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.