Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Memory of Papa

Below are reflections on the life of my grandfather, Roy Charles Roberts who died last month. For a variety of reasons, I did not fly home for the Memorial Service. The picture above was taken this past January and you can read his obituary below. Papa was an amazing man, who had a tremendous influence on me and many others in his long and beautiful life.

Roy C. Roberts

Roy Charles Roberts, 95, of Harrisonburg, passed away on Friday, March 27, 2009, at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC).
Mr. Roberts was born on Oct. 2, 1913, in Locust Grove, Okla., and was a son of the late Charles and Ella Moore Roberts. He was also predeceased by his son, Benjamin Roberts, two brothers and one sister.
Roy was a member of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church and was a well-known Shenandoah Valley artist. His artwork depicted scenes of the coastal region, Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and various courtroom sketches. In addition to his prolific artwork, he enjoyed music, travel, reading, and stimulating conversation. He was an Army veteran and was employed as an analyst with the Department of the Army at the Pentagon.
In 1950, he was united in marriage to Naomi J. Yoder, who survives. Also surviving are two daughters, Rebecca Scott-Mitchell and husband, Mark, of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Sarah Holmes and husband, Don, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; four grandchildren; and a very special sister-in-law, Nancy Y. Smith, and brother-in-law, Kent Smith, both of Harrisonburg.
A graveside service for family and friends will be held on Saturday, April 18, 2009, at 2 p.m. at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church Cemetery officiated by Pastor Mark Keller.
Memorial contributions may be made to the VMRC Compassion Fund (In his memory), 1491 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.
Arrangements are being handled by Kyger Funeral Home in Harrisonburg.

© 2005 Daily News-Record

In Memory of Papa

Today though I am not physically with you, I am connected with you through the Spirit of our creative, liberating God who inspires us to live as Papa did, with integrity, gratitude, courage and love. I am writing to you from San Francisco, a city where a young Roy Roberts spent time long before any of us knew him selling ice cream to the people who built the Golden Gate Bridge. Every time I look at the Bridge I think of Papa --- I try to imagine what this city must have been like when he was here and how much fun it would have been to walk up one of our large hills with him. My earliest memories of Papa involve walking, walking on walls, visiting Jesse’s Hot Dogs and the Library around Harrisonburg. Early on Papa taught me to appreciate the unique qualities of neighborhoods, parks, trees, sculpture, and architecture --- I often remember him pausing and pointing at things, small and large that were beautiful unique and wondrous. When we would walk into the old library --- I was set free in the children’s section up stairs where I would often watch a film strip of the Wizard of Oz and Papa would put on his reading glasses and sit in the periodicals section downstairs. When I was 5 years old Papa and Nana were my best friends. Spending time with them at their house was heaven to me. There seemed to be infinite freedom and love --- always something yummy to eat, something beautiful to look at or listen to, and always a comforting lap to sit in and hand to hold.

The last time I saw Papa, a few months ago, I remember taking some time to have a conversation one I now believe we both knew would be our last on this side of the grave. Looking into one another’s eyes, I was able to tell him just how much he and Nana meant to me, how so much of what I have been able to do in life --- study, travel, and discovering a vocation caring for others --- I know was due in large part to their steadfast love, their commitment to my education and nurture. Papa gave us all an appreciation for nature, beauty, art, learning (he was always reading something --- philosophy, history) and music (who can forget him learning to play the piano when he was well into his 70s?). I think of him every time I hear “what a friend we have in Jesus” or “Tennessee Waltz” I imagine he must have learned to play “Over the Rainbow” for me.

Papa’s life was full of pain as well as joy. Though there’s the story involving a pet duck, which is humorous but also quite sad too especially if that was his most memorable childhood friend. Perhaps Papa was a bit like St. Francis -- connecting with nature in a unique and deep way. We all know stories about how his father abandoned his family early in life, how he had to go to work quite young before finishing high school. As my mother told me when I was little, Papa was a kind of hobo before he found a stable job in Washington. Hitch hiking across the United States, riding the rails, and working in CCC camps --- young Roy Roberts must have been wise, strong, and courageous. On my last visit to Virginia, Papa shared with me how he learned to dance in San Francisco --- watching a dance class through a window on Market Street. I love to dance, and love imagining Papa practicing his dance moves on a side walk in San Francisco. When I look into the eyes of the homeless and poor people I meet in the Tenderloin, a rough neighborhood in San Francisco near the cathedral where I work I think of Papa and I think of his son Ben too. I remember their challenging relationship and the struggles of people with mental illness. I also remember their difficult but I believe real reconciliation --- and the ways in which especially toward the end of Ben’s life there was a kind of peace in what I can only imagine was a very painful and complicated relationship.

Papa was a man of adventure --- I don’t know how he could have spent so many years working at the Pentagon. When I lived near it in Arlington and passed by it everyday on my way to work in McLean I loved imagining Papa dashing out of that cold, dark place, and finding his easel hidden under a highway bridge and painting the beautiful skyline of Washington, the Potomac River, and the monuments in the distance.

Though Papa was not a religious man, I know he was a man of faith. In the Hebrew Bible, the word faith is best translated as trust. Papa trusted that with God’s help people could overcome any obstacle, that even in the midst of great pain --- there was the possibility of beauty, hope and love. Had Papa been introduced to meditation or contemplative prayer earlier in life I think he would have found a religious practice nurturing of his deep, wise, and thoughtful personality. A few years ago Papa shared with me that he heard the famous Amy Semple McPherson founder of the Four Square Gospel Church preach once when he was in California over loudspeakers in a crowded street and that he had found nourishment at one of the soup kitchens her ministry inspired. Religious or not, I will always cherish memories of our family gathered together around Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner lovingly and creatively prepared by Nana and Papa leading us in a gentle prayer beginning with the words, “dear heavenly father.”

Papa taught me how to ride a bike. Of all the things that I can say about Papa this is to me the most significant, more because of its symbolism than its actuality. Learning to ride a bike is challenging and painful, one falls down a lot. He insisted that I not use training wheels but instead he would hold up the seat running along behind me --- there’s a kind of gift in that --- a bond established….I remember often looking behind me to see if he was still holding on to me…and discovering gratefully him waving and smiling at me as I rode away and then of course quickly falling down and skinning my knee. Papa was always quick to comfort though, he’d blow on the scrape and if duct tape were present I’m sure he’d have covered it with that too.

I always felt free to be myself with Papa, he never questioned my love for and commitment to Matt and always asked how he was doing. We all have profound stories about Papa --- about how his amazing life and personality touched us, inspired and nurtured us. I know my Dad has one involving homemade diapers made out of paint rags, a plastic bread bag and held together with duct tape but I’ll let him tell you that story.

Papa -- Roy Charles Roberts --- was an ingenious artist --- who created amazing works of art --- and most of all he created an incredibly inspiring life --- may our lives be filled with adventures, beautiful vistas, stunning artwork, unique people, trust that with God’s help any obstacle can be overcome, reconciliation with those we love, and the courage to be ourselves wherever we may be.

With love for all of you, and anticipation of seeing you in San Francisco in October --- may we remember Papa as we together gaze upon the Golden Gate Bridge and eat ice cream.

Monday, April 13, 2009's about time

My friend and neighbor Kevin Jones, shared this piece by Brian McLaren on twitter today, wow! Thanks Kevin. Read it, here.

Here's a chunk,

In the Bible, we find a variety of understandings of God’s agency in history. Some, like Job’s friends and the writer of Proverbs, think God controls everything according to simple, karma-like moral rules, so God makes bad things happen to bad people and good things to good people. Others, like Job and the writer of Ecclesiastes, find that view ridiculous, and they see chaos, accident, and injustice as part of the cosmic equation. Those who read the Bible with Greco-Roman assumptions must homogenize these voices and eliminate all tension between them, so generally they subordinate the latter to the former, and then fit the former into their six-state timeline.

But when we read the Bible as a conversation, less constrained by Greco-Roman assumptions, we look for revelation precisely at the point of tension between the two views. And in that tension, we see that God is not in control in the sense of being a chess-master moving pieces or a machine operator pulling levers, but God is in relationship, like a rider guiding a horse with a will of its own or a parent guiding a child with a will of its own. The universe, in this view, isn’t just an object upon which God acts by dominating fiat; it is a subject endowed by its Creator with millions of minds and wills, a community with which God relates inter-subjectively. Simultaneously, we see that the universe is not out of control in the sense of being chaotic, random, and purposeless, but it is out of relationship, like a child pouting in the corner at times, or like a teenager sneaking out the window at others.

Put more positively, we see that whatever happens in history, God is with us. God is present in all life’s joys and sorrows, successes and failures. God is present, gently guiding those who seek for God’s good dreams to come true, and gently warning and inviting those who are still pursuing their own selfish agendas to change their way. More striking still: God is even present in our misery and shame, suffering with those who suffer life’s injustices, grieving with those who have ruined their lives, and groaning in and through creation as a mother in childbirth, laboring for a better future to be born.

celebrating easter on the labyrinth

Throughout the season of Easter, the Sunday six o'clock Contemplative Eucharist at Grace Cathedral will be held on the labyrinth. Here's my sermon notes from last night's service.

Happy Easter!

Contemplative Eucharist at Grace Cathedral Sermon Notes
Easter 2009

on Luke 24:13-49

The child of a secular Jewish family, a 20th century leftist French intellectual Simone Weil, was a person on a journey toward truth, she was drawn to Christian theology and most of all to the enigmatic character of Jesus. In her short life, she had deep conversations with mystery. As I was considering tonight’s gospel text I ran across this quote from Weil,
"Christ likes us to prefer truth to himself, because before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."
Tonight, as we celebrate Easter together, as we engage in our own deep conversation with mystery, whether we’re ardent believers, or passionate doubters, people who have heard this story many times, or for the first time may we discover ourselves headed towards truth and falling into Christ’s arms.

This week tells us that we can not get to Easter, with out going through Good Friday, without confronting the painful, confusing, disturbing, haunting image of Jesus’ execution by imperial power and religious oppression. The disciples who met this stranger on the road in tonight’s reading were fleeing Jerusalem perhaps afraid that they too would be arrested and killed if they stayed in the city, that they too would be executed for their subversive activity, for following this one who had confronted the powers, whom they thought would liberate their people. Who can blame them for hitting the road, for getting out of there?

What happened on that road though --- who it was that Cleopas and his nameless companion ran into walked and talked with, offered hospitality to ---- is a mystery to them until that stranger picked up bread, blessed and broke it. When they realized these familiar gestures --- as those of their teacher who had been executed --- he disappeared.

There are many things to say about this story, it is one of my favorite stories concerning Jesus’ resurrection because it is so different from the many other stories of his appearing. What makes it so different and perhaps so comforting to me is because the risen Christ appears to those who fled, who walked or ran away --- I often feel like one who has left... who has walked or run away and still wanders away. This story is for all of us who doubt, who are so often at a loss for what to do, who like Cleopas know sadness and confusion ---

Tonight the Risen Christ appears to all of us as a stranger, a mystery...a fellow traveler...who engages us where we are and fills in the gaps, and opens up our stories and our lives to greater meaning and adventure.

The Christian tradition holds that the Risen Christ is someone we may encounter, lives now and gives us that same strange joy that Cleopas and his companion experience--- The Risen Christ of Easter keeps us going on the path toward wholeness and reconciliation. Who in words, actions, and presence like this labyrinth --- keeps us journeying back toward the center --- toward the heavenly Jerusalem, the realm of God. If one studies labyrinths, you know that those built in the Middle Ages were intended to aid those pilgrims who could not make the difficult and expensive journey it to the holy sites of Jerusalem --- instead they could make the sacred pilgrimage where they were. The center there where the altar stands is sometimes called, Jerusalem, the Semitic root word for Jerusalem means peace, harmony and completeness.

So the Risen Christ is our labyrinth --- the risen Christ is our path and the strangers we meet along the way --- the risen Christ points us toward peace, harmony and reconciliation --- completeness --- the risen Christ arms outstretched brings us full circle.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road turned around, returned ... rejoined the confused and curious community of disciples in Jerusalem and gave something to them, gave them reason for hope, and to keep going...Cleopas and his companion gave those back in the city as they shared their story reason to keep sharing and living the teachings of Jesus.

As we gather in this night to celebrate Christ’s resurrection we gather on the labyrinth opening ourselves up to engage this ancient story, opening ourselves up to the strangers on our path, opening ourselves up to make space for the unexpected. We discover right here, right now reason for hope and joy --- we come finding ourselves moving closer to what we know to be true and real.

Where ever we are on the journey of faith --- may this Easter celebration inspire us to slow down, talk to strangers, share stories and food --- discovering that the Risen Christ is with us.

A few nights ago, as we do each month a group from Grace and other volunteers shared a meal with former homeless persons in the Tenderloin --- during the meal one of the women we ate with began sharing how she was about to celebrate 8 months of being clean --- being sober. By the look on her face and those around her who were familiar with addiction --- you could immediately sense just how challenging and how significant that anniversary really was. That night that meal shared amongst strangers opened up the story of liberation --- of freedom --- for us. We encountered the Risen Jesus in our midst, as we engaged in conversation with mystery and shared our yearnings for liberation.

When do we find ourselves vulnerable, and willing to take in strangers? When in our lives do we risk hospitality, welcoming another into our journey, into our stories, into our struggles and confusion?

Our tradition boldly proclaims that Jesus' violent death was and is not the end of the story --- death, injustice, cruelty, despair, disease, addiction, poverty... all that seeks to bind, trap and kill us is not the end of the story--- the resurrection, the opening up of ourselves to one another, opening our selves to new understandings, new possibilities, to new companions... finding our hearts strangely warmed…this is truth…this is faith... the resurrection tells us we are free to begin the journey again. The story continues ….the story continues to unfold, the journey is forever leading us toward hope --- and new life ---the path leads to harmony, peace and wholeness --- into the arms of Christ.

There are many places we could be on this night in San Francisco --- but for whatever reason we find ourselves together in this cathedral --- where strange stories are shared, and bread is broken.

In the midst of this supposedly hyper secular city Christian theology and tradition tells us that we’re bound to discover the presence of a living Jesus.Tonight’s gospel tells us that no matter how far we run, no matter how confused or sad ---- Christ rises, comes to us as a mysterious stranger, warms our hearts, questions our understanding and reveals truth in broken bread.

Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Passion Sunday - becoming "little Christs"

Below you'll find my homily notes from today's 8:30 a.m. service at Grace Cathedral.

Liturgy of the Passion

This is our story, this is our song…disturbing, confusing, challenging, moving, troubling, inspiring, complicated….

A lot of words, texts, stories have been read today, have been in a way performed --- it has been the church’s tradition for some time now to read on Palm Sunday the passion narrative and not simply the passages of scripture relaying the story of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey and being greeted by people with palm branches.

We’re invited to read along and we --- the masses gathered here--- were given the part of the crowd, we got to say , repeatedly, “crucify him, crucify him”

Looking back at Christian history, the church has again and again betrayed the teachings of Jesus ---- humanity has again and again turned our backs on Jesus’ vision of the realm of God and those who sought to live a life in the way of Jesus. Humanity says these words “crucify him, crucify him” every time we choose violence rather than peace, whenever we are unable to tolerate the voices and perspectives of those who challenge us, when we fail to honor the dignity of others or the image of God within ourselves.

Yet reading these parts, “crucify him, crucify him” I wonder if these recitations --- don’t take our eyes off the one we’re to be following --- rather than identifying with the one who is inviting us to come and follow, to love as he loves, to live as he lives --- we on this day in the dramatic reading spoke the language of the oppressor, took the role of the betrayers. This performance, this text pushes us to ask whom do we really identify with? Whom do we really seek to follow in our day to day lives?

These two questions are central to all of the readings we heard today, all the passages of scripture we’ll engage in this week--- these questions are central to our lives --- to our moment in time --- whom do we identity with? Whom do we seek to follow?

John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg --- in their important book “The Last Week” remind us that two processions came into Jerusalem in the year 30 -- one was a peasant procession waving palm branches, the other an imperial procession with soldiers and weapons. Which procession do we find ourselves in? Whom do we seek to follow? Jesus, the nonviolent revolutionary teacher or the power and wealth of empires, corporations, the stock market?

Perhaps the church in its wisdom in having us read these words, “crucify him, crucify him” is giving us an opportunity to purge ourselves of our inclination to do that in our lives, to acknowledge the ways we betray and deny Jesus --- and even taunt the one who seeks to give us life and make us whole. This collective performance then is a confession and an opportunity for reorientation. May we see other options, may we find a different part --- may we come to more deeply identify with Jesus, and those whom he identified with ---with the nameless woman who anointed his head, Mary Magdalene and the other women who stayed with him to the very end. Let us open ourselves to the possibility of becoming “little Christs.”

Author Diana Butler Bass writes, “Early on, Romans scornfully tagged the Jesus followers with the name “Christian,” meaning “little Christ.” Being a Christian meant being like Jesus; following his way meant imitating the life of its guide and founder, even to the cross.”

As we enter Holy Week --- let’s keep our eyes on Jesus --- and invite the Spirit to help us make his script a central part of our lives, praying that our identity and our path be focused on Jesus and what Jesus was passionate about, the reign of God as Crossan and Borg write “the first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God’s distributive justice that led inevitably to the second passion by Pilate’s punitive justice. Before Jesus, after Jesus, and for Christians, achetypically in Jesus, those who live for nonviolent justice die all too often from violent injustice.”

May we follow Jesus into the broken relationships, systems and institutions of our contemporary world, follow Jesus into the homes of the sick and marginalized, into the midst of demonstrations and protests, the cold complicity of churches, the inhumanity of the judicial structures, may we follow Jesus into the cruel torture chambers, the lonely jails and prisons, the bloody golgathas and calvarys, the abandoned tombs --- let us follow Jesus --- may this be our story, may this be our song. May we be known as “little Christs.” Blessed be the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and Hosanna in the Highest”

The image above is by South Asian artist, Solomon RAJ

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I noticed this morning that Walter Brueggemann's presentation to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops last month is now available online, check that out here.

Here's a bit from the end of the document:
It is my judgment that the church, in all quarters, must repent of its lust for the absolute. But surely the Rabbis, and the Church Fathers after them, understood that there are no final interpretations. And surely we have learned in the twentieth century that final interpretations are a dangerous step along the way to the Final Solution. In my Church, the United Church of Christ, we have now adopted the slogan, “God is still speaking,” which means in that liberal context, God has something new to say about sexuality. The logo for that slogan is a comma, suggesting that after the received truth of scripture there is not a period, but a comma.

But my church is tempted to disregard everything in front of the comma. The task for Red and Blue in the church, conservatives and liberals, is to recognize that because the spirit is on the move, we must pay attention to both sides of the comma, not just what is old and not just what is new.
For those who appreciate Brueggemann, check out his 19 theses, which he presented to the Emergent Theological Conversation in September of 2004. Our friend Paul Soupiset transcribed and posted the audio here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Faith & Fools on April 1st

A number of faith blogs have special April Fool's Day postings, here's a few to enjoy:

Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners’ Mobilization to End Poverty

From the posting:

Limbaugh, longtime champion of conservative media, announced his acceptance of the invitation on his daily radio show. Interrupted occasionally by call-ins of incredulous listeners, Limbaugh detailed months of off-the-record conversations with Wallis during which the two forged a deep friendship despite political, theological, philosophical, ideological, ecological, anthropological, eschatological, and soteriological differences. That dialogue came to a head one night when an anguished and sleepless Limbaugh called Wallis after 3:00 a.m., seeking spiritual solace.

“I responded like any good evangelical would,” said Wallis. “I told him he should read his Bible. And then I hung up and went back to sleep.”

Vexed but desperate, Limbaugh grabbed his trusty KJV, fanned it open at random, closed his eyes, and thrust his index finger upon whatever page it might find, landing upon this passage from James 5:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

“I admit, of all the verses for him to read, this passage sounds a bit harsh—especially in the King James,” said Wallis. “But with 2,000 verses on poverty in the Bible, Rush was bound to hit one of them.”

Trinity Expanded to Include Oprah

From the posting:
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1 -- Oprah Winfrey has been declared the fourth person of the Trinity, according to an astonishing new theological agreement hammered out by the world's major Christian denominations. Along with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the popular talk show host will be recognized as one person in the sacred and indivisible unity of the Godhead--or Quadhead, as the updated Trinity will now be called.

New green initiative for General Convention

From the posting:

Youth from the Diocese of Los Angeles will roam the floors of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies carrying aspersories and aspergillia to keep members hydrated during sessions. “We plan to use a form of blessed Gatorade,” Straub noted, “which when placed against the skin will absorb instantly without the use of paper or plastic cups.”

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams will also reduce his carbon footprint when he visits General Convention by sailing from England to Los Angeles on board the restored 18th century frigate, HMS Compass Rose. Rumors that Williams plans to walk the entire distance from Canterbury to Anaheim were dismissed by the Anglican Communion Office as “exaggerated” because the Archbishop only walks a mile or two a day.