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We're in the midst of Epiphany - a season which focuses the church's attention on the revelation of Jesus. The readings for Epiphany are about the emergence of Jesus on the public scene. Here is the gospel reading for this past Sabbath.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him (Mark 1:14-20).
As I wrestled with how we can read this text with fresh eyes, and have our own epiphany, of sorts, I tried my best to re-enter the narrative in it's original context and ask what Mark wants to say to us. In order to create a different imagination about a text we have all read many times I wrote a creative retelling of the story. I got some good feedback about it on Sabbath so I decided to work on it a bit more and post it here, after the jump. I'd be curious to see what you think, gentle reader.
A great social revolution is afoot.
But, because of the danger associated with all revolutions, very few people know what is really going on. The established order continues without limitation – or so it appears to those who live from day to day minding their own business, going to work, tending to their domestic responsibilities, raising their children, paying their taxes.
The established order survives by propaganda and appeasement. And so the majority of people are well-fed, social infrastructure is more or less cared for. But under the surface there are people who notice. And at the margins, to be more accurate, there are people who are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. In spite of the propaganda about a “booming economy” there are people who are being left behind. Certain classes of people never have the basics while others thrive and waste the “plenty” of society.
We hear the official narratives about “national security” and “protecting our way of life,” but at the margins are people who know better. There are some who know that these “soldiers” in the street are not there to protect them but to contain them – to cage them – to make sure they don’t get too close to the accumulated wealth of the upper class.
Every so often a news story leaks about someone who was “disappeared” because they asked too many questions. They are ordinary people, on the one hand, but they have read the ancient literature. They know history. They know the oracle – that one is coming who, it is said, will comfort the suffering, bind the wounds of the broken, lift up the down trodden. This God-anointed one will restore the nation to its original glory, creating a society where all have what they need – where the rich will not prosper on the backs of the poor. Where peace and righteousness are the rule of the day.
And from the margins there are people who are talking. One man in particular is starting to gain a following. This is both good and bad at the same time. People are rightly concerned for his safety because he is opening challenged the power system, saying things like, “You family of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming destruction? If you are so repentant let see some real reforms to prove it! Do not pretend to think that because you come from a privileged family that you have any special claim on goodness. God will make new leaders for his people out of these inanimate stones! Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees!"
I mean, these are fighting words. The combination of this man’s direct speech and the attention he’s getting, in spite of being in some far flung place...well, it either means one of two things: the movement is coming of age or this man’s days are numbered. Everyone fears the worst – it feels like he’s out there by himself saying these true, but dangerous words.
Then this guy claims to have found "the One" the oracle predicted would come – the Messiah. Now even more attention is being directed toward him. News vans, satellite uplinks. You could cut the tension with a knife.
Then, just the other day, in dramatic fashion this guy named Jesus, the one John is calling the Lamb of God is baptized in the Jordan. Everyone thought this was the moment for our big move, but then he just disappeared into the desert. No one heard a word from him for over a month
Some said he was dead.
Others that God took him to heaven.
People’s hopes sank once again.
Some said they were finished – they just couldn’t take any more of this expectation and disappointment.
Then, to top it all off, John was arrested by Herod for sedition and blaspheming the Most Holy Caesar and inciting riots.
BUT, just the other day Jesus turned up again. He came to Galilee and everywhere he went he simply said, “It’s time!” It was brilliant. Almost no one knew what it meant, but those with ears to hear, knew! We didn’t hesitate. For a few of us it all started to make sense. He said, “It’s time! God’s reign has come near! Turn and believe the good news!”
So, when he called to me and asked me to follow him, I didn’t have to think about it very long.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for.
This is the moment we’d whispered about, barely risking giving voice to it. The hope we’d kept alive in our hearts, that we could be a part of this messianic movement John told us about. It may come to nothing, but it’s definitely worth the risk.
He said if we followed him we’d be “fishing for the man!”
Not sure what that’s all about, but it must have something to do with old Jeremiah’s prediction that God would send fishermen to catch the evildoers. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to bag some Romans.
The sermon went on from there and if you really want to hear it, you can listen on our website (apologies for the sound quality - we're working on it).
In a separate post I'll share some thoughts about the inauguration that I closed that sermon with.
This is our moment.
Bonnie asked, "Does cowboy poetry have any spiritual content?"
My first reaction was, "Of course!" But thinking I should do a little research, I spent some time on the Western Folklife Center's website (www.westernfolklife.org), listening to a podcast of Yvonne Hollenbeck's poem, "The Christmas Quilt," in which a family's lost loved ones and their sacrifices are stitched together with the Christmas story and Christ's sacrifice for us. Yes, right there was spiritual content in this first poem, randomly picked and touchingly read by the author.
And then on to irreverently reverent Paul Zarzyski's blog and his poem, "Face-To-Face" which pretty much puts us at the primal, pulsing center of the universe. And "Putting the Rodeo Into Cowboy Poetry," with its cosmos/universe/seasons and this wonderful line: "fall madly in love with earth¹s fickle ways."
Then a goldmine of poems in the book/CD "Buckaroo: Visions and Voices of the American Cowboy," edited by Hal Cannon and Thomas West (Callaway, Simon & Shuster © 1993. "My Requiem" by quintessential Montana cowboy-poet/rancher Wallace McRae lists man's usual earthly efforts at immortality‹art, architecture, grand works‹and then concludes,
But grant to me this final wish
When I say that last amen:
Let my mark be carried lightly
In the hearts and minds of men.
So, did I find any spiritual content on this first foray into cowboy poetry? There are plenty of the to-be-expected hard drinkin', hard ridin' poems, and laments about the hard, hard life ("Oh, I never knew what misery was, Till I started herding sheep." -Jack Walther). And there are lots of humorous riffs on the cowboy life (Larry Schutte's "Cowpen Moo-sic", or Paul Zarzyski's "Ain't No Life After Rodeo").
But I also found the kind of introspection and spirituality that comes from living life at the edge of death, from being alone under a big sky, alone with the universe, alone with your hopes and fears, alone with your self-sufficiency or not. Big highs, big lows, big hearts, big spirit.
Reminded me of the Psalms. These poems put me there. Forty days in the desert or the high plains, outside of Elko, on horseback, on a ranch. I need to read more before we hit the road!
Road Trip to Elko – Anne Garner Austin's "prequel"
I am glad Bonnie asked about the spiritual aspect of Cowboy Poetry, because it has really gotten me to think about what was probably the 'real' reason I wanted to go.
Laura always delights me with her thoroughness but she did not have to prove to me that you could find spiritualness in cowboy poetry. I am not going to Elko to hear cowboy poetry in search of spirituality, because I already know it will find me. I AM going however; to reconnect with the breed of folk I grew up with. Folks that say what they mean and mean what they say; and when they offer you their hand, they are giving their word. These are the men and women that the phrase “Salt of the Earth” was coined for. I have missed them, and just in the planning of this trip, I have already begun the reconnection.
My family came to Lake County in 1883. I was born here, to parents of the Depression, and raised on a working cattle ranch. It is home and it is where I draw my strength from. Our family ties run deep and we are connected to the land, but sometimes in the day to day living we lose touch with these ties. I have always found a quality in Cowboy Poetry that rekindles the spirit and sends it soaring.
I mentioned yesterday that last year was very turbulent for me and I have found through the strength of friends and God, that the simplest joys are the most uplifting. I intend to find those joys in Elko; with people that work hard, play with abandon and laugh often, and I could not have selected a better companion to share this experience with than Laura.
Oh, did I also mention that I expect to have a wonderful week of people watching as well? The hats that will be as distinctive in their style as the person that dons them; the plethora of whimsical mustaches and facial hair grooming, that the men will employ; and the boots, ah the boots! They will come in every imaginable color, style and type. I expect everything from broke-in and well-worn, with a few barnyard particles still attached; to hand-tooled ostrich skin. There will be traditional cowboy boots to packers, high heeled to low, fancy to plain. Not to mention the numerous pairs Laura and I will be sporting! And city-folk, think they have the market cornered on fashion! Humph! “Talk” to you from the road!
Since Laura has given you a most eloquent introduction to what our trip is about I will simply tell you how I came to invite her.
The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is an event that I have long wanted to attend. I always meant to get there but it just never seemed to be the “right time”. Well on that chilly December day, as I sat nestled upon my couch, reading VIA Magazine, I came across a small side bar about the 25th anniversary of the Gathering. It gave me a bit of a jolt and I started to meditate upon my life. 2008 had been a very turbulent year in my life and I had been struggling emotionally. As I stared at the picture and words, a revelation occurred to me. I had been consciously making an effort to reconnect with old friends, cultivate some new relationships and to stop “putting off” doing things that I had always wanted to do! So I decided right there and then that this was THE time to go! I did a swift flip of my mental roll-a-dex, picked up the phone and called Laura.
I knew she was going to be excited and she didn’t disappoint! She asked, “How long do I have to decide?” I said, “Two days!” I would have loved it if Max could have joined us, but I was not the least bit surprised when he said, “Sorry, but I ride for the brand”. Always the gentleman though, he simply told Laura to, “Go for it”! So I got on line and applied for a press pass. By this time I was way too excited and worried, that we wouldn’t get the shows we wanted, so I ordered tickets too!
Then we got really giddy and decided it was time for these two cowgirls to kick up their heels a bit and pack the wardrobe! In our everyday busy lives, we don’t get to do that much and this was just way too fun to pass up. So with the tickets purchased, the hotel reserved, the outfits selected, and a driving lesson for Laura in my truck, followed by a delicious dinner she prepared, we are ready to go. So when Laura e-mailed and said that Bonnie wanted us to “Blog” our trip for Spectrum, it just put the frosting on the cake. So for what it’s worth, I hope we can convey our experiences to you and that you will be able to feel the fun and joy that I know we will find as we head into the vast high desert.
A couple of weeks ago, Oakwood University reported that one of its students, Nicole Frazier, had been selected to attend the Obama Inauguration as a University Presidential Inaugural Scholar.
This is her story.
Wow! That’s the only word I can think of to describe this amazing experience. I was blessed to be a University Presidential Inaugural Scholar for this 2009 Inauguration. The program was incredible and lasted five days. Five thousand university students were chosen to participate in this grand occasion from all over the world. The first night of the program, the Inaugural Scholars got the opportunity to meet and greet. There were so many different people and countries represented. Luke Russert, the late Tim Russert’s son and co-host of the show “60/20 Sports”, spoke on the power of youth.
All of the Inaugural Scholars were guests at state-of-the-art hotels. I stayed in the Omni Shoreham Hotel, which was phenomenal. On the second day of the program, we were guests at the University of Maryland where General Colin Powell spoke. His regal, yet down-to-earth presence shocked me. He greeted the crowd and began a very organized and interesting speech.
General Powell spoke on leadership and the keys to being an effective leader. He mentioned that good leaders possess several qualities. They have vision, which they translate into goals. They organize themselves by measuring their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their opponents. They organize their forces, realize that they must sometimes make difficult decisions and that failure is probable, but a learning experience. He focused on one aspect of leadership—effective leaders understand that leadership is about followers.
After the lecture, we went to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for lectures. I attended the press panel where we got to ask a panel of journalists from the NY Times, NBC, ABC, and CNN questions. This was very informative, but I wish it was longer. I later went to a presentation by James Carville (Democratic Strategist/CNN) and his wife Mary Matalin (Republican Strategist/Former Presidential Adviser). This lecture was interesting and filled with many debates on issues like immigration, taxes, and youth community involvement.
After the headliner, the inaugural scholars headed toward the inaugural celebration on the National Mall. There were an estimated 1.4 million people in attendance. It was so crowded that people pressed together from the Lincoln Memorial past the reflection pool, the Veteran’s Memorial, all the way to the Capitol building. During the inaugural celebration, we enjoyed performances by John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, U2, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Usher, and others.
On Monday, we were special guests at a presentation by Al Gore at the University of Maryland. I really thought he would be stiff, but he was interesting and full of humor. He spoke on global warming, politics, and how we can positively impact the environment. After Al Gore’s speech, we went to two more presentations of our choice. I went to a presentation by Jon Seaton (Managing Partner/East Meridian Strategies) and Sarah Simmons (Director of Strategy for McCain’s campaign) out of curiosity. Their presentations were informative. One of the most interesting presentations for me was that of Robert Pinsky (pictured), the former U.S. Poet Laureate. His presentation was on the power and significance of self-expression in a democracy. I was able to speak with him and get an autograph and picture.
Inauguration Day was spectacular. I will always cherish the memories of that day. Not only was I able to witness the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America, but I was able to experience and participate in the feelings of optimism and jubilation. The crowds were ecstatic. There was energy in the air and a sense of American pride that was intense and unimaginable. On inauguration day, I got up at 1 a.m. and headed for the metro station with some friends. As I stood in the bitter cold among the ecstatic crowds, my thoughts rushed to the significance of that joyous occasion. Not only was this occasion significant to me because I am African American, but it signified a change in American politics and the way of thinking, as well as the role of youth as vital elements of change. There were so many people that even though we arrived early, we were only able to watch the festivities on a jumbotron. Even though the crowd was pressed together, people weren’t concerned with the many differences we had such as nationality, race, religion, or political views. We were truly one. As the festivities proceeded, the crowd increased with energy and zeal, especially when President Obama spoke. When the festivities had commenced, the same warmth could be felt as everyone made their way back.
I scarcely had time to rest because the Black-Tie Gala was hours away. My roommate and I quickly rotated dominating the restroom and getting ready. Finally, we got into the bus and headed towards the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Traffic was so heavy that, although we left the hotel at 6:30 p.m., we didn’t arrive until 9:00 p.m. Most of the roads were blocked, and the total city was chaotic but exciting. My friends and I decided to go to the Hirshhorn first. There was music, food, and beautiful abstract artwork. The evening was spectacular. After spending some time in the Hirshhorn, we went to the Smithsonian where there was a live band, airplanes, naval equipment, and artwork. I enjoyed this experience and would not trade it for anything. The friendships I made were priceless.
As I reflect back on my experience in Washington D.C., the words of President Obama ring in my ear. “It’s not a liberal America or conservative America, but it’s the United States of America.” Truly, I am proud to be part of this great country. I hope that the new administration, along with us—the people of this great nation—will work hard to restore America. As a young adult, I vow to be a part of this restoration process. In the words of J.F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Since we launched about 14 months ago our new Spectrum site has had:
Of course, the visits/visitors number is high as it measures IP addresses, not actual noses. But still.
Here's a graph from Compete.com that measures daily attention over the past 90 days among three Adventist media properties that have made changes in the last year.
Average time spent on each site.
Thanks to all of you for making this site a success. We've got some new features we'll be rolling out. But we want to hear from you.
What keeps you coming back?
Just after Christmas my friend Anne invited me to join her on a road trip to Elko, Nevada, in the middle of winter. Elko is in the Great Basin, and winter temperatures peak at what we Northern Californians consider bone-chilling lows. So--what's in Elko during the last week of January?
Since 1985, Elko has been home to the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This--perhaps unknown--bit of culture is nonetheless a big, wholesome slice of all-American pie. Poets and musicians, craftspeople and cowboys, ranchers
and scholars, storytellers and artists, filmmakers and piano players, all gather to celebrate a unique bit of western culture.
I was first introduced to cowboy poets by my husband Max, who loves all things western. What's the draw? The myth--or code--of the west might be defined as romantic, in a moral sense. This is a world of old-fashioned right and wrong, of ethical behavior that might seem dated in our urban-centric modern culture. But the "cowboy way" is also laced with
self-deprecating irony and big dollops of humor.
True-to-form, when I asked Max if he would accompany Anne and I, he declined. Not because this isn't something we've wanted to do for years, not because he wouldn't love to go, but because his commitment to his job and his personal integrity would not allow him to take time off work just for fun. In true cowboy lingo, he said "No, you girls go. Have fun. And tell Anne, I ride for the brand!"
We leave in less than a week. We've decided to go all out, girl-style, and take at least three changes of clothes--all western wear--per day. Lest this be a mere Thelma-and-Louise style jaunt (I hope we make it home alive!), we have given ourselves assignments.
Anne, a travel-writer (among other things; I'll let her introduce herself to you) plans, naturally, to write. I'm a graphic designer, and the art director for Spectrum magazine; I plan to shoot lots of photos and try to capture the look and feel of this other world.
Bonnie Dwyer, editor of Spectrum, has invited us to blog our trip, and let her know if there is any spiritual content to cowboy poetry. I believe I can already answer Yes; but I'll be keeping my ears open and let you know the temperature of the spirit that we find, in Elko, in the middle of the winter.
How, in this age of scientific rationalism, can we begin to understand religious visions and mystical experiences--now being reported by a growing number of people on the nightly news, across the internet, and by word-of-mouth?
Dr. Lisa Bitel and Dr. Michael A. Arbib discuss visions from the Middle Ages to today, especially the tensions between cultural, spiritual, and neurological explanations for extraordinary sights, and consider new ways to understand these mysterious phenomena - Los Angeles Public Library
Here are three recent members in the Adventist blogoshere. I think that what makes these bloggers especially interesting is the very personal focus of their writing. They write from experience.
1. Trinidad. Adventist. Gay?
Twenty-something. Male. Trinidadian. Have same-sex attractions. Love God. Here to help. Please understand that because Trinidad and Tobago is such a small place I can't be too descriptive; especially since I am a Seventh-Day Adventist. They all know one another!
Trinidad. Adventist. Gay?
2. John McLarty, Pastor, North Hill Adventist Fellowship, Edgewood, WA, reflects on a book given out by his conference president to all the pastors, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be):
I am puzzled by the book. It is clear that one of the authors' major concerns with the Emergent Church is their downplaying of eternal torment. Both authors return to this repeatedly throughout the book. Of course, we Adventists applaud the Emergents for their "seeing the light" on this doctrine.
The larger concern of the author, however, though he never uses the word, is epistemology. He insists we take the inerrant Bible as our guide. He argues the Emergents have no clear authority--not the Bible, not the Church, not "their church", not the Holy Spirit. It is not only that the Emergent movement is intentionally doctrinally amorphous. It is that the movement insists there is no proper way to be definite about any truth.
Reading the quotations DeYoung cites, I am reminded of classic apophatic theology but without the stability and wisdom offered by deep connections with the history and traditions of the Christian Church. Emergent authors question all theological affirmations while appearing to uncritically make strong ethical, social and political affirmations. I am sympathetic to the social concerns characteristic of the Emergent movement, but I think DeYoung's criticism of their epistemology is apt.
3. Rajmund Dabrowski, Communication Director at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Church writes about Barack Obama's inauguration, meeting Benicio Del Toro after a special screening of Che and the terrible injustice of Mugabe:
. . .once again, Archbishop Tutu pricked my conscience with a challenge - this time to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. Starvation, cholera, apathy and hopelessness of a land whose innocent victims are countless children and women all are crying to high haven.
This week's end topped my anger and my resolve with a news feature in The New York Times about scores of desperate and destitute Zimbabwe children whose plight takes them from hell into South Africa's milieu of the "unwelcome" and resentment.
Pushing the Borders
Are you following some interesting (not just new) blogs around Adventism these days? Share them in the comment section below.