While we are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and have ceased in person worship for the time being, we are still gathering our hearts and minds for worship as a church. Each week our staff produces and emails an at-home worship packet with words, art, and music. You can find previous weeks’ worship packets here. You can email email@example.com to request to be added to the weekly email list to receive these in your inbox.
If you have pastoral requests or concerns please email firstname.lastname@example.org
March 15th, 2020
Hello CCLJ Family (and Friends far and wide):
Today we make history. Today we join our hearts in worship from our own homes. We are still very much a functioning, living, breathing church. This is evidence of that. We are doing something that has never been done in the history of our church.
Below you will find Home Worship Guides. During the next weeks of at home worship we will be reflecting on what this means. Can we be significant staying at home? What does it mean to contend with illness? With an infirm world? Can we change the world from our own homes? Let’s explore these questions together by looking to the past and looking to our sacred scriptures. For this week, our worship focuses on French painter Henri Matisse who spent the last fourteen years of his life largely at home due to complications of a surgery to remove cancer. Some of his best work was created during this time, including what he considered to be his masterpiece. We will spend more time reflecting on this later. You will even have the opportunity to take a virtual tour of his masterpiece.
Please open the at home worship guide below by clicking on it. It should open with ease. Start on page one and read through the guide. There are four audio files that you will see in this email as well. Don’t listen to the audio files until the guide instructs you to. They are listed clearly as “Audio File 1,” “Audio File 2,” “Audio File 3,” and “Audio File 4.” This is to make this as simple as possible. Keep this email open as you work through the worship guide so that you can easily access the audio files when necessary. When instructed by the guide to listen to an audio file, simply click on the audio file that the guide instructs you to.
Also, please read all the way through the worship guide. Your staff put in an incredible amount of time in getting this together for you with short notice. There is a fun homework assignment too. Please send us a photo. This can be a selfie of you at home today, or a photo of the place you choose to worship, or a photo of something that is currently inspiring you. When we come back together we will use these photos in a special way.
So, get cozy and comfortable. This is still very new for us and we put it together in just over 24 hours. Any wrinkles will be worked out in the coming several weeks.
Rev. Tim Seery, Minister
Dr. Nina Gilbert, Music Director
Bronwyn Allen-Kaeser, Office Manager, Soloist
Week 1 March 15th, 2020 Henri Matisse
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 1 08.52.28
Week 2 March 22nd, 2020 Isaac Newton
Week 2 March 22nd, 2020 Isaac Newton
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 2- March 22, 2020
Week 3 March 29th, 2020 Frida Kahlo
Here we are already with the third week of our at home worship. Your staff has enjoyed the challenge of working to make these better each week. Originally we had planned for 4 weeks of at home worship. With this being week 3, that would mean that we would also have next week as well. However, as events continue to develop, it appears that local and state stay at home orders will not be lifted by then. Therefore we will come out with further correspondence in the coming week about the future of at home worship.
Also, the current economic state of the world is being felt in all institutions of all sizes, including our own. Our renters’ businesses have come to a grinding halt, and so has their need to rent from us. In addition to this, we feel the squeeze of the global economic downturn on our investments, the income from which we rely upon to meet our operating budget. As a church that makes due with a deficit budget under normal circumstances, this year could prove to be a challenge for us. But I am choosing to see this a simply a “bump in the road” – there is still much road yet to be traveled on the other side. That said however, it is critically important that we continue to support the church as we normally would if we were meeting in person. You can send your offerings and pledges to the church. I am checking the mail a few times a week so your checks will be processed in a timely manner.
Also, it has been such an honor to receive your “homework” each week. The stories and pictures you have shared with me have been amazing. This week I want you to send me a photo of something that is giving you life during this stressful time. I think that we can all share in each other’s inspiration while continuing to stay connected to each other.
Thank you to each and every one of you for the gift that you are to our community.
Week 3 March 29th, 2020 Frida Kahlo
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 3 – MARCH 29
Week 4 April 5th, 2020 The Quilters of Gee’s Bend
Here is the worship packet for our forth week. This is also Palm Sunday which means we are heading into Holy Week next week. I will talk a little bit more about this in my recorded message to you so I won’t explain too much here. I am so grateful for you continuing to write in with updates about your lives and pictures that you want to share. Several of you have even written in a few book recommendations as well. Keep it coming! Your contributions and stories and ideas are what make these worship packets special. This week I hope some of you will be moved to send me a photo of something that is inspiring you these days. What is giving you hope? Where are you finding beauty?
You are all in my prayers. Stay healthy and safe,
Week 4 April 5th, 2020 The Quilters of Gee’s Bend
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 4 – APRIL 5
April 9, 2020
Today we begin the days when we normally would be coming to the church several times for several different services to mark Jesus’ last earthy moments. I miss gathering around a table with you and sharing dinner as the lights gradually go dim. How do we remember a meal gathered around a table together when we are not able to even do anything close to that for the health and safety of our world? Nina has offered us two musical selections to guide our prayers and medications this night and tomorrow. You will find them attached to this email with the concert notes prepared below. I hope that you can listen to this music and find a way to remember Jesus’ final gathering with his disciples in the comfort of your own homes.
As you all know I find God in art and so I thought I’d share with you a piece that reminds me of not only Maundy Thursday and Good Friday but also of where we are as a society right now. The one thing I keep in mind is that we have the luxury of knowing how the story finishes. We come to church on Maundy Thursday knowing full well we will be back on Sunday morning. We know the sorrow does not last long. But for those who were participating in this story 2,000 years ago, they did not know this. Imagine how Good Friday would feel if you didn’t know how the story ended? If you thought that was it. If you didn’t know when the pain or loneliness would end…
Where we are now is in some ways a small taste of this. We don’t know what will happen next week let alone tomorrow. The world has had to become ok with not planning ahead very far. We aren’t sure how the story will finish, though we have faith in a God of new life and resurrection, like those who accompanied Jesus, we don’t know when exactly this will happen.
The piece of art above is one in my own collection by Felix Gonzalez Torres. I used this as the bulletin cover last year on Good Friday. Felix Gonzalez Torres lived and worked at the height of the AIDS crisis. Much like COVID-19, there was a lot of mystery around this virus and how and why some people were getting sick and dying. There was no cure, no vaccine, and only marginally effective mitigating drugs. In the mid-80s a diagnosis with this was effectively a death sentence. However, unlike COVID-19, society did not stop. There weren’t press conferences every day updating the country, there was no White House task force or billions of dollars spent on treatment. Instead there was largely, silence. Why? Because AIDS mostly impacted a segment of the population that society did not want to shed light on or acknowledge the humanity of. Those who had the virus or who knew others who did were hidden, silenced, and ignored by the government that was supposed to protect them.
Getting an HIV diagnosis in 1986, the year this piece was made, was like facing crucifixion. People were sentenced to a silent, scary, and lonely death because of who they were and the fear around the disease almost marked them as lepers to the wider world.
Felix’s partner Ross Laycock was diagnosed as HIV+ in 1986 and out of despair, Felix created this work, “Untitled” (Crucifixion) 1986. Felix and Ross had to sit in this Good Friday-esque space for a long time. It would be 10 years until HIV became survivable. It would be half a decade until the government took the issue seriously and dedicated its resources to research and development. The blue hue of this image is thought to reflect the color of the hospital gowns that Ross had to wear. Ross ultimately died of complications due to AIDS in 1991.
I look at this image and I am reminded that we face true Good Fridays in our lives but we all know how the story ends. Jesus didn’t stay this way long and his lifeless body on this cross is the most extreme act of protest that history has ever seen. The most powerful kings and empires nor death itself could keep his love from shining onward.
Onward we go,
Maundy Thursday: Claude Debussy, Arabesque No. 1
Good Friday: J. S. Bach, Andante, from Italian Concerto, BWV 971
While Bach’s music is precisely notated, he is creating the effect of a harpsichordist improvising over a steady bass line. Debussy admired (and perhaps imitated) what he called the “wonderful arabesque” quality of Baroque music, a line shaped by nature.
Week 5 April 12th, 2020 EASTER
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 5 – EASTER
Week 6 April 19th, 2020 Holy Humor
Christ is risen! This is something we ought to continue to remember as we embark upon the 50 days of Easter. Even if it doesn’t feel like it some days, the tomb is empty and new life is among us. It is hard to believe we are already at our sixth week of at home worship kits. The response we’ve been getting from these has been wonderful – and our congregation is growing and expanding each week in ways it normally otherwise wouldn’t. It seems, based on my conversations with UCC leadership, local colleagues, and staff, that we will continue to worship this way for quite some time. This is a journey and it is unfolding. As the weeks progress, we will continue to think of ways to keep our worship packets fresh, relevant, and engaging.
This week we will celebrate what is called “Holy Humor Sunday.” This is traditionally the Sunday after Easter. This is the first time that I have celebrated this with you and you will find out why when you listen to my reflection.
As always, please keep sending me photos of your lives, your at-home adventures, and the ways that you are finding God during these times.
PDF Instructions:AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 6 – HOLY HUMOR
Week 7 April 26th, 2020
Here is Week 7 of our at home worship. This week we have made the conscious choice to lift up female artists and musicians. The theme is “action painting” — the art and the musical selections complement this notion in ways that we are sure you will enjoy.
I continue to be grateful for your messages, photos, notes and book recommendations. Please don’t hesitate to send me something you’d like to share with the congregation: a recipe you like, a good book, or a picture of you! We haven’t seen each other in a while and it looks like it will still be some time before we do. Staying connected is good and healthy. We are continually looking for ways to expand, perfect, and grow this idea of taking church into digital space.
Week 7 April 26th, 2020
PDF InstructionsAT HOME WORSHIP KIT 7-Action Painting Lifting up female artists and musicians.
Week 8 May 3rd, 2020 Weathering the Storm
The weeks are moving by rapidly. Here is Week 8 of At Home Church. I have been engaged in a lot of conversation with the staff, our moderators, our Southern California Nevada Conference UCC leadership, as well as colleagues across this region about all the ways our ministries have had to change and adapt over the past 8 weeks. It looks like our ministries will continue to adapt. The Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC just announced that our Annual Gathering in July will now be exclusively virtual. We in this church are also beginning to chart a long term vision of what our immediate future will look like too. I will be covering this further in my message to you next week. Because we are in this for the long-haul, we will be adding some more opportunities for connection, including possibly a virtual book discussion club this summer as well as a bi-monthly virtual happy hour over Zoom for those who are familiar with this platform–and over the telephone for those who are not familiar with Zoom. Both options will be offered. More on this later.
No matter what, our world has changed. So too has our church and the way we will have to be moving into this new future. If there is one thing I can tell you, it is that I am extremely hopeful about what that future will bring. All of you continue to be in my prayers.
Week 8 May 3rd, 2020 Weathering the Storm
PDF Instructions:AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 8
Several of you emailed me letting me know that the 4th audio file in this morning’s worship packet did not work. This was a piano duet that Nina took great care to bring to us this week. We want to make sure you hear it. That is why she has uploaded both of today’s piano pieces to youtube. The link is here: Piano solos #1 and #4
If you just want to hear the piano duet (the part that did not work properly) then you can listen by clicking this link: Piano solo #4
Thank you to all of you for engaging with our worship packets! Please continue to send me photos for the virtual fellowship hour! Your fellow CCLJ-ers love to see what is going on in your lives.
Week 9 May 10th, 2020 Interiors
Here is the at home worship packet for our ninth week. Our theme this week is “interiors.” I ask that we reflect on and appreciate the rooms of our homes which have become our new sanctuaries. I selected pieces of art that come from many different artists and stylistic periods. Though all of them are representations of interiors of one form or another. We are fortunate to have a special addition to the end of this week’s packet: Nina has summarized for us the main take-aways from a 2.5 hour webinar about the science and safety of singing in a COVID world. There are several implications that this information will have on the way that we move forward as a church. Additionally, my homily reflection will talk a little bit about our continuation of the worship packets into the future.
I continue to appreciate your emails and check ins. It has been a joy hearing from each of you. Please keep sending photos of your lives to keep us all connected.
Week 9 May 10th, 2020 Interiors
PDF Instructions: AT HOME WORSHIP KIT Interiors 9
Week 14 June 14th, 2020 Flag Day
Week 10 is here! This week I share with you the work of David Hockney, a British born artist who has spent his life capturing the spirit of California. I hope you are enjoying receiving these as much as I (along with Nina and Bronwyn) are enjoying making them.
Last week I mentioned to you some of the challenges that our post COVID world will bring to church. Most churches of the United Church of Christ and other mainline denominations are beginning to dream up new ways of worship and connection in light of the information we have been receiving. Coffee hour, singing hymns, communion, and passing an offering plate are some of the main things that will have to wait until a time well into the future. As with any loss, we mourn. But part of mourning includes making meaning. And I believe that we can use this time to foster deeper, more authentic, and creative connections than ever before.
This is why I’d like to hear from you. Would you be interested in trying out a digital, online fellowship time? For those of you who don’t have a camera on your computer or aren’t familiar with Zoom video conferencing, you can simply dial a number on your phone and then automatically be put into a conference call with all of us! As long as you have a phone you can participate!
With worship packets carrying us through the summer, it might be nice to begin some connections through digital space. Our new normal will require us to begin to connect with each other in new ways. Perhaps we can fellowship with each other through the summer this way, connected in ways that are life giving and healthy for all of us? Let me know!
Week 10 May 17th, 2020 Swimming Pools
PDF Instructions:AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 10 – May 17 Swimming Pools
Week 10 May 17th, 2020 Swimming Pools
Here is the May 24, 2020 worship packet – our eleventh installment. Next week, May 31, we will gather on Zoom at 4:30 pm for happy hour. You will be able to join by your phone if you are not familiar with Zoom. The instructions will be in next week’s worship packet.
Thank you to those of you who continue to write in with your stories, comments, and photos! All of you are on my mind and heart these days.
Week 11 May 24th, 2020 Sculptures by Louise Nevelson. new wholes, often monumental, from old parts.
AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 11Sculptures by Louise Nevelson. Building new wholes, often monumental, from old parts.
Week 12 May 31st, 2020 Pentecost Sunday
Here is the worship packet for May 31, 2020. There are a few important notes:
1) There are only three audio files being emailed to you because my pastor’s message comes in the form of two Youtube videos this week. On the page of the PDF that says “A Message to Reflect On” you will find the links to the two Youtube videos. You can simply click on them to access the videos. Note that there are two videos, the first one cuts off and then the message continues on the second. This is because I needed to turn the camera around to show you the historical records that we will be reflecting on this week.
2) Several of you should have received your covenant group assignments this past week. Thank you to our group leaders: Bronwyn Allen-Kaeser & Matthias Kaeser, James & Victoria Towner, John & Mary Benbow, Mars Cheung, Kristin Bean, Chris Bott, and Sigrid & Bill Nicholas for leading groups. The groups will be what you make of them, so take advantage of this opportunity for connection and collaboration!
3) Sunday afternoon, May 31, at 4:30 pm we will experiment with our first ever CCLJ digital fellowship time over Zoom. The information on how to access this can be found in the final page of the PDF worship packet. You can join by phone or computer.
Have a great week and I hope to see some of you this afternoon on Zoom!
Week 12 May 31st, 2020 Pentecost Sunday
AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 12 Pentecost
A MESSAGE TO
LISTEN TO REV. TIM’S MESSAGE TO YOU BY CLICKING ON THE FOLLOWING
PART 1 of 2
PART 2 of 2
Week 13 June 7th, 2020 Graduation Sunday
Here is the worship at home packet for June 7, 2020. I hope you will join me in sending a huge CONGRATULATIONS to our two CCLJ graduates. Jacob Nicholas graduates next week from El Camino High School in Oceanside and Melissa Melchor graduates with her BA in visual arts and media from the University of California San Diego. We are so grateful for the gifts they have brought to our congregation. This week’s worship packet is in honor of them. The musical selections were also chosen to coordinate with the theme of graduation and new beginnings and honoring Jacob and Melissa.
Please note, in place of a homily this week we have collected messages to our graduates from members of the congregation. Thank you to Nina Gilbert for editing and compiling all of these messages together. The link to the video can be found in the worship packet, but I will also include it here. Please make sure you take time to check out our tribute to the graduates:
Also the instructions for our second CCLJ Zoom Happy Hour can be found on the last page of this week’s packet. I hope to see some of you online next Sunday at 4:30 PM
Week 13 June 7th, 2020 Graduation Sunday
AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 13 Graduation Sunday
Several of you wrote to me to let me know you could not access Nina’s Audio File 3. She has put them up on Youtube for us. If you want to listed to BOTH of here pieces use this link
To go directly to Audio File 3 ( Pomp & Circumstance) please use this link
Week 14 June 14th, 2020 Flag Day
First, note that I am using an alternative email to send you this week’s worship packet. My church/professional email was not accepting attachments. So hopefully this will get out to you but feel free to continue to contact me at email@example.com This is an account I don’t check as often.
Here is the 14th edition of our Sunday worship packets. Today our theme is “flag art” in celebration of Flag Day which this year falls on a Sunday (June 14).
I am looking forward to seeing some of you Sunday at 4:30 PM on Zoom for another Happy Hour!
You all continue to be in my prayers,
Week 14 June 14th, 2020 Flag Day
Week 15 June 21st, 2020 Office Space
Thank you so much for your participation in this week’s theme! I received so many photos of office spaces of such wide diversity. I hope you will enjoying seeing them all. The message this week is a tour of my office. You will find the link to the Youtube video in the worship packet. I will attach it here also for your convenience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKJxiQMTfl0 So many of you ask me questions about things inside my office. I figured I would bring all of you inside to talk about some of the things I have in there. As such, I wanted you to also think about your own offices and to see the office spaces of others. I think you will greatly enjoy the photos everyone has shared. Our labor is sacred and so is our time. Offices are spaces in which we do the sacred tasks of our lives that provide for us, that nourish us, and that ultimately nourish others too.
Rev. Tim Seery Office Tour
I think we ought to take more time to appreciate the ways in which we interact with built spaces. Our interiors are indeed works of art. We can learn a lot by looking at certain spaces. When we slow down enough to really interrogate our surroundings we have reached a pace at which we might then begin to encounter the divine.
Thank you again for your participation!
You all continue to be in my prayers. Stay healthy and well.
AT HOME WORSHIP KIT 15Office Space
If you are unable to open Audio file 2 you can click on the link below.
Week 16 June 28th, 2020 California Summer Road Trip
Attached is the Week 16 Worship Packet. On this first Sunday of summer we are begging a series called “California Summer Road Trip.” Since most of us are not traveling anywhere this summer this will be our chance to travel together. Each week we will see a different part of California through the eyes of its most prominent artists. This week we start up north in Sacramento with the work of Wayne Thiebaud who will turn 100 years old this November. He has called Sacramento home for several decades and was an important professor of painting at UC Davis. Next week we will proceed down the coast to the Bay Area and then make a stop in LA before hitting up Palm Springs and then onward to our own city, San Diego. Who knows, we might even complete our California trip with stops in Baja and Baja Sur.
What a blessing it is to live in this state. It is beautiful, a source of much of the world’s culture, an economic powerhouse, and as Governor Newsom reminded us recently, a “nation state” in an of itself.
I hope you enjoy our Summer California Road Trip!
If you will, send me photos you have taken on road trips, past and present. What delighted you? Shocked you? Send it my way! I will feature these over the next few weeks.
Lastly, a brief technical note about Audio File 4: we are aware of the background hiss in the recording of this audio file and have ordered new cables that should eliminate that problem by next week.
Week 17 July 5th, 2020 California Summer Road Trip
Week 18 July 12th, 2020 California Road Trip Detour
As we were progressing from San Francisco to Los Angeles for our summer road trip our “car” broke down. In other words, I woke up this morning ready to email you all a lovely tour of Los Angeles through the eyes of one of its most important young artists. Alas, the keyboard on my computer decided to quit working. I’ve spent today visiting Apple repair shops in Kearney Mesa and Carlsbad. Alas, the verdict is that it needs to go be shipped to Apple so they can work on it themselves. This process will take a minimum of 10 days. So it looks like our journey is shaping up to be a real road trip with detours and all! This week’s completed worship packet is ready to go in my computer. However, since it is password protected and my keyboard is not working, I’m not able to access anything. Including our worship packet email list. Thus you are receiving this email over Constant Contact. We apologize to those of you receiving this email who asked to be removed from our email list. You’ve been successfully removed from the worship packet list which has not yet updated into our Constant Contact records.
Your staff has had to adapt to this hiccup with grace. It turns out there’s no AAA to call for digital church issues! Nina has prepared music appropriate to the moment (we are saving her Los Angeles themed pieces for when we resume our road trip). We can’t attach files to Constant Contact emails so you will find links to Nina’s music on YouTube below, as well as her performance notes about the pieces. Click on the links to access her music.
Also, Nina has offered to share with you all her sermon on real life parables that she gave during the summer of 2017 when Rev. Bear was on vacation. The link to that is also posted below. I hope you will warmly welcome this impromptu opportunity for a guest preacher!
Don’t worry! Before long we will be on our way south through California. But there’s nothing wrong with a little delay, right?
At Home Worship Week 18
California Road Trip Detour
George Gershwin (1898-1937) and Will Donaldson (1891-1954), Rialto Ripples, 1916
Gershwin had left school to work as a “music plugger” for publisher Jerome Remick, sight reading sheet music for customers. Bored and hoping for a hit, he composed this ragtime piece, his first instrumental publication, with some collaboration from Donaldson, his friend and co-worker. It was not a hit, as ragtime was fading with the death of Scott Joplin. It was obscure enough that forty years later Robert Maxwell was able to claim about half it as his own for a piece called “Oriental Blues,” known as Ernie Kovacs’ theme song.
James Reese Europe (1881-1919) and Ford T. Dabney (1883-1958),
Castles’ Half and Half, 1914
Europe and Dabney played and composed for the ballroom dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle. They were both bandleaders and cultural leaders, groundbreakers at getting recognition for the seriousness of African-American musicians.
Sermon, June 18, 2017
At Home Worship Week 19
California Road Trip Detour
Well, here we are in the second week of our CCLJ Summer Road Trip Detour. On Tuesday I received a nice box in the mail from Apple, fit with all of the things necessary for sending a computer halfway across the country. I loaded it up and away it went to Houston, TX. Nina created this image of what she imagines my computer looks like:
All suited up in its mask so it can return to me safely!
Of course, what a time for technological mishap! Right when our very connection to each other and to our worship is predicated by technology. But this reminded me of an important lesson: we are not in control. No matter how badly I want that to be not true, it is simply the way it is. Our resiliency is built not by the things that went totally completely right in our lives, but rather, by all the things that went completely wrong. This is true in both the small things and the big things. Our entire society is in the process of learning this lesson. Each and every one of us have had to dramatically revise our vision of what we thought 2020 was going to be. For some, their very livelihoods and careers have been called into question and they are having to revise their visions of themselves and the rest of their lives.
This is the reality of our situation. And so, we are tasked with accepting it. There is a certain freedom in this “radical acceptance.” As someone who enjoys travel and aviation I like to follow CNN’s Richard Quest as he covers these topics for a global audience. Just a few months ago, pre-COVID he was a passenger on the longest recorded passenger flight from Newark to Singapore aboard Singapore Airlines new Airbus A350X. Then, I imagine he could have never guessed that in a matter of months his flying would cease, the industry would be hit with the biggest disaster in its history, and that he would be grounded for months.
Richard Quest recently returned to the sky for the first time since the pandemic began when he flew home to London from New York. You can watch the short clip here:
It was an emotional experience for him– the longest he had been without aviation in his life– and it was….well, different. But I appreciate his deep acceptance of this new reality. As he says, “This is just the way it is.” So too it goes with us–broken computers, mishaps, accidents, new realities, unexpected outcomes–our bravest prayer can be to simply utter the truth, “this is just the way it is.” Amen to that.
Richard Quest’s emotional return to flying
CNN’s Richard Quest takes a flight from Newark to London for the first time in four months, after taking a break due to the coronavirus pandemic. He describes his emotional journey.
This week’s piano solos are in the spirit of our “detour” on our road trip—stopping to smell the roses and listen to a hermit thrush.
“To a Wild Rose,” from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51, by Edward MacDowell, 1896
Love Wins, by Carrie Underwood, Brett James, and David Garcia, 2018
“A Hermit Thrush at Morn,” from Hermit Thrush, Op. 92, no. 2, by Amy Beach, 1922
Based on Beach’s notations of the song of the hermit thrush that she heard at MacDowell Colony.
Some birders describe the hermit thrush’s song as sounding like “Oh, holy holy, ah purity purity, eeh sweetly sweetly.” Beach quotes two poets:
John Vance Cheney, The Hermit-Thrush
Holy, Holy! — in the hush
Hearken to the hermit thrush;
All the air
Is in prayer.
John Clare, The Thrush’s Nest
…I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns of rapture, while I drank the sound
According to Audubon California, other poets inspired by the song of the hermit thrush include Walt Whitman, Amy Clampitt, T.S. Eliot, and the creators of Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii.
At Home Worship Week 20
California Road Trip Detour
Well, if there was one good piece of news this week concerning my computer it is that insurance will mostly cover the cost of its repair. If there was one bad thing it is that the problem was much more extensive than just a malfunctioning keyboard – our La Jolla humidity and the stress exerted on it caused much more widespread issues. But like our own bodies, technological bodies heal too. I imagine the computer quarantining away in some sterile Apple facility in Houston hoping and praying for the same wholeness and health that we all do.
Also, I wanted to share with you a lovely video that Nina sent along to me some weeks ago. It is a relaxing look at something completely insignificant to our saturated times: a 17th century elaborate Indian hookah base. As the writer of this post says, sometimes it is good to be irrelevant. The video is short and narrated by Forrest McGill, the curator of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco who was tasked with picking a favorite object that might inspire viewers to “dream of a benign, well-ordered world.” I hope you take a look at this amazing object and appreciate the ways that both his narrated explanation combined with the visual imagery create an almost meditative like experience. Check it out here: https://www.npr.org/2020/07/09/887494387/need-2-minutes-of-calm-inhale-exhale-and-click-here
There is a certain magic in irrelevancy. There is a certain beauty in banality. One such instance that particularly resonates with me is the way contemporary artist Jeff Koons has made art objects that hold irrelevancy at their heart. This might be a tough sell for some of you but hear me out. There is a movement in contemporary art that has to do with what we call “readymades.” A “readymade” is at its essence a prefabricated, industrial object that one can easily acquire in the retail marketplace. However, it becomes a “readymade” when someone declares that object a work of art. This idea holds its genesis with French artist Marcel Duchamp who famously signed his name to a urinal and thus declared it an authentic piece of art. You can see it here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573 You see, this is not some sort of hoax. Rather it is a legitimate discussion in the history of contemporary art. For example, without Duchamp’s declaration of a urinal as art we would not have ever had Andy Warhol’s famous Cambell’s Soup cans. Warhol was merely taking the conversation from the bathroom into the grocery store, so to speak.
Jeff Koons has used his career to continue this process. One of his landmark shows in the 1980s was called “The New” – in which he created monumental sculptures that showed off pristine, brand-new vacuum cleaners and carpet shampooers encased in plexiglass under fluorescent light. So confusing was the exhibit at first that people actually stopped by the gallery thinking they were selling vacuum cleaners. Rather, these were no longer simply vacuum cleaners. They were now art objects. For Koons there is something powerfully human about vacuum cleaners as well as new objects displaying what he calls their “integrity of birth.” Here is a video of Jeff produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art where he explains his artistic process behind elevating vacuum cleaners into fine art objects. Jeff is amazing to me. The way he talks about art (and the way he looks) almost makes me forget he is an artist and makes me think he is either an evangelical preacher or a stockbroker. Jeff was a commodities trader on Wall Street before he became an artist so the comparison is not far off. You have been engaged with an in-depth art history class with me through the past 19 weeks of worship packets so I am rather sure you are all ready to open your minds to the cutting edge of artistic expression. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Here we go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg-_rLzZ5A8
Sure, you may still not be convinced. But I can assure you that after seeing what I am about to show you, none of you would complain if one of these sculptures magically ended up on your doorstep: https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/sculptures-statues-figures/jeff-koons-new-shelton-wetdrys-10-gallon-6076420-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=6076420 In short, this is serious business. There is another interview in which Jeff talks about how powerful vacuum cleaners are for small children, only one or two years old who shutter whenever mom or dad gets out these giant sucking machines that make violent noises. Even I have memories of wanting the vacuum to go away!
At its core, this too is all irrelevant. And that’s good. Clearly people are willing to pay good money for irrelevancy. There is something empowering about elevating the ordinary to the realm of the extraordinary. This is what our faith teaches us to do. I hope you never look at a vacuum cleaner the same way ever again. But I hope you don’t just stop with soup cans, urinals, and vacuums. I hope you see the extraordinary in all of God’s world. I hope you question the genesis of the readymade objects that constitute our lives, that punctuate our existence. This is what it means to be mindful and engaged with this world that God made for us.
As long as we are on the topic of irrelevance I wanted to close with a meditative and prayerful practice for all of you that comes from a faith tradition that likes to think a lot about irrelevancy: Buddhism. It is called Tonglen and it comes from Tibet. I learned this in seminary and it was a really major component to our development. There are many different versions including ones that can be authentically practiced in a Christian context such as the one I will share with you below. The purpose of Tonglen was originally to transform negativity into something positive. Tong means “let go” and len means “accept.” Put it together and this practice is about “Letting go and accepting.” In it we connect with suffering, overcome fear, and use those things to expand and awaken our compassion. The reason I think this is perfect for now is because it has its beginnings in a pandemic of leprosy in the 11th century. Meditation masters were called in from India to help those suffering from the affliction cope with their suffering and help heal others in the process.
Buddhist tradition requires that one first practice this technique by calling to mind their mother. But it is ok if you start with someone else too. The best rule of thumb is to make sure you begin with someone who is close to you and someone who needs this spiritual healing the most.
1. Sit or lie quietly. Get comfortable. Take in several deep breaths until you find yourself in a centered, and relaxed place.
2. Close your eyes. Imagine someone that you want to help. Perhaps it is a friend or a loved one. Focus intently on this person and on their struggle.
3. Breathe in. As you do focus on the heaviness of their negative energy and of the things that ail them. Imagine yourself breathing in their condition or suffering. As you do this picture that you are breathing in their pain so you remove it from their bodies, giving them room for comfort, healing and positivity.
4. Breathe out. As you breathe out, breathe happiness and peace out into the world. Think about what you think would bring them comfort or joy. Focus on that and breathe it out into the world. Imagine that breath traveling to those you want to help and having it fill that empty space with what they need.
5. Repeat. Continue this practice of breathing in pain and breathing out peace over and over again until your session is over. Remember, this doesn’t just apply to others either. If you are in pain, you can breathe in and out your own suffering.
Then after that, if you are looking for some moments of peace and meditation I highly encourage this 11 minute video which shows a masterpiece of one of the world’s best aquascapers, Takashi Amano. Aquascaping is the art of using fish, plants, and soil to create entire aquatic worlds. This is, in my opinion, quite remarkable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQVZ1jI_XFI.
With grace, peace and prayer until we meet again,
Nina Gilbert, pianist and music director
Claude Debussy, “Hommage à Rameau,” from Images, 1906
Beautiful, balanced, and meditative, sometimes chantlike. Debussy attended (and reviewed) a performance of Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s (1683-1764) opera Castor and Pollux in 1903, and was one of the editors of Rameau’s Collected Works. His “Hommage” is a sarabande, a Baroque dance form found in Rameau’s music.
Felix Mendelssohn, “Lift Thine Eyes,” from Elijah, 1846
I'm so thrilled to have reconnected with old high school friends to form a Virtual Choir during these coronavirus times. Here's the first performance by the Alliance Girls High School Alumnae Choir. Enjoy!
If this piece sounds familiar, it’s because Bronwyn, Joan, and I have sung it as a summer feature. I’ve loved “Lift Thine Eyes” forever, and I taught it to my students at Alliance Girls High School in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer…and now my students have transcended continents and generations to recreate it as a virtual choir.
This Facebook link is set as “public” so anyone can access it, even without a Facebook account.
Amy Woodforde-Finden, “Temple Bells,” from Four Indian Love Lyrics, 1902
Born in Valparaiso, Chile, where her father was the U.S. Consul, Woodforde-Finde (1860-1919) moved with her mother to London after her father’s death (1867) and then lived in India for several years when she married Brigade-Surgeon Woodforde Finden. From the exoticizing perspective of the turn of the twentieth century, she felt that she was exploring and absorbing Buddhist culture.
Rev. Tim Seery, M.Div.
Senior Pastor, Congregational Church of La Jolla, UCC
San Diego, Calif.
Week 21 August 2nd, 2020 California Road Trip Los Angeles
At long last we return with week 21 of our normal worship packets. My computer is back good-as-new from repair in Houston! We hope you enjoy our trip to Los Angeles this week as we explore the work of one of its most important artists!
Continue to stay safe and healthy!
Week 22 August 9th, 2020 Road Trip Maine
Guest Pastor Rev. John Benbow
Here we are with this week’s home worship. I am not the creator of this week’s worship experience. Rather, our guest minister this week is our very own, Rev. John Benbow. He took over for me this week as I spent all week in orientation for the Next Generation Leadership Initiative – a 6 year long adventure that I am beginning now. John will talk more about this in this week’s packet!
Continue to be well and stay safe and healthy,
Please note: The link to the Next Generation Leadership Initiative in Worship Kit 22 should be:
Week 23 August 16th, 2020 Road Trip San Diego
I hope your week is going well! Here is our 23rd edition of a home worship experience. Today we continue to move through California, arriving in much familiar territory: San Diego! I hope you enjoy this opportunity to learn more about the place in which we live.
I continue to pray for all of you as we progress through this odd yet strange and at the same time wondrous year.
Week 24 August 23nd, 2020 Road Trip Baja California
Our road trip continues — we cross the border this week to Baja California to begin our discovery of the other 2 of the 3 Californias.
Stay well and healthy. You are all in my prayers.
Week 25 August 30th, 2020 Road Trip Baja California Sur
Our California Summer Road Trip finishes this week in Baja California Sur. I hope you have enjoyed this journey. We have many more journeys to undertake together.
Be well. Stay healthy.
Week 26 September 6th, 2020 Agnes Martin
Here is week 26 of our at home worship packets. Today there are only 3 audio files because Nina’s first musical offering is in the form of a YouTube link. It is listed in the worship packet, but I will also include the link here: https://youtu.be/MDCA90y5EzM
Additionally, the final musical offering is from our choir! Nina and the choir put together a hymn collage that allows us to hear their voices. Thank you to our choir and to Nina for putting together this very innovative project and for keeping us connected.
You all continue to be in my prayers.
Stay well and stay healthy,
Week 27 September 13th, 2020 Cy Twombly
Here is the at home worship packet for September 13, 2020. I hope you enjoy learning about Cy Twombly and the ways that his work can intersect with a life of humility and faith.
Do continue to send me photos of what you are up to these days! How are you seeing beauty in the world? Despite the fact that it seems danger exists in the very air we breathe–not only from the virus but also now from smoke and ash–and heartbreak seems to be at every turn, there is beauty and grace just below the surface. How has that beauty manifested itself in your life this week?
We hold close in prayer our state as well as the entire West Coast as we contend with once-in-a-generation fires on top of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. We also hold in prayer our teachers and students who are navigating online learning and all of its complexities.
Continue to stay well, healthy, and inspired.
Week 28 September 20th, 2020 Food, Recipes and Ritual
I am happy to bring you week 28 this beautiful morning. Dr. Nina Gilbert is not only our musician this week but also our guest speaker and guest curator. I hope you enjoy her tour through biblical references to food!
Continue to stay well!
Week 29 September 27th, 2020 Donald Judd
Here we have the at home worship experience for September 27. You will receive this week’s in two emails due to the size of the files. This email contains the PDF and Files 1 & 2 and a separate email will contain files 3 & 4. Thank you for all the notes and messages you send as well as the commentary and photos regarding where you are experiencing joy and fulfillment during these times. I have shared some of these in this week’s PDF.
Also, if any of you (even those of you who are not local) want to be in our virtual Christmas choir, please let me know! All you would need to do is record a short verse of you singing and Nina masterfully mixes these all together into one beautiful and artistic creation. If you are interested, email me and I will pass your info on to Nina and she will be in touch with you about instructions and the piece to be sung. This can be a fun way for us to transcend time, space, and distance and come together to celebrate in a unique and safe way.
And, don’t forget, we have a Zoom happy hour scheduled for this Sunday (today) at 4:30 PM. I hope to see many of you there!
Also, please give a warm welcome to Matthias Kaeser as he offers us ORGAN MUSIC — something we have been a long time without. I hope you enjoy this special musical surprise. Matthias visited the church and recorded this piece on our very own organ. I am sure the organ enjoyed finally being able to be played as much as you will enjoy hearing it.
Continue to stay well and healthy.
Week 30 October 4th, 2020 Bill Traylor
This week I hope you enjoy the work of Bill Traylor. Our theme for October will be “Outsider Artists.” I hope you enjoy learning about 3 African American outsider artists that I have selected for you.
Also, we will be having another Zoom Happy Hour very soon. Please see the details in next week’s worship.
And…our choir is planning a special Christmas Carol Project, and we’d love to have you participate. We especially welcome our new out-of-town friends. This is the week to sign up! Let me know if you’re interested, and I will forward your message to Nina, who will get back to you with fun, easy-to-follow instructions.
Wishing you a week filled with grace and health,
Week 31 October 11th, 2020 Clementine Hunter
I write to you with our 31st edition of the at home worship experience. We continue our 3-week series on Outsider Artists by taking a look at the work of Clementine Hunter.
Also, LAST CALL for the Christmas Carol project! If you’re thinking “yes” or “maybe” about participating in our choir’s virtual Christmas Carol medley, let me know. I will forward your interest to Nina, and Nina will be in touch in the next few days with instructions. “Maybe” is fine—this is not a commitment, and you can figure out how involved you want to be. It’s a virtual piece—everyone records a few lines from home, with a guide track to listen to first.
Additionally, will be gathering very soon for another Zoom Happy Hour! Stay tuned for details! As our world continues to slowly struggle its way toward greater justice and inclusion my prayers are with each of you.
Week 32 October 18th, 2020 Sister Gertrude Morgan
Here is the 32nd edition of our at home worship. Please continue to excuse the incorrect subject line to this email. I am still trying to fix it. If you are filling your days with anything of interest do drop me a note or send me a photo for inclusion in subsequent mailings. We will meet over Zoom next Sunday October 25th at 4:30 PM for some calm, meditation, and a much-needed check in as we inch ever closer to this critical election.
I hope you enjoy the work of Sister Gertrude Morgan, our artist of the week.
My prayers are with you all,
Week 33 October 25th, 2020 William Edmondson
Here we have week 33 of at home worship. I hope to see some of you tomorrow at 4:30 PM for a Zoom Happy Hour to rest and reset before we enter the homestretch to a historically significant election.
I also hope you enjoy the art of William Edmondson. The son of Tennessee slaves, Edmondson became the first black American to hold a solo show at the Musuem of Modern Art in New York. He was a janitor who was called by God rather late in life to become a tombstone carver.
I continue to enjoy the photos you are sending me! Keep them coming!
Also, next week Rev. John Benbow will take to our virtual pulpit and share with us a calming and centering pre-election message.
Week 34 November 1st, 2020 Reconciliation
Today’s At Home Worship experience is led by Rev. John Benbow, our church’s Minister Emeritus.
Week 35 November 8th, 2020 Money
Here is our at home worship experience in its 35th iteration. The audio files are big so you will receive this in 3 emails. The first containing just the PDF, the second containing audio files 1 and 2, and the thrid conaining audio files 3 and 4. Stewardship time is upon us. Please begin to reflect on the ways that you’d like to contribute to our ministry in 2021. Next week you will be receiving a letter and a virtual pledge card from me.
This week, we begin the conversation with…money! We explore the uses of money in art and the relationship between the two. I have included a link to an interesting documentary about the two-dollar bill as well as a CBS Sunday Morning segment on an artist who makes artwork out of cut up one-dollar bills.
Stay well and healthy,
Week 36 November 15th, 2020 Us
Grace and Peace to you! Here is the November 15, 2020 edition of at home worship. The theme this week is…us: our church, our building, our ministry, and our future. My message to you this week is written in the form of a lengthy stewardship letter. Please read this with prayerful consideration of the ways that you might participate in our future together. In it I discuss the impact of the pandemic upon our church and the vision we have for our future. At the end of the worship packet, I have included some lectionary scriptures that you might use for calm and centering prayer. You will also find a pledge card attached to this email. There are many ways for you to complete this. You can print it out and send it back to us or you can simply email your pledge dollar amount to firstname.lastname@example.org. This year instead of a set dollar amount, our goal is 100%-member participation.
In other news, my poor laptop keyboard quit working so it is off to Houston, again! Luckily before sending it off I was able to pre-prepare worship for next week. You will receive next week’s worship a bit early this week, probably on Monday morning. The following week, Nov 29, our music director Dr. Nina Gilbert will fill the virtual pulpit and will share with us a virtual choir project that several of our members have been working on. Thank you, Nina!
You all continue to be in my prayers. Stay well and healthy.
Week 37 November 22nd, 2020 Sermon Seeds
Grace and Peace to you! Here is week 37 of at home worship! You are receiving this early this week because I will be sending my computer off to Houston again for service.
This week I am trying something a little different (don’t worry, it is ONLY this week). I am doing this so that I can share with you a little project I was working on last month.
The United Church of Christ offers a resource for pastors called “Sermon Seeds.” This is a lectionary-based resource that is written to help pastors “seed” their sermons. I must admit however that I don’t use it because I take pride in trying to come up with an original take on scripture and bringing my own experiences to it–not the experiences of someone else.
The longtime writer of this resource retired and the UCC was looking for someone new to take over this important ministry. I applied. Part of the application process included writing a sample resource to be used by a pastor in both writing their sermon and crafting a worship service. They assigned me the lectionary text for next week, November 29th. However, since my laptop is in repair this week and Nina is on deck to offer us something exciting next week, I thought this would be the perfect moment to share what I wrote with all of you.
Although I was ultimately not selected to be the new sermon seeds writer, I enjoyed the process of applying and now I get to share with all of you the resource that I created as part of my application. This will read as if it is a hybrid between a Bible study and a sermon. I hope you enjoy this format–something a little different from what we are used to.
You continue to occupy my prayers. Please be sure to get your 2021 pledge information turned into Bronwyn in the office. You can email her at email@example.com.
With continued grace,