the symphony

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you’ve studied

you’ve prepared

you’ve practiced with your section

you’ve practiced alone

you’ve practiced some more

you eat, sleep, dream this piece of music

 

and the time has come to put it all into practice

to perform

 

you come together with all the other parts

tune your instrument

and anticipate the direction of the conductor

 

you wait

it begins

 

horns usher us into a triumphant beginning

strings draw us towards the beauty of their tethered artistry

cymbals, timpanis and bells heighten our awareness of something still to come

harps make aware their angelic pathway

and flutes deliver their soft, sweet melodies

 

all of the hours, mistakes and “aha!” moments come together to form

one remarkably unified piece of art,

held together by the swift, fluid direction of the conductor,

who knows each part as intimately as the next

and calls upon every individual player to wait, listen, blend, accent, rise, fall, breathe.

 

we’ve learned our parts

and read the music

but it is at the conductors feet we sit,

waiting for direction

when to slow down. speed up. get loud. be quiet. wait our turn.

it is the conductor who brings us together

to put into practice all that we’ve learned

and to move forward together

as one

 

when we meet God in the flesh

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One of the exciting parts of my new job is that I was given the privilege of offering a meditation during our town’s ecumenical service tonight in order to celebrate the beginning of Advent. In the middle of pain, disillusionment and public outcry against injustice expressed across our country, I think it’s a good time for us to remember the God who decided to embrace our frailty and suffering in order to set us free. Here is the text from my meditation this evening:

We come together this evening to reflect, experience and anticipate the coming of the Word of God made Flesh. In doing this, I would like to suggest that we will meet the God of Creation in a way that will change not only what we believe about God, but also who we become.

We first meet God in the flesh as the most vulnerable of all creatures, an infant. If, for just a moment, we stop to consider the obscene notion that not only would God choose to dwell among us AS one of us, but that God would relinquish control over God’s own self to a teenage mother and reluctant father on the run from home. A teenage mother and faithful husband-to-be who were insignificant even among their own people (and had become even more so due to the scandal of a pregnancy outside the bonds of marriage). Two insignificant humans, in an insignificant shelter meant for animals, placed within an insignificant corner of the Roman Empire…

When God visits Creation, it happens where and with whom we would least expect.

When we meet God in the flesh, as it was for his own family, it’s likely we would not recognize him as the savior of all humankind, never mind the Creator of the Universe. Certainly there were predictions and prophecies filled with hope for a Messiah that would come to save Israel. But like this?

When we meet God in the flesh we are hesitant to embrace the God who would choose humility and poverty over power and wealth in order to make us free. Because when we meet God in the flesh, we do so filled with all of our preconceived notions, not only about what God is like, but about holiness and keeping the code of our religion, as did religious folks in Jesus’ day. That God, upon visiting Creation, would not overwhelm us with power and might in order to make his presence known, is something we simply cannot imagine.

Thus we are faced with a moment of loss.

All the walls of law and religion we had built to protect and save ourselves come crashing down. We are no longer safe from the God who would scandalously become frail, weak, human.

Therefore, when we meet God in the flesh, we are forced to change our minds, our hearts and our expectations.

Meeting God in the flesh confronts us with the God who comes to the earth he made, to begin to set things right. In so doing, power is taken away from those who have abused it and is instead given to children. We meet the God who not only promises us that we will gain life by losing it, but the one who exemplifies self-sacrificial love in a human body.

When we meet God in the flesh, we find his heart in the places and faces of people who have been forgotten. We discover him in solidarity with prisoners and on the faces of orphans and widows, even all kinds of dirty rotten sinners…

And we ourselves become enabled to see God’s image resting securely upon each and every person we meet.

When we meet God in the Flesh we discover that our definitions of family cannot compare to the kinship we experience with all those who have come to know and do the will of God. Lines of blood, race, gender and nationality are shattered in the light of our embrace of brothers and sisters across all man-made borders.

Meeting God in the flesh means we can no longer make assumptions about who God would have us associate with or whether it is right to “do good”at all times. The God we meet in Jesus the Christ, calls us to act, and to do so with love in every situation.

When we meet God in the flesh we are surprised to find that doubt becomes far safer than belief. Because when we trust and follow this God in the flesh, we are called to people and places that might just make us a little uncomfortable.

When we come face to face with our suffering Lord and Savior, we are confronted with the darkness that lies within our hearts. But we begin to realize that even though we are dressed in rags, he sees us as beautiful, adorned in the finest clothing, and he calls us to see each other in the same light.

During this season of light, may we reflect the beautiful and piercing light we’ve received in such a way that the darkness from inside and out can have no hiding place.

Aside

some astute observers may have noticed that there is a certain someone glaringly absent from my previous post. i’m sure it was obvious that my mom, Ellen (no middle name…i know, it’s weird) Capozzi, didn’t even receive an honorable mention in yesterday’s tribute. i’ve done this because i believe she deserves one all to herself.

to the uninformed onlooker my mother appears meek and mild (which she most certainly is), but to those who know her, Ellen is as strong and determined as they come. life has not been a tiptoe through the tulips for my mom; raising 4 boys, moving often and navigating tough times with my father gave her more than most could handle, yet she remained steadfast. her love stayed strong and her resolve grew with each triumph over life’s many obstacles. never was this resolve more apparent than during the final days of my father’s life.

mom had to watch the man with whom she had recently renewed her marriage vows deteriorate at a pace that was painfully shocking. she was there from the beginning and every single step of the way thereafter: feeding, reading, joking, laughing, praying, crying and singing to him as he lay on his final resting place. as i stated about mike during the final 12 hours, mom stayed by dad’s side until the very end, covering him with love. there isn’t a single human being who knows how to handle themselves amid the torrent of suffering of a loved one, but mom did what she does best, checking in on each one of us even as she sought to meet every one of dad’s comfort needs.

during my father’s memorial service, my mom found the courage and strength to speak in the face of what would appear to be crippling loss. during her short message of thanks to all those who came to show love and support for dad and our family, she spoke plainly and truthfully that folks need not pity her and that she would be fine. ever considering the well-being of those around her, my mom let the crowd of almost 600 know that they need not be concerned about her. she knows where her strength comes from, and that will never be shaken, no matter how painful the situation.

there is no amount of space i could fill up to express the gratitude i feel at this very moment for my amazing parents. they offered us a safe place to grow and covered us with love from the day each one of us was born. dad left 4 men behind (myself being the most manly, of course) to care for his beloved Ellen. it’s our turn to cover her, and we intend to do so.

i know what she said, and i believe without a doubt that she will be alright, but if you know her and have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and reach out. she will certainly appreciate it and you can count on being made to feel special even if you have called intending to offer comfort to her.

-dave-

a tribute…part 2

a tribute

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it has now been 24 days and 6 hours since my father, Joseph Charles Capozzi, passed away after suffering for 7 months from pancreatic cancer. i have no desire to recount the details of his agony, but i am compelled to honor my father, and to do so i can’t get around talking about the last night of his life.

what we, as a family, witnessed from 7 pm on july 11th until 7 am on july 12th was so excruciating that we may never fully realize how we have been affected by the pain. we all caught a glimpse of his suffering, and each did their part ease it. it was through this grief-stricken process that i learned things about my siblings that i had never previously known. consequently, i am forever grateful and honored to call each of them, brother.

that said, one of my brothers has forever changed the way i look at him.

my older brother mike has become my hero. he sat by my father’s side all night long, holding his hand, giving him swabs of water and morphine, playing music and speaking words of comfort until our pops took his final breath at around 7 am. while most of us slept, unable to stomach anymore, mike remained. his perseverance to withstand the pain of watching his own father slowly and painfully fade away, while also shielding each one of us from experiencing dad’s misery, displayed mike’s embrace of the greatest role he will ever play. he took all of the pain on himself because he considered dad and each one of us above his own needs. for this, i will never be able to adequately express my gratitude.

not only did i discover new, incredible traits buried beneath the surface of my 3 brothers, i learned the most important lesson of my life during dad’s final 12 hours. the pops, through his passing, presented his family with many priceless gifts, but the most significant of these is a love that will never die. the love that was put on display through countless friends expressing their admiration for dad, coupled with our collective care for him and each other throughout his journey to the end, is a love that lasts though he is no longer present. it is this same love that will go on long after this generation of capozzi’s occupy space on the earth. thank you pops for sharing this incomparable gift with us all.

we are a family forever changed.

-dave-

jesus is for losers

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everyone seems to be talking about jesus and his followers right now. it might just be that it’s christmas time, but i think there is a bit more going on here. the culture wars are ramping up, and it seems to me that there is a tsunami of change on the horizon. 

once upon a time, in order to be recognized as a full-fledged american christian, you had to look, speak and act in very defined ways. whereas now, depending on what you’re looking for, you can find any and every way to make jesus appealing to each niche people group. jesus for hipsters, yuppies, protestants, catholics, emergents, baby boomers, even duck callers (too soon?). 

while jesus spent the last century in a suit and tie, unable to dance, cuss, drink or go to the movies, jesus is now best utilized as a stamp of approval for whatever makes us feel most comfortable and fulfilled. everyone from john stewart to rush limbaugh quote him, making it nearly impossible for outsiders to discern which group jesus really stands with and for. 

i must admit, i’m a little confused myself. 

was jesus the cool guy who made trendy folks feel at home, confidently knowing that the previous generation screwed up royally or was he the religious zealot who made sure all the sinners knew they were outcasts?

or was he neither of these polarizing options?

the first breath sucked in by the jesus we read about in the gospels was most likely saturated with cow manure. he was surrounded by farm animals, born to a peasant family, in a city that folks believed nothing good could come from. when he grew up, he was an itinerant preacher, healer, friend to large amounts of shady undesirables, who often got in trouble for breaking sabbath and other jewish ordinances. he touched lepers (you just didn’t do that), allowed prostitutes to wash his feet with their tears and hair, spoke to adulterous women (setting them free from the law code that condemned them) and invited fledgeling fishermen and swindling tax collectors to follow him. 

he spent the majority of his time putting religious authorities in their place, all the while showering love on society’s losers, thereby giving them the dignity inherent to the image of God they were born with.

it is also believed that jesus was homeless, since he has been quoted as saying, “foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” he would say these sorts of things indicating to folks that were eager to follow him that if they weren’t also willing to wander about without a place to call home, they were not fit for his kingdom. he probably didn’t smell very good, and he certainly didn’t wear skinny jeans or a three piece suit.

i think we need to remember this rugged, uncool, irreligious prophet, not so that we can simply understand christianity better, but so that we can once again learn what it means to walk in his steps. 

this christmas, remember the loser who showed us how to love. not the costless sort of love that pats folks on the back, encouraging them to stay warm and be well fed, but the love that calls us to lay down our own hopes and dreams for people who have no hope whatsoever. remember his call to never forget the people he spent his life around. remember that not one of us is better than the other and that religion will never fulfill the deep longings you have inside you. remember the losers, because they’re the ones jesus is  still standing with and for. 

 

***i mean loser in the most affectionate, least judgmental way imaginable***

capitalism = evolution = the way we’re wired = not the jesus way

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For many Evangelical Christians, the idea of a god that would create via evolution is distasteful, even heretical.

Many of these folks (evangelicals) also subscribe wholesale to the economic system known as capitalism, even labeling it the most “christian” of economic systems.

I see a pretty glaring problem with this. Let me explain.

The theory of evolution (which, truth be told, I embrace) is based on the idea that the most fit creatures survive. If you can’t hack it, one way or another, you’re bound for extinction. The system of capitalism is based on the very same premise; only the “strong” survive.

We are wired to adapt to our surroundings, which enables us to survive in the context in which we’ve come to dwell. This article recently posted on CNN describes our economic situation better than I can, but it basically echoes the idea that those who have risen to the top afford their offspring a far greater chance to thrive than those who find themselves on the bottom of the economic ladder.

Capitalism make sense to us because it is that which comes most natural to us. If you don’t take it, someone else will. It is even seen as virtuous, since folks who reside at the top of our economic ladder are often assumed to be living more responsible, moral lifestyles.

Truth is, some of us are just more “fit” than others. This has been the situation now, it was before and will be forever true about the way this world functions. While some have found themselves in a favorable place to grow, learn and thrive overall, others have been systematically marginalized into a vast economic ghetto.

Problem is, those of us who have heard of and bought into Jesus of Nazareth have been directed to live in a way that not only looks radically different from this mode of operation (survival of the fittest, capitalism), but to name and subvert it in a way that makes it look foolish. This is a complete transformation in the way we, as humans, have always lived. In the same way Jesus brought shame to the powers, we have taken up the task to expose the systems that continually lift those in power to greater heights while pushing those on the margins further into oblivion. Instead of constantly seeking our own good, we are instructed to pay close attention to the needs of the folks who are falling around us. Whether it be due to their “fitness” or something else, we’ve got a directive that flies in the face of the old world’s order.

Jesus and John the Baptist describe this shift in thinking as repentance. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” is not about saying sorry for lying, swearing or getting drunk last night, but a call to recognize the reign of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Therefore, when we “repent” we begin to see attainment of wealth and power while leaving the weak and poor in our wake for what it is: the way of the world. It is the way we have been wired to live, and it is unquestionably the opposite of how we are called to live as followers of the earth’s true King.

Which leads me to my favorite way our scriptures describe this shift. It is an expression we have come to know quite well in evangelicalism: the new creation. Whereas the old creation’s order is to dominate and subdue the weak, the rule of the new creation brings peace to those who were once poor, meek and abused. We talk so often about being made into a new creation, but we seem to prefer the old way of doing things. I prefer the new creation.

What I find most interesting is how often I have been accused of not taking the scriptures seriously. I would like to take this opportunity to redirect the question to those who believe capitalism to be biblical, even christian. Where in the teachings of Jesus and his followers do we find any approval of a system that allows the few to rise, while the many fall without any hope or support? Where does Jesus ever direct us to seek our own prosperity, especially at the expense of those who are suffering around us? I don’t see it, but if you can show me the scriptures to back it up, I’ll see capitalism as the biblical way too.

 

-dave-

 

 

 

 

 

 

dependence

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it is entirely impossible to escape the onslaught of opinions surrounding holidays like independence day. people on both sides of the isle excitedly talking about why they love their country and others preaching about how we should beware of our bent towards nationalism. i don’t want to be yet another noisy gong or clanging cymbal here, but from the conversations i’ve been having, it’s quite clear that the posture i have taken towards the country i live in is slightly misunderstood. so let’s do this:

i do not hate america. i love and respect her as the nation i call home and obey the laws of the land.

phew! feels good to get that one off my chest.

nationalistic fervor, patriotism and the like are well understood in my mind. it’s not difficult to see why folks would be thankful to live in a country that affords them many liberties that are not so accessible in other nations. i have no trouble recognizing all the good america has done throughout the world, and i appreciate the ability to speak freely and practice my religion without threat of violence or persecution. these are good things, and they are not to be downplayed or forgotten.

however (you knew this was coming), i’m not patriotic. i do not get goose bumps when i hear the national anthem or god bless america playing over fireworks or during the 8th inning of a baseball game. my consciousness has been made far too aware of her violent and oppressive beginnings to ever affirm america as a place of moral purity. she has never been nor will she ever (or any other nation) be “christian”.

but there are goose bumps aplenty when i hear of the good work being accomplished by folks who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the kingdom of heaven; a community of people defined (by her king) as one that makes peace in forgotten and broken places, brings healing and is relentlessly forgiving.

for example, i was having a conversation the other day with my housemate about how i’ve witnessed his admirable efforts in the realm of premeditated peacemaking. my friend goes out of his way to mentor a young man who is of little value to america (unless he decides to fight for her). he is the son of an immigrant and lives in one of the worst neighborhoods in all of massachusetts. by all accounts, he should have ended up in the gang on his street, but my friend has taken the time to bring peace into his life, and the life of his family.

this young man’s life will have been forever changed because my friend has decided to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of shalom for someone other than himself. in a country fixed on individualistic pursuits of wealth, independence (though pursued for the good of others, most often won through violence) and so-called moral purity, the ethos of the kingdom of heaven shines as bright as the sun: people willing to give of themselves, cast aside judgment, putting their well-being at risk (carrying a cross) in order to put the kingdom of the lion and the lamb on display.

i refuse to be the angsty twenty-something i used to be. i will not be the “anti-you name it guy.” we must give an alternative to the system where power reigns, where poor and sinner are lives for gain; food for a better tomorrow. all the while, we must remember not to despise the place we find ourselves in. it is all too easy to go one way or the other, rather than opting for a “third way”.

each person is of enormous worth and i pledge allegiance to a kingdom that values people over property. when we pledge our whole selves to the kingdom where God is king, we will come to find that people are not an obstacle on our way to success and happiness, but an end in and of themselves.

rather than independence, i’m dedicated to pursuing the creation of a holy, Jesus-like community in a world devoid of peace. may we be ever dependent upon the Spirit that breathes life in to the community of the Christ rather than

-dave-