FALL 2020: “Raw, Ragged Openness”
Read the Fall Guide Here:
 
Check this page weekly for ideas, questions and themes–as we look forward to small group conversation and discernment.  “How is the Spirit working among us, in exile this fall?”  “What kinds of practice connect you to community, purpose and hopefulness?”
Kernels for Koinonia:
Week of November 29 to December 6 (Following Worship 11/29)

We’re talking about the kind of community Jesus and Mary build “at the foot of the cross.”  You might want to re-read the text from Sunday’s service: John 19:16-30.
 
2020 and the Pandemic Year
 
What are we learning about community this year, and the kind of community we need as people of courage and faith?  Are there new experiences you’re having?  Is there an evolving sense of what’s important, what you (and others need) to practice discipleship and faith in such a time as this?
 
Maybe you can think of a particular story that illustrates some dimension of this: a story that captures what you’re receiving in community, or what you’re giving to community, or how community is a place for deepening faith and even transformation this year?
 
JESUS, MARY AND A BELOVED DISCIPLESHIP
 
In the gospel, Jesus tells Mary to commit to a “new” son, and then he tells the beloved disciple to commit to a “new” mother.  What does a “new” community require of us?  What might it have required of them?  Do you identify with Jesus in his experience there, or with Mary in hers watching him die, or the beloved disciple who’s commitment to Jesus has changed his whole life?  
 
How does this story serve, even this first week of Advent, to open our hearts to the ‘coming’ of promise, the ‘advent’ of mercy and grace?
Kernels for Koinonia:
Week of November 15 to November 22 (Following Worship 11/15)
There are at least two pieces to recall from Sunday’s service:
 
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (Luke 15)
 
THE CONVERSATION WITH TAREK ABUATA
 
On the parable front, I hope you’ll reread the great story and feel it pull your heart open, your spirit open, your life open to restlessness and grace.  How might we imagine this God–the God embodied in Jesus’ teaching–stirring in our own time and place?  What kind of difference does this God make in our daily lives, in the bewilderments and conflicts we encounter?  What kinds of conversion, repentance, turning are suggested by such a story?
 
In terms of the conversation with Tarek, I’m interested in your responses, reactions: anything and everything that came up for you the first time around.  If you’d like to watch again, you’ll find the link here. SUNDAY SERVICE 11/15
 
What does witness look like in a divided world?  What concrete steps are people of privilege called to take together?  How do we handle disagreement and difference of opinion?
There are at least two pieces to recall from Sunday’s service:
 
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (Luke 15)
 
THE CONVERSATION WITH TAREK ABUATA
 
On the parable front, I hope you’ll reread the great story and feel it pull your heart open, your spirit open, your life open to restlessness and grace.  How might we imagine this God–the God embodied in Jesus’ teaching–stirring in our own time and place?  What kind of difference does this God make in our daily lives, in the bewilderments and conflicts we encounter?  What kinds of conversion, repentance, turning are suggested by such a story?
 
In terms of the conversation with Tarek, I’m interested in your responses, reactions: anything and everything that came up for you the first time around.  If you’d like to watch again, you’ll find the link here. SUNDAY SERVICE 11/15
 
What does witness look like in a divided world?  What concrete steps are people of privilege called to take together?  How do we handle disagreement and difference of opinion?
Kernels for Koinonia:
Week of November 8 to November 15 (Following Worship 11/8)
This week, I’d like to return to the idea of Mary, as an invitation to partnership, as an icon of faithfulness, courage and communion in the Spirit.  As you’ll remember, this was our intention this fall: to seek in Mary a companion for this strange season of exile, innovation and community-building.
 
Here’s a passage from “Raw, Ragged Openness”:
 
As friend and teacher, as midwife to courage and compassion, Mary reveals rivers of mercy, bloodlines of spirit and songs of defiance and hope – in all of us.  In many ways, her story is spare and simple.  But welcome that story – in prayer, in conversation, in poetry – and you may find your spiritual senses sharpened and your imagination kindled anew.  Relationships are revitalized.  And church is changed for the good.
 
In a certain sense, when Mary takes John at the cross, and when John takes Mary, the two of them create the first church.  In this openness (raw, ragged) to communion, the two accept responsibility for Jesus’ message, mutual care for one another, the gospel project of kindness and inclusion.  A new kind of family.  Mary’s discipleship isn’t built around orthodoxy and certainty, but around care, commitment and courage.
 

Mary’s wisdom, then, is holy Wisdom.  Mary’s strength is God’s strength.  Centering Mary – as I’m suggesting here – means meeting Mary in our own pregnant hearts; it also means meeting Mary in the “wounded beauty” of others:   

+ Mary as the generous nurse: ministering to COVID-19 patients whose families can’t visit. 

+ Mary as George Floyd’s mother, or Breonna Taylor’s mother, or any other mother in America: grieving her child’s death at the hands of the state. 

+ Maryam as the Palestinian teenager: standing strong and resisting the occupation of her family’s ancestral lands. 

+ Mary as the wise church friend: offering to pray for you, for me, in our time of unnerving anxiety and sadness.

+ Maryam as the young activist, devoted to friends and colleagues, crying out for the  planet, pushing for a Green New Deal.
 
Encountering Mary here means engaging her strength, her hutzpah and her vulnerability.  Mary’s spirituality is hardly a quiet pietism, or a private, reserved faith.  It is, instead, a dynamic way of life – a commitment to social change and hands-on service; a passion for friendship and community; and a journey into relational power.  As we reflect on Mary’s life, and its many dimensions, I hope you’ll watch for her.  As we navigate another season of public health vigilance, another season of political uncertainty, I hope you’ll watch for her.  She’ll be grieving at times.  She’ll be marching at times.  She’ll be bouncing a baby in her lap and singing love songs.  She’ll be making common cause with sisters, brothers, siblings in the struggle.  Keep your eyes open for Wisdom’s stirring in the hearts and stories of old friends and new allies.  Watch for her. (from Raw, Ragged Openness)
 
WATCH FOR HER:
 
1.  Did you notice, in this past Sunday’s reading, that Naomi insisted her old friends call her by a new name: “Mara.”  She tells them that her new name bears a strange meaning: “for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”  Indeed, the Hebrew root “Mara” carries that meaning: a sense of bitterness, endurance, one who has survived loss and even injustice.  Interesting, then, that these two women return to Bethlehem (obviously, a place that shows up again in the Christian story), and that Naomi chooses Mara as her name.  This suggests that Christian storytellers were aware of the connections: that Mary of Nazareth was an enduring spirit, one who experienced bitter realities and chose divine partnership in the midst of all that.  In a sense, Ruth’s devotion to Naomi prefigures (or foreshadows) Elizabeth’s hospitality with Mary.
 
2.  Along those lines, note that the first time “Mary” (or its root) shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it’s the Prophetess Miriam.  She is a prophetess in her own right, and also Moses’ sister.  Readers note that Miriam leads the people into the Red Sea, even before they know that God will “roll back the waters”.  (This is, in all likelihood, where the old freedom song “Wade in the Waters” comes from.)  Miriam, too, has experienced bitterness — in the form of Egyptian oppression and forced labor — and endured.  
 
And Miriam — like Mary — chooses divine partnership, even though the future is unknown, even though the Pharaoh’s chariots are chasing hard, even though God’s people are out there on a wing and a prayer.  (Note that Moses waits to sing his “victory song” until the people have passed safely through, and to the other side.  Miriam sings her song — and invites the women to join her — in the midst of the sea!  She takes the plunge.)
 
3.  While we’re at it, let’s note that we met yet another “Miriam” this fall: Mariama White-Hammond from the New Roots AME in Dorchester.  Remember that conversation…and Mariama’s celebration of her orchid as an invitation to healing, courage and persistence in the midst of her community’s struggle with violence, police brutality and so much else.  She too offers us an invitation: how to live in communion and community, even with bitter truths and hard challenges.  Even more, she reminds us that our live in the earth — and in our gardens and fields — is a pathway to Christ-like resilience and service.
 
In light of all these layers, what are you experiencing in relationship to the Mary story (or stories) in scripture.  Maybe you’ll begin to anticipate Mary’s presence in the Advent Season differently, a shining sign of our calling as God’s people in late 2020.  Let’s talk.  Let’s pray.  Let’s WADE IN THE WATER!
Kernels for Koinonia:
Week of November 1 to November 8 (Following Worship 11/1)
In Sunday’s Hebrew Bible text, Jeremiah asks the exiles in Babylon to “seek the SHALOM of the city where they’ve been sent” with every intention that “in the city’s SHALOM you will find your own SHALOM.”  What you make of these instructions?  What does SHALOM mean in this context?  The New Revised Standard bible translates it into “welfare”–as in, “seek the welfare of the city…”  Does that suffice?
 
We use the language of peace often and generously in the church: The Peace of Christ be with you!  Blessed are the PEACE-makers!  My Peace I leave with you, not as the world’s.  SHALOM seems to suggest something even more expansive, even more dynamic than “calm” or “satisfaction” or “restfulness.”  What would be involved in embracing SHALOM as the church’s fundamental intention?  For example: THE SHALOM OF GOD BE WITH YOU, MY FRIENDS!  Or, perhaps BLESSED ARE THE MAKERS, ARTISTS, BUILDERS OF SHALOM!
 
James McKim suggests that church can be something like “a gracious space,” not just safe, but gracious.  It can be a place for deep and transformative reflection, for wrestling with profound insights and their implications, for coming to grips with social ills and our own responsibility.  And it can be a place where the “inward-looking” journey is cultivated and developed.  How does that sound to you?  How is our Community Church a gracious space now, and what else might we imagine to make it even more so in the days and months to come?
 
James notes that recent video–capturing on film the horrific violence against people of color, often by police–has caused people across the country to come to grips with that violence in new and organized ways.  How have you dealt with the George Floyd video, and with other pictures, accounts and stories of state-sponsored violence against peoples of color of late?  How do these images and stories affect you?  Have you experienced anything like the AHA moments James describes?
 
In his work on Jeremiah, Walter Brueggemann describes the prophet’s work as naming the new and dynamic futures that God holds out to God’s people.  Those futures, Brueggemann says, invite commitment and action, and always provoke the people’s imagination and stir commitment.  God’s not interested in doing the work for us–but invites us to a loving and spirited partnership, in which we lean into the new futures available and embrace out-stretched hand of grace.  In James McKim’s reflections, or in Jeremiah’s, maybe you sense something of that new future for us.  How would you name that?  What does God’s future look like?  How might we continue to lean in–together?
 
FALL 2020: “Raw, Ragged Openness”
FALL 2020: “Raw, Ragged Openness”