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Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary and/or the Narrative Lectionary

See older posts from 2006 to 2014 on the blog archive site at blogarchive.kairosucc.org

Based on reading and discussion of Fiddlee-dee & Company: A Fable for People of a Certain Age by A.J. Beauregard, diomo square books, 2016

Fiddle-dee is a fictional world-famous cellist who still does some touring, but has, for the most part, settled into retirement in the small Northwest town of Elvira in Elvira County, neither of which will appear on any map you can find.  After hearing Fiddlee-dee play for the grand opening of Words Are Wonderful Bookstore, Penelope Haversnat issues an invitation to a number of musicians she knowns.  They soon become known as Penelope's Chamber Players.

In part, then, the book is about music and the power of music to create community. “Music is to be shared,” we are told. “It is one of the building blocks of community.” Penelope Haversnat, who always dresses up in music-themed clothing, sometimes carries a bag on which there appears a quote from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche: “Without music life would be a mistake.” She also has a bumper sticker on her car: “Music Makes the Heart Dance.”

Based on reading and discussion of Martin Marten: A Novel by Brian Doyle, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

Brian Doyle pays attention to the moments of life and inspires us (at least me) to do the same. If we pay attention, something profound, maybe even God, can be seen in those moments.

His novel, Martin Marten culminates with a scene in which Dave, a teenager, and Martin, a marten, share a moment staring at each other a few feet apart on a rock ledge over the Zigzag River near Mt. Hood (Wy’East in the book and according to Native American tradition) here in Oregon. “In a sense, this whole book has been working toward this moment, hasn’t it? Two animals contemplating each other with the fullest and most piercing attention they could possibly bring to this moment . . . (P)erhaps we do not have a word for the way they see each other with something for which we can only use the word reverence. Witness or savor, perhaps? . . . They see each other---and having seen and knowing the alp of the moment, each is---changed. Could it be that moments like this are windows through which we see the endless possibility of deeper moments? Could it be that moments like this are the greatest moments in a life? Could it be that moments like this are the moments that tilt the universe and make possible new ways and means and manners of being?”

Based on reading and discussion of A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Frederik Backman, Atria Books, English edition, 2014

Set in Sweden, A Man Called Ove is a comical story about a tragic character.  The book tells us how he got to this point in his life and how meaning surprisingly finds its way back into his life.  Ove was involved in an accident in which the love of his life lost the son she was carrying and ended up confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  Then she died and Ove cannot cope with what is left of his life. He visits her grave weekly and has an intense conversation with her about what is happening.  Now he's been told that he must take early retirement from the job that has kept him occupied over the years.  Ove has a love-hate relationship with his neighbor, Rune, as they have cooperated and contested in the leadership of the Residents' Association in the neighborhood where they live.  Rune has Alzheimer's and Social Services has decided he must be placed in a care facility.  Ove is a bitter, lonely, old man.

Hard to imagine this as a comic story, isn’t it? And I didn’t even tell you that Ove attempts suicide multiple times in the story, each attempt unsuccessful.

I assure you that reading the story provides many occasions for laughing out loud, but I won’t try to capture much of that in this blog entry. The overall hopeful tone occurs as people intervene in Ove’s life, some of them strange and foreign, several of them young and finding their way in life. One is a cat, a species much loved by Ove’s deceased wife. They come not to help him, not even being aware at first that he needs help. They come because they need his help, whether they know it or not. In the end, Ove and these people develop into a strange caring community. In my reading, Ove is transformed from a curmudgeon to everybody’s doting grandfather without losing a bit of the essence of his being. That’s quite enough journey for most people, and documenting the progress of the story might help all of us find meaning as we move through this life.

You’ll have to read the book, though, if that’s what you want. I will share, and perhaps comment upon, a couple of intriguing quotes, and then devote the remainder of this week’s connecting with my title, “Elders and Puppies.”

Based on reading and discussion of Peaceful Places Portland: 103 Tranquil Places in the Rose City and Beyond, Manasha Ridge Press, 2012

The book for this week is a guide to “peaceful” and “tranquil” places in Portland, an invitation to enter places which encourage meditation and reflection. At the same time the streets of our nation---and our world---are anything but peaceful and tranquil. Some would argue that only as we draw strength from places which help us to center our being will we be able to overcome the spirit of violence which is so prevalent these days.

Actually, maybe I---and all of us---do need to ratchet back a bit as President Obama and some other commentators have suggested. It is only some police that have overstepped the bounds of civil behavior, and it is only some protestors who have lashed out in violence. I believe the vast majority want peaceful solutions to a problem which extends beyond individual behaviors and attitudes.

First, though, let me introduce the book and suggest a variety of ways for us to approach it.

Based on reading and discussion of The Hour Before Morning by Arwen Spicer, 2011

If you read last week's entry, you know that we're looking at some of my recent reading for a few weeks, rather than following any lectionary.  The books are from a variety of genres and are not explicitly "spiritual" or "religious," although I will be reflecting on them from my deep commitment as a "progressive" Christian.  Most will probably find my choice of books a bit unusual.  (See last week's blog entry for a complete list.)  Bear with me and let's see how the journey goes.

It’s a bit ironic that we’re looking at Arwen Spicer’s book since it’s fairly dark and deals with intense pain and suffering. The Narrative Lectionary, you see, would have been taking us through the biblical book of Job, which also has its share of suffering. Arwen Spicer, though, is a member of our congregation, and I don’t believe I’m biased when I say that her book is a masterful piece of writing, a science fiction blockbuster. I didn’t say it was easy reading.

The Hour Before Morning takes one deep as we participate in a convoluted conversation among three political prisoners in cell, 16.5 feet to a side with no access to outside view or sound, on a prison ship, being transported to a “death planet.” The context an Ash’torian empire that dominates lesser developed planets. Jenchae, half human and half Ash’torian, has the ability to enter into the minds of others, with the power to destroy them or heal them. Elek and Meravyn are sverra, a species engineered from humans with incredible physical strength. All three have been involved in active and violent resistance to the Ash’torians, bearing with them memories of killing they have done.

There’s much more to the story, including flashbacks which allow us to become acquainted with the history and inner pain each character carries. There are powerful moments in their interaction with one another. The bulk of the book allows us to enter into their ongoing conversation (philosophical, political, and psychological).

Based on reading and discussion of Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, by David Banis & Hunter Shobe, Sasquatch Books: Seattle, 2015

Okay, why are we doing a book instead of a lectionary reading? Because I want to. When I was asked to do this weekly entry, I was told to take it in any direction I chose, or felt led to go. I chose to use the Revised Common Lectionary, mostly followed by the pastor at the time. Pastor Jeanne leans toward The Narrative Lectionary and I have been happy to go with that, as has the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club.

The next six weeks would take us through the book of Job. Both Pastor Jeanne and I decided not to go there right now. I’ve found meat and inspiration, laughter and tears, in her preaching, and await with eagerness whatever she will be bringing us. I decided to use this time, both on Tuesday mornings and in my blog entries, to invite discussion based on some of my recent reading. The reading comes in a variety of shapes---both fiction and non-fiction, most of it a little offbeat and not offered as specifically Christian or even religious writing. I see connections with our Christian calling and tradition at many points. Perhaps my thoughts will trigger connections for you as well.

Here is my tentative list of books. I will include publication data each week as I come to them. You need not have read the books to enter the discussion. Although I will attempt to give you a little overview of each book, my entries will not be book reviews nor will they be an effort to distill “the message” of each book. They will be reflections triggered by one or more incidents, conversations, and/or observations in the book.

  • July 4 – July 10---The Hour Before Morning by Arwen Spicer (a member of our congregation)
  • July 11 – July 17---Peaceful Places Portland: 103 Tranquil Sites in the Rose City and Beyond by Paul Gerald
  • July 18 – July 24---A Man Called Ove by Frederic Backman
  • July 25 – August 1---Martin Marten by Brian Doyle
  • August 2 – 8---Fiddlelee-Dee & Company: A Fable for People of a Certain Age by A.J Beauregard (pen name for a resident of the apartment complex where we live)

This week’s book, Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, is a pioneering work in Cultural Geography by a couple of Portland State University professors and their students. Cultural Geography looks at how all the things humans are and do and make interact with geography. If you ask where poor people live, or how geographical settings affect the way people see and experience life, you are in the field of cultural geography.

Text from the Narrative Lectionary: II Corinthians 8:1-15

The Bible has a lot to say about economics. Some would say its primary application is expressed in economic terms. Whatever priority you see placed upon economics, it is clearly not something one can avoid if one takes the Bible seriously. Although one may not be able to derive a single economic system from the Bible, its concern for the poor is unavoidable. It is also clear that some of the Bible stories and instructions about economics seem pretty radical to the vast majority of Americans.

Consider the following:

In Mark 10:21, Jesus says to the rich man who claims to have kept all God’s commands: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Acts 2:44-45 gives this description of the early church: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

I don’t want to get into the details of the every 50 years Jubilee observance in which slaves and prisoners would be freed and debts forgiven. The amassing of wealth in terms of land was also supposed to be avoided in that land could not be held in perpetuity beyond 50 years.

The appointment of the first Deacons is relevant, although not central to my present discussion. They were given the task of distributing food to the widows. (Acts 6:1-3)

I don’t argue that these ideals were honored over long periods of time. I only note that the ideals placed before us are high and that a just and equitable economics had been of concern to God’s people through the ages.

It’s there in this week’s reading from The Narrative Lectionary.

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