Where To Go Next?

It’s been an interesting week since I first posted about leaving the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship last Friday. I’ve had mostly pleasant conversations with old friends and partners in various ministries with lots of support and affirmation of my decision. There have been a few more confrontational DM’s and texts from those who felt that I was too harsh towards the Fellowship, but that was to be expected. Challenging the institution is the greatest of sins to some.

One of the things I’m personally considering at this point is the “what’s next?” question when it comes to my own nascent ministry a couple of decades too late.

The Alliance of Baptists is the obvious choice being my own baptist convictions, and that’s something I’ll continue to pursue.

My partner Merianna is now a Minister in the United Church of Christ after leaving the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship herself a while back. I attended a UCC church for a few years while at Yale Divinity School, so it pulls at my heartstrings as well.

Then there are Quaker groups and Unitarian Universalist fellowships that I could also see myself joining due to my own personal worship preferences and philosophies.

On top of those, there’s that still small voice telling me to take ministrieslab or Hunger Initiative seriously and pursue those as ministry opportunities in my anti-authoritarianism way. Both are registered 501c3’s and ready to go. I’m still thinking about that, but thinking that may be the way to go.


42 Year Itch

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

My mom has always been highly allergic to poison ivy. I remember her having severe reactions to the plant after she would spend hours in her beloved gardens while I was growing up. I felt that I was immortal because I could basically roll in the stuff and never suffer a breakout or rash.

Then I got older.

And now I, like my mother, suffer harshly from interacting with poison ivy, sumac, or poison oak. The frustrating part is that as I get older, I enjoy gardening even more and that has been especially true over the past year during the Covid pandemic. My asparagus is now 4 years old and pretty amazing, btw. Thank God for Tecnu.

According to Genesis, we were created in a garden to enjoy the fruits of nature (plants, not animals… being omnivores wasn’t part of the created order, which is a point I like to make when people press me on literal interpretations of Genesis. Enjoy that steak… you’re betraying the created order. Don’t get me started on shrimp or wearing cotton and nylon together). Our created selves were breathed into by a God that walked in the Garden during the evening, looking to commune with us.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’

Poison ivy, like mosquitoes, is one of those realities of living in South Carolina that reminds you that you are mortal. From dust, we came, and to dust we shall return.

Cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.’

This past weekend I was working in our yard and removing the inevitable weeds and unruly plants that have popped up over the last few weeks of a South Carolina spring. They always come suddenly and ferociously this time of year. Our well-trimmed and manicured winter lawn becomes a weed-filled garden of poison delights within a few weeks every April. I always remember to put on my gloves and long sleeves and identify plants at the beginning of May when I attempt to tackle this new growth from the earth.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

T.S. Eliot

And now I’m reckoning with two armfuls of poison ivy rashes despite knowing I’d been tapped by those slick and sticky strands of green creation that always cause me to catch my breath. I quickly applied a good helping of Tecnu, thankfully. But still, here I am with two arms covered in red itchy bumps.

April is the month of reckoning. We must step back and examine the steps we made over the winter (even here in SC where the winters are milder than the Starnbergersee). We take stock of the first few months of the new year and we make plans for the rest of the year. There’s a reason Easter comes this time of the year.

There’s a reason we are reminded of our mortality and weakness to a simple plant while attempting to grow new food or beauty for our family and neighbors and communities. Gardening is not easy. It involves risk. Especially for those of us allergic to urushiol oil and too stubborn to remember to wear long sleeves when tending potatoes in the ground or Iris beds or clearing a path to show our children where the snake who shed a 5 foot long skin in our backyard last week probably lives.

The Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

We are all on our journeys outwards, East of Eden. Those paths are not simple highways, but meandering roads that are filled with opportunities and options and trees of fruit and weeds of poison. As we travel, we grow and we learn. We are able to identify the poisonous plants and discern which fruits are good to eat. Through it all, we learn and gain knowledge from the trees. The wisdom of our humanity is not a curse, but a blessing.

Poison ivy blisters and all.

No Simple Highway, a Sermon

I’m was too young to see the Grateful Dead live with Jerry Garcia, but I’ve tried to make up for it over the years by going to shows by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and collective groups of the members of the band over the years. I particularly got into the Dead during my time in grad school at Yale in the early ’00s (lots of shows, bumper stickers, doing CD trading of bootlegs and soundboard recordings of old shows on Dead forums, etc).

I’m still listening to their music 20 years later and I’ve always marveled at some of the theology in the words and music that the band and lyricist Robert Hunter have brought into the world.

Particularly, Ripple is a song that exemplifies the human experience and the journey we all might take. It doesn’t have to be a “theological statement” but geez is it a good one if that’s your persuasion and what you hear.

I’ve been going through my own journey as of late, and I feel like I’ve stumbled and had to find my own path. It’s been a difficult season of listening, hearing, and discernment. I’ve been listening to songs like Ripple over the past few months as reflections of my own path and what may lie ahead in the Tarot cards of existing and the harps unstrung. Let there be songs to fill the air.

So when I happened to come across this sermon from 1988 that Elizabeth Greene gave to First Unitarian Church of Oakland about Ripple and her voice certainly came through the music and I held them as my own. What a beautiful hand-me-down.

Regardless of your religious persuasion, I urge you to click play on the video above and open up her sermon from all those years ago while you listen for yourself:

…The “ripple” image took on new meaning for me. It was as though the reaching out, one of us to the other, is what causes that ripple in the wellspring of God. It is our having the courage to ask and the love to respond that lets us partake of the fountain. When we do, we affect each other; when we try to let our voice be heard, we ruffle the water; when we hear each other’s voice, hear them with our hearts, we widen the circle.

My favorite line in this song (along with “no simple highway”) is, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” I don’t know the way, and you probably don’t either. My path is for my steps alone, and so is yours. But when we truly say, “If I knew the way, I would take you home,” we have so much more than just our separateness.

We have the music. (The final part of the song is simple La-de- da-da-da, sung together in harmony.) We have the fountain, a wellspring of grace as we travel.

We have one another. We have the love that lets us hear each other’s voices, that lets us reach out when our cups are empty– and share when they are full. (I am vastly richer for having finally “heard” some of what my Deadhead friends hear.) We have our common yearning for home, the God-ache we all know in some form or other…

Source: No Simple Highway, by Elizabeth Greene

Just to close the loop because I wanted to know, I did some googling (I didn’t know Elizabeth Greene before stumbling upon this amazing sermon) and the journey she mentions here from First Unitarian Church of Oakland to the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was beginning. Turns out she pastored in Boise for 25 years and retired in 2013. What a journey. Goes along well with Ripple. Thank you, Rev. Greene.