The Landscape of Liturgy: Ordination and Lingering

emmaus.jpeg

I preached this past Sunday at the ordination service of Dana Olson, chaplain at Ingelside at Rock Creek. Dana picked the Road to Emmaus story as her ordination text. 

Here is my sermon from the day: 

We are here today to ordain Dana Olson to the office of teaching elder in the PCUSA. We are here as the ordaining body, the Holy Spirit invoking community to lay hands on Dana and affirm her call to ordain ministry.

Dana: child of God, beloved one of the font and companion of the table since a young one at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Baldwin, Wisconsin.

Dana, your call has gathered us, the priesthood of all believers, to bring you into the ordained life and to affirm, re-affirm, live into our own calls to disrupt the ways of injustice and be bearers of the Good News of Life.

You have given us a gift to be gathered today. Thank you for your call and the way it’s building community right now in this very moment.

And what a gift it has been for many of us to see your call, your courage, your confidence grow and multiply over the years.

I’m thankful to be here on behalf of Church of the Pilgrims here in Washington, D.C. where you spent time as an intern while at Wesley Seminary.

Today, it’s in the spirit of this story from the Gospel of Luke and the prophetic words of Micah, both whom give us stories of liberation and great reversals,    that we ordain you, Dana, to linger and walk and accompany those on their own Emmaus Road walk of seeking Jesus in life and at table with companions.

We meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, walking alongside Cleopas and his companion.  We find Cleopas and his companion not just walking side-by-side with a stranger, but also walking side-by-side with grief and deep sadness.

Just three days prior to this Emmaus encounter, Jesus had been crucified by the Roman Empire; put to death for the ways he shared life with the sick, the poor, the neglected, and despised. Jesus spent time with the oppressed and that time spent cost him his life.

It’s important on your ordination day, Dana, to lift up not just that Jesus spent time with the poor and hungry. It’s important to name on your ordination day the quality of time that was spent between Jesus and the rejected ones of society.  

Throughout the Gospel of Luke we hear of stories of Jesus at table, sharing food and drink with companions. In fact, Jesus liked sharing meals so much that he was called a glutton and a drunkard.

Eating and drinking were an important experience in the fabric of the ancient world. The word “companion” comes  from the Latin roots which mean “common” and “bread.”

A companion is someone with whom we break bread. Companionship specifically, table companionship was part of life in Jesus’ time.  And in the ancient world of Jesus, breaking bread took time.

Jesus didn’t breeze through table fellowship like a McDonald’s drive thru meal or get a meal out of something like the ancient world’s equivalent of a vending machine in order to get to the next healing or miracle.

While at table, Jesus lingered with his companions. They talked about pressing issues of the day, they discussed, pondered, wondered. They dreamed about a world made new.

They kept alive the language of God’s great reversal as proclaimed by Mary in the beginning of Luke’s gospel:

God turns the world upside down by exalting the humble and bringing down the mighty from their thrones, feeding the hungry, breaking the bows of the strong and giving strength to the weak.

Jesus sat at table to explore what Micah’s words to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God meant in a world dominated by violence, greed, and poverty.

While at table, Jesus lingered with extensive conversation over prolonged dinners.

So how Jesus ate and drank with others is important because Jesus’ way of table fellowship embodied God’s great reversal. He gave strength to the weak, he fed the hungry while lingering. Jesus paused. He took his time at table.

Being at table was were the stuff, the belovedness of life was centered for Jesus.

Cleopas and his companion had to linger at table in order to recognize the Risen One. As Jesus did in his ministry, Cleopas and his companion sat and talked and shared with Jesus, they took their time to share their meal.

In that time, in that sharing and talking, in the blessing and breaking of bread their eyes were opened to God’s greatest reversal of the resurrection.

Dana: today we ordain you as a Teaching Elder. That’s a nifty, new title to have.

And while today you will walk away with a new title, what you will walk away with as we ordain you is a life rooted in lingering.

As chaplain here at Ingelside, you have been called by God to linger in the ways of Jesus.

As you accompany this community in life, death, and all types of transitions, you are called to sit at table and linger with these companions, these breakers of the bread of Jesus.

As you welcome new people to Ingelside, you are called to linger in that welcome. As Ingelside staff stop you in the hallway for brief conversation that turns into deep sharing, you are called to linger in the hallway.

As you sit at bedside with the dying, you are called to linger in the dying process.

At brunch here on Sundays at Ingelside, at dinner with residents on Thursdays, at any meal you share here at Ingelside, you, as their chaplain, Dana, as a Teaching Elder, you are called to sit, talk, dream, embody God’s great reversal while at table together.

One of my dear mentor  has always said, “justice is important, but supper is essential.” Our Emmaus story gives us this vision. Jesus had just been crucified by an angry mob and the Roman government.

He could have sought retaliation. Jesus could have been walking to instigate a revolt, a violent protest to the Roman Ways of violence and persecution. He could have been walking to seek revenge on his own death.

Instead. Jesus sat down with two strangers to share supper.

While the structural changes necessary to subvert the Roman Empire ways of death weren’t immediately available, Jesus shared a meal and table companionship.

The Roman Empire had the power to legislate laws but they couldn’t legislate radical love rooted in the table of Jesus Christ.

There at table with strangers, Jesus shows us supper, a meal with others that lingers, is the source of love.

We find the holy in what is ordinary, when we share what is ordinary in love—that’s the companionship that Jesus offers us, offers you, Dana, as a child of the font and table, as one who embraces your own belovedness, and one who see the beloved in others.

Your call, your ordination, Dana, calls us to experience the sacraments in expressions beyond the enclosure of a traditional worship service.

In doing that work, in the simple act of pulling out a chair, sitting down at table,

looking someone in the eye and asking, “how are you”, you are proclaiming and establishing Beloved Community here at Ingelside.

We give thanks, Dana, to the churches in your life that have offered you this table fellowship, that have shown you God’s Holy Way.

For Gethsemane Lutheran, for the Campus Christian Fellowship during your college years, Calvary Presbyterian here in Alexandria, for Saint Mark Episcopal during your Young Adult Volunteer Year in Guatemala, for Church of the Pilgrims.

And thanks be to God these congregations have imaged their work on a lingering kind of God, a God that is relational and incarnational—a God that dwells in the deep places of us, our bodies, our neighborhoods, congregations and the web of life itself.

Our God is one whose very nature is to be alongside those who suffer, in the transformation of life and death; a God who swirls inside of life and brings forth wholeness, great reversals and forms companions to break bread with one another.

Dana: in your ordained life and ministry, we pray that the Church continues to call you to walk in the ways of accompaniment, of companionship.

Just as Cleopas and his companion walked in a time of deep grief and loss, we pray the Church calls you to be that companion—that one who, with others, can tell the story of ancient Israel, one who proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus, one who can tell the story of the women at the cross and tomb, one who can share of the vision of angels who said Jesus was alive.

This is where I hope the spirit and story of Emmaus Road really takes hold of you, Dana. Our sacramental life in the reformed tradition, through the stories of faith, is at the font and the table.

It’s where all of us, and particularly you now, live out our tradition of resistance.

Dana, you know that we don’t have vending machine sacraments---we are called to spend time at the font and at the table.

We are called to linger and spend time with each other.  It is at the waters of baptism and at the table of bread and cup in our liturgy that as kings and empires fling and build themselves around us, we declare who we are and whose we are.

We give witness at the font and table that it is from our brokenness that we do the work of the women of the tomb, we do the work of the angels, we walk in the ways of Cleopas and strangers, we do the work of following Jesus to the table.  

And when we get off course, because that’s what we do as humans, when, at times, we can’t recognize who is right next to us, when we get off course, God re-directs us, resurrects us back at the font and the table.

With the stories of faith, the water of the font, the bread and the cup, you are part of God’s invitation to come back; be a new beginning as we learn over and over how to live and love again.

And while yes the water and meal are symbolic, the sacraments are as real as it gets. Our sacraments are radical acts of hospitality; they are the continued, story of a God inviting us to create beauty and love in community

In your ordination, you receive this sacramental work of our Reformed Tradition. This is a gift and the sacraments are powerful instruments and experiences for teaching and formation, for creating liturgy that is deeply committed to shaping and organizing prophetic, communal life.

Your ordination, Dana, is also an act of accountability because we’ve seen throughout our tradition how the sacraments become a weapon in the hands of people more concerned with preserving power, authority, and privilege.

You are called to share how Jesus has been made known to you and Ingelside in the breaking of the bread.

Each time you come to the table, you do as Jesus did on the Emmaus Road: you take bread, you bless it, you break the bread and you share with everyone.

It is our hope that at whatever table you break and bless bread, your eyes will be opened, again and again, and you will recognize that Christ is always at your table.

In this life as a Teaching Elder, a minister of Word and Sacrament, Dana, release the waters of new life. Release the bead and the cup. Linger. Stay there. Be life. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God, Dana.

Trust that God is calling you to invite people to see how their life can become a sacrament—that’s when we share life, resist the ways of hurt and destruction.

At the table and the font, we see means of hope, and heal from fear.

From one ordained soul to another, welcome, Dana, to this new era of your life, your practice, your ministry, your life of lingering.  

 

The Landscape of Liturgy: All Saints' Day 2017

Note: This is my first blog post in quite awhile. The past year has been rough. My first blog post is about All Saints' Day, one of my favorite liturgies of the year. 

All Saints' is one of my favorite liturgies of the year.

I was ordained in 2000 around All Saints Day so I could intentionally invoke the saints past and present into my ordination liturgy. I value remembering the dead and their role in our lives. I love weaving baptism and communion around the Saints, pulling their names into the present and invoking our God of past, present, and future. 

It's been a hard year at Pilgrims with the death and dying of our former pastor, Jeff Krehbiel. This seemed like an important liturgy for us to be close together, like a communal, liturgical hug.

To create a liturgical hug, we did some re-arranging of our space and wove in both baptism and communion to the liturgy. 

Space:  

Pilgrims sanctuary was re-designed in the early 2000's to be more flexible and to fit our size (read: we don't have 500 people in worship like in the 1950's). We have capability to improvise with our space, making it fit not only the liturgical story we are sharing but also Pilgrims story of who we are today. 

You can see below our usual set-up. Our side pews usually have few people (who wants to sit up front?!) and most people sit in the main two sections of pews in the middle of the sanctuary (where you see the pews with "people").  This works for us and yet we can still be spread out. 

 

All saints space.JPG

Several months ago we moved the piano which was way in the back up to where it is now in the "typical set-up." In moving the piano, we wanted Billy Kluttz, our music director, closer to us to strengthen and support our singing (sometimes it's hard to sing out when one is sad and grieving).  

On All Saints, we used those red rope things that churches use to block off pews to move everyone forward.

You can in the design below that we had people sitting in only the first two set of pews in the main, middle section. We moved a few chairs in front of the right side pews to help give some shape to that open space. 

 

all saints space 2.JPG

People sait in the front pews that face towards each other. We moved the communion table back and placed the font (usually the entrance of the sanctuary) on the table. Our font has a large, glass removable bowl that allows us this flexibility. 

In the All Saints' set-up, we could:

  • hear each other singing. We built off each other's voices to sing with more strength and energy.  
  • we could hear each other when we invited people to come forward, light a candle, and share the name of someone who died; 
  • people had a less of a walk to the table when sharing the name (felt more do-able); 
  • the space felt more incarnational, as if we were the Word made flesh because we were closer to each other.  

Baptism

I've got a bee in my bonnet these days about baptism, death, and resurrection. In the services of life and resurrection, the language goes that in death one's baptism has been complete. 

I don't buy that. 

In our tradition, baptism, the sacrament of belonging, is experienced in community. As part of the baptism liturgy, those gathered re-affirm their own baptisms. Around the font, the Spirit gathers up and connects all of our baptisms. At the font, baptism becomes incarnational and we proclaim in the waters of baptism we die to the ways of empire and evil and live into the ways of Christ. We enter into the mystery of death and new life and that mystery is always available. 

In death the physical body dies. Yet we trust that there will be resurrection and that resurrection includes the vows of baptism. Those vows come back to us in our lives, in our community. Those vows come back to us as we continue to gather around the font and break bread around the table. When we walk away from the waters of the font, we are empowered, as people of life and death, to do the Jesus work of feeding, healing, and raising the dead and raising-up the baptism of the dead. 

For me, to say that baptism is complete in physical death is a Western, individualized way of seeing baptism. As if all along we've been living our baptisms individually and baptism doesn't have the power to transcend physical death. 

So....with that bee in my bonnet.....I wrote baptism into our litany of saints. Several us read this litany and one of our 4-year old Pilgrims helped me pour water into the font at the appropriate time. Our giant glass font was on the communion table throughout the service (see space layout above). 

This was the first part of our litany: 

Throughout this litany of Pilgrim Saints, Billy will lead us in an alleluia.

We sing an alleluia to remember that the women at Jesus’ tomb taught us that even at the grave we sing God’s alleluia.

Water will also be poured into the font during the alleluias, reminding us of the baptisms of our saints, that even in death, the spirit of their baptisms is never ending, for their baptismal vows made in Christian community live on in us.

By faith, let us remember our own Great Cloud of Witnesses, as their spirits and work continue to be a source of life for us today. 

Let us pray.

Eternal God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, we praise you for the saints of all times and places who have walked the road of faith before us and beside us. 

God of ages past, we remember our our ministers and clergy who worked off each other legacies, who shared their lifeblood with this Pilgrim community and are now bound together in Your Great Cloud of Witnesses.

By faith, we remember Pilgrims Ministers of Music: Warren Johnson, Dexter Davidson and James Boeringer. We remember their gift of creating prophetic community through music that we build upon today.

By faith, we remember our founding pastors, Benjamin Franklin Bedinger, Harrison Waddell Pratt and Andrew Reid Bird, who were led by God to build this community of faith out of nothing but faith.

By faith, we remember J. Randolph Taylor, Herb Meza, Sid Skirvin, and Jeffrey Krehbiel who as pastors led this congregation in faithful new directions with their vision for radical peace and justice. Let us give God thanks and praise for these Pilgrim saints.

Alleluia  (pouring of water in the font)

      God of all creation, we praise you for all your disciples who have witnessed to your truth, who        have shown us your love, who have inspired us to have hope.

The litany continued...

After the litany and adapted version of Hebrews 11,  we lit candles of those who have died and shared the bread and cup.  

Pilgrims Book of Life

This isn't our membership book. Our book is less worn but brown and leather and you get the idea.
This isn't our membership book. Our book is less worn but brown and leather and you get the idea.

Church of the Pilgrims has a book that keeps the names of those who have become members of the church. The book looks something like this:

I wrote a blog post about Pilgrims most recent confirmation service where we welcome Sam and Emma into the Church. You can find that blog post here.

In the post I wrote about how we took our big, leather bound membership book and used it in the liturgy. Since then, we've been incorporating "the book" into particular liturgies.

First, the background on how the book became part of our liturgical life at Pilgrims.

In May, our family went to a bar mitzvah for our dear friend Eli. Eli had his bar mitzvah at this fabulous, rainbow flag waving Temple Rodef Shalom. (Patrick, one of Eli's dads, blogs here).

During Eli's bar mitzvah, the Torah was brought out from the Torah ark in this gorgeous moment that involved Eli, the cantor, the Rabbi and Eli's other bar mitzvah companion. I was so taken by this moment---the doors open to this colorful, beautiful, gently glowing "home" to the Torah, this sacred, holy book that holds the stories of life and death of the Jewish people. A few moments after Eli's reading of the Hebrew, Eli, like his dad when he was bar mitzvah'd a few years ago, was welcomed into the faith through the Torah.

I watched Eli hold the Torah. Embrace the Torah. Become part of the Torah. In his Hebrew, I heard Eli become part of Judaism and was now ascribed, at least in my mind, to the Book of Life-- an image, and for some Jewish communities an actual book, that is the muster-roll of God. Rooted in the Psalms, the book ascribes the names of those who are working for justice for God. This image of the Book of Life is liturgically part of the High Holy Days for many Jewish communities.

This is NOT Eli's bar mitvah! But this is Temple Rodef Shalom. You can see the home of the Torah behind this family.  This is the scroll that Eli read from that took me to the idea of how to create the experience of being connected to generations prior.
This is NOT Eli's bar mitvah! But this is Temple Rodef Shalom. You can see the home of the Torah behind this family. This is the scroll that Eli read from that took me to the idea of how to create the experience of being connected to generations prior.

It was such a powerful image to witness Eli turn the pages of the Torah, witnessing his connection to the Jewish faith going back thousands of years.

Eli inspired Pilgrims confirmation liturgy in this way:

Could we have a moment like this in our confirmation liturgy where the sense of ancientness of who we are comes alive? How does Pilgrims connect Emma and Sam to a sense of ancientness? To a history? How could that connection be witnessed? How could Sam and Emma, like Eli, physically draw themselves closer to the history of a religious tradition?

Pilgrims membership book then became part of the confirmation liturgy---creating a moment when Pilgrims big, leather-bound membership book was opened up and Sam and Emma were invited to write their own names into our book. Bettina Burgett, our clerk and keeper of the book,  then wrote down the date and "confirmation" as the process of membership.

Now Sam and Emma were in our book, along with those founding members of Pilgrims whose names are also in the book--their names and the date of membership at the very beginning of the book.

Leaf through the heavy, cotton, age-worn paper and  you will see those who have come before Sam and Emma; those who have loved Pilgrims and brought us into this moment in time together.

In this particular moment in time at confirmation, we made the writing of the names a public, liturgical moment. Sam and Emma wrote down their own names--no one else wrote their names for them. They used their own agency.

We watched Bettina confirm their signatures with the date and means of membership. Usually  Bettina writes in the names and dates after the membership moment has passed--it's a moment that was private and a task. It seems we've now raised the bar for Bettina's position within the congregation---going from "clerk" to "clerk of the book."

In a way, the Sam and Emma writing their own names created this boundary of time and space--pulling past into the present in a public, physical way.  In this public action, Sam and Emma, and Pilgrims as witnesses, gave reverence to our past, pulling the names off the pages and into our liturgical space.

Since that moment worked out pretty well....

At a baptism in June we pulled out the book of baptism and weddings. It looks the same as the membership book. Our general baptism liturgy includes these actions right after the water--we put a stole over the newly baptized. We anoint the baptized with oil. They are offered milk and honey, the first meal in the ancient church to the new baptized. We light a candle. The baptized one is welcomed into the Church by a member.

All of these post-baptism moments link us back to the early Church and their ancient ways--these are rituals that transcend time and root us in the ways the early followers defined community up and against Roman Empire.

book of life
book of life

Now we have the book. It's not a telephone book. Not a pool membership book. It's not the sign in sheet at a yoga studio. It's Pilgrims book of the living and the dead.

The baptism book rested next to the font with the stole, honey/milk, and oil. As part of our sequencing of post-baptism actions, Bettina wrote  the baptized one's name into the book since the little guy wasn't old enough to write his own name. Our little Pilgrim, now baptized, was in our book which holds not just the names of those before him but, in essence, their commitment/struggle/joy/heartbreak that has made Pilgrims....Pilgrims.

Blessing of the Plants in Worship

plant communion
plant communion

Four years ago, Church of the Pilgrims started an urban garden with one raised bed. Now we have four raised beds, a root veggie garden, herb garden, large perennial bed, four beehives, and several composts. The produce grown from the garden goes to creating meals for Open Table, our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors.

We've done a lot of work in these past four years in incorporating the garden into life at Pilgrims, particularly our liturgical life.

Several weeks ago, we had our spring planting day after worship. Before we plunked everything into the soil, we blessed and honored the plants in worship. How to bless the plants came out of a brainstorming session with Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, our two interns.

I preached on the Emmaus Road, focusing on "recognition" and how breaking of bread (the non-human) and community (human) push us to recognize the Holy One. I'd give this sermon a B, mostly because I was focused on communion that followed.

As part of the invitation to the table, I had people share their hopes and dreams for what they want to recognize in this Eastertide season. I stood next to the font which was in front of our table---everything surrounded by the plants we would soon plant.

Plants growing out of font and table.
Plants growing out of font and table.

We had a lime tree, olive tree, creeping thyme, tomatoes, eggplants, sunflowers, basil, cabbage, peppers, and native plants. These plants were grown by non-Monsanto seeds by Pilgrims or purchased at a farmers market from a local farm.

During Pilgrims baptismal liturgy, we share hopes and dreams for the person being baptized. Someone shares a hope and dream, then they take the pitcher and pour water into the font.

We did something similar with our "recognitions."

I had planned to have people call out what they hope to recognize/pay attention to within themselves, Pilgrims and the planet in their pews with me pouring into the font.  Jeanne Mayer, a long time member at Pilgrims, was the first one to share. She came up, grabbed the pitcher out of my hand, shared in front of  everyone. This is the pattern in our baptism. Not sure what I was thinking...me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.
Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.

One-by-one 10+ people shared. The recognitions focused on growth, perspective, expansiveness, and community.

People were then invited to come forward to our open table, singing "Come to the table of Grace", and take a little communion cup, dip it into the font with the water full of hopes, and water the plants.

As we gathered around the table, we prayed, shared our hopes and dreams for the plants, and continued with an improv Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

After worship, 15 of us went to our garden and planted our hopes and dreams.

The Sacramental Nature of Springsteen and the ESB

Eucharist and Springsteen The video below is  of Springsteen and the E Street Band performing their song "High Hopes" on the Jimmy Fallon show several months ago. I love this performance. Who else would bring 17 band members, cram them on to a stage, and have a wrap around balcony for an audience?

What I'm most taken by in this performance is the movement of the bodies of Springsteen and the E Street Band. They engulf their instruments with their bodies. It's memorizing to watch Tom Morello, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell, and Everett Bradley (my fav!) organically move their bodies to the words, energy, and rhythm of "High Hopes." Each has their own unique movement on stage yet they all fit together as a band/community in their uniqueness.

They have "presence." This is a word used in theater, referring to "stage presence." Stage presence refers to the impact the performer has on the audience. Presence heightens the spectators' own awareness of their own presence in that particular moment, time, and place. Presence of a performer can create a liminal space. Liminal is a fancy word used in ritual studies. Wikipedia has a good definition:

....when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes..... 

The ESB's presence is a communal one---their liminal impact  through sound and body movement doesn't occur in isolation; they create presence and liminality together.

Presence and liminality are important to me in the Eucharist.  For me, Presence isn't located in the elements of communion rather in the act and participation of communion.  Communion is a gathered, communal meal, rather than a ritual that focuses on the objects of bread and the cup. It's a lumped up sum of people seeking to end up on the other side of the communion experience existing in a new way however profound and subtle.

In the video I'm taken from beginning of the song, to middle/threshold/liminality, to the end because of the presence of the band--their movements, sense of connection, deep sense of community on stage, and passion for music that critiques the dominant social order. My favorite movement/presence moment starts at 4:52 when they hit the refrain and their bodies create a magnificent presence on stage--fluid, connected, communal, liminal.

The Baptism of Springsteen
The Baptism of Springsteen

My spouse, Bob, and I went to the Springsteen concert in Columbus during Holy Week.

In this picture. Tom Morello takes a gi-normous sponge, full of water, and drips it over the head on Springsteen who, at this point, is down on his knees. Morello was making a dramatic moment out of cooling off his front man. I see baptism. You can see Springsteen in the JumboTron with Morello leaning over him. Look to the right hand side of the picture for the real thing.

What an image to have in the middle of a 3+ hour concert that prophetically blasts songs about social responsibility, taking care of each other, economic justice, and offers up a social critique of capitalism. It's what Christian baptism claims--that in community we take responsibility for our place on the planet. Baptism creates a liminal experience of taking us from one existence pre-baptism to a threshold, liminal moment of transition, and into to a new existence within community with the Presence at-hand. Thanks, Springsteen, for doing the same.

Garbage Can Turned into a Font

Robin Nagle, anthropologist in residence for Dept of Sanitation, NYC
Robin Nagle, anthropologist in residence for Dept of Sanitation, NYC

While on sabbatical, I met with Robin Nagle, anthropologist-in-residence for the Dept of Sanitation in New York City. Robin taught a seminar at Union Seminary in NYC on "Garbage and Sacredness" and once I saw this title, I wanted to meet her. I found Robin's email on Google, fired off some emails and soon enough, had a time set-up. This is what I learned from my time with Robin---everything is sacred, and everything is garbage.

All of life is temporal---everything will and must die. I'll die. You'll die. The computer I'm typing on will become garbage. Everything will be discarded--making it garbage.

And everything is sacred.

If everything is garbage and sacred, Nagle argues, then why are sanitation workers treated like garbage, their role in the public health of an urban landscape like NYC deemed invisible? What's sacred? What's profane? And who the hell gets to decide?

What environmental crises can we trace back to garbage? What do we learn about the values of a home, community, city, and planet by what people discard?

This is what I love about work like Robin's:

1) It makes me feel more creative.  Sacredness and garbage? Never thought of that connection before. That's creativity.

2) I love nerding out on a theory or methodology, seeing how it's translated into liturgical life.

When I returned from sabbatical, I preached that Sunday of Labor Day weekend. It was also the 50th anniversary remembering the March on Washington. MLK, Jr. was executed while marching with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, TN.

I seized the moment and focused on sanitation workers in liturgy.

I prepped by watching "At the River I Stand", a documentary of the Memphis sanitation workers. It shows the horrors of being a sanitation worker in Memphis and the community organizing efforts that eventually gained the workers a contract with the city.

In the documentary, sanitation workers and their supporters were shown at a rally in a church sanctuary a few days before MLK, Jr. arrived the first time in Memphis. The offering that night was collected in.....garbage cans.

*light bulb*

We can do that. Off to Home Depot I went to buy two large metal trashcans and several small ones.

i am a man
i am a man

I spray painted "I Am A Man" on the sides of each can---the words on striking sanitation worker's signs.

Three of the small cans were used to collect our offering during the worship service.

One big can was placed in front of the communion table.

One big can became our font. I took the big glass bowl off our baptismal stand and placed it one top of the garbage can. I put garbage in the font. Why?

Garbage Can as Pilgrims Font
Garbage Can as Pilgrims Font

Because everything is sacred, and everything is garbage. Our font symbolizes the Church will honor our sacredness throughout all of life, even through death when we become dust and compost. In our baptism, we tend to the planet as sacred. The words, "I Am a Man?" That's baptismal language.

As I reflect, "garbage can as font" informed my energy for taking ashes into the streets on Ash Wednesday-- being present with workers considered irrelevant, invisible, and the bottom of the labor chain. Ashes claim solidarity in life and death. It's the role of liturgy, in a sanctuary and on the streets, to make that solidarity visible.