Deep Question

(A reflection from Nancy’s time with family in Japan)

Some questions seem to come from left field; others, though, emerge from somewhere much deeper, the soul. Granddaughter asked me one of those deeper questions today.

We had a gentle day at home, filled with chores (laundry and dishes), playing a game (Mice and Mystics – we didn’t get very far) and Lego blocks, swimming, making brownies, the almost daily trek to the grocery store (since we were getting heavy things we needed both adults to be able to carry them home), and watching a bit of the Olympics.

This was not exactly the kind of day on which to expect one of these soul-opening questions on the lips of an almost four year old child. We were sitting together (well, actually I was sitting and she was in constant motion on me) watching her favorite movie, Toy Story 2, for the third time. Out of the blue she looked at me and asked if I liked good girls. As a priest I continue to learn how to listen to people. Knowing that her parents talk to her about being a good girl I knew she was, in some way, talking about herself. I told her that I did, indeed, like good girls, and that she was my favorite good girl. She smiled and hugged me. Then she asked me if I liked bad girls. Ah, the deeper truth about human behavior. We cannot always be “good” people. We make mistakes, we take short cuts that don’t work as planned, we make poor decisions, we don’t live up to the expectations we have of ourselves. I heard Granddaughter asking about herself – was she worth still being liked when she failed to be good. I looked straight into her eyes and said, “Yes, I love you even when you are bad. You are my granddaughter, and I love you very much all of the time.”

My answer struck gold – she was stock still (having been a wiggle worm for at least the past 45 minutes) and she beamed, radiating in the warmth of full acceptance. I was the recipient of a major hug, one that lasted for quite some time. Something deep inside her – what I would call her soul – wanted to know that the labels “good” and “bad” weren’t the last word on defining herself. I confirmed this when I told her that when she is good AND when she is bad, I will still love her. And so it is with God.

Nancy

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Child Ritual

While in Japan visiting our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter I have had various adventures going to playground, the zoo, and some of the cultural sites. This morning’s activity was to climb seven hundred ninety two steps up, and I mean up as like building stair cases, with only slight landings at the points where the stairs change directions. The goal was to visit Tachikikannon (a temple dedicated to the standing tree bodhisattva), a Buddhist temple fairly close to Granddaughter’s home. A bodhisattva, as I understand it, is a person who is able to enter nirvana, but chooses to remain behind to assist people in their life journeys – much like an angel.

It was a challenging climb for me – I’m not getting any younger. It was nice that the climb was shaded by trees. Even Granddaughter needed help, with her papa carrying her off and on the entire way. Finally, we were at the top.

The following is a description that is based on my very naive understandings – I don’t know the correct words, nor am I familiar with the exact rituals, or the names and uses of the buildings we encountered. We stopped first at a building, part of which had things for sale. I paid for an entry into my temple book – each temple has a set of stamps, which are overwritten with ink, which includes that date. It is interesting to watch this beautiful art form in practice.

My son purchased in Om-mamori, which is something like an amulet or charm or talisman of protection, for Granddaughter. He was given a piece of paper, and instructions to visit other parts of the complex (more stairs, I refused to count them!). We came upon a bell (at least a meter tall, covered in designs of deer – messengers of the gods) that is struck by pulling a rope attached to a log so that the log strikes the bell. We were given instructions to strike the bell three times. We let Granddaughter do this, helping her listen to the sound of the bell fade away before striking it again.

We walked a bit more, then returned a different way to our starting point, where the woman, wearing what to me looked like my communion kit stole, prayed a blessing over Granddaughter. Granddaughter stood stock still, hands in prayer pose (palms together), listening with care to the stream of words. I heard only her name and the word “Genki” (health, energy) amongst the stream of language. It was a solemn moment. The paper was then taken into another room (dedicated to the Bodhisattva?), Granddaughter waited with uncharacteristic patience, and then the woman returned with the paper. Again Granddaughter was prayed over, hands held together (papa’s and grandma’s, too). Then the paper was carefully rolled, put in an envelop, and handed to Granddaughter. She held it for a while, then gave it to her papa.

Something special had just happened, even though none of us really knew exactly what. I actually don’t think it matters too much because the “language” of ritual is built of gesture and movement and relationship and sound and color and posture – all richly engaged in this ritual. This “language” is read with the heart. It is also about something “bigger” than the three people who climbed 792 stairs. Standing still, hands together, listening to a prayer spoken in words I rarely understood, a handprint on a paper moved with great ceremony from one space to another and then back again, paper that was treated with great care, attention given and focused – these were all elements of a language that I suspect is as ancient as human life. Recognition of the sacred and the desire to engage that sacredness comes in many forms.

My son married a woman who identifies herself as Buddhist. (Granddaughter lives in a land where about 1% of the population is Christian.) I cannot believe that there is only one way to encounter, acknowledge and enter the sacredness that grounds and supports all that is, so I, too, will honor the reality of the Japanese religious traditions in my Granddaughter’s life. I have chosen and embraced a Christian tradition for myself, and in time I will share this with Granddaughter. For now, I am blessed – I receive life from – watching her encounter the sacred through the language of ritual.

Nancy

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Fear or Trust

We live in a culture that is strung out on fear.
We hear constantly about economic fears, political threats, assaults on our values, of elevated terror threat levels, hear bits of international intelligence and of incidents that have happened. In the newspaper or on radio or TV we are told in great detail what we fear MIGHT happen. We currently see fear and hyperbole used as a tactic in political campaigns.
We fear losing our life or loved ones to terrorists, we fear random acts of violence and evil, fear catching disease… we fear losing our income and livelihood. We fear for our loved ones and their safety – and for our children and grandchildren as we look at changes in our society.
The news media feeds us a steady diet of fear and crisis. When I worked closely with the media in the late 70’s doing radio & TV for 8 denominations the rule of broadcast stations, even then, was featuring the crisis, the bad news, the evil – which brought better ratings. They phrased it “If it bleeds, it leads.” So year by year we become ever more fearful even when all reputable statistics tell us that we as a nation are safer than ever before. Who among us does not have some sort of fear we deal with on a regular basis?
This is not a recent phenomenon. The people of Isaiah’s day lived in a time when people regularly died by age 30. An infection that we no longer worry about could kill them. Invading armies and tribal conflict was the norm. Life was hard, short, and uncertain.
In Jesus’ day the Roman soldiers were an occupying army enforcing a brutal discipline. Disease and malnutrition were frequent occurrences especially among the majority who were poor. Land had been taken and given to the ruling elite leaving ordinary people desolate having to manage as best they could.
It is to these people familiar with threats and filled with fear and apprehension that Jesus says “Don’t not be afraid little flock..”
Again and again in scripture we are given the message “Do not be afraid…” I don’t know about you but when someone says “now don’t be scared” my fear tends to go from 0 – 60 real fast… I suspect that Jesus hearers met that phrase “Don’t be afraid” with the same skepticism. I recall a sign my father had in his office at work,which was a take-off on a Rudyard Kipling’s poem. The sign read “If people all around are losing your head while you keep yours – you just don’t understand the situation.” The scriptural message is consistent – “Do not be afraid!”
Do we really understand our situation better than Jesus?, Better than these other messengers from God?
What does it take not to fear – I believe it takes trust. Several decades ago there was a TV program called “Who do you Trust?” It was a game show then, but now I think it is a good and important question for us.
We have learned that we need to trust, but we also know there are reasonable limits to trust. Most of us in growing up learned that you cannot trust everyone, and you cannot trust anyone 100% (for each of us fallible humans have those areas where we will disappoint another).
Thus when we are told we can trust God it can be hard. We know the promises, but often we don’t see the fulfillment of these promises all around us.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews notes this same experience and writes “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” The fulfillment of the promises were in the future.
God in both testaments tells us not to be afraid.
Why? Because fear robs us – fear paralyzes us,
fear takes away our ability to hope, to see a better future, to work towards that future, and to live into that future.
When we choose to trust rather than to fear, we change ourselves, we change our world, we change the possibilities we see, and what we allow to influence us in how we live in the world.
Jesus’ words are not just simply do not fear – rather he ends with the words “God has given you the kingdom.” He is saying God gives us a new world. Jesus implies that we not just sit and wait for that new world to show up but rather we should ready for action – proactive in bringing it about.

If that new world we are given came in a box – on the outside of the box containing it – would read “The Kingdom of God – some assembly required…” In a sense we are given a kit – the plans and the ability to put those plans into action. But we have to build the world God gives us.
And we do that by living out what it means to live in God’s world – loving God and loving our neighbors;
putting on love, joy, peace, compassion, kindness, humility,
being rich to God in prayer, in service, in worship and in love.
Jesus tells us to begin to trust now – not to wait – to act now – to live into the kingdom now. We must choose to live the future into being. If we want the world to change we have to be the change we want to see.

But what do we do with all the fear?
In the musical the King and I there is a song Whenever I feel afraid… which has within it a practical secret.
It tells us to “whistle a happy tune and no one will suspect you’re afraid.” And it goes on: “Make believe you’re brave and this trick will take you far, you may be as brave as you make believe you are.”
It is not fooling ourselves so much as intentionally choosing to live into a future we can envision and we are willing to help create..
We can live ourselves into the world of fear and paralysis. Or we can choose to live out of the world of fear and into a world of trust…
out of seeing ourselves in a world of scarcity and greed, and free ourselves to live out a life of sharing and gratitude;
to live out of the kingdom of evil and into the kingdom of God;
It is our choice whether to trust, to act on that trust – to live out the promise and live into the new world we have been promised, the seeds of we have been given by our baptism.
The world, some politicians, some economists, some family, some neighbors, some friends may all tell us, is a world falling apart and that we need to live and act out of fear… bar the gates, build walls, see harm in everyone different from us. But is that the world we want, is that the new world we want. We get to choose in whom, and whose vision we trust..
Jesus tells us not to fear … that God’s promises can be relied on… that what we choose to do can build the foundation and begin to create the new world God wants to give us and future generations.

So, Who do you trust?

Don

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Lord’s Prayer interpreted

The prayer Jesus taught his followers as a model for prayer is what we might call the universal prayer of Christianity. For even when Christians seem not to agree about much of anything else, one thing we do have in common is the Lord’s Prayer.
There are some very interesting things about this prayer when we stop to look at it. Most of this prayer speaks directly or indirectly about relationships – between us and God and us and one another. The Lords Prayer is not really asking God to do things for us but giving us things to think about, ways to live, and remind ourselves of the things we need to do to live as God instructs us to live.
First we notice this is one place where Jesus calls God Father. But let’s look at what that might mean. In at least one version of the prayer, the Aramaic one, the term specifically used is Abba: and freely translated to an equivalent in English, it would be something like Papa. In other words, we’re not talking formality here, we’re talking the language of the very youngest children.
Abba, papa, holy is your name; Now what specifically does that mean? Years ago, a philosopher named Rudolf Otto wrote a book called “The Idea of the Holy,” that examines of what “holy” really means. There are three essential meanings: separateness, awe, and what he calls, the tremendous overpowering mystery. This prayer is combining that sense of holy with the closeness of Abba -presenting a paradox. Abba indicates a closeness of relationship while the overpowering mystery almost demands maximum distance. Yet Jesus combines them and asks us to hold them in this tension in our lives. To recognize that God is both as close to us as breath and yet mysterious and apart from us.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Part of our difficulty in really understanding the Lord’s Prayer is that it speaks a language of a time long before us, with concepts of place and ideas which are foreign to our way of understanding. In this case, perhaps the best way to understand this phrase might be “May our lives reflect the directions and purposes which you want for all your children, yesterday, today, and forever.” This phrase is about US being the hands and heart of God accomplishing God’s purpose on earth.
“Give us today our daily bread” Reminds us that there really is a difference between needs and wants. This prayer addresses our needs, not our wants. In our consumer society so much time is spent by advertisers trying to remake our wants into things we think we need. The prayer simply asks that what we truly need for each day be met. If we look at our world, how can we ask for our wants to be placed before the truly desperate needs of so many others across the globe.
I recall an NPR discussion years ago of the medical needs of developing countries between one of the leaders in the campaign to use generic drugs in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the head of an International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. The first pointed out that the pandemic was so great that the choice to use medicines under patent protection would condemn 3 out of 4 HIV/AIDS sufferers in the developing world to death because neither they nor their country could pay the great cost. The pharmacy executive said if they don’t pay those costs, then the companies will no longer do the research.
Interestingly, the Pharmaceutical rep was reluctant to admit that one of the highest profit margins in the world are those of international pharmaceutical companies, and he only grudgingly admitted under specific questioning that the main interest in developing drugs in recent years has been aimed at diseases of the developed world where more profits can be made. They are no longer researching antibiotics even in a time of drug resistant strains emerging. We recall news in the past 18 months of an individual buying up a small pharmaceutical company and increasing the cost of the medication by several thousand percent. That is unmitigated greed. He wanted to make a fortune off the backs of people who could barely afford the original price of the medication. Perhaps the time has come in our smaller and smaller world, for the real “needs” of people to take priority over the “wants” of a few.
“Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” , there we find three words (which if they are taken seriously) are down right scary. They are “as we forgive.” Too often we skip over those words without much thought. But every time we pray those words, we are asking Abba to treat us just as we treat others
Jesus speaks elsewhere is the Gospels about the measure we give is the measure we shall receive. I have long believed that we set the standard by which we will be judged by God – and that will be the way we judge others. And if we have a very demanding standard that we use when we are asked to forgive others that is the same standard that God will use in judging us.
In the Lukan version, there is one last petition: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I am sure that most of us can think of times when our faith has been tested, times, perhaps, when we did not feel or recognize the presence of God. They are so common that they even have a name. The mystics call them “the dark night of the soul.” When we pray, do not bring us to the test, we are asking God to be with us, even when we cannot sense God’s presence. Our prayer to Abba not to be put to the test is really a prayer not to be left alone in the struggle. May I not be tested, but if the test comes, please be with me as I face it.
I believe the purpose of Jesus in giving this model of prayer was not simply to teach his followers to pray. Every Jew had many examples of prayer that they could turn to. Rather, the Lord’s Prayer is an instrument of transformation.
If we really pray it, thoughtfully, phrase by phrase, thinking about it and come to really mean it, we cannot help but be changed.
When Don first got to the Cathedral in Albany in 1970 – they had daily morning and evening prayer. And what struck him day after day me was that these people who read these daily devotions had become so used to the words, that the Lord ’s Prayer was said so very fast it was not possible to think about what was being said. It had become a series of sounds uttered from memory- not words prayed. And after a while he stopped saying the prayer aloud at these services, saying it more slowly in his mind, so he could say it as a prayer.
For too long, this familiar prayer has been something that everyone knows and which many say by rote. But when we really pay attention to the words, – listen to them and pray them – it truly has the power to change us. We cannot pray the words without the ideas entering into our inmost being. And when we do, we know the real meaning of what it is to love God and to love our neighbor as our self.
Let us hear the prayer again but not in the familiar words but in the translation of the prayer by the Maori people of New Zealand – as contained in the New Zealand book of common prayer. The prayer was explained to the Maori people, they prayed it and then translated the concepts into their language – their translation was later translated back into English – and it presents us with a wonderful fresh look at this very familiar prayer.

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver.
Source of all that is and that shall be. Father and mother of us all,
Loving God in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by all people of the world!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love
now and forever. AMEN.
We invite you to say the Lord’s prayer more slowly, phrase by phrase – thinking about what we are saying and allowing it to seep deeper into us – to transform us…

Nancy

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Martha and Mary in the mirror

I have gotten to that point in life where I don’t really like mirrors. They may be helpful for checking what little hair I have left is in place, that there’s no spinach stuck between my front teeth, and that my shirt is properly tucked in. It’s just the truth telling aspect that’s a challenge to my ego: the extra weight, the aging skin…

But looking-glass aren’t the only kind of mirrors we have. Several months ago, our youngest son wrote a Facebook post about watching his cousin’s young children for a few hours. He wrote that he suddenly heard “my father’s words coming out of MY mouth.” Oh NO! This is a mirror from his childhood – some statement I made about expected behavior. More than a few of us older folk have mirrored our parent’s voices and realized it afterwards.

I wonder if Martha – the dutiful and hospitable sister who is busying herself with putting a meal together for Jesus and his disciples – heard her mother’s voice when she came to Jesus to complain about her sister, Mary, choosing not to help with this work. Martha’s words are: “Lord, do you not care that MY sister has left ME to do all the work by MYSELF? Tell her then to help ME.” Martha is completely filled with Martha – her needs and feelings at the moment.

I am reminded of a time we were traveling across Canada by train – arriving in Jasper at 7pm, five hours late. We had arranged to travel to our Bampf by a one-way sight-seeing tour. Promised on this tour was a trip to a glacier – the first time we had ever seen one let alone walked on one – along with amazing Rocky Mountain views. It was lovely – except for the couple in the front seats. They had arrived on the same train and were completely miffed that they had spent an extra five hours on the train the day before. They were loud, rude and demanding – trying to push the tour driver to go faster – spend less time at the glacier. There was no consideration of the other passengers. It was all about them. They announced they were psychologists who were trying to have some “leisure time” before they got to a conference.

This couple and Martha were, as Jesus names it, “worried and distracted.” I’ve been in that same spot – and likely most of us have been, too. There are uncomfortable ways in which Martha’s situation and response is mirrored in each of us.

Jesus responds by tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus knows Martha is providing a welcome meal for Jesus and his disciples Why react that way?

Mary is described as sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It’s the end of the day, and Jesus may be reviewing the teachings & experiences of this day – this passage follows the telling of the story of the Good Samaritan. Imagine Mary is “soaking it all in.” She is focused, she is likely in the midst of a conversation about God and neighbor and expected and unexpected behavior. This is the core “stuff” of the Jesus’ concerns and life. I imagine Mary so focused on Jesus that she has lost sight of her sister; is completely unaware of the setting sun and approaching night. She is fully alive to her Lord, her faith, herself. It is her focus AND what she is focused on that Jesus is protecting from Martha’s chastisement.

Martha’s worries are real & mundane, and as the focus of her attention they only compound and deepen her misery. She frets that Mary & then Jesus won’t join her in her worries. To worry is one thing, but to feel alone with no one to help with your worries is worse.
Martha’s dilemma reminds me of the many in our society who want others to join in their worry and distraction. They want us to engage their worry and they become incensed when we refuse to be distracted and pulled into THEIR worries. Yet, most often their worries and their proposed solutions are of little help. It reminds me of the quote: “we were too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.”

Martha is MY, ME, MY, ME all the way. She is feeling left alone and put upon. She feel she is owed her sister’s help. She tries to triangulate Jesus into forcing Mary to join her in frenetic fretting. She is in a world of distraction, demand and worry.

This is never an easy or good place to be. It’s a downright challenge at times. Family pressures, work pressures, building issues, illness, car trouble, the grocery list left at home, traffic – & frustration piles up, and before we know it we are in a world of ME & MY – why does everything “happens” to “me”?

Jesus says (insert your name here)”…you are worried and distracted… Choose the better part.” Are we asked to sit at Jesus’ feet in the midst of traffic or a bad day at work? Not exactly, but yes, in a way we are. We are being invited to get out of a “MY, ME, MY, ME” attitude. Traffic is not about ME – it could be an accident, road work, or just plain heavy traffic. A bad day is not the universe conspiring against ME. These all distract us from paying attention to the presence of God around us. Choosing the better part is an invitation to see the opportunities to drive more courteously, connect with coworkers, give a smile to a worker or fellow shopper… do whatever is life giving and connects us with God and Gods people & creation..

To do this is not a natural response. It requires that we practice shifting our focus from the distractions, in order to be aware of the presence of God in and through nature and other people we meet and interact with.

We need to practice being mindful of Jesus advice to Martha to choose the better part and to practice it daily until it becomes our second nature…

It is all too easy to “mirror” worried, distracted, self-focused, everything is against me “Martha” type behavior. It takes greater attention, more focus and awareness to be like Mary. “Mary” behavior pays attention to relationships: with God, with neighbor, with self. But to do it makes all the difference to us and to others.

As Jesus notes, “choose the better part.”

And I should add, this better part makes looking in the mirror much more tolerable.

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What we hear in the silence

The attention of the world is once again on horrific violence and mass murder that occurs weekly, and almost daily, across the United States. We are bombarded with differing ideologies, political philosophies and varying interpretations of constitutional intent and the law. We hear about the perpetrator’s life, and second guesses about his connections & motives; questioning of decisions made by employers, FBI, and law enforcement.
I think it safe to say that most of us are distraught by these events and the unwillingness of our leaders and our society to find common ground that could begin to reduce these occurrences locally and nationally.
Instead we have ongoing debates and bloodletting – name calling, we watch the development of conspiracy theories and accusations on all sides.

In my father’s pharmacy there was a set of posters showing the development of modern medicine. One of them was about that curious treatment of sickness called blood-letting. I asked a doctor friend of my father about this practice. He commented on this 18 & 19th century medical practice. “It wasn’t really effective”, he told me, “but it focused the patient’s attention on something other than their ailment until they either got better or they died.”
That, I believe, is where we are in the United States. We are not working together to find a way forward towards the kind of society we want – instead we are engaged in aggressive debate, and accusations which take up our time and energy blaming others and leaving us tired and distraught.

In Sundays first reading Elijah is also tired and distraught. He has been threatened with death by Jezebel the powerful queen. His fear is so great that he has fled to the wilderness and hoped to die peacefully under the tree. Elijah had given up because he did not see a future – he only saw threats and a painful death.
He spends a long time going to the mountain; a place where one could find God. He wanted to find where God was, in all this distress. Elijah ends up hiding in a cave where the word of the Lord came to him asking “Where are you Elijah?”

Elijah in response unloads all of his stress and frustration telling God of everything that has brought him to hide in that cave. The Lord very simply tells Elijah to leave the safety of the cave and go outside where God will pass by/will meet him. Outside Elijah encounters a strong wind that breaks the rocks, and then an earthquake, and fire. There Elijah discovers that God is not apart of these powerful and frightening events. Then follows a sheer silence and God was present in the silence. Again the questions is asked “What are you doing here Elijah? Again Elijah repeats his history. And God says “Go. Return on your way…” In other words – go home, get back to work. Elijah has a job to do – people with whom he needs to share the word of the Lord as God’s prophet. In doing his job faithfully and well even in the face of threat and murder he is helping to recreate the world to be more as God would have it become.

Psalm 42 also reflects a longing, a desire for God in the midst of trouble – describes a heaviness within when we lose sight of God’s presence and a questioning wonderment as to whether God has forgotten us.

In the letter to Galatians Paul makes that wonderful affirmation that in Christ there are no divisions or distinctions: No longer Jew or Greek; slave or free; male or female; all are one in Christ… We are all one as God’s children by adoption and grace. That is the world Jesus worked for – that is the world as God created it to be and as we are commissioned by baptism to create.

At Garazene in the Gospel reading Jesus encounters one who in our parlance would be called mentally ill. That community had seized him many times it tells us, kept him chained in shackles, and now he lives among the tombs . But Jesus simply asks his name – the man’s reply is a window into understanding. “Legion” he says – perhaps dealing with what we now call PTSD or tht he has many (a legion of) deep problems.

We do not know what happened after that question and introduction but later the people of the city alerted by the swineherds found Jesus conversing with this man. The man was fully clothed and “in his right mind”. The Garasenes were frightened of Jesus and asked him to leave! They valued the pigs more than they valued the healing of the man. The citizens were uncomfortable with Jesus ability to help restore him to a new wholeness. They preferred the former reality of binding the man and forcing him out of the city to live among the remnants of death. They preferred not to hear the voice of God nor see his work among them.

We believe that we can hear that voice of God as Elijah heard it. It may come to us in our silence, in the stillness of our hearts or though the events that swirl around us. But w3e know it will not be a voice that tells us to be afraid, to threaten, or to bind people with labels or other shackles. It is a voice that will tell us to “Go. To return on our way to do the work we have been given to do.”

For some it may be that we are to be the voice for sanity and change to reduce the prevalence of violence in our communities and nation. To hold our leaders accountable for working together for the common good rather than for political ideologies that only serve to divide and to sustain the current distrust & disunity.

The voice may be to tell us to continue to work for a society where there is no Jew or Greek, Muslim or Christian, no gay or straight or transgender, where we will truly all be one in God bound by our common humanity and not pre-judged by the labels other place upon us.

But we should know that ALL of us are commissioned by our baptism:
to seek and serve Christ in ALL people
to strive for justice and peace among all people
and to respect the dignity of every human being. No exceptions!

Don

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I have had enough!

“I have had enough!” Once again I am thinking and saying this as I hear of the latest gun violence (this time in Orlando). As I attend another vigil. Once again I see posts proclaiming “Never again!” but “never” seems to have lost any meeting in this scenario.  So many of us see a problem but there is no will by elected officials to make any common sense changes in law and in the availability of guns  (either in kind, quantity, or even eliminating the possibility of acquiring them without a background check) to reduce the probability of another incident. Orlando joins other communities such as Blacksburg, Newtown, Ft Hood, DC and Aurora. And all we can safely wonder is where next?

We again have the very vocal who want the issue sidelined by attributing it as extremism of one sort or another – be it religious or hatred of the gay community.  These are those who will point out that someone bent on evil will find a way to do evil and therefore we need more good people with guns to protect us…As Dr. Phil is so fond of saying “How’s that working…” for us?  The data tells us “Not very well!”

I have had enough of this being a political issue with extremists of all persuasions lobbing insults at one another and using it as fodder for the next round in the fight. A hostile yelling match that will not end until the citizens have truly had enough and will hold our elected officials responsible for finding a compromise that may reduce the incidence of this sort of hate-based violence.

But we seem more interested in our ideology than in any attempt to find a solution.  Every post I have seen on this subject (including my own responses) get flamed by those whose tactic is anger, name calling and waving around an amendment whose original intent was simply to make sure the state militias of the colonies had access to arms.

Are we so blind that we cannot see this is out of control? Over 130 killings so far THIS YEAR in the United States – but so many are unwilling to see that there is a problem?  “Guns don’t kill people” we are told.  Tell that to the families of those who were killed by a gunman at the nightclub.  Tell that to the families where a toddler or young child has fired a gun and killed a playmate or family member. The reason guns were developed was to kill – they began and remain primary weapons of war. If we had fewer guns available we might still have violence but we would have fewer deaths because guns are effective machines for killing. But guns ale also a profitable industry and they pay lobbyists to convince legislators not to enact new restriction and to remove the ones that do exist.

What to me is ludicrous is that those we change with protecting us, the police, are so often vocal about limiting access to guns – getting guns off the streets and out of the hands of those who should not be allowed the privilege (and YES it is a PRIVILEGE not a right to own weapons that can be used to kill) of gun ownership. It is no wonder that the police are scared since they are often outgunned by citizens with semi-automatic weapons that have no purpose other than killing. But even with sheriffs and chiefs of police calling for regulation common sense cannot be agreed upon because of ideology and the fear engender by the very industry that profits from gun manufacture and proliferation.

Cars I have been told many times also kill. Yes, but we mandate license-based testing before one can drive a car; one needs liability insurance to drive and infractions of the law can mean revoking the privilege of driving; and car manufacturers have a liability for the products they manufacture.  And there is no congressional prohibition on studying auto related deaths to find ways to reduce the fatalities.

We won’t end violence especially gun violence be enacting common sense legislation and controls – but we will reduce it. We will decrease the escalating numbers of victims. Will it be perfect? No!  But it will be a start towards reducing the ever increasing numbers of victims.

Will it happen because we have just experience the largest number of injuries and fatalities in a gun violence incident? It doesn’t stand a chance in an election years with all of the rhetoric and grand standing. I do not know how may more people it will take for us voters, us average folk to get angry and determined enough to demand that common sense prevails. But then in my memory I recall my grandfather telling me “Common sense is not that common anymore!”

Don

PS – This is not an invitation for debate… I have heard it all again and again as the number victims has increased and I have had enough of the endless debate.

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Being Led in the Dance

I have a confession to make – I always envied Fred Astair, Gene Kelly and many others who were able to do the song and dance routines in the movies. I would hum along and think about those moves but I knew I did not have the motor skills to do that very well.

About 8 years ago at Trinity Church in  Rochester I was in my altar-ego costume as Big Bozo the clown at a fundraising dinner, where a folk group called Hammers & Pick was playing Irish music.  Despite my lack of motor skills I found myself dancing – it was fine and funny. With the liberty afforded me by being a clown I was then able to invite someone to dance with me. It was fun and joyful for me and for everyone else as well despite my lack of ability. (It is the closest I will ever get to Broadway.)

In every culture and tribe there is some form of dance. Dance I believe is innate in us. It is a natural way to being in relationship with one another, with God, with music, with the universe. Dance is important and fun and life giving – even if we do not do it very well. I suspect there was dance long before there were musical instruments.

Sunday is Trinity Sunday. In some ways it is difficult to preach this Sunday because there are NO Trinity stories in scripture. The Trinity is theology – come from Theos and Logos literally God Talk.

Trinity celebrates people’s experience of God as creator/Father; Jesus as Son, and the Spirit who dwells within us and sustains us in our life in the world. But it also does something else we do not think about.

According to C.S. Lewis “…perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: is that in Christianity God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”

Perhaps our innate love of movement and dance is part of our being created in God’s image – Trinity is a way to describe this dynamic, pulsating life-dance of God. This may account for the popularity of 1930s and 40s musicals, and of Dancing with the Stars.When we dance we find that we express ourselves – pour ourselves into this and by so doing express some of who we are so that it overflows and allows others to enter into the dance as well.

And that is what we discover about the Trinity as well. In this experience of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God is pouring out Gods own self so that we can experience and participate in God’s life.  It is possible to dance alone – but usually it is better and more life-giving to dance with others. And we so often need to invite another to join us in our dance. That is our role as people of faith – to invite others to join us in this dance that feeds our spirit and give us life and joy.

By baptism we are initiated into God so that we know our role is to join in the dance of life; in these outpourings of our life we invite others to share in the life and light and joy of God’s life seen in and expressed through us and overflowing into the lives of others. It doesn’t matter whether we are skilled as dancers – as one old friend of mine observed – we dance for ourselves to live and feel alive – not for how we look to others. This dance of God is the dance of life. This dance is how we create and carryout inspired worship.  This dance is how we love, when we have run out of patience or energy.  This dance is how we speak to those who have hurt us.  This dance is how we pray for our enemies. This dance is how we become Good News in the lives of others … and allow others to be Good News in our life as well. In a hymn by Sydney Carter called Lord of the Dance the chorus says: 

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
 

So let’s not be afraid to let God lead us in the dance of life… nor be afraid to invite others to join us in God’s  dance so we may all be life giving to one another and to the world.

Don

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In the Shadow of the Valley of Death

The readings from scripture set the tone for the third Sunday in the Easter Season – a time set aside in the Christian Calendar for celebrating new life, resurrection, and joy.

But we also come here in the shadow of ongoing unrest, strife and tragedy reported almost daily on the evening news. Ongoing tragedies of civilian deaths in Brussels, Africa and the Middle East; ongoing civil strife in South Sudan.  More than 70 people died in Clark Country last year because of drug overdoses.  People killed by senseless gun violence in Louisville, Indianapolis and elsewhere in this country. Questions without answers haunt us – as senseless death and suffering confront us again, and yet again.  Lest we think this is unique to us listen again to the opening phrase of the reading from Acts, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder…”  Breathing threats and murder – against the followers of the Way of Christ.

Perhaps our current news accounts could read:

  • ISIL breathing threats & murder … continue to radicalize young people for assaults both on Muslims and non-Muslims in several countries…
  • Opposing political faction in South Sudan breathing threats & murder…openly assault men, women & children in continuing civil war.
  • US political candidates breathing threats and murder share plans for economic, and military attacks on perceived enemies in other countries and immigrants to make us feel safe…

Recall that Saul has the authority of the high priest to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus ,to bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners.  He has a reputation – and is feared as a persecutor.  On his way to Damascus he has a blinding vision of Jesus.  Those with Saul on this journey of threat & murder heard the voice, but did not see anything.  They led the blinded Saul on to Damascus.

Saul was unable to complete his mission of threats and murder.  Instead, Saul found God anew in an encounter with the risen Christ. This vision changed his outlook and his actions.  This account leads us to question where we find God in the violence and death in our neighborhoods in Metro Louisville , Indianapolis, in Europe, Africa and  Syria & the middle East– where threats and murder are carried out.

Ananias, a disciple of Jesus, also had a vision.  He was asked to go to Saul, a man who had the power to arrest him, in order to give Saul his sight and a message from the Lord.  God intended to use Saul (whom we now call Paul) to bring the good news to the gentile world.  With great trepidation, Ananias went to see this murderous menace – and lays his hands of healing to help Saul regain his sight.

Sight is not always sought, let alone regained, by those intent on their own way – whose evil intentions remain on accomplishing threats and murder.  We wonder what kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. We hear much fear of the many possibilities there are for evil and destruction to cross the paths of our loved ones, disrupting lives.

In the Gospel reading  from John we have a glimpse into the lives of the disciples following Jesus betrayal and brutal death. They went back to Galilee. Not knowing what else to do, they went back to what they knew – they return to fishing. They go back to the familiar and they catch nothing.  It seems that even in their old trade they do not find success. A stranger on the beach suggests they cast the net on the other side of the boat.  And they get a fabulous catch – so great, that even though there were so many fish, they are astonished that the net was not torn. Jesus is recognized, and Peter rushes to shore to be with him.

This Gospel describes a very typical human reaction following great trauma and upset: the disciples returned to the familiar. They wanted to regain some sense of normalcy, and of moving on with their lives.  They tried to get back to the way things were before. As if we can ever get back to what was ‘before.’

Jesus addresses Peter – the disciple who not only ran away, but also three times denied even knowing Jesus, saying ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Peter says “Yes! You know that I love you.” Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  Jesus asks twice more, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’  After each affirmation Peter is told “Feed my sheep.”  By doing this, Jesus not only helps Peter forgive the betrayal but also points him in a new direction – that of being a shepherd for God’s people.

Jesus asked, ‘Peter, do you love me?  Feed my sheep.’  These are nice words.  But they will just remain only nice words if we do not understand what Jesus was teaching Peter.

‘Peter, do you love me?  Feed my sheep.’  Jesus, knowing Peter loves him, is asking Peter about more than the status of their relationship.  Jesus is telling Peter that love is not a feeling but an action.  It is not enough for Peter to feel good about Jesus, but Peter must also actively work to feed and nourish God’s people in order to live out the love and forgiveness that Jesus has already shown him.

Ananias laid hands on Saul. After Saul was healed, he spent several days with the followers of Christ in Damascus, and ‘immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” This 180° turn in attitude was followed by action – sharing his story.

Part of our baptism and confirmation are vows – we have pledged to live out the love and forgiveness God has given us in tangible ways, through specific actions, in the world in which we live.  Actions in Christian community, actions at the work place, actions at home. What action should we, gathered here, take?  The Baptismal Covenant asks:

  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News?
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people?

A number of projects undertaken by members of this congregation show action: our ongoing support of the Center For Lay Ministries Food Pantry, support for the work of Exit 0 and Haven House; our benefit concerts that support important work in the community. Towels and supplies go to Haven House, shoes become wells in Africa; funds offered in thanksgiving go to United Thank Offering and Episcopal Funds for Human Need to help others.. The work done by individual members providing leadership and many hours volunteering:  with children in schools, with community service groups, and in other projects which serve a variety of God’s people.  The list goes on.

We know that many Christians of the first few centuries, as well as some today, faced persecution for their beliefs.  They risked their lives to proclaim “Jesus is Lord.”  They stood in the face of evil. They did not go back to ‘business as usual’ – they used their particular gifts to take part in changing the world one bit at a time.  Not everyone can stop evil perpetrated by others, but we can seek the light of Christ by which to choose our actions, and respond to Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep.”

But we cannot forget the threats and murder with which we began this meditation… and which are real all around us.  We may ask where is God in the evil we hear about?  I see God is present in the actions of individuals.  God is present in the midst of the chaos in the person of those who look out for others, who help one another, who enfold others in love, prayer and action, those who comfort others. God is present in the people reaching out to others in sorrow and love. God is present in medical professionals who treat the wounded. We hear many stories of the presence of God in times of trouble if we listen to the stories of the people of God acting in faith and love – and not just the story of unleashed evil that gets the ratings points the media prefers.

Those disciples – Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee – and Saul (renamed Paul) did indeed follow Jesus.  They left their fishing nets, and made the choice to follow the Way of Christ.  They entered unfamiliar territory; they used their gifts to serve others and to glorify God.  We know this because it is recorded in our scripture.

Their story has been handed onto us, as has this same ministry of Christ.  It may not seem, for example, that being involved in the CLM food pantry, or providing supplies for Haven House, providing support for local children or organizations is a direct answer to those who breathe threats and murder. Yet, it is!  It is a way to share the new life we find in Christ, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ. It is a way of addressing the world as it is and working to change the world as God would have it become.

When Jesus finished speaking with the disciples, he simply said, “Follow me.”      What will you do?

Don

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Peace, Sent, Receive, Witness

John’s Gospel account tells us that it is Easter evening. Earlier in the day Peter and the beloved disciple had gone to the tomb –  in the early morning, after Mary Magdalene came and told them that Jesus body was not in the tomb. They were perplexed and went back to where they were staying.

Mary, in the garden, saw the risen Jesus but thought he was a gardener.  Eventually she recognized him after he called her by name. She went back to the disciples telling them “I have seen the Lord.”

They remain in the house – with door locked out of fear. Fear of being arrested by the Roman authorities and executed themselves. That night Jesus comes to them in the locked room, and stood among them – saying peace be with you.  We can only imagine how frightening this would have been for them. No wonder his first words are words of assurance and calm – peace be with you.

Then to further assure them that it is him – he shows them his wounds so they know it was really their teacher and friend.

Jesus then breathed on them. That may initially make no sense to us – until we remember that wind, spirit and breath all have the same root word in Hebrew and in Greek – Pneuma – (like pneumatic or pneumonia). We may recall that in Genesis after God created humanity he breathed into them the breath of life. So Jesus breathing on them is a way of saying that they were being given the Holy Spirit. And with that gifting of the Spirit they receive a commission – they are sent….

However the book of Acts tells us that it was not until the feast of Pentecost – 50 days later – when the apostles most obviously and pointedly left the security of the upper room and the Spirit comes upon them dramatically as they became the ones who tell the story of faith and of Jesus to others.

If we really think about it this it speaks deeply about how we too are nurtured and grow in our spiritual life.

The Spirit of God is not a one time gift given at baptism.  God gives the gift of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in many ways and at many times. This gifting of the spirit is a gift of love.

Similarly we don’t love our children once and then tell them to make it last for the rest of their life. We find many ways and times and occasions to let them know – we do this from infancy for as long as we are able. We also do the same sort of things with siblings, parents, friends, and spouses.

We know from our experience there are also many ways and times in which the kernel of faith within us and in others is be fed and nurtured as we grow into an active faithful life of loving God and of loving neighbor.

These disciples huddled in the upper room behind the locked door have begun the journey that gets them to Pentecost and beyond.

irst, they told their news to Thomas – and Thomas wanted the same kind of opportunity they had had to see and experience the presence of the risen Jesus. And it happened.

Even in the confines of that upper room they continued that growth in knowledge and spiritual understanding first by sharing story, and in breaking the bread and sharing the cup with one another. This growing grace within took them out of the upper room on Pentecost, and then helped them continue sharing their story of Jesus in places close & familiar and out into the vast unknown .

We know that we too have been given the Spirit in baptism, in communion, in confirmation, and in countless other ways.  We have been given the peace of Christ, and through scripture, baptism and liturgy we have been told that we, like those first followers, are being sent out into the world to that place our gifts and values intersect with the worlds pressing needs.  That is our Pentecost… our opportunity to emerge from the upper room and become emboldened to proclaim in deed and in word God’s love for all people and God’s desire for wholeness and healing for all creation and for all God’s people.

Like the disciples and apostles getting to that point is a process of telling our story, of hearing the story of faith others tell us, of receiving the grace and the gift of the Spirit that enables us to continue to believe in and grow into this commission we have been given

To be followers of Jesus

to be witnesses, to be doing the work entrusted to us – to be the heart, voice and hands of Christ in the world

Jesus said to them – to you:

Peace be with you – as the father has sent me so I send you…

Receive the Holy Spirit…

And you shall be my witnesses.

Don

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