Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011.09.28 Secrecy and Transparency

I think that too much secrecy and too much transparency are both unhealthy extremes in human systems, individual, family, organizational.

Both secrecy and transparency as strict policies preclude the obvious middle way—MODESTY.

SECRECY is not the same as confidentiality because it is often fueled by fear more than it is by respect.

TRANSPARENCY is not the same as freedom of speech or right to know because it too is often fueled by fear rather than respect.

I know systems get trapped in extremes of behavior and then try to change but too often change happens quickly and reactively not allowing proper time to discern and discriminate about right choices in different situations. So we set policies!

Parish search committees in the Episcopal Church, for example, are rife with secrecy mandates. Such policies when rigid become paranoid.

I remember visiting a parish for an interview, asking about bathroom privileges (my sarcasm) and being whisked in and out quickly with the comment. “Someone might see you.” I’ve never relieved myself so fast in my life.

Rigorous secrecy is injurious to clergy interviewees who are sequestered and only meet a committee and perhaps a vestry before they appear on their first Sunday. Behold! Clergy never get a chance to experience a community at worship and the community never gets a chance to hear a sermon or see a priest celebrate.

It is also unfair to congregations who have no opportunity to ask questions or shake a hand or listen to a voice. They have a vote but no voice.

Transparency in the extreme however is also not a good idea because political gossip and lobbying easily hobble the discernment of the search committee and may prejudice a candidate.

The process is really quite sinful when it’s too blind. It disallows participation even at a modest level of both parties in what in the Church is still called, for better or worse, a “marriage” between a priest and her/his congregation.

A modest appreciation of the needs of both parties in filling such a key position as rector is possible. Other traditions hold open meetings, including mutual opportunity for respectful questioning between parishioners and each finalist. And some invite each finalist to preach and, yes, go to coffee hour for schmooze time. Imagine!

The modesty approach is worth looking at in the Episcopal Church because there is much boo-hoo talk about what we call “failed searches.” WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

Monday, September 26, 2011

2011.09.25 Diss-Invitation

Recently the University of St. Francis in Philadelphia disinvited retired Globe columnist Ellen Goodman to deliver a lecture on civility.


Why the diss? Oh yes, a national Roman Catholic group pressured the university because Goodman supports abortion rights.

Why really? Because there was money involved. It appears to me to be a case of blackmail by a conservative group with power, influence, and big bucks the university needs to survive.

I don’t know if my suspicions are correct but I might bet on it, though I’m not a gambler—yet.

All this is done of course in the name of God. Again, using God’s name to create homogeneity and conformity or exclusionary politics is not the gospel of Jesus Christ or the God of Genesis.

Anything goes? Well, yes.

We are given the capacity to love and forbear to assure civility.

I mean look at the diversity in the Creation myth in Genesis One. It’s a colorful mélange of all sorts and conditions of life on earth—all of it declared GOOD in the mouth of God. Including both female and male creatures.

The best marriages are between two people who are complimentary and different. Too much sameness is quite cozy and comfortable— happy as a warm moist diaper pail.

We grow and thrive best in diversity where we learn to manage differences and come to love ourselves and the other without constraint and condition. That’s good science. That’s also good theology and spirituality. Homogeneity is only good for milk.

We have failed at heterogeneity-with-love......... but God still longs for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011.09.21 No Peaceful Religion

Watching the old movie called The Message about the history and development of Islam I saw how similar the themes and patterns of development are in all religions.

All of them start in violence and often resort to it, to defend the God they love who counsels otherwise. Is this a guy thing?

Why do we fight over that which we most value? Sad and crazy.

There are no peaceful religions although all of them preach peace till they’re blue or die trying.

There are no peaceful religions only passionate religions, petri dishes for zealotry for a God who wants love and faithfulness, not death and war. Often in the Bible violence is put into God’s own mouth and onto God’s will. There are two strands of tradition at work as theology evolves: the warlike vengeful God and the One whose steadfast love and mercy abounds.

Christianity, and other religions too, tried to choose the latter but then human “ingenuity” crucified it. And we still do.

How ironic that God’s name is taken in vain to defend God. But God through new voices calls us back to the way of compassion for all.

We have a choice about our own interpretations and theologies. That’s why I love midrash, the Jewish ongoing process of interpreting and re-interpreting the Word of God for each generation.

I do not take scripture literally. Sometimes it re-creates God in our own image. But it is part of our ongoing struggle to understand the mystery we can not.

My favorite midrashic reframe is on the story of the Exodus. The Israelites have crossed the miraculously parted Red Sea and are ecstatically safe on the other side as the sea waters close over the enemy Egyptian army. They all drown. As the Israelites thank God and cheer about their own freedom they spot an angel weeping by the shore. Revealing the enormity of their spiritual naiveté, they ask the angel, “Your people are free, so why do you weep? The angel of God answers: “Because some of my people are dead at the bottom of the sea.”

You see how mixed it all is. But I choose to believe the God whose Word keeps speaking to correct our errant thinking and reinstate Divine Love.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011.09.18 God Made What?

A four year old, aware of the 9/11 10th anniversary news clips, which his parents chose to handle with discretion rather than denial, asked the inevitable (no, it’s not about sex!):

Daddy was momentarily thrown for a loop about how to respond.

He said it was funny that his next thought was one of happiness realizing that this young little mind was processing and thinking and communicating and doing so independently.

Still, because this dad is wise and loves God himself, he tried to cut God a break without neglecting his son’s curiosity: “God may not have anything to do with it [terrorism]. God probably doesn’t control everything.”

That was enough for the child who could then go on loving not blaming God—and maybe think twice about his own responsibility in the workings of God’s creation.

Tragedies are not God-driven but humanly inevitable.

The ancient faithful had a theory of “double causation.” It goes like this...................

You can fall off a roof and hurt yourself because you shouldn’t have risked it in the first place, you lost your ordinarily good balance, you took a dare, someone pushed you, or it was the roof’s fault.

The ancients didn’t want to exclude divine activity from any sphere of life at all but were wise to realize that a loving God wouldn’t push you off a roof or will your fall. Hence................................

God stays involved to inspire love and healing in whatever form it may take: a loving stranger who passes by and happens to see you fallen; a medic who treats your body; a loved one who takes time off work to babysit you because you can’t move around much for a while; a church community that prays for you sending healing energy your way, and you know it; and a faith in God who strengthens you from within to forgive yourself, the other, or the roof—and go on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

20111.09.14 Holy Cross Day

For Christians today is a day we remember the painful and ugly cross of Christ crucified. We call it holy because it is an image of tragic and innocent suffering, the kind we all endure in our life time here on earth. Such an image evokes our tears and our resolve not to crucify, not to do what we hate to our neighbor or to ourselves, in any way.

To say that Jesus had it worse only cheapens your own suffering, whatever it is, so give yourself a gift today and know that whatever your troubles are they matter to God and to those who love you as God does.

There’s no way to prevent suffering I’m sure but a good way to be with it is to pray and form communities of care and love, communities that stand at the foot of the cross, helpless save for compassionate empathy, tears and prayers.

Sometimes there is something you can do though to prevent injustice and inequity and create nets of support. Money helps. Sharing riches helps even more.

I read a letter to the editor in the Globe this morning suggesting that Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is right by definition to call Social Security a ponzi scheme: a monetary investment vehicle in which gains are made to initial investors with money collected from new investors. The letter writer concludes with...............

“That sure sounds like 20-year-olds paying for the Social Security benefits of 60 year-olds.”


Thank you, all you young people. I am as grateful for the benefits as my parents were for theirs and never resented paying into a system in which the able help the less able.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011.09.11 9/11

Do what you are able and for God’s sake be kind to yourself and all creation. But above all pray, for that is how you will be in touch with your internal arbiter, the soul voice that, at its most naked, conjoins with the transcendent to bring forth goodness and peace.

There is no accounting for tragedy—no need to quantify it, no need to compare it as if every tragedy weren't exactly the same to the human hearts involved, and no need to get even for we can't. There is just a need to name our heart's truth and grieve together.

To share on this day of remembrance I quote from Leo Tolstoi who in 1854 was at the front in the Crimean war. On leave he witnessed a public beheading in Paris that changed his spiritual life forever and brought forth his lasting work War and Peace.

Tolstoi wrote: "During my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I."

Judith Shulevitz writing about the sabbath remembrance in her book Sabbath World ends her fine book with wise and simple words: “We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.”

To pray is to stop, remember, and allow Other to transform your heart’s soul. A sabbath community reminds us to stop, pray and remember to strengthen our collective hearts.

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011.09.05 Labor Day and Memorial Day

Today, a week before the 10th anniversary of the disaster in NYC we call 9/11, is a day on which a LABOR of love was revealed in New York. It is a MEMORIAL to help us remember what we can not restore.

I just saw a video of the memorial, “Reflecting Absence” —for me a spiritual experience, meaning awe, hand to my mouth, a gasp, and tears that flowed with the two enormous human-made waterfalls.

The two pools, a colossus to mark the foot prints of what were the twin towers plunge down, earthward, rather than up, heavenward.

Who decided Divinity was always up anyway?

Like the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. the names are engraved along the granite edges of the pools, in no special rank or order. If only life could be as great an equalizer as death.

I didn’t know anyone personally who lost life but I had a client whose new husband was on one of the planes. So I felt along with her.

I got to wondering about absence and presence. We assume that the presence of God is the only good thing, however in the tradition of the Psalms the felt absence of God elicits some of the most beautiful poetry and heart-rending spiritual aching ever created—a memorial to the biblical God who gave humanity freedom and made it sacrosanct, a gift never to be violated by power, even divine power, a Love willing to be powerless, to be experienced as absent.

The presence of God is not unimportant of course. I see it not in intervention but rather in the tears of a nation, in the labors of those who dropped their own lives for a time just to help in heroic ways offering whatever they had to give including prayers, and in the creation of great beauty in this memorial.

Reminds me of the biblical women who stood by Jesus to the end and so many others who sit in prayer or at bedsides keeping God company.