Previous month:
November 2007
Next month:
January 2008

December 2007

I Hate Vista

I hate Windows Vista. I've had it since this summer and it is clearly a huge step backwards from XP. I wish very much that I had XP. Vista freezes up constantly, which XP didn't. It is incredibly slow, like I was computing in the early nineties or something. There are way too many system checks and updates and security devices that make it run slowly and awkwardly. And so many tasks are more difficult. Windows explorer is not as easy to use as in XP and some of my favourite features are missing. And burning pictures to a disk, for instance, takes about an hour and half long instead of about 10 minutes.

Name the Child Emmanuel

Name the Child Emmanuel

Luke 2:1-20

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

24 December 2007


What if it were to happen again? What if it happened this way?

At the Belle Isle IHOP works a young girl. She's really fifteen, but she lied on her application. Her name is Mary. Let's imagine her as a runaway from an abusive family. That makes the story more likely to get a movie deal with Lifetime television for women and gay men.

 Mary is the child of Guatemalan immigrants. She's living on her own, making ends meet, and working a couple of other odd jobs on the side.

 One day Mary's gets sick, and it doesn't go away after a few days. One of the older waitresses asks one day, "Are you pregnant?" Mary's surprised by the question, but goes to Walgreens and gets a pregnancy test. Sure enough, it turns blue.

 A few months later Mary's unable to work anymore and can't imagine how she's going to make ends meet and give birth to this child. A couple of her regular customers have taken a liking to Mary, and they decide to let her move in during her pregnancy. These customers are named Ron and Steve.

And Steve is actually a drag queen, how about a Dixie Carter impersonator. You can imagine some scene in the Lifetime movie -- Mary is distraught, afraid of what will happen to her and her baby, and Miss Dixie is sitting there on the bed beside her and wraps Mary up in a feather boa and hugs her, just to make her feel better.

 Well, it's getting along about Christmastime and Ron and Steve decide to take Mary with them on their trip home to Albuquerque. While traveling I-40, their car breaks down east of Shamrock in the middle of the worst ice storm in memory. They all huddle in the car trying their best to keep warm.

After a while, a big fourteen wheeler pulls up. The driver gets out with his flashlight and walks back. Ron rolls down the window and the truck driver asks, "Ya'll need any help?"

The driver's name is Bubba. He invites everyone to get in the rig and he'll drive them on to the next stop. As everyone piles out of the car and makes their way to the truck, Bubba sees Miss Dixie, and he doesn't know what to make of her, at all.

When they all get in the cab, they meet Spike, Bubba's pit bull. Spikes seems to take a liking to Mary. After all, we do need an animal in this story. As they head off down the road, Mary screams. Spike starts barking. Her water broke. The baby will come pretty soon.

After about five miles of slow going in the ice, behold!, they see a star up ahead. Then, they realize it's just a Texaco. Bubba pulls in and runs inside for help. Someone calls 911, but with this ice storm, the ambulance isn't going to be getting here anytime soon.

The woman behind the counter is named Liza. She' a big African-American woman, and she decides to go out and see for herself what's going on. When she climbs up in the cab, she realizes that the time is now.

 So, with the help of Liza, a drag queen, and a pretty disoriented Bubba, Mary has her baby. Everyone is crying for joy. The radio is playing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." And the folks holed up in the truck stop because of the storm, all chip in and buy Mary a few gifts out of the souvenir gift shop. The little baby gets wrapped up in a Route 66 commemorative throw.


Christmas is simply astonishing. The more I thought about it this week, the more astounded I became.

 I stand here as a minister of the Christian faith. Ordained to carry out the ministry of word and sacrament. And every year I must encounter this text and make something out of it. Some proclamation of the word of God.

 And isn't that astonishing? That little old me is supposed to "proclaim the word of God." A boy from Miami, Oklahoma. Surely among the least of the cities of Judah.

 But this is how God works.

 God's historical incarnation was in the baby born of an unwed teenage mother in a cattle shed in some minor town in the Middle East occupied by a foreign power. Just think through that a moment. And let it astound you.

 Then let this sink in. We, over two thousand years later, think that the truth of the universe, the meaning of our lives, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams, what it means to be a human being, is embodied in this child born of an unwed teenage mother in a cattle shed in some minor town in the Middle East occupied by a foreign power. We look at this child and we see the fullest expression of what we mean by God.

 But then, this Yahweh was always something of a queer duck. The people Yahweh chose to save the world were slaves and nomads. Then Yahweh spent a lot of time worrying about widows, orphans, and poor people. Yahweh cared more for humility than for success. In fact, didn't look too well on folk who thought they could make it on their own.

 Pretty fitting, then, that Yahweh would take the route of child born of an unwed, teenage mother in a cattle shed in some minor town in the Middle East occupied by a foreign power.

 Seems to be making a point even in being born, doesn't he.

 And in case the point is missed, he then does things like party, hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors, touch the unclean, include the mentally ill, see world leaders in the guise of fishermen, and go willingly to the most horrible death imaginable.

 But, lots of folk still seem to miss the point. I don't know how more obvious it could have been.

Maybe Yahweh should try again. Maybe this time God could be born in the back of a tractor trailer in the Texas panhandle to an unwed immigrant girl in the middle of an ice storm with a drag queen acting as midwife. Maybe then everyone would get the point.

 A girl can dream, can't she.

 So, unless the fullness of time rolls around again, I guess we'll just keep gathering every year and telling this story until everyone gets it. The story where an unwed teenage girl gives birth to God in a cattle shed in some minor town in the Middle East occupied by a foreign power. And angels appear singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill to all."


Update on my Health

I am doing okay. On Saturday I felt like myself and had good energy throughout the holidays and little discomfort. This morning, though, I awoke with some and it has been with me all day. A reminder that I am not yet back.

No Country for Old Men

As I was leaving the theatre, a woman up ahead of me said to the man she was with, "That's was pretty different."

My first response (internal, of course) was, "Yeah. It was a Cohen Brothers film of a Cormac McCarthy novel."

But as I thought I realized, "No, it wasn't different at all. It was the most conventional Western I've seen in some time."

I guess just because it was set in 1980 the convention wasn't obvious? There is a clear good guy and a clear bad guy. The bad guy even wears black. There are many of the standard formulae of the Western -- shootouts, Mexicans, the law men, the innocent woman caught in the middle, etc.

The cinematography seemed like a John Ford film -- The Searchers just influences everything after it. There was the violence of a Peckinpah. But I thought it had more of the moral sense of a Howard Hawks film, like Red River. Not overwrought with moral ambiguity but not as easily wrapped up as a Ford film.

All that said, I loved it. Not only is it beautifully shot, the acting is impeccable. Almost every actor delivers a spot-on performance filled with nuances. Josh Brolin was incredible, which really surprised me. And Tommy Lee was as good as he can be, which is great. Bardem was fascinating, but I really liked the other two performances better. His was just too one-dimensional for me, though that's how the character was clearly written.

4 1/2 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

2007 Annual Christmas Letter

Howdy Folks!    17 December 2007


Well, it is the week before Christmas. The sun is shining and the sky is blue and it looks to be a lovely, lovely day. I'm sitting in the sun room typing my annual Christmas letter. The lights are twinkling on the tree, Barbra's singing Christmas carols, the teapot will soon whistle, and everything is just about as nice as it could be. However, I am recovering from an appendectomy.


After a week of abdominal pain, Friday I had a CT scan ordered by my physician. Low and behold, it discovered an inflamed appendix and a short while later I was being wheeled into an OR to have it removed. So, this weekend I had my first hospital stay and my first surgery. A dramatic conclusion to a year that has been quite fun and adventurous.


This year was the centennial celebration of Oklahoma statehood, so Oklahoma history and experiences have been recurring themes throughout the year. Some friends and I committed to doing 100 uniquely Oklahoma things this year. I lost count early in the year, but had fun with the idea. One of my Oklahoma experiences was finally reading The Grapes of Wrath, which Oklahomans have long despised. I loved it. I think it is among the finest of American literature – Moby Dick, Huck Finn, and Leaves of Grass.

In November, I took some vacation days and travelled in Western Oklahoma. Growing up in Eastern Oklahoma, I had never really travelled in the Western half of the state. I went by myself and visited lots of small towns, historical sites, and state parks and hiked in various wildlife and conservation areas. I was amazed by how beautiful Western Oklahoma is. The landscape is constantly changing. And you find surprising vistas – like the bridge crossing the Elm Fork of the Red River on Highway 30.


During my trip I was reading Oklahoma history and was fascinated by what all I was learning. Early in the trip I read that the oldest piece of art ever discovered in the US was found in Harper County, Oklahoma – a painted bison skull that is 10,000 years old. Days later when I was in Harper County I found a historical marker that indicated the site was 2 miles off the road, so I went driving along the dirt roads doing some exploration on my own. Found a promising possible site, got out and hiked for awhile and, low and behold, found the site. It was a magical, sacred feeling to stand there and think of the history of the place.


Other good books I read this year included Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity, Walter Wink's The Powers that Be, Sense and Sensibility, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. N. T. Wright's Paul is a stunning work of biblical scholarship that radically reinterprets Paul, changing everything we've thought about Paul since at least St. Augustine. Cormac McCarthy's The Road is the best novel I've read written in this decade. And, of course, the final Harry Potter, which perfectly arrived the weekend a virus stole my voice and all I could do was sit around and read till I was done.


Illness was a theme this year in a way it never has been before. I was sick on and off with various respiratory infections throughout the year. Finally, my physician concluded that I have asthma brought on by allergies. Once we began treating it that way, we finally got it under control.


This year I really haven't seen many films – life has been too full. But the best I've seen is No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel. So, he seems to be a theme this year as well.


On my birthday I surprised Michael by getting us a room at the Skirvin, Oklahoma City's historic hotel that had just reopened the day before. In September we celebrated our one year anniversary by going away to Lake Murray for the weekend. Back in May I mentioned the idea of us living together. After many conversations and plans, that came true the final weekend of October. He's still commuting to Stillwater for work everyday, which is really tiring him out. Hopefully he'll have a job here in the city soon.


So, I'm into the adventure of sharing my life with someone. And it is so much fun. Though, as you can imagine, we've had our moments. I had lived alone so long and had so much stuff and all where I wanted it to be. When we started decorating for Christmas, we spent twenty minutes discussing how many lights to have turned on in the living room while we decorated. I love him crazily. He's so sweet and strong and sexy. The other night he slept at the hospital and I laid awake watching him and marveling at how blessed I am. On Sunday nights after church we cuddle up on the couch and watch British comedies together.


Michael is a committed, passionate activist for justice and equality. We met because of our activism and it is a foundation of our relationship. Much of what we do together is go to meetings or events related to working for a better world. Recently we've been working on a new Oklahoma hate crimes statute in response to the brutal murder of a gay man in OKC by a gang of white supremacists.


Two weeks ago, the day we were working on a candlelight vigil, we babysat my nephew Jacob. Jacob was born in May to much fanfare and celebration. Kelli has never been happier. Uncle Scott has already enjoyed introducing Jacob to new things – he loves Charlie Parker, for instance – and can't wait for all the fun to be had for decades and decades to come.

In June I attended the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut, where I got to hear lots of great speakers like Walter Brueggemann, Barak Obama, Bill Moyers, and Lynn Redgrave. From Hartford I took the train to New York City and spent a few days with Mekado and Tom. Then I flew to Dallas for Garrett and Cameron's wedding and the Wooten Independence Day bash.


In September I needed to get away, so I called Harry and Ray and organized a visit to the Bavarian Grill, our favourite place to retreat to. In September I was happier than I had been in I couldn't remember how long. Everything was going so well -- great friendships, caring family, Michael, Jacob, and my work was filled with meaning and joy.


This year at church we've been on our own and putting all the systems and structures in place to carry out faithful ministry. It has been a fulfilling and exciting time to be part of CoH-OKC. This summer I became their longest tenured pastor and also passed the point making this the longest I had been in any ministry position. Somewhere in there a change occurred. I felt my preaching reach a new level. And my pastoral authority found a new grounding and confidence. I'm bolder and healthier.


In the spring I had encountered much self-doubt, especially during the Equality Ride's second visit to OBU when gay students were arrested attempting to attend chapel. The pain touched by this incident is deep and confusing, and I was unsure of my response. My self-doubt affected my relationship and my pastorate.


The spring also found me in Los Angeles for Charlie and Molly's wedding and hanging out with great friends. I really enjoyed LA far more than I expected to.


In April I got to work through some of my self-doubt, when I was invited by students at William Jewell College to come participate in activities for their LGBT student group in its first year of existence. I spent a week on campus meeting with students and doing my own research and writing on some projects. And this coming spring I've been invited to do something similar at Wake Forest Divinity School.


As I drove through Western Oklahoma I was filled with the excitement of possibility. As I reflect on this year, I feel how I have matured as a minister, an activist, a boyfriend, a person. I noticed today that there are many new white hairs in the beard. My life is rich beyond account. Thank you for all your blessings.


With much peace (and a swollen belly), Merry Christmas.



The Desert Blossoms

The Desert Blossoms

Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-19

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

16 December 2007



Christmas is not some season for us to toss into the bin of sentimentality but is the arrival of the one who slays the monsters that strive to drag us down into death.


This week I was cuddled up on my parents couch beside their fireplace, because they had electricity and we did not, studying for this week's worship service. This sentence by David von Schlichten, an author I'm not otherwise familiar with, in his commentary on today's lectionary readings jumped out at me.

Maybe it was the ice storm raging outside. Maybe it was just a childlike fascination with monsters.

The sentence arose as Von Schlicthen was writing about the Beowulf story and its comparisons and contrasts with the Jesus story.

I love the story of Beowulf. I haven't yet been to see the new film, but maybe some of you have. I didn't like Beowulf, though, the first time I read it, back in high school English Literature. It wasn't until college Western Civ that it really grabbed me.

I like how Seamus Heaney's translation opens:


So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by

and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.


The "imaginative geography" of the poem, as Heaney calls it, is dark, moody, and frightening. It is filled with anxiety and fear. The people, who otherwise live comfortably and joyously in their halls, are menaced by monsters and invading armies.

Beowulf, the hero, defends the people and destroys the monsters. First Grendel, then his mother, and finally, in old age, a dragon. His destruction of the dragon causes his own death, as he gives his life to defend his people. But even then, his sacrifice is met with fear, as the people wonder who will defend them from their enemies now that this great warrior is gone.

These lines from near the end of the epic, as Beowulf is burned on his funeral pyre, capture the overall mood:


On a height they kindled the hugest of all

funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke

billowed darkly up, the blaze roared

and drowned out their weeping, wind died down

and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,

burning it to the core. They were disconsolate

and wailed aloud for their lord's decease.

A Geat woman too sang out in grief;

with hair bound up, she unburdened herself

of her worst fears, a wild litany

of nightmare and lament; the nation invaded,

enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,

slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.


    Fear, insecurity, and anxiety are driving forces in the human psyche. So much that we do and say and think and feel is motivated from fear, insecurity, and anxiety. And we often have much to be afraid of. Our finances, being abandoned, our physical health, crime and terror, even the weather if you live in Oklahoma.

    Monster stories speak to our fears.

    Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation. And sometimes waiting is scary for us, especially when we do not know what is coming or when it's coming. Just imagine various times in your life when you've been waiting for something or some time. You hoped it would fulfill your dreams, but sometimes it caught you up short. What came wasn't what you expected. It wasn't a blessing, but was a monster.

    William Butler Yeats captures this mood in his poem "The Second Coming," which imagines the dark side of advent:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


    Recently, my good friend Kristen McCarty, who has visited this church a couple of times, blogged about an experience when the Yeats poem came to her during a worship service. Kristen wrote:


I had an interesting experience during the scripture reading. One of our women read from Colossians chapter 1, and the phrase, "in Him all things hold together" captured my attention. I began repeating it over and over in my mind, wanting to believe it, and finding myself succeeding for seconds at a time. Then that phrase began competing with Yeats: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." Aslan and Yeats' lion creature with its human head and pitiless stare growled at each other across the void.


Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;

In Him all things hold together.

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;

In Him all things hold together.

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;

In Him all things hold together.


One of those statements I know to be true. The other I want to be true – I hope to be true. But I quieted my mind and stood on my toes reaching desperately for the hope of those beautiful words, wanting to feel them on the tips of my fingers. In Him all things hold together. Coruscating light and fragile as glass, the words shone for a moment there mixed with the filtered light of the stained glass. I stayed stretched upwards, unwilling to let go, and the evil thing slouching towards me receded for a while.


John the Baptist was in prison, facing his own monsters. He sent to ask if Jesus was, in fact, the one.

Now, it would seem that John would already know this. In the Gospel of Luke, while still in the womb, John recognizes Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark he is witness to the spirit descending on Jesus at the baptism. Even here in Matthew, earlier texts suggest that John has already answered this question.

    But questions have a way of not going away sometimes. John has poured his life into preparing for the Messiah. Maybe he just wants to be sure. Maybe this youngster Jesus isn't doing it the way John thought he should be doing it. Maybe he thinks Jesus needs a little advice, a little gentle prodding. After all, John was an ascetic, living off of locusts and wild honey. And he's heard stories that Jesus is going to parties and drinking wine and stuff like that.

    Could be that he's just depressed being in prison. I'm sure any of us would be. Plus, isn't the Messiah supposed to set the captives free? Yeah, isn't he?

    John's question makes sense then. The Messiah should be slaying these monsters, right? Are you the one?

    Jesus gets the point of the question.

    Back in Isaiah 35, the prophet said that God would come and defeat the evildoers. And creation would break forth in song. The blind would see. The lame would leap. The desert would blossom.

    Jesus quotes this passage and asks John's disciples if they see these things happening, because if they do, then God has come and the enemies are being defeated.

    And it is unmistakable. The healings, signs, and wonders performed by Jesus fit with the messianic expectations of the prophets.

    Yet, the enemies are not destroyed. There are still monsters. Jesus admits this. The kingdom of heaven is under assault from violent persons.

    Back in Isaiah, the prophet speaks of a way in the wilderness. It is a pilgrims' way kept safe from savage beasts. This is the pathway by which those who are lost can return home again. Those returning shall shout with triumph. "Gladness and joy shall be their escort, and suffering and weariness shall flee away."

My very first Sunday of ministry there was a Missions Team meeting during lunch after church. I stayed in the kitchen to clean up after the meeting and Herbert Holcomb stayed with me. Herbert had stories to tell. He told about his experiences in the Navy. About the history of the church. About the history of Fayetteville. And about his family. Two hours later, I finally got to go home.

    Despite his quirks, Herbert is one of those people that it was my privilege to know for a short time. Herbert was in his late seventies when I first met him. Not only did he have lots of stories to share, he had opinions, about most things, and he didn't mind sharing them as well. He was curmudgeonly at times.

    One time, and this was before I came on staff, one of the youth was reading the scripture in worship. After church Herbert told the youth that they should take some speech classes to improve their public speaking. Now Herbert was well-intentioned. He believed in the power of worship and that one should bring one's best to offer. He believed, rightly, that things like speaking in public take training, study, and practice. So he was trying to help the young person, though you can imagine it wasn't perceived quite that way.

    Whenever Herbert wanted to tell me something, particularly if he had a question or an issue with something I was doing in my ministry, he and Henrietta would invite me over for lunch. And there, in the privacy of their home, he would raise his question or give his advice or state his disagreement. Yet, whenever Herbert and I had one of these conversations, he'd always follow it up by telling me that if I ever needed someone to speak up in a church business meeting or some other setting and defend me or something I had done, that he would do it. Even if he disagreed with me.

    One of the things that strikes me as humourous when I think about Herbert, is that I know I'm a lot like him. When I'm in my late seventies I'm going to be pretty opinionated and curmudgeonly, and I'm going to have lots of stories to tell. I know that, because I'm like that already.

    Herbert was a pillar of his church. A member there for almost thirty years, he had long been its largest financial contributor. He had been active in attending denominational meetings to represent the church, and had long been an advocate for missions and progressive social causes. He believed firmly in education as well and did much to support it. He was an engineer who loved science and knowledge. His faith was the faith of a passionate, educated man.

    He had a close family. And the Holcombs were even known to adopt people into their family, making them as close as their actual children and grandchildren. Salt of the earth sort of people, you might say.

    Herbert was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Now, if you know anything about pancreatic cancer, you know that it is a death sentence. Your time can be extended, but there really is no cure.

    I had lunch with Herbert and Henrietta shortly after he returned home from the hospital. He told me he was considering his options. The physicians had discussed various treatment options with him. Herbert joked that after one surgery about a decade before, he was told he'd have ten more years. Another surgery on some other problem had given him six or seven more years, and that time was coming up too. He said that it looked as if his warranty was up, no matter which health problem you looked at.

    Herbert decided not to seek treatment. He said he didn't want to spend a few years sick from radiation and chemotherapy. Instead he'd rather enjoy whatever life he had left. Sitting in his living room, he told me, "but don't be surprised if I'm a little depressed now and then."

    I left Fayetteville a few months later, and Herbert was still doing well, enjoying family, writing to friends, doing things he wanted to do. Fortunately I got to visit him at home, on a trip back to Fayetteville, two weeks before he died. It was just a little over a year since his diagnosis. When the end finally came, it was quick, as he had hoped it would be.

    Herbert's funeral was filled with stories. The way he would have liked it. He was very much missed.

    I want to die like Herbert Holcomb. I want to face death as just another part of the living process. I want to be someone who continues to live, despite dying. Someone who finds hope, peace, and joy even in circumstances like pancreatic cancer.

    The monster of cancer killed Herbert's body. But it did not defeat him. Herbert lived, despite his diagnosis. As such, he bore witness to his faith. A faith that rested in hope and joy.

    It wasn't a hope that he would be healed. That was never part of it. He knew he wouldn't be healed. It was a hope that his life would have meaning, no matter what happened.

    And that is the essence of the Christian hope. Not that everything will turn out the way we want it to. Not that all our dreams will come true. But that no matter what happens to us, our lives have meaning.

    But, how, then do our lives have meaning?

    When we take Isaiah's "Way of Holiness."

    "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" said Jesus.

    And the Gospel of Matthew is all about how we who are readers and listeners of this good news can become disciples of Jesus. Those whose lives follow and imitate the example of Jesus.


Christmas is not some season for us to toss into the bin of sentimentality but is the arrival of the one who slays the monsters that strive to drag us down into death.

A Dream of Peace

A Dream of Peace

Isaiah 11:1-10

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

9 December 2007



    Tuesday at the Interfaith Service for Healing and Support hosted by PFLAG-OKC in response to the death of Steven Domer, Kathy McCallie invited me to read and had picked out a reading to use. It was a poem from "The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago.

    Now, I didn't really know anything about "The Dinner Party", so I looked it up on Wikipedia. "The Dinner Party" is an art installation from the seventies that currently resides at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It is a large triangular table with place settings for 39 women of accomplishment in human history, with almost 1,000 more represented in the tiles on the floor. "The Dinner Party" is one of greatest works of feminist art. I'm guessing that the poem comes from the book written by Judy Chicago about the artwork. Here's the poem:


    And then all that has divided us will merge

    And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another's will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life's creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again


    So, there is this powerful telescoping through time symbolized here. Remember I, a gay man, am standing reading this poem at an interfaith healing service in response to a possible hate crime. The poem is by a feminist artist and is connected with a work of art that imagines a table spread for women, celebrating their contributions. And it is a poem that draws on themes of the Hebrew scriptures. A poem with an imagination close to that of Isaiah's in the passage read earlier tonight.

    Tuesday was an amazing day, as our community responded to tragedy. On October 26 Steven Domer disappeared from around 39th and Barnes. He was later found brutally murdered. Last week the district attorney charged Darrell Madden, a white supremacist with murder and called it a hate crime. Tuesday community activists and faith leaders gathered for a press conference in the afternoon which received wide coverage. There was a candlelight vigil at six on the strip. And then the worship service at seven. Around a hundred folk attended the vigil and a little more than a hundred attended the service. Our church provided the candles for the vigil.

    Despite the fact that we were there to remember someone who had died. Despite the fact that we were advocating for better laws. Despite the fact that we were calling attention to a culture of hate and prejudice that gives rise to that type of violence. Despite all those things, it was an amazing night that left many attendees with a good feeling. It was feeling that we had really pulled together as a community and done something. That we had showed up and made our presence felt and our voices heard.

    'Course you know my theology. Moments like those are signs of hope. Manifestations of the realm of God. Witnesses of a new creation.

    In Isaiah 11 all that remains of the people's hopes is a stump. I hadn't caught that before. Walter Brueggemann's commentary pointed it out. The stump is the remains of the grand dreams of the people. Dreams that had swirled around the Davidic kings.

    Let's recap a little of the story. God liberates the Hebrews from Egypt and they travel in expectation of a promised land – a place flowing with milk and honey. They dream of a new society of justice and plenty.

    But, then, reality ends up a lot different than the dream. Plagued by violence, the people want a king. But Saul, the first king, is worse.

    Then, their hopes center around David. David is one of them, and he becomes this iconic figure filled with all the dreams and expectations of the people. Of course, David doesn't live up to the image, like celebrities rarely do. Nor do his descendants. The stories of Elijah that we studied this summer reminded us of that.

    But occasionally there is hope. There's a Josiah or a Hezekiah and the people are filled again with possibility. Maybe their dreams can be fulfilled. However, Isaiah, like Jeremiah after him, warns that Judah will not be spared destruction by the world powers bent on domination.

    So, hope is unfulfilled, just a stump of a once mighty tree.

    But, look! Behold the stump is not dead! There is one tiny shoot just breaking out of the bark. It is fragile. One touch and you could snap it off. A harsh Oklahoma wind might break it. If you were the gardener, you'd protect this shoot in every way you could from every potential harm. This new life requires nurture and protection.

    And what is this shoot which will become a branch? It is one on whom the spirit of God blows. This one is able to administer justice. It is a fulfillment of the vision of Psalm 72:


    May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. . . .

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.


    This Branch from Jesse will set human relationships aright. The Branch will usher in a human society that fulfills the dreams of the people. And then the poet really gets passionate about his dream. Not only will human relationships be set right, but all of creation will live in peace with one another. There are few passages in world literature as beautiful as this poem.

    Every week the Human Rights Campaign sends out scripture lessons and commentaries to aid ministers in their sermon preparation. This week, I enjoyed this paragraph:


    While Isaiah uses images of different animals living in harmony (the familiar lion-with-the-lamb peaceable kingdom) as a way of talking about the idealized hoped for the world, human examples might better serve today in exemplifying this type of revolutionary change.  What if the reign of God looks like a gay man and a Muslim heterosexual woman breaking bread together?  Or a Missouri Synod Lutheran heterosexual pastor and a Latina lesbian building a house together for Habitat for Humanity?  Or a transgender person finding help in selecting a new wardrobe by a neighbor who earlier had only glared and snickered?   A promise of totally transforming the heterosexist, homophobic world we now experience is encouraging, especially because "structural enemies" will become enhancers of each other's well-being.


    Brueggemann says that this poem in Isaiah is about a de-toxified world. A world made safe for the most vulnerable. As such it is about "deep, radical, limitless transformation."

    This poem reminds us that just when hope seems lost, when despair and tragedy seem to have won, that hope re-emerges. Its evidence might be scant. It might be fragile, requiring nurture and protection. But this fragile little sign might just be what we've been waiting for. It might grow into a mighty branch that transforms all of human society and nature and us included.

    I think that the best film of 2006 was Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Clive Owen, Michael Caine, and Julianne Moore. Though it is set in the year 2027, it is not a science fiction film. It is really an intense human drama.

    The setting is Great Britain after world-wide calamity. There is plague, environmental degradation, and war, with Britain about the only safe place left. We don't know why, and it isn't relevant.

    One other thing is important. Humans are now infertile. The reason why is not explained, but that is not important either. It has been almost 20 years since a child was born. The lack of children stands as a symbol for a world lacking in hope. If humanity won't go on, why bother?

    There are three classes in this society. The wealthiest and most powerful live in a protected enclave of the old city of Westminster. There they are surrounded by beauty, filled with artworks salvaged from the chaos outside Britain. One of the most visually interesting sequences is when Clive Owen goes to visit a family member who lives in this wealthy, protected area. The cousin has Michelangelo's David sitting in his entry hall. His dining room is decorated with Picasso's Guernica.

    These pieces of art are themselves telling. David is the Italian Renaissance ideal of masculinity. In a sense it represents the best of what was considered human. The David is damaged.

    Picasso's Guernica is a representation of a bombing in the Spanish Civil War. It suggests all that is wrong with humanity. The Guernica is whole and undamaged.

    The second class are those average citizens who live in the rest of England. Mundane jobs, trash-strewn streets, and the occasional terrorist bombing define their lives. They seem to go through life filled with dread. Suicide is popular and is encouraged by the government.

    The third class are the illegal immigrants. Because England is safe, people from around the world want to be there, but the government expels them because it doesn't have the resources for all these people. What is powerful is that the immigrants being herded together in cages and refugee camps aren't just ethnic minorities, they include white Europeans and North Americans.

    There are the violent revolutionaries set on defending the rights of the immigrants and overthrowing the government. It is this group that discovers a young black girl who is pregnant. It is never explained what is special about her, but that's not necessary. Suddenly a film that seems like so many other post-apocalyptic stories becomes something different – it is a story of advent.

    The pregnant girl, Kee, must be nurtured and protected. She is fragile. Yet she represents so much – salvation for the human race.

    The most important sequence of the film comes near the end. In a refugee camp, Kee has given birth during a night in which violence has descended. Clive Owen is trying to help her get out of the city, with her child. They are being hunted the scenes are harrowing. But, then, in the midst of a shoot-out between the military and the revolutionaries, the child begins to cry. And soon everything and everyone stops. The combatants momentarily put down their weapons. Enemies stand in silence as she walks between them carrying her child.

    What do we dream for? Peace, plenty, justice? Maybe just our own personal security and safety?

    There are signs of hope. A baby. A shoot of new life from a stump. A candlelight vigil in the face of tragedy.


In the darkest night his coming shall be,

when all the world is despairing,

as morning light so quiet and free,

so warm and gentle and caring.

Then shall the mute break forth in song,

the lame shall leap in wonder,

the weak be raised above the strong,

and weapons be broken asunder.

Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night.


And keep dreaming.