Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If you have been wondering why there have not been posts on this blog for a while, please do not think that it is because I am out of town, don’t have anything to say (far be it from that!), I am grieving my mother’s death or that I am sick. All of these have been true over the past few weeks, but these are not the reasons why I haven’t been posting.

The REAL reason is that my faithful laptop that endured relief work after Katrina finally bit the dust. One day the Shift Key flew across the room and the screen began to do this half screen thingy. Even Spider Sol was no longer inviting and Mah Jong was impossible.

I have invested in a new laptop with VISTA. It doesn’t come until next week. I liked my XP. I don’t want to change, but it is inevitable and necessary. A friend tried to get me to change to Mac. I couldn’t bring myself to do THAT much change, besides, then my telephone stuff wouldn’t sinc. But since I really don’t know how to use the blackberry very well either—the learning curve may be the same. I just know that when it buzzes I am supposed to punch the green button and say hello.

I referred to myself to a younger colleague that I was a technological Neanderthal. She disagreed—she said that anyone 60+ who could blog and do a blackberry was merely Cro-Magnon. I guess I felt complemented. I am going to a workshop soon to learn about Face Pages and Twittering. I would really like to learn how to link on my blog and find youtubes that are funny to post. There are those who have tried to explain, but I am going to have to have someone show me. And oh, yes—how do you load tunes on one’s blackberry? And is there a way to download Rachmaninoff’s 7th and Mahler’s 1st? These minor things that face the ‘modren’ cleric in the face of the present age!! They didn’t teach this stuff in seminary!

Without the distraction of the laptop, I have been reading BOOKS! Gracious! And everyone of them, fiction or non-fiction, have been dealing with the edge between the non-churched community and those who are. Even the CD I am listening to in the car to keep me awake on the commute and the series on TV are falling into these two camps: the tension between the non-believer and the believer.

All too often the non-believer is the rational, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ type while the religious sort is shown to be irrational, anti-intellectual, pedantic or just plain stupid. This is even played out in some of my relationships with family, friends and colleagues. I am tired of having to say that one can be rational and faith-filled. But perhaps this is the job of the Christian in this post-modern world.

Even though I have been preaching for a number of years and have had to address unbelief always in my pastoral career, I still have a difficult time dealing with those who are afraid of embracing a loving God. For me, faith is not something HOPED for. God merely IS. I don’t just think it. I KNOW it. I have not deluded myself. I know the God who has loved me since before creation. And it is in that relationship that I know myself, know and love others. It is as simple as that.
I have been asked to teach a course to deacons on the history of the Church from the time of Jesus up to the Reformation. I decided I would let the Lutherans explain Luther to the Lutherans. But most Lutherans do not understand how Luther’s theology was melded into the English-speaking world by the likes of Cranmer, et. al. And despite the evangelical arm of the Church and the Anglo-Catholic arm, Luther’s tenets are still strongly among us. I think it would be wise for us to remind ourselves of our Lutheran roots rather than go to the A-C or Reformed tradition which often are at odds with each other. It might give us a bit more underpinning to our ‘via media’ than what seems to be discussed on HOB/D.

This edge between unbelief has plagued the Church from at least the 50’s CE. Paul had to describe it to Peter. It is this faith—this relationship with God that goes beyond all doctrine and yet it is often the doctrine or dogma that has held the Church together. But doctrine and dogma do not relationships make. How do we teach Church History without tying ourselves up in what we OUGHT to believe rather than sharing what it is we KNOW?

These days, even in the Episcopal Church we find clergy being ‘reported’ if their questioning in their relationship with the Holy One happens to stray outside of those boundaries we call doctrine and dogma. Bishops may; clergy may not. We find that what one segment of the Church believes must be believed by the whole of the Church. Certainly the clamor for an Anglican Covenant is a sign of this kind of catholicity. This is certainly not the Church that I embraced 40 years ago. I espoused myself to a Church that could tolerate difference, could appreciate differing opinions, could support people on their journey to knowledge of the Holy One.

Following Vatican II in the 60’s, the documents encouraged especially religious orders to go back to the charism of the founding of their orders. I think it is about time for us Episcopalians to do somewhat the same. This does not mean that we need to go back to thumping arcane dogmas. It does mean that we need to embrace the kind of freedom and hope that the Reformation in England provided. It means that we need to go to what excited the Cappadocian Fathers and Mothers, or the Desert Fathers and Mothers rather than the theological fine-tuning that Ecumenical Councils provided. We need to get back to what motivated saints like Perpetua, Macrina, Origin or Anthony to live lives of love among their fellow Christians. We must find the writings of Julian of Norwich, or Hildegard of Bingen, or find in the turgid dogmatics of Luther the God that thrilled them. We must be willing to listen to their doubts as well as their certainties to find for ourselves the beauty of the dance with the God who loves us all.

Do we need more Creeds or Covenants when we cannot even share the Eucharist with one another or when we cannot even embrace the vocations to which we are all called?

General Convention 2009 needs to spend less time with legislation and canons and more time worshipping with one another—singing God’s praises, sharing our hopes and dreams. It may not be as satisfying as crafting good legislation that falls on deaf ears, but it would do much to heal the schism from which we bleed. It is not about LGBT folk. It isn’t about a gay bishop. It isn’t even about who is right or wrong. It isn’t about even Power—who has it and who doesn’t. It has to do with what is HOLY

Friday, April 10, 2009

In the Cross of Christ I Glory

About two generations ago liturgical pundits, those theologians who help us map out how we worship, moved the reading of the Passion from Good Friday to Palm Sunday. It gave us a chance to hear the story of the most important act of our Lord Jesus from all the Gospel writers not just the Gospel of John that we heard tonight. The consensus was that fewer and fewer people were hearing this important part of Scripture. In the Passion of Jesus we hear the defining work of salvation worked for us by God. It was not a part of the Gospels that could be ignored.

The only problem was that it made for a very full and almost unwieldy Palm Sunday liturgy moving from the heights of “Hosannas” to the depths of “Crucify Him” in one service. But I understand the need for putting the Passion on the Sunday before Easter. When I began my ministry, the businesses and schools were closed for Good Friday or at least were closed from noon to three in respect for those who wanted to be in church for services. As all nations have become more pluralistic, and religious practices are much more varied, the story of our Lord’s crucifixion has been would have gotten lost if we had not move to reading it on a Sunday. No one likes to look at the horrors of what our Lord suffered. And the attendance at this service bears that out.

So I was quite interested in the way people flocked to see “The Passion of the Christ” when Mel Gibson’s movie came out. And people were shocked at the violence and brutality of Christ’s death. Now, I didn’t go to see the movie. From praying over these passages for years I know the kind of inhumanity that our Lord suffered. We who have allowed ourselves to know the brutality that our Lord bore cannot look away. We are rooted in the compassion that our Lord taught. We must stand at the cross for his sake and our own.

Now I am sure that some psychologist would say that this is not healthy behavior. This “dwelling” on death, some of my non-religious friends have told me, is “sick.” But I am equally sure that unless Christians are willing to look at the death of our Lord Jesus, we will not understand the death of loved ones or understand the meaning of our own lives. In other words, it is the death of Jesus which gives meaning to the Christian’s life.

Following World War II, a Jewish psychiatrist who worked with Holocaust survivors wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Viktor Frankel saw in those who survived the death camps and more importantly those who survived the guilt of living when so many others had not, that it was those who could provide some meaning for their life that survived. In the face of such suffering they found that many had had to survive in order to give meaning to the deaths of the others. Despite the degradation they experienced, they knew that their lives were to sign that evil could not conquer the spirit.

The horror of the Passion of Jesus has meaning because of what happened to him. It shows us that when the world gives itself over to evil, to greed, to oppression, this kind of inhumanity reigns. The reign of the Roman Empire has often been taught that it was a time of peace---the “Pax Romana.” The only reason that there was peace was because the oppression was so omnipresent that rebellion could not raise its head. The Cross was the symbol of Roman domination. It was not the symbol of Jesus Christ until the mid fourth-century when Constantine, the first Christian emperor abolished crucifixion as a means of execution for the Roman Empire. Even though Paul teaches the glory of the Cross, it is a radical statement that slaps in the face of Roman oppression.

For Christians today, the Cross is the sign of triumph over the kind of oppression, the kind of domination, the kind of evil that executed Jesus. It is the sign which gives our lives and deaths meaning as followers of Jesus but more importantly it is the sign that the work of our salvation has been accomplished—completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Good Friday is a difficult day. At the ecumenical service at noon today, all of the clergy gathered before the service for prayer. We all looked like we had been pulled through a knot-hole. Good Friday is hard work! Even though we know that Easter comes on Sunday—we know the end of the story, to live through the Passion of Jesus requires us to look at evil in the death of Jesus. We may not close our eyes or ignore this inhumanity practiced by humans. If we do, it WILL overcome us. If we take the easy way and ignore evil it will eventually bite us. In the Cross of Christ we are given meaning for our lives. We are to overcome the evil in life in the name of Jesus. We cannot do it by ourselves, but we have been graced by God to do so. Through our salvation we are to triumph over the greed, the oppression, and the foulness that self-serving produces. It is in Christ’s triumph over that evil that we are given our mission in life—to triumph with Christ over the evil in the world.

I am thankful you are here tonight. You have not turned away from the sufferings of our Lord. You have not averted your eyes from the evil that all too often seems to overwhelm us. I am thankful too, that you are willing to provide meaning for your lives in the shadow of the Cross. I pray that as you journey toward Easter, you will confront the evil in your life—to join with Christ in triumphing over whatever oppression, whatever greed, whatever hatred that you encounter. It is Christ’s triumph that we celebrate tonight. We have been given our mission in the Cross and we stand in the glory of that Cross. Amen

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Yesterday the dreadful shooting of 14 people happened in my city. I was at my parish 40 miles away when it happened. The incident was near my home and on a route I take almost daily. I avoided that route on my way home last night knowing that there would still be emergency vehicles in that vicinity. But in my mind, I can see that building—a place where immigrants attend classes to become citizens—a place of welcome and information.

I still don’t have access to much of the information. I watched the news last night. Access to the internet newspaper is causing my browser to crash so I can’t get the most up-to-date information at the moment. I don’t know why this man did this. We may never know why this happened; he is one of the 14 deaths. But the violence of the act overwhelms us and makes us shutter.

This story will ring in Binghamton’s psyche for years. Our sleepy Southern Tier city has been visited with what we think is ‘urban violence’. The sense of security that most of us usually live in has been violated and shaken in a way that floods or other natural disasters cannot do. It smacks of Pogo’s declaration that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This post could easily be a rant on gun control, or a strident call for vigilance. But it is not. It is merely a comment on the sadness that I feel and the grief that I share with all involved. It is a ‘standing-with’ all of our city family who have lost family and friends.

Recently I heard Walter Bruggeman speak about grief in western culture. He said that we, all too often, do not allow ourselves to truly grieve losses so that we can honestly move on. He showed how the Hebrew prophets would not let the people forget the things that grieved the people and God. Grief is the sadness, the utterly painful experience that we are not in control of the Universe. And if anything has shown us that we are not in control, it has been the mindless killing of people who were studying to become citizens of our country.

But it is in grief that some of our better traits can come to the fore. I am remembering the goodness that came about when we flooded a couple of years ago, when neighbor helped neighbor. I know that we here in our city have the ability to reach out to one another at this time and to grieve our loss of innocence together.

That this incident comes the week before Holy Week is not lost on me either. It is so easy to enter Holy Week with a sense of ‘retreat’ or introspection through the events of the Passion of Jesus. But this year, I do not believe I have that luxury. Holy Week may not be my personal journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb. It must be a journey I must take with my neighbors and friends in order to experience and live through the grief of what has happened. It is the only way that the Cross makes any sense whatsoever.

We are vulnerable here in Binghamton. We are not as safe as we have thought. No matter what kind of vigilance we can negotiate for ourselves, we will never be in control of our Universe. Bad things will happen. And the only thing that we can depend upon is the grace of God and the comfort of human kindness. Grief reminds us that we have obligations to one another to support and to be compassionate in the name of the God who loves us more than life.