Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ris'n with healing in his wings

I was catching up on Saint Nicholas Is In Hull on my GoogleReader the other day, and a section of one entry jumped out at me:
Then she asked me, "I am... have you ever even healed anyone?"


My response was, "Well... I can't say that I have."
I kind of blinked.

I feel like my response would be, "Well not in the sense that a doctor does... but I have sat with people in pain, I have provided a safe place for people in crisis..."

I believe I have mentioned before that I love Julia Kasdorf's poem "What I Learned from My Mother."
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Today, I was catching up on sermons at First Church.

In her July 5 sermon "Healing...on One Foot" (Mark 6:1-13), Kerrie Harthan posited that we are all healers, and I was so glad to hear that after reading that blog entry.

She also said, "our gospel message isn't about escaping, it's about being liberated -- it's about engaging."

She also shared an interesting thought from her spouse, Gloria, about being inspired by movements rather than individuals -- at least not until they are dead, so we can be sure they will not betray us. And also, "sometimes when a leader goes away, so does the teaching."


How To Practice
(Mark 6:30-34) Rev Laura Ruth Jarrett preaching, July 19, 2009

There's some stuff here I want to come back to again and again.
I wonder, how did Jesus came to belief. Did he believe in God, or Judaism out of the shoot because, well, he was God? Did he believe in himself? But how did he learn how to marshall his energies, when to rest and retreat? When he was healing folks, how did he learn to let out the right amout of power so that folks were healed but not raptured or slain? How did he know when to raise someone from the dead (if we believe he did) and when to let folks lie moldering. How did he know or handle the fact that folks thought he was the Messiah? How do you learn how to do that, be the Messiah?


Another practice that maybe you thought was a commandment: you shall not commit adultery. Not committing adultery is hard! It takes spiritual practice not to step out on your partner! Some of us prefer the thrill of indiscretion to the centered, patient, kind, sometimes painful, sometimes dull, working out of relationship, or the careful dissolution of relationship that no longer works. What we learn from relationships, we learn about ourselves and about our relationship with God. So, practice fidelity in relationships, a kind of fidelity you and your partner work out. It takes practice.


Don’t lie. Figuring out how to tell the truth takes a lot of practice, telling truth not as a weapon, but as a means of being in relationship – letting your yes be yes and your no be no. Hard, work! Not a thing done perfectly, or instantly. It takes a lot of practicing. Once we stop being attached to telling what we wish were true, we can become free. This is what Jesus teaches, the truth will set us free.


But also spiritual practice leads us into belief, belief that little by little, or maybe very quickly, causes us to understand truths too large to be contained by our puny, valiant, striving, resilient, market saturated spirits, truths that attempt to be explained by the metaphor of Trinity, or virgin birth, life that does not end. Here is a spiritual practice. Try not to limit the work of God. Try not to make the vast mystery of God small. Try not to get tripped up by other people’s metaphors. Have patience and let God be revealed to you, allow yourselves to be opened. This is my prayer for you.

Catching up on TransEpiscopal blog, I read (emphasis mine)
And obviously, if you have been following this blog, by now you know that at this Convention we made stunning progress on transgender issues. As we look back on the work of this Convention, I think it will be important to see this progress in the larger context of the forward movement via D025 and C056. But I also think our progress was part of the spirit of openness and relationality, and indeed of intentional, focused storytelling that were themes of this Convention (not to mention humor, as several bishops displayed during their session Friday). The spirit of the indaba groups that were featured at last summer’s Lambeth Conference also feels connected to this trend. People were careful not to demonize one another in their disagreements. People attended to one another’s humanity. Those of us who testified on the transgender related resolutions benefited from and, I hope and believe, contributed to that spirit.

And that is as it should be. That kind of attentiveness to one another’s humanity is at the heart of the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, which asks, “will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to these questions may seem easy, but sometimes they are not — which is why the response given in the Book of Common Prayer is “I will, with God’s help.” This Christian life we are about is a spiritual discipline that we all pledge to take up upon entry into this beloved community. And I know in my very gut that when we live into that discipline, when we do, with God’s help, we grow. Advent approaches indeed.
I've encountered a bunch of baptismal/membership covenants recently (attending ordinations and such), and my reaction is often, "I cannot vow that," but that one I could, that one I want to.


A "when loves come to town" blog entry I read recently (the first in an "Everything belongs..." series) included a YouTube embed of Bob Franke singing "For Real," and I pulled it up and listened to it this afternoon.

"let's be kind to each other -- not forever but for real"

I was struck by this as I had spent much of this afternoon sitting (metaphorically) with a beloved, praying "God have mercy."
There's a hole in the middle of the prettiest life
So the lawyers and the prophets say
Not your father nor your mother
Nor you lover's gonna ever make it go away
And there's too much darkness in an endless night
To be afraid of the way we feel
Let's be kind to each other
Not forever but for real

I forgot about the ending verse:
Some say that God is a lover
Some say it's an endless void
Some say both, some say she's angry
Some say he's just annoyed
But if God felt a hammer in the palm of his hand
Then God knows the way we feel
And love lasts forever
Forever and for real

Love lasts forever
I thought first of recent discussions about what religion means to different people and second of Catie Curtis' song "The Big Reprise."

The previous entry on "when loves comes to town" included an embed of Alison Krauss And Robert Plant performing "Down to the River to Pray."

Rest and Bread
Dear Beloved,

We gather this evening for at 6:15 for communion and prayer. We're reflecting on sheep tonight, how we are like sheep, and Jesus the shepherd. Come be gathered in.

We have music for meditation at 6. You may come at 6 to pray.If you'd prefer to come at 6:10 or 6:14, and even if you're late, don't worry about disturbing us. We don't mind you coming in when you're ready, because we're glad to see you.
[FirstChurch Mailing List] an act of vandalism in Watertown, a call for witness

Dear Beloved,

The Watertown UU Congregation's rainbow flag was torched. I don't know more details than that, other than to say, that no physical bodies were hurt.

The Watertown congregation has asked for a gathering in Watertown Sq. on Saturday, July 25th at 6 PM. After gathering, we will march to the church, about three blocks away, and reinstall the flag.

The FCS Marching Band will go to lend a hand and to bear witness. Will you come, also?

Between now and then, please will you remember and pray for those who, everyday, must decide how to react in a world that cannot behold their entire humanity. While this prayer may include each of us sometime, I particularly think of Professor Henry Louis Gates, and all who have been taken out of their homes in handcuffs.

May we share the solidarity we crave.

Although we don't know the circumstances of those who burned the rainbow flag or the circumstances of Officer Crowley who arrested Professor Gates, please, may we pray for them, also?

May we share the compassion we crave.

Yours, in solidarity and compassion,
Laura Ruth

Psalm 61 ("Lead me to the rock that is higher than I")
Luke 15:1-7

I loved how she talked, really lovingly, both in our pre-service prayer (I was helping her lead worship, as Keith was away) and in her Reflection, about the incident with Prof. Gates and about calling us to be our best selves. In her Reflection, she talked about how God seeks us, picks up and puts us on his shoulders -- "or embraces you in a way that would be more comfortable to you."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

my biases are showing

A friend of mine made a post last night about seeking faith &etc., and I am having such a difficult time reading the comments wherein people say really disparaging/dismissive things about their experiences with Christianity -- both because of some of the tone and because of the implication that ALL Christianity is thus sullied.

Hi, watch me feel really really defensive of my faith.

It also reminded me of my friend L. saying that all men are manipulative assholes -- which is true of her experiences with men but not of mine.

So rather than just griping, let me sketch out some of why I love this Story so much.

God created the world and declared it good. God said, "let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness." Every single one of us is beloved of God, God who has known us since before we were air-breathers (Psalm 139).

God is a God of the underdog. God hears God's people crying out. God lifts God's people out of bondage. God mourns when God's people turn away from God.

God spoke to God's people throughout history.
God Incarnated, came and met humanity in the flesh.
We commemorate our communion with God and with each other with sacred meals.

Jesus was resurrected, body and soul. After the Road to Emmaus, Jesus' friends recognized Jesus in the sharing of a meal. Throughout his ministry, Jesus touched people and healed them of physical ailments and forgave their sins and sat down to meals with them -- people of all sorts.
We look forward to the redemption of all creation.

We are an embodied, beloved, blessed people.

On the seventh day of Creation, God rested. At times, Jesus went off to be alone. We have canonical models which tell us that we should not work 24/7.

Jesus also asked his friends to pray with him as he approached the hour of his death. We have strong models of community.

Creation is so rooted in breath and Word. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. The Tetragrammaton (YHWH) sounds like breath. The first human was created from the earth and God inbreathed. The Christian church was born when the Holy Spirit descended upon the early disciples and those gathered all heard the Good News in their native tongue.

Abraham argued with God to not destroy the city of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33). There is a midrash that when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac that God had wanted Abraham to argue then, too. We argue with God. God holds us to a high standard (and also extends us grace and mercy, streams which will never dry up) and we too remind God of the importance of justice and mercy.

"What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

We are called to love everyone.

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21)

Jacob wrestled with the Angel and was renamed "Israel," a people who struggle with God and live.

This brain-dump isn't holding together as well as I had hoped. Let me sum up.

I believe in a God who loves me, who loves all of Creation, who meets me in the silence of my heart, in the whirlwind of my anger and frustration, in the belly of the great fish, in the sharing of bread and drink with friends and with strangers.

[marriage] "Maybe it's more like Silly Putty and the plastic egg it comes in."

Dave Chen linked to the Salon article "It's hot! It's sexy! It's ... marriage!: Am I the only person who actually enjoys being hitched these days?" by Aaron Traister | Jul. 15, 2009.

It's a really good article.

Marriage (and long-term committed relationship) has been a topic of conversation recently in a couple of different arenas.

Probably my favorite line from the piece is: "Maybe we shouldn't treat the institution and its dirty little companion as some sort of precious Fabergé egg that is either shattered and worthless or pristine, untouchable and priceless."

One of the things I remember actually liking from Lauren Winner's book Real Sex was her pointing out that we have this idea that if you're not rapturously In Love with your partner All The Time then ur doin smthg wrong.

[kidney donation] "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors."

Monday morning of last week, an email came through on the listserv of the local UCC church I attend about writing letters to Legal Seafoods and The Cheesecake Factory. (The email says, in part, "Legal Seafoods and The Cheesecake Factory restaurants in Greater Boston subcontracted with local companies that hired these workers to clean their restaurants. The cleaning companies then refused to pay the workers for both regular and overtime hours, cheating them out of weeks of hard-earned pay. Our mission and justice partner Centro Presente is leading a campaign seeking fair treatment for the workers.")

It occurred to me that probably plenty of CWM folk would be interested in workers' rights issues, and I continue to feel frustrated at the lack of information-sharing between congregations.

What I've been hearing about these past however many weeks at CWM (my primary church) is the trans-inclusive Massachusetts ENDA [and hate crimes bill] and environmental stuff.

At midweek service at aforementioned UCC church last week, the pastor had flyers for the Hearty Meals outreach at the American Baptist church down the street.

Then later I was thinking about how it probably makes sense for individual congregations to only focus on a few mission outreaches


Later that day, I read an article in The Atlantic about kidney donation (which I didn't realize until I hit the end was by Virginia Postrel). Excerpt:
Living with a single kidney is almost exactly like living with two; the remaining kidney expands to take up the slack. (When kidneys fail, they generally fail together; barring trauma or cancer, there’s not much advantage to a backup.) The main risk to the donor is the risk of any surgery. The kidney can now be removed laparoscopically, using tiny incisions and a fiber-optic camera to guide the surgeon, thus avoiding the huge abdominal slice and lengthy recovery time that used to be standard. Kidney donors don’t have to be close relatives of recipients, but they do need to have the right blood type. And kidneys from living donors tend to last many years longer than kidneys from deceased donors.

Since the current transplant system extols altruism, one way to end the list would be to find more altruists. With, say, 50,000 new living donors, deceased donation could easily pick up the slack. Again, the numbers aren’t that big. The Southern Baptist Convention includes 42,000 member churches; the United Methodist Church, whose Web site earlier this year featured the quote, “As United Methodists, we’re life savers,” counts more than 34,000 U.S. congregations. If each congregation produced just one new living donor, the waiting list would disappear. But kidney donation is a more visceral mission than mainstream religious groups want to contemplate. The only sect to adopt kidney donation as a formal cause is a tiny Australia-based group called Jesus Christians; instead of lauding them, critics point to their donations as evidence that they’re a cult.
I still refuse to officially join any church/denomination, but my home church is "wicked Methodist" (TM me), and in recent months I've noticed myself having "you are of my people" reactions to people mentioning having grown up United Methodist, so I was particularly kicked by the mention of the UMC.

[on prayer] "what do I love when I love my God?"

In reading Blake Huggins' recent(ish) blogpost "Prayer (still) does not change things," I found a lot which resonated with me (and some that didn't fit with my personal journey) and a lot to chew on.

I have failed to articulate any actual commentary in the time since I read it, so I am simply posting an excerpt.
if theology is primarily about developing a sound and coherent word (logos) about God (theos) — however limiting and finite it may be — what could be more important than prayer? If I am feebly and delicately trying to develop ideas about God, about the divine, about that which is beyond me and that which consumes me — which is what I have devoted the remainder of my life to doing — what could be more weighty and significant than my ideas about addressing the divine, than my approach to communicating with God, than the way in which I, to borrow from Brother Lawrence, practice the presence of God?

This is what I am trying to get at: prayer says more about our theology and our ideas of God than we realize; indeed, I would go so far as to claim that how we view prayer in some sense determines what we believe about the nature of God and vice versa. If God is a deus ex machina, a mechanistic deity, a Big Daddy in the Sky who pulls strings for good people and cuts strings for bad people, then we will pray in a certain way. And, like my example above, how we pray will reveal an understood theology whether we overtly claim it or not. If we really want to “do theology” well and uncover all those areas in which the residue of our tacit assumptions about God still remain, then we had better take prayer seriously.

What can we do, then, in developing a theology of prayer but return to St. Augustine’s age old question in book ten of the Confessions: what do I love when I love my God? Is that not the ultimate question of prayer? Does that penetrating question not guide all our prayers and all our tears, all of our weak attempts to address that which calls us into being? To paraphrase Jacques Derrida, what can we do but re-inscribe that question into our own context and our own language?

[My note: See also Blake's earlier post in which he talks about (among other things) relationality in reflecting on the question "what is it that we love when we love our God? Who is it that we love when we love our God?"]

I must confess that I am not consistent in setting aside time for prayer or “quiet time” as they used to say at church camp. Yet I wonder if in some sense doing so might minimalize the power and potency of prayer. Here I want to be very clear: I am not suggesting dropping such exercises altogether, of course there are important and edifying. I’m just wondering out loud if hyper-emphasis on that alone misses the point of prayer. What if instead of being relegated to the mundane as some sort of chore one must undertake in order to reach a certain quota prayer (and here I am relying on Brother Lawrence and others) demanded a radical restructuring of one’s life in response to the always ever-present Spirit of God in the world? What if we lived life itself as an act of prayer rather than reduced prayer to mere daily exercise? What if prayer is simply (and complexly) the ongoing outworking of our reply to Augustine’s question, which is always left open as a question?

It is in this vein that I read Oswald Chambers when he writes, “It is not so true that ‘prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me and I change things.” I do not pray to change God’s mind or to change reality, I pray because I myself am changed and transformed in the process. And because I leave Augustine’s question open as a question I am always answering (rather than a question to which I Answer) I stand with John Caputo, Derrida and the medieval mystics in saying that I do not know to whom I am praying, I do not know where my prayers and tears are directed. Yet I am (at my best) transformed and empowered to restructure my life as an ongoing act of prayer in response to the question “what do I love when I love my God?” Such a response is made palpable in my direct encounters with the other, encounters in which I am humbled to see myself as (an)other and encounters in which my normal, boring mode of being in the world is ruptured by divine grace, pushing me beyond a place of comfortability and into the realm of the im/possible where I see the other face-to-face.

I do not know to whom I pray, yet I continue. And in so doing I, a broken vessel, am made new again and again. In this way I can turn Derrida’s oft quoted statement (”I quite rightly pass for an atheist”) in my own direction: I quite rightly pass as one who prays. I seek to structure my life as an act of prayer itself insofar as such an act is an act of transformative response to the rupture of the divine event, of continually answering the questions of what it is that I love when I love my God and to whom, if anyone, my prayers are directed. These are open-ended questions, they are never nailed down and only loosely demarcated. My prayers are, like Augustine’s, prayers of a restless heart, of an unhinged being who does not know who he is and yet still seeks to understand from whence he came. My prayers are always already unfinished and any “Amen” that I utter is always already the beginning of my next prayer, my next attempt at answering or reformulating these questions.

Our prayers have no real discernible beginning or end, only movements or acts (as in a play) in between. This is, I think, precisely why Martin Luther King, Jr. said that to be without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without drawing breath. To be in prayer is to be in touch with the divine, something which never really ceases albeit something of which we may or may not be aware. The more efficacious prayer is — and here I turn back to Brother Lawrence — that one which is aware of one’s being in touch with something beyond oneself, something which beckons a tangible, sustained response; the most efficacious prayer is that one which heeds the call for response and allows oneself to be changed, both through the prayer and through outworking of the response. This is the sphere we should inhabit as those who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God — a sphere of continual prayer, a posture of “praying without ceasing” as Paul wrote (I Thess. 5:17). So let us pray and let us continue to pray as together we work toward more faithful participation in the divine life.

[Firefly] on Incarnation, atonement theology, etc.

Some local folks have been watching Firefly every other Friday night, and in watching "Safe" (for literally the sixth time) a couple weeks ago, I was really struck by the resonance of one exchange (text c&p'ed from script here), thinking about God reaching out to us.
RIVER: You gave up everything you had to find me. And you found me broken. (beat) It's hard for you. You gave up everything you had.
SIMON: Mei mei ["little sister"]... Everything I have is right here.
I think God is always reaching out to us, and that's one of the ways I think of the Incarnation -- not just that we weren't understanding God's Will for us and needed shepherding back to the path (The Way), but also that God reaches out and touches us, sits down at table and shares bread and drink with us.

And our brokenness grieves God, and God is right there with us through it all.

Christ descended from the Right Hand of the Father to come to earth, born of a human woman and suffering as humans do, but at some levels it wasn't a sacrifice because God's home is with us, our home is with God. (And now I'm thinking of the Children's Moment and Reflection from my evening church this past Sunday.)


I tagged this entry "mother is the name of god," mostly because the fanfic I learned that quotation from takes place during this episode, but it also got me thinking.

Our interim lay speaker began his time with us (Fifth Sunday After Pentecost) preaching on family (specifically 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 ... on how David is covenantally anointed a leader of family -- "All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, 'We are your own flesh and blood.'")