August 19, 2018
Any good pastor worth her salt will arrive and listen.
Some of the projects I hope to work on with you are, primarily, listening to you.
Hearing your stories, and you perspective on the story of this church, past, present, and future.
And, in the conversations I’ve had with you so far, I’m hearing from you that you love this church. You love it’s commitment to activism, you love its children, you love the ways it feeds you and the ways you serve one another in return. I’ve also heard that this has been a long, hard season of transition. It’s been years.
Things have felt tumultuous.
The good news I hear in all this, though: you care a LOT about this church. You believe in what God is working here enough to stick through this.
But I know its been hard work. So as we begin this new chapter of our lives together, I want to make sure we have nourished our spirits well and feel connected to one another before anything else.
But in this time in the life of Churches with a big “C”; churches broadly construed, and in our common life together more widely, we’re having to learn some new ways of being together. We’re having to seek out and re-ground in the things that still give life amidst a thousands of distractions and heartbreaks our wider world blips across our attention.
It’s no secret that this church, the Church, heck, our common public institutions, are in the middle of a massive shift.
Five hours a day on our phones, working 70 hours a week, hate becoming mainstream, increased polarization and isolation from one another—It’s not how we were meant to be as humans together.
We happen to be the people living in this time of a pivot point. We know some ways we’ve done things aren’t working the way they used to, but we’re not sure what the next thing will look like yet.
And, like the discouraged fishers at the water’s edge, cleaning their nets after working all night and catching no fish, being in this pivot point can be fatiguing.
But it is also so full of possibility.
A dismal night of fishing is not the end of the story—it’s the beginning.
Jesus has been teaching and healing across Judea, and to better address the pressing crowd who have been following him, he improvises and commanders Peter’s boat—they’ve met once before, when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, so they had some connection already—and after he finishes teaching, he tells Peter to row out into deep waters. Jesus is no fisherman, but most people who have spent any time near the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee would know that you don’t catch anything worth catching when you play it safe in shallow waters. Because there is an unexpected abundance to be caught when you row out beyond playing it safe close to shore.
These are the days to row out, and let your nets down deep. To re-focus on nourishing our spirits and our connections to one another. To fill the nets of our souls up.
Moving away from the shallow eddies that occupy our attention, and putting out for the places where both depth and abundance are found.
One of my favorite theologians, Rob Bell, talks about the treble and the bass of our lives.
He articulates that we live far too much of our lives these days at the level of treble.
Treble is the short, snappy, tinny stimuli that flies at us thousands of times a day.
In the culture of our moment, there is this disconnection and furious pace of attention that is toxic for human beings. That tinny stimuli flies at us faster than ever.
Our attention is a commodity to be bought and sold and enticed and snatched at all throughout the day, sometimes without our permission.
And to compete in that economy of commodified attention, news, articles, content that we come across, has to be more and more sensationalized, while also scrubbed down to clickbait bullets.
Like, I’ve noticed some articles I read online will say how long you can anticipate reading this particular article. It’s usually two or three minutes. Like I might see that and say, “whoa, two whole minutes! This better be good.” No wonder we’re exhausted—our very attention, this well of our energy, is tugged at all day.
We need something to help draw us from that surface we skim along day—those shallow waters—and drop down to rest and renew in something deeper.
We need the bass notes.
The bass notes balance the treble.
Bass is the low note that carries us through. It is nourishing presence. It’s catching our breath, and not watching the clock.
It is lingering at a painting in an art gallery for 20 minutes.
It is sitting at the beach and breathing and listening.
It is a good long dinner with friends.
It is luxuriating into craft, not just production.
It is rich conversation.
It is letting silence be part of that conversation as much as words spoken.
It is reading the Bible, and marveling that people 3,000 years ago also were trying to figure out how to make sense of power and love and family and suffering, just as we do now.
We need practices that will slow us down to wider latitudes of attention,
to re-connect with that which is older than five minutes.
Because we are deluged with tons of information, but very little wisdom.
Flying at the level of treble is all energy, but the bass note is nourishment.
Treble is distraction; the bass note is depth.
So I hope, in the coming months together, we can practice and share that which gives us some bass notes to balance the treble.
I see this season here as one of re-grounding ourselves in that which is good in our tradition, in our spirituality even and especially in all its diversity.
So, for a good long while, I want to make sure that we take some time to re-connect with what we’re about at this church, at its core—why church, rather than just a community service or social organizing group? Why church, rather than just lunch with friends, or a jam session? Not knocking any one of these at all—I’ve been in some holy conversations and protests and drum circles—
But what’s the thing here, when we bring these all together in church?
I would venture, because our souls know there is something sacred and ineffable in our lives.
That when we connect these things—relationship and reflection and music and art and justice and service and acknowledging that these all tied together teach us something about who God is and who we are—
There’s something deep under there.
There’s a whole catch of goodness waiting to astonish us as we row out and let our nets down deep.
There is some powerful work for justice and goodness in our world right now that this church is equipped to step into. I’ve heard the long legacies and recent organizing for justice and a more hopeful future that has been part of this church’s identity. And our passion for activism, for justice, is strengthened when we care for our souls.
When we tend our deep connection
to the heart of life,
to the core of love,
So there will be some projects that arise that of course, we’ll address.
But, more than anything else, I see our priority as making sure that we are feeling sturdy, spirit-nourished, and well-connected to God and to each other.
And taking the time for prayer, contemplation, and soul-nourishment is not selfish. By slowing down and grooving on some bass note, we enrich our connections. To ourselves, to God, and to one another.
Richard Rohr suggests that “True prayer or contemplation is a leap into commonality and community and connection. You know that what you are experiencing is also held by the whole and that you are not alone anymore. You are a part, and forever a grateful part. As a part, you are participating in the whole”
The more we live in the bass notes, the deep waters of our lives, the less isolated we are from one another.
Now, one last lesson from this text: they bring in this catch of fish, and there are so many fish that it swamps two boats and breaks their nets.
Nets broken and the life of fishing for fish closed, they “left everything and followed him”.
So what did they do with all these dang fish?
Well, what we know is they left everything, and that, since Jesus had just been teaching to crowds, there were likely still a number of people around, waiting to see what Jesus might do when he got back.
I like to think that this was another feeding of the five thousand sort of moment.
After sounding the depths, the point of abundance drawn forth is to share it with others. To not keep it for ourselves.
In the scripture we heard today, there’s this challenge Jesus levels at Simon: the night may have been long, but row out into deep water, and drop your nets down.
So, as we step into a new phase of our life together, may our souls be nourished.
May we lean more and more into the bass notes of our lives.
May we row out from the shore, and cast our nets down deep.
[[It’s like when we ground ourselves, we connect to the roots, too. The places where nourishment and communication are transmitted between trees in a grove. ]]
Find courage to step away from safety nets, row out even if you might be tired from a long night of work with nothing to show for it, and let down your fishing nets into waters we can’t see the bottom of yet.
He’s offering this invitation to go deeper, even if, like Peter, we feel like we’ve been here before. What could be different? I know you feel like you’ve done the same thing before, but try it in a new way. Cast out in deeper waters. Cast further out from that shore you know so well, and see what might arise when you let your nets down deep.
Try going somewhere you might not think to go, doing something you might not think to do. Be curious with one another—imagine if you were starting fresh with these people you’re traveling with.
There are so many things that capture our attention these days, that invite us to skim our nets just along broad, sunny surfaces to dredge up palatable, comfortable, bite-size pieces of wisdom. This fits the shape of our attention these days, but it rarely offers the nourishment our spirits crave.
Together, let us cast our nets down deep.
It is noticing that which brings a tear to our eye or a lump to our throat—and sticking with what that has to teach us.
There’s this whole genre of sci-fi movies—I think of them as soulful sci-fi—that just makes me bawl. Not with sadness, but with just BIG-ness. I count among these Contact, Interstellar, and Arrival.
How many of you have seen Interstellar?
I don’t think it gives too much of a spoiler to say that, in this movie, love is a dimensional force in the universe that connects beloveds across time and space—literally. Love, in this movie, is a dimensional force of the universe that exerts influence and power on teh lives of people.
If that’s not a great way to describe God these days, I’m not sure what is.
Anyway, I experience this thing, where it just feels like a crashing wave of emotion washing over me, and I cry not because I am sad or hurt or frustrated, but just because I feel that I’m in the presence of something big. I have come to recognize this feeling as God’s presence.
I wonder what have been some of your lump-in-the-throat, tear-in-your-eye moments that stand out to you?
Frederick Beuchner says, “pay attention to the things that bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat, for these are signs that the holy is drawing near”
“With all the challenges we’ve faced, the most effective thing has been getting to know each other on a personal level. That is the key to going forward.” – Sister Helena Marie
When things feel challenging in a group of people, one of the best things you can do is connect them to one another more deeply and richly.
To practice contemplative prayer is to practice being in loving relationship with God, with others, with everything, and even with oneself. Those who fall into the safety net of divine silence find that it is not at all a fall into individualism, but just the opposite. True prayer or contemplation is a leap into commonality and community and connection. You know that what you are experiencing is also held by the whole and that you are not alone anymore. You are a part, and forever a grateful part. As a part, you are participating in the whole.
Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 37-37; and Transforming the World through Contemplative Prayer, disc 4 (CD, MP3 download); and Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, pp. 4, 15, 19
What are the handful of experiences that most opened your heart?
Do you feel overwhelmed? Cynical? Weary or uncertain?
Do one thing. Sometimes, if I have to tackle a big project, I can feel overwhelmed. I look at the totality of the task before me, and I can’t imagine diving into this huge thing. When we are anxious or stressed about what to do, and especially if we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to do it right or perfectly, it is easy to put the necessary work off.
I heard a story about a novelist who had written over seventy novels. When this author was asked how he had been so prolific, he said, “two hundred crappy words per day; that’s it.” The idea here is that if you start with just doing one thing, even one crappy thing, one deeply imperfect thing, you can get that kinetic energy moving and keep your heart and courage going.
Just do something. Assume you will make a mistake or several. And that means that you are risking well—you’re not just staying comfortable.
How many of the most important lessons of your life have you learned by just going through it, surviving, and making sense of it afterwards?
And please, please be troubled enough to keep doing one next thing. Continue to be wrestle with white supremacy rearing its ugly head. I hope we continue to educate ourselves about the legacies of racism in this country, and then act.
For white people, especially white people in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, it can be easy to just stay in our comfortable lane. This is the sort of place that can be an insulated bubble from the pain and tumult of the rest of the country. But it is not insulated from this, it’s just not as obvious.
As you learn and act and risk for the sake of love, I hope we can come back to our church family and reflect together.
This is where church vitality is…where it is less of a place to develop an assent to right belief, and more a community of action-reflection. Where we are empowered to risk together. To practice imperfect gestures of Jesus love in our communities, and reflect on these in our covenanted community.
Re-imagine is a sort of church-like center in San Francisco that some refer to as “the Jesus Dojo”. This is an explicit way to shift church from being a building where people gather to assent to belief, to more of a hub for people to practice a way of life.
I hope the church that can be not a building of belief, but a community of practice. An experimental field where people can actually observe and experience the way of life we advocate. And then reflect on our experiences and practice together.
I’ve been wrestling a lot this week with just what we are seeing in our public life right now, this polarization and fury in our country.
This naked evil of white supremacy feeling newly emboldened.
This rending of the fabric we’ve understood of what is right and wrong.
It’s like we’re entering this new phase of how we be human to one another these days. I think that’s what’s behind a lot of the conflict we’re seeing—I think we’re in a new age of wisdom about what it means to be good humans together.
And there’s some deep wisdom in the movement of Jesus. We need some Jesus these days,
but not the proper Jesus of the stained glass window.
Not the tidy, blue-eyed, Nordic Jesus in a soft focus and clean white robes.
We need the Jesus who was a brown-skinned Jewish carpenter in the same dirty tunic he wore all the time, who didn’t care about being polite because he was about some liberation far too urgent for being polite. We need the Jesus who turned over tables, and we need the Jesus who chose love even when he was afraid. We need the Jesus who responded to gotcha questions with stories of people’s own lives that troubled the way they accepted their world, and the Jesus who revealed depths of humanity people didn’t know they had. We need the unabashed truth-telling courage of Jesus, and right alongside it, we need the deep, wide, and radical love of Jesus.
Because church, we are in a time when the deep tensions and legacies of violence and racism are being laid pretty plain right now. It’s not that it hasn’t been there; it’s just laid bare. It’s difficult to face.
Yet we have resources. We are part of this tremendous wisdom tradition that invites us to be creative resisters to brittle hatred and violent ideologies. To be peacemakers, to be about the common good.
This tradition invites us to resist coasting along with the easy successes of our day, and bring a new vision to our world in which everyone is brought along.
It even invites us (and this is hard for me to get to) to ask those whose ideologies horrify us, what is the core pain you are carrying underneath your virulence?
This tradition invites us to be practitioners of a movement that casts off into deep waters, and trust that our lives together will be found out there. To cast off into places that aren’t as sure, aren’t as well-charted and known.
We need Jesus, the movement-leader.
Not as the founder of a belief system. In fact, his actions and perspective were pretty much critical of the religious systems of his time and likely would be of our time as well.
He was about creating a movement. A community of practice.
Look at what he did:
He framed his message through a powerful central image—the kingdom of God. This was the language of his time, and if you struggle with that language, that’s just his way of describing the governance of something beyond the Caesar of his day. Kingdoms were the dominant social, political, and economic reality of his day. You could call it the “commonwealth of God” or the “realm of love”. Basically, it’s a way of re-orienting your life counter to empire, supremacy, and violence.
He had a unique messaging form—parables. Stories made up of the stuff of people’s lives that did not just answer questions, but invited them to explore their own assumptions and inverted that which they assumed to be true and easy for something whole and honest.
He developed a strong protest and messaging strategy—public teach-ins like the sermon on the mount, demonstrations (healings, feeding thousands, etc).
He invited his disciples into action, and then reflection, with practices to sustain them and connect them, to build relationship between them.
The Jesus movement is so needed these days. But it’s not so much about belief anymore as practice. It’s risking practices of love together.