Friday, January 30, 2009

What is this?

It is so obvious that people just did not get it. The Hebrews had wandered and watched for years and years waiting, waiting, for their messiah. Moses and Abraham tried to get them ready. Still, they wanted kings to tell them how to live, how to love, how to be. So, David came along, a beloved son but not THE son. Even David, as loved as he was, did not understand how to fully be as God intended him to be. So many kings; so few answers – at least, so few answers that made anyone happy.

So, here comes this young girl, this Mary. Into her keeping was given a new child, born of a woman yet not of man, Jesus, this child born of a virgin teen. Reading the synoptic gospels, one learns little of this special child – he was born, he was revered, he was blessed and then we are catapulted into his ‘tween years when began to teach at the age of twelve. Everyone was amazed at his knowledge.

Then suddenly, Jesus is a man spreading the message, “Follow me”. The idea of ‘do unto others’ and ‘love one another’ communicated numerous times. Miracle after miracle, healing after healing, water into wine, raising the dead, curing the sick, feeding the thousands, the touching of his cloak, the speaking only of words of faith – so many instances to show how special was this guy Jesus. Still, just as often we read the amazed exclamation, “What is this?” The people just couldn’t get the answer that they wanted.

Had we access to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas , might we have looked at this exceptional child differently? Might we believe that he, in and of himself, was a miracle child in his own right? Might it cause us to believe more strongly, more fully in the holiness of this child born of Mary?

Or would we do as was done – would the reality that his truth acted upon and spoken to the powers that be would too much to allow this ‘divine human’ to live?

Maybe they did get it. Perhaps the question, “What is this? A new teaching – with Authority!” was merely rhetorical. In all truth, perhaps it was more of an exclamation at his audacity to challenge those who had been presumed to hold authority. This child, this young man, this carpenter’s son from Nazareth was so audacious as to sound as though he knew more than the scribes and teachers, the authorities? Impudence, pure and simple!

We are so divided as a Christian community about who Jesus the Christ is and was. That is not necessarily a bad thing – it is just something that we need to understand. It might help us to answer that question, “What is this?”

Some think the virgin birth is so important, vital even. To others, it is all about the crucified Jesus, the pain, the agony, the betrayal, the suffering endured for all of us who are so unworthy.

To others, the resurrected Christ is the main thing – with Christ resurrected, there is hope in the idea that one day when our bodies stop working here on this earth we will continue life forever in heaven above.

Then there are those who put their priorities in that in between life of Jesus – the God made flesh living and breathing Jesus who walked among us.

So what is this man, Jesus? Audacious, certainly. The very idea of him was audacious from the beginning in that if the conception was immaculate and the birth of a virgin mother, then it was a miracle. The risk that the young girl, Mary took could have cost her life. Yet Joseph paid heed to his dreams. Both Mary and Joseph risked much by the tossing of tradition to follow what they believed to be God's call to them.

The young boy, Jesus, in the Infancy gospel, impudent as he spoke to his elders, rude and disrespectful many would claim, could easily have caused his parents to be run out of town.

Jesus, the man, defied those powers-that-be who presumed authority to talk of a new covenant, a new way which really wasn’t a new way at all; rather it was just the way that God had told of all along but everyone was too stubborn and selfish to follow. Jesus said it another way – actually showing signs – healing, loving, curing, praying, teaching, feeding – proof that he was not an ordinary type of guy. Finally, he gave up himself for an ideal. Whose? To prove God right or to prove the "authorities" wrong?

He died. Audacious not on his own but by the very punishment – so strict and extreme for someone who had only pissed off the “authority”. How he, his miracles, his words and actions must have frightened those who had long led the Hebrew people! How dare he be so audacious!

And then the resurrection. Again…audacious. That they would go to all that trouble and attempts to shame him to have him disappear! And then the news that he was alive! Resurrected?

So what is this? Who is this guy?

To me…the virgin birth…well, I do believe it but I don’t think it would matter if I didn’t. Whether or not I believe doesn’t change the actuality of anything. But I don’t think it matters. It just isn’t the most important part.

And while the resurrection is really important if one is a Christian, well, I just sort of take that as a promise and go on.

The important part to me is the Jesus who people followed…all over the place…and obviously for many miles and willing to stay as long as he was willing to speak. This is the part of him to which we need to be paying attention.

What is this that people were so willing to give up everything and to follow him? If we come up with this answer, maybe we will finally understand…maybe we will finally get it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sharing My Fear

I have found a new blog thanks to a friend in Montreal. It is called the Cassandra Pages and its author is the same Elizabeth Adams who wrote Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson.

In the few pieces I read, I felt my own thoughts and fears bouncing back at me from her words.

These things that are wrong with this country are not over simply because we elected a man of color. My worry is that it took the possibility of an old white man dying in office and leaving behind a fundamentalist white woman with little sense of how anything works much less politics to elect a person of color. We cannot ever forget or even deny that fear of women helped catapult Barack Obama into the Democratic Party nomination. In this case, it was fear of an intelligent woman. That is even more frightening than a less than intelligent woman or even more scary than a black man.

No, we are not even close to being done in this struggle against the isms.

So, I share this blog with you. I hope that some of the posts bring tears to your eyes as well.
http://www.cassandrapages.com/the_cassandra_pages/

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hope Shines

My Christian Education Report for the annual Parish Meeting began with these sentences: “It is my thought that a parish grows in two ways: 1) through social outreach, 2) through its Christian Education program. Sadly, when a parish is in trouble, these are too often the first programs to suffer cuts.” I went on to describe some of the things that we worked on in Christian Education for Youth and Children this past year.

The theme for the year continues to be “Building up from the Chief Cornerstone” based on the Psalm 118, in particular verse 22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

Prophetic? Psychic?

No, just experience. I have been in the Episcopal Church long enough to know that when parishes get in trouble financially there are two things that get cut first in hopes that things will get better before cutting more. Those two things are as I stated – Christian Education and Outreach. In that Outreach is not a line item budget at this parish, the only thing left (on my list) was Christian Education. In this particular case, my job.

Actually, I was far from alone – all the part time jobs were eliminated – six of us to be exact – six people whose lives were altered on one level or another. Although it is simple to reduce it to just numbers, these are people whose lives have been changed because a community could not figure out how to act as a community. The jobs mattered financially to all of us. Yet, we became dispensable – in fact, we became the extra weight that had to be tossed out of the boat because it begins to sink in the turbulent waters and winds. “Peace, be still.” “Why are you afraid?” (Gospel reading for Friday, the day we found out about the cuts. Mark 4:39-40)

I heard it said that those making the decision thought it would be easier to find volunteers to help with Christian Education than it would be to find volunteers willing to clean toilets. This is almost funny.

While these job cuts may not be seen as a good thing, it is certainly not an anomaly. The weight that is considered a dispensable is being tossed out across the Episcopal Church right now. It began at least six months ago as the stock market began crashing.

This is the first time I have ever been associated with a church that has such potential to be really large. Most of the parishes to which we belonged have been closer to 100 ASA. Certainly none of these have lived on endowments. We have gone through many bake sales and rummage sales to raise money for the general fund. The Stewardship campaigns at these little parishes were always long and drawn out and very intense. If nothing else, people gave more just to get the speakers to hush. It was always sort of like the membership drives on the local public radio station. Either hunker down and wait it out or give into the guilt for enjoying the gifts that public radio brings. Actually, I don’t think it is a bad idea to draw it out like that. Obviously, it works. Why would we expect less from our stewardship drives? Is there not far more at stake in our parishes?

So what is the problem? Why does this happen? I think to answer those questions we have to ask more. Why do we go to church, after all? Why do we give or why do we not give? And if a parish does depend upon endowments, what do these do to a giving body? What do these “gifts” take away from the community at large?

What I see here is a segregated community – too many unconnected compartments. There is too much individualism and far too little communication between the compartments. The one conduit that links all is extremely overloaded. Although the word has been for some time now that economically the parish was in serious trouble, it seemed to come as a surprise to most that staff cuts would be necessary. I find this strange but totally in keeping with the lack of communication and compartmentalization. Who knew? How can we be a community if we don't work together?

I also realize in hindsight that I was just a bit prophetic at the beginning of this job by choosing as the theme Psalm 118 and tying it into community building. The theme is based in the idea that each group of kids, J2A, Rite 13, Godly Play 1 & 2, nursery are all little communities within the larger community of Christian Education which is just one piece of the larger community of Christ Church.

The Chief Cornerstone is, of course, Jesus but added to that is the responsibility of each member of the church to be a positive part of every child of the Cathedral simply because of the vow we all renew every time a new member is baptized into the body of Christ – I will, with God’s help. We will, with God’s help, be living witnesses to these children of God’s steadfast love. We do not act as witnesses when we consider one part more important than the other. We do not act as witnesses when clean toliets become more important than our children's Christian Education.

Can it be said that we can be defined by those things for which we are willing to pay?

Nonetheless, while this is rather painful personally and I am distressed about the others who lost their positions, I feel a certain lifting of something…not a burden necessarily…but something. And whatever that feeling is, it makes me feel hopeful.

I did not come to this place because of this job, regardless of how much I liked it. We are here because we were led here. Whatever this job was, it was not the be-all, end-all. It was just a passing thing. It is in this hope that I understand that I can remain on as a leader in the Christian Education department, at least until the end of the school year albeit in a reduced way. I can continue to put forth the idea that we are One in the Body of Christ and we show that by building up our community.

It is in this hope that I realize something I need to know lies just around a corner and I will understand it when I need to do so. And it is in that hope that Debbie and I can both be witnesses to God’s steadfast love, staying in a place where too many have run away in anger and in hurt. Our staying and keeping on with the work that is in front of us, as faithful witnesses, as members of this community speaks much louder than the jobs that we had here.

I think that what I feel is a light shining from within me. And it feels warm and good.

I want to keep it glowing.

The hope also shines that this community may be willing to work together for a change.

Where there is hope, there is light, indeed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

The reflection below is one I gave today at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO. The verse cited are from the Daily Office lectionary and can be found at: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Isaiah+44:9-20 and http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Ephesians+4:17-32

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I am so proud to be here today, a part of this historic wonderful day. As I watched the first Inauguration ceremony, "We are One" on Sunday evening, I began grinning foolishly. A friend emailed me and asked, "Is this really happening?"

It is an amazing thing to think about – yes, it is really happening. There is so much Hope…I am filled with it. I see it in the faces of all who surround me. It is alive and breathing.

And it is smiling.

But there is a certain fear that lives just under the surface of the hope.

As I read these readings for today, it became more clear to me how that fear was growing and why.

Isaiah speaks to the idea of all that we, as humans, are capable of making and doing. The blacksmith takes a piece of iron and shapes it in the fire into something useful or beautiful. The carpenter, out a piece of dead wood, fashions a thing of beauty, even to the point of human likeness. Yet the tool or art that the blacksmith makes cannot feed him; it cannot save him. That which the carpenter makes may look like a human but it cannot be compared to the "image of God". We can plant trees, water and nurture these and they are useful to us and these are good. But these are not gods. These are not God. Just because these things are useful or beautiful, these material objects cannot save us. We cannot make these things, neither the art or the artisan, into idols.

Paul speaks to the Ephesians, warning them about living "in the futility of their minds." Basically, they think too much of themselves rather than of others. He worries that their hearts are hardened and that they are distancing themselves from God because of this ignorance and loss of sensitivity.

I love the next part – "Be angry but do not sin." Paul talks about a righteous anger, born of a desire to see justice and righteousness prevail – where our lust for dishonesty, pettiness and greed are set aside and we realize that we understand we are clothed in our new selves, created by God in that image of righteousness and holiness.

Today is the day that we watch as the 44th President of the United States of America is sworn in to this elected office. It is a historic day. It is a day when the people of the United States show the rest of the world that we want to change. We want change so radically that we did something few people thought we would ever do. We put aside our idol of bigotry, our ignorance and pettiness and elected the first African American to the highest office in our country.

We set aside racism, an evil that haunts us still and exists within every nook and cranny of these United States. Yet in spite of our bigotry, the citizens of this country became angry enough to speak truth to the power and say – the greed has become a stench…this is too much; we have strayed from that image of righteousness and holiness.

Even if it is only for a moment that racism is overcome, it is a beginning. Through Barack and Michele Obama and their two little girls, America will see into the lives of a world we never thought we would witness. And it will make a difference. It will make a difference.

But we have to take care. Barack Obama is just a man. Right now, we think he is very useful and very beautiful. We see his righteousness; we may even declare it holy. We even believe that he can help turn the tide of anger against the US so that people do not hate us.

But he is just a man. This is not his to do alone. Nor can he do it alone.

We have given him – he has given us - the tool to begin the work. We gave him our vote – he offered himself – not as a living sacrifice but as a leader who can lead us into a way that is right and just.

This does not mean that the people of the US are done. It is up to us to erase the idols of bigotry – of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism and all the other isms we can name. While he is working from the Oval Office, we have to work on the streets, in our homes, at our work and in our church.

We must remember Paul's words to the Ephesians – Be angry but do not sin. Be angry at the injustices that have brought us to this place – injustices we have allowed by our neglect, our silence, our desire to just get along. But do not sin.

Do not let the sun go down on our anger – act so that as the sun sets, we can look back at the day and say, this is what I did today and it is good.

We must remember the lesson about the idols – do not make graven images and neither can we make humans into gods.

President elect Obama is our leader…that means he is not alone. We are behind him.

We must be willing and active participants in this thing we proudly hail as Democracy.

Wow

While watching the Inauguration Ceremonies on the big screen in the Nave of the Cathedral, I saw a sign. It said simply Wow. No exclamation. No wild and wiggly lines. Just Wow.

Wow. In its seemingly understated way, that Wow said everything.

January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day, started at the Cathedral on Saturday afternoon, January 17. The staff had already set up the big screen and put it off to the side where it could wait patiently until it was time to put it to use. By Sunday afternoon, because of some special people, the projector, converter, antenna, sound and lights were figured out, plugged in and ready to go.

On Tuesday morning, we arrived bright and early and made sure everything was still set. People began filing in, one by one. By 9 am, even with the cold and the bit of snow, we had 37 people joining in for the prayer service. It was a wonder-filled service complete with a joy-filled hope.

The televised Inaugural Service was no less amazing. Some had to return to work but more came in until there were at least 52 people in the Cathedral watching in anticipation. If it was remarkable for no other reason, being able to witness in community the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of people gathered in, on and around the Mall in Washington, D.C. was nothing short of phenomenal. What pain must a nation, even a world, be in to pay homage to one small human being?

Throughout the day, people wandered in to watch the parade, to sit and pray, to just sit and dare to hope. Some were our neighbors seeking shelter from the 20+ degree cold; others were people from downtown. Perhaps the light that comes from hope was beaming through our open doors!
As we watched this event unfold, holding our breath in fear, trying to keep our hope in check simply because this one small human is just that – a human – still, I felt that peace that passes all understanding as it wrapped itself around me like a protective cloak. Even though things may get tougher for a while, we are headed in the right direction.

I think that the same can be said for the Cathedral at this time, also. Even though I know that things are going to get very personal and tough for a time being, I think that we are heading in a Godly direction.

As with this nation, so it is with us in this community – “All manner of things will be well.”

Wow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obsessed

I do not have a degree in psychiatry, however, I recognize certain obsessive tendencies when I see these.

For some reason Play Misty for Me comes to mind. Don't now why...it just does. I am also reminded of the anorexic commercials of Calvin Klein (I think) for the cologne Obsession. When we become so obsessed with an idea, how healthy can that be?

At first I laughed when I read the letter just as I laughed out loud when I read his statement that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church holds no authority over him. So, why in the world does he care if she comes to Fort Worth or not? Does he REALLY think that he is still the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth? Really? Seriously...

Jack, move on, son. You got what you wanted...go with it. Be the bishop of all Fort Worth (except for that part over which you are not) and forget about all the hidden gas lease money that is not nor ever was yours. Live in honesty for a change. Let go of those things that truly do not matter - just as those faith communities have now done and are doing. What a jubilation and release to be free of the shackles that once bound them!



Learn from them, Jack...move on. Otherwise, someone is gonna start thinking you are a little psychotic.



found at http://estanimalegis.blogspot.com/2009/01/what.html

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Song of Peace


How wonderful would it be if Zion was redeemed through its love of God and for all of God's people that all might see the salvation of our God?

From today's Daily Office:


Isaiah 52:7-10

7How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

8Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.

9Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

10The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

They will know we are Christians by our love.

I feel so inept…as war rages across the world and especially right now in Gaza, I watch as Israel attempts to annihilate all those they suspect of being “terrorists” within the confines of Gaza. Of course, along with the “terrorists” many civilians have also been killed. Leaders throughout history call this “collateral damage”.

If one expresses concern about Palestinians in general or the ongoing battle in Gaza, it is automatically assumed that one is anti-Israel. Being pro-Palestinian does not make me anti-Israeli; in fact, I remember the stories of David Ben-Gurion well. I loved Leon Uris and his tales of the struggle for a homeland for a people that no one wanted. This people may have been chosen by God but the rest of the world did not want them within their own land. While I am definitely not for the tactics used by the Israeli government to control the land of Palestine and its people, I am just as definitely not pro-Hamas. But no one ever asks me that and they actually assume that if I am one, then I am the other.

However, I also know that it is fairly impossible to try to understand the anger within the prison known as the Gaza Strip. How many generations of children have now been born under the domination of the Israeli war machine? Israel guards on one side enforcing a never ending blockade while Egypt sits quietly but just as forcefully on the other side with all their empty talk. What frustration must build each day as one attempts to live within the oppression of checkpoints and concrete walls laced with barbwire, too little employment and too much poverty. I doubt that many white U.S. born citizens could even come close to understanding the idea that these Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, are an oppressed group of people simply because they are Palestinians in a land now occupied and controlled by Israel.

What lesson is taught when a child throws a rock and an adult retaliates with gun fire? Even if we revert to the idea of “an eye for an eye”, the thought that retaliation or “preemptive” behavior might cure the problem is very frightening. Of course, this type of thinking is a product of our “right to bear arms” so that we can protect our own limited mentality. I have read the bumper stickers that proclaim that “guns don’t kill, people do.” My own creativity leads me to this – “Guns don’t kill people, idiots do but take the guns away from the idiots and maybe people won’t die from being shot.”

When our oldest son was first driving, I chastised him for driving too closely to a person on a bicycle. He exclaimed that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, that the guy on the bike was on the wrong side. I reminded him that it wouldn’t matter too much who was wrong if he, as a 16 year old killed a person on a bike. Does it matter who is right and who is wrong when people are dying? Will retaliation ever “fix” the problem of disagreement?

Who cares who threw the first bomb? Does it matter, especially if we look at it from a public health issue? Do we worry about punishing the offenders or fixing the problem that causes the concern? Which is easier – send in the F-16s, the tanks, the bulldozers or find a way to work hand in hand, side by side so that both Palestinians and Israelis (Muslims, Christians and Jews) can share the common heritage of their father Abraham? Who are the victims here?

Others can live in a world controlled by the fears brought on by reading Revelation to John. As for me, I will live in the idea that Jesus told us not to be afraid and to love one another. That is a far bigger concern to me today. And with that concern, I say unapologetically that I believe that Israel has many sins for which they will one day answer. There is the Augustinian idea of Just War. One could easily state that is why the Palestinians are fighting. Some may say that Israel has the right to defend its borders but my question is this…Which border?