September, 2008

For those of you connected to St. Paul via the website–here’s some interesting news. We’ve started the building project: Building the Dream, as of the end of August. The front of the building has been removed, even the granite stairs, and a new foundation for an extension is in place. Entering the building is a bit of a challenge since the two front entrances are gone. We enter through the Education Wing, and climb the back stairs past the Parish Adminsitrator’s Office, the Pastor’s Study, around the corner, down some more stairs, and then into the nave. The first Sunday we did this, a wonderful thing happened: every time someone came through the door into the church, he or she entered from the front. Instead of seeing the backs of people’s heads, we are greeted by the smiles of people already sitting in the pews. It was a powerfully different way to enter Sunday morning. There was a little confusion at first as people sorted out where to sit, and how to come in, which aisle to walk to, etc. But it was a cheering experience.

Our neighbors at Temple Ahavat Achim will be celebrating the High Holy Days during the last part of September and early October. They are also beginning to rebuild the Temple after the tragic fire of last December. Please keep them in your prayers during these solemn weeks.

An important day is coming up in the life of the Synod: Saturday, October 4th, a workshop on Leading Change in Congregations will be held in Arlington, at St. Paul Lutheran Church, there. It looks like a wonderful day, especially for congregational leaders who are navigating a course of change in their communities.

Bishop Payne recently sent a letter to the pastors of congregations letting us know her commitment to deepening her prayer practice and her listening skills. She is committed to supporting all of us in our prayer, and asks that we pray for her as we journey through this second year of learning to listen together in prayer. If you are interested in materials from the Synod on prayer and listening, you can find them at the Synod website. I don’t know how to do a link from this blog, but there is a link on our web-page. We recently finished a bible study on prayer at church, on Monday evenings, and we plan to resume this topic for study in early October.

Sermon Back Story: Every Sunday there are things I leave out of sermons. Recently, I preached a sermon on Jonah and forgiveness. What I didn’t say in the sermon is something I found in a book by Wendy Farley on healing. Forgiveness is complicated for the heart that suffers, especially when that suffering has come from the hands of others. She writes “Restoration, reconciliation, and redemption do little for the heart enraged at its suffering. This is why Jonah was so outraged at having to prophecy to Nineveh. The children of Israel had suffered cruelly at the hands of the Assyrians. When the Ninevites repented, Jonah was furious. “O Lord! Is not this what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God…” It is easy to sympathize with Jonah.” We might read Jonah as a self-concerned prophet, but according to Farley, his heart was wounded by suffering, and he didn’t want to be the voice of grace for those who had caused his suffering. Farley’s depth of understanding of Jonah’s suffering changed the way I read the text. If you are interested, the book is: “The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth.” Jonah material is on page 68.

Years ago, when I was first involved in anti-racism work, one of my closest friends was a Passamaquoddy woman. We often discussed each other’s experiences, and my experience as a white, middle class woman, was very different from hers. Our world veiws were shaped by our social locations. Part of the dynamic energy of our friendship came from doing the work of understanding how systemic racism had affected our lives, and our sense of ourselves. Yet, even with that bond of friendship, one day, in conversation, I asked a question about her community in Maine. In a flash of anger, she told me I should do the research myself, instead of asking her. She said, ” I am not my oppressor’s teacher.”

It was a powerful moment. As she saw things, the measure of my commitment to her liberation, as a person and as a Native American, would be my willingness go the distance with her, to really try and understand the world from her perspective. And then to work to change the conditions which produced the oppression. She wanted from me a kind of accompaniment, a willingness to seek and hear the truth of her life: to be changed myself, by her truth. I learned much in that moment, and it helps me understand Jonah’s pain, when he was asked to go and preach repentence to his oppressors. Like my friend, who didn’t want to be her oppressor’s teacher, Jonah didn’t want to be the instrument of his oppressors’ spiritual recovery. Jonah’s story becomes even more liberating, a commentary on the process of healing individuals and communities.
In Peace, Pastor Anne

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