Monday, April 29, 2013

Generations--a power construct rather than a faithful community

I am beginning to understand what it means to be discounted because I am a senior person and I don’t like it.  I have years of experience and have mellowed over the years so that people can hear the message of God that I have been privileged to be granted to tell. 

I remember being young and feckless.  I remember the amount of pain that it gave me because I had no patience and I had no understanding of the advice I was being given by those who wanted to help me.  But one thing I am very grateful for is that I did my
clinical training at a geriatric center while I was in seminary.  There I learned to respect those who were my parents age and older, and listen to their stories.  There was wisdom there.  Those people had served in the Pacific during WWII or endured Nazi POW camps or lived through the Depression, or the Dust Bowl.  There was even one woman who was a survivor of the Titanic.  I listened to the pain of their lives and the joys too.  And most importantly I listened to how God had acted in their lives.

Sometimes I had to listen to the same stories over and over.  But that came with the territory.  It was part of their healing and it was part of my education of how God heals us of the stupidity of our youth.  But I always had respect for the history of those folk, of the life experience they had and while it didn’t quite fit the era I was living in, there was much to be learned that I could use for my own life.

I find that I am running up against those who think that I have reached the age that I should just fold up my tent and go away.  I am not technologically astute (but 70 yr. olds don’t generally have blogs.)  I am slow of foot and creaky at best, but my mind has not gone.  And I do speak a spiritual language that most understand and many appreciate.  In fact, I am much farther along the religious spiritual continuum than most of the Gen Xers who are still trying to get the Spirit to abide by the canons of the Church.

 The Church is a mean muthah at times.  It does not support anyone but the majority.  And sometimes the majority is just plain wrong! We certainly have seen that in this diocese.  Being the contrarian that I am, I don’t trust the majority at any time.  Partly that is because I am of a minority.  But it also comes from listening to those who told their stories when I was a seminarian.  The way that those people survived the trials of life was by listening to their inner voice—that quiet way that God whispers in our ears of what is right, just and merciful.

Jesus was a contrarian too.  Over and over he holds the constructs of his society up to the light of faith and proclaims them bogus.  He called the
majority to become the minority or stand in the shoes of the minority.  He did miracles for the outcast.  He admitted the ostracized to his way and taught them to stand for those who had no power or rights.  He also taught with the passion of faith, not the words from theology texts.  He taught with humor and in good rabbinic fashion he taught with metaphors and miracles to understand that God calls us to a kind of radicality that eschews ( I love using that word!) being of the majority.

One thing that listening to seniors does for one is recognize that the construct of  of generations is bogus.  I am supposedly of the “Quiet Generation” but that generation that was anything but quiet.  It was those of us who were born during and shortly before WWII who brought about the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the Peace Corp.  We were anything but quiet.

 Generations by definition are majorities who have glammed together because they think that they have characteristics that are alike.  But not all people in that generation think alike and should not be encouraged to do so.  It does not allow the Spirit to move in their generation to step forward in the unique of holiness. 
I have blogged before on the indignity that the young foist upon those with white hair when they call them ‘Sweetie’.  The indignity that the majority always foists on the minority when they are unwilling to ‘wait their turn’—unwilling to listen to the wisdom of lived out experience—unwilling to acknowledge their sophomoric claim to rightness rather than being faithful to the Spirit of embracing the wholeness of humanity.  It will not be long before those same generations will be angry and fighting those who are younger than they are when they have learned of their stupidity.

It was only in the late ‘60’s that we began to hear of the Generation Gap.  It is a Boomer
construct that allowed the awesome glut of those who were born after WWII to ignore the needs of those who were before them or behind them.  Their ‘me’ culture has destroyed the freedoms that their parents had fought for.  And it divided our populations into generations ever since.  Each group now has to have its own characteristics rather than think about what it means to be whole. 

By ‘whole’, I do not mean the ‘majority’.  The majority is a power construct.  The ‘whole’ is the combinations of insiders and the outsiders, Jews and Greeks, males and females, slaves and free, that Jesus envisioned for the People of God.  The outcasts were part of the whole in Jesus’ mind.  They were practitioners of the way—the Way of equality, of generosity, of mercy and grace. 

Perhaps I am of the age that has to move over.  But I don’t think so just yet.  That time will come soon enough for various reasons.  And no matter what age we are now, we will ALL get there soon enough.  But we don’t need to be moved out just because someone in the majority says so.  Christ is not about power plays.  Christ is about mercy and caring for others.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Five: April Showers Bring May Flowers

Jan posted this wonderful Friday Five:

Recently having driven from Corpus Christi to Houston to Austin and back to Corpus Christi, Texas, we saw the effects of rain and drought on the byways. South Texas is in a severe drought situation, but the route between Houston and Austin was graced with some recent rainfalls so that wildflowers were abundant. Otherwise, there were few to be seen.

With the old adage "April showers bring May flowers," let's look at the weather and vegetation in our home areas to see if any May Flowers will be blooming.

1. What spring flowers and plants do you see? Or will see sometime in the future?

Jan is only about 6 hrs. south of me but the climate is quite different in Corpus and Ft. Worth.  We have already seen our Texas blue bonnets and I have geraniums blooming on the patio.  I planted some marigolds in my herb garden hoping to keep the bugs out but it seems that either the cats or the birds have taken their blooms off already.  The bushes in the front of the house have been abloom for the past 2 weeks.  I don't know what kind they are but they have tiny little pink flowers.  I will have to take a leaf to the local nursery to find out.  This is our first spring in this house so we are finding out what we can do here.

2. What kinds of weather are you experiencing in April?

We are having a good bit of rain.  (Sorry, Jan)  We don't get much with each rainfall but I haven't had to water the garden much.  It can vary almost 40 degrees in a day here.  Yesterday I needed to be in shorts to work in the yard and by nightfall I was huddled in my fleece.
3. What are the stereotypical harbingers of spring in your area? How about where you grew up?

Spring came as early as Easter here.  We had a wonderful egg hunt at church and the little girls could wear their summer dresses.  Rain is one harbinger.  We don't get much otherwise.  The dove begin to coo and the birds begin to sing
early in the morning.  We see more kinds of birds as they begin their migrations to the North.  And my nose starts to run.
4. What season do you like best in your home area?

Spring is really the nicest here in FTW.  I goes on for a long time usually.  Much longer than Spring did in the North.  It flits back and forth between warm, shorts kind of weather and cool rainy days. 
5. What is sprouting or blooming in your life? What do you wish for?

The diocese here has been split for the past 4 years by a schism that has had to go to the Texas Supreme Court to be decided.  It has been a bloody battle waged between the extreme conservatives who abhor women clergy and those who want to get on with life.  The schismatics still have much of the property and all the endowment.  Those of us who are still Episcopalians struggle along with just 8 church buildings and 14 parishes that are meeting in jury-rigged locations.  It has made for a rather energetic and wonderfully elastic environment in which people have been willing to try new stuff.  I have been hearing people really share their faith and talk about how to live Christian lives in the face of it.  We are growing like crazy (a new family nearly every week) and I am going to present at least 10 adults for confirmation next month (and Amy is going to present a goodly number of teens) next month.  It is probably the most spiritually exciting work I have done during my priesthood.

We should hear from the courts by the end of the month I am told.  I have been holding my breath for 3 years though and so I will believe it when I see it.  Both J and I will be back in harness if we get all the property back.  I am certainly glad I took all that interim training. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd

It has been a rough week.  The news has been full of bombings and explosions.  There have been graphic pictures of murder and mayhem.  Our news reports tell of horrible crimes and accidents that keep us mesmerized wondering what is going to come next. 

I have lived in the Boston area when I was in seminary.  I know what the Boston Marathon week is like.  My heart goes out to those who live there and the violation of their city that these bombs have done. 

At the same time, closer to home we also hear of the terrible explosion of the little town of West just south of here.  We have seen graphic footage on the news of what can happen to a small town when fertilizer, usually a constant element, loses its stability.  They still have not found all the missing.  Our hearts go out to these places and we offer to aide such places in their time of need.

It has been hard to watch these events and view them with the eyes of faith.  We want to ask, “What is God doing?” or “Where is God in all of this?”  But in both of the instances what I saw in the videos that were run ad nauseum on the news was not just the explosions, but those who ran to help.  Over and over we saw that as soon as the initial explosions happened, there was a swarm of first responders who scrambled to help those who had been hurt.  In the West explosion, the largest group of deaths was of those who were first responders.  They were those who were willing put their lives at risk to help others.

It is this kind of action that gives me hope.  What I kept seeing in the videos and the reports was of heroic action of those who rushed NOT AWAY from the explosions, but TO render aide to those who had been injured.  Whenever we have such horrible disasters we continue to see the best of humanity come forward.  Acts of terror still bring out the greatest heroism; disaster requires a greatness of human spirit.  It is in this that I see the life of Christ lived out most readily by those who may not even know what they are doing.

As some of you know, I have always had difficulty with the sheep-shepherd image of Jesus.  Particularly with the image of the sheep as the followers of Christ.  Origen, the 2nd Century theologian whose commentary of Scripture was quite allegorical, said that sheep represented the unthinking part of our selves.  And I have a hard time thinking that those who rushed unthinking to the aide of others was sheep-like.  But if it was sheep-like, it was the kind of sheep that I want to be like.

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus confronting those who wanted simple answers to his place in the Temple during Hanukkah.   They want to know if Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus says that they do not believe he is the Messiah because he is not of his flock.  “The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep,” Jesus says.  He is saying to the naysayers that they cannot recognize the goodness, the holiness of his actions because they do not recognize his voice.  Belonging to Christ’s flock has less to do with what you believe but what you do. 

The voice of the Christ that calls us to lay down our lives for others is something that goes way beyond belonging to a specific denomination or believing a certain set of religious tenets.  It is the call to martyrdom that has nothing to do with church attendance or even commitment to a specific faith.  It is the response to something that goes against all our human need for self-preservation.  It enters into the realm of the mystical—it is the response to a call to be more than human, greater than is natural.  It is to reach out in goodness for the benefit of others.

We don’t talk about the mystical very often in the Church.  If there is anything that the Church has traditionally been wary of over the 2 millennia of our existence it has been mysticism.  The mystical is so ‘off the charts’ and uncontrollable.  But it is in the mystical that we know the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

Last week Amy got you to talk with others about your faith during the sermon.  It something that we Episcopalians are  not very comfortable with, yet I do find that here at St. Martin’s I have found more people willing to share faith than other parishes I have served.  Part of that has happened because of the split in the diocese and having to claim our relationship with Christ more publicly than usual.  It is also the time we live in:  we are embarking on an era of mysticism, I think.  We are not interested in doctrine.  We are interested in how the relationship with have with God can be lived out in our daily lives.

Like the flock of Jesus, we want to live out our faith, not discuss whether we living by all the rules.  Jesus said to those who were questioning him in the Temple, ‘it isn’t about whether I am the Messiah or not.  It is about what you are going to do with your life.  Are you going to live according to the goodness of God or are you going to hide behind all your rules and laws?’

We have found among us those who are willing to respond to the greatness and goodness by rushing to help those in need in times of disaster.  We often call those people heroes or saints.  I have been a bit depressed about how often the press is ready to label action as heroic when it is doing what we are called to do as those who are faithful to God—faithful to the call to care and help.

Now the important thing for us today is that this impetus to respond to the needs of others goes beyond disaster times.  It is our everyday.  Those who follow Christ are those who are laying down their lives for others every day. Those who listen to the voice of the God, laying down one’s life is the default in life.  Whether it is raising of children, taking care of those who are ill, listening to the concerns of others, running a business and caring for one’s employees or teaching skills to others, it is all about laying one’s own life down for others.  The sacrifice to be at the service of another is part of the glue that holds society together. It is participating in the goodness of God.  We become the incarnate Christ for others.

Those of us who hear the voice of the Messiah and follow him are known by making ourselves available to others.  It is the only way we can look at what has happened this past week and not despair.  I would invite you to give thanks for those who gave their lives in the service of others this week and to pray for them and their families knowing that you too may hear the voice of God to do the same one day.  It is what we do.  It is what it means to walk in the light of the saints and martyrs of the faith.  But we have nothing to fear.  It is the life of Christ that we live.  Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dangerous Obedience

This morning I heard another one of those sermons that stopped me in my tracks.  I listen to sermons on the radio as I drive to church on Sundays.  I listen especially to George Mason, Sr. Pastor at Wiltshire Baptist in Dallas.  He doesn't preach like most 'Babtist' preachers I know.  But he does preach like someone who knows God and doesn't shilly-shally around about it.

I have always wished that Episcopalians titled their sermons--but I know that there are too many of us who Dangerous Obedience. Using the story of Peter's continued preaching in the Temple after he had been imprisoned   he talked about those times when being obedient to the will of God put yourself in harms way.  I have known that experience on several occasional   Those of us who participated in the Civil Rights struggle in the '60's knew what it meant to be disobedient for a greater good--to hear the law of God speaking louder than the civil law that kept people imprisoned in customs and majority-held subjugation. 
don't even really think about their sermons until the Sequence Hymn.  But catchy little titles are sometimes harder to come up with than a sermon. But my brother George had a title of

As a Roman Catholic I had come to understand obedience.  It is the primary virtue for Roman Catholics, I think--at least it is the one that is spoken of the most.  Before I had my eyes opened to the abuse of Jim Crow in the South, I think I was a pretty law abiding citizen.  I still am.  I obey traffic signs and the laws of the land mostly.  As an ordained person I have vowed to obey my bishop.  But I have also known when that obedience contradicted the law of Love that is at the center of my relationship with Christ

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that he had to disobey the laws of the oppressive South for the good of the nation, for the good of humankind.  He worked for the liberation of all persons who were subjugated by others who had power.   Our obedience in Faith is not to human authority.  It is to Christ that is represented by that person: bishop, superior, canons, laws.

At one of our gatherings of clergy women I met a newly ordained 'young thing' who was meeting this vow of obedience as a great badge of courage.  She could not even imagine that she would ever disobey her bishop.    I must admit I smiled at her.  There are those with authority who do not deserve to be in the positions that they are in.  Obedience to them contradicts the vows that we make.  It is our obedience to the Christ and the love that he witnessed to that speaks louder than the superficial obedience that makes us acceptable at some level in society or in the Church.  I suggested that she stop and think of what could tempt her to disobey her bishop and what she would do.  Because at some time it will come.  It is painful and demoralizing.  But it will come.  Our authorities in this life are always imperfect.  The Law of Love is not.

I know that in my career I have grappled with this obedience over and over.  I do not disobey the authorities
in my life lightly.  But ultimately I must always balance the 'good order' with the integrity of the Gospel and my relationship with the Holy One.  I know that in one instance I not only had to disobey my bishop, but I had to work for his removal because he had lost his center in Christ.  It is a horrible feeling.  But it was right.  If I had merely obeyed my superior without balancing it with what Christ calls us to, I would have been betraying not only my relationship with Christ but also my relationship with the Church that had ordained me.  It cost me a lot.  The Church does not forgive this kind of 'dangerous obedience' easily.

In Brother Mason's sermon he reported the death of Elwin Williams, one of the white racists who beat up the likes of Congressman John Lewis back in those very heady 'civil disobedient' days.  I have met Congressman Lewis on several occasions around the Jonathan Daniels memorials.  I wept when I heard the
story that George told of the forgiveness that came after all that anger and hatred.  It is now almost a half a century since those days.  Many of the feelings of those days have faded but the power of forgiveness has not.  Obedience to Christ always leads to healing; it always leads to freedom.  It always liberates us from the moments of our lives when either in our pride or in our determination to be right we fail to see the Christ in one another for whatever reason.  But those hurts are still with us.  And until we are willing to open ourselves to that radical, dangerous obedience to Christ we can never know the grace that comes with forgiveness.

If anything that 'dangerous obedience' leads to is the kind of freedom that says that God comes first.  It says that God's desire for us to know deeply that incredible openness that allows us to let go of  fear.  It allows us to step out with a graciousness that is not determined by other's authority, but of God's.  It allowed us to break the law in the 60's because the law was wrong.  It has allowed me to live the integrity of God's law in the face of manipulative people in authority.  It has also allowed me to let go of those who cannot heed my advice when I know they are going in a way that is destructive, knowing that God will chose another to guide them.  These kinds of freedoms are the manifestations of Dangerous Obedience.

But Dangerous Obedience is not just a personal event or orientation.  It must be communal.  Dangerous Obedience must be the work of us all otherwise the abyss of antinomianism would threaten to consume us as Martin Luther found out in 16th century Germany.  The liberation of God allows us to obey with conscience and without anxiety the Law of Love.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Five: Sabbath Rest

My Revgal colleague Pat has set up this Friday Five:

So, for those of us who are either pastors or beloveds of pastors or church folk of any serious commitment (and I can't believe you'd be hanging around RGBP unless one of those! But welcome if you are....), we have all just finished the liturgical equivalent of the Boston Marathon. 26 or so long miles of steady push, followed by a sprint here, a wall there. Only difference is, at a successful conclusion, everybody wins! Which, in my humble opinion, is one of the points of Easter.

But I digress. As I write this I am sitting in a cafe about 400 miles from my church sipping a most excellent latte, waiting to have breakfast with my daughter. This afternoon I fly to see family. After that, several days of study leave..... how about you?

This Friday Five is pretty simple:

1. What, if anything, are you doing to take your Easter season sabbath? Family? Vacation? Study Leave? Some combination of all three?

Now that I am retired, I don't get the week of Easter off.  I had a pretty easy Holy Week actually
and only preached once and lead services only once so I am back at it this week.  But I used to take most of the week off after Easter sometimes taking the week to visit with family.  Often there are good conferences the week after Easter to attend.  It really depended upon what I needed.

2. What is your favorite Easter season sabbath of all time?  

The most memorable was in 2009.  My brother called 30 minutes after my final service to tell me that my 97 year old mother was dying.  It was not relaxing or a sabbath but it was a time that I will never forget.  I was able to get home before she died. (I will be eternally grateful to American Airlines for finding me a ticket on the day after Easter) She had had a stroke that morning while having Easter breakfast. She waited until I could come and be with her the last few hours.  In many ways it was a sabbath because she was so incapacitated that it was a relief.  It was a good time with my family and was able to visit with cousins I hadn't seen in many years.   Rest takes on all kinds of meanings when you have illness in the family. 
3. If you're not taking an Easter season sabbath, what is drawing your attention as the Revised Common Lectionary bids us bide awhile with Thomas and gang? Is there a Holy Hilarity service in your future?

I am preaching again on Good Shepherd Sunday (Easter IV).  I really dislike the Good Shepherd image of Christ.  After all, I AM a Texan who heard all those stories that sheep ate the grass too low that it ruined the pastures for cattle when I was growing up.  To be a sheep herder in TX when I was growing up was fightin' words.  Besides it is the infantalizing image of God that I find so objectionable.  But I also have difficulty with Father as an image of God too--but hey, I can chalk that up to being a feminist.  I have already preached my funny sermon on sheep and shepherds to this congregation so I can pull out an old one.  HELP!

4. What would be your ideal Easter season sabbath? If you could go anywhere, do anything, with anybody?  

Not having to preach Good Shepherd Sunday!!!  After the past few days, I would like to find somewhere with a hot tub, wonderful meals and good books.

5. Tell the truth now: Any Easter candy left?

Actually we have not even opened the Peeps!  They are better when they are a bit stale anyway.  I even have some jelly beans left.  I only really like the black ones.  Too bad I have to eat the rest of the bag to get to the black ones.

This is being automatically posted from far, far away, as I will be in the Grand Tetons (where my dad and brother and family actually live!) without wireless access, and with a family computer in heavy use by high schoolers.... So have fun without me!

Atta girl, Pat.  A week without a computer is a sabbath indeed!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Alleluia He is Risen...but I have not!

Why is it that on Easter Monday Morning that the yard guy comes to mow the lawn???

I must admit I had a very easy Holy Week, the easiest I have ever had as a priest.  I did not preach on Easter, all I had to do was be a Eucharistic minister at
both Sunday services.  This was our rector's last Easter in the parish as he is retiring in June so it was right that he should take most of the preaching.  So this past week except for Maundy Thurs.  I have had the joy of just watching.  It was a holy week.

A parishioner asked me recently how we can appreciate the great mysteries of the Church and of Christianity IF we understand the Bible as allegory and not necessarily as fact.  I have been thinking about that for several weeks and the Resurrection has been sticking in my mind since she asked it.  

Resurrection has been celebrated as a fact for so long that it is hard to understand it as an allegory.  I am not sure really that I understand it as an allegory.  Returning to life after death is a concept of faith.  It is the central belief of Christian.  The resurrection of Jesus the Christ is THE reason we aren't still Jews/God-fearers.  

There is much conversation on line about what people believe and what they don't.  Post-modern religion allows those who are thinking about their relationship with Christ to say things that probably would not be taught from the pulpit.  Theologians are willing to describe many of the allegorical ways of thinking about the stories of the Bible.  But the Resurrection seems to stop me.  It is the one mystery of the Bible that says 'don't touch.'  No lo tocare.  As Jesus says to Mary in the garden.

I have no problem with seeing Resurrection as an allegory for life.  I have known resurrection.  I have seen it in others.  It is that moment when life changes and hope is lived rather than being just an aspiration.  I am watching resurrection in this diocese as we recover from the horrendous schism in this diocese.  It has been
awe-inspiring to see how people who have never held office before in their churches have stepped up to the plate, shouldered the tasks of running their churches, often without clergy.  Many meet in wedding chapels or theaters or borrowed properties.  Some set up altars each Sunday and take them down after the service.  Some have their vestry meetings in homes or the local library.  Going to church requires not only commitment, it takes determination.  Even the most conservative parish of the Iker era has a growing contingent of those who wish to remain Episcopalians.  We wait on the courts to adjudicate the mess, but faith in Christ and the Church is still alive and well.

So what is it about not touching the Resurrection?  'I know that my Redeemer lives'.  Christ is alive--He ministers to me daily.  His presence is always with me.  There is no problem with that.  I have felt Christ's presence on and off since I allowed myself to surrender to his grace when I was in my twenties.  Am I afraid that Jesus was not raised from the dead like it says in the Bible?  No,  I am quite sure that there were those following the Crucifixion who saw the Lord as the Gospels reported.  

I especially love the story of those who were on the road to
Emmaus who saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  God appears to us where and when we need it.  Was there a flesh and bone resurrection?  I don't know and I don't care.  All I know is that God in the form of Christ has made God's self known to me in the breaking of the bread, the relief of a sinner's confession, in the baptism of a child, in the embrace of a friend.  Resurrection happens all the time.  It even happens on Easter Monday morning when the lawn mower it racing outside my window.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!