Friday, December 14, 2012

The Prayers that Reverberate in My Soul

From the night service of Compline, The Book of Common Prayer 1979

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake.  Amen


Psalm 139:7-12

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night’,
12 
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

'Tis the Season

Do we really need to make "it" magical for our children?
When "Its" very reality is grounded in that sacred holy place (that some call magic) already?


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Anticipation

Expectant Hope
Anticipation
Yearning
Already but not yet
Waiting
Wanting
Longing for
Advent

Eager expectation
Renewal
A new life
Beginning
New year
Joyful concern
Moving
Beating
Inward dwelling

Awaiting

Sometimes there is no choice but to wait.  Nothing can be rushed and any earlier would be too soon.  This season of Advent, like every other but unlike any other, swirls on in sursum blue.

A color best compared to the deep blue of the sky with the sharp glimmers of the stars--better if the night is cold and crisp and the air unmarred by lights of our making.

So, here we are...tapping our fingers and dancing about on inpatient feet.

Are we there yet?  Not yet.  Still waiting.  But in the waiting we look upwards and outwards to the stars.  They glimmer with promise and perfection.

And they smolder from within, like the breath and the heart.

Such beauty, it cannot be contained or held.  And, despite its perfection it is incomplete.

And arms waiting, empty, and the donkey plods on towards Bethlehem and we watch its torturously slow journey.  But to birth on the wayside would be too hard and the manger awaits ahead.

New life.  Such life.  Blessed life.

Hope.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

When We Are Kings--A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday


Within our context, kings and kingdoms may seem relatively fantastical.  Renaissance festivals, royal weddings, and symbolic monarchies are about all most of us know of kings.  If we have small children in our lives, we may spend time with royal prince and princesses as we engage in their imaginative play.  Princes fight dragons, princesses twirl...and the script is one in which there is always a happy ending.  Christ the king becomes the sanitized version of this happy score--crowned with an ever larger and more elaborate crown.  

But, in many ways this “crowning of Christ” was a politically daring act.  For, in 1925 when Pope Pius XI created the feast of Christ the King, he did so as a very public check upon Benito Mussolini who had declared for himself  “earthly supremacy”.  The pope’s work and words served as a reminder that true supremacy is not of this earth and that Mussolini is not, and would never be, the king of creation or the alpha and the omega.  The feast day was also intended to remind Christians that we are called to serve Christ beyond any earthly ruler or secular desire.  

But, as we move further and further from the realities of kingship...how are we to connect to the language we hear today?

I grew up in Hawai'i, and the imagery and reality of monarchy was more recent.  As a child I learned about the unification of the islands under King Kamehameha.  I learned about the bloody battles and high price of this unity.  Eventually, I learned about the overthrow of the monarchy, and the injustices perpetrated against Native Hawaiians as lands and traditions were overwhelmed by outsiders.   This history was woven with the persistent message that wrongs had been done and reparations still needed to be made.    

In this fashion, when I hear the scripture today, I hear the promise of wrongs righted and reconciliation and peace taking hold.  I hear the promise of a king that cannot fail, and a reign that surpasses all.  And, in some ways I wonder if that is part of what the early Christians resonated with as they heard the language of kingdom and kingship.  I can imagine their thrill at the notion that under the reign of Jesus’ the world would be set to rights...and that they were to serve in bringing about that reign.  

There is an approach to reading scripture that theologians have described as “reading the Bible from the margins”.  So, when I think of the injustices done in Hawaii and throughout the world to indigenous peoples I can begin to gain a better understanding of the context within which Jesus and his disciples lived.  

Because, unlike most of us, the early Christians were a small and persecuted minority.  Subject to the imperial power of Rome, they existed more or less on the margins of society.  Early Christians met in private homes and upper rooms, quiet gatherings in the catacombs where goods and meals and coin were shared.  Each to each, needs were met and stories were shared.  

These early Christians, these followers of “the way” lived in the midst of political and social unrest.  From the zealots who embraced the notion of violent overthrow to the Essenes and the community at Qumran who had stepped more or less “off the grid”--Jesus lived within a culture that was actively searching for a new way of being in the world. 

And, using the language of the culture--Jesus and his followers described a kingdom, a kingdom that operated outside of the dominant culture of Rome, a kingdom that was not of the world, a kingdom ruled by God.  A kingdom that exists in order to tear down the need for kings.   

This is a new kind of kingdom, and for the early Christians, Jesus represented a new way of being.  Neither violent revolutionary or hermit, he stood outside all conventions and paradigms.  He turned our notions of kings and kingdoms upside down--operating outside of the rules that everyone “thought” they knew about how to live and who to serve.  This kingdom didn’t exist in order to justify or sustain the domination of the powerful.  Those who followed Jesus, those who proclaimed his kingdom come,

died on crosses.

were imprisoned.

were stoned.

And, in the midst of this milieu they told the stories and shared the meals.  The stories what we call the canon and eventually...eventually, somehow...

Their stories became the story of the powerful.    

There is something startling to realize that stories that emerged out of a small, persecuted minority have became the texts used by a massive and powerful majority.  And, no matter how much it makes us squirm...we, as Christians in the world today, are part of that majority.  

Now we may not identify as kings, but by the measures of the world we hold great power.  There is a website called the global rich list.  You can enter your income and it tells you where you stand in the world in relationship to others and their wealth.  If you make more than 1,000 dollars a year you are in the top 44 percent of the world.  And, I imagine most of us make much, much more.  So, how are we to read the Bible from the margins?  And, how are we to hear this proclamation of kingdom?  When our reality is SO different from that of the early Christians, how do we find meaning in this language?

We cannot ignore the truth that we hold a great deal of power in the world--for example 7.2 percent of congress currently identifies as Episcopalian (this when only 2% of the United States population does).  And, given this truth--what truth are we testifying to in our actions and our words?  How do our whole lives reflect the reign of Jesus rather than the fruition of our own desires?  John of Patmos writes that we have been made to be a kingdom.  If this is indeed the case how are our lives a reflection of the will of God?  How do we testify to the truth?

First of all, we are called to learn and embrace the truths that Christ offers.  One aspect of which is that we are called to be a resurrection people, a people who bring new life, new hope and a new kingdom.  But how are we to do this?  In the grocery store, in our cubicles, in the waiting rooms and court rooms?  How will we be the kingdom?  It seems like an impossible task--but what Christ gives is the constant reminder that the impossible can and will happen through us.  And in reading the Bible from the margins we are able to more concretely identify the people who we are called to serve and imagine a world set to rights by the love of God.  A love made manifest by our words and actions...

In one famous passage from St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), she writes

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

We carry Jesus within us.  Our privilege and power become tools to serve, to love and to share the truth of God’s love and redemption.  We can testify to the truth and in so doing we can continue a life of service to the one who is and who was and who is to come.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Podcasted Sermon

So, if you want to hear the last sermon I preached (the one posted here) you can get it on i-tunes for free...I'm not sure how long it will be up, but you're more than welcome to take a listen for now.

The Cost of Our Wants

I can't stand listening to myself preach--kind of freaks me out with an "I sound like that!" feeling.  But, you may not have that same aversion.

Or you may...in which case feel free to scrub it from your i-tunes memory faster than I can recite the opening acclamation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Rerun--Would that be Excessive?

So...last year around this time I posted a reflection on the sentiments that may be driving what seem to be excessive gift giving.  As we gear up for yet another holiday season I thought it deserved a rerun!

Click here to read it again, or for the first time!


 This was taken last Christmas...and we are still grateful for every last one!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 24th Sunday in Pentecost, When Our Wants Take Precedence over the Needs of Others


Sermon for Propers 27B 


The Essential Things

They are those we try not to notice...

The gleaners in the fields.

Impoverished widows scraping by.

But why, why do we avoid their eyes?  What is so difficult about noticing these people?  

The ones standing at the crossroads, holding signs.  “Homeless veteran, anything helps, God bless”, or “kids at home, need money for food”

The ones removing items from their cart as they realize it’s going to cost too much.  

I realize, I realize that in closing my eyes, in looking away and pretending not to notice...that I feel ashamed.  That somehow I know that I have more than I need, while others, others have less, far less.  

I don’t want to look.

But, I have no choice in the matter.  Stopped at this red light, this moment is captured and I remember that he was lying with his head cushioned by the sign he had been carrying.  Resting, I hope, and not hurt.  We kept driving, on our way to an appointment and running late.  We moved too quickly and it would have been impractical to turn back.  There are other ways to care, to give I thought.  

Excuses I know.  And, I wonder, what the disciples felt when Jesus turned their attention to the woman in the temple.  When they were stopped, when they had no choice but to notice.  These were her only pennies...not enough to help her but everything she had to give.  A paltry offering really, day laborers in the fields made 64 of these coins each day, yet all she had was two--not enough to pay for lodging, not enough for food.  Yet, it was everything.  

And, I wonder, if she felt that she had more than she needed, while others have less.  Need becomes such a relative term here doesn’t it?

What do we need?  

The relentless gallop towards the more secular aspects of Christmas descended upon me on Halloween day--buying candy at 4pm, the first tinny strains of Christmas music weaved through the faux spider webs and remnants of plastic pumpkin displays.  Within days the special “holiday catalogs” from seemingly every place we’ve ever shopped and many places we’ve never shopped began to arrive at our door.  Buy, buy, buy...the perfect gift, the perfect choice...I protest, but we don’t need anything!  

Yet, somehow, the cart is filled and we leave the store with more than I thought we needed--and as we leave we turn at the corner where the veterans stand so often.  Anything helps...but what I have to give seems so little in the face of the want.  And, my spirit shrinks as I think of the full bags in the trunk of the car.  

In many ways, it becomes painful to notice the gleaners in the field.  There they are, Ruth and Naomi just getting by on the leavings from our harvest.  The widow with her coins, I feel ashamed by her generosity and it is becomes so glaringly obvious that there are those with less who offer so much more.   So many in this world have been asked, expected even to give disproportionately, to give more than their due by choice or chance or force or violence.  Folks who have carried more of the burden and who too often go unnoticed when the burden becomes more than they or we can bear.  

Part of me wants to cry out to the widow...”wait, stop, keep your pennies, you need them more than they do!”  But, she will not hear me and she will remain unconvinced.  

Need becomes such a relative and personal thing...

The passage we heard read today as our first reading was an excerpt from the book Journeys of Simplicity.  This is a book in which the author has compiled lists of belongings or things packed for journeys.  In this passage Bilbo Baggins, like so many of the great saints, leaves a life of relative comfort and leisure to go on an epic adventure in which he is called to give up everything to save everyone--does this sound like anyone you know?
  
On Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton's Antarctic Journey, after the destruction of his ship the Endurance by the ice pack, he told his men that they could each carry the clothes on their back, two pairs of boots, 6 pairs of socks, two pairs of mittens a sleeping bag a pound of tobacco and two pounds of personal gear.  To his own pack he "ripped from Queen Alexandra's Bible the flyleaf inscription; the 23rd psalm; a page from the Book of Job...Laid the Bible in the Snow and walked away"  

What would you keep on such a journey?  What would you write down on your list of essentials?  As we read and hear and see the folks who have suffered through hurricane Sandy, and continue to suffer in the aftermath, perhaps our understanding of what we need has changed?

When we pack a bag, or pack up our house or apartment what do we keep?  What do we put in fire proof boxes or on our mental checklist of things to "save" should something happen?  Feel free to take a moment to jot down that list on your bulletin somewhere.  

I imagine that your list is surprisingly short. Does this mean that everything else is an extra, an abundance that we have in excess?  

Don’t worry, it’s not that simple, there are many things which we have that feed our body, our mind and our soul that just don’t make the list.  There are things that bring us joy and make us more of who we want to be and are called to be, and I am not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy or have these things.  But, perhaps in thinking of how very little we truly need, we can grow to appreciate how very much we do have.  

I also wonder what their lists would be, the disciples, the clergy, the widow...even Jesus.  

What would they have found essential?  

What would be on their lists?  In some way I imagine that distilled down to the essentials all of the lists would bear a surprising similarity--and perhaps could be boiled down to those things that remind them of who they are and who they love.  Do the things on your list serve as reminders?  Are they the irreplaceable things that allow us to retain our dignity and care for those we love?  

We humans need surprisingly little it turns out...and what Jesus in particular calls our attention to in this passage is the reality that too often our abundance comes at the cost of others.  Part of the challenge of this Gospel is that we are being asked if we are the ones who devour widow’s houses.  

And, as we ponder this painful question I ask, does what we consider essential cost the livelihood, the dignity of another human being?  Do our wants ignore or exploit the needs of others?  Who bears the heaviest burdens and pays the highest price?  

These are challenging questions for all of us--does power and privilege always come at the expense of others?  If we are lucky enough to enjoy power and privilege do we have an obligation, an obligation grounded in the teachings of Jesus and indeed the entirety of scripture, to care for others?  Scripture, the Christ we follow and our traditions would indicate that caring for others is, indeed, central to our faith. 

So, back to that corner, the one near my house and the strip mall, the one where the veterans stand.

I reach into my glove box for the strip of McDonald’s certificates we keep for the folks at this light.  Perhaps a hot cup of coffee, a sandwich--something, anything.    

I can’t pretend that this little bit will fix anything or anyone--it is a paltry offering in the grand scheme of things.  But, perhaps in noticing, in seeing, I am working towards the calling of Christ to all of us...the calling to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love my neighbor as myself and honor the dignity of every human being.  It’s another list of essentials isn’t it?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After Feels a Bit Closer to the End of Days

My state defeated an amendment filled with hate and instead filled out the ballot in love.  Every state with LGBT marriage on the ballot voted for equality and love.  Love wins.  Of course, we always knew it would--but then again, it also seemed like such an impossible possibility.

I'm not sure whether I need a retreat or a REALLY big party.  There is something about feeling a bit closer to the Kingdom of God that makes me long for that heavenly neighborhood of love, mercy and compassion, where crying and pain will be no more, and where there are awesome coffee shops and bookstores and where ALL of the folk I love live nearby.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween

There are certain cultural customs that I've always held a tad bit of disdain for...like trick or treating for Halloween.

When I was a kid we didn't have any neighbors to trick or treat at--living in the middle of a field pretty much limited the door to door knocking options.  So, my mom would drive us from relative's home to relative's home (maybe going to 5 or 6 houses total...which took all night).  There was a decent amount of candy but it wasn't that big of a deal--and was mostly centered on showing relatives our costumes.

When we lived in Maine, during seminary and residency, we actually got a few trick or treaters--I would buy candy and we would gleefully sit outside ready to hand out handfuls.  15 or 20 kids would trickle by over the course of the evening--all in costume, all of whom were at an age to enjoy the excessive sugar consumption but not so old that I wondered where they had parked the car.  It was a fun way to feel like a part of our neighborhood, but I never knew who the kids were.  It certainly didn't feel terribly relational.

Last year we had recently moved to our urban neighborhood and realized the scale of halloween on our block--trick or treaters by the score!  As for our own small family, we trotted our duckling around to some of the neighbors to show him off in his adorable costume.  There was no candy involved and I said "no thank you" to the kind offers of sweets for the mamas.  Then, a bit later in the evening, we began the ritual of passing out candy to the 100 (!) or so trick or treaters who came by.  I didn't mind the marginally costumed teens, but what I couldn't figure out was the number of adults with young infants (well under a year--often under 6 months) who were out collecting candy.  Somewhat appalled, I would hand over the loot as they awkwardly juggled a costumed and bunting clad bundle alongside their bucket.  It was a relatively fun evening, but I felt that I could take it or leave it--my perception of greed and excess definitely colored my understanding of the holiday.

This year, we started preparing our 2.5 year old for Halloween WEEKS in advance.  A sensitive sort with some stranger anxiety, I knew that our son would need to be prepped in order to deal with the concept of children and adults in costumes.  While I knew that I could just keep him in on Halloween I had become aware of the scope of Halloween as the invitations and opportunity to "dress up" began to pile up.  From the GLBT family halloween party, to toddler music class, to playgroup...there were going to be several events we would be participating in (as members of our community) which would involve costumes.

So, two months ago we purchased a couple of "lift the flap" children's books in which a costumed child (or animal) was on the flap and the unmasked child or animal was visible when you lifted the flap.  As Halloween drew nearer I started calling it, "Halloween, the night when we dress up in silly outfits and visit our neighbors".  I wanted to emphasize the relational aspects of the holiday--largely because I'd begun to realize that just because I wasn't too excited about the notion, it is a night that our neighbors and friends get very excited about.  He seemed to embrace the concept but I was still concerned because these lift the flap books and talks about "visiting our neighbors" didn't really offer up the level of macabre that awaited.

Then, it arrived, October 31st--crisp, cool and properly autumnal without being too cold (a seeming rarity this time of year!).  Clad in his minimalist bear costume (I wanted little fuss, and I didn't want to stress our boy with uncomfortable costume bits or run the risk that he would reject anything that was too unusual) we marched down to playgroup (where he enjoyed seeing his friends in their silly outfits) and then we went about our day.  Errands were run, meals were eaten.  Then at 4 in the afternoon, I picked up what appeared to be the last two bags of candy at Targ.et and headed home with my bear cub.  I grew increasingly excited about visiting--largely because our late talking boyo had largely mastered an understandable "trick or treat" over the course of the day (we won't discuss the distress this late talking has caused his verbose and extroverted mama!).

So, a solid hour before the trick or treating would begin in earnest we headed over to neighbors (we'd asked about coming by early, boyo doesn't nap anymore and I knew that even pushing his bedtime back to 7pm might be a big stretch).  "Duh oh deeett!!!!" he proclaimed at the house next door...and his eyes grew large as he realized that a lollipop had just been popped into his bucket.  "Duh ooh" (thank you) he said at my prompting and on we went.  Next, we visited with the much beloved big girls who live two doors down (7 and 5, they are a sweet duo who are kind and gentle with our boy).  "Duh oh deet"--another lollipop was presented...and fresh baked cookies!!!

Suddenly realizing that these were "his" treats, the boyo handed me a lollipop and looked at me expectantly.  "Yes" I said, "this is Halloween and you get to have special treats"--I handed him the unwrapped sucker and joy exploded across his face.  Blue tongued now, he held hands with the big girls for pictures.

Next, the house across the street where a sometimes babysitter lives.  At 13, he's a sweet boy and is all smiles for our little.  The ritual words were uttered and a mini kit kat bar made it's way into the bucket.  The evening progressed and we went to 6 houses on our street--and at every house smiles greeted us and friends cheered on our little guys words.  Two (!) lollipops and a mini kit kat made their way into his belly and we headed home to hand out our "candy for sharing".  By handfuls he would plop the assorted gummis and sweets into the proffered bags and buckets.  We talked about each costume that we saw, we talked about how some made him nervous and the child wearing the "Scream" mask obligingly lifted it to show a freckled face.  

This is roughly when I realized what we'd done that night...


  • We'd experienced unconditional generosity from neighbors
  • I'd been given the opportunity to say "yes" and give the gift of unexpected permissiveness for an evening
  • my son had learned a bit about having a little but then giving a lot as he handed out "candy for sharing"
  • he had the opportunity to practice what it means to have people understand what you say

and I felt myself get knit more firmly into the fabric of our community


  • "Remember the house we saw with the paper pumpkins in the window, these boys made those"
  • "Remember last year when he wondered into your house to visit when you opened the door?  He was so little then!"
  • "You can go over and say 'boo' to K (our next door neighbor) but don't go any farther, mama will stand right here and watch you"


The assorted ghosties and goblins thronged through the streets and we pushed bedtime back to the late hour of 7:20--yup, we live dangerously in these parts!  And, each hand that was proffered, each bag and pillow case and bucket--I realized that each one held a story alongside the candy.

The teen trying to hold onto childhood.  The adult long waiting for a child to share the night with.  The children with visible special needs who needed to be helped in the choosing of a sweet or who stopped to feel the mums at the door, drawn in by the sensory wonder of the clumps of yellow flowers--children and adults who were enjoying participating in something that everyone else does too.  The toddlers up late, learning to trust that good things await.

I get it now...Halloween is pretty spectacular.

He was so little for his first Halloween!  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Proper 24B, On Suffering


To link up to the readings for this Sunday, click here

Propers for the Sunday closest to October 19th
  • Job 38:1-7
  • Hebrews 5:1-10
  • Mark 10:35-45
The Same Coin


Recently we’ve been watching the PBS series “Call the Midwife” at our house.  A mini series based on the autobiographical account entitled “The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times”, by Jennifer Worth of her time spent serving as a nurse and midwife in the slums of East London.  The most recent episode detailed Jenny’s growing friendship with a disabled veteran of World War 1.  Initially revolted by his chaotic and filthy living conditions, she swiftly discovers that her patient’s life has been a rich one--chronicled by love and profound loss.  Disabled by war, he has outlived his wife and children, all of whom were victims of war.  Yet ,in the midst of his horrific losses, he demonstrates to Jenny the great gift that is love, he has lived fully and cherishes the fact that he HAS loved over the knowledge that he has also lost.  They develop a friendship...and Jenny clearly loves and cares for this, her patient and her friend.  

However, the greatest gift that he shares with her is the powerful realization that love is worth it.  That opening herself up to the risk of loss and heartache is worth the great and holy gift that is love...that if she is to truly live she must also learn the gift that suffering can bring--that suffering, being the result of living, engaging and loving other human beings, is worth it.  

Both/and, this joy and sorrow...this is a reality that has led many of us to explore the seeming paradox of a good and loving God existing in sharp contrast to what so often seems to be a cruel and hurting world.  In my first call as a pediatric chaplain I spent a disproportionate amount of time accompanying families who were wrestling in real and painful ways with this paradox.  

I remember one family in particular, when their oldest child was diagnosed with leukemia her parents asked me if God was somehow punishing them.  They had always attributed their families good fortune, good health, and general well being to the blessing of God--so when they found themselves facing the reality of a cancer diagnosis and the possibility of losing their child, they wondered if somehow God’s blessing had been taken from them, if God was afflicting them for some unknown and unimaginable reason.  I listened, reflected and questioned alongside them...Where is God in suffering?  Is God orchestrating it all--inflicting suffering upon us as some kind of opportunity for redemptive learning?  Does evil exist in the world at God’s behest?  Is it all some kind of test?  

While these were new questions for this family, they are not new questions in our tradition.  We see this clearly as we hear and read the book of Job.  

In some ways the book of Job offers us a starting point for exploring the tension between our expression of an all powerful, all knowing, and all loving God and the reality of suffering--the authors of Job wanted to know, why does God allow the faithful to suffer?  Shouldn’t we be rewarded for our faith?  Shouldn’t that reward somehow be the elimination of suffering and the security of our families and our places in the world and that beyond?  

This thread of reasoning runs through scripture--and in some ways this is the temptation of the faithful, as we so often find ourselves speaking in the words of the brothers Zebedee--”Jesus I believe, reward my belief”.  

For these disciples it probably felt obvious--a strong faith should correspond with equally strong rewards.  And, this is a distinctly human temptation--there is an entire stream of Christianity that adheres to the notion of what is called the prosperity Gospel.  The central theme of this teaching is that Christians are entitled to physical and economic well being in proportion to the strength of the individual Christian’s faith.  The harder you pray, the longer you live, the nicer your house, and the stronger your stocks.  It is all too easy to see the result of this theology in our own lives and culture...and when I met with that family at the hospital it was clear that they viewed the tragedy that had befallen them as a curse that needed to be broken--they viewed illness as a punishment, and in this I did not equivocate--God does not punish adults by giving their children cancer!  

When we view prosperity as a reward for our faith it is far too easy to see our tragedies as some sort of punishment and I see our Gospel today as the antithesis of this thinking, “you do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Now, this is not a call to seek out suffering but rather it is a call to share in Jesus’ own calling--the calling to be a human being.  Because, if we are human we WILL suffer.  And, in that suffering we can find love, empathy, compassion--and the embrace of a God who understands.  

 For, this is what continuously amazes me about our faith--that we follow a God who has fully experienced the pain of loss and of death.  That God, through the full humanity of Jesus, has walked the journey of loving and losing, of friendship and betrayal, of hope and despair.  This in so many ways is what draws me into Christianity--the powerful sense that God understands and is present with us in the midst of all of the horrible things that can and do befall us as Christians.  

So, when I found myself sitting in the recovery room with the family whose story I shared a moment ago, this reality is what I shared with them.  Rather than looking at God as the cause of their pain and blaming themselves for what had befallen them...they began to look for God in the midst of their pain.  This was a very significant theological shift for this family--and this shift allowed them to reframe the questions.  

Where did I see God today?  Is it in the nurses or doctors whose loving care is easing this journey?  Is it in the moments of laughter in the midst of the pain?  Is it in holding our children and comforting them?  Is it in sharing our story with others who are also on this journey?  

In looking for God in the midst of it all, we are reminded that God IS in the midst of it all--the good and the bad, the celebration and the mourning.  We are called to live fully in the world--not in anticipation of some great reward, but in awareness of our shared humanity and the power of love.  This for me is the power of the words we read in Job today...in this declaration of God’s power and wisdom I hear the declaration that we are surrounded by God.  As we live, with all the complexities of our lives, we are undergirded and surrounded by God’s presence.  And, it is thus, that when we suffer--and we will--the love of God which passes all understanding will open our hearts.   It is my prayer that, through that opening in our hearts, the love and light of Christ will shine.  

For, who here hasn’t wept at the pain of loss?  Who here hasn’t celebrated a birth or mourned a death?  Who here hasn’t paused in their perusal of the newspaper in awe at the horrific things that we as human beings are capable of doing to each other and in wonder at the kindnesses we can show?  We love as Christ loved and suffer as Christ suffers because we are human.  And, because we are human we are the children of God and because we are the children of God we are wrapped in God’s embrace throughout our lives, our losses and our loves.  

Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Abstaining, from Facebook


  • Jon Stewart gives me hope and a laugh
  • The best way to become sick of pumpkin is to "forget" that your wife doesn't like pumpkin pie and that your son won't eat squash and then bake an entire dish of tofu pumpkin custard.  
  • Taking a nap sucks, not taking a nap sucks too.
  • When you only get to preach once or twice a month it's challenging to figure out WHICH of the points you want to make.
  • Friendly grandpa types wearing "vote yes"  (to amend the constitution to only acknowledge marriage between one man and one woman as valid) create in me a combination of cognitive discord and despair.  
  • Temporarily disabling one's face book account makes it really obvious how reliant I've become on face book for "keeping up" with people I care about.
  • It also allows me to continue to love and respect people who have are suffering from a temporary, and election season induced, form of insanity.   
  • The prospect of my first solo retreat fills me with excitement and anxiety.
  • My kid requested that I make "peezaaa baullsss" for dinner, otherwise known as vegan meatballs with spaghetti sauce.  
  • Clergy calling clergy to discuss constitutional amendments is WAY more fun than calling the voter rolls.  
  • I will be kinder to pollsters in the future--especially if they are volunteers.  


And, that in bullet points is the update of status updates I would have posted but haven't because I quit face book until the week after the election...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Various Christian Leaders Unite to Defeat Marriage Amendment | News | Alexandria News

Various Christian Leaders Unite to Defeat Marriage Amendment | News | Alexandria News

My .2 seconds of fame...of course, they didn't catch the moment when I had to explain to a colleague the difference between loving, mutually respectful, relationships and prison violence.

Seriously people, I think tsking and shaking one's head in amazement that anyone even went THERE is appropriate.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fighting the Frump

Women's clerical wear doesn't exactly exude "high fashion" and the best I'm able to say of most of it is, well, it's not AWFUL.  I'm so glad the Garrison Keillor and crew get the plight of the ordained woman!  So, without further ado...


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"As God Intended" A Post in Which I Get Sucked into the Vortex


Recently, a friend posted on facebook her deep sorrow about the “vote yes” adds.  She noted that the adds not only attack same sex couples but all relationships in which the couple does not have children for whatever reason.  In response one of her “friends” indicated that because gay and lesbian folk cannot have children “as God intended” that this is clear indication that same sex couples should not be allowed the right of marriage.  In response (yes, I got sucked into the vortex) I wrote: 

“My wife and I have beautiful son who we truly believe is a gift from God. When we say our "God Blesses" at bedtime with him he gives thanks for "Mama, Mommy and Ay-Ay" (His name isn't Ay-Ay, it's just what he calls himself!) We clearly had help in his conception--the same kind of help our straight friends who have twins got (and at the same fertility clinic). Many couples can't have children "as God intended"--in fact neither could Abraham and Sarah, that's why Abraham bore Ishmael with Hagar prior to the conception of Isaac. Isaac was clearly a product of divine intervention, as was Jesus--perhaps assisted reproduction can be viewed in the same way as folks who are unable to conceive on their own? I love the notion that God gives God's blessing in the form of this assistance.”  

The friend’s response--Jesus had a mom and a dad “as God intended”.  Now, I do not presume to know God’s intentions.  I can guess at them, and I have settled on choosing to respond with the most loving response I can--in trust that the most loving response will most accurately reflect God’s will.  In conjunction with this, the moral compass for most of my decision making, I also work hard to honor the baptismal covenant command to “honor the dignity of every human being”.  Therefore, my response:

"I think one of the issues is that the process we're in relies on dehumanizing people who don't fit in a a very specific "box". Every movement that has tried to institutionalize bigotry in one form or another (or has state sanctioned oppression) relies on this process of dehumanization in order to justify denying rights/opportunities/and basic dignity to the non-dominant group. From the various flavors of racism (slaves weren't allowed to be married and only counted as a portion of a person in census counts--when you read older writing it was not at all unusual to compare blacks to animals quite literally) to anti-semitism (the language used about Jews was pretty horrific, and once again you get the animal motif) to misogyny in which words like "bitch" or "cow" or "dog" are used to describe women...treating HUMAN beings as if they are not worthy of dignity/justice/rights because they are somehow less than human has been a way of circumventing the language of the United States Constitution; basic human rights and even our own baptismal covenant. 

Within the religious context, if someone is presumably not fully human because they are not "as God intended" it becomes easier for folks who embrace the label "Christian: to participate in the bullying, attacking and intentional destruction of mind/body and spirit. 

Heterosexual individuals who cannot or choose not to have children are getting some of the fallout from the process we are currently in and I am so very sorry that [altered here to protect the innocent] folks are experiencing being collateral damage. I am also so very sorry that we are even having this conversation--largely because it hurts my heart, o so very much, on several levels. As a mom, as a partner, as a devout Christian...this is a very hard time. But, regardless of how folks seek to deny my full humanity--whether it is through disparaging remarks about "Christians" or using scripture to justify denying my sweet little boy legal protection should something happen to his moms--I will continue to claim God's blessing. 

Because, it is God's blessing that strengthens me in this process and allows me to cling to the truth of God's love for all human beings. I will also continue to bless--bless single men and women (by choice or chance) families with children and without, heterosexual families, glbt families, folks of all races and creeds, folks of all sizes and shapes, the old and the young. I bless and will bless."

Because it is the most loving thing to do.  

Love, be loved, and please...Vote No (if you live in MN!)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jesus For President, Proper 20 Year B


Yesterday, at a local festival I saw a man wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt that said “In the world, not of it”.  Now, this reference to the letter to the Romans directly addresses the tension that we as Christians often find ourselves facing.  We are called to be in the world yet we are also called to hold ourselves apart.  We are a people of God, yet we live in this world.    

Now this tension is not new to us, and as the early Christian communities formed they found themselves wrestling with how to live their lives as Christians.  It’s hard to imagine, but early Christians were a tiny minority and were surrounded by the monolithic and oppressive Roman empire.  So, as we read the letter of James, we need to picture a small Jewish Christian community that faces intense external pressure.  But, this letter, while it does concern itself with calling this community to stand as a voice against the dominant culture, is mostly concerned with the reality that these early Christians weren’t acting like, well, Christians.  In the passage we read today James draws a distinction between what he terms 

Earthly wisdom, in which success is marked by envy and selfish ambition and getting ahead in order to indulge our own wants, to "spend what you get on your own pleasures"; and Wisdom from above, a way of living that prioritizes gentleness, peace making and a willingness to lose, being, "willing to yield".  A wisdom that is full of mercy and good fruits--an abundance that is shared widely without partiality and hypocrisy

Now, this tension between these competing wisdoms, between a world that so often seems to reward selfish ambition and a God that calls us to be “willing to yield”, was clearly a problem for the early Christians and not just those to whom the author of James addresses his words.  In our Gospel we can see that this the disciples too were torn between a worldly kind of wisdom in which success meant achieving the highest public/personal honors and the reality of a Christ who is going to lose by the rules of the world and calls them to do likewise.  Further I think many of us have been in vestry and church committee meetings that echo this very tension in the here and the now.

When the disciples adhered to worldly understandings of greatness they argued and for a moment their sense of community and shared mission was lost behind their individual desires for honor and greatness.  When we forget that it is Christ that unites us and that we have a shared obligation to do God’s work in the world it becomes far to easy for conflict, strife, fear and anger to dominate the conversation.  Being in the world but avoiding being ruled by the world is a demanding and difficult calling.

In light of this difficulty, I've been reflecting on an interview I heard last week of the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks, by Krista Tippett,  In the words of Rabbi Sacks, which I roughly paraphrase here "reconciliation can only be achieved when the victors realize that there are victims to their victories".  As I read the Gospel and James through the lens of this quote, it has occurred to me that central to our calling as Christians is the need to hold onto the awareness that in any conflict our opponents are also beloved children of God.  

How would our public discourse changed if we started and ended with an understanding of our shared humanity, of our shared belovedness?  What if the foundation of our work towards what we describe as justice was the notion of mercy and willingness to yield?  

What would that debate look like?  Can you imagine Democratic and Republican conventions grounded in an acknowledgment of our shared humanity?  In the midst of heated and passionate arguments for and against same sex marriage can you imagine everyone coming together and getting to know each other--getting to know each other’s families and lives, each other’s cares and concerns?  How would that change the conversation?  

I’ve done a small amount of volunteering with Minnesotans United for All Families--the organization working to defeat the amendment which would put into the state constitution language barring gay marriage.  And, in their trainings they have focused on  the importance of staying in relationship with the friends, neighbors or relatives who disagree with us.  Because, at the end of the day the only way anyone can be transformed is by staying in the conversation and allowing ourselves to know and be known.  

And, perhaps that is part of what it means to be a Christian--putting aside the notion of winning at all cost in favor of working to stay in relationship, to create a world in which James’ vision of gentleness and peace making prevail.  

And, while I continue to hope and pray that “my side wins” I am also called to realize that if I win, there will be another who is hurt by my winning.  We are called to remember the humanity of our opponents and in that remembering we have to deal with the fact that they too, whoever they are, are beloved children of God.  

Election campaigns focus on winning and losing, they focus on which candidate will best serve our own interests or those of “people like us” and this by it’s very definition does not reflect the Gospel or who are called to be as Christians.  Can you imagine Jesus running for President?  I’m thinking his odds of winning would be slim to none.  It's hard to win an election when the only thing you can promise is undying love...

Ultimately, it’s not about what we’ll get by being a Christian, but about what we will give and, this light, I wish to call to mind a portion of our baptismal covenant:
-Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
-Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These are some of the promises that set us apart as Christians--that mark that what we do in the world reflects the love of God and the the unity of the broken body made whole in our lives and in our actions.  How will we live out these promises in an election season?  And, when our community seems fractured and rent by differences how will we work to repair what is broken?

There are folks who have a vision of how we might go about this work of reconciliation--a work centered in a vision of a world.  They have proposed that we all participate in something they are calling: “Election Day Communion”.  This movement proposes that on the night of November 6th we gather--regardless of how we voted--and gather for communion and in doing so, remember some essential truths:

“We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
We’ll remember that, through the Holy Spirit, this power dwells within otherwise ordinary people who as one body continue the mission of Jesus: preaching good news to the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-21).
We’ll remember that freedom — true freedom — is given by God and is indeed not free. It comes with a cost and it looks like a cross.
We’ll remember our sin and our need to repent.
We’ll remember that the only Christian nation in this world is the Church, a holy nation that crosses all human-made boundaries and borders.
We’ll remember that our passions are best placed within the passion of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
We’ll remember that we do not conform to the patterns of this world, but we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
We’ll remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.
And we’ll re-member the body of Christ as the body of Christ, confessing the ways in which partisan politics has separated us from one another and from God.
On Tuesday evening, November 6,
make a choice to remember.
Let’s meet at the Lord’s Table.
Let’s remember together.”



#GC79; 9B 2018

Lectionary Readings are here (track 2) Sermon Preached at Church During #GC79 As I read Paul’s second letter to Jesus’ followers in t...