Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Beauty and Biodiesel

Today we made our way from Southern Oregon into Northern California.

We caught our first glimpse of the ocean during this pilgrimage. Breathtaking.

Rocky had a moment of Zen at the Pacific Ocean.

And we filled up at a biodiesel station not far outside Eugene, Oregon.

The SeQuential Station that we stopped at is the only one that the company currently operates. The guys working inside said they understood it to be the only one of its kind in the Unites States. It reminded us of The Station in Oracle, Arizona, just a bit more urban and corporate. SeQuential Station sells biodiesel and ethanol in various grades.

They also have solar panels on the roof over their pumps that supply 30 to 50 percent of the station's electricity.

The roof of the store has living plants on it that help to keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The store sells local products including Kettle potato chips. Kettle provides a lot of the waste veggie oil that the company turns into biodiesel.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Spirit of music

Turns out I passed my horrible cold onto Carol. But before we holed ourselves up for healing this week, we went to two Sunday services this past Sunday.

The first was a community called the Bridge. Everyone and their brother told us to check them out. Somehow I got the picture that it would be something like Stomp. Which was not far from the truth. Stomp with Jesus, obviously. Music was pretty central to the service. It was very rhythmic: Drums were key. They lyrics were relatively short and repetitive. There was something almost trance-like about it.

In the evening, we went to the Taize service at the cathedral. Taize is also rhythmic, repetitive and trance-like. Just without drums and sometimes the songs are in other languages. It was created by monks in France, if that gives you any ideas.

I was struck by how different and yet how similar the two services were. Both were led by groups of talented musicians who took their ministry through music seriously. Both used music as a medium to connect people to what I would call the Spirit. The crowds were about the same sizes, and in both crowds people participated with the music by singing or moving as they felt comfortable.

However, if we're giving out Spirit awards (and I don't mean the kind you get at cheerleader camp) my vote goes to the Bridge. Because the main difference between the two services was that the Bridge allowed and invited people to respond to the music and the teaching and whatever else happened in whatever way felt right for them. So people sort of skatted along (you know, like in jazz), calling out lyrics or melodies or coming forward to the mic to speak out what the Spirit was saying to them.

Now, admittedly, Episcopalians do not usually engage in this sort of behavior. We like our Spirit to wear a tie to church and stand up only when it is designated in the bulletin. Still, one of the things I like best about Taize is that its this collective singing project. You don't know when the chants will end. You just sing together until its time to stop. And people sing in rounds or take different parts. Its one of the few places in Episcopal type liturgy when the boundaries are a little bit looser.

But at the cathedral service there seemed to be clear boundaries even at Taize. The choir, who were clearly the ones who knew how to lead us and who we were all supposed to watch, stood in front of us and in turn followed their own leader. It was odd, because at the Bridge, I was struck by how intensely moved the musicians were by what they were doing. And so even though it was not what I am accustomed to, nor probably how I would express a Spirit filled connection, I knew the Spirit was in that place. The same could be said for the Taize choir. They seemed to be connecting to the Spirit through song, but because I felt I was supposed to follow- that there was a particular role for me to follow, I didn't feel the Spirit in the same way.

The Spirit cannot be controlled, nor does it do well coming from the top down. She's a wild and crazy one, and I understand how the terror of that can make people want to put up strict boundaries. But those boundaries quickly become fences that keep people out. And everyone should get a chance to dance with the Holy Spirit

Monday, October 8, 2007


Often used as an example of what could get young people to come to church, the compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral has gained notoriety for the hundreds of young people who show up each Sunday at 9:30pm to listen to a small group of men sing the night service. As we walked to the cathedral late last night, a car pulled in front of it and out jumped six college age men who raced up the steps to the service that had already started. When we walked in the giant doors, we were met with a room full of people. We joined the group of younger people who were lying or sitting on the floor in the back.

Not too surprisingly, I had been skeptical. The idea that you could just sing night prayer and draw young adults to church seemed ridiculous to me.

But it was beautiful. The cathedral is an old giant building with white brick walls marked with water stains and patched cement floors. And the music was peaceful and gentle. People sat silently with their eyes closed except to stand in unison for the singing of the Nicene Creed. When the service was over the choir filed out and people milled about, listing to a presentation of the altarpiece from South Africa and lighting candles at the peace station or listening to the organ music.

When we were in Santa Fe, learning about kundalini yoga, my friend told me that the group of sheiks who brought the practice to the United States did so with no intention of converting people to be sheiks. They just thought it was a beautiful, life-giving practice that they wanted to share with people.

When we were in Salt Lake City, we visited the Mormon Temple. I found the experience incredibly disappointing because I really wanted to learn about the Mormon faith, even though there’s almost no chance I would ever convert. Instead, we were met with pairs of missionaries at every turn who were constantly trying to tell us that Joseph Smith was the true prophet and seemingly evading the questions we asked, which I thought seemed rather straight- forward. Everything about the place seemed secretive. No one can go into the temple. The movie on Joseph Smith that we watched left out any part about him that might make him look less than desirable (his multiple wives, arrest as a gold seeker, etc) and skimmed over the parts where basically everyone from the Bible came to him and restored the true church. It took us three hours to find any depiction of what is actually in the Book of Mormon or what Mormons actually believe.

I left the Temple wondering why it is that we as Christians need to convert people. Why we can’t be like the sheiks and offer to others the practices of our faith that we find life-giving. Like singing compline in an ancient cathedral. Or walking the labyrinth. Or praying the rosary, or sitting in silence or reading stories in the Bible—or whatever. I understand that if you believe that people who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior are going to burn in hell for eternity, why such information might seem at the very least urgent if not the most important thing you had to give as a Christian. But you have to admit that its not very life-giving.

Compline at the cathedral works because it does not demand conversion. Instead it is a beautiful offering of an ancient practice that honors God, which the cathedral chooses to share with the community. I’m sure there are people who come to that service and eventually convert to Christianity or being Episcopalian or going to St. Marks, but it didn’t seem like that was the intended result. It seemed like the men who sing compline loved it, and wanted to give it as a pure gift to the larger community in the hopes that it might give them a glimpse of something eternal.

My generation can see a salesman a mile away. So when churches start new services or open coffee shops or put up cool websites in the hopes of attracting people to come to their church or accept Jesus as their personal savior or whatever, they’re mostly like to skip it. What makes compline attractive is its an offering of pure joy. The service itself is the expected end result.

We have good things to offer. The early Christians built the church by living as Christians and offering what was life-giving to them to those around them. Maybe its time for us to do the same.