Week 5 What Do You Hear?

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1 Week 5 What Do You Hear? Introduction Listening to others can be messy, but not as messy as listening to God. Not only can God's voice be difficult to discern amidst all the other voices/noise in our world, but what God says often crushes our image of the status quo, turns our idea of the social order up-side-down, and invites us to imagine a kingdom that is yet to come. In our text for this week we hear God's vision of the new creation through none other than a lower class, pregnant teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. This song of Mary (the Magnificat) challenges how we often hear/see God, the world, and our neighbor. Mary s radical confession is that God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful from their thrones, filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. This sounds a lot different than the stories of meaning and success that we hear in the world around us. As we complete this final chapter, we invite you to see this week not as an ending, but a beginning. Bonhoeffer s words from the introduction are helpful. The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to God s Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God s love for us that God not only gives us God s Word but also lends us His ear. So it is God s work that we do for our brother and sister when we learn to listen to them. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. If we confess that God listens (and we do), and we confess that each of us is called to listen both to the God who has claimed us in Jesus Christ and to our neighbor (and we do), and if we confess that authentic listening often challenges how we view the world and God s activity (and we do) we are left with this question. What does the life of a community of faith look like that deeply listens? 49

2 From the moving YouTube video to Neumark s and Orsorto s stories below, we are reminded of the danger of a single story that we learned about in Week 1, and how rich our lives and our world truly are when we can know each other in the full way that God knows us. In all of this week's material, we are reminded that God's voice reverses our worldview and encourages us to yearn in this Advent season for the coming Kingdom. Scripture Reading Mary, the supporting actress in the Christmas story, is the messenger here of God's vision for our world. As you read her song in Luke 1, try to not hear it as a familiar Christmas poem, but rather as the prophetic, disturbing, wonderful words of a pregnant teenager who challenges us to trust in a big God who can do big things. The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55 And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. View Yale Bound Valedictorian... (Length: 6 min) Reminder: A direct link is available to this online media by visiting the 2016 Westwood Reader page on the Westwood website. 50

3 Read The following readings have been placed in a suggested order of priority. Breathing Space Heidi Neumark The memories of a Caribbean Christmas conjured up by the guiro and maracas of the parranda, Puerto Rican-style Christmas caroling. The carols, or aguinados, are always accompanied by the guiro, maracas, guitar, and/or cuatro (a kind of guitar). In Puerto Rico, the parranda would go from house to house in a series of asaltos. The asaltos are what they sound like, assaults. The members of the household being assaulted are supposedly taken by surprise and forced to let in their singing guests to offer them traditional food and drink. Many of the songs include verses to prod those who might have forgotten their hosting responsibilities. One of my favorites goes: Open the door, open the door, I m in the street. Once the singers get inside they continue Over there I see something covered up I wonder if it might be a roast pig? Another song is even more direct: If you don t have anything for us, send someone out to get it! These songs are less spiritual than the Mexican posadas songs, which stick to the journey of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem. The posadas (Spanish for inn ) groups knock on doors, imitating Mary and Joseph s search for lodging. After initial denials, they are invited in where food and drink abound, but the holiday victuals are not mentioned so overtly in the music. On the other hand, soul and stomach get equal time in Mary s own Christmas canticle recorded in St. Luke s gospel: my soul magnifies the Lord, sang Mary. He has filled the hungry with good things. Both the parrandas and posadas traditions, which in varying forms seem to exist throughout most of Latin America, emerged where Christmas comes in the summer or where it feels like summer all year round. In addition, the homes to be assaulted or 51

4 sought out for posada are usually low-rise buildings, with doors within easy reach. December in the decidedly untropical Bronx is another matter altogether. We have had to adapt and improvise. A few times we tried to travel from home to home with our parranda. This meant that we were out walking in a freezing rain (which never failed to fall, as did the temperature, on the days we planned our asaltos) or that we had to find enough cars to try and transport our group from place to place. And forget about the surprise element. Most people live in high-rise apartment buildings with locks on the outside metal doors so that no one can even hear any knocking unless we called ahead to announce ourselves, we d never get in. Our revised tradition is to get people to volunteer to be assaulted in the weeks before Christmas, Every week, we visit a different home. The hosts, far from being surprised, spend hours if not days preparing the special parranda foods. The rest of the group arrives with guiros, maracas, and guitar, and we spend the evening singing, praying, talking, laughing, and eating. The aguinaldos are not all or even mainly about food, and we do celebrate the Christmas story in joyous music and readings, but the foods and the songs, like the songs and the land, are inseparable. And what is the food anyway, if not a taste of home? The wonderful thing is that the songs and tastes have created a new community feast in a new land. Coconut bread from Guatemala is on the table with tamales from Honduras, rice from the Dominican Republic, and empandas (meat turnovers) from Argentina. Reference: Neumark, Heidi B. Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Boston: Beacon Press, (pp ). 52

5 God s Call and the Spiritual Discipline of Listening Kristen Kane Osorto As a young adult moving to the District of Columbia after living in El Salvador, I came with hopes of changing the world of shifting the oppressive practices of market gain over human dignity that I saw wreak havoc on the lives of Salvadoran people. In the District of Columbia, I quickly became disillusioned with my hopes of changing the world and felt a deep loneliness as I entered work each day. Where is God in all of this mess? Further, like many young Christians, I found myself working in ministry despite carrying distrust and frustration with Christianity. Over the past three years, I have learned to live in the tension between the world as it is and the world as the Gospel calls it to be; encountering Jesus in the conflicts, surprising moments of grace, and most deeply through relationships, especially with people who the world teaches me to distrust. I realized if I wanted to see a different city, one that was for everyone, not just the rich and wealthy, I would need more power. I joined with a community-organizing network with hopes of building relational power that could shift the injustice in our neighborhood. The key action in broad-based community organizing is the individual relational meeting where one spends 30 to 45 minutes listening to the story and interests of another person. Dietrich Bonhoeffer teaches us that the first service that one owes to others in Christian fellowship consists in listening to them those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally will no longer even notice it the death of the spiritual life starts here. It was in the spiritual discipline of one-to-one meetings that I regained a sense of God. As I began scheduling daily relational meetings and hearing the stories of the women in the shelter, leaders in our congregation and residents of our neighborhood, I began to gain a sense of my calling at Luther Place: to help bring a culture of relationships into our congregation. Soon my inward transformation through encounters with the holy had propelled me outward. I began to form listening teams, leaders centered on our vision as a congregation, and I trained them to do relational meetings. This internal listening work has transformed our relationships within the congregation and created space for us to move outward and relate to our neighbors in a new kind of way. A few months ago during my daily walk down 14th Street, I encountered a group of families walking toward the church speaking Spanish. Someone called out my name, and I realized that I knew one of the people; it was a community walk from Thompson Elementary, a local public school. I scheduled a relational meeting with one of the parent leaders and discovered that the 14th Street community lacked any affordable 53

6 summer enrichment program for Latino families. As a result, many of the young people regressed in their English language and reading skills over the summer and returned the following school year behind academically. We began strategizing and after an intensive campaign of relational meetings and listening sessions at the school and in the church, a new ministry was birthed ArtSmart Summer Camp which over the last month has provided summer enrichment for 30+ elementary-age youths and families in the neighborhood. Summer camp will end with a 200+ community blockparty celebration. Our growing spiritual discipline of listening to people has transformed and equipped us to hear and discern God s call in our neighborhood. I am excited to see where we are called next. Reference: Osorto, Kristen Kane. God s Call and the Spiritual Discipline of Listening. Living Lutheran, 14 October Retrieved from: 54

7 Church: Can We Get Over Ourselves? Elaine A. Heath As Christendom declines and Emergence Christianity continues to blossom in all its messy glory, we in the institutional church face a central question. Can we get over ourselves? Can we give up our self-absorbed fretting about how good things used to be so we can see the beautiful possibilities now? We are in the middle of rapid, unprecedented culture shifts that are driven by changes in communication and information technology, economics, political upheaval, religious turmoil, and escalating violence. In this context many people in the inherited church live in a state of grief because of the increasing failure of their programs, activities, and worship gatherings to make a difference. What used to work in reaching neighbors with the gospel, no longer does. Because of the anxiety of failure in the system it is increasingly difficult for declining churches to imagine a lively future that looks different from a lively past. The thought of taking risks, of concerning itself more with its neighbors than itself is terrifying to the stuck, backward looking church. This is the church that must now get over itself. The good news is that groups of Christians are taking the plunge. Signs of life are everywhere, sprouting like dandelions in the parking lot, foretelling a robust future for the church that gets over itself. Some of these signs have to do with why, how, and where these Christians gather at pubs, in someone s kitchen, at a co-working space, a protest movement, or under a bridge. Sometimes they meet in church buildings, but their priorities are different. The people outside the building shape what goes on inside the building, so that the ethos is built on neighboring in the way of Jesus. Loving neighbors well, regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack thereof) is a core value for many new faith communities. As is always true during a time of cultural emergence, diversity of experiments is the order of the day. Some forms of church that sprout now will be short lived, but their value as experiments is essential. Emergence Christianity is willing to try many things, learn from what doesn t work, and find its way forward. Over time some of the new forms church is taking now, will root and become established, and will shape how we imagine church more broadly. They will shape theological education and impact society at large. As Christendom declines and Emergence Christianity continues to blossom in all its messy glory, we in the institutional church face a central question. Can we get over ourselves? Can we give up our self-absorbed fretting about how good things used to be 55

8 so we can see the beautiful possibilities now? Can we get over calling local comfort zones tradition so that we can hold onto and live the meaning of the real tradition God in Christ, making all things new? Can we let go of the same, tired, polarizing, labeling questions that keep us from loving our neighbors and take up new questions that help us risk living in the way of Christ? The church that gets over itself is the church that will join God s great adventure unfolding before our eyes, the new reformation. It is the church that sees and joins God in the neighborhood, at the protest movement, under the bridge, at the county jail, God who is making all things new. Reference: Heath, Elaine A. Church: Can We Get Over Ourselves? Patheos, 15 July Retrieved from: 56

9 America Facing Defining Moment Jean Hopfensperger Some of the nation s largest foundations took out full-page newspaper advertisements Sunday, urging readers to share their stories of hope as the United States grapples with discord and despair following a wave of shootings of police and ordinary citizens. Every American generation must face defining moments, said the ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and other major newspapers. We are facing one now. The ad was signed by 39 presidents of some of the nation s largest foundations, including Kate Wolford of the McKnight Foundation and Eric Jolly of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners. Today our nation needs more bridges of dialogue and fewer barriers of division, said the ad. It encouraged readers to share their stories of hope in their community at #reasonsforhope. Jolly said he signed on for the advertisement following the July 6 fatal shooting of St. Paul s Philando Castile and after weeks of discussion with the city of St. Paul, Black Lives Matter and the broader community. That included community leaders deeply engaged in addressing racial disparities and tensions. Like so many Minnesotans, I am deeply distressed over the persistent issues and painful events that challenge our sense of safety, values and community, Jolly said. In every meeting we learned the power that came from sharing what each of us is doing individually, Jolly said. So our deepest wish for the ad is to help our nation to aggregate the stories of hope, of effort, of care, that give us reason to believe our nation will break through this miasma of racial tension and build a future of hope and possibilities for our children. It was important for foundations to get on record and start this conversation, said Wolford. Many foundations historically have funded initiatives of racial equity and justice she said. In fact, the headline on the ad simply stated: From Our History: Hope. Signatories included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The recent events clearly are flash points and very unsettling, said Wolford. This is meant to spotlight the actions of building community and equity. We hope more people will be motivated and engaged. 57

10 By Monday afternoon, tweets on #reasonsforhope included news of prisons offering college classes again, a drug reform deal that could reduce penalties for some, creative art projects and many general words of support. The ad encourages readers to visit foundation websites (such as and and learn about organizations working for change and support them, volunteer, or get involved. Reference: Hopfensperger, Jean. America Facing Defining Moment. Star Tribune, 2 August Warm up: Discuss 1. What are a couple of your family s songs and tastes, as Heidi Neumark describes in her story below that remind you of home...or of Christmas? Tell about a time when you might have shared these times/tastes/traditions with another. Bible Study: 1. Mary speaks here some of the most radical words in scripture! Although a faithful Jew, she was certainly seen as other to the Jewish scholars and establishment...those through whom God's Word was usually delivered and taught in their culture. Zechariah (last week's main character) was a male, a Temple priest, and he questioned God s Word; Mary, an unremarkable pregnant teen, accepted it. In what ways do you relate to Mary? Name some of the other deliverers of God's voice in scripture, and think about their background, i.e. were they mainstream or other, leaders or the oppressed, remarkable or ordinary? Where, in our world today, might God be using the least expected, most unassuming people to be his prophetic voice? What does this say about who God is, and how God works? 2. In the Old Testament book of I Samuel, at the beginning of chapter 2, we see Hannah (another mother who gave her son for God s work) singing almost the same words...read them. Both Hannah and Mary exclaim their joy that the Lord considers, cares for, and acts on behalf of the lowly -- despite what one might expect (and contrary to how we behave) it is not for kings or the mighty and 58

11 powerful that the Lord has regard, rather it is for all the rest that God does great things. A few verses prior to Mary s Song in Luke 1:37, Luke writes, For nothing will be impossible with God. If we read Mary s words and truly believe that they are possible, what would this actually look like? Contrast these words to the rhetoric of the recent political season...where are there commonalities?...differences? 3. Songs of courage and promise are all over the Bible---not only in Psalms, but sprinkled throughout. In Luke 1 and 2 alone, not only does Mary sing, but Zechariah, Elizabeth, the angels and Simeon! Songs are often ways for people who are oppressed to come together both with each other and with the One to whom they lift their voices. Name some songs, popular today (some rappers are masterful at this!) or from African-American history (the Spirituals) that contain cries of longing and words of hope. Close your time together by singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel as a prayer and as a plea for Christ to come again and break into our broken world: O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. Reflections from Reading/Media: 1. Where in our city/community do you most see the tension between the world as it is and the world as the Gospel calls it to be, as Osorto talks about in the article above? She chose to address that gap by participating in community organizing, which starts with listening. Who have you listened to in these past weeks, or to whom would you like to listen who just might have a story you haven't yet heard? Who should our congregation be listening to? Talk about how and why listening is truly a spiritual discipline Heath ends her article by saying, The church that gets over itself is the church that will join God s great adventure unfolding before our eyes, the new reformation. It is the church that sees and joins God in the neighborhood, at the protest movement, under the bridge, at the county jail, God who is making all things new. The season of Advent is not about preparing for Christmas, it s about preparing for Jesus second coming...for a whole new kingdom where, in fact, all things will be made new. As we move through this season, where do you see God making things new in your life?...and in our world? What is your vision for our congregation as we strive to get over ourselves and join God's work in our neighborhood? 59

12 Pray O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. THANK YOU for your time and commitment these past 5 weeks! In January, we will be using the My Neighbor is Muslim curriculum (offered both Sundays and Wednesdays) and we encourage your participation. During Epiphany, we will also be organizing dinners for conversation and listening. Talk about your participation as a group...or perhaps you want to mix it up and meet some new people?! During Lent and again post-easter, we will be continuing this work of listening to the stories of our neighbors stay tuned! Our Reader is always a group project, dependent upon the ideas, skills and time of many people. We would like to thank two teams of Westwood members: The Materials Team who helped find content: Lacey Kraft, Jon Miller, LaDonna Reynolds The Format Team whose keen eyes and computer skills assisted with the final copy: Tom Hegblom and Wanda Nightengale Dr. Rollie Martinson was invaluable in helping with the overall theme development and pointing us to content along the way. Joyce Weaver, our Communications Specialist on staff, pulled the final copy together and got it printed. And Gao Vang, our former Worship Communications staff member, designed the beautiful logo used on the cover. As your pastoral team, we are grateful for the chance once again to take ideas, and with the gifts of all of the above people, turn them into this Reader, which we hope stimulates good conversation and careful listening as we seek to listen to God s story in our neighborhood! Kevin Farrar, Pastoral Intern Jason Van Hunnik, Pastor Tania Haber, Pastor 60