Sunday, February 23, 2020

2020.02.23 Societal Transfiguration

On February 19, 1963, Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was published. It’s opening words and question ignited a revolution of awareness in American culture. 

"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'"

That question would spark a second wave of feminism in the United States, would permanently transform the American social fabric, and would come to be seen as a pioneering moment in American history. Friedan’s book is one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.

I was a brand new mother in 1963, delighted and awed by my baby daughter, born Jan 13. I knew I didn’t favor my own mother’s hovering, smothering, mothering style, but I wasn’t quite sure what kind of mother I could be. Friedan’s question sat silently brooding in my heart but didn’t take shape  until the 1970s when I sat alone, spiritually deadened and bereft in my kitchen over yet one more batch of chocolate chip cookies. Suddenly, our of nowhere I heard this question:  “Why are you doing this?”  That inner voice was deep and jolting. I understood it to be God's voice. It moved me to tears, and in time to ask myself another question:

“Can there be more than motherhood for me?”

Motherhood has much to do with love and child-bearing, if that’s a possibility of course. It also has to do with the capacity to love yourself enough to make personal life choices—NOT against any children but for yourself and your life.

Today, nearly sixty years post-Friedan's book and fifteen years after her own death, women of all colors and nations are still asking the same questions and embarking on the same quests for sexual equality in church and state. I would call this very long, groaning-in-travail, movement "societal transfiguration".

The New Testament records an experience of transfiguration—a solo event just for Jesus. The light shone all around him, and his disciples were afraid. They interpreted this as the light of God’s glory. All biblical narratives are exaggerated to make sure they are unforgettable, and yet we must still interpret their meaning in every generation. With every transfiguring advance there is cruel and vicious backlash, yet the movement does not, and will not, die.

In the beginning, Creator God made all things good and called it ALL good. ALL of it. ALL of us. Good doesn’t mean morally sound, although that helps I suppose. The word is of germanic origin, god in Old English. Goodness is not a performance word, or even a value word, a love word, or a justice word. It’s a Being word, a soul word, a spiritual word, a transfiguring word. It means authenticity of word and deed, through and through. You all know a good person when you meet them. It’s catching. Is this all?

NO. We do not yet know a good society—anywhere.

May we keep praying and working for global Societal Transfiguration.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

2020.02.16 Words Matter. Wisdom Sweet, Calm, Compelling Matters


GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

         By Max Ehrmann © 1927
 Original text

Desiderata is Latin for “things desired”—not desirable but desired.

Author bio:  Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) was of German descent, the son of Bavarian emigrants, an immigrant to the United States where he was educated at the Terre Haute Indiana Fourth District School and the German Methodist Church. He received a degree in English from De Pauw University and studied philosophy and law at Harvard University where he edited the Delta Tau Delta’s national Magazine. In 1937 Ehrmann received an honorary Doctor of of Letters from De Pauw University, and by 2010 Terre Haute honored him with a life-size bronze statue, posed with pen and pad as the writer.

Well, well, you can’t get much spark from Wikipedia, but isn’t it fun that this bright German immigrant from the Midwest, educated at la-dee-dah Hahvahd, frat boy, hoosier, Christian, employed as an attorney and businessman, produced such a grand corpus of material for which he is still admired—and remembered?

Good gawda’mighty, perhaps he should run for our highest office in 2020. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

2020.02.09 Salt of The Earth. Who, Me?

Jesus is on a roll with his platform, Sermon on the Mount, as remembered in Matthew’s gospel, delivering a hefty load of expectations, addressed to his Jewish listeners: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, then how can its saltiness be restored? It is no good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Pretty harsh! Jesus was a wise and compassionate teacher, not one to offer gut courses in how to get into God’s graces. He offered Beatitudes (blessings) to help his listeners feel safe before he unfurled the full syllabus, replete with many images they would not/could not forget. One has always drawn me up short. I remember it often.

You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness!

They didn’t forget. Even after Jesus was long dead and it took sixty years for anyone to write things down, they never stopped talking—talking, arguing, wondering, puzzling. We’re still doing this centuries later. The biblical memoir retains its powerful sting and crispness—saltiness.  Why?

First, Jesus was so charismatic they came to believe that he was intimate with their God and Creator—intimate enough to speak for God, and to God. 

Second, the followers, mostly poor and filled with fear and longing, were open to a message of hope against hope, even though it bewildered them and left them reeling. So drawn were they into Jesus’s irresistible message that God had not abandoned them that they kept on coming back for more.

Finally, there was a compelling reason to stay—a promise: energy and inspiration to find their own answers, to become activists if you will.  To stay salty.

You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness!

Today this charge looms large on our own horizons in this United States and in our Christian religion. How do we believe in ourselves when we’re so divided? How are we to be salty when so much feels flavorless? When so many do not want even to keep up with the daily news? When we go blind to the salty potential of putative enemies? Whom shall we follow?

Religious and political authority of Jesus’s day were stumped yet attracted as well, but they resorted to politics. They said: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” they scoffed. Jesus was of course from Nazareth, a veritable slum not worth its own salt.

We are as scattered and in disarray in this country as they were in Jesus’s day. And yet we hear the echo and the challenge of Jesus’s wisdom ring in our ears, and sometimes from our public platforms.

You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness!

I don’t know where you look for your saltiness, but I wonder if there is a Nazareth inside you, a hidden place you don’t easily reveal for fear of ridicule?  Or outside you: someplace or group you revile out of fear? We all have our “nazareths.”  Many can still feel stunned by ancient words so profound, demanding, and simultaneously compelling and frightening.

You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness!

I don’t use salt anymore for health reasons and plain common sense, so I miss salt, its taste on my tongue, how it enhances an already good meal. Salt can jar my taste buds awake. I miss saltiness. Yet, if salt loses its saltiness can it be restored, or is it really doomed and worthless, a Jesus suggests?

Well, salt is not just a flavor savory, it is also a preservative. Most of us know people who are like the salt of the earth—good folks, often old, who have character, sardonic wit, and crust. There were many old salts in Gloucester where we served a parish for thirteen years. These are the people who remember, who preserve the good with the bad in their history and culture. These are they who are not afraid to argue and fight for what they love—and also to change their views for the same reason.

Our American democracy is at stake right now. It feels to many as if the saltiness has drained right out of it. This is not a new phenomenon. According to Jill Lepore, writing for The New Yorker Magazine (2/3/2020):“It’s the paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to argue about it.” That has been true throughout our history. This is how we preserve it. This is not at all to dismiss genuine concern and worry; it is, however, to say that when we are puzzled and bewildered and sure there’s not any good thing to come out of this, like Nazareth, just keep talking and arguing and loving and caring anyway, just as Jesus’s followers did.

I would say the same thing about the Bible—scriptures some call holy in the way that many Americans reverence the Bill of Rights and our Constitution. Why is this immense Holy Bible still alive? Why still salty?

We argue about what we love the most, and in the arguing process itself come new vitality, new awakenings, new directions, new ways to stay salty—both flavorful and preservative. So it was for Jesus’s listeners. So it will be for us.

You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

2020.02.02 LIturgical MIndfulness

The Church blasts on about the Epiphany LIGHT of Christ. It’s Candlemas. We bless candles. We light candles. Remember however that shedding light can hurt as well as enlighten. Christ’s light exposes the whole truth and nothing but the truth—the ugly with the lovely, the good with the un-good, the godly with the ungodly.

I picked up one of my liturgist-spouse’s old WORSHIP magazines recently and read the column, “The Amen Corner.” Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. wrote that “liturgical incompetence” is “killing us.”  Ruff, Associate Professor of Theology at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, is a gifted teacher of liturgy and music, author, and blogger who calls himself an “accidental activist.”
Ruff quotes this report of a priest who went to a summer parish mass on Sunday morning while at a weekend gathering at the beach of 25-30 extended family and friends—all cradle Catholics. Only the priest went off to Mass. No wonder.

“There was no opening hymn, because the organist hadn’t shown up on time. The organ was in the sanctuary, so you could see she wasn’t there, and you could also see when our luck ran out and she did show up (during the homily)   . . .  Nobody sang or even pretended to try, except the organist herself who also served as a kind of Wagnerian cantor (she definitely didn’t need that mike). And she seemed fine with the ‘no one else is singing but me’ part; really, she did.
    The lector read the readings in a way that convinced me that he’d never read eyes on them before.  
    We powered through the  . . . Mass as if the building was on fire. When I returned to my seat from communion, almost the entire section I was seated in was gone.  . . .
    At the dismissal, instead of some charge to go in peace and serve the Lord or announce the Gospel, the celebrant says, ‘Don’t forget, at the beach, it’s always Happy Hour.’ Really? Did he just give them permission to start drinking?”
    Why would I want any of my dechurched family members to have set aside their various weekend activities to witness this gathering of the Body of Christ? The last place I would want to reintroduce them to worship was this half empty church for  . . . a full miss when it comes to what the Christian community is supposed to be about when it assembles.”

This report is hilarious, incredible, and depressing. Tragically, it is NOT fake news!  Okay, Ruff is Catholic, and okay, it was summer, and yes, okay, there are brilliant exceptions. Nevertheless, Ruff  hit on something diagnostic that ails all churches today: liturgical incompetence. I might call it a lack of liturgical mindfulness. Mindfulness is focus, paying attention. We do it in yoga classes. Do we do that in liturgy?

Episcopalians rush to say that our church is liturgically exceptional, but it’s not. I have been in too many parishes in which mindless things happened, such as:
    -the tempo is lickety-split (“powering” through, according to Ruff) as if worship of God were to be measured by clock time, or tee time;
    -a reader does not know the difference between  between prophecy (noun) and prophesy (verb), screeching out boldly proclaiming the voice of God calling the prophet to Prophesee! Prophesee
    -Lepers becoming “leapers.” Honestly, it’s happened, making the amazing gospel story of Jesus’s healing ten Leapers quite effective visually. One leapt back to say thanks. 
    -a young lector either races anxiously through a text, seemingly to show off their reading skills, or drags through it slowly and inaudibly, making the proclamation a secret;
    -the POPS (Prayers of the People) being so wordy I forgot the focus, and/or there is absolute silence from the people, save for a parroted response: “Lord, hear our prayer”—proof we can read and obey instructions;   
    -a reader announcing the Opening CollECT, instead of COllect. We CollECT your money; we pray a COllect
    -The Peace, originally instituted as a way for worshipers to share the Peace of Christ with one another, turning into a back fence hug fest of affection, as if it were our own personal greeting, including our own daily news;
    -the Holy Eucharist becoming a contest to see who can get to the altar first, gulp a wafer, and race out in pursuit of the “real spread” at coffee hour.  

These are pet peeves only, yet in truth, Ruff is right: we need to shed the harsh, illuminative light of Christ on liturgy, helping everyone experience the meaning of what we do and why. What does it tell us about God, ourselves, ritual, and prayer? Be mindful not rigid.

Cautonary: The late Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, faculty at Yale Divinity School’s S.T.M. (Masters of Sacred Theology) program, and liturgical scholar issued a warning about liturgical perfectionism:

“To be consumed with worry over making a liturgical mistake is the greatest mistake of all. Reverence is a virtue, not a neurosis, and God can take care of [sic] Godself.

Tragic postscript: In 2019, Anthony Ruff was credibly accused of sexual predation by a minor at a summer camp, run by the National Catholic Youth Choir.  The outcome is pending.This makes me feel very sad, but, in my opinion, it neither discredits or demeans Ruff’s scholarship, wisdom, wit, and keen liturgical perspective. His writing still edifies. He does not deserve erasure, only time, prayer, perhaps institutional mindfulness regarding its own roles and rules—and the Light of Christ.