Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013.12.13 Happy New Year!

 Everything New

I want to be here
just with you
we two.
That’s what olding peeps do,
is it not?
As they wait for the chicken pot pie
to stew
and gaze at their tiny fake tree, red
and blue,
Then make a salad, green, fresh
and new.
I love you my love
they say with their eyes
while young TV celebrants
hug, hop and hoot
for everything new, everything new—
we too.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013.12.29 The Lord of Misrule

Images of the Lord of Misrule: unruly, wild—lush with arch abandon, and deliciously out of bounds.

We Christians think of Lord as THE Lord, the one we call Jesus Christ. The ancient East thought of Lord as Emperor, the Caesar to be obeyed and worshiped. But have you ever thought of Lord as multiple? Well, of course not, but why not? The face of God in human form is embossed on all life—even fools. It’s the message of Christmas. It’s incarnation, you fool!

In medieval England the twelve days of Christmas were sovereigned by the Lord of Misrule, the pagan god of mischief and fun.  It was a time dedicated to merriment, a time for frolic and fun, to make friends not foes, to feast not fast—a time for smile not snark.  

In short, go wild.  Hurt no one. Love everyone—everything take into your heart for warmth and sweet home where all wild things dwell in peace. Which, after all, are the most prolific and the most alluring of flowers?  Those that grew on the side of the road, those that children are allowed to pick at will, just for fun to make their bouquets—because they are unimportantly wild.

Be wild, O my soul, for the source of Wonder;
let all your insides praise God’s Holy Name.
Be wild, O my soul, for the source of Wonder
who leads you into life.

            (paraphrase, Psalm 103, Greenberg translation)

For the curious: 1. The green smily-looking balls are ballistic bath bombs, slow fizzers that when immersed in your bath water fizzle and moisturize your skin while emitting a mysterious scent of vanilla and gardenia.   2. The couple dancing in inverted postures are losing their heads, reversing even bodily rectitude.   (I wonder if this is what a reaction to the good news of divine love all round might have been like?) 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013.12.15 Christmas

"This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria..........."  So began the Christmas gospel, this year from Luke, telling the story of how Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph had to travel to their native town of Bethlehem to be registered for taxation. While there, something happened..........

This year, perhaps for the first time, Syria jumped out at me, a small part of the grand story. Syria in the midst of bombings, strife and civil war. I remember when we were in Israel in 2012 and we stood on a ridge overlooking the land so barren.  Our professor pointed to some mountains  in the distance and said, "That's Syria."

Syria not Bethlehem became the focus of my prayers. She is why God keeps on trying, in so many ways, to draw our attention to Love not War. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013.12.24 Nativity Eve

The image of Snowy seemed a fitting image for Nativity Eve.  At least it’s better than a stork or even the traditional dove!   I might have used the traditional creche image of Jesus surrounded by love and dung in a manger, but Snowy represents divine labor—the movement just before birth, into life. 

How would you image such a mystery as the very soul of Divinity arriving from the god-knows-where place we call “heaven” to roost in human flesh? 

The great swooping snowy owl has power, an enormous wing spread, golden eyes centered and focused with so much intensity it’s frightening—and what looks like a goofy smily face. Really!

I imagine that this was the kind of look I had on my face in the moment of birthing my first daughter, the moment when everything changed. After long hours of ongoing painful contractions going nowhere I felt quite desperate and powerless. Then it happened, the phase I call the big push. My uterus came alive, woke up from its droning labor and began to help me. Together we pushed.

It didn’t take long. With a little assistance from cheerleading nurses and a doctor pulling with what looked like tongs (poor little child) my daughter came into her own life. All pain swept away and I grinned at the wondrous gift of a girl, also at the natural power in my body, power I’d never known was there, Snowy power.

God the Creator must have felt like this, I thought—such a mighty effort, such a stupendous effort to potentiate a whole cosmos of teeming life, such tender exertion to break into each tiny infant body. There is not a single living thing that goes unaffected by Her labor into birth.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013.12.22 What Are You Looking For?

I’ve followed many a shiny star
into many a stinking stable
to find it
Leaving, I look back—
A streak of light
on a strand of straw
bids me stop,
The spiritual power of seeking is in the search itself more than it is in the finding, especially when you stop seeking because you imagine you must have definitive answers.

Actually, the finding is in the seeking—for why would you seek for something unless you'd already experienced it in some small way and found it desirable? 

In Advent we long for Christmas and dream of sugar plums and the shiny new whatever we think will satisfy our heart's desires. Christmas comes and we get that gift. Alas, soon we are full of longing and seeking once again. What for?

What's the point? My dad used to say this all the time. Once I tried to answer his burning question and found myself tangled up in feckless theological platitudes.

Is it all a vain search for ineffable mystery? Yes, but look again anyway and never stop.

No desiring is in vain and all who seek find something—something.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013.12.15 His Day Is Done

His Day is Done by Dr. Maya Angelou

His day is done.
Is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.  Our skies were leadened.

His day is done.
We see you, South African people standing speechless at the slamming of that final door through which no traveler returns.  Our spirits reach out to you Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer.
We think of you and your son of Africa, your father, your one more wonder of the world.

We send our souls to you as you reflect upon your David armed with a mere stone, facing down the mighty Goliath.

Your man of strength, Gideon, emerging triumphant.

Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.

Would the man survive? Could the man survive?

His answer strengthened men and women around the world.

In the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in Chicago’s Loop, in New Orleans Mardi Gras, in New York City’s Times Square, we watched as the hope of Africa sprang through the prison’s doors.

His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.10

He had not been crippled by brutes, nor was his passion for the rights of human beings diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment.

Even here in America, we felt the cool, refreshing breeze of freedom.

When Nelson Mandela took the seat of Presidency in his country where formerly he was not even allowed to vote we were enlarged by tears of pride, as we saw Nelson Mandela’s former prison guards invited, courteously, by him to watch from the front rows his inauguration.

We saw him accept the world’s award in Norway with the grace and gratitude of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts, and the confidence of African Chiefs from ancient royal stools.

No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.

Yes, Mandela’s day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.

He has offered us understanding.
We will not withhold forgiveness even from those who do not ask.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done, we confess it in tearful voices, yet we lift our own to say
thank you.

Thank you our Gideon, thank you our David, our great courageous man.

We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.


                                                                   * * * *
I've often compared the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy to the biblical David as Maya Angelou has compared Nelson Mandela to King David of Ancient Israel. Neither Kennedy and Mandela had smooth personal lives, yet both overrode their troubles to become political heroes and liberators of their times.

The biblical David was the youngest son of a large family, chosen by God for a role in moving the people of Israel from nomadic tribe to a settled monarchical state. David put Israel on the map and is still a revered hero representing the heroism of his people. King David is even considered a model for the kingship of Christ—inauspicious beginnings and troubles all along the way to the end, yet keeping faith in God's faith.

King David headed up one of the most dysfunctional families in biblical narrative, was a womanizer,  adulterer, coward, and murderer—and darn near got killed by his own son Absalom.  He was also merciful to his predecessor King Saul, wrote and chanted beautiful psalms, and died a very old man (in real time) tended by an “exceedingly beautiful” young virgin named Abishag, with whom he “did not have relations.” No senior sex for this king.



Of course all we have is the ancient story and no historical proof as we so would so love today, however the story stands, its own witness to amazing spiritual biography and transcendent wisdom.

Comparisons are odious but making connections can be healing, enlarging of soul. When a faith story or a poem pull back the zoom lens, light comes in, and enough light forestalls judgment. It becomes almost impossible to stay fixated on either the righteous side or the sinful side of a human being, or an issue when you see it all. Extremism loses its heft. Call it a God’s eye view.

We do not forget people who are authentic saint/sinners. They are just like us—dearly beloved fools.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013.12.10 When Tragedy Rends the Heart

When tragedy rends hearts there is little else to do but cry, pray anyway, and love without reserve.
This is Riley. She is six years old, in first grade, the daughter of friends of one of our children.  She has brain cancer, a cancer so aggressive and widespread that doctors at Boston Childrens' Hospital have said there is nothing more that can be done. Riley's parents are in shock, their pain almost too much to bear. Their only goal is to keep Riley as free of pain as possible and happy.  They love her to death.

People ask religious, spiritual questions at these times.  Of course we do. We want to know if there is a God who can help change what has happened.  Many conclude that there is no God, only human love.  That is true, but then God IS human love.  I can say by faith and experience that God's love  is limitless and eternal. It is God's power that is limited so we can be fully free. It is not God's love that is limited. In fact the divine heart itself is the first to break open, God's tears the first to fall.

Riley and her family face the likelihood of death. Hope calls for a miracle quite naturally, But whatever happens Riley will not be alone but surrounded by love also, in the words of a hymn:
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013.12.08 Advent: Mixed Grace IS Grace

Grace has lots of meanings and even more interpretations —a dancer’s movements, a prayer before a meal, a royal title like Your Grace the bishop of Switherington, time allowed to pay a debt, the equivalent of teacher’s pet (in her good graces), tiny notes that embellish an already darn good melody, Grace Kelly, and Gracie Storrs.

Gracie Storrs was the eleven year old girl who introduced me to the F word, without telling me what it meant—exactly. Immediately I asked my mother who paid swift attention to me, which I loved. She asked me who told me that word. Gracie, I said, and she said, Oh, Gracie, well then it’s a Gracie word. I came away still not knowing what F meant but in awe of Gracie’s power and henceforth without fear of F or other alleged tabus. 

My least favorite definition of grace is popular jargon: There but for the grace of God go I.  People sling this spiritual hash all the time. But think!  What kind of God is presented here?  Hint: your tumor turns up benign, but your roommate’s is malignant. So which of you is the grace-recipient? Really. Thank God because it’s the prayer of your soul and you can’t help it, but for God’s sake don’t sling hash—or even think it.

My favorite definition of grace is experiential. It came from a favorite seminary professor, Luke Timothy Johnson. He taught a course in which all we had to do was attend his lectures and then write in our journals about how we experienced big theological words, like grace, sin, holy, faith, idolatry. We signed up like ants to a blob of spilled honey. The course became a blockbuster—not because of it’s name, “Christian Existence as Life in the Spirit,” or Johnson's popularity, but because there was no reading! Nevertheless........such alleged gut courses actually have guts.We soon learned Whose life  we would be asked to directly experience in our flesh,  and then write our “scriptures.” 

This “gut” course re-rooted me in the God I’d first met as a child, the God who gave me “unconditional positive regard,” a term I grew to detest when I was in training as a counselor. We called it UPR. Psychologist Carl Rogers thought counselors should adapt UPR toward clients. We trainees all began to look and sound like puffy pink blobs of cotton candy. We sugarcoated without condition every ounce of client flesh. No human person worth her sinfulness can do that. (Later even Rogers got wise and removed the “positive” from his definition.)

Still, doesn't Carl look unconditionally
regarding?  Yet only Godde can do UPR grace.

Here's how Professor Johnson defined UPR grace:  an inward experience of being known and loved—at the same time. When have you experienced that?  I wrote about orgasmic sex, embodied UPR, a grace in which self and other merge so you never give a thought to being known/knowing/being loved/loving. I’d never coupled God and sex so explicitly before.

Recently, I came across another definition of grace. I like this definition because it is a merger, this time of alleged opposites. The quote is footnoted in William Countryman’s book Living On the Border of the Holy. Renewing the Priesthood of All, 1999, one of the supplemental texts for EfM.  Countryman is an Episcopal priest, professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA. and a prolific author. Good gay guy scholar.

The question Countryman posed was: does the church institutional have value? YES, as both lay and ordained live the good news proclaimed and embodied by Jesus. BUT only if it the church functions aware of its limitations and with modesty. In this context he quotes Christopher Morse, Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief, 1994. Love that title.

“That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church   . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, ‘beneath its opposite.’  From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.” 

So we’re back to Gracie and the F word and my conviction that nothing is outside the purview of divine grace even if you have to look sub contrario. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013.12.01 Wait-and-See Advent

Outside the church we are already commercially and spiritually focused on Christmas and its trappings. In this age of instant everything many of us are conditioned NOT to wait.  I get cross with my computer if it doesn’t pop into action at my touch. I can’t wait.

The comic strip, “Heart of the City,” features a kicky little girl who protests to a local store owner about Christmas paraphernalia on display even before Thanksgiving arrives. Heart carries placards, bravely pickets the store, and argues with its owner. She loses the battle to commerce, but wins the war. Few miss the point:

In our haste to get to the “good part” are we not missing the “best part?”

I remember my anticipation as a child. The baited breath suspense of Advent was as full of new life as Nativity. Waiting built up the Spirit, made Santa Claus, also Jesus,  all the more wondrous, and gifts all the more delightful when they came, even if they weren’t exactly what we wanted. 

Advent was the best part simply because as its days grew shorter and darker the world around lit up. Both darkness and light happened simultaneously. At the same time!  It made my eyes pop with awe.  I awaited the dark with as much eagerness as I did the light.

I feel it as an adult too. I don’t complain when days get dark early, unless it’s just to join the chorus of grumbling I hear all around me. But deep inside me I feel oddly comforted when we pull shades before 5 pm and turn on lights, maybe slide the thermostat up a tiny bit.  It’s cozy; it’s hearth; it’s holing in for the evening.

Advent is the interior season, the safe-and-warm-inside season— prayer, softness, dim glow, the color purple-blue, quiet womb, wait 'n see.

Yet in Advent I always think more about homeless people in this season. I don’t wait for Christmas to see Jesus in church pageants.  I see christs on the streets slumped against buildings, huddled in blankets, asleep on benches, sometimes mumbling thank you.  I can’t make them cozy or warm.

As a young child in the city I’d beg my mother for a nickel to throw in a cup or the bucket of a bell ringer.  Clink!  I’d ask: Why are they sleeping? It’s too cold to sleep outside. Don’t they have beds?  My questions were childish—or were they?  I couldn’t make them cozy and warm.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has an active street ministry and employs a street priest to celebrate Sunday Eucharist outside on Boston Common and organize pastoral care. This church is called Common Cathedral. Some of my church “taxes”go to the diocese to support this ministry. 

I’ve visited this outside cathedral  and once gave my scarf to a man who looked cold. I admit I felt awkward, guilty, not wanting to be perceived as Lady Bountiful—but also a little scared. I wish I could be brave and easy like street priests, lay and ordained, but I’m not. I wish I could be more externalized, more of an activist, but I’m an indoor priest. I wait, watch and hope with every “advent” bone in my body, through prayer and Christ’s Eucharist meal, that others with more vocational will and guts will take such generosity outside with them. 

There is hope. I just read (Boston Globe 11/29/13) about blanket ministry, administered in part by our Cathedral Church of St. Paul but the brainchild of Boston’s homeless community.  Some foolish christ asked them what they needed. Blankets, they said!! The blankets are folded to the size of a deck of playing cards in a small pouch. They are silver Mylar space blankets—extremely lightweight and very warm, the kind worn by astronauts and marathoners after a race. Inexpensive too!

You need something warm while you wait outside for a home inside.

The precious blankets are not distributed from shelters or agencies but by volunteers who have been homeless on and off themselves. Over 8000 blankets have been purchased and sent to St. Paul’s. The homeless christ-priests recognize their own on the streets, pull a small blanket pouch out of their backpack, and hand it out—sort of like Eucharist, a tiny wafer on the tongue or in the hand, blessed, as are the blanket pouches, and distributed. Neither solves life’s many problems nor fills an empty belly, but each helps. Oh, each helps as we wait.

To me the whole city world begins, metaphorically, to look eucharistic, open-hearted giving and receiving —wafers inside, blankets outside—as we wait together, but not precisely for Christ for christ is here in the heart of the city.