Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How I got over

How I got over
How did I make it over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

This song keeps running through my mind. I've heard it by several different people and Mahalia's version is my favorite even over Aretha's. As I lay awake at night, I hear the tune and the words and see her singing it.
Tell Me how we got over 'LORD'
Had a mighty hard time coming on over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did we make it over

A Negro Spiritual speaks of the message of Jesus and the Good News. But it harkens back to the hard conditions of daily life for the slave. Many tried to run to a place of freedom. They may have had to go by night and even cross the water. Their promised land was on the northern side of the Ohio river (referred to as the Jordan.) Like the children of Israel escaping slavery and heading for Canaan, the African slaves in the American south sang of a similar plight. This song was written much later than the time of slavery, but perhaps is based on a song or songs the author heard sung by previous generations of her family.

I have not borne a hardship that compares to the oppression of slavery, but I, too, wonder how I got over.
And I want to thank him for how he brought me
And I want to thank GOD for how he taught me
Oh thank my GOD how he kept me
I'm gonna thank him 'cause he never left me

Over coffee today I asked my friend, Shirley, about the song. Oh, yes. Everybody, all the older folks, and younger ones knew it. It was in the Pentecostal songbook they used coming up in church. She said it spoke of hope. Encouragement to push on, you can make it.

If you need encouragement to push on maybe watching this will help. Today is the one year anniversary of my father's death. Maybe that's part of the reason I've been having a gospel music fest for a couple of days. I needed a little help to 'get over.'

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blessed are the poor...

In response to Doug's request, I "brought art" for yesterday's service. He and Sage led the conversation on the 1st of the beatitudes: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God." It always warms my heart to hear how much Doug appreciates art as a valuable piece of the worship experience, how for him it makes such a difference in creating a holy space (and moment in time), and gives a focal point to help draw our attention to the intent of our thoughts and time together. So I was glad to partner with him on his Sunday.

I thought I might have something at home previously created that would work well enough, but during the week I couldn't think of anything that fit. Even though we had a chaotic stressed out week, I wanted to create something about what was stirring for me about the poor, the poor in spirit and the kingdom.

My personal kingdom was invaded by some very bold mice in the kitchen. I got very creeped out as the experience wore on and so much of our time and energy was used for baiting traps (ugh!), clearing out cabinets, cleaning, and then bleaching everything. I'm still not done after days of it. I have been reading a lot of stories about what Hurricane Katrina victims went through and my bleaching escapades do not compare with what they faced when and if they got back into their homes. The current issue of Oxford American (thank you, Amy!) is all about New Orleans 3 years later and includes first-hand accounts of local writers who have a strong connection to the city. One woman tells of her family's traumatic experience of not evacuating as the water was rising. Many other people also faced dramatic challenges, the devastation of losing loved ones, homes, belongings, jobs, pets, etc. They had little before the hurricane and even less after. How were these folks valued and cared for? Were the delayed and botched rescue efforts an indication?

Jesus says some very radical things in the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew) as he turns values and expectations on their heads. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom." Luke's version is more like "Blessed are you who are poor." Both meanings are present in the Hebrew word behind the Greek. In fact, depending on the context, the Hebrew word for "poor" can also mean oppressed, afflicted, wretched, miserable, helpless, humble, patient, meek. Basically completely bankrupt in every way.

Jesus is saying that our emptiness and nothingness before God is not only a virtue, but brings the kingdom of God to us. We cannot look to ourselves because the cupboard is bare, the plate is empty. I had these things in mind while creating the art piece you see above. I was also thinking about how Jesus probably didn't look "right", talk "right", dress "right", and so forth to suit the wealthy, powerful, and religious in-group. He seemed more closely identified with the working people, those who might be wearing laborers clothes, soiled and ragged.
He was willing to "fellowship" with them in the truest sense, to sit with them at table, and offer them the greatest thing in the world--true love and true life.

His offer is still open. His upside-down values are still in effect. Am I wearing workman's clothes in the spirit? Am I bankrupt and wanting? I want to be, and I want to experience his kingdom and fellowship with him in the truest sense.

Thanks, Doug, for your request for art. It brought me an opportunity to see God's Spirit at work during the week as I pondered Jesus' words.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Art link

My latest post is actually here. Read some thoughts about art and its role in a faith community.

Photos from the art event are here.