Monday, December 20, 2010

The Old Testament in One Hour


St. Bede's Adult Forum

Some literary treatments of Old Testament Themes and Stories

Genesis: Robert Crumb – Genesis in comic strip narrative (at Public Library)
Soren Kierkegaard, Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling
John Steinbeck, East of Eden – Cain and Abel
Job The Living End, by Stanley Elkin,
J.B. by Archibald MacLeish
Ecclesiastes The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn
Isaiah G.F. Handel - The Messiah

The notion of myth – it is not when did it happen, but where is it happening?
Myth addresses -How did we get this way? That is, in good part, at the heart of the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham & Isaac, Joseph and his Coat
Two Creation Stories: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; 2:4b-2:25, each written at differe
nt times with different purposes by different "schools:"
J earliest, existentialist, interested in themes of obedience, alienation, life & death issues
P justifies priestly, ritualistic religion – cult, seasons and festivals, Sabbath.
D understands history through experience – faithfulness and apostasy.
E uses "elohim" (gods) for the Divine.

Cain and Abel: on-going struggle between siblings, between urban/agrarian
Retribution: Lamech
Then Lamech said to his wives:
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold." 4:19-24 –
That sense of retribution is transformed in Exodus 21:24 (an eye for an eye)

Noah – the first of the Covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Davidic)
Abraham – adventures and misadventures – his descendents (literally) in his seed
Birth of Isaac – Isaac means "laughter" after the laughter of his parents in their 90s when Isaac was conceived.
Abraham & Isaac 22: Several authors and philosophers have wrestled with this.
Stories about Jacob – cheating his brother, wrestling with an angel, being renamed "Israel."
"We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" or "the God of the Liar, the Larcenist and Laughter")
Jacob and his brothers – the twelve tribes of Israel.

Israelites are in bondage in Egypt 2:23-25
The calling of Moses (temper and voice 7:1-2 – Aaron was his mouthpiece)
The Plagues followed by the Passover (preparations 12, exodus 13ff. – 15:1!
Time in Wilderness, first set of the 10 Commandments 20ff
The Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant 25:8f. these represent God's will to live in the midst of his people – the extension of which is the Incarnation.

LEVITICUS – High Morality & The Problem of Guilt
Holiness Code: 19:1ff High Points of Biblical morality – which is based on the holiness of God.
19:9 Gleaning – Salinas Valley, where the practice of gleaning is still practiced
19:17 first appearance of loving your neighbor- see v.33
19:33 the sojourner – big deal in that culture, milieu
The Jubilee Year – no one crushed forever 24:ff

Years in the Wilderness
Second set of 10 commandments – recalling covenant (religious service) Deut. 5ff
Shema 6:4-5f.
The Notion of Election 7:6f (reflected in New Testament in I Peter.
The Kind of God we worship and serve 7:9f
Office of a Prophet 18:15
The Blessings of Obedience 28:1ff. – the heart of Deuteronomic history (you obey, you prosper; you disobey, it's curtains for you) These laws applied to nation primarily – individual focus later.

JOSHUA – God's promise upon entry into Promised Land.
Rahab (chapter 2 and end of 6) – one of four women in the geneology of Jesus, Rahab was a prostitute.
Joshua's leadership in establishing a stronghold in the new land.

JUDGES - wonderful stories of early leaders of the Hebrews
Continuing struggle to take control of the land.
Deuteronomic history played out
Judges/Deliverers: Ehud (3:13-28), Ms. Jael kills Sisera(4), Deborah! (5) Gideon (6:13f),
Samson (14) – all great and very vivid stories.

RUTH – purpose to show intermarriage can be successful religiously
1:15 "Wherever you go, I will go. . . ."
3:5f. marriage and property tied together, reflected in a father giving his daughter away.
Ruth & Boaz sire Obed, the father of Jesse, father of David (geneology) Illustrates a foreigner as part of the geneology of Jesus

I SAMUEL – this and II Samuel are some of the best history ever written – inside information, great use of sources and documents, compelling narratives.
Song of Hannah, ch. 2 – from which we get the Magnificat
Capture of the Ark 4
Request for a King (big deal) 8:4f. "we want to be like all the other nations"
The origin of The Holy Spirit – takes possession, ecstatic 10:5
12-14 – the core of Deuteronomic history.
16 – The Calling of David – a mirror image of the Cinderella Story!
17 - David and Goliath
18 Saul and David in conflict
20ff The Friendship of David and Jonathan (2Sam1:25-27) – many hold this to be a homosexual relationship.

7:16 God's promise to David and Descendants
11 David and Bathsheba and Uriah
12ff. Nathan's Fable – rebuke to David.
Stories of Absolom and others

I KINGS – again, much great history
Solomon made King ch 1ff and his wisdom and judgment
Chapter 5ff preparation for the building of the Temple
Chapter 9ff. Solomon's apostasy
Stories of intrigue
Chapter 15 – war between Israel and Judah.
Chapter 17ff. The arrival of Elijah the Prophet
Chapter 19:11f – major shift in understanding of God – not in nature, but interior voice.
Stories of Ahab

1-2Elijah taken into heaven, mantle passed to Elisha
Stories about Elisha – miracles
Stories of immensely evil kings, interrupted by Hezekiah, then Manassah the worst.
22 – Reform under King Josiah!
23 Judah now has constitutional rule – accretions gone.
24-5 Destruction of the Temple – Exile

History retold by P or Priestly tradition

EZRA in the year of Cyrus, king of Persia – Return of the Exiles
Ezra & Nehemiah deal with evil doers differently- Ezra tears his hair out/Nehemiah tears their hair out.
Rebuilding of the Temple begun – rebuilt 520-516
Legalism begins – with Torah being taught 7:16ff.
Mixed Marriages abandoned.

NEHEMIAH (holds position similar to a senior warden)
The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, list of those who returned. Here and through Chronicles great attention given to recording people's names.
Ezra the Priest's Reading of the Law to the people (8:1ff)
The Samaritan schism begins 13:28

ESTHER – the story establishing/justifying the feast of Purim
Haman wants to destroy Jews, Esther intercedes, Mordecai is a hero.
Very popular story!


JOB – rejection of Deuteronomic theory of history (represented by Job's "friends")
Job is a righteous man – Satan promises to make him curse God.
Job's friends:
Eliphaz: Only God is pure: the rest of his creations, including the angels, are not – which means that humans must accept some punishment for their inescapable impurity. Job must have sinned, not because he was evil, but because he was human.
Bildad: The sins of the sons are reason for father's punishment.
Zophar: Job's punishment is the result of Job's own secret and substantial guilt which he must be hiding, even from himself.

Problem in Job: God does not answer Job's legitimate questions about suffering of the innocent, though it is widely believed that he does.
Ending of Job may have been tacked on.

PSALMS – separate entry in this blog.

PROVERBS: Wisdom honored – beginning of the notion of Holy Spirit as part of Godhead.
8:22 and 8:22-31 is crucial passage in early understanding of Trinity!
Sayings: 1:2 gold ring; Every Member Canvass 11:24-26; Thanksgiv'g 15:16-17;
a worthy woman, 31ff.
Other parts of Proverbs noted earlier in blog – comic structure of the Bible.

ECCLESIASTES – tries to find meaning and is defeated (despite tacked on holy ending)
Great Passages: 1:1-11; 3:1-8 Byrds; 4:9f marriage; 9:11f. nothing new under the sun;
positive 9:7-10
Ecclesiastes may have been an atheistic tract, transformed into a Jewish text.

SONG OF SOLOMON – used to be favorite part of the Bible for horny teenage boys.
The book asserts that the love of God and erotic love are not different in kind.
2:8-13 lovely poem; 4:1f. each part of the beloved praised; 4:9ff erotic love


AMOS – earliest and most biting
2:6-8; 3:1-2; 4:1-3; Plumbline (7:7-9); verses quoted by MLK – 5:21-24

HOSEA – some hope
Marries Gomer, the prostitute (3 ff) Hosea's faithfulness to his whore/wife is compared to God's faithfulness to a whorish nation.
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

JOEL – post exilic (after Jews have been freed from exile in Babylon)
Quality of Repentance 2:12-13; for final battle 3:9-1-

OBADIAH –focus on judgment of Edom

The book is written as an acrostic in Hebrew;
the overthrow of Ninevah (Babylon) (see Psalm 137)
foresees auto (2:3-5) not really, but the images are there.

HABAKKUK – like Job, opposes Deuteronomic history
Individual faith: 2:4
Environmentalist: rejects violence to trees & animals 2:17.
Many liturgical passages are found here.
Wrestles with the problem of evil.

Woe to Jerusalem and the Nations
The Restoration of Israel 3:14-20

Argues for rebuilding of the Temple (building fund 1:4)
Economic Depression explained (1:10-11)
A Temple for all – 2:7f.

Theme – the universal reign of God.
New sense of repentance –totally by grace of God (3:1-5)
Pacifism: 7:8-10
Old men and old women . . .glories yet to come (8:4-5)

MALACHI Priestly prophet
Inclusion of Gentiles (1:11), 2:10.

ISAIAH – three different books
Themes: against foreign alliances (31:1ff. for example),
Vision: 6:1ff. the holiness of God
Isaiah walks naked as protest – one of the great clown/fool moments in Scripture.
Vision of the Messianic Banquet at the end of history (Chapter 25).
II Chapter 40 "Comfort, comfort . . .straight (return from Babylon)
Transcendance – creation ex nihilo (40:12ff)
The Servant Passages (especially 50:4-11, 53:1-12) – key to Good Friday liturgies and Passion
God chooses Cyrus – first mention of the Annointed or Christ(45:1f.0)
The Nation as a Light to the Nations 49:6b
III Post-Exilic

Jeremiah's call to be a prophet
Transformation of the Outward to the Inward in Ethics (chapters 31 and 33)

The responsibility of the Shepherd/Watchman
Freeing ethics for individual responsibility (rejects the belief that a father's sin infects children)
Ezekiel's Vision of the Wheel
Hope – Valley of the Dry Bones

DANIEL – Apocalyptic (bizarre visions about the end of the world and salvation for the saints - this is reflected in the 13th Chapter of Mark, called "the Little Apocalypse" and the Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine. All three written to encourage the faithful who are being persecuted.
"The Son of Man" here and in the Psalms – the phrase here is the Son of Man coming in clouds of glory to claim his kingdom. Elsewhere, especially in Ezekiel, the phrase refers to humans in our finitude. Jesus seems to combine the two uses in order to drive others to see who he really is instead of assigning simple labels.

Stay tuned for better work on the Major Prophets.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Audition Script for “The Smedleys Are Here”

JIM and JANICE Smedley are waiting to meet the director of Swenson's Funeral Home to arrange for the funeral of a very difficult person.

LOLA (off-stage)

The Smedleys are here, waiting for you in the Garden of Memories.


MORT (entering to meet family)

Good afternoon and welcome to Swenson's; but first, I want to tell you how sorry I am about your loss.


        JANICE (distracted, while admiring the Rhododendrons)

He's sorry about our lapse? Jim, we can't be behind on our payments so soon. We just got here.



I'm sorry, I just wanted to express my deepest sorrow for your loss.



Our loss?



The loss of your Beloved.



Not really our Beloved, more like our Tolerated.



Your "Tolerated."


JANICE (joining the others)

Actually, our Barely Tolerated.



Your "Barely Tolerated."



No, probably worse than barely tolerated -- more like a complete pain in the ass.



You have come to the right place.






Yes, this is a family owned and operated Funeral Home that is dedicated to serving the survivors of . . very difficult relatives.



I'm not sure I understand.



My father, who founded Swenson's was a very spiritual man, a visionary. He realized that when a relative passes away, those who grieve … have more than sufficient resources for dealing with their loss – flowery cards, sympathetic neighbors, the pandering of friends … All that is well and good, but where does that leave the rest of us – and Barely Tolerated? Grief is assuaged in months – anger and resentment can go on forever.



I never looked at it that way.



And that is precisely where Swenson's comes in. . we ensure that the torment and abuse you have experienced over the years is repaid. .repaid on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, relieving you of that responsibility.



So you are Mr. Swenson?



Actually, no. Swenson's is a Swedish name. My family came from an Eastern European Country.



So your name is?



My name is Rasputin.






Yes, of the Akron, Ohio Rasputins.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bathhouse Blues

    After reading an article which lamented the Anglican Communion's Standing Committee's refusal to chastise, punish and exile the Episcopal Church for its treatment of gay and lesbian people as full members of the Body of Christ and worthy of the full dignity of being human. How, the author of the article asked, could they have failed to exile the Episcopal Church?

    I then noted, "Apparently the Standing Committee and others are not ready to elevate Paul's condemnation of ritual prostitution between males to the level of belief in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ." An unnamed respondent reproduced my observation and added "That Paul. Just no fun at AT ALL down at the bath-house."

What a gift! Now I think I understand better than I had before. The respondent illustrated a good bit of the problem with Dissident Theology. Bathhouse Sexuality is precisely what Paul does attack in Romans. Of course. However, progressives and moderates are not advocating Bathhouse Sexuality - we are talking about faithful, committed, intended to be life-long relationships between homosexual persons - relationships that are marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit as spelled out by Paul in Galatians 5. 

Perhaps the Standing Committee finally got it right – this is not about Bathhouse Sexuality, despite the confusion perpetrated by those who cannot conceive of homosexual relationships being anything but Bathhouse. Well, one can always hope.

Using the logic of the Dissidents (all gay and lesbian relationships are nothing more than the distorted relationships of the bathhouse), we should probably do away with marriage because there are men who abuse their wives.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Parable of the Prodigal Son – A Parable of our Anglican Struggles

This parable of the family of a father and two sons is remarkable in many ways. One of the most remarkable is the way it reflects the ongoing emotional and spiritual struggles within each one of us – and, as we shall see, the current struggles within the Anglican Communion as well as other denominations.

The Freudian take on human personality is that it is an expression of the struggle amongst three elements of the human psyche – the id, the super-ego and the ego:

- The id represents biological forces or the life-force and is governed by the pleasure principle or a form of hedonism. It is marked by instinctual urges of sexuality, aggression and the desire for instant gratification or release. In the parable, this is the Younger Son, breaking free from the constraints of the family, wasting the early inheritance from his father on pleasures of the moment, living an unfettered life with (by his brother's description) whores and then, in a surge of self-destruction, ending up sharing life with the religiously forbidden pigs of their Gentile owner. Freud's notion of the id caught up in the Oedipus complex is not far from the Younger Son's challenge to his father to "drop dead." The Younger Son could easily serve as the proto-type of the id.

- The superego, from the German "Uber-ich" ("over me") serves to inhibit the biological instincts of the id and to enforce moral standards. This is the Older Son in the parable -- dutiful to his father, but resentful of his younger brother who dishonored his father and has violated the most basic moral codes of the family's religion. When he learns that his younger brother is being honored in a loud celebration rather than summarily punished, the Older Son experiences an enormous crisis, as the very basis of his being has been to oppose and restrain the immorality of his brother. It is bad enough that he has failed in his mission – it is far worse to watch as his father seems to be celebrating his failure.

- In Freud's world, the ego is our link to reality (as different from the drives and the standards of the id and superego) and is the moderating force between the two opposing forces of the id and the superego. The work of the ego/Father is to hold the personality/Family together. Thus, while the id may be crying out for gratification as the superego counters with moral precepts and the accumulated wisdom of a developing conscience, the ego/Father works to resolve the conflict, balancing and moderating both id and superego. In the parable, the Father is attempting to fulfill this function by embracing the unrepentant Younger Son in a welcome home party while also embracing the rejecting Older Son as he resists joining the party.

As the party is in full swing, the two sons remain independent forces – and all bets are off on what will happen at the breakfast table the next morning! But that is the nature of the human personality: as Doug Adams was fond of saying, nearly every good parable and most miracles in the Bible end in chaos.

Both the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Sower have enormous possibilities in addressing our lives at a multitude of levels, but particularly the psychological struggles that happen deep within us. This is true in a more limited sense in the Parable of the Leaven, with the woman creating the bread from the wild energy of the leaven (denoting "corruption in the rest of the New Testament) and the passive purity of the flour. All three parables have within themselves powerful possibilities for framing, understanding and then transforming the struggles faced by our church communities and each of us as individuals within them.

What we are experiencing in the Anglican Communion is just this struggle, with the Progressives committed to their desire to do what is necessary to achieve a fully inclusive community -- even if that involves overturning long established order and tradition.

Within the Christian church this same struggle has appeared and reappeared in countless forms through the centuries most recently as we have come to terms with the evils of slavery and the exclusion of women. One of touchstones of the Anglican Communion has been our commitment to being governed by the role of the ego or adult dealing with the forces of id and superego in ordering the life of our family.

What we are lacking now is a common commitment to living within the struggles of the human and religious community. From my perspective, what we are experiencing now is a Father demanding to act, not as a force within the personality of the whole, but as "The Decider" who has, by ruling for one Son against the other, abdicated his role as the ego. The recent letters from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Canon Kearon declaring agains the Episcopal Church are clear examples of the abdication of the Parent in our family – and no good thing can come from that.

Like a healthy human personality, our Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and world-wide Christianity are best when, in the language of the Parable, the Father, the Younger Son and Older Son are in a dynamic relationship. With decrees, scurrilous attacks and shunning the energy of the Younger Son, we are not saving anything – only our own destruction.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jesus, Israel and Arizona

In all the discussions of the Arizona law regarding illegal immigration there has been little, if any, discussion about the religious significance of it all. As a result, what we have been left with, largely, is a hodge-podge of liberal and conservative catch phrases. So what can Christians and Jews have to contribute?

First, there is a constant reminder throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that we are a refugee people -- not just immigrants from Egypt, but political and economic refugees. To forget that is to forget God, says the Psalmist..

Second, for Christians the earliest reality for the Holy Family was as refugees in their flight to Egypt. We should probably be grateful no one there asked to see their papers.

Third, the one constant in Jesus' own experience as the light shining in the darkness was as refugee, as unwelcome immigrant: "foxes have holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head."

The issues involved in illegal immigration are complex -- even on purely economic grounds. If we take our own religious history and identity at all seriously, they become even more difficult -- as we live under the words of the Incarnate One, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me."

Egypt and Arizona, Mexico and Caanan, and on and on it goes.

Lastly, the truth is not served by asserting that any significant numbers of illegal immigrants are criminal element types -- or that there are no criminals involved. In my experience, the largest numbers have risked their lives in coming here from desperation. Paul Levine, normally a comedy writer, has captured that reality in his new novel, "Illegal." It speaks of the reality of the nitty-gritty details of people's lives

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ultimate Ironies, beginning with Kierkegaard

In his diary, Soren Kierkegaard wrote one of the most ironic lines in all of Christian theology: "In the splendid Palace Church a stately court chaplain, the declared favorite of the cultivated public, shows himself to a select circle of distinguished, cultivated persons and preaches a moving sermon on this word by the Apostle: 'God chose the lowly and despised.' And nobody laughs."

Remembering Kierkegaard's lines, I began thinking of other phases from Scripture equally ironic to the context of the Vatican's failure to address that church's failure to take any appropriate action against those priests who have raped our children and the bishops and archbishops who have abetted that. Here is my list so far:

Ascending to the pulpit before the great crowds in St. Peter's Basilica on a Sunday morning in his gold embroidered cope and mitre and his elegantly red Prada slippers, Pope Benedict removed his mitre, looked lovingly over the assembled faithful and began his sermon on the text from Mark 10:14, "Suffer the little children to come unto me. . ." and no one vomited, no one rushed the pulpit.

As he was reading from the day's appointed Scripture to the solemn gathering of the wizened old men who comprised the College of Cardinals, Pope Benedict passed quickly over verse 42 of the ninth chapter of Mark's Gospel, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea." The sound of old men either winking or shifting about in their velvet covered sedallias was deafening.


Over and over again, Jesus sets a child in front of the religious authorities of his day and tells them that this child represents the Kingdom. So when one of the church's priests desecrates the child, what are we to say about his regard for the Kingdom of God? Is the word "anti-Christ" appropriate? If so, what are the words or phrases for an organization which protects the anti-Christ?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

When We Can No Longer Cope - A Forum at St. Bede's

A short quiz: In the Bible, what is the event which immediately precedes the Feeding of the Five Thousand? The answer is "The beheading of the one man closest to Jesus, John the Baptist." Jesus, full of grief as well as of fear (because surely he would be next), does not retreat from life but enters into it fully and with compassion and care for those around him. He is affirming life in the midst of death -- that is the overriding aspect of his life and that forms the underpinnings of what I have to say.

This morning, I want to talk about some of the boundary situations we all face sooner or later -- hopelessness, severe depression, feeling unforgiven or being unable to forgive. Mostly I want to talk about the spiritual resources we have in dealing with those situations, ourselves, or in helping others as they attempt to deal with them.

What about the tough stuff? How do we deal with that? Most of the time, most of us do fairly well with life as it comes to us. We have plenty of reserves and when we are disappointed or hurt "Hey! That happens. . .life goes on." Thank God that is how life is for most of us. . most of the time. But there are the other times – either when something big overwhelms us or when the dailyness of life has somehow gotten to be too much. .and our reserves are gone.

We know what happens when our reserves are gone. Usually something small – it may be anger or loss or disappointment -- something seemingly small can touch us and we suddenly feel ourselves left defenseless before life. All of a sudden we feel we're close to going over the edge.

We usually begin by trying to handle that by ourselves, sometimes by toughing it out – which is usually only to postpone and to exacerbate. We reach down inside ourselves. .and find that we are empty. We reach for strength, but all we find is ancient pain.

So what are the resources of our faith? The first thing to do, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the truth: we human beings do not come equipped with a built-in reserve. The last thing any of us need feel guilty about is running out of reserves or feeling empty. It happens: that is how we are made. I used to run marathons. You know the phrase, "hitting the wall?" In a marathon, that is what usually happens at mile 20 of 26. What it means is that your body has run out of stored energy and if you body is going to use any more energy, it is going to get it. . . by eating muscle cells. When we hit the wall emotionally, spiritually. . .we have hit the wall, period. There is no place to go, inside. .no muscle cells to eat. So what is there?

There is first, simply entrusting ourselves – entrusting ourselves to the care of God, to the care of a spouse or friend. I hope we all know that it is more than ok to draw on someone else's strength when ours has given out. That's part of being a church family. If you are too far gone even to pray: ask someone to pray for you. . .or with you (and praying with someone can mean simply sitting with him in silence). And when you do entrust yourself to another or to others, take the time to feel the power of that depending on someone's prayers or support. That is important.

One of the spiritual meanings of sickness is that it is often the first time in our lives when we are able to come to terms with our dependence on God – our emotional, spiritual and physical dependence on God. This may be the occasion for our being able to understand and accept

and live. . within our dependence upon God. I think the reason so many of us are so frightened of death is that we have so little experience or practice of entrusting ourselves to anyone. . much less God.

So, first, we are incomplete –that is basic to who we are - not a matter for shame or guilt. We need others and we need God -- just as the Ringling Bros. were incomplete without Barnum and Bailey, hot dogs incomplete without mustard. That's the way it is. The only people God finds almost impossible to work with are those who see themselves as perfect.

When you entrust yourself to the care of a spouse or friend, be specific: when you ask, ask for specifics. In Salinas, one woman I had been seeing weekly, asked to see me in my collar every day – somehow that reminded her of the presence of her Lord, though with her pain, that was the only way she could experience that presence. That was something I could give her – or the congregation could give her through me.

A second matter: When we are in a crisis, that is not the time to question our beliefs: it is the time to trust them. There are so many things in life which assault us,which knock us for a loop. When the big ones hit us, they almost always do so in a way that brings our basic values/beliefs into question. "How could God have done this? "If this is what God is like, to Hell with God."

But even as the questions come, this is not the time to rethink, re-evaluate our beliefs. That is so for the very same reason I was told years ago that the time to make decisions about sex is not in the backseat of a car.

Even so, in the middle of crisis, if you are angry with God, BE angry with God. If you are disappointed with God, BE disappointed with God. But at the same time, reach through the disappointment and anger to trusting that God will be there to support you, to heal you. Try to trust that God will be present to bring some good out of the chaos, the fear, threat or loss you are experiencing.

Most of the time, in our relationship with God, it is like we are on a first date. We are nice. We are on our best behavior. However, when at the end of our rope, when we are really angry with God, that may be the occasion to move past a dating relationship and into a real relationship with God.

Third, it is important, sometimes, just to endure. . to live it through. The Bible often links Hope and Endurance, holding on -- and the heart of holding on is knowing, trusting, hoping that our present pain/loss will someday be a part but not the whole. .of our lives. Our lives are colored, changed drastically by deaths, divorce, disfigurements, long-term illness. .but that will not be the ONLY reality in our lives. In a word, it is important not to let the H.O.L.E. hole in my heart be the W.H.O.L.E. whole of my life. I know that has been true in my life – as time after time I have dealt with losses and death in my own life. There are holes, deep holes in my heart, as I know there are deep, deep holes in each of yours. And I honor that pain and sorrow and regret; but they do not constitute the whole of my life. .which continues to be rich in meaning, and joy and possibility. So part of the task is, simply, to hold on, to endure to that time when that hole in your heart is no longer the whole of your life.

Fourth: It is so hard when we are stressed out, depressed to allow our perspective to shift. That is especially so with the difference between healing and cure. So often when we pray for the sick, we pray that they will be cured. And often while looking for the cure, we miss the healing that happens. We miss the healing when it comes.

I remember when my father was very sick, how we all prayed that he would be cured. And in the looking for the cure, we all but missed the many ways that healing was occurring, not only in his own life and outlook, but in the family as well. And so it is with any significant loss: when we so focus on the restoration of things as they were before, we miss the possibilities of healing and the gift of new direction in our lives. Something has changed – and things will never be the same as they were back then. But with repentance and forgiveness and dealing with the changed circumstances, wholeness is possible.

The Chinese language has a profound way of understanding crisis. The Chinese character for crisis is made up of two separate characters, one superimposed on the other. One of the characters stands for danger. . .the other for opportunity. A crisis is the conjunction of danger and opportunity. With any significant loss, there is danger. . danger that we will lose ourselves in unending grief, danger that we will pull away from life, isolating ourselves from life, shutting the world out.

And there is also opportunity. .opportunity for finding new and expanded personal support, opportunity for healing, for deepening our response to life. Looking at things this way doesn't mean that our loss didn't happen – or that our hearts will ever completely heal . .but it is a path, a way towards wholeness.

I want to say a few things more about the crisis of losing something, someone important. Once we are well along in our grieving, it is important to throw our energies into living with the changed circumstances. That's a mouthful, so let me say it again: it is throwing our energies into living with the changed circumstances. It is not "Why did this happen?" or "How did this happen? I'll never be the same. ." but "How can I order my life in view of the changed circumstances? Our wholeness is not dependent upon following the original script. Our wholeness is not dependent upon any given scenario.

As an example, there are marriages which never recover from instances of infidelity or adultery. The hurt and the sense of betrayal is just too much to bear. The marriage simply can't bear that weight. But there are some couples – probably more than we know – who have been able to survive such a terrible, terrible loss . . as a way of confronting life and one another on a deeper level than either had thought possible.

One last thing – it is something called "Reframing." When we are deep into grief or fear or depression we are usually stuck with one perspective, one way of looking at our lives and our possibilities. At such times it is sometimes to open up whole new vistas by reframing our situation.

The first time I understood this phenomenon was when a nurse at the VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin told me about an encounter one of her patients had with a member of the clown troupe of seriously disabled people I had formed. As the patient told the story to her, he was lying in bed hoping to die. Both his legs had been amputated and he did not want to leave the hospital: he wanted to die. But then a strange sight was wheeled into his room. "It was a guy with cerebral palsy with clown make-up smeared on his face and a little cowboy hat on his head. The guy was flailing his arms around and making strange noises while looking at me. That went on for three or four minutes and then his helper wheeled him out of the room and into the corridor. At that point I broke down in tears. I said to myself, 'This guy had nothing going for him – nothing at all. But he was giving me everything he had. Everything.' And from that moment I could not wait to get out of that hospital to see what I could do with what I have."

Years later, my colleague in a neighboring parish came to me in great distress. He, a married priest, had been having a sexual relationship with someone in the parish. He had been canned from his job as rector and he had been forced to leave his home and family and get an apartment. "This," he said, "is the worst thing that could happen to me." On a whim I asked him to tell me why this could be the best thing in the world that could have happened to him. After a moment's thought he said that was easy: he really was not happy in his job, but didn't think there was a way out; his marriage had been a disaster for both of them, but now there was, at least, the possibility of confronting one another and working for a deeper and more satisfying relationship than either had thought possible. . and on and on.

Nothing had changed for either of them, but he had been able to reframe the circumstances – and thus could begin to hope. And that is so key for us at those times when we are depressed or overcome with loss or grief. It is holding on, remembering who we were before the crisis and remembering the strength and the goodness of our faith before our pins were knocked out from under us. It is remembering that the hole in our hearts is not the whole of our lives – and that with the support of others we will not only survive, we will live differently, but fully.

There is one verse in the 23rd Psalm which frames all this in a powerful way – and for me it is one of the two verses of the Bible that I trust completely. The first is "And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it." The second, from the 23rd Psalm, is this: "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil. . ." Notice the difference an "r" makes. It is "though," not if or perhaps or if things don't work out – it is "though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. ." And it is "through." And we all go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. That is life and it is inescapable and it is not something that we have to do alone. We are surrounded by love of friends and love of God – and nothing can stop the influence and goodness of that love and support.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Forum Talk

I had hoped to have this talk on this site last week, but have had to work overtime with the Census. Give me a couple of days - maybe just tonight.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First You Die: Then You Live – A Forum at St. Bede’s, Santa Fe

We could easily spend a whole year dealing with death in its many forms and aspects, but this morning I want to focus on the kinds of questions most of us have – and then begin to open up a few others. As we look at various aspects of death and our dyings, the key to nearly everything that follows is the question: "Why were we created?" What our faith tells us is that we were created for God's enjoyment and to be in full relationship with God. That reality undergirds all that follows. Keep that in mind in any thinking about death.

I want to begin with three of the best prayers dealing with death and dying, first, the Prayer of Commendation (Entrusting) from the New Zealand Prayer Book

God our Father, we thank you that you have made each of us
in your own image,
and given us gifts and talents
with which to serve you.
We thank you for Phil,
the years we shared with him,
the good we saw in him,
the love we received from him.
Now give us strength and courage,
to leave him in your care,
confident in your promise of eternal life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second, from the Burial Office in our Book of Common Prayer:

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother Phil. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And the Collect for All Saints in our Book of Common Prayer, which begins:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. . .

With those prayers as background, I want to talk about our physical dying, what Scripture says about our physical dying – and then return to our dyings in a broader context.

(For a much deeper exploration, try Sherwin B. Nuland's book "How We Die")

What can we expect when we die? From most of the recounting of near-death experiences, we can expect calm, serenity, light and, perhaps, a welcoming presence to guide us across the threshold into our new life.

A friend of mine, Jim, who had experienced a temporary death or near-death experience, told me that it was all light and peace. He said, "Tom, I may be afraid of a lot of things, but there is one thing I am not afraid of any more – and that's death." I have to say that if anyone I've ever known had reason to fear what death might bring, it was Jim. Mostly, what we can expect is calm, serenity, light – and a welcoming presence to guide us.

The other thing we can expect in our dying (in cases of dying from natural causes) is a gradual narrowing of our world. As our condition worsens, our world narrows – from a world in which we are focused on the news of the day, our to-do lists of tasks and projects and appointments to the world of our bedroom at home or a room at the hospital or nursing home -- our focus is on a little bit of the outside world, but mostly on the comings and goings within the room, itself. That world eventually gives way to the world surrounding our bed and the visitors to our room – and then to the world comprised of our bed, itself. Soon our world is narrowed to the sound of our own breathing – and then we let go. In all of this, we never seem to have more to deal with than we are able.

If you are a caretaker of someone who is dying, please keep up with what is happening. There are a host of things that can go wrong when friends and loved ones do not attend to what is going on. One of my favorite people in Salinas was a retired doctor who had been struggling with cancer for over two years. His doctor told me and his daughter that Smiley had less than 36 hours of life – and would most likely die before noon the next day. Noting Smiley's obvious pain, I asked why the doctor was not administering morphine. His answer was that he was afraid the morphine might kill Smiley!!

Similarly, if you have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, keep a copy in the glove compartment of your car (so you will have it when you drive to the hospital). Check with the hospital, too, to see if you can keep a copy on file there.

What should we say when visiting someone who is dying? The answer to that question is simple – the important thing is showing up. The words probably don't matter much, except to tell the patient of your love for him or her and that you will stay close in body, prayer or spirit (don't make promises you probably won't keep). Your physical presence is the most important thing, but be sensitive to the positive and/or negative effects of your touching.


In our Baptism we are joined with the risen Christ. Last week Peggy Patterson talked about the experience in the early church in Baptism of being drowned (dying) as one was pushed under water – and the liberation of being brought back out of the water into the new life of the Baptized. There is a death and resurrection here – and our reality is changed, because our reality, our identity is rooted in the resurrection Christ.

In a sense, our address has changed – it is now firmly within the Kingdom of God – and the address change is permanent. Because our home is in the Risen Christ, our rootedness. Our relationship with God is not changed by physical death. We remain Christ's – and we remain joined to one another, to the living and the dead. We continue in another dimension, the dimension of the Holy – not another "place," but within the reality of the Holy.

There are several things I have tried to say in almost every funeral sermon I've preached. The first goes something like this: "When someone has died, we often say that 'he now belongs to God.' But he has always belonged to God – in his Baptism, through childhood, his teen-age years, young adulthood, middle age and now in his dying. He has always belonged to God, just as you and I belong to God, now and through eternity.

The second is that when a loved one dies, our relationship to her is changed; but it is not over. We can still love one another, pray and support one another – just not in the flesh in this world. As is celebrated in that Collect for All Saints Day in the Book of Common Prayer, our relationship with the dead is that our lives are knit together, intertwined.

In the Litany of the Saints in the Prayer Book of the Berkeley Free Church, saints and exemplary people through the ages are invoked with the words, "Stand here beside us." I think, as well, of the meeting between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prime Minister Botha when the Prime Minister began to chastise Tutu about his opposition to apartheid. Tutu interrupted to say, "Mr. Prime Minister, this is not a matter merely between the two of us: if it were, you would surely prevail. However, you are not just dealing with Tutu: behind me and beside me are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Deborah and Sarah and Isaiah and Jeremiah; Jesus and Mary and Peter and John and Paul – and it is we who shall prevail!"

One of our tasks in life is never to forget Tutu's words – for our own use. We are never alone or without support for all the saints, the big shots and the everyday saints are constantly standing with us and behind us.

We belong to Christ in life – and we belong to him in death. In both instances we are enfolded by the Communion of Saints.


There is nothing in the Christian Scriptures about immortality of the soul. It is resurrection of the body. We will be persons – recognizable persons. We will not be amorphous souls, all kind of blended in with one another. We will be embodied persons – having, as St. Paul writes, "spiritual bodies," but bodies none the less. Do you remember Peggy's discussion of Ezekiel's Valley of the Dry Bones? The Biblical scene is of bodies which have been killed in war. As God's Spirit is joined with the dead bodies, they are given life – both body and spirit are necessary for life. In Ecclesiastes, spirit disembodied from flesh is, simply, wind.


"Beloved, we are now God's children, but it is not yet clear what we shall become. We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, Because we shall see him as he really is." I John 3:2-3

The healing, the compassion, the commitment, the beauty and power we know in Jesus -- that is what we grow into. That is what life will be like. "If you want to know what our new life will be like," says the Bible, "look at the Lord telling the stories, holding the children, eating and drinking and trading stories with his friends, that bursting in of life upon life. That is the What as well as the Who it – will be like.

John's Gospel is, in many ways, a meditation on our relationship with the Risen Christ. For me, two images stand out. The first, in chapter 13, is the image of the Risen Christ as the Vine and we as the branches. That life-line, that absolute connection of life and nurture and identity is so whether we are alive or dead. Spend time with that powerful, powerful image – as well as the second image, of abiding or living in God. That theme runs all the way through the Gospel, with Jesus telling us to abide, to live in him. Rather than my explaining it, get your own understanding of that in reading through the whole Gospel. Both images describe our life, now, and our life through eternity.


The first emotion most of us will feel as we face our dying is fear. For us to fear the process of dying is natural – just as it was natural for Jesus. In describing the experience of Jesus (John 12:27), we speak of the Agony in the Garden – and that was true: there was deep, deep agony in the heart of Jesus. But that was not all that was there – and that is not all there is for us. There comes a time for many people in their dying when they decide to let go. . to let go of life and begin that process of transformation into resurrection. It is a real blessing to come to that point where we simply let go and allow ourselves to be borne, simply, by the loving hands of God. (I spoke last year of allowing our bed to represent the hands of God, praying simply "Into your hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit.")

For others, their dying is dominated by a struggle to stay alive – a determination to fight death .. as thought death were really an enemy. So there is a holding on. . at any and all expense. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, "There is a time to live and a time to die." (Ecclesiastes 3) It is important for us to know which time it is.

My father knew. One of my most vivid memories of my father is when he and my mother were living in Wickenburg, Arizona. My father was very sick and he had been in near constant pain for several years. He and I were out walking in the desert when we spotted a large group of buzzards circling overhead. My father looked up at them, raised his by then emaciated fist at them and shook it, shouting "Not yet, you sons of bitches! Not yet!" He was not ready to die.

He was not ready to let go of anything. There is a time to live and a time to die -- and for us, the necessity of knowing which time it is.


There is another way of talking about death that is very important – it has to do with our identity – and our destiny. Here is how Scripture describes our identity: we are "in but not of the world." Our lives and our destiny is not linked to the structures/ the powers of this world. In Baptism we have been set aside (one of the meanings of "holy") from all that.

Again, Peggy talked about the sense of death in the waters of Baptism. The hold of the world, as marked by sin – has been broken. We have died to that. In order to live fully in the Kingdom of God, we first die to "the principalities and powers" -- the world's violence, consumerism, misogyny, racism, suspicion, isolation and all the rest. We continue to live in it: our lives are surrounded by it, constantly tempted by it. But our vocation is to live out our identity of being in, but not of. . that world.

That reality is described different ways in Christian Scripture: we are "in but not of the world," we are citizens of heaven, Ambassadors from heaven and, again, in John's Gospel, Jesus talks about our living in, or "abiding in God." My favorite illustration of all has to do with the character of Murray in Herb Gardner's "A Thousand Clowns." A social worker has come to take Murray's nephew away from him, as Murray is more than seriously unconventional. The climax of the conversation occurs when the social worker says "Murray, you've got to come back to reality." To which Murray responds, "OK, but only as a tourist." In but not of the world.

At the heart of our Baptism, we die to our allegiance/captivity to this world marked by sin and alienation. In this, we follow Jesus' own journey into wholeness through a series of renunciations/deaths:

-Jesus' time in the Wilderness;
-Peter's admonitions to compromise/get along, to which he responds "Get behind me, Satan."
-The Syro-Phoenician Woman – forces him to confront his own racism Mk 7:24-30.
-The Parable of the Leaven – "Kingdom of God is like a woman. ." Luke 13:21-2
-Parables, especially Leaven, which renounce morality-based kingdom (corruption/flour mixed)
-Marriage Feast – marginalized fully a part of the Kingdom
-Good Samaritan – alien/enemy embraced and honored.
-Jesus calls Matthew to be an apostle when Matthew was a dreaded tax collector.
-Jesus having "table fellowship" with sinners and tax collectors.
-On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides the donkey (symbol of the country at peace, renouncing violence)
-In the Passion, Jesus does not respond to the demands of Pilate.
-His scepter, symbol of authority, is the bent reed (symbol of flaccid penis).

Each step was away from sin – and into his full humanity. And in all this he transformed the basis for our morality – away from guilt, shame and a rule based morality. The keys to a moral and holy life were, instead, the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 ("Blessed are the. . ."), the basis for the separation of sheep from goats Matthew 25:31-46, and Paul's list of the marks of a Spirit filled life in Galatians 5:22-23. For Jesus, the command, "You shall be perfect," has to do, not with obedience to a set of rules, but wholeness, being complete. (The word he uses most for sin is a term from archery, meaning "missing the mark.")

Throughout his life, Jesus chooses another world – one that involves dying to the kingdoms, principalities and sin which presses in on us and oppresses us. So central to the meaning of the Cross is that on it, one person accepted the full cost of being human – really human. At that moment, in such a way there would never be any question about it, one person utterly and completely rejected the craziness of the world. There is a remarkable beauty in that.

The central theme of Jesus' life: You have to die . . .in order to live. First he died, then he lived. That is the pattern of Jesus life and our own.

An illustration from our own lives: on marrying another we promise that we will " forsake all others. . ." That means a lot more than burning one's Little Black Book with addresses, telephone numbers and e-mails of past romances. It means saying "No" to anything and everything that might threaten the life and health of this marriage. We die those deaths of forsaking for the possibility of full intimacy with another and with ourselves – for the possibility of healing, completeness. The promise of marriage is: first you die, then you live.

On the other side of each renunciation is affirmation. We renounce, in order to affirm – our relationship with God/life in the Kingdom of God. And so it is in the Baptismal Covenant in our Book of Common Prayer.

Life is, in reality, a series of dying. When we go off to school for the first time, life is changed and we have died to something. In all our transitions in life – if those transitions are to be healthy ones -- life is changed and there is a dying. . as well as a rebirthing. Whether it is life transitions or saying "no" to the elements of death in our culture, life is not a continuum. . .but a series of deaths. The heart of our belief, as Christians, is that we can let go. . .and entrust our lives to God. First we die: then we live.


The Christians in the world

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian's lofty and divinely appointed function, from which flourish under persecution. flourish under persecution.

-From the Second Century Letter to Diognetus


First, a poem by one of the Beat Poets, Robert Creeley, an Episcopalian. I have often offered a prize for the best approximation of the title – no one has come close. The usual entries are "heaven," or something similar. The title is at the end of this blog.

If you wander far enough
you will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit

for yourself only, in a nice chair,
and all your friends will be there
with smiles on their faces
and they will likewise all have places.
from "For Love"

In Frederick Buechner's novel, Lion Country, Leo Bebb, the founder of Holy Love, an ordination-by-mail enterprise, talks about his assistant Brownie, who is not a bad guy at all:

"Now you take a man like Brownie, Antonio, and you ask yourself where the Almighty went wrong. Well, I tell you it's not the Almighty went wrong, it's Brownie went wrong." The Almighty gave Brownie life, and Brownie never lived it. He just crammed it up his ass. . .and sat on it."

In Equus, the play by Peter Shafer, Dysart, a psychiatrist, is wrestling with the way his own life has become a matter of compromise – moving steadily from life into deadliness. He is talking his patient, Alan Strang:

"Look, to go through life and call it yours – your life – you first have to get your own pain. Pain that's unique to you. You can't just dip into the common bin and say, "That's enough!" He's done that.
"All right, he's sick. He's full of misery and fear. He was dangerous and could be again, though I doubt it. But that boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life. And let me tell you something: I envy it."

In Graham Greene's novel, "Dr. Fischer of Geneva, or The Bomb Party," the narrator, Alfred Jones, recalls opening an anthology at random and reaching Chin Shengt'an's "33 Happy Moments."

"To me," he recalls, "there. . seems to be a horrible complacency about (much of) Oriental wisdom: 'To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is not this happiness?"
"Oh yes, if one is a . . philosopher, well-to-do, highly esteemed, at ease with the world, above all safe, unlike the Christian philosopher who thrives on danger and doubt."

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the eve of the March to Selma: "If I do not do now what my conscience tells me I must do, I may live a long life – and if so, when I die, it will just be my body catching up with my soul. . which died a long, long time ago."

Similarly, out of all the turmoil and all the confusion over the uprising at the Attica prison, there is one thing I will not forget. It was one of the Black prisoners, standing before the TV cameras, trying to express what the whole event was meaning to him. I do not remember his name, but I do remember his words: "If they won't allow us to live like human beings, at least we will die like men."

Much of our calling has to do with the vocation of the Fool: it is most often through the vision of the fool that the world is returned to its senses, thus: The Austrian officer paused during a training drill to ask: "Katsenstein, Katsenstein, why does a soldier give up his life for his country?" Private Katsenstein responded: "You're right, Sergeant. Why does he?"

I know no better illustration of our identity in the world than one of the fantasy lives of Jesus by A. J. Langguth. He is writing about the boyhood of Jesus. His fantasy about Jesus has its own reality in the imago Dei that is each of us.

"Jesus opened his notebook on the study hall desk. Using the ruler from his geometry class, he drew a ledger's line down the center of one page. At the top of the left hand column he wrote 'ASSETS.' and over the other, 'LIABILITIES.' Under 'LIABILITIES,' he printed in block letters, 'IMPATIENT.' Shielding the page from the girl across the aisle, he added:


With some dismay he counted the entries and began to contemplate the "ASSETS" column. With another look to be sure the girl couldn't see the page, he wrote, "SON OF GOD." In better spirits, he closed the notebook and started on the next day's translation of Cicero."

Despite all our liabilities, confusion and the dailyness of our lives, we have been chosen for a God who, for some strange reason, delights in us. It is so important to remember the left hand column: it really cannot be taken away from us. Part of the ministry of the fool, in this culture, is to remind us, always, to contemplate the ASSETS column.

The title of Creeley's poem is "Oh, No!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Deacon in the Census Supply Room

I am now on my second stint with the U.S. Census Bureau. First, I was an enumerator, going from household to household helping to update the Census maps. In late October I was hired as one of eight clerks to open and develop the Santa Fe, NM office. I was given the job of managing the Supply Room, receiving and organizing enormous amounts of inventory with some shipments arriving in over one hundred 40-50 pound boxes (which I had to unstack, open, inventory and then restack in ways the forms and supplies would be available to the operation.

There have been major learnings for me in this. First, it was good to be at the bottom of an organization -- especially as a seminary trained Harvard graduate (three of us eight clerks are Harvard graduates!). Second, I soon realized that my work from that Supply Room into the working areas was essentially that of ordained ministry! The first realization was the diaconal character of my work, doing the menial work in support of the body of the organization. I am being paid $9.35 an hour as a servant minister. Throughout most days I could feel the heart of my diaconal ministry (transitional but very, very real for over forty years) being expressed in a very secular setting. Then I realized that this was priestly service as well -- everything I did was to equip and enable the work of the body of clerks, supervisors, managers and the rest. The joy and the humility of my decades of priestly service of equipping and enabling lay ministry (both diaconal and priestly in character, themselves) is now being relived as "The Supply Guy."

My Point: my life as an ordained leader in the Episcopal Church and my spiritual understanding of my life as clerk would have been greatly diminished without my early months in the diaconate -- and the knowledge that my diaconal calling was not overridden by my priesthood, but central to it.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Do We Want the Anglican Covenant or Renewal?

How refreshing it would be to see the Anglican Communion address the issues in our faith (that is, our relationship to Jesus Christ and to the Trinity) rather than the ways we include or exclude one another through different processes of interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Some of what I have found most life-giving in the Anglican Church has been our understanding of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world and in our lives through our sacramental theology. Much the same has been through our theology of creation -- and our focus on the broader themes of the Gospel of John and on the comprehensiveness we find in Luke's Gospel.

Wouldn't it be more energizing for the Communion to embark on a joint, prayerful study related to those things rather than on the several codifications of them in our various ethics, moralities and the like which, over time, have becoming increasingly less connected to our faith, our sacramental understanding and experience of Jesus Christ and our religious understanding of Creation?

I believe such a venture would be a call for renewal and service in ways the Covenant is not and never will be. This process would be centered on our common reality in the Body of Christ, where the Covenantal process has been focused on the ways we are leery of others' living out their vocation as provinces or dioceses. So let's call the Communion into its full vocation through a period of study and reflection on:

The Sacramental Presence of Jesus Christ

Our theologies of Creation

The Gospels of John and Luke as reflected in our vocation as individuals, congregations, dioceses and provinces.

Diversity in the Body of Christ - in Biblical experience as well as in the early and later periods of church history.

I'm as tired as tired can be of factions and provinces chesting one another about who is more faithful or more moral or more powerful than those with whom they differ. That's a young boy's playground game -- and that is the game I see as the subtext of the various covenants before us. What was it that Paul wrote? "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man (adult) I gave up my childish ways."

The issue here is simple: Do we really yearn for a time when we can learn from one another as fellow members of the Body of Christ – or is insisting that our way is the only way more important? To put this in another way: Do we want the Anglican Covenant or Renewal? We can't have both.