Dude, Gimme A Beat

Inspired by Brother, Give Us A Word

Conversion

St. James was open to the possibility that something he had been taught to believe as the word of God, something he assumed to be true, was false. He was able to change his mind.  He was able to allow that Jesus had come not only to save him and people like him but the entire world.  St. James was open to the possibility of the infinite breadth and depth of God’s love for all creation, not just his own people.

-Br. Robert L’Esperance

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/2011/10/25/feast-of-saint-james-of-jerusalem-br-robert-lesperance/

The Minutemen – I Felt Like A Gringo

This meditation feels so poetic. I have read it over about a dozen times. Each time, I feel a little stronger; it is very inspiring to me. It speaks to growth, which I think Christ desires for all of us. Life is our ongoing classroom and we must have the courage and the commitment to keep going even after we think we’ve figured something (or everything) out. An untested faith becomes stale, whereas a challenged faith is enhanced and strengthened. Life is the same. The human impulse to tribalism, while I understand it, has always struck me as dangerous. Maybe it’s easy for me to hold such a view due to the fact that I never really felt like I fit in with any particular group. For better or worse, I have always been able to see similarities amongst people and cultures and ideas, far more than differences. That is sort of what I focused on as I sat with the meditation longer – the last line, “not just his own people”. It reminded me my friend Kenny, a guy I used to work with. I think we got to talking one day because I had commandeered the stereo, which was hostage to either mind-numbing commercial radio stations or the equally mind-numbing cd’s of the two guys who fancied themselves as being in charge. Their repetoire consisted of Fleetwood Mac and the Spice Girls. While such a weird narrowness is slightly intriguing, the repetetive work we all did made listening to that onslaught any longer unacceptable to me one day, so I put in a CD – something by Charles MIngus, which immediately brought about all sorts of changes in vibrations. The two bossmen, not surprisingly, were inflamed and bothered in ways they seemed unable to comprehend. The older guy sort of liked it, but didn’t quite know what to do with it or himself, and so he did a sort of typical thing men do – he made fun of me. “How long are you going to listen to this car-wreck soundtrack?” I kind of liked that description, actually, and I think Mingus might have even gotten a kick out of it too – before he would have knocked the guy’s teeth out. But back to Kenny – bringing cd’s became a habit for me and I played a lot of reggae and that is what got me and Kenny talking. He was an MC and a very nice guy. We both discovered we had a very spiritual approach to life and loved to read. I would share books and cd’s with him and he would do the same with me. Many of his books were Nation of Islam books and Nation of Gods and Earths books, as well as some stuff by Dr. Malachi York. The fact that many of these books taught that I, as a white man, was the devil didn’t ever bother me. I had already read some of the books and my life was already quite integrated by that point and I found a lot of compelling stuff in the books and learned a lot. I am confident Kenny felt the same about what I offered him. His friend Andrew though, that kid would never speak to me. And when Kenny did, Andrew would glare at me with furious contempt. My guess is he was hurt by the world in some manner, no doubt the pain and limitations of racism, and was trying to nourish and heal his being with these books and ideas, but he was being literal with them. To me, though I can understand why these books spoke to him, his quest was actually blinding him and further restricting him. Neither Kenny nor myself ever felt the need to address this seeming conflict of race in regard to faith or between us as men– for us, there wasn’t one, I suppose. But that is not because we brushed it off or ignored its very real presence in this world. But I would say because we respected and engaged one another for who we were as individuals and where we were at that moment in time on our life’s path, we recognized the common ground we shared based upon what we spoke of, and that when we spoke, we spoke from our heart to one another. Neither of us seemed concerned about being “right” or convincing each other of anything. Some days, I’d be more bothered by Andrew’s fury and I’d play with the idea of trying to antagonize him, but I never did. That would have been very stupid of me to do so. In the same way Kenny and I overstood one another, I suppose Andrew and I did as well. We were separate and that is how we would remain. I never felt like a gringo, though. I felt pretty damn close to being a very good and pure version of who I was and am supposed to be, and I will forever be grateful to Kenny for that and even though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, I have no doubt if I bumped into him tomorrow, we’d pick right up on the same good vibe. Well….all this and I haven’t even spoken about the Minutemen! I don’t know what to say! The Minutemen have been hovering on my periphery for a very long time. I know they are legends and I know they are great and I know I really love what I have heard of their music, but I haven’t heard a lot and I haven’t invested the time in immersing myself in their artistry. I do know of the tragic death of guitarist D. Boon, in a car accident. His death devestated the two remaining players and they disbanded. And then a guy named Ed Crawford in Ohio believed a joke someone played on him, that the Minutemen were holding auditions to replace D. Boon. They weren’t. It says a lot about the caliber of human being Mike Watt, the bass player, is that when this earnest stranger appeared unannounced, likely hitting a very raw and painful nerve, Mike Watt allowed him to stay in his apartment. Ed’s pleadings eventually won over Mike Watt and George Hurley, the drummer, and they formed the band fIREHOSE. I know that band’s catalog fairly well and I love them. These guys are genuine punks; punk rock in its most liberating, authentic expression, not limited to a stylized caricature of sound or appearance. Such limitations emerge quickly, and the Minutemen, who as part of the legendary SST Record label toured often with Black Flag, had to endure sabotage, thrown bottles, spit, and insults from audiences that wanted a simple minded, clearly demarcated punk rock. I wonder if they ever got depressed by such foolishness. I wonder if feeling like rejects from even this sector, comprised largely of rejects, made them feel hopelessly dejected and alienated from life. If they did, they bounced back quickly because they never caved in and they carried forth, integrity intact and stronger than ever from the battles. I just found a documentary on the Minutemen and, as is my wont, I have shelved it after only 30 minutes. I don’t want it to end. I want to savor it. But that’s a big problem for me. I pause my life too much. I do entertain those painful alienations and rejections and allow them to freeze me and drain me of life. In some way, I seem to have this lifelong sense that there is a shadow life I live, where I’m happy without hesitation, bold and decisive. The timid me in this life takes so long to absorb and digest everything. Sometimes I see myself as an 89 year old man, sitting by a window, finally declaring that I am now ready to live. Other times I wonder if I’ll have a heart attack and simply not respond to it because I can’t handle the stress of such a thing at that time. I’ll need time to wrap my head around such a calamity. And sometimes I convert a poetic meditation and a tribute to a great band that could write massive, complicated songs that clock in at less than two minutes into a rambling, disconnected screed about….?

Love

May God’s love be the pattern for ours.  May God’s wide embrace, God’s boundless generosity, God’s reckless mercy, God’s steadfast and unfailing love be our rule and guide, today and always.

-Br. David Vryhof

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=1630

Cro-Mags – The Only One

To this meditation, I can only say “Amen!” I must admit, in trying to emulate God’s love and wide embrace and forgiveness, I do sometimes question if I am not clearly or wisely discerning my life. Am I patiently forgiving and encouraging someone, or am I simply being a doormat getting exploited again and again? It seems though, that such nagging doubts and questions are also potentially tools for maturation and growth, for myself, and for those in my life’s orbit. This massive, chugging devotional from the Cro-Mags is from their excellent second album “Best Wishes”. Most of the album is devoted to Krishna. While many other New York hardcore bands were also Krishnas, the Cro-Mags stand out to me as men among boys within that subculture of a subculture. The authenticity and utter yearning for God’s presence and guidance seems so genuine and apparent throughout this album, most especially in the impassioned vocal of this song. When I hear Harley Flanagan sing, “…When I first looked in your Lotus eyes, for the first time in my life I could see what I must do, I need to be with you, yes you, you are all I need, your everlasting love for eternity…” I hear the earnestness of someone who knows pain and thirst and who has found a wellspring of life – affirmation and acceptance. Smartly written so that it appears very much a traditional romantic sort of love song, this whole album has been offering me encouragement for a very, very long time. It feels like the sort of full immersion I yearn to have in surrender to God

Abide

Keep praying, and keep trying to love those whom you find difficult.  It may not happen right away, but keep trying!  Stay in the light, the true light who is Jesus Christ!

-Br. David Allen

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/2011/12/29/come-to-the-light-br-david-allen/

Josephine Baker – My Fate Is In Your Hands

My goddaughter gets saddled with a lot of homework to do each summer. She loves to read, so the book list is fine, but the math is a bummer. (She has already finished 5 books!) I was thrilled to see on her book list (going in to 3rd grade no less!) biographies of Sun Ra and Josephine Baker.  If I were subject to such summer homework as a kid, I might have made some drastic run to a far off land. Josephine Baker made such a run, to flee from the oppressive hate and ignorance and limitations of American racism. But that ugliness did not extinguish the flame of love she carried. Quite the opposite. She led a life of love and service, adopting many children, despite financial hardships she endured later in life as demand for her performances lessened over time, and used her position as a respected artist in Europe to gather intelligence on Axis activities and planning. Her life story is so much in keeping with this meditation, I have goose bumps as I type and listen to this song over and over. Her light grew and grew and grew. The hate she expereinced was not returned with more hate. And for me, the title of this song suggests not a passive deferral to God, but an acknowledgement of the proper order of being – my fate is in God’s hands, my power and strength comes through God in a united harmony of life’s song. A beautiful woman, a beautiful life,a beautiful legacy!!

Hope

Mary Magdalene’s suffering was not completely ended once she met up with Jesus.  Suffering doesn’t just go away; suffering seems to be a part of life.   But whatever suffering she continued to know in life since having met Jesus, her suffering had been put in some new perspective. That there was some pattern of meaning being woven into the tangled warp of her life.   She had been given hope.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=521

Elmo Hope – It’s A Lovely Day Today

Yes, brother, suffering doesn’t just go away. Often it seems to build, layer upon layer. But this meditation offers a guide to see past the understandable yearning to eliminate suffering or nullify its impact. With hope, suffering’s sting may not be negated, but it may be placed into a broader context. Suffering can and does lead to positives – growth, wisdom, learning all come to mind. But unless we view suffering through the proper lens, I think it is then that it becomes layer upon layer, wound upon wound. Most of the pictures I find of St. Elmo Sylvester Hope show a man who is familiar with suffering. I doubt it was any premonitions he may have had about a horrible 1985 film which shared his first name. No, I think he suffered under external forces which assailed far too many men and women. First and foremost, he was subject to the relentlessly soul-crushing racism and overextended brutality of police which seems to have led to his being shot by a NYC police officer. The shooting narrowly missed his spine and upon his release from the hospital, his court appearance revealed just how fraudulent the ugly episode appears to have been. None of the people involved in the incident – alleged suspects or alleged victims – could be identified by the cop. The case was dismissed. This is not unlike an incident which afflicted Elmo Hope’s childhood friend and fellow piano legend Bud Powell, who was beaten by police and suffered brain damage as a result. Elmo and Bud shared a love of both jazz and classical music and while one certainly hears similarities in their playing styles, I also hear distinctive differences as well. Further hardship surfaced in Elmo’s life. He had a son who died at a young age and upon enlisting in the army for WWII, his enlistment papers read he was in the army for the duration of the war, plus six months. (?!) And yet, in his playing, certainly on this optimistic track, I hear a compelling, yet airy brilliance. As frenetic as Bud Powell at times, but somehow a bit more complete in the journey he lays out. This trio setting provides a pliable anchor from which Hope can dazzle. I look forward to digging into his catalog further and learning from him, this man who produced beautiful fruits from suffering. 

Understanding

The more we understand about the context of a person’s behavior, the more we are inclined toward generosity of spirit.  The less we are inclined to judge.  The more we are aware of our own inner “demons”, the more we are inclined to be understanding of others’.

-Br. Mark Brown

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=445

Buju Banton – Circumstances

This meditation speaks to me on a very deep level. At one point in time, I was moving out of an apartment in a state of near total brokenness. I had just about enough money to come up with the meager share of rent my new roommates would require. I had been dumped in a long, unstated manner, I think my girlfriend couldn’t bring herself to speak the necessary words, and so instead just got meaner and meaner in the rare interactions we had. My optimism had just about run out. Stung by the harshness of the world as I grew up, the oases I imagined would be waiting for me had turned out to be the same dynamics as my past surroundings, just different costumes on the people around me. I barely knew one of my new roommates and didn’t know the others at all. Those early days of living there made me not want to get to know them, as wild emotional swings were the norm. All three of these woman had post traumatic stress syndrome from childhood abuse. They fought with one another fiercely, then made up. Then repeated. Their friends were an interesting collection of people and ages, but again, all had PTSD. I cannot count how many times I spoke similar words to this meditation back then. I was getting a very up-close lesson in how someone’s circumstances shapes them. In retrospect, I am grateful not only for these years in my life, but importantly, I am grateful to have entered into these years in such a state of brokenness. It humbled me and allowed me to see and learn what I needed to for my life. At first blush, it might seem like some of these folks were acting in outrageous ways. But when their back story was understood, it made sense. I don’t mean to suggest that people are exempt from responsibility for their lives (“Eddie” shouldn’t have stabbed that guy in the neck at the Kenmore train station, no matter how passionately he explained his reason), but I think it is foolish and cruel to fail to consider what has led up to where a person stands at a point in their life. I not only learned a great deal about myself and my own pain during these years, I also came to forgive and understand and accept people who hurt me in some way previously. I was as guilty as anyone else of lumping certain groups of people I had grown up with into monolithic blocks. I was wrong. It was necessary to an extent for my own survival, but it was also limiting and the time had come for me to grow out of that if I were to be able to grow as an adult. In this unusual dancehall acapella, Buju Banton sings about this very dynamic. “Was I born a violent man?” he sings. The line that always stands out to me though is, “…let us learn to live and let that light shine brighter…”. Jesus calls us to get dirty. It’s not adequate to observe from a distance and make judgements about people’s behavior. Intellectually knowing poverty or violence or some other force can damage someone is not enough. That is quite passive and still allows one to exclude without really, truly comprehending the agony that may constitute someone’s actual life. It is for this reason that Jesus frustrates Peter (and Christians for centuries to come) by telling him to forgive another 70 times 7 times. In other words, always forgive. Forgive, and seek to understand. When we understand, we can have empathy, and when we offer empathy to someone, it is at that point when we can truly bring about something good.

Transformation

The Christian life is a life characterized by transformation. At times we may experience this transformation as sudden and dramatic; at other times, we experience it as more of a slow, gradual shift in how we see ourselves and how we live.  It is a process that continues all our days.

-Br. David Vryhof

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/2011/08/21/made-new-in-christ-br-david-vryhof/

{song selection & reflection by Peter L.}

Jerusalem - Billy Bragg

Since committing myself to Christian practice, I’ve had a paradoxical experience of selflessness. In some ways I don’t feel less ‘of the world’ or even less assertive. If anything, I’m more grounded in myself. I think the difference lies in what I think of as my ‘self’  - not an entity so much as a nexus through which Spirit and matter come together. For me, the church service is a process by which, in stages, following the liturgy, you let go of yourself and, by partaking of the eucharist, align with the Light of God.  But that Light works through the earthiness of our instincts as much as our ‘high’ ideals. It thereby empowers ‘the whole’ in us.

The words to this 19th century socialist hymn come from William Blake’s poem, Milton. Having made it to heaven, the poet, John Milton, returns to earth to correct the error of his Puritan belief. For Blake, Spiritual transformation required the deepest powers of the soul. “Bring me my Bow of burning gold;/ Bring me my Arrows of desire:/ Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!/ Bring me my Chariot of fire!” For the Socialists, the words inspired earthly change, and this is why folk singer and activist Billy Bragg sings the hymn on an album named for the revolutionary anthem, “The Internationale.” 

And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,/ On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,/ Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,/ Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;/ Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!/ Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,/ Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,/ In England’s green & pleasant Land

William Blake

Revelation

Churches can be dangerous places!  God can ambush you here!  My first ever visit to this monastic church, I sat as a visitor at a midweek Evening Prayer – and quite unexpectedly felt that I had come home. And I’m still here. Dangerous places!

-Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/2011/08/14/enter-at-your-own-risk-br-geoffrey-tristram/

Chambers Brothers – I Got It     

Sounds like Br. Geoffrey got it!! Much like the many people for whom I have played this track over the years – “ambushing” them a bit, I suppose. They may not have conceived of the experience as having a sitting with God, but for these 2:17, when their bodies surrendered to the magnificent frenzy of the music, they were in the power of something other than themselves. That’s what music does to us. It takes us over. And so does God. The older I get, the more I learn how to make the song last longer. 

Call

This is where you’ve been called; these are the pitifully, painfully inadequate resources you’ve been given to work with; this is the talent pool from which you can draw; this is the weather that you find; and with wide eyes, you sow and sow and sow the very best seeds of life and love among those with whom you live and work.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/2011/07/10/the-sower-and-the-sown-br-curtis-almquist/

RZA – Grits

Ultimately, no matter what one undertakes, there will be failure to some degree. Sports are a reference point many use as a gauge for tangible, measurable results. It is one of the subtle, gratifying offerings of sports, that being quantifiable results. In life’s opaque beauty, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on. What may appear to be a loser on the surface may actually be a very wise and content being,and vice versa. There’s even something satisfying about knowing precisely how adequate or inadequate one is in relation to the subject at hand. Even the most cynical of sports fan recognizes that a terrible player in a given sport is still supremely talented. A great hitter in baseball will fail 70% of the time. A great quarterback in football misses 30-40% of his throws. In basketball, free-throws are fairly short, uncontested shots, yet few can average better than 80-85% on those shots. The Christian life seems daunting, even unrealistic in many ways. Seemingly, failures will abound.  Yet undertaking the path and focusing on that quest, not perceived tangible results are what matter, and where the miraculous emerges. And unlike worldly quests, where starting lines vary and challenges abound in unequal measure, a life inspired by Christ is freely accessible and open to all, and for those who undertake it, those perceived “failures” soon reveal themselves to be something entirely different – pathways to wisdom and stepping stones to a deeper peace and freedom, as perspectives and desires transform. The gentle, lilting chorus of this song from RZA’s album “Birth of a Prince”, seems to capture the fond memories of growing up lacking in some things, but apparently rich in others – those things which last reliably, forging a strong foundation for life. The grits RZA and his family ate may have been lacking, but coupled with the love one senses was present, it got him through and got him to a point in his life where he assembled one of the best acts in the history of hip hop, the mighty Wu Tang Clan. The second verse is intriguing because it sort of opens the door to a negative, albeit understandable path, as if he is sketching out a version of himself that either did or was tempted to follow this incomplete story of trying to fill those gaps of poverty with a gun. Is he speaking of himself? A fellow family member who took that path? Not clear, but when he returns to his memories, his fond recollection of building his own Big Wheel, back to playing with the kids in his neighborhood, he hints at some of the misery of poverty – not merely the lacking, but the mental grind of the prolonged struggle, the repetition of being poor day after day after day, knowing the things the marketing world all around tempts even small children with is unattainable –  the line he uses to transition from that moment of dreaming of the veggie bacon that could be had by robbing is “now let’s take it back for real”. Take back the memory? Take back the hope which poverty depletes? Take back one’s own power and dignity? One of my favorite preachers always reminds listeners to NOT focus on circumstances – let God do that. I would also add not to be too concerned with results. Just do your part. Each day, each moment. The pieces do come together.

Compassion

How difficult it can be for us to love what we would rather not see or acknowledge.  How difficult it can be for us to realize that God’s love is infinitely compassionate love for us and for our world.

-Br. Robert L’Esperance

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2502

Mudhoney – Come to Mind

This meditation was a bit of a roadblock for me. Chewing it over and over again, I began to relish that my mind and spirit were becoming mired in it. Instead of frustration erupting, I sort of surrendered to it. “Ok”, I thought, “what is here that’s snagging me?”  Even this raw, gritty grind from Mudhoney wasn’t elaborating anything. “Why am I pairing this song with this meditation?” I wonder. Partly because it’s raw and gritty. Prayer and praise is not always a soaring chorus of hosannas. If I am seeking God in all ways, I’m probably more likely to find God amidst such a song, with its overtones of a hangover and begrudging movement. And yet within that bluesy grind, there are these eloquent, decorative flourishes. I imagine it even being a surprise to the player of the lick just how beautiful it is. And there it is. That sentence just connected the dots for me – this song, this meditation. My little vision of Mark Arm toiling over his guitar, oblivious to how great the playing is. And then people, going about the grind of life, oblivious to how beautiful the world around them is, or how beautiful they themselves are; perhaps not realizing we make someone’s day every day, or that we matter significantly to someone and that has an effect which ripples through countless lives of people we will never know. It is difficult to comprehend just how dazzling and intricate and astounding every moment is, even when we might feel like we are just going through the motions. Difficult, but not impossible. Maybe this sample of the lyrics express what I am trying to express:

Are you ready to go
Where no one comes near?
Are you ready for
Everything unclear?

Promise

All over the world Christians and non Christians alike have set up shrines to remind themselves and those who come after that love and healing and forgiveness are possible; that we can know God and that it is even possible to catch glimpses of heaven.

-Br. James Koester

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2121

The Blackstarliners – Earthquake

Shrines and monuments are universal and important human constructs. They offer inspiration, comfort and focus, and can foster bonds of community and shared purpose. They also serve as teachers, for when a cause is attained, it is important to remember the forces that shaped its journey. The cross could be understood in this way. Of course shrines abound in the part of the world where Jesus lived and also places where it was purported he travelled. The Roza Bal shrine in Kashmir is one such intriguing shrine. Islam has its shrines and Buddhism as well. Shrines are touchstones, end points for journeys, yet somehow inherent in them is a continuation. So an end, but not final. We even construct them ourselves – a visit to the beach often includes the stacking of rocks, delicately balanced. “We were here”, they declare. Our lives matter in the present and in the future. Our work in this life may not be leading to completion within our lifetimes. Our work may involve laying a foundation – for a child, a family, a community, who knows who we may inspire directly or indirectly? But we have the capacity to be part of something significant, something which may push the needle of life in the same manner an earthquake shifts the ground. Marcus Garvey is certainly such a man. His vision and stunning achievements within his lifetime are laudable enough. Yet, his legacy has proven to be longer lasting than his lifespan. This musical act shares the name of Garvey’s revolutionary fleet of ships, though I cannot say if the name is a tribute to Garvey or not. This track is a great variation of dub – effective in its trance-inducement, yet somehow it feels more expansive as it unfolds….words fail me because it ha taken me to a place beyond words.