Postscript to Psalms of the Summer, by Steve Hyde

I know that summer's over, but I still don't have the psalms out of my system. I recently (like five minutes ago) came across a meditation by Richard Rohr in which he speaks of the psalms, and quotes Kathleen Norris as she writes about her Benedictine experience of praying and singing the psalms. I'd like to share it with you now as a postscript to our "psalms of the summer."

So much of our lives is dictated by our preferences, what we like and don't like. We all naturally gravitate toward what we find attractive, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But we need to be aware that there are things deeper than our preferences. If we do not recognize that, we will follow them addictively and never uncover our soul's deeper desires. Often the very things that don't appeal to us have the most to teach us spiritually.

If you're like me, you'd much rather spend time in the classical, medieval, or renaissance galleries than in modern exhibits. We tend to be attracted to whatever version of art makes us feel comfortable or reflects our worldview. We play this game of preference even in what we we've deemed the "sacred art" of the psalms. We prefer the calm bucolic scene of Psalm 23, but cringe when the psalmist mirrors back to us the messiness, violence, and confusion of being human. St. John Cassian (c. 360-c. 435) taught that the psalms carry in them "all the feelings of which human nature is capable."

Poet Kathleen Norris writes of her experience singing the psalms three times a day as a guest in a Benedictine monastery:

The psalms demand engagement, they ask you to read them with your whole self, praying, as St. Benedict says, "in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices." . . . You come to the Bible's great "book of praises" through all the moods and conditions of life, and while you may feel like hell, you sing anyway. To your surprise, you find that the psalms do not deny your true feelings but allow you to reflect on them.

But to the modern reader the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from an ancient warrior culture? At a glance they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that's the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms every day, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms "become like a mirror to the person singing them." . . . The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized.

In expressing all the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first.

The Psalms-like all great art-lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God.

I'd like for the psalms to get the last word: "O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you...My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast."

As Fall Arrives, by Cathy Baskin

As I listen to the energetic conversations of our PDO Preschool staff preparing to welcome children and families, I fully realize that summer is over! 

(Speaking of summer: I want to say thank you to the RBC congregation, for the generous gift of a month's sabbatical. It was a welcome time to reflect, mark some items off my "to-do" list, and enjoy being with friends and family. Thank you for giving me the opportunity take a break; and a special thanks to those who stepped up so that I could step away.)

Speaking of children and families: staff and volunteers have been in conversation about how we value and nurture our children at RBC. There have been many discussions about how we can creatively enhance our ministries and programs for them. Stay tuned!

As fall arrives, you will see the fruits of the planning that has continued during summer. I encourage you to take a good look at the newsletter to get a sense of all that is coming our way as we return to our regular schedule and programs:

  • Faith formation activities that will connect with the fall sermon series on Interrupting Silence;
  • Opportunities for fellowship: potluck breakfast this Sunday, and church picnic on the 16th;
  • Workshops, for 55+ and caregivers, on legal and financial planning;
  • Choir resumes and rehearsals begin for the Christmas Cantata, as music at RBC thrives;
  • The Fall Ethics Seminar series: Our Immigration Environment; and
  • Volunteer education and information session and dinner for refugee support (Good Neighbor Program).

And--- in March 2019, we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of RBC! Can you believe it? A working committee has begun making plans for the anniversary weekend.

As always, there is so much bubbling up in our life together. Welcome back to another year of living out our call to share love, do justice, and build community, as followers of Jesus!

Cathy

Star Words: Festivity?

This column appeared in our August 8, 2018 newsletter.

The last time we talked about Star Words, it was 16 degrees and we were about to welcome some nasty winter weather. It was the first Sunday in January when we celebrated Epiphany. Stranger Things guided us to that star the wise guys followed as they searched for the one that brought about hope, peace, joy, and love.

We each picked a yellow star from a basket during worship. They were completely random, but when we started talking at the door, some of us thought our words chose us. The idea was to take the word and see how we interacted with it this year. We might not like it so much. We might love it. But what might God teach us if we looked at the world with this word in mind?

Well, seven months into our faith-filled experiment, I'm here to tell you that my word, festivity has stuck with me in two ways:

1. I love to make meaning from just about everything, so I love making even the smallest event festive. I've paid attention to the joy it brings me even as I try to bring joy to others, and...

2. It's been a hard year to be festive. We've seen trauma, pain, hate, and greed run rampant in our country, and it's wearing on us. On the days when I've felt really down, I've tried to think about the word, festivity and wrestle with it a bit. It's reminded me that joy is essential to strength, resistance, and hope. 

I'm curious how this practice of Star Words has gone for you thus far in 2018. What was your word and how has it made its way into your vocabulary? Have you thought about it since that Epiphany Sunday? Send me an email, facebook message, give me a call or let's grab coffee. Let me know how these stars are guiding you as we look for the one who brings about hope, peace, joy, and love. 

Wishing you a festive week,

Leah

PS- It's not too late to get a Star Word if you need one! They hang out in a bowl in the pastors' office, so swing by and pick one up the next time you're at church. 

Anyone can be a psalmist, by Steve Hyde

Today is absolutely beautiful. Yesterday was hot and muggy, but a treat was in store for us today-blue sky, low humidity, and white, billowy clouds. I did a little sky gazing this afternoon, something I did a lot of when I was a boy. I looked up at the clouds, wondered if I still had it in me to see cloud formations, and almost instantly, there was a very large dog lying on its back, paws high in the air; a backside view of Winnie the Pooh, holding some kind of a club, looking over his left shoulder; and lo and behold, one of Michael Catlett's bow ties!

Maybe it's because we're listening to the psalms in our summer worship, but for a few minutes, I felt like a psalmist. When "breaking news" is heartbreaking and infuriating, the psalmist "looks to the hills, from which cometh our help." When the psalmist feels like an ant in a vast universe, it's the right time to look into the star-filled night sky with wonder, and marvel that not only is the Creator mindful of all of us, but we "have been crowned with glory and honor, only a little lower than God." When the psalmist wonders if it's possible to fall off the edge of the universe, it's time to pose rhetorical questions, "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" The questions are rhetorical because the psalmist knows that no matter how far we run, or how dark it seems around us, "the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you." The very human experience of being in a body, of feeling hunger and thirst, only points to the longing of our souls for God: "My soul waits in silence...God you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

The psalms offer us much needed perspective. It may help us with life on the ground to gaze into the sky, to be reminded of the beauty of God's creation, and our God-given place in the universal scheme. It may re-energize us to look within, and follow our own inner hungers to a first hand experience of God's Presence, and a Love that will not let us go.

Anyone can be a psalmist. All that's required is a little humility, even a momentary sense of awe, a small dose of introspective honesty, the slightest willingness to shake your fist and/or open your hands to the heavens. You have a slight advantage if you're hungry and thirsty. Whatever is present in the moment, direct it to God, who will make you lie down in green pastures, lead you beside still waters, restore your soul, and lead you in paths of justice.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and cause the face of God to shine upon us.

Steve

Psalms of the Summer

Summer is a time to take deep breaths and move slowly. As our summer spiritual practice in July and August, we will linger over the words of the psalms in morning worship--words of joy, grief, expectation, and jubilee. We’ll look at beloved psalms and the ones that don’t get much airtime in the lectionary.

During worship, we'll hear from our fellow members as they write the weekly call to worship. We'll also have coloring sheets of the psalms set up in the back of the sanctuary for young and old as an expression of worship. 

Remember, we worship at 10am in July and August! 

I believe the women, by Leah Grundset Davis

If you've been at Ravensworth for a Sunday when I'm preaching, there's a good chance you've heard me quote Nancy Hastings Sehested or Ken Sehested. I included a story about Nancy in a sermon from December 17, 2017 and her love of the Magnificat, Mary's prophetic song in the Gospel of Luke. Nancy and Ken have guided many on the uncertain roads of Baptist life as we follow Jesus on the way.

Nancy Hastings Sehested was called to pastor and in the 1980s, which was a difficult feat in Baptist churches, particularly Southern Baptist Churches. She knew first hand of the pain of those days and the discrimination she faced because of her gender. In 1987, the church she pastored was removed from fellowship with the larger Baptist body because she was a woman. 

Nancy was one of the founders of the Alliance of Baptists. In 1987, those founders created a new Baptist body calling for equity and justice, and yet only three of the 33 founders were women. Representation matters. 

Last week, Nancy wrote an " Open Letter to Paige Patterson," which caused a lot of excitement all over social media. Paige Patterson was the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth and he'd been in the headlines everywhere as news broke that he once told a woman in an abusive relationship to pray about it, and pressured a student--a victim of sexual assault-- to keep quiet.  

In this open letter, Nancy, full of grace, wrote about how she felt as a woman being ousted by powers of the day (which included Patterson), and how he must feel now, being ousted because of his actions against women. 

She writes, "I want you to know that I have more hope now than ever. I'm grateful to live in this apocalyptic time, a time of the "revealing," as that word means. Even the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are hearing the strong voices of women. Uncovering the truth about the abuse of women opens the way for healing. Think about the divine possibilities. Men can be released of the ancient sin of patriarchy in order to practice the joy of mutuality. Women can live in peace and unafraid."

I believe Nancy. I believe the women. We've got work to do so that all voices have an audience and are received with care and grace. Think about the divine possibilities that swirl around us! 

With great hope,  

Leah

Split-Screen World, by Steve Hyde

I would love to write a happy column for this edition of the newsletter. Our life together at RBC gives us plenty to be happy about, and is a living source of deep joy for many of us. Yet, I cannot bring myself to write a split-screen column, one in which I’m exulting in the dynamic life of our congregation, while at the same time feeling enraged and distressed by yesterday’s killings in Gaza.

Yesterday’s split-screen events on television were surreal and infuriating, in one corner a happy gathering of smiling faces at the new United States embassy in Jerusalem; in the other corner smoke and fire in Gaza, Israeli soldiers, and Palestinian bodies lying on the ground. The list of 43 fatalities I’ve seen is incomplete (the current number is 60) but includes one 14 year-old boy, one 15, and three 16. Thirteen were in their 30’s, and 23 in their 20’s. 

What a tragic waste of human life. Too often, we do not hear Palestinian voices, or Israeli Jews who abhor the unrestrained violence and systemic oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. Yesterday’s split-screen images told a nauseating truth that is hidden only if we insist on not seeing it, and that is the unconscionable collaboration of the United States, and a widespread willingness to be hoodwinked by the false notion that it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel.

So here is a Palestinian voice, an excerpt from Atef Abu Saif, with thanks to Katie Akbar for posting his article:

Of course the protesters know that no one will be returning anywhere at the end of this march. Of course they have no plans (or means) to remove the fence. And of course this protest isn’t an attempt to somehow remove or negate the state of Israel. Any suggestion that these are the aims or expectations is ridiculous. The protesters merely want their voices to be heard; they merely want the Nakba, and its decades of repercussions, to be included in the rest of the world’s narrative, rather than dismissed. It is only the hope of becoming a fully recognized state one day (with all its accompanying freedoms) that has kept Palestinians alive these last 70 years – alive through wars, blockades, endless indignities and uncertainties. Those 70 years have turned the Gaza Strip into a prison where everyone is serving a life sentence; and everyone’s children will serve a life sentence too; and their children’s children, and so on.

The protest’s message is simple: We cannot live like this for ever.

It is projected that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Imagine, if we knew now that in only two years, our drinking water, food, schools, and hospitals would be unsustainable.

As we wear red this Sunday, and prepare for a day of Pentecost remembrance and celebration, I hope we will welcome the children, women, and men of Gaza into our hearts and prayers. I hope that we will not forget them, and that we will be filled with a resolve to know the Spirit of truth.

There You Will See Him!

April 4, 2018

Go to Galilee. There you will see him!

Mark’s account of the resurrection is the most unsettling ending in the gospels because we don’t see Jesus. But I’m still sitting with those words of Jesus, as spoken by the mystery man in the tomb to Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome that first Easter morning, “He’s going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

In Tuesday morning Bible study this week, Bob Sampson said, “It’s like a fan effect—as soon as they get to Galilee and see the risen Jesus in each other, they hear that the same thing is happening in the Decapolis, Tyre, and eventually all over the Roman Empire.” Those earliest followers couldn’t catch the risen Jesus. It was tempting to try to grab the hem of his garment and hold on for just another moment, but he was constantly calling to them what was next. The risen Jesus stillcalls us to keep going out, spreading his message of love and justice as we work to bring about the kingdom of God on earth wherever we are.

As soon as we think we’ve got ahold of the risen Christ, there he is, calling us to something new. When we look around us at RBC for the resurrected Jesus we realize that he’s moving all around, calling us to the most pressing issues of the day—engaging with white supremacy, justice for the dreamers, criminal justice reform, action against gun violence of all forms, hungry children and even more.

On this day, we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another prophet like Jesus, who was murdered as he spoke of God’s dream for all people. His words guide us and convict us. In his sermon Where Do We Go From Here?, he said,

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Dr. King’s life and death remind us of what has been accomplished and what more there is to do in this world. The creative force in this universe is calling to us, calling us to find resurrection in our midst because it’s there too, dismantling the systems of injustice. It’s an honor to get to listen for the creative force in this universe and follow its lead alongside each of you in this place.

We will see the risen Christ together,

Leah 

Ash Wednesday: Reclaiming Our Souls

A homily by Rev. Dr. Leah Grundset Davis, 10:30am service at Ravensworth Baptist Church

“Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?”[1]

That’s the blessing one of my favorite writers, Jan Richardson offers for Ash Wednesday. Do we not know what the Holy One can do with dust? Always re-working, always re-claiming, always re-newing these dusty vessels in which we live and move and have our being.

“We are entering the season that begins with a smudge. That smudge is a testimony to what survives. It is a witness to what abides when everything seems lost. It is a sign that what we know and love may, for a time, be reduced to dust, but it does not disappear. We belong to the God who well knows what to do with dust, who sees the dust as a place to dream anew, who creates from it again and again.

Life will continually lay us bare, sometimes with astonishing severity. In the midst of this, the season of Lent invites us to see what is most elemental in us, what endures: the love that creates and animates, the love that cannot be destroyed, the love that is most basic to who we are. This season inspires us to ask where this love will lead us, what it will create in and through us, what God will do with it in both our brokenness and our joy.”[2]

More words from Jan Richardson that guide us to our Psalm for the day of Ash Wednesday. This psalm, Psalm 51 is always attributed to King David after his violent acts against Bathsheba and Uriah, shows him at his lowest point, in a place where his soul and his spirit are diminished, heavy and pain-filled.

In this pit of his despair, perhaps even grieving his humanity and the world in which he lived, David cried out:

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

We are gathered here on Ash Wednesday as a redeemed community seeking the mercy of our great God. God meets us here, God forgives and God offers grace. Jesus lived life for us to see, drew lines in the dust of this world and came out of the dust of death to live a resurrected life. And Holy Spirit breathed life into those first disciples as the power and wind whipped around them and Holy Spirit breathes into us as we cry out for comfort.

Our world feels chaotic and stressful and we are inundated with breaking news alerts and can’t keep up with any of it. We’re tired, angry and uncertain. It’s time to reclaim our souls from the chaos of our world and let them rest in the grace of God. During this Lent let’s pay attention to the places tugging on our souls.

God might be speaking to us when we pick up a pen to write, or turn off notifications from CNN on our devices, or drink coffee in silence without the tv on, or check in with neighbors on evening walks or even in the chaos of a family dinner around the table.

Our souls are desperately in need of some attention. Our dustiness might be calling to us. Brush off that book. Clean up your prayer life. Sweep the dust outside to breathe fresh air, instead of dumping it into the trash.

Our prayer for this season might come from Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” I’d take some joy and sustenance these days to be reminded of the power of God at work in the world.

We are dust and to dust we shall return, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

"Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?"

Amen.

 

[1] Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook, Ash Wednesday: What God Can Do with Dust

[2] Richardson, ibid.

Reclaiming Our Souls...Lent 2018

Lent is the time of the church year for self-reflection and attention to our inward journeys. We recognize that right now we feel tired, downtrodden, and exhausted from the state of the world and our lives. During Lent this year, we’ll be focusing on reclaiming our souls from the latest breaking news, the pace of our world, and the forces that try to occupy our lives. RBC will offer space to encounter God in the sacred ordinary of daily life while tending to the state of our souls. 

We have many Lenten offerings this year to help you connect with your soul and with our community. They are listed here. Consider what you need this Lent; there's no way we can do it all. Find a practice and stick with it, whether it is encountering contemplative prayer, examining your white privilege, hearing and holding stories, or breaking bread and playing bingo on a Saturday night inter-generational event. 

“Persist. Persevere. Endure.” Benedict uttered these words below centuries ago and they are still speaking. As we leap into this adventure during Lent of Reclaiming our Souls, we do so with Benedict’s words ringing in our ears—this is hard work, holy work, and we do it in community. 

"To bear bad things, evil things well, is for Benedict a mark of humility, a mark of
Christian maturity. It is a dour and difficult notion for the modern Christian to
accept. The goal of the twenty-first century is to cure all diseases, order all
inefficiency, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas.
We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at
irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot
stomach delay. Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to
temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God
is in the dregs of our lives. That’s why it takes humility to find God where God is not
expected to be."

Joan Chittister
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality For The 21 st Century*, p.88

*The Benedictine order was founded by Benedict about 1500 years ago.