Monday, February 20, 2012

You Got a Beautiful Taste

I schedule people to bake bread for our Thursday communion service at the Drew Theological School chapel service. So this year, we had a service on the Spirituality of Bread Baking. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge and I put together the liturgy as well. It was a fun service and very uplifting for me. The following is my written reflection, the order of worship, and the video from the service.

Often, our communion bread for Thursday eucharist is home-baked by Theo school students. In this service of word, music, readings and communion, our bakers will describe their spiritual and theological approach to providing this most sacred element to our worship life.

Service of Word and Table
Thursday, February 9, 2011
Craig Chapel, Drew University
Spirituality of Bread Baking

Prelude Prelude in G Major J.S. Bach

*Call to Worship:
ONE: This bread which we will break is the new manna in the desert. It nourishes and sustains us on our journey. This bread of life will be ours to bless, break and share. Let us pray to the Creator:
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: When we are led into the desert, and our spirits wither like grass
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: When the fire of love dies down within us,
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: When we forget your promise, God,
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: When we are tempted to turn our faces and look away from brothers and sisters in need
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: When we drift from this table of fellowship
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread.
ONE: This bread symbolizes the hope and the help that is always available to children of God.
ALL: Give us this day our daily bread. Amen.

*Opening Prayer
Gracious and loving God, we come before you this day to honor and praise you, and to remember the ways in which you are present in our lives. Like a baker that kneads sticky dough into smooth loaves, you blend this community together, each one of our unique gifts an artisanal ingredient. Let us be bread, blessed by your Word, that we may go out and feed the world. Amen.

*Hymn of Praise
O magnify the Lord, for God is worthy to be praised!
Hosanna, blessed be the rock,
Blessed be the rock of my salvation! (repeat)

Exodus 16:14-15 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

Reflection: Jessica and Sandy Stenstrom [baking together]

Matthew 13:33 The kin-dom of heaven is like yeast, that a woman took and mixed in with the measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

Reflection: Theresa Ellis [sourdough]

Sung Scripture: Light of the World from the musical “Godspell”
Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth.

Reflection: Amanda Rohrs-Dodge [ingredients and method of breakmaking]

Acts 2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts...

Reflection: Betty Gannon [the mess]

Sung Scripture: Taste and See FWS 2267
Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

Reflection: Shannon Sullivan
Jesus should taste good. I am not confident of too much else we can say of Jesus, but I know that Jesus tastes good. That is part of why I feel compelled to bake bread for communion in the first place--- I wanted to make some good Jesus. Taste is not often a sense that we experience in worship; more often we are assaulted by flat pita bread or stale cubed bread convenient to serve to the congregation without getting too messy. But we are a people who believe that God is in bodies, bodies with taste buds. We follow this guy who was accused of being a glutton for all the partying and eating he did (Matthew 5, Luke 6), and yet we walk up to the communion table very solemnly and come away from the table bored.

When you bake bread, you feel the stickiness of the dough turn smooth under your kneading fingers, the air slowly becomes heavier with the smell of baked bread, and when you take the bread out of the oven and gloss the browned and warm bread with butter that melts as it touches the crust, it is a full sensory experience, and it just makes me hungry describing it. But making bread makes me feel so alive, so in tune with my senses, that I can't just walk up to the table solemnly, and to leave the table bored would feel like blasphemy. No, I want to remember at the table using all my senses that the Lord is good. I want to taste and see that the Lord is good. And my prayer for you today in this community is that you do.


Christ our Lord, the Bread of Life, calls all who love him to his table, inviting us to never be hungry. As people who seek to live in the abundance of Christ’s love, let us confess those times we have fallen short and remain hungry.

Confession and Pardon
Merciful God,
we confess that we have not lived into the abundance you provide for us.
We have failed to feed our neighbors,
and we often deny our own spiritual hunger.
We close our ears to the sounds of rumbling tummies,
and instead live out of fear of scarcity.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us from our fear so that we may truly live in joyful abundance
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Taste and see that the Lord is good!
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
Glory to God! Amen.

The Passing of the Peace

Choir Anthem Truly Yours Zelman/Miller

The Great Thanksgiving:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

We praise you, Master Artisan, who from the very beginning created new things with your hands. You shaped humanity from the dust of the earth, and breathed into us the warm breath of life. When Pharaoh enslaved your people in Egypt, you brought them out of slavery and into the desert. You provided them with manna covering the surface of the wilderness, a fine, flaky substance that sustained your people as they journeyed to the Promised Land. The exodus is remembered through the breaking of unleavened bread, and together with all your people we remember these works and praise your name.
Sanctus FWS 2257b

Just as you fed your people in the wilderness, so too your Son fed thousands by the sea of Galilee, and promises that all who come to him will never hunger or thirst, for he is the bread of life.
Some found this teaching difficult and turned away, shutting their minds to the vision of a world where none are hungry or thirsty. For some it was easier to wash their hands of his teaching, and so they gave him up.
At his last supper with his friends, Jesus took everyday bread, formed by human hands, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with all around the table, saying “Taste, and see.”
When supper was over he took the cup, ordinary grapes crushed by ordinary people, blessed it, and shared it with all around the table, saying, “Take, and drink. As often as you do this, remember me.”
And so we remember these mighty, yet ordinary life-giving acts in Jesus Christ, and we offer ourselves, ordinary people capable of extraordinary things in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Memorial Acclamation FWS 2257c

Pour out your Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.
By your Spirit, knead us together as one bread, one body in Christ, that we may be bread for the world, making Christ known to one another in the simple act of breaking bread together until Christ comes and we feast at his heavenly table.
Through your Son, the Bread of Life, with your Holy Spirit among us today, all honor and glory is yours, Master Artisan, loving and sustaining God, now and forever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer W&S 3071

Breaking the Bread

Giving of the Bread and Cup

Songs during Communion
Let Us Be Bread
One Bread, One Body


Closing Song We Are Called FWS 2172

Worship Notes:
Call to worship adapted from Bread Breaking Prayers at
Opening Prayer and Communion Liturgy by Amanda Rohrs-Dodge and Shannon Sullivan, 2012.
Many thanks to all who have shared in the ministry of baking bread.

Video of the service after the jump.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seeing God within the Khaki Uniforms of Incarcerated Women

Crossposted at OnFire.

This semester I was to be taking my second PREP course at Drew Theological School. PREP stants for Partnership in Religion and Education in Prisons. It is a class taken, for women, at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, the only women's prison in New Jersey, in which half of the students are "outside" students from Drew and half of the students are "inside" students, inmates at the prison. I had hoped to write more about the class I took last year, Race, Ethics, and Women's Lives with Dr. Traci West. What follows is a reflection on my experience last year in observance of Black History Month and in honor of the the class I was supposed to take this semester, Our Earth/Land is God's (Property, Nation, Environment) with Dr. Otto Maduro, which has been canceled due to Dr. Maduro's health. I pray for blessings on him and those women at Edna Mahan who I will miss this semester.

These are my first impressions from my first day at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility:
beautiful women. So welcoming and warm. Dark, sure, but in a khaki kind of way. Ok, so that may not make sense: I just mean I was expecting dim lighting and heavy gates and stuff, not a minimum security, mundane-looking sort of education building, and these khaki uniforms. Dark in a sterile, beige kind of way.

A woman at the gate saying, "Sharing isn't caring here," reminding one of the women not to share her skittles. My fear that I had forgotten to wear a bra without underwire that they would make me leave in the car during class.

And then sitting in this room, going around the circle, getting to know one another. Just feeling so overwhelmed with the feeling of awe of these women, and pain that I would be leaving to go outside and they wouldn't. They told us how they do work but usually don't get paid more than eighty some cents a day, and they have to pay for shampoo, and even good quality pads and tampons (they are given pads, but they are so bad that instead of Always, they call them Nevers). And then going to sit down next to one of the women and seeing pictures of her children. Oh God.

This kind of random journal entry is the one I keep coming back to when I try to articulate my experience taking a class in Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. The words are scattered, but the entry is followed by a list of names I cannot include here for confidentiality. And those names make me remember the faces of those women, the sound of their voices, their jokes, the taste of the juice boxes and off-brand cookies (the kinds your find in senior centers, hospitals, and food banks)they would share with the "outside" students.

One week, we talked about breast cancer and heard a story from an inside woman about her friend. In Edna Mahan, there is a maximum side and a minimum side secuirty to the prison. Our class was in minimum security, but each woman serves almost half her sentence, no matter what she has been convicted of, in max. This particular woman had already served her time in max, but heard one of her friends had cancer. She cried when she told us. She wondered if anyone was taking care of her friend, and revealed a plan to do something bad so she would get sent back to max. Her mother begged her not to, she said, but you could hear the desperation in her voice, the pain. The helplessness.

We talked about intimate partner violence and heard story after story from inside and outside women about violence they had faced. And then the woman sitting next to me spoke up. She was the first woman in New Jersey to use the battered woman's defense in court, having killed her partner when he threatened her son. She must have been pregnant at the time of her trial, given the age of her daughter and the amount of time she had been imprisoned. And again, there was pain, helplessness, violent frustration in her voice. But there was also survival there, too: the firece strength of being alive.

There is so much emotion that comes up for me when I try to write about this experience, which is why it has taken me almost a year to write about it, and even now I would not, not yet, but I want to be a part of this conversation on the prison system in the USA. The church does not talk about it enough, despite the fact that so many of our communities, particularly poor communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color, are torn apart by it. One in three black men will be incarcerated. Prisons are built based on the number of third grade-age boys of color in particular communities. We live in a country in which bankers can steal people's homes from them with impunity but people can get life in prison for nonviolent drug crimes (see this Democracy Now! interview focusing on a new documentary about the so-called war on drugs). And these women who I sat next to in class, these beautiful people...

At the beginning of January, The United Methodist Board of Pensions and Health Benefits announced it would divest from "companies that derive more than 10 percent of revenue from the management and operation of prison facilities" (which OnFire and UM Kairos Response's Emily McNeill touched on in an important blog post here). This is an important start to the conversation around the prison industrial complex, but it falls short. We need a critical United Methodist voice for prison abolition, for alternatives to caging women like those I met in class in whose faces I saw Christ as they shared their orange juice boxes and cookies as though they were serving communion.

So, the first step in raising this voice is educating yourselves and your faith communities. For more information on the Prison Industrial Complex, start at Critical Resistance, "a national grassroots organizion committed to ending society's use of prisons and policing as an answer to social problems." And important books to start with are Angela Davis' classic Are Prisons Obsolete? and Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.