Sunday, November 27, 2016

2016.11.27 Remember and Do LIkewise...........

The Gettysburg Address has a familiar ring. President Abraham Lincoln, November 19,1863 delivered it in a matter of minutes. Nice brief homily! Lincoln was a Republican. This beautiful speech was delivered to a divided nation at war with itself. It inspired hope and remembrance of who we are as a nation. Does it still?

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. We, 1,153 years later, are also in the midst of civil strife in which much blood has been spilled, most of it senseless.

Many Christians believe that Jesus Christ shed blood to save us. I believe that Jesus’s death was a crime of epic proportions that occurred in a system in which all parts contributed to its happening, including those who loved him. But they did not forget what he stood for. They kept talking and remembering this brilliant life and this useless death—over and over until they derived hope in resurrection. Today, Christians remember this founding event regularly in order to call us back to God who created us equal—all of us—and whose desire it is that no more blood be spilled for Christ’s sake, or anyone else’s either. 

As we enter this liturgical season of Advent, we soon will say goodbye to Barack Obama, our president of eight years, and to his family, most handsome and bright. He is the president who ran on a platform of Hope. He is our first brown-skinned president. He is the president who entered office with dark brown hair and leaves with gray hair. He is part of what makes American great.

I hope we will remember all that he has stood for and all that he has accomplished on our behalf.

I hope we will encourage our new government to stop shedding invisible blood and take time to evaluate Obama’s reforms with care as changes are made.

I hope all of us Americans, citizens and  citizens-in-waiting, will make extra efforts to get to know each other's stories.

I hope we will be able to see each other beyond our politics, our skin colors, our genders, our religions, our physical or financial status, whether we were born here or not. I hope we will have respectful conversations, listen and talk with open hearts, rather than looking to convert anyone to one single point of view—our own. 

I hope we will honestly try to be true to our founding vision, the one we still dare to call these United States, a country in which ALL people who live here may dream and work and, yes, enjoy equal access without fear to all the many resources available—economic, social, educational, spiritual, agricultural, legal, cultural, natural—from sea to shining sea.    

We the people do not know who we are, nor who our neighbors are, so steeped are we in our own positions, fears, values, and judgments. We are not the land of the free until we can share that freedom—and help each other hope. 

I hope that if there is another speaker as eloquent as Lincoln that person will recall us to our founding values. 

The apostle Paul in his famous love letter to Love in the Bible (I Corinthians 13) declared the three top spiritual gifts to be faith, hope, and love. But alas, he then rank-ordered them to say that the greatest of these is love. In my experience, the three are of equal value, inseparable, and ceaselessly interacting. 

Hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

May the God of hope bless us, keep us, and shine upon and from within us, that we may abound in Hope, Faith and Love—this day and always.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016.11.20 Gratitude

As this Thanksgiving week begins, I use this blog space to thank all of you who have read this blog over the years since I started writing it in October, 2008.  Whether you have commented or sent feedback or not, your presence is so very much appreciated—essentially invisible and boldly omnipresent at once. Thank you.

I am especially aware this year as the National Day of Thanksgiving approaches, how uneven the national mood is. That's not a new state of affairs, but it is our state of affairs right now, and frankly, does not lend itself to much open-hearted gratitude from any perspective—any at all.  

I invite you to join with me in a simple spiritual practice. Make a gratitude list. It is private and silent like a prayer, and yet it is potent like prayer, sending waves of uplifting energy out into the universe.

Your list can be simple or complex, elaborated or not, but get it going. The only suggestion is that your items be sincere. Add regularly to your list throughout the holiday season up to January 1, 2017—and beyond. The habit will grow in your soul, enriching you from within as it grows.

The voice of God is written in the heart of a prayer, psalm #50. When we give thanks we enter the soul of God.

     The only sacrifice I need is your gratitude . . .                    (Pam Greenberg translation)
     Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me . . . (Book of Common Prayer translation)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

2016.11.13 I Was Hoping

In the pre-Nicene period of Christian history, the times were much like our own. Christians were tense, fearful, still grasping for theological meaning a couple hundred years after their painful loss of Jesus Christ and their own messianic expectations. They were groping to understand, to right themselves. Resurrection was not an instant and obvious solace for many, its meaning uncertain. They shared a simple meal—over and over, as they had with Jesus.

Later a Creed would emerge. The Nicene Creed (325 C.E.) stabilized them, for better or worse. It’s always good to have something to recite in public, in community, whether you swallow every word whole or not.

On election eve, 2016, at 11 p.m., I went to bed, mildly, not wildly, confident that Hillary Clinton would be our next president, our first woman president. I slept. I awoke at 7. Dick was sitting up on his side of the bed. I knew he was reading the news on his tablet. I knew. I knew Donald Trump had been elected, because Dick did not turn to me with his big irresistible grin. 

I got up slowly and went to the window, a lookout point from our third floor. I saw a familiar sight: an elderly couple of Asian extraction with their equally aging large dog. They were walking—slowly, very slowly—all three apace. The couple held hands. That’s all. Only then did I cry—for Hillary, for myself, for women, and for all people I love, and many I have never met, whose rights might be endangered, for American diversity, not to mention the glass ceiling I’d hoped would be shattered at last. And I wept for my country, which had elected a man whose rhetoric was misogynistic, abusive, and inciting of violence. Not my guy.

My mind, odd as it can be, went to the Eucharist—steady, sturdy, usually on time, a foxhole as well as a cathedral ritual of radical intimacy, inclusivity, hospitality, and hope. All the things Mr.Trump had trumpeted against.

We, like our forebears, return first to the Eucharist, remembering its power—power to which we bring, like they did, all our hopes, dreams, prayers, sorrows and joys.

Gratefully, Dick and I were scheduled to preside at a Eucharist for a small Education for Ministry (EfM) group at our parish church that evening. They were using one of the Church’s earliest Eucharistic liturgies—pre-Nicene in fact. It was brief, humble, unelaborated, contained all the traditional ingredients. Together this small group broke honest-to-goodness sweet-smelling bakery bread and shared wine from a chalice. These basic elements of nourishment for body and soul were consecrated by words spoken by a presiding priest, and equally by the presence of each of us around the altar table. Then we ate, including olives and cheese, which the early Christians would have brought to the table. We do what Christians do.

I was at peace and slept well that night. My calm did not last, of course, as the fullness of the shock settled into my bones. I talked with friends and family. My son wondered what he could say to his young son and daughter. I felt in a haze. I turned to prayer, asking God for a word—say something!! In quiet, and even in anxiety, I heard this: Don’t stand out. Stand up. It’s one of those things God often says inside me that is wiser than any words of my own.

In fact, I have been trying to “stand out” a bit as I work to promote my new book, a memoir. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but I hear God calling me to stand up. Stand up and be counted. Keep on working for  justice and equality for women and for all the progressive values you cherish. Stand up, anyway. Even in my incredulity and my grief, I can stand up.

I turned to Scripture, needing just one more leg to stand on. I opened my small bedside table Bible and thumbed aimlessly through. This image fell out. I looked for a long time at the faces of these two disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, as they are pictured by artist Burnand—running, running, running toward the tomb, just in case what the women had reported about the missing corpse might be true. 

I stared at these faces for some time. They mirrored exactly my own post-election feelings. What has happened? What can happen? What now? I might not run so well, but I can still stand up—for common goodness and common good.

                              Eugene Burnand (1850-1921) Swiss artist.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

2016.11.06 The Cloak of Prayer, No Matter What

Our diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Alan M Gates, has called for a 48-hour prayer vigil from Nov 6-8, 2016 throughout our diocese of Massachusetts. It could be a wall but I prefer the image of a cloak, velvet soft and warm with the crackly energy of unconditional hope.

Sometimes when we send lots of energy towards a hope in prayer the energy moves things in helpful/healing directions. If I didn’t have some faith in that spiritual power I would never pray at all. It’s no guarantee, I know. But that’s no reason to stay away from the prayer or polls, or avoid heinous challenges, or crawl into a clam shell of shame or fear. It is rather an act of profound trust—an act of love with risks, as all true love carries. Prayer is unconditional. One of the psalms (69) prays: I am my prayer to you.
No one mentions prayer much in this alarmist and boiling-over national climate, but I bet some people are praying, yes, for a candidate maybe, but also for the health of our country and our democracy and our common humanity. The bishop said that individual desires will naturally be in whatever personal prayers we offer, but more broadly, he adjured us to pray with full understanding that God will be fully present in the whole process:
    -that there will be a peaceful transition, no matter what the outcome
    -that there will be no further stoking of demonizing language
    -that all who are elected be moved and strengthened to lead us all through this fractured time
May I suggest as well that after each focused petition we conclude with:
    In praise and thanksgiving,
    I pray to you, O Lord

We are accustomed to framing our collective prayers in a dependency framework: Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.  We ask Godde to hear our prayers. We know, or should know by now, that the nature of God is Love, and Love does listen and hear prayers. It's courteous of course to ask, but perhaps it has become a spiritual habit that is no longer consistently useful.

As Christians we also know that Jesus Christ proclaimed a God whose nature it is to desire peace and reconciliation—not resignation, but active seeking of listening connections—another attribute of Love, no? Love requires mutuality: caring and respect that goes both ways. In short: your needs are as important as my needs. When there is a clash, we negotiate—asking and listening with respect as we arrive together come to truth AND reconciliation—everyone a little uneasy and a little awed.

That is what this vigil is about. It has to do with this particular election, in real time. It also has to do with prayer as an agent of Love in this world of brokenness. Many of us have mistaken our fears for enmity with others, or worse, for the wrath of God.

The bishop reminded us at our diocesan convention that while the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear, the reverse is also true: perfect fear casts out love. Our culture right now is on the verge of perfecting fearfulness and moving into paranoia where everyone looks like an enemy, or a potential enemy.

Pamela Greenberg's translation of a line of Psalm 23 reads: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my deepest fears." (Most translations say: "my enemies.")  Hear the difference.

With prayer we make room for the work of the Spirit of God, called in Greek metanoia, which means "change of heart and mind." I don't know how I will feel if Mr. Trump gets elected. At first I will lament and moan and fear. Then I will, in fact, ask God for help; then I hope I will go forth and go forward and leave enmity behind—with Godde's help.

So when we say AMEN, or so be it, let's mean it. Let’s sit in silent vigil and reflect, looking at whatever is before our senses: a nutty squirrel scampering across my fence, a neighbor’s dog with a high-pitched bark, the kids in the neighboring yard playing and laughing with glee, the smell of Sunday-only bacon sizzling, the comfort of a dear and familiar touch, letting me know it's time to leave the keyboard and join the world—for breakfast.

When we say AMEN, and mean it, we exchange obsessing for trust.