Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lord, Teach us to pray. Proper 12 C

 Today’s Gospel finds Jesus as he was wont to do, off early in the morning to pray.  And the disciples ask him to teach them to pray.  In the Lucan form the formula for the Lord’s Prayer is a bit different from other gospels:

When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

We have come to repeat this prayer as it was translated in the 17th century when the King James Version was published even though we have a modern translation in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).  But is this the way we pray? Really? Many of us
come from a catholic tradition where just the repetition of this prayer was considered the way to connect with the Holy.  And if used as a centering prayer, it is.  But most of us know to speak from our hearts about our needs.  But I believe that these words of prayer give us a system or pattern to follow in our prayer but not necessarily the exact words we need to use.

Prayer is a conversation with God.  Often times we come to prayer as a last recourse and we babble our needs to God.  Often the ‘results’ are not what we want and we tend to blame God or ourselves for not having enough faith.  Prayer is not having the right words—but precisely NOT having the words and being willing to sit wordless before the greatness of God.
When I entered the convent, I knew how to repeat many words to glorify God.  But what I had to do was learn how to pray from the heart. That did not mean that I had been insincere.  But I didn’t know how to listen to God.  Ultimately the conversation with the Holy is one that has no words—it is a matter of the heart but one must prepare one’s self for wordlessness with words.  Like much of our relationship with God there are no words that contain the love that God has for us or we have for God.  True contemplation goes beyond words.  Contemplation is the heart entwined in the Presence.  But often we humans have to have prepared ourselves with words to get to that wondrous place.  And that is what Jesus taught his disciples.
Basically he taught them to

·        Father, hallowed be your name. Acknowledge the greatness of the Holy One by placing one’s heart and
mind before God prepared for great intimacy.  One of the unique appellations that Jesus had for God was ‘Father’.  He understood how close he was to the God of Israel, not merely because he was the Son of God.  The Holy One was not just one of the many gods of the Middle East, but the ‘Our Father’ or ‘Our Mother’ or ‘Our Auntie’ owns  the familial connection that God has with all humanity.
  Your kingdom come.  This is not merely a plea for heaven.  This is a remarkably subversive plea for a righting of the injustices of the Roman Empire.  It is a calling for a different kind of world in which peace reigned and people respected the needs of others.  To pray for the kingdom to come was calling for a completely different way of living in today’s world.  It was a call for integrity and honesty, a plea for graciousness and compassion.

·       Give us each day our daily bread.  This is more than just asking that we be nourished.  It is a recognition that all that we have is God’s and that we exist simply because we are loved. 
Anything that we have is only at the benefice of the Holy One.  This means that our lives are to be lived in gratitude and thanksgiving.  The word for thanksgiving in Greek is eucharistia.  This does not mean that we need to be daily communicants at church.  But it does mean that all nourishment is united with the bread of the Altar.  The Starbucks gathering is as much a thanksgiving as is Holy Communion. 


    And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted
to us.  I like this translation because it does recognize that the word for sin in Hebrew —a word that comes from the world of archery meaning “missing the mark”.   Note that we ask forgiveness for ourselves as we have already forgiven others.  God’s forgiveness is not dependent on what we do.  But there is an understanding that our capacity to receive forgiveness is often limited by our own ability to forgive.
·       . And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   It is interesting that
the KJV includes the phrase “and deliver us from evil.”  But in the NRSV that phrase is not found.  It is one of those places where there may have been a difference in the copyist’s manuscript or it may have been added by copyist error sometime in history.  It doesn’t matter really.  Jesus does not demand exact words from his disciples.  This was a plea not to be tempted beyond one’s ability to resist.

The  Lord’s Prayer teaches a process that the soul can go through as one approaches that contemplative place of union.  All people who endeavor to pray in the unitive way—of being
at one with all that is Holy, needs to acknowledge the holiness of God, ask to be freed from thinking in the formulas of the majority opinion, to open one’s heart to the gratitude for all that we have received, to stand in the humility of the forgiven while offering forgiveness to all and stand in the need of the protection of holiness.  This is the process of stepping into prayer.  It is the preparation.

When we have allowed ourselves the kind of preparation for prayer—the nakedness before the Holy One then prayer is no longer OUR work but it is God working in us.  Personally, this kind of unity with the Holy One can only be done in silence.  I say that because I believe that perhaps others come to this kind of unity with God in other ways.  But I have not personally experienced it. 

As someone who is an extreme extrovert, this kind of silence is difficult, but it is possible.   Forty years ago I made a 30-day Ignatian retreat.  I became comfortable with the silence that I still hunger for today.  It is when I am quiet that I know how God can enter all the nooks and crannies of my person and shine the light on the areas I would rather not see but also shine the light on all the goodness that I seldom acknowledge in myself.  It brings me into a balance that denotes holiness for me—that Hebrew understanding of tsedach—righteousness.  It also means saved or justified. 

So how do we understand the rest of this passage that if we ask it will be given?  It is at this verse that many leave the faith of God when they don’t get what they ask.  When we have had a unitive experience of God, we know that prayer changes us, not God.  Prayer is not begging from God but standing in the immensity of God’s heart and trusting that all that is--is holy.  What we do when we pray unitively is recognize that as Julian of Norwich would say:  “All will be well.”  All that we need, all that we have, all that is necessary is there if we but are willing to listen as well as speak in our hearts.  God’s voice speaks in our hearts to tell us how to meet the difficulties and the sublime moments of our lives.  And we are equipped with all that we need to address the issues we bring to God.  Prayer changes us.  Whatever we need will be provided.  But we find that little is really needed.  If miracles are needed, then the miracles happen.  If the energy to do work for God is needed, it is given.  We are not looking to hit the lottery in our prayer—we are looking to be united with God.  And it changes our perspective.

I do not believe that whatever happens is God’s will.  I feel that the union of God and humanity in the Incarnation is by far more profound.  I believe that we are called to keep before the world the subversive message of Jesus that we do not have to be about falling into the sin of getting ahead, the ignoring of our neighbor, the exclusion of certain people because they do not conform to our norm, that 'just war' is obscene, and God's incredible call to peace is based in honesty not in subjugation.  This kind of unitive prayer has been found in most religions of the world.  It is the way to know the Holy.  And once we know this, we know without a doubt what is righteous and what we are to do.

Learning to pray is not easy.  It requires an open heart and a willingness to look at ourselves in humility and wonder.  And sometimes it takes years of openness to just experience that moment of union that is often only seen in hindsight.  But once experienced, trust is part and parcel of one’s faith life.  It becomes like our breath.  The balance is there.

Does this answer all our questions about this passage?  No.  This is a passage we take to prayer with us all the time.  It is woven into the prayer rugs of our lives.  Prayer is not an answer.  It is a way of living collected and in peace.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Prophecy and Mary and Martha: Proper 11c

The Psalm appointed for today had me running for my Jewish Study Bible.  The BCP version is quite different from the NRSV and the JSB is even different from that. Is this evidence of inconsistency in Scripture?  Of course!  Whenever words are translated from one language to another, it is doesn't quite have the same meaning.  And when they are being translated not merely from one language to another but from one era to another the inconsistencies are even greater. 

 Psalm 52 is not a praise of God as is usual with other biblical psalms.  It is a rant against the injustice of someone who is using his power to undo the works of God.  And following the Amos reading for today it makes for a really heavy first bit to our readings. 

I do love this psalm.  It allows me to rant and rave about the injustices perpetrated by those who would subvert the Hesed—the Loving Kindness of God.  It does seem a bit self-righteous in parts, but don’t we all do that at some point when trying to deal with people who are arrogant or unjust?  But there is so much unvarnished truth in the psalm.  “The righteous shall see and tremble, and they shall laugh at him saying, this is the one who did not take God for a refuge, but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.”  In other words:  “That rich guy over there who is being a jerk will get his because God says so.”

I can think of many people I would have liked to quote this psalm to in order to prove my righteousness. But I must admit that wouldn't get me very far and finally make me realize that I was being just as much a jerk as the rich guy.  But that isn't the point of the psalm.  The point of the psalm is that real motives will out.  When we try to cover up our real motives with pontifications, and make excuses for ourselves, truth will out. Our motives are not only clear to God but they will eventually be apparent to those around us.  The high and mighty one to whom this psalm is addressed who is the deceiver will be revealed as a purveyor of lies.
Paired with the Amos reading, which is an extension of last week’s prophecy of the plumb line, today’s reading reminds the captive people of Judah living in Babylon of what had happened to Israel. The Israelites were sold off and assimilated into other cultures of the Ancient Middle East.  They forgot their allegiance to the God who had gathered them into a people after the Exodus.  They failed to serve their communities by maintaining the Mosaic Law given them at Sinai and they were swallowed up by other cultures and Israel was no more. 

Mosaic Law was initially based on maintaining tribal life or family communal life.  Land was held in common and for the common good.  Leaders originally were the heads of families but as agriculture replaced nomadic herd following, the life began to change.  And the 8th century BCE was a time of economic change.  Land that once belonged to the tribes began to be sold by the kings to people outside of the kingdom, and treaties were being made by the kings who paid no attention to the traditions of the people.  Israel became a nation of traders with wealth becoming in the hands of the few rather than at the service of the tribes.  It is this that Amos is railing about.  It was a time of social upheaval and Israel had to pay the price of disintegration when the primary reason for the existence for the Chosen People of Israel, the Light to Lighten the Gentiles to love one God, had been lost.
Some 250 years later while the People of Judah are in captivity in Babylon, the leaders of their beleaguered tribes decided to gather the history and the literature of their people to keep their culture alive.  They had seen what had happened to the 10 tribes of Jacob when dispersed by the Assyrians.  They were determined live separate lives from the cultures around them and began to form themselves back in to the people of Judah.  When they were allowed to return to Judah in the late 8th century BCE, they had already developed a new national character—a new cultural story from which they lived and understood their relationship with God.  It was while they were in Babylon that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were gathered and written.  When they returned to Jerusalem they already had all kinds of laws that would solidify their national character.  But one thing was certain:  They understood that it was the failure to follow God’s law that had been the reason that their nations had been overrun and they were determined not to allow it to happen again. 

Prophets like Amos who had so poetically expressed God’s displeasure at Israel’s greediness were looked to as formulas for avoiding being captured by larger powers.  And the passage we have for today sounds amazingly harsh when it is attributed to God.  But when we understand that the prophecy rang true with the experience of those who had been carried off into captivity.  Such traumatic memories never die in cultures.  And we can see a similar thing in our own nation with the different cultural stories that are lived out in African-American and Anglo-American communities.  The histories we live out in our lives have very different origins but have profound effects on our shared experiences.

Hebrew prophecy is never sooth saying.  It is not telling the future.  It is the warning of God that the state of the commonweal is being threatened by greed, mismanagement, false prophets or ‘whoring after other gods.’  And it is from these warnings that we often get the idea that God is an angry God or the Old Testament God is an angry God.  Nothing can be farther than the truth.  The prophets, especially the 8th century prophets, were those who could see what was coming because what the people were not meeting the needs of the society.  When a society is out of balance, bad things happen. 

I am not a financier and I don’t play the stock market, but even I could have told you that the financial meltdown of 2007 was going to happen because the watchmen who were supposed to be guarding the commonweal were asleep.  We had no regulation which could prevent the greedy from robbing us all.   And while we were not carried off into slavery, as were the Jews, I would suggest that the social disintegration has been just as severe.  We had become as inured to  the needs of the commonweal as were the Israelites.

We may be losing the foundations upon which our nation is founded too because we are allowing partisan politics to block any legislation that helps the commonweal. We are even hearing from some that perhaps democracy isn't the best form of government and yet we fight wars to make others free for democracy.  What is that about???  

We are seeing the social strides that were made by those who laid their lives on the line a generation ago being rolled back rather than tweaking them to make them flexible to meet new duties.  We have prophets in our world today in our Churches too.  We have become so convinced of our right to say and do things because of the privileges that we enjoy that we have forgotten what the Church is for.
In the Gospel we have for today we hear the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus does not tell us what the Church is for.  He tells of what his followers are to
do.  It is easy to think of this as a “girls’ story.”  I doubt if there isn’t a single woman who has not seen the battle between the Mary and Martha within herself.  But this IS NOT a ‘girls’ story.’  It is the story about the active and contemplative battle that goes on within the Church.  It is a story that becomes a metaphor for individuals as well as organizations of the tension that holds the Church in balance.
Martha symbolizes the work that becomes an obsession.  It is when we in the Church are so caught up in doing the work of the Church that we have lost our reason for our being.    We begin to complain about all those others who don’t do anything—who just come and go home and don’t contribute and don’t attend the potluck.  But Mary is the one that Jesus says has the better part.  She has stopped to hear the word of Christ.  Mary is out of the ordinary—she isn't doing what women were supposed to do.  She listened.
The Church—society as a whole, has become so ‘worried and distracted over so many things’ that we have lost the ability to just listen, to sit at Jesus’ feet, to listen to one another, to appreciate God’s creation.  We have lost the reason for our being so that we can be caught up in the pattern of greed that sells our inheritance—the inheritance of joy, balance, and peace that we are promised in God’s love. 
We have created a privileged class of clergy who keep busy and keep us busy that we are becoming incapable of sitting at the feet of the Holy One.   When was the last time we had silence as a part of the liturgy?  When were we more worried about how we ‘did’ the Eucharist than how the Eucharist was done in us? 

I daresay that this is not a sermon that ‘plays’ well in parishes because there is so much to do to keep the parish running.  But it is that constant need to support the institution that keeps us as followers of Jesus from knowing him intimately.  It also means that few really enter into that relationship with the Holy One and embrace the ‘thin place’ of the Incarnation where God and humanity come together.  And until we are willing to not spend hours trying to address who is mowing the lawn, or how we are going to pay the air conditioning bill, and sit at the feet of Jesus just to listen, the Church will continue to be the ‘bared ruin choirs’ for future generations.

The Church’s purpose is to connect people to God.  If we are unwilling to listen, we don’t deserve to exist.  AMEN  

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Gospel Truth

Perhaps the most crucial issue for the Church today is veracity.  All too often clergy are expected to teach ‘the party line’ instead of engaging God in the intimacy of holiness.  As one who has read and taught Church history for almost 40 years, I cannot do that.  It is the Church’s failure to be honest about what it is and what it is trying to achieve that is causing wholesale withdrawal by people who once had rich faith heritages.  The younger generations find the Church’s opposition to LGBTQ issues as evidence of our hypocrisy.   Others find that the scholarship that has been available to church leaders for as much as 500 years has been withheld from the rank and file and rightly feel betrayed.  Others find that the emphasis on sexual issues by the Church as requisite to be considered ‘christian’ as not essential to one’s relationship with the Holy One.  If there has been a failure in the leadership of the Church it has been at the level of honesty.

While this dishonesty has been going on since Peter and Judas, in my lifetime I began to see its deleterious effect with the extensive pedophilia scandals in the Roman Catholic Church.  The failure of the Church to come clean and ask forgiveness for its sins
against the People of God has marginalized the Church’s (not just Roman Catholicism) influence in the Western world.  The continued grasping at scientific impossibilities by the fundamentalists, the denial of sexual misconduct by both the Catholic and Protestant arms of the world-wide Church, and the continued demand for doctrinal sameness is making a mockery of the real relationship that humanity has with God in the Incarnation.  People are not losing faith in God; they have lost faith in the Church because of her willingness to demand sameness and shallow belief.

I was thankful to be Episcopalian when all the pedophilia scandals began to surface in the Roman Catholic Church.  In the early 90’s I began to see some real integrity around issues of clergy sexual and financial misconduct found in our own denomination.  At the time I was on the Standing Committee of my diocese and had to struggle with the kinds of dishonesty that such scandals produce.  Thankfully, we had a bishop who had the integrity to stand up to such transgressions and believed in being transparent.  It cost us some heartache, but it did not cause us to lose our integrity as a diocese.

Today, we have policies in place to help parishes and dioceses to face and deal with the bad behavior of church leaders.  The difficult problem lies when those policies and procedures are not supported by frightened leaders who want to ‘make nice’—who want the image of the Church to remain ‘pure’ without the hard work of honesty.

Clergy and laity sin.  It is a fact.  The Church is supposedly a place where sinners can come to be absolved of their sinfulness and repent.  But when the Church is only filled with the ‘holy’ or the ‘presumed holy’, it has no place for those who are really trying to transform their lives to walk in the paths of balance and joy that the Christian life is supposed to be.  If the Church is not a place where people can question, criticize, can engage in honest discussion about the Church and faith, then it ceases to be the Church and becomes just a club to go on Sundays.  The liturgy becomes hollow, the preaching becomes inane and coffee hours are ‘nice.’  And the reality of church pales and falters.  This is where we are in this diocese (and in most dioceses), if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are wonderful.  
Over and over in Christian and Jewish Scripture we find God sending spokespersons to
the people to remind people of their dishonesty.  We cannot miss the constant call to honesty of the Hebrew prophets if we read the Bible.  These prophets were not just for the rank and file of Hebrew society; they were nearly always the voice of God to the religious leadership.  The failure of religious leadership has always been a concern in Hebrew Scripture.  Jesus was constantly calling the people who followed him to honesty.  Each of his stories are concerned with chastising the dishonesty of the religious and political leadership of his day.  It was the reason he was crucified.

If the past 40 years in church leadership has taught me anything, it has taught me that lay folks deserve honesty from their leadership. And unlike Jack Nicolson in A Few Good Men and the Vatican, I believe that the people CAN handle the Truth.   Parishioners can appreciate doubt, failure, depression, the willingness to grapple with difficult issues, change and newness if their leadership is willing to be there with them, not above them.  

Experience has taught me also that there are plenty of people in the pews who come to church to be transformed but damned few in the pulpit.  We have created a whole class
of church leaders who are dishonest with themselves and consequently dishonest with the people they are supposed to serve.  There are just too many in the ‘clergy club’ whose image of the vocation is to pull the wool over other peoples’ lives and make people happy.  They have adopted big business’ tactics to ‘sell religion’ rather than to live the transformation that Christ calls for.  And what is sad is that they have never really looked at their vocation, grappled with it because they have spent their entire years of preparation jumping through inane hoops rather than wrestling with God.  It is almost as if the adage “If you keep telling the same story, people will believe it” is how they envision the ministry.

The prophets are among us.  They are telling us that God is a figment of our imagination—or at least the God that the Church has been promulgating.  And I have to agree with them.  The message of the Church often has become: “we have to keep our membership at all cost.” But the message of Jesus is to be honest with one’s self and the institutions that we may know the freedom to live fulfilled lives. To continue to ‘make nice’ destroys the message of tough love that is fundamental to relationship with the Holy One. For us Christians, to continue keeping the 'peace at all costs means that Christ died in vain-- that the evil in the lie triumphs.

I am too old now to care what happens to the Episcopal Church.  I have loved the institution even in her sinfulness—the same way I loved my parents.  But for my own health I cannot ignore her faults and will not be silent about them.  I am retired.  I have spent my life devoted to the people I was called to serve.  I will continue to do that in the Church or out of it.  It matters not—my vocation and my vows are to God, not the Church.  I will continue to preach, write and serve—it is what I am called to do.  But I will not make ‘nice’ and call it the Gospel.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Plumb line and the Good Samaritan.

Do you know what a plumb line is? For those of you who do not know, it is an ancient way of finding out if the building you are erecting is perpendicular to the ground. I am sure that there is an app for that these days.   But even in ancient days if the building you were building was not plumb—in line with gravity, it would fall down.  When we moved to TX it was right after the 1949 flood and housing was at a premium, so dad bought a house that we would
now call a “fixer-upper”.  We found out that nothing in the house was plumb and we spent the next 20 years trying to bring the house into line.  Because of our climate here in TX, the ground moves and makes it hard to keep buildings plumb.  It has always been so.  One cannot argue with gravity!  And if any of you live in older houses and have ever tried to hang wallpaper, you know what I mean.

In about 750 BCE the prophet Amos hears God telling him to go to Israel (he lived in Judah) to let the people know that God was going to leave Israel because they had not built their nation’s conscience on the plumb line of God’s law. This is what we hear in our Hebrew reading this morning.  Needless to say, Amos was not popular in Israel and they told him to go back to Judah where he came from.  According to this account, because Israel refused to listen to the prophet God permitted the Assyrians to come and capture Israel and carried off the population in slavery.  In 722 BCE Assyria dispersed 10 of the 12 Tribes of Israel and Israel was no more. 

It was a bitter lesson that Judah too would also learn some 250 years later when it
was overrun by the Babylonians and Amos’ prophecy was foremost in the minds of those who had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian Captivity.  

Following the law became the most important aspect of Judaism when the Babylonian empire fell and the people of Judah returned to their land. And by the time of Jesus it was understood that if they followed the law God would remain with the people and keep the nation safe.

By Jesus’ day this concept of maintaining the law was rooted in fear not in the love of God.  Jesus, who was not from Judah although he was considered a member of the tribe of  Judah,  found upon entering Jerusalem, the capital of Judah that perhaps all Jews were considered equal but some Jews were more equal than others.  And Galileans were not among them.  So we hear in Jesus’ teachings many references to the real meaning of the law.  There are those who take him to task for healing on the Sabbath, or husking wheat to eat on the Sabbath.  Finally one of the scribes comes to him and asks him how to achieve eternal life.

Now, eternal life was a relatively new concept in Judaism.  The Sadducees did not believe in a life after death—and that included most of the priests of the Temple.  So we know this scribe, described as lawyer, but was a Pharisee who was trained in Mosaic Law and was a resource to the elders of synagogues who made judgments on the people.  And this scribe asked a typical religious question of a rabbi to test him as to his orthodoxy.  But instead of answering, Jesus gets the man to tell him what the Law says:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” the lawyer quotes from the Torah.  And Jesus says “do that an you will be saved.”  But then the scribe makes the mistake of asking “Who is my neighbor?”  And then we get the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan.  Even if you don’t go to Church you know the story of the Good Samaritan.  It is part of the whole of western culture—not just because it is a good story, but it so illustrates what it means to be GOOD. 

In this story Jesus confronts the exclusions that were making Judaism a mockery in his day. The Temple was supposed to be a Light to the Nations according to the Law. But only certain Jews were allowed into the Temple proper.  Jesus attacks the type of ghettoizing that had taken place in Temple that only allowed certain Jews to enter.  Jesus holds this Law of love, the central theme of Mosaic Law, up to the young scribe and
says if you do this you will be saved.  The guy is flummoxed.   Jesus is basically saying that the Law doesn’t need lawyers to find loopholes.  The Law of God is easy!  LOVE God and others; do mercy.  It is as simple as that.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an indictment of religious leadership that has shunned love in order to be RIGHT.  It is not for nothing that the 2 who pass by are a priest and a Levite—temple authorities who should have been the first to come to aid the victim of robbers.  But they too had forgotten why they observed God’s law in the first place: 
They were to observe the law as a way to give God thanks and praise for all God had given them.  The Law was a way to help people to know the presence of God among them.  But it was the unclean, unwelcome Samaritan who understood.

Last week I had a bit of a Good Samaritan experience.  I was not paying attention to that little gas pump light on my dashboard and I ran out of gas on a fairly busy street.  I am sitting there feeling like a real dunce and looking for my AAA card when a rather
scruffy guy and a bigger scruffy guy came to my window.  “Can we move you around the corner so you won’t be out here in the traffic?” he asked,   and very quickly they had pushed me out of the traffic.  He said:  “I have a gas can, I will go and get you some gas.”  I said, “I have AAA” rather lamely but by that time they had gone off in search of gas.  They were back in about 15 minutes.  While they were filling my tank the guy looked at my ‘Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ bumper sticker and said, “I see that you are a believer.  I want to tell you I have a new heart.”  And I enthused, “ And you have a really good heart.”  “No, No, that is not what I mean.  I had a heart transplant about 2 years ago.  The man who died so that I could live is always with in me.  I am so grateful that I can’t NOT stop to help others.”  I stood there knowing that I was preaching this sermon today.  The Story of the Good Samaritan is always a model for us.  He was a outcast.  Yet he witnessed to what it meant to be in love with God’s creation; he lived God’s mercy.

The plumb line of the law of God is still among us too.  It is gratitude.  I do not know
what motivated the Good Samaritan to help the battered man;  Jesus doesn't tell us.  But Jesus knew that he understood the love of God, and I would guess he knew what it meant to be stranded or left alone.  He knew that in gratitude and love for what God had done in his life, just like the guy who got me gas. 

What in your life allows you to love?  What in your life give you the kind of gratitude to go beyond social convention to love God by serving others?  What makes the law of God to love others a JOY rather than a burden?  All too often I hear people being so serious
about trying to be good.  Being good isn't what it is about!  It is about loving.  It about the abandonment to Joy that comes when you least expect it and you stand there grateful for every moment of your life, every leaf on the trees, every ray of sunshine or every drop of water that soothes our faces.  When we are intentional about living out that joy, we know that we are saved.  When we forget ourselves to help others we know the bliss of being loved more than we can ask or imagine.  And we too become a part of the fabric of love that God is weaving among us.  Gratitude is our plumb line.  AMEN. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Galship: A rant.

This is a very tender topic for me.  I started out in ministry before women were thought to be of much value  in my family or the Church.  Consequently I didn't value my womanhood for a long time.  It was only when I entered the convent that I began to realize the real talent and intelligence that I found there.  It was there I experienced a wide ranging experience of women who lived out that wonderful Kinsey spectrum of female sexuality as celibates.  But most of all I found women who could think, not just follow the social convention of the day.  They had opinions, and wrestled with what it meant to be women in orders but who thought differently than the local hierarchy. They
were women of prayer and transformation.  We were all struggling to be what we understood God called of us.  But I did not know 'support' as we know it now. No hugs and tears comforted or pats on the back. It was prayer that was to be our support.  There were sisters who lived their lives of prayer so that it supported you.  But there were no long talks and warm fuzzy sessions with wine that so often characterize today's support.  'Galship' or 'sisterhood (as we called it) was just a compassionate smile in silence as we left chapel.  I knew I was in the prayers of my sisters and they were in mine.  An hour of meditation in the chapel at 4 am with the whole community allowed one to center ones prayer on those I lived with.

When I left the convent because it was not my vocation, I began to meet with a group of women who were lobbying their judicatories for the ordination of women in many different denominations. (1975)  It was the
height of the Feminist movement and was full of strident women.  I was strident alongside of them and  I found myself falling farther and farther away from my Roman Catholic faith.  I was looking for 'sisterhood'
but it wasn't in that group either.

 I did meet J in that group and found in her the kind of sisterhood that I imagined the convent was trying to imitate.  It was a companionship and love that centered in our ministries rather than on a 'coupled' life or making a family.  We have lived together for almost 40 years growing to know what it to live through hardship, fear, misunderstanding simply because neither the Church or 'sisterhood' could really open their eyes to what it means to live holy lives without the support of either marriage or partnership.

Early in women's ordination movement there was a figment of 'sisterhood' because we were all working for the same thing.  We had many different ways of addressing the common goal.  But it was not long before the women embraced the same hierarchical thinking as the men.  It was this characteristic that I hoped women would be able to show a different way of living in the Church with Women's Ordination.  I had hoped to find the kind of sisterhood that I had known in the convent, but the ordained ministry is just as cutthroat as finance, banking, academics or any other secular job.  I believe that the Christian message says something about the commonness of our lives--the same level of our lives where ideas and hearts were supported, personalities were respected, and even dumb ideas shared and enjoyed.

I must admit that I do not trust 'galship' much.  I have met many in revgals that I have come to know and cherish just as I do members of parishes and those who do not even believe in God.  I have been iced by women colleagues just as surly as I have been men.  Maybe I am a horrible person but I really think I am just 'odd.'  I am different, not fitting into anyone's pigeonhole .  I don't mind being in that spot.  It is how I have been called to live my life--but is not one where there is a lot of support and friendship.  I speak my mind.  I resent being excluded.  I work hard to make sure that people are accepted as they are.  I am also very short on those who 'pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.'  I have a hard time accepting insincerity from colleagues.  I can tolerate a bit more from parishioners--but not from those who have sworn to live the Truth of Christ.

I find younger women incredible dense when it comes to us older ones. They want everything the way they invision it without having had to pay their dues by working for it.  They do not realize they will be where we are in the future and they are scared pissless of it.  The thought of being stoggy doesn't even cross their minds.  They too will become what we are--what I am becoming simply because we are being excluded from the ministry, society and shuffled off into age 'appropriate' residents rather than accepting and listening to us.

So much for "Galship".  It may work for some but do not count on it.  The time will come when all will be just those who are smiled at, called 'Sweetie' and ignored.  

If we were about real sisterhood, we would be trying to organize what is particular to women's gifts for the ministry and highlighting those particular gifts even if the 'boys' don't like it.  If we were about real sisterhood we could sit quietly in prayer with one another and not play one upmanship simply because we cannot abide someone else getting ahead or the silence of real togetherness.  If we were about real sisterhood we could tolerate the wide ranging differences among us rather than dwelling on the samenesses that make us look like the male-imaged priesthood/pastorhood that we seem to emulate.

Ok, now that I have shot off my mouth, I would invite you to agree or disagree.  You are welcome always.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Five: A Day of Independence

The Rev Pat has posted a  Friday Five that has a belated Fourth of July theme.  But since we cover many other countries we need to open the idea of Independence. 

In honor of the 237th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence  I invite you to participate in today's Independence Day edition of the Friday Five! We'll be looking at all kinds of "independence," so please join in!

1. How does one typically celebrate your native /adopted land's Big National Holiday?

Since I was small, the Fourth of July meant gathering with neighbors for a cook out and watching fireworks or setting off one's own.  This continues to be the way that people celebrate the Fourth in small town USA. There is usually a parade in which local residents and vets get to parade. But in the city we generally don't know our neighbors and we have been here too short of time to to be able to invite them for a BBQ.  Picnics are the general theme for July 4th but in TX it is a bit too warm to really enjoy being outside all day. Then there are usually fireworks in the evening.

2. How do you personally celebrate the holiday described in #1? Any unusual twists on the typical celebration? Is it something you enjoy or endure?

Yesterday J and I enjoyed reading, gardening and having a steak grilled outside and POTATO SALAD--a
necessary component for a Fourth celebration. It was quite quiet in our neighborhood.  After sundown I did hear some fireworks going off.  J watched the fireworks on TV but fireworks are quite hazardous in TX due to drought conditions.  The police patrol pretty carefully to keep the possibility of fires down.  

3. What does the word "independence" mean to you, whether in a political or personal mood? How has that understanding changed throughout your life?

Independence and freedom go pretty much together for me.  I grew up after WWII and knew the cost of freedom from the vets who lived in our neighborhood.  My father had been a bit too old for the draft and had worked for a business that supported the war and did not have to serve.  But many of the fathers of my playmates had served in the Pacific.  They never talked about their experiences but every Christmas we joined one family to drink to his buddies who never returned.  He was the only one in his group that returned from the battles in jungles of the Pacific.  The 'unsaid' spoke volumes about the cost of freedom.  

Independence meant that we were our own country.  It wasn't until I
worked as a missionary in Mexico in the early 70's that I found about the reality of the US involvement in the government of other nations.  It was when Allende was murdered in Chile that my 'red-white-blue' patriotism began to shift.  It was also during the Vietnam war when we were so badly led that I began to stand in the hermenutic of suspicion that I continue to stand in today.  This does not mean that I am not patriotic--I still cry when they play the Star-Spangled Banner at the Olympics.  But I am much more uncomfortable with the type of jingoism that has been used of late and most of all, the co-option of religious principles by those who have conflated faith and patriotism.

4. When did you first feel that you, personally, had gained independence? Was there a 'rite of passage' you would like to share?

Perhaps the first time was when I moved away from home and to the college dorm (which was perhaps more restrictive that my home had ever been.)  But I had to make my own decisions and that was the most liberating thing I had ever done.  But the most liberation I have ever known was when I finally surrendered to Christ.  THAT changed my life so radically that patriotism isn't that important to me.  The globalism of faith is much more important.  I am much more interested in what I have in common with people from other countries through faith.  The other
time was when I was outed by a colleague in 2003.  I refused to deny my being lesbian even though it cost me my parish. I figured that if Bishop Robinson had to wear a flack jacket in order to be consecrated bishop, I could damned well claim who I was.   

5. Tell us about your favorite "indie" film, music label, book store...

I had to look up what 'indie' meant.  I don't listen to popular music.  I am a classical music buff so I listen to classical all the time.  If the classical music station is not available to me I will sometimes listen to a little country and
western but I don't know what is 'indie' and what isn't.  I don't buy tunes.  

I don't go to enough movies to know what is 'indie' and what isn't.  I do like documentaries that I watch on PBS.  

Bonus Question: Is there a time you remember going "against the tide" of advice or precedent, or in some other way? Or perhaps a time you wish you had done so? Share it here!

My whole life!!  I am a priest in an unchurched family.  I am a lesbian that isn't 'in the life' and have lived with a straight gal for almost 40 years!  I have supported civil rights for persons of color since I was a child refusing to drink at 'white' drinking fountains during Jim Crow days.  I went to Selma but did not march because I was afraid. J. went to Selma and did march.  Her boyfriend, Jonathan Daniels, was murdered there for doing voter's registration in Alabama.  Freedom is not just something abstract to us.  That the Voter Registration Act has been overturned in our lifetimes means that Freedom is still just for certain people--not all.  Discrimination is still  alive and well.  But the young no longer listen to us.  We are experiencing the most dastardly discrimination of our whole lives these days.  The discrimination of older people.  It is quite disturbing.