28 April 2012

The Grand Experiment: Jazz Prayers

This morning around 10:30am I left the rental chateaux on my breezer and headed to the fairgrounds.  I rambled up to the entrance by Liuzza's by the Track (I'm sure there is an official name but I don't know it) and found a place along the fence (between the family selling ice cold water and the dude on the other side of the street selling feed bags and hats) and set up shop.

Dress: I wore my blue clergy shirt and dog collar, old wool taxi driver's/fiddler's cap, shorts, new cheap sun glasses that make everything look dark red, and black sandals.  Equipment: my sign (see below), my 1963/4 Royal Aristocrat manual typewriter, a stack of white paper, a NOLA blonde, a bottle of water, and a milk crate. I taped the sign to the typewriter, sat down, and waited.  (Pictures are forthcoming, if folk remember to tag me/post them on facebook).

My goal: to make enough for a ticket, a beer, a bowl of pheasant gumbo, a bowl of white chocolate bread pudding, and the latest volume of Dr. Michael White's.  I made enough for a ticket in a couple of hours but I had to leave early.  Why? I forgot my chair and had to sit on my milk crate, there are more comfortable pieces of furniture.

So what did I do?  I typed prayers/blessings for folk as they entered.  When they approached I asked them what band(s) they were going to see and what food they wanted to eat then made a prayer/blessing based off of that.  I also renewed the wedding vows of a couple.  I had a prayer request for a class action lawsuit.  I had a person who had deep problems and wanted some help.  For both I wrote a prayer that would help them alleviate their anxiety so they could enjoy the fest.  For the latter I created a vague prayer, told the person to fill in the blanks, pray the prayer and then throw it away.  I was given a business card because one person liked my creativity.  In between I posted updates on facebook and sang songs from Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer cd.

Reactions: i would say only about 20 people really got what I was up to; they understood the spiritual nature of Jazz Fest.  There were quite a few people who were taken with the originality of the idea (even though i gave the dude from San Fran via NPR all the credit).  One man told his wife that people really have to work at standing out at Jazz Fest and that I had definitely done that.
Other reactions: many people thought for sure I was a front for black market tickets, they kept coming up to me asking for tickets or flashing some kind of esoteric signal.  But I was just writing prayers.  One jerk rode by on a bicycle and asked if I was selling tickets?  I said I was writing prayers.  He then replied, "I want tickets not (insert a f-bomb with an active participle) prayers - did he know there was a ticket booth not 20 feet from where he made this declaration?
Another person asked if I was for real.
A small bunch of prudes were smuggish in their disapproval.
One person who had serious beef with organized religion (I thought I was pretty disorganized) shouted how no part of religion should ever be for sale (I gave away several, plus it was donations only)
A stoned man thought I was the greatest thing since slice bread, he just stood in front of me, pointed and couldn't stop giggling.
Finally, I was the subject of many photographs.  If you ever run across a copy, please send me a copy.

Friends: I saw many friends, it was great to see them and type prayers/blessings for them.

New Friends: three women who hugged and kissed me after I gave them their prayer/blessing.
Festival people: The two people who were collecting cans, I set up my operation near a trash can.  We even developed a pact, they would watch my back and I would guard the trash can from other people gathering cans.  Sure. They even asked if I would be out all weekend.
Festival Vendor Etiquette - pretty easy to pick up on, just don't get too near each other.

Biggest Lesson Learned: one, people are fascinated with manual typewriters, especially when someone uses them.  When I would start typing people would gather around, jockey to see what I was doing, and then take pictures like crazy.  two, Kant was right - we are religious beings with an a priori towards religious expressions.  Even though I didn't make a ton of money, people desired/needed blessings.  I've always thought this but this experience gave me proof.  three, despite our technological connectivity an electronic box cannot replace real life human interaction: a prayer, a blessing, a laugh, a confession, a responsive/listening set of ears.

Will I do it again?  Heaven yes.  When?  This Sunday, that's when.  Look for my sign.

23 April 2012

Jazz Prayers

This Friday the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation kicks off its Annual Jazz Fest.  I cannot wait for its arrival.  JazzFest, for me, is the high holy day of the year.  I do not say that lightly, I am purposively framing the event in religious language.  For me, it is the opportunity to experience Christmas and Easter (it is hard for a pastor to plan and preach and worship on these days, well most Lord's days for that matter) and earn a year's worth of continuing education credits!

I was planning to go only one day this year with the missus next week.  Then she suggested that I go and sell some of her (jazz)fest bags at the fest on Friday.  Inner monologue: "you want me to go to Jazz Fest and walk around with your bags around my shoulder until I sell all of them?  No problem."  Then this morning as we drove back to the house I thought, I'm gonna do even better.  I'm going to take my typewriter, a Royal Aristocrat, and write prayers for the people as they go in.  I'm going do that until I make enough to cover the cost of my ticket.

Maybe you heard the story on NPR of Zach Houston, the man who writes poetry in San Francisco on his typewriter for a living.  I loved this story.  The closest to this cool of an idea I've ever had was a a few years ago when I proposed putting a table and two chairs out in front of the church.  I would be in my clergy shirt and collar (I wear a blue shirt - blue = Baptist + water).  On the table would be an urn of coffee, a few cups, and a sign that read, "Conversation" that's all.  I was curious if people would stop by for a cup of coffee and conversation.  But I never did it, I chickened out or just forgot about it.

I'm sure most people will think I'm joking, but I am not.  I am going to wear my clergy shirt and dog collar, maybe even a stole.  If folk want blessed, I'll bless them.  If folk want me to marry them inside the fest, I will.  But mainly I am going to write prayers for them.  Why?  For me, Jazz Fest is a spiritual experience: the music, the community, the food, the celebration, and the overwhelming feeling and experience of art.  That experience, for me, needs to be marked, ritualized, and honored - to repeat in the manner of the artist who created Genesis, "And God saw that it was good."  I'm not comparing myself to God, but from someone who has devoted his life to the study and practice and Christianity JazzFest is "good" for the body, mind, heart, and soul.

Yes, on Friday morning I'll be there - where, well I'm not sure yet, probably by the bicycle parking lot - with my Royal, a stack of paper, and a sign until I make enough from my prayers to get in.  If no one pays for my prayers I don't care because it is the act of doing it that matters most.  I'm not seeking to change the world on Friday, but I am looking for an outlet to practice and live out my calling in a small creative and meaningful way.

My typing needs some practice, but I have time between now and Friday.  

21 April 2012

The Microhumorist Strikes Again

Sometime shortly after moving to New Orleans my youngest son made his first strike as a microhumorist. Around the age of three he became enthralled with bookmarks, primarily he wanted to look at them and observe the artwork on them.  No big deal, until he started pulling bookmarks from the books I was reading.  Being a young fine and proper gentleman he would attempt to replace the bookmarks as best as a three year old could; most of the time he would almost replace the bookmark near the place where it was originally placed, making his act even more menacing.

Imagine yourself sitting down in your favorite reading chair for the evening, about to do some serious reading, you open your book where your bookmark is placed but you cannot for the life of you figure out where you left off, because your youngest had put your bookmark back in the wrong place. Funny sure, annoying yes.  Eventually the youngest grew out of this little playful habit.

This morning I put the water on for coffee and turned the radio on to listen to NPR.  As I waited to right the ratio of my blood and caffeine levels I noticed that the stories on NPR didn't sound just right.  They were news stories alright but they were not NPR news stories.  By chance I slowly turned the tuner clockwise and then it hit me, the microhumorists had struck again.  This morning as he walked past the radio he reached his hand up and gently turned the tuner from NPR to the station for the blind. The local station for the blind has a dedicated and lovely rotation of volunteers who come in every morning to read aloud the local newspaper.

I probably enjoy these little moments of tomfoolery because of my own dabbles in microhumor.  Here are three of my favorites.

1.  One evening during my freshman year of college my roommate and I were both working on essays (we wrote them out in long hand back then).  My roommate took a break and stepped out of the room for a moment.  While he was down the hall I walked over to his desk, found his essay, and discovered that he had stopped mid-sentence.   I am not for sure what possessed me to do such an act but I picked up his pencil and wrote the word sh*t as the last word in his unfinished sentence.  A few moments later he returned, sat down at his desk and commenced to pick up where he left off.  But he couldn't, he stared at his paper for a good piece, then he reread his last paragraph four or five times.  Finally I couldn't stand it anymore and released my pent up laughter.  I dont know if he ever got me back, but if he didn't my youngest has for him!

2.  A few years ago I wanted to expose my nephew to a variety of worship experiences, so I took him to an Episcopal service in Charleston, WV.  I knocked on the door, my sister-in-law let me in while her then husband went to retrieve my nephew.  I looked on the kitchen table and noticed my then brother-in-law had been working on the crossword puzzle.  I quickly grabbed his pen and filled in a seven word clue with "redbull."  A few moments later my then brother-in-law returned to his chair and commenced to finish the crossword puzzle.  A few minutes later he started cursing under his breath about the craziness of the puzzle that particular morning, then he yelled out loud why he had answered redbull for 27 across, then he looked up at me and saw my mischievous grin, cursed at me and told me to get out.  It was a good morning.

3.  Finally.  The first year me and the missus were married her father and mother, sister and nephew, and another niece traveled to Virginia to pay us a visit.  I don't know how we all crammed into our half a rented house but we did.  It was a great time.  Except that during most of the visit my father-in-law kept giving me a hard time, teasing me about all kinds of stuff.  One night I had had enough, so I did what anyone else would have done to their 77 year old father-in-law, I hid his teeth.  The next morning as he got up from bed I put my ear on the door and heard him ask my mother-in-law where she moved his teeth to.  I knew I could not let this go on very long.  I knocked on the door and said now let this be a lesson to you next time you start giving me a hard time.  Despite my cleverness he never stopped giving me a hard time, but to the day he died if he knew I was coming to his house he would put his teeth in a special hidden place where I could never find them.  I think of you often Leo, you were a fine man.

16 April 2012

Sermon: Surprised by Peace

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching; it was in a non-UU church so no one left when I read from the gospel.  You will notice that I stop in the middle of reading the gospel lesson to underscore the difficulty of reading John.  As I was reading the organist's hand slipped and hit an errant note.  The note hit right when I read "for fear of the Jews" and reminded me that silence when reading John is not acceptable.  A few months ago a rabbi friend of mine attended a Christian service which contained a lesson from John's gospel.  The lesson had one of the damaging quotes towards "the Jews" and no one bothered to provide context or sought understanding.  So every time I read from John I always hear my friend's remarks concerning John.

The sermon is a little different than others.  Why?  I found myself thinking on my feet more.  Even though I had a text in front of me I veered away from it a few times.

Hope you enjoy.

Surprised by Peace  or if you are not in mood to navigate away, here is a nice little widget to assist your listening pleasure.

Oh The People You'll Meet

While boarding my plane on Saturday I pulled up an email that contained my boarding pass, placed my phone underneath the scanner and scanned myself onto the plane.  No big deal, I would say about 15% of most passengers are using this method.  But to the woman behind me you would have thought I was Willy Wonka making chocolate drops rain down on the tarmac.

She grabbed my shoulder and asked, "how did you do that?"  
"The airline sends you an email." 
"You mean you don't have to be handsome Mr. Delta man to get that kind of treatment?"
I uncomfortably grinned.

As we transitioned from the movable tunnel to the airplane I was checking an email when the stewardess put her hand in my chest and said,  "Mr. Marshall (I was wearing a cap from my alma mater) I need you to wait here a minute."

Woman amazed at the wonders of technology couldn't resist. 
"Look he pulls that phone out again and things happen.  Now the stewardess is doing something special for him."
I explained that she was serving coffee to the first class passengers.
But she wasn't finished.
"Are you in the armed forces?"
"I am not."
"Well, if you were my husband and I were going to grab you around the neck and kiss you all over."  

Inner Monologue: Please God do not let her have seat 16B.

I made my way to my assigned seat and found a gentleman in the seat next to me.  As a rule I generally do not talk to people on airplanes.  Why? Because if you let it slip that you are a person of the cloth...  Only one time did that work to my favor, turned out the gentleman sitting next to me was the Dean of the Univ. of Chicago Divinity School.  

Perhaps my guard was down, perhaps I was tired, perhaps all kinds of things, nevertheless I let it slip.  Luckily the man sitting next to me was more interested in hearing himself talk than listening to me.  In less than 10 minutes I learned that this man had done the following:

1.  Used to hunt alligators with Cajuns.  Yet he had no idea where Cajun country was located.  hmmm.
2.  Claimed he was a "honorary New Orleanian" because he used to eat at Mother's when it was on the docks.  Yet Mother's is a tourist restaurant and is located on Poydras Street not on the docks.
3.  Took full responsibility for coming up with the idea of the parent first putting on the safety mask and then putting on the child in case of emergency instructions for airplanes.
4.  Has written a book on rules of money, each chapter titles begins with a misogynistic pun.  Yes, he shared one or two.
5.  Plays poker that costs $50,000 to join.  
6.  Is an insurance specialists who runs seminars to help people get out of debt, yet he is a poker player.

I still had 1 hour and 50 minutes left on the plane.  I took action!

{Sometime during the formation period of my life I was given a gift, a special Norvell trait passed onto me from my father: controlled narcolepsy.  I can flip a switch and nap anywhere, anytime!}  

During a millisecond lull I, Mr. Marshall, grabbed my cap, put it over my eyes, told my row mate that I would catch up with him later, and slept for the next hour and fifty minutes.  

When the plane landed and I awoke he was ready to dispense more wisdom.  He pulled out of his carry on bag (a plastic grocery bag) a book on reading people.  He said he knew I was finished talking when I grabbed my hat and started to put it on...

But I smiled the whole time because earlier that day I saw Turtle Man.  That's right as I waited for my flight Turtle Man and his associate exited from the gate across from mine.  They were in a hurry to catch their next flight but everyone wanted to meet them.  Turtle Man shook a few hands then took off running down the corridor.  He was like Moses, everyone parted for him, gave him high fives, and every so often he would let out his trademark call.  

If you've never seen the Turtle Man in action, allow me to introduce you to him.

Oh the people you'll meet indeed!  

11 April 2012

Looking for Something

If you were to gaze over to the right hand side of this blog and then scroll down a bit you would notice a list titled "The All Time Greatest Hits."  Blogger, via Google, has complied my posts which have generated the most hits over the course of this blog.

Reader, I have been blogging since 2005, a full 7 years, there have been some great posts, sermons, ideas, and pictures generated by this author -IMHO of course.  But if you look on the list you will notice that my #1 all time post is...a sarcastic article on dressy sweatpants.  I cannot get over how many times people have found my blog searching for dressy sweat pants!

Seekers find this blog for other top reasons, some practical, i.e Toddler Hemorrhoids, or some pragmatic, Sermon on Matthew 25 (usually on a Saturday night!).  But there someone found my blog today that left me speechless.  Someone in North Carolina placed the following words in the search engine, "audio sermons my old fashioned mother"  Go ahead and do it yourself, or allow me. I'll be damned if I'm not the Fourth one down!  How in the world did my blog end up two down from The Meanest Mother in the World and barely behind Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Audio Sermons?  It baffles my mind!

But then again I did like it that someone from Australia found my blog by typing, Funky Mission Statements.  I tried but I still didn't emerge by page 30.   I wonder if Independent Fundamentalists Baptist Audio Sermons has a funky mission statement?

While Supplies Last!

This evening you can be one of the first people, maybe even the first, on the planet to purchase the newest artistic creation of Material Girl: The Camellia bag (is that the real name?  I dunno but I am pressed for time here folks).    I am making no promises on inventory, you'll have to be there when it opens and take your chances.  Here is a sneak peek!

The bag will make its debut this evening at the Harrison Avenue Market in the Lakeview section of New Orleans.

10 April 2012

Easter ReRun

Odd experience of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter this year.  In some ways it didn't feel like the season at all while in other ways it was the most spiritually nourishing time I've had in years.

We observed Holy Week by attending a social justice themed Good Friday stations of the cross through New Orleans.  I cried through the whole thing.  When you find a group of really liberal Catholics you almost, stressing the ambiguity of almost, begin to think of being one.  It was fantastic.  Holy Saturday was spent with the kids while the missus peddled her wares at the Freret St. Festival.  The kids and I stopped by at the festival; we had a donut, ate some jambalaya (not with the donuts). Afterwards we headed to the library to stock up for the week and checkout #1's favorite movie of all time: The Sound of Music.  It was a great day.

Easter was a calculated day.  The missus and I talked it over and over, finally we decided on a bold move: we skipped Easter.  I reckoned that my next 25 to 30 Easters will be accounted for.  So we decided to celebrate in a once in a lifetime way, we went to the French Quarter.  We put on Easterish clothes (the ladies decorated their hats) and headed to Cafe DuMonde for beignets and coffee and to catch a parade. But while we were eating fried dough and powered sugar the parade came and went.  Oh well.  The kids climbed the trees in Jackson Square and I marveled at the wise wardrobe choice I made for eating beignets.  You see reader, if you have never eaten this delectable delights in the fine establishment, Cafe DuMonde empties a 60lb bag of powered sugar into a dispenser for your beignets every two hours.  After an order, despite your best attempts, you end up wearing a good portion of that 60lbs.  See the picture for my wise choice.  After the FQ we headed to a friend's house for supper, conversation, and wonderful NOLA weather.  It was a great day but I gotta tell you - I missed Easter, so much.

Since I didn't write a sermon this year I am posting my 2011 Easter message.  If you weren't here or have forgotten it already...enjoy.

So here we are just you and I trying to figure out this crazy day.  Maybe you are here under duress, forced to dress up in clothes you don’t like and urged to sing songs you’re not in the mood to sing, maybe you are here for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, with curious intimations, maybe you are here for the 75th time knowing for sure you have heard the old, old story in just about every manner and every which way but loose, or maybe, just maybe you are hoping to catch a glimpse of some good news, enough to help you make it through the day. 
                        Let us pray,
O God take our hands and work through them
                             our eyes and see through them
our minds and think through them
                        and take our hearts and set them on fire.  Amen.
            On the comfortable night of Christmas with the birth of Joseph’s and Mary’s babe we were given the promise of Immanuel, God is with us.  And for 33 odd years the promise rang true.  Then it all ended on Good Friday with the death of Jesus.  In a Nazi prison cell, awaiting his own execution, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this poetic interpretation of the Christmas promise and Good Friday, “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.  He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps.

            I find in Bonhoeffer’s words a strange comfort, especially on Easter morn, especially as we hear Jesus’ word of Greeting.  His greeting is not of this world, the world of power and politics, the world of greed and commerce, the world of war and hate, forced out of “that world” onto a cross and into the real world undetected, anonymous, subterranean; the real world of love, grace, peace, healing, and religious affections.  This morning let us set our hearts on the intimations in Jesus’ first words from the grave as the sign for how God re-initiated the relationship with the disciples, with creation and this morning with us. 

            For three years Jesus walked, talked, ate, slept, cajoled, loved, graced, healed, taught, lifted up, challenged, questioned and formed the men and women we call disciples.  For three years he shared out his heart, mind, body, and soul with them, sparing not one ounce of his love from them.  And then…and then on Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion, the day of his execution, the day of his death they were nowhere to be found, seen or heard from.  And then…and then he appeared on Easter morn with his first word, Greetings!  Hello! 

            It is subtle yet remarkable new beginning but then this is Easter.

            In and out of the past 40 days of Lent we have been churning in the waters of sin, the waters of the Seven Deadly Sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and, pride.  The list was designed as a teaching tool by the church fathers and mothers to educate believers about sin; to give concrete examples of how sin is not just harmful but lethal; how it destroys human life and human community.  The Seven Deadly Sins offer us a prism to refract how sin weaves, works, and slithers into our hearts and minds.  At first glance the list seems dangerous but not deadly; the sins seem too personal to cause societal harm.  And that is their paradoxical genius they are so personal they are societal.  We have committed all seven of them, as has our society.  We have witnessed lives and societies torn asunder by them.  We have been victims of the effects of these sins. We live in a society that perpetuates and enables these sins over, and over, and over again.  Sin is both a personal action that we commit and a condition that our world lives with.

            What we talk about when we talk about sin is idolatry – the conscious and unconscious decision to swap the Living God for a false god(s).  The swap is never plain and simple like declaring one day to your family and friends, I am now a follower of Thor.  Instead, the swap takes place slowly over time whereby the false gods of our day infiltrate their destructive and damaging ways.
            The Seven Deadly Sins, not generic sin, names the destructive patterns and methods of sin in our lives.  By naming the sin and describing the action of sin we are able to illuminate them and, hopefully, begin to lifelong process of loosening the bonds of sin on our souls.  The list provides us with a way to understand how sin, which Martin Luther, defined as a heart turned inward on itself.  The list also provides us for a way to understand the full effect of sin which Nathaniel Hawthorne described as the withering of the human soul.  And the list provides us a way to experience Easter.

            On Easter morn, one word, greeting encapsulated the way of God’s heart.  In that one word our internal compass began to point to true north. Sin’s goal is to turn our hearts and minds inward to focus only ourselves; sin does not seek to increase among creation the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.  Jesus’ goal was to live a life with a heart turned outward to the world to increase the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self among men and women …and God honored that life on Easter morn. 

After the Resurrection there was no room in Jesus’ heart for bitter anger or resentment directed to the disciples for their abandonment of him in his great hour of need, there was only room to start the relationship over in a new and deeper way, Greetings. 
For the most part we prefer to define one another according to sin rather than according to God’s grace.  But God will not let us get away with this type of understanding.  Jesus’ greeting to the disciples on Easter morn stands in our way. Despite the failings of the disciples, despite our failings God in Jesus Christ did not/does not give up on us.  Greetings!  This morning we are reminded that God does not give up on us. 

You may have heard G. K. Chesterton’s famous quip, It is not that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.  For the most part he is right, most of us simply cannot go through with the demands of Christianity then along comes someone who just doesn’t or doesn’t know about the difficulty and everything changes, instead of silence or bitterness there is a Greeting. 
            In recent years it seems every major leader of the Revolutionary period has been the subject of a major biography, just this past week Ron Chernow won the Pulitzer for his work on George Washington but there is another person of the same period who had the courage, the capacity, and conviction – Easter conviction who did far more for our nation than Washington, Adams or Jefferson.  His name was John Woolman born in 1720 near Mount Holly, NJ.  The way he sought to abolish America’s original sin of slavery illustrates a life of Greetings, a heart turned outward.  

            For the first 36 years of his life he lived a normal American Quaker existence.  In 1756 he left his burgeoning merchandise business, he felt it was pulling him away from following God’s “openings.” He began recording the motions of God’s opening in what is now the thin volume entitled, The Journal of John Woolman, second only to the Bible as the longest in print book in America.   

            In 1746 while visiting Quakers in North Carolina he came face-to-face with the evils of chattel slavery.  He knew he had to do something but what?  Society was not interested in abolition, slavery kept the plantations in the South prospering, the merchants in New York supplied, and the Yankee rum industry fermenting.  He could not turn for help from his brother and sister Quakers.  In 1730 they flatly squashed any and all debate of an anti-slavery campaign.  Fellow Quaker Benjamin Lay, an Englishman via Barbados had emigrated to America to take up the anti-slavery cause but instead of finding a welcome home among Quakers in 1730 they expelled him from the Society of the Yearly Meeting.  Woolman had to find his own way.

            He did what he did best, he traveled and he talked.  A few weeks each year he would travel up and down the East coast to visit with Quakers who owned slaves until his death in 1772.  He was persuasive,  not confrontational.  His effort was a household by household ordeal.  Some hearts were changed by his words, most were not.  His life was a life of Greetings – an incarnate means to increase the love of God, neighbor, and self.  Once God said hello to Woolman in the manner of an Easter Greeting, he knew that in this new world slavery had no place.  By 1787, without notice or fanfare, 15 years after his death, no American Quaker owned a slave, largely because of his quiet loving work and his enduring legacy. His life and his work are refractions of Easter, of Greetings, of a heart turned outward towards the world.

            The writer(s) of the book of Hebrews gave some instruction about how we are to live this life of Easter, they are not easy words, “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it is.”   Those words are an imperative for Easter living, live a life with the full commitment of increasing the love of God, neighbor and self with every individual you come in contact with, not just some but all. 

            On an August night in 1962 Fannie Lou Hamer attended a mass meeting at the Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville, MS to hear one of Martin Luther King’s right hand men, James Bevel.  Bevel delivered a short sermon based on the Sermon on the Mount that with a proclamation, the time had come for blacks in the Mississippi delta to organize to register to vote.  Fannie, a 44 year old woman, answered the call.   At the end of the month she and 17 other people boarded a bus and rode 30 miles to Indianola, so they could register.  After waiting all day the clerk rejected her attempt.  The 18 boarded the bus and started home.  Barely out of city limits the bus was pulled over and a citation was issued.  Everyone on the bus was scared to death until Fannie began singing, Have a Little Talk with Jesus, This Little Light of Mine, and Down by the Riverside.    

            From then she was known as the voice of the Sunflower County movement.  Despite losing her job, her house, her network of friends and security, despite having the room she slept in littered with shotgun blasts, she preserved as a foot solider for justice.  Then there was Freedom Summer in Greenwood, MS in1963.

            After a mass meeting Ms. Hamer and others were arrested as they traveled home.  The police took them to the county jail instead of the city jail. Three women were singled out for a beating.  Fannie was last.  The police got two African-American male prisoners whiskey drunk, ordered Fannie to lay face down, and instructed the men to beat her without mercy as they watched.  When the ordeal ceased Fannie’s back was so bruised and her body so disfigured, she could not lay down on her bed and she could not speak.  It would take her over a month to recuperate, she was left with permanent kidney and leg walking damage.  A decade later as a result of complications from her beating she would die from breast cancer . 

            Somehow she was able to compose and reinsert herself as a mother of the movement.  The following summer of ’64 at the Democratic National Convention Senator Humber Humphrey, who was campaigning for Vice President, would call her “that illiterate black woman.” The wounds on her body, the haunting memories in her mind, and the raining insults could not stop her Greetings to the world, she found the strength to turn her heart outwards.  She was living in a new world and no one could tell her otherwise.  She stated time and time again that civil rights had to be an inter-racial movement.  She stated time and time again that unless justice and freedom were extended to all then justice and freedom were useless principles.

            The Civil Rights Movement is full of tragic and triumphant stories, which for me, stand out more than others in Christian history because they are full of Easter stories: human flourishing and abundant life were so close, repentance & metanoia were so close they could kiss, racial reconciliation and non-violence, and peace were wedded, truth and transformation could not be untangled.

            If Easter is to be the day that transforms our lives, that reorients creation, and turns our hearts outwards to the world then it must be the day when we too feel the pull of God’s arm when God resurrected Jesus from the dead.  It must be a day that enlivens us to continue our work despite the lack of progress or relevance.  It must be the day that we hear with our ears and feel in our souls Jesus’ Greeting. 

            In closing, it was the Rev. A. J. Muste who everyday during the Vietnam war stood outside of the Whitehouse with a candle holding vigil until the war ceased.  One night in the pouring rain a reporter asked him what he thought he was accomplishing with his simple act of protest, did he really think he was going to change the world?  Muste responded, Oh I’m not doing this to change the world.  I’m doing this so the world doesn’t change me! 

            This morning brothers and sisters we are called to live our lives as Easter people, to say Greetings to the world over, and over, and over again so we can change the world and the world does not change us – regardless if anyone ever takes notice of our efforts and attempts to heal the world, to mend the brokenness of creation, to increase among men and women the love of God, the love of neighbor and the love of self. 

We are Easter people to whom God has extended his greeting, a hello which in a physical way states God’s grace is greater than all our sin.  Brothers and Sisters, allow God to turn your heart inside out, for we are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.  Amen & Amen.

09 April 2012

Some Sunny Day

Goodbye my love, till we meet again.  I know you will be waiting.

05 April 2012

More This than That

Holy Week as a freelance preacher is a little bizarre.  I have spent the week grading 7/8 year olds for baseball, volunteering at #3's kindergarten class, constructing a portable dressing room, and finalizing how the family and I will celebrate Easter.

1.  Baseball.  Today being the official opening day of MLB I am quite excited; I may even bring the television out of the closet for this.  Grading for 7/8 league is over, around 200 boys.  The kids get four pitches to hit, then they run to 2nd base, field three ground balls, and one pop fly - that's it.  Not a whole lot to form an opinion but enough.  I can't wait for the season to start.  Little man is playing also, but I am only an assistant for his team (I do know other dads who coach two teams, but that is too much for me at this time).

2.  Volunteering.  Yesterday #3's K class had holiday centers for which I volunteered.  I arrived in the K room a few moments early and chatted with some of the other parents.  One day introduced himself as the parent of X.  I said I was the #3's parent to which he responded, "You're the Jameson guy.  That was great."  Reader, you may recall my Leprechaun trap a few weeks ago.  #3's teacher also loved the trap, the missus showed her a picture of it on her phone one day before school.  The teacher asked for me to email her the picture of the trap, which I did.  The teacher then included the picture in the weekly K newsletter!  With the caption (This was a parent's trap, it was not sent into school).  I was almost as happy as when my first guest column appeared in The Times-Picayune.

3.  The portable dressing room.  The missus has been designing and creating more clothes than bags/totes and she needs to have a dressing room for ladies to try her creations on.  So we came up with a design made out of PVC pipe.  I will post a picture later when it is finished and the curtain is installed.  I am employing the help of my progeny on this one, I am sure they will want to commandeer the changing room as some kind of fort or secret palace.

4.  Holy Week preparations.  I cant explain how unmooring it is not to have an Easter message for this season.  We, the family, are figuring out what to do for Holy Week.  Tonight I will probably take the kids to the Rice vs Tulane game, tomorrow we are going to an outdoor social justice themed Stations of the Cross and then to a friends house for a Seder.  Saturday is the Freret St. Festival (not exactly Holy Saturday kind of affair but there will be a women's roller derby exhibition meet).  Easter.  I may sneak and take the family to a Catholic service in the neighborhood - a friend of ours is a musician there (but the kids may protest since they will not be able to take communion - this is what going to a Catholic school for one year will do to young Protestants.  For them it is not a theological issue as much as a fairness issue).  Then we are off to the French Quarter for the Chris Owens parade.  And then Easter dinner with friends.

4a.  Chris Owens.  Yesterday I went to my barber for a trim.  He asked what I was doing for Easter.  I mentioned dinner first which led to a short discussion on meatballs (I told you this guy was the real deal).  Next I mentioned the Chris Owens parade.  The barber stopped for a moment, got a big smile on his face and talked about Chris Owens' legs for the next twenty minutes.  All I wanted was a trim, which I got, but never with the kind of exactness as yesterday; he even trimmed by eyebrows! which of course did not need trimming, in fact I don't know even why he did that!  I suppose he was enjoying talking about Chris Owens so much he did not want to end our conversation.

5.  Finally.  I am a facebook "liker" of Virginia-Highland Church (a UCC and Baptist congregation) in Atlanta.  The pastor there Rev. Michael Piazza is a trusted colleague.  I appreciate his work as one who has and is continuing to revitalize progressive Protestantism.  Yesterday on facebook his church posted a picture of their Easter banner.  I offer a picture of it as one the greatest Easter banners in Baptist history, "Mimosas for the adults."

I shared this picture on facebook and have enjoyed the responses from friends.  My favorite thus far, "Finally something for the adults! And we don't even have to search for it."

6.  Furthermore.  Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus issues his new commandment to love one another.  A few months ago I ran across this Allen Toussaint song (Hello, My Lover) sung by Boz Scaggs.  I couldn't help but re-imagine a line from this as a perfect Maundy Thursday line, 

"I'm gonna teach a brand new policy
I'm gonna teach you a lesson in loveology"

Readers, if you observe the day have a blessed Easter and may it be full of Resurrection.