Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Some years ago I went to the Theater in the Square in Marietta to see the one-man performance of The Gospel of John in which the actor Brad Sherrill dramatically recited the entire Gospel by himself. If you saw the play, you know that certain seats in the front rows were designated by the actor to be the place where he would go when Jesus interacted with certain characters in the story.
I happened to be sitting in the seat where he would be encountering Philip. I didn’t know this when I sat down, but I was rather pleased at the beginning of the performance when the actor stopped in front of me and said, “Follow me.” I glowed with a bit of pride, as if Jesus had come to me himself.
It was a little less exciting when he stood in front of me sometime later and asked me, “How are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” I suddenly felt put on the spot. Thank goodness he walked away to deliver my answer that six months’ wages would not buy enough bread to feed the 5,000.
Then he got to Chapter 14 and stood in front of me and said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” And I wanted to jump out of my seat and fall onto my knees and ask forgiveness. “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?”
Oh, I was convicted. It was as if Jesus himself stood in front of me, looking me in the eye and saying, Penny, have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?
This part of the story in John, despite its many layers of history, theology, and symbolism, its layers of past, present and future, of words working on multiple levels, is still fairly simple. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to dwell among us, moved into our neighborhood as Eugene Peterson says, became one of us, to show us God. But the incarnation had to end; if Jesus was truly human, he would die, and he did die.
And he knew he was going to die, and he was trying to explain this to his followers, the small group that was left. He was leaving, he was going back to God from whom he came, and they were staying behind. But he would send another Advocate (Jesus having been the first Advocate, the first to be sent to us by God) so that the disciples and then those who came after them could continue the work Jesus began.
And that’s what happened - Jesus died, God raised him from the dead, Jesus breathed the Spirit onto the disciples, and he ascended to the Father (at least that’s how it works in John). The incarnation was over, the Son returned to the Father, but the age of the Spirit had begun. The Spirit would help them know how to continue the work Jesus began and empower them to do it.
But if Jesus walked with them all this time and they still did not know him, which is a pretty universal message in all the Gospels, not just for John, then might that also be true for the Spirit? Has the Spirit been working in and around us all this time and yet we still have not known it?
Later in John, just before Jesus was arrested, Jesus says one last thing about the Spirit. Jesus says that he has many more things to say but that the disciples cannot bear them now. But, he says, the Spirit will help them when these things become known, when these things are manifested in the world. The Spirit will lead them into all truth.
In other words, life goes on, the world changes, we mature into people and lives that were unthinkable to us when we were younger. And the work of the Spirit will be ongoing forever as well. New things are going to come up. Things that the disciples could not imagine. Things that we cannot imagine. The world has changed and is going to change - as Cardinal Newman said, “to live is to change.”
Nostalgia for the past is not what Jesus is preparing the disciples for. Life in a locked up room is not what Jesus is preparing the disciples for. Jesus is preparing the disciples for life without his physical presence by promising to send them the Spirit to walk with them into that new life and to empower them to carry on his work. The Spirit will be present to interpret what Jesus has already said into new situations, in this new life. The resurrection, of course, was only the first thing that the disciples could not imagine.
We have to have the eyes to see the Spirit at work, though, just as Philip had to have the eyes to see God through Jesus. We have to allow the Spirit to teach us again and again. And so on Pentecost, we don’t just commemorate the gift of the Spirit in the past, we are not to be nostalgic for the time when the church began to come together in a burst of fire and ecstatic speech, but we are to ask ourselves, where do we see the work of the Spirit now? What is God doing in the world now - is God doing something now that people before would not have been able to bear? Is God doing a new thing? Is the Spirit showing us that there are new ways of knowing and seeing God and the things of God? Is the spirit showing us new ways of being community? Were there things that we could not bear before that the Spirit can teach us and interpret to us now? Has the Spirit been with us all this time and we did not know it?
It is understandable if we do not always recognize the work of the Spirit right away. A poet-friend and member of St Bartholomew’s, Kendall Lockerman, wrote a poem a couple of years ago about Pentecost, and in it he ventures that “Pentecost... is the day when the Holy Spirit came down to roost on the heads of the apostles and the Holy Spirit set their hair on fire. The apostles appeared to know from the very beginning that dealing with the Holy Spirit was going to be weird....The Holy Spirit is as weird now as she ever was. Rock on, that.”
Life accompanied by the Spirit is often unsettling. Jesus’ work itself was unsettling - eating with sinners and outcasts, touching women and lepers, doing unauthorized things on the Sabbath, preaching love and forgiveness, turning things upside down, relentlessly providing abundance through ridiculous amounts of wine and bread and fish. First century weirdness, that.
The Spirit empowers us to continue Jesus’ work - what benefit to the world is the incarnation if when it was over, the work was finished? Only part of the work was finished, the part that only Jesus could do. For if the work was finished, then there would have been no need for him to send the Spirit to interpret and empower. Jesus’ work was about showing the world what God is like, who God is, and what God means for the world to be like. The Spirit comes among us to remind us about the abundance of life in God - the wine at Cana, the loaves and fishes upon the mountain, the raising of the dead at Bethany, the forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery, the breakfast on the beach at which Peter is redeemed and we are all given to understand that Jesus needs us to feed his sheep and tend his lambs. Those things are not over.
And so Pentecost is not just about rejoicing that the gift of the Spirit was given in the first place but also about rejoicing that the work goes on, understanding that it is up to us now to recognize and celebrate the Spirit at work and to ourselves continue the work that Jesus began. Work that was unsettling and weird and upset the establishment and was costly to everyone engaged in it as it will be for us as well.
But it was and is work for healing, work about abundance, work to make love known - to be love - in a world that is hurting and degraded and lonely and hungry.
That work does go on and it can be just as unsettling now as it was back then. It might look weird. It might be costly. It might be something we could not have borne before or think we cannot bear now. We may not always recognize it even when we are in the midst of it.
It might look like worshipping with homeless people, it might look like sharing dinner with mentally ill folks, it might look like caring for children, it might look like befriending strangers. It might look like giving more than we are comfortable giving and stepping outside into God’s world to work for healing and providing abundance so that everyone, even we, can see and know that the Spirit has been among us all this time.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I was privileged to address the senior class of The Walker School at their Baccalaureate service this year. This is the text of my address.
So, graduates, I understand that you all are ready to move on, to get on with your lives, maybe make a fresh start somewhere else - at big schools like Auburn and Georgia and medium sized schools like Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt and even fun-sized campuses like Agnes Scott.
Some of you want to continue to participate in the athletic or theatrical or musical endeavors that you honed here at The Walker School. Some of you are looking forward to making new friends and discovering new fields of study and taking up some new activities.
I bet most of you can hardly wait to go to orientation and move into your new living space and start your new life. I won’t venture a guess about how your much your parents and siblings are looking forward to that day as well.
But I imagine everyone is pretty excited about the future, your future - not only you but your parents and teachers and the school administration who have supported you throughout your years at Walker, being there for you, challenging you guiding you, cheering you on.
And I’m betting that all of you are just a little bit nervous, too, about the future - your future. And if you’re not, you should be......Because as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
You have surely been treated to many quotes during your journey through high school. Graduates of a school such as yours no doubt have heard that both the Bible and John F. Kennedy proclaimed that “those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” You’ve probably been advised to heed Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss” or reminded that Confucius says “wherever you go, go with all your heart,” or encouraged to heed Emerson’s advice “not to follow the path but blaze a trail” and to “hitch your wagon to a star.” All of which are great things to remember.
But those quotes are telling you about you yourself and what people think you ought to do. I’m asking you to think about what life actually is, first and foremost, and how it ought to be lived. What is life, and how ought you to live it?
If your driving principle is about figuring out what you you are supposed to do so you can do it, then you are narrowing your scope to focus on your own goals and your own activities and your own self. And that, my friends, is a narcissistic life that in the end is nothing. The world has plenty of that already.
No, life is a either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Do you think Sergey Brin and Larry Page (the guys who started Google) think of life as an exercise in caution? Does the first American woman and youngest astronaut to go into space Sally Ride think of life as a series of movements around her comfort zone? Is the great jazz and classical trumpeter and composerWynton Marsalis concerned with plotting out a careerand then climbing the corporate ladder?
These people live adventurous lives, they are willing to take risks, to learn from anybody, not just certain authorized people; they are willing to imagine and wonder what could be and not be satisfied to take the safe route. They are always curious, always ready to start something new, to reinvent their worldview, always ready to expand their universe.
Sergey Brin is a Russian born Jew, and his parents emigrated to the United States when he was six in the midst of a wave of anti-semitism in the USSR. His college days at Stanford were not only focused on computer science but there he learned to ski and rollerblade, and he then took up gymnastics and trapeze; when his dad (who mostly wanted to know if Sergey was going to get a PhD) asked if he was taking any advanced courses, he replied that he had just signed up for advanced swimming.
The other Google Guy, Larry Page, likes to tell students about a signature Google phrase:“Maintain a healthy disregard for the impossible.” And by the way, the Google company provides free meals to its employees, including home delivery to those on parental leave, as well as onsite healthcare and yet has a phenomenal bottom line.
Sally Ride says about herself in the Astronaut Hall of Fame page: “I have been a bit of a risk taker all my life.” Her parents explain that while they encouraged Sally in her activities, what they mostly gave her was permission to explore. She began her career as an astronaut by answering a newspaper ad seeking applicants for NASA’s space program, an ad to which 8,000 other people also replied. She has since created programs to support young school girls who are interested in science.
From the time he was eight Wynton Marsalils joined every band or musical group that asked him to play with them, regardless of musical style; and started his own band at 19. After winning Grammy awards in both jazz and classical genres, he continues to play in a dizzying variety of venues and collaborates with other artists all over the world. He personally funds scholarships for aspiring young musicians and is a patron of hundreds of charities of all types.
Or consider the story of Australian Jessica Watson, who last Saturday, at age 16, sailed her 30-foot pink yacht back into the Sydney harbor 210 days after she sailed out of that same harbor to circle the globe, nonstop, all by herself.
Or John Wood, who left his important and lucrative job as Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Greater China Region to collect books for kids in Nepal and deliver them in boxes strapped to the backs of yaks. His non-profit Room to Read has now opened 1100 schools and 10,000 libraries in Asia and Africa.
But you certainly don’t have to find a cure for cancer or jump out of airplanes to live life as a daring adventure. Although I hope some of you will - the world needs adventurers of all kinds to be examples and encouragers of others as well as a cure for cancer. But as I said, what I’m advocating is an attitude about how you think about and thus strive to live your life.
Becoming rich or famous or important is not at all the point. The point is to perceive life as a either daring adventure or nothing, because the way you perceive something determines how you will treat it. That last statement bears repeating: The way you perceive something determines how you will treat it. Your life is a great gift from the Holy One, and to live it shallowly is to treat it as nothing.
As with many things, including religion, there are practices that help bring us to and keep us connected to the way we want to be. So here are some suggestions for practices of someone who sees life as a daring adventure: These suggestions are not about “what to do” but more about “how to be.”
Be curious. Seek out the holy. Try new things, not to build a resume but to exercise your curiosity muscles and stretch your imagination and feed your soul. Be willing to take risks. Explore and expand your world. Be interested in everything and keep an open mind. Try the trapeze, learn to fish. Travel widely, not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim and citizen of the world; learn other languages - read a whole book in another language. Cook, and invite people to eat with you. Change your mind. Talk with all kinds of people and expect to learn from everyone you meet. Dream big and, think different. Love unconditionally. Make friends with people from other races, countries, creeds, political views, socio-economic statuses, and learn to see the world through their eyes. Expect to fail sometimes; after all, Edison did thousands of experiments before finally producing a light bulb that didn’t quickly burn out. Failure is a great teacher. Let the words “imagine” and “curious” “generous” and “explore” be your daily companions. And when you have children of your own, teach them these things, too. Teach them that life is too precious to be spent being focused on other people’s efforts to label, channel and contain them, for that is a nothing life.
And whenever and wherever you can, give back. Give things away. Give away money so that it doesn’t become your God and rule you. Give away your time. Give away your expertise in anything from medical treatment to unicycle lessons. Believe me, living a life dedicated to giving things away in our materialistic-amassing-of-money-and-stuff culture is absolutely positively daring.
And it will absolutely positively make the world a better place. You will want to do this- to make the world a better place - when you perceive - through taking life seriously enough to explore it thoroughly - that the world is both beautiful and broken. And which you will need to do, because the world is not going to become a better place all on its own.
I’ve already mentioned some famous people who live life as a daring adventure. Now let me tell you about a man you may have never heard of: Robert Sperry grew up during the Depression years. He was attending college in Maine when the United States entered World War II. Sperry was a college swimmer and because he had been trained as a swimming instructor, it became his job to teach Army and Navy pilots and engineers not only how to swim but to swim through water covered in burning oil. He realized that not only did he want them to learn how to make path through flaming water but he wanted to help them stay calm when faced with crisis.
Later, at a summer job at a boatyard, he was 60 feet in the air working on a mast when his boss’s young daughter fell off the dock and drowned before he could get to her. He discovered that many of the people working at the yard didn’t know how to swim. So he gave swimming lessons to both the children and the adults in the community. He was just a summer laborer in hard economic times, but he saw an opportunity to give back to the community, not only teaching people who lived in coastal Maine how to be safe in the water, but also to introduce them to the joy of swimming.
After college, Mr. Sperry became a school guidance counselor, a career choice born of his passion for the welfare of others and his realization that he could actually help people save their own lives. In the early 1970s, he became interested in Heifer International, the nonprofit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability via animal husbandry and farming. His grandfather owned a small farm on which he raised a few cows. When his grandfather died, Mr. Sperry inherited the farm. He began to raise goats on it and he donated one to Heifer. He travelled to Africa and the Dominican Republic to see Heifer’s work firsthand. And now in his late 80’s, he is still raising goats, and has donated nearly 100 of his goat kids for Heifer to send to families in Latin America.
Mr. Sperry’s life has not been glamorous but it has been a daring adventure, especially for someone who said that when he was your age his only goals were to come back from the War alive and get a steady job.
Graduates, each of your lives is stretched out before you. The way you perceive your life determines how you will live it. So, as you go forth into the world, be curious. Imagine. Explore. Be generous and make the world a better place. Because life - your life that you have been graciously given by the Holy One - is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
The scene in Phillipi is quite exciting, isn’t it? Unlike the previous events in Acts, this story is told as an eyewitness report - “WE came with Paul and Silas to Phillipi, a Roman colony.” And as a Roman colony, meaning it was founded by Roman soldiers, there is a well-organized government complete with plenty of laws and customs. People are coming and going in the marketplace, there in the center of town, engaged in all sorts of business, from the dyed cloth trade of Lydia to the fortune-telling trade of the slave girl and her masters. This is a thriving Roman hotspot.
Paul and Silas and the rest of the gang are like tourists in any foreign capital, staying for a few days in this vibrant European city, going about looking at all there is to see in a Roman colony outside Palestine, and spending time in the marketplace.
Of course we know that wherever Paul goes, trouble soon ensues, and so it does here. Paul becomes annoyed that this fortune-telling girl keeps telling everyone that these men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to all a way of salvation. Which is odd, really, because of course this is true. Paul often describes himself in his letters as a slave, a prisoner of God, and the Gospel Paul proclaims is in fact the way of salvation. She is telling the truth, she has divined correctly. Various scholars have tried to explain Paul’s peevishness away, but there it is. She annoyed him, and finally he had enough and called the spirit of divination out of her.
And then, off we go. Paul’s action causes an uproar in the city. The slave girl may have been freed, but now she has no way to make money, and her masters are more than annoyed. They are incensed.
They seize Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace, hauling them before the judges to accuse them of disturbing the peace of the city by bringing their Middle Eastern Jewish customs into this Roman European culture. This event has been a symbolic battle of the gods as well - for Apollo was the patron of divinization - and Paul, in the name of the Most High God, defeats Apollo in this exchange. According to the slave owners, these Jewish foreigners are outside agitators, to use a phrase often employed here in the South back in the 1960’s, and the crowd responded to the rabble rousing as rabble will, joining in the attack on the Jewish foreigners who dare to come in and try to shake things up, to do things that will have social and economic consequences, that will change the established culture. How dare they?!
So, the judges, without any deliberation, order Paul and Silas to be flogged and thrown into jail and locked into the stocks in the innermost cell.
And then there is another uproar - during the night, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in the jail, perhaps witnessing in some way to the other residents of the prison, a violent earthquake shakes everything so much that the prison door bursts open and the chains fall off of all the prisoners.
The jailer, who wakes during the violent earthquake realizes his honor will have been lost if his prisoners have escaped under his watch, and he prepares to throw himself upon his sword, but Paul calls out to him that all is well, they have not run away. Because this is a story about the Gospel, not an adventure tale with a daring escape scene.
And so the trembling jailer throws himself at the feet of Paul and Silas and says, “What must I do to be saved?”
I really resonate with the jailer. He’s just a guy trying to do his job, and he is in the crossfire, between two great but opposing powers - the power of the city magistrates on one side and the power of a violent apparently God-caused earthquake on the other. His question is absolutely understandable. In the face of all these shows of power over which I have absolutely no control but which I am clearly at the mercy of,
where is my sanctuary? Where is my shelter in the midst of all this upheaval?
And the answer? Believe. Believe the story, believe the witness we bring. Believe that God wants you to be saved.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just believe. That’s all.
But of course the jailer does more than just believe - he binds up the wounds of Paul and Silas - remember they were flogged - he washes their wounds, and he feeds them in his own home. Not so that he can deserve salvation, but in response to the wonderful, nearly unbelievable proclamation of the Gospel: Believe that God wants you to be saved.
I think many of us don’t really believe that God wants people to be saved. I think many of us really believe that God has a checklist and is just waiting to punish people for their sins. Some of us may believe that God will find us wanting and is just waiting to give us our just desserts.
Others of us may believe that somehow we ourselves will come up on the right side of the column but that other people won’t. And some us us have our own lists of people we just know God wants to punish. Or at least we know that we want God to punish.
We just have a hard time believing that God is that good, that God is not sitting up there on a cloud waiting to pounce on those who do not measure up. We fear that God wants, and even needs, to be separated from us because we’re not good enough, we’re not pure enough, we’re not worthy.
And frankly, the mostly secular world out there thinks that this is what Christianity is about. They see the church fighting over who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is not worthy, and they get the message loud and clear that being Christian has got something to do with purity and exclusion and punishment.
But what does Jesus say?
The Gospel reading today allows us the rare privilege of overhearing Jesus at prayer. In previous verses, Jesus has prayed for his disciples and now he goes on to pray for us, too - those who will believe because of the witness of the Gospel, meaning us. Jesus prays for us.
And what Jesus prays is that we will be caught up in the life of God the way Jesus is. That we will be close to the father’s heart as Jesus is. That we will participate in the life of God that Jesus has made possible by coming to live among us for a time in order that we might have life abundant.
And that life in God is shown through love. Jesus came into the world to show God’s love, to BE God’s love in the world, and after Jesus is gone, after he has ascended to the Father as he said he would, the disciples - and by extension we - will be the love in the world that Jesus showed us how to be. Jesus does not pray that we will be pure or that we will be worthy. Jesus does not petition God to punish people. Jesus did not come to set up a system of privilege and exclusion.
Jesus prays that we will have the love in us that God has for Jesus. That we will love, that we will BE love.
The Gentile, Roman jailer showed that love to Paul and Silas - those Jews from Palestine, those who were considered outside agitators by the local leaders, those who were jailed without a hearing, those foreigners who were both influencing the economic system and messing with cultural practices. The jailer showed love by opening his heart to them, by washing their wounds, and by feeding them in his own home.
We live in exciting times and places, too. Sometimes too exciting. There’s much in the news that reminds us that we too are powerless in the face of earthquakes and volcanoes, oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, bombings and attempted bombings at home and abroad, plane crashes, and tragic attacks on children in China.
We live in a country where people lash out at foreigners and spit on their political opponents. It’s not hard to ask the same question that the jailer did: in the midst of all this stuff over which I really have no power, where is a safe haven? Where is my sanctuary in the midst of all this upheaval? What must I do to be saved?
And the answer is love.
List to what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on the radio program “Speaking of Faith” last month: He said, “There’s no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but... at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love. You and I and all of us are incredible; we are remarkable things. We are, as a matter of fact, made for goodness.”
Believe that God wants you to be saved, believe that God wants the world to be saved. Believe that God loves you, believe that God loves the world. Believe that God is good and you were made for goodness.
And then act accordingly. Befriend and stand up for the stranger. Bind up people’s wounds. Feed them. Be love.