Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Goodbye, Mrs. King

For those of us born in the late-sixties and after, there never was a living Dr. Martin Luther King. For us the living symbol of the dream of the Civil Rights movement was Coretta Scott King. Widow, mother, keeper of the flame of hope, and lifelong activist; she was articulate, serious, peaceful, strong, and beautiful. Oh so beautiful.

I recently read about a struggle within the King family about how to proceed with the King Center in Atlanta. As grief descends upon the King family, I hope that the legacy of Martin and Coretta will be that of love triumphing over discord. I hope that the pain of grief does not break down the bond of family.

For the rest of us, I hope that history will recognize that the lessons of Nonviolence and Beloved Community were taught to generations of Americans by two Kings. Only one was a queen.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Wanted: Performance Artist

My buddy Todd just visited. Todd celebrates and encourages my love of the eighties. At least two weeks of memory lane eighties rehash ensue after every Todd sighting. I'm up to my ears in it today. (Oh, Nina Hagen, Chico DeBarge, Sonny Crockett - I miss you so.)

So, today I'm thinking, where have the performance artists gone? I was briefly an eighties performance artist. It was a good life. Goofy not jaded. With enough rhinestones, tongue-in-cheek ire, and Aquanet you too could be a performance artist in 1986. I had high hopes for a resurgence in the art when the political landscape turned retro-eighties. (Always looking for that silver lining, I am.)

Today there are all kinds of performance artists in a general sense: poetry slammers, political printmakers, renegade radio dj's, multimedia bloggers, creative peace activists, off the grid resident musicians, kara-okies with hearts of gold... but no eighties performance artists. No prophets of silliness with a higher purpose and higher hair.

Wanted: retro performance artists to work street corners, city council meetings, malls, car dealerships, public parks and concert venues. Must not take self too seriously. Must still believe that there is some hope for pop culture. Must not have allergy to hairspray, cheap jewelry, used clothing, or rhythms produced by drum machines. No need to call first. Will know you on sight.

What's a Vesper?

The word vesper comes from the Middle English and simply refers to the evening or the evening star. Vespers and lauds (morning) are the oldest prayer rituals in Christian tradition. It is thought that vespers were originally observed by Jews who had converted to Christianity but kept their Jewish practice of evening prayer.

At First Unitarian Universalist, Richmond, we hold a thirty minute Vespers service on Tuesdays at 5:30Pm. Our Vespers service is a small, quiet, and casual service. The emphasis is on contemplation of a theme and the themes change weekly. The order of service is flexible, and the sources from which we draw are diverse . Rev. Dr. Morris Hudgins and I alternate leadership of this service. Below are two sample orders of service.

1/31/06 (This service celebrated the life of Coretta Scott King and was officiated by Rev. Hudgins.)
Opening words by Rev. Hudgins
Special music "Free at Last" Greg Greenway
Reading "Even the Stars Look Lonesome" Maya Angelou
Moments of Silence (Usually lasts at least five minutes)
Special Music "In the Name of Love" Greg Greenway
Benediction "Never to Forget" Rudy Nemser

2/7/06 (This service will be led by Rev. Alane Cameron Miles. The theme is "Rebuild and Recover.")
Opening words by Rev. Miles
Hymn "Rejoice in Love" words by Charles Lyttle
Responsive Reading "Affirmation" by Leonard Mason
Musical Response "Do you know what it means..." Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Silent Meditation
Time for Sharing
Closing Music "Yes We Can Can" by Allen Toussaint
Closing Words by Rev. Miles

(Both include the lighting and extinguishing of the chalice.)

Every 7th Day

Early on in my career I learned that the most consistent challenge faced in ministry is that every seventh day is Sunday. Seems like a big "duh" to most people, but until I did it, I had no idea the pressure of every seventh day.

Most of those who claim affiliation with a particular congregation don't go to church every Sunday. There are still a few who do, but they are a very few. (And I love each and every one of your little pea-pickin' hearts.)

A Catholic priest recently opined to my friend Joan, "Other than illness or death, there is no reason a church member should ever miss church." Gutsy, I thought. In my religious tradition many members view church attendance like they consider restaurant choices: it's there when I want it or need it, but I don't need to go every week.

My colleagues in other traditions (Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish) say they see the same attendance policy in their houses of worship. It doesn't make a lot of sense, because the benefits of regular attendance for those who have already commited themselves to a religious tradition far outweigh the effort of getting there. Two of the top problems of congregations - communication and lay leadership burnout could be minimized by regular attendance on the part of all members. Showing up every week is also more rewarding to the member. Most people say they join churches of my tradition to be with like-minded individuals. The easiest way for anyone to be together is to meet regularly at an agreed upon time.

Religion is not only spirituality. It is not only belief. You can be spiritual alone, and you can believe whatever you want alone. Religion is when the community of faith and shared belief joins together. You can't be religious alone.

Are too many religious people more faithful to their favorite TV show than to their faith community? I don't know. I do know that being part of the process, celebration, fellowship, and community that is every seventh day in my life is marvelous. And discouraging.

Marvelous because every seventh day I see the living active expression of what I believe in most dearly. Discouraging because, at most, only half of the members are ever there at one time to see it with me. Much of the pressure of the seventh day is the knowledge that I am competing with lethargy, mother nature, soccer season, bloody mary specials, and the comics for members' attention. The rest of the pressure is the certain knowledge that when life falls apart, the expectations on the garden, the soccer ball, and Beetle Bailey are nonexistent.

Just something to ponder in the line for the Sunday brunch buffet.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

My First LP

I was young. That happy all day, too excited to sleep, when I grow up I'll spend all my money on candy kind of young. Rod Stewart was already old. (Sorry, Rod.) I don't recall the occasion. Birthday? Christmas? I do recall the boogie. The album? Tonight I'm Yours. I can still feel the thrill of the needle touching the vinyl. My vinyl. My music. MINE. I absolutely loved that album and the power it gave me. MY album. My boogie.

Mama played James Taylor and Marvin Gaye. (She's now an Elvis Costello junkie.) Daddy played Verdi and the Kingston Trio. (A study in contrasts, my parents were and are.) I had Rod Stewart and I was completely faithful to him: learned all the words, watched his progress on the Billboard charts, defended him from the rumors, and I danced. Danced to the album. Danced to my own singing. Danced at the thought of the album and my own singing.

I haven't listened to Rod in years, but I love him forever because he went into a studio and made my first album. Rod Stewart gave me my first opportunity to own and control the boogie. I thought of him today as I jumped into blogdom. My blog? Mine? Yipes! I can barely check my email.

Now I'm the one who is old. No boogie in sight.