Praising with a Piano

Some women don’t just speak in church. They play. They minister. They love. They be.

One of our friends, Delores Fisher, Minister of Music, is one such woman. Delores holds at least one Master’s degree and is a lecturer with the Africana Studies Department at San Diego State University and is also a Dance Studio Ballet piano Faculty/accompanist. In the spirit of Psalm 150:3-6

3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

We share with you her latest YouTube production.

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What’s Coming?

I have come to learn that I am one of those people who loves to travel. One of the most memorable trips I ever took was a cross-country train trip: west to east and then south to north, when I was seventeen and all by myself, even with a broken foot. One of the things that struck me during that trip was the great cross-section I saw of America—the well-to-do; the black, browns, and whites; the poor; the drunk; the unruly. There is a great diversity that we live in, a diversity that becomes pronounced in some ways and blurred in others over the holiday season. This blurring of the diversity of this season is similar to what I saw on that great monthlong train trip, and Advent is about that long as well. But on that trip, I also learned that despite all our diversities we have much in common. We are all travelers. Despite our station in life we all have to show our tickets when asked, and if we get too unruly we may get put off the car at the next stop.

I think there is a part of the Christmas narrative that gets rushed over. It’s the journey to Bethlehem. All the people, no matter their station, had to return to the land of their fathers to be counted. This Christmas account is an odd and troubling requirement really since it deviates from the Levitical code that required a similar return to homeland, albeit for a very different reason. On the one hand, all the people had to return to the home land of their forefathers—the family land—which was a periodic requirement of the Levitical codes. However, unlike the required Levitical return in which the land and debts would be resettled at this return to the family land so as to reestablish national life in accordance with the provision and justice of God, the Christmas narrative relates that the people are merely counted for Caesar. This is not settling of debts and return of land but an ancient form colonization and subjugation of the people of ancient Israel to the largest empire of the time, Rome.

The reason and consequences of the journey to Rome are not the only thing that gets glossed over in the pageantry telling. There is also a poor and young Mary who is very, very, very pregnant making the journey of several days to the temple city. They were traveling many, many, many miles on foot—if they were lucky they had a pack animal Mary might have ridden. One can imagine this journey would have been very uncomfortable for the mother-to-be. It was no baby shower for sure! What an exhausting physical trip before giving birth! (I consider the experience of Mary’s physical journey fresh and anew this year as I await the news of a friend who is expecting a child, a boy, this very week!) But Mary’s experience was not only a physical one. It was a spiritual and emotional one as well. Mary was a young woman at a precipice: a young woman about to give birth for the first time. A young woman about to give birth as her people enter into a new form of subjugation under a new emperor. A young woman about to give birth to a son come to pronounce a new way of relating, a new way of justice and peace at the end of an empire. And I wonder what it was like for Mary to give birth in such times. Mary, having been told this was the Child of God. Mary, wondering if this was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. Was she ready to give birth? Was she ready for what was to come?

Let us dedicate this day in prayer to the women waiting to give birth, to pray for their preparation and safety in this transition of life to life.

And let us wonder, if we are ready.

“Its A Beautiful Place”

I recently went from a denominational Justice and Witness meeting to a denominational Disability Ministry meeting and Conference. As I spoke with people at my second meeting and told them that I had just come from a meeting at the Franklinton Center at Bricks I heard again and again “that is a beautiful place”. The Franklinton Center is supported by the Justice Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ.

 

Photo of one of the buildings at Franklinton Center

It is a beautiful place but its beauty is haunting. The Franklinton Center at Bricks in located in rural eastern North Carolina. The land upon which it sits was once a slave plantation, but it was not just any slave plantation it was the plantation, we were told, where the “rebellious” slaves newly brought ashore were taken to be “broken in” and inducted or acculturated into slavery. The historical tradition of the place includes the report that there was once a “whipping tree” on the grounds. This was once a place of torture.

 

The old dormitory at Franklinton Center

What was once a place of grave injustice and inhumanity has also been a place of hope. After the civil the property that the Franklinton Center now sits up came into the ownership of a Northern white woman named Julia Bricks. At that time a school for freed slaves was founded on the land. It was a school that educated emancipated slaves and also allowed them to work on the property to earn the funds to cover their tuition and room and board. In this way, what is now the Franklinton Center became an integral part of the surrounding community and has remained so.

 

Building used as a dinning hall at Franklinton Center

Eventually the school at Bricks was closed. However, the Franklinton Center at Bricks has remained an integral part of the surrounding communities and the people who call this area home. During the Justice and Witness Ministries meeting we were taken on a tour of the tri-county area surrounding the Franklinton Center to get to know the people there and current mission work of this place. Now, I spent some time of my youth in northern Florida and had been through some impoverished areas of the South; I am not exactly a stranger to poverty having lived below that line for part of my childhood. That being said, the communities in the three counties we saw around Franklinton Center are areas of extreme poverty—one of the towns had had the highest unemployment in the nation every year for the past twenty years. Nearly every other house in these neighborhoods were not only empty but boarded up. There was an absence of grocery stores, although there were a few fast food restaurants. There was an absence of jobs, an absence of public transportation. The schools in the three counties had been consolidated so better use public funds but some children had long bus commutes. One of the ex-mayors of one of the towns told us that half the housing in the area did not currently meet community building standards but that the town could not condemn the substandard houses because they had no other place to house people in the community. Another local community leaders explained how the local tax system had been gerrymandered after desegregation to funnel property tax funds into schools where the majority of students were Caucasian, while the schools with the majority of African American and other minority students struggled for state and federal funding. This area is one that has been called a community of “educational genocide”; I still do not know what to make of that. It is also a designated “food desert” meaning that there is little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

 

The pool at Franklinton Center

Hope remains at Franklinton Center. While we were there, we also met community members who are working to renew the community. There is a woman at the local community redevelopment corporation who showed us a newly built housing area is single and multi-family dwellings with community space for after school tutoring and computer labs; she showed us a commercial development they are trying to build to so local dollars can general local tax money that will stay in the county, since many have to shop in surrounding communities where goods are more available. She spoke to us about the pervasive racism in the area and how this has made it difficult to find commercial entities willing to locate in a predominately African American area. She also took us to the downtown area of one of the local communities to show us how parts of this area had been redeveloped and locally-owned businesses had begun moving in—including a pediatrician and soon a restaurant will open. We were introduced to man fighting the environmental racism inherent in the polluting nature of the region’s hog farming industry, who pointed out that while this industry supplies jobs they are jobs that often maim workers. There was also hope in meeting the principal of the local school who shared how the Franklinton Center is partnering with the local school. Hope is embodied at Franklinton Center in the center’s director Vivan Lucas who approached the local schools to create a family literacy camp using the dormitory and space at Franklinton Center. Hope abides in families of community members who can trace up to four generations who have enjoyed summer camp activities at Franklinton Center, and name children who have learned to swim at Franklinton Center which has the only pool in the tri-county area—did you know that African Americans have a higher risk of drowning because they often lack access to pools to learn to swim? Hope resides in this ground as a retreat and conference center has been developed to support its other ministries even as it teaches about the past. Hope is taking root as the Franklinton Center begins to plant fruit trees and experiment with community sustainable agriculture on its land to empower the local community to address its status as a “food desert”.

Field near Franklinton Center

 

There is on the grounds of Franklinton Center a tree called “the tree of life” it is a symbol to commemorate the whipping tree that once shadowed these grounds. As our meeting at Franklinton Center came to a close, we stood on a platform beside this tree of life to worship. In the Communion liturgy there was a pause to read the names of some slaves who had been transferred as property of the plantation from one family to another—how deeply I felt the brokenness of humanity and deeply I yearned for the new covent of hope of that meal, as I stood before that tree commemorating the tree upon which so much blood was shed. This place bears a resemblance to our most sacred story, does it not?

As I stood in silence with others after that meal, I looked out at the vast empty field beyond the tree. The land was grassy field on one side, cotton field on the other, train track in the not too distance, and the surrounding community was hungry. Still it is a beautiful place. It is a terrible, beautiful place. A place that wants to imbibe hope as it blooms out of the roots of its past. It is a land rooted in time past and present that reminds us of how far we have come and yet so far we have to go. It is a place that teaches us that hope is as much as verb as it is noun and calls us to continue the work for all types of justice in a world where “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”.

field #2 near Franklinton Center

While I do not normally use this site to advertise or fundraise, the work of Franklinton Center is too important to not make it known that the center needs financial support, including the kind that come from holding your event there, as well as prayers

Justice is a very real issue at Franklinton Center.

For more information about Franklinton Center, or to learn how to donate click: Franklinton Center/UCC

Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network, Day 1

I have spent today talking with and listening to people with and without disability who advocate for inclusion for people with disability (PWD) in their/the church context. These are people from around the US, and we will soon be joined I am told by persons from Canada. These are people who have physical disabilities and people who work with persons with intellectual disabilities and parents of children with disabilities.

We have gathered to for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) for North America. EDAN is a program of the World Council of Churches. We have been joined by Samuel Kaube and his wife for this historic meeting in Denver. Mr. Kaube is the Executive Director of the EDAN program for the WCC. Mr. has graced us with his knowledge of the work being done by PWD and their allies around the world to gain understanding and inclusion in the churches around the world–the very Body of Christ. He has shared some with us about the work that other EDAN groups have done in other areas of the world; he has shown us the books about disability theology that have been written in other areas of the world and told us of how parts of India and Asia are starting to include the area of disability awareness in theological institutions.

I love this, it is part of what I feel called to do in my life and in my ministry. But it also raises a good number of questions for me. One of the new ones of which is, why is North America so behind the rest of the world when it comes to organizing for access and inclusion within the churches? Given the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act is now over two decades old one might think that the issue of accessibility and inclusion in the American churches is an issue long since solved. WRONG. Churches and institutions owned by them are exempt from the ADA, and have long failed to meet their moral and ethical obligations to PWD. I have said it before–the churches are among the most inaccessible places in America due to both physical and attitudinal barriers (discrimination). Yes, I said there is discrimination against PWD in the American churches. If you are shocked I am glad, and I hope you will start to raise the question of why in your own church setting. PWD in the churches need allies. If you are not shocked I am probably preaching to the choir–when will we get loud?

Another question, as one of the participants here put it “where are our allies” and “why is this not seen as civil right’s issue”?

Yet another is why have we not begun to formulate a disability theology, or even theologies, pertinent to the North American context? Is there something about the religious history of America or the decisive role religion has played in American culture over the last twenty years that is preventing us from doing so? And why, Why, WHY, is it that nearly thirty years after PWD were guaranteed access to education that PWD are still not included in the greater histories of the American people, and that disability perspectives are not taught at any level in our educational system, and that  our theological educational systems not only fail to include disability as a theological lens to be explored in diversity but do not even encourage their faculty to be aware of how disability has been studied and/or addressed by every facet of theological education?

There are several people at this meeting who have been doing this work for much longer than myself. At times I feel dwarfed by their work. I have had moments when I wonder if I am too emotional, if I have been hurt too deeply by the system that disregards PWD to effect change in any meaningful way and yet, I find myself drawn to this work and I have been in invited to participate. I am looking forward to where the conversation goes and, meanwhile, I hear the poets and theologians from whose work I have learned urging me to write on…and yet I am still listening for the inspiration of the words that are to come.

SHE Will Be Ordained

We a WWSIC are happy to announce that our co-founder Amanda Kersey has been approved for ordination by the Southern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ!

We must say it was a historic day. Amanda presented her faith journey and theology to the gathered clergy and lay persons, and when the time came to question her so as to further examine her fitness for ministry….there was utter SILENCE!

No question about it, she is fit for ministry, she is called by God, and SHE will be ordained!

Congratulations Amanda!

UPDATE: Amanda’s Ordination service is set for 3pm, Sunday, July 22, 2011 and will be held at the Mission Hills United Church of Christ at 4070 Jackdaw Street in San Diego, California. Ya’ll come!

One Woman’s View on UMC General Council 2012

It’s been a trying day for progressive United Methodists. Once again, we watch General Conference and wait and pray for God’s grace to be reflected more fully in our Book of Discipline. Votes continue to show the fear of the progressive “agenda” on many issues. Talk of splitting the denomination once again flutters by, but we all love our church very much, and I doubt those thoughts will coalesce into action.

The sharpness of the division showed itself today, two days before debate begins on the legislation that addresses full inclusion for our LGBT brothers and sisters. An amendment to the preamble for our Social Principles was voted on. It was two sentences, reading something like, “We recognize that God’s grace is for all people. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Simple. Scriptural.

It passed. 51% for, 49% against. While I am happy it passed, I am flabbergasted that 49% of our delegates would vote against such a theologically sound, Biblically-based statement! There is so much fear about an “agenda” that voting, much like in DC, is along party lines without thought or discernment or reason.

The wounds of Christ must be torn open and bleeding tonight. His Body is torn apart by the fear and ugliness in the United Methodist Church. And my heart breaks for this church I love and the LGBT members of it who are hurt over and over again by it. I pray for the Holy Spirit to move in a powerful way for the next three days, and bring healing and hope and reconciliation.

Merry Christmas (and a Happy New Year)

To all our readers (and hopefully in a majority of the languages they might read!):

Afrikaans: Geseënde Kersfees
Afrikander: Een Plesierige Kerfees
African/ Eritrean/ Tigrinja: Rehus-Beal-Ledeats
Albanian:Gezur Krislinjden
Arabic: Milad Majid
Argentine: Feliz Navidad
Armenian: Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand
Azeri: Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun
Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Natal
Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
Bohemian: Vesele Vanoce
Bosnian: (BOSANSKI) Cestit Bozic i Sretna Nova godina
Brazilian: Feliz Natal
Breton: Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat
Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo
Catalan: Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou!
Chile: Feliz Navidad
Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun
Chinese: (Mandarin) Sheng Dan Kuai Le
Choctaw: Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Columbia: Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo
Cornish: Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth
Corsian: Pace e salute
Crazanian: Rot Yikji Dol La Roo
Cree: Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Croatian: Sretan Bozic
Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
Danish: Glædelig Jul
Duri: Christmas-e- Shoma Mobarak
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast
Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi
Ethiopian: (Amharic) Melkin Yelidet Beaal
Faeroese: Gledhilig jol og eydnurikt nyggjar!
Farsi: Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad
Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
French: Joyeux Noel
Frisian: Noflike Krystdagen en in protte Lok en Seine yn it Nije Jier!
Galician: Bo Nada
Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
Haiti: (Creole) Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri’cho o Rish D’Shato Brichto
Hausa: Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Hindi: Shub Naya Baras (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Indonesian: Selamat Hari Natal
Iraqi: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit, or Nodlaig mhaith chugnat
Iroquois: Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay.
Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Jiberish: Mithag Crithagsigathmithags
Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Lao: souksan van Christmas
Latin: Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
Latvian: Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus un Laimi’gu Jauno Gadu!
Lausitzian:Wjesole hody a strowe nowe leto
Lettish: Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Lithuanian: Linksmu Kaledu
Low Saxon: Heughliche Winachten un ‘n moi Nijaar
Luxembourgish: Schèine Chreschtdaag an e gudde Rutsch
Macedonian: Sreken Bozhik
Maltese: IL-Milied It-tajjeb
Manx: Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa
Maori: Meri Kirihimete
Marathi: Shub Naya Varsh (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Navajo: Merry Keshmish
Norwegian: God Jul, or Gledelig Jul
Occitan: Pulit nadal e bona annado
Papiamento: Bon Pasco
Papua New Guinea: Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu
Pennsylvania German: En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr!
Peru: Feliz Navidad y un Venturoso Año Nuevo
Philippines: Maligayang Pasko!
Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese:Feliz Natal
Pushto: Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha
Rapa-Nui (Easter Island): Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua
Rhetian: Bellas festas da nadal e bun onn
Romanche: (sursilvan dialect): Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn!
Rumanian: Sarbatori vesele or Craciun fericit
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Sami: Buorrit Juovllat
Samoan: La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Scots Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil huibh
Serbian: Hristos se rodi.
Singhalese: Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Slovak: Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok
Slovene: Vesele Bozicne Praznike Srecno Novo Leto or Vesel Bozic in srecno Novo leto
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År
Tagalog: Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon
Tamil: (Tamizh) Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Trukeese: (Micronesian) Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Ukrainian: Srozhdestvom Kristovym or Z RIZDVOM HRYSTOVYM
Urdu: Naya Saal Mubarak Ho (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen
Yoruba: E ku odun, e ku iye’dun!

***

Found within a comment on Richard Rohr’s blog entry, The Day of the Big Paradox.