Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chimes of Freedom

"Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze"
--From Chimes of Freedom by Bob Dylan

I'm not sure when it started, but the tradition of ringing the church bell starting at around 11:30 on July Third was firmly established when I arrived as pastor at Riverton Church in 2002. I'm told that back when the Episcopal Church was still functioning as a church (there's a glass-blowing factory in the building now), the two churches would hold dueling bell-ringing competitions, to see who could last the longest, and that the ringing might go on 'til 3 a.m. or so.

Nowadays, folks start lining up to ring the bell at around 11:30 p.m. or so. We normally get in the range of 20 people who take turns ringing. Ringing the bell at Riverton Church is tricky. Because of the placement of the bell rope, ringers have to lean over the stairway that leads to the basement, being careful not to lean too far lest they pitch head-first down the stairs. So far, nobody has been injured in this way, but it does require one to call on one's balancing skills. Bell-ringing is a vigorous aerobic activity--after a minute or two, ringers take a break and give the next person a chance. In most cases, they get back in line.

Bell-ringing for the Fourth of July is not just celebrated in Riverton. There is a national bell-ringing celebration organization; it is possible to register local events at their website:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Math and God in Three Persons

This coming Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday. The Christian understanding of God is that God expresses Godself in three persons--the Father (Creator), the son (Redeemer) and the Holy Spirit (Comforter.) These three aspects of God appear in the Bible, but the word we use for the concept that describes it--Trinity--does not. While churches in the Congregational tradition tend not to push rigid understandings of doctrines like the Concept of the Holy Trinity among their members, it is also not fair to call members of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, by the commonly-hurled insult "Unitarians Considering Christ."
The simple fact is that the Trinity is a mystery. Anyone who claims to understand the concept of the Trinity is denying the very nature of the Trinity, which is mystery. Mysteries cannot be explained but they can be embraced.

Another thing I don't fully understand is higher math, but I think that if I did understand it, the math concept called the Trefoil knot would help me to get a greater handle on the mystery of the Trinity. According to Wikipedia, "The trefoil can be obtained by joining together the two loose ends of a common overhand knot, resulting in a knotted loop. As the simplest knot, the trefoil is fundamental to the study of mathematical knot theory, which has diverse applications in topology, geometry, physics and chemistry." The knot, by appearance, has three separate loops, but when you look closely you see that it is one whole, connected.

For the children's sermon on Trinity Sunday I usually take a little strip of paper, knot it, connect the loops and tape them together--Voila, the Trefoil knot. So simple, and yet so fascinating, like the mystery that is the Trinity. And what do I say? Sometimes in church I think we worry too much about explaining everything, rather than helping our children be drawn into the mystery, which is compelling. I remember as a child when I discovered the mobius, a similar mathematical twist, how I obsessed over it. Why not just let the children make their own trefoils and ponder them, each in their individual ways?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Displaying Summer's Bounty

Red velvet cakes and cupcakes have become popular treats to serve on Pentecost Sunday. This year I decided to try a new way to display our red velvet cupcakes--a cupcake tower. I saw some photos of floral cupcake towers and decided to attempt to build one myself. It turned out to be surprisingly easy.

If you want to build one yourself, you will need:
  • Corrugated cardboard rounds (2 rounds for each tier; I used 12", 10", 8" and 6" to display 24 cupcakes.)
  • Plastic glasses or tumblers at least 5" high to separate tiers (one fewer than the number of tiers)
  • Ribbon or strips of paper long enough and wide enough to cover edges of of the cardboard rounds (1/4 inch wide ribbon is probably adequate)
  • Glue (I used 100% silicone adhesive to glue the cups to the cardboard rounds and hot glue to attach the ribbon. Other types of glue would work as well.)
  • Greens and/or flowers. I placed the greens and flowers between each cupcake and covered most of the top with greens and flowers but you can use fewer greens and flowers if you prefer. (I used mint, herbs and roses from my garden. Be careful to choose edible varieties. I don't use store-bought flowers on or near food, as growing standards for flowers are not the same for food and bacteria or pesticides on the flowers might be harmful to people. I also did not put the flowers directly on the cupcakes, except for one rose on the top cupcake. Store bought herbs are a great choice. Silk flowers are another possible choice.)
  • Cupcakes (here's the recipe I used, except I omitted the vinegar and used canola oil in place of the olive oil.) It made 24 regular-sized cupcakes and about the right amount of frosting.
  1. Bake and frost desired number of cupcakes.
  2. Glue each set of cardboard rounds together to form tiers. For maximum strength, glue them so the corrugation lines in each round runs perpendicular to the round to which it is being glued.
  3. Glue ribbon on the edges of the tiers.
  4. Center the tumblers upside-down on each tier and glue (for best results start with the bottom tiers first and allow to dry before adding tiers.) Allow glue to dry completely before adding cupcakes.
  5. Arrange the cupcakes on tiers.
  6. Arrange the greens and flowers on tiers around cupcakes as desired. This is best done about an hour or two before the cupcakes will be served. Allow yourself plenty of time and be sure to keep a pair of clippers or scissors handy to trim greens to desired length. If the display will be up for a long time before serving you might want to place the greens and flowers in floral tubes, or choose varieties that are less likely to wilt.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Art and Music

I was honored to help plan and lead the worship at a recent regional event called Partnering with a Green God at Camp Silver Lake in Sharon. The centerpiece of the worship service was a blessing of the four directions and the four cardinal elements associated with them, a practice that has deep roots within our Christian Tradition, according to Christine Valters Paintner in her new book Water, Wind, Earth and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements. I devised a liturgy based on excerpts from this book and then created an altar using ordinary household items and things I picked up on the grounds of Silver Lake to represent the various elements. I don't have any sort of training in doing this; I just allow the elements to speak to me and arranging them becomes a sort of meditation.

I received many compliments on my liturgy, but what really made it special was the accompaniment provided by Chorical, a group composed of cello and harp.

Not many of us have harpists and cellists at our disposal, but I have done similar liturgies with guitar, piano and other instrumental accompaniment and have received compliments on those as well.
Note: Photo of Jim Deming by Eric Anderson