuse to fund care for the mentally ill and addicted. Extremists commit acts of unspeakable violence in the name of God, an Islamic Jihadi in Nice, a Christian Jihadi in Colorado Springs. Continue reading →

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Exuberant Reconciliation

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It came to him in the bathtub, though the phrase was coined by a professor at Yale. One doesn’t necessarily like to imagine someone like the chair of the Federal Reserve in the bathtub, but we all get ideas in the bath or shower, so there you are. The phrase itself was uttered in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute twenty years ago this coming December. The phrase was “irrational exuberance,” and the speaker was Alan Greenspan. He was referring to what he believed were the unrealistic valuations of dot-com companies. It was, he believed, a speculative bubble. Irrationality seems inherent in financial speculation, an exuberant feedback loop if ever there was one, in which the gap between prices and value widens until there is crisis and crash.

Humans behaved this way even before the shell game of our current financial system was invented, attaching insane values to real world objects. The first documented speculative bubble was Tulip Mania, which peaked in 1637. Though we think of tulips as a very Dutch thing, they were actually new to Europe at the time, imported from the Turkish realm of Suleiman the Magnificent. According to Charles Mackay’s contested 1841 account, at one point during the Dutch frenzy, a single bulb was traded for twelve acres of land, or the amount a skilled craftsman would earn in ten years. Then, the bubble burst, wrecking the Dutch economy. Continue reading →

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Ragnarök: A Sermon on the Marcan Apocalypse

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It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous.

These lines are not a description of the scriptural “Day of the Lord,” do not come from the Revelation to John, nor from the Book of Daniel, nor even from today’s text, the 13th Chapter of our gospel, a section often called the Marcan Apocalypse. The text is, instead, from Völuspá, an ancient Nordic epic, and from a particular section that focuses on Ragnarök, their equivalent of our apocalypse, when, in a period of great conflict and destruction, the current world ends and a new world is born.

So here’s the good news. Christians aren’t the only crazy ones. Other cultures have taken a good hard look at the world we live in and particularly at human behavior and decided that the best thing would be to start again from scratch. Continue reading →

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The Widow

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On Tuesday night, a small group of us gathered. We prayed, we read from an ancient book, we questioned. Our topic was the miracles of Jesus, his “deeds of power” to cite the text, especially those mighty deeds reported in the Gospel According to Mark. What are we to believe about those miracles in light of our modern scientific worldview? If we seek rational explanations, have we explained away Jesus himself? What is Jesus without the resurrection, the greatest miracle of all? These are not easy questions, but the refusal of so many Christians to bring our faith into conversation with our existence, our knowledge, has resulted in the emptying of the church, as our faith is seen as primitive, anti-science.

We, in the progressive church, are all about doing that hard work, asking the hard questions, for we believe the Way of Jesus is still relevant, that the world is still charged with the goodness and glory of that Divine Mystery we name as God, even if we choose a faith that is alive, that can adapt. We are willing to explore, to adventure, to bring scripture and the real world into conversation.

We started Tuesday night with a text from first Isaiah, Hebrew scripture that Jesus knew and could quote, that his Hebrew followers would have known, would recognize. The text places the miraculous acts of healing, of making whole, performed by Jesus in the context of the prophetic, in the context of the Kingdom of God. For it says this in the 35th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Continue reading →

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An undelivered sermon: Talitha Koum

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Worship was cancelled as the region attempted to dig out from Saturday’s blizzard. The scheduled reading was Mark 5:21-43

Many of the words used in academia and the sciences are derived from ancient Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean during the time of Jesus and the early church. A common root for many of these words is logos, found in biology, the study of life, and anthropology, the study of humans. Logos itself, like so many words, is multivalent, but most often means speech or word, though it always carries a secondary meaning of reason, or logic, another loan word from the same root. “-Ology” then is the reasonable or logical study of something, and in our religious heritage, it begins with theology, the reasonable study of Theos, or God. We have pneumatology, the logical study of the Holy Spirit, something I personally find to be a bit of an oxymoron, as the Holy Spirit does not seem to me to have much to do with logic or reason as humans understand them. Finally, there is Christology, the study of Jesus, often divided into high Christology and low Christology. Continue reading →

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Theme Park: A Sermon for Labor Day Weekend

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Popular artist Banksy is in the news again. How could he possibly top the buzz generated during his month-long residency in New York? Well, he’s done it. He has opened a pop-up dystopian theme park in the United Kingdom, a lovely little spot known as Dismaland. Moving beyond conception and creation, Banksy has also curated, bringing together the work of dozens of international artists, including Damien Hirst, whose work sells for millions.

Banksy challenges us, our values, the surveillance state. He pokes at our consumerism, the temple of capital. Lines blur, and you can’t always find the borders, the points where art and reality diverge. This is nowhere more clear than in the film “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which might be a failed documentary in which the camera-shy Banksy turns the camera back on the documentarian, or might just be a complete send-up. It is all sort of meta, the way Banksy uses the system to subvert and challenge the system. Continue reading →

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A Unison Prayer and Assurance

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We remember the shock of 9/11
that violence should so intrude
on our lives of peace and privilege.
Now the specter of violence hangs
over our houses of worship
over our theaters
over our schools
While countless millions
are rounded up
and rubbed out.
Fire our grief,
burning off our self-pity
leaving us with your word
that we might speak it to the world.

A God who can turn a stuttering fugitive murderer into the liberator of a nation can surely turn us into witnesses for justice, love and holy imagination. May we be makers of peace, and…

Pastor: May the Peace of Christ be with you.
People: And also with you.
Pastor: Let us greet our neighbors with a sign of Christ’s peace.

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