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.