Sunday Update August 23
*Correction: Current acolytes DO NOT have to re-attend training.
Archives for August 2015
Post author Brian Crisp is former chairman of Pullen’s Missions & Outreach Council. He studies Hebrew Bible and Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School and has been a guest on our pulpit.
Sometimes in the Hebrew Bible very strange things happen. One of the most peculiar occurrences is a talking donkey. Yes, a talking donkey. In the Book of Numbers, Balaam’s impediment to travel with the servants of Balak is his donkey who refuses to cross divine messengers. Balaam, ignorant of the divine presence, responds by physical beating the animal. After the third beating, the voice and presence of YHWH exclaims through the mouth of the lowly animal servant, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?”
This past year I have been keen to the physicality found throughout the sacred texts: chase, spit, touch, dance, feed, wash, feast, strike, beat, burn, caress. It would be disingenuous to say that this interest was merely academic. The impetus for this work was birthed in a small room visibly entombed by painted concrete that shunned both sunlight and fresh air where thirteen women, defined by crime, gathered on a Monday evening at the Tennessee Prison for Women. With their dignity stripped by a system that only views them as threats and problems, our communion began to emphasize our last remaining possessions: eyes, mouths, feet, calves, fingers, toes, ears, necks.
Together, in the cold months, we began to sit closely with legs touching hoping to share the warmth of our bodies. During the heat and humidity, our sweat and smells blended with the laughing, crying, and meaning making. At times, we danced so wildly and loudly accompanied only by our hand clapping and foot stomping that the guard became more starch and rigid with her looks. We wrote down words and placed paper and pens in each others’ hands. In small groups of three, we spoke, pausing and creating space for others to borrow and transform our words. We touched each other feeling knees, cheeks, shoulders, hips as we offered prayers that murmur, “Lord, touch these throbbing knees that scrape on concrete floors,” and “God, ease this ole headache that just ain’t stopping.” Thirteen women began to show me that holding hands, looking into eyes, touching a forehead, sharing a voice, and embracing a torso are gospel moments by gospel people.
For the past three weeks Pullen members have gathered to examine the body as a source of theological reflection in a series called EnSpiriting the Body. Together we mined our own body stories of dancing and swirling, sweating and flushing, and protesting stubbornly in the street to unearth sources of creation. We retold Jesus stories using only verbs and words associated with the body freely rearranging the order to recapture the fleshly component of the gospel. Lastly, we connected the physical details of systemic murder and genocide using the autobiography and autopsies of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Hiroshima survivor, Akiko Takakura to write prayers of justice and more fully understand the physical abuses of exploitation, discrimination, prejudices, and imperialism. Our embodied communion finished with participants praying and the following words by Vickie Leigh capture a glimpse of this poetic work.
Birthing, a life on an idea,
I can’t breathe.
Breaking the chains that bond,
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
Birthing, new life, flesh ideas, A shift.
Can I breathe?
These are words we collectively felt, as Jeremiah proclaimed, shut up in our bones.
The Divine Irony of these Enspiriting the Body workshops occurred as members gathered in the beauty of Poteat Chapel to discuss the theological implications of the body while the perimeter of Pullen has become encamped by a contingent of Raleigh’s unhoused and unwanted. The donkey, a maddening symbol of royalty and tomfoolery in the Hebrew Bible, talks back to Balaam. Later we are told that YHWH gives the prophet the vision to truly see, and Balaam then falls to the ground in remorse and disbelief. I imagine in the bodily actions of the unhoused we are hearing a lot of talking back. “Where would you like me to sleep so I am not bothering you?” “Where should I urinate when there are bathrooms available only to consumers?” “Where do I wash my hands and face after being outside in the sun all day?” “Where can I cry and moan and curse and laugh over my aching joints, neglected face, and tumultuous feelings?”
Personally, returning to Pullen has been so refreshing this summer, and one of the most thrilling sights has been seeing a camp of unhoused and unwanted people using her grounds to find sanctuary. Sometimes in life, very strange things happen, and I jokingly refer to this developing peculiarity as “Hotel Pullen.” Withstanding the joke, my flesh knows this is an embodied Divine Sign that is calling and begging for a response. As all of us know, Call and Response are not easy or linear, and it comes with great challenges, difficult heartaches, and even greater messiness. Yet, Divine Calling keeps happening for this great congregation, and it echoes the message found in the story of Balaam and his donkey, “truly, who is the prophet?”
Text: I Kings 3:3-14
Dreams can awaken within us our most secret fantasies and our deepest, darkest fears. My dreams tend toward the latter, especially on Saturday nights. Many Saturday nights I dream that I arrive at church for Sunday worship and I either don’t have a sermon or I can’t find my sermon. There are variations to this dream. Sometimes I am fully clothed and other times I am not. Sometimes the dream takes place here in this sanctuary and other times the setting is unfamiliar. Sometimes I panic when I realize that I don’t have my manuscript and other times I just start talking, making up story after story. But all my dreams are not about my fears. There are those rare dreams in which I live out my secret fantasies like…well, maybe I’ll hold on to those and share them in another sermon.
Frederick Buechner writes of dreams:
No matter how prosaic, practical, and ploddingly unimaginative we may be, we have dreams like everybody else. All of us do. In them even the most down-to-earth and pedestrian of us leave earth behind and go flying, not walking, through the air like pelicans. Even the most respectable go strolling along crowded pavements naked as truth. Even the confirmed disbelievers in an afterlife hold converse with the dead just as the most dyed-in-the-wool debunkers of the supernatural have adventures to make Madame Blavatsky’s hair stand on end.
The tears of dreams can be real enough to wet the pillow and the passions of them fierce enough to make the flesh burn. There are times we dream our way to a truth or an insight so overwhelming that it startles us awake and haunts us for years to come.
We look forward to Laura Parajón’s upcoming visit. She will be joined by Christy Lafferty-Garache, AMOS staff member, at a series of events highlighting the work at AMOS Health and Hope. Please join us for as many of these events as possible, and invite your friends and colleagues!
Wednesday, September 23 at 5:00 PM: Youth presentation – “Tips for Finding and Landing an Internship that Will Help You Find Your Passion.”
Leaders: Christy Lafferty-Garache, Laura Foley.
Wednesday Night Adult Presentation at 6:30 PM: “Harnessing the Power of Volunteer Work Teams to Empower Communities.”
Leaders: Christy Lafferty-Garache, 2015 Nicaragua travel team.
Friday, September 25: Dinner at 6 PM in Finlator Hall. Lecture at 6:45 by Laura Parajón: “Community Empowerment as an Act of Love: Moving from Theory to Practice to Improve Health in Nicaragua.” By empowering local communities to work together for improved health, AMOS has helped contribute to reducing child deaths by 75% in the communities they serve since 2007. What can we learn from each other about community empowerment and how can we apply lessons learned to our work in both the US and Nicaragua? Please RSVP by September 21 for the dinner by calling 919-828-0897 or using the form below. While the lecture is free and open to the public, donations will be solicited during the dinner to support the Healthy Moms, Health Kids program. Make an early donation online at pullen.org/donate with “AMOS Health” in the memo field.
Saturday, September 26 at Noon: “Healthy Moms, Healthy Kids – Community and Women’s Empowerment.” Presentation and discussion will follow the Church Women United Celebration. Laura will describe the Healthy Moms, Healthy Kids Program, which improves children’s nutrition by empowering mothers and building on their strengths. Lunch will be served
Saturday, September 26 at 6 PM: Nicaragua Traveler Reunion – potluck dinner at Deb and Jonathan’s home at 6:00 PM for travelers and their significant others.
Sunday Morning: Alliance of Baptist Sunday, featuring Mark Jensen from Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, which is a new AMOS partner congregation.
- Focus by Laura and Christy in worship.
- Lunch in Finlator Hall following worship, where Laura will update the church on the work of AMOS, how faith impacts their work, and how they involve diverse partners including ABC and the Alliance of Baptists.
RSVP for Friday Dinner & Lecture
RSVPs are currently closed. Call the church office at 919-828-0897 to check on availability.
On August 9, 2015, we welcomed Reverend Gregor Hohberg to our pulpit. Please enjoy the audio from his sermon by clicking the “play” button above. Rev. Hohberg visited from Berlin, Germany where he is the Senior Pastor at St. Mary’s Church, the oldest church in the city. He is also the founder of the “House of One” project in Berlin.
To learn more about Rev. Hohberg‘s vision for House of One, click here to watch a video of him discussing the vision for this meeting place that will be a church, synagogue and mosque all under one roof.