Friday, January 23, 2009

Epiphany 3B and an Inauguration

I feel as if I'm on a slippery slope--I DO NOT discuss politics from the pulpit. But, how to engage with this week's text--scripture about prophetic voices, a city of individuals offering personal sacrifice for the sake of the whole (the people all wore sack cloth) and the calling to discipleship of two lowly fisherman--in light of our presidential inauguration. As I, again, read President Obama's inaugural address I am struck by the difficult truths he proclaims (a devastated economy, war and the need to take a look at our own priorities) and the responses I am hearing from people who are finally saying that they are willing to personally sacrifice their own creature comforts in order to save our country. It has been a long time since I've heard anyone say that they would willingly give up their own power and advantage for the good of the whole.

Obama invoked the suffering of our forbears and rather than claiming a collective entitlement to power and privilege he reminded us that our own response to suffering sets the stage for the generations to come--we have a price to pay and a responsibility to pay it. It sound to me that we have a leader who has rejected the prosperity Gospel and instead has turned us to God's salvation history. It can no longer be about me, it has to be about us--and on the global stage the us is the whole world. Just as our liberation in scripture comes at a cost so too will our freedom as a country--liberation that comes when we "seize our duties gladly" because we know that in doing so we have been freed from the constraint and worry of protecting our own privilege at the expense of others.

"They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it." Time will tell whether we will be willing to turn from the violence in our own hands, time will tell whether we will be willing participants in our own salvation.

I read shortly after the Iraq war that during WWII people planted gardens at home and endured rationing so that the troops would have enough sustenance and during the Iraq war people were encouraged to shop...sackcloth indeed. It makes me wonder how desperate for change people were in Jesus' day that they would willingly give up their livelihoods in order to follow a man who's manner of life posed such a challenge to the communion (er...Rome). I wonder if it is out of desperation and despair that the world is changed...if it is only when we proverbially hit bottom that we are willing to do the hard things it will take to rise up out of the morass and become the people God means us to be? Are we desperate enough that we are willing to help usher in the kingdom of God even when the kingdoms of our own making offer such comfort?

Obama turns to salvation history--and insists that the work has not been completed. In scripture we participate as co-creators in God's salvific action in the world and if we truly believe that "Christ has no hands in this world but ours" than what are our hands doing for Christ in the world? This sermon is not an endorsement for a party or president--it is an endorsement for a God who calls us to action in the world. It is an endorsement for the scriptural truths running through a speech. It is an endorsement for the hard truth that we must participate in our own salvation and that we cannot take the journey alone. Obama is not the messiah...but he is a beloved child of God. We are followers of Christ--but as people in this place and in this world--how will we participate in and bear witness to the kingdom of God?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama and Rev. Lowery Hit the Right Note

I was pleased with both Obama's inaugural speech and Reverend Lowery's benediction. They were inspirational and inclusive. I pray that these next years will be the same.

Fighting Cynicism

I am sitting on the couch watching the inauguration coverage and fighting a pervasive sense of cynicism. Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely delighted that we now have a President Obama--and proud that he is from my home state. I can only imagine where we will go with his leadership and therein I pause...I cannot help but think about General Convention 2006 in the Episcopal Church in which we elected a female presiding bishop and in the next breath asked the GLBT community to wait with patience as our elected leadership embraced moderation at our expense. Yes, I can understand that there are bigger and more pressing issues than the human rights of a minority--yet, as a member of that minority I find that the worries that invade my thoughts each day (I am your quintessential worrywart) have more to do with our lack of legal recognition as a couple than whether or not the Evangelical right wing feels included. I have begun to grow increasingly frustrated that the desire to offer an umbrella for all so often leaves GLBT folk in the rain. Yes, I embrace the via media but I also base my faith on my belief in a God who understands our suffering and loves us all. And, I find that the via media as it is lived into in this time and place is too often a code phrase for "status quo" and silence in the face of oppression. I am incredibly thankful that God is not a God of the via media but is a God who does not compromise in the face of suffering or limit the bounds of belovedness for all of creation. And in honor of that God--our God of limitless possibility and many understandings I include here the full text of the Right Reverend Gene Robinson's prayer at the opening of the inaugural events.

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Delivered by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson:

"Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God's blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

all goats go to heaven

Hunting and football games were most likely my two earliest excursions (apart from my baptism) as an infant. Where I was raised, the island of Maui, there was a very large feral goat population. These goats, rangy creatures with dark fur and dark eyes round as marbles, lived on the slopes of Haleakala in vast herds. With no natural predators the goats thrived and local families, such as my own, would supplement the grocery budget with their meat. Goat was served at my house as often as chicken or beef and we thought nothing of a meal of teriyaki goat.

Hunting the goats was often a family activity and when I was quite little I would trail behind my dad and brothers as they hiked the slopes with their guns. Once a herd was spotted they would hike as close as they could to the animals and the shooting would commence. Hundreds of goats would leap from crag to crag and some would fall. Six, seven goats at a time--often dead quickly, but sometimes not. When a nanny goat was shot her kid would be caught and we would take it home to raise it ourselves.

I was too young to carry a gun and too young to wander about so my dad would sit me down next to one of the dead goats while he went to find the others. I would sit quietly or poke about in sight of the dead animal while I waited for my dad and brothers to return. On one occasion, as I sat staring at this dead animal, I observed what looked like mist rising from its body. It was often cooler on the mountainside and now I realize that what I saw was the warmth of the body dissipating into the cooler air--much as my breath does on a cold day. But then, then I thought, that what I was witnessing was the soul of the goat leaving the body and going to heaven. I remember a sense of peace at that moment as I stared in wonder. What I had been taught was true, death was not the end and I had proof as I watched the soul of that goat ascend.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Response to the Stable

As I read this last post, I realized that perhaps it's less about having ventured too far from the stable and more about only seeing the stable to the exclusion of seeing God's presence in other ways and places. A dear friend just sent me the book The Fourth King which is a children's book detailing the adventures of a fourth magi who in his journey to the stable keeps getting sidetracked by people (especially children) in need. He completely misses seeing the scene at the stable but without knowing it has saved Christ's life again and again through his interventions. Perhaps this is why people are so comfortable with the nativity tableau--it doesn't challenge us to act upon or even to see the suffering that exists around us. We like to see beautiful things and it is disturbing, uncomfortable and inconvenient to go out of our way to act when the uglier parts of life confront us. So, I challenge each of us to begin to see the world as the stable and in doing so realize that the star has brought us here. What gifts do we bring?