Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When will it trickle down?

In looking over the statistics for November in Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, part of the Jubilee Ministry Center at St. Mark’s, it came to my attention that in November alone we were able to serve 97 families for a total of 270 persons. What is amazing is that of these 17 families or 37 people were NEW clients of the Cupboard. That means that 17% of the families served had not been in the Cupboard before.

To me this is more evidence that the economic “recovery” is not trickling down to the lower strata of our economic structure. In other words, the problem is getting worse, not better.

In 2011 Church Finance Today reported, "68% of churches in the West-South Central U.S., and 64% of churches in the East-South Central U.S. have expenses exceeding income. These are the best regions in the country." This poses an interesting question: how are churches that can’t even pay their own bills with current income provide the safety net that is necessary for our own society in the long term? This is one of the fallacies that plague our current political debates over care for the poor: that “private sector” organizations (i.e. churches and non-profits) are the proper purview for this kind of work – that it is not part of government’s responsibility.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this leads me to a question I shudder to ask. Is this a way to accelerate the decline of main-line protestant churches, I mean the ones that are traditionally identified as “liberal” in their social justice stance? The logic is there: if these churches feel compelled to take care of the poor, let them. Soon enough they will spend their way out of existence and the social consciousness that they espouse will go with them.

Honestly, I do not think that there is any such conspiracy. However, the logic is inescapable and if we continue to ignore the proper role of government in providing a social safety net for those who are unable to care for themselves, we will in fact lose part of our national soul.

Meanwhile, the Jubilee Ministry Center at St. Mark’s will continue to feed those who seek assistance motivated by the love of Christ. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Parishioners’ Outreach will continue to touch and change lives just when individuals felt that they were at the end of their fiscal rope. We will do so even as the parish struggles to keep its fiscal head above water because it is not about our institutional survival – it is about our fundamental commitment to the Gospel to care for the least and the lost in our community. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chicken & Egg: Self-Esteem and Accomplishment

I recently read a quote that said something to this effect: Great accomplishments are the result of a healthy self-esteem, not the cause of it. I apologize to the sage who authored this thought but I can’t remember where I read it or who said it. Its truth nonetheless remains.

So often in our culture, we measure an individual’s worth by what they have accomplished. While this may at time be legitimate (as in a “value-added” approach to organizational life), it should never be the measure of the self.  Forgetting this truth undermines the inherent dignity that is the inalienable possession of every human being, and violates the covenant we profess in our baptism to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

It is necessary for us in Christian community, then, to work first and foremost to affirm and help individuals build self-esteem and self-respect.  This is not self-centered. Rather, it is the requisite for fulfilling one of the great commandments, “to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

Inwardly rooted self-esteem has its origin in the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator. To develop this kind of self-esteem requires not external affirmation (though that doesn’t hurt) but the discipline of spiritual practice. This practice requires that we live ever more consciously and intentionally as children of God. It will require us to accept ourselves as God sees us – redeemed and restored by his grace. This is the beginning.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God has no express lane.

Advent is the liturgical season of vigilance or, to put it more commonly, a season of waiting. During the weeks before Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the people of Israel who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah.

From beginning to end of scripture we discover stories of people who are forced to wait. The patriarch Abraham received a promise that he would become, despite his old age, the father of a son. But the fulfillment of that promise was a long time in coming. Through many years, as he and his wife grew older and older, as the likelihood of their parenthood became increasingly remote, Abraham waited. Did he doubt? Did he wonder whether he had misunderstood God’s promise? Did his faith falter? Probably. But he waited, and in time the promise came true.

In the course of the Christian tradition, there is much evidence of this spirituality of waiting. Many of the saints realized they were being called by God to do great things. But before they found their path they often passed through a wide variety of experiences over many years: often with times of stark asceticism and prayer, sometimes living hand-to-mouth and sleeping in doorways. Only at the end of this long journey is the will of God made clear-showing the saints the great things God called them to do.

All of this, I believe, is very hard for most of us. I suppose we humans have always been in a hurry, but modern people seem especially to want what they want when they want it. We are driven, determined, goal-oriented, fast-moving. I, for one, have difficulty waiting for just about anything.

For some reason, this year is a bit different. Although the responsibilities are plentiful and time seems short, there is an inner patience that has grown out of – I don’t know where. I credit God’s dealing with me for this. More and more, I see God as standing outside of space and time. More and more, I see the plan of God being worked out not by me but by God’s people – in God’s good time. My task is to wait – to do what I am called to do when I am called to do it.

While I am still not ready to be a devotee of jigsaw puzzles (and the time it takes to complete them), I find that such things come into mind I do not reject them out of hand so quickly. I actually see myself entering into that experience – creating true leisure – the time it takes to wait.
Perhaps as this Advent unfolds, I will let what eighteenth century spiritual writer Jean-Pierre de Caussade said sink in: "Whatever happens to you in the course of a day, for good or ill, is an expression of God's will." 
-- thanks in part to Rev Robert Barron for the core idea for this post.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
-- William Arthur Ward

What ever happened to Thanksgiving? Over the last few years, the day set by presidential decree of Abraham Lincoln “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” has transformed itself into the beginning of the Christmas Shopping Season. Sorry. I just need to get this off my chest.

As a child, I was always focused on the family television set (we had only one and Black and White at that!) qatching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Of course, at the END of the parade was the jolly old elf himself with sleigh full of toys and reindeer, too. It was doubly special for us because Santa was portrayed by Charlie Howard, a resident of the small canal town in Western New York where I grew up. There, he had established a Santa Claus School to teach individuals how to dress and act the part of the revered Christmas figure (but I digress).

The key notion here was that Santa came AT THE END of the parade – signifying that AFTER Thanksgiving, we turned the attention of hearth and home toward Christmas. It provides a great distinction: after we have followed the lead of the 16th president to give praise and thanksgiving to God, we can get about the business of the hustle and bustle of commercial Christmas. Regrettably, the last several years has seen Thanksgiving blended into the generic “holiday season” without a purpose of its own. This year came the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. This year, the isn’t even digested before the shopping rush is on.

Social covenants depend upon a common understanding and wiling participation of members of a society. ‘Till now, it was part of our social covenant (I believe), that we celebrated Thanksgiving in the spirit in which it was established: a day to stop and think, a day for families to gather (natural families and families of the heart), a day to express genuine gratitude for what we have received in the bounty of this earth, “our island home.”

Interestingly the God part of this holiday has taken a back seat (as with just about all other religious holidays). Churches and ecumenical communities are forced by social circumstance to celebrate Thanksgiving not on the day, nor even the eve, but on the Sunday of choice (before of after) the Thursday holiday. Some of this is because of the retail mania that has overtaken what stood for over a hundred years as a provision in our social compact – no Christmas until after Thanksgiving.

We have crossed that threshold, and as with all such realities, the genie will never be put back into the bottle. I lament this loss, deeply.

However, it does not stop me from celebrating the day as it was intended. I, for one, will join with my family and friends to celebrate the bountiful grace of God that has blessed us in so many ways in the year now passing. And I urge you to so the same. Keep the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Where does the time go?

It’s usually at this time of year that I begin to think about time. Daylight grows less and less each day. Nature turns dormant. The cold creeps upon us. It always reminds me that time is the most precious commodity we have.
We live only one unique moment at a time. Once that moment passes, there is never a promise that another will follow it.  The ways we spend our days, weeks, and months can never be undone. The 58 minutes that I spent the other day watching an episode of Law and Order that I have seen at least three times, will never return to me. (OK. I like Law and Order.)
With every second comes a decision set-up by the one preceding it and that will no doubt have an influence on the one that follows. What I find incredible is that even though time is the foundation of everything we do, we tend to value the world around us in terms of other "stuff." Typically, we look at time as something to be rushed through rather than having any innate worth. 
We pay for housing in terms of what day in the month our rent or mortgage is due. We look at our cars in terms of when they were built and how much longer we'll be paying on them. How many years have we been in school or at the same job?  How long have we been dating or married?  How many weeks until the baby is due? Time becomes a marker for just about everything in our lives.
And then time stops.
There may be no phrase that is more dreaded than the one that reminds us that our time is limited. It is in those moments that we realize how precious the quick seconds we so easily wish away truly are. The sad reality is that for most of us by the time we realize how important our time is, it is already too late.
Of late, I have been describing my relationship with time by saying, “Where does all the time go?” as if it passes at different speeds, which I could slow down or speed up. I hear my parents echoed in comments like that.  I remember well when they would warn me, “Don’t always be in such a hurry – soon enough we are old.”
We must be reminded that it is impossible to redo missed opportunities. I find it tragic to sit in a hospital room with a dying person who is not so terrified of death as over their regrets of time not well spent. 
Perhaps we should try to change the way we look at time. Right at this moment we are alive. We are breathing air and, therefore, we have choices to make.  If life is indeed a blessing, then we need not see every second is not a countdown to something else. Let’s stop thinking in terms of appointments, anniversaries, and dates that symbolize a race against time. Instead, let’s make the most of the time we have: invest in our most treasured relationships; take the time to enjoy nature; and, ask the tough question, "What does my life mean?"
How we answer the question ultimately dictates how we use our time. It will also dictate our regrets. We know life is short. As we approach our annual holidays where family and friends mean so much – and we are so often pressed for time -- may your days be filled with joy that can only come from above as we use our time to love – God’s ultimate command.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

One act of grace at a time

Studying Isaiah 65 in preparing for my homily this Sunday, I came across this quote:

"We are able to give one drink of cold water at a time. We are able to bring comfort to the poor and the wretched, one act of mercy or change at a time. One book given, one friendship claimed, one covenant of love, one can of beans, one moment of commendation, one confession of God's presence but for the asking, one moment in which another person is humanized rather than objectified, one challenge to the set order that maintains injustice, one declaration of the evil that is hiding in plain sight, one declaration that every person is a child of God: these acts accumulate within God's grace." (Mary Eleanor Johns, Feasting of the Word, Year C, Vol 4, p 292)

What a reminder that when we consider the prayer, "thy Kingdom come," that it does not come with a loud clash and clang or the trunpet blast and a world changing event, but in the mundane, daily grind of life. And what a lesson for our society. Each act of grace is worth doing all by itself . . . and begins with me.

Friday, November 15, 2013

“Christianist baffled by an encounter with Christianity”

In an interview with CNN, Sarah Palin laid bare her misgivings about Pope Francis when she said that she was “taken aback” with his liberal interpretation of Christianity. She further expressed her fear the mainstream media may be influencing him. She told interviewer Jake Tapper: “He's had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me. There again, unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media.”
She continued: "I'm kinda trying to follow what his agenda is. You know he came out with a couple of things in the media but again I'm not one to trust the media's interpretation of somebody's message but having read through media outlets."
Here is the problem. Mrs. Palin, like many on both sides of the political spectrum have fallen prey to the temptation of idolatry where ideology has replaced theology and Christian practice. It also betrays much of what passes as “Christian” in our political debate for the “cherry picking” that it is.
It’s not unusual, for example, to hear political leaders, who loudly and publicly affirm their “Christianity,” proof text the Scriptures in an effort to justify their political ideology. How often do we hear how God finds this or that practice to be an abomination (usually focused on sexual ethics) but we almost never hear quotations from the prophets (which form the bulk of the Old Testament) when they rail against the rich and the powerful as advocates for the poor and lowly.
I am afraid that Pope Francis, who has impressed believers and nonbelievers alike with his humble and practical application of the gospel, has called the bluff of many political ideologues on the use of the gospel as a pretext for their political agenda. As one social commentator wrote over the Palin flap, “If Sarah Palin's this shocked by Pope Francis, she'll be catatonic when she finally gets round to reading about Jesus in the New Testament.”
When the clear implications of the gospel are articulated in action as well as words, all human ideologies falter. What should matter to us as the baptized of God, is not whether we are politically pure on the right or on the left, but how we measure up to the plain teaching of Jesus n ALL of our social relations.
*The title of this blog post is a quote from Tom Sutcliffe of Radio 4

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honoring our Veterans

I came across a photo the other day -- you know the kind -- in a box given to you by a family member, most likely one of your parents. Among the pictures of nameless souls is a photo of a young seaman in sailor whites standing next to two hula dancers (or at least that's what they seem to be!). The photo is small so I needed both my glasses and a magnifying glass to see who that sailor was. Upon close inspection, the sailor looked very much like I did as a much younger man. Of course, it wasn't me -- it was my father. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II by lying about his age so that they would take him before he actually turned 17 (it was only a month or two away anyway).

For three years, this sailor traveled the world, spending most of his time in the South Pacific on a sub-chaser, PT boat (aka a tin can), but most proudly serving as a mess assistant on the USS New Jersey. He "saw action, " as they say but his service was undistinguished: he had no medals for valor and was honorably discharged a seaman. He was one of the thousands of Allied servicemen that did whatever was needed to bring a horrible war to its end.

As my Dad grew older, he was more and more willing to share his experiences during his time in the Navy. It became increasingly evident that this was his proudest achievement -- he had risen to the occasion when his country needed strong young men, and he put his life on the line in service to that nation. Indeed, at the end of his life, his Navy service provided a framework for him to understand his value and his worth as a man. It was something that permeated everything he did in life. Even at the very end, he spent three years in a nursing home dedicated to servicemen, most of whom were WW II vets. In one sense, his life and its meaning had come full circle. He "became a man" by entering military service and spent his last days among his fellow travellers -- men (and some women) who had many of the same epxeriences and were filled with the same pride for having accomplished something important well.

At his funeral, he was remembered as a common man, one of many in a generation that saw what needed to be done and did it, one of Tom Brocaw's Greatest Generation. Having heard how I described my dad, the organist quietly played the theme of Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for a Common Man as we walked his flag draped coffin down the aisle for the last time.

To my Dad, and to all Veterans who shared and still share that life, I give honor and gratitude.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Last Defense in the War on the Poor

On October 31st, Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate for economics, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times that laid bare one of the dirty little secrets of our society of late. He quoted Governor John Kasic of Ohio who defended his acceptance of a federally funded expansion of Medicaid by saying, “I’m concerned about the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”

With all of the talk about the importance of the Tea Party in the recent electoral cycle, it seems that many political pundits are using misdirection as a tactic in the debates over our economy. The popular notion (and self-understanding of many members of the movement) is that the Tea Party is about deficits and debt. A survey of many of the position statements reveals that this simplistic understanding is, as Krugman puts it, “delusional.” Instead, most of the speechification is a “tirade against the possibility that the government might help ‘losers’ avoid foreclosure.” Pundits don’t talk much about fiscal responsibility but increasingly about how the government is “rewarding the lazy and undeserving.”

These allegations become more credible when one examines the philosophical underpinning of the recent debates. Representative Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, puts it this way: the social safety net is becoming a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” Representative Ryan is a self-professed disciple of Ayn Rand, the literary proponent of libertarianism and total laissez-faire economics.

I am of the belief that such and understanding of economy is at its root anti-Christian. It violates the fundamental promise that Episcopalians and others take in their baptismal covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and "to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” It creates an idol of free markets since if “the markets are always right then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor” (Daniel Little). Thus we have an increasingly common attitude that unemployed workers have it too easy, that they’re so coddled by unemployment insurance and food stamps that they have no incentive to go out and get a job.

This belies the fact that in places like Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the food pantry ministry of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, we are serving increasing numbers of the working poor, people who have jobs, who work hard but simply don’t make enough money to make ends meet. We all have anecdotal evidence of individuals on such assistance that seem to squander what they are given, but the facts repudiate the tendency to make broad generalizations out of these stories. Statistics indicate that the lion’s share of people receiving food assistance do so for less than a year, but during that time, it is this assistance which makes the difference and helps them prevent the downward spiral into the cycles of poverty. “The Cupboard” and other efforts like it are often the last stop before the abyss, which is unresolving poverty. They are perhaps the last defense against the “war on the poor” which has become so evident, and I for one am proud that there are people across our community that support its efforts.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Will many be saved?

In Luke's gospel (13:22-30), Jesus is asked, "Lord, are those to be saved few in number?" The one asking the question most likely presumed that the Kingdom of God was for the Jews and that the gentiles would be shut out. Jesus answered in a most unexpected way, however.
He declared that entry to the Kingdom of God was never automatic, but always the result of a struggle. The word for which "striving" is used in translation is the word from which the English word "agony" is derived. In other words, the "striving" needed to enter the Kingdom of God is one so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit.

It is not uncommon among many Christians today to think that once we haver made a commitment of ourselves to Jesus Christ, we have reached the end of the road, as it were. We can therefore sit back and enjoy, having achieved our goal. However, it quickly becomes clear that there is o such finality in the Christian life. An individual must ever be going forward, or, necessarily, fall backward.

Anyone who lives in a Christian culture (e.g. the Church) is not necessarily a Christian. An individual may enjoy all the benefits of such a community but is really living off the spiritual "capital" built up by many who came before -- sort of like living on "borrowed goodness." Jesus' answer in this passage challenges us, "What did you do to initiate this?" "What have you done to preserve and develop it?"

This passage addresses many issues in our own society. How many "Christians" are there in public life (including our elected leadership) that tout their belief in Christ but then their backs on the poor? How many use their public faith in Christ as a litmus test against others who might be "quiet people of faith?"

Perhaps Jesus' answer puts us all on notice that while we do not earn heaven by any work of out own, we are not excused from doing the work of the Kingdom before we get there!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Faith & Certitude

None of us was alive when Jesus walked the earth. If the life of faith were like a court of law, the case for his very existence would b weak: the only surviving disinterested testimony is in the writings of the imperial historiographer Flavius Josephus. And even this is simply a passing reference to what a nuisance the first Christians were.  All the rest of the testimony about Jesus has come from within the early Christian community.  In a court, this kind of testimony would be seen as less than useful -- kind of like an alibi provided by a close family member.  We must admit that we are biased: we want these events to be true.

But this is not a court of law. And faith is not about that kind of evidence. Faith is not certified by the events of the past, though it is nourished by them.  It is certified by events in the present.  Although we are the stewards of an ancient and majestic tradition, each believer can only receive this tradition in light of is or her own experience. I cannot tell you what to believe.

All I can do is tell you what God has done in my life, and listen to what God has done in yours. That is, after all, exactly what the biblical writers do: they explain the action of God in their own times in their own world, so that we will be able to look for it in our own. It will not be the same since they are two different worlds. But their search informs our search as we reach out to God.

Most importantly, we cannot prove that God is active in our lives. We can only give testimony and pray the those who have ears to hear will hear.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The firstborn among many . . .

My brother, Mark, was 10 years younger than I. Until he died an untimely death at the age of 32, I often thought (privately, of course) that he was ultimately smarter and physically stronger than I was or would ever be. Except that he died before either of us reached the prime of our respective lives spared me the experience often seen in Scripture of the older brother having to yield to the younger. I think of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, or of Jacob and Esau. John the Baptizer too is such a figure. But unlike the others, he makes no protest when his ministry is eclipsed by that of Jesus.

It is good to think about this aspect of John's character: his humility, rather than his flamboyance. There is always going to be someone who is smarter, or stronger, or richer, or more influential. We all have need of John's kind of humility, and it need not cancel out our self-esteem.

"How am I doing?" is a question we often want to ask those around us -- wanting affirmation and support, especially in ministry. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don't. When it doesn't come from outside, though, we must always remember that we have another source of strength: the God of love, the source of all good works.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diversity is small things, in essentials, unity

What is it that makes us so intolerant of diversity in matters of faith and religion (or politics for that matter)?

The most proximate cause may be a lack of sense of self-worth. When I am truly comfortable with what and who I am, I will not need to beat you up with it. My relating to you will be a conversation rather than a sermon or a polemic. Sometimes those who need constant reassurance that they are acceptable feel the need most to denounce others.  People at peace with themselves are less likely to fall into that trap. Perhaps some of the difficulties our nation recently faced are related to this proposition. Can we face this challenge in our communities of faith sufficiently to be a model for our world?

The Church is a group of people defined by their unity in gratitude for the redemption of the whole of creation from the decay of sin and death, not an elaborate set of reasons why I am saved and you are not. We pray for Christian maturity so that we will focus less on ourselves, not more.

If this seems to far fetched, we should ask ourselves this question" What will we be asked when we stand before God? Were you right all the time? Did you qualify for membership in Club Christian? I cannot conceive that this will be the conversation between me and God. Rather, I will be asked simply, "Did you love others as I loved you?"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Justice, whatever the cost

Atticus Finch, the small town lawyer in "To Kill A Mockingbird," lost just about every friend he had because he took on the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. His purpose was to pursue justice, regardless the cost.

Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with friends or even with family because of a moral stand that becomes so evident to us. Perhaps it is little more than the decision not to respond to a racist or homophobic joke at work or the decision to call a child to account for being insensitive to a classmate who is different from them. Granted, it is often not easy to do this. None of us wants to appear priggish or "holier than thou." Certainly, we want people to like us.

But God calls us to act justly (Micah 6:8). Therefore, justice becomes more important than the approval of others. We owe it to ourselves to map out a moral plan for our lives and to pray for the courage to follow that map.

At the end of "To Kill A Mockingbird," Finch loses his case. The man is wrongly convicted of a terrible crime. Finch walks from the courtroom dejected. But as he passed his children, seated in the back of the room with the black townspeople, they all rose to their feet -- and so must we, even figuratively -- to honor someone who followed a path of justice, whatever the cost.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christian America or American Christianity?

Many times I have heard (and myself have said) that Christian faith in its most radical form is countercultural. The difficulty we usually have with recognizing this is that in so many ways, culture has co-opted our faith. For example, how often in public discourse do we hear that "America is a Christian nation." A great deal of ink, some blood, and a lot of emotional energy has been spent to make this assertion. But, if we are totally honest, we have not made America Christian but have made our Christianity American. Prosperity gospels, appropriation into political positions of the political spectrum (more in form than substance), secularization of religious festivals, and the like have all contributed to a form of cultural Christianity that has little to do with the core of our faith.

We shouldn't be surprised at this. We know that the love of God is strange to our culture which has become the land of the prenuptial agreement (what happened to covenant love?) the careful negotiating and the angry defense of right ad privilege.

Well, this same love was equally strange to the people closest to Jesus.  It took the disciples a long time to wrap their heads and hearts around the limitless nature of God's love. Hard to forgive and be forgiven; confused as to why the Messiah was not also a political liberator; totally blown away about the manner of his death -- describe some and all of Jesus own disciples. The comfort here is that when we see their doubt and questioning, we feel better about our own. But still, we would rather not face those doubts and fears. Instead we wrap Jesus in more familiar cloth - that of our own social and political existence, even "dumbing down" the radical message of Jesus when we do so. The limitlessness and universality of Jesus' love falls to the exigencies of our cultural preferences. To the extent that we allow this, we compromise the Gospel's power to change the world in which we exist.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Faith in weakness

To often, we fall prey to the temptation that faith originates in our hearts and minds when in fact it is itself a grace - a gift from God. Falling to this temptation makes us think that we need to summon up faith all by ourselves, especially when we seem least able to do so. That makes faith hard, very hard, to possess. 
It has helped me immensely in my life to remember that I am not the author or source of my faith in God. When something bad happens, so unjust, so terrible that my heart just sinks to the floor and seems not able to rise, I am grateful that it is not within my own strength to summon faith. We don't make it ourselves; God gives it to us. 
Our pain may be such that it paralyzes our hearts, but faith endures because it is not a human creation, but a gift from God. It comes to us precisely at the places in which we need it most. I do not know why things happen the way they do, but I know from experience that God can yet bring life out of the silence and darkness of death. When in the grip of sorrow or any spiritual desolation, we might doubt God's presence in a profound way. Nonetheless, while we may remain paralyzed, it is God that moves, and once we feel that movement, the possibility of joy becomes real again.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing Christ - where goodness is conspicuous only for need of it.

It is a great gift to be able to see Christ in another human being. In some, he is clearly visible to us. In other, his image is faint - the scars they bear otherwise obscure him from our sight. But the gospel teaches us clearly, he is there.
Christ himself said though, that is it precisely in these latter folk that we should most diligently search for his presence. Jesus is Lord not only of the good and the beautiful, but also of those whom we might not expect to communicate his presence. The One who allowed himself to be betrayed and abandoned by people who called themselves his friends is not surprised by our sins and unloveliness. In the end, it is clear that he proved stronger that the worst they could do. Sin and betrayal are not match for Christ.
So just how am I supposed to see Christ in those less than lovely in my sight? I think this is made possible by becoming familiar with him in the expected places: church, prayer, chatting with other disciples. By remaining fervent in intercessory prayer, that prayer helps me to remember those in any need or trouble and helps me to make common cause with them. I learned a while back that it is near impossible genuinely to pray for someone and retain a feeling of distance from them for very long. The more familiar we become with the image of Christ, we will recognize him even in places where goodness is conspicuous only for the need of it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Need for Advice in the Spiritual Life

In our daily life we often realize the need to consult someone when we feel we are not equipped or capable of solving a certain problem or situation.
For example,
  • When we are sick, we seek a good physician or a specialist in the medical field to help us heal and we follow his/her advice.
  • When our car breaks down, we seek the help of an auto mechanic and we follow his advice on how to take care of the car.
  • When a court case is looming large ahead of us, we seek the advice of a lawyer and follow it meticulously.

These are a few examples of when we seek the advice of others. In cases like these, we readily accept that we are not experts in the field and are even willing to pay large amounts of money to an expert that can assist us.
Yet when it comes to spirituality and our spiritual life & growth, which is the main reason why we are born & baptized, we more often than not think that we know what is spiritually best for us. We often fail to seek out expert advice on specific spiritual matters, especially in the arena of spiritual practices.
So why do we so often resist taking guidance on our spiritual practice?
Some of the reasons may include:
  • We feel that Spirituality is deeply personal and others will not be able to guide us.
  • We do not know for sure who we should listen to.
  • We simply think that only we know what is best for us.

In order to overcome these obstacles in developing our spiritual lives we should probably keep the following points in mind.
  • Just like any other field where we require an expert, in our spiritual journey too we need guidance else we can waste a lifetime walking down a wrong spiritual path. As a result we can stagnate or even deteriorate in our spiritual practice.
  • Spirituality is deeply personal and each of us needs to find our individual way to God. However we still need an understanding of spiritual principles and frameworks in guiding our decision-making choices in spiritual practice. To learn this we need to listen to others who have already walked a spiritual path that knowingly or unknowingly conforms to the basic principles of spiritual practice.

If our desire to progress spiritually is strong, genuine and unbiased, this itself will attract the appropriate person in our life who will be able to help us progress spiritually irrespective of where we are in the world. This is according to the old adage that ‘one should not look for a teacher; the teacher will appear when the student is ready’. In the meantime, one easy avenue for guidance can be private confession, a confidential, non-judgmental time when God's grace is available to all who seek it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How long, O Lord, how long?

It's happened again. An act of unspeakable violence perpetrated at the very heart of our national government. But where is the outrage? Where is the anger? Had this been done by a group stereotyped as terroristic, their would be calls for retaliation and for war - punitive strikes and the like. Alas, because   12 innocent people were executed at the whim of what increasingly seems to be a deranged citizen, we look the other way. In the newspaper this morning, an article noted that the alleged perpetrator was under the radar because the warning signs, so clear in hindsight, rose just short of the standard that would keep him away from firearms that amounted to a weapon of not so mass destruction. Before you get all up in arms, I am a firm supporter of the Constitution and all its amendments. However, as a student of individual rights and their regulation (the topic of my doctoral dissertation), I also am very aware that with each and every right we have there is an equal and opposite responsibility and obligation to be exercised by those who seek to exercise that right. Rights do not exist in a vacuum. They are exercised within a free society. When those rights begin to present a clear and present danger to that society, especially its innocents, then regulation by governing authorities is called for. In short, no right is absolute.

Could the massacre at the Navy Yard have been avoided. I am not so sure. BUT I can say affirmatively that it is high time we had a rational and honest discussion about the prevalence of guns in our culture, the nature of the arms we bear, the threat they present to society at large, and how we can get a handle on a culture that sees violence as a form of strength and peace-making as weakness. The fact that a mere technicality (the prohibition of sales of assault rifles to non-state residents in Virginia) kept this soul from obtaining even more lethal weapons makes the point. One mass shooting per month is too many (one is too many). Regulation CAN and WILL decrease gun violence. It's time, Lord, it's time.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Step 4: A searching and fearless moral inventory.

This year, the Feast of the Holy Cross occurred on a Saturday, which led me (I am ashamed to say) to put off my reflections for another day. But when I finally got round to it, something came to mind while reading the Gospel lesson assigned for the day, which, in part says: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 32). This passage is related to an earlier passage in John (3:13-17) when Jesus referenced Numbers 21:4-9. Here God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and raise it up on a pole so that those who looked on it would be healed. At first, this action seems to have yielded to bald superstition. How can the people be healed merely by looking upon a bronze image? 

The incident in Numbers begins, typical of what was happening among the Israelites in the wilderness. Only three days journey after God led them through the Red Sea, they were grumbling about the foul tasting water.  It seems that grumbling plays a major role in the story of the Exodus. Against he backdrop of the people's grumbling, we see the revelation of many important themes: waiting on the Lord, patience, faith, forgiveness, hope, and self-discipline. 

These themes, however, commonly rest upon the bedrock of honesty and compassion. If we are not honest with ourselves, we begin to manufacture false hopes, to make selfish demands, and to live in a fantasy world devoid of reality. In the story outlined in Numbers, Moses gets to the bottom of Israel's distress and demands utter honesty from them. "Look," he seems to say, "look at what you are and what you are doing. Look the evil straight in the face."  Thus, he made an image of their sin and their punishment and mounted it on the pole. 

The Step 4 in any 12-Step Program requires those seeking healing to make "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." That's exactly what Moses was calling Israel to do. And it is exactly what Jesus requires us to do each time we look at the cross, especially a crucifix. "Look at your sin and the punishment you have wrought," it seems to say. The cross in its less exalted and triumphal forms, reminds us that to continue growth in the Christian life, we need to make a a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. If upon the cross we find our brutally honest self, sinful and ungrateful, we also find ourselves closely united with Jesus and Jesus with ourselves. If we look upon the cross with this kind of faith, we are healed and saved. By accepting this union of our sinful self with Jesus sinless self, to perceive such love on Jesus' part that he looks like ourselves and takes our burdens upon himself -- all this requires deep faith.  Strangely enough, this kind of faith is less about our belief in Jesus' total divinity and it is about our faith in Jesus' total humanity. We arrive at our salvation by our intimate union with Jesus, by recognizing ourselves for who we truly are and then by being drawn to gazing upon the Crucified One and recognizing ourselves there with Him.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

The beginnings of servant ministry

In Jesus' day, the role of servant had as its central feature the setting aside of autonomy. In most cases the loss of personal autonomy was not a voluntary thing - a person was born into it or forced into it. Regardless of how the servant became a servant, the servant's first duty and the first thought of the day was about himself but about her master. The servant's well-being did not exist apart from that of his master. This situation differs greatly from our dominant cultural understanding where individualism is the norm. 
On the other hand, we often enter relationships in which we yield out individualistic desires. Marriage is one; and so is parenthood. In these relationships, we perform many tasks and live out attitudes we would do for many others we encounter. We do them out of love. When individualism infects these relationships (selfishness, self-centeredness) they begin to disintegrate. In short, love makes us servants of those we love. Almost everyone experiences this kind of living in a spirit of joy. 
There is something in most people that wants the barriers involved with self-interest to fall away-at least in limited form. If this kind of love leads to a form of servanthood rooted in Christ, how joyful we might become as we extend ourselves not only to our immediate family, but the members of our faith family and eventually to the world!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You called on me in trouble, and I saved you . . . (Psalm 81:7)

The 30+ years I have served in the Church have seen a great deal of change. Change, whether for good or ill, always equals stress. The issues we confront are more often than not the same ones that confront the society in which we live. Sometimes they generate high emotion, and this can make the the stress even worse. Confronting these issues can place well meaning people on opposite sides or lead to a perceived (or real) betrayal of trust. 
I know that one of the things that happens when trust has been betrayed (or even the perception of same) people can harden their spirits. We become suspicious and fearful as we work through that betrayal.  That's a natural reaction - we simply want (and often need) to protect ourselves. In our Church, in our nation, or, indeed, in any human society, however, we tend to turn upon the weak, the poor, the stranger, when we ourselves feel insecure. 
I pray that I am one of those that continues to trust in God, even when human beings let me down. I want to be someone who can encourage that trust in those committed to my care. 
I know that I can not control the behavior of other human beings, but I want always to be someone who is willing to move beyond disappointment and fear to embrace the hope that Jesus continuously offers us. Rather than "circle the wagons" in a spasm of self-protective fear when confronted with unexpected change, I pray that I, that we, can open our hearts to new possibilities with every change that comes are way.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to normal?

Now that we have all celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Jubilee Ministry in the church with our Presiding Bishop, the parish talks an opportunity to catch its collective breath so that things can get "back to normal." But thinking about that, I wonder just what that means for us? More often than not, we see normal as merely, more of same, without much change. While that may be desirable at some level, it is not the call of the Gospel. In that sense, getting to "normal" is to be in a continual flow of action and change. God does not sit still. God is always about the business of creating, redeeming, enlivening. We cannot afford to do less. Must we be as active as God? I hope not. I think we are given a reprieve in that God recognizes us a mere creatures - creatures that need a break from time to time. God does not imagine that such a state is the normal course of affairs, however. Thus, if we want to get back to normal, we can take a break from all the hustle and bustle of a special event, but we can't forget that the work of the Kingdom is an "ever flowing stream." AS St. Francis is to have said to his followers, "All the work we have done till now is but nothing. Let us begin yet again!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Will we be trim and youthful in heaven?

One day, my in-laws saw my family portrait, circa 1987. “Who’s the priest in the picture?” I was taken aback. 25 years and 40 pounds earlier, it was me. Hmm. Somehow, I didn’t remember changing all that much. I still feel like the young, thin man in that photo – but apparently, don’t look anything like him anymore. Funny, the passing of time is often seen as our great enemy. We rail against it, trying with all our might to hang onto our youth. We spend billions of dollars every year in the pursuit of an appearance that will contradict the birth dates on our driver’s licenses.  Aging brings us closer to the end of this life that we love so much, and so we can often convince ourselves that it isn’t happening. Simply put, we love it here and we don’t want to leave. Will we be trim and youthful in heaven? My guess is that at that point, I’ll stop worrying about it since time will no longer be seen as the enemy. Time is a material, not spiritual reality. We cannot comprehend fully what our rebirth into the full spiritual reality will mean – all I know is that I won’t need a mirror to find my joy!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Addictive Anger

“The Politics of Anger” was a cover story of TIME magazine in the mid-90s. I was completing doctoral studies in Washington DC at the time and the phrase rang true. In the hyper political atmosphere of our nation’s capital “the politics of anger” was palpable.

Regrettably, anger can be addictive. Righteous anger, anger about something important, something moral, can be especially so.  

The energy that anger produces in us is exciting. We can grow dependent on that feeling. Aiming and launching a well placed zinger comes to feel very good – much better than the painful, halting process of dialogue. “YES!” we say to ourselves when we level a direct hit, a bull’s eye, a victory over the “enemy.”

We too easily forget that our brothers and sisters are not our enemies. We do not grow from warfare. Warfare, whether in political society or in the Church, uses the energy we need for better things. If instead we channel that energy into prayerful, honest seeking for answers to the dilemmas we face, we will find that God guide us through the discomfort to the judgments and decisions we must make. Fighting it out will not illumine hearts. Let’s be clear: we will not find the truth of God through fighting. Nobody ever has.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Family and change

People at the end of the 19th century felt very much the way we do about family. At the turn of the 20th century, many people of faith were convinced that the family was going to “hell in a handbasket.” (Sound familiar?) Their particular concern was the growing prevalence of divorce. At the time, there was a movement within the Episcopal Church to prohibit divorce by a constitutional amendment – very much like those who advocated the Temperance movement. The “tea-totalers” were more successful in their efforts – but then we see how that all turned out. What’s the lesson here? Over a 100 years ago, a significant number of people of faith thought that society was literally coming to an end – but we know that it didn’t. We are still here. The human family, if nothing else, is tough and resilient. It’s not going to die. It’s just going to change. Family, as we understand it, is at its root a human institution, divinely ordered as we may find it. But it, too will change, as we change our understanding of what it means to be human. And one thing we know for sure – change itself is part of what that means!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Telling the story

Despots and dictators for millennia have known that the fastest way to destroy a people is to destroy its memory. Stamp out memory, language, tradition and resistance to the tyrant’s rule will die out in a generation (or two, at most). One lesson of the history of God’s people is that it is in the telling and retelling of the great story that adherence to God’s fidelity cannot be destroyed. For that reason, we cannot and must not ever be ashamed of “telling out the Good News” regardless of what the dominant culture says about the story we tell. I think the same holds true about our denominational identity. At its root, it is a story about God’s relationship to his people – but a denominational story tells about that relationship from a specific perspective- a perspective that rings true with many brothers and sisters in the human family. An honest analysis of the scriptures and of faith history reveals that there has never been only one way of telling the story of our immense God. The story of the Anglican way has value for the world in which we live. We cannot and must not ever be ashamed of telling that story.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Moving on

Contemporary western culture turns on a basic fact: the experience of the individual is to be the deciding factor in the conduct of our affairs and in our process of determining what is true. Individuals in the west are today portable and self-contained: we don’t normally live in the same place all our lives, or do so the same thing. This runs counter to the experience of ancestors in faith even as recently as two generations ago. There are many people who bewail this. But, we cannot become first-century people, or tenth-century people, or even people from the 1950s. Our history has happened and is happening. We never move backward in time – only forward. So what we need to do is this: Not opt out of history (since we really can’t) but find ways in our own time in which we encounter the sacred and speak that to our world. It isn’t our job to keep an old way of life from drifting into memory. It IS our task to undertake the awesome charge to transform our lives and the world around us according to the message of the Gospel as we receive it. We are not museum keepers – we are disciples.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

God can still lead us

We Christians can seem an unruly lot: big, unwieldy institutions that seem wracked with dissension and internal strife. But in all God can still lead us. It was that way with the Israelites as they made their way to Canaan. Divisions between leaders and factions, prophets and kings that lost their way – God has seen it all in us before. But one thing remained constant: his great faithfulness and love for his people. All we need to remember in what seem to be dark times is that God can lead us. Just as God leads the individual, giving courage to endure things she thought she could never endure, God can so that with the Church-and with the world. We can endure our disagreements; we can live through them in a way that sanctifies the pain they cause us. We should never think that we’ve been deserted by God because its hard to get along with one another. Or that this always means that we’re being unfaithful. Life together is hard. But that doesn’t mean God is not with us. That’s the promise of Emmanuel – God is with us – and the resurrection – he is with us forever!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Oblivious to the Cross

In Lewistown today, Good Friday, the churches joined in an observance of the Stations of the Cross in prayer and action. Beginning with the traditional devotion in Sacred Heart RC Church, we moved to the streets to give witness to the story of the Passion of Christ. As we carried a large and heavy wooden cross through the town, some took notice, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the noise of traffic moving quickly by . . . by the number of motorists who were visibly disturbed when the procession help up traffic . . .  by the level of oblivion concerning the the story that was being told. It reminded me that it was probably just this way that first Good Friday. We tend to romanticize and embellish the story because t is so dear to us. Odds are, since crucifixion was a common thing in the residents of Jerusalem, those on the first via dolorosa probably took no notice of yet another criminal being marched to his death outside the city precincts. It was Friday, the preparation day, and Sabbath was to start at sundown. There was too much to do to take much note. If it were Lewistown in the 21st century rather than Jerusalem in the first, not much would have changed from our experience today . . . business and commerce would be carried on as usual. Some may note the moving crowd of fifty or so and the cross, but not enough to stop or to join in. Some will curse the apparent folly of what was happening and others mock. No, nothing much was different today from that first Good Friday and we should take heart from that fact. Even though Jesus of Nazareth went to his death probably little noticed by the general populace, the kingdom he came to preach took root deep in the hearts of his disciples and has outlasted any transaction taking place that fateful spring afternoon. Two millenia later, we still remember and the power of his life continues to grow in the hearts of those who would follow. Christendom as we knew it, no longer holds sway. All the better, for now we might be able to get down to the real business of the kingdom.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

For it is in giving that we receive

  Some people we encounter seem always full of love. You know who they are: the ones that always make you feel treasured, accepted, heard, understood. They seem always happy and their joy seems to spill over the brim of their own hearts bathing everyone else with grace. Who comforts these people though? Where do these people so brimming with love for others go when they need to be filled? Sometimes, we become so accustomed to receiving what we need from a generous friend that we forget to ask that question.
Dark times come to us all. The rich in love have hard times, too, just like everyone else. The ones that I have been blessed in knowing go to God with their emptiness, honestly reaching out to God for the fullness of comfort and joy that only God can give . . . and they receive it. God does not intend for us to be empty. When we ask God to be full, God fills us.
Often God does this through the agency of other people. The person that God uses in this purpose may be you! God may use you today to be a blessing for the loving. Today YOU might be the minister of God's comfort and love to the one who usually ministers to you. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Redemptive Suffering

  One purpose of Holy Week in the Church is to help us reflect carefully on the redemptive sufferings of Christ. By walking with Christ through the last days of his earthly life, we can grow in compassion by experiencing empathy with the rich emotional journey he took from exaltation on Palm Sunday through the utter sense of abandonment on the Cross. 
One of the hallmarks of selfishness is the inability to enter into the reality of other people. "That's not my problem," is a red flag that we may have failed to heed Jesus teaching about true compassion. Empathy is the gateway to selflessness. It is the beginning of mercy. It is the basis of the incarnation: that Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at . . . 
Being made in God's image, it is in our nature to be merciful. We need to cultivate a true empathy, i.e., to be able to feel with another what he or she is undergoing. This brings us back to Holy Week - a time to reflect on Christ's empathy for us as he "suffered with" and thus redeemed our sufferings.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

All Hail . . .

Context is everything. One day it's "Hosanna, Son of David!" and the next it is, "All hail, King of the Jews!" Don't they mean the same thing? In theory, yes. In practice, no. As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last fateful time, the crowds saw in him the fulfillment of a long awaited promise. As time passed, they resented the fact that he didn't measure up to their expectations. No one referred to the things he had said about himself, only to the things they wanted - and then turned on him because of it. There is a great scene in A Torch Song Trilogy when mother and son are arguing. "I mighta understood . . . But you never gave me chance . . . You cut me out of you life and then blamed me for it." Is that what the crowds of Jerusalem did to Jesus? Is it what we do to God?
When we harbor resentment for God because s/he does not meet our expectations, what we want him to do regardless of what he has said about his will or purposes, have we essentially cut God out of lives and then resented him for not being there when we needed him? What expectations do we have of the Son of David? If they are not in line with what what was revealed, do we then turn and deride the "supposed King?"
Human nature has not changed all that much in two millennia. The question for us is: we will allow God's grace to transform us and our nature to recognize just who God is and what God has done for us?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Failure and Despair

  What has happened to us that we so often expect to fail? Cynicism has become the predominant attitude when we approach big problems. Deforestation, global warming, peace in the Middle East, reversing gun violence. We are cynical about our ability change things. When we expect failure, we open ourselves to a state of despair. Despair, like violence, is sin: it ignores the reality and power of the power of Christ, the Kingdom of God. Despair and violence both take matters into our own hands, as if we were our own God. But we are not God. Only God is God. 
We may be right about one thing in this-whenever we try to manage the big problems on our own  we will fail. However, the Gospel makes clear, we are not on our own. "I will be with you always you always . . . " God will not leave us comfortless. Even in the midst of our darkest attitudes, hope comes from God. We might lose everything, but in Christ nothing is lost. One day we will be lost to the world, gone from its midst, we and our whole intricate culture buried in the rubble of time as has been every great civilization. BUT the world will still be in Christ. One day, even the world will cease from its created existence. It is not eternal. It had a beginning and thus will have an end. But even in its ending, it will still be in Christ. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Poor You Will Always Have . . .

  There is an interesting irony in the economic and social values among those who count themselves as "genuine" conservatives in our political system: while the theories of Carles Darwin are popularly rejected by many on the right, there is no problem with applying those same theories to economic prosperity. A Darwinian approach to those who could not prosper in our economy has been invested with chilling moral authority. Their inability to keep up is framed as "voluntary."
"If they can't keep up, it's because they don't want to work." There is a great deal of talk about grandparents who came with nothing, about how nobody gave them a handout. Consequently, it is easy to turn one's back on the poor and increase the height of the wall over which one must climb not only to prosperity but also for a basic quality of life. "The poor will always be with you" is cited as a gospel mandate to take care of oneself and blame the poor for their situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. There will always be poor among us because of human nature. The biblical mandate is ripped from its old testament moorings-instead of being an excuse to ignore the poor, Scripture challenges us constantly to have an open hand willing to assist the poor, because there will constantly be genuine need. Thus, like applying Darwinian theory to social rather than biological processes, this misreading of scripture produces a conclusion opposite of its very intent and must be rejected by the faithful believer.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Called to an Abundant Life

If we do not make time for ourselves or our families, we will eventually stop wanting to. If we do not take the time to feel the things we feel, we will soon stop feeling them. Our lives may become more efficient and "productive" but we will begin to suffer an inner death. We will become addicted to the busyness of our lives, never feeling quite at home unless we are running at top speed. Ou families will begin to make their way without us and find their comforts elsewhere. When we are in our offices, at our meetings, we won't even notice it happened.
Unless we assert our need to gather strength from the right places, we will gather it from the wrong: substance abuse, inappropriate relationships, alcoholism. Most of us have been touched by these tragedies directly or indirectly. We need to care for ourselves appropriately. We fail to do so at our peril.
God did not call us into a family life and a working life in order for us to become angry and sick and dead inside. God calls us into an abundant life. While not every day may be a great and wonderful day, each day belongs to us and is a gift from and extravagant and gracious God. We must find and savor each day's sweetness even if through tears. We cannot let a single day pass by us in a blur of work and responsibility. A day is too precious to waste...we can never get it back. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another conceit of our culture is that it is important always to be “in control.” If there is one thing that our brothers and sisters in recovery can teach us, it is that we are definitely not in control – that we must admit that there are powers beyond us that often determine the course of our lives. As Christians, we believe that this power resides in Christ. There is the paradox: that by giving up total control of our lives, we find perfect freedom. How so? It is when we realize that we are not always in control that we obtain the freedom to make mistakes. When we can admit we make mistakes, we can ask for forgiveness and move on. If we are possessed by the fiction that we are in control, we cannot turn to a higher power for what we need to be free, and thus we become slaves to whatever impulses emerge from the core of our being. By acknowledging that we cannot control everything in our own lives, we also acknowledge our need for others – and eventually for the ultimate Other, which is God.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our culture too quickly makes judgments about those who live alone. Terms like "aging bachelor" or "old maid" betray a prejudice that many feel that if one is not intimately and uniquely joined to another person, there is something wrong. The person "unlucky in love" is to be pitied. The reality is that no human being is incapable of love or being loved. The divine spark of life that animates us is the supernatural force of love - and that is present in us until we draw our last breath. It is something, like most things in life, that needs to be nurtured so as to grow into full stature. That spark can burn even in those that seem not to have the romantic connection our society presumes should be part of everyone's life. The specific means of nurturing that love is a divine call - a vocation. Some are called into the intense relationship of marriage. Others may be called to love more generally: to live a life in a community of people gathered around a common belief. C.S. Lewis calls this kind of love friendship. We can be religious friends, political friends, work friends. All we need to do is discern where our life passions lie and seek out others who fell, think, and believe similarly. Friendship in so many ways best characterizes the love of which Jesus speaks since it is deepened and increase as it is shared among those of an increasing circle of friends. From this perspective, there is no such thing as "unlucky in love" - there is only the task of figuring out the kind of love to which each of us is called.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Becoming Friends

I know a number of people that believe that they cannot believe in God for one reason or another. Each time I hear this I want to ask (and sometimes do) if they have spent any time with God? I often get a quizical look. What we can know of God, we know through human agency, though our own senses and mind. We can become convinced of a "higher power" when contemplating creation. This still does not lead us to know God as the intimate and personal God revealed to us through Scripture. I offer the model of friendship as a means to know God: to know a friend, you must spend time together, discuss your values and your goals, and just simply "hang together" to get a sense of the spirit of the other. We do not know one another well except after long acquaintance and shared history. Do we do this in our effort to know God? Face to face discussions may not be possible and may not be all that helpful anyway. To the extent that the divine spark exists in each human being, we get to know God by getting to know one another. This is the value of the community of faith-the Church (not the hierachies of ministry, but the capacity to rub elbows with fellow seekers). When you conceive of it this way, it becomes clear that "going to Church" will not be enough to know God. We need to engage God in dynamic conversation and this occurs only when we are in coversation with one another about of personal journeys. The better we know our firneds, the more intimate we become-even to the point of love. Why sould it be different with God?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Familarity: Apathy or Insight?

Does familiarity breed contempt? I don’t think so. Rather, it breeds apathy. Have you noticed how the most familiar things in your life are the things you really care most about – but pay the least attention to? Until, of course, it is lost. Relationships, precious items, special traditions. We often fail to plumb their depths until it is too late. Perhaps our relationship with Sacred Scripture is that way. I know it was for me. At times I thought I knew most of what was important about the Bible for my life – and then I had to start teaching it again. Before long, I fell in love all over again - deeper, newer – discovering an old love – something I thought I knew and now realized I didn’t know the half of it. Layer upon layer, its words delve ever more deeply into the human spirit. Book by book, it tells a story that humans can never grasp fully. Why, because it genuinely is the Word of God – not a manual, handbook, or compendium of law, but the self revelation of the Other. Now when I approach Scripture, I often feel like someone who saw their spouse across the breakfast table as if for the very first time. You can see someone or something daily for decades – and then one moment you look at it and it’s there in a way you never imagined. It’s familiar but new. Familiar and comforting. New and challenging.

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (BCP, Collect, Proper 28)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Open to Other Worlds

For nearly three years, I have driving up the river valleys of the midstate from Harrisburg to Lewistown and home again - two or more times a week. The hour's journey often seems to pass by unnoticed in part because of the awesome beauty I encounter each time. It's amazing to see how the trips unfold, each one different. Glazed in ice and snow, draped in frozen fog, the rivers and the hilltops beckon. The scene changes every few seconds. It can make you mad with curiosity and transfix your imagination.

I want to tell you how the light changes almost every minute, and how a rock or a formation or a ledge that was in the dark one minute was revealed, brilliantly lit as if from within, the next.  Sometimes, it looks as if a rock was on fire. I can believe how Moses saw a burning bush not consumed. Sometimes, clouds that were just above me seconds later were beside and then below me. Sometimes, the shifting light takes my breath away. I can understand how prophets saw visions of God's glory.

I often turn off the radio and suddenly start having a discussion with myself - no with God, really.  Who am I in this other world?  Who are you, Other World?  What’s important here?  What have I thought was important that’s not important at all?  How have my perceptions of God, humanity, and the planet been limited by where I live, what I’ve been taught, and who I hang around with?

I want to tell you how important I believe it is to inhabit other worlds, if only for brief time. Inhabit the world of someone who is not just like you.  Ask yourself what’s important in that world.  Ask yourself how you’ve been limiting yourself and others by not opening up to other realities.  Inhabit another world by visiting a place you’ve never visited and really paying attention.  Who are you there?  What’s important or not important there?  What didn’t you know about the world that this new place wants to teach you?  Inhabit another world by taking a trip into your own soul.  Who are you in your dreams?  In your unexplainable behaviors and feelings?  How are you unfamiliar with your deepest yearnings and desires?  If you were, metaphorically, to step off the cliff of your ego into the depths of God, who would you be there?

What a gift it is to open ourselves to other worlds!  When we do so we can inhabit the world we do live in fully, with presence, reverence, deference, expanded consciousness, and humility.