Tuesday, December 28, 2010

[27] "Incarnation in the holiday season" [Rest and Bread; Wed. Dec. 8, 2010]

[Preached at Rest and Bread on Wednesday, December 8, 2010. Thanks to la bff for helping me select a Scripture passage.]

[Inspired by The Advent Conspiracy, Keith and I picked 4 alternative themes for Advent this year -- relationship, incarnation, sharing, and activation. Today is Incarnation.]
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy food and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk,
without money, without price!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you will eat well,
you will delight in rich fare;
bend your ear and come to me,
listen, that you may have life
I will make an everlasting Covenant with you--
in fulfillment of the blessings promised to David.
-Isaiah 55:1-3, The Inclusive Bible
"You who have no money, come, buy food and eat."

What a message that is for this season, when so many are struggling with economic scarcity.

The kindom of God, for which we wait expectantly this Advent season and all days, is a place where sustenance and abundance are available for all.

This passage also speaks to the goodness of nourishing our bodies.

While this season is full of pressures to buy more stuff, our physical bodies, the very stuff that houses our spirit, often become our enemy. Facing the glut of holiday sweets, we are deluged with tips and tricks for how to not have "too much," how to not "overindulge." We are pulled in opposite directions -- retailers invite us to gift ourselves and our loved ones with chocolates from Godiva, fruit baskets from Harry and David, colorfully foil wrapped candies from Hershey's ... while the morning shows are full of advice about how to enjoy the ubiquitous holiday parties without using up all our Weight Watchers points.

Hear again the word of God: "Heed me, and you will eat well, you will delight in rich fare."

I'm not saying that God wants you to eat nothing but processed sugar, but God's table is a table of abundance. The Communion table there, around which we will all gather later in the service, holds bread and fruit of the vine ... food to nourish and sustain you, food for you to enjoy. And of the surplus you are invited to eat and drink more after the service is over.

Food is central to so much of Jesus' ministry. Jesus eats with everyone -- from the Pharisees (scholars of the religious law) to tax collectors (agents of the oppressive Empire).

In Matthew's Gospel, we read Jesus saying:
     What comparison can I make with this generation?
     They are like children shouting to others as they sit in the marketplace, "We piped for you but you would not dance. We sang you a dirge, but you would not mourn."
     For John the Baptizer came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He is possessed."
     The Chosen One comes, eating and drinking, and they say, "This one is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."
     Wisdom will be vindicated by her own actions.
(Matthew 11:18-19a, The Inclusive Bible)
Jesus experienced the same opposing cultural pressures as we do today. Wear a cloak of camel's hair out in the desert and eat locusts and honey, and people will say you're possessed. Say you're not buying Christmas gifts for anyone this year, and people will say you have no sense of the holiday spirit. Share meals with those who are "socially unacceptable," and people will say all sorts of nasty things about you. Head directly to the chocolate fondue station at the office party, bypassing the veggies and low-fat dip, and people may call you a glutton (though probably not to your face).

Our culture gives us lots of conflicting messages about bodies. I want to give you one message to take home: God likes bodies.

God thinks bodies are so good that God said, "I will have one of these myself."

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

This is what we anticipate and remember during the season of Advent -- that God, who had shown up in the world plenty of times before, in booming mountaintop and still small voice, in pillars of fire and cloud, chose to take on flesh, to be embodied...

{I extemporized an ending and as usual don't remember what I said -- I think it was about loving the bodies that God gave us, that God so loves, that God who formed us in our mother's womb called good.}

[26] "3 thoughts, approaching Advent" [Pentecost +25(C) Wednesday, Rest and Bread]

[Preached at Rest and Bread on Wed. Nov. 17, 2010. Thanks to Scott for last-minute editing.]
Matthew 23:37-24:14

37“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.’”

24 1As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, the disciples came to point out the buildings of the temple. 2Then Jesus asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

4Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
One metaphor for Advent is that of pregnancy -- we, like Mary, wait in joyful (and perhaps more than a little fearful) anticipation for the Promised One -- Emmanuel, God With Us.

In today's reading, however, we are reminded that Christ is already mothering us. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, crying out, "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" How familiar that must sound to parents of willful children...

Confident in her own power and security, Jerusalem has rejected the prophets God has sent to her, has refused the transformative calls from her God and Maker.

Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple -- the focal point of religious power and authority. The coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth means the overthrow of all the human kingdoms that are already here on Earth, even the ones we might have a strong personal investment in -- "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

The disciples ask, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Typical, Jesus avoids answering the question directly. Instead, Jesus cautions them not to be led astray -- and also not to be afraid. "Be not afraid" is a greeting we hear often from divine messengers throughout Advent and Christmas. When God shows up, you can be assured that you are going to be asked to make some radical changes in your life -- and the more we have to lose, the less that appeals to us (one of the many reasons God has a preferential option for the poor).

Jesus also cautions the disciples that there will be much conflict ahead. I don't think this is necessarily to be read as an assertion that all of this disaster will be a sign that the Second Coming is at hand -- famine and disaster are as old as the Fall; they predict nothing, though they indicate quite a lot. Rather, Jesus exhorts the disciples to endure; "you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet."

All this pain and suffering and disaster? This is not the end. "This is but the beginning of birthpangs."

I have never given birth -- and I really have no desire to, in fact -- but I have it on good authority that it can at times be an incredibly painful and difficult process. If that's true of bringing a regular human baby into the world, would we expect any less of bringing a whole new world to fruition?

And unlike pregnancy, where we have at least an approximation of a due date, we don't know when this Second Coming will be. We hear over and over again throughout the Gospels that no one knows the date or the hour, and so we must always be prepared. We can ask, "What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming back next month?" or "What would you do if you knew that Jesus wasn't going to come back during your lifetime?" but the reality we have to work with is: "What would you do if you were assured that Jesus would return but you had no idea when that would be?" Every year, during Advent (and also during Lent) we take time to intentionally practice both waiting and preparing ourselves.

So as we approach the season of Advent, let's review Jesus' advice:
* you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God."
* Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Messiah!" and they will lead many astray.
* you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed
* the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

I'm intrigued by the twinning of these first two -- the second one is perhaps more salient, connected as it is with all the doom and gloom foreshadowing, but the first is no less important. Jerusalem is exhorted to proclaim: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God." While we should be wary of those who claim divinity for themselves, we are also exhorted to be open to the presence and call of God in our lives.

Be not afraid. An exhortation used throughout the Advent and Christmas stories to assure us not to be afraid of the new thing God is doing in our lives and in the world -- but here we are also reminded not to be afraid of all that is happening in the world. For we have so great a hope... as we heard Paul proclaim on Sunday: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

Do not let your love grow cold. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." "Love one another as I have loved you." Over and over again we hear this exhortation, this love which is at the heart of the good news.

And so I invite you, as we move into this this season, to remain open to God, to be not afraid, and to not let your love grow cold.

[25] praying in tune [Rest and Bread; Wednesday, September 22, 2010]

[I gave the Reflection at Rest and Bread on September 22, 2010 -- feeling tired, hungry, and ill-prepared; I extemporized the second half of my Reflection and I think it went okay, though after the service was over I couldn't tell you what I said.]
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Christself human, 6who gave Christself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
(1 Timothy 2:1-7, NRSV)
We are exhorted to pray for everyone, even the rulers -- which I think also pointedly means, "even the people we don't like much."

Because there is one God and one Mediator -- and neither of them are us. In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we pray "Thy will be done" -- God's will, not ours. Yes, we are Called to be agents of God's Will here on Earth, but that doesn't mean we get to dictate the Plan.

Paul understands himself to have been commissioned to share this Good News. That there is one God -- and one mediator between God and humankind, which is to say, Christ.

We are not God. We are not even mediators between God and humanity. Now, many of us went on retreat in February to reflect on the topic of "prayer," and one of the things we discussed there was the idea that prayer changes God. The Jewish tradition that Paul and Jesus and most of the early Church had inherited was rich with a culture of arguing with God. And I support that. As does Paul, I think. After all, he lists intercessions and supplications in his prayer list.

But I think there's also an important lesson here about getting out of the way a bit. To remember that it is not all about us, that it does not all rest on us, and to shift our focus appropriately. Sometimes all we can do is pray, and sometimes the most useful thing we can do is pray.

One of the powerful images I have encountered for prayer is "getting in tune with God." Sometimes God is (or seems) out of tune, and that's where righteous arguing comes in -- but often we are the ones who are out of tune, and so we are exhorted to recenter ourselves in the one in whom we live and move and have our being.


My mom gave me a copy of Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith for Christmas, and I've been underwhelmed by it thus far, but I really liked her piece on "Grace":
     Jacob's theophany, his dream of angels on a stairway to heaven, strikes me as an appealing tale of unmerited grace. Here's a man who has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance. But God's response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins but to give him a blessing.
     Jacob wakes from the dream in awe, exclaiming, "Surely the Lord is in this place -- and I did not know it!" For once, his better instincts take hold, and he responds by worshiping God. He takes the stone that he'd kept close all night, perhaps to use as a weapon if a wild animal, or his furious brother Esau, were to attack him, and sets it up as a shrine, leaving it for future travelers, so that they, too, will know that this is a holy place, the dwelling place of God.
     Jacob's exclamation is one that remains with me, a reminder that God can choose to dwell everywhere and anywhere we go. One morning this past spring I noticed a young couple with an infant at an airport departure gate. The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, no matter if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking he would respond with absolute delight.
     It was beautiful to see. Our drab departure gate had become the gate of heaven. And as I watched the baby play with any adult who would allow it, I felt as awe-struck as Jacob, because I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creature he made and called good, along with the rest of creation. And, as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is as nothing to God, who can look right through whatever evil we've done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image.
     I suspect that only God, and well-loved infants, can see this way. But it gives me hope to think that when God gazed on the sleeping Jacob, he looked right through the tough little schemer and saw something good, if only a capacity for awe, for recognizing God and worshipping. That Jacob will worship badly, trying to bargain with God, doesn't seem to matter. God promises to be with him always.
     Peter denied Jesus, and Saul persecuted the early Christians, but God could see the apostles they would become. God does not punish Jacob as he lies sleeping because he can see in him Israel, the foundation of a people. God loves to look at us, and loves it when we will look back at him. Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel most alone, unsure if we'll survive the night. God will find a way to let us know that he is with us in this place, wherever we are, however far we think we've run. And maybe that's one reason we worship -- to respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us his own.

"comfort and joy..."

me: [catches up on some blog reading]
me: [enjoys Loreena McKennitt's "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" {found here} {lyrics here} ]

Housemate: "I'm amused that this is the first time I've heard you playing Christmas music."
me: "You can't play Christmas carols before Christmas."
Housemate: "But Christmas was 2 days ago."
me: "The season of Christmas lasts for 12 days."
Housemate: "So you're going to play this on repeat for 12 days?"
me: "... No."

Friday, December 10, 2010

today's wisdom from Molly

Sometimes I do wonder if the Mary-like ability to accept whatever reality comes my way (usually mingled with the spiritual temper tantrum in a winning combination) is not actually spiritual enlightenment, attunement with God, a state of grace, but rather an even deeper and more insidious need to control every little thing? Like, I’ll show you God, I refuse to experience pain or dissonance around this new wrinkle in my life?

I’ve talked about retroactive prayer here in this blog, what about retrofitted prayer? When we square whatever it is we really want with what we already have—shaving off the bits of desire and longing that stick out past the edges of the current reality?

Is this a real discharge of desire, sloughing of concupiscence (a good thing in mystical Christianity), a release of attachment (a good thing in Buddhism)? Or is it merely a denial of our shadow side?

Like daughter, like mother? Carmen has a lot of life-threatening food allergies, has since she was a tiny babe, so she’s never known what it was to eat whatever comes across her path. We’ve adapted, and so has she. Humans can get used to just about anything. People say, “oh, how hard for her not to be able to eat that bag of Chee-tos/bacon double cheeseburger/pounder bag of peanut M&Ms” but I say that she doesn’t know any different.

But that’s not strictly true. For years I got away with keeping a cache of homemade whole-wheat apple muffins in the freezer and grabbing one out when it was time to go to a celebration rife with allergenic treats. But she is almost five now, and she can see that a cupcake at a birthday party looks perfectly delicious, and is not equivalent to a whole-wheat apple muffin.

She has squared this paradox in her own way. If it is true that her mother loves her, and if it true that she it totally, totally worthy of the best possible treats, then the thing that she has MUST be as good as the thing that will put her into the emergency room. Therefore she will lean over to me at family parties and say, sotto voce, “My carob surprise is so much better than that old premium ice cream parfait with warm caramelized marcona almonds and Callebaut fudge drizzle, right?”

God our mother also loves us, and we also are totally, totally worthy of the best possible treats. But sometimes we still get carob surprise.

-from Let It Be With Me

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

beyond "It Gets Better"

PUT THIS ON THE {MAP} is reteaching gender and sexuality to professionals such as school administrators, social workers, health care providers and juvenile probation staff. With youth voices at the forefront, our team of educators use dynamic, relevant and informative professional development trainings and workshops to shift the conversation about gender and sexuality in our communities. Find out more on this site about our award-winning documentary, our upcoming tour, and our professional development work.

Our current project Reteaching Gender & Sexuality is a message about queer youth action and resilience. The video was generated to contribute additional queer/trans youth voices to the national conversations about queer/trans youth lives. Reteaching Gender & Sexuality intends to steer the conversation beyond the symptom of bullying, to consider systemic issues and deeper beliefs about gender and sexuality that impact queer youth. We invite you to share the video with your friends, family and networks; we invite you to share with us what THIS issue means to you! The video was created by PUT THIS ON THE MAP!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"It's not easy being green."

I have problems with the "It Gets Better" initiative, but KERMIT!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This makes me heartsick.

So, I saw this post yesterday and meant to post about it (esp. in conjunction with it being All Souls' Day) but then I didn't.

nextian posted recently about FictionAlley and PepsiRefresh -- so while we're all thinking about places that money can do good...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God as Lover

At Sacred Eros last night, we talked about language, and one of the topics we got onto was language for God. The facilitator mentioned America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--and What That Says about Us and the fact that one model that wasn't present was God as Lover.

One participant mentioned that she was raised Catholic and she thinks many of the greatest saints understood God as Lover. I was dubious/surprised and asked whom she would list. (In my head I thought, "Julian of Norwich? John Donne?")

She listed:
* St. Francis of Assisi
* St. Thérèse of Lisieux
* Thomas Aquinas (I might be remembering this one wrong -- could be another Thomas; edit: though another person has since confirmed his inclusion in this list)
* St. Catherine of Siena
* St. Faustina

The facilitator mentioned Milton.

In conversation today, bff listed:
* Gregory of Nyssa
* Teresa of Ávila

I'm now really curious whom else people might list -- and they don't have to be canonized saints (or even operating within the Christian tradition -- we discussed Sufi mystics a bit last night).

Feel free also to just discuss the concept of God as Lover -- historically, personally, whatever (bff and I discussed nuns as Brides of Christ, for example, which moved into discussion of women's sexuality and self-understandings thereof).

Edit: Running list of mentions by other people:
* Margery Kempe
* Hildegard of Bingen
* St. John of the Cross
* "My Beloved Is Mine and I Am His" by Francis Quarles
* St. Augustine
* Patti Smith
* Mechthild of Magdeburg
* Gertrud of Helfta
* Agnes Blannbekin
* Heinrich Seuse ("who is particularly interesting as one aspect of how he understands his relationship with Christ in terms of a knight serving a lady")
* the "Jesus is my boyfriend" subset of contemporary Christian music
* Robinson Jeffers's "Roan Stallion"

Monday, October 25, 2010

"In filling a role that is part pastor, scholar and community organizer..."

Seen on facebook:

"Hendricks Chapel's first female dean is committed to social justice"

Jeremy: "Yea for T.L.!!"

Jeremy: "And wow...the comments are RIDICULOUS on that article."

Jeremy: "Oh man. Comment of the day RE: Cambridge Welcoming Ministries : "this group appears to be an informal front group for various labor unions and environmental groups." LOL!!!!"

Sean: "This is one of the best thing anyone has ever said about my church!"


I told my housemate, who literally went \o/ and said, "Yeah! You're a socialist front!" and told me I needed to blog this :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

requesting a timeout to say grace?

I'm mostly good at asking whomever I'm eating with for a timeout so I can say a silent grace over my food -- when I'm in a one-on-one situation, anyway. I've mostly stopped telling the other person that they can go ahead and eat, because people always reply by insisting that no they'll wait. I'm not good at timeout-requesting when I'm with a group, though -- which is problematic because I'm really bad at tuning out noise around me. I went to a luncheon today, and when I arrived, a couple people were already talking, and I sat down and bowed my head and folded my hands in front of my face and the longer I sat there trying to say grace, the more I wanted to either pick up my food and move to a quieter part of the room to say grace or literally ask them to stop talking for a minute.

So the question I posed to facebook: Is it gauche to, in a secular setting, ask the people eating with you to stop talking so you can say a silent grace over your food?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

So, I'm doing Magpie Girl's Power Stories class.

The most recent one is, Lesson Fourteen: How to To Speak Your Truth. Period.

Tara Sophia Mohr writes:
There is the power of telling. Of saying. Of speaking your truth.

And then there is the power of ending your sentence. Stopping. Putting the period at the end of the words.

That second power is less talked about, but just as important. It goes like this:

“I am uncomfortable with the way you are speaking to me.” Period. Silence. Wait.

“I would like to work at home two days a week.” Period. Silence. Wait.

“I need more time on this.” Period. Silence. Wait.

“My heart is hurt.” Period. Silence. Wait.

In the silence, you give room to people, to life, to meet you. Standing in your power is finishing your sentence. It’s sitting in the silence.
I was already kind of trying to do that with an email I wrote Tuesday night -- trying to discipline myself express what I am feeling/what I need and then wait for the other person to respond, rather than pre-emptively responding to everything I think they might say in response -- but having it really clearly articulated like that I think will help me to hold onto that.

I was really struck by, In the silence, you give room to people, to life, to meet you.

She goes on to write:
1. Breathe. Connect to your body and your being.
2. Notice how you are feeling.
3. State a fact about your feelings, your needs, your experience, in less than 10 words. (Hint: those are always “I” statements, not “you” statements or “it is” or “we should” statements.)
4. Put the period on it. Sit in the silence. Wait. Now it’s their turn.

I used to be scared of that last step. It felt rude, almost. It felt rebellious – to simply say what I felt, to make a mess, to disagree, to cause an inconvenience, and then just leave it out there, on the table. To say it and not back-pedal. To say it not decorate it with flowers or put vanilla frosting all over it.

This isn’t working for me. Period. Silence. Wait.

No I won’t be able to attend. Period. Silence. Wait.

I am disappointed. Period. Period. Silence. Wait.

This is where I’ve given away my power for years. Making nice. Not wanting to create conflict. Being unable, physically unable it felt, to express dissatisfaction and leave it on the table, as is. I wanted you to like me, and I thought that would be put at risk.

Receiving the Care We Give

Little did I know that expressing dissatisfaction to someone and maintaining relationship with him or her rarely conflict. Usually, real expression deepens relationship.

When someone says to me something like, “this isn’t working for me,” I care. I respond civilly. I start talking about what we can do to fix it.

It was mind-blowing to me to realize others might meet me that way too. That I could be the one to state a need, a preference, and others might change to accommodate it. That they might even enjoy doing that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

(Erev) Yom Kippur

From Kita:
"May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault."

This year:

I am sorry for not being the person you thought I was.
I am sorry for being exactly the person you thought I was.
I am sorry for not being able to commit the way you needed me to.
I am sorry for not being able to fix things for you.
I am sorry for trying to fix things for you, when they were not my responsibility to fix.
I am sorry for letting you down.
I am sorry for expecting too much from you.
I am sorry for being unable to listen to your perspective with an open mind.
I am sorry for being unwilling to consider where you might have been coming from.
I am sorry that I can't forgive you yet.
I am sorry for not treating you with more kindness.
I am sorry for not treating myself with more kindness.


I forgive you for not being the person I wanted you to be.
I forgive you for your inability to give me what I needed.
I forgive you for making it all about you.
I forgive you for disappointing me, for angering me, for making me sad.
I forgive you for not being able to empathize with my perspective.
I forgive you for not treating me with more kindness.
I forgive myself for needing more time to let go of past hurts.


If there is anyone I have hurt, with words or deeds, this past year, I am truly sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness. You are not obligated to forgive me, but I sincerely hope you will think about it. If there is anything you would like to discuss related to this [...] I promise to be as respectful and considerate as you are.

Monday, September 13, 2010

wholeness is possible

From "Teshuvah, In Three Acts: A rabbi reflects on the struggle to restore wholeness in the lives of three congregants" by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen (emphasis mine):
I ran into one woman outside of the sanctuary on Yom Kippur. She was sitting on the floor playing with her young son. She had lost her mother earlier that year. “I am furious at God,” she told me. “Ever since my mother died I have been furious at God. I have no intention of going in there and praying or saying anything to God.”

But she had come to shul anyway. It was Yom Kippur. She and her partner were raising a child. She was angry at God that her mother had not lived to know the grandson who would surely have brought her so much joy. But this woman and her partner were creating a family, continuing the chain of their Jewish families. They wanted their son to be a part of their Jewish community.

She didn’t go into the sanctuary that year. She may not have gone in the next year either. But she kept coming to shul, with her partner and their son. Even as she raged with God she knew that for her Jewish family, marking the holidays and coming to shul was essential. She wasn’t asking God for forgiveness. She wanted God to ask her for forgiveness, for taking her mother away before her son had a chance to know his grandmother. And it seemed like Yom Kippur was the right time for that.

Each year as the fullness of summer begins to wane and the moon of the month of Elul swells and subsides, the season of teshuvah returns. Teshuvah is a gift and a challenge. It is slow work. There is no magic formula that will suddenly heal all that has shattered in our lives. We build community; we explore and reconcile with Judaism; we search for God. Every year as we return to this season we are painfully aware of what is still broken.

But each year doing teshuvah reminds us that we may begin to repair what is broken. We may recover that which has been lost. Teshuvah reminds us that wholeness is possible.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

[24] Pentecost +15(C) - Standing at the Gates of Repentance

Proper 18C / Ordinary 23C / Pentecost +15 - September 5, 2010
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33
Standing at the Gates of Repentance

We are coming up on the Days of Awe.  In a few days is Rosh Hashanah.  The Jewish New Year.  The time when we release everything from the past year which has separated us from God -- including that which has separated us from each other and from our own best selves.

Rachel Barenblat (Velveteen Rabbi) talks about the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, about the work we are called to do to prepare ourselves.  She says that her teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls the spiritual work of that month of Elul tikkun ha-sulam, "repair of the ladder."  She recalls the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder, with angels that ascend and descend -- which begs the question of why the angels begin here with us on the ground rather than up in Heaven.  One Jewish teaching answers that these angels are our prayers -- which begin where we are; and when we reach out to God, God reaches back to us.  She writes:
Reb Zalman's teaching about "repair of the ladder" tells me that the work of this season is work of alignment. We're meant to be aligning that internal ladder so that our prayers can ascend without obstruction, and so that divine blessing can descend in return. If there are obstructions in our relationships -- with ourselves, with our partners, with our families and friends, with our communities, with other communities, with God God's-self -- then blessing can't flow as it should.
I was reminded of this when I read the Luke passage -- about building a tower on a foundation.

Jesus asks, "which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when you have laid a foundation and are not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule you, saying, 'This person began to build and was not able to finish.' "

Jesus, sensibly, exhorts us not to begin a project without a plan for how to bring it to fruition.

But this is counterbalanced by the God in Jeremiah who can rework the clay that is the substance of our lives into an entirely different shape than it is now or than we had planned it to be.

We are called to bring Jacob's Ladder into alignment, to free it of obstructions -- but we can also rest in the assurance that this work is not ours alone.  God is the Potter, the Carpenter, the Shepherd.  It is God's work that we are doing.  And we do well to remember that we are only repairing the ladder -- it is God who has created it.

Ultimately, all our projects are only a part of God's greater project of Shalom.

Counterbalancing the importance of the work of repair, in a later post, Rachel quotes Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem," which I'll quote at slightly more length here:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
Jacob dreams this ladder when he is fleeing from his brother Esau, who is out to kill him because Jacob tricked him out of his birthright. 

Throughout his life, Jacob has trusted in his own cleverness -- and the assistance of his mother -- to subvert the social order and to work situations to his advantage, despite his position as younger brother.

When we are wrapped up tight in our own doings, there is no space to let God in.  We don't want to let God in -- we've got this all taken care of.  God might have some different plans in mind, and who wants that?

But when our own devices have failed, when we leave the world we have known and venture into the wilderness to seek a new place, sometimes our self-assurance is a little bit shaken, and perhaps we let down some of our defenses, and some cracks open up in our shell through which the Holy Spirit can move.

Upon waking from this dream, Jacob says, "Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it."

God is with us not only when we have perfect offerings, when we have perfectly completed all the work of repair and have washed away all the grime of our labors, presenting our shiny clean and smiling faces before God.

God is also with us when we are fleeing the consequences of our own actions -- and is often even waiting with a blessing to offer us, as in this story, where God not only affirms that Jacob will inherit the promise made to Abraham, but also says, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go."  Our lectionary elides this portion of the Psalmist's address to God, for reasons that are unclear to me:
7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,"
12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
God is with us always -- always reaching out to us, patiently waiting for us to make a move toward ascending or repairing that ladder.

Jesus calls us to let go of all that we have in order to follow The Way which leads to eternal life.  For none of us has the tools to build Jacob's Ladder, and so we are asked to surrender to the One who does.

We are asked to open ourselves up to being radically remade -- to give up our gropings for power and control, to let go of our belief that we can do this all ourselves.

"Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words."

Bring your self -- your shaky, wobbly, misshapen, soft clay self -- to the potter's house ... a house perhaps built of strong timbers, on the edge of a wood, so you have to travel a bit out of the hustling bustling "civilization" to reach it ... and settle yourself there, perhaps a bit nervously, as you watch a pair of strong hands throwing clay and you wonder what it would feel like to be that clay on the wheel. 

And as you settle yourself, the potter begins to speak to you, not taking her eyes off her work, but speaking directly to you, in a voice that is gentle but firm, perhaps a bit deeper than you had expected.  She reminds you that She knew you and knit you in your mother's womb.  And She tells you the story of your birth, of how you cried when you were pushed out of the amniotic fluid that had had been your home for months and into the harsh air.  She tells you of how quickly your lungs and eyes and limbs adjusted.  She tells you of the warm bodies, soft and firm, that held you close, that would not left you fall.

She tells you the story of your life -- of the times you fell, of the times you cried.  She reminds you of the times when someone was there to pick you up, to bandage your wounds, to hold you as you cried.  And She tells you that even when no human was there, when you felt abandoned and alone, that She was there beside you, watching you, and weeping with you.

And She tells you that She has such good plans for you -- plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.  And you know that She loves you.

And so when She finishes the piece She is working on, when She has cleaned off Her wheel, and She looks at you invitingly, you nod.

We often express a desire for new life, but we frequently want it on our own terms -- we have a clear picture in our minds of what that new life would look like, and we just want God to make it happen.  The story of the potter here reminds us that there is One with greater vision than ours.

In synchronicity with where we are in the Jewish calendar this week, today’s Jeremiah passage ends with God saying, "Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings."  The Psalmist, in turn, ends by asking God, "See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Wikipedia informs me that:
In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living."
I feel really disingenuous standing here before you extolling reconciliation -- because I am violently angry at someone.  But as I was struggling with that disconnect, I remembered that above bit about Rosh Hashanah.

It would seem to make more sense for the New Year to come on or immediately after Yom Kippur, so that after all this work you start the year fresh, but no, you start the year and immediately you begin a period of concentrated work.

And the Days of Awe aren't just about apologizing and asking forgiveness for the things we have done to others -- faithful Jews are also called to forgive that which has been done to them (or so I am given to understand from at least one Jewish friend of mine, anyway).

I do not get to pursue reconciliation with this person I am violently angry with.  Over and over again she has failed someone I care very much about, and the one time I tried to have a conversation with her about that, it did NOT go well.  She got an apology from me for the ways in which I was arguably out-of-line in that situation, so she probably feels sufficiently reconciled -- but she has also made it clear that she is incapable of providing my friend with what she needs, and is uninterested in trying.  So how do I achieve reconciliation with her?  Pettily I want to scream at her and possibly punch her in the face; but much more than that, I want to change her, to help her grow into the vocation she is pursuing, to help her help my friend.

But I'm not the Potter.  I don't have the power to reshape her, nor do I know what vision the Creator has in mind either for her or for my friend.

Jesus says, "None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Anger is a possession.

Bitterness is a possession.

Spite is a possession.

A desire to control is a possession.

In order to walk in the Way of the One who calls us to new life, we are called to let go of that which binds us to our old lives, that which keeps us twisted in on ourselves.

Letting go?  Not one of my strong suits.  So this isn't work I particularly want to do.  But perhaps the impending Days of Repentance will help me to try.

As we move out into the world, I invite us all to open ourselves, even a little bit, to the transformation God wishes to work in us -- whether that means doing some work of reconciliation or perhaps some other work altogether.


Friday, August 13, 2010

"all the past blot­ted out in the pre­sence of the Liv­ing Pre­sent and the Eter­nal Fu­ture."

I am not surprised that "In The Garden" is one of people's favorite hymns -- it gets requested at Singspiration all the time -- but I still kind of go, "bzuh?" because in my head it is a funeral song (my immediate thought is of my mom telling me that it makes her cry because it makes her think of the fact that it'll be played at her mom's funeral).  Ari loves it because it is a Mary Magdalene/Jesus hymn.  While I have heard the "Mary Magdalene at the tomb" inspiration story in preface to singing the hymn before, I didn't actually really read the words thoughtfully in light of that until tonight.  It definitely makes the "Jesus sends me away" ending to the hymn make a sense that it doesn't if it's a story about going to Heaven.  I guess most people's sense of the song is that it's a happy dream that you've had about Jesus?  I don't really know.  Mostly I just get cranky about the "And the joy we share [...] none other has ever known" -- 'cause yes, each individual's experience is unique and non-replicable, but aren't we singing/loving the hymn because the narrator's experience resonates with our own?

Edit: It also occurs to me that this being a facebook survey means the respondents are likelier to skew younger than if it were, for example, a print survey distributed through the institutional church.

I don't actually have a point here.

So, there's "Women's Work" -- which points out a troubling theme(s?) about how women are portrayed on Supernatural.

And then there's "On the Prowl" -- whose subject is eroticized violence enacted on men. I am so not the target audience for this vid 'cause I'm like, "Ew! These scenes I have seen already? Squicked me the first time. These scenes I have not seen before? Squicking me now." And it keeps escalating (I started having to look away from the screen). People in the comments talk about how it problematizes the hurt/comfort trope and I'm like, "Oh, yeah, that trope which has always held -- and continues to hold -- zero interest for me." [This is an interesting meta post on the two vids, though.]

This morning at the gym, I watched the CNN segment on "Love The Way You Lie" -- the Eminem & Rihanna & Megan Fox & Dominic Monaghan music video -- and then YouTubed it at the office. It's beautiful, both aurally (okay, Rihanna's voice, I mean -- I would gladly skip all the Eminem bits) and visually ... it's really compelling ... but yeah, the message it sends about domestic violence is really troubling.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

[23] "what if no one's watching?" [Pentecost +11(C) Wednesday, Rest and Bread]

Luke 12:41-48

      41Peter said, “Do you intend this parable just for us, Teacher, or do you mean it for everyone?”
      42Jesus said, “It’s the faithful and farsighted steward that the owner leaves to supervise the staff and give them their rations at the proper time. 43Happy the steward whom the owner, upon returning, finds busy! 44The truth is, the owner will put the steward in charge of the entire estate. 45But say the steward thinks, ‘The owner is slow in returning’ and begins to abuse the other staff members, eating and drinking and getting drunk. 46When the owner returns unexpectedly, the steward will be punished severely and ranked among those undeserving of trust.
      47“The staff members who knew the owner’s wishes but didn’t work to fulfill them will get a severe punishment, 48whereas the one who didn’t know them--even though deserving of a severe punishment--will get off with a milder correction. From those who have been given much, much will be required; from those who have been entrusted much, much more will be asked.”
[I extemporized some filler and largely improv’ed the last paragraph, but this is approximately my text.]

what if no one's watching?

There’s a lot going on in this parable, but the part I’m going to focus on is: But say the steward thinks, ‘The owner is slow in returning’ and begins to abuse the other staff members, eating and drinking and getting drunk.

I’m not interested in a “Jesus is coming -- look busy” Rapture theology. Rather, I want to talk about what we do when we think no one’s watching.

I work at a university, and during the summer? No one’s watching. And I’m reminded this summer -- as I am every summer, but apparently I need to keep being reminded -- that when I’m not accountable to anyone for the work I maybe should be doing, I don’t do the work. It’s easy to feel like it doesn’t matter -- because there are no consequences. Rationally, I may know that there will be consequences down the line, but when I’m not accountable to anyone in the moment, it’s really easy to ignore that.

And I think we live a lot of our lives like that. We’ve been given responsibility to be good stewards, but we start to slacken our responsibilities -- we focus on our own fleeting desires at the expense of the needs of others... We bend rules and cut corners in ways we never would if someone were watching.

I don’t endorse an imagining of God as angry judge in the sky, but I invite us to imagine that someone we love and respect is standing next to us, watching us -- because She is. And She loves us. And she has such amazing plans for us. We have been given responsibilities, but we have also been given a Promise. And so I invite you to remember both of those as you move through the next few days.


Friday, August 6, 2010

why history matters

From [personal profile] ephemere's post "Patalim" (trigger warning for descriptions of violence):

Freedom is not forgetting. And forgetting is not freedom. Look at what the loss of our memory has done to us. Look at it, and ask me whether we are better off acting as if the atrocities of the wars and colonizations never happened, as if we have no need for vigilance because the exertion of political and economic will of a foreign power over us cannot happen again, as if we have learned the lessons of the past so thoroughly we will be sure to fight for our rights and the rights of our people to speak and live free, as if we have so fully realized all the evils and all the complexities of power differentials and the abuse of wealth and the exploitation of resources and knowledge and people that we can now equip ourselves to fight against it, as if we recognize the importance of having and claiming our identities and our dignity and the burden and glory that is our history, as if we no longer stumble through the debris and ruin of so many broken institutions and fault ourselves for our own weakness and our own brokenness and the fact that we are not as good and wise and wonderful and wealthy as our former colonial masters. Look at it. Look at how well we have erased the graves, how so many of us go about our daily lives as if there are not more of us being killed every day, how we continue blithely on, the struggles our parents and grandparents and ancestors suffered through mere footnotes in the pages of our books, certainly things that no longer matter in this progressive story of the Philippines in 2010. Look at it, and go on. Ask me.

I don't want to erase this blood staining my legacy. I don't want to forget, as if it never happened. I don't want to keep coming across, "I didn't know the Philippines was a U.S. colony!" as if I do not bear the damage of American occupation written in my nerves and across my tongue. I don't want to see "deathmarching" used as a verb, the same way I deplore how "imeldific" is used as an adjective -- as if history were an erasable thing and words slipping into common parlance an apology or a healing of all these wounds. I don't want people to go on using this in a misguided attempt to remove the blood in it, because forgetting is what gives the evil behind this more power, by allowing the word to go unchallenged and slip under the veneer of acceptability, lightness, cheapening, banality. I don't want the atrocities of war to become equated with mundane things.

I don't want common use. I don't want a sanitized history. I want my stories, past and present, these stories of my people that we have lost and that we're on the verge of losing, held close to my heart and remembered. I want these stories told over and over again, because the need for them will never lift, not the necessity for memory and not the blatant spitting on the dignity of it. I want to claim them though I may choke on tears and tongue in doing so, though I surrender on so many other things daily and remain one frail and weak person still grappling with the fractures in her present and in her past. Because this, too, is part of who I am. Because every story told and every careless use challenged is defiance, is struggle, is me raising my head and saying, this happened, this matters -- is yet another blow against erasure, silence, the unmarking of graves.

[For more, especially on the specific incident that prompted this, check out, for example, fiction_theory/megwrites' post -- links go to LJ/DW, respectively.  Also, manifesta.]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gerasene demoniac!!!

At Rest and Bread last night, Jeff V. reflected on the story of the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). I love this story so much. I think I was properly introduced to it by Amy-Jill Levine at Convo 2008 -- though I can't actually remember much of what she said about it.

Jeff talked about how people often fear the liberator (unknown) more than the oppressor (known).
He said that Tillich defines the demonic as that which we treat as God and which turns on us.
Jeff used the example of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico -- we all agree that what happened was a disaster, but the changes we would have to make in our lives and in society to wean ourselves off of oil seems to be much more frightening than this disaster. [Yes, I know there's no risk-free energy source, but I think the general point stands: that sometimes even when we can indicate a particular problem and a particular solution, we aren't willing to take the risks/make the sacrifices that solution would require of us -- which I think is a common story throughout the Gospels.]

In the shared reflection time, Ian H. said that while Tillich's idea makes sense for some of the demon stories, it doesn't work for him in this story, because Jeff's examples were money, success, etc. -- stuff which if this guy had, society would have welcomed him in. Ian said that this story reminded him more of PTSD -- demons that we created and which we then can't bear to be a witness to, and so we send them away.

Masha commented on the fact that while the man's words (which were really the demon's words) rejected Jesus, the man's physical actions drew him toward Jesus.

At JPLicks afterward, Masha talked about how she grew up in a context where the idea of modern-day miracles was taken for granted, and that she found the prospect of a miracle happening to her really frightening -- because it means we live in an irrational world (what ELSE you thought couldn't happen could?) and also there's the concern: what if there are strings attached?

In the post-service discussions, people kept mentioning the destruction of the swine herd. I pointed out that this story was being told to Jews about non-Jews, so for Jews it would make perfect sense that the unclean demons were sent into the unclean swine who were then sent over the cliff -- that this continuum would have made perfect sense to them (I think credit goes to the bff for this framing of it). [I love that the text Jeff gave me refers to the country of the Gerasenes as being "opposite Galilee."]

At JPLicks, either Al or Masha commented about how people fear that which they cannot understand/control -- in this case, both the demoniac and Jesus.

I read the Sacred Text aloud, both before and after the Reflection, and I am having the same problem now as I did at shared reflection time -- that I have so many thoughts that I don't know what to say.

I was struck by Jesus asking, "What is your name?" This man is afflicted and ostracized, and it feels so tender to me that Jesus asks him his name.
Other people mentioned the power of naming an affliction -- which is also a good point.

Oh, and one more thing: At JPLicks we talked about some about whether demons are real or not, and I said that whether this person was really possessed by demons or was mentally ill (leaving aside the issue of whether afflictions manifest differently depending on how a person's socio-cultural context understands them) or whatever, I felt like one of the major points of the story was that God through Jesus has the power to liberate us from that which oppresses us and keeps us in (nonconsensual) bondage, and can empower us to reintegrate into community.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Old Spice Man meets FeministHulk = best ever

So, when I first encountered "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" Old Spice Commercial, I was uncomfortable.  I didn't have a coherent critique, and I wasn't interested in investing a lot of time/energy coming up with one, 'cause hey, advertising, lots of it is problematic.

And then it became a Thing, and yes, I enjoyed, "Study like a scholar, scholar" (while still having problems with it).

And then fandom sort of fell in love with The Old Spice Man.  Which surprised me a little, 'cause hello problematic, but also wasn't that surprising since when does fandom not fall in love with problematic stuff since linguistically playful and/or highly performative provides lots and lots for fandom to play with.

rydra_wong informed the Internet that "Festibility (index post here) has just received the greatest prompt known to humanity."  Which, trufax.

But then tonight, proving why fandom is one of my True Homes, my best friend pointed me to: The Old Spice Man meets FEMINIST HULK [for more about @FeministHulk, see the Ms. Magazine interview].

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"i always feel i have to open my mouth / and every time i do / i offend someone / somewhere"

I read Molly's "Bald" post Monday afternoon, but didn't have the energy to comment.

Excerpt (emphases mine):
People know that I have a cancer diagnosis and am undergoing chemotherapy, so that gives me a lot of permission. I tire easily, am often hoarse or have mouth sores, so they know I have to use words sparingly. But I’ve taken the permission further, extended it not just to quantity, but to quality of words.

I don’t beat around the bush in emails anymore. I keep it short and sweet. And in in-person conversations, I just come out and say what’s on my mind, what I need, what my family needs, what I can’t bear, what my limits are, what I think is really going on. It has been very, very helpful in establishing boundaries.

And it is such a RELIEF. Maybe it’s a relief to other people, too. Maybe they were very patiently waiting for me to get to the point all these years. Maybe it’s not a relief! Maybe it’s been hard on people, this newly bald me, and they’ll tell me so when chemo is over.

Because the new baldness in speaking also extends to telling people some truths (from my perspective) about themselves. One of my seminary professors, Ellen Davis, said when we were studying the book of Proverbs, which has a lot to say about straight talk, that ‘criticism is a gift.’ I never forgot her words.

And even though I myself for decades have delicately wrapped (constructive) criticism in layers and layers of tissue paper before handing over the gift, I find that I prefer mine given to me straight, even if it’s pointy. Because wrapped in so much tissue, you sometimes miss the gift. It is almost embarrassing to find out that you have been hurting someone, or not living out of your best and highest self in a way that others have been noticing for some time, and you only just figured it out.

You would hope that people who really love you, will tell you when you have food in your teeth. And that they will also tell you when your behavior is harmful or irresponsible or selfish, or just infringing on their boundaries.
I myself have had people who love me confront me, baldly, a few times in my life, and even though it hurt like hell, I was so, so grateful for the gift. It’s not an exaggeration to say it quite markedly changed the course of my life.


So much of the time I think we (ministers especially! This is our fatal flaw!) are nice not because it is the ‘right’ thing to do, the holy thing to do, but because we are terrified people won’t like us if we aren’t. And they might not—that’s a risk we take. C.S. Lewis again: he said we are not called to be nice people, but to become new people.

The end result was, she was thoroughly apologetic and penitent (I think she hadn’t know about chemo, but still), and I bet she won’t forget her keys again. I probably embarrassed her very much. It’s partly my fault—I enabled her behavior for a long time, with my niceness, absorbing her irresponsibility at cost to myself and my family.

I’m not sure if I did the bald talk ‘right.’ It would have been better if I hadn’t been stressed, or if I’d sent a warning shot over the bow. I’ve been accused, and rightly so, of having no middle gear. But I don’t regret doing it. I want to practice doing it more!

We are never, never called to be cruel to each other, of course. That is self-indulgence and immaturity. But there must be a third way, between an enabling niceness that doesn’t call other people honestly to be the person (we believe) God wants them to be, and a disabling cruelty that undoes the other’s self-esteem.

There is something wonderfully refreshing about people just telling each other the plain truth. Not bursting forth in long-pent-up anger. Just enforcing boundaries or offering constructive criticism with brevity, and enough affect and kindness to keep it cool, but not so much that your ultimate meaning becomes obscured.
As I was first reading this, I was thinking, "But I've been growing in spiritual maturity learning NOT to be bluntly openly criticizingly honest all the time! How do you get to compellingly argue that I was right to begin with and shouldn't have been doing all this work?"

But of course as I read on, I was reminded that even "bald" honesty still needs to not be cruel.

I thought of how Laura Ruth commented that in the two years she's known me I've been able to be more gentle on myself and others -- not giving up on my own sense of what's right, but being more aware of the other people who are in the room with me and what their needs are.

I thought about my "Someone is WRONG on the Internet" impulse -- and how I want people to be correct "my way," often regardless of what their priorities/values/etc. might be.

My best friend recently related a conversation she had with someone about me:
Person: "All I heard from Elizabeth was complaining."
My best friend: "But that's how Elizabeth communicates."
We both, of course, know that that's not literally true all the time, but I refer you to ani difranco's "what if no one's watching":
we have to be able to criticize
what we love
say what we have to say
'cause if you're not trying to make something better
then as far as i can tell
you are just in the way
As I attempt to wrap up this post... I think of what Molly said about criticism being a "gift," and I think that'll be a helpful framework for me moving forward -- am I making this criticism because it will be a gift to the other person (and this includes clearly and firmly articulating and enforcing my own boundaries, because if people love and care about me then of course they don't want to harm me)?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This IS one of my spiritual gifts ;)

I've been (slowly) reading They Like to Never Quit Praisin' God (which is growing on me), and I hit this on page 82:
    The author was helped to understand the value of writing to quality and effective preaching upon reading A Writers' Time: A Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision.18  Though the book is written from the perspective of helping people write to publish, the insights about persuasive and effective writing, and the setting forth of methodology that leads to persuasive and effective writing, are an invaluable and immediate help for any preacher who desires to preach well.  In the future, homileticians must give much more attention to the discipline of writing to help increase the effectiveness of sermons.
Yes, the fact that I literally felt excited about the prospect of reading the cited book, even with my tiredness...

And even with my tiredness Sunday afternoon (as I finished writing my sermon for that night), I had a period of hitting that groove where I really loved working with the text (hi, Holy Spirit!), and the preaching went better than I'd expected and CAUMC-Meredith can attest to the fact that I was a little bit radiant afterward.

Monday, July 26, 2010

[22] "Children of the Living God" [Pentecost +9(C), CWM]

This is the text I preached off of. It was a draft, and I was tired, so what I actually preached had a lot more editorializing and extemporizing.

When I copied it from GoogleDocs into Word to print out for preaching, it erased the indenting I had put in to indicate notes I probably wouldn't use, so I ended up including some stuff I hadn't initially meant to. I've put those sections in small font and also edited them a bit to better reflect what I actually said (though for the most part I've left the text as-is, not editing it to be a verbatim of what I said aloud).

The Scripture texts (a mix of The Inclusive Bible and the NRSV) are at the bottom.


Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C / Pentecost +9 - July 25, 2010
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13
Children of the Living God

I did not realize, when I agreed to preach this Sunday, that the lectionary would be in Hosea at this point. I am stubborn in my desire to preach on all 4 lectionary texts, though. And I appreciate the way this passage ends:
"Yet the people of Israel will be as numerous as the sands of the seashore that can neither be measured nor counted. And one day, instead of it being said of them, 'You are not my people,' it will be said, 'You are the children of the living God.'"
Even in the stories of judgment, there is a promise of redemption.

This promise of redemption and provision is the theme of all of today's Scripture lessons.

The Psalm opens with a recollection of God's gracious favor -- and I don't mean "gracious" in the condescending sense of patronizing politeness; I mean full of grace. "The freely given, unmerited favor and love of God." God, you were favorable to your land and to your people, restoring their fortunes, forgiving their iniquity and pardoning their sin, withdrawing your wrath.

So where is that grace now?, the Psalmist begs. "Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?" How long, O God, how long?

God, your love for us is steadfast. Grant us, we beg, salvation.

And Paul reminds us that we HAVE salvation.

The law that bound us, all of our sins and transgressions, these have been crucified. And unlike Christ, they are NOT resurrected. Their power over us is dead.

We share in the hope of the Psalmist. For Jesus promises us, just as you would provide food for your child, or a friend who stopped by unexpectedly, or a neighbor who is banging on your door, so much more will the Mother-Father who loves us beyond comprehension give us good gifts to nurture and sustain us.

The Lukan version of the "Our Father" is strikingly brief, at least to me who has grown up with the version complete with doxology.

I make no secret of the fact that I really don't like The Message version of the Bible, but I do kind of like some of how it articulates this prayer.
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
This simplifies the prayer in a way that I think gets lost in the lengthier version I grew up with.

We call God by name -- a name that puts us in intimate comforting nurturing relationship with God. For some people that is "Father," or "Mother," or "Abba," or one of many other names. Jesus' purpose here isn't to give us the One True Name of God (the Jews who were listening to this already knew that name -- it was the Tetragrammaton) but to remind us of the kind of relationship with have with this God, to name that relationship. This name is just as holy as any of the others. The immanent God who is with us in the sticky, bloody, sweaty, muddy, weepy, mess of being human is just as holy as the transcendent God we contemplate in the ivory tower after a good night's sleep in the air-conditioning, when maybe we are comfortable enough to take our bodies for granted, comfortable enough to slip into that sin of forgetting that God created us as embodied beings and called that incarnation Good.

We call upon the God who birthed us and blessed us -- we call upon that same Spirit which moved over the waters at Creation and which moves in us now, keeping our heart beating even when we are deep asleep and not conscious of anything, even when we are so overwhelmed with all the stressors of life that the last thing we can remember to do is breathe. And we recognize this creative, embodying, power as good.

We ask for sustenance for our bodies -- just for today, just enough to sustain us for today, trusting that tomorrow carries enough of its own worry, asking for all that we need to make it through the day, trusting that God will provide.

And just as we acknowledge the needs of our bodies, so we acknowledge the needs of our souls. Earlier in the prayer we asked that God's kindom come -- that God's New Heaven and New Earth break in to our reality, radically transforming this broken world into a commonwealth of shalom, of peace and wholeness. At this moment in the prayer, we acknowledge our role as co-creators of this shalom. Like all Jews, we are called to tikkun olam -- the repair of the world. If we are to live in a world characterized by radical grace and forgiveness -- and who doesn't? I for one have much I need to be forgiven for -- then we need to forgive others as well. This is usually framed as a conditional -- "forgive us as we forgive others" -- which troubles me, because I need far more expansive forgiveness from God than I am capable of offering others ... and it doesn't square with my understanding of a God of grace for me to languish unforgiven until I've grown in spiritual maturity sufficient to be able to forgive others. The Inclusive Bible says, "forgive us, for we too forgive those who have sinned against us" -- forgive us because we forgive others; forgiving others is something even we flawed human beings can do, so certainly God should be able to do it. There's a long Jewish tradition of reminding God, "Hey, you're really righteous -- this threat you're making doesn't square with that -- wanna rethink the threat?" Here we remind God of Her obligation to forgive us -- and we also remind ourselves of our own obligation to forgive others. We are called to be the Body of Christ in the world, and if the heart of Christianity is radical grace and forgiveness, then we are called to forgive others as God would.

I like the way The Inclusive Bible rewrites the traditional, "Ask, and you shall receive," in the latter portion of Jesus' speech. Traditionally, it feels rather like magic words -- ask for anything and God will give it to you ("Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?"). And if God doesn't give it to you, it's because you don't have enough faith or whatever. But here, Jesus encourages persistence. I was initially somewhat uncomfortable with the story -- your neighbor (God) may not give what you need just because you're friends, but if you pester enough you'll wear her down. Though, okay, the Complementary reading today (we're in the Semi-Continuous) is Abraham bargaining with God -- moving God from, "I'm going to destroy this entire city," to, "Okay, if there are even ten righteous people in the entire city I'll spare the whole city."

But here, Jesus says, "Keep asking and you'll receive; keep looking and you'll find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you." This is less about beating your head against the same door over and over again, and more about a spirit of persistence. The seemingly obvious places we look first may not provide us with what we seek, but God will provide. We may have to look in unexpected places, but we will find what we need.

The Psalmist describes in detail what the kindom promise looks like:
10Love and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
11Fidelity will sprout from the earth
and justice will lean down from heaven.
12HaShem will give us what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13Justice will march before you, HaShem,
and peace will prepare the way for your steps.
"Justice will march before God, and peace will prepare the way for God's steps."

We are called to prepare the way for God.

The NRSV says, "Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet. Righteousness and peace will kiss each other. God will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase." Righteousness will go before God, making a path for God, leading God to us -- and us to God.

But while we are co-creators, we are reminded that we are not solely responsible for this. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead of us -- building God's kindom of Shalom? Possibly above my paygrade.

Here I think Paul is useful.

Paul is responding to a situation in a church where new leaders have come in and set up all sorts of rules about how we are to be "good enough." Paul says, No, you have all you need in Christ.

Paul talks a lot about circumcision -- in his Jewish lawyer way. I'm going to talk about baptism.

In our baptism, we were buried with Christ. The first sermon I preached was on baptism -- on Jesus' baptism specifically -- and I talked about repentance, about turning away from our old life and turning toward God, about starting over. But Paul is much starker here. We die to who we were.

All that separated you from the love of God has been nailed to the Cross -- it is dead and has no power over you.

But we, we have been resurrected with Christ. And NOTHING can separate you from the love of God in Christ.

The fullness of Deity dwells bodily in Christ, and we have come to fullness in Christ.

So we are called to grow in Christ. Do not let anyone say that you are not worthy. All you are called to do is to grow, nourished by the lifeforce of the universe.

The NRSV phrases the end of Hosea as: In the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."

"In the place where it was said of them..."

The places that have rejected you, that have said you are not worthy, that have said you do not belong... they will be transformed by the radical lifechanging grace of Jesus Christ.

We are empowered to help in that transformational process, and we are also blessed with communities that meet us right where we are, that love us for who we are and who we are becoming.

The good news is that we have communities that will provide for us.

The challenge is that we are called to BE that community.

My best friend's pastor once said that "church is not the place we pretend to be well."

We bring our whole selves, and together we are the wounded, resurrected Body of Christ. We show each other our wounds, and we remind each other of God's resurrecting power and grace.


Hosea 1:2-10

      2When HaShem first spoke to Hosea, HaShem said, "Go! Marry a prostitute and beget children of prostitution! For the land is guilty of the most hideous kind of prostitution by forsaking her God."
      3So Hosea married Gomer bat-Diblaim, who conceived and bore a son. 4Then God said to Hosea, "Name him Jezreel, for soon I will take my revenge on the house of Jeru for the slaughter at Jezreel, and I will destroy the dominion of Israel. 5On that day, I will smash Israel's bow in the valley of Jezreel."
      6Then Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter. God said to Hosea, "Name her Lo-ruhamah--'No Compassion'--for I will no longer hold dear the house of Israel, nor will I forgive them. 7But I will hold dear the house of Judah and will rescue them--not by the bow or by the sword or by battle or by horses or riders, but by HaShem their God."
      8Once Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived again, and bore another son. 9God said:
      "Name him La-ammi--'Not my People'--for you are not my people and I will not be your God.
      10"Yet the people of Israel will be as numerous as the sands of the seashore that can neither be measured nor counted. And one day, instead of it being said of them, 'You are not my people,' it will be said, 'You are the children of the living God.'"

Psalm 85

1HaShem, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Israel.
2You forgave the iniquity of your people;
You pardoned all their sin.
3You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
4Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.
5Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
7Show us your steadfast love, HaShem,
and grant us your salvation.

8Let me hear what you have to say, HaShem--
for you will speak peace to your people,
to those who turn to you in their hearts.
9Your salvation is near for those who revere you
and your glory will dwell in our land.
10Love and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
11Fidelity will sprout from the earth
and justice will lean down from heaven.
12HaShem will give us what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13Justice will march before you, HaShem,
and peace will prepare the way for your steps.

Colossians 2:6-19

      6Since you have received Christ Jesus, live your whole life in our Savior. 7Send your roots deep and grow strong in Christ--firmly established in the faith you've been taught, and full of thanksgiving. 8Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some secondhand, empty, and deceptive philosophy that is based on principles of the world instead of Christ.
      9In Christ the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Christ you find your own fulfillment--in the One who is the head of every Sovereignty and Power. 11In Christ you have been given the Covenant through a transformation performed not by human hands, but by the complete cutting off of your body of flesh. This is what "circumcision" in Christ means. 12In baptism you were not only buried with Christ but also raised to life, because you believed in the power of God who raised Christ from the dead. 13And though you were dead in sin and did not have the Covenant, God gave you new life in company with Christ, pardoning all our sins. 14God has canceled the massive debt that stood against us with all its hostile claims, taking it out of the way and nailing it to the cross. 15In this way, God disarmed the Principalities and the Powers and made a public display of them after having triumphed over them at the Cross.
      16From now on, don't let anyone pass judgment on you because of what you eat or drink, or whether you observe festivals, new moons or Sabbaths. 17These are mere shadows of the reality that is to come; the substance is Christ. 18Don't let those who worship angels and enjoy self-abasement judge you. These people go into great detail about their visions, and their worldly minds keep puffing up their already inflated egos. 19These people are cut off from the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Luke 11:1-13

1After Jesus had finished praying one day, one of the disciples asked, "Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
      2Jesus said to them, "When you pray, say,
'Mommy-Daddy God,
hallowed be your Name!
May your reign come.
3Give us each day
our daily bread.
4Forgive us our sins
for we too forgive everyone who sins against us;
and don't let us be subjected to the Test.'"
      5Jesus said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, a neighbor, and you go to your neighbor at midnight and say, 'Lend me three loaves of bread, 6because friends of mine on a journey have come to me, and I have nothing to set before them.'
      7"Then your neighbor says, 'Leave me alone. The door is already locked and the children and I are in bed. I can't get up to look after your needs.' 8I tell you, though your neighbor will not get up to give you the bread out of friendship, your persistence will make your neighbor get up and give you as much as you need.
      9"That's why I tell you, keep asking and you'll receive; keep looking and you'll find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. 10For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted. 11What parents among you will give a snake to their child when the child asks for a fish, 12or a scorpion when the child asks for an egg? 13If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will our heavenly Parent give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

pastoral care: parishioners with mental illness

I recently read Howard W. Stone's Depression and Hope: New Insights for Pastoral Counseling -- which I was optimistic about based on the table of contents, etc., but which failed to live up to that optimism.

From page 67:
Obviously some depression is so severe that it requires hospitalization. The vast majority of melancholics seen by ministers and other church professionals are only mildly depressed, however, and will benefit from skillful pastoral care. [...] As a rule of thumb, ministers do best to see mildly and some moderately depressed individuals, referring the more serious cases to pastoral counseling specialists or mental-health professionals. Both minister and congregation, however, still offer support and pastoral visitation to seriously depressed members who are on medications, have periodic psychotherapy, or are in and out of psychiatric hospitals throughout their lifetimes.
The author doesn't really elaborate on what this "support" would look like, and I am genuinely curious -- you who are in pastoral ministry or pursuing that vocation -- What do you do if you have a parishioner who struggles with severe depression that includes suicidal ideation and self-harm impulses? This hypothetical parishioner has a qualified psychotherapist they see weekly, is on psychiatric medication that seems to be working fairly well, and is "high-functioning" enough to hold down a steady job and present as "fine." But this person was also suicidal enough to go in-patient at a psychiatric hospital for a few days recently. As their pastor, what do you see as your role in their support system? (They have explicitly stated that one thing they need is more one-on-one time with you. How frequent do you imagine that one-on-one time to be? What do you imagine those pastoral care sessions might entail? What do you do if you have a lot of other time commitments -- e.g., a second job, a family, commitments to other justice organizations -- where do you place these pastoral care sessions in your prioritizing of your time?)

I would be hard-pressed to "define" pastoral care (though I'm developing ideas), and I am really interested in what actual pastors would say in answer to this question. (And also what parishioners might want pastors to say.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

permission to be ordinary

I just read a post by Cat Valente, about how we all want to be Protagonists of a Big Exciting Story, and at the end of the post she says:
But every day it doesn't happen, and the water bill has to be paid, and the rent still goes up, and no one has a flying car, and we can't even see the magic of our handheld, world-networked devices because if we were living in the future it would be a better story, and no one would feel lost the way we do, and no one would be confused as to where they stood, and no one would be unsatisfied, or afflicted with ennui, and everyone would be a hero.

And if we were the final generation, cradled in the hands of an angry God, no one could ever say we were ordinary.
And my immediate reaction (channeling my best friend's sermon) was, "But the good news is that we are ordinary."

As I was reading Cat's post, I often found myself thinking, "I do not want the Apocalypse to come, because I have no useful skills in case of apocalypse, and it would not be a good experience at all." And when I got to the end and channeled the opening line of Ari's sermon, I thought that yeah, it is good news that we are ordinary. We do not have to be Exciting Protagonists. We just have to live our own lives, to live into who God created us to be.

And each of ours is a beautiful story. We are, each one of us is, a bright brilliant beloved child of God who is so so beautiful to behold. God gives us permission to be ordinary. God says that we are beloved just as we are.

(Interestingly, I was thinking about Christine Lavin's "Katy Says Today Is the Best Day of My Whole Entire Life" earlier today.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm going to have to make this myself, too, aren't I?

Thanks to a conversation with a friend, I now want a website with the official polity, judicial precedent, etc. of all denominations on full inclusion of GLBT persons (ordination, membership, etc.).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"I tore these out of your symbol, and they turned into paper"

Catching up on blogposts today, I read:
Serendipitously, Adam Gopknik in the current edition of The New Yorker, writes that often the edgy spirituality of Jesus as recorded in the gospels sounds a lot like Jack Kerouac: not some programmatic radicalism of a national revolution, but "the Kerouac-like-satori-seeking-on-the-road" of the Beats at their best.
Having recently read (and been very affected by) Horsley's Jesus and Empire, I went, "No!" -- and then I went to look for the article ("What Did Jesus Do?: Reading and unreading the Gospel" by Adam Gopnik - May 24, 2010).

I don't agree with everything in the article, but I did find a lot of it striking.

In Mark, the voice says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” seeming to inform a Jesus who doesn’t yet know that this is so. But some early versions of Luke have the voice quoting Psalm 2: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Only in Matthew does it announce Jesus’ divinity to the world as though it were an ancient, fixed agreement, not a new act. In Mark, for that matter, the two miraculous engines that push the story forward at the start and pull it toward Heaven at the end—the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection—make no appearance at all. The story begins with Jesus’ adult baptism, with no hint of a special circumstance at his birth, and there is actually some grumbling by Jesus about his family (“Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor,” he complains); it ends with a cry of desolation as he is executed—and then an enigmatic and empty tomb. (It’s left to the Roman centurion to recognize him as the Son of God after he is dead, while the verses in Mark that show him risen were apparently added later.)

While accepting a historical Jesus, the scholarship also tends to suggest that the search for him is a little like the search for the historical Sherlock Holmes: there were intellectual-minded detectives around, and Conan Doyle had one in mind in the eighteen-eighties, but the really interesting bits—Watson, Irene Adler, Moriarty, and the Reichenbach Falls—were, even if they all had remote real-life sources, shaped by the needs of storytelling, not by traces of truth. Holmes dies because heroes must, and returns from the dead, like Jesus, because the audience demanded it. (The view that the search for the historical Jesus is like the search for the historical Superman—that there’s nothing there but a hopeful story and a girlfriend with an alliterative name—has by now been marginalized from the seminaries to the Internet; the scholar Earl Doherty defends it on his Web site with grace and tenacity.)


    To a modern reader, the relaxed egalitarianism of the open road and the open table can seem undermined by the other part of Jesus’ message, a violent and even vengeful prediction of a final judgment and a large-scale damnation. In Mark, Jesus is both a fierce apocalyptic prophet who is preaching the death of the world—he says categorically that the end is near—and a wise philosophical teacher who professes love for his neighbor and supplies advice for living. If the end is near, why give so much sage counsel? If human life is nearly over, why preach in such detail the right way to live? One argument is that a later, perhaps “unpersonified” body of Hellenized wisdom literature was tacked on to an earlier account of a Jewish messianic prophet. Since both kinds of literature—apocalyptic hysterics and stoic sayings—can be found all over the period, perhaps they were merely wrenched together.
    And yet a single figure who “projects” two personae at the same time, or in close sequence, one dark and one dreamy, is a commonplace among charismatic prophets. That’s what a charismatic prophet is: someone whose aura of personal conviction manages to reconcile a hard doctrine with a humane manner. The leaders of the African-American community before the civil-rights era, for instance, had to be both prophets and political agitators to an oppressed and persecuted people in a way not unlike that of the real Jesus (and all the other forgotten zealots and rabbis whom the first-century Jewish historian Josephus names and sighs over). They, too, tended to oscillate between the comforting and the catastrophic. Malcolm X was the very model of a modern apocalyptic prophet-politician, unambiguously preaching violence and a doctrine of millennial revenge, all fuelled by a set of cult beliefs—a hovering U.F.O., a strange racial myth. But Malcolm was also a community builder, a moral reformer (genuinely distraught over the sexual sins of his leader), who refused to carry weapons, and who ended, within the constraints of his faith, as some kind of universalist. When he was martyred, he was called a prophet of hate; within three decades of his death—about the time that separates the Gospels from Jesus—he could be the cover subject of a liberal humanist magazine like this one. One can even see how martyrdom and “beatification” draws out more personal detail, almost perfectly on schedule: Alex Haley, Malcolm’s Paul, is long on doctrine and short on details; thirty years on, Spike Lee, his Mark, has a full role for a wife and children, and a universalist message that manages to blend Malcolm into Mandela. (As if to prove this point, just the other week came news of suppressed chapters of Haley’s “Autobiography,” which, according to Malcolm’s daughter, “showed too much of my father’s humanity.”)


    As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like.


    In Mark, Jesus’ divinity unfolds without quite making sense intellectually, and without ever needing to. It has the hypnotic flow of dramatic movement. The story is one of self-discovery: he doesn’t know who he is and then he begins to think he does and then he doubts and in pain and glory he dies and is known. The story works. But, as a proposition under scrutiny, it makes intolerable demands on logic. If Jesus is truly one with God, in what sense could he suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, horror, and so on? So we get the Jesus rendered in the Book of John, who doesn’t. But if he doesn’t suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, and horror, in what sense is his death a sacrifice rather than just a theatrical enactment? A lamb whose throat is not cut and does not bleed is not really much of an offering.
    None of this is very troubling if one has a pagan idea of divinity: the Son of God might then be half human and half divine, suffering and triumphing and working out his heroic destiny in the half-mortal way of Hercules, for instance. But that’s ruled out by the full weight of the Jewish idea of divinity—omnipresent and omniscient, knowing all and seeing all. If God he was—not some Hindu-ish avatar or offspring of God, but actually one with God—then God once was born and had dirty diapers and took naps. The longer you think about it, the more astounding, or absurd, it becomes. To be really believed at all, it can only be told again.