Saturday, October 29, 2011

Too Small for Anything But Love

A reflection on the readings for Proper 26A: Joshua 3:7-14

There is a point in time, in the late afternoon, when the light in the church is particularly beautiful. This time of year the sun, moving south on the horizon, pours in through the stained glass windows. Colored beams of light reflect off the walls with a vibrancy that takes my breath away. This sacred space of prayer, embraced in a mosaic of light.

The first mosaics were made in Mesopotamia, twenty five hundred years before Christ. They were decorative embellishments of terra cotta or mother of pearl. The art died out but reappeared in ninth century Greece as floor decoration. Geometric designs of pebbles were cheaper than rugs. Floor mosaics told stories. Before long the pebbles gave way to cut stone, enabling greater detail in the design. Over time this art form spread from Greece to Turkey and Egypt. Some of the finest examples of mosaics were unearthed from the ruins of Pompeii, buried under the destruction of the volcano Vesuvius in the year 79. In the fourth century the Christian emperor Constantine lifted mosaics from the floor to the ceiling, with colored glass replacing the stone.

In churches, mosaics became the Bible for everyday human beings. One did not need to know how to read nor did one need to rely on words, instead the story was told in images of colored glass.

Terry Tempest Williams, in her book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, begins with a reflection on mosaic. She is in Italy learning the art of creating mosaics – of carefully placing stone next to stone until it tells a story in picture. From creating mosaics in Italy Williams takes us to Bryce Canyon Utah, where she is studying prairie dogs, and then she takes us to Rwanda, where she is helping a group of artists work with a small village to rebuild after the genocide of 1994. Williams weaves together these three disparate stories into one compelling reflection on life, violence, and hope.

As an author, Williams is an advocate for justice, for healthy relationships between the environment and humankind. Finding Beauty in a Broken World is written in short paragraphs, like meditations in a journal. She reflects on how the natural world and the human world collide and connect in violence and in beauty. From the violence of broken glass and stone, a mosaic, beauty, is created. She writes with gentle emotion, about the intersection between arrogance and empathy, tumult and peace, constructing a narrative of hope.

She says:

“Mosaic celebrates brokenness and beauty being brought together…..A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken. “

Over the last five weeks we have celebrated the Season of Creation, a liturgical invitation to reflect on the world around us and our role as God’s partners in creation. Now we return to the season after Pentecost, also known as Ordinary Time, and to the scripture readings assigned for Sunday mornings. As we reflected on Genesis and stories of land and water, the readings from the Ordinary Time lectionary moved through the story of Exodus. When we left it, six weeks ago, the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, finding new life as a people freed from slavery. The story continued, revealing their struggle as they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. There were stories of hunger and complaining, of Moses going up the mountain to receive the ten commandments, and then last week, with the promised land in sight, Moses dies, never stepping foot on the land he worked so hard to get too. Now, in this reading today from Joshua, we hear of the people preparing to enter the promised land. It’s a story, on the one hand, of a people preparing for war – to conquer the Canaanites who live in this land. And on the other hand it’s a story of God’s presence. Leaving us to wonder what this means to us. Where is God in the midst of war, violence, and brokenness?

A group of us in the parish gather every Monday or Tuesday night to watch video recordings of the PBS series, Women, War, and Peace. This five part series tells stories about the violence of war, in particular the violence waged against women. It is often painful to watch. But these are also stories of women taking control of an egregious situation and transforming it into hope. One story portrayed the women who testified at The Hague in 2001, the first time rape was condemned as a war crime, and the perpetrators were convicted of this crime. Another story showed women, both Christian and Muslim, uniting in a stance of peaceful prayer, to end the violence of war in their country. A powerful story of non-violent action, led by mothers, grandmothers, and daughters, insisting that the violence end, using only the power of their presence and the power of prayer. This week we will hear the story of women in Afghanistan.

These true stories are like mosaics, out of brokenness comes hope, and the possibility of healing, transformation, and sometimes, forgiveness. They are powerful, beautiful stories.

Sometimes, in the midst of war, people will claim that God is on their side. Certainly that is the lens through which this story in Joshua is told – God, it seems, stands with the Israelites and supports their battle against the Canaanites. But maybe it’s really a story of how we humans want to believe that God is behind our actions. Early Europeans, arriving in this country used the same argument against those who lived here first – claiming that the they were bringing civilization and a just society and a proper religion to the “natives” – a claim that justified violence to oppress people and force them into submission…not to mention the countless other examples we could site where humans claim God endorses their acts of violence.

A social justice perspective of God offers us another perspective, reminding us that God has given us free will. With the gift of free will we humans are free to decide how we will behave. The gift of free-will reframes for us a common biblical phrase, the one where God says, “I am with you.” Free will, considered from this perspective, tells us that God is with us, but that does not mean that God endorses everything we do. In this perspective, a just God journeys with us, hoping that we will align our lives and all we do with what God desires.

Over the last five weeks the Gospel of Matthew has told stories of Jesus being tested by the Pharisees, who want to catch him in an act of treason so he can be arrested. The Pharisees are challenged by Jesus, to change their selfish ways. Last week, had we been following the regular lectionary readings, we would have heard the Pharisees asking Jesus a crucial question: “Lord, which commandment is the greatest?”

This is trick question. In the Bible there are 613 commandments. Regardless of which commandment Jesus claims as the greatest the Pharisees are prepared to argue against him.
Jesus deftly side steps the trap – he responds: “You shall love the Lord your God. This is the greatest commandment, and the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as your self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, Jesus summarizes the intent and content of all 613 commandments into these two. What God desires is that we, love God, love self, and love others!

Toward the end of the book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, the author quotes the famous William Sloane Coffin, a Presbyterian minister and peace activist. Perhaps his words are words to live by, he said: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Lifts You?....a RevGals Friday Five

Sally, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with depression, I know that from reading other folks blogs that I am not alone in this, and from time to time if not suffering from depression that everyone feels down. With that in mind I wonder what lifts you? So I'd like you to share 5 things:

1. A Scripture- it might be a verse or a whole book! When I am struggling I often go to this verse:Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27)

2. A piece of music. Cello, specifically, YoYo Ma

3. A place A walk usually helps

4. A person/ group of people Sometimes it helps to meet a friend for coffee...

5. Something you do... Yoga

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Listen and You Just Might Hear...

A reflection the readings for Season Of Creation 5A:

The 1992 film, “A River Runs Through It”, directed by Robert Redford, and starring Tom Skillet, Brad Pitt, and Craig Sheffer, tells the story of two fly-fishermen brothers. They are sons of a Presbyterian minister living in rural Montana. The film opens with this:

My father was a Presbyterian minister...and a fly-fisherman. Though it is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion...even then he told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen. And we were left to assume, as my younger brother Paul and I did...that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly-fishermen...and that John, the favorite, was a dry fly-fisherman.

In the afternoon, we would walk with him...while he unwound between services. He almost always chose a path along the Big Blackfoot...which we considered our family river. It was there he felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred.

Long ago rain fell on mud and became rock. Halt a billion years ago. But even before that,
beneath the rocks...are the words of God.


And if Paul and I listened very carefully all our lives...we might hear those words.

Listen. The word of God running like a river beneath and through all creation. The word of God, a river of life. The word of God, like water that brings forth life, birthing all creation into being.

The Book of Genesis offers us two stories of creation. In the first story water existed before light. In the second story the garden of Eden rose from a stream of water. In Exodus the Israelites are born anew through the Red Sea waters – reminding us that life often calls us to navigate through challenging waters into new life. Many Bible stories take place at a well including the longest conversation Jesus has in his meeting of the Samaritan Woman at the well – all of these reinforce our sense that from water comes life.

Human life begins in water.

However, not only does life come from water, but water can also take life. Many ancient cultures have stories of a great flood, like this story of Noah in today’s reading from Genesis.

And, water renews life. People travel to bodies of water for rest, renewal, vacation, family and community. Whether lakes, rives, swimming pools, or bubbling fountains in local parks, humans are drawn to the soothing quality of water. When I lived in the desert, the swimming pool in our backyard afford relief – soothing my eye from the stark landscape of sand and prickly cactus, soothing my spirit and body from the 100+ temperatures. And in the movie, A River Runs Through It, water and fly-fishing are the source of inspiration for the spiritual and faith life of this minister and his family.

Water is used to clean our bodies and our environment. In the Eucharist the priest washes her hands before praying over our offering of bread, water, and money – washing as a sacred act, preparing for the coming forth of the Holy Spirit through the words and actions of the Eucharistic prayer.

Christianity uses water in four different sacramental ways: to recall birth, to evoke death, to typify renewal, and to suggest washing.

Baptismal waters are all of these, a sign and symbol of an old life passing away, a new life being birthed, life purified in an encounter with God, an invitation to model our lives on Christ, and an invitation to renewal our commitment to live a life of faith – to love God, love others, love self – to respect the dignity of every human being….

And on this fifth and final week in our celebration of the Season of Creation, we can work for and pray for clean water through out the world. But most importantly today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism - for two little boys: Mason and Maximus.

So, what is a Sacrament? The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not readily apparent so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are ritual acts that reveal to us something about the nature of God.

Sacraments, enable the love of God, that is already present and available, real for us. God’s love becomes real for us in such a way that we are able to fully benefit from it.

Holy Baptism reveals God’s love for us and invites into a particular relationship with God. Baptism makes us aware that God loves each and everyone of us with a love that is merited by virtue of the reality that we are made in God’s image – made good to do good. God’s love is also unconditional and never ending. There is nothing we humans can do or need to do to make that love available to ourselves or anyone else. Baptism is not necessary for a child or adult to receive God’s love. But baptism is the means by which we become aware of a love that we might not otherwise be able to appreciate or benefit from. Baptism gives us our Christian identity, marked with water and sealed with a sign of the cross in holy oil. As Christians we know the love of God as it is made manifest in and through the life of Jesus.

The baptismal rite invites us to celebrate the grace and love God has for our children. It reminds us that our children are in God’s hands and that we are not alone in our love for them. We need to renew our baptismal covenant so that we are reminded that, with God’s help, we are called to reveal God’s love in and through our lives. That we may mirror back to our children, and to all we meet, the nature and character of God’s love.
That we, through baptism, are called to mirror back to the world the love of God, reminds me of a story from “Mary’s Way” by Peggy Tabor Millin. She writes:

I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merge into one for a moment and then divide again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other….

Let us remember that our lives impact other lives, in ways known and unknown. May we strive, with God’s help, to listen. May we hear the word of God that courses through the river of life, the waters of creation. And, may we live our baptismal covenant in such a way that all that we do and all that are, reveals God’s unending love and compassion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

RevGals Friday Five

Jan, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Since it is almost my birthday and because my spiritual direction peer group is reading Living Fully, Dying Well by Edward W. Bastian and Tina L. Staley, I am thinking of my life in stages. For the latter group, we filled out a form dividing our life into 7-year increments, documenting "significant moments," then "people who guided and influenced me," and ending with the question, "What did this phase contribute to the continuum of my life?" This was a life Review Exercise devised by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

For today's Friday Five, I am suggesting that we each divide our age into 5 sections. You don't have to say your age or ages for the different parts, unless you want to. In each of the 5 points, please describe a memorable and/or significant event, either good or unpleasant

Well, I think I can divide my life into groups based on the states I lived in.

1. Utah - I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. My father's parents lived in a well to do middle class section of town up on the mountains. My mother's parents had a lot less money, lived down in the valley not far from the Miller Life brewery. I remember seeing the red lights from the sign whenever I spent the night at my maternal grandparents. I have many fond memories of spending time with that set of grandparents, and of that neighborhood. Following my parents divorce, I did live for a year or so with my paternal grandparents. I remember hearing about the assassination of JFK on the school bus radio, the solemn afternoon at school, and then watching the funeral on television. I also remember dancing in grandparents basement to "Puff the Magic Dragon"....I was five and thought it was a sad song about a dragon. Utah still holds my heart - particularly the mountains, the beauty of which is deeply ingrained in my spirituality.

2. Idaho, Wisconsin, and Texas: when I was nine my family moved away from Utah. My mom remarried, our step-father adopted my brothers and me, and then following his career, we moved a lot. Our first move took us to Nampa, Idaho. I remember being struck by the flat tops of the mountains and missed the soaring mountains of Salt Lake. We lived in the country and I loved playing outside, running through hay fields, watching the birth of a foal. But after a year we were transferred to a small town in Wisconsin.

We lived in Waupun, Wisc. for four years - from fifth through eighth grades. These were formative years, living in a small town divided between the natives and those who worked for Carnation - as my dad did. The company did a lot to build community among the employees and most of my friends were kids whose parents worked for Carnation. My dad got a job with another company and we were transferred to Ft. Worth, Texas just as I was entering high school.

Living in Ft. Worth was a cultural shock. The year I was there the high school got its first African-American students. I remember a long preparation process. I remember teachers who told jungle-bunny jokes and made racial slurs. The two African-American students were a brother and sister. The sister sat next to me in band - and the band teacher was the worst offender of racial slurs. I wrote a letter to the principle complaining about the teacher and dropped out of band. It was a big deal, at least for me, the first time I stood up for something I believed in. But, after only a year in Ft. Worth my dad was transferred to Illinois.

3. I lived in Illinois for the next 35 years. I graduated high school, went to college, got married, had my kids, bought and sold homes, went to seminary and was ordained in Illinois. I lived all over the Chicago-land area and know the town and the people really well. It's a great place to live.

4. But after awhile I yearned to return to the west and found a position in southern Arizona. It was a beautiful place, but also a hostile place. I left after two years and returned to Illinois.

5. Now I am in a new phase of life, living in Michigan. I have found a position I really love in a town that is beautiful, interesting, diverse, complex. I've only been here since May, but I already feel like I am home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Be Wilderness

Season of Creation 4A: Joel 1:8-10, 17-20; Romans 8:18-27

A couple of years ago I attended a clergy conference that included an opportunity to travel into Mexico to visit some of the ministries that were taking place on the border. We were loaded on a school bus in Douglas, Arizona and transported through the border patrol station into Agua Prieta, Mexico. There we visited the office of a coffee co-op and toured a local addiction rehab facility called CREDO - which has a profound ministry. This humble facility houses 92 people including women and their children, in crowded rooms with bunk beds. It also has rooms for men, similar to the women’s rooms. There are several meeting rooms and a dining area. Most of the structures are concrete walls and floors. In some instances the rooms have dirt floors. Every person in the facility works to keep the place clean, prepare food, support one another, learn about and engage in healthy behavior to support a life of sobriety. No one is turned away, and everyone in the facility has a place to live until they are sober for one year and can prove that they can earn a living and support themselves in an apartment. The quality of support is impressive. But what really amazed me is a story the director shared about a resident who lived in the enclosed section for the mentally ill patients.

One day, about eight years ago, the director received a phone call about a man found wandering in the desert. The Director offered to get the man and bring him to CREDO. The man had no memory of his name or his identity. Barely able to speak, he did not know where he was from or how he ended up lost in the desert of Mexico. Diagnosed as psychotic this addiction facility housed the man, gave him medication, and tended to him for four years. Then, one day, out of the blue, the man told the director that he remembered who he was. He told him his name, the names of his parents in California, their address, and their phone number. The director called his parents who were both astonished and delighted that their long lost son had been found, safe and sound. They too had no idea how their son had wound up in Mexico. Within a few days the parents arrived in Mexico to collect their son and take him home. To this day that family still sends money to assist CREDO in their ministry to those lost to addiction or mental illness. And, as far as I know, their son remains healthy and well.

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Season of Creation, and the theme is, the wilderness. There are a number of ways that we can think about wilderness: wilderness of land, wilderness of spirit, and wilderness of mind.

The wilderness of land is of remote places like the desert areas, mountainous areas, the Alaskan tundra. Places where few humans live, let alone plants, vegetation, or animals.

Not only is there the reality of a wilderness of land, but there is also the concept of wilderness as a metaphor of reality. The man found wandering in the desert, who had no memory of his identity, was lost to reality of time and place. He was in the wilderness of mental illness, a wilderness of the mind.

There is also the notion of the wilderness as spiritual metaphor. When used this way we can think of ourselves as in a spiritual wilderness when life is overwhelming and we do not know where God is in the midst of our despair. This is the wilderness that our reading from Joel expresses – lamenting because all seems lost – the cattle wander about because there is no pasture for them, people mourning in sackcloth, and all around is devastation.

The Book of Joel is found in the section of the Bible known as the minor prophets. There are twelve minor prophets, so called because the books credited to these prophets are shorter than those credited to the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In addition to Joel, the minor prophets include Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Joel is believed to have been written sometime in the 4th century, BCE – before the common era, or some 2400 years ago. Joel is lamenting the devastation of the land from a plague of locusts. The book is filled with a sense of grief that God has abandoned the people. But because it is a prophetic book it also looks to the future when God will return and restore the land and the people to the fullness of God’s desire. The prophets use imagery and language that references wilderness experiences – land that has become a wilderness, and the spiritual life of the people lost in a wilderness with out a sense of God’s presence.

When my daughter was little we read a trilogy of books called Julie and the Wolves. It’s the story of a young Eskimo girl, orphaned at the tragic death of her parents and married off to an older abusive man. She escapes the marriage by running away, hoping to make it to San Francisco. Instead she ends up lost in the tundra of Alaska and is forced to learn how to survive on the raw elements of the land: ice and snow, plants and animals. It’s a fabulous series filled with the rich spirituality of a people who have learned to live in the wilderness of snow and ice. Of a people with a deep respect for the land and for all the creatures of the land, and of a young girl who loses her self in the wilderness only to find her true identity in the process.

The Christian story, filled as it is with wilderness experiences is ultimately a story of hope. We believe that in and within every wilderness experience is the profound reality of God’s presence. While there are times when we are unable to recognize exactly how it is that God is with us, our faith reminds us that God never leaves us, is always present, and journeys with us through our grief and despair. God yearns for us to live in peace, to be satisfied with life, whatever it brings our way, and to love others as God loves us.

The wilderness is not only a place of lament and despair, but as our reading from Romans reminds us, it is also the place of hope, for it is hope that rescues us. Hope - where new life begins and through which God’s creative self pours through, awakening us to our true identity, called to be the hands and heart of Christ – to be beacons of hope in the wilderness of life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, October 14, 2011

RevGal Friday Five

Karla, over at revGals, offers this Friday Five:

In the spirit of Scattered-ness, I offer you a scattery kind of Friday Five:

1. I lose my keys all of the time. Even if they are in my hand, I still am looking for them. Sigh! What is something you chronically looking for, if anything? For me, it is less a matter of looking for something I have misplaced, and more a matter of rushing to get ready to leave and needing to tromp up and down several flights of stairs to get clothing (hanging in the basement laundry room), computer (charging in the office), and so on. It leaves me feeling disorganized because I was too tired the night before to get things in order for the day.

2. What movie are you looking forward to watching sometime in the future? (me, the new Footloose!) We DVR'd the season opener of Grays Anatomy...but haven't watched it, so ow are guessing about pieces of the plot as we watch current episodes. I haven't been able to carve out two hours to watch it.

3. What is one of your favorite comfort foods? (me, pizza. hands down). I'm a comfort beverage person, with a fairly consistent daily routine: coffee in the morning, a cup of Earl Grey in the afternoon with some dark chocolate, carrot juice with dinner (or, if I don't have work to do, a glass of wine), and herbal tea after dinner. My latest favorite teas are from the Yogi brand- stress relief and a sage/lavender blend called relaxed mind. Spool delicious!

4. Story time. Tell us a story of one your favorite people that has touched, blessed your life. Many people have blessed my life. I'm living in a time of thanksgiving and gratitude.

5. What do you do to focus or calm or center yourself? (please, I need ideas!!!) I do yoga using a Gaiam DVD for a twenty minute afternoon routine followed by a 30 minute meditation.

BONUS: Share the first thing (or second thing) that comes to your mind after your read this! I haven't played Friday Five for a couple of weeks because I have been too busy. I am grateful to have a slower morning - able to light a fire in the fireplace, enjoy a cup of coffee, and play.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Mirror of God

Koko the gorilla is the, now famous,230 pound ape that was taught how to communicate using American Sign Language. With a vocabulary of over 1000 words Koko drew two fingers across her cheek like whiskers, signaling to her teacher that she wanted a cat for her birthday. The teacher had been reading, The Three Little Kittens, to Koko for years. And, now Koko wanted her own kitten. So Koko was given her pick of a kitten from a litter of abandoned kittens. She chose one so small that she could have crushed it, with barely a squeeze of her hand. Instead she cuddled the tailless gray male like a baby and named the kitten, “All Ball.” Koko carried Ball like other gorillas carry their babies, she tended to him, tickled and scratched him, and knowing her own strength handled him gently. When asked by her teacher if she loved All Ball, Koko signed, “Soft, good cat.” Sadly, one day the kitten escaped from the sanctuary and was hit by a car. Koko grieved the loss of her kitten, her sadness was clear – revealed in hand gestures, her silent language of grief, and in her crying calls. When asked if she wanted to talk about her loss Koko gestured, “Cry”.

“What happened to your kitty,” her trainer asked.

“Sleep cat.” Pointing to a photo of a cat that resembled Ball, Koko’s big hands spoke again, “Cry, sad, frown.”

In time Koko soon had the opportunity to bond with a pair of new kittens , once again impressing her human care givers with her gentle affection.
This story, well known to many people, appeared in National Geographic Magazine and then again in the book, “Unlikely Friendships” by Jennifer Holland.

Holland writes in the book:

”Less common than a human-pet connection, and at first glance more surprising, is a bond between members of two different nonhuman species: a dog and a donkey, a cat and a bird, a sheep and an elephant. The phenomenon is most often reported in captive animals, in part because we simply catch them in the act more often. But it’s also because, notes biologist and primate specialist Barbara King of the College of William & Mary, that’s where constraints are relaxed, where animals aren’t fighting for their basic needs – which allows their emotional energy to flow elsewhere. Of course, there are cases of cross species bonds in the wild, as well. “Most important,” says King, “we know animals, under whatever circumstances, have that capacity.” Calling these inter-species relationships might be a stretch, by human standards of friendship. But regardless it is evident that animals are capable of emotions similar to ours, capable of forming companionships that improve the condition of life for each animal. Barbara King says, “I believe people crave examples not just of cuteness, and not just of tolerance – but of true compassion and sharing. These stories help us get in touch with the best in ourselves. “ (from the introduction to Unlikely Friendships, Jennifer S. Holland).

Today, on the third Sunday of our Season of Creation, we celebrate the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Traditionally celebrated on the fourth of October, this feast days is often transferred to another convenient day in order that we can we celebrate and bless our pets. While St. Francis was a lover of animals, he was actually someone who cared deeply for all creation: for animals, the land, and human beings. St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. A man of deep faith, he lived a simple life, giving up his inheritance and family wealth, and devoting his life to tend to those most in need. His work led to the creation of the order of Franciscans, a monastic order committed to caring for the poor. Living in the age of the Crusades, St. Francis encountered humanity during one of our most violent ages of intolerance. Francis of Assisi maintained close relationships with Muslims, and the order of the Franciscans was the only order allowed to remain in the Holy Land after the fall of Crusades – for his day, a clear example of an unlikely friendship between human beings.
For us, this day is a reminder that we are called to follow the example of St. Francis, to care for all of God’s creation in wild and exorbitant ways – out of gratitude, with generosity, gladness, and with hospitality. Expressing these to land, water, and air, to animals of all kinds, and to all human beings regardless of the many ways we may differ one from another. We humans are uniquely able to recognize and address the imbalances in the world, whether human made imbalances or otherwise. To create circumstances in which, as Holland observes, “the constraints are relaxed, and (no one) has to fight to have basic needs met.” In such circumstances our emotional energy can flow elsewhere – and as the animals show us – this means we have a greater capacity for compassion, for bringing out the best in ourselves, and others.

We have the opportunity, in fact we have the God given command, to care for this world as God cares for the world. Because, according to St. Francis, we, like all creation, are a mirror of God – made good to do good – in the most unlikely of ways.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

On Being Accountable, a reflection on snakes and laundry detergent, among other things...

A reflection on the readings for propers for Season of Creation Sunday 2A: Genesis 3:1-13; and Romans 5:12-21

My sophomore year in college I lived in a house with three of my girlfriends. On hot summer days we’d load up in the car and make a drive out into the country for a swim in our favorite small lake. A remnant from ancient glaciers, this lake was tucked into a crevice bounded on all sides by rock cliffs and hills. Given the terrain we had to park the car some distance away and hike back through a patch of woods, a meadow, another stretch of woods, and down a hill to the lake. Along the way we would occasionally encounter a rattle snake sunning itself on a rock. The tell-tale rattle would give it away as it announced its presence long before we saw it. Always cautious, the humans and snakes would keep a healthy and suspicious distance from one another. The snakes preferred to slither away under a rock rather than attack or be aggressive – although no doubt they could be if we came too close.

When we finally arrived at the lake shore the first thing we would do is throw rocks into the water. Our goal in doing this was to scare away the water moccasins, large black, highly poisonous water snakes, who lived in and around the lake. After a couple of minutes of throwing rocks the snakes moved on and we went for our swim.
One day, upon leaving this watering hole, I had my dog with me, a small poodle. It, like most small dogs, thought he was much bigger than he was, and decided to not only thrush out, but bark and pursue a large water moccasin through the grasses and path. At one point the snake coiled up, and I was certain my dog was going to get bit. But he didn’t, I got him to back away, and the snake moved on.

Looking back over these memories I am astonished that no one was hurt; that neither me, nor any of my companions, nor our dogs were ever harmed. Denial is powerful, blinding us to all kinds of poor decisions. Nonetheless, these memories give me a different perspective on today’s reading from Genesis – of a deceptive snake out to lead the humans down the path of deception and sin. Snakes are not really inclined to approach humans, preferring to be left alone, sunning on a warm rock.

This is part of our Christian creation story – how we, and all the earth, came to be – how God created an interactive world intended for beauty and well being, and well, perhaps a little bit of naiveté. A story of how human beings are not only driven by our curiosity but by our desire for knowledge. And, a story about the nature of free-will, of God’s gift to us, a gift of choice – we can choose how we behave. We can choose to follow God’s desire, or we can choose something else. And, it’s a story of how humans are not always willing to take responsibility and be held accountable for our actions.

I didn’t do it” says Adam. “She did.”

“Well, I didn’t do it” says woman, “The snake did.”

And, if the snake could talk it would probably say,”I didn’t do it, the tree did” and the tree would probably blame the apple, and the apple would blame the seed and the seed would blame the soil, and so forth.

But mostly this is a story that reminds us that whether or not we accept responsibility for our actions, there are always consequences, for better or for worse.

Barbara Brown Taylor, a well known Episcopal priest, preacher, and professor, in her book, “Speaking of Sin” says that sin is not so much a set of prescribed actions and behavior, rather sin, at its most basic element, is about broken relationships. What happens to cause us to become broken in our relationship with God, with self, with others, and even with the environment? How are we contributing to the brokenness of the environment through things known and unknown? The season of creation reminds us that we are accountable for the wellbeing of this earth, and our actions matter.

Today the focus is on the land, its beauty, and our responsibility to care for it. This includes becoming aware of and, more responsible for, the pollution and trash that we humans produce.

On the internet science site, “How Stuff Works” I learned that, according to the EPA, Americans generate trash at the rate of 4.6 pounds per day per person, which translates to 251 million tons per year [EPA]. This is almost twice as much trash, per person, as most other major countries. The trash production in the United States has almost tripled since 1960. Trash in this country is dealt with in three primary ways: put in a dump which is an open hole in the ground where trash is buried. Or buried in a landfill, a more carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground in which trash is isolated from the surrounding environment, with intent of protecting, more or less, the nearby groundwater and air quality. However, trash put in a landfill will stay there for a very long time. Inside a landfill, there is little oxygen and little moisture. Under these conditions, trash does not break down very rapidly. In fact, when old landfills have been excavated or sampled, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. When a landfill closes, the site, especially the groundwater, must be monitored and maintained for up to 30 years! (

And, some trash is recycled. Evidence suggests that recycling reduces landfill trash, increases jobs, helps the economy, and reduces production pollution.
We are challenged today, to think about the way we can reduce the trash and pollution we produce in our homes. For me this means using real dishes, cloth napkins, powered laundry detergent, and dish detergents with a low phosphorus count, and recycling plastic, cans, and paper.

Being accountable for our actions means each of us will do what we can to care for the world, tend to the land, and do our best to reduce the trash we produce and increase our use of sustainable products.

Because the world we live in is interconnected in small and amazing ways. I blog with people around the world, from whom I learn a great deal. One friend is a woman who lives in Zimbabwe. I delight in her descriptions of the landscape of her country. Located in the southern hemisphere Zimbabwe has winter when we have summer, spring when we have fall. The telltale signs of the seasons changing include migrating birds from Europe with names I’ve never heard of. And a cycle of beasts, from elephants to lions, that move through her town. This year I shared with her my delight in the beautiful blooming trees in my new home town of Dearborn, especially the cherry trees. It turns out that at the very same time cherry trees were in bloom here, they were also in bloom in Zimbabwe.

Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us that God’s grace is abundant, for God makes all things well. We are called to participate with God in the protection of and restoration of this world.

We’ve been given a precious gift, this island home called earth, let us care for it as God intends, in much the same way as God cares for us.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...