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 clich├ęs 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.