Sunday, February 25, 2018

2018.02.25 Me Too Music

On Friday we went off to the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. We sat among the gray-haired classical music lovers—also many young Boston music students.

The sky was dark and murky, the wind soughed through the city; the subway was crammed with the crush of humanity; and we were heavy with worry. One of our granddaughters, Lucia Rose, 14, had just landed in the hospital where she awaited surgery for a smashed elbow, the result of a fall in gymnastics, her beloved sport of choice.

Should we rush off to the hospital to sit in the waiting room with her parents, or would it be better to sit in a huge luxurious concert hall full of history and the finest sounds of music in the world? Should we try to give comfort or try to get comfort? That is not as easy a choice as you think. Our choice, like so many real choices, was not for one thing and against another. It was to do the best we could, neither option being totally secure or comfortable.

A word came with a photo of Lucia in a bed looking plucky: “We’ll keep you posted by texts. Don’t worry. Our girl just asked the surgeon: Have you ever done this surgery before?”

Then another word came: What’s the concert today? It’s all Mozart. ALL Mozart? Oh, divine.

Mozart was a joyous person whose music lifted the world. Even his name elicits smiles: Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart. Beethoven might have evoked excesses of frenetic energy in my soul, already agitated by the legislative paralysis in our country and the worry about our granddaughter. I needed Mozart.

Mozart, born in Salzburg in 1756, began to call himself  Wolfgango Amadeo when he was 12, then Amadè by age 19. He never used “Amadeus” except in jest. His forceful father Leopold proclaimed him a miracle of God. Science called him a miracle of nature. An amateur scientist in London made a report to the Royal Society, noting that “in the middle of astounding feats including improvising operatic recitatives and arias on the spot, the child (6) jumped up from the keyboard to play with a cat and ran around the room with a stick horse between his legs. On another occasion he was rolling on a table for fun when somebody showed him the manuscript of a song by his friend and mentor J.C. Bach. Wolfgang glanced at it upside down, pointed out a copying mistake and continued rolling around the table.” (Quoted from BSO program notes)

Of course Mozart was only a playful six year old, but still, he had been composing and playing the harpsichord with virtuosity since he was three and composed his first symphony for an entire orchestra at ten— “to pass the time.”  European music then was often parlor music, played for wealthy listeners who gathered to play cards and socialize, so a symphony might only last 15 minutes. To get people to pay attention composers had to produce “something manifestly attractive and pleasing—maybe a touch poignant on occasion, but nothing too tragic, please.”  Just enough to wake listeners up and keep them attentive.
I’d come looking for serenity. Mozart, however, turned out to be an OCD work-out—so bursting with energy it defied composure. The usual 1-3 p.m. nap-time snoozers—no snoring just deep tranquil audible breathing—even stayed awake, alert. Mozart composed at breakneck speed—not with carelessness but with frenzy, able to compose a symphony like the “Linz”  in as little as four days. I wonder if he was propelled by an intuition that his life would last a mere 35 years.

My expectations for Mozart were upended as his music raced on. What kept me grounded was the structure that held it all together, like the theme of a memoir. Structure is like a trellis that supports the wild suffusion of roses as they grow—or notes, or words. Each symphony had ordered movements; each movement was governed by assigned tempos, most of it mozartian allegro vivace with andante interspersed; each movement offered its own motifs and repeated melodies that made me feel at home, and every instrument followed a score and played its turn, all the parts making an ordered whole. 

And then there was the conductor Herbert Blomstedt, described as “noble, charming, sober, modest."  A very different personality and artist from Mozart but with every bit as much genius, Blomstedt is Swedish. He is a practicing Seventh Day Adventist, a religion of rigorous steady expectation—not hopping all about like Mozart. The Sabbath is a real oasis for peace, the real oasis in his spiritual life Then the scores are set aside. Blomstedt states that his religion has much to do with his vocation. He never practices on Saturday, the seventh day, though he will perform on that day because music is a gift to God.  And to top it all off he is 90.
Even at 90 Blomstedt rises to his toes with the lilt of the music and moves his arms with intention, signaling with a pointed finger or a nod at the next instrumentalist to make an entrance. What moved me most about his style was the way his hands alone shaped the music—cupped for subtlety, stretched wide open for volume and intensity, and in sweeping waves to the strings whose notes swooped as if they were grain waving in a field.  And he did all this without a score in front of him.

Witnessing the work of two geniuses in one short afternoon did not remove all worry about our granddaughter’s healing. It did oddly remind me that God created geniuses with gifts in every field, including surgery. And God also created appreciators who followed, listened, watched, took hope, inspiration, and action, offering gratitude in every field of endeavor. 

Every living thing makes music, sings its song in the symphony of life. God is the conductor of the eternal symphony.
And so: Amen.

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.