Tuesday, May 31, 2011
For several years after I first moved to Atlanta, my roommate and I took the week before Memorial Day off for vacation. That way we got both the pre-Memorial Day lower rates plus an extra day off. We'd leave town on Friday after work and drive to the beach and not return until about midnight on Memorial Day, giving us ten full days of vacation using only five vacation days.
We always went to Pawley's Island, South Carolina, and stayed in a quadraplex unit at the South End which featured both a screened porch and a deck. (The other units had one or the other but not both.) I think the first year we stayed there the cost came to about $125 for the week. We then moved down the beach to the Tip Top Inn for the extra couple of days (with meals) for another $50 or so.
Since we lived in a busy city with plenty of activities and nightlife, our vacations were designed as true getaways. Each of us packed an entire bag of books, plus Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, and our daily agenda was something like this:
Breakfast on the screened porch, watching for dolphins
Morning on the deck, reading
Long walk down the beach before lunch
Lunch on the screened porch
Afternoon on the beach, reading, throwing frisbee, swimming, bird watching, etc.
Another long walk
Dinner on the screened porch
Beer and games
Repeat the next day
And one day we would spend in Charleston, usually the day we needed to get over some sunburn.
We had very different tastes in books, but we enjoyed telling each other about what was happening in whatever we were reading. It wasn't unusual for each of us to read five or six books on the trip, plus we got to hear about five or six more. I always had my bird identification book, too; we loved to watch the little sanderlings running on their wind-up legs along the shoreline and there was a large assortment of ducks on the pond at the place where we checked in. Our meals were pretty ho-hum by my current culinary standards (cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, mac and cheese) but that made our one or two forays into town for seafood dinners extra special.
The most exciting thing that happened on one of our otherwise dull-looking (to others) vacations was when my roommate's car caught on fire. It was the day we drove to Charleston and we pulled into a restaurant and suddenly lots of smoke was coming from under the hood. Fortunately, just as we got out, a truck pulled into the parking space next to us and the driver got out carrying a fire extinguisher. It was as if our guardian angel had arrived complete with tattoos and a fire extinguisher in the back seat of his truck. We got the car to a garage and they found a crack in something and fixed it and we were on our way. That was kind of how life seemed to roll back then.
Those were great vacations.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Today, in our reading from Acts, the book we always read from during the season of Easter, the book that tells of the spread of the Way, the Jesus movement, from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world, we get to overhear a short sermon from Paul in the city of Athens, the ancestral seat of all things sophisticated - fantastic arts and architecture, poetry and plays, athletics, and the Greek language spoken by Paul himself, the language of the empire. Athens was the home of the great philosophers. Its streets were lined with temples, statuary and monuments, and rhetoricians (of which Paul is an excellent example) honed their craft every day in the public squares.
And Paul was there, having a few days off, waiting for the heat to blow over after some unpleasantness in Thessalonika.
Paul walked along in this legendary city and saw the temples, and statues and mosaics and, perhaps, shook his head, thinking, “These people are headed in the wrong direction. I wish that they could see the light, and perhaps I can help them see it.” But in a brilliant, and I must say somewhat uncharacteristic move for Paul, instead of condemning them, Paul looks to find common ground with the Athenians.
As he speaks, he engages them by meeting them where they are and treating them as legitimate conversation partners in their different approaches to God. How often do you see that?! These days it seems that to find common ground with those with whom we differ only gains us the accusation that we are not being true to our own team; discussion seems to be set up so that there is always a them to our us and the object of any conversation is simply for our side to win.
Paul is not interested in playing that kind of game here. He meets the Athenians where they are. He recognizes that they are religious people who exhibit public piety. And he starts the conversation by praising those things, instead of condemning them and castigating their practices. He quotes from their own cultural canon and expresses appreciation for the things they appreciate. He speaks as one who also gropes for God, and who understands their yearnings to find God, too. He approaches them with the attitude that their culture contains the means of ascertaining religious truth. Again, how often do you see that?!?
And then he urges them to hear his story, a story about a God who has acted in history by raising Jesus from the dead, Jesus, the one who came to reconcile the world to God and us to one another. He speaks the Gospel to them, but in a way that seeks to find resonance with their culture and understanding. He interprets the story using new language, new imagery, that moves beyond its home base into a world far away from Palestine.
This doesn’t change the basic truth about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for the world’s salvation. But the Gospel always has to find new words for new circumstances. The culture the Gospel encounters is always changing, always evolving, and Christians and the church have to find new ways to speak to the changing world. And this is not easy.
For one thing, we know that we stand somewhat apart from the world - we are in the world but not of it, as is often said. Sometimes we feel tension about that and find ourselves unsure how to stand apart without simply rejecting, or how to take part in the world’s business and pleasure without losing our souls. We wonder where the lines are and get caught up in what sometimes amounts to trivia in the face of the cosmic story of salvation. Is drinking a little sherry OK? Is buying Elvis Presley records OK? Is Facebook OK? Are mosques in our neighborhood OK? Are we selling out to the world if we aren’t constantly drawing lines and more lines?
And then there is the problem of having one’s faith challenged through an encounter with something entirely unexpected. In-laws of another race or faith tradition. Teenagers. A diagnosis, a death, an announcement of some reality we aren’t ready to face. (Feel free to insert the reality you weren't ready to face here.)
Every generation has to do this. To find ways to live out the Gospel in whatever situations we encounter, which means we need to be open to other people’s realities. From the Gospel of John we know that the Holy Spirit is the one who leads us into all truth, who helps us test things out, who helps us be true to the Gospel in whatever new situations we encounter. The Spirit is trustworthy if we will but listen for the Spirit’s promptings. Jesus reminds us today as he told his disciples on that night before he died that the Holy Spirit is like Jesus himself, the Spirit is another advocate who abides in us. Who guides us. Who whispers of love to us, who helps us see past the surface and into the heart of things. Who helps us speak and live that love to those who need to hear and feel it.
And Paul’s Athenian sermon reminds us that we ought to do so in a spirit of generosity and openness; to be willing to see new ways the story can be told and lived. To remember that Jesus came so that everyone might have life abundant and not be afraid to see the possibility of life in places that may at first challenge us.
The church’s history, right up to last week, is riddled with examples of rigidness, of drawing lines to say who is in and who is out. It is so easy to fall into the same old trap of thinking there must be winners and losers, that for one person to be right another has to be wrong, that we have to line up on one side or the other, that we cannot stoop to finding common ground or else we betray our cause.
The saddest thing I read in the media frenzy about the folks waiting for the Rapture was the story in which some parents told their children that they would be left behind when the parents were taken into heaven on May 21st because the children did not believe as the parents did. I cannot imagine how those children will not feel that their parents betrayed them. Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned. Would that those parents could have done the same.
I am sure those parents were wrong. And yet, in light of our story today, I wonder how might we speak to those parents with compassion, to find common ground, to respect their dignity as children of God and appreciate their faith in hopes of being able also to speak to them about a God of love who does not leave children behind?
And on this Memorial Day weekend and this week after yet more devastation from tornadoes, let us remember not only those who have died in service to our country but also let us remember that there is nothing loving about picketing soldiers’ funerals with signs that blame gay people for those soldiers’ deaths. That there is nothing loving in proclaiming on your website that those who died last week in Joplin were struck down by God because Americans are more and more coming to believe that same sex love can be true love. I admit I have a lot of trouble imagining that I have any common ground with the people who are picketing in Joplin today as our President visits that city, but I cannot preach God’s love without recognizing that we are all children of the same creator. I am sure that they are wrong, and yet, I have to wonder how I might speak to them with compassion about a God who does not hate and cause death but weeps and grieves with those who weep and grieve like Jesus at the grave of Lazarus.
This doesn’t mean we don’t speak our own truths, but it does mean that we do so with humility, with a generosity of spirit. God is love. Jesus says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments: And Jesus commandments are all about love. Love God, love neighbor, love one another as he loved us.
We must have the courage to speak and live the Gospel of love in ways that others can hear in the places where they are - which may well be dark, sad, and lonely - even twisted - places as well as situations that are just different, things we just don’t understand in the way my grandparents couldn’t understand Elvis. The world is full of people who are lost and desperate to find acceptance and meaning in their lives, and if our response is to simply draw lines between ourselves and them, we have failed to live out the good news about the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
We don’t need to be afraid of new places and new realities, because the good news is the same as it always was - that ours is a God who showed through Jesus Christ that love - not rules, not dogma, not even doctrine but love - is stronger than fear. That love is stronger than betrayal. That love is stronger than death.
For this is our Easter proclamation: Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Today's Saturday morning movie is from Father Matthew Moretz of Rye, New York - the latest in his series of videos called "Father Matthew Presents." This one is about the kiss of peace. It features popcorn and a monkey. See for yourself.
and did send your blessed Son to preach peace
to those who are far off and to those who are near:
Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you,
bringing the nations into your fold,
pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Friday, May 27, 2011
The wind blew down some branches here and there and our power was out for a couple of hours. Three people were killed from falling trees. Looking at the storm on the radar, it was slightly donut shaped, with red and yellow on the leading arc, light green or clear in the middle, and then yellow on the back side. During the donut hole period, my younger son called for me to come and pick him and a friend up from a third friend's house. So, off I went, dodging recycling bins and branches in the street (the water had all managed to make it into the storm drains by then), trying to calculate the route in which I would encounter the fewest stoplights, which would probably be out.
As I neared the first intersection, I saw a runner headed across the street. He was soaked, as runners often are by one means or another, and running along at what looked to be a relaxed pace. At first I was appalled. No doubt more thunder and lightning and wind was coming and here this guy is running down a tree lined street.
Then I remembered a run I made in the rain.
More than ten years ago, I decided to walk in the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day, a 60-mile walk from Lake Lanier to Atlanta, to raise money to promote awareness and provide for early breast cancer detection and treatment, especially for low-income women. (The Three Day is now run by the Susan B. Komen Foundation and has broadened its focus.) I spent many hours out walking, training for the event. I'm not a runner, but I do like to walk and was excited by the challenge of walking sixty miles just over a year after my own breast cancer was diagnosed and successfully treated thanks to early detection.
My training walks were often seven to ten miles or so, and I tried to stay on schedule as much as possible. One day, I was about halfway through my walk, four or five miles from home, when a drenching rain began to pour from the heavens. I'd been pushing it, knowing rain was possible, but thinking I'd beat it home. I was walking through a leafy tree-lined neighborhood and suddenly, as some thunder boomed in the not-too-far-off distance, realized I needed to get home as fast as I could.
So I started running. I am not a runner. I don't really like running. But, fueled by pure adrenaline, I ran those four or five miles without stopping, through puddles that soaked my shoes even as the rain soaked the rest of me. And when I got home, I felt great.
I'm still not a runner; I probably haven't run more than a mile in the last ten years. I can't imagine going out to run in bad weather on purpose. But I remembered the thrill of that run yesterday as I watched the guy splashing down the street; I hope he got home before the next round of wind and lashing rain.
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them the peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The best kind of sprinkler was the one that shot many tiny jets up into a fan-shaped arc that gently waved back and forth. Since the base was on the ground, you could jump over it as the aluminum bar slowly tracked through its not-quite-180 degree path, and the fine spray didn't threaten to put your eye out the way the oscillating sprinkler on the pole did. Although I liked better the hissing/ratcheting sound the sprinkler on the pole made.
The best thing was to go to the pool, of course, and when I was older that's what I often did, but little kids can play in the sprinkler while Mom or Dad accomplish some other things around the house or yard. Going to the pool meant (for the parent) not doing much of anything else during the day, until we were big enough to be dropped off. The think I remember most about the pool from my very young days was how I stayed in the water until my lips were blue and how I'd get wrapped in a big warm towel until I stopped shivering.
I like to be around water. Even now, I don't mind the time spent watering the plants in the yard (on the proper days of course, now that we do have watering restrictions). I like to hear the sound of it and smell it and rinse off my hands with the hose. I don't use a sprinkler but water by hand so that most of the water gets to the roots of the plants. And mostly I just water those plants in planters - the stuff in the ground needs less attention. And I keep the birdbath full.
Occasionally I'll be visited by a hummingbird while watering. They are attracted to the sound and will fly through the spray if I provide it for them. Here the hummingbirds only pass through twice a year - they aren't resident - and so the best time to see them is late summer when they stay for a few weeks, feeding heavily for the trip south for the winter. The first time I was visited by a hummingbird while I was watering (many years ago when my garden was new and I needed to water more often as the plants were getting established), we were both rather surprised. It was early morning and I was sleepy; the buzzing sound at first just barely registered, and then the bird itself flew through the arc of water from the hose a few inches from where I was standing. I started. It flew away. But for several mornings after that, it appeared both to enjoy my flowers and to play in the sprinkler.
Read more about Augustine of Canterbury at the Holy Women, Holy Men blog of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music here.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Memorial Day was originally a day to honor the dead from the American Civil War. In fact, more than honoring, it was a day of reconciliation; flowers were put on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery in the 1870's. After World War I, Memorial Day was changed to be a day of remembrance for soldiers who died in all wars. It appears that we will always have wars and always need a day of remembrance and even more we need to have days of reconciliation.
War is not what it used to be. For one thing, we don't declare war so much as we just engage in it. The U.S. is involved militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. President Bush declared that we were fighting a war on terror. I don't know if that's what we are still doing or not. Fighting and killing, no matter what the impetus or the plan or the goal, all seems like war to me.
For another thing, our general citizenry appears to be paying a different kind of attention to war than was the case, say, during World War II, when the whole country was involved in some sort of war effort. Now only some of our country is involved in a war effort that for many is just something that's going on in the background. And Memorial Day celebrations mirror that - it's more about the fact that the pool is opening or that there's a great sale on outdoor grills and cars than it is about cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves or stopping to remember and talk about war and its effect on our families and our country and our lives.
But in the end, people are still dying. And so we must still remember and hope that one day there will be reconciliation.
The BCP contains this prayer for our enemies:
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 816)
Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Is there anything lovelier than a bee among the roses?
Summer is here, even if we technically have another month of spring. Today is the last day of public school, and almost all the roses are finished blooming. Some will put out a few flowers throughout the next couple or three months, but they will be much smaller and there will be many fewer blooms on all but a couple of the shrubs than there were in April and early May. The bees will revel in the blooms they do find but are moving over to enjoy the black and blue salvia that is beginning its flowering now.
For a few years I had some Bluebeard shrubs (caryopteris) that the large bumble bees absolutely adored. In the mornings on the way out to the car to take the children to school, we would find tens of them sleeping on the blooms, small black balls with fuzzy yellow stripes clinging to the blue flowers while swaying in the gentle breeze. It looked like the aftermath of a costume/slumber party without the attendant pizza crusts and soda cans. A few others preferred the Mexican sage (salvia leucantha) that was in a warmer spot nearby. Some mornings we thought all the bees in the neighborhood had spent the night at our house.
The bee population has been under severe stress these last few years, but I'm happy to say that's not true at my house. We have bumble bees, honey bees, carpenter bees (yes, they drill holes in the facia boards and yes, I let them), along with wasps and other pollinators. I always have some flowers and some water for them. Sometimes they have to share with the hummingbirds.
We all get along just fine.
Lord God, in your providence Jackson Kemper was chosen first missionary bishop in this land, and by his arduous labor and travel congregations were established in scattered settlements of the West: Grant that the Church may always be faithful to its mission, and have the vision, courage, and perseverance to make known to all people the Good News of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Monday, May 23, 2011
First, the non rapture. Lots of people have had interesting things to say about it and I don't have a great deal to add. But I do want to emphasize that there are some people who are seriously wondering what to do with their faith right now, and I hope that we as a community can have compassion on them.
Yes, Mr. Harold Camping is a false prophet. "Rapture science" is neither science and nor theology. The claim that Christians make every time they make Eucharist together ("Christ will come again") is foundational to our belief, but how and when that happens is nothing but speculation. We're supposed to live every day as if Jesus were coming back today, and that is hard enough. The Bible, not even the book within it called The Revelation to John, is not a code to be cracked. Armageddon, the Rapture, and the like are the stuff of imaginative people like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and plenty of others in the last century, and their work in this area does nothing to help us live as if Jesus were coming back today. If anything, it is born out of fear instead of faith; it gives a false sense of pride, of some sort of warped sense of security, and as we have seen in some of the media coverage, it wrecks families. Followers of Mr. Camping quit jobs, stopped saving for their children's college, told their children they were, sadly, not going to be seeing them in heaven after the rapture; and those things, my friends, are not what followers of Jesus would do.
But I have compassion for these folks. If this is what their faith has been based upon, they are reeling now. Some of them no doubt will continue to believe despite the evidence to the contrary; denial is a powerful thing. Some will leave any sort of faith behind, having been burned. And I hope some will strive to find a new faith community based on something more solid than end-times predictions and codes - like the love of God and love of neighbor that transforms us all, especially during our darkest hours. We all have had our disappointments; I hope we can be compassionate and generous, as the Christian community is called to be, towards those who are so disappointed now.
The second thing is that God does not send tornadoes to wipe out anybody's neighborhood. Let's just don't go there. (See my posts here and here about my thoughts on where God is in this kind of destruction.) Let us pray for all who have lost so much in this latest tornado disaster in Missouri and for those who are working hard in the rescue and recovery efforts. And find ways to donate our time or money to help those who are displaced.
And thirdly and actually most importantly to me because this is real life real time in my own life, there is a new development in the juvenile court case I wrote about here. The good samaritan who intervened and broke up the assault is someone who already works with troubled teens. He was, as we all were, very sad about the defendant's decision to take the entire punishment for what the whole group did, although he completely understood why he did it; this man understands the code of the street as well as anyone. He did, however, have some conversation with the assistant district attorney who was prosecuting the case, and the ADA has now arranged for the good samaritan to work with the defendant and his mother between now and the sentencing date to see if he can counsel the family on other options besides the one the boy has chosen so far. Compassion abounds here as well as courage and generosity. Kudos to the ADA for being willing to step outside of the system's box. This course of action may not be enough to turn the boy around, but it does give us all hope that his life might be transformed through relationship rather than the dimmer hope that it will be transformed through the juvenile detention system.
Wow, and it's only Monday. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Much of my participation was as one of those who witnessed vows and promises.
On Saturday, I went to the wedding of two my seminary mates; the bride is also the daughter of friends who were among the guests at my own wedding twenty-two years ago. The wedding was at the seminary chapel, and most of the people involved were at seminary with me, and the organist was my systematic theology professor (and father of Indigo Girl Emily Saliers). I enjoyed being part of the crowd in the pews, watching my former school mates doing their work around the chapel.
This morning, I watched my son and his Sunday school cohort, along with another of my seminary mates, and others be confirmed (the classmate was received) by the Bishop.
After the service of confirmation, I was privileged to be the priest who prayed and laid hands on those who came for prayers and healing after the Eucharist. I am always grateful for the privilege of sharing in people's lives this way.
It's been a busy and happy weekend. I love what I do.
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Friday, May 20, 2011
(My son and his friend were not seriously injured, but the experience shook them up. The hearing, and their duty to testify in court, was also an experience that made a deep impression on them. They realized that while they were victims of a crime, their actions in court also meant that the defendant, who is only fifteen, a year younger than they are and who was not the ringleader of the group that attacked them but who refused to implicate the others, will be incarcerated for several years. And they did not rejoice in that. They understood the difference in their lives and the life of the defendant as well as the similarities. They understood the connection we all have with one another in our society and how actions and reactions, actions and consequences, are interwoven and sometimes murky. I was moved by their compassion.)
As with many court proceedings of this type, we had some time to sit around and wait in a couple of different waiting areas. Upon arrival, we were directed into a large waiting area to sign in. I noticed a couple of children's sized tables and chairs in addition to the adult seating. Those little chairs and tables, which I am glad to say were empty, made me sad. Later in the day, after the hearing was concluded and we went downstairs to another area to finish up the paper work, we were ushered into another waiting room, and this one included a toddler play area with a couple of stuffed animals and several large manipulative toys such as an abacus, interlocking gears, and bead mazes.
On the one hand, I am glad that attention is being paid to the fact that little kids have to come along and hang around at juvenile court. When my children were babies, it was hard enough to get public places to acknowledge that we needed baby changing areas in restaurants and stores. It is good that the courts recognize that little kids are present and that age appropriate seating and activities are being provided. It is good that the system recognizes that kids come with families and that a problem with one family member may well signal problems with others and that all ought to be involved in whatever proceedings take place.
On the other hand, it is so sad to see that the juvenile court is frequented by little children - little brothers and little sisters of kids who are going through the system; some are even sons or daughters of offenders themselves.
Another common sight at the juvenile court are notices on bulletin boards and walls that say things like, "Are you worried about someone having an alcohol problem?" (with some explanatory text and instructions on how to call Al-Anon or Alateen) or "Hitting women and children is NOT traditional" (with information disputing claims that domestic violence is acceptable in Native American culture and, again, how to get help) and charts explaining what domestic violence is next to the cards of attorneys and social workers who are trained and ready to help victims of domestic abuse.
Again, I am glad that these signs and notices and posters are there. My own son asked me about the drinking one, as he wasn't sure what it was about; we had a short discussion about co-dependence, enabling, covering up someone's drinking which keeps them from suffering the consequences of their behavior, and the 12-step programs that help them refocus on their own lives instead of the addicts' lives. I imagine that others for whom the question is relevant may see it and seek help, and I am glad. I am glad that someone realizes that people who are hanging around at juvenile court may be part of families that have been or are being destroyed by addiction and abuse and doing something to publicize programs and people who want to help.
But I was, overall, just sad. Sad that a fifteen year old kid was in front of a judge after his seventh arrest. Sad that his mother sat beside him, completely surprised at what she was hearing. Sad that little kids spend the day at court with their families instead of playing outside or at preschool. Sad that children don't know that they don't have to protect their addicted parents, sad that children don't have parents who will protect them. Sad to look at the facts about domestic abuse: to see that one in four women is sexually abused and that nearly forty percent of all women who come into emergency rooms are there because they have been battered by their partners. Sad to see that a woman who stays with her batterer is abused at least seven times each year, to see that a woman is in the most danger at the time just after she leaves the batterer.
These societal problems are so large, and so complex, and so difficult to even understand, much less to figure out how to address. Most of us are at best unsure what we even think about family systems that have become so toxic; do we blame the mother, the father, society at large? How do we reconcile the need for accountability, a desire for justice, with a love of mercy? Do we need someone to blame so that we don't need to take into account the fact that we are all caught up in a web of exploitation and degradation, so that we don't have to see people who are hanging around at the juvenile court and detention center as part of the fabric of our own community and society?
And since this is an Easter reflection, where does the resurrection fit in to this scenario? Where is the redemption, forgiveness, transformation, reconciliation? When we say we want justice, are we just talking about punishment?
Big questions with no answers. But much to ponder, and although I am no stranger to the world of those people who live on the margins, I am sure these images from the juvenile court will stay with me for a long time.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
As someone who has been tagged with this description (including, on occasion, the "annoying" part), I wonder at our desire to find a gene for everything. I certainly get it that some folks have personalities that are sunny or are, simply, optimists. They see the silver lining in clouds and the glass is always half full instead of half empty. Is this really genetic? Or does labeling something "genetic" give an opinion or general observation the added weight of biological scientific backup?
What's the difference between and among our genetic makeup, our tendencies, our personalities? What part does the nature vs nurture argument play? (There is a field of study called personality genetics, which speaks to this question, in, naturally, a scientific way.) Are we the way we are solely because of the way our genes tell our brains to work? Or does our environment and personal history have any bearing on our tending towards being either a Tigger or an Eyeore? Is there a quota so that humanity is not too much in one camp or the other?
And while we ponder that, it seems that half-full people annoy half-empty people and (to a lesser extent) vice versa. I have noticed how much more frequently people talk about being annoyed since I've become an adult. Is this new, or am I just now noticing? When I was growing up, going around talking about being annoyed by everything was not really kosher, at least around my house. We were supposed to put up with each other without a great deal of complaint - that's what family and friends do. Perhaps we suffered in silence. Whereas our kids feel free to admit how annoying just about everything and everybody is or can be. They get annoyed at school and at home and on the internet. Lots of things are annoying, as it turns out. Who knew?
I can't say that I am frequently annoyed. Maybe that's because I'm an optimist, a glass half-full, sunny personality type. Or maybe it's because I was taught not to be annoyed - or at least not to verbalize my annoyance - as a child. Hmmm.
At any rate, we are all made in the image of God. Even when we are at our most annoying.
This is one of my favorite saint-day prayers!
O God of truth and beauty, you richly endowed your bishop Dunstan with skill in music and the working of metals, and with gifts of administration and reforming zeal: Teach us, we pray, to see in you the source of all our talents, and move us to offer them for the adornment of worship and the advancement of true religion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(From Lesser Feasts and Fasts)
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works:
Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give,
so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will,
and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies,
may live in peace and quietness;
through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
No doubt most of the younger set are looking for some down time while at least a few of the parents see a potential wasteland of couch potatoes, video game controllers in hand, lying among the crumpled potato chip bags. Didn't we mean to sign them up for some camps? Didn't we mean for them to get summer jobs?
The economy may be reviving, ever so slowly, but there are still a dearth of jobs out there, especially for the unskilled and inexperienced. Many teens have so many extra curricular activities that getting a job during the school year and perhaps the summer as well has been out of the question. And now all are wishing for meaningful summer activity with at least enough down time worked in to feel as if they've had a summer.
When I was a teen, I spent much of my summer swimming or playing golf or lying on my back in the grass looking at the sky. But for at least one week during the summer, I often had a job, helping out with Vacation Bible School. I supervised little kids and their popsicle-stick projects, babysat in the nursery, read stories to the older children, and played the piano for our daily morning assembly. We sang songs like God of Our Fathers (the piano has a great part on that one - da da da DUM DUM) and America the Beautiful. Looking back, I realize how much we conflated religion and patriotism in those cold war days. At least we did in our church.
The ideal summer has meaningful work, fun, travel, and time for both enjoying relationships and digging into a hobby or skill. There is time to linger, time to slow down and deepen relationships, time to learn a new skill or perfect one. Time to look for meaning and time to be silly and lighthearted. Time to even "waste" just lying on one's back looking at the clouds or watching the waves. Time to read what one wants to read instead of an assignment.
But we are all used to being scheduled now, even though we know that most of us and our children are and have been overscheduled.
What I want to remember is that summer is just different. And to thank God for that.
Monday, May 16, 2011
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number,
creatures both small and great.
There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan,
which you have made for the sport of it.
All of them look to you
to give them their food in their due season.
You give it to them; they gather it;
you open your hand,
and they are filled with good things.
(BCP 736-7: Psalm 104:25-29)
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Gospel reading from John 10:1-10 was not actually "I am the good shepherd" but "I am the gate for the sheepfold." ("I am the good shepherd" comes in the very next verse, v. 11.) Still, the reading begins with Jesus describing the good shepherd who is not like the thieves and bandits (think Ezekiel chapter 34 here, who described the bad shepherds who pushed aside the sheep and fouled their water with their dirty feet). The bandits are those who have climbed into the sheepfold without authorization from the gatekeeper (who is God). But the good shepherd knows the sheep by name and calls them by name; the sheep hear the good shepherd's voice and know that voice and follow it. They respond to the good shepherd's voice.
In the Gospel of John we can think of several times when this calling and answering plays out. When Jesus goes to see Mary and Martha in Bethany after Lazarus has died, Martha tells Mary that the teacher is calling her and Mary runs out to meet him. Then at the tomb, Jesus calls to Lazarus and he comes out of the tomb. And then in the garden after Jesus' death, the man Mary Magdalene mistakes for the gardener says her name and she recognizes him as her "rabbouni."
The last verse in today's reading is one of my very favorites, and one that really sums up what Jesus is about for the Gospel of John: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Jesus is the life. He tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. At the very beginning of this Gospel, in verse 4, we learn that "what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." So the good shepherd, unlike the bad shepherds who scatter the sheep, who push the sheep aside, who foul the water for the sheep, is the one who gives the sheep life abundant.
Many of us struggle with the idea of life abundant for all of God's children, even though it is a central theme for Jesus in John. Jesus is all about life abundant (see the wedding at Cana, the loaves and fish, the huge haul of fish, etc. in this Gospel). But we still struggle with the concept. Aren't we supposed to embrace poverty and not do too much dancing and enjoying and all? Does life abundant look like a nice car and house and many possessions? Does life abundant have anything to do with money or success? How do we measure success? How do we imagine life abundant for ourselves?
And how do we think about life abundant when it comes to others? As a society, Americans hold sacred stories of those pioneers who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps; we revere the self-made person; we say that anyone can become president or be successful if he or she (usually he) works hard enough. We can make our own abundance. So why do we need to worry about others having life abundant? They can have that for themselves if they do the right things. We don't need to provide it for them.
But do you hear that? We can make our own abundance... And we don't need to provide it for others...
At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to some of the disciples who had gone fishing. He makes them breakfast on the beach. And as they are sitting around a charcoal fire (there had been another charcoal fire, when Jesus was arrested, around which Peter stood warming his hands and denying Jesus three times) Jesus turns to Peter again. He asks Peter, "Do you love me?" And Peter says, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." And Jesus says, "Feed my sheep."
Three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" And three times Peter says, "Yes." One yes for each previous denial; all cancelled out now. And three times Jesus commands Peter: Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.
Jesus came so that his sheep might have life abundant. And Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep." Do we have anything to do with providing abundance for others? You do the math.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
On Friday I attended a breakfast put on by the Atlanta Faithful Lawyers group, of which my husband is a founding member and the administrator/clerk/scheduler guy. The majority of the men and women in the group are Christians, along with a smaller number of Jews. Various members of the group get together monthly for an informal coffee (kind of like a colleague group only not facilitated) and quarterly for a breakfast with a speaker. The overall "theme" of the group is about practicing law as a person of faith and the struggles that sometimes emerge when the two clash. And also it's a format in which people of different faith traditions can get to know one another through their common vocation.
The group has wished for a while to have more interaction with Muslim lawyers and Friday's speaker was a practicing Muslim who also practices law in Atlanta. He came to talk about his upbringing in Georgia as an immigrant who lived through a dramatic racial demographic shift in his neighborhood and school as a high school student and then as a law student in Washington, D.C. at the time of the September 11 attacks. He also talked about his practice today and the areas in which Muslims are singled out for interrogation, discrimination, zoning battles and the like and how he works both with individual Muslims and mosques, and also with local government agencies and judges to help raise awareness about these issues.
(To that point, there was an article in the New York Times yesterday about the harassment and detaining of two Muslim immigrant soldiers who were recruited by the National Guard to become Arabic translators. I strongly encourage you to read that article - click here.)
The lawyer's story was compelling - he wanted us to know that he's just a regular guy with the same desire as many of the others in the room to use his career to help people. He also reminded us that Muslims have been around all along but suddenly Americans are noticing them. He said that he believed that many Muslims (he was particularly thinking of those like him who are from Southwest Asia - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) tended to keep to themselves and not become integrated into society. And now they find themselves under suspicion.
When we are suspicious, we don't check out the rumors that go around. Someone from another culture with extreme views speaks or acts and everyone assumes that the extremist speaks for everyone in that culture. No culture or religion is a monolith, and yet many of us will not take the time to learn the nuances of other cultures. We don't take the time to check out wild claims (particularly about religion) to see if they are wild rather than mainstream. We don't take the time to get to know people and find out how much we really have in common, including loving and being loved by our Creator. We fall into thinking that there is an "us" who are pitted against "them."
This is, of course, the classic immigrant story. Folks move to another country, live near one another in the same neighborhood, and practice their religion and their cultural activities (food, language, music and arts, literature, social get togethers) both to practice their traditions and also to preserve their traditions and pass them on to their children. But those around them see them as separatists who do not wish to assimilate. I don't know how it works in other countries, but Americans are often suspicious of people who don't speak English (what are they saying???) or who don't cast aside their traditions (theirs) in order to take up new ones (ours).
Early Christians fell into this category themselves. They had their own traditions and they were secret - they didn't let just anybody come to their gatherings. What they were doing was illegal anyway. People weren't supposed to gather in secret meetings - they could be plotting against the Emperor. We tend to forget this about our own history, to excuse ourselves because hey, we're Christians and it was about Jesus so it was all right.
And America is a country of immigrants. All of the big cities have their neighborhoods in which traditions are practiced and preserved - Little Italy, Chinatown, Irish Catholic neighborhoods, etc. We love to visit those neighborhoods to eat, to attend and enjoy their cultural festivals. But at the same time, many Americans also expect the immigrants to fit in to our society. Immigrants have always struggled, with varying degrees of success, to find a balance between being tradition bearers and preservers and assimilating into the society around them. And the dominant culture struggles as well as to what stance to take towards immigrants and those who live in cultural enclaves.
I personally believe that it is important to preserve and pass on traditions and that we do not all have to be the same. In fact, our communities are strengthened, not weakened, by diversity of all kinds. What we do need to do, and I think the speaker feels this way as well, is to build relationships across traditions so that others can understand and appreciate us and our ways and we them. When we close ourselves off, associating only with like-minded or homogeneous groups, we stunt our growth as individuals and make society weaker instead of stronger. If we can get to know one another, we can learn that others are not threats to us and build on our commonality to strengthen society - not just tolerating one another but appreciating one another and what they bring to the table where we all sit.
The breakfast speaker suggested that the best thing to come out of the morning was the contacts he was making with all those assembled. Now they knew about him and he knew about their group and could join the group and bring his friends to participate in what the others are already doing: sharing their stories as faithful lawyers, getting to know one another, and being equipped to witness to the rest of the world when intolerance breaks out.
Faithful people in small group gatherings, making friends across faith traditions, sharing stories, building community - this is good stuff!
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Just thought you'd like to know.
Actually, what this picture reminds me of is a colleague group. Colleagues - and here I am particularly thinking of clergy - who as they exercise their vocations spend a lot of time with others, perhaps helping them with the loads they carry, giving a little support or direction - these folks need to come together every now and then - once or twice a month, say. Exchange ideas, talk shop, get support for themselves as people who support others, chew the fat about nerdy church stuff that our make our spouses' eyes glaze over. Commit to knowing one another and journeying together. Laugh together, cry together, nod knowingly, be empathic/tickled/outraged on one another's behalf, speak the truth in love occasionally, name something out loud that just needs to be named, hold one another accountable, eat lunch or go out for a beer, be friends.
My life and my vocation have been enriched so much by being part of a clergy group. In fact, I have two groups - one that meets on a schedule and another is a group of women who graduated from seminary with me that meets more irregularly.
I hope you have such a thing in your life, too.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Remember the story of the ugly duckling? The odd egg is hatched in the duck's nest and the odd baby doesn't fit in with the rest of the ducks; it is ridiculed and shunned and finally it runs away. It has some pretty sad experiences, feels isolated, and only occasionally finds anything positive in its life. But one day it sees a reflection of itself and realizes that instead of being an odd duck, it is really a beautiful swan, and it joins a swan community and is finally restored to well-being in relationship with other beautiful swans, its own kind.
I always felt so sad about this story. So what if it turned out to be so beautiful in the end - all that it endured must have scarred the swan for life. It was scarred already by the beginning of the story's ending. How is there a "happily ever after" for one who has been damaged by such harsh treatment? I think about people who do seem to be so scarred; some of them never seem to find happiness or even acceptance.
And yet I guess plenty of people find the story to be helpful - to know that enduring hardship is not all there is in life - that there is beauty, too. That inside those who think they are misfits are truly beautiful creatures that will become whole when they find out who they are, they discover their own beauty and find a home in their own communities, too. That all of us have had times of being treated badly. That's all good.
Of course, the old fairy tales were told to make a particular point, usually about transformation from lowly to regal, and often include times of testing and misery and not fitting in because in reality you (the prince, princess or whatever) are better. You are above the ordinary and mean.
Now in our postmodern age, we start asking questions about the story from other perspectives, other viewpoints. We don't buy the story wholesale but look at the different parts and play with them, too. While Hans Christian Andersen may have had one major point to make about personal transformation, we see many points and many points of view. I always get stuck on how being treated so badly must have made a lasting impact on the poor creature and wonder if that all fell away at once or if there should have been an Ugly Duckling II in which the swan finds a wise mentor to help it heal its scars and shed its feelings of unworthiness.
Because being treated badly doesn't just disappear. The experience of being the victim of meanness taps into and reinforces our innermost, secret fears about ourselves - that we really aren't worthy, we really are useless or ridiculous or total misfits. We really are ugly ducklings after all, even if someone else thinks we're swans. We know better.
In the end, I think it's the community part that's the most important aspect of this story. The swan finds its community, and therein it will find healing. Would that we had more stories about that part. I think many of us need to hear them.
Heavenly Father, we remember before you all those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.