Do Not Be Afraid: Running with Easter, Reflections on Biblical Storytelling for Eastertide

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If you have been to NYAPC since Lent, you may have noticed that I have become fascinated with the practice of Biblical storytelling or learning the Bible by heart.  (The youth learned the whole book of Jonah on Youth Sunday, which totally blew me away.)

I was introduced to this spiritual practice mid-Lent by Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria and professional Biblical storyteller.  Her project was to gather five women across National Capital Presbytery to tell the story of the Women at the Well (John 4:1-42) at the NEXT Church National Conference in Kansas.

It was something I said YES to because frankly I respected the women that were asked and wanted the opportunity to get to know them better.   What I didn’t realize was how that Biblical story would become so engrained me me.  The part that I learned “Look around.  The harvest is ripe for reaping!” became implanted so deeply that I began to see the words everywhere inviting me to look around and see God’s beautiful creation and God’s harvest ALIVE and active in this world.  

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Inspired by this opportunity to learn the Biblical story by heart, during the later half of Lent when the readings from the Gospel of John became rather long — we experimented with this practice in church, not requiring our liturgists and pastors to memorize the text but rather to read it so that the words become second nature so that the the words of the Biblical story become like telling a close friend the best story in the world. That is what the Gospel message is, right?  The best story in the world. 

For Easter I took the challenge to memorize the Easter story from Matthew 28:1-10.  For two weeks, I  ran outside with the story.  I uploaded it onto my phone, and as I chugged along a few miles each day, I repeated phrase in my head, gradually adding phrase on top of phrase. 

It was a deeply spiritual practice to experience and notice the presence of God as the trees and birds were changing over from winter to spring.   Seeing the unfolding of spring all around me all while repeating the Easter story in my head, I began to experience the story of the women of the tomb.  These are the women who who rose early to check on Jesus’ body expecting a crucified man to still be there. 

Central to the story, I kept hearing the words from the angel and then Jesus saying

“DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

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These are words that we need to hear today as Christians — as people of the post resurrection era, as Eastertide people.   These are words that meet us in our creatureliness — our fears of not fitting in, of not doing well enough, of completely messing everything up,  of never being recognized or never getting the opportunity to be seen.  

These are words too that meet us in our fears that are more global — fears of that are based in a very real and scary reality of the often violent world that we live in.  These are fears that we felt this week as we experienced the real and horrific violence against mostly women and children in Manchester.  These are the very real fears  from the family of Lilana Mendez, a mom of children ages 4 and 10 years old from Falls Church, VA who was detained at her at her regularly scheduled Immigrations and Customs Enforcement checkin.  It feels as though the world is too scary — that there is too much horror and injustice and not enough real peace.  It feels easy to simply feel afraid and do nothing.  Fear can be immobilizing.  

As I was driving home yesterday, I saw a young African American man pulled over for what I assumed to be a traffic violation on 15th street in front of the White House.  I wondered what level of fear he felt or how he has been taught by his mother to act so calmly so as to avoid any kind of violence.   I took note how my son’s first driving lesson won’t likely be how to interact with the police.  I wondered what my role is as a Christian  is in in offering protection for this young man.  

As I ran and meditated on the words “Do not be afraid,” I heard the realness and the concrete particularity of our fears, and I heard that it is in those places of deepest trauma that God meets each and every one of us.

I heard that the Gospel calls out for us is to take the risk of the relationship, to take the risk of being hurt, to take the risk of being changed, and enter with hands held in compassion into the each other’s space.  The Gospel calls each of us to take on risk and burden of another — and through this deep binding to become closer to who we are and whose we are called to be.

Jesus knew that and felt that very real fear as he faced the cross on his journey to Jerusalem and then during that week of trial and execution.  So when Jesus says “DO NOT BE AFRAID”, he is saying that he knows this feeling.  He is saying to us — I know how it feels to want to immobilized.  I know the feeling of wanting to pull the blankets over your head.  I know the feeling of feeling so tired.

But in the words of DO NOT BE AFRAID, what I gained from reading the Easter story over and over, running with it, with each pound of the foot on the pavement, hearing the words of Jesus saying DO NOT BE AFRAID and DO NOT LET YOUR FEAR PARALYZE YOU.  Don’t give up.  Don’t throw in the towel. 

Don’t give up because you don’t face all of these fears alone. 

You might be like the women at the tomb the first day who came so early because they knew no where else to go.  Even if the it was just the body of Jesus, they wanted to be with him.  When when Jesus appeared in the flesh — “they immediately came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”   

We might be like the disciples who hid in the upper room for days in fear of the religious authorities.  We might be like Thomas who needed to experience the wounds of Christ for himself, who needed to see how God had so concretely took on the all of the pain and suffering of this world upon God-self.

We might be like the one witnessing the story from afar knowing the pain and suffering of those earliest followers and knowing the pain and suffering of God’s people today.  We might feel the urge to get up outside of ourselves and try on what it feels like to follow that call and “Do not be afraid.”

Whoever we are in the story — in reading and repeating the learning the story by heart, the story is for all of us — that God is alive and active, that God is with us in the deepest traumas, and that God says that as the body of faith, we are to be present for one another. 

Over the next months, I encourage you to take out a Biblical story — perhaps your favorite one and read it over and over.  Read it in little chunks savoring on each word and phrase, noticing the shift and tone of the voices, noticing how the story tells in parts and as whole.  I hope you will learn a Biblical story by heart.  And if you choose a lectionary passage (or ask Roger or I for one), we would love for you to share your Biblical reading in worship. 

Blessings,

Alice

Here is my plug for an intergenerational class I will be teaching on Biblical Storytelling in July.

Sundays, July 23 and July 30 :   Learning to Tell the Bible by Heart:  Anyone can tell a story!  Join us for an interactive workshop on how to tell parts of the Biblical Story by heart.  This workshop can be geared to anyone Grade K and up.  If you are planning to bring your very young child, please let Associate  Alice Tewell (alice.tewell@nyapc.org) know so she can prepare accordingly.  This workshop will also be useful for anyone serving as a Scripture reader.

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Spiritual Activists: Five Lessons for Today

By Rev. Karen Brau

On Saturday, April 8, Rev. Karen Brau gave the second talk in a four part series, “Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman.”  The presentation was sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and was held at Luther Place Memorial Church.  Below are notes from that presentation.

Rev. Brau focused on lessons from Howard Thurman’s teaching that she said were directly relevant for those who work for justice today.  She gave specific examples of insights and practices that enable us to draw on the spiritual/mystical tradition that Thurman wrote and talked about.  She discussed Thurman’s emphasis on a direct experience of God and how it can sustain us, quoting Thurman’s example of people who were enslaved and told they were worthless and yet they discovered God on the inside and knew they were of worth.

Rev. Brau explained that when Howard Thurman went to India and met Gandhi, he was asked by Gandhi to sing a spiritual.  Thurman obliged by singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and she used that as an example of how important spirituals are for tapping the religious experience. She then paused her presentation to invite Jeremy Grenhart, director of music at Luther Place, and four students from Howard University to sing several spirituals.

After the musical presentation, she summarized five specific lessons from Howard Thurman for today’s spiritual activists:

1)    Engage Spirituals—Music, especially music that is rooted in deep suffering, can help open us up to an experience of God.  In many ways, “spirituals are miracles” which can transform how we see things. Rev. Brau urged all of us to engage with spirituals on a regular basis and be open to what they can reveal.

2)    Articulate Hells—It is important to tell the truth about the suffering and evil we see around us.  Thurman talks about hell being “fear, deception and hate” and we certainly regularly see examples of all of those.  In particular, our politics seems more and more characterized by these indicators of hell and we need to be aware of and acknowledge that.  Rev. Brau also pointed out that the title of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon that he was to preach the Sunday after he was killed was “Why America May Go to Hell.”

3)    Love, Love, Love—There are many way in which Thurman expresses the power of love, and we need to hear his message that love is the greatest expression of the spiritual experience.  We need to focus on this type of love and practice it as regularly and fully as we can.

4)    Engage Inner Life Practice—Rev. Brau talked about various practices Thurman and other mystics have used to develop a rich inner life.  In particular, she talked about the simple power of silent prayer, reflection and meditation.  She gave an example of a “breath prayer” which can be used to calm and focus the spirit and then stopped talking and asked everyone to engage in that prayer for three minutes.  After three minutes of silence, she again spoke to the group and pointed out how regular time nurturing the inner life is so crucial.

5)    Be Mystic Activists—Rev. Brau reminded us of the challenges we face, especially in this political environment, and urged us all to be as active as possible.  She said we need to draw upon our spiritual resources and be bold in responding to the injustices we see around us.  We also need to stay in touch with other “mystic activists” to support and encourage each other.

Rev. Brau closed her presentation by summarizing these five lessons and then once again calling on the musicians who presented two more spirituals.  After the music, there was a time of brief silence and then a discussion between participants and Rev. Brau.

Good Friday – Mary “Here I Am” – How does the church respond?

John 19:25b-27, Third Reading in the 7 Last Words of Christ

from Rev. Alice Rose Tewell from Good Friday service April 14, 2017, noon. 

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother,  and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,  and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother,  “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 

 “Woman, here is your son”  “Here is your mother”

These are the words that have burrowed deep within my soul, starting their journey when I first became a mother about 3 and half years ago.  After reading this passage many times, I’m still confused. How can Jesus address his mother as “woman?” It feels so harsh. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is saying this, yes, but also these words come from Mary’s beloved Son, the one whom she swaddled so carefully and played with in the manger.

The one when the angel of the Lord said, Greetings, favored one!  Do not be afraid! .. She is the one who first responded “Here I am!” and sang from her soul to the Lord.  She sings in joy at the beginning of Jesus’ life – a joy mixed with fear and joy overpowered with hope and possibility.

But now on this Friday on the foot of the cross the pangs of the soul are different, a beating so heavy; I wonder how she keeps her body standing up right? Does she feel as though she is going to collapse herself in a heap — like bones — held up only by the power of the Spirit? How does she stand at the foot of the cross looking on at her Jesus, her son?

——

Her relationship with Jesus has always been different — we remember him at the age of 12 staying in the temple longer than he should — saying tersely to his mother — “Why didn’t you think to look for me at my Father’s house?” Or at Jesus’ first miracle the wedding at Cana and another terse response: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

There relationship was different, loving but not sentimental. It is a relationship of mom and son but also of the Son of Man and a woman of great faith — a story of God and God’s most faithful one saying “Here I am.”

Some years ago from Stanley Hauwewas book on the 7 last words of Christ, I read the work of  Catholic Bishop and counter-cultural advocate Raniero Cantalamessa, author of Mary, Mary: Mirror of the Church.  Cantalemessaa, with strong roots in the Mary tradition, makes a fascinating observation that in Christian theology Jesus is associated with the new Adam, the new Moses, and the new David, yet Jesus is never associated with Abraham. Why is this case, he asks? 

It is because Mary is our new Abraham. 

Abraham is one who followed God’s call when all earthly standards told him to walk the other way.  As we recall during the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve,  even when both he and his wife Sarah were too old to conceive, God said that they would have descendants that number the stars.  Then once they finally did bear their child Isaac, the child in whom all of their hopes and dreams are cast, we recall that deeply disturbing story when Abraham did not resist God’s command to take Isaac up that treacherous mountain to sacrifice his only son. God comes to both Isaac and Abraham’s rescue providing a ram in Isaac’s place.

But the case of Mary and Jesus their story is different.  Like Abraham, Mary said “Here I Am,” to bear God incarnate, God who lived among us, God who lived both as divine and human suffering for and alongside us.  But Mary’s “Here I Am,” could not save her son.  And I think she knew that.

Here these words excerpted from Mary’s Magnificat months before she is to give birth:  My soul magnifies the Lord… Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed…He has shown strength with his arm; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted by the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

She, the mother, the woman, the one who perhaps knew Jesus best knew from her faith from her knowledge of God that this One — and this YES, Here I AM would be different.

But standing there on the foot of the cross,  how could she have imagined that this is how she would see her son for the final time?  She bore the pain of seeing her Son on that cross.  She stood there as the soldiers divided his clothes.  She stood there in danger to her own life; she couldn’t have known the outcome of being associated as the  mother of Jesus.   She stood there in her own grief, in her own agony in own anger perhaps and entered into the cross’ dark shadow. But even from the cross — this place of brutality and torture we hear the hope and love that comes from the reconciliation of Jesus.

Woman, here is your son.” 

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” 

These are the words of connection. These are the words of community. These are the words of a new covenant for all of creation.  

These are the words of covenant where family is no longer based on lineage on who your birth parents and blood family are. These are the words that begin the church.

From Mary, to the most beloved disciple, a new community, a new family, a new set of possibilities are shaped and put into practice.

This is where the church is the community  transcends all boundaries, extending across generations, and across cultural norms of who should accept whom and who a person should accept into her own home.

This is the church where the disciple takes the risk on behalf of the one most in need, the most vulnerable —and in this case — the mother of Jesus, the mother of this one considered notorious by the authorities, who may have very well been marked as a threat too.  This is the church where the disciple takes her into the safety  and sanctuary of his own home.  This is the church where the one who is the most vulnerable is the one of the greatest faith the one who already said “Here I am.”prompting the whole community to say  “Here I am too.”

Here I am taking your pain as my pain.

your earth is my earth

your profiling is my profiling

your detention centers are my detention centers

your deportation is my deportation

imgres-5your attack is my attack

your barrel bombs are my bombs

your victims are my victims

your dangerous boat ride is my boat ride

your razor wire fence is my razor wire fence

your famine is my famine

your desperation is my desperation

your death is my death

your life is my life

your faith is my faith

your faith is what prompts me to say yes in the midst of all fear.

Yes, I believe.   And I believe in a new way of being a person, a community, and God’s church.  “Here is Your Son.” “Here is Your Mother.” “Here I am.”  

Learning the Maundy Thursday Story

imagesOn this day Christ the Lamb of God gave himself into the hands of those who would slay him. On this day Christ gathered with his disciples in the upper room. On this day Christ took a towel and washed the disciples’ feet, giving us an example that we should do to others as he has done to us.On this day Christ our Lord gave us this holy feast, that we  who eat this bread and drink this cup may here proclaim his holy sacrifice, and be partakers of his resurrection, and at the last day may reign with him in heaven.
 Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, to love one another as he loved them.  Write this commandment in our hearts; give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, who gave his life and died for us, yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  – Unknown source

Learning About Biblical Storytelling

During Lent, thanks to Rev. Casey Fitzgerald (her blog is amazing), the NEXT Conference, and the opportunity to be Biblical Storytellers of the story of the Women at the Well,  I’ve gotten into the spiritual practice of Biblical Storytelling.    As I understand it, Biblical storytelling is usually telling the story by heart.  It is learning the story so well that it is 90-100% memorized, memorized so well that it is as if the storyteller is telling the words of the Bible to a good friend.  

I would like to get to the place of memorizing more scripture (perhaps even on a weekly basis), letting the words of the Bible, and particularly the stories of God’s people, sink deep into my heart changing some of my perceptions.  For example, in reading through the Gospel of John, Jesus feels like a radical risk-taker, not some pious semi-etherial Jesus that we sometimes may imagine.   In reading through the stories with Jesus at the center, he seems more like a bad-ass giving us/ me energy to be active in trying new things for the sake of the Gospel and to lean unto our identities as being justice-seeking risk-takers.

I, of course, haven’t had the time/ commitment/ energy/ drive to fully memorize each Lenten text, but in the spirit of Biblical Storytelling,  I have been meditating on the scripture text much more.  Rather than jumping right away to commentaries on what other people have written about the text, I’m pausing longer to read and re-read the text letting the words sink in, taking more time to feel the movement of the Spirit.

Throughout Lent, I have been breaking up the text into chunks as you can see from the first reading for Maundy Thursday below.  For this reading, I was really feeling the dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter, so I used a bit of color-coding with Jesus in red (tradition) and Simon Peter in blue.  I am also particularly drawn to the purposeful action of Jesus getting up from the table and fully engaging in the foot washing,

so I pull it out a bit so that that portion stands out a bit more.

Perhaps as your Maundy Thursday practice, you too will read over these words letting the words flow over you at first and then fill you with a deepening notion of who Jesus is, and who Jesus calls us to be for the world.

A tip I learned is to read it over and over and over walking around, and then break it down into smaller chunks to learn.

Blessings on this Maundy Thursday.


Maundy Thursday Foot/ Hand Washing Reading

John 13:1-17, 31-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart imgres-1from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

And during supper Jesus,  knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

got up from the table,imgres-2

took off his outer robe,

and tied a towel around himself.


Then he poured water into a basin

and began to wash the disciples’ feet

and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around                    him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,   ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

Jesus answered, ‘  You do not know now what I am doing,  but later you will understand.’

Peter said to him, ‘  You will never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered,  ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’

Simon Peter said to him,  ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’

Jesus said to him,

‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,

but is entirely clean.

And you are clean,

though not all of you.’

For he knew who was to betray him;  for this reason he said,  ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet,

had put on his robe,imgres-3

and had returned to the table,

he said to them,

Do you know what I have done to you?

You call me Teacher and Lord—

and you are right, for that is what I am.  

So if I, your Lord and Teacher,

have washed your feet,

you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

For I have set you an example,

that you also should do as I have done to you.

imgres-4Very truly, I tell you,

servants are not greater than their master,

nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said,

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified,

and God has been glorified in him.

If God has been glorified in him,

God will also glorify him in himself

and will glorify him at once.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

You will look for me;

and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you,

“Where I am going, you cannot come.”

I give you a new commandment,   images-1

that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.’


The darkness deepens, and the Lord grows troubled.
Can we keep watch? 
Can we be the friends at Jesus’ table who share this Holy bread and wine?
Can we be the companions who journey with Jesus to the end?

NYAPC — Becoming a Sanctuary Church

On March 21, 2017 we joined hands and in prayer with 60 other Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian and Humanist congregations (and about 200 people at the the rally) to launch the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) Sanctuary Network.    It was a glorious day to celebrate our unity in diversity and our pledge to support the most vulnerable in our community.  Perhaps you are wondering how we got here?  How did we become a Sanctuary Church?  Here is my (Alice’s)  perspective on how we became a sanctuary church, joining his historic and Spirit led movement.  


Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”  In resistance to the Executive Order banning refugees from the seven majority Muslim countries and discriminating against Muslims, for the last two months those have been the words on our sermon board on both sides of our church.  Until the Executive ban is fully rescinded, until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is no longer directed to raid immigrant homes in our community, and until DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) candidates no longer live in fear of unfair deportation, that sign will continue to hang prominently in front The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.  As Christians seeking after God’s justice and because of our physical positioning, just four blocks east of the White House, we feel this deep calling to stand up as a Sanctuary Church.

The Background of Becoming a Sanctuary Church

Last spring Kathy Doan, a ruling elder at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and a long time advocate for the immigrant community, and Maricelly Malave, Co-Founder of Sanctuary DMV (District Maryland Virginia), met with me to share an involving need for churches and communities to join the New Sanctuary Movement.  They shared the history of this ancient practice for temples, churches, and even whole cities to declare themselves as a place of refuge for people accused of crimes in which they feared unfair retribution. They shared that the US churches first used Sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad helping slaves pass to freedom during the Civil War.

In the 1970s, when refugees from the Civil Wars in Central America began to come to the United States seeking shelter, the US government did not recognize them as political refugees seeking asylum.  Many were deported and faced death squads on their return.  In response to this dire situation the Sanctuary Movement was formed.  At its peak, there were over 500 member congregations. In 1986, the Sanctuary Movement won the inclusion of Central America as part of our immigration laws.

Starting the summer of 2014, we started seeing the return of the humanitarian crisis with thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and forced gang participation in Central America seeking safely in the United States. Moreover, eleven million undocumented persons are living in the United States, many who have lived here for more than ten years.  These members of our community — these friends, family members and neighbors are all at the risk of deportation.

In the fall of 2016, Kathy and Maricelly gave an Adult Education class presenting on Sanctuary movement. In October, the Session, the governing board of the church, voted to form a task force to study what it would mean to sign on as a sanctuary church.  Days before the Inauguration of the current President, by a vote of Session, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church joined in with over 400 churches across the country to make the following public pledge:

As people of faith and people of conscience, we pledge to resist the newly elected administration’s policy proposals to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants and discriminate against marginalized communities. We will open up our congregations and communities as sanctuary spaces for those targeted by hate, and work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.

This pledge affirmed the church’s role in the Sanctuary movement consistent with the church’s mission to be an inclusive justice seeking congregation trying to live out Jesus’ command that we welcome the hungry, the naked, the estranged and the outcast.

In signing the pledge, the church committed to hang a immigrants welcome sign out front of the church, to connect the church with those working in the field, to educate ourselves and then advocate for the needs of those seeking sanctuary, and to inform immigration service providers that the church is willing to provide sanctuary.  Due to of all of the details that still needed to be discussed, in January the church did not commit to physically housing individuals or families.

Where We Are At Now

Since January 20, we have seen policies, words, and inaction out of the current administration that deeply hurt immigrants, refugees, and both the Muslim and Jewish communities.  We are hearing immigrant neighbors say that they feel so scared that they are afraid to go to public spaces.  Some are afraid to send their children to school.  We have felt that our Christian faith has been deeply challenged, and that the justice of God is under deep threat and abuse.

In joining the Sanctuary Network a congregation needs to pledge support to one of 4 areas. Short of hosting ourselves, we have committed to the other areas.

  1. Hosting:    Actually taking a member of the community into sanctuary on the church property.   OR/ Supporting another congregation that is hosting a person in sanctuary.
  2. Accompaniment: Going with a member of the community to an ICE check in to be the eyes and ears on the ground as well as offering support and care.
  3. Rapid Response Network:  Being part of a network of people who respond when one of our neighbors’ homes is raided by ICE.
  4. Providing Know Your Rights Presentations for allies or immigrants

More on these 4 specific areas will follow in further articles.

In this New Sanctuary movement, as per the pledge, we have committed to stand along side all people who are under threat and vulnerable. These communities include the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the LGBTQI community, and women.  Everyday we are seeking to see how we best live into this pledge.

Here is how we believe we have been in action thus far:

On the steps in front of the sanctuary days before the Executive Order (EO) was put in place, we hosted a press conference put together by Church World Service, The Presbyterian Office in Washington and Faith in the Public life — standing up against the then proposed EO barring refugees and discriminating against Muslims.  The words from Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the new Director of the Presbyterian Office in Washington resonated with me: “Now is the time for the faith community to stand up for immigrants and refugees.  Now is the time to stand up for our common humanity.”

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Since then, we have created petition asking Presbyterian members of Congress to stand for their faith and against the EO.  We sent in the petition with over 1,100 signatures from our congregation and from churches across the country.

Our church has joined in the “No Muslim Ban” protests against the Executive Order. We have gathered in front of the White House, at the steps of the Capital and at the Washington Monument protesting the current administration’s policies against immigrants and refugees.  We from age two to eighty have gathered after church walked the just four blocks over to the White House to add our voices to the many in protest.

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We have shared the Session’s decisions with the congregation in worship and in our weekly newsletter.  The Sanctuary Taskforce has continued to gather and attend city wide meetings at All Souls Unitarian on how we can best live into our commitment and support both the immigrant community and places of faith. At those city wide meetings, members have began to train in Rapid Response Network training and Accompaniment training.  Kathy Doan has provided a workshop at the National Capital Presbytery Open Space to engage other Presbyterian churches in this network.

Additionally, we have begun to train the church staff  on how to respond if someone seeking sanctuary comes to our door.  Already we have visitors from Iran and Mexico wanting to learn more about our work as a Sanctuary church.

Looking to the future where there may be some very real need to take a long standing member of our local community into sanctuary, we have begun the planning of the necessary details:  where the person would sleep, shower and eat. We have also planned for legal representation for the church.  All of this planning takes a lot of time!

We continue to learn and discern where we are called and how we live into our new identity as a Sanctuary Church. We know it will not be easy and there is risk involved. But from the short time of becoming a Sanctuary Church, we have witnessed new well-springs of activism and engaged faith in our congregation. We hope that you join us in this calling too, and that as sisters and brothers united in one faith, one baptism, and one Lord, we may together to live into our shared faith where all are held up as beloved children of God.

For more information and for sources for this article, please visit:

http://www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org/

http://sanctuarydmv.org/

http://sanctuarydmv.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/toolkit-sanctuary_movement_updated-2.pdf

Blessings,

Alice Tewell

For more information email alice.tewell@nyapc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mysticism, Social Action and Reconciliation

On Saturday, March 18, Rev. Lionel Edmunds gave the first talk in a four-part series, “Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman,” sponsored by New York Avenue Presbyterian’s McClendon Scholar in Residence program.

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Just move on up, for peace you’ll find,

Into the steeple of beautiful people

Where there’s only one kind.

–  From the spiritual “Move on Up,” by Curtis Mayfield

 Mayfield’s lyrics “capture in song our topic today,” said Rev. Edmunds as he began his talk on the spirituality of Howard Thurman and Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Mayfield, a contemporary of Thurman’s, expresses an African American spirituality: “Our spirit is traveling in an upward way, expressed in music, dance, and also social justice. … Acts of social justice and reconciliation are spiritual acts that move us toward that beautiful steeple of beautiful people.”

For Thurman, social justice and reconciliation came from a “profound spiritual root,” said Edmunds. Thurman’s prophetic witness was an “overflow of mysticism, a response to a personal encounter with God.”

All of God’s Children Got Wings. Mysticism is a fairly recent word in Christianity, Edmunds said, noting that you won’t find the word in the bible. But it has always been a part of the faith. “It’s natural for a bird to fly and it’s natural for a Christian to be a mystic. … ‘I got wings, you got wings, all of God’s children got wings.’ Whether we use them is another thing!”

Edmunds emphasized mysticism’s connection to the world. “Some folks think mysticism means that you got God on your quick dial,” he said, and that it’s about the personal “God told me to tell you.”  But it’s connected to the political, he argued, quoting Isaiah. “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah’s encounter with God was intertwined with what was happening in Israel’s political life.

An Overflow of Spirit. While Thurman didn’t call himself a mystic, saying the word had come into vogue after his own experiences, Edmunds noted that Thurman’s spiritual life fits the classic definition of mysticism offered by Bernard McGinn: “Mysticism is more about presence that it is about ecstatic experiences.” It’s always a process, a way of life.

Edmunds urged contemplation in silence: “At its root, prophetic activity is an overflow of what’s going on in your spirit. … Cultivate a quiet time, get in touch with your spirit, and that’s going to help in you in your activism.”  Edmunds said it takes at least 13 minutes for the body and mind to become quiet — “And you shouldn’t be listening to Morning Joe!” In addition, various tools, what Thurman called “clotheslines,” can help with distracting thoughts. Edmunds held up his own homemade rosary, and noted that words, scripture or lines from songs can be helpful.

Pray Without Ceasing. You don’t need a class, he said. “Just take the bird out of the cage, and it will fly by itself. The Spirit takes natural ascent to be in the presence of God.”  It’s about fostering an awareness that you can carry with you into your day. That’s what Paul meant by “pray without ceasing.”

Mysticism isn’t just individual; it is communal. And communities that have been oppressed “are uniquely positioned” to understand the teachings of Jesus, said Edmunds.

While Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is often called black theology, “it’s about spiritual theology that transcends black liberation. It’s human liberation,” said Edmunds. “It’s beyond feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, it’s about liberation from anything that tries to deprive me of who I am as a child of God.”

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This was the first talk in a series of four sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program. Please join us for future programs!

 April 8, 10 to noon, at Luther Place Memorial Church
Rev. Karen Brau of Luther Place Memorial, Spiritual Activists: Five Lessons for Today
 May 6, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Rev. Bill Lamar of Metropolitan A.M.E.,  The Spiritual Work of Prophetic People
 May 20, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory United Methodist, Where Do We Go From Here?

Spiritual Practice: Expression in Clay, Pastels and Mandalas

Expressions in Clay, Pastels, and Mandalas  –  Spiritual Practice for Lent

Week of March 12

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 Mandalas are common in Buddhism. They have been shared with all of us as a way to focus in on prayer through color and concentration of breath. You are invited to select the mandala design you are most drawn to.

Take in 3 breaths (invoking the presence of the Trinity) and then, without thinking too hard, select a color. Begin on the outside of the design. Then, watching your breathing, notice also what thoughts are coming up for you. When your attention starts to wander, this may be an invitation to select another color. As you move from the outside towards the inside of the design, follow your breath and focus in on the Trinity….What has come up for you?

Let the working of your hands reflect the prayer of your heart.


Art offers a chance to lead us into prayer not just through our words or our minds, but our hands! The invitation to prayer through art is a way to notice your breath through your selection of colors, by the strokes you make, or by the rhythm you proceed into your breath and art. In art practices, there is a chance to focus on: the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, your Faith and then get “lost” in the art work, through your breathing and see where the Spirit takes you! Use these physical tools as an outpouring for your prayer, meditation, and reflection. As you spend time with these media, you may want to think about someone or something in your prayers, a favorite scripture, something on your mind.


Expressions through clay …

􏰀􏰁Take a long, deep breath and slowly exhale.
􏰀􏰁Think about what you would like to ponder in this place today.
􏰀􏰁Close your eyes and take another deep breath.
􏰀􏰁Take the clay in your hands.
􏰀􏰁Spend a moment being with yourself and your God.
􏰀􏰁Let your hands start when and how they will, and watch the expression flow.

OR … just pick up a piece of clay—breathe in the Spirit of God, and let your hands take you where they will!


Expressions through pastels …

􏰀􏰁Enter into a time of silence
􏰀􏰁Pause to call out to God and ask that you might know God’s presence. 􏰀􏰁After a brief reflection (longer if you’d like), begin to draw … and simply be open to viewing your heart and your faith.
􏰀􏰁If your mind begins to wander, you may want to choose another color.


 

The text describing the above Spiritual Practice has been excerpted from packed “Exploring Spiritual Practices” from Silent Retreats at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  We thank the writers of the packet.