Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2 Peter 3:11-18 Advent 2 Evensong

When I first began to explore this strange thing of discernment, this inclination to have God take over my life, one of my most challenging questions was, “How do I blend the secular world and my spiritual world?”
One answer was, “Oh, you can’t. Just fill up as much as you can on Sunday and hope it lasts the whole week long.”
A friend of mine has a bumper sticker on her car. It states, “There is no secular world.” Just as simple as that.
The author of 2 Peter asks questions as we delve more deeply into Advent.
What sort of people should we be? How do our lives reflect holiness and godliness? Do we live our lives as though we are not only waiting for but working for the coming of the day of God? …Knowing…knowing that at that coming…on that day…the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved…and in that promise, we wait for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness is at home…
…so how do we live our lives…IF we really believe that as truth…
Of course, that is exactly what the author of 2 Peter is speaking to…the worry that Christ had still not come even though he himself had said that he would return before that generation had died off. It was a difficult time for some to continue to believe that God was going to fulfill the promise that creation would be renewed and that evil would be destroyed and righteousness would at last have a home within that renewal.
But what is righteousness?         In the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, Righteousness was the status for the one found to be justified by the court – the one in whose favor the court found.
God’s righteousness was invoked by covenant – God was expected to deliver the people even as God judged those people. God also waited before judging, granting time for the people to repent, then restoring the fortunes of the people and by continuing to renew the covenant between God and the people.
So there were two settings for righteousness – the law court and the covenant. To have righteousness meant to belong to the covenant community, bound by the Torah, and the hope of which was God.
In the New Testament, Paul stresses that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ showed that God continued to show righteousness – God kept the covenant of Abraham, dealt properly with sin, showed no partiality and upheld all those who cast themselves upon God’s mercy. As believers in the Gospel, we are a part of that covenant community bound by the same things.
As God is creator and judge of all the earth and as God’s people, we are to reflect God’s own character. We have to see the justice which God desires and designs for the world, and that the church is to be an example of God’s intended new humanity, and the establishment of world-wide justice.
Sometimes, individualism and the idea that church and the world are separate can make justice an abstract value. I saw a bumper sticker that states, “there is no secular world” and I agree with that. And did you know – in the Bible, the word justice is mentioned twice as much as the word love…and seven times more than the word hell.
 The author of 2 Peter reminds us that as we await these new things promised, regardless of how long it takes, we are to remember that we must strive to be a reflection of God’s own character, not our own. Our own ways can lead us away from those things God desires and designs. Without a focus on God’s desire, we lose our stability. Our righteousness comes from God alone.
As I go more deeply into this time of waiting, watching and preparing, I want to hold close these questions:
What sort of person should I be? How does my life reflect holiness and godliness? Do I live my life as though I am not only waiting for but working for the coming of the day of God?

…Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Opinions are like...

At least two opinion pieces have been released since clergy were arrested at the Ferguson Missouri Police Department on Monday October 13, 2014. As I understand it, the clergy were there at the invitation of the Millennial Activists United, a group of young Black leaders intent upon being the motivators of justice for all, not just some. They have basically put their lives on hold so that they might bring attention to the fact that there are lives that matter, lives worth saving.

I was told by a clergy member that was there, that the intent was to share a commitment to this cause by showing up, by praying, by seeking forgiveness for their own sins of racism and to be available to ask others to repent and to hear confessions. They also sought to speak to the Police Chief but were denied. At that point is when the arrests were made.

Was it staged? One could easily say yes to that. Just as Cornel West stated on Saturday, he came to St. Louis to be arrested, to act in solidarity with the protestors who had also been arrested for the idea that Black Lives Matter. There were those who were willing to be arrested and so they were.

Yes, Privilege was there that day – White and Economic Privilege. Those who were arrested did not spend a great deal of time worrying about whether or not they would get out or when they would get out. But that was not the point. OR was it?

Those who hold a certain amount of privilege do not have to worry about how they are treated by police or worry about their day to day actions bringing on suspicion. Those who hold this privilege do not have to teach their children how to react if the police stop them. They do not have to worry if others are waiting with bail money as they are arrested.

Black youth do not hold that privilege on a day to day basis. They are arrested…and charged…and sentenced, often without proper or caring representation. It is a reality. The for profits prisons are full of black men and women. As long as our prison systems operate on a for profit means, there will be black lives to feed it.

That is the message I received from the clergy’s day of protest and arrest.

But there are those who would change the focus. There are those who would criticize. There are those who would cast aside the reality that justice is denied for many, especial those of color or low economic means.

 It is easy to criticize and refocus the protest. Finger pointing at clergy is a really great way to sidetrack the real issue -- we are a racist society with deeply embedded problems that will not be solved in a day. This is a centuries old issue...we have a lot of work to do. Calling clergy presumptuous because they did what scriptures tell them to do is disingenuous.

I say that these groups should shut up criticizing and get off their probably white privileged butts and do something other than tell those who are in action how to or not to do it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Two eighteen year olds

I have been trying to gather my thoughts over the past week but this has proven to be an elusive task. My feelings are too expansive; my fear too large; my awareness of my privilege too perceptible. I cannot help but compare the fact that my 18 year old just got dropped off at college yesterday while a family grieved the loss of their 18 year old who was supposed to begin college this week.

I have read a lot of snark over the last few hours since the Police Chief of Ferguson released the officer’s name who shot and killed Michael Brown and then immediately followed that with the news of the release of pictures showing Michael Brown involved in a “strong armed” assault at a convenience store. Michael and another young man apparently had stolen some cigars from the convenience store.

As if that justifies the idea that a police officer can shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot at least one more time an unarmed suspect until he is lying dead in the street.

What we know about this case from the media and what really happened in this case is known only to those who were immediately there. The truth is always somewhere floating in the midst of the “facts”. A person in authority, armed with a deadly weapon, cannot become the jury, judge, and executioner in one fell swoop.

For the first time in a long time, I did not worry about my eighteen year old last night. Even though he could have been doing who knows what, I was not worried. He was away from the ‘hood.

It is not as though he hangs with a bad group of friends. Rather, one friend is a tap dancer, the other a ballet dancer. A couple of others are just boys growing into men, each of them likeable and polite. It is not the young friends that are at the core of my worry.

It’s the idea that Tucker could be walking down the street with his friends and there could be a drive by…or the police just decide to stop them. Or, as was the case one day last spring as they were driving home from school, a police car pulled them over half a block from our home. They were told to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car. Then they were frisked and made to sit on the curb with their hands crossed behind their backs and their ankles crossed. Then the car was searched. No rights read. No warrants served. No excuses offered. It was a “driving while black” offense. Tucker just happened to be in the back seat. When the officer found out where he lived, he was told to walk on home. The other boys were kept for a few minutes and then released.

Now some might say that is the only way the police will be able to clean up the drug infested neighborhoods. But I say that there has to be more probable cause for stopping someone than seeing that the possible suspects are simply black. That cannot be a cause for becoming a suspect. It just can not.

Those who think that the riots and looting play some role in the whole of this are misguided. There is an anger there that is boiling. It is an anger born out of bad school systems, crappy jobs with worse pay, or no job/no pay, knowing that the chances of a black boy making it to 18 without getting arrested or to the age of 25 without dying. It is a disgust with a system that allows society to treat a person of color with such disdain as to allow them to die from neglect. It is a hatred born out of generation after generation of abuse and misuse. I heard it described by one man on NPR this morning as the “root of our bitterness.”

The truth is this: a people can be kept down for only so long before they rise up in force against their oppressor. Our society is one of the ruler and the ruled. Those with power flaunt it; those without suffer. 

It is time to understand that racism is wrong and that we have to change this sick culture that allows it to thrive. The warning sirens are blasting, letting us know that the rages are rising and that change has to be now…today and not one second longer.

It is time for a radical upheaval of understanding. There are no two sides to this. A person cannot be deemed "less than" simply because of an accident of birth. 

I won't really stop all my worrying about Tucker. But one worry will be alleviated for a little while...at least until he comes home for a visit. Michael's mom won't have to worry over him any more. He has lived into the statistic of a young black male in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. It is just that simple. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Take it on the run, baby

That REO Speedwagon song came to my mind last night as we attended the last Lenten session on Transforming Stewardship at St. Paul’s Carondelet. It was just one of those things – the lyrics for the most part had absolutely nothing to do with anything. We were sharing our stories of moving from the Wilderness into the chaos of Jerusalem. My particular sharing had to do with the fact that I have felt as though I have been in the chaos of Jerusalem for some time now.

With the idea of Wilderness, I think of wandering, searching, contemplation, and just a great unknown. With two grandkids living with us, two jobs, one senior soon to leave off into his own journey, and far too many commitments, I don’t have time to wander, search or contemplate anything. My daily routine is known. I get up, I shout Hurry Up!! numerous times each morning, jump in the car and race kids to schools, rush off to the job of the day, do the required things there, rush off to pick up kids at whatever location they may be at that day, then rush home to fix dinner and whatever there might be to do there. Then I collapse in bed. I don’t wander from task. I have no time to search. And whatever contemplation might happen occurs normally about 3:30 am when I am awakened by those “things left undone”.

Prayer comes in odd times: The New Zealand Compline at the end of the day as I am ready to pass out, at Trinity Food Ministry when a patron asks me to pray for or with them; in the car as I am driving down the streets of St. Louis City; when I am so tired I can barely move.

I “take it on the run, baby.” It’s not the way I want it but that’s the way I got it.

I used to hope that one of these Lenten times, I will go into full contemplative mode. But I am not sure that will ever happen. I understand what Paul meant when he talked about relationships. Relationship with one person is not that much of a detriment to a contemplative life. I could do both. But to increase that relationship to include children, grandchildren, a certain self-induced poverty – there are daily requirements that disallow more than a meager amount of moments to contemplate anything other than what there is to cook for dinner that evening. It becomes a full blown struggle to follow what I perceive to be the path that Jesus walked.

My faith is no less; in fact, it might be stronger. Some days it is the only thing upon which I can rely. But as for any type of prayer, contemplation or study?

I take it on the run, baby. Welcome to Jerusalem. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

end of winter

Overwhelmed by the tangle of regrets
Feelings of failure swarm me.

All that could be all that was all that is and will be
Whisks me up in a tornado of emotion

And just as violently tosses me aside.

I am paralyzed.

Light within the darkness bleeds
Shooting waves of life through each limb.

All that could be all that was all that is and will be
Immobilizes the fear and uncertainty

            And just as suddenly…

I am reborn. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Reflection on John 12:20-26

Next week, we begin Lent…a time of reflection, contemplation – a time to look at our lives and see ways where we have fallen short of serving and following Jesus.

In the Presiding Bishop’s Lenten letter, she notes we are in a time of hunger. To be a follower of Jesus is to seek the healing of the whole world. In seeking to heal, we have to work in solidarity with the people of the world.

A part of my world resides on the edge of the Central West End in St. Louis…one block from Delmar – commonly known as the Delmar Divide – a geo-economical boundary between those who have much and those who have little.

Basically, I work in a world of hunger. I manage a food ministry. A good part of my work includes many mundane tasks such as sorting, stocking, ordering. But this ministry isn't just about giving food to the poor.

It’s about being on the lookout for angels. I am not talking about angels that save us from a moment of catastrophe.

I mean angels that help us see ourselves as we are…and as how we would like to be. Angels that make us wrestle with a certain thought and afterwards, we are renamed…different. Better. Closer to what Jesus wants us to be.

I have met several while working at Trinity.

John came to me a few weeks after I had begun work at Trinity.  He introduced himself and then he said, “I haven’t always been homeless…I used to be somebody.”

Jane – a prostitute – a recovering drug addict – the last time I saw her, she asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. She wanted to let me know that she was moving out of the area, trying to get away and change her life. She needed to ask me a question. What was it about me that made you love me?

A little lady who she looks old but probably isn’t much older than I am. She and her husband are struggling. Her cupboards were bare – she said she had nothing. After putting out a call for help (outside of the bounds of the pantry), there were enough basic groceries to see her through the last part of the year.

Sheila – she came into the pantry one day – angry, hot, ready to fight. I was not in the best of moods myself. The temperature in the parish hall was 80 degrees and there were at least 50 people – all wanting something and needing more. I was not at my best but I did get Shelley what she wanted. Then she told me, “I want one more thing.” Glaring at her, I asked, “What?” She smiled at me and said, “I want a hug.” All anger and frustration evaporated within me and I told her, “I have two for you.”

Some of the people that I have encountered have called me an angel.

I don’t think that is true. I think they have been the angels. They have helped me see Jesus up close and personal. I have hugged him. I have prayed with him. I have looked into his eyes.

Do I serve or follow Jesus? All I can say is that I try. One thing I have come to realize…wherever there are angels lurking, there are demons to overcome.

It is exhausting trying to see Jesus every day; being on the lookout for angels; watching out for the demons that reside within me.

I fail miserably… often.

But the world we live in is a world of hunger. We cannot ignore it and we cannot simply walk above it or around it.

We have to walk in its midst, just like Jesus did, every day.

What better way to prepare ourselves for the season of Lent?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Glory to God and Merry Christmas!

It is a brand new year. I am rather amazed at the fact that it is the year 2014; nonetheless, I am energized about this New Year.

Here I sit on January 3 feeling a little jiggly ball of anticipation in the core of my being. I have made a few resolutions for myself and I do believe that it is the promise of change within me that is creating the excitement.

December is such a difficult month for me. The days are short and the hype is high and hope falls to its lowest. The light that I see is full of glitter and neon. The commercial world screams to the rafters about the latest gadget our loved ones have to have, the “happy holi-days” vs “Merry Christmas” debate becomes a political, secular and spiritual battle and there just doesn’t seem to be much time or energy for Advent, a season of waiting and anticipation. Added to this year’s circus…college applications. Oh yeah…and two new kiddos plus…well…let it be said that this was a seriously sad and sometimes scary year.

Such over-abundance in too many; so much scarcity in more. It left me all wadded up in a useless heap.

Well, not literally. But it did affect me seriously with depression, anxiety…and all the crap that goes along with those things, namely, a gigantic void empty of joy or hope.

So, it is with a good deal of joy that I relish this little feeling of hope. I know it is growing. While sadness overwhelmed the Christ-birth story, I do believe that this current feeling is of the Christ-child/man himself and the things he did and said – more importantly – the things he expected us to do and say.

My religious life at this particular age has been fairly evenly split between time claimed as a Southern Baptist and time spent as an Episcopalian. In all reality, I have been an Episcopalian far longer, being confirmed in 1986 and stopped going to the Baptist Church closer to 1972 or 3.

Regardless, the point is, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have begun to hear more clearly preachers preaching on the teachings of Jesus. That is a great deal different that the “Jesus is your Savior and died for your sins, you worthless piece of scum” and “God rewards the righteous with wealth and good fortune and to the worthless – not such good fortune and no wealth” messages that I have had ground into me. It was always about the sacrifice of Jesus, my worthlessness and GAWD’s retribution.

This year is different. I feel it. This is the year that people are talking about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit; talking about change. Sara Miles, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Pope Francis are in the news and on my radar. This is the year that people will seriously address the issues that make people homeless, that allow them to be hungry, and that cause people to spend hours out of their week going around to different food pantries so that they can feed their families. Finding food is their work.

The Daily Episcopalian recently posted an essay by Sara Miles. It is a serious message that is, in the words of Janis Joplin, “of great social and political import.” We can no longer see ourselves as separate, above the fray, outside of the oneness that God calls us into. What hurts one, hurts all.  Nadia Bolz-Weber is a breath of fresh air, bald honesty, and someone I would love to meet, just to say I have met her. I know her language and brutal honesty make some cringe but perhaps that one is the ear that needs to listen more closely. And Pope Francis…well…it is a new day in the Church…rather; maybe it is an old day come into the Light after a great many decades of decadence and dishonor to the masses. In the mess that is politics and anti-justice and anti-mercy politicians, these people offer me a sense of sanity, an indication that there are others who think and feel the same way as I do.  And their audience is large! There are those who will listen to them and in the listening, be altered.

I know that not all people are as seriously affected by the secular season of Christmas and short days of the winter. And I know I am a little late coming to the celebration but it is, after all, still Christmas if already the 10th day! Better late than never!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Glory to God indeed who has lifted me from the void of Sheol; who has nurtured within my heart that seed of hope; who has been with me throughout this time. Thanks be to God for the goodness and mercy and most of all…Joy.

Merry Christmas to all. 

Normal does not mean OK

  I often wonder how I live such a normal life. I know they say that “normal” is only a setting on the dryer, but you know what I mean. I ha...