Monday, October 26, 2009

the dawn workers

Matthew 20:1-16

For me, the story of the vineyard manager is one of the most intriguing parables in the Bible. We know the story: the owner goes out early in the morning and hires the available workers for his vineyard. He then goes out again at nine, noon, three, and finally five o'clock. It's only with the first ones that he negotiates the daily wage; the rest he tells he will pay what is "fair".

Everyone lines up at the end of the day to be paid… and that's when it goes all wrong. What was he thinking? One of the first rules of management is the privacy of salary. It's why Christmas bonuses come in sealed envelopes. You don't walk around handing out the money so everyone can see what everyone else got. Because obviously the ones who work the hardest and need it the most get the least. We know that. We call it seniority. Or hierarchy. Or whatever. It's well ingrained. I was here first. I get the perks.

Only not in God's economy. The first will be last and the last will be first. Not fair! we scream.

I can relate to both groups because I have been in both positions. I have been the first to arrive and the last to leave from my job and was still fired because of someone's ridiculous political agenda. In my religious community I came very late in life, yet have been accorded the same honor as those who entered in their teens.

Not fair, we whisper. But do we ask why? Why is it fair after all is said and done?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

time is on our side

Mark 10:17-31

Our celebrant Sunday was all over the place with his thoughts on the Gospel... maybe because it was one of those "hard teachings", the ones where Jesus tells us something we really don't want to hear. Sunday's Gospel was the one about the rich young man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. We've probably all heard it a million times: first, the man is reprimanded for calling Jesus good, then he says he'd already kept all the ten commandments. But then there's something like an aside: it says next that Jesus loved him.

We don't know why he loved him, but apparently there was something... some spark, some gesture, a look... and then Jesus said the worst thing the guy could have heard: Go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. And the fellow went away grieving because he was very rich.

Grieving. He didn't go away mad. That's telling, don't you think? Usually when I hear something I don't like, my reaction is to take offense. Who do you think you are to tell me what to do with my money, my life? And our celebrant seemed to think that was significant as well.

"Time is on our side," he said. Because there will be other opportunities. In elementary school it's called a do-over, and I've had enough of them in my life to agree. I quit college in my third year. But when I was thirty I went back to school and did it over and graduated. I mustered out of the Navy three months before I was eligible to sew on my third class crow. But six years later I joined the reserves, took the test again, passed again, and was able to eventually rise to the rank of second class petty officer. Do overs. They are everywhere.

We don't know what that young man did after he grieved. He may have thought about it and figured Jesus was on to something. Maybe not. The Bible leaves us hanging... but time was on his side.

Friday, October 09, 2009


I attended an Insight reunion/seminar last weekend and reunited with people I haven't seen in twenty years. With some, it was like yesterday. I felt the same kind of connection as I recalled emotions we had shared in various hotel ballrooms. I personally was looking to rekindle some of the magic those early seminars had provided.

I wasn't disappointed. All the clichés about "you can never go home again" are true and then again, they aren't. I went home to a place I'd almost forgotten existed. "Self-help" workshops were incredibly popular in the seventies and eighties, beginning with Est and branching out to Insight, Lifestream, Life Spring, and others. The word cult was bandied about by those who had never participated in those workshops, because whenever something new or different or strange sounding is feared like that, divisions are created.

I remember my first seminar. Not every exercise or process that we did, but the way I felt each night when I went home… like I'd been put through a wringer. They talk about peeling the onion, and I was one onion that didn't especially want to be peeled. Throughout my life, I had carefully built a fortress of walls to protect myself and my image of myself. The walls were coming down and it was terrifying.

This kind of work is hard and perhaps it's not for everyone. But it was one of the best things I ever did. So the weekend reminded me of what it's like to be in a room with an assortment of people who have chosen integrity over the mask.

I have to admit, there was some concern on my part that the folks I knew twenty years ago would not understand (or would challenge) my most recent life choice/direction. And some did. What was evident was that my mask was still off and my "new" self was as authentic as whoever it was they remembered. Way cool.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

And war broke out in heaven... Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. -Revelation 12:7-9

"And war broke out in heaven..." that is perhaps the most chilling verse in the Bible. For if war can break out in heaven, then what hope can we ever have for peace?

The thing about this verse is the timing... did it happen or will it happen? Or both? The Revelation to John isn't clear at all. No surprise there... prophesies and signs are never really clear until we can document them. We blame the Devil for our own original sin, for the seven deadly sins, for evil in general, but what if the Devil has nothing to do with the mess we've made on earth? What if we have nobody to blame but ourselves... our own human incompetence and greed?

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. Who will fight for us?

It's also no surprise (to me) that Michael is the patron saint of police officers. In their own way, they fight for the ordinary citizen's right to safety and peace. Two in my family are now in that profession. God bless them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oregon Again!

What follows is my first retreat address from the Associates Retreat at Mt. Angel Abbey near Portland, Oregon last Friday evening. The second address was totally off the cuff, so I have no idea what I said. The third and fourth I have some notes for… so I'll post them eventually.

I had a long involved dream the first night I arrived in Oregon. I had not had any sleep the night before, and I had lain down to take a nap in the late afternoon. Only I slept through… the whole night. When I sleep long and hard like that, I dream. 

In the dream some people were coming for a retreat and I was going to show an audio visual meditation. Some others had heard about it and brought the rector of the church, who in turn brought some church officials from another country. All this took place in the basement of the church where I work on Tuesdays and Fridays, so… as in a lot of dreams, everything was all mixed up. My conscious mind was probably still concerned with Friday’s pantry session that takes place in that same basement, as well as with the Associates' retreat that I was to begin that next night. So, in this dream, as in many dreams, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. 

For some reason we needed batteries for the projector and there weren’t any. A few of us left to go buy batteries and got caught up in rush hour traffic, then an endless series of school buses and subway transfers… a wrong turn here, a blocked intersection there and every decision took us farther and farther from where we had started, farther and farther from where we wanted to be.

The emotions that were running high in the small group I was with, were anxiety, worry, fear…frustration, and

There were about four or five of us in the group, and at some point, while we were waiting in a train station, someone asked about the retreat, and I gave them a little mini meditation on the subject of “embracing what is.” The truth was, I
had no meditation on embracing what is (until I woke up from the dream that morning,) but it sounded really good (in the dream), and I’m always on the lookout for Holy Spirit input, so there it was.

It went something like this: When you get up in the morning you always have some expectations about what your day will look like. Certain things are supposed to happen. If you’re a scheduled person you probably keep a calendar. You know if today is a workday, a volunteer day, a play day. On my calendar, if it’s Tuesday I leave right after mass to go to St. Bart’s where I manage the food pantry. If it’s Wednesday, I’m the breakfast cook and the doorbell queen. That means I answer the door, listen to the phone messages. So Wednesday is
not a day for me to schedule a doctor’s appointment or to go out grocery shopping.

But, even though we wake
up with certain expectations, life will intervene. So the annoying interruptions, the unexpected crisis, the unannounced visitor will all (in some way) derail our best plans. What happens then?

Well, stuff happens.

It’s only in how we respond to the stuff that makes the difference. Now this thought is not unique… to either me, or my dream. Intellectually we each understand that you can’t
change your neighbor. You can’t change the weather. You can’t change the fact that you cooked dinner for ten and fifteen showed up. Or that you cooked dinner for fifteen and five showed up. What you can change is your response. You can be angry. You can rail against the injustice. You can envision elaborate plans to punish whoever ruined your day with their incompetence, their thoughtlessness, their lack of attention to detail. Self-righteous anger is one of the first places we can go when stuff happens. But we also know that a steady diet of self-righteous anger is hard on the stomach and bad for the heart.

So, in my little train station meditation, I suggested they keep a little supply of one-word responses for each new day, and to pick one out of the stash first thing each morning when they woke up. The words that I suggested were all the usual suspects: gratitude, forgiveness, acceptance, humor… Holy and enlightened people have been suggesting these same words for centuries, nothing new here. Why then, is it so much easier to get angry or annoyed or irritated than it is to feel gratitude? Your best friend learns she has cancer. You’re supposed to feel gratitude? At what?… that it was her and not you? Of course not.

But in the context of my dream, when we were off in Timbuktu through no fault of our own, and those we left behind were tired of sipping their cold coffee and were no longer waiting patiently for us to return… the responses that all of us were giving forth were ALL related to either anger or fear. Some were actually yelling into their cell phones, looking for someone to blame.

Blame, now there’s a concept. Think about blame. Blame relieves accountability. That’s really all it does. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. Well, that part is absolutely right. Too bad we can't stop there.

If it’s not my fault, then
who’s fault is it?!?

Finding out who’s fault it is, is big business in our culture. Really. Think about it. People spend extra years in college so they can get law degrees. So they can spend long hours at work in law firms so they can make big bucks in law suits defending and accusing each other’s clients, just so they can determine who’s fault it is.

“Your client was negligent. Left a wet floor, and as a result, my client slipped and fell down.”

“Well your client was blind or stupid, because he didn’t even pay attention or
ignored the wet floor sign and walked over the place my client had just mopped.” 

All that to determine who’s fault it is, when in many cases, if not most, it was an

I said that all blame does is relieve our accountability; that’s not exactly right. We also blame someone to make the pain more bearable. Shame is perhaps the most painful of all the emotions human beings can feel. And if something is our
fault, we’ve added insult to injury and we are ashamed. I’ll come back to this thought, but for now let me finish the dream.

I’ve had these anxiety dreams many times… always trying to get somewhere to fulfill some obligation, and obstacles are always preventing me from getting there. Some people can wake themselves up in this kind of dream, but not me. Maybe once or twice I’ve been able to stop and say “look, I’m just not going to make it in time for this meeting… or event.” And when I can do that, I usually wake up. But mostly I just keep plugging away, trying to get wherever it is I’m supposed to be. This was the first time I’ve ever been with
other people trying to get back, and that was different. Seeing others reacting badly mirrored both my own internal turmoil and my own progress, if you will, from how I always used to react in these situations, and how in some ways the religious life has changed me. 

So, as I said, I entertained my own little group with the word possibilities (which I must say they all loved immensely and thought I was very enlightened) and we all managed to arrive at some central meeting place in downtown Manhattan. The rector of my church was there and he was furious.
Seething would be the best word to describe him. His important guest was from France and not at all happy about all the waiting they had been doing all morning. He had in his hand the day’s itinerary schedule, and he said, “Ah… Union Theological Seminary. Let’s see, we did that at 8:00. It was lovely.” And he scratched it off his paper. Well of course he had not seen Union Seminary at 8:00 because at 7:30 that we had all left in search of batteries for the projector… which had started this whole series of unfortunate delays. I was trying to decide if he was being sarcastic or if he just had a dry sense of humor when I woke up.

That was the dream. I cannot remember my dreams unless I immediately write them down, but since this one seemed to be speaking to me, I got up, found a pen and started writing. So, where is this going? This long-winded description of anxiety dreams and response words and in the midst of all that the concept of blame?

Well, originally I said that blame is a tool we use to relieve accountability,
culpability when something goes wrong. And, I revised that to say it’s a tool we use to make the pain more bearable. Martha said to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We read those as loaded words. Martha blamed Jesus. Then Lazarus was raised. People were overwhelmed when Lazarus emerged from the tomb. And… they drew an erroneous conclusion from that miracle… that the blessing would go on and on and on.

Some scholars believe that the raising of Lazarus was the culminating factor in the Pharisee’s decision that Jesus needed to be eliminated. That this kind of miracle would only incite the masses to revolt, and that
any revolt would lead to the inevitable destruction of the Jewish people. "One man’s death would be better than the death of many."

So, if you follow that very logical line of reasoning, Jesus could easily have blamed Martha and Mary for his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. It was
their fault. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus. The Romans didn’t kill Jesus. Martha and Mary killed Jesus. The last words on the cross would have been: If you had not whined so much, I would not have raised Lazarus, and if I had not raised Lazarus, I would not be hanging on this cross. It’s all your fault.”

Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus understood, perhaps as no other human being has ever understood, that it was not about him. Down through the ages the church has
made it about him, but he didn’t.

Heresy? Perhaps. Let me explain where I’m going with this, what I’m really getting at. When something doesn’t work, we find someone to blame. We externalize the frustration and find fault with someone, and
then we imagine a savior. Not especially uplifting, but it’s a tool we use to cope. When Martha and Mary blamed Jesus for their brother’s death, they were speaking out of their pain, trying to make it bearable, externalizing their problem… and dumping the burden on Jesus. 

This is what we do with God. A lot. From the Israelites whining in the wilderness to our modern ways of blaming God for every tragedy, we tend to relieve our own agony by blaming God. Then we stay there. And wait.

We wait for God’s response. If the agony ends, we thank God for favoring us, and we look for ways to make the favor permanent, so we won’t have to feel that same agony again. However, if the agony continues, or gets
worse, we still may think God will rescue us once we find the perfect formula for appeasing God or honoring God. We make it, whatever it is, all about us. If I don’t get what I want, I blame God. If I do get what I want, then I imagine it will be forever.

This makes no sense, does it? There’s a lot we do, and keep on doing that makes no sense. 

So, lets explore some of what we do (and don’t do) that makes no sense. Lets look at ways we limit God and limit ourselves by the way we’ve developed and interpreted the beliefs we hold so dear… look at possibilities for expanding upon some of those cherished beliefs… especially when they have lost their ability to uplift or comfort or sustain us in times of crisis and unrest, in times of agony or despair, in times of fear and trembling.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The downhill slide

The religious life is a strange place. 

This is, of course, Holy Week, called that because we're leading up to the holiest day of the year for Christians: Easter... resurrection. I've read a few books this past year that have suggested that resurrection is the only reason to be a Christian, and I've read some that say the resurrection most likely never happened and so what? That Jesus' life, in and of itself, was a testimony to the inner being of God, an example for how we should be patterning our own lives.

I find I have not experienced a major crisis of faith over either viewpoint. I tend to lean on the side of "so what?" simply because I wasn't there, and so many stories of the encounters with the resurrected Jesus describe him as unrecognizable. By his best friends. That said, I also believe in a God who can and does work miracles when it suits God's purposes. The nature of those miracles seems to be what we all get in a snit over. Was he bodily resurrected? Maybe, maybe not. 

He was resurrected. The power and intensity of his presence after the crucifixion glows from the pages of all the accounts of the sitings and interactions that people had with him. His teaching and example did not die with him.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we celebrate the Last Supper. We remember tonight that he ate one last hearty and joyful meal with his friends before the downhill slide into tomorrow. We remember that he washed the feet of his disciples as a servant washes the feet of their masters... that he was betrayed by one of his own. We remember that he gave a final commandment to those at table with him... to love each other in the same way he had loved them. We haven't kept that commandment very seriously. I certainly haven't.

Most of my Lenten meditation this year has been on the fifth Station of the Cross: The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene. I have tried to imagine every emotion Simon might have had in being forced with this obligation: horror, suppressed anger, repulsion, resentment, fear, relief... I can only imagine how he may have felt. But I know how I feel when I'm stuck with a dirty job I didn't ask for. It's been a good one for me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

from hero to villain

I've probably mentioned before that Palm Sunday, the way we do it in the Episcopal Church, has always been a sore spot with me. This might be because I was brought up in an assortment of Baptist-Congregational-Unitarian churches, where Jesus got the whole day to be the son of David, the hailed messiah. 

When I was little we marched around the entire block in the Baptist church, around the pews in the Congregational church; I can't remember if we marched at all in the Unitarian church, but the entire service was given over to hosannas and palm waving.

Not anymore. Now we re-enact a "Passion Narrative" (one of the Gospels) and it's actually called Passion Sunday. We speed through the hosannas and boom! it's time to crucify him. All inside of minutes. That's just wrong.

And yet... as our celebrant preached on Sunday, it mirrors life. It mirrors the mob mentality. I don't like mobs. Crowds either. They can turn on a dime for no apparent reason. And so, Jesus goes from hero to criminal in a matter of minutes. How easy this turning.

Our celebrant also examined the concept of of scapegoating... distancing ourselves from our own accountability for whatever may be wrong with the world. Yesterday I saw a news report about Obama telling the truth about the American mentality (he said we have sometimes been arrogant) and the news reporter jumped all over it. As Jesus was well aware, telling the truth is a dangerous endeavor.

But one thing she said struck me as especially important for me this year. That in the Passion narrative, especially this year's version from Mark, we are allowed to walk through all the experiences of humanity. The drama of the journey lets us (if we are willing) see ourselves in the story. Of course.

The parable of the prodigal son has always been like that for me... seeing myself in all those personalities (I always identify first with the older brother... no surprise there.) But never in the Passion narrative. We are all Judas, Peter, Pilate... at different times in different situations. It's a good reflection for Holy Week, I think.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

proof texting

Hebrews 5:5-10

Our celebrant began his sermon with the opening lines of L. P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between: "The Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." He was referencing today's lesson from Hebrews, in which over a third of the epistle quotes the Old Testament

He launched into one of his erudite discourses, analyzing the points taken from the liturgy for Yom Kippur, providing a thorough examination of the rights and regulations of the tribe of Levi, the Order of Melchizedek and Abraham, all proving that it was certainly okay for Jesus to be the High Priest as well as the slaughtered sin offering.

He spoke of this quoting practice as it applied to the writer of Hebrews. The writer felt strongly that his listeners needed insight into exactly what God had done in Jesus Christ, but today we might label it "proof texting" (finding a piece of scripture that seems to support what you've decided you already believe.) He told an amusing anecdote of a fellow who brought a finished sermon to him and asked him to supply a Bible text to support his thoughts.

But our celebrant went on to explain that the opposite approach "anti proof texting" is where we simply ignore the scriptural passages that don't support what we've decided we already believe. 

His implication was that both practices are lazy ways to approach an understanding of what God is doing in the world. They do not engage the text, they simply use or discard it. "Even disagreement is a form of engagement." he explained.

Ahhh now there's hope for me. I can tell.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Mark 8:31-38

Our celebrant this morning focused his remarks on Peter, acknowledging that in the lesson previous to today's Peter was the only disciple to proclaim Jesus as "Messiah", seemingly the only one to get it

How quickly things change... One minute you're flavor of the month, the next, you're Satan incarnate. But the point he was making was that Peter had certain preconceived ideas about what Messiah meant, and suffering and dying did not fit the job description. Expectations... such a problem. For all of us.

Our preacher took the concept further: how many times do we pigeon-hole groups (or individuals) with the sweeping generalizations of "they" always... fill-in-the-blank... ? We project our perceptions onto the other, and then can't handle it when they don't fit the projection.

We do it with God. 

If God doesn't conform to our image of who or what God should do or be, we say things like "I could never believe in a God who would... fill-in-the-blank. How do we know what God does or does not do? He acts in ways beyond our human comprehension. But because it is all beyond us, that's just too hard to take. So we place finite limits on the infinite. 

God-in-a-box. Doesn't work. Never has, never will, but we still keep trying. 

Thursday, March 05, 2009

commercial message

I'm not usually one to endorse or advertise products, but a friend at Jade Music (their website is here) or here, sent me the artwork for a great deal they're having this month: for one week only you can download 99 "relaxing" songs for 99 cents, the deal of the day at on March 24th. After that week, the price for the mp3 bundle goes back up to $7.99. 

For those of us who want to slow down during Lent, this could be a perfect way to get in the right frame of mind for that.

As a music publisher, Jade has a wide range of sacred and classical music, and this offer includes instrumental and chant music from their already published albums: Hildegard von Bingen, Bach, Vivaldi, Messiaen, Faure... the list goes on. If you want to hear some of their stuff go to youtube and you can listen to selections from their latest chant album.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I have always loved to travel... it's just in my DNA. Born into a Navy family, I was traveling cross-country from the day of my conception. I married Navy men, I was a Navy woman. I've never lived in one house or apartment longer than a few years. I don't even hate "moving house" like most people; in fact, if I don't move house, I have to move furniture to give me the illusion.

So this whirlwind trip to Wyoming has given me the moving bug again. 

Last night was the first night in a week that I've slept in the same bed twice. Not a problem, the bed-swapping... but the suitcase repacking has been another story. Each day I've had a new group to meet, a new set of materials to organize/bring to the table. And I keep mixing things up and forgetting. Some of what I need is always packed in my suitcase which is stored elsewhere in the back of somebody's car.

It has been a good exercise in letting go of expectations (my own of myself) and working with what I had on hand. My grandmother's words kept echoing in my ears... Yankees make do or do without

I prepared a lot for this trip. In advance. I had little speeches, hands-on exercises, audio-visual meditations, booklets and handouts, gifts for the various hosts and hostesses... and then everything just didn't want to work the way I planned it. I could be very smug and say I "handled it well" but the truth is, I have no clue whether I did or not. I got through it. And the best lesson was that I trusted it would be okay, be enough, and maybe it was.

We can only guess at the ramifications of our interactions with each other. I do know I've been given more than I gave, whatever that was... and I've got one more gig to go until I get back on the plane Wednesday. But for now, I'm catching up with what's been going on in the rest of the universe while I've been traveling...

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I am NOT dead. I did not quit blogging, honest.

This Lent my goal is to explore new ways to approach the season. Not a problem.
I traveled all day on Ash Wednesday and didn't receive ashes until the evening. Thursday brought a parish quiet day that wasn't especially quiet, (my fault) but we had a lively discussion that I'm sure took many of us deeper. Then an afternoon of spiritual direction before traveling again. Friday brought more traveling for an afternoon with rectors of parishes, and today will be another quiet day at a different parish. Then it's on the road again. Jesus walked everywhere. At least I'm traveling by car.

Where am I? In Wyoming, the state that gives true meaning to the expression WIDE-OPEN-SPACES. Unless, of course, it's snowing. Then you're lucky to see two feet in front of you. We've had a good bit of the snowing part since I arrived on Wednesday, but for now the sky is clear, the sun has just risen and a new day begins. 

Let us bless the Lord.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

athletic training camp

I Corinthians 9:24-27

Instead of preaching on the Gospel, today our celebrant gave his sermon over to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, what he termed "a terribly energetic passage".

When the lessons for today were first being read, I remembered I had once preached a sermon on these same texts... (if interested, you can read it here). Had three years passed so quickly? So... it was especially exciting to hear something new and different. This particular celebrant is both a Biblical scholar and a teacher; his sermons have a little of the lecture quality about them. I come away from his sermons knowing more about the Bible than I did before, yet feeling less adequate. I'm thinking that's not such a bad thing, especially as I prepare for several retreats I must lead over the next months. Humility has never been my strong suit, but it's a virtue I'm still trying to acquire. Not to be confused with humiliation... one doesn't necessarily follow the other.

But back to the sermon. In this passage, our preacher suggested, Paul portrays the Christian life as an "athletic training camp." He makes it (Christianity) come across as a competition. Everyone tries, but only those fit succeed. The best trained will come out the big winners while the less trained will be the big losers. And for that he added, we are all in big trouble. And to use the boxing metaphor, we all may as well throw in the towel.

Paul himself points out that we're all several laps behind him in persecution alone, so who can ever hope to pass him in the final lap? But we were reminded that this entire athletic metaphor was taken out of context. Today we only get a few of the verses, but the entire letter is to be read in the context of Christian freedom. Salvation is not a prize to be won; it is a gift from God. The point of staying fit and disciplined is to help others recognize the gift.

Paul points out in his letter that although (in Christ) he has been freed, he doesn't use that freedom. Instead, he conforms, especially if by doing so, he can lead others to Christ. "I have become all things to all people" he says. That made me chuckle. In my time I was brought up with a different cliché: You can't please everybody. So which is it? But that's another tangent.

The celebrant concluded with this idea: that we have a job to do: to invite others into this freedom in Christ. To do that requires a sustained and conscious effort. We do have to work hard, not to be saved, but to save others. It's a commitment to a calling, much like the athlete has a commitment to his or her chosen sport.

I thought about Paul's idea of freedom, and his willingness to lay it down for the larger purpose. He certainly must have modeled himself on the very one he worshipped. For Jesus, though in the form of God, did not cling to equality with God, but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, and was born in human likeness. His larger purpose was to reunite us (humankind) with God, the creator. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

He's gone.

Mark 1:29-39
Our celebrant this morning was explaining why Mark is her favorite Gospel. "It's the most troubling Gospel," she said. Most scholars believe it is the earliest Gospel, that the other three base most of their stories on what Mark had to report. 

She said, "We've grown up with these stories, so we can explain them away. But in Mark, there is no explanation." She went on to say that today, the trendy way to view Mark's writings is from the context of empire... these are all empire stories that the people of that time already knew. Much as we associate politicians on the back of a train with Roosevelt and that earlier time when life was simpler and values were solid, the people in Mark's generation would have understood these stories by making the association between Jesus and Moses. Jesus comes up out of the water at his baptism... Moses was drawn from the water. Jesus journeys, incessantly. Moses journeyed (incessantly) with the children of Israel through the desert. 

In the brief part we read in today's Gospel, Jesus has just called a few followers and they have gone to the house of Peter and Andrew. But his call to his followers is not what it seems. These men had families, they weren't young bachelors with nothing better to do. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, not a lightweight illness in that time. Then... a host of neighbors with all their sick relatives descends, and he heals them too. What must they have thought? Hallelujah? He's come to make our lives better?

Then... he disappears in the middle of the night. They have to go searching for him, and when they finally find him, and want to bring him home, (to do it all over again tomorrow morning,) he says No. I'm leaving. That was when it probably sunk in... just what "Follow Me." was going to be about.

Our celebrant asked "What about those who were left behind?" She was thinking of the ones that Jesus had touched and had probably changed their lives forever. What would they do with this new concept of love and justice and possibility? Especially now that the source had packed up and left them to figure it out alone? But my thoughts went to the ones left behind that were too late for the healings. They didn't get the memo the night before, but they were probably standing in line early that next morning, outside the door to Peter's house. 

Where's the healer? When is he coming back? 
Oh, you missed him. 
He's gone on down the road to spread the good news to somebody else. 
Too bad. You missed him.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Mark 1:21-28

Today's Gospel is the story of one of Jesus' first public teaching appearances in the synagogue. As our celebrant reminded us this morning, he encountered every teacher's worst nightmare: a loud mouth with an agenda who disrupts the proceedings. This particular loud mouth also spoke the truth "you Holy One of God". Everyone was watching. Now what?

Although he was new to public speaking engagements, Jesus had the presence of mind to take command of the situation. And... according to the Gospel, apparently everyone was impressed.

Our preacher brought her analogy to the present. She commented on Obama's first full week in office, and how, as with Jesus, everyone was watching his every move. And a few were already making trouble, causing disruption. Back then they named it an evil spirit.

What about today? Whatever it is, we just cannot be content with listening to people who speak with authority. We have to take potshots, have to disrupt. What's that about? It certainly makes the role of leadership that more taxing, and the ability to stay on message now becomes one of the marks of a good leader.

The question posed then was this: what is legitimate criticism as opposed to just harping to undermine the process? She asked us to look at our own lives and examine how we behave... both as leaders and when we are not leaders... to look at the temptation to criticize. Is it legitimate? Or do we just need to bring them down a peg? Are we jealous? Jealous that someone else is actually good at what they do? 

She spoke to the strife in the Anglican Communion... all the arguments over who could and could not be ordained and why, the interpretation of Scripture, the clinging to dogma. Much of the huge debate acting as distraction, disruption from the true mission of the church. 

What are we jealous of... and why?

Friday, January 30, 2009

I am woman hear me rant

Today was a tough day that started with an early morning subway ride across the city. By the time I got to work I was thinking of blogging a long list of rants against New York's rude subway riders. 

It's amazing how inconsiderate we can be to each other in our use of mass transportation. Blocking the doorways for one: there was a young woman on the #1 train who was blocking half the entrance to the car from 110th Street to 50th Street (where she finally exited.) That's nine stops where people had to squeeze by her to get on and off the train. Now I can understand wanting to be close to the exit when yours is the next stop. But for nine whole stops? And that's only the ones I could count. She was blocking the doorway when I got on at 110.  The MTA needs more money to run its operations—why can't they fine people for doing that? That... and holding doors, dropping your trash on the floor and blasting your headphones so loud they might as well not be headphones. I wonder how many of the ipod users of the future will have to wear hearing aids because of their blasted eardrums from their ipods? I wonder how much time that same person spends in a year untangling their ear pieces to those ipods? Inquiring minds want to know.

But the truth of the matter is you can't legislate manners. There's just so much you can make "against the law" before it gets silly. Rude people will continue to be rude because there are no consequences for their behavior. It is what it is. Get over it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

not a lot of hope...

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time... —Jonah 3:1

Our celebrant this morning mentioned that her class had studied the book of Jonah for their Bible study last year. Earlier she had been telling them about the minor prophets and the wonderful stories that you always hear in Sunday school, but never think to read the actual text. So to her dismay, they had picked the book of Jonah. Dismay, in particular, because of all the prophets, Jonah is perhaps the best example of one who just doesn't get it. While he converts an entire city, he himself is never converted. He saves them, yet despises his own life.

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she said. But she went on to lay out the theme of today's readings: the call from God... and to look at that theme from our own 21st century lens. 

What do we do about a call from God? 
Jonah was called by God, Simon, Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus, yet unlike the four, who dropped everything and followed Jesus, Jonah tried to escape. Of course he didn't escape, and he finally begrudgingly did what God asked of him.

And it worked. The people of Nineveh repented. God changed his mind about the disaster he was going to bring, and he didn't do it. So... was Jonah proud of himself? Was he happy that his words had brought about such a dramatic conversion of all those people? Not on your life.

He wanted them to be punished. He knew God would be merciful if they groveled and it smacked up against his own bias of who God was and how God should act. "Just kill me now." 

"Conversion is not just about us," our celebrant reminded us. "It's about a people ready to be transformed." 

She related her experience in Washington at the inauguration last week, where she and her children waited in the bitter cold with two million others to essentially watch TV outdoors. Her kids wanted to know why they were standing in the cold just to watch TV, and she explained that it was not what being there was about. 

It was actually about conversion, and the masses assembled there giving witness and approval (or at least acceptance) that we wanted more from ourselves, from our nation, from our lives... than getting rich, being thin and collecting more toys. She said that it feels like we have just been spit out of the belly of the whale. Now we get to decide how we will proceed. 

Will we answer the call with enthusiasm and a willingness to see what God has planned for the future? Or will we be like Jonah... whining and complaining and arguing about everything that doesn't suit our preconceived ideas of how it should work?

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she had said earlier. On the other hand, I find it more than hopeful that God uses even the most cantankerous, ill-tempered and unwilling people to do his work. It means there's hope for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

moments in history

Today is a regular pantry day. My volunteers were somewhat disgruntled that I didn't cancel today because they wanted to watch the inauguration on TV. I can understand that. But this year there are only four Tuesdays in February and we have a four-week schedule of clients to serve. I think Obama would approve of feeding the hungry, even if it is his big day in history. Jesus certainly would.

Every day is actually history, when you think about it. It's just that we don't necessarily mark it or document it as such. This morning I made history when I left for my day job before Morning Prayer. That was a first. Usually I rush out the door while the communion wafer is still melting in my mouth. But my brand new assistant starts her new (paid) job today, and in January there are extra things to be done before the pantry opens. Leaving early was a new thing today, so it's history.

As I walked the seven or so blocks from the Westside to the Eastside of Manhattan, I saw the most beautiful early morning sky. The sun had risen, but not that high, so the oranges were vibrant and intense. I'm not usually outside that early. I'm basically an indoor person, especially in winter, and our convent's views are mostly to the west. I haven't seen skies like that since I lived in Long Island City seven years ago. I thought about the DVD I saw recently "Into the Wild" ... about the scene where he watches the sun and the vibrant sky and thinks "It doesn't get any better than this."

My sky this morning gave me the same feeling. Random intersecting events collide with each other to create a moment in time... historically documented or not.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

no regrets

The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread. —1 Samuel 3:1

This line from today's Old Testament reading made me chuckle and think to myself: Yep, and that word is even more rare in these days. It struck me too, that though it was Eli who recognized that it was God calling Samuel, what God actually had to say ended up not being such good news for Eli. Irony abounds throughout the Bible. Throughout Life.

In his sermon, our celebrant tied all of the readings together as a central theme: the call from God. He went on to explore the struggles we have with this thing we call "belief"... how do we deal effectively with the doubts of those around us, as well as the internal doubts we may harbor in secret?

In the New Testament lesson, Nathanael's prejudice gets in the way of his believing. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Instead of being insulted, though, Jesus praises him for being so straightforward.

Our celebrant related two stories: one about Joan Chittister, OSB, the Roman Catholic nun and widely acclaimed author, lecturer and retreat leader. When asked, she said that even though she may go to her grave unsure about some things, those doubts did not diminish her devotion to Jesus.

In another story a religious scholar was asked about his belief in the afterlife... what if it really was all a lie? His answer is one that I would echo in my own experience. He said he would bet his life on it. And if it isn't true, he still wouldn't change a thing and would have no regrets.

Is there really life on the other side of the grave? Do I care? I'm pretty sure there are those who care a lot, but I don't think I'm one of them. This life is pretty awesome as it is. If belief in God and trust in Jesus serve to make my own individual experience of humanity one where I strive to be compassionate, kind, forgiving, generous... all those things I actually do strive for (and fall short of) then it's been more than worth it. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Change is coming...

Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus. It's always a curve ball for me. I'm still contemplating the visit of the wise men and wham! it's time to baptize a thirty year old. So much about our liturgical calendar puzzles me: we begin our New Year in late November/early December, we celebrate the Holy Innocents before the wise men's visit, we put Jesus in the tomb on Friday and celebrate Easter on Sunday... hardly three days in the ground by anyone's count. And yet other things seem pretty specific: The Annunciation is nine months before the birth... that's linear. Yet some of these wonky celebrations serve as a reminder that God's time is not linear, even though my pea brain likes to think it is. 

Our celebrant on Sunday did a time-skip himself. he began by describing John the Baptist and then explored the differences between John and Jesus. John preached that change was coming. That you'd better get ready for it. Then he skipped to our time, our now... where change is still being preached and we're also told we'd better get ready.

But ready for what? Global warming? Economic meltdown? Violence? Hunger? War in the Middle East and Africa? Strife in the Anglican Communion? These issues don't seem especially new. 

People went out in droves to hear John the Baptizer. Jesus went too, for whatever reasons we like to attribute to His motives. Our celebrant suggested that Jesus identified with John's message of change and wanted to be a part of it. 

But hardly anyone was ready for the message Jesus brought. If He appeared today I doubt many would want to hear it either. God did a new thing in Jesus. New, radical, and against all understanding of fairness and common sense. We've tamed that message over the years, sanitized it, packaged it, revised it to meet our needs. 

When will we ask what God needs? What God wants from us?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Three Kings Day

The Feast of the Epiphany never happened, according to Bishop Spong in his book Jesus for the Nonreligious. He doesn't believe the slaughter of the Holy Innocents happened either, nor the miraculous birth in Bethlehem. Maybe not.

Maybe not in the linear historical sense, a sense I'm beginning to explore in my cartoons these days. But the profound truth... that strangers can recognize what the rest of us are too blind to see... that innocent children are the beneficiaries of deadly violence at the hands of power-hungry adults... that any birth, in and of itself, is the most ordinary and yet miraculous of events... these truths are contained in the stories we relate to explain the ridiculous belief that God, if such a Thing or Person exists, would choose to be mortal, even if only for a brief thirty-or-so years.

This belief, in and of itself, is probably the biggest miracle of all. What's a few wise men thrown into the mix?

Sunday, January 04, 2009


It wasn't until I read something on facebook (yes, I now have a face on facebook... long story) about someone making New Year's resolutions that it even occurred to me that I hadn't. Not only had I not made any this year, I hadn't even thought about making any. So what does that mean? 

For one thing, it means the past week, the Christmas Octave, (for those in the liturgical know) and beyond... I've done just about the bare minimum. It's been a week of rest and reading good books. Never, since I've been in community have there been so many sleep-in days actually scheduled. It's a first.

This unexpected rest time came about organically I think. Nothing was premeditated. We had our usual Christmas week schedule intact, with Lauds and Vespers as the bookends for the days of possible social and rest times, excursions into the city for movies or other events. There was an overnight period of fellowship planned with the Melrose sisters the weekend after Christmas. None of that happened. They were just getting over the flu, plus one sister had broken her foot, was in a cast, and not yet able to travel. They didn't come.

We rallied once for a movie, three of us (plus the aide) taking the two elders in a taxi convoy to the Lincoln Plaza for "Last Chance Harvey" but otherwise it was just too cold for ventures out. Our cook was away for the holidays and we grazed our way through the refrigerator finishing up the leftovers. I cooked something most nights, but otherwise I rested.

Then the modified rest evolved... into full days of rest until Vespers. I cannot tell you what a difference it made. The sheer luxury of waking up in a freezing cold room and not having to jump up out of bed was one thing, but being able to turn over and snuggle beneath the covers and dream was the best gift I've received this year. (And I received some really good gifts.)

Today we are back on schedule, and unlike my silent retreat of a few weeks ago, I'm rested and ready for the change. Perhaps one of my New Year's resolutions will be to remember just how much I need to schedule rest and relaxation before I'm at the point of burnout.