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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Merry Christmas Photo

Emmy Lou with Santa

Here is a photo - taken earlier this month - of Miss Emmy-Lou Depue and a Santa Helper.

She and I send our very best wishes for your Christmas and Christmastide. May your holy day be filled with the hope that Christ alone can bring; may you share your joy with family, friends and strangers alike; may God's peace abide in your hearts now and throughout the New Year!

Spread the Love of God, the Justice of God, the Compassion of God wherever you go, strengthened by the example of Christ - go in Peace in the service of the Lord!

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Anti-Celebrity

The last days before Christmas seem swiftly to be passing (despite the local transit workers strike here- which thankfully seems to have been settled). Fewer and fewer hours to spend doing things which could have been done earlier, but never did get done.

My living room grew a small rectangular folding table sometime in November which has only once been off its legs in order to make room for a houseguest. The remainder of the time it has been populated by many, many small ceramic figures awaiting several coats of several colors of paint to transform them into personalized wonders before being gifted to various friends and parishioners. Feeling a bit better today I clamped the bright work lamp to the molded table, rummaged for my magnifying glasses and hit the switch. There they were.... lined up in steady row after row according to the figure. After a very long sigh and a look at the calendar I admitted defeat. Kept out two large figurines, but shuttled the others back in their craft drawer for next year. In their place I pulled out a stack of suncatchers in the shape of angels, doves, lit candles and crosses. These will take less time to paint.... and I'll include a suction cup w/hook to hang in a window or a golden hook so it can be hung from the bough of a Christmas tree- --. Yes, this will do.

I got out the paints, the brushes, got a cup of coffee, pulled all of my Christmas DVDs and tapes from their Christmas CD tower. Got all the remote controls. I sat down on the couch, Emmy Lou hopped up and laid down, leaning against me. We are in for the duration, Pumpkin girl I said, and clicked on the TV. Of course, it was on one of those stations I flip by..... but it caught my eye anyway.

It was E! or VH! or MTV..... one of them was going through its top 100 or 40 "best of"s for 2005. This was a round up of big spending hip-hop celebrities, up and comers and what one had to have in order to be anybody on that scene. Bling. Its all about Bling (for the rest of us, extravagant, showy jewelry involving precious metals and/or precious stones.) According to this report, a hip hop star shows he/she has made it by out-blinging the next one. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, watches, rings, teeth, goblets, walking sticks.... all encrusted in gold and diamonds. All of these trinkets run from $8,000 to one or two million dollars. According to this show, everyone knows you are someone when you have this much money to spend on a luxury item.

Numb, I turned off the TV. My stomach was queasy. Three hundred thousand dollars for a watch.

Here I was getting prepared for a birthday... a birthday where I wouldn't present a single thing with a dollar value to the birthday boy. I'm not certain He'd accept it, 'though He would be thrilled if I could give food to someone homeless, or visit someone in prison, or befriend someone who was grieving.

The man would do miracles and even instruct people not to mention it to anyone! He hung out with a bunch of people, 'though they could hardly be considered a "posse" because not one of them was on his payroll. He didn't have 'bling'.... or an extensive wardrobe or a home (let alone five or ten). He was born behind a motel, back with the animals and the garbage. No agent, no manager, no recording contract, no multimovie deal, no multi year baseball contract. In fact, no contract ... a covenant. Nothing written in stone - yet written on the hearts and minds and lives of those who knew him and by learning - one by one - about him have loved Him through the years. He didn't crave the spotlight and to this day two thousand years later, we still write of Him, still know Him. The most famous anti-celebrity of recorded history.

Happy Birthday, Jesus. Across the lands, across the seas, across the miles, across time. Happy Birthday!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Prophet of Advent

This piece was written by Thom M. Shuman and forwarded to me by BCC. We appreciate your work, Thom..... and, whether it is convenient or not, the Church (as a whole) needs prophets in every age.

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Sunday of Advent

Read Isaiah 43:14-25

It seems to be a common human urge.
To go back: back to some storied past,
some Golden Age, those good ol' days
that we seem to miss.

If the church could only become the way
it was 40 years ago; if schools only would
reinstitute prayer; if society could only
go back to the "simple" life we all knew
as kids. Those are the refrains we sing.

Now look at the song God sings to the
Hebrews in exile in Babylon:
'do not remember the past,
don't think about the good ol' days:
watch and see the new thing I do!'

Instead of parting the sea as he did
before, God will build a highway through
Death Valley. Rather than turning a rock
into a drinking fountain, God will make
living waters readily available; instead of
freedom from slavery, God will take away
their sins.

Will they notice, or grumble that "that's
not the way we have done it in the past"?
Will they pay attention, or write another
book about the Golden Age of Babylon?
Will they sit at home waiting for God
to pass over their houses, or will they be
waiting at the station to board the trian?

We can spend a lot of time reliving
the past, or we can move into God's
future. What will we do?


It seems that we look in the wrong place
for you, Holy One. We look backwards
into the past for a glimpse of you, but you
are out there ahead of us, moving forward,
waiting for us to catch up. Help us to set
down what we yearn for, and grasp what
you want to give us - new hopes, new life,
new joy. In Advent hope, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thom M. Shuman
Greenhills Community Church, Presbyterian
Cincinnati, Ohio

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sr. Elizabeth Marian, CSJB and the Great "O"s

This morning was one of those rare occasions - at this time of year, at least - when I experienced the sunrise. Got it in my head at about 3:30 am that it was the perfect time to zip up to the 24 hr WalMart in Harriman, NY... the SUPER WalMart. Yes, I shared the space with a couple dozen shoppers who found their way there... plus all the night crew. From time to time someone would get on the PA system and dedicate a Christmas song or another to a friend or relation.

At one point in my extremely leisurely stroll throughout the store I spent about 1/2 hr helping an Hispanic "associate" try to establish some order from the chaos that was unleashed in the wrapping and decorations section... the only thing I can equate it with is the routine state of my 21 yr.old student boarder Stephanie's rented room - everything everywhere, bags, boxes, accessories strewn hither and thither. I was really feeling for Vanessa - who had only tidied up in housewares before..... decorations aisles during the holidays are another animal altogether.

I spent hours reading labels and packages and looking through the significant "holiday"CD bins dotted throughout the sprawling floor plan. Got the bags for the Soup Kitchen give away Christmas Day? Check! Stuffing mix? Yup. 15 men's watch caps? OK! Picked up a headset for my new cellphone (misplaced my old one who knows where - haven't been able to locate it for 10 days), an inexpensive case to cut down on wear and tear. A Hanukkah 2-CD album for Rabbi Milgrom and Principal Baritz who will be volunteers at the Christmas Soup Kitchen dinner. OK. Final purchases to the register.... the ONE register open. The 'associate' there had come on @ 11pm and was looking to patch out of the parking lot ASAP.

Pulling out of the parking lot myself it's 6:45am... heading east there is a purple glow beginning to give definition to Bear Mountain, dead ahead. I take the entrance to the NY Thruway South... my little Honda and the 18 wheelers. Minute by minute the glow grows and grows, the sky begins that white/yellow/orange/red transition as it comes above the horizon. David Benoit is thumping through my surround speakers.... doing a poignant rendition of Christmastime is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas. And who pops into my mind, but sweet Sr. Elizabeth Marian, CSJB of blessed memory.

In a start I recall..... on 27 December 1975 -- thirty years ago - I entered that community 'trying' my vocation. Truth be told, I was probably much more trying to the community than my vocation was to me... at age 25 I admittedly (in hindsight) was a piece of work. Significantly younger than anyone there, decidedly more 'worldly' than the professed sisters, it was a bumpy ride. The pride, the self-assuredness that is often linked with youth, the idiosyncrasies that might be overlooked in a bigger pond were very, very pronounced here in a semi-cloistered environment. I went from doing what I wanted when I wanted with my own money, car, place to live, TV...... to a schedule broken down into 15 minute increments - things held in common, no personal money, little accept ones own habit. It was culture shock!

Had studies in New Testament, Old Testament, Prayer, Calligraphy, Chant. My instructor for chant was the aforementioned Sr. Elizabeth Marian. Not terribly tall and riddled with arthritis she kept the convent library and was well versed the new kids in chant. Pulling me from my musical comedy roots (extravagant, belting, with vibrato) to this form of song must have seemed to her akin to tooth extraction. I could read music, but these odd blotches, squares, diamond shapes with tails, squiggles that made up old chant notation were another language. The idea of giving value to a beginning note (rather than the note be a fixed pitch) - pitching it where one would - was a new thing. The elderly sisters really couldn't sing those high E's, even on a great day - so the "sliding scale" (as long as you kept the pitch and didn't go abysmally flat) - was a great solution.

It was the 6th of December, 1976 and Sister was attempting to teach me "the Great O's". These are the antiphons before the Magnificat during the Vespers office - in the early evening before dinner. They are majestic, symbolic, imposing and not easy to sing properly. (To get a background for the O's, please click on either/both of these sites: or

My delivery was choppy, inflection on the wrong syllable, much too loud and forced. Sr. EM tried quietly to correct me, frequently clearing her voice, her voice cracking often. Neither her dentures nor her breathing permitted her to maintain a lengthly conversation without some of it being a voiced whisper; though she pitched the note low enough her current state of health would not permit her to sing a long series of notes without it being punctuated by some coughing and throat-clearing. Finally, she let out a great sigh, coughed a bit into her standard issue large white handkerchief and slowly quieted herself, settling into the hardwood chair in the music/art room. Regaining her composure, she continued.

"Sister, I'm very sorry I can no longer demonstrate what 'O Sapientia' should sound like. However, I can ask you to take the Antiphons and read them over and over. Pray them. They are full of promise and power. And then, when you are about to chant them, picture silk, beautiful silk in the breeze. It rises, it falls." Her crippled hands rose up from the sleeves of her black habit and became animated, elegant, smooth of movement, delicate, peaceful and expressive. "It seems effortless," she continued "yet it is the wind that makes the effort in a specific, rather contained way. It could blow mightily and tear the silk to shreds, but it will not. The silk floats, supported by the nearly still air - rippling, rising and falling. Just before you are about to precent (lead the chant) take the notes of the chant and let them easily come forth, supported seemingly effortlessly. " Her hands slowly came down, adopting their earlier appearance, until one rested in her lap and the other on the book of Office Music on the huge work table we both sat at. She continued, "Yet it took effort on your part: it took the understanding, wisdom, study, control and gifts that God has given you. And I am certain, Sister, that you will do fine.... just fine. (she checked her watch) Now our lesson is over. We'll practice in two days, shall we?" Sister slowly pushed herself from the table and maneuvered twice before she could place her feet to the side and steady herself with the table and the chair, rising slowly. Sr. EM had a Mona Lisa smile and she gave me a glimpse and a nod before she walked off.... "..... just fine, Sister. Just fine. The silk on the breeze.....".
O Sapientia

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

The Community of St. John Baptist continues to recreate itsself and is a thriving religious community. Visit their website:

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