Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent IB: Sermon: What are we waiting for?

Advent IB
 (Is. 64:1-9, Ps. 80, I Cor. 1:3-9, Mk 13: 24-37)

We come to this weekend still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey, filled with the presence of friends and family or suffering from travel lag. We may even be battered by Black Friday insanity. But rather than bask in that feeling of well-being, the Church heaps upon us a whole new liturgical year. We begin today the season of Advent—one of those ‘purple’ seasons not with visions of baby Jesus, but of the apocalypse—the Second Coming. Our readings plead that God may come down with that terrible power to straighten out this sinful world.

Advent is filled with expectation, waiting, hope, vigilance and anticipation. This year we change Gospels. We will be hearing the words of Mark and John this year and how those gospel writers understand how Jesus touched the people they knew. And today’s gospel reading is an important text—Jesus tells his disciples this piece of apocalyptic literature as he and his disciples sit before the Temple in Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. The apostles are basically bumpkins from the sticks and they are marveling at the grandness of the Temple buildings and the bustle of the city. And Jesus is telling them that these buildings will fall: the temple will be razed to the ground --that the preeminence of God is not in the building. The grandeur of God can only be seen in the relationship that the people of Israel has with the Holy One. The greatness of God was only to be seen in their devotion and their alertness to their part of the Covenant.

For at least 700 years the people of Israel had waited for God to come and be their king. But God had not come down to remove evil from the earth. Instead God had sent his Son to teach humanity how to live lives worthy of the covenant Abraham had made with the people.  But this covenanted people had not cared for the poor, lived justly and walked humbly with their God. The people of God were waiting for God to come down and fix everything.

So today on this First Advent Sunday, in keeping with what Fr. Jim asked last week when he asked “Why are you still here?”---asking us after all the schism and all the fuss in our diocese.   I am going to ask another question. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?  What does this season of Advent mean?

• Are you, too, waiting for God to come down and make the world right? For over 4 thousand years humanity has waited for God to come down and fix it. And for some reason, I don’t think it is going to happen that way. 

• Are you waiting for us to blow ourselves up just to prove the Scripture right? Then the Christian Zionists are right and we should try to bring about Armageddon. But I don't think that is the answer either.

• Are you waiting for the Rapture to take us out of this miserable world? Do we subscribe to the idea of ‘No Episcopalian left behind?’

These are some of the expectations that Christianity holds for this time of waiting. And I would suggest that we are going to get what we expect—what we envision for the future for us personally, congregationally, diocesan-wise, Church and Communion-wide and even for the whole of the world.

A few years ago when Newt Gingrich was at the center of government, I heard an interview when he said “ he truly believed humanity was evil and that it was only grace that made for good in the world.” Now this is a theology that comes out of the Reformation that is part Lutheran and part Calvinism but it was also deeply held by medieval catholicism.  Anglicanism has always held that creation and thus humanity is intrinsically good. Yes, there was the separation from God that is allegorized for us in the Fall in Genesis, but on the whole we believe that God created the world as good and humanity as good. It is us—we mere mortals who have messed things up.

I recently saw one of those ‘God billboards’, you know, the black ones that have white letters? This one said, “Do I have to come down there?---God”. And that is how we often think of the end times—at least in this part of the Bible belt. We drop into our childhood transactions and think God is going to come and punish us like a parent because we have messed up.

But that is not what I hear when I read Scripture. I hear of a God who wants to be in relationship with humanity. I hear that God wants to be in conversation so that we can know the goodness of God’s Creation—the Army picked up that “Be all you can be” slogan. But I really think that is what God invites us to—to be that compassionate, truthful, loving, kind and peaceful people that God covenanted with Abraham to be. We were created in God’s image and we are invited to be a part of God’s goodness by our baptism.

Our Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time of visioning and calling ourselves into relationship with the Holy One so that God’s goodness will take root in us—will continue to grow and transform us into that holy people that God wants us to be. This is not about individual salvation, for it is hard to be saved if our neighbor is not also saved. This isn’t about waiting for God to come down and save us. It is about using the tremendous gifts that the Holy One of Israel has given us—using our talents collectively for the salvation of the world. That is what 'incarnation' means. 

Jesus came to "show us the Father", to teach us how to live with one another—how to live in communion with one another to serve one another with generosity, faith and commitment. The waiting that is Advent is not a passive waiting for judgment. It is a call to action; a call to transformation not just for ourselves, but for us collectively as a nation, a Church, a species. We are called to change the world—we are called to let humanity know that we are good and that in relationship with God we can become better each moment if we are willing to respond to that call. Will it ever be perfect? No.  We are not to become gods. We are to become godlike—full of compassion and mercy, just, and steadfast not only individually but as a community—a holy people welcoming all to know the invitation of God to live in harmony in this world.

We, like Jesus, are to incarnate God’s life to the world. We are to live through this new church year hearing and living out Jesus’ life so that others might know that the God-incarnate is not only possible, but absolutely necessary if we are going to protect the gift of Creation that we have been given. We need not worry about judgment—we must only worry that we have not responded to God’s question of us: “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011Free Gifts- Friday Five

Sally, who is a Brit and therefore not doing Thanksgiving when we do on our side of the Pond has posted a thought-provoking Black Friday Five:

Following on from Thanksgiving, and picking up the "Black Friday" theme of boycotting the Christmas rush for bargains I thought it would be good to set a simple Friday Five yet one to get you thinking. I am sure that you'll agree that some of the best gifts we receive do not come in fancy wrapping paper but might be the gift of an unexpected afternoon with a friend or coming across a long forgotten photograph, or- well the list is endless...

So take a bit of time to think back over the last year and ponder the gifts it has offered to you, then list five of those gifts, in no particular order- there is only one rule- all of these gifts must have been free, neither you nor anyone else should have spent money on them!

1. This year has been a tough one with J’s cancer taking over both our lives. Finances have been very difficult, but a friend offered to pick up some of our expenses and then put us in touch with agencies that could help.

2. A 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that was in the waiting room of the cancer therapy hospital. It was there each day as I waited for her. Each day I could do a bit more. It kept me sane.

3. I volunteered to join the staff of my local parish and I began teaching Bible Study again and celebrating and preaching about once a month. It keeps me focused on helping others in the midst. After the first of the year they are going to give a small stipend which will help us recover financially.

4. We had Diocesan Convention last weekend. It was a sign of real recovery of a bunch of people who love their church and love Christ. I believe our diocese is on the way to becoming a healthy statement of what it means to be God’s people in this area. The clergy were having fun and so were the laity. Our keynote speaker was +Barbara Anderson from the Church of Canada who told of what it was like to be a part of a group of parishes in a diocese that had ceased to be because of the abuse of First Nation children in their schools years ago. The compassion of that diocese and the compassion of their bishop was awesome and pure gift to us as we struggle to regain what it means to be Christ’s own here in our diocese that has been so torn with schism. A true gift.

5. A J’ who is beginning to return to her pre-chemo self. She became so ‘chemo-brained’ during the therapy since last Easter, that she was almost like living with a stranger. She was incredibly withdrawn and not with her usual verbally astute humor. ( at least I was saved from puns for a short while) I was so worried that she would not be able to return from that. But she is on her way back. She isn’t 100% yet but perhaps by B5

Thanks, Sally.  Good idea. I REFUSE to go anywhere on Black Friday.  J' used to work retail and she would come home after it and swear off Christmas!  We often don't even give each other gifts on Christmas, and long ago I quit trying to keep up with family gifts. You can do this if you don't have children. 

 I love Christmas in Church but I try not to even go to the malls during the month of Dec.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I am doing the Thanksgiving meditation today. It is presently quiet, sunny and with that chill in the air that makes me think of Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we are going to a local parish since my family doesn’t celebrate the day until Sunday. Some years ago, Thanksgiving became a movable feast when there were just too many in-laws and too many trips that interfered with gathering the whole clan at one house. Now, brother, nieces and nephew party at their in-laws on Thursday and we gather Sunday afternoon.

There are many things to be thankful for and I generally remember them each time I celebrate the Eucharist. In some ways, Thanksgiving Day is anti-climactic. But it still is somewhat of a harvest festival.

When I lived in upstate NY we would often celebrate Ember Days—those underused agricultural festivals that are part of the Church calendar. On several occasions we met at a local farm and went from pen and field blessing the crops and animals. The farming families appreciated such festivities and all those who had grown up on farms felt reassured that all was ‘right with the world.’

Our foundational celebrations in our faith were pilgrimage gatherings. The Hebrew Scripture notes three such celebrations: Unleavened Bread which developed into Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths, both agricultural celebrations. They were ‘national’ fetes in which all traveled to Jerusalem to present themselves before God, to sacrifice and give thanks for all they had been given and then to feast on the animal that they brought for sacrifice. These feasts were generally the only time they ate meat all year.

Today, we generally do not think of Thanksgiving as a sacrifice unless our family is hard to be around. But we generally do offer gifts of whatever we can make. We seldom go to dinner without a gift even if it is just a bottle of wine or sack of dinner rolls.

In the UK there are still harvest festivals in the various communities. They are celebrated in church but also in the larger communities. There is much attention paid to the decorations with gourds and pumpkins and cornucopia. But there isn’t the family feast that we have. In Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated but on a different day.

These days Thanksgiving is just the feast day before Christmas shopping begins in earnest. We seldom think about how our feast got to the table and agribusiness so outstrips the intimacy between the people and the land that it is easy to forget how dependent we are on Mother Earth.

I am beginning to get rather grumpy about grocery-store produce all plastic wrapped tending to buy from the local farmer’s market which is a year ‘round store. It is a wee bit more expensive, but it is fresher produce and often locally grown. There is also more variety. I also can talk to the store owner about the conditions for the farmers in the area. I learn when certain vegetables are at their peak. It keeps me closer to the land even when I no longer garden or turn the soil with my hands.

Thanksgiving is at the heart of our faith. It is a primeval celebration of what it means to be human on this earth—to be grateful for all that sustains us. The Creation is made to be fruitful and we are made to give thanks to the One who created all.  May your Thanksgiving be a time to reunite you with the soil (adamah Heb.) and mud from which we were created.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is Capitalism Moral? Wrong Question...

Bishop Pierre Whalon, Bishop of the Episcopal Churches in Europe has written a remarkable article in the Huffington Post. It is a great piece.

Is this capitalism moral? Wrong question, because this ain't capitalism. This is oligarchy, a few very rich and powerful firms not only selling for their clients but also buying for themselves in the financial markets. And that IS immoral. It excludes most of us, until we end up having to inject our tax dollars -- or more exactly, until we borrow those dollars -- in order to avoid a complete financial collapse. You and I can't play their game, but we must certainly keep the people who cause the disaster in business so as to avoid abject poverty, roughly on the order of the Bronze Age. That is profoundly immoral.

It is time to get real. In fact, it's long past time. America needs to create new capital to invest in productive enterprises that will employ people, growing food, inventing new commodities and services, and improving the classic ones. We are not going to do that by selling each other our houses, or opening more fast-food outlets. We need a diversified economy based on market capitalism, not on oligarchs enriching themselves in gigantic shell games played with trillions of dollars.

We need to rebuild the intellectual and physical infrastructures that undergird such an economy. That requires taxation. And it also requires regulation of markets. Any politician who will not level with the people about this daunting task has to be voted out. Bring capitalism back! should be our slogan.

That is a tall order, because the so-called Masters of the Universe can threaten to destroy the banking system the world depends upon if we touch the source of their strength, namely, the so-called shadow banking system. If you remember Frank Herbert's novel Dune, you will recall its salient point: the ability to destroy something is in fact to control it. The mountain of money spent to influence governments around the world, starting with the United States, is also a giant obstacle.

If we continue down the primrose path of tax reduction, deficit increases, and oligarchical manipulation of capital markets, there will be a much greater depression. The Arab Spring should be teaching a lesson: "tipping points" happen, and suddenly the game changes, taking everyone by surprise. The scales will fall from the people's eyes. A strongman will arise to "save" us, at the cost of our republic. History does repeat itself -- Ave Caesar, Heil Hitler, Stalin Save Us... sound familiar?

Finally, we need an economy that allows each person to be not only a consumer but an actor in it. The source of America's wealth has never been finance, but in those goods and services that entrepreneurs make available to the widest possible audience, er, market. Anyone remember Charles Ives? Yes, the Charles Ives, considered to be America's greatest composer of music. What does he have to do with this?

In his lifetime, Ives was known not for his music but for his knack for taking something and making a lot of people wealthy by making it available to the masses. Life insurance for everyone was one of his dreams. If you have such a policy, it is because Ives felt that they were not just for rich people. When President Wilson wanted to raise money for World War I, he asked Ives to take it on. Ives promptly created bonds denominated so that the most ordinary patriot -- economically speaking -- could own at least one. It was a howling success.

There have been huge numbers of examples since. There can be plenty more. But only if we break up the oligarchies and start practicing real capitalism again. A place to start: if you want to buy a stock, make sure your broker doesn't have shareholders to answer to. Better yet, make sure she's invested too.

This didn't answer the question I started with, I know. I think a morality of capitalism can be defined and defended, and that capitalist immorality therefore can be described in principle. It has to do with the notion of the common good.

But that is for another day. Meanwhile, bring back capitalism!

Friday, November 18, 2011Friday Five: Giving Thanks (Thanksgiving)

Jan has given us a thanksgiving Friday Five:
I've been home from Russia for less than a week, and in less than a week it is Thanksgiving Day in the USA (Nov. 24). So for this Friday Five, answer these questions (and if they don't apply to you, list five things you are grateful for):

1. Where will you be on Thanksgiving Day? With whom?

My family will not be celebrating T’giving until Sunday due to the zany schedules we keep so J and I may go to one of the parish dinners that are held.

2. Are there any family traditions or memories associated with Thanksgiving?

Many. My mother used to host T’giving and the whole family would come—often 20 people in our small house. As a kid, I would try to get out of the house and play with the other kids if I could because there were just too many people. As I got older, I was expected to help in the kitchen which I hated. It was the only day out of the year that we ate fowl in our house. My mother didn’t eat chicken or turkey so I would feast on the turkey with great joy.

3. What will be on your Thanksgiving menu?

I haven’t even thought about it. Since I am not cooking, I will eat what is put before me.

4. What are you thankful for?

a. J. is through chemo and beginning to feel better.

b. I now have a part-time job that will help with finances.

c. For a comfortable home, 2 kitties who don’t get along but are hungry for attention and a church family.

d. A computer and my revgal friends.

5. What is the weather forecast for this day (next Thursday)?

It is supposed to be sunny and in the high 60’s

Bonus: Prayer, poem, song, or whatever you choose to exemplify your image of Thanksgiving (giving thanks

I have been reading Bruggemann’s Ancient Hebrew Worship for a class I have been teaching on Lev. and Deut. And the earliest images we have in Scripture of worship required 3 things: A. Showing up. B. bearing a gift. C. no work. For me then, Thanksgiving Day is a type of worship:  I show up; I bring my dish and there is no work. However, the venue is quite different—my family is not my worshipping community. We do not present ourselves before God.  But it is a time to feast and gather and enjoy one another’s company. Of course we watch a football game instead of study Scripture but you can’t have everything!  Most likely I will spend Thursday morning working on my class studying Scripture which will be wonderful.  I just wish I could study scripture with my family as I do with the church family.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why We Can't Stand Idly By as the Church of England Newspaper Calls Us Nazis

 by Patrick Strudwick. from Huffington Post

Journalist and columnist

Last month the Church of England Newspaper called me a Nazi. I thought, as my eyelids splayed in disbelief, that the oceanic depths to which homophobic rhetoric was prepared to sink could not be lowered. Perhaps, I reasoned, they would reacquaint themselves with rational thought and retract the article. I was wrong.

Colin Blakely, the editor of the newspaper, defended the columnist who likened me to the Gestapo. "[Alan Craig] has got views that are pertinent on this issue," said Blakely, referring to the thrust of the thesis: gay rights activists are behaving like those who slaughtered 7 million Jews. The writer, who is also the leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance -- a political party -- stood firm. His self-defense comprised what he thought was an important distinction: "I've nothing against ordinary gay people but the leadership, well I stick by my word Gaystapo. It is bullying."

Ah, yes, the leadership. In his column he urged his Anglican readership to "rise up" and "forcefully confront" the "leaders" of the gay rights movement. Because, he argued, they behave like the Gestapo. And because he is a writer, he decided to invent a nifty portmanteau: Gaystapo. Thus, any bigot who is dissatisfied with the Aladdin's cave of existing homophobic epithets now has a new one!

It is, of course, tempting to laugh at such an article, so unhinged, so ludicrously offensive is it. Clearly the relationship between the author and reality is most charitably described as on/off. After all, we must ask, how many gay rights activists have committed ethnic cleansing?

But it is partly the prolonged nature of such an attack that must alert and alarm us. His Nazi simile was not a comparison en passant. This was a detailed analogy. Gay marriage, he wrote, "could be the invasion of Poland. The catalyst for war."

He continued: "The UK's victorious Gaystapo are now on a roll. Their gay-rights storm troopers take no prisoners as they annex our wider culture." Here, he detailed a range of recent cases where gay people have stood up for their rights, one of which was my landmark case against a conversion therapist. After going undercover to investigate therapists who attempt to "cure" gay clients, the therapist who "treated" me was found guilty of professional malpratice. But, says Craig, she, along with all the other homophobes, have found themselves "crushed under the pink jack boot."

And on he goes: "The gay Wehrmacht is on its long march through the institutions..."

And on: "[The Gaystapo] want to change our language, manipulate our culture and thereby impose their world-view on us all. Cultural domination is their aim and fascist-type intolerance of politically-incorrect dissent is their weapon."

As much of an extremist as Craig might sound, shrieking from a one-man raft on the river Styx, his is not a vox sola. His hate speech, endorsed by a national British newspaper, is the nadir of a recent narrative so persistent and viciously homophobic as to constitute a recognizable, sizeable backlash against gay rights.

Americans may think Britain has rid herself of such voices. Many peer over the pond to see us enjoying civil partnerships, adoption rights, employment protection and a slew of other equality measures and think that there must be a pink Waterloo sunset forever glowing over the U.K. There is not.

You may have a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination describing the discussion of homosexuality in schools as "child abuse." But we have a bulldog, right-wing press and a hefty Christian lobby routinely spraying Britons with anti-gay spittle.

The totem of this backlash is Melanie Phillips, a columnist for the Daily Mail, Britain's second most-read newspaper. She describes those who, like me, campaign for the protection of gay people as "bullies," as "totalitarian" and as "McCarthyites." When we dare to suggest that perhaps homosexuality should be discussed in schools, to help combat bullying, she opines that we are guilty of "bigotry in reverse."

When a gay couple took the owners of a hotel to court for turning them away (it wasn't that there was no room at the inn), Phillips referred to them -- and all those who uphold our existing equality laws -- as the "gay inquisition." Perhaps she is unaware -- as perhaps Alan Craig is -- of the irony of her allusion. The Spanish inquisition burned gay men at the stake. The Nazis sent thousands of gays to the gas chambers.

Others have waded in supporting those who advocate the death penalty for gay people. Stephen Green, the leader of Christian Voice, a pressure group, defended David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who is trying to introduce a death penalty for homosexuality, thus: "Bahati was trying to protect his nation's children from predatory western homosexuals."

Elsewhere in Britain, we have seen a rise in homophobic hate crime. In London's West End -- arguably the most liberal area of the country -- gay bashings increased by 20.9 percent last year.

So it is against this backdrop of drip-dripping, face-slashing prejudice that I suggest we do not simply laugh at paranoid rants like Alan Craig's. His might be the most extended and unhinged metaphor to ever disgrace a newspaper column, but delusion is no reason to disregard. Indeed, we do so at our peril.

Remember when you were in high school and you pretended not to hear the word "queer" shouted at you by the bullies? Did it work? Did it protect your face from the punch that followed?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Bank of America?

Occupy Wall Street?  Occupy Bank of America? 

J and I have been having trouble with our bank accounts. Not only is there not enough in them--a normal phenomenon for folk on fixed incomes, but someone else has been using our bank accounts to pay their credit cards off that shouldn’t be. We do not use credit cards because we will not pay the usurious interest rates offered to people who have limited incomes. This has meant several trips to our local branch of BofA.

The young banker there has been quite solicitous and nice. But that still doesn’t seem to take care of the problem of how thieves have gotten access to our accounts. We have closed accounts and gotten new debit cards. We have talked unto we are blue in the face with customer service—when we finally can find a person to talk to. I sort of expect this kind of service from ATT but not my bank. They are using MY money after all!

We may have to move to a local credit union to do our banking business. But the big international bank has always been so handy. Our relocating our banking will not affect BofA. We don’t have enough for them to notice. But I do hope that with all those who are exiting from big banks because of OWS, it may say something.

I grew up with parents who had lived through the Great Depression. They had seen their parents lose it all—not that they had much. We were of working class heritage and never really trusted those who speculated on the Stock Market. We were sober mid-west folk. You put your money in a checking account or a savings account and you were careful with how you used it. You allowed the bank to hold your money so it was safe. For the privilege of holding your money the bank paid you interest. Now, the interest is negligible and going into the pockets of CEO’s rather than back to the depositors. Something is WRONG with this picture.

After yesterday’s Gospel reading of the 3 servants, I am totally convinced that what is wrong is the FEAR that unregulated capitalism perpetuates in the world. Capitalism is based on the idea that there is not enough in the world for everyone to have a bit. In order for unregulated capitalism to work, you have to believe that there isn’t enough of whatever so that you can mark up the price.

If there is anything I am sure of is that this world, if allowed to, can produce enough for every living thing to have a sufficiency to live at least comfortably. We have just been told that it isn’t to our “personal” or “national” (or these days “corporate”) interest for everyone to have enough. Not only is that bunk, it is immoral. There is enough food for everyone on this planet. And there is enough gas or oil to heat or cook if we are willing to share. We as a human race must come to the place where we have the will to make sure that all have enough. We have to put away the fear that comes with the economics of our age and trust in the One from whom all things come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11.11.11 Friday Five

Friday, November 11, 2011 11.11.11 Friday Five

Songbird is doing one of her weird things today. 11/11/11 is on her mind:

It's 11/11/11, a date you can read forwards and backwards, American-style and European-style.It's Veteran's Day/Armistice Day, which seems to be celebrated more someplace than others. The kids here are out of school and some communities have ceremonies of remembrance scheduled.

My denomination (UCC) is finishing up a drive called Mission 1, which ran from 11.1.11 to 11.11.11.

It's a popular date for getting married, or so I'm told, just like other memorable dates (for instance 09/08/07).

But mostly, it's a big day for Nigel Tufnel, in celebration of "maximum elevenness."

For today's Friday Five, share five ways you or someone you know likes to turn it up to 11. How have you gone beyond the usual expected limits? Feel free to interpret this as eccentrically as possible.

I am not one for numerology. I am dyscalculate as well as dyslexic.

1. The only thing that 11/11/11 brings to mind is my mother. My mother was born on 11/12/12. Next year I will celebrate her 100th birthday. She just died 2 years ago so I had her for a long time, but it is now a bittersweet time.

2. I always remembered the birthday of the Girl Scouts because that was 1912.

3. I always remember Armistice Day (Veterans Day) because my mother remembered “the parade in her home town inn which they “dragged an effigy of Kaiser William down the street on the day before my birthday”.

4. My niece got married on 6/6/06. And it has been a good marriage for both of them.  This year he turns 60, she turns 50, and her daughters turn 30 and 20 respectively.  Numbers mean something to her.

5. I am not sure what ‘turning it up to 11”really means. If it means “living large”, I think I have always lived large. It hasn’t occurred to me to turn it down. But now with my financial options fairly curtailed, I can’t live as large as I would like. Retirement has a tendency to dampen one’s enthusiasm.  Now if we can get Superwoman to be silverhaired, I know what I am going to wear NEXT Halloween!