Tag Archives: Emmanuel Center

On reflection, It Gets Unbelievably Great

I wrote Sunday’s “It Gets Better” post during a 36-hour period that was a microcosm of how life Gets Unbelievably Great when you believe impossible things. Maybe you’re thinking, “Believe impossible things? Now that’s just crazy talk, Joy!” And I wouldn’t argue with you. See, given the choice, I’ll go with the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” who impresses upon Alice the importance of believing impossible things:

Alice laughed. `There’s no use trying,’ she said `one ca’n’t believe impossible things.’

`I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’

So here’s a roundup of my practice at believing impossible things over the past weekend.

Impossible thing #1: I began the 36-hour period in question eating breakfast in silence at the convent of the Sisters of Saint Margaret in Roxbury, MA. I was there to attend an Episcopal Church Women (ECW) retreat called “Women of the Torah,” led by a long-time friend of mine and colleague of PW’s. For someone who grew up with a tradition where mealtime=story time, eating a meal in silence seemed not only impossible but absurd. To my surprise, I found it strangely relaxing and invigorating at the same time.

Impossible thing #2: I was attending this retreat because I recently joined the local diocesan board of the ECW. There is no way for me to exaggerate the incongruity, no, the sheer absurdity of this. All I can say is that the older I get, the more I seem to say “Yes” to things BECAUSE they seem absurd on the surface. To reinforce how impossible this particular item is, when I walked into the convent and saw my friend, the queer woman priest who led our retreat, she burst out laughing and shook her head in disbelief.

Impossible thing #3: Queer Woman Priests! Since many organizations across a variety of faith traditions, not just Christian, can’t figure out how to ordain women, much less Queer women, I count Queer Woman Priests as an impossible thing, and as another sign that It Gets Unbelievably Great (not just better)!

Impossible thing #4: I left the retreat and headed over to Emmanuel, to the second of two weddings of gay male couples that PW presided over that day. These particular two men were from the Deep South. They’ve visited Emmanuel a couple of times since emailing PW to ask if she would bless their marriage. Their marriage won’t be legally valid in the state where they live. This was also true of the marriage of the two men in the first wedding PW presided over that day. Those men flew in from the West Coast, where Proposition 8 has temporarily destroyed marriage equality. It Gets Unbelievably Great because marriage equality has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen in my lifetime.

GForce walked into the chapel toward the end of the ceremony and sneaked in next to me in the back row. After giving me a quick hug, she looked up, saw the two grooms, and said, “Hey, is this a gay wedding?” I nodded and she said, “Cool!” and balled up her hand so we could bump fists. When I was 14, I never dreamed that two gay men could be out in public together without getting beat up, much less have a wedding in a church. It Gets Unbelievably Great because GForce is growing up in a world where what was impossible even 10 years ago is becoming commonplace.

Impossible things #5 and #6: The preacher at this wedding between two men from the Deep South was a Southern Baptist, who delivered a beautiful, loving sermon that was only 10 minutes long. These two impossibilities were so, well, impossible, that I nearly demanded to see the preacher’s credentials.

Impossible thing #7: During our Sunday morning worship service, Emmanuel’s Rabbi-in-Residence Howard Berman preached about the 200th anniversary of the founding of Reform Judaism, in the small town of Seesen, Germany. I’m going to be a broken record on this. If more Christian churches and Jewish synagogues would carve out partnerships like the one that continues to evolve between Emmanuel and Boston Jewish Spirit, it would hugely improve the Christian side of the equation. I can’t speak for what this relationship does for our Jewish counterparts, but I notice that having a Rabbi-in-Residence who preaches regularly during our worship services gives us the opportunity to question our assumptions, and to notice anti-Jewish bias in readings and hymns. There are probably many more benefits, but those are the two biggies that I can think of right off the bat.

Psalms of Praise poster

Impossible thing #8: This amazing 36-hour stretch ended early Sunday evening at Emmanuel Church, where three local choral groups — Zamir Chorale, The Orpheus Singers, and The Spectrum Singers — presented a program on Psalms of Praise, sponsored by the Emmanuel Center. The Emmanuel Center is an interfaith partnership between Boston Jewish Spirit and Emmanuel Churchthat was created in 2007 to promote and explore the intersection of spiritual ideals, artistic creativity, education and community service. The Psalms program was dreamed up by the Emmanuel Center board of directors, who thought that since there are 150 Psalms, what better way to celebrate Emmanuel Church’s 150th anniversary.

The concert started out with all three choruses (about 120 singers in total) processing down the center aisle of the sanctuary and then encircling the pews while singing Psalm 100 from the Ainsworth Psalter (Showt to the Lord all the Earth), arranged by the Zamir Chorale’s conductor Joshua Jacobson. Each group performed several sets of Psalms individually, and then concluded by joining together for Psalm 133 from Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (“Hine mah tov uma nayim shevet achim gam yachad,” or as it is commonly translated in English, “How good it is and how lovely for people to dwell together.”)  The concert provoked layer upon layer of goosebumps from start to finish.

At the reception after the concert, I spoke with a number of singers from each of the groups who marveled at the opportunity to 1) sing with other chorale groups and 2) sit and listen to other chorale groups perform. Apparently, these groups are so busy with their own performance schedules that they rarely get the opportunity to sit and listen to each other, much less to perform together.

This collaboration across the three groups, coupled with the audience participation in Barak Amrani’s setting of Psalm 150, seemed to be the very embodiment of what the Emmanuel Center collaboration is all about. The Psalms concert — with these ancient texts sung in Hebrew, German, French, and English — was a way of singing impossibilities into being, something we humans have been doing for thousands of years.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same relatively edgy 150-year-old Episcopal congregation that recently called a Queer Woman Priest as its 12th Rector:

  • started out by building on swampland that once encircled the city of Boston,
  • selected as its first rector a man who wasn’t yet an ordained Episcopal priest,
  • later begat the Emmanuel Movement, which was the forerunner of Alcoholics Anonymous,
  • has been performing Bach cantatas in the context of the worship service since 1970,
  • has been blessing same-sex unions since the 1980s,
  • is fully engaged in a partnership exploring spirituality and the arts with
  • its resident Jewish congregation that recently celebrated its 6th anniversary.

It’s all of a piece to me, evidence that It Gets Unbelievably Great when people join together to believe impossible things.

All this is my long-winded way of saying: Don’t just settle for Better when you can have Unbelievably Great. We “daft and dewy-eyed dopes [who] keep building up impossible hopes” might just be onto something. Impossible? So what?!