Saturday, June 25, 2016

Adapt, just another way of saying Follow Me (Jesus)

A few weeks ago two of the trees in the backyard of the rectory had to be cut down, they were in such poor health that it was just a matter of time before the fell over, taking the rectory and garage with them. Still, they were giant trees that offered a lot of shade over the house and yard, and they were home to many squirrels and birds. One squirrel use to taunt my dogs and yell at them, as if to say, this yard is mine!
But now, with the trees gone, the yard seems barren. The ferns and ivy along the garage are drying up because of too much sun, which is not a tragedy - it was too overgrown anyway. The lawn is rutted from accommodating the heavy trucks and cranes that cut the trees down and turned them into the wood chips. Eventually the grass will come back, especially because Dan is leveling the ruts, spreading out grass seed, and watering it.
Most curious and amusing is how the animals have adapted. The other morning I saw one of the squirrels rolling around and around in the dirt used to filled the hole where a tree trunk was removed. I imagine this was the squirrel who use to live in that tree, now come to love the dirt and relish in the remains of its former home. After a bit of rolling around it bounced off toward the labyrinth and whatever tree it found to make a new home. 
Birds are having a literal field day with the dried grass, plucking it feverishly, and dunking the brittle mouthfuls in the bird bath before flying off to build a new nest in one of the other trees. Amazingly, the yard and the animals that live there, including Dan and I and our dogs, are all adapting to the changed landscape.
I think that’s how God created us and the world - to be adaptive in order to survive and grow. When there is so much reactivity and fear being manifested in the world today, when violence is prevalent and tragedy a daily occurrence, we are challenged to adapt, grow, follow Jesus and in as creative a way as possible, striving to be God’s love in the world. No doubt there are challenges one encounters when one follows Jesus, when one brings forth God’s love in the world. Challenges of resistance from one’s self or others, like the Samaritans. Like the people in the Gospel we too can be stopped by the challenges and pressures we feel in our own lives, the many cares and concerns that we have, the fears that could stop us cold, the risk that feels too great, or even the apathy that can rise up from trying for so long that one is worn out or has given up. 
I’m particularly tired of hearing that the church is dying. First of all, I don’t believe it. What I do think is that church as it was in the 1950’s is dying. What is rising up however are smaller church communities that survive because they are clear about their purpose. The church is about lives that are transformed and people who are loved. The church is about spreading God’s love and compassion into the world. The church is about offering people a means by which to find their purpose in life, to help people live meaningful lives, because they participate in what God is doing in the world. Like Elisha seeing God at work in Elijah’s rising up in a chariot of fire, God’s action in the world is visible when one knows how to recognize it. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, because, instead of regressing to conflict and angst, these creatures are able to adapt when the world as they know it changes. 
Our purpose at Christ Church, at this time in our lives, is to feed people. From the community garden to the labyrinth to the exterior plaza; from the food pantry to Blessings in a Backpack, from the Liberia SCHOOL project to our Christian Formation and the many people we have and are mentoring into the priesthood, from martial arts to dance and music, these are just a few of the ways we feed people in mind, body, and spirit, following Jesus along the way, and being God’s hands and heart in the world. 

a reflection on the readings for Proper 8C: 2 Kings: 1-2, 6-14 and Luke 9:51-62

Saturday, June 18, 2016

God's beloved: you, me, everyone

In 1978, to help pay my way through college, I had a job as a waitress. One of my friends at the restaurant was a striking woman - tall, with tattoos and piercings that were unusual for 1978, her hair cut and dyed in a kind of punkish style that became popular years later. She and I spent a fair amount of time together. Eventually she told me that she was going to move to the east coast and asked me if I could store her things until she got settled and could come back for them. My friend was a lesbian and she yearned to live in a community where she could be herself, without prejudice and fear of repercussions. A few months after she left, she returned and got her stuff and moved away for good. I’ve never seen again, but I hope that she found the life she longed for. 
A few years later I lived in a different Chicago neighborhood, off of Broadway and Belmont, a an area with a high population of gay and lesbian people. I remember some of the first gay pride parades streaming down Broadway. Occasionally I went to a lesbian bar with my girlfriends, we were heterosexual women, but we went to this bar because when we were there no one bothered us, we felt safe in a room full of other women. 
I think a lot these days about racism, sexism, genderism, and the various groups of people that are subjected to prejudice and marginalized in our society. Family Systems theory, which I have studied for twenty years, suggests that our society creates groups to scapegoat in order to project our anxiety onto that group and therefore not deal with what is at the root of our cultural angst - that being, according to this theory, centuries of unresolved conflict over the class differences between rich and poor and middle class white people. A Christian moral ethicist once wrote that when a society begins to make women full and equal in its culture it then opens the door for other segments to move toward equality. When women are considered property that society doesn’t even see other groups of minorities. The point is, when people are anxious they always look for someone else to blame and thus alleviate some anxiety by projecting it onto the scapegoat. Jesus was a scapegoat between Jews and Romans, between belief in the one God and the Emperor. Life would be better if we could work at the root cause of our conflicts and the anxiety within our selves instead of looking for someone to blame. The emperor of Rome didn’t need to be so jealous and insecure, the early Christians and Jews could have been faithful to God and still have been obedient citizens. People of one faith do not need to disparage people of another, nor do we need to condemn others in the name of God, as if God is jealous and insecure. Any understanding of God as one who condemns human beings because of their faith, race, ethnicity, gender, or any other limiting criteria is a human construct because every religion has the same core value, “do unto others as you would do unto yourself.”
Clearly I am just trying to process another senseless tragedy, this time the killing of 49 people, gay and lesbian, at the Pulse night club in Orlando. As Christians we have moral and ethical values that state that we are to love everyone, respect the dignity of every human being. Which means that the burden is put on each one of us individually to work through the challenges of what it means to love as God loves. Love, instead of projecting our fears and worries, and demonizing other people. 
Paul in the letter to the Galatians describes a new reality, birthed into existence with the resurrection of Jesus. There is, he says, no distinction between one human being and another, we are all alike in God’s eyes. No male or female, no Jew or Greek, all the same to God. 

But in reality, we are all different. No two people are the same. In the earthly realm we live in, it is our differences, our unique, God given differences, that enrich the world. Each person, each segment of society, rich and poor, educated or not, black, white, brown, male, female, gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, all of us, is made in God’s image. Our creation story in Genesis reminds us that every expression of creation, every manifestation of humanity, reveals an aspect of God’s nature. It takes all of us as a whole, combined together to see the fullness of God and then to realize that for all the differences we see among us God sees us as one and the same, loved equally for being exactly who we are, made in God’s image. Made good to do good. Seen this way, there is no us and them, there’s only God’s beloved, you, me, everyone. 
a reflection on the readings for Proper 7C: Galatians 3:23-29

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Prayers for Orlando

Prayers of the People, a litany in response to violence in the world

Presider  As we strive to be the means through which God’s grace spreads among us, let us offer prayers for the families, friends and victims of the Orlando shooting, the whole world and for every person in every need.


For every gathering, for the safety of all people.

For all nations, peoples, tribes, clans, and families.

For an end to the violence that plagues our nation and our world. For sin of prejudice: race, gender, ethnicity, religion and every form and way it manifests in ourselves, our institutions, our religions, and our society.

For mercy, justice, and peace throughout the world.

For the city of Orlando, this city and for every place.

For all those in danger and need: the sick and the suffering, the hungry and the oppressed, travelers and prisoners, the dying and the dead, especially for those who died in Orlando: 

Edward Sotomayor Jr., (34 years old)
Stanley Almodovar III, (23 years old)
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, (20 years old)
Juan Ramon Guerrero, (22 years old)
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, (36 years old) Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, (22 years old) Luis S. Vielma, (22 years old) Kimberly Morris, (37 years old) Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, (30 years old) Darryl Roman Burt II, (29 years old) Deonka Deidra Drayton, (32 years old) Alejandro Barrios Martinez, (21 years old) Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, (25 years old) Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, (35 years old) Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, (50 years old) Amanda Alvear, (25 years old) Martin Benitez Torres, (33 years old) Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, (37 years old) Mercedez Marisol Flores, (26 years old) Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, (35 years old) Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, (25 years old) Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, (31 years old) Oscar A Aracena-Montero, (26 years old) Enrique L. Rios, Jr., (25 years old) Miguel Angel Honorato, (30 years old)

Javier Jorge-Reyes, (40 years old)
Joel Rayon Paniagua, (32 years old) Jason Benjamin Josaphat, (19 years old) Cory James Connell, (21 years old) Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, (37 years old) Luis Daniel Conde, (39 years old) Shane Evan Tomlinson, (33 years old) Juan Chevez-Martinez, (25 years old) Jerald Arthur Wright, (31 years old) Leroy Valentin Fernandez, (25 years old) Tevin Eugene Crosby, (25 years old)


Are there others? (Pause) We pray for all those who mourn, for those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them.

For ourselves, our families, and those we love.

May God, who scatters the seed of faith, hear the prayers we offer this day and make everything new; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on all affected by the senseless killings everywhere, especially those recently in Orlando, Florida; extend your mercy to the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love, help us to truly respect the integrity of every human being; and help us to work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations, all people may serve you in harmony through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The refrain was purchased at GIA sacred music . Please purchase your own copy for use. The prayers are an adaptation from one of the prayers (I don't remember which one) from O Plater Prayers. The collect at the end is an adaption of the prayer for the human family found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 815. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reap what you sow

Over the centuries people of many faith traditions have been captivated by the transformation that happens in the chrysalis stage of the butterfly and have compared it to spiritual transformation. I don’t know if  you have ever really thought about what happens during the chrysalis stage. I guess I always thought it was something like hibernation - except during this hibernation the caterpillar grows wings. It turns out, however, that the process is much more startling. 

If one were to cut open a chrysalis one would not find a caterpillar growing wings. Instead one would find nothing but a gooey mess. It’s shocking, actually. The caterpillar completes dissolves and there remains no distinguishing features of either the caterpillar or the butterfly. Then somehow this gooey mess reforms itself and a butterfly is released from the shell. 

Scientists who have studied butterflies have wondered how this gooey mess becomes a butterfly. There is no firm answer to this and other questions. For example, are the caterpillar and butterfly two separate beings? Or does the butterfly retain some of its memory of being a caterpillar? 

To figure this out scientist subjected caterpillars to a strong, offensive odor which made the caterpillar move away from the scent. After the caterpillar had metamorphosed into a butterfly they subjected the butterfly to the same scent, and the butterfly moved away from the scent. Despite all this disintegration into a gooey mess there remained some kind of conscious memory from caterpillar to butterfly.

In addition, if one were to slice open a caterpillar, before it formed the chrysalis, one would see that the inside lining of the caterpillar skin contains the beginning structure of the butterfly, its wings and skeleton. So when the caterpillar constructs the shell and disintegrates into goo, some aspect of the butterfly it will become is embedded within the walls and goo of the chrysalis. 

The caterpillar contains everything it is and ever will be inside of itself just waiting for it to be revealed. Spiritual mystics of all faith traditions have alluded to this very idea for human beings as well. We contain within us all we will ever be, given to us by our creator, and it is revealed in and through our lives. As Christians we understand this as a process, a gift, of the Holy Spirit. 

Our readings today all point to the idea of lives in transition, lives being formed and transformed, some growing in faith and maturity, others falling to their own failures - as God says in the reading from 1 Kings, you reap what you sow. Whether one is like Jezebel, who will do anything to help her husband feel better, each of us have times in our lives when we want to ease the anguish of a loved one or friend, even at the expense of good judgment, choosing to stop anxiety rather than fix the real problem. Edwin Friedman, a noted author and rabbi who studied families in congregations even wrote a book on the topic and titled it, “Failure of Nerve.” The point of the book is that leaders, people of faith, often choose the comfortable route of easing anxiety rather than have the courage to do what is really best for all. Its human nature to respond like Jezebel. Its human nature to want to ease suffering, even at the expense of doing the mature healthy thing. This is like disintegrating into a gooey mess, undefined and unable to live into one’s true purpose. To this God says, you reap what you sow.

In another example, like the woman who anoints Jesus with nard, some of us are comfortable with our physical bodies, with the sensuous touching that this woman offers to Jesus, while others are more like Simon, wanting to reduce her compassion to selfishness by minimizing her actions, limiting her behavior, and shaming her. Jesus sees her for who she is, someone who can be authentic in her decisions and actions, unafraid to make the right decision regardless of the consequences. Here, even in a gooey mess, there is an integrity, a sense of purpose and clarity of one’s self. You reap what you sow.

Today we celebrate the end of a program year in which this parish has done many wonderful things, but most notable our music ministry and the organ refurbishment. We can be most pleased with our effort to care for this fine instrument that feeds us spiritually each Sunday morning. We also celebrate all those who are experiencing life transitions this year, graduating from high school or college, beginning new jobs, retiring, or starting on a new path. It is especially delightful to celebrate the Steiner family, who three years ago, we blessed and sent off on their transition to seminary. Today we get to celebrate the fruits of that effort, Scott’s completion of seminary, his ordination to the priesthood, and his call to be the assistant priest at St. John’s in Royal Oak. We celebrate Katie, Rachel and Colin, who now make the transition back to Michigan to begin life as priest’s family.

Regardless of where any of us are today, some in profound transitions others taking baby steps on the journey of faith, God invites to keep growing, transforming into mature, healthy, loving Christians. Our Stewardship Commission is symbolizing this today with the release of butterflies during the picnic. Did you know that you can buy butterflies by the dozen and release them into the world? Did you know that butterflies, like bees, are endangered from all the pesticides we use? So releasing butterflies serves a variety of purposes: Symbolizing the transitions in life that we all experience, symbolizing the Christian process of maturing in faith, marking our year long effort to grow as stewards of God’s creation, a green initiative to help the environment, and while the list could go on, it’s also just a fun idea. Because most of all today is a day to give thanks, to be like the woman with the jar of nard, wildly extravagant in our love for God, to remember that even when we are a gooey mess, we contain within us, everything we need to be a mature, and with intentionality and integrity, refusing to give into a failure of nerve, we can transform into who God has called us to be. You reap what you sow.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 6C: 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Luke 7:36-8:3 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


The Episcopal Women's Caucus produces and an e-newsletter several times a year. If you'd like to subscribe to receive this please sign up on our website: here The current edition features article written by the EWC Board of Directors and considers how women are represented in the media and the world around us. Here is the first of several articles:

I’ve been thinking a lot about who is called a liar these days, in particular the repeated description of Hillary Clinton as a liar, but also how often women in general are thought of as liars. I’ve been called a liar myself, or more subtly people have alluded to, without saying outright, that I have been manipulative and deceptive. The truth is, whether we are conscious of it or not, and I suspect we are rarely conscious of it, women have been considered untrustworthy for centuries. Below are just a few quotes from some early Christian church fathers and their view of women:

“What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. One must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.” — St. Albertus Magnus

Tertullian: “Women are the devil’s gateway.” 

Thomas Aquinas: “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten.” 

St. Clement of Alexandria: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman…the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”

 St. John Chrysostom: Women are “weak and flighty…For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colors?” and “Amongst all the savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”

 St. Jerome: “Woman is the root of all evil.” 

Considering that those who helped form the early Christian church held these views of women it’s no wonder that a base distrust of women pervades our global societies and infiltrates our thoughts and actions. Donald Trump, for whom statistics indicate that he is rarely accurate or truthful, faces little scrutiny for his words. Headline news rarely ever calls him a liar. Yet Hillary is called a liar so often that this notion of her has infiltrated the general public who consider this characteristic of her to be accurate, despite fact checkers saying otherwise. 

A simple internet search on “women liars” pulls up stories about women rape victims whose stories are not believed, women as Jezebel’s, women who are “attention seekers.” It seems it all comes down to sex, women are not to be trusted because of sex. Consider how women are portrayed on television and in movies: liars, sexually manipulative, temptresses, mentally ill. Women are portrayed as untrustworthy and we support that notion, consciously and unconsciously. 

I’m not suggesting that Hillary Clinton is always completely honest, but she is certainly not the liar that some portray her as. Men, it seems can lie and get away with it. At least that seems to be the case with men like Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. I’m not arguing that we should lie or accept liars. I’m only commenting on the disparity between men and women, and our assessment of who is trustworthy and who is perceived as being a liar. 

Thanks to this presidential election, my awareness has grown. Much like the election of Barak Obama pushed open my awareness of racism and how embedded it is in me, let alone the corporate soul of the United States, so too, will this election year, should Hillary Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination, raise the anxiety of sexism and mysoginsm in this country. 

Nonetheless these efforts to raise our corporate soul to greater awareness of these long held prejudices against women and people of color is met with a growing sense of anxiety. Our society is deep in what Murray Bowen, founder of the Family System’s Theory, calls “Societal Regression.” Edwin Freidman, a proponent of Bowen’s theory, writes in “Failure of Nerve” that the last time society went through a major regression based on anxiety and fear was in the Middle Ages. This angst and fear of change produced the crusades and instituted an idea that the world was flat and that nothing existed beyond a few known countries and continents. This regression was broken open when some explorers dared to break the fear and set sail across the waters. Fear was replaced by creative imagination. We have once again been in a societal regression, says Bowen, since the late 1950’s, post WWII. One might say we are deep in the throws of it now, with our fears right out there controlling what we do. We react through fear not create through imaginative responses. This, by and large is the response to white people, mostly white men, those who have been the dominant culture, losing their power. The world is not what it was, and it is not yet what it will be. The theory states that if white people could work toward resolving our own anxiety about who we are, and the anxiety that differences in class and education and wealth produce, we wouldn’t need to create scapegoats of people of color or women on whom we project our real anxiety. This is a simplistic explanation of a complex theory. You can learn more if you go to Murray Bowen’s Family System website and if you choose to study Family Systems. My point is, we are living in anxious times and making decisions based on anxiety and fear, reactive processes that never lead to people making the best decisions. As a society we are reactive, looking for the next person or group of people to scapegoat, to whom we can project our anxiety so we don’t have to deal with what is really going on. 

My response to the rising tide of anxiety has been to choose to be less anxious and become more creative and self aware. I turn off the news and unsubscribe from email organizations that promote fear. I work on myself and how I can be a better person and how I can grow in my awareness of how I treat others. I’m doing what I can to become aware of the long held unconscious systemic and institutionalized biases that I have been raised with, so that I can try to behave differently. That means that I have to consider carefully the impulses in me to react and label other people. Calling Hillary Clinton a liar is just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much underneath that must be seen and dealt with.

For more on this topic read Soraya L. Chemaly at Role Reboot

Soraya L. Chemaly who writes about gender, feminism and culture for several online media including Role/Reboot, The Huffington Post, Fem2.0, RHReality Check, BitchFlicks, and Alternet among others. She is particularly interested in how systems of bias and oppression are transmitted to children through entertainment, media and religious cultures. She holds a History degree from Georgetown University, where she founded that schools first feminist undergraduate journal, studied post-grad at Radcliffe College.

And Murray Bowen’s Family System’s Societal Regression at The Bowen Center

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, EWC Convener

Terri has been ordained for sixteen years. She has been the Convener of the EWC since 2012 and is currently the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, Michigan.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Trustworthy, Trust Worthy, Love

I lived in Chicago for forty years and during that time I became adept at navigating public transportation, both buses and trains, suburban and city. I have also taken the subway in New York City and public transportation in San Francisco. I’ve been on empty buses and trains and I’ve been in standing room only, squashed so tight one could not turn around, and the sheer volume of bodies kept one standing when the train or bus lurched to a stop or turned a corner. I’ve taken Amtrak from one state to another and I’ve flown across the country many times, not to mention driving across country dozens of times in my life. For many years I commuted to work, taking a bus and then a train from my home on the outskirts of Chicago to downtown. I remember thinking, on more than one occasion, that it was amazing that all these human beings could crowd into a small moving container and be safe. Sure, occasionally an individual was accosted or killed, but otherwise the mass of humanity traveling by bus and train, all moved in some unspoken agreement - no one was going to cause harm to the crowd. I wondered about this? What kind of social, moral, and civic accountability were we all agreeing to live by? This thought came to me before Columbine, before Sept. 11, before the tide turned and mass violence became normative, before shootings in schools and universities, before road rage became common. Now mass killings are almost an every day occurrence and I’m becoming numb to the trauma. 

It’s not just violence that is numbing, it’s all of it - all of the anger, and fear mongering, and prejudice and racism, and violence against humanity. It’s the new normal to just spout off and say what ever one thinks or feels, regardless of how wrong or hurtful it might be. Now when I fly or take a bus or train I always wonder if this will be my last? Will someone blow it up or shoot us all? Not even this thought stops me, it too has become a kind of numbing thought, the aftermath of knowing that tragedy strikes far too often and I can’t do anything about it. 

Okay, that’s depressing. Confusing as well in light of today’s readings about God healing people from the dead using both Elijah and Jesus to restore life. Where are the miracles in our lives, in our world? If God can bring back to life these dead boys, couldn't God intervene and change the hearts of angry people, preventing the violence in the first place? It seems like that would actually be easier. 

We’re taught that God cannot be limited and that love is at the heart of everything God does, God is love and we are to love as well. In the first reading Elijah heals because the woman begs him too, in Luke Jesus heals without being asked, the woman never says a word to him. So God’s love is offered whether its asked for or not. Even Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, affirms this - God is love, and we are to love others as God loves. 

And yet, though God is love and through Jesus God shows us how to love as God loves, God does not intervene in human lives to change us nor to make us love. Instead God works through humans, one to another. God gives that choice to us. We can decide how we are going to live and how and if we are going to love, knowing all along that the only life we can really influence is our own. I can change me and I can work on how I love. I can’t change you and I can’t make you love more. God has decided to not change us and we in turn end up learning that we can’t change others either. But we can make the choice to love more, share more, care more, be more aware of the ways we influence the negativity in the world around us.

So I work on myself to become more self aware and more aware of others. The curious thing is, when I do this, when I focus on myself and how I can be a better person, instead of focusing on others and blaming them for this, that, or the other, I begin to see the world differently. I begin to have a greater sense of compassion while at the same time a degree of “letting go” - I don’t need to control what is going on. I only need to examine myself, my motives, my actions, my thoughts, and work to balance them according to my values and beliefs - am I responding from a place of being gracious even if I am also focused on justice - or am I acting out of anger? How am I striving to love others? How am I trying to love as God loves - with honesty and truth but also with mercy and grace and compassion? This is hard work - living with integrity and being mature - but its how God works through Jesus, it’s the model we have for faithful living. If each of us did this, focused on the self, and how one can become more loving as God loves, there would be less anger, less blaming, less fear, less angst, less road rage, less violence. A world like this would be as if God had healed us, one and all. It just might be a miracle, like rising from the dead and finding new life.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 5C: 1 Kings 17:8-24; Galatians 1:11-24, and Luke 7:11-17

Saturday, May 28, 2016

In the end, no contest

The Civil War, fought from 1861-1865, intended to determined how these United States were going to live together: would they be a dissolvable confederation of sovereign states or an indivisible nation with a sovereign national government AND, to what degree would all persons be equal or would it continue to be the largest nation of slave holders in the world? 625,000 people died in the Civil War, more than in any other war this country has fought. The war left this country broken from the loss of life, the bitterness over the ideologies that led to the battle, the disagreement about human rights and who is valued, and disagreements over who can live freely in this country. President Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, named slavery as the cause of the war and held the entire country accountable and complicit in the sin of slavery, both the North and the South. In many ways we as a nation are still wrestling with unresolved conflict and moral guilt for the circumstances of the Civil War: the kidnapping of innocent people taken them from their homes in Africa and sold into a life of bondage in foreign lands, for decades of raping slave women, and for breaking up families by selling off men, women, and children, for profit and to prevent uprisings. The layers of guilt, denial, and indignation are deep, unconscious for many of us living today. There remains a lingering racial tension and unresolved guilt in the soul of this nation.

Efforts have been made to help us, help this country reconcile the tragedy and deaths of the civil war, to help us be one nation under God. Shortly after the war ended cities around the country offered observances, memorials for the soldiers who had fought and died. The first recorded observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866. By 1868 a national day of observance was called for and held on May 30. Decoration Day, as it was called, was held at Arlington Cemetery where 5,000 people decorated the graves of 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers. By 1890 Decoration Day was an official state holiday. Eventually it became known as Memorial Day, remembering the soldiers of the Civil War. However, with the loss of life from two World Wars, Memorial Day became a day of remembering all soldiers who lost their lives in battle, defending the freedom of people in this country and around the world. May 30 was the day of observance until 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moving national holidays to Monday, thus making Memorial Day to the last Monday in May.  While Memorial Day is a civic holiday, for people of faith it raises valid questions. How are we continuing the work that the Civil War inaugurated by working to reconcile the sin of slavery and the lingering aftermath of racism?

In our reading this morning from First Kings, Elijah has set up a contest, a battle of the wills between the god Baal and Yahweh, God of the Hebrews. The region was starving from years of drought, and the people had started praying to Baal, the god of fertile soil, dew and rain. The idea behind the contest was to prove to the Hebrews that only Yahweh/God has real power, only God can change lives and transform the world, Baal was just a false idol. Elijah set up two fire pits and filled each of them with water. Through the water Elijah called for fire. The contest was designed to raise questions - there are many voices for God, how to know the true voice of God? How do false idols pull one away from the true God? The pit dedicated to Baal could not produce fire, but the pit dedicated to God brought forth a huge fire. Yahweh/God won! And the people responded with trust, faith, and fidelity. 

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians is asking a similar questions - what false idols pull at one’s fears, and how can one respond with confidence to the authentic voice of God? The dilemma for the Galatians was over long held Hebrew traditions and how these traditions were bumping up against new people, Gentiles, who had no history with the traditions. In the end, Paul and the church, decided that these long held traditional practices, like circumcision and dietary restrictions, were not that important. Ultimately it was determined that “love” is what makes one a Christian.

Our readings today speak into the lingering remnants of the corporate soul of people in the United States, right into our ongoing contest over ideologies and belief - which is essentially what do freedom and equality, the foundational values of this country, really mean? 

While I can fall victim to false idols like prestige, appearances, money, youth, ultimately for me, it’s no contest at all. Our scripture offers a very clear and unconditional basis for the values I hold most dear. Jesus says it simply when he summarizes all 613 commandments in the Bible this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. To truly live into the Good News of Jesus means I must always work on myself, to recognize how prejudice and bias reside in me, and to do what I can reconcile it and live more fully into equality and freedom for all. 

A reflection on the readings for Proper 4C: 1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39 and Galatians 1:1-12

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love, maturing in faith

When my daughter was young she had a habit of taking her time getting ready to leave the house. This was not much of a problem when she was really small and I could just pick her up when it was time to go. But as she grew older the challenge of leaving the house in time to get anywhere when we needed too became almost impossible. One day when she was a teenager Dan and I were at an art fair and we saw a handprinted plaque that read, “I am mostly good at sleeping and wish there was a future in it.” We bought it for her. Eventually we started telling her that we had to be someplace earlier than we actually had to be. So for example we’d tell her we had to be some place at 9am when we really had to be there at 9:30. We called this Jessi time. That pattern worked fairly well for a number of years. So imagine my surprise when my grown daughter started being ready on time and arriving places on time. I couldn’t believe it, I thought for sure she’d never outgrow her tendency to be late. 

One of the gifts of having older children is the pleasure of seeing one’s child mature into his or her own person, to become who they are, no longer the child who needs parental guidance.

As Christians we often speak of God as a parental figure, God the father. We often use language that describes us as children of God. I, personally, am not fond of this kind of language. To me it runs the risk of infantilizing human beings and teaching us that we do not need to grow into a mature faith.

However, if we think of ourselves as children of God who are learning how to become our own person, conscious of being shaped and formed by God’s love as we grow into a mature adult faith, then I can manage this image of “Child of God.” The Christian life is a growth process of maturing in faith.

What does a mature faith look like? Karen Armstrong, in her book, The Spiral Staircase, writes about the difference between faith as a belief and faith as a practice. Armstrong writes that religion is not about having to believe or accept certain propositions, instead religion is about doing things that change a person. In her book on Islam she describes how Muslims are not expected to accept a creed, rather they are required to perform rituals, prayers, pilgrimages, and fasts which are designed to bring forth a personal transformation. The religious life is supposed to transform how one lives and who one is through what one does. God’s action in the resurrection of Jesus is an act of transformation, of new life. Our readings in the Easter season help us understand how we as Christians are called to live in order that our lives can be transformed.

Acts tells the story of the emerging early church, of the disciples learning to do the work of Christ in the world – of caring for others and sharing the Good News of God’s love for all people. It also shows the struggle of the disciples, the tension of spreading out into the world, of encountering new and different people. Acts tells the story of a maturing people of faith, learning to navigate the complexities of life.

The grace of the book of Revelation is its ability to offer comfort to suffering people. Although it is written in coded poetic language, which makes it pretty confusing to most of us, the people around the world who experience persecution tend to understand it. The words assure the suffering of God’s great love for all humanity. This is not a story that predicts the calamities that will befall humanity at the end of the world. The Book of Revelation is story of love in the midst of sorrow, grace in response to fear, hope in response to loss and oppression.

In the Gospel of John Jesus says he is giving a new commandment, that we love one another. But it is not new from the sense that no one before this moment had been commanded by God to love. What’s new about it, in the way Jesus means it, is its  intention, the action, the doing, of love. To love more than just this person or that person, and instead to love all people. This is a commandment to action, it is not a commandment to believe the right thing, but to do the right thing, love. This love is not an emotion nor is it a feeling. It is a verb. To love means to respect the dignity of every human being. To love means to struggle through the challenges of life trusting that in the end one will find new life. To love means to share the gifts of life with one another, food, clothing, shelter, money. To love means to see the good in others. To love means to hold one’s self and others accountable and to seek reconciliation when necessary, to living in right relationship with each other. 

A mature faith is willing to take a step into the unknown, take the risk to do what God is calling, to reach out and love others as God loves. To love in this way is a new commandment because in doing so we too are made new again. 

a reflection on the readings for Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tabitha, somebody indeed

One day a rabbi, in a frenzy of religious passion, rushed in before the ark, fell to his knees, and started beating his chest, crying, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”

The cantor of the synagogue, impressed by the rabbi’s passion, joined the rabbi on his knees. “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”

The custodian, watching from the corner, couldn’t restrain himself, either. He joined the other two on their knees calling out, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”

At which point the rabbi, nudging the cantor with his elbow, pointed at the custodian and said, “Look who thinks he’s nobody!” (“How Can I Help” by Ram Dass & Paul Gorman).

Who are the nobody’s? Who goes unseen? 

At clergy conference this week, as part of the Diocesan year of Race and Diversity Reconciliation, we were invited to reflect on the book, “Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter,” written by Lindsay Hardin Freeman. Lindsay facilitated the conference, so it was extra special to be with the author. Here at the church our Tuesday Bible study group read this book and had many lively discussions because the women in the Bible are bold, sometimes outrageous, and take huge risks for their faith. That said, many of the women in the Bible were nobodies, often un-named. However, some of the women are named and a few have a voice. Ninety-three women speak in the Bible, for a total of 14,056 words. To put this in context, a typical state of the union address is 7000 words. Still, it’s remarkable that the words of women are recorded at all. No other religion records the words of nearly 100 women. By comparison, the Bible is quite amazing in lifting up the nobodies and giving them voice. The first shall be last and the last shall be first, Jesus tells us. 

Our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles names a woman, although she does not speak. Tabitha is an Aramaic name which is translated as Dorcas in Greek. Both names mean gazelle, strong, swift, graceful. Tabitha, Dorcas, is a strong, gifted woman. She makes clothes and serves the poor. She is loved by all and her death has caused tremendous grief in the community. Peter is summoned to help, and following other examples in the Bible, Peter raises Tabitha from the dead and brings her back to life. You’d think that getting her life back would cause Tabitha to say something. But if she did, no one thought to record it. She’s named, but voiceless. 

The other area we reflected on at clergy conference was racism. We were asked, what do we need to do to address racism in our lives? One thing we said we need to do is recognize when racism is rearing up. In particular we need to learn how to recognize our prejudice - whether it’s in the words we use or the attitudes we hold or simply in our inability to see others for who they are. This discussion at clergy conference reminded me of a presentation that was made in the Trinity Institute’s Saturday morning session in January, which we broadcasted at St. Paul’s Lutheran here in Dearborn. The speaker, Kelly Brown Douglas, an Episcopal priest and Professor and Director of the Religion Department at Goucher College in Baltimore, talked about the systemic connection in this country of black bodies being seen as slaves to black bodies being seen as criminals - that people, including police officers do not see black bodies as human beings - they are just bodies, once dehumanized as slaves and now criminals. As just body’s they are essentially nobody, objectified as slaves or criminals. Think about it. Do you see other people as human beings with feelings and integrity or as body’s, as nobody? Turns our that most people have no idea, no awareness what so ever. 

Someone at clergy conference mentioned that they struggle every time they see a woman in traditional Muslim attire - this person automatically wonders if there is a bomb hidden under the hijab and long robes. They recognize that this is not a rational thought, that it is racist, but it is the first thought they have. Others commented on locking their car doors when they approach certain intersections or when young black males are near by. Understanding the unconscious ways we have absorbed racism into our beings is crucial to learning how might come to see all people as fully human. 

In today’s text we never hear Tabitha speak. We do not hear her experience through her words. Was she happy that people missed her so much that they wanted her to return to them? Was she pleased that Peter raised her from the dead? Or did she think, rats! I was finally getting some real rest, and now you’ve come and disturbed me…? Okay, I’m being a little silly, but the point remains, we don’t know what she would have said about this experience because she is voiceless. 

Despite Tabitha’s silence, what one might take away from Peter raising Tabitha from the dead, is the assurance that whenever one is done in and feeling like a nobody,  unable to see one’s self for who one really is, there is the real possibility of God’s presence. God comes when we least expect it and like a helping hand pulls one up, that one might live. For in being seen, heard, and loved, for who one really is, beloved of God, one cannot be a no-body, devoiced, dehumanized, objectified. Instead, made in God’s image, beloved of God, each person is fully human, a somebody, made whole and fully alive. 

a reflection on Acts 9:36-43, for Easter 4C