Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve:

About forty-five years ago tonight I went to Mid-night Mass for the first time.  At that time I was a struggling professional musician and a public school teacher in Dallas.  And like all struggling musicians we made most of our money during the Christmas season.  I have played the Messiah so many times and various Christmas oratorios that I could probably play the 2nd French horn part in my sleep. 

A fellow French horn player invited me to play at the Mid-night service at her convent.  But this wasn’t a paid gig.  I was just doing a favor for a friend.   Sr. Lorene and I had become friends while we were playing in a local civic orchestra.  We liked the same kind of beer!  And we enjoyed talking about the same things.  But she had something I did not:  faith.

The evening began with a quiet processional with the sisters entering singing Gregorian chant in Latin with a darkened chapel and only candles lighting the faces of those around.  Some of the students of the nuns and their families were there.  Some of the families of the sisters came to that service too, so the place was full and warm.  And something changed in this rather jaded professional musician.  This was no longer a gig—it was worship! I had never been so nervous in my musical life!  There is a difference in playing a job and offering your gift to the Christ of your faith. 

Somewhere in that service, the world changed for me that night.  And my prayer tonight is that this worship service can be that same experience for you.  For I want you to know that your gift of worship to the God who loves us more than life, changes you.
All too often we go to our worship services seeking to receive something from God or the community.  We want to receive our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar.  We want to hear a good sermon. We want to celebrate with our friends and family. We want to experience the delight of our children’s faces in the light of the candles.  We want to revisit the excitement of our childhood naivete about Christmas.  We want to experience that family richness that we remember or wish we remembered.  But less often do we realize that what we do tonight is “our bounded duty.”  It is our gift to the Christ child.  We are here to bring ourselves to the God who loves to celebrate God’s gift to us in the Christ. 

The whole purpose of Christmas is for us to remember that God had the temerity to come live with us in Jesus the Christ.  In this person who came and dwelt among us has lightened our darkness, has given us ways for us to walk as the children of light.  This child was destined to change us forever. 

The whole of the Incarnational event is about where God and humanity meet.  It says to us that holiness is not just for other people.  We touch the greatness of God in the simplicity of our lives and we are ennobled by it.  No longer are we the lump of clay, or the sin-filled soul.  We have been raised to the greatness of God in this service tonight to give us a glimpse of what we are called to if only for a moment.  

In Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox churches know that it is through worship that we brought to that newness that is symbolized by the Christ Child.  Through the enactment of these holy mysteries we come to a newness in ourselves.   Things change; the earth moves under our feet and our actions are turned into gift.  The gift of God in the Christ becomes also the gift we offer to God in our hearts.

I know that some of you are here tonight because Mom or Grandma wanted you to come.  Or it is the thing you do on Christmas Eve.  But if the earth does not move under your feet tonight, keep coming back.  It will.  Worship does that.  When the service becomes gift, it changes one’s whole perspective.  When life becomes a gift, our lives change. 

It is in the touch of the Holy that we can see the goodness of life.  It is in this gift-giving that we know that change is possible no matter how old we are or how entrenched we are.  It is in this night that we come to live into the grace that God gives in the sacrament of living this ancient story of God constant saving grace of God’s presence every moment of our lives.  Our lives change when our lives become gift, when our actions become offerings of our humanity in the face of God’s holiness.  And they and we are transformed.

So my prayer for you tonight is that you allow yourselves to bring your gift to the altar.  Bring your hearts to the Christ Child tonight.  Come to Bethlehem and see this remarkable gift that has been given us, but do not come empty handed.  Offer the Child your heart.  You will be changed.  Amen

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It is time---

I had planned to blog today on Advent.  But I must admit I did not sleep well last night.  The visions of news reports from Newtown, CN kept replaying.  I couldn't watch my usual TV programs of whodunits.  I couldn't even read my ever-present mystery to put me to sleep.  The tragedy of children being murdered in their classrooms and the insanity that perpetrates such acts sadly is not unimaginable.  It images lie all around us in classrooms and college campuses.

Nothing helps that pain.  Nothing helps the loss.  The grief is so beyond our ability to express that I border on anger because I cannot express it.  There is no way to be rid of it save ignoring the world and plunge ourselves into shopping--that great salve for all anxiety.

The sad part is that no one is talking about the elephant in the living room: the preponderance of automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the hands of those who are depressed, homicidal, or suicidal.  And to the politicians that are afraid of the NRA, it is time!  It is time to stand up to the gun lobby for the sake of our children.

Back in my teens and twenties, I was a shooting buff.  A neighbor got me into a rifle program where I learned hunter's safety, shot in matches and got medals for my prowess. The NRA still runs great programs for young hunters. I too became an instructor and even taught marksmanship at a summer camp.  I had learned in my Junior High Days of the  potential danger of guns:  a popular school chum had killed his best friend in a hunting accident.  I grieved then for the boy who was killed and I still grieve for the man who has carried that death in his heart for over 50 years.  So I learned the proper respect for firearms.  But these were single shot .22's, not assault weapons.

Growing up in TX, in the late 40's and 50's, we were even then a part of the American if not the peculiar Texas gun culture.  It was our right to have weapons so we said.  It was the way that we maintained our freedom, we told ourselves.  We could go to our gun closets and be prepared for any attack upon the US of A, or so we thought.  Of course most of my growing up was after the nuclear weapons that were dropped on Japan.  It was the time of the duck and cover madness of the Cold War.  We began to dream of such noble defense of our nation with movies such  Red Dawn (the first one) and other guerrilla heroics.

Throughout 80's and 90's this gun culture grew to include various militia craziness in parts of the country because the disenfranchised were drawn to paramilitary games led by ideological wing-nuts that played war games in the unpopulated West.  Add to all of this paranoia the drug culture that makes humans lethal at almost all levels, it is not surprising that we are experiencing gun violence at a level that wrenches the hearts of us all.  We are not alone, in this country.  We need but remember the Swedish killer, the bombings of various terrorists or 'freedom fighters' who strap explosives to their chests to kill as many as they can.

But there is one way to end much of the carnage in our world.  Bring a halt to the production of guns.  Curtailing the large magazine automatic and semi-automatic guns is one way of addressing the gun violence in our nation. Limiting accessibility to assault weapons and large magazine hand guns can save lives.  But I wonder if we have the nerve to do it.  We have become a culture that is so centered on 'protection' that we have made our world unsafe for our children, our most vulnerable.

It is time--it was time 10 years ago after Columbine, it was time 50 years ago when there was a gunman on the University of TX tower.

So today I mourn.  I mourn for the loss of lives and the trauma to so many families rather than prepare for the coming of the Christ child.  Whenever faced with the evil of our world, it is hard to sleep.  We know that the human propensity towards great evil is there, but we do not have to feed it.  We do not have to feed that evil with weapons of mass destruction.  In our nation we maintain great vigilance on those who would misuse explosives at home and abroad.  My question is why we do not have the same confidence to face up to the gun culture of this nation and address the gun laws?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Five: Advent

Pat Raube, a fellow liturgical snob, has posted a Friday Five on Advent.  Now that I am back in the bible belt where Christmas decorations go up before Halloween, I have been rebellious about being 'out there' with Christmasy stuff.  I tend to be rather Christmas phobic anyway. Pat even posted a youtube of Sting singing Gabriel's Message which I refuse to post.  Can't stand his voice.  So here is my take of the season.  ~  Muthah+

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook know I've been trying to post Advent music in this season, which is no small trick because, as you well know, it's been "Christmas" since Halloween in the world out there! So today we focus on Advent and its music-- the good, the bad, the new and the as-yet-unheard!

1. First, do you come from a tradition in which the Advent season is embraced? This is not true for all of us. If you do, what is your personal preference? Do you love it or hate it? Embrace it or want it to go away already? How enthusiastically does your church enter into Advent?

Oh, yes.  I am an Episcopalian who lives with a cradle-Episcopalian.  I am also a former Roman Catholic so I LOVE Advent.  It is my favorite season because of the readings.  The anticipation is exquisite and the sense of quiet is such a refuge from the nutzy Christmas buying frenzy.  I really am rather phobic about Christmas.  But Advent makes the whole time beautiful.  

2. What is your favorite Advent music? (A tiny hint about mine can be found above.) Link to a favorite piece if you can.

I have never learned how to link music but I love Creator of the stars of Night, Wachet auf (in harmony and auf Deutch ) and Prepare the way, O Zion.  

3. What Advent music makes your skin crawl-- or at least annoys you and makes you wish it were Christmas already?

I am pretty tired of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  I love the whole thing but I really love when they can be sung as they were intended as O Antiphones for the Magnificate the last 8 days before Christmas, but alas we don't live in community of singers and say the Divine Office daily.

4. Any Advent discoveries or re-discoveries? Again, we love links-- share your music with us!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeKvNxYMDxE   This isn't quite Advent but it is quiet and meditative on the whole season.

5. Tell us how your Advent is going this year. Lost in a haze of church busyness? Finding ways to sit quietly in the darkness and wait? Give us your tips for a really rich Advent experience.

We have a remarkably vigilant neighborhood association where we live now.  We have only put a wreath on the door and a single string of lights up.  The neighborhood is ablaze however.  I know all of that will be down and packed away by Christmas night while we will only put on our lights up during Advent IV.  I will keep them up until Epiphany and perhaps until Ash Wed. if the association doesn't get crabby.  I am staying out the frenzy of church stuff although I preaching both Advent IV and Christmas Eve!  Our rector loves giving us what we like to preach on and I love preaching Christmas Eve.  I am actually going to be able to sing the mass at the main service.  I feel really blest in this parish after being in my previous diocese where I couldn't even celebrate for 8 years.  God is good for those who wait.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fight or Flight

I have generally been a fighter.  It is my first response when faced with threat—to fight.  It is not the reaction that most expect from a priest.  But I guess that people do not get to choose our fight/flight reaction.  It may be like being left/right handed or even being gay or straight.  Acute stress response is programmed by the part of the brain that is pre-human.  I am sure it is rooted in our DNA.  But because we are human, we are able to moderate how to respond to stress thereby making the natural instinct more confusing.

Even as a small child I was called ‘pugnacious’.  It was the way that I could get my ideas heard.  And even today, while I don’t get physical, I love a good fight.  I learned how to fight with words.  And many of us who are preachers have learned to fight this way too.  I love a good theological argument.  I love turning a topic over in my mind finding  good ways to describe my point and the perfect statement that not only describes my ‘side’ but often destroys the other’s argument.  Verbal fisticuffs are as much of part of my fight repertoire as any politician or any backyard bully, I am sad to say.  I am drawn to verbal warfare.  I love to do it; I love to hear good arguments. I love turning phrases over in my head to combat another’s riposte. I love listening to good debate.  I love to listen to Rachel Maddow and John Stewart on politics just as surely as I love to listen to the Prophets of Hebrew scripture.  And yet…And yet….

Such fight reaction is ultimately self-defeating.  And it certainly defeats the message of the Gospel Jesus Christ.  I might add that flight is as debilitating to the Christian message as is fighting.  It keeps one from entering into relationship.   Fight/flight ultimately denies our humanity, our ability to know the other intimately and live peacefully.  Fight or flight may be natural to organisms and necessary for our continuance as a species, but it ultimately denies the integrity of the Incarnation—the godliness to which we are called.

Advent began yesterday with that wonderful collect:              

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
forever.  Amen.

Christ’s coming was the route for God to show us that human life is not about living ‘naturally’.  And even though fight/flight is a natural reaction, the call of Christ to live fully into the Incarnation is to overcome our ‘natural’ state.  As those embraced by a God who chose to ‘visit us in great humility’ we are empowered by the Spirit to overcome that which makes us bellicose, argumentative, or even competitive.  During Advent it is incumbent on me to challenge myself to put away tendencies that take me away from the vision of Peace that Christ embodies.  I cannot allow myself to choose to fall into ‘fight or flight’ simply because it an inherent way to live. 

The unrest that marks this age cannot continue to be the order of the day. Whether on the national and international level or in my own home, my faith must call me to a different way of looking at the world—not in competitive ‘we-they’ images, but in communal ‘us-us’ metaphors.  And as I look at my own vocabulary, it is hard to envision a non-competitive world.  What is it about life that says I MUST contend in order to know what it is to be human?  I must find ways of looking at and describing the world with images that replicate the deep call to oneness that Jesus’ life proclaimed.  The earliest depictions of Christ we have is not the cross or of the King of Glory.  Christ was known as a shepherd—one who cared for his sheep. 

It is this question that faces me in the first week of Advent this year:  How may I make Christ known without it being a competition?  How can I find a way to teach Christ without playing ‘one-up’ in my verbal descriptions?  How can I live more as if life isn’t a struggle for dominance?  May this question be the theme for the Coming of God in my life during this new liturgical year.