Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Five: First Times



 Mary Beth has posted a great Friday Five: The only problems is that the older you get you can't quite remember those 'firsts'.   

Ah, I have a tear in my eye...this is the last post I will make at this blog location, because the RevGals blog will be moving to its new location TOMORROW! Come right back here to this spot for the Preacher Party and you'll find a link for the redirect. 

And for today, here's a Friday Five looking at the other end of things: Firsts. With so many folks starting school, college, seminary, etc. I've been thinking of a lot of other firsts in my life.  Share with us, if you will:

1.Your first "place" - whether it was an apartment, dorm room, or home with a new spouse, the first place where you really felt like a grown-up:

My dorm room at UNT (Bruce Hall) was the first. But my real place was my first apartment. I had $100 dollars a month. My rent was $60 a month and the rest was for gas and food. I really learned how to live close to the bone and appreciate it. I had my own kitchen, a sitting room, bedroom and bath. It was 1964.

2  Your first time away from home

We traveled a good bit when I was a child because grandparents lived far away, so away from home was not traumatic for me. Girl Scout camp was an important refuge for me as a child. But the first time I was away from home over Christmas was the real sense of not being 'home' for me. I was on a mission
trip over the Christmas holiday in Mexico. Christmas Day was celebrated in silence since all 8 of us were sleeping on the floor of a single hut. We all wandered away from the hut and maintained that quiet until we returned to a feast supper that evening. It was an amazing day of understanding just how dependent I had become on the materialistic Christmases I had grown up with. It changed my life--it put me in touch with poverty and a simplicity of life at a very important time in my life--in my 20's and that time is still a touchstone for me today.

3. Your first job in your field of endeavor (so, not babysitting, unless you are A Professional Babysitter today):

I taught school before I graduated from college. I started the classroom music program in Keller, TX
. At the time Keller had one elementary school with 2 classes of each grade. I lacked 3 hrs of German to graduate and couldn't afford to go back to school unless I worked. Teachers were few and far between for small towns so I got the job. I had not had my student teaching, had no idea of what curriculum should be (and neither did the administration) so I made it up as I went along. I put on programs with every kid in the school. Now that school system has 23 elementary schools and 5 4A high schools and that town is where I attend church. It is one of the fastest growing communities in the nation. Who'd a thunk it?

4. Your first time hosting. Again, construed broadly, this could be a dinner for the in-laws, your first time to have guests for a holiday meal, etc.

Gads, I invited my music teacher to my first little apartment that I described above. I made baked chicken (my first attempt at making something nice) and the oven wasn't working right and the chicken didn't get done. I have nightmares about that evening to this day!
5. Your first love.That can be a person or something else!!

As a vowed celibate,  I guess it should be something else. ;>D.  But I fell in love with fly fishing.  I had fished a good bit when I lived in TX --the kind of worm and bait fishing that people rely on here to catch fish and eat them.  I especially loved doing that when I lived on the Gulf Coast when I would come home from school and gather my fishing gear and head for the beach.  I didn't catch too many good
eating fish but I would always take my crabnets and usually come home with enough for supper.  But when I moved to NY, I couldn't catch squat in the rivers or streams there.  One of my parishioners said I would have to learn to fly fish but I couldn't really afford a fly rod and all the equipment.  Then a woman in the parish said come over to the house, my husband left several rods and reels when he died.  You can have them.  So I had no excuse.  I took one lesson on how to cast on the Beaverkill (the holy grail of NY fly fishing) and I was hooked, both figuratively and emotionally.  (I had to dig a fly hook out of the back of my head).  But it was worth it.  It has been such a wonderful encounter with God's creation for me ever since.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Pain in the Tush: Proper 16 C, August 25, 2013


Isaiah 58:9b-14

9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

I have been a bit down in my back since last week.  Just strained muscles, nothing drastic, but getting in and out of the car, bed, down to the pots and pans in the lower cupboards has been trying.  And as I began to think about this week's readings, I was overwhelmed with the power of this story.  That is what Scripture does for us at times.   It grabs us by the lapels and allows us to understand the power of what Jesus' compassion is like. The thought of being bent over for 18 years just made my back hurt--literally.  And in my meditation on this scene I could feel Jesus' hands on her as my doctor had done for me.  That is what these stories do for us;  they allow us to experience God's love for us in rather intimate ways.  Of course not all of the stories in the Bible affect us this way, but sometimes just the image of Jesus' understanding give us comfort or the ability to face issues that we would generally not see.

 The healing, however, is not really the point of this story.  The point of the story is to show how corrupt the worshiping system had become in Judaism in Jesus' day.  Any good Jew who understood the Law of Moses would never have found anything wrong with healing on the Sabbath. A rabbi friend of mine would often get exasperated by the way that Judaism has been portrayed in the New Testament.  He would say, "But Jews don't really think that!"  And I have to always listen to the critique of Christianity by those who have never lived it in the news and on TV.

The problem was that there were those who wanted to control the Sabbath, the Law, the Temple, the faith of the people of Israel just as we find the same thing these days in all religions.  We hear it constantly within our own denomination, we hear it in Judaism, Islam, all denominations of Christianity, and I am sure you can find it among the Coptic Christians, the Jainists, the Sikhs, the Shinto followers, or the Tao.  It is a problem with all religions--it is called dogmatism or literalism.  It is the place in which certainty replaces faith, and order and expediency trumps compassion.

If there is anything that we have 'always had with us' in matters of faith, is the need to control our
universe, our lives, before the Holy One.  And it is precisely that which works against the kind of faith that Jesus taught.  We have 2000 years in Christianity in which there have been methods of trying to controlling God or God's people.  We try to control the Holy with our prayers, with the way that we say how we believe,  how we articulate what it is we believe.  We have centuries of decrying heresies when people find the Holy in different ways, or describe that encounter with the Divine in ways that are foreign to the majority.

And we still hear "Ye hypocrites" when we do not endeavor to create structure to aid the faithful to attain that incredible touch with that which is so far beyond us that all we can do is breathe.  Those who do not believe in God, or have never had a mystical encounter with the Holy often laugh or they believe that they can keep belief well contained.  For those who have identified those glorious events in life for which there are no words can only recognize that there is no way to contain the wonder, the awe, the all-encompassing presence of that which is so beyond but also so intimate.

Jesus called that entity 'Abba' or Father.  Throughout the centuries there have been many names for that existence.  We generally call it God.  The leader of the synagogue in this passage was one who want to make sure he kept every thing 'Kosher'.  He didn't want some out-of-town preacher come in and say things that he couldn't control.  He bashed Jesus because he allowed the holiness of the love and compassion of God's relationship to the woman who was bent to be made known.  He let God's love out of the nice convenient little box that he had built to keep control of the synagogue of which he was the elder.

Perhaps it is precisely this passage that we need to hear in our diocese at this time.  Perhaps it is precisely this message that we need to hear in our own parishes or in our personal lives.  It may give us the courage of the woman who was healed--to stand up straight, to look the world in the eye and demand of the Church, our society, our nation that we quit trying to stop the free, grace-filled, goodness that emanates from compassion and love.  We do not need to make the Church this complex, well-guarded, safe place just for us to be comfortable.  We need to be willing to look the loss of character, the loss of concern for others, the loss of ability our laws to provide for the common weal of our communities.  We must be willing to recognize that the pain in our tush that we have been nursing is of our own making because we are too afraid to trust in the Holy One of Israel who had been with us for all time.

The reading from Isaiah we find the people of Judah who have returned to Jerusalem fussing with one another and the prophet admonishing them to find delight in their rebuilding of the Temple rather that fighting over what it should be.  It reminds me so of Vestry or board meetings during my career.  All
too often  we quarreled over nothing of substance.  We spent inordinate amounts of time worrying about what color to paint he bathrooms rather than take on the serious topics of faith.  We complained about how much was spent on candles when we could not rejoice in the the work of God among us.

I wish I could say that after many thousands of years, we have gotten better at being able to experience the Holy and point it out to people.  But we haven't because there are so many who need to control God.  So today I would ask you to ask yourself where are you controlling the Divine in your life?  Where are you not allowing the incredible joy of the touch of the Ineffable to drive your congregation?  Where are you blocking the healing of those bent over by the weight of being starved of the Spirit?  We all do it.  But we are called by the pain in the tush to recognize that we too have been bent by the fear of embracing faith completely and allowing God to transform us to the upright people he created.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Five: Packing or Packrat?

Deb has devised an interesting FF:

We are 90% done with the pack-em-up-and-move-em-out week here are our hacienda. One daughter is moving to her first apartment, the other daughter to her dorm for her freshman year of college. Not gonna lie, it was an adventure these last few days!

As a part of the process, we let our daughters manage their own packing (with our input and support.) Part of that educational experience (for all of us) was letting them figure out how to create their own organization, make choices, and consolidate what they were packing. And also pack carefully enough so that they could still get everything in the car -- and in the dorm/apartment!

It made me realize that there are some elements to packing and moving that are learned, and some that are innate. So let's talk "packing or pack rat?" for this week's Friday Five.

1. Are you a sorter or a pack rat? What I mean by that is, do you select what you are taking with
you (on a trip, a new assignment, a vacation), or do you pack with abandon (overweight suitcases be damned!)

We moved almost a year ago and we are still unpacking.  Neither of us are sorters and this last move was made under duress--too little time and broken ribs and a separated shoulder.  We were still trying to recover from a major car accident.  But it is just too hot in the garage to spend any time in there to sort and unpack.  We have moved so many times in our careers that we have boxes that have not been opened in years.  J is the more of a pack-rat.  I am just not able to organize.  It leaves us with some of the aspect of Hoarders  but not the fear of that disease.  At least the cleaning ladies come every week. ;>D.

2. Who first helped you learn how to pack? Or did you just come into it by osmosis or natural gifting (and need)?
J is a better packer than I.  She folds things for suitcases much better than I.  I hate small suitcases that are not prepared to meet the needs of 'big girls'.  Just trying to get a pair of size 11.5 sneakers into a carry on is a pain in the tush.  We are going on a 3 week vacation in a couple of months.  J will pack

3. What's your favorite kind of suitcase? Duffle? Soft-side? Wheels? (I am personally a fan of my "expanding
zipper" wheelie suitcases. Saved my bacon on many a return trip home!)  WHEELS!  The 4w drive kind where it doesn't pull against my back when I wheel it.  I prefer a hard case but for big trips I prefer a duffle just so I can stash more stuff.  I tend to look like a ragamuffin when I get there--but I don't own an iron either. ;.>}

4. Do you have that "packing gene" -- or do you pack and cram what you need into every available space?
I do not have the packing gene.   I am also a total klutz when it comes to packing things in the car or even packing a box of books. It is also the reason that we have multiples for almost everything in the house.  I have been recently told that my ADD has been life long. ( I wished I had known that BEFORE I started on my doctorate! ;>])  It is also the reason why I cannot seem to organize my kitchen and for the most part can't find what I bought just last week.  

5. What's one thing you've learned in traveling, packing or storing your belongings that you
think everyone should know?

Don't marry someone who is as ADD as you are!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I came to bring Fire: Proper 15C

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

All too often this Gospel is used to scare people into thinking that the End Times are coming.  I am not sure that Jesus was that concerned with the Parousia.  But I do think he lived in a time when life around him was foretelling what was coming, and it wasn't going to be good.  And this is one of those passages that disturb us because it doesn't sound like the 'Jesus, meek and mild' image many of us have of him.

I don't think I have ever been drawn to the meek and mild version of Jesus.  And while it is nice to know
people who are meek and mild, I find it difficult to be around them for too long.  I don't find in meek and mild a place where I want to stay in my relationships.  Often such relationship are not peaceful in my experience.  They are often filled with fear and torpor.  I appreciate relationships that have some spice in them.  

From what I read in the Scripture, I think that Jesus was an intuitive man.  I do not believe he had Divine insight.  I believe that he was a human who was deeply in tune with what the humans around him felt and knew.  On the Meyers-Briggs I would guess that he was a strong NF, one who felt deeply the needs of those around him and could intuit what was going to happen in his world if something seriously didn't happen in the society around him.  He was a prophet.  

In Jesus' world there was an understanding that when the people failed to live up to God's law of love, bad things would happen to the whole people of God.  There was also an understanding that if the populace repented and returned to God's law, the bad things would not happen.  It is the reason that both John Baptist and Jesus preached the way of repentance.  But there were also the wonderful tale of Jonah that told that such repentance could avert the kind of destruction.  Also the history of Judah told of a return to God's law under Josiah that brought cohesion to the nation.  

But in Jesus' day that national unity had been lost when it subjected itself to the Roman Empire.  Almost 100
years before Jesus, the warring parties of the Sadducees and the Pharisees had invited the Roman Republic to administer their government and to bring peace because they could not bring peace in any other way.  But in that 100 years the Roman Republic had become an Empire, no longer the somewhat republican form of government that once made it so attractive.  By Jesus' day it was difficult to become a Roman citizen and the Roman Army became the arbiters of Roman justice that was more of a bully-boy form of government.  The taxation of the Empire was heavy and left the small nations that were under its thumb stripped of their own cultural dignity and customs.

The peace that Jesus claimed was a peace that was not one that was enforced by an alien army.  The peace that Jesus proclaimed was a peace that demanded that people treat each other with respect, that all people were equal, that neighbor was to be loved simply because he was a neighbor and that there was to be care for those who were poor, widowed or orphaned.  But Jesus also saw that this kind of peace was not going to be developed without a turning around of the values of the present day culture.  In some way those prevailing cultural attitudes of greed, selfishness, and power grabbing had to be faced full on.  It was not going to be an easy change and it would demand not just a change in government.  It would take a change in the heart of a people.  And these changes would not come easily.  This kind of faithfulness would create division even in one's own family.

If you do not see some similarities between then and now, you haven't been listening to the Scripture.  There are those who compare America with the Roman Empire.  I don't know about all the political or economic similarities but there is enough similitude to make stop and take notice.   And there enough pundits in media to call for repentance.  But that repentance will not come easily.  A god who is meek and mild will not lead us, we think. We want a strong God who will make His will known.  And yet that is precisely NOT what Jesus offers the world.   

The kind of peace that God offers us today is the same as in the day of Jesus--one that is generated in honesty, integrity and goodwill.  It is a peace that cannot be rooted in violence or maintained by armies or drones.  It is a peace that is rooted not in what is best for the individual or corporation.  It must be rooted in what is best for the commonweal with enough mercy to take care of exceptions.  It cannot be based on 'trickle down' theories, or 'God helps those who help themselves' (not Scriptural, BTW).  It must radically implanted in the fabric of the world that all are created equal before the Creator.  

In my lifetime I have seen the ideal of the commonweal be totally excluded from the basic mindset of the last 2 generations.  And I have also seen my nation become the Empire it never was in my childhood.  I have watched the world come to revolve around incredible wealth rather than around national or ethnic pride. The loss of any local control of basic community activities has isolated us more and more.  And social media, while it allows us to make our ideas known, does not shape our common lives so that common ethics or morality can be worked out.  

The Peace of God is not meek and mild.  The peace of God is hard work.  It requires diligence and willingness to engage the world with all its desires for greed and power and show it what real peace is like.  It demands a willingness to look at ourselves without averting our eyes from the advantages we have simply because we live within the Empire and demand that we live 'outside' of that Empire--the empire of power, greed and position.  We must begin to call of ourselves to return to the soul of our faith.  We need to allow ourselves to bring the divisions in our lives that help us separate us from Empire living to a type of living in the Kingdom of God.  It is only there that we can know that peace.  

An Additional Note:  As I was trying to illustrate this sermon from Google Images, I could not find a picture under the heading of Peace with more than one person in it.  It is as if we understand peace as being alone.  But the Peace that Jesus spoke of was among us all.  It is food for thought:  How do we find peace with others and where do we go looking for peace?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Five: Habits

Marci has posted one of those FF's that works for the working but not so well for us retired folks or for those who wish they were working:

The weekly church reading group I facilitate has just finished reading and discussing The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating book with research about business and people's habits or routines. The author bases much of his book on recent brain research.

Although this is a secular book, our discussions led to greater awareness of God and of mindfulness in our lives. After all, spiritual disciplines are to help us form habits that will foster greater recognition of and living in the ways of  God. 

The author writes, "Some habits yield easily to analysis and influence. Others are more complex and obstinate, and require prolonged study. And for others, change is a process that never fully concludes." (276)

So for this Friday Five, let us look at our habits, both personal and/or in our organizations: 

1. Good habit(s)?

I get up.  I turn on my computer.  I feed the cats (if I don't they bite my knees),  I do brush my teeth.  I don't shower every day like I used to.  I try to pay my bills on time. Check my mail. Look at the readings for the week. Pray. Read. stuff like that.

2. Habit(s) you wish to change, add, or delete? Do you struggle with this?
Wish I could stop eating.  I wish I could ignore what others say a bit more.

3. Tell a success story about one of your habits.
Prayer:  I think if there was any one reason I was a successful pastor--if success is the way that one should evaluate one's vocation--- was due to having good training in meditative prayer.

4. Have you noticed different habits or routines that are in churches or where you work?
Each parish I served had its own routine.  Even  tho the priest has the right to change the routines to fit her, some things like the day that ladies came in to fold the bulletins, or the day that the guys mowed the lawn, etc. were generally set in stone.  I had a church in the 90's that celebrated it's 300th anniversary; they had routines set in concrete!  They had been having a Harvest Festival forever even though no one harvested anything anymore.   

5. What would you like to become a practice at your present workplace?  
Work.  Retirement may allow you to sleep late, but it is boring.

Bonus:  Can anyone tell me why some of the text is small and some is readable?  I don't change anything while I am posting but I can't seem to change it.  Is it time for a check up at the local Geek shop?  Also Blogger wont let me put my pics where I want to.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Where your heart is... Proper 14C

Luke 12:32-48
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

I have been reading a book called The Underground Church by Robin Meyers, a UCC pastor
in Oklahoma City.  I thought I was a liberal until I read his book!!  But I found much in that book that resonated with my own approach to Christianity and the Church.  However, I find that he sets up too many polarities for the kind of peace that Christ promises in the Kingdom of God.  What Meyers does do is reset and clarify the vision of what it means to be Church in a time of changing priorities.  

First of all, he reminds us all of how we of the Church have been duped by the 'World', as we used to say.  Jesus was one who was subversive in the Roman Empire which had undermined the Jewish nation and culture.  He was teaching a people how to resist the oppression of the Empire by adhering to the principles of the Mosaic Law but not to the letter of the law that had been manipulated by those who would 'make nice' with Empire.  I truly believe that the reason for Jesus' mission was to 'show us the Father'--to reacquaint people with the Holy One of Israel and Judah.  

The early Christians were pacifists, conscientious objectors,  communal in their living, and tended to buy from one another than through the Empire marketed good.  They were the Amish of their day.  And such Gospel readings like today's reading show us that to be a Christian cost the Christian much.  It is interesting that the Lectionary for Episcopalians does not include the second half of this reading.  There is a good chance that the second portion of the reading was a later addition but it always good to wrestle with the whole of the text.  

We don't like to hear of slave beatings, or punishment from God.  But it was the way that era understood what God would do if the laws were not obeyed.  We also don't want to hear of Jesus telling us to 'sell all' and 'gives alms'.  It messes with our sense of hard work and reaping the harvest for what we have sown.  But Jesus saw that in his day that the people who were supposed to be following the Law of Moses had forgotten their tribal respect and
care for their people.  They found loop-holes in the Law so that they did not have to do the right thing.  That is the reason that 'lawyers' or scribes caught most of Jesus' wrath. 

That final verse of the larger passage is one that has always made me stop and look hard.  I believe I have been given much in my life.  I have an above average education.  I have a good pension and along with Social Security I can live a decent life in community.  I have been given much.  Therefore I understand that much is expected of me.  But what?  What does our God require of those of us who live decently?  Jesus says at the beginning of this passage to 'Sell all' and 'give alms'.  (I have talked before about my garage and the divesting is still going on.)  But what is it that God calls from us?

I had the gift once of sitting at Mother Theresa's feet when she said 'Give until it hurts.' when asked what could we young people could do for the sake of Christ.  She didn't advise going out and joining the convent or monastery.  She recommended that we give until it hurt so that our suffering would be redemptive.  Meyers suggests that we keep that Christian community of Acts that held all things in common as a model for our living today.  It is one way to address the Empire living to which we have become accustomed.  It is the way that we can keep from being overwhelmed by the Empire which inures us to something other than profit margins and getting ahead.

After living in community both in the convent and in a family (all families are pretty much communal, no matter how right-wing we might be), I know that holding all things for common usage is difficult.  And even religious communities now have evolved out of holding all things in common with personal ownership and separate living more the norm.  We have allowed the Empire to overshadow what it means to live radically what it means to self-less and self-giving in a world that needs us to conserve.

Christians in today's world are told that communism is bad and evil.  But it IS there in Scripture.  It was the reason that the early Christian martyrs were killed.  They lived lives that were based on God's law rather than the Imperial law.  They offered an alternative life style to the people of the Roman Empire that was not based in the oppressive Imperial economic patterns and posed a threat to the 'big business' of the Empire.  Meyers would have Christians to repeat that by buying at free trade venues.  And to a certain extent
I agree with him.  At the same time, I know many good Christians who are a part of that kind of Empire economy and I don't know how to help them see that Empire economics will eventually undermine our precious democracy, our American way of life just as surely as it did the Roman Empire's.

We have been given much in our lives in this country.  But we have taken much too and that is what needs to stop.  There is enough to feed all the hungry in the world.  But we spend so much time manipulating markets so that there are people who are starving to death even in our own country. In addition those who reap the wealth become hardened to the pleas of the poor.   How can we learn to give back, give until it hurts so that we can have compassion--the ability to 'suffer with'?  I don't know even where to begin.  But I know it must be done so that we do not lose the soul of Christianity to capitalism as the predominant religion of the world.  

Gandhi offered a list of seven social sins that we as Christians need to embrace  We need to resist:
  • politics without principle
  • wealth without work
  • commerce without morality
  • pleasure without conscience
  • education without character
  • science without humanity
  • and worship without sacrifice
And we need to remember that much will be expected of those who have been given much.



Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Cathedral of Hope

The past couple of weeks I have attended a United Church of Christ parish called the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas.  I must admit I have been to few UCC church services.  I have been the substitute preacher for small congregations at times but all in all I have never quite 'gotten into' UCC liturgy.  But CoH is not your ordinary UCC congregation.  It began as refuge for LGBTQ people over 40 years ago.  It now has a membership of 4,000 and an average Sunday attendance of 1,200.  And last week was the most awesome service I had ever attended that satisfied my need for liturgy, communion, music, healing and prayer.  

The music ministry includes not just an impressive choir and organist--it has both, but it also includes a full orchestra at both services.  There are impressive professional quality soloists.  They have musicians who can adapt to the symphonic genre just as easily as it does to African-American, jazz, country and western and rhythm and blues so that they all become vehicles of prayer and praise.  And as a former professional musician, I know that is no mean feat.

The altar party are vested simply but colorfully though not with liturgical colors.  There are few distinguishing marks of ministry lay or ordained.  But it is clear that lay folk are as much a part of the altar ministry as are the clergy.  The building is modern  with a the starkness of its modernity but it is warmed by its welcome and its attention to visual aides to prayer and praise.  It has screens that carry the words of the music as well as easily read bulletins with notation to follow the music.  But there are often images to illustrate the sermon.  Today such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu were before our eyes.

The congregation is heavily male--something I have never experienced before in any church.  The age of most is remarkably young though there were enough seniors to make me feel that I wasn't at a rock concert.  The sermon by a younger clergyman was on visioning--the parish is in the process of calling a new senior pastor.  And he used Dr. King's life and the Dream speech to remind us as well as Scripture to call forth from us a willingness to be prophets of the goodness of God in the world today.  It spoke to me even though he was talking about history and I was reliving my own past.  But it was heartening to me to see younger pastors willing to take up issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia with the kind of zeal that I had when I was young.  But most of all, I knew I had been to a place where people knew the Holy One.  Following communion everyone reached for another's hands and we raised them over our heads while we sang a song of thanksgiving and praise.  The message was that God loved us and we could love one another and we could be about God's justice in the world.  

A friend who has just moved here from NYC met me there and were both moved by both the sense of hospitality and the fellowship.  We both wept during the music and at communion.  There were even tissues in the pews along with envelops!  Talk about hospitality!

At coffee hour my NYC native got into a conversation with a group of twenty-somethings who invited us to brunch at a local cafe.  My Yankee friend was rather bowled over with the friendliness.  We could have been their parents or grandparents.  They were students at a local university.  It was a wonderful extension of the eucharist we had just celebrated.  The talk was all over the place.  The young men talked of coming out and one who was 'not quite out.'  In other words he wasn't at peace with himself yet but he was only 18-19.  They were interested in how we had lived our lives.  For me, it was wonderful to be able to talk to young gay people who didn't have to hide who they were and could be wonderfully honest.  They will never have to live closeted and fearful about someone 'finding out'.  If the loss of my jobs for being queer has made it possible for them to live honestly, it was worth it.  They can have gay friends and be supported by them as they are maturing.  Something I missed completely.

What I saw also at the CoH was all the queer folk that have emptied our pews over the past 20 years.  I saw the enthusiasm that mainline Protestants have lost by ridding themselves of LGBTQ people.  I saw art,  music and beauty that has been missing from our churches for almost a generation.  I saw a love for God that has been missing in the quarreling that has affected us all in Christianity.  I listened to a message that didn't try to dance around Christ's message of justice and acceptance.  I heard a song of salvation that hasn't been sung in our churches in some time.  

Am I going to forsake my beloved Episcopal Church for the CoH?  No.  I will go there to breathe the rarefied air of healing and welcome but will return when it is time to speak the word of Christ again. But if TEC is going to be but 'bare ruined choirs' we need to remember that we musht open our doors to those who are different, who are 'other' gifted so that we can be about the message of Jesus once more.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Gathering into barns: Proper 13 C

I have always thought I was a person of fairly simple tastes.  I like to think that I don't have much, money, things, toys.  But then I had help from many of you to move me last fall and I know that my secret is out!  

J and I have often had to keep two houses, rectories or living spaces over the years.  We are also loath to throw away things that are still serviceable.  Both of us are the children of parents that survived the Great Depression by being abstemious and careful of their possessions.  And what is so ridiculous is that we have moved 40 years of accumulation all across this country, so today's Gospel speaks loudly to me.

The passage speaks of greed and acquisition.  And in this passage we find Jesus responding to someone who is asking for more than his share.  In first century society, the older brother inherited.  And if the younger brothers received anything it was gift.  To us it seems unfair, but that was the way that the land was not parceled out into meaningless tiny plots over the generations.  It was the eldest's responsibility to see after the needs of all of his family.  Jesus warned his petitioner of one of the continuing ethical problems in human society--greed.  We have stories from the earliest forms of literature about greed.  And yet it still is a problem.  The acquisition of whatever has been a problem since Cane and Able.  And Jesus tells a parable that puts it in no uncertain terms--to try to keep aggrandizing has a deleterious affect on the soul.  J.  studied economics at Harvard as an undergraduate and when she found that we could sustain the whole world with what the earth produced, but that it wasn't expedient to do so, she decided it was time to go to  seminary.  The problem was not economics; the problem was ethics.

The phrase "You can't take it with you." comes from this passage we have in Luke.  And we have been warned about it all our lives. And yet we are constantly being badgered by ads on TV or on the Internet to gather our savings into 'barns'. 

 I have always found it amusing that this part of Jesus' teaching is buried deep in August when
we have the fewest people in our pews.  We don't like hearing this hard saying of Jesus.  But we need to.  We need to hear that Jesus isn't even 'nice' about this parable.  He uses harsh language:    `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you."  He doesn't mince words.  This is one of the most important issues in the message of Jesus because gathering into barns and bigger barns tears at the fabric of faith more than anything save dishonesty.  Humans anesthetize themselves by accumulating stuff.  Whether it is grain in barns or Imeda Marcos' 800 pairs of shoes.  And what finally happens is that people then fail to trust God to provide for them.

When I was working in a poor section of the mountains in Mexico back in my 20's I was bowled over at the incredible faith that the people in those little villages had.  They HAD to trust in God.
 There was nothing that they could save up.  I also remember a parish I was called to that boasted of $3M in their endowment fund.  But they couldn't pay their staff a decent salary or social security.  The had not understood that saving and hoarding were not part of the Gospel message. As a congregation that was the most uncaring parish I ever served.  There were some wonderful people in the parish but as a church, they couldn't afford to care.  They had to 'protect' what they had accumulated.   The couldn't have a school or large youth activities because they 'were a deep pocket' and couldn't put themselves in that position.  They were frozen by protecting what had been given to them by a little old lady who left her whole fortune to the loving community that she had been a part of.  The gift had made them misers.  They had not worked for that gift.  But they invested in the stock market, and we all know where that got them in  2007.

One of the things that has happened with modern economics is that we now need to buy to support our nation's economy.  It is unpatriotic not to be acquisitive.  And this is a very bad place for us to be both as a nation and as a Christian.  We put our trust in military might to protect our 'way of life,', unregulated economies that do not  produce but manipulate finance, retirement funds that are speculative at best and fail to hear Jesus' warning about trusting in what is gathered into barns.  And if there is anything more ludicrous, it is the "in God We Trust" on our currency.

Even when we do produce, we make such variances that we have multitudinous choices from which we can pick but often with a diminishing  of original.  We may get pink tomatoes all year long.  We have different varieties but most of them are tasteless because agribusiness has developed genetically altered food that are long expediency and short on taste and nutrition.  

I had to take some time with this passage because it was so at my doorstep.  I needed to figure out what was happening to me spiritually because my barn
(garage) was full.    I had so much stuff that I couldn't see the needs of people here in Ft. Worth that are in need of what I have extra.  I needed to see that I was becoming unaware of the needs of others because I couldn't let go of what I had stored..  And as I began to really look at what I had stored in my garage, it was useless.  Clothes I could no longer wear, would never be worn in TX.  I certainly didn't need 14 ice scrapers!  We had more pots and pans that we would ever need in retirement.  We finally gave a way the place setting for 60 that J had inherited from her mother.  

But there was another level of learning how to trust in God.  It had to do with time.  I need to
learn how to be more available to people.  I needed to be able to drop what I was doing so that I could help others.  One of the real banes of the Church is that we waste so much time planning that which cannot ever happen. In a program-sized parish it is the easiest to fall into this because everyone knows 'how busy the clergy are'.  But have we become so busy that we cannot be available to what happens in people's lives?  Retirement makes me see how I often failed to be available to my parish because I had filled it with meetings rather than with prayer over coffee or a glass of tea with those who need a kind face or a listening ear.

Sometimes we build bigger barns to avoid taking the time with people.  We also build bigger barns because want to look spiffy and yet never live into the well-lived places that remind us of whose we are.   

I find it amusing also that people buy 'starter' houses.  My folks bought a house for $7,000 in 1949 and live in it until Mom moved to a retirement center when she became blind.  I have never bought a home partially because I lived in church owned housing and because moving every 8 years or so doesn't encourage setting down roots.  But now  buying a house is not something I want to invest in.  I want to invest in people, in loved ones, in community, not property.  

I would suggest that perhaps something that this passage does: it helps us re-evaluate the barns that we have built.  We need to see where the insidious sin of greed attacks us all in this
world.  If you think that you are immune I would invite you to check out the statistics of how much of the world's wealth we live with in this nation and how it affects the rest of the world's economies.  Taking the time to be aware of our greediness allows us to be humbled before God.  It is the only true way to go to God in prayer anyway.    

Meanwhile, if anybody needs me, I will be in the garage.