Sunday, January 13, 2019

2019.01.13 Birthday Baptismal Day

Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is fifty-six years young, looks beautiful as always, and is filled with vigor and passion for justice for all people.

Today is also the day the Christian church remembers the Baptism of Jesus at the hand of his cousin John the Baptizer. Baptism is the day one becomes a Christian—nothing to do with denomination or any particular community. Baptism is belonging to Christ, becoming an initiated followers of Jesus the Christ. When anyone is baptized they are welcomed into a community of faith with powerful promises, some water, the Holy Spirit and a passionate sentence of chrismation, anointing the forehead with oil, saying their name and “. . . you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  This sacramental ritual carries the weight of thousands of years of tradition, the biblical mandate, a whole community of prayer and support, and just plain sacred beauty. When you are baptized you work for Jesus Christ in whatever you do.

The baptismal job is no cushy or high-paying job. It’s lifelong, serious, risky and grace-filled.    In addition, who wouldn’t want to work for a boss who had a great sense of humor, cried real tears, never gave up on the vision, knew he could not do this alone, and looked roughly like this?
Baptized when she was about five months old, Bev wore a long white, sweeping, dress—elegant. Her small head, covered with heaps of very dark hair, stood out amidst billows of white lace. There is a photo of her in that baptismal dress, somewhere in the annals of years of scrapbooks. I wish I could share it, because it is etched in the eye of my heart.

Bev is fulfilling her baptismal vows. She might laugh at this, since she does not attend church; nor, is she at all certain about God or Christianity. She has, however, always followed the ways of Jesus. She is kind and compassionate and a devoted mother of two daughters. She has navigated painful ups and down in her life with dignity. She works, in every job she has ever had, for justice for all people, gender equality, the rights of the poor, and the working classes.

In my lingo, Bev is most baptismal in her involvement with politics, making sure that the values of the “kingdom” Christ proclaimed are secured on earth as they are in heaven. Why would Jesus speak so strongly and consistently about working to bring about the kingdom of God, if he were not a politician?  “Kingdom” is a political term, lest we forget. The spirit of this kingdom is not constrained by partisan politics, binary absolutes, sexual identity, wealth, religious affiliations, or territorial boundaries. This kingdom calls for us to drop our precious identity labels and work together for the good of the whole. That is good politics. That is also good religion.

I got a clue to Bev’s direction in life from baseball. She wasn’t particularly interested in baseball, but she was interested in being the first girl admitted to play on a local Little League team. She made the team. I went to the games. Bev’s batting skills were sporadic. She struck out, or lucked out with a bad pitcher and walked. But she could run like crazy. Sitting with other gabbing parents, paying attention only when their kids were up, I was startled one evening by the sound of a loud CRACK. It was Bev’s bat. She hit a home run—out of the ball park, as they say. She was so stunned she forgot to run until the coach yelled: RUN!!  There was much applause, cheering, and kudos. I can’t remember if her team won, but that day she won. I cried. I thought then that she’d hit a home run for women’s equality and inclusion. I also learned that she approached life with a combination of curiosity, desire, and caution in about equal proportion—always summoning courage to try new things and keep on swinging. Baseball is a team sport. So is Jesus-work.

Bev’s personality exhibited both toughness and softness—tough on herself and soft on others. Her intelligence and passion for good causes even at a young age remains contagious, likewise her robust sense of humor and agility. Swimming became her sport of choice. Not only is she an excellent swimmer, but swimming has spiritual consolations—trusting the water’s buoyancy to hold you up, and letting it support you.
Bev might say I am imposing my perspective onto her life, and perhaps I am. It would be nice if she joined a Christian church community, I suppose. Nevertheless, I see the fruits of baptismal spirituality in her, and I dare say that one does not have to be Christian to be a christ. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019.01.06 Oh, My God. Epiphany LIghts.

The church begins the season of Epiphany today. It’s the season of light, of manifestations of Christ in our lives, of new beginnings. Epiphany light makes what was hidden come to light, often startlingly. We ask: What is this? Is this God?  Our biblical ancestors asked this about Jesus: Is this God? It took them a long time to see, and longer to say: yes, we see God here. It took more time to realize that after Jesus died, they still saw and felt Jesus’s presence. They called this the Light of Christ, and said again: yes, this is God.

Epiphany invites us still to see that light, and still to say: yes, this is God. And yes, God in Christ illuminates, and yes,  it's not always easy and sweet.
                                         OH, MY GOD.

Seriously, I have a black tee-shirt from the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City with Oh, my God., in white calligraphy on it. Note the emphatic period not an overenthusiastic !.

Do you have epiphanies that feel spiritual? Spirituality is a matter of training your heart and your eye to see beyond or inside a simple ordinary scenario and marvel at its sudden inexplicable grandeur. Do you ask: Is this God? Listen to how often you, or people around you, say or text: OMG! OMG!
                                            *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Across the street from us there’s a creche—not unusual at Christmastide, but this one is a standout, not for its artistic beauty or creativity but for its inner glory. The creche scene is squeezed into the small fenced-in strip of concrete alongside the front of the house.The traditional manger figures are all present, including a camel tied to a fence post so it won’t blow away. The figures are life-sized, colored pink and blue and yellow, save for the camel and Joseph who get to be browny/goldish. Each figure is illumined. It is honestly a most gawdy scene, yet every year out it comes—set up faithfully, tenderly by its owners. This year all the lightbulbs, save for Joseph and an angel, were out. The creche stood darkened. I thought maybe the owners had lost their enthusiasm. But, Oh, my God!  on Christmas eve new lights bulbs suddenly flickered on for Mary, Jesus, Magi, shepherd, sheep, and the other darkened wise men. Some work went into that illumination, some money and effort, some God.
                                         OH, MY GOD.

A young man rode by on his bike with his small son in a seat on the back of the bike. He was going fast, possibly in a hurry to get home before pitch dark. I watched and saw the little boy gesticulate with his arms, and also no doubt shouting. The dad screeched the brakes on and executed a swift, not without risk, u-turn. Why? Oh yes, the siren call of the train whistle, the clang clang of the crossing gates coming down, and the train’s light approaching. The child simply had to see this, so dad whipped around so the child could wave vigorously to the train from his little seat.
                                         OH, MY GOD.

A very self-important man holding the highest office in our land had a conversation with a seven-year-old child. He asked the child whether he believed in Santa Claus. “Oh yes” said the boy. “Isn’t that a bit marginal for a seven year old?” said the man. Undaunted, the child nodded, saluted the man and stuck to his answer. One can only hope the child did not know the meaning of “marginal”—or better yet, rejected it.  

When I was seven, a friend in school told me in no uncertain terms that there was no Santa Claus. She had a very good reason for her surety: Santa certainly couldn't afford all those presents. I went home and told my parents: “You won’t believe the stupidest thing Nancy told me in school.” I scoffed. I continued to believe in Santa Claus. I still do, marginal that I am. This might explain the fact that no one has ever dissuaded me from my own devotion to God and all things religious.
                                        OH, MY GOD.

Daniel Jackson, author of "Portraits of Resilience", a book that brings light to people’s stories of depression in order to reduce the stigma of shame that surrounds mental illness, keeps a blog called “Resilience Postcard.”  Recently he posted this idea: Civility = Optimism

“You can’t solve a problem with the very means that created it in the first place. Radicalism and incivility got us where we are now; only thoughtful compromise and relentless civility will bring us back.  . . .  Civility is essential in our personal lives too. It’s not just that being civil to each other makes our interactions more pleasant. Or that behaving in a civil way, and restraining our anger, is curiously empowering.

"More than anything, I believe, it’s that civility is a form of optimism, because it draws us back from the precipice. Civility tells us that our society is not yet in such dire straits that we must take up arms against each other. That people are fundamentally good, and that rational and sympathetic discourse can change minds. That each human being deserves as much respect as any other; and that many small actions can bring about big changes.”
                                      OH, MY GOD.
Sometimes what is unspoken carries more power than what is spoken. Some inner explosions represent truth, even when civility keeps us from speaking them aloud. Well-meaning religious idiots often say in the face of a sudden trauma of unimaginable death: “God never gives us more than we can handle.”  Here are Elaine Pagels’s inner reactions from her memoir, Why Religion?, after her young son and her husband died a year apart:“How dare you speak of this as a gift from God? What do you know of what I can—or cannot—handle?” Never stifle the soul-truth of a profound spiritual outcry with religious platitudes. Never, never do it. Never. If God is God, God cries out. Christians ought to know this. Let’s not give God a bad name or demolish divine Love.
                                   OH, MY GOD—NO.

On a sweet note, here is a photo of a tree ornament my son John created, with help I'm sure, when he was in nursery school in 1973. On the back are his initials and date:  JTB, 1973. His nursery school teacher saved some of these ornaments and hangs them on her Christmas tree. She is nearing ninety, and John is nearing fifty. Memories, like Love, never die.
                                   OH, MY GOD—YES.