Sunday, February 18, 2018

2018.02.18 Anger

I’m so enraged, so angry, so downright outraged. I think there must be fear underneath this anger, but by God I simply can’t find it in my heart right now. And I am furious that I am so powerless.

Oh yes, I’ve wallowed in detachment-with-love and all that wisdom, but right now I’m attached in anger to the terrible FACT of the regular slaughter of young children in schools. Statistics are helpful but boring. You can easily find them.

How many children have to die because our nation, our government is too damn paralyzed to legislate gun control?  What prohibits gun control? Piggishness I’d say. I believe that the well-being of the whole is the responsibility of us all. I also believe that children have an edge— little children face down on beaches just trying to get to safety, teens hugging and wailing because their classmates are dead and they are alive, one more time a parent having to explain that this won’t happen here and your school is secure and protected, and no, I don’t know why this happens or why this unstable person could or would buy such a weapon. One young child asked: How come anyone can have big guns? Only soldiers or police have those. The answer: I don’t know. And a kiss. 

Please don’t speak spiritual/religious platitudes like Fear not. I’m done with that. Yes, I know it’s all over the Bible, but I simply can not swallow or follow that wisdom right now. Mea culpa, maybe. But just now it packs no wallop.  

What is the gun mania in this country?

It’s not just about National Rifle Association money, or is it? It’s not just so we can protect big gun manufacturing companies, or is it? It’s not just because we have a president, our national leader, who expresses tearlessly impotent sympathy, or is it?  It’s not just because all those Republicans worry about wallets, or all those Democrats simper along about progressive ideals and have no strong politics right now, or is it? It’s not just because America thinks it’s so great and is just discovering that it has deceived itself and followed its own privileged swollen ego, or is it?  It’s not just because so many voices from pulpits and bimahs lack courage to encourage the fires of anger, the only adequate fuel for transformative change, or is it? It’s not just because of patriarchy, or is it? 

If this list imposed a forced choice on me I’d vote for the centuries-old demonic idea that has been perpetuated in every culture: “The powerful and the privileged have the right to bend the lives, bodies and wills of the powerless to serve their own needs and desires and wants.” (Quote taken from a sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday 2/14/18 at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street by the Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York)

The poor and the powerless are expendable. This same idea means that the powerful and privileged own even the freedom of others!   

I’m a religious person. Should I not feel compassion? Should I not be consumed with love for all these shooting victims and even the deranged shooters? Should I not be praying feverishly for God to intervene? I don’t believe in such a God. I believe God gave us, created and equipped us all, with hearts, minds and wills to mend the broken world. 

I believe God right now does weep with those who weep. I think God by now has consumed that old bush that caught Moses’s eye because it burned without being consumed, and moved on. Who will lead us out of this inferno of gun violence, flashes of gunfire exploding in children’s faces? Who? Will it be the wrath of God within us?

The only sacrifice I need is your gratitude. So speaks God in Psalm 50.

America instead sacrifices children on the altar of GUN-worship. This gun-empowered nation apparently does want children sacrificed, is that it?  In guns we trust?  The idolatry of salvation by guns, is that it? Hope in guns?  America IS a gun. 

All I can do is write and preach and sign every petition I can, call every politician I can, vote in every poll and every election. I’m too old and breath-limited to march and rally, but I can gnash my own teeth to no good end. And I can offer gratitude, very selfishly, because my own grandchildren are not dead in these recurring American shooting sprees in schools—yet.

I am a fervent believer in Hope. Right now I find hope in my anger.

As to thoughts and prayers? Yes!— that enough outrage will overcome American lassitude and selfish sloth to help Godde heal our souls, blast us for Christ’s sake out of torpor and turpitude into (insert any good C-word: communion, community, cooperation, collaboration, common good.) 

Be angry and sin not. Do not let the sun go down on our anger. (Ephesians 4: 26.)  I will be angry. I will not sin by buying a gun, just in case. But by Godde I want to. I want to. As to the sun: it’s already down.

Today we heard Mark’s story of how the heavens were “torn” apart to reveal Jesus as Beloved Son. Then Jesus was “driven” into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted to reject that identity and its heft.  Torn and driven are strong verbs, angry verbs.

The greatest temptation for me right now would be to dress the sacrifice of my anger in more acceptably prissy theological language, like “righteous indignation." To hell with that!
                                             *  *  * *
Yet as priest I consecrate the holy meal, inviting communicants to give thanks to God who brings us “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” (BCP, p. 368)
                                            Is that it?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

2018.02.11 Down The Mountain With Thanks

As I was preparing my sermon to preach today I knew the gospel was the Transfiguration story—story not historical event. Honestly, I yawned. Not that it’s not a WOW of a glory story with powerful spiritual implications about divine resurrective (not a real word, but true) intentions, but I got no zing as I read the biblical account in Mark.
When I am to preach I always read all the assigned readings well ahead, hoping that something will spark my imagination. I know that traditionally we Christians are supposed to preach from the gospel, but if my zing comes from another reading, even a hymn or a collect, I follow it, crediting—or blaming, or shunning personal responsibility—the work of the Holy Spirit.

For this sermon I had two zings. First, I noticed that Jesus ordered his gawking disciples down the mountain, leaving them not a moment to bask in the glow of glory they had seen seen on Jesus. Was this like an all-body halo effect? No wonder Peter wanted to start a building campaign so they could remain forever close to the magic WOW should it reappear. But no go. Jesus ordered them to keep it to themselves as they left the scene and went back down the mountain and into the messiness of earthly life.

The high and the letdown are familiar experiences for us all. I believe God is in both glory and mess, and both are in God.

Let’s face it, the whole Bible is quite a mess. The ancient redactors collected all the oral and written materials intending to create one tidy, consistent, fixed, single volume of authoritative material. What they had amassed was a mess of different voices and perspectives and genres. How would they clean it up?  They didn’t! They left it all in there. The astonishment is that they canonized diversity, difference. And they canonized the tension that accompanies such remarkable diversity. Then they called it ALL Holy.

So? We have to discern meanings, and we have to engage in dialogue with those who hold different understandings than we do. No ONE is all right or all wrong. Boy, does that get messy.

Second zinger: I noticed that the assigned Psalm 50 ended for us today at verse 6. What happened to the other 24 verses? It’s cheap grace to blame some lectionary committee. Better to find out what is left out and wonder why.

The psalms are rich in diversity: bursting with old and new, lament and praise, curse and blessing. Every emotion and circumstance imaginable is in the psalms. They are not doctrine but prayers, rent from the depths of human souls seeking God, stretching for God. And sometimes God responds directly.

Guess what? The whole speech of Godde to the people is what was omitted from Psalm 50 today. We should leave out God’s voice already? Why?

Well, maybe because the God who speaks is Godde the judge. When we are frank we admit that the image of judge is not congenial to many of us. (Of course there are many wise and compassionate judges, but . . .) The idea of a divine judge makes some of us quiver.

The divine judge outlines what is detestable: lies, adulteries, thievery, hatred, speaking against God, citing Godde’s flaws, etcetera. And today I’d add: sexual harassment of any kind, exploitation of any kind, corrupt dealings, Church and corporate cover-ups, and more. You forget how to be holy, God says, speaking as the one just judge, the creator and owner of all living things. Every continent is mine and all that fills it.

What then is the judgment of this God? What does Godde desire? What does this psalmist, so deep in her or his prayers, discern in the divine judgment?

It is this: The only sacrifice I desire is your gratitude. The one who sacrifices gratitude pays me the only true tribute. 

How amazing. That should be easy, right? Not at all. I am not grateful for suffering, violence, lies, human oblivion to holiness, racist, sexist, ableist, classist injustices. No. Neither is God, but NOTICE: God’s judgment does not equal God’s abandonment.

But can I, can we, choose gratitude? It is a choice. Can I choose it in the midst of both the glory and the mess? Gratitude I think is close to absurd hopefulness. Can we choose hopeful gratitude in the mess as well as in the glory?  Not on our own, no. 

The psalm closes with these words: The one who sacrifices gratitude pays me the only true tribute, pay attention to the road. I will illumine to you the visible salvation of God.

Attend. Watch. Creator-God will illumine visible salvation. Visible—in shining faces, lovely windows, on mountains and in gulleys, in grace and in sin. God will illumine. 

Oh, God, thank you. Thank you.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2018.02.05 Official Good News On Gendered Language for God

Now here’s something to crow, or grouse, about. 

The Convention of Episcopal Diocese of Washington D.C. has submitted a resolution to memorialize, that is request that, the General Convention, the legislative body of the Episcopal Church, to consider “Gendered Language for God” in its deliberations about possible revisions to the Book of Common Prayer. The General Convention will meet July 5-13, 2018, in Austin Texas.

Here is the wording of the resolution:
Resolution #3 – On the Gendered Language for God

Submitted by: The Rev. Sam Dessordi Peres Leite, St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC; the Rev. Alex Dyer, St. Thomas’ Parish, Washington, DC; the Rev. Kate Heichler; the Rev. Kimberly Lucas, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC; The Rev. Beth OCallaghan, St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Germantown, MD.

Resolved, the Convention of the Diocese of Washington submits to the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church the following resolution:

Resolved, the House of ____________ concurring, that the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, if revision of the Book of Common Prayer is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.

Those who know me and my passion about the injustice of exclusive theological language will not be surprised to know I am thrilled—over-the-top delighted at this development. I’ve been crowing and writing about this for years, and now my institutional Church is catching up:0) I'm proud, yet if this is taken seriously it will cause many to sorrow and many to rejoice.

This process will be agonizingly slow. Many fine and faithful people do not agree that our seemingly forever set-in-stone language, needs to change. Nevertheless, change is written into the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer. Check it out: Written in 1789, no less.

The present proposed change, I know, is contingent on whether prayer book revisions will be undertaken at this time at all, and I know people I care about will be horrified. I also know that we are Anglicans—nothing if not measured and moderate, providing alternative for the alternatives. AND spiritually, we all live in the love and life of God—no matter what.

That said, please forgive me that I can’t help but jump for joy, as if I were Eve and had just seen a chance to break out of the interminable perfectly permanent boredom of the Garden of Eden.

A recent Arlo and Janis comic strip showed a couple debating the wisdom of selling their house and moving to a smaller dwelling. She laments:I always thought this one would be permanent. He: Nothing is permanent. She: I know, but it’s so important to feel permanent.

If the above resolution passes muster and the convention authorizes revision, our Church will not feel so permanent. Know this: God’s Love IS permanent—no matter what.  

A little background from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) on gender-neutral language in the creation of a revised Book of Common Prayer. The 1979 book retained masculine pronouns for people in Rite I but added gender-neutral language in other liturgies and scripture references. God, however is denoted as masculine throughout.

What about God? Does God have gender? If humankind is made male and female in God’s image, as the Creation narrative in Genesis indicates, then what does that mean—really? If Jesus was indeed a remarkably divine man of Nazareth, does that mean that the Risen Christ also must carry the masculine gender? If so, how can we seek and serve Christ in all persons—in all flesh?  

I am not alone in raising questions. Many theologians and liturgists from many denominations, including The Rev. Dr Clayton L. Morris, a liturgical officer for the Episcopal Church, have raised such questions.

And it’s not new. Christian men and women, have been praying and studying divinity and language for years. El Shaddai, for a small example, is a name for God used forty-eight times in the Bible. It’s traditionally translated “the Almighty”— God of the mountain. But shad is also a Hebrew word for breast. And the feminine ending -ai, is well, feminine. Also the root of the word used for divine compassion is rachuwm in Hebrew and splanchnisomai in Greek. They both mean "womb". These are biblical words. I didn’t learn this until seminary, but the Bible is pretty old, friends. Will we reclaim some of this in our contemporary language?

The SCLM over a year ago invited some clergy to participate in giving critical feedback to some of their proposed liturgical language changes. I felt honored to be invited and sent my responses.

The Episcopal Church’s official position on inclusive language has been rooted in a theological understanding that God transcends masculinity and femininity. “God is neither male nor female. Both women and men are equally loved and included by God and should be valued and shown respect in the church's language.” 


Now are we ready to legislate? I believe we are. My hope of course is that authorization will happen in time for me to see it, use it without fear, and celebrate the liberation of my God— this Godde in whose life and love I have lived since early childhood, this Divinity whose image has been stunted over the centuries.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weak and Strong—Whatever

I remember in seminary we frantic students, just trying to keep up with heavy readings and papers due all at once, used to engage in strenuously absurd debates about the “weak” and the “strong.”  We, without proper exegesis, thought that Paul was teaching that weak people were inferior to strong people who could eat meat sacrificed to idols to their hearts’ content. Like us!

Our level of hysteria about this teaching of Paul to the Church in Corinth (I Corinthians 8:1-13)  stood in direct correlation, if not cause and effect, to our own painful uncertainty about what we were doing studying God when we could hardly breathe from the strain of our, yes, weakness: believing that studying God might just bring us closer to God.

The lector who read this Pauline passage today in our parish church is a very competent reader, an intelligent man, and a master of grammar. He did pretty well, only stumbling once over Paul’s rhetoric and hopelessly run-on sentences. Poor Paul suffered from too many semi-colons, if nothing else. And we? Do we suffer from fearing we might be “weak”? Do we blame Paul for our imagined spiritual deficits?
I hope I have obfuscated enough to make myself sound like Paul, whose image is even blurry. It’s a cover-up for how truly weak I do feel, because I am not able to help one of my adult children the way I think a strong  mother should. I can love; I can be present; I can listen without judgment; I can talk to compassionate souls; I can pray silently and mightily that all will be well but never say that out loud because I don’t know.

Is this what Paul meant by “weak”?  Sort of, yes. Paul was writing about the state of one’s conscience with respect to certain cultural expectations or personal wounds we do not understand. I can not know or understand. I can cry.

Back to scripture. Historically, sacrificing animal flesh to the gods was customary atonal practice—bringing people closer to God. Paul acknowledged that for some people such a practice had spiritual value. Christ’s reconciling work however rendered this practice idolatrous. “Food does not bring us close to God.” Christ does.

BUT—here’s the kicker: The “weak” of conscience still believed, for whatever reasons, that such practices would bring them closer to God. Those who knew better, the “strong” of conscience, would sin against Christ if they failed to respect the conscience of the “weak.”

My late aunt, an aggressive convert to Roman Catholicism, believed it necessary to the salvation of her immortal soul to eat fish—never meat—on Fridays. Her rival sister, my mother, thought this was “stupid.” They argued. I agreed with my mother. [Well, as a child I agreed with her. Today I think I'd be better off fasting every day, for soul and body management at 79.]. Mostly, we avoided having my aunt for dinner on a Friday, but if we did have her, we did NOT serve meat out of respect for her  beliefs, letting our own judgments go—at least for that night. 

I’d love to tell you we were doing this for Christ’s sake, but I couldn’t swear to it. I hope I am in Christ with my vulnerability and helplessness, but I can’t swear to it. And so: Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2018.01.20 Abecedarius—Fun With Words For Sanity's Sake

When I awake to the falling snow I don’t groan like many people do. Rather I snuggle down under my warm comforter, my mind telling me: “Relax, it’s a snow day.” Of course it’s not a traditional snow day, meaning there is no school or work or anything to do at all but sleep in and possibly overeat. In retirement I could do that most days anyway.  Still, I’m psyched for having fun.

Few people would think it fun to play around with words, but for me it’s enlivening. and healing. So on my very own snow day, I created an abecedarius. An abecedarius is a little story in which the first letter of every word follows the alphabet.


I wonder if Creator-God was in this kind of mood while experimenting with harrowing diversity and simultaneously trying to organize prey, predator, and sexes ahead of time so they’d all survive together on Noah’s ark— a Flood story of destruction, entitled:“How to Survive Disaster Without Killing Either Your Mate or Your Rescuer—or Both”?

Creative insanity helps me avoid being driven insane by today’s news headlines alone. They are like headlines in biblical times: Good News! Take notice: your government plan to raise taxes, split up families, deport your best friends, starve the hungry, legalize white supremacy—before it shuts down completely.

To call the biblical proclamation “Good News” is stunningly ironic. The gospel proclamation and prophetic preaching in both testaments was Good News from God. Good news from God, however, was the polar opposite of what governing powers announced as good news—both then and now.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2018.01.14 Open-Hearted Girls

Countless prayers of faithful people
weighted in a cumbrous world
found an answer as an angel
met an open-hearted girl.
Not a master of a palace
where the airs of empire swirl,
nor a young and hardened warrior
but an open-hearted girl.

This lovely Michael Hudson text was written with Mary the mother of Jesus in mind, but I certainly know many open-hearted girls. Do you?

As I write this I'm thinking of one in particular, because it’s her 55th birthday. She is my oldest daughter, Beverley Ann Brakeman. She was born with much effort and also some “lucky” statistics: born on 1/13/63 at 1:13 a.m., weighing 8lbs13ozs. She was a big baby. She’s still a big presence, not in size but in vigor—and she has an open heart. (No significance to the Police van in the background:)

I remember how terrified I felt when I was birthing my first child. It hurt so much I thought I’d die. I’d prayed for a daughter, but in labor my only prayer was: “Let it be over!”  In time (too much I thought) my daughter was born. One look at her squished-up face, her perfect wee head nearly swallowed by a mop of black hair, and hearing her voluminous howl, opened my own heart forever—and ever.

I also felt anxious. I was even scared her small arm would break when I put the little undershirt over her head. My OB said: “They’re not as fragile as they look. You’ll be fine.” I was of course in love with him, or in thrall of what he did—forgetting to give myself any credit for enduring a long drug-free labor. All I felt was embarrassment because I'd thrown up all over my poor husband, standing anxiously by. I recall lamenting my intestinal expectoration because it landed all over the great sweater I had knit for him all by myself. You think weird thoughts when you’re in pain.

And I worried. Could I do this? Could I be a good mother? To these natural questions there is only one answer: NO. I’m not cynical. I’m just realistic about the vulnerabilities of parenting, especially for mothers, many of whom, at least in my generation, were handed a list of requirements for this job—omnipresence, omnipotent lovingness, and possible omniscience—qualities traditionally attributed to God, ironically called “Father.” Even my mother told me: “Being a mother is the highest destiny for any woman.” 

None of my stress was, or is, my fault, or Bev’s. It’s just how it was, and still continues to be, for many mothers and daughters. I listen to mothers struggling to balance their own needs, their vocations/careers with being a a mother. I recall once a woman priest in a group say: “Well, that’s it! I simply can not be a good mother and a good priest at the same time.” 

Still, Bev grew up and so did I. We have grown up together. Our hearts have opened and closed and opened again to each other through the years. We stitch it up with understanding and forgiveness and move on—because we both are open-hearted, both mothers to two daughters, both passionate about social justice, both tell the truth in love.

Happy Birthday, my beloved daughter. You are a blessing and I love you.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2018.01.07 The "Royals" Arrive—Epiphany

We waited and waited through Advent. Then we waited with bated breathe for the actual baby to get born on Christmas Eve, or is that actually Christmas morning itself?

But  . . . nothing of moment happens until the “royals” arrive, and they, as “royals” do, take a very long time traversing, crisscrossing, the desert sands on camels to evade the watchful eye of a jealous ruler named Herod. Rumors have alerted them and they are curious to see if there really is a new “king” who will bring peace and good will and replace the politics of the tyrant Herod. That’s the ancient story. That story is not old!

There is no better idea than replacing our current politics—the whole fraught mess of it.

May we rise above partisanship. It’s not working for either party. I don’t know what a politics of Love would look like exactly, and perhaps it’s not humanly possible except in small ways in big hearts.

The “royals” were not kings but wise men/Magi from the far east. In our house, in ancient story, and in many cultures, they don’t make it to the creche until Epiphany.

We don’t fully celebrate Christmas until three guys arrive—El Dia de los Tres Reyes, January 6th.

Our Magi have just arrived—a bit disheveled—one Asian, one black, one female, all without their crowns. They must have lost them on the way.  If you look closely you can see the fallen crowns tucked in between the camels' one-too-many humps. I consider this an extremely good omen: no crowns, no kings, no emperors, no almighty display. Just a group of hopefuls following an out-sized star no less.  

Welcome these crownless dethroned worshipers. They’re exhausted; they still bring gifts; they still brandish Hope—in the most royally defiant way.