Friday, October 29, 2010

For All the Saints

I last wrote about going to my 45th High School reunion and the request for me to do a "memorial service" for those in our class who "are no longer with us." It was an interesting evening. Wow, those people got old somehow.

We looked at a power-point slide show of "the ghosts of High School Past" as we ate our food and chewed on memories. My old girlfriend was there and I spoke briefly with her despite my dear wife's accusation that I flirted with her at our last reunion. I figure we are owed a few reflections from the past. After all she was the first to break my heart. Yes, she fell for an older guy while on a beach trip. She ended up marrying the guy but all I remember is the deep ache that was new to me.

The ache started somewhere below my stomach and came up around my windpipe, then seeped into my chest. It was a strange feeling. I did not know someone could do that to someone else. I had only played with feelings until that point. What was this sensation that felt like a roller coaster going down and not coming up?

So how do "you" describe a broken heart. Anyway I lived even though I thought for a while I would not. Sure we all can laugh now about those first love downdrafts but it sure was not funny then. So all that rushed by as I listened to her tell stories of her grandchildren.

But back to the "saints." Yes I conducted a brief memorial time for those names that were below the pictures that were mounted on a board in front of us. The pictures were from the High School Annual. The all looked so young and so hopeful and now they were memories. They were gone from our midst. It was a somber moment in the swirl of laughter and surprise at how we have changed. So I'll share with you the poem I wrote to read to my classmates. It is based on that reflection I shared with you earlier where many of us gathered just before graduation and sang a song of both hope and desire: "Climb Every Mountain."

I share it with you for those of you who read these words and have climbed your mountains and discovered your valleys....

The Mountain Climbers

We sang of mountains
That could be conquered
And with our knapsacks full of
Hope we set out...
Maps and charts were not needed
For at first we were
Full of hope
That needed only time

But soon we found that mountains
Have valleys between
Their rugged peaks so
We stopped our separate
Marches and joined
Hands with another or many
For in our days
Of youth we dared
Not ask about
the fear of mountain climbing

So today we gather to smile
even about the tears
For remembrance is our tool
That we strike into the side
Of this- yet another peak
That we call "reunion"

And as we stand beside this
Slope of a past whose
Story is much bigger than
The simple song we sang
We step into a sacred silence
As we hold in our hearts
The names of those climbers
Who are beyond the
Range of our gathering
Who are not lost to the
One who made all mountains
And who transverses all valleys

Hold on to them
O God who listens so well
To songs of youth
But who knows how quickly
Hope can be swallowed up
As pilgrims on the way
Discover their need
For ropes and charts and

So we hear their names and
Speak them tenderly
From yet another mountain
That we climb this day
Hear them O God of all
Knowing...and complete
Their lives that are
So sacred to you...


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

We sang "Climb Every Mountain" and swayed back and forth in our melody. Then we set out to climb those mountains. We had no idea how many valleys there would be. You don't ask about valleys when you are 18 and full of hope.

Now those singers will gather next weekend for our 45th High School reunion. The mountain climbing song was a last minute idea for our senior class day play. We sang it and then headed for various mountain ranges.

At the reunion they always want me to read the names of those who have climbed their last mountain and are now in that "place not made with hands but eternal in the heavens." Of course there are always more names at each reunion. There was Vietnam that took some of us and then came traffic accidents and those various diseases and infirmities that no one thought would catch up to those idealistic mountain climbers.

After a few words and the reading of names we'll play some beach music and shag a bit. We will not sing the mountain climbing song. It was only for one shining moment anyway. We'll shag and offer a toast to those who have crossed over. Old romances will be remembered and maybe even a strange embrace will take place.

We've encountered a lot of mountains and valleys since our chorus 45 years ago. We've learned to sing the "blues" too. The text I used last Sunday reminds me of the distance from the peaks to the valleys. A group of people gathered one cloudy afternoon much longer ago than a few years and tried to sing but found it hard:
...."By the waters of Babylon we hung up our harps for our captives required of us songs...'Sing one of your holy songs now that you're up the creek without a paddle'...but How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" (Psalm 137)

Maybe I knew my reunion was coming up or maybe it was one of my teacher's comments that led me to write a blues song based on the Psalm. Mrs. Messiemer put on my report card, "If Jody does not quit showing off he'll never amount to anything."

So I'll close my nostalgia with the song I sang in the sermon as I spoke of the need to sing the spiritual blues when we are sad. I dawned my sun glasses and with some piano blues notes in the background I sang "The Babylon Blues" goes:

"Been thrown in the River
They call Babylon
Been stripped down to my soul
Seems my God is gone

Ain't singing no sweet songs
No hymns coming from me
Done tossed my harmonica
Out to the sea

I'm crying in exile
This land seems so strange
My captors done told me
Things ain't gonna change

I've got the Babylon...Babylon...Babylon blues....o yeah....

Climb every mountain...forge every stream (walk through every valley too) follow every rainbow till you find your dream....(even if some teacher tells you to shut up)


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Honesty in Exile

So this week I've been preparing a lesson on the book of Revelation for a class I'm teaching and working with the scripture text for this Sunday's sermon, which is Psalm 137. On one hand I'm dealing with the "mark of the beast" and the four horseman of the apocalypse and on the other hand there are the words, "we hung up our lyres because we would not sing one of the songs of Zion" for our captors who mocked us with such a request.

Both Revelation and Psalm 137 are cries from "exile." The folks to whom the Revelation is written are in a type of exile. They think Jesus is coming back any moment and hopefully will take them out of the evil world that seems to be becoming more evil every day. John tells them to hold on because "the time is not yet." He does affirm that it is exile indeed and that it is going to get worse before it gets better. It is not the news the people really want to hear.

In the middle of it all God is still in charge, believe it or not...and some do not. Beasts with horns and horses with riders who spread destruction all over the place are rampant. In the middle of the "tribulation" and mess is a wounded lamb who reminds the hurting people that they are not alone and that the lamb knows and feels what it means to lose. The lamb announces that the victory's been won but the war seems to be still raging. (For those of you without the 3-D glasses the "lamb" is Jesus.)

A vision of heaven is thrown in to make sure that those who lose know that "no more tears" is not just a baby shampoo but is a promise for those who hang in there. It is the good news in the midst of the bad news.

Psalm 137 goes along with all this because it is the Bible's version of "the blues." It goes something like, "My God seems to have left me and I ain't gonna sing one of those happy songs from the past." Like those lines from David Wilcox's song, "Levi Blues;"..."I was doing my laundry baby/I thought I'd do my new jeans too/Yeah, I was doing my laundry/I threw my new jeans in too/And when the spin and rinse was over/Every single thing in there was BLUE...

The people find themselves captive in Babylonian exile and in the spin cycle. God seems gone so after the rinse phase they hang up their harps. They also feel like laundry that has been hung out to dry...and blue on top of that.

So from Psalms to Revelation the people of God are called to "Make a joyful noise"...and when necessary to "sing the blues." How "do" you sing the Lord's song when you are blue and are in exile? sing the blues.

God always listens....maybe especially to the blues.
bless you