Saturday, December 12, 2009

Searching for hope in the night

We are mostly posting over at our community blog these days:

We've been doing Christmas Conspiracy events at the community house. This Sunday, Dec. 13, is the Barter Bazaar. We've had gift-making parties and showed the film What Would Jesus Buy?

This advent season we've also been very involved with the federal court re-sentencing of our friend and original Restoration Project community member Emrys Walt Staton. He left gallons of water on trails in the desert south of Tucson where it is known that migrants walk and sometimes die of dehydration. Two hundred and six people died just in the Tucson sector of the desert between Oct. 1, 2008 and Sept. 30, 2009.

Emrys (also know as Walt) was given a ticket for "littering." As a humanitarian trying to save lives, he refused to pay the ticket. He was tried by a federal jury, who under pressure from the judge, gave a guilty verdict after first saying they were not in full agreement. He has refused to do the 300 hours of community service hours, saying to do so would be admitting he did something wrong. He now faces the possibility of 25 days in prison. His next appearance before the judge is Monday, Dec. 21, 9 am, at the federal court house in Tucson.

Last year Kate and I wrote Advent meditations. Here is a repost of the meditation for the third Sunday of Advent. We could still use the dawn of hope...

The Dawn of Hope
Third Week of Advent

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

—Isaiah 61:1-4

These verses from Isaiah were written from among a people experiencing profound loss. They had been exiled from their home, torn from their land—from all that made life make sense. They were living with the sense that God had abandoned them. Much lament and heartache come before this hopeful vision full of possibility.

One of the first public things Jesus did according to the gospel of Luke (chapter 4, verses 14-22) was read some of these words from Isaiah. Jesus did not first demand repentance from people. First, he stood in the spiritual community of his youth and read the words from Isaiah...freedom to those held captive, good news for the poor. Jesus says that God is looking with favor on God’s people, not judgment. He’s letting us know that God shows up first with an open hand to those on the bottom. This grace-filled gesture is what Jesus first points to. This is the kingdom of God that Jesus says is already present among us. If we just wake up to see it.

The 20th century theologian, Paul Tillich, once wrote,

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life...It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear.”

The author of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul Tillich, they are all trying to tell people in great pain, people like us, that God will keep showing up.

We can live with hope, not because we ourselves necessarily have any. But because God tells us and shows us time and time again—through prophets, through the birth and teachings of Jesus, through tiny moments of grace in our own imperfect days—that we are not alone and that freedom is both here, now, and coming.

Hope drags us out of our beds of despair into the cold streets to stare at the dark horizon and wait for the dawn. We may find ourselves standing, waiting, half asleep and shivering, but God whispers to us, “It may be cold, but I’m still here, the dawn is coming, and I want you to be free.”

—Carol Bradsen


Great light of the new dawn, you rise each morning in the face of deep darkness. So may we too find a way to remember the hope that we are called to, and work to plant it in ourselves and in all those whom we encounter. Amen.

Prayer for lighting the third advent candle this week

God give us hope, because we need it.

Ways to try living with hope this week

  • Watch the sunrise. In Tucson this week the sun rises at about 7:15 am. Try going outside to watch the sky, and wait for the sunrise. Listen. What is God trying to say to you?

  • Light candles of gratitude. Gratitude helps nurture hope. At the end of each day this week, find a few candles, or light the candles on your advent wreath. As you light each one, think of something you were grateful for that day. Another way is to think about the moments of the day in which you felt most alive, or happy. Sit in the silence for a few minutes before you blow the candles out.

  • Be kind. Smile at strangers. Offer hope to people who need it.

  • Resist oppression. Sometimes hope is incarnated in us when we say no to the powers that seek the death and destruction of those on the margins.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bread & Oranges magazine

First issue still in the works.
But coming soon!

The theme of the first issue is Borderlands with lots of first hand experiences of folks from the U.S./ Mexico border. Regular feature sections like Roots, Blessing, Morsel, and Slices include some great writing and bits you just probably won't find anywhere else.

Thanks for hanging in there. It will be delicious.

The Restoration Project

The Restoration Project Community has tons of photos on Facebook. We hope you'll go there and become a fan.

Since moving in March 1, we've hosted a May Day Wine and Fondue party. More than a 100 people enjoyed the live classical music, wine tasting, and good community vibes. And there was a fun surprise acoustic performance by band members of The Runaway Five.

Also, back in March, we threw a Greening O' the Casa St. Patrick's work day, supper and worship party. After unloading sheep manure, digging garden beds and planting trees we ate corned beef, sang Celtic hymns, and danced in the hall way.

The chickens were part of the wildly popular, sold-out Tucson Chicken Coop tour. More than a 100 chicken enthusiasts came to our back yard to meet the girls and learn about how we are trying to live sustainably as a community.

When one of the Restoration Project community members was put on trial for offering humanitarian aid to migrants in the desert, our community worked together to lead a peaceful, prophetic action in front of the federal courthouse to support him.

We've also opened our doors to welcome visiting priests, activists and family and friends who have stayed in our two hospitality rooms along with many others who have joined us for a meal or a cool drink and conversation on the porch.

We've gathered folks together to study innovative ways of doing church.

We invited clergy in their 20s and 30s from many denominations in Tucson to come have supper together at the house and meet one another.

College students visiting the border from other states have come to the community to study us. They came to learn about how we offer spiritual support to activists and work together to offer life-giving options to the separation and pain that the border often causes.

We often are the site of meetings for the border action group, No More Deaths.

We are growing eggplant, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, basil, okra, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, in the garden.

As a community, we continue to gather for our weekly Sabbath meal and community check-in. And take turns making supper most of the rest of the week. The support we give and receive from one another is already making a difference in our lives and work out in the world.

It has been a real joy to live into our mission statement and we have only just begun...

"We seek to live in right relationship with one another, the community, and the earth through hospitality, simple and sustainable living, playful spirituality, and peaceful, prophetic action."

Come see us sometime:
340 S. 3rd Ave., Tucson, AZ 85701

More Light Sermon, June 14

Here's the text from the sermon Carol gave on More Light Sunday at Southside Presbyterian church, June 14, 2009, Tucson. More Light Sunday is a tradition in Presbyterian churches that want to celebrate the gifts of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans folks in their congregation. Currently the Presbyterian church does not ordain leaders who are gay. Carol grew up in the Presbyterian church and around the age of 12 started getting inklings of becoming a Presbyterian minister some day. She was ordained a deacon in the Presbyterian church as a teenager. Presbyterians ordain lay people, you see. But these days Carol pals around with the Episcopal tribe.

It is a real honor to be with you today. This church lives out what it means to be the beloved community and to share good news. Thank you for your witness not just to Tucson, but to the world. And thank you Alison for inviting me to speak to your community on this Sunday when you are celebrating the lives and gifts of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered folks. It’s really something for me to be here today. It’s humbling and challenging and encouraging.

18 years ago, this exact week in June, I attended the Presbyterian General Assembly. I was a youth advisory delegate. We met in Baltimore. And the hot topic that year was the Report on Human Sexuality. At that national gathering of Presbyterians, I voted to deny gay and lesbian people from serving as leaders in our church. Little did I know that I was voting against myself.

That summer I was also the editor of my university newspaper and I published a column about it. I voiced my absolute approval of the Presbyterian church’s action. The church should be like a lighthouse, I wrote, shining out truth, no matter how loudly the waves of our culture clash against rocks. Pretty poetic and dramatic, eh? At that time, I thought the scriptures were clear on the matter. I personally wanted nothing more than to please and serve God. And God’s way seemed straightforward.

So, how in the world, 18 years later, do I stand before you in this Presbyterian congregation on More Light Sunday. How do I stand here as a woman wearing this ring to proudly announce to the world that I have made a commitment to love and cherish another woman for the rest of life? How do I stand before you today with the good news that the love of God is surprisingly bigger and deeper and more creative than we might imagine.

How, indeed?

In the gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus tell this parable about the mysterious way God works.

"The kingdom of God is as if someone scatters seed on the ground, and then goes to sleep and gets up again the next day, day after day, and then the seed sprouts and grows, she does not know how.”

I’m part of an intentional community called the Restoration Project. And one of the things we are doing is growing a garden together. It is quite a learning experience. One of our housemates planted some squash seeds early on in one of the garden beds. At first I diligently watered the dirt. Some of the squash came up and other seedlings started to take off except a couple of the areas where some of the squash seeds were. I figured they were just bad seeds or something. I told my housemate, I think those seeds didn’t make it. She said, "Let's just wait. You never know."

And then I got busy and other people were watering the garden for a few days. And the next time I went out there, there was a squash plant, and several days later, there was another one. It’s like they came out of nowhere. And, I don’t mean to get all Jesusy about it. But one of those zucchini plant is now truly the biggest one in the garden. It was kind of hard to believe when I first saw it. I wasn’t sure how it happened.

And that’s a lot like the way God has worked in my own life. I might not believe it if it had not happened to me. I’m not sure why I’m surprised. Jesus tries to warn us. When the seed of God gets planted in you. Watch out. Transformation is on its way. And it’s not just about you. It’s going to be for the whole community.

Could you imagine, if you could talk to a seed, and tell it. Look little guy, this tree is what you will become. I bet it would laugh. Or just not believe you. The seed might say, No, thanks. I like being a seed. I could syphathize with a seed like that.

It took me a while to come fully alive. To live into the edges of all that God intended and wanted for me. Years after that Presbyterian General Assembly, when I began to question my sexuality, I didn’t want to believe it. At first it was too much. At that time I placed all authority in life outside myself: in the bible as others had explained it to me, in the church, in a God that left no room for my own passions and experience, in a God that seemed to want me dead, or at least to be miserable.

When you are like a little seed, buried in dirt, awaiting transformation, you can’t see what’s going to happen. And it’s scary. That in between place, between being planting and the harvest.

And so I can have compassion on those in the church who are in that place about what to do with gay folks. It’s a frightening thing to let go of what you thought God was like. To die to all that came before, and not quite understand how a harvest of anything good could come.

We might not understand it. But this is the way God works. And the scripture tells us, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to God’s purpose.

When Jesus healed people it was a sign of God’s kingdom. And when he healed people, part of the healing included restoring people back into community. When I was coming out I couldn’t stand to go to a Presbyterian church. It was too painful to listen to all the familiar songs and scripture that I had heard for years as condemnation, not good news. At the beginning it was hard enough to fight for my own life, I couldn’t also fight for a place in the church. But at the same time I was led into a progressive Christian community that held me while my faith fell apart and then helped me begin to rebuild.

Looking back on that time I spent buried in the dirt, when I was struggling to come out, I can now see that God never abandoned me. God wasn’t trying to hurt me. God just wanted me to be fully alive, to have abundant life, to grow toward the light.

It is not unreasonable for God to do things that surprise us. Or through out time, for our faith communities to be led by the Spirit into new places that surprise us. Jesus talked about the reign of God in very surprising and subversive ways. Jesus himself was surprising and subversive to the way many things of his day were understood.

In history, the bible has been used to justify slavery and to stop women from being ordained. We can now see that it is reasonable and faithful to see those verses and teachings in the context of their time.

When we hang in there with God, there are gifts. There is a harvest after all the transformation. In my life, coming out was like a crowbar that opened my heart up to God’s love. Realizing I was gay and being honest about it put me on the margins of the church and in much of society. And even that is a gift. As a white person in the United States, I was blind to much of my privilege. Coming out helped me gain some understanding of what it is like to live on the margins. It opened my eyes to see others on the margins. And to see the injustices. And helped me gain more understanding about Jesus and all that he taught. Because he preached to folks on the margins. Under the thumb of an Empire.

When Jesus told stories like today, and talked about the Kingdom of God. I think he was being subversive. One of the ways to think about the kingdom of God, or reign of God, is the way things would be if God’s way was lived out. And that’s very different from the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, or some of the parts of Empire we live under in the United States.

The reign of God is a revolution of love that subverts the status quo. And it is very queer. I’m sorry if some of you take offence to that word, queer. These days emerging generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have reclaimed the word queer. I like it because it puts me in solidarity with everyone else whose sexuality and gender identity puts them on the margins. And it also points out that I’m not trying to pass as straight. I am queer. I’m not trying to fit into the status quo. I don’t see the world as others might. I’m queer. And so was Jesus. And so is the kingdom of God.

This kingdom isn’t a place you could visit, like the state of Arizona. It seems Jesus was saying it is more like a state of mind. When we begin to live into the reality of how things are and could be through God’s eyes, we’ll be seen as queer by the powers that be. But Jesus let us know through his teaching and death and resurrection that those other powers are of no consequence. It’s God’s Empire, God’s way of doing things, God’s family that matters.

And where God rules there is liberation and freedom for all people. In this day and age, liberation and freedom for all people is pretty queer.

When God rules in our hearts the Roman Empire or the United States Empire isn’t the final word. When God rules in our lives, the religious authorities or the denominational powers that be don’t have complete power over our lives. When the seed of God gets into our mind and heart and life, it takes root and we begin to know that we are God’s beloved. We are not powerless in the face of absurd and power-driven hierarchy. We are not merely victims of prejudice and fear. We are the beloved. We are friends of God. And together we can live into the reality of the reign of God in the here and now.

The Presbyterian church may try to stall and squash the ordination of people like me for the time being. But not even the Presbyterian church can stop the kingdom of God. The Presbyterian Book of Order might officially forbid queer folks from enacting religious rituals in the name of the church, but they can’t stop us from living in the name of God. We will still embody the good news. We will still heal and bless and proclaim that all of life is sacred. And we do it in the name of God.

No matter if you are queer because of who you love, or queer because you follow Jesus. The powers that be can’t silence you either. They can’t stop us. We are part of God’s Reign. We are God’s beloved community; we already have our marching orders. Forget the official papers, or permission slips. There is nothing stopping us from going right on ahead and making the Reign of God reality right here in our lives and community.

Following Jesus’ lead: We can feed those who are hungry right in this courtyard outside.
We have permission to give water to those who are thirsty in the desert. Nothing is stopping us from writing letters and visiting those locked up and treated badly in our prisons.
Or from welcoming strangers into our homes with radical hospitality.

No matter if you call yourself a More Light church or not, you can go ahead and welcome all people into the beloved community, You can welcome compassionate lesbians and gay men, bi-sexual moms, gender-queer teenagers, beautiful drag queens, and sexy drag kings, folks who are right in the middle of transitioning to the gender God made them on the inside, and all the good and faithful people who are just questioning everything.

When the seed of God’s justice and love is planted in here, we’ll do all those things and more. We’ll know that we are the beloved And Love will grow in us. And we will be a force of love that this neighborhood and town just can’t get rid of. We will send out our roots deep and strong. We’ll be a shelter for all those who need a home. And we will love. And we will demand and work toward justice for all.

Jesus said that is what God’s kingdom is like. And that it is here. It is among us and in us. Right now. We have no excuses. God’s kingdom is here and it is coming. So come on. Let that seed of God grow in you, if you dare, if you really want to be fully alive. And let us go forth together, to live and love in the name of God.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How finding like-minded spirits changes the world

This article is great. It was posted by Tom Brackett, who helps midwife innovation in the Episcopal church. He posted it on the Anglimergent ning site.

I'm personally finding a lot of connections between what's happening within The Restoration Project community and all this. --CB


by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze ©2006

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn't change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what's possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don't need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

But networks aren't the whole story. As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence. When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn't that they were hidden; they simply don't exist until the system emerges. They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale. Click here to continue reading...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prayer in Action

A few weeks ago Carol spoke with students at the Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Arizona. They were headed to a weekend retreat on the theme Prayer in Action and asked her to speak to them about the theme. Here are her notes from beforehand...

This morning I fed our chickens. Eight full grown hens. It was my first time to get to feed and water them at our new place since they moved over from our friend’s house yesterday. I loved it. And I smiled the whole time. Watching them crowd the gate when I brought their feed inside the coop. I even smiled as I carried over a bucket of water. They are beautiful creatures. A couple are Rhode Island Reds, most of the others are, and there’s one black and white speckled one.

After feeding the chickens, I walked over to St. Andrew’s Episcopal church. I go there on Thursday mornings to volunteer in the kitchen. They make hundreds of meals a week that go to folks too sick to cook for themselves. This morning I chopped carrots and celery and washed a giant stack of pots and pans.

Why am I telling you about chickens and carrots and dishes? Because within these very mundane things are examples of prayer in action.

In the Book of Common Prayer there are written prayers of the people. One of the lines from form V says, “For a blessing upon all human labor, and for the right use of the riches of creation, that the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster, we pray to you, O Lord.”

For the right use of the riches of creation…
The chickens are helping reclaim the soil beneath their coop. Their nutrient rich poop, their scratching and pecking will renew the dirt that for years was under an inch of asphalt. We actually tore up the asphalt this week. It came up in huge hunks of black tar.
By getting rid of that section of asphalt we’ll help in a very small way to liberate the earth and to live in right relationship with it. The temperature will be lower in the backyard because that tar won’t be there to absorb the sun. It won’t solve global warming in and of itself. But it is a step we can take.
We pray to you, O Lord.

That the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster…
The chickens, or “the girls” as our housemate Emrys calls them are helping us produce some of our own food. We are also growing some squash, and are getting basins ready to plant some tomatoes and peppers and watermelon, and corn and well, we have a long list. By using permaculture techniques we hope to grow a lot of our own food. This will cut down on our collective use of fossil fuels to transport food to us, and hopefully one day we will grow enough that we can share some of the vegetables with our neighbors who may not have enough to eat.
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected…
At St. Andrew’s kitchen meals are made every weekday for people who have HIV-AIDS and have become too weak to cook for themselves. The deacon there is a chef and directs the volunteers preparing and packaging things like smothered steak, chicken enchiladas, tamale pie, brownies, and meatloaf and mashed potatoes. More volunteers come earlier every morning to pick up a map and bags of food to take to people all over the city. Some of the clients who are sick have lost the support of family and friends or they spend any extra money they have on medications and have nothing left for food. The volunteers who bring the meals may be one of the only people they see each week.

In the chopping of carrots, the washing of dishes,
We pray to you, O Lord.

The word Liturgy actually means, “the work of the people.” Without us there is no worship. Without we the people, the prayers have no life. Verna Dozier, who was a lay woman in the Episcopal church and wrote and taught a lot about what it means to be the church, said some good stuff about all this. In her book, The Dream of God, Verna warns us that we shouldn’t get so distracted by doing church, that we loose site of being church. She challenges us to not just worship Jesus, but to follow Jesus. This is true prayer in action. She writes:

“Worship is setting Jesus on a pedestal, distancing him, enshrining (enshrouding) him in liturgies, stained glass windows, biblical translations, medallions, pilgrimages to places where he walked—the whole nine yards. Following him is doing what he did, weeping over a situation that was so far removed from the dream of God and spending his life to make it different. Following is discipleship.”

Following Jesus is putting feet and hands and tears and callouses and ears to our prayers.

It does not mean giving up worship or prayer. Following Jesus just means embodying our worship and prayers when we leave the pews or pillows or couches.

The baptismal covenant is a great guide to what it means to put prayer into action. Every time we who follow in the way of Jesus head out the doors of a church or service we are going out into the world to live into this covenant. Many churches place a bowl of water near the entrance/exit. Next time you leave a service and see water. Try touching it. Remember the covenant. Pray that with God’s help, you will live into it.

and then we read them together...
Will you continue in the ….

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


About 75 people came to the house blessing and open house on Sunday. Thanks to all those who blessed us in person and from afar. It was an incredible day.

The very next day this little friend was seen in the backyard of Casa Mariposa (The Butterfly House). Gretchen got this picture before he flew away.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Upcoming Restoration Project happenings

This weekend is the big move. Eight of us. Four separate households combining stuff. I'm not sure we have any idea what we are in for. And that's okay. We are taking it one step at a time. And singing. And trusting. This community spirit is so much bigger than us.

The Restoration Project will host weekly gatherings at the community house at 34o S. 3rd Ave. All are invited.

Starting this Sunday, March 1, we'll host Sunday mornings at the house.

This gathering will include silent meditation (from 10:30 am till 10:50 am), readings from the bible and other sacred, provocative sources, singing, group reflection, and sharing bread and wine as part of communion (from 11 am till noon) and then brunch/lunch (noon). Anyone can come to any part. We'll meet in the back yard until we get a chair ramp into the house built. You can enter from the alley. We'll still have boxes and stuff everywhere this Sunday. But we wanted our first official day in the house to begin with worship. So come join us in our incomplete imperfection.

The weekend of March 7 & 8 will be a busy one at the house.

Saturday the 7th we're having a yard sale in the back yard. 8 am till 4 pm. Enter through the alley.

Sunday, March 8, is an open house and house blessing. We'll serve lunch after the morning worship and then have an open house till 2:30 pm. The house blessing ritual will happen around 1:30 pm. Come for lunch or for the blessing or just stop by before 2:30 pm. After that we'll probably all be taking Sabbath naps!

We have a Facebook page. It has lot's of pictures from the three Saturday work parties. Type in "The Restoration Project, Tucson" to find it on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saturday morning house party

Okay, so the party includes paint brushes and mops and scrubbing. But it will be great fun. Come on over to the new community house to say Hi and help out. We'll be working on the back porch where worship, meditation, and lots of gathering will happen. As well as the giant hall where potlucks of great delight will soon begin to flourish.

This coming Saturday and next we'll work and clean from 9:30 till noon. Saturday, March 7, we'll sell all our stuff that doesn't fit in the house at a yard sale. Come on over and lend a hand! We'd sure appreciate it.

Location is: 340 S. 3rd Ave. (South of downtown a few blocks).

The Restoration Project is now on Facebook: The Restoration Project, Tucson. Check out more there.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sermon from Sunday

Carol preached at First Christian Church in Tucson Sunday. Here's the gist of it...

Year B
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 8, 2009

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

In the small town I grew up in, the Presbyterians were pretty proud of the fact that they always got of church earlier than the Methodists across the street. This was exiting to the Presbyterians because it meant that on most ordinary Sundays they got to the one restaurant in town first.

It was a pretty ordinary Sabbath when Jesus left the synagogue. Maybe he and his friends were hungry. I’m guessing there weren’t any restaurants in town. Maybe they were hoping that Simon’s mother-in-law had made that delicious fish casserole she promised last time. For whatever reason, on this ordinary Sabbath day they head straight to Simon and Andrew’s house after synagogue. And when they get there the first thing Simon says to Jesus is that his wife’s mom isn’t feeling too good. She’s got a fever. There will be no famous fish casserole.

We don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes in this family. The disciple Simon has or had a wife. Maybe she’s died; maybe she’s taking care of the children. The Bible doesn’t always mention women and children, even when they most surely are there. But here is Simon’s mother-in-law.

Now what Jesus does next isn’t really socially appropriate, if you follow all the rules. In this culture at this time, men weren’t supposed to be touching women they weren't related to. But Jesus goes right in and takes her by the hand. Jesus crossed a line here. He crossed the boundaries of who is family and who isn’t. It was love and compassion that compelled him. You could call Jesus a border crosser. Crossing borders brought healing. Not playing by the established social rules, brought healing and freedom.

After Jesus heals her, this dear woman gets up and starts serving all the four men gathered there.

At first this perturbed me. Here you go, here’s some healing, now make us supper, woman.

Most translations shortchange this healed woman by translating the word for what she did next for Jesus as “serve.” … Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. In Greek the word used here for serve is the same used just a little earlier in Mark when it talks of Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days, and it says that angels “waited” on him, or in some translations, “ministered” to Jesus. The Greek word is the same. What this woman offered to Jesus was on the same level as angels.

Her healing allowed her to offer her gifts, and perhaps it truly was her deepest hearts desire to minister to her guests. Hospitality is a tremendous spiritual gift. It can be as comforting as having angels minister to you. And she was freed to serve, to share her gift.

As another generous response to her healing, she next opens her door to the whole community. Other families and friends brought those who were sick or possessed with demons to her house to be touched and healed by Jesus. From the threshold of her home, healing poured to a whole community. She gives us an example of faithful discipleship. She did what she could, opened her home, as a source of healing. She didn’t do anything drastic, just opened the door on an ordinary day. And the whole city limped and was carried and made their way there where Jesus healed many of them. Notice it doesn’t say, all of them. Many of them.

Early the next morning, before the sunrise Jesus goes and finds some solitude and talks to God. Wouldn’t you like to watch and listen to Jesus pray? Don’t you just wonder what he was thinking that morning?

Maybe he had questions?
Why couldn’t I heal everyone? Didn’t you see that man, the look on his face? Why couldn’t I heal him? Why wouldn’t you heal him?

Maybe Jesus was afraid?
You heard those demons. They knew who I was. They are going to out me. I’m not ready for everyone to know

Maybe he had doubts about what to do next.
I love these people so much. I’m so welcome here. There’s more I could teach them. Do I have to go? Simon’s mother in law could really use a new table. I could stay here and build her a table. And all those people. Those faces. They need me here.

Don’t you bet Jesus could still picture their faces from the night before? All those people, longing for healing. Wanting to be free. Pressing into him with so much hope and despair in their eyes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Jesus did have questions and fears and doubts. He was human. He was one of us. And so many of us wonder what to do next. We question our ability, we are afraid.

Gandhi once gave some good advice to people like us. It’s wisdom that Jesus seemed to know and live by too. I’m pretty sure they were both tapped into some of the same sources of wisdom. Here’s what Gandhi said…

“Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man or woman whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him or her. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore her to control over her own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away." [quote changed to use inclusive language]

By the next morning, when his friends found Jesus, if he had any doubts and self, they seemed to have melted away. Without fear or hesitation, he said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

I am struck by the phrase came out…“for that is what I came out to do.” This passage is at the beginning of Mark. Jesus is just getting things rolling. He’s just coming out. The night before he didn’t want the demons to out him publicly. He wasn’t ready. But perhaps it was those faces, that woke him up early, that drove him to prayer, that made his next step clear.

When the issues and headlines turn into faces for us, we often know what to do next. We may at first be disturbed and loose sleep. But Jesus gives us a model that will show us what to do. He prays. He takes time to perhaps share his doubts and fears with God, perhaps he sits in silence or perhaps he only groans. Those faces plant seeds of compassion. When compassion takes over it leads us along the way of Christ. Perhaps the issue is the border. Maybe it’s racism. Maybe it’s gay marriage. Maybe it’s poverty. But when that “issue” has a face and story and name, we often stop and re-consider our next steps.

This passage for today shows that we have a very queer God. Jesus didn’t obey the social norms of who was family and who was not. Jesus was creating a new family of God. This was part of his message. This was part of the way he lived. Even Jesus had to “come out” about who he was and how he was meant to do his loving in the world. Yes, this one sent to incarnate God among us, points us to a very queer God indeed.

As Jesus unmasks this God to us. We find a transgressive God. A God that moves beyond social codes, that transgresses boundaries and borders. Jesus was a border crosser. God is a border crosser. God is willing to go where we don’t expect.

We also discover through this act of Jesus that God comes to us in ordinary ways. We don’t get any indication that this dear woman was in danger of dieing. She wasn’t getting to live fully. Jesus wanted her to have abundant life right then. And so he healed her.

But what about us? What about those of us who are unemployed or underemployed. Where’s our abundant life? What about those of us who can’t afford medicine that we know we need? What about those of us who owe more on our house or car than it’s worth? Where’s our abundant life? What about those of us knocked down time and time again by one of those demons named ism…racism, sexism, ageism, classism? Where’s our healing? Where is the healing for our community?

We are living in extraordinary times. The front page of the New York Times this morning tells the story of Lehigh Acres, a town in Florida. One in four residents received food stamps in December. 221 families stood in line for free bread at a church one recent Friday morning. The reporter calls it the American Dream in high reverse. And says, I quote, “and now the bust is testing whether the experience of shared struggle will pull people together or tear them apart.”

Isn’t that the question for all of our communities these days? Will the shared struggle pull us together or tear us apart.

Jesus lived in a time when empire and poverty was trying— and often greatly succeeding in tearing people apart. Jesus responded by healing whole communities as he did in the passage today. He restored those who were outcast by their diseases back into community. He touched and restored women, even in a society that didn’t care much about them. He showed that he meant it when he said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.”

He also said, I will not leave you alone. Whenever two or three of you are gathered in my name, there I will be with you.

We are not alone in this. You are not alone in your struggle and pain and heartache and grief. You do not have to face your demons alone. God is still at work and the spirit of Christ is here. God wants you to be free. God wants the whole world to be free.

As difficult as our lives may seem sometimes here in Tucson, Arizona, in the United States of America in 2009, most of us are pretty blessed compared to much of the world. Bombs don’t fall on our city everyday. Drinkable water comes out of public and private faucets. The air is clean enough that we can see the mountains around us almost everyday. A free lunch and clean clothes are available for those who can get to Casa Maria. We don’t have to worry about being blown up by a buried bomb in the dirt as we walk down the street.

Some of us don’t need healing. We just need to wake up to our freedom. Our healing has come. We are freed. Now it’s time to serve.

No matter where you are today, desperate for healing, out of touch with your own pain or grateful for the healing and freedom you’ve been given from God, Christ is here among us and with us.

Christ still stands on the threshold. He’s not afraid to go in. He’s here and willing to meet you at the place of your deepest pain and longing. He’s still willing to take your hand, lift you up, and free you to serve.

Let us pray.

God you are as near as our breath. We thank you for the life that flows through us. For the gift of breath, of shelter, of food, of community. You have promised never to abandon us. We know that nothing can separate us from your love. God we know that you want all people to experience abundant life. And that wherever healing is present, you are its source. Transform us now in our body, mind, spirit, emotions, and relationships to be more free, more whole, more able to serve you and love our neighbors. Amen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First Work Morning at the Restoration House

This Saturday, February 7, will be the first work day at the Restoration Project community house.

We could sure use your help in cleaning, painting, and getting garden beds ready. Bring a shovel, paint brush, mop, if you have one, or just come on over and help make it a real community house!

340 S. 3rd Ave.

9:30 am till 12:30 pm

Front, Back, and inside

Monday, February 2, 2009

Introducing the Restoration Project

For almost exactly 9 months, 7 of us have met weekly to discuss how we might integrate our faith into everyday life and how we might be freed up to love and serve the world more.

As we sang together, shared a meal almost every Friday, and dreamed, it became clear that we wanted to live closer together. We imagined the abundance we might feel if we took turns preparing meals. If there were more eyes and hands to watch over and play with little ones. What if we could check in with one another over coffee at breakfast instead of spending an hour going through our calendars to find an evening next month. (this happened to us once, no joke.) What if we could work together to use permaculture techniques to transform the yards into almost year round edible beauty. And how great might it be to have others to pray/meditate with daily.

From bottom, center, and clockwise:
Maryada, Lilly, Gretchen, Ben, Kate, Carol, Patricia (not pictured is Emrys.)

After a retreat in the fall, lots of visioning, and sitting in silence, we knew that our next step meant finding a house where we could all live, or at least live nearby one another. Last week way opened. If all goes well, we will be moving into an old boarding house just a couple of blocks south of downtown Tucson on March 1. There's room enough for all of us and to have extra room to offer hospitality.

In the near future we will offer ways to come and be part of community and spiritual practices at the house. So far there's talk of a Wednesday night meal and silent worship led by a member of the community that's a Quaker. And Kate is talking about a Sunday morning house church sort of gathering followed by brunch and daily contemplative prayer, probably at 6:30 am. And there's plenty of gardening and permaculture to get going. But we'll share more details when they are all in place.

Here's our freshly minted mission statement...

Nourished and empowered by the Spirit, the Restoration Project seeks to live in right relationship with one another, the community, and the earth through hospitality, simple and sustainable living, playful spirituality, and peaceful, prophetic action.

Right now among us are a 29-year old Quaker folk singer, two Presbyterian ministers in their early 30s, and their 18-month-old daughter who is learning sign language, Spanish, and English all at once. A 30-year old Episcopal priest with a call to re-imagine Christian community to be sustainable into the next generations, a 25-year-old who was raised evangelical and for the past two years lived in a Catholic Worker house and worked full time on humanitarian issues around the U.S./Mexico border, a 27-year-old Unitarian Universalist peace activist and independent journalist. And a 37-year old writer with an M.Div. and a penchant for mysticism.

Living in community is our attempt to live with hope and imagination during this time of global economic and environmental insecurity. Here in the desert and borderland of Southern Arizona we face many harsh realities—dwindling resources, water scarcity, a militarized border. By joining together in ecumenical worship we hope to be sustained for the work of serving and loving our community. By living simply and sharing resources we hope to live with a sense of abundance and to leave behind fear and scarcity. By using permaculture techniques we hope to eventually be able to grow a lot of our own food, and even have enough to share with others. We pray that our lives will be used by God and that we may join in Love's restoration of all creation so that all the earth may one day live in joy and harmony.

One of the songs we like to sing as a group is Freedom is Coming... "Oh Freedom, Freedom. Freedom is coming. Oh, yes I know." It captures that tension of living into the dream of God, knowing that it is both here now and yet longing for it to unfold even more fully.

We are blown away by the Spirit's work in our midst. And are walking around these last few days in awe-filled gratitude for the opportunity to live into the vision stirred within us. More to come!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Join the Living in Congregations magazine

Uprising, the all-night interactive Easter vigil we threw last year is explained in the latest Alban Institute's* Congregations magazine.

A few years ago at an Episcopal Easter vigil I noticed that something was missing. Someone, actually. No teenagers were present and only a few people in their twenties or thirties were in the gathered congregation of about 80—and that included me. I remember thinking, How sad, because this is the most creative, sensual service we’ve got going.

That experience re-sparked questions that I, and many others, ponder: What would it take to make the stories and rituals of our tradition meaningful to our rising generations? And how can we share the gifts of our faith with others who would never, ever, dare set foot inside a church?

A deep consideration of those questions led my partner and me to form an organization called Join the Living, whose broad mission is to connect our next generations with spiritual practices and community. In the spring of 2008 we hosted our first collaborative experiment: an all-night interactive Easter vigil in the desert of southern Arizona. We called it Uprising, a celebration of the force of life that cannot be stopped.

Continue reading here.

*The Alban Institute was founded in 1974 as a major resource for American congregations facing the challenges of a changing society. Alban stands at the forefront of knowledge and experience regarding congregational vitality and positive trends across denominations and faith traditions. Our work is helping shape the strong congregations of tomorrow.

Flash Mob at the Cathedral

At St. Paul's Cathedral in London Everyone brought a walkman along and at 18:46 pressed play and danced. I just love this particular flash mob scene. The Spirit is alive and kicking it outside the cathedral at least.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Upcoming Tucson Events Worth Noting

A lecture by a leading Jewish scholar and a Hootnanny for peace are two out of the ordinary events happening January 25 & 26 in Tucson. We were excited to hear about them and plan to attend. Just wanted to pass the news on to Tucson folks.

First up is Amy-Jill Levine. Dr. Levine is Jewish and writes and lectures about Jesus. I heard her speak once in seminary and was blown away by her insights. This is an incredible opportunity to hear her in person.

Jesus: The Misunderstood Jew
Special Lecture by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine

Amy-Jill Levine Jesus: The Misunderstood Jew
Date: Monday - January 26, 2009
Time: 7:00PM
The Tucson Jewish Community Center

Jesus of Nazareth followed the Torah of Moses, found inspiration in the Prophets of Israel, and offered a teaching that some Jewish men and women found compelling. Yet too often Christians and Jews incorrectly regard Jesus as rejecting Judaism. Prof. Levine' lecture will explore her recent research on this historical Jesus and his portrayal in the earliest sources. She will explain how understanding Jesus in his Jewish context can bring new meaning to his parables, his politics, and his piety. At the same time, this new understanding can offer new a path for Jewish-Christian relations.

Amy-Jill Levine is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Department of Religious Studies & Graduate Department of Religion. This lecture is sponsored by Arizona Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona.

Hootnanny for Peace
Jews, Muslims, and Christians eating and singing together

A Multi-faith Folk Festival
Date: Sunday - January 25, 2009
Time: 6:00PM
St. Francis in the Foothills Methodist Church, 4625 E River Road

Jews, Muslims and Christians, will gather together to sing folk songs, peace songs, and oldies by Judy Collins, Peter Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seager and The Weavers. Added to this will be Jewish Folk songs, and Sufi Dancing. Those gathered will also eat and pray together. Are these not the ingredients for creating Peace on Earth?

The evening starts with a Pot Luck dinner at 6 pm.

Organizers have asked that if your last name begins with
A-J: Bring a Main Dish for eight.
K-Q: Bring a Salad for eight.
R-Z: Bring a Dessert for eight.

Members of the Tucson Mosque will teach dancing. Three folk groups will lead the singing, which starts at 6:45 pm.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Community in the neighborhood

Loss is everywhere it seems lately. Jobs, retirement savings, houses.

Community helps make the sting not hurt quite so bad. Just today an older neighbor and her dog came over to visit our dogs at the Howard House. She said she hadn't been feeling too well. "Sometimes it seems life is slipping away from me," she said. But the sunshine and conversation we shared in the backyard made her feel a little better, she said.

And then as I walked her back to her house since she was feeling a little wobbly, we met two other neighbors we didn't know. Walking with dogs always helps with these connections it seems. We admired our new acquaintance's beautiful, shiny white hair. Learned her accent was Russian, that her husband had died just three years ago, and she'd recently lost her house in a fraud case. And then she and her son walked on with us. Soon we were sitting in another backyard. More connections were made. Conversation and fresh oranges from trees planted by our neighbor years ago were shared. I'm sure we'll all visit with one another again soon. This is what neighborhoods are for. And I'm grateful for my neighbors who shared the gift of community and presence with me today.