Saturday, January 19, 2013

Putting Away Childish Things

I have just finished Marcus Borg's novel Putting Away Childish Things.  I have to say that Borg is NOT a novelist.  The story is more of a parable of academic angst than anything and you have to wonder how much is autobiographical.  But it is a good way to address the process of how people come to a mature faith in a post-modern era.

A member of my parish loaned the book to me after she had read it for a parish book club.  I think it was very difficult for the people in the group to read it because they had not read any of his other books.  Borg can be very disorienting for folk who have not challenged their belief structures.  For those who base their faith on the relationship with God that are supported by the traditional modernist structures, Borg's ideas can pull the rug out from under them.

When I began reading Borg (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) I needed something to off-set the questions that I had of Scripture, Theological History and strident claims that many of the right-wing were making of faith.  I had never believed in the concept of Redemption as a principle of faith.  And the God that I knew would not condemn humanity to Original Sin but there were great theologians who were still thumping Augustine and other 5th century theologians to maintain their theological house of cards.  And the one thing that kept my card house standing was that I had had enough experience of the Holy One that nothing could destroy it.  His reasoning and his solid scriptural underpinnings helped me to entertain new structures for a new age.  And it has changed my life.  My faith is stronger and less accreted with fairy tales and more solidly built on the wonderful relationship I have with that ineffable Goodness that is both within and without me that, for want of a better word, I call God.

Being somewhat of a history buff, I can appreciate the need for different eras to define what it means to have faith.  But long before I knew of Borg's work, I knew that believing and having faith were two separate things.  Belief was a cognitive expression.  Faith has always been a relationship in which trust was at the center.

Cognitively I can say that I believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived.  His life was unique enough for people to have been moved by him to know the Holy.  I believe that he embodied the Holy better than his era had ever seen before and therefore many stories were told about him.  Some were true; some were exaggerations.  I do not have a problem with that.  Hyperbole is part of the human condition.  But through his teaching he helped change the way people of faith experience the world.

The other cognitive thing that I know is that the Holy can be experienced.  It is not something that can be quantified.  It is not something that can be even well described.  But it too can change peoples' lives.  It cannot be proved.  All I know is that it is that experience of the Holy/Divine/Goodness/God is what gets me up in the morning and makes life rich and full each day.  Sometimes I experience that Holy One in the person of Jesus;  sometimes I know it through the Spirit.  Sometimes I know the Holy One as a Warrior Goddess, El Shaddai, who defends me against the things that well up in my heart.  At times I know the still small voice that Ezekiel heard after the whirlwind and I too cover my face at Its presence.

Because I can find my experience of faith (trusting relationship) in Scripture, I know it is a book of faith.  Because I know that many of the stories of how God has been present to people for 5 thousand years, I read Scripture.  I do not need to know if it is factual or not.  I do not need to know that it has been handed down as unchangeable for centuries (it hasn't).  I do not need to make an idol out of the Bible by believing it immutable.  There are many places where the Bible has big mistakes in it (cf. Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman) But that cannot shake the faith--the trust I have in the Holy One that has made its self known to me throughout my life.  It is a trust I have in the Creator and Creation.  It is a trust in humanity even though the flawed nature of humanity has battered that trust on so many occasions   But because humanity is a creation of the Holy Creator, I can trust in the incarnate presence of the Holy.

And what I experience in the presence of the Holy is love.  I have come to know myself as one who is loved more than life.  I have come to know in that presence that God loves those whom I do not and I can trust that God will protect them when I cannot or will not.  I know that it is love that makes this life that I live worth living.  But I did know a time before I knew of the presence of the Divine that I did not love myself in order to love others.  I had to allow that before I could really embrace the kind of love that the Holy One had for me.  It primed the pump, so to speak and opened me to embrace a life that is focused on how God makes God's presence known in others' lives.

I used to be an inveterate church woman.  I loved the community of the Church and 'believed' in it as an institution.  I still love being a part of this grand scheme of faith community, but I know now the flawed character of the Church.  I have seen such unholy things done in the name of Church and it breaks my heart.  I still want to get up in the morning and be a part of my church brothers and sisters.  They are my family, but they aren't perfect and neither am I.  I love the dance steps of the liturgy.  I love the signs and symbols that layer my faith.  But sometimes I get so discouraged by the way that the Church acts and structures itself in fear of making a mistake.  I think that the story of Peter's denial should be a graver story--the Rock of the Church was the one who made the most mistakes of Jesus' disciples.  We who are church folk should be more cognizant of that story than we are.

The thing about Borg's work is that he has made me think.  He helped me 'put away childish things' so that my faith could be more mature based upon the experience of the Holy.   Even if the Church might fail, my faith will continue.  Even if archaeologists 'find the body of Jesus' I will still have faith in a Creator who loves me and loves goodness and who loves humanity.  It is the experience of have of him/her that makes all the difference.  Will I continue the Church dance--of course I will!  I will continue in the worship because it is the dance that brings me closer and changes my heart to love more.  Will I continue to tell the stories of Jesus and the patriarchs?  Certainly.  It is where I hear stories of others trying to live out their experience of the Holy too.  God is too good for me to stop now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Five: Where is its HOME?

As noted at my own blog, my word for the year is "clear."

One of the things to which this refers is clearing away clutter.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is to give everything that comes into my house a HOME. And I can easily tell that I have too many things when there are not enough homes for them all!

I gleaned the idea of items having homes  from my younger sister who used to say to her toddlers, "See that book on the floor there? Is that its home? No? Please put the book into its home." Often, I am saying the same words to myself that she said to her little ones.

Photo from
In my mother's house, the Marks-A-Lot marker always went in the cupboard next to the sink. I don't know why, I just know that's where the Marks-A-Lot goes, still and forever, in my house many miles away.

So:  Tell us your favorite homes for five things, the places that you can always and reliably find them. 

Tell us about them; show us pictures if you want!  And definitely post a link in the comments, using the following formulation, so we can all come and see.

ps: the prevailing wisdom that one should never have a "junk drawer"? I don't buy that. Because, where else do you put your birthday candles, tiny measuring tape, kite string, eyeglasses repair kits, etc.? 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Morning after the Day Before: Baptist Epiphany

Every once in a while I need to have a different worship experience and yesterday I took the day off from our parish to attend a Baptist Church in Dallas.  If you grow up in Texas, you have a bit of Baptist in you.  It comes in the water, I think.  Baptist and southern Church of Christ are so ubiquitous that the pollen gets into your system even if you rebel against it.

For many years I categorically  opposed all things Baptist as a way to declare my faith different and therefore 'better' than the majority culture.  Even during my one year at Colgate-Rochester Theological School which also housed Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary did not help my adversity to the Baptists.  (The northern Baptists are quite different from the Southern Baptists but they are still Baptists!).  I thought their congregational polity exclusive and their dependence solely on Scripture naive.  It would be years before I really learned how naive my catholic dependence on tradition was too.

My worship experience yesterday was a wonderful one.  All the elements of our Episcopal service were found in the Baptist communion service.  Even if the confession was missing, it was implied.  They actually celebrated the Epiphany and the readings followed the Lectionary.  There was even a self-proclaiming Democrat's car parked in the parking lot--how amazing!  The community was welcoming and delighted that I was there in my clerics.  I had corresponded with the pastor on line for some time after hearing his sermons on the local radio on Sunday mornings.  He is an excellent preacher and often challenges me to think again on the readings of the day.  What is more is that he is clear about his own roots--not only personally, but denominationally.

Most of one's professional ministry the leader in a specific denomination must be willing to speak on how his/her denomination is preferable to others.  In some denominations, there is a prohibition to attend, commune, or participate in the worship of other denominations.  And while I understand some of the fear that those leaders have, I have never found that fear of the other makes for a good spiritual underpinning.  When new Christian came to my church I always wanted to know what brought them to my parish.  It was often the reaction to another church simply because of how they practiced their faith. I had to search to find where I would be able to worship the God that I knew.

I truly believe in denominationalism.  Each denomination has a particular point of view of the Christ Event.  They have theologies that emphasize certain aspects of the life of Christ.  None of us contain all truth, but they convey a particular way to live out the Christian life.  I love my Episcopal/Anglican understanding of the Incarnation through the Sacraments and mission.  But I also know that there are many who do not understand the worship of my denomination and know that they would not feel as comfortable within that tradition as I.  That does not mean that occasionally I can't worship with them to live out the solidarity that I have with all who call Christ the center of their lives.  It is a part of the reality of ecumenism that IS the center of the Triune God.

After a taste of Baptist, I am ready to return to my home church, the people, the traditions, the Incarnational living out of Christ's message that it holds.  But I know profoundly of the solidarity with my sisterhood with those Baptists of Dallas.  We have spent too much of God's time playing 'us-them'; it is time to reach out hands to claim our commonality, our sameness, our joy in the relationship with the God who loved us more than life.  In retirement I can do that, and it feels right.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Five: Resolutions and Absolutions Edition

Lucy, the Margate (NJ) Elephant, Celebrates the New Year

The New Year has dawned! At this point, we are four days in. The photo above shows an icon of my hometown in full on celebration mode. And this is, of course, typically a time when many of us try to turn over a new leaf, start a new habit, or otherwise live into the newness of the year. As for me and my house, there is a concerted effort afoot to keep a record of everything I eat, as well as the seasonal re-commitment to morning prayer. At the same time, I'm trying to cultivate a more self-accepting stance, an attitude of gentleness and forgiveness with myself when I don't keep those promises. Herewith, a Friday Five all about Resolutions and Absolutions.


1. Start by sharing your success stories with us: In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

On Jan. 1 1980 after a New Year's eve of bridge and smoking and not much drink, I woke with the worst hangover I have ever had.  It was from the smoke.  I quit that day and have not smoked since.  I have become an anti-smoker, much to my roomie's disgust.  But I can't stand the smell of smoke to this day. 

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual? If you are satisfied with your current status in both areas, perhaps you would be willing to share something you've already done (or regularly do) to care for yourself.

Since I have been off my feed for almost a month, I have finally given in to have the GI tests I probably need and am seeing a specialist.  When Muthah doesn't eat, she gets very grumpy!

3. What is one thing you hope your family (of origin, of choice, however you define your primary place of mutual emotional sustenance) will do differently this year? A new tradition for birthdays? More vacation time? Game night? Feel free to really dream about ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

This is still in the planning stage so I am not at liberty to post it.
4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year? New music? Different approaches to preaching? Rearranging the furniture? If you are in a position to try to introduce change, share some of your enthusiasm and/ or anxiety with us!

For those of us in the Diocese of Fort Worth, get our property back so that we can go about rebuilding this diocese after the horror of clerical schism.


5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are assured of. 

I have not been feeling well for some weeks and I get very grumpy with myself and with others.  Mostly I try to avoid others rather than be grumpy with them which I think just exacerbates the problem.  I can't write coherently or think very clearly.  I need to let myself just be sick--but that is just soooo boring.