Sunday, December 04, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Sunday, May 15, 2011
There is a story about a monk who came to Joshu (The Chinese Zen Master) at breakfast time and said, "I have just entered this monastery to learn about God. Please teach me."
"Have you eaten your porridge yet?" asked Joshu.
"Yes, I have," replied the monk.
"Then you had better wash your bowl," said Joshu.
Bowl washing… not the inspiring advice he was expecting. We live in a self-help show-and-tell culture. We want our lives to be meaningful, to make a difference… our faith to make a difference.
We have all the appropriate descriptions for what we want, we know the jargon: we want to practice mindful-living. We want to be fully present. We want intentionality, to be alive in our own skins. We want to live in the NOW. Well NOW for that monk was time to wash his bowl. But because that act had no special significance, wasn’t meaningful, it wasn’t even on his radar.
Of course there are always going to be times when we’re tired or unfocused, times when we’re too caught up and ignore the details.
But in our culture it’s more insidious than that. We quite literally don’t see or notice, or don’t pay attention… to the life that is right in front of us. We’re looking ahead to after the bowl is washed— that’s when we’ll get the payoff. As if there were a payoff.
We don't want to "just" wash the bowl — or whatever small, insignificant, trivial task we may be engaged in. We want to comprehend it. Or turn it into some sort of competition. I washed twenty-five bowls today. How many did you wash?
I am so guilty of this. For me it’s taking out the garbage. We keep our garbage cans in one of the closets. It’s a temporary situation because we haven’t finished landscaping the outside of the building. We need to buy a couple of those garbage can “houses” that you lock up so nobody can steal your garbage, go through the bags and make a big mess all over the sidewalk. (This is New York, even the garbage is under lock and key.)
So for now, the cans are inside the house, in a closet. Garbage days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and Saturday is also recycle day. That means in addition to the big black plastic garbage bags there are also clear bags with bottles and cans and paper.
I seem to be the only one who can remember when it’s garbage day. We once had a maintenance man to do this work but now we don’t. It’s not a hard job: you pull the bag out of the can, tie it up and put it out by the curb. It just has to be done before 7:00 am. If you do it the night before, the bags get ripped open and the contents strewn on the sidewalk. So sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 am the garbage goes out.
If we forget the closet starts to smell. If Tuesday’s garbage waits til Thursday, some of the contents have been four days in the tomb and they stinketh. The bag is also heavier now; it won’t come out of the can as easily.
I used to do it every garbage day. But there was a worry that if that continued I’d go through garbage burn-out and get resentful. We’ve had some history with that in our convent… one sister will want to play the hero and take on more work than she can handle. The other sisters let it happen. She gets tired, bummed out that no one else is stepping up to the plate to help, then the resentment starts to simmer… it’s not pretty.
So we agreed that since one sister is breakfast cook on Tuesday and another on Thursday, that they would take over those days and I would do Saturday. Saturday. Saturday is our “sleep in” day. Saturday is recycle day… more bags to put out. See how that sense of competition creeps in? It’s insidious.
Each year I come out here and stand up in front of you and talk about something. Some of you say: “Oh, what you said— I needed to hear that.” Or “I’ve been struggling with such and such and your comments put it in a different perspective.” When that synchronicity happens it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s Grace.
Because the truth of the matter is this: with you, I’m preaching to the choir. You are already holy, faithful members of Christ’s amazing Body. I’m really preaching to myself.
Greg Levoy said this:
Wherever our most primal fears reside, our fears of the dark, of death, of being devoured, of meaninglessness, of lovelessness, or of loss changes— wherever those fears reside is good, because beneath them lie gems of wisdom— and maybe a vision or a calling. Wherever you stumble: on a tree root, on a rock, on fear, on shame, on vulnerability, on someone else’s words, on the truth— dig there.
Dig there and be ready to be surprised.
Friday I spoke about Jesus being busy, but never in a hurry. In the middle of his busy schedule (teaching, healing, caring) lots of people clamoring for his attention, the whole town gathered at the door— what did he do? He withdrew to a solitary place to pray.
His disciples couldn’t understand it. They were put out, hunted him down… Jesus! What are you doing here?!? Nothing!?! Don’t you want to be a good Messiah? Get back down there. People are counting on you. What will people think? Jesus, you need a time-management seminar—you could accomplish more.
Okay, so that’s a pretty loose interpretation of Mark’s Gospel. But even the literal translation sounds spot on: “Jesus, everyone is looking for you.”
It’s just another variation on “You have some nerve saying no.” We’ve all been subjected to that kind of thinking. We’ve also more than likely projected it onto others who said no to us. But there are problems inherent with this way of thinking.
- There’s an assumption that worth comes from what we do or produce. If we believe that then we’re motivated to be indispensible.
- We assume that withdrawal (whether it’s Sabbath time or R&R) is wasteful. And we should be guilty about it. The inner voice chirping in our ear — shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your time?
What did Jesus say when the disciples said “everyone is looking for you”?
Today we would say Jesus needed a “spin doctor.” But the bottom line is this: For Jesus, withdrawing is not optional. It is intentional and essential.
We may enjoy the adrenaline rush of being needed, but when we give in to the should of being all things to all people— when we give up the need to withdraw or rest or renew— we lose the rhythm of life that feeds our souls.
Jesus is saying to his disciples: Do you see that clump of people? Do you have any idea why I have any power in that clump? It’s because I regularly say NO. I regularly withdraw to a place where I listen to a different voice, my Father’s voice— about my identity.
What happens is… if we don’t say no when we need to, the no will come by default. And then we will end up saying no to the ones we love the most.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
I was talking this morning about Faith — how it is always about choices, but more importantly, about how those choices are specific.
For Jesus, for the first disciples and for all the brave souls throughout the ages, faith is and was a courageous choice for God. Today that’s us. We are the brave souls of our own age. Faith changes our lives, and our changed lives make all the difference.
I would be lying to myself and to you if I didn't say up front, transformation hurts. Some choices will limit our movement and require dying to self. As much as we may fight this notion: Faith was never intended to be easy or casual.
Our retreat this year comes on the heels of Easter. Something truly “magical and revolutionary” happened that first day. It transformed maybe what? At the most, say 100 lives. Then those believers told others, and pretty soon… a movement began. That movement sent evangelists to the far reaches and that produced a wonderful array of gospels, letters and stories.
Now it also produced a steady and tragic stream of power struggles, scheming bishops, beheadings and burnings, The Inquisition, heresy trials, European history marked by warfare and torture, and now, today in our own time, church wars for our right to declare other people wrong. For many denominations, even ours I’m afraid, Religious Content is what we fight about. God didn't call us to be consumers of religious content. And even though Mt. Angel has a lovely gift shop full of wonderful things, Christianity isn't about consuming religious products. And Christianity is especially not about consuming content that someone else created.
Christianity is about transformation of our lives. It’s about sitting with a blank screen of your own life and creating something, as best you can, and offering that something to God. It is about dreaming and imagining, working and worrying, serving and loving – making a difference with life.
Faith isn't something we can download to watch or to play. Faith is something we have the audacity to embrace, knowing it will compel us to become a “new creation.”
So as we come to the end of the Easter Octave we must remember: Easter Christianity is about people submitting their lives to the love and will of God. It is about receiving and giving mercy. It is about putting down weapons, or tethers, winning each day some small victory over greed, learning fresh each day to love our enemies, (and if we have no enemies at hand, to love those who annoy us.) It’s about showing up each day to join God's never-ending push for justice and peace.
Easter Christianity takes courage.
Courage, like love, is a decision, an act of the will. It’s not the absence of fear… no, Courage sees all the reasons to be afraid — from bad numbers in our checkbook and our parish enrollments, to bad leaders to bad enemies to bad luck. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it — courage decides to "walk through the storm with our head held high."
John’s Gospel says: The Word was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (John 1.10-11)
We can choose to be like that… not to accept him. But rather than reject Jesus’ radical call, I think we want to go deeper. We want to know the Word that has come into our world. We want to accept him. We want to know why Jesus came for us and what it is, if anything, we should be doing about it.
We want to submit to God — first by discovering what those words mean.
I like to think of myself as an open-minded, change-affirming believer, and yet I sense that the Word is way more radical and disturbing than I allow for, not to mention more enlivening and focusing.
In Luke it talks about John the Baptist’s willingness to submit his own agenda to God’s:
John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. " (Luke 3.16)
Life is filled with sadness. We don’t admit that to each other very often. Beginnings require endings. Within the joy and zest of life is always the salt of tears. The stories about John the Baptist speak of a fundamental truth:
Much had to pass away for Jesus to emerge. His coming brought watershed moments to a battered yet proud nation, to a religious establishment that probably was a lot like ours today, to people in one village after another, to a group of followers and family, and to himself.
For Jesus to emerge, much had to end, and those endings were difficult. John's situation epitomizes the trauma: think of it: he had the brass ring almost, people from all walks of life responded eagerly to his hard work, some even hoped he was the messiah… and now he must step aside for another.
Can any of us really know who or what died in us yesterday in order for today to arrive? Or the joy that we haven't yet fully accepted, for fear of the watershed it signals?
We think of faith as a supplement to life, something new and wonderful that we add to what has gone before.
But in fact, faith is a watershed.
(Watershed: an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions)
It is an ending. It is a time of things passing away. It is roads diverging and our having to decide. While that choice might bring great joy, it also brings much sadness. Our willingness to accept that sadness says something very real about our faith.
It’s difficult to be a Christian.
John said Yes in his watershed moment. Many say No. (Not only no, but hell no.) No more watersheds, no more change, no more pain of loss, no more sadness.
Still, the watersheds keep appearing. For there is no other way onward. Life always requires death.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Take Morality For example: It’s sad: we live in immoral times. Not one of the Ten Commandments is widely in force. Graven images are common, especially in church. The Sabbath, no matter if yours is Saturday or Sunday… the Sabbath is the prime shopping day. Murder is carefully defined so we can allow for all kinds of ways to kill each other and still get away with it. And Coveting—well, that’s the heartbeat of advertising. Stealing and dishonoring are common. Bearing false witness is an Internet art form.
And then there's money. We live some no-man’s land between grace and greed. No wonder Jesus told us to “love one another.” We can do it. I know Jesus' commandment – “love one another” – is within our power. We just aren’t very consistent.
Our Creed may encourage generalization, but the way Jesus taught suggests that "I believe in God" isn't enough. It needs to be, "I believe in God enough to submit my will to God today and to make this next decision with God in mind." Or, "I believe in Jesus and will follow his teachings and his model as I greet my family this morning, as I take my part in the workplace today and as I walk home tonight." I keep saying it. Faith is about specifics. It isn't enough to declare a general intention to be faithful. Faith manifests in specific decisions: Decisions about allocating time, managing money, responding to people, dealing with needs, monitoring our own personal morality.
Shallow religion is easy. Go to church, enjoy what you can, make a token commitment, keep your motor running. See God as a friend, Jesus as a kindly shepherd. Buy a cross, put a Bible on your desk.
Going deep in faith… changes everything.
Not only is it uncomfortable because A: we don’t like change, but B: because it takes way more effort and time. As God's fullness comes into view, the old ways of doing religion don’t work. Going deep in faith means that all those rich, deep and troubling nuances of Jesus become pretty disturbing. The real Jesus challenges us, holds us accountable, sets an impossibly high standard for ethical behavior. He demands openness and giving up of control. I don’t know about you, but that strikes terror in my heart.
Deep is dangerous. Shallow may be dull and lifeless, but it’s a whole lot safer. It takes trust to go deeper in faith.
Deep water happens everywhere, and our ability to swim in it comes and goes. We can be capable one minute and incapable the next. We make wise decisions, then dumb decisions. Not even the most perfect, seamless resume can hide the painful reality that we are flawed creatures. We hurt the ones we love, we squander opportunities, we fail.
Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.” (Luke 13.6)
This is our relationship with God. Few of us, not even nuns, spend our days in fervent prayer. Even the most diligent Christians have jobs, families, duties as citizens. Most of us also treasure “down-time.” God knows we are distracted.
God waits in patience for us to remember who we are as children of God or, to use Luke's metaphor, as fig trees called to bear fruit. At some point, push comes to shove. We either live into our true identity or we slip into delusion and spiritual amnesia. We give or we take. We love or ignore. We serve others or serve ourselves. We bear the fruit that God created us to bear, or we take up space and yield nothing that is worthy.
At this point, to follow Jesus' parable, God makes one more attempt to get our attention. If that fails, God moves on. God doesn’t smite us, but God may lose hope in us. We have tried God's patience, and now God will turn to others. It would be a bleak moment when we realize God has finally stopped looking for us to bear fruit.
Jesus said, “So the owner said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'” (Luke 13.7)
Christian leaders were reshaping the reality of Jesus within years of his death, adapting his teachings to their own agenda, concocting words for him to have said, portraying God as whatever they wanted God to be. In their hands, Jesus went from anti-establishment prophet to ultra-establishment figurehead, from peacemaker to warrior, from subtle teacher of disconcerting parables to a partisan judge vowing death to the Church's enemies. The Jesus who loved everyone became filled with hatred, and his open circle became a closed hierarchy.
What, then, are we to make of a parable that portrays God as indignant and determined to hold creation accountable and Jesus as an advocate for patience – not infinite patience, but “one more year”?
If you visit ten different churches, you’ll hear ten different takes on this parable, each one tailored to its congregation. They will range from God's determination to hold us accountable to gentle images of an ever-patient friend.
On the one hand, Jesus' parables deliberately leave room for many different understandings.On the other, we need to hear what Jesus actually said. The distracted shouldn't listen for a God who waits patiently for them to pay attention. The prosperous shouldn't seek a God who rewards the elect. The oppressed need more than a God who is on their side.
At the center is the Jesus who actually was. When we find his authentic words, they sound like “tough love” in Luke's parable. God expects us to bear fruit. Jesus bargains for us, but only for another chance, not for a permanent exemption from accountability.
There is life in that reality. Only you can know where you stand in that cycle of patience and testing. But Jesus' parable assures us all that the moment of reckoning does happen. God comes “looking for fruit,” and either finds it or doesn't find it.
These may be harsh words this morning, but I think we need to be pushed and stretched. (Take exercise. I hate to exercise. I quit at the first sensation of "the burn," and as a result I just get flabbier.) If we consider the pain of growth wrong and blame and punish those who caused it, we make no difference.
If our faith makes no difference, what's the point?
Our tethers don't define us. They might help us function and make us feel useful. But in God's economy, dislocation is often essential for stepping forward. Losing our grip on yesterday's assumptions and assurances is critical for doing what God wants today.
“Dying to self,” as Jesus commanded, isn't just about letting go of bad habits and self-centered ways; it's also about leaving behind those good things we thought we knew, things we worked hard to attain. It means putting aside old stories in order to claim God's new story.
- Do you need to be in a hurry?
- Do you need to impress those around you?
- Are you dissatisied with ordinary days and gifts of grace?
- Are you preoccupied with all that's left undone?
When our identities are defined by what we do or have, or earn, or strive for, or require in order to impress, we have everything to lose. Maybe this weekend we can work on losing it.
Paul Tillich tells us, "You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not seek for anything. Do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." If that happens to us, we experience grace.
His words are a reminder that we can live and choose and commit "from acceptance" and not "for acceptance." I'm not doing any of this (Sabbath, prayer, rest, reflection, renewal) to impress anyone or earn stars in my crown in heaven. Life is full. This life. This moment. This relationship. This conversation. This encounter. The sacred present begins here.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Two Gospels tell the story of the anointing of Jesus.
In Mark's Gospel It is two days before Passover, the host is Simon the leper, the woman is not named and the oil is poured on Jesus' head. In John's Gospel, it is six days before Passover, the host is Lazarus (recently raised from the dead,) and it is Mary who produces the expensive perfume and pours it on his feet.
This is the kind of inconsistency that drives Bible scholars crazy... conflicting versions of what is apparently the same story. The truth will always lie somewhere in between. The point of the story, of course, has nothing to do with head or feet or when or where... or maybe even who.
And the point can change for us with each new reading, depending on what we need to hear.
This is the difference between the living Word of God and words on a page that are chiseled in stone, with one point, one interpretation.
Living with elderly sisters gives me a new spin on this story. Jesus said "You will always have the poor." He might just as well have said "You will always have emails to answer or dust bunnies to sweep." For NOW, be kind in the moment. Honor the interactions that express love, patience, service. You will not always have these opportunities.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Palm Sunday again...
Sunday, April 10, 2011
So, can a person truly take a vacation from who they are? (or in my case... who I have become?) Yes... No... I don't know. Maybe.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Ethnic food was unknown to me when I was growing up. My mother cooked meat/potato/vegetable meals... occasionally spaghetti, but rarely was a salad served. I ate my first Mexican food at Taco Bell when I was twenty-four, Chinese food... Indian food... Japanese... Thai... all came later. Finally I learned that Taco Bell is so NOT Mexican. I don't care. It was my first love and will always have a place in my heart. (and stomach.)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
- finding life
- losing life
- finding life again.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
- Woman, without her man, is nothing.
- Woman, without her, man is nothing.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Some believe the Earth is doing her best to heave the Human Race off her back. Or that these natural disasters are her death throes, part of the climate change. Others are sure we are coming to the End Times foretold by a number of religions, not just ours. The Psalmist says: "the earth reeled and rocked, and the roots of the mountains shook... and the breakers of death rolled over us..."
Not a bad idea to have a prayer for humankind, no matter who or what we think is to blame for the devastation.
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen