Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - A Way Forward in Difficult Times

The past few weeks since the election have been difficult for most New Yorkers—the result was a shocking surprise and felt like a rebuke to the progressive values so many in this city hold dear: diversity, inclusion, tolerance, and equality, among others.  

And to add insult to injury, those in the progressive Christian community have discovered that a majority of white “Christian” voters supported the candidate who ran an overtly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic campaign—which are the antithesis of the Christian ethic to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So, where do we go from here? And what can we do to resist what feels like an existential threat to the values we hold most dear?

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Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I love the changing colors, the shorter days, and the cooler nights. 

I also love the rhythm of the changing “church seasons.” Autumn - and the end of the long Pentecost season, for example, brings new church programming for all ages, the return of children and adults from summer breaks, and lots of new music!: our Joyful Voices Choir on Sunday mornings, the Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra, and this year… our new Fort Washington Community Choir.

As my time as Interim Senior Minister at Fort Washington Collegiate Church also grows shorter (the Senior Minister Search Committee has been very active over the summer months; a large, diverse and talented pool of candidates has been screened and narrowed, and face-to-face interviews will begin in mid-October), I feel very good about all the work we have accomplished together over the past (almost!) two years:

  • coming to terms with recent history
  • developing a new vision for ministry in the community
  • bringing expenses into alignment with income
  • assembling a new, talented church staff
  • beginning several new programs of outreach to the community
  • welcoming new members and developing new leaders

I am also in the process of searching for my next “call.”  I don’t yet know where my new place of ministry will be, but I’m excited about the possibilities.  Gail and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in New York City and we’re grateful for the support you’ve given us.  

Over the coming weeks and months every effort will be made to make the conclusion of my ministry here, and the beginning of the new Senior Minister’s ministry at Fort Washington, as smooth as possible for everyone concerned.  

Change is hard–and some people handle it better than others, but, for the most part, the congregation has handled it well.   I’m confident that Fort Washington Collegiate Church is poised for a bright future as it embarks on its next chapter of ministry in northern Manhattan.



Playing Jazz with God

I shared this reflection at our Evensong Jazz Vespers this past summer – jazz as a metaphor for relating to each other and to God in our lives.

What is jazz? We know it when we hear it, or see it? But how would you define it? Pianist Bill Evans once said, “Jazz is not a what, it is a how.” Evans meant was that jazz isn’t a single style or sound, but rather it’s the way musicians relate to each other.

Very little in the music is predetermined. While the musicians might play off of a set tune or chord progression, each musician responds to that loose set of instructions in his or her own way, based on their experiences and what they’re feeling and hearing in the moment.

See, when we’re playing jazz, we’re relating to each other. We’re listening; we’re interacting – following each line and solo, imagining how we can support where the music goes. It also takes a lot of trust in one another – and in our own abilities to listen and respond – but in that relationship we continually find new, unexpected, and wonderful places.

And it’s not about us as individuals. The worst thing a jazz musician can do is get so caught up in his or her own sound that in that moment they abandon the group and forget about the bigger music we are creating together.

And you never know quite where jazz might go. To truly give yourself over to the spirit of jazz, there’s no way to control the music’s path. The most unhappy jazz musician would be the one who plays with others expecting them to play according to his way. There’s no room for creating together. He wants a world of robots.

Sometimes we want to place a score in front of God, and say “play!” and dictate each note – volume, length and articulation according to our way; according to what we think we deserve.

But I believe God’s mysterious ways are more like jazz. God hears the song of our lives, the prayers, the devotion, and the choices we make, and doesn’t just parrot back at us what we think we want. The Creator of the Universe takes our broken, incomplete, tattered lead-sheets we attempt to compose and plays back to us something unexpected, something we couldn’t have created ourselves, maybe something we feel we don’t “deserve” – good or bad.

Because, see, there’s no “shouldn’t have” in jazz. There’s no, “I played this, so you ought to have played that!” To play jazz together is to embrace where the music goes – whether we hear it as sublimely beautiful or seemingly off-key. When we truly take in what another person plays, it might not always be pretty to us. It might throw us off what we expected. But our choice is this: to judge, show contempt, stop listening, take ourselves out of the music. Or to engage – to take what we’ve been given and respond melodiously, to continue the music together, wherever it goes.

So do we engage with God when difficult music comes? When He spins a line that we didn’t expect, or don’t like, or we may even feel unworthy of receiving!

Likewise, who are the out-of-tune players in your life? The sour trumpet player who always hits you with the ‘wrong’ notes? The drummer who can’t seem to play quietly behind you when it’s your turn to solo.

When we accept the freedom that Christ offers – to die to ourselves, our desires, and our self-centeredness – what is reborn in us is a new song and wide-open ears. The new song we weave into the music of those around us, and the open ears which take in the songs of others, fully, understanding that this composition is not only ours to write. This life is not our own.