Reverend Joe Cobb, MCC of the Blue Ridge
I didn’t have a closet when I was young,
so I made one.
It was small at first,
with a pull string light
dangling from its ceiling.
At first, I thought of my closet as only a practical space –
for tucking away things I wanted keep out of sight,
or treasures that only I wanted to see –
there I hung my blue gingham dress,
and stored my ruby red slippers;
there I placed my golden tiara and golden lasso;
there I stashed my rainbow boa.
In addition to these, my closet became a repository
of all things magical and mysterious, an enchanted
land where I could always sprinkle fairy dust, and
dance naked, and toss about my favorite adjectives
and pronouns like “marvelous,” “gorgeous,” and
My closet was the place where I could imagine a
world where everything was good and beautiful, safe and
My closet was also the place where I could create and shape
the secrets and longings that both nagged me and nudged me:
I like boys
I like purses
I think I’m gay
I want to be a pastor
Can I be both?
Can I be sexual and spiritual?
My closet became my sorting place –
Sorting through my thoughts,
Sorting through my questions,
Sorting through my dreams.
My closet was also portable –
I carried it everywhere –
into school, out to work,
into fear, out to love.
My closet became my guardian,
my protector, my grace,
my spirit, my solitude.
My closet became me.
And we were inseparable.
Until the day that my closet became
so full, and so empty at the same time,
that it burst within me and all around me.
My closet was so full of promise
and possibility that it leapt within me
and said open me up!
I’m not meant to keep all this in –
for while I am hiding place,
I am also a heaven place,
and while I am a comforting place,
I am also a transforming place.
When you open me,
slightly at first, then widely at last,
we will go together into places of
deep struggle and dawning delight:
we will hand out magic wands,
and fairy dust, and rainbow boas,
and ruby red slippers, and we will
help others open up their closets
and rid them of religious oppression,
rid them of social injustice,
rid them of workplace discrimination,
ride them of gender-biased bathrooms –
We will open them up,
Air them out,
And reveal the Light that is within:
the Light of integrity,
the Light of authenticity,
the Light of love.
My closet, your closet,
our closets – are truly cocoons,
slowly, surely, suddenly, and sweetly
I've Got the Soul Thirstin', Flesh Faintin',
Dry and Weary Love Clingin' Blues!
Inspired by Psalm 63, Langston Hughes and Mark Loring
Reverend Joe Cobb
My mind is everywhere,
My thoughts are nowhere.
I wander here,
I wander there.
I see this
I feel that
I long for You
Where am I at?
It’s dark outside
My adrenaline pumping
My breath is quick
My heart is jumping
My fingers are moving
On this keyboard while huntin’
For just the right words
To put in my message.
Sleep is fitful
Tossing and shifting
Trying to dream while
Baton Rouge is appearing
Her flood waters rising
Neighbors are leaving
Their homes are cleaving
To any foundation that’s left
Pressley is out by his car
Vandalized the night before
With graffiti demeaning
Who he is and what gives his
Life meaning and as he walks
From side to side, describing
The drawings and slurs and
Queer screamings of people
So scared they lash out at
Dreamers whose deepest desire
Is to live as peace bringers
And torn by this unwanted
Message of hate
Pressley says we love this
Street, we love our home,
We treasure our neighbors,
We are not alone,
We will not move,
We will not give way to
Hate mongers whose aim
Is to reduce our love to flippant
Markings and tossed away paint
And tragic barkings,
No we are here, and here to stay,
Because love and love only
Is our way.
And I think about Langston,
Who wrote of his time and
Before ours, whose blues
Ran deep and call me into mine:
I looked and I saw
That man they call the Law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.
I said, O, Lord, if you can,
Save me from that man!
Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!
But the Lord he was not quick.
The Law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!
Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.
Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?
Who but the Lord?
He asked and I suddenly knew
That the law he described
Is the metaphor for all that arises
From insecure desires to control
others with power and cages
and minimum wages, with religion
And judgmentalism, and if you’re
not like this, then you’re like THAT,
and THAT is not where it’s at,
so I’ll scrutinize you and
terrorize you and
make you believe that the only
way to be free is to be
held hostage by your fears of me
In the hopes that you’ll never see
Who God truly meant you to be
‘Cause when you do
All my S**T will be history.
Hate tries again and again
To separate and denigrate
To demonize and sermonize
Us into believing that our hopes
For wholeness, born of our
Longings for Divine intervention
To search and to know
To hear and be clear
To be certain that You, O God,
Are near with your Love that
Appears and says with no doubt
I am here, I am here,
So our sisters can stand with courage
And declare hate tried, love wins;
And our brothers can sit-in a congressman’s
Office in Roanoke, until justice appears
And the act of voter’s rights is restored;
And our neighbors near and far
With their beauty and their scars
Can gather in safety and solidarity
To celebrate their awesome diversity
In Craig Springs the home of
Your mercy, and Love, and peace
With all of this circling and stirring
My mind I’m left with questions
That urge me to find a way to
Release, let go and unwind
The whirlwind emotions that too
Easily bind my thoughts and prayers
In twists and turns where hunger
And righteousness burns.
How is it that we fail to see
The beauty inherent in you and me?
How is it that we fail to be
The beloveds you created us to be?
Help us see what you see;
Help us be who you be;
Help us love how you love;
Help us hope as you hope;
Help us hear as you hear
The cries of our hearts,
The struggles of our bodies,
The questions of our minds,
The seeking of our souls,
For You and Your holy presence
As I think of where this all started,
Of being everywhere and nowhere,
Of seeking this and searching that,
I am arrived at a place of knowing
Something I didn’t know before,
A truth that came to me like a dream
In the form of a text from a dear one
Whose soul collects treasures
Of Your wisdom and utters them
Like whispers in the wind…
Thank you Mark for this whisper…
Heard it when the wind blow
Might seen it in one them dreams
Them little trips my mind takes
Only rest I knows of this life
Only thang ain't takes from me
Make me wonder what I here for
Choose not to stay in that place too longs
Daddy say folks creates they own prison
Said it explain so much struggle, ugliness
So I decides
Even when other folks trapped
I'm ma keep on telling myself
Reach for everythang that bring me closer to myself
So close that the truth don't hide
So close that doubt seeks shelter someplace else
So close that love recognize my name
So close that yesterday prayer trail me likes a second breath(2)
So close Lawd,
Mia Briggs, UK
I have a virus. It would be so easy to say "just" a virus... in fact I said exactly that to a friend on Facebook... and that made me think.For me, this is just a virus. I feel pretty grim, my joints are hot and swollen, I have a fever and I am being sick. I feel very cold and very fed up. BUT - I am well looked after by those around me. I have plenty of clean water and painkillers, a warm bed, a roof over my head, company when I need it and sleep when I have had enough. I have the TV.. And my phone. And my laptop. I have small amounts of food brought my way when I feel like eating. And people who will manage other aspects of my life like walking the dog and feeding the chickens. If it gets worse (which I am not expecting it to) I have access to healthcare and medical resources like drugs and hospitals and doctors. Given a couple of days of rest I will recover and be unaffected by the experience.
For most people in the world this is not the case. HIV is just a virus, but one that kills without correct treatment. Influenza is just a virus yet thousands of people die of it every year. Measles is just a virus but children will be brain damaged and hearing impaired because of its effects... I could go on. And even a simple virus like the one I have can be life threatening if you live on the streets and cannot care for yourself.
The World Health Organisation recognises that more than half the people on our planet do not have access to clean water, adequate food, sanitation and shelter. More than 3/4 have no access to affordable healthcare. We naturally want to assume that those without these basic requirements are all living in developing countries, but sadly this is not the case. In our own towns and cities we will find homeless people who struggle to access the things they need because our welfare system is reliant on an address in order to process people. In the USA many people have no medical insurance, or live in their car, and cannot afford treatment for illness. The vaccinations we take for granted, and which protect us against so many things, are the privilege of the rich in most countries. We live in a state of privilege and I am the first to admit that I underestimate that privilege every day.
Today's reading is the parables of the lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin... things that were important and which have either been misplaced or have wandered away. Sometimes we apply these readings to ourselves, knowing that we have wandered away from the love of God, but today I want us to think of them in terms of our own misplaced priorities. I am saddened, and sometimes angered, by the viciousness of the arguments within the Church about homosexuality - not because I don't think the conversation is important, but because I think other conversations are more important. Does it really matter if I love a woman when we could be campaigning for clean water for all? Can we not stand together on the issues that really matter? Would money spent on billboards advertising gay conversion therapies not be better employed feeding the homeless or funding schools? Can we not work side by side to build homes and communities?
So let's find a way to move on. I know its hard when we are being told that we are heading for hell, that we are the cause of disease, that "people like us" are detrimental to society. So let's prove them wrong. People like us have a voice. Let's use it. Gays for clean water. Trans people for education. Bisexuals for vaccination. Let's be known as people of justice, people of love, people who change the world...
Finding Home (When Home Seems Far Away)
By Joe Cobb
Kelp. Soft, squishy sand. Scallop shells.
Whether we know it or not, these three elements are essential to finding our way home, and our teacher is a forgetful fish named Dory.
Let me give you some background.
I recently returned from extensive traveling as part of a Clergy Renewal leave, both abroad and locally, visiting and immersing myself in four sacred pilgrimage sites: the Camino de Santiago (where I walked over four hundred miles from Roncesvalles, Spain to Santiago de Compostella, Spain as part of the Camino Frances’), St. Peter’s Bascilica in Rome (the heart of Catholicism and the home of Pope Francis), Assisi (the resting place of St. Francis and St. Clare) and Taos, New Mexico (the sacred mountain and land of native people). These pilgrimages were external in the sense that they required physical and mental strength for long walks, varied landscapes, and strenuous wear on my body and mind. They were also internal in the sense that they required spiritual attentiveness to everything around me at work within me. Though each day led to a destination, every moment was part of my continuous journey toward home.
When I prepared to set out on the Camino de Santiago, I was given a large white scallop shell with a red St. James cross displayed on the outside. This cross and shell serve as invitations to enter the Camino in a spirit of exploration and openness to what each step will bring. Along the way, markers with a sea and sky blue background with a yellow scallop design on top, point the way forward. These markers are designed to keep pilgrims on a path that will lead them,
eventually, to Santiago.
When I arrived home after all of this traveling, having only brief Skype or in-person visits with my children, they were not only anxious for me to stay home, but also anxious to see the new Finding Dory movie at our local independent movie theatre.
As we sat in the darkened theatre, traveling with Dory through a series of delightful and risky adventures, we were all pulling for her to find her parents and her home, whom she had been separated from. Her parents, Charlie and Jenny, had taught her many skills, especially in the face of short-term memory loss, to cope with and to keep her bearings.
After extensive searching, with countless friends new and old helping her, the final stage of her journey left her alone. As she swam through a pipe into murky sea waters, her fears began to surround her, nearly paralyzing her efforts. Then, she remembered what she had been taught so long ago: watch for the signs that will lead you home.
First, she saw the kelp – the dark green waves reaching up from the ocean floor, dancing all around her. As she swam in, through and down into the kelp, she then saw the sand, soft and squishy, which brought her great comfort. Then, as though unbidden, she saw a large scallop shell, gently resting against the sandy floor. And then she remembered: follow the shells, follow the shells.
One shell after another were laid out in the soft, squishy sand and when she looked up at the heart of these myriad shell-laden ways (visually like a large scallop shell on the ocean floor) she saw her home. Yet, it was empty. She turned, looking, and then through the murkiness saw two shadowy figures emerging. As they drew closer, they were two fish, their mouths filled with scallop shells.
At this point, I was sobbing like a baby, reaching for anything I could find to wipe my tears.
“I thought I’d never find you, or home, again.”
We knew you would, Dory. We just kept collecting these shells and placing further and further out, in the hope that one day you would remember what you’ve always known inside, that the shells will lead you home.
We carry home within us, even while we’re seeking homes along the way that can sustain our spiritual lives.
Take a moment and consider the kelp, soft, squishy sand, and shells in your life. Where are they showing up in your spirit to help you find your way home?
The Outer Life and the Inward Sanctuary
By Howard Thurman
I determine to live the outer life in the inward sanctuary. Often it is very hard for me to realize that I am one. The outer life seems utterly outer. It seems a part of a separate order. It is made up of the things I do, of my relationship of one kind or another with work, play, job, people, and things. The standard by which the outer is judged tends to be an artificial standard, made up of that which is convenient, practical, expedient. The outer seems public, it seems ever to be an external net of physical relationships.
The inward sanctuary is my sanctuary. It is the place where I keep my trust with all my meanings and my values. It is the quiet place where the ultimate issues of my life are determined. What I know of myself, my meaning; what I know of God, His meaning; all this, and much more, is made clear in my secret place. It seems strangely incongruous, often, to bring into my secret place the rasping, gritty noises of my outer life. Again, this may be for me merely an alibi. For I know that in the searching light of my inward sanctuary all the faults, limitations and evil of my outer life stand clearly revealed for what they are.
I determine to live the outer life in the inward sanctuary. The outer life must find it meaning, the source of its strength in the inward sanctuary. As this is done, the gulf between outer and inner will narrow and my life will be increasingly whole and of one piece. What I do in the outer will be blessed by the holiness of the inward sanctuary; for indeed it shall all be one.
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