Monday, November 30, 2009

Diary of a Mad Housewife: A Monday Morning List

Edited in red to end the day.
Edited in blue for a mid-day check-in.

Yesterday Michael preached a great sermon (it will be up on the Pastor's Page of the Old First website eventually) that was in part a Buddhist meditation that could have been entitled "Be Here Now." Michael didn't talk about it in those terms, but yesterday at Old First, Jesus was a Buddhist. Which, now that I think of it, our friend Joe insists on every chance he gets. And Joe is an ordained UCC minister! Perhaps you see why I love my church.

Anyway, Michael spoke of how paralyzing our daily worries and anxieties can be, how sometimes he feels himself distracted by this thing pulling him this way, and before he can really attend to it that thing is pulling him that way, until eventually he's just standing there shaking. I know that feeling all too well.

Lists are my solution. I love lists, I need lists, I thrive on lists. Come to think of it, lists are a sort of daily liturgy for me, a kind of prayer or meditation. A good day almost always starts with a list. I keep my lists in my day planner, which is just a grid-lined Moleskine notebook in which I have written the date on the outer top corners. If you want to know how I'm doing, just flip through my day planner; if there are many days in a row without a list, it's not such a good sign.

So here's my list for today (in no particular order, and imagine a hand-drawn square in front of each item, in which I will put a very satisfying check mark upon completion; also note that I will not finish all of this, but whatever does not get done today will just roll over to tomorrow):

~ morning chores check
~ breakfast for all check
~ pack three lunches check
~ clean kitchen check
~ make beds check
~ hang up clothes from day before check
~ wipe down bathroom (sink, toilet) check

~ clean house
~ clear surfaces in living/dining rooms check
~ dust check
~ tidy basement check
~ basement bathroom check
~ micah's room check
~ vacuum everywhere check
~ clean out fridge check
~ compost!

~ bake bread on first rise check
~ finish laundry almost done check
~ make chicken broth chicken is thawing check
~ what's for dinner? two kinds of homemade ravioli just one kind, but check (and yum!)
~ make grocery list (milk, ricotta, mushrooms, parm, toilet paper, cleaning supplies) check
~ stop by kids' school to sign something that needs board signature check
~ go grocery shopping -- check
~ read and/or work on poncho
~ map out the rest of the week and make a list check
~ balance checkbook
~ sort through stack of mail check
~ go through visa bill for reimbursements I need to give various folks
~ cancel cable
~ sign up for netflix
~ call verizon about landline/wi-fi
~ increase minutes and text plan on cell phones
~ edit letter for michael check

~ evening chores
~ clean kitchen check
~ tidy surfaces in living/dining rooms check
~ take down any laundry on the line not dry yet

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Cost and Joy of Discipleship: Advent Reflections

Do you ever wake up on a Saturday morning, and your body and your mind are all oriented toward getting up and going to work; maybe you're anticipating the day with dread, maybe with eagerness, but either way, you're gearing up, lingering in the warmth of the duvet for just a few more minutes .... and then you realize it's Saturday. You know that delicious feeling in the first few moments when you realize you don't have to get up? When the whole orientation of your body and mind shifts? You rest back into the warmth, your face and body relaxes, maybe you sigh and smile, and your mind turns with a different, slower sort of anticipation ... of more sleep, or a pancake breakfast, family time, domestic chores.

That's what Advent always feels like to me. I've always loved new beginnings, that back-to-school feeling of new clothes and blank copy books, freshly sharpened pencils, everything new and fresh and full of hope and anticipation. I love the new calendar year in the same way, that sense that everything is possible with a fresh start, last year's failed resolutions be damned! But as someone relatively new to observing the Christian liturgical year, Advent -- a season of anticipation that also begins the new church year -- often creeps up on me. It's like this little gift of a new beginning, tucked between back-to-school in September and the New Year in January, all the more fresh and delightful because I often sort of forget about it, especially when it falls so closely on the heals of Thanksgiving, as it has this year.

So this morning I woke up, early as usual, made coffee and began noodling around on Facebook as is my usual morning routine, thinking about getting ready for church, getting myself oriented toward the busyness of a Sunday morning for my family -- and then I remembered: it's the first Sunday in Advent.

And what a delightful moment when I realized, because I love Advent! Advent is about nesting, full of domestic chores as we prepare our home to welcome a new child in the bleak midwinter. Advent is the most female of the liturgical seasons, pregnant and full with heavy, round bellies. I used to think Advent should be so quiet and peaceful and contemplative, and was often annoyed by how busy and hectic and even cranky it can be, especially as Christmas gets near. But if you've ever known a woman in the last few weeks of pregnancy, no matter how much she has loved being pregnant, she just wants that baby out NOW. She's usually tired, uncomfortable, and a little cranky that this child still hasn't made its appearance. Mary may be the very mother of God, but I doubt she was any different. Advent is her ninth month of pregnancy, and ours too. We may not have a baby Jesus pressing on our bladders and our sciatic nerves, but we ought to have him pressing in other ways that make us a little uncomfortable and tired as we wait with eager anticipation for his arrival, for all the freshness and mystery -- not to mention all the hard work -- that a new child brings.

A couple of years ago in Advent, I made a discipline of going to noon Mass almost every day. It was lovely, and sort of gave structure to the otherwise chaotic nature of this busy season leading up to Christmas. One of the things I'm preparing for in the New Year is to get more serious about my writing, and so for my Advent discipline this year, I am planning to blog every day.

That's a lot of blogging, especially for me. So if you have anything you've been dying to ask me about, now's the time. Ask away -- as those who know me well can attest, there's very little I'm not willing to blather on about!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Welfare of the City: Sister Margaret (or: The First Time I Walked Away from Poverty)

I recently told you I want to start writing about poverty and race, two topics I care deeply about, but find incredibly difficult to write about with honesty and integrity. The more I experience and learn about racism and poverty, the less sure I am about solutions to these tragedies, until I find myself positively paralyzed. I’m pretty sure, right now anyway, that all I have is my own story. Unlike everything you have been taught about good stories, this one doesn’t have a clear beginning and middle and end. I’m sure some sort of structure or theme will emerge in this series, which I am calling “The Welfare of the City” (from Jeremiah 29), but I sure don’t know what it is. Still, Sr. Margaret McKenna seems like as good a place to begin as any.

I’m pretty sure the first time I met Sr. Margaret was in a program at my church called Urban Disciples. This was way, way back, in the late 90’s or early aughts, shortly after I joined Old First, having gotten involved there through volunteering with Julie at our homeless shelter. A group of us decided to get together once a week and explore what it meant to be urban disciples. To be Christians called to serve those living on the margins in the city, and in turn to be served by them. Few know about this better than Sr. Margaret, and so we had her come talk to us, and we went to visit her at New Jerusalem, the recovery community she helped found in North Philly.

But my first really clear memory of Sr. Margaret is on a Sunday morning, when she joined us at Old First for worship once. I believe we were recognizing our partners in service, the sites where we send rural and suburban youth groups who come through our work camp program to learn about and do service in the city. At any rate, what I remember so clearly is that it was Reformation Sunday, and I thought it was such a hoot that Sr. Margaret sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God -- by Martin Luther himself -- with such pleasure and gusto!

Sr. Margaret is a Medical Mission Sister and the founder and passionate spiritual leader of New Jerusalem Laura, a beloved community of men and women seeking recovery for themselves and for the world. To hear Sr. Margaret tell it, she never meant to start anything at all when she moved to an abandoned house in one of the most brutal ghettos in Philly. She just wanted to get away, to be a hermit, to live a simple and prayerful life like the desert mothers and fathers she hoped to emulate. But the thing about Sr. Margaret is that she just loves people. She loves to touch them and laugh with them and hear their stories. And she’s got this infectious zest for life, and this totally disarming charm. It’s probably a cliché to describe an elderly nun as having twinkling eyes, but she does, really – twinkling and mischievous!

She also has a searing intellect (B.A., English, Chestnut Hill College; M.A., Liturgy, Notre Dame; Ph.D., Christian Origins and Religious Thought, University of Pennsylvania); wide-ranging experience (she has been a director of novices, university professor, writer, art director, and peace activist); and broad, broad vision. It’s a compelling combination, let me tell you. So it’s no surprise that the whole hermit thing didn’t really work out for her.

Instead, Sr. Margaret took a look around her new neighborhood in North Philly and said, “Hmm, it seems that addiction is at the heart of a lot of the problems I see facing this community.” She got to know the Reverend Henry Wells, who was working with addicts through his program One Day at a Time (ODAAT), and out of their work together, organically, New Jerusalem was born.

Among the founding principles of New Jerusalem is that people are sick with addiction and the violence it spawns because our world is sick with addiction and the violence it spawns. So to heal ourselves we also have to heal the world, and likewise, to heal the world, we also have to heal ourselves. New Jerusalem is not just a place that serves addicts who want to get clean, but a place where addicts can serve the world to help it get clean as well. As Sister Margaret describes the mission of New Jerusalem:

The program of New Jerusalem Laura is one of holistic recovery: we seek to integrate the physical, psychological, spiritual, political, and social dimensions of recovery in our daily lives. We are committed to work toward healing and justice for and with the impoverished people of North Philadelphia, with whom we live and work in community and reciprocity. We are not so much a service institution, as a community of people helping ourselves and our neighborhood to recover. Recovery is about the radical change from death to life, from darkness to light, from self-will to God’s will. It involves the mystery of conversion and the aspiration to fullness of life in God. It requires risk and mutual support and the sharing of practical spirituality and wisdom. God must be the sole principle of this new way of life, this reordering of chaos. (from the website)

Spiritual formation is at the heart of recovery work at New Jerusalem, and one of the requirements, at least in the first year of residence in the community, is to attend daily Bible study with Sr. Margaret.


A couple of years ago at my twentieth college reunion, a classmate whom I hadn’t seen since graduation looked at me and said, “typewriters and babies!” I stared back, blankly. “That’s what you used to say you were going to have on your commune,” said Robert, “typewriters and babies, remember?” I didn’t really, but I was thrilled to be reminded. I guess it’s been a long time that I’ve been fascinated with living intentionally and in community. Though I bet Sr. Margaret would say she is living unintentionally in community, or rather, organically in community -- unintentionally enough that good intention doesn’t get in the way of community happening, organically. That’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from Sr. Margaret, that community will happen if we let it. And it’s kind of true that my life now does feel a little bit like living in a commune – with typewriters and babies no less! But when Micah was little, I wanted something more. I wanted very intentionally to be part of a community like New Jerusalem, which I found so powerfully compelling. But with a first grade daughter and a new baby son, it was hard to imagine how I could really get involved. Bible study seemed like a good place to start.

New Jerusalem is now a pretty wide-ranging community of residences that have been reclaimed and renovated from the abandoned rubble of North Philly. But the heart of New Jerusalem is a pair of small, modest row houses. One is the abandoned house Sr. Margaret originally bought for her hermitage, and the second is the one they bought next door. Along the way, the interior wall was torn down between, so the community house is a funny sort of mish-mash of two kitchens, two staircases, and one big living space. Upstairs is a maze of small offices, bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a small prayer room. Every thing has a scrappy, handy-man-special sort of look to it, with pergo floors and a mish-mash of used furniture; found art of the religious-inspirational variety; political posters of the peace-and-welfare-rights variety; bookcases made of boards and bricks and full of dusty, wide-ranging titles that almost certainly include Ghandi, King, Merton and Day; two kitchens full of mis-matched dishes and cheap, processed food; and doors and windows that are totally out of plumb. There are lots of plants, many hanging from macramé plant holders right out of the seventies; crucifixes hang on several walls; the old piano is never in tune; and a communal, avacado-green phone is attached to its base with a long cord. It might strike you a lot like a college group house at first, except that the plants are all alive, and there are no empty beer cans anywhere, and no ash trays. There is, however, almost always a pot of strong coffee brewing. And if you can look past the lack of attention to any real aesthetic sensibility, you will notice that everything is very clean, as cleaning the community spaces is part of the mandatory community service at New Jerusalem.

Bible study starts every morning at 8:00, in the community living and dining space, where all chairs can be turned to face Sr. Margaret’s plaid recliner by the wood stove. It was a bit of a trick to get there by 8:00, but Trixie was a sport about being dropped off at school early, and with luck, I could usually get there in about ten minutes. Finding the right place to sit among the crowd of forty or fifty residents was more difficult, given the vicissitudes of life with a small baby – Micah was not quite six months, and probably only twice as many pounds, when I first started attending Bible study in October of 2003. I finally figured out that sitting on the steps in the first house afforded me both a good view of Sr. Margaret, and an easy escape route upstairs if Micah got fussy. But mostly in the early months, Micah was content to snooze and nurse in our blue batik sling, and I could sit entranced by Sr. Margaret.

And really? “Bible study” was probably a misnomer, because it was really more like the “Sr. Margaret Variety Hour.” She would pick a theme for a few weeks or months – while I was there, we did the Beatitudes, the “Gospel According to Martin Luther King,” the passion story from Luke – and for an hour each morning, Sr. Margaret would talk. Always with a steaming hot cup of black coffee held between both hands, stopping only very occasionally to let someone else say something or ask a question, Sr. Margaret would interpret and narrate. It was really The Gospel According to Sr. Margaret, truth be told, and not everyone was happy about it all the time. Especially if they dared to challenge the good Sister, or disagree with her interpretation. Oh dear. And if you haven’t spent much time with middle-aged African American addicts and homeless men, you may not know this, but many of them are serious theologians. They know their Bible, chapter and verse. And very occasionally, some of them didn’t agree with Sr. Margaret’s interpretation of things. There wasn’t a lot of room for that, though, so the grumblings stayed pretty low in the back of the room, mostly unnoticed by the rest of us, who sat contentedly, heads nodding, letting loose an occasional “Amen” in response to Sr. Margaret’s compelling meandering through scripture.

Lots of people visit New Jerusalem, and quite a few visit the Bible study occasionally, so nobody paid me much mind at first. As weeks turned into months, though, I slowly and quietly became part of the community. People generally knew who I was, and I started learning names and noticing who was gone, recognizing when folks were new. As Micah grew bigger and more active, I missed more and more of the Bible study, straining to hear as I bounced him and hummed at the top of the stairs. But Micah became quite the center of attention upon our arrival and departure, as I pulled him out of, and then bundled him back into, his purple snow suit. He was quite beloved of the community, and got passed around a lot to men and women hungry for something sweet and fresh and new. (When I took Micah to his one-year old appointment, I got on automatic pilot at the checklist of questions our thorough pediatrician always asked: Any smokers in the house? No. Any guns in the house? No. Do you always use a car seat? Yes. Any reason we should do a TB test? No. …Oh wait, yes, now that I think of it, maybe we should...)


Early that winter, Sr. Margaret asked if I would help some of the residents get ready for the GRE, a program she had long wanted to start, but had never been able to get off the ground. I was eager to do something that would give back, eager to get to know folks in the community in a more intimate way, and I eagerly said yes. I put out a call to anyone interested, and soon had about ten residents signed up. I did a thorough intake with each one, assessing their needs and goals. I got hooked up with some city bureaucracy that gave us books. I found a course at Temple and took a van full of residents to the campus to sign up for study help. I scheduled regular study times in the community house, and tried to make myself available to help whenever I could. I found locations and dates for taking the test, and tried to help folks register.

But here’s the thing – the thing I was already learning, in fact, as I watched the faces at Bible study change over time. New Jerusalem is one of the most successful long-term recovery programs around, with a relatively high success rate, and a relatively low rate of relapse. The emphasis, though, is on “relatively.” In fact, even at New Jerusalem, one of the few sure things is relapse and turnover. I guess that’s what I learned, in concrete and heartbreaking ways, about poverty in general: one thing you can count on is that you can’t count on much. Things change all the time: you grow close to someone, come to love someone, and suddenly they’re gone – because they’re using again, or they got in a fight, or they lost their public assistance. Maybe a mother or a child needs them, or their boyfriend took them back, or they ran into some of their boys from back in the ‘hood. New Jerusalem is full of hope, but it is the hope of a flower that blooms in the midst of the weeds and the trash and the used condoms and the crack vials and the hypodermic needles that riddle most every vacant lot in the ghetto. New Jerusalem is a beacon in the midst of the swirling, ugly chaos of poverty and addiction, but it is not immune from the chaos. The chaos swirls through on a regular basis, and wreaks havoc on the community. And the folks who stay, year in and year out – all of them, Sr. Margaret, and the other nuns, and the volunteers, and the long-term residents, all of them working their programs to heal themselves and heal the world – they are all saints. Saints, really, there is no other word for it.

I, on the other hand, am not a saint. It was just too much for me. By the time the test date we’d been working toward came around, almost every one of my promising pupils had left the community. Often I wouldn’t even find out for days or a week. New folks would sign up, but they too would eventually leave altogether, or simply fade away. It was confusing and disheartening and just plain hard.

By the time Easter rolled around, Bible study was becoming less and less satisfying too. Micah was more and more active, and less content to nap or play quietly in the sling. I spent a lot of time upstairs feeling frustrated. I was also finding myself a little uncomfortable with Sr. Margaret’s Easter theology, much as I wanted to revere every word that came out of her mouth.

And so, after spring break, I just didn’t go back. I meant to, I surely thought I would, but as it turns out, I didn’t. I didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t offer any explanation. I just let myself fade away, as so many folks do at New Jerusalem. I told myself it just didn’t make sense to keep going: Micah was too big and fussy, summer was coming, I was starting to tire a bit of the Gospel According to Sr. Margaret. But in truth, none of that was the real reason. The real reason was that I just needed to get away from the chaos of poverty. And so I did. That was the first time I just walked away.

To be continued.

Epilogue: I should note that have been back, a couple of times over the last few years, and I have always been wildly and warmly received with cries of “Oh we have missed you! It’s so good to see you!” Saints, I tell you. No other word for it. If you're looking for a worthwhile cause to give some money to in this season of thanksgiving, I can't think of a more worthy one than New Jerusalem!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Philadelphia Wedding: The Play List

Our friend George spins a mean dance mix!

1. Prince - Let's go crazy
2. Beyoncé - Single ladies
3. McFadden & Whitehead - Ain't no stoppin' us now
4. Dee-Lite - Groove is in the heart
5. Earth, Wind & Fire - September
6. Lady Gaga - Just dance
7. Janet Jackson - Nasty
8. Jackson 5 - ABC
9. En Vogue - My lovin' (Never gonna get it)
10. Abba - Dancing queen
11. Stars on 54 - If you could read my mind
12. Justin Timberlake - Rock your body
13. Will Smith - Gettin' jiggy with it
14. Barry White - Can't get enough of your love, babe
15. Michael Jackson - Don't stop 'til you get enough
16. Destiny's Child - Independent women
17. Stevie Wonder - Signed, sealed, delivered
18. MFSB & The Three Degrees - T.S.O.P. (The sound of Philadelphia)
19. Prince - I wanna be your lover
20. Labelle - Lady Marmalade
21. Tito Puente - Oy como va
22. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell - Ain't no mountain high enough
23. Madonna - Open your heart
24. Yvonne Elliman - If I can't have you
25. Rihanna and Jay-Z - Umbrella
26. Aretha Franklin - Rock steady
27. Madonna - Vogue
28. Beyoncé - Single ladies
29. Donna Summer - Last dance

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Philadelphia Wedding: The Service

Last summer, Julie and I were legally wed in Iowa while visiting our dear friends Jennie and Mark. On November 7, we celebrated once again with our whole community in the home of our dear friends Suzanne and Dan. I have begun to write a little about our marriage, and there is still much more to come, but it will take time. In the meantime, here is the service prepared for us by our friend and pastor, Michael, and celebrated with us by our whole community.


Over My Head (everyone, led by Julie and the Old First Choir)


Over my head, I hear music in the air

Over my head, I hear music in the air

Over my head, I hear music in the air

There must be a God somewhere.

Julie: And when the world is silent

All: I hear music in the air

J: And when the world is silent

All: I hear music in the air

J: And when the world is silent

All: I hear music in the air

There must be a God somewhere.


Julie: And when I’m with my family …


Gathering Words (Michael)

Dear Friends, we gather in the home of the Suzanne and Dan and in the presence of God to celebrate Julie and Marta’s marriage. To give thanks for the lives they have led and the family of their creation. But also to share in their joy that the world has begun to recognize and respect and support families like theirs.

We are here then to surround them with our prayers. To give thanks for their witness. For the Scriptures teach us the bond and covenant of marriage is a gift of God, a holy mystery, which is a sign, like Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galille, a sign of what God means for all creation.

First Reading (from Jonathon Schell’s Fate of the Earth, read by Amy, Julie's sister)

Marriage lends permanence and a public shape to love. Marriage vows are made by one person to another, but they are also made before the world, which is formally present at the ceremony in the role of witness. Marriage “solemnizes” love, giving this most inward of feelings and outward form that is acknowledged by everyone and commands everyone’s respect.

And the world, by insisting on a ceremony, and by attending in the role of witness, announces its stake in its own continuity. Thus, while marriage is the most personal of actions, in another sense, it belongs to everybody. In a world perpetually being overturned and plowed under by birth and death, marriage can lay the foundation for the stability of a human world that is built to house all the generations. In this sense and in the biological sense as well as the emotional sense, love creates the world.

Wedding Prayer (Michael)

Let us pray.

We give thanks to you, good and gracious God, for family and friends, for sacred moments that make up our lives and theirs. For relationships that are the fabric and the food and the movement of our lives. How can we be anything but grateful? You have given us freedom, choice, the promise of covenant. In you, we find also the power to love, the possibility to live and to build together. We ask this day for your special blessing upon Marta and Julie, and their children Trixie and Micah, whom we now bless in your name as they have been blessed so many times before.

Walk with them, that they may continue to grow individually and together in their service to this world and in their faith in you. Stay with them, that their home may always be a place of blessing and peace. Grant them-- in this celebration and the days and years hereafter-- an abiding glimpse of true life

like a spider’s web in the dew of a new day-- glistening, hauntingly beautiful, delicate, sacred. We are bold to ask also your love and grace for all gathered by this wedding celebration. May all of us, from every family (however defined), be given hope and strength by the light of this marriage. May each of us grow closer-- to our true selves, one another and you-- in the sight such grace. Help encourage us to commitments greater than ourselves.

We ask all this in the name of our shared God, who is the source of life. Amen.

Song of Ruth (Julie and the Old First Choir)


Whither thou goest, I will go

Whither thou lodgest, there will I lodge

Thy people shall be my people now.

Where thou goest I will go.

Entreat me not, to leave you

and return again to my father’s house.

For the God that watches over all

has commanded me to stay.


And where thou diest, I will die

and with thy people be laid to rest.

For I know the God that abides with you

will ever with me stay.


Second Reading (from Wendell Berry’s Poetry and Marriage, read by Trixie, Marta and Julie's 12 year old daughter)

The meaning of marriage begins and survives in the giving of words, promises really. We cannot join ourselves to one another or continue in life together without giving our word.

And this must be an unconditional giving, the likes of which we are usually too cautious to do, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown... Because the condition of marriage is worldly and its meaning communal, no one party to it can solely be in charge. What you alone think it ought to be, it is not going to be. Where you alone think you want it to go, it is not going to go. It is going where the two of you – and marriage, time, life, history and the world — will take it. You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way.

Michael’s Homily:

When I asked if there had been vows somewhere “back when” which we could reprise today, I learned: ...that perhaps your marriage is different because you couldn’t actually get married. No wedding ceremony, sharing vows, throwing rice, raising toasts-- so much as living into a marriage. Something you had to do for yourselves, because the world wasn’t handing it to you, or even allowing it. Promises not fashioned by the ages and passed down to you, or made “once for all” --so much as lived into, fleshed out by your lives, step by step, sometimes monumental, but probably mostly quotidian... daily, almost unnoticed. Until you recognized that suddenly you were married, not because you had promised to be, but because you had done it, all the hard hard stuff and all the daily mundane stuff, all the fun and the laughter as well as the tears... all of it, at some point made your marriage and meant forever.

So I charge you, Julie and Marta, now do not let marriage get in the way of what has worked. Continue to let your lives together be more than you could ever be alone. Keep love alive. Maintain your solitudes; prize your particularity. Grow. Change. Separately and together. Be surprised. Laugh as often as possible. Remain flexible, sensitive, forgiving.

Give to one another. Share your feelings. Set aside time for one another. Nurture each other. And the life that you’ve built together.

Each of you at times must bring strength and support to the other. Even after so long, grow still to know yourselves and one another and your life together more deeply, better.

And out of all that, the monumental and the quotidian (see Marta, I used your word twice), let your reverence for all creation, in which such a love as yours has found its place, inform your faith, your lives and our world. Amen?

All: Amen!

Thanks be to God.

Community Affirmation (Michael and the entire wedding party)

Michael: We are ones who have been invited to participate in some sacred moments of Julie and Marta’s lives. This is just the latest, as they again affirm their commitment, after the legal marriage in Iowa last summer. They have invited us to celebrate with them, to offer our blessings, and support, and love.

Will you who they have gathered for this celebration so order your lives that that this family will be surrounded by abiding love, strengthened by your wisest, most humble counsel (when requested!); encouraged by your presence and instructed by your example.

If so, please respond, “We will, with the help of God.”

All: We will, with the help of God.

How Can I Keep From Singing? (Julie and the Old First Choir)

My life flows on in endless song,

above earths’ lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn

that hails a new creation.


No storm can shake my inmost calm,

while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,

I hear that music ringing;

It sounds and echoes in my soul;

How can I keep form singing?


The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

A fountain ever springing;

All things are mine since I am his;

How can I keep from singing?


Words between Marta and Julie

from e.e. cummings

marta: since feeling is first

julie: who pays any attention
 to the syntax of things

marta: will never wholly kiss you;

julie: wholly to be a fool 
while Spring is in the world, my blood approves,

marta: and kisses are a better fate
 than wisdom

julie: lady i swear by all flowers.

marta: don't cry
- the best gesture of my brain

julie: is less than 
your eyelids' flutter which says

both: we are for each other

julie: then

marta: leaning back in my arms 

julie: for life's not a paragraph

marta: and death

julie: i think

both: is no parenthesis

Common Cup (Michael)

Marta and Julie pour wine into a glass.

Michael: The years of life are a cup of wine poured out for you to drink. This “Cup of Life” contains within it a wine with certain properties-- sweetness, a sign of happiness, joy, hope, peace, love and delight. The same wine also holds some bitter properties, a sign of disappointment, sorrow, grief, despair, life’s trials and tribulations. Together the sweet and the bitter represent our journey, all of the experiences that are a part of life. Those who drink deeply from the “Cup of Life” with an open heart and a willing spirit, invite the full range of challenges and experiences into their being.

This “Cup of Life” also symbolizes the promises you have made to one another to share together the fullness of life.

Drink from this cup, acknowledging to one another and all of us that your lives, though still two, are to be lived out side by side. Drink now, and may the cup of your lives be sweet and full to running over.

One bride offers the other the glass to drink, who then hands it to the other, who drinks.

As you have shared this cup of wine, so may you share your lives. May all the sweetness that it holds for you be the sweeter because you taste it together. May you find life’s joys heightened, it’s bitterness sweetened, and all of life enriched by God’s blessings upon you.

Third Reading (from Rainer Marie Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” read by Erik, Marta's brother)

My sister and I were delighted that Michael chose a passage from Rilke as part of the beautiful service he created for this occasion--and I'm deeply moved that Marta and Julie asked me to read it. Rilke was one of the favorite poets of Marta's and my mother Trixie--after whom Marta and Julie's daughter is named. Our mother's early life unfolded in a series of rather radical displacements--from German-occupied Amsterdam during World War Two to Indonesia to Sweden and finally the United States. The circumstances of her earliest years, surely, were an impetus behind the lifelong mixture she felt of fear and fascination for German culture.

Literature was our mother's intellectual--and moral--passion. She understood it not as belletristic adornment or pleasant distraction, but as a profound and unfailingly challenging reflection on human experience as an end in itself--as opposed to the view of human beings as means to other ends that the increasing corporatization of everything leaves less and less room to question.

Our mother loved Julie; she loved Marta and Julie together; she had a feisty love of justice; and she loved a good party. She would have loved to be here. I hope that our love for her-and her love for us, and in particular for her grandchildren whom she wasn't given the time to meet: Trixie, Micah, Asher, and Noam--can--across such distance--shine through Rilke's meditation on love and distance that he addressed to an aspiring young poet.

In one of his "Letters to a Young Poet," Rilke wrote:

For one human being to love another human being, that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation... Love is the high inducement for the individual to ripen... to become a world in herself for the sake of another person... Human live consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.

...Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible to see the other against the whole sky!

Blessing/Toast (Michael)

Everyone raise their glasses, or if they don’t have them, their pretend glasses (because we’re UCC, this makes sense to us)

Go forth, fulfill your lives. Give one another new experiences of joy. Challenge one another that you may grow. Hold fast what is most precious.

And may the love you hold for each other, now sealed in marriage, continue to mature, that your life together may be a sign for us of what God means for the whole world-- a source of strength and inspiration to the community of your family and even into the wider circle of the world.

We send you out as people of faith, hope and love. May the God of peace go with you always. Amen.

What’s left but to kiss?

Marta and Julie kiss.

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’ (everyone)

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’

Siyahamba, siyahamba, oo

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching, we are marching, oo

We are marching in the light of God.

[Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” begins the dance party!]