Saturday, June 17, 2017

Playing for Hope

My family and I once lived in a community with a high percentage of immigrants from Serbia-Croatia, people who had fled the war in the early 1990’s. My son is still friends with some of the kids he met.

 It was on May 27, 1992, only two days after my son was born, when a line of people, waiting to get bread from the only shop in Sarajevo with flour, was attacked, leaving 21 people dead. Despite the violent attack, the next day people were back in line for bread. They could die from starvation or they could die trying to get food.

A Bosnian man named Vedran lived across the street from the bakery and witnessed the shooting. Vedran had been a cellist in the Opera Theater before the war closed it down. So the day after the shooting Vedran dressed in his concert black suit and tie, crossed the street, sat down in a chair, and began to play his cello for those waiting in line. Every day for twenty one days he came and played Albinoni’s Adagio. He played for all that was lost. He played for all that was to come. He played for hope.

Today there is a statue in that square where Vedran sat, of a man with a cello. The statue is not a commemoration of Vedran, rather it is monument to hope when all seems lost.

Each of our readings today speaks of human struggle, human perseverance, and the amazing grace of hope. First, in Genesis, we have Sarah and Abraham who follow God’s call into the wilderness and wait for decades for their hope, God’s promise of a child. Along the way they struggle, doubt, smirk at God, laugh at God, and create chaos in their lives. But in the end, God comes through, a child is born, hope lives. 

In Paul’s letter to the Roman’s he is helping them resolve a conflict over circumcision. The conflict occurred because there was an expulsion of Jewish Christians from Rome in 49CE by Emperor Claudius, which left the Gentile Christians in Rome to build the church. After Claudius’ death in 54 the Jewish Christians returned, and conflict between uncircumcised Gentiles and circumcised Jewish Christians ensued. Which group were the true Christians? 

Since the days of Abraham, circumcision was about marking bodies as a sign of the covenant between God and the men who follow God. (there’s no indication that women followers of God were marked physically). Paul’s argument is that the Jewish Christians in Rome were turning this marking, the circumcision, into a kind of idolatry, making it more important than one’s actual relationship with God. Paul is calling the people to remember that marked or not the important aspect of life is one’s relationship with God, with one’s self, and with other people. 

Paul recognizes that the conflict is intense and people are suffering. And so when Paul speaks about boasting in suffering he is not trying to encourage the conflict. Rather he’s acknowledging that everyone suffers. But suffering also provides human beings with the opportunity to grow and mature. When people work through their conflicts, when people struggle through problems, when people work to be in and stay in relationship with God, self, and others, then a person is on the path to growing in maturity and wisdom. For people of faith this is about hope.

Hope is not about things getting better on the outside of a person, hope is a process of transformation that takes place inside. One works on one’s self to grow in understanding of self and others, to not judge or blame or shame. Paul reminds them that in God’s eyes everyone is equal, male and female, Jew and Gentile. He urges them to work through their struggles grounded in faith which produces an inner sense of hope. Hope is finding a sense of calmness in the midst of struggle, and the ability to imagine a better day tomorrow. 

For me hope is about remembering that I have survived all of life’s challenges so far and I’ve always come out the better - healthier, wiser, more mature, with greater insight, and sometimes happier.

Whatever age one lives in, life will be filled with challenges and suffering, often from human beings hurting other human beings. Christians are called, like Abraham and Sarah, like the people Paul is writing to in Rome, like the disciples Jesus is sending out, to be people of hope. Called to reveal God’s hope not like a badge one wears on the outside, nor a monument of idealized sacrifice, but by cultivating an interior sense of peace and the capacity to love others without the need to shame or blame or judge. To love as God loves, as a sign of hope when all seems lost. 

a reflection on the readings for Proper 6: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Riddle me the Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday. It always follows the Sunday of Pentecost, and it launches the long Season after Pentecost, also known as “Ordinary Time” which continues through November, until Advent begins. To help us understand a bit about the complex nature of trying to explain the Trinity, one God in three persons, I’m starting with a few riddles

You will always find me in the past. I can be created in the present, but the future can never taint me. What am I? (History)

 You can see me in water, but I never get wet. What am I? (A reflection)

I am a ship that can be made to ride the greatest waves. I am not built by tool, but built by hearts and minds. What am I? (Friendship)

What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? (Human beings)

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Okay. The last one, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a spiritual question. Unlike a riddle, a spiritual question, known as  a “Koan,”in Buddhism, has no specific answer. The intent of giving a spiritual seeker a koan is to aide that person in deepening their spiritual awareness and insight. A koan is a question which has no absolute answer, although sometimes the meaning is very simple. The meaning of, “What is the sound of one hand clapping,” is silence. It’s a koan inviting the spiritual seeker into silence.

All religions have wisdom questions or phrases like koans. In the Hebrew tradition we find these in the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiasticus. In Christianity it may be the Trinity, that is the most perplexing concept of our faith, the notion of one God, three persons. 

The early church held council meetings over the course of about four hundred years debating the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the Holy Spirit and how these three natures were related and expressed in one being. The debates were often fierce and brutal. But in the end the debates left us with the Nicene Creed as the historical statement of faith that attempts to articulate what the church means by one God, three persons. 

The nature of the Trinity is like a koan – not something one can ever fully understand in concrete terms – but a concept that is intended stretch one’s imagination about God. The Trinity is like a Koan because we never have the complete picture of who God is. Christianity understands God as a Being who is both mysterious and present. In particular God is a Being in relationship with God’s self - God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; with each aspect having a specific kind of relationship with creation and all human beings. God the creator invites into creativity, God in Jesus invites us into relationships of love; and God the Holy Spirit actives that love within us and gives us our gifts and purpose in life. God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. 

God is a Divine Being who desires to be in relationship with us. We know God most fully in and through our relationships with others: family and friends, work relationships, neighbors and acquaintances. Jesus reminds us that we are to seek and serve others outside of our immediate context and strive to create a beloved community. The Holy Spirit is God’s energy, activating God’s love in us and in the world.

In caring for the hungers of this world, nourishing people in mind, body, and spirit, we at Christ Church are seeking to participate in God’s loving action in the world. God is a being of love.  We were made by God through love and we were made by God to love. Love is our purpose in life. Love is a verb, the active energy of being in relationship with God, self, and others.

Here at Christ Church God has revealed God’s self in and through us and in and through our many ministries. God is very present in this building, this property, the many ministries that take place here, from the food pantry to the quilting group, from martial arts and dance to the civic and international groups that offices and meetings here, from the labyrinth to the plaza, to our worship and our community, and in and through each one of us. Our reading from Genesis reminds us that God created all the world, all of life. God is the source of all creation, and in creating all the world, God also blesses the world and us.

Soon we will go outside and bless our beautiful community garden. Then we’ll conclude this morning on the plaza with a celebration of good food, music, dancing, fun and games. God calls us to delight in the life God has given us, and to celebrate all our blessings.

So, I’ll conclude with one more riddle. If you know what it means, tell me at the picnic. (or in the comment section below).

There are 5 people at a picnic, five apples in a basket, each person takes an apple, there's 1 apple left in the basket. How is that is possible?

Saturday, June 03, 2017

For the sport of it...

This past week was, for me, an incredible journey, driving with my son across the amazing country we live in. The goal of the trip was to get him and his car to Seattle, where has moved to start his first job and launch his career, post college. We also had to do an extensive apartment search to find him a place to live, which we did! Following I-90, the drive out west, through the fast paced highways of Chicago, the rolling green hills of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, the spectacular beauty of the Badlands and the unexpected grandeur of Custer State Park in South Dakota, the vast and unique glory of Yellowstone with its hot springs and geysers, from the stunning Rocky Mountains to the rich green Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound of Seattle, left my son and I in a constant state of awe. At one point I even said that my eyes were growing numb from the ceaseless beauty we beheld. We were also entertained by the wildlife, the prairie dogs sounding their alarm as we drove by, amusing us as they ran and played and tumbled. We were delighted with the herds of buffalo, including babies, meandering across roadways and fields, owning the road, forcing cars to stop and wait until the buffalo moved on. 

These majestic creatures, powerful and potentially dangerous, a species nearly as old as time itself, were stunning. The entire trip, while arduous and quick, only a week from start to finish, was a playful adventure through the beauty of God’s creation. 

Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan is reminiscent of this trip, where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Clearly God must have a sense of humor to have created some of these creatures, just for the sport of it. The Psalm is a reminder that we are to have a sense of humor as we participate in the creativity of the world we live in. Being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to form themselves into a cohesive community and spread the message of Jesus far and wide. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds together all the wildly diverse aspects of creation. The Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as we hear in the reading from Acts, where all people heard the voice of the Spirit, each in their native tongue. This wildly diverse crowd of people from across the region of the Roman Empire, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, educated and peasant, soldier and tax collector, artisan and potter, baker and farmer, traveling merchant and who knows who else, all heard the Holy Spirit in a gust of fiery wind, breathing over them God’s words. From this the church was born and given its mission. The fruits of our good work, we hear, is love and wisdom. God revealed God’s self in human flesh that we might know God’s nature more fully, and love as God loves us, which is a process of maturity and growing in wisdom. 

We hold this understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, the church and its mission, in tension with a world of people around us who have not or do not go to church. If one reads the news or follows news-feeds on Facebook, there are plenty of reasons to doubt or struggle with the institutional church: scandals are pervasive, abuse of children and women is secreted away, arguing over who belongs and who doesn’t, over race or human sexuality, problems in the church seem to be at epidemic proportions. I get it. I know something about the desire to walk away, to disconnect, to leave the institutional church behind, to go it on my own, to be spiritual but not religious. I lived that way for a third of my life. No doubt in some ways it was easier. I didn’t have to wrestle with relationships, I didn’t have to work to figure out how to be a good Christian and how to be a person of faith, how to live as Jesus asks of me. I could live anyway I wanted too. Sure, I could still have good values and still treat people fairly and work for justice. 

However, learning to manage the tension of living in community, fostering a relationship with God, and navigating the complexity of diversity is what it means to be a faithful Christian, growing in compassion and maturity and wisdom and love. To be mature one needs to have resilience, the ability to move through and rebound from life’s challenges. Individually, and as a community, maturity reflects one’s ability to be clear about what one values and the principles upon which one makes decisions and guides one’s life. One of the key components of resilience and building healthy relationship is the ability to be playful and creative. 

How are we, the people of Christ Church, seeking to live as God calls us? How are we working to be in relationship with one another and the world around us? How are we working to be in relationship with our neighbor? WHO is our neighbor? How are we working to be and become a beloved community? How are we resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful, creative, and transformative? The newly formed Renaissance Strategy Task Force has been charged by the Vestry to reflect on and explore these questions, and then to help us develop a strategy for growing this Christian community, in more intentional ways. They are not starting from nothing, they have a vibrant list of ministries and a long history to work with. 

For example we host a very busy building filled with activities offered by civic, international, artistic, health focused, religious and sometimes political, meetings, classes, and events, offered by individuals and groups, revealing a creative ongoing source of energy as a community-centered church. More specifically, our church picnic, coming up next week, is an example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, and share a meal. It’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our exterior plaza, the community garden, memorial garden, labyrinth, and pet memorial garden, in fact our church grounds, are a sign of our creativity - beautiful and welcoming to everyone. Many people walk our grounds, sit in prayer at the labyrinth, and find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer will be our third year hosting the outdoor summer concert series, held on four Friday nights, two in July and two in August. This concert series is one way we are reaching out to the wider community, building relationships in creative and fun ways. In these, and other ways, we are feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

As we celebrate Pentecost, our readings have one primary theme in common - the call to relationship. The call from scripture to be in relationship with one another, with our neighbor and with strangers, and with all creation, is serious. But, paradoxically, scripture also reveals that we do so playfully and creatively. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the sport of it. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Women Rising

The Episcopal Women’s Caucus has long been an advocate for justice and a change agent in the Episcopal Church, standing firmly at the nexus of sexism, misogyny, racism, ageism, and heterosexism in the church. It formed in 1971 as a caucus, not a committee or task force, making explicit its founders’ intention to be a politically potent agent in the polity of the church.

The Caucus’ advocacy initially focused on advocating for women’s ordination and the full inclusion of women in the governance and ministries of Church life. The Caucus’ focus on gender equality not only raised the Church’s awareness of adverse practices that enable sexism and other power inequities, it also worked with other social justice advocacy groups to help the church understand the interlocking nature of oppressions. The Caucus works under the umbrella of The Consultation, which also includes Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Advocates, Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Urban Caucus, Integrity, TransEpiscopal, and the Union of Black Episcopalians. These groups joined forces to advance an agenda of social justice based in the baptismal imperatives of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.  

The Caucus understands that politics is simply the way humans organize to get things done. From its beginning it has helped members learn how to be effective workers within the polity of the Church. From helping members be effective deputies to General Convention by understanding convention protocol and Robert’s Rules of Order to initiating resolutions and organizing people to testify effectively before committees and on the floor of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, the Caucus has worked to shape people and policies in the church. The Caucus effectively organized and helped pass the resolution granting women ordination to all orders in The Episcopal Church. In the decades that have followed the Caucus has worked on justice issues from racism to the rights of the LGBTQI community. 

On June 22-23 the Caucus is convening “Women Rising” in Dallas, Texas to honor our history and to plan our future. The gathering will consider the deep seated ways sexism and misogyny are being revealed in our world today, how we can become more aware of how these reside in each of us, and how we can work within the Church and society to overcome this. We will develop tools that invite us to deeper awareness of ourselves and increase our capacity to be supportive of others.  We will create plans of action and ways to implement those plans, both at General Convention 2018 and in our home dioceses and parishes. 

For more information and to register to attend please go to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus website: 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Encounter Love

On a beautiful Sunday morning, in an old white stucco church with red doors and antique wood pews, a young couple baptized their first baby, a little boy.  Dan and I, and our two small children were present. I was in seminary at the time and our parish priest was a semi-retired gentle old man who had moved to the area because his wife took a prestigious position as the head chaplain at a local retirement community. Although I was only beginning to learn about liturgy and the sacraments, I was surprised when the priest eliminated portions of the baptism service, specifically all references to sin as it pertained to the infant being baptized. Later when I asked the priest about this he said that the couple could not imagine their precious new born baby being sinful and they didn’t want the idea of evil to be associated with the baptism. I understood that, newborn babies being sweet, innocent, and a gift of joy and delight. Apparently, this has had a lasting impact on me because now when I offer baptismal preparation for families I encourage us to have a conversation about the ways that evil and sin manifest in our lives and the world around us. I want every person who stands at the font to have their own understanding of what they are renouncing as sinful and evil and what they are affirming as good and holy. To a person this is both the most significant conversation we have and the most challenging because sin and evil are difficult subject matters. But not talking about them nor gaining insight into what one thinks about them isn’t helpful, either. Sin is complex and nuanced, and pertains to the disparity of hurting relationships one has with one’s self, with other people, and even the impact of one’s life on the global community through acts that affect racism, economic conditions, or the environment. The confession we pray each Sunday speaks about sins known and unknown and our responsibility to become aware of who we are, what we do, and how one life impacts another. Growing one’s ability to speak about sin and recognize its role in the world is a process of deepening one’s spiritual life and growing a more mature faith. 

In this season of Lent we have been focusing on the Lenten spiritual disciplines that support Christians in their faith formation, in recognizing God’s presence in one’s life by considering what sin is and how one can live a good and holy life. These spiritual disciplines are listed for us in the Ash Wednesday service: prayer, self-examination, repentance, fasting, and reading scripture. So far we’ve talked about prayer and some of the ways one can engage in prayerful activity from silent prayer, or reading, writing, or taking walks in nature, with the focus on making room for God to be present in one’s life. 

We’ve talked about self-examination as a spiritual discipline that was developed by St. Ignatius in his spiritual exercises. Self-examination is a daily exercise of reviewing one’s life and making note of what has gone well that day, what one has found challenging, working to make amends and heal broken relationships, finding gratitude in some aspect of the day, and looking forward to tomorrow.

Fasting has a long history in religious traditions. Sometimes one fasts from a particular food or beverage. Perhaps one fasts from an activity, like staying off of Facebook for the season of Lent. Some choose to fast from busyness. Busyness is a real phenomenon in our society. By staying really busy one does not have time to focus on building relationships or mending challenging relationships, one is simply too busy to do this deeper work, too busy to even make a little time for God and the formation of a spiritual life. Fasting from busyness provides an opportunity to enhance the quality of one’s spiritual life.

Today we are reflecting on the spiritual discipline of repentance. Repentance literally means turning around. As a Christian discipline it is the act of turn toward God or returning to God when one has strayed. It builds on the idea that sin is, essentially, broken relationship in all its forms - broken with God, broken with self, and broken with others. Relationships are broken, for example, when one fails to nurture them, pulls away or distances one’s self from another, chooses to not work through challenges, diminishes one’s self or another, shames or blames self or another person, among other ways that relationships might be broken. Repentance is the act of recognizing one’s broken state in light of God’s desire for all people to live in healthy, mature relationships, loving God, self, and others, and working to make amends.

The Gospel reading this morning challenges the listener; what is really going on in this story? Some people in the story think that the man’s blindness is the result of sin. In the ancient world  illness was thought to be the consequence of sin. Jesus refutes this idea, sin was not the cause of blindness. Notice that the blind man doesn’t ask Jesus for anything, and yet Jesus heals him. This is a story about what happens when one encounters the love of God. Encountering God’s love in human flesh causes a radical transformation, a change in one’s very being. Whether the act of encountering God’s love causes a literal physical healing or whether it causes a spiritual healing, the end result is similar, one is able to see in a new way. 

The Christian disciplines that Ash Wednesday invites us to observe intend to open one’s eyes and help one see in a new way. Lent provides us with a season to focus on how one is living one’s life and growing in faith. Next Sunday members of the Spirituality Commission will offer an adult forum, a sampling of some spiritual practices including: walking the labyrinth, centering prayer, and chanting. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about each of them and then try one of them. The Commission will repeat this forum several times over the spring so you will have the opportunity to try more than one, or to keep working on the one you like. 

 Like the man born blind who encounters Jesus and has his eyes opened, such is the potential for any one who takes on the practice of developing one’s faith. With opened eyes one can better see the broken and the whole places in one’s life and in the world. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of our Christian faith holds the potential that one might develop the capacity and the maturity to navigate one’s life in fuller, deeper, more complex and meaningful ways, one that informs and develops insight and wisdom, compassion and grace, and the ability to love a little more like God loves. But the most compelling potential of practicing the Christian disciplines is the idea that one might be healed of that which blinds one to one’s self and to others, and then, with new sight, one is sent out into the world with eyes wide open, to follow Jesus, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit.

a reflection for Lent 4A: John 9:1-41

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Speaking one's mind, telling one's heart, becoming living water

I had a sixteen year hiatus from church between the years I was fifteen and thirty-one. In my late twenties, when I began to think about my spiritual life and contemplated going to church I was hesitant, fearful. Like most fears my fear was not rational. I was afraid that going to church would mean that I would lose myself. Growing up I was always the obedient daughter who excelled at life, but I never voiced my own opinions. I lost my self in what others wanted me to be and do. The church of my childhood reinforced that role for girls and daughters and I was a good little girl. But when my family left the church and stopped practicing Christianity, I had the opportunity to rethink everything and figure out who I was and what I wanted. So finding out as a 28 year old that I was being pulled back into church life was powerful and terrifying. But my desire to return was two-fold: I wanted a community where I could belong with a group of people who had similar life experiences and hopes and a place where I could ask questions about God and grow a more mature spirituality.
Figuring out how to be a Christian in the world today is challenging because there are many ways to be a Christian, across a wide swath of denominations, values and beliefs. In this season of Lent we have been pondering who we are as a faith community, how we can grow and deepen the spiritual lives of individuals, and how we can expand our identity as a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit to make an impact on the world around us. We have been exploring this through our Sunday morning scripture readings, through the five disciplines that help us observe a Holy Lent as defined in the Book of Common Prayer, and through our newly forming Spirituality Commission. 
In each of the Sunday morning sermons I have taken one of the five Lenten disciplines: prayer, self-examination, reading scripture, repentance, and fasting, and connected it to the readings, its history in the Christian tradition, and how it might enhance one’s spirituality. So far I’ve talked about prayer and self examination. Today I’m reflecting on fasting. Fasting is an ancient practice found in many faith traditions. For Christians the point of fasting is to help one focus on God. Whenever one craves what one has given up one is to turn one’s attention to God through prayer and self-examination. When we think about fasting we usually think about not eating some food, like giving up chocolate for Lent. 
One can also fast from something one does. For example, I know a number of people who are fasting from Facebook for Lent. So instead of going on one’s computer and checking out Facebook one spends time in prayer instead. 
I said on Ash Wednesday that my Lenten discipline was going to be a fast from false busyness. I was going to slow down and be more present to my life. I thought of this because of several articles I’ve read recently which say that people have a tendency to stay really busy as a way of avoiding their lives - avoiding challenges in a marriage or parenting - really busy to avoid working on deepening relationships. Or being really busy because just the act of being busy makes one feel important and useful. I’m fasting from that kind of busyness and taking time to look at my life and my relationships. I’m taking time to focus on prayer and self-examination and God’s presence in my life. 
Which is exactly what happens in our scripture reading this morning. Both Jesus and this woman at the well stop long enough to become vulnerable with one another which leads them to take a good hard look at their lives and come to a deeper understanding of self. Who Jesus is and who this woman is.  
It seems that her life did not turn out as she had hoped. As a woman in that day and time she had no choice of who her husband was. And, if one husband died a brother or another male family member of that husband was obligated to take her as his wife. Sometimes no one would do that and the woman was abandoned, left to starve and die. 
This is a story about a woman who has stood up to the challenges in her life and survived. Her ability to enter into a debate with Jesus speaks to her strength. Unlike Nicodemus in the Gospel story from last week who came to Jesus in darkness,  she appears in the light of day. This points to her willingness to be out in the open, honest about who she is, willing to be vulnerable and yet courageous, feeling strength in her sense of self. 
 Brene Brown writes that embracing our vulnerability is risky and takes courage. “The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”’
And so this woman and Jesus have a courageous heart to heart conversation. By the way, this is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Bible. 
In the context of this profound conversation three things happen. 1. Jesus has travelled to Samaria, a land despised by the Hebrew people and with whom the Hebrews are in constant conflict. So, Jesus moves outside of his comfort zone, taking a risk, being vulnerable, and another example of how Jesus often went to the people instead of expecting them to come to him; 2. Jesus is the one who is thirsty, yearning for a cup of water, but he has no means of giving himself that water. This woman can give him a cup of water and she does. Jesus understands that his willingness to be vulnerable creates the opportunity for a deeper relationship to form with this woman, and with others 3. Jesus breaks with the male/female protocol and speaks with her and she with him. Each becomes vulnerable to the other and they end up seeing one another, and themselves, with more depth, understanding, and compassion, which changes each of them forever.  
Another important detail of this story is that the woman leaves her water jar at the well when she runs off to tell the townspeople about her encounter with Jesus. She can fast from that burden because she has a new purpose. Now she is the vessel of living water, she is the bearer of God’s love. Being heard and seen by Jesus she is able to authentically carry within her the fullness of her story, knowing that she is loved for being who she is. She becomes both vulnerable and strong, willing to share this love with the townspeople.
In a similar way, the purpose of our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit, is to deepen our relationships with other people through joining them at the well of life, listening deeply, and sharing expansively of our selves, becoming God’s living water to our neighbors far and near. 

A reflection on John 4:5-42 for Lent 3A

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Just, Humane, a spiritual examen of self

When Dan and I were first married he worked in the computer industry designing and selling systems, from servers to computers to software, from installation to training, to law schools, universities, and graphic artists, primarily using Apple products. Beginning in the 1980’s including the twenty-two years that Dan worked in that industry, I’ve been inundated with technology. We had one of the very first Apple desktop computers. I was in seminary in the mid 1990’s when I first started using the internet, on a dial-up access, to do research for papers. I’ve built websites and Facebook pages and blogs for myself and churches I've worked for, including this church, and as well as for the many social justice groups I work with. Soon my son will graduate from Eastern with a degree in internet security, which is primarily about preventing hacking but also considers internet law and ethics. Dan, Peter, and I have lively conversations about all of this, although my input is primarily on the moral and ethical end, not the technical. So, I was intrigued by a recent interview (January 12, 2017) with Krista Tippet and Anil Dash for “On Being.” Anil Dash is a technologist, exploring the unprecedented power, the dangerous learning curves, and the humane potential of technology today. His Twitter profile says he is “Trying to make tech a little bit more humane and ethical.”

Dash spoke about the moral quandary of the industry of technology and its influence on civic behavior though social media.Tippet’s interview with Dash, who is from India, covered the landscape from “fake news to Facebook to Uber to cell phones.” He spoke about social media not wanting to judge what people write and say on the one hand and on the other creating apps that influence how people understand their own behavior with the idea of creating more responsible, kinder, healthier people. The interview focused on the need for there to be an intentional component to technology and social media that considers what is ethical and humane. Tippet said, this technology is in its infancy, and we are the adults in the room. How we develop it and use it requires us to be intelligent, mature, just, ethical, and humane. 

The Ash Wednesday liturgy invited us to observe a Holy Lent by taking on five practices that will deepen one’s faith: prayer, self-examination, fasting, reading scripture, and repentance.  One might consider these spiritual practices to develop the capacity to be just and humane. Last week we explored the spiritual practice of prayer grounded in our reading from Matthew that portrayed the impact of prayer on Jesus’ life and his ability to stay focused on his beliefs and values and not succumb to temptation. 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John uses birth as a metaphor to convey the messy and painful challenges of life and faith. Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about discipleship and the moral quandary of being both just and human. This is the invitation to and the point of self-examination. By self-examination I mean taking time every day to review what one has said and done. This practice is best developed in the Ignatian Exercises. St. Ignatius lived in the 16th century in Spain and is credited with developing the practice of spiritual direction, wherein a person journeys with a spiritual guide to help one develop one’s awareness of God’s presence. Every person going through the ordination process is required to have a spiritual director, and I am a trained spiritual director and have practiced the Ignatian exercises, of which the daily examen is one part. Practicing self-examination one:

1. Becomes aware of God’s presence.
2. Reviews the day with gratitude. 
3. Pays attention to one’s emotions.
4. Chooses one feature of the day and prays from it.
5. Looks toward tomorrow.

The purpose of developing a practice of self-examination is to deepen one’s awareness of one’s self, one’s relationship with God, and one’s relationship with other people by becoming more aware of the broken and hurting places in one’s life and working to make amends and heal them.

When Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus he is talking about discipleship and rebirth - which is exactly what we are looking at too - how are we growing our relationship with God and with our neighbors, which is discipleship, and how are we going to take risks in these relationships with the hope of revitalizing, rebirthing this church. For example, every time I update or post something on our Facebook page or website, I am thinking about what it says about who we are. Because most people find a church from social media sites, how we portray who we are is crucial, and the burden always falls along the lines of conveying our values and beliefs, and in particular today, what it means to be humane and just, and how through the mission of this church one might find purpose in one’s life.

Nicodemus follows Jesus from afar, approaches Jesus in the darkness of night. It’s not that Nicodemus’ faith is faulty, even though it is secreted away in darkness, it’s that its too small, incomplete, immature, like a fetus in its mother’s womb. Darkness is the beginning of life, it is how life and light are born. But one is required to labor through darkness to be birthed into light. This means taking risks to move out of an insular space and into the world outside.

What kinds of risks will we take to move this church into its next 150 years? What kinds of risks will grow discipleship and bring about new birth? To understand how we are to do this will require, at the very least, self-examination and prayer. But self-examination and prayer must lead to action, the labor of rebirth. 

Which is where Nicodemus gets stuck. He can’t manage the anxiety of taking action so he moves back into the safety of darkness. The diocesan workshop, “Requiem or Renaissance” will challenge us along these lines. Likewise, as we learned in the diocesan Diversity and Inclusivity training, there is work to be done to reconcile and heal relationships that have been affected by racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, and xenophobia - because all of these “isms” are embedded in our institutions, including the church. Therefore they are deeply rooted in us too, often unconscious in our thoughts and actions, requiring us to do self-examination and become aware of how words and actions affect our relationships, how they may or may not be just and humane.  As we do our self-examination, as we explore discipleship and our relationship with God, our neighbors, and one another, our challenge is to not get stuck in the process but to become creative risk takers. Although we don’t hear about it, Nicodemus must struggle with this, with his faith, with justice and his place in humanity, because at the end of the Gospel he comes out into the light and lives his faith in a new way. Likewise, we are to consider who we are and how we are telling our story of faith. Darkness is forming us and if we embrace the process and work with it, then it will birth us into new life, as a more humane and just community that truly and deeply feeds people in mind, body, and spirit.

a reflection John 3:1-17 for Lent 2A

Playing for Hope

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