Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thank God for Differentness

"O Loving God, whose will it is that everyone should come to you and be saved: We bless your holy Name for your servants Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle whose labors with and for those who are deaf we commemorate today, and we pray that you will continually move your Church to respond in love to the needs of all people; through Jesus Christ, who opened the ears of the deaf, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

O happy day! it is a day for rejoicing and thanksgiving in my family as the Church celebrates Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Sile. You see, my husband's niece, Danielle, has been deaf since infancy. She is now a young professional woman living and teaching in Austin, Texas. She entered higher education and completed her B.A. at Gallaudet University, the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree. We are all so proud.

And we are thankful. Thankful for the insight of Gallaudet and Syle, both priests of the Episcopal Church, who understood that what was seen in their day as an obstacle to full participation in church and society was not designed by God as an obstacle but as a blessing. Syle, a protege of Gallaudet, was nearly denied admission to holy orders because of this prejudice. The late 19th century was not a friendly place to people with "disabilities" or "handicaps." Individuals that exhibited these kinds of "differentness" were thought to be less than others. It was only because of a deep spiritual conviction of people like Gallaudet and Syle that Christ lives fully in all persons that our society finally began to see differentness as "other giftedness."

Some might say that it's all about being P.C. Well, it's not. Gallaudet and Syle understood that both from their personal experience and from their zealous pursuit of the respect and dignity owed to every human being (see the Baptismal Covenant, BCP 305). Creating safe spaces for education and personal and spiritual development was their passion and their life's work. And I, for one, rejoice deeply in it and give thanks for their giftedness.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fan or Follower?

Fans can be loyal. I know. I am a native of Western New York where loyalty to the Buffalo Bills is a badge of honor to many. T-shirts and sweatshirts can be found in every department store from August through January. Team logos adorn doors, lawns, autos and even heads, especially in the Southtowns, the southern suburbs that are home to the Bills' stadium. 

Even though fans can be loyal, they can also be fickle. When the Bills were riding high in the mid-90s and won four consecutive American Conference Championships and a spot in the Super Bowl, everyone was a fan. But when things took a downturn, shirt and fan paraphernalia sales dropped considerably. Fans are ready to pounce on any general manager or coach who, in their estimation, trades players unwisely or picks the wrong game strategy. 

Back home you will notice that since they've had several losing or mediocre seasons in a row, only the most loyal still wear their logos with pride and with hope that this year will be better. These latter are not fans. They are followers.

Jesus had fans, too. In the gospel stories, crowds gather to hear him speak and watch in amazement as he works his miracles.  Jerusalem gave him a hero's welcome when he arrived only a few days before Passover. But like fair weather fans in many major league cities, their loyalty went only so far.

Jesus' fans found him to be an attractive personality and an engaging speaker. He had a way of confounding his opponents that delighted audiences. He spoke in a way that touched minds and hearts as no one else had. There was a growing conviction that this son of a day worker might be just what they needed to throw off the oppression of the Romans. 

But his fans were loyal only to a point. In Luke 4:22, for example, they marveled "at the words that came from his mouth." But when he proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and told the people the truth about themselves, they turned on him. Many found him "too much for them." They left Jesus and returned to their former way of life. In the end, after the hero's welcome in Jerusalem, the same crowds called for his death on the cross. 

Some of his fans got it, though. They, too, we're attracted by Jesus -- by what he said and did. And they didn't really understand his mission. But as they listened more closely and struggled to understand more intensely, when Jesus' gaze of love touched them at a deeper level, they left everything and followed him. Yes, most deserted him for a while in those dark days . . . But they returned and were rewarded not only with sight of him risen from the death but were blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We need to ask ourselves: "Are we fans or followers?" 

If we regard Jesus as an attractive leader who offered sound teaching and not much more, then we are still only fans. And we are fickle fans when we desert the faith and the Church (Christ's Body) when it is in crisis or when it's leadership makes an unpopular decision. Still more so if we simply pick and choose from among the Lord's teachings those that happen to suit us. 

Yet we become followers, disciple, when we listen to and embrace the Gospel: Christ is the testimony that God loves the world and will give anything to save it. That same Christ lives and is at our side every day to enlighten, to strengthen, and to set us free.