my introductory remarks at the faith & Arts event at St. Mathew's on June 8, 2023 featuring Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Today was not the first date chosen for this concert; we landed on it when our first choosing didn’t work out. But all things work together for good. At the time, I didn’t process how significantly today, June 8th, from a lectionery standpoint, fits with the overarching theme and message of tonight’s music. 

The Anglican lectionary calendar has a three-year cycle of readings. This past Sunday, June 4th, was the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost is the longest season of the church year, and for that reason is also known as Ordinary Time:  a time of in between. And the readings appointed were all about the beginning and end and all the time that falls in the middle. 

The Old Testament was from Genesis –the very first verse of the very first chapter: 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 

Note that God does not command – God invites, encourages light to become light. 

The end times were eluded to in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus comforts his disciples with these words: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

What is the end of the age? The end of time? These days, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the end of the world is a mere 90 seconds away. It being the 30th second, of the 58th minute of the 23rd hour of an allegorical day. For Messiaen, it might have seemed it was the time in which he was living as a prisoner of war some 80 years ago turning to the Book of Revelation for inspiration, perhaps also for solace. 

How are we to be in this ordinary time, possibly so so close to the end? This answer came from the Epistle reading - from Peter’s letter to the Corinthians. He says: Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 

Not bad advice. Each day we live is a lifetime: the morning breaks as on the first day of Eden, we live and work, interact and be until night. We sleep not knowing if we will wake up to the morrow. 

So, in these last days at the end of time, be kind. Seek agreement. Live in peace. See the holy in one another. 

If we are to be granted tomorrow, trust that God will be saying: Let there be light. Tonight we say: Let there be music.

The text of the sermon I gave at St. Matthew's on Easter two; April 16, 2023

Easter Two -- Year A

Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Lord have mercy. (Christ have mercy.) Lord have mercy. 

I am just as surprised as you to be standing at this lectern about to preach but when Robert asked if I wanted to preach sometime during Easter, and I said “Yes” straight away. So, here I am. He may not have known how much I love this season. 

You may not know that St. Matthew’s has its own Resurrection Story. It’s really the story of the beloved late parishioner Isabelle Webb and it occurred many years ago. But since she is no longer here to tell the tale, I will. Isabelle lived in Carol Woods. Another Isabelle also lived there and it was this Isabelle that died. However, someone in the office confused the two and mistakenly called Elizabeth Matheson to share the news. It was a Sunday, Elizabeth told our former rector, Brooks, and Brooks relayed the sad message to the congregation. We were all grief stricken. The next morning there was an urgent voice mail from our Isabelle with an important point of clarification: “I am alive. I am not dead.” I saved that voice mail for the longest time. 

Eastertide is full of surprises. Different outcomes from what is expected. Almost magical. I made this association when I was preparing the opening remarks for the Faith & Arts hosting of Josh Lozoff, a local magician. He came during the season of Easter and I realized those liturgical readings continually contrast seeing and believing and believing without seeing. Magicians have a talent for making something you know can’t happen, seem to happen before your very eyes. Thomas, speaking for many of us, would not believe that Jesus was alive until he saw him for himself. I’ll bet, even then, he could scarce believe his eyes. Such is Faith:  Believing the Unbelievable. 

The days of the post-resurrection Jesus upended the tidy way we have of understanding birth, life, and death. Linear no longer. The veil between heaven and earth, torn from top to bottom. The space between: especially thin, full of mystery and power. We are living sometime between the now and the everlasting. Someplace between here and there. Not This. Not That. Both. Utterly new. 

Jesus left the shroud of death in the tomb and emerged a new state of being. He tells Mary, do not hold me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. He enters locked rooms and leaves in a poof. He is unrecognizable to people who knew him well until he gives them new eyes to see. 

In Jesus, the eternal joined with the temporal. The promised Kingdom of God was at hand. Everything previously known needed to be reconsidered. Words required new definitions. Death not death but life. Bread not bread but the body of Christ. Wine not wine but the blood of Christ. Slave not slave but sister, brother, mother, father. A whole new language was needed to explain what had just happened and The Holy Spirit brought it: Tongues of Fire on the Day of Pentecost. Through Christ, because of Christ, we live both in this day and in the day that is to come as if they are one and the same. We live in The Kingdom of God. 

So, that’s why I love Easter: the Season of Joyful Astonishment. 

As soon as I got home after Robert asked me about preaching, I read all the Easter lessons for Year A. The week that gave me a spark were today’s, Easter Two. I hoped this would be my assignment and it turned out that it was. 

It was Peter’s epistle that sent my spirit-birds aloft: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. . . 

In particular, the words:  He has given us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you  . . . 

The notion of inheritance and the words, in the present tense, kept in heaven for you caught my attention. Kept in heaven for you. You meaning me as I read it; you, yourself when you just heard it; you, meaning all of us, sitting here together in the church this morning; and you the whole church universal, all creation, earth, moon, stars, and constellations. This is Unbelievable: God giving us an inheritance and keeping it intentionally for us. Keeping it, protecting it, preserving it – imperishable, undefiled, unfading, a living hope. It is something to live for, something maybe even to die for. 

After all, all inheritances come from death. 

I have a corner cupboard. It belonged to my great aunt Mary, my mother’s mother’s sister. She was a doctor and it was in her waiting room. I remember it from my childhood. In it are a collection of tea cups and saucers, wedding china, a bowl and two pitchers belonging to my great-grandmother Fiddy, and a tea set that was a wedding gift to my forbearers married in 1775. Even though these items have been cared for and treasured, their age is showing. Some plates are faded, some cups are chipped and cracked. The wedding china has missing pieces, previously broken and thrown away. They may not have been everyday items but they were used and then passed down from one set of hands to another’s. Frankly they are completely fragile and will, one day, all be broken. 

I like having these reminders of my past because Living Memory is frightfully short, as much as we may want to remember those who came before and want to be remembered ourselves when we’re gone. Even those who carve tombstones know that most of their etchings won’t be readable in 100 years’ time. We will be forgotten.   

St. Matthew’s has a rich inheritance. So much is obvious. The windows. The organ. The carvings in the chancel. The land itself. But there have also been gifts, intangible gifts, gifts of goodwill from really good people who are on their own way to being forgotten as our membership ages and new people join: Joe Rosemond who lovingly tended the churchyard; LT & Betty Matthews who befriended newcomers with their broad smiles and good cheer; Steve Lockwood who revitalized the Christmas Pageant, clothing the angel Gabriel in a gold lamay jacket and sequined tie; Paige & Joyce Fisher, who gave stuffed church mice to families with newborns; and the previously mentioned Isabelle Webb, who was a keeper of our memories. 

But, we all know that inheritances are a mixed bag and bring their own encumbrances. I inherited my father’s eyes. I may also have inherited a tendency to dementia. All the people I know who have had these eyes of mine succumbed to that disease. Beyond such unintended inheritances we also live with the choices, biases, prejudices, and world view of those who came before. We are, in fact, reeling from the effects of choices individuals and society, in general, made. We know this in our bones here at St. Matthew’s, here in Orange County, in this state, in the South, in this nation. And what about us? Our children and grandchildren are inheriting a world, on our watch, at a perilous ecological tipping point. The fact is we have a poor record of bequeathing. Everything we do has a whiff of decay. 

And yet, 

God sees something in us worthy of receiving an inheritance, a goodly inheritance. We believe the unbelievable: despite the fact that our bodies will turn to dust, despite being blind to our own sins, God has not turned away. God is not finished. God has other plans. We will not be abandoned to the grave. Rather, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are shown the path of life leading us to the fullness of joy found in the presence of God. 

Again, the idea of inheritance has been turned on its head. We inherit the keys to the Kingdom, as it were, not through the death of God’s only son but by his resurrection. There is no downside to this inheritance. God gave a promise to Abraham and is keeping it. It was a promise of land: a home. It was a promise of descendants: a family and community. And it was a promise of blessing: to be blessed and to be a blessing. Jesus was and is the fulfillment of this promise. He says “I go to prepare a place for you,” he is our home. He says “Lo, I am with you always,” he is our family. 

Again from Peter: 

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you …  

Going back to that magic Easter theme, it is as if God is sprinkling pixie dust on us. We are taking on through Christ, because of Christ, in Christ a new birth, a new life, and one that offers redemption from this failed attempt we call living. 

Without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our life lacks meaning. What we have to pass onto our children, the next generation, lacks substance. 

But in this hopeless world, in our hopeless condition, we are offered a living hope, a portion and cup, a fullness of joy, gifts we can offer the world during the now in which we live and the then that we will come to know: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Gifts that keep on giving. A life reconciled to the past, the present, and the future. A life redeemed and ready to serve. A life that does not wither and perish but finds fulfillment in the life God bids us to experience. 

Mysteries, miracles, magic if you will, are all around. The mystery of why God created us, loves us, wants us; why God considers us worth it. The miracle of life itself, each breath we take, each breath the planet takes. And the magic of that thin space: that yesterday, today, and tomorrow forever bound. God holding us there. We are given an inheritance of faith that is being kept for us, in each of our names, ready to be drawn on now and later: imperishable, undefiled, unfading. 

This may require a new way of thinking about each day we live, a new way of seeing the world around us, a new way of relating to our neighbors near and far, a new way of understanding the tasks that lay before us, a new way of describing the mystery unveiled. Like Thomas, we may need to ask Jesus to show himself to us. And like Thomas we may find that sighting Unbelievable. The reality of what is Unbelievable transformed into Faith accompanied with a profound sense of joyful astonishment. 

Alleluia!! Happy Easter!! Amen.

A tribute to Georgann Eubanks / January 26, 2023 / RCWMS Zoom book reading for 1104 Broad Street

I was invited to give a Zoom Reading by Jeannette Stokes, founder of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South. My long-time friend, Georgann Eubanks, was asked to be the moderator. We were to introduce each other at the beginning. These were the remarks that I prepared. Of course, in the real time and space I didn't stay on script or even cover all the bases! So, here is what I intended to say:  

Georgann Eubanks is a writer of non-fiction, poetry, and songs. She calls herself a “writer for hire.” She has a long and distinguished resume of Showing Up for the Arts. 

I have known her quite a while – since the mid-seventies. First as a performer on the stage of Somethyme, then as a faithful customer and generous contributor to our sense of ourselves. The line on our advertisement “Sunday and the Thymes” I believe is attributable to her and her poem “A Place to Come To” was printed on one of our menus. 

I say, with some shame, that our association has primarily been a benefit to me. My attendance at the yearly Wildacres Retreat, to which I go for songwriting, accustomed me to writers and their world, paving the way for my own writing. As far as songs go, I can’t tell you how many songs I and others have written based on her prompts. And then, there was the Murphey School Radio Show which introduced me to many seriously talented singers and musicians, actors, play writers, and poets as we shared the stage all the while raising money for Durham and Orange County non-profits. 

From my close association and friendship (which I am privileged to have) I have discerned that Georgann has an extraordinary curiosity about people and places, a deep-seeded appreciation for their gifts or uniqueness, and a determination to create spaces that support those gifts and qualities within the construct of community. 

In her bio for her current job as Executive Director of the Paul Green Foundation she has made a list of ten things she must have – one of them is space for a garden. 

I am here to tell you that WE are her garden, and with the love and attention she bestows, we are thriving. 

Thank you, Georgann.      

Click HERE for the link to the zoom reading.

 

The Women's Singing Circle Old Christmas Concert January 6, 2023 Introductory remarks

Other than selecting a new calendar based on the pictures, a calendar is something we rarely think about. It’s something we take for granted. We don’t, consider that a calendar is a mathematical and cultural construct. But, know this, we are in a kind of time warp tonight. We are, right now, straddling two calendars, three millenniums, and two liturgical seasons: Christmas and Epiphany. We are both the shepherds in the fields hearing the angels sing and we are the magi following the star. 

It might seem odd to us now but Christmas Day was not given a place on the church calendar until the year 336. Easter and Pentecost were earlier placed. And, back then there was not an overly marked distinction between the birth of Christ, Christmas, and the manifestation of Christ, Epiphany. 

In the 4th century, the Julian calendar, which was established in 46 BC, was the calendar in use. The calculations on which it was based were close but not close enough. It was 11 minutes too long per year. That doesn’t seem like much but over time it was getting out of sync with the natural order: the spring and autumn equinox, the summer and winter solstice. Something had to be done. And so, in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian calendar was introduced to correct the misalignment. To accomplish this ten days had to be eliminated: a hard sell in a world distrustful of Papal authority. It would not be until 1752 that England adopted the calendar and those intervening two centuries now required the elimination of eleven days rather than ten. Since 1752 is the year that Orange County and the Parish of St. Matthew’s were established, it is not implausible to think that we, ourselves, had not yet heard the news from England about the calendar switch and may have celebrated Christmas according to the Julian Calendar (Old Christmas) rather than the Gregorian (New Christmas).  

Tonight we celebrate Christmas as if we were still using the Julian calendar like our brothers and sisters of the Coptic Church in Egypt and the members of The Eastern Orthodox Church and like some who live deep in the heart of Appalachia. The folk lore and wisdom of Old Christmas tell us that it is a night when the Holy Spirit manifests itself upon the earth in many strange and wondrous ways. Elderberry bushes may sprout up out of the frozen ground, animals may kneel upon the stroke of midnight and pray. Tonight we are giving homage to the old ways: serenading each other in song, gathering with friends, family, and neighbors, sharing the old stories. In her book Fair and Tender Ladies, Lee Smith’s character Ivy Rowe remarks: “Daddy allus said Old Christmas was a time to stay home and think on what will last.” 

Think on what will last. Let this be a gentle reminder, because how quickly we forget. But have the elderberry and the animals, be they tame or wild, forgotten? Maybe, maybe not. So walk outside tonight at midnight and see for yourself . . . look for signs and wonders . . . see how the earth, the natural world, moved and stirred by the Spirit of God is remembering and celebrating a babe, a star, angels, dreams, visions, God with us and God revealed. 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Glory-filled Epiphany.

1104 Broad Street: a memoir

In 1973, freshly graduated from Duke University, I along with two people I barely knew, opened a vegetarian restaurant in Durham, NC: Somethyme at 1104 Broad Street. This book is both my story and the history of the restaurant and the one that would follow, Seventh Street. It is also an attempt to look back and try to make sense of what we did and did not accomplish. While the food was central it was never just about food, it was also art and politics, culture and community and, it was 18 years of my life.

June 25, 2022: Post Roe v. Wade

When six Justices of the Supreme Court tell you that the federal government does not have the authority to guarantee your right to end an unwanted pregnancy, but that the state in which you lives now does, I am dismayed. I live in a state in which 36% of voters are Democrats vs. 30% who are Republican. In our state assembly, there are 28 Republican senators vs. 22 Democrat senators; in the house there are 69 Republican representatives vs. 51 Democrat representatives.  Beyond the gerrymandering which protects Republican voters and produces an unbalanced and erroneous reflection of the body politic, there are efforts to restrict voting which will affect more Democrats than Republicans. How does this represent the wishes of the voters in North Carolina? It doesn't. It's a farce. It is false and they know that. 

Abortion should always be on the table as part of the health care a woman receives throughout the reproductive portion of her life.

Faith & Arts Concert: April 28, 2022