Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

I continue to slog away reading Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God." Typical of Armstrong, it is fulled with detail. I loved the first chapter on prehistoric "religion" and rituals. She argues that
The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic....

and this

Like art, the truths of religion require the disciplined cultivation of a different mode of consciousness. (and, referring to cave drawings) the cave experience always began with the disorientation of utter darkness, which annihilated normal habits of mind. Human beings are so constituted that periodically they seek out ekstasis, a "stepping outside" the norm. Today people who no longer find it in a religious setting resort to other outlets: music, dance, art, sex, drugs, or sport. We make a point of seeking out these experiences that touch us deeply within and lift us momentarily beyond ourselves. At such times, we feel that we inhabit our humanity more fully than usual and experience an enhancement of being.

If it is innate human nature to articulate an understanding of an ultimate reality, and if that ultimate reality only survives as long as there are practiced rituals the reinforce the relationship between human beings and the ultimate reality, and if human beings today are focused on other realities like sports, music, and or drugs, what then does this mean for Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices?

Last week, on the RevGals blog Mary Beth led a conversation on a book written by a Rabbi on the "Emergent" faith that is pushing back at traditional Jewish practices. Christians have been thinking about the emergent church idea since Phyllis Tickle's book made waves and practitioners of the emerging church concept became popular (Rob Bell, etc.).

I'm not convinced that the emergent church is the future of Christianity. It seems to me that it is just repackaged traditional church led by white men in Hawaiian shirts and big black glasses. Women are NOT a part of the leadership of this movement. People of color are NOT a part of this movement.

I am convinced that Christians (and maybe Jews?) need to spend time revisioning how we practice our faith so that what we do invites us deeply into the mystery of God, enliven us and the God we love.

I've read Diana Butler Bass and Carol Howard Merritt on this topic. Now I'm curious to see where Armstrong is going...as she argues her case for God.

On the other hand I am also hunkering down in preparation for a major winter storm expected to hit us hard....that's what I'm pondering - what about you?

Friday, January 28, 2011

RevGals Friday Five Meme: Fave Verses edition

Songbird. over at RevGals, wonders what five Bible verses are our favorite:

My first response is  - any verse I am preaching on. After spending days and hours pondering the readings for any given Sunday and working the text like I'm kneading breading, until it has shape and form and is pliable, I end up loving that text. In the process the text has likewise given shape and form to my life and faith. This is particularly true for those texts that I really struggle with, or those  challenging occassions when preaching seems an impossible task and yet words come....

That said there are some favorite:

the woman (Mary) in John 12 who annointed Jesus' feet with nard and wiped them her hair

the woman at the well with Jesus in John 4

Matthew 22 - when the pharisee asks Jesus to list the one commandment that is the greatest:
"When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32

the three strangers arriving at Abraham and Sarah's tent, and they are hosted like family in Genesis 18

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Morning Musings




One of the books I'm reading is Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. I've only read the introduction and the first chapter - but find it captivating and interesting. I am drawn to the primal rituals and myths that have shaped and formed our modern religions. I'm also curious to read how she will argue her case for God. She offers this in the introduction:

“Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart.” Pg xiii It requires hard work, practice, and discipline to understand its truths and falsehoods, which only become clear from ritual and practice – one cannot assess the truth of a religion from reading about it.
Theology, like music and art contain meanings that will not translate into logical structures or verbal expression. (page xiv)
A rationalized interpretation of religion has led to fundamentalism and atheism – fundamentalism chose logos over mythos (logic over mystery).
Then she goes on to say this about fundamentalism:
“At an early stage of their history, Christians and Muslims were both called “atheists” by their pagan contemporaries, not because they denied the reality of God but because their conception of divinity was so different that it seemed blasphemous. Atheism is therefore parasitically dependent on the form of theism it seeks to eliminate and becomes its reverse mirror image. Classical Western atheism was developed during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, whose ideology was essentially a response to and dictated by the theological perceptions of God that had developed in Europe and the United States during the modern period. The more recent atheism of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris is rather different, because it has focused exclusively on the God developed by the fundamentalisms, and all three insist that fundamentalism constitutes the essence and core of all religion. That has weakened their critique, because fundamentalism is in fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the tradition it is trying to defend. But the “new atheists” command a wide readership, not only in secular Europe but even in the more conventionally religious United States. The popularity of their books suggests that many people are bewildered and even angered by the God concept they have inherited. ....atheists refuse to dialogue with theologians who are more representative of mainstream traditions. As a result, their analysis is disappointingly shallow, because it is based on such poor theology....In fact, the new atheists are not radical enough. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians have insisted for centuries that God does not exist and there is “nothing” out there; in making these assertions, their aim was not to deny the reality of God but to safeguard God’s transcendence. Pg xvi
I'm curious about her statment about Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians insisting that God does not "exist and that there is 'nothing' out there." And also that the aim of this was to safeguard God's transcendence....I think where she is going is to talk about the tendency to "personalize" God and humanize God while pushing aside the mystery of God.

Have you read this book? What do you think about what she writes in this introduction? Do you have any thoughts about how Christianity has pushed aside the mystery of God for a personal God?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Walking

This morning I decided to go for a walk. No matter that the outside air temp was 13 degrees. I was not going to be confined or intimidated by the temperature. I bundled up in my mom's old down coat. It's a long coat from LL Bean, one she purchased many years ago. After she died I saved it, finding it a good coat for winter dog walking. She would have liked that, being a dog lover herself. It's a little too big for me but it was my mom's. And, the added layers I had on under and over helped it fit a bit better than usual.

Anyway, I was wrapped from head to toe in down, and an old Irish wool scarf, a hat and some insulated gloves and shoe/boots. I gathered my books and movies and trudged off to the library.

I could have driven the car. I walked right past it as I headed out on my walk. But the library is a mere three blocks from my house, an easy ten minute walk. It is really silly to drive unless I am running other errands, which I was not. Now that I think about it, I didn't even have to go to the library. Nothing was due back. And I have two books here to read. But that really wasn't the point. I simply needed to get out. To get some fresh air and a little sun, and some exercise.

I like living in a place where I can walk some where to do something I would otherwise drive to do. For many years I lived in areas where that wasn't possible - because there was nothing close by to walk too and no sidewalks for walking on. Just streets or the grass on the side of busy roads, or snow as the case would be today.

Today I went walking. The air was fresh and very cold. My nose stung and I could see my breath. The sun was shining and so was the ice on the sidewalks. I had to walk slowly, mindful of every step or risk a painful fall. The new snow that fell last night was fluffy and light, the day felt fresh, invigorating. Perfect for walking.

Friday, January 21, 2011

RevGals Friday Five Meme: Books!

(photo by Jan)


Jan over at RevGals is thinking about books today and offers this Friday Five Meme:

1. What books have you recently read? Tell us your opinion of them.
I've read several books by Julia Spencer-Flemming. I started with the third book in her series and moved on to the fourth. I find the books compelling even though they are filled with, in my opinion, significant errors about the Episcopal Church. For example I have NEVER heard of a deacon, even an Archdeacon on Diocesan staff, being called "Father." Deacons are called Deacons, by title, so it would be Deacon N.N. We do the same thing with Bishops, Bishop N.N. And, some think we should do the same with priests....but so far we tend to call priests, "Father." I've had people call me, a woman priest, "Father." Father in this regard becomes less about gender and more about role....although of course it is still about gender for some.

I also think the lead character, a female Episcopal priest and former military helicopter pilot, would NEVER be able to spend so much time investigating crimes and being away from congregational needs.

The books are light and easy reads and compelling even with my critique.

I've also read Jennifer Wiener, and Steig Larrsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a number of poetry books (ee cummings, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins), Amanda Eyre Ward, and probably a few I've forgotten.

2. What books are awaiting your available time to be read? The two newest books by Karen Armstrong, "A Case for God" and "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life." Both are checked out of the library and I've put in a request for them. I also want to read the next two books in the "Girl with the..." series.

3. Have any books been recently recommended? "An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown Taylor and Armstrong's "Twelve Steps"....

4. What genre of books are your favorite, along with some titles and/or authors you like best? I like to alternate between fiction, mystery, religious resources, and poetry.

5. What have you read lately that you have a strong urge to recommend? (or to condemn?) I tend to recommend the Steig Larrsson books...the rest are just ok. I do think I will like the Armstrong books and will probably find something to appreciate about BBT's book, even though her book "Leaving Church" made me feel sad for her, since no one seemed to help her understand the importance of balance and self-care when doing parish ministry, or risk "burn-out."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cold and Restless

It is cold in Chicago. I'm not complaining, it just is. Cold. My dog comes in from a brief time outside to take care of her business and she's shivering from head to toe. In fact, (she cracks me up), she starts to shiver as she walks to the door, before I open it, before she goes out. Yes. She's Ruby, my short-haired Viszla high strung eight year old. I do put a sweater on her. She also has a heavy duty blanket/coat, like horses wear, for longer walks.

The real problem with this cold are the brief bursts of moisture we get at night which promptly turn to ice on the cold ground. Sidewalks are covered in layers of ice. It's treacherous!

So, the really real problem with this cold and ice is that I can't walk my dogs. Not only do I fear slipping and injuring myself but I worry about my dogs on the ice. Roxie, my13 year old dog,is having issues with her hind legs, a spinal/nerve degeneration issue. She's very feeble - even as she is incredibly strong and healthy for a 13 year old. And then there's Ruby who I fear would just be too cold. And then there's Emmy, our baby pit bull/border collie mix, who would be fine.

Actually both Roxie and Emmy LOVE the cold and the snow. I think Ruby is ok in it if she is warm enough. But if you have ever had dogs who are use to being walked, dogs who are suddenly home-bound do to the weather...well, you can imagine the restless energy in my house. Thankfully I have a stash of toys that I can pull out, a new toy every day or so. These toys become the means of great entertainment as the dogs tussle and compete for the toy and eventually tear the toy to pieces trying to get the stuffing and the squeeky out. Once the squeeky is out I have to throw the shredded toy parts away, quickly, for fear the dogs will consume the squeeky.

Yup. That's how I'm living this week. And the worst is yet to come - a high of 9 degrees is expected for Friday. Winter is half over and I'm not complaining. Just trying to stay warm and keep these dogs entertained.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Latte

I had my first latte over twenty eight years ago. At the time my roommate was a dancer and I was a lighting designer for dance. I lived in a building owned by a group of people, all friends and family, a co-op of sorts, most of us artists.

One warm summer night we had a party in the backyard. I wore a fun red strappy dress and we danced for hours to "Thriller." A few months later we had another party ringing in the "ominous" year of 1984, having fun but grateful that life was not really as George Orwell had written about.

Every morning we ground our beans and brewed our coffee on the stove top in an Italian espresso brewer using french roast coffee beans. In a small pan we scalded milk. The coffee was rich, flavorful, hearty. This is still one of my favorite ways to brew and drink coffee.

Years later, with the popularity of Starbucks, I found myself standing in line to buy my lattes - iced soy latte in the summer and mocha lattes in the winter. And spending a fair chunk of change for a coffee I could make myself. Lately I have returned to making my own coffee breverage.

I spent much of yesterday thinking about the events that have happened during my life time: the Kennedy's, Martin Luther King, Jr., NOW and MS magazine, struggles for equality of all people. In 1984 no one owned laptop computers and hardly anyone had a computer. The internet wasn't even conceived of. My husband and I were given our first cell phone in the late 1980's, part of his job - the phone was huge! Digital camera's, flat screen televisions, hybrid cars, a whole new world has evolved. I never imagined, in 1984, that I would one day be ordained an Episcopal priest. I had no idea that I would have on-line friends I had never met and an entire community of women religious formed on the internet....Or that I would be working hard on a project about language, creating a guide for healthy conversations about our experiences of God/self/others, and thinking about how our words really do matter.

My life was simple in 1983 and 1984. Life feels much more complicated today. Life IS more complicated. The dreams of those who imagined a healthier world, one that embraced equally, all people, have challenged the infrastructure of our society, for the better, I think. Over the years the dreams have been shattered and reconstructed. A simple life is more difficult to create if one wants to be invested in the complexities of the world we live in. As Christians, as people of faith, we are called to be invested in the world around us. Perhaps the call itself is simple, even with the complexity. It's a call for compassion, self awareness, other-awareness, kindness and love. It is not a call to conformity or uniformity, oppression or suppression. It's about justice, it's a call to live with our differences in ways that enables each to grow and become better because of our relationships with others.

For example, here is a comment from Facebook, just to stress the point:
"Last week we saw a white Catholic male Republican judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean American combat surgeon, and this all was eulogized by our African American President." ~ Mark Shields, PBS (via Susan Russell)
and this one:
"When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time." ~Rachel Naomi Remen

Maybe it's about getting back to basics? Like coffee home-brewed -  basics. Maybe remembering to listen, with intention, listening and speaking from the heart, can blend humanity into something richer?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Morning Musings: Living Into Dreams

I learned of the death of John Kennedy on a school bus as I was heading to first grade. The bus had a radio and it came over the news. I was living in Salt Lake City. I remember a very solemn afternoon at school and later watching the funeral.

I don't remember where I was when I learned of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. I think I may have been watching "The Monkeys" and it came across the news. I do remember learning a lot about the racial tensions on television and from my mother who was sympathetic to equality for all people, races, and genders. I lived in Wisconsin at the time, in a small community not far from Milwaukee.

I was sleeping the night Bobby Kennedy was shot. My mother woke me up to watch the news with her. She was watching Bobby's speech and saw the shooting. Although I was young I understood how difficult it must have been for her to watch that news alone and her impulse to wake me up.

These events have shaped how I understand life. The yearning for, the need for, profound systemic change that expands our understanding of who "can." Who can lead. Who can serve. Who can be the President, Governor, Senator or Congressperson, teacher, doctor, minister, priest.

I remain somewhat astonished at the level of fear this strikes in some folks - the reality of who can, and who does. Why is this so scary? I suspect that as it is has become appropriately incorrect to be prejudiced/sexist, the  feelings/fears manifest in other ways. Usually as extreme efforts to undermine the credibility of the person(s). Sometimes the efforts to undermine include out-right lies. Mostly these efforts have manifested in discord, impolite behavior, rudeness, a failure to be kind, and a sense of entitlement that is alarming.

When I listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech I am filled with emotion. One day I was in the car with my kids, going to a mall for something, and I made us stay in the car until the rebroadcast was over. And we had to talk about it.

And now the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords calls us once again to look at who we are, what we say and what we do.  But will it? Here is what an article  suggest's in yesterday's NY Times:

Within hours of the shooting rampage that killed six and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords, liberals were accusing conservatives of inciting the violence, and conservatives were accusing liberals of exploiting the actions of a madman.

In what may have been his most emotional speech since the 2008 campaign, President Obama registered his own disappointment, pleading with all sides for temperance. “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” the president said in his Tucson eulogy. “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.”

If the shooting didn’t feel like the turning point in the civic life of the nation that some of us had imagined it might become, then it may be because such turning points aren’t always immediately evident. Or maybe it’s because the murder suspect appeared to have no obvious ideology, his crime an imperfect parable for the consequences of political rhetoric.

Perhaps, though, we have to consider another explanation — that the speed and fractiousness of our modern society make it all but impossible now for any one moment to transform the national debate.



Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day ...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walk up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

(Richard Holler, 1968)

Friday, January 14, 2011

RevGals Friday Five: Time to Get Up and Play....

SingingOwl over at RevGals invites us to play this Friday Five Meme: Share five things that helped me get out of bed this morning:

1. Hungry dogs staring at me while I tried to bury myself under blankets. Their stares were burning holes through those blankets and the wagging tails of anticipation were evident. So, I had to get up. I just had too.

2. But before I fed those dogs I started the coffee maker so my coffee could brew. Then I fed the three dogs and let them out.

3. And then I poured myself a cup of steaming hot coffee. Really there are some nights I go to bed anticipating the morning cup of coffee. Is that bad, should I worry about myself?

4. If its Friday I do like to get up and see what has been offered for the Friday Five. And I enjoy reading the responses. You might say I need a life...LOL

5. and there are my cats. If the dogs aren't staring me down and disturbing me with wagging tails then the cats are talking. You know that cat-talk - the one that says - "feed me now." No one can sleep through that....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Prayers



One of the meditative prayer forms I practice is in the coloring of mandalas. As a process of meditation coloring mandala's is also a healing exercise. The mandala is a symbol of the self and our inner-being, so practicing prayer through coloring mandalas is an invitation to explore our inner selves through prayer. The  mandala above is one I found on the Internet. It's Celtic and one of my favorite. I love the way earth and sky are interconnected through trees. Years ago one of my blog friends introduced me to a mandala coloring book (Shambala Publications). I have taken that coloring book with me on silent retreats - a wonderful way to be mindful, prayerful, and quiet.

I haven't prayed with mandala coloring for about a years. But, last night feeling called into this prayer form I started another one. This particular mandala is swirls in a circle, like chaos becoming order, inner and outer realities wrapping through each other, darkness into light into darkness. I chose to color this one at this time. But then, maybe it chose me?

Here are a few prayers I am holding in my heart, too:

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God....

and this one:

Almighty God, who has promised to hear the petitions of all who ask: Mercifully incline your ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications to you; and grant that those things which we have faithfully asked according to your will, may effectually be obtained, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Beauty of the Sonoran Desert

Some photos from my time living in Southern Arizona, which I found to be a beautiful place (in many ways):

 Ocotillo, Saguaro National Park





Night blooming cactus, blooms a couple of times a year




 Storm clouds over the Santa Rita Mountains, the view from my backyard and kitchen


 Sunrise over the Santa Ritas, view from my backyard


 Saguaro Cactus, Saguaro National Park, but also found everywhere in Southern AZ


 Ground squirrel family, outside the fence of my backyard


A winter sunset, view from my backyard


Living in southern Arizona took my breath away - the vastness of the sky, the beauty of the desert, the wild life, the rising and setting sun, the mountains - were simply beautiful. I made some good friends there too. And, I found a silent retreat center that I will return too one day, with a profound sense of peace, prayer, and beauty.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Hope for Our Souls

I didn't preach today but I did go to church. I went wondering what words of comfort or wisdom I would hear to help me understand the violence, anger, and insanity, that fed the shootings in Tucson on Saturday. I know this shooting feels particularly personal to me because I lived there for a time and I have been to several events with Congresswoman Giffords. I hold her in high regard. When I heard the news yesterday I was stunned and profoundly saddened.

Having lived there, I know first-hand the propensity toward anger, prejudice, and violence that exists. Alarmingly, these have been increasing over the last few years,particularly in that region of Southern Arizona. It was disturbingly high and chronic in the small community I lived in south of Tucson. While it's true that members of the congregation carried concealed weapons which were always a concern, there were more pronounced issues to contend with. These included chronic, unresolved anger,a pronounced sense of entitlement, a high tolerance for inappropriate acting-out without consequences, and a higher than average level of depression and substance abuse. All of these were further fueled by systemic prejudice and fear.

On this Sunday morning when we gathered to celebrate the feast day of the baptism of Jesus, what sense could we make of the violence yesterday? Eighteen shot, six dead including a Judge and a nine year old girl, and a loved Congresswoman in critical condition, shot point blank in the head.

We didn't baptize anyone in the church I went to today, nor did we renew our baptismal vows, nor did the preacher talk about the meaning of baptism. It was a fine sermon., for another time. It just was not what I needed to hear on this day, the day after that tragedy.

Perhaps, if we had taken some time reflect on the Baptismal Rite, I may have found a bit of what I was hoping for, some understanding, some hope, some accountability?

Yes, accountability.

I know a young man shot these people...but we will fail to learn from this if we minimize this to him and his apparent “mental instability.”

We are a people who have gone astray. We are a people who have forgotten how to live in kindness. We are a people who have forgotten what it means to sin.

Then the Celebrant asks the following questions of the candidates who
can speak for themselves, and of the parents and godparents who speak
on behalf of the infants and younger children.


Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer I do.

Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.

Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your  Lord?
Answer I do.

Do we really understand what we are saying here? What sin is? What evil is? Do we even really believe that there are such things as sin and evil? Or do we think the Church made them up just to make us feel ashamed and submissive?

As a society we tend to relegate sin to a set of cultural bound moral behaviors. This complicates and minimizes sin because these cultural bound moral behavior(s) deemed "sinful" change over time. Take divorce and remarriage, for example. The Church has enforced the idea that marriage is forever, regardless of how unhealthy a marriage is. The Church has said that divorce is a sin and remarriage is also a sin. In some churches today divorced and remarried people cannot receive Holy Communion.

Sometimes a marriage needs to end because the marriage is causing brokenness and harm. Sometimes marriages need to be worked on, for each party to examine the brokenness and work for reparation and reconciliation and forgiveness. Sometimes we just have to live our marriage vows, to love faithfully through good times and tough times, to work toward wholeness of self and other, instead behaving in ways that cause further brokenness.

The thing is, sin is about behavior - any behavior that causes harm to another and produces broken relationships with God, self, and other human beings. Looked at this way, as broken relationship, we can redirect our efforts from reducing sin to something it is not and toward what sin is.

I tend to define sin as any behavior that causes brokenness between God, self, and others. By this I mean anything that causes me to become broken with God, or broken with myself, or broken with others. Evil is the root that causes that brokenness. Evil is the force that tempts us. Evil is the power that draws us and pulls at us, distorting how we think and see, fooling us into self-deception, encouraging us to act upon self-deprecation, or grandiosity, arrogance, entitlement, and or violence. Evil is real and so is sin. Just look at how broken our world is. How lost we have become. How even basic civility has been pushed aside, how we have lost the ability to assume the best in others.

As a Christian I believe that we humans have souls. It's even possible that there is a “communal soul,” of sorts, that forms in congregations, in communities, in countries. The soul, individually and corporately, responds to how we nourish it and care for it, or neglect it. If we feed the soul with care and compassion we will show care and compassion to others. If we feed the soul with anger and mean-spirited words, we will become angry and mean spirited people.

Perhaps that is why the baptismal rite has the entire community listen to those taking these vows and then asks the community to respond with their support:

Celebrant Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?
People We will.

We are all responsible. We all need to renounce evil and embrace compassion, renounce sin, and embrace love, renounce fear and embrace trust, renounce anger and embrace hope. We need the redemption that can only come from turning away from behaviors that cause brokenness in the world, with God/self/others, and turning toward reconciliation. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking this is something we can do on our own - but we can do it with God's help.

In the Episcopal Church the baptismal covenant reminds us of this:

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and  fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the
prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever  you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all  people, and respect the dignity of every human  being?
People I will, with God’s help.

So, here is what I wanted to hear: we are all accountable for the sins and evils of the world we live, including the violence yesterday. We are accountable by things we have done and things we have not done. We are accountable by participating, in any way, in acts that have caused brokeness instead of acts that seek wholeness. We all need to turn and return to God, to seek absolution and reconciliation, and to move forward - with God's help - to live as God would have us live.

And, perhaps, with that, turning to God and with God's help living as God would have us, we will find hope for our souls.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

I Don't Want to Live A Small Life


(Photo taken by Terri C. Pilarski)

I don't want to live a small life. Open your eyes,
open your hands. I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun

kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open your hands) and the wind winged clouds
following along thinking perhaps I might

feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you. Look how many how small
but so sweet and maybe the last gift

I will ever bring to anyone in this
world of hope and risk,  so do.
Look at me. Open your life, open your hands.

(Mary Oliver: Red Bird; Beacon Press, 2008)


In this season after the Epiphany may we learn to live with open hands and even more open hearts. May the grace of God's peace flow in you and through you. Open your life, let God's love flow.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Feast of the Epiphany


Setting moon/rising sun Escalante, Utah taken by Terri C. Pilarski, May 2010


I grew up in a non-liturgical church.
I never heard of the seasons of the church year as a child.
I never practiced intentional waiting in Advent, nor observed Lent nor wore red on Pentecost.
The church I grew up in celebrated Christmas and Easter.

My first memory of celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany
was with a church I served as an intern while in seminary.
Which means that even my "home" parish didn't make much of Epiphany.
 At that home church the kids offered a play on a Sunday after Christmas,
which we called an "Epiphany Play." And, we probably had some kind of special coffee hour.
I also knew that Epiphany celebrated the arrival of the wise ones, bearing gifts, for the Christ child.
I knew what I had learned in my seminary liturgics class.

But I didn't really understand the Feast of the Epiphany
 until that night at my internship parish.
Epiphany fell on a Thursday night that year too.
We gathered first in the parish hall for a spaghetti supper followed by the service in the church.
It was a fun, social, relaxed celebration.

Since that internship
I have celebrated twelve Feasts of the Epiphany.
 Like my home parish many of those celebrations have included a children's Epiphany play.
In one parish we wrote our own play, a version that our kids would enjoy doing
and the congregation would enjoy participating in.
A version that had a narrator, a few lines for some of the kids,
shepherd, Mary and Joseph, a baby, three wise ones (never men, sometimes girls and boys),
and lots of singing - verses from a number of Christmas and Epiphany hymns.

I have also had moments in ministry that were
Epiphanic.
Moments of revelation, of God's presence, of the Holy Spirit breaking through,
of knowing -
simply knowing
what I was to do, some sense (perhaps) of what God was hoping for.

My hope this Epiphany
 is for a new
 spirit
to come into the world.
A spirit that transforms the last few years
of fear, anger, and hostility
 into a calmer energy.
A spirit
that is willing to wait,
with expectation.
A spirit that gives the benefit of the doubt
and
assumes good intentions.

I hope "we"
(and by we I mean people in this country, in particular, and others as relevant)
listen intentionally,
carefully,
without judgment.
Could we stop polarizing
left and right,
 conservative and liberal,
and so forth?

Perhaps we could learn from one another?
 Could we just try to be kind to one another?
Wouldn't that be Epiphanic?

That is my hope for 2011
and this
Feast of the Epiphany.
Wordle: WordsMatter

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Animals




Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite animal photos. Some share my home, some lived outside my home....


 Bootsie, named by the shelter we adopted her from when she was wee kitteh, is now 13 years old. After being somewhat mean spirited most of her life she has recently decided to be a lap cat. Or, at least, my-lap.





If you look closely you will notice the baby bobcats in this photo. They, along with Momma bobcat, lived on the roof of the house across the street from where we lived in Arizona. We would see them out on the roof every night for the better part of a summer.





This photo is of the ground squirrel family that lived behind our house, outside the stone wall, toward the arroyo (Arizona mountain rain run off canyon) - which was part of our backyard.




Oliver (2 years old), our daughter's dog, doing one of his amusing tricks.





Shadow, our 6 year old cat, reclining on the recliner.





If you look closely at this photo you may see the quail family on the stone fence, they are adorable.





Emmy...our son's dog, and the youngest at 15 months.



On the left, Roxie - our 13 year old lab-red heeler mix. Roxie's health is beginning to fail, a bit. However on a cold winter morning when there is snow on the ground she reverts to puppy-hood once again. And then we have to give her half of an ascriptin, to ease the aches from arthritis.

Ruby is our eight year old Viszla. We bought her to be my husband's dog, since Roxie was "my" dog. But somehow after getting Ruby she became my dog and Roxie became my husband's. It's a subtle thing, how the dogs chose us, but it's clear to me where their alliances lie, even as they love both of us, and we love both of them. Ruby is having a bit of hard time adjusting to the cold, after all her fur is very short and she has no undercoat. So she has to wear a sweater - and on really cold days - a blanket/coat like horses wear.


So, a few of my favorite animals....some beloved that share our home, some beautifully wild and outside where they belong.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Jump

When my daughter was five she wanted riding lessons for her birthday, horse-back riding. When we explored the options we were told that she had to be six before the local barns would give her lessons. I kind of thought she would out grow that desire before her sixth birthday, as kids often do. For that fifth birthday we got her zebra finches. She named them "John" and "Gina." They lived a very long time.

The next year, on her sixth birthday, our daughter wanted the riding lessons. For the better part of the next twelve years my daughter rode. While in high school she worked at a local clothing store for a couple of years while she continued to ride and compete. A few years after that she quit the clothing business and began working at "the barn." A few years after that she became a professional equestrian. She's worked hard, been very focused on her dream, and now is living it. She's really amazing, some days I stand in awe that she is my daughter. I'm very proud of her.


A photo of my daughter working:
she trains horses to be ridden and people to ride horses.

Here she is in the office of "The Barn:"




And then there's this one of her dog, Oliver, at the barn:

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Logos, A Conversation in the Flesh

A reflection on John 1 and Matthew 2:1-12

A Rector for the first time I found myself, within weeks of starting this position, faced with the events of 9/11. How was I, so new to this call, to have any idea what the congregation would need? It seemed that the only real response was to open up the church that night and offer a place for us to come and pray, sing, and be together. And so we did. In fact we started a series of ecumenical prayer vigils, held over the next year. In a simple Taize style of prayer and song, sometimes in our Episcopal Church, sometimes in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or United Church of Christ church, our united communities gathered in solidarity and mutual comfort praying for a world that seemed to be falling apart.

About eighteen months after 9/11, just as the congregation and I were getting settled into comfortable relationships, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson as Bishop. While personally I celebrated this event my congregation was rocked. I was away on vacation when the General Convention consented to his election and authorized his consecration. That night I had a dream that when I returned to the church all of the parishioners had left and in their place was a crowd of curious spectators, come to see how we were going to handle this. In reality no one left, at least not right away. And a few new people did come, and stayed, relieved to have a church that claimed to affirm all people.

Over the next year I found myself invited into email discourse with a couple of parishioners who had strong thoughts on the issue of openly partnered gay Bishops. Most of these folks were accepting of partnered gays and lesbians in the general population, but ordaining them was another matter. The emails developed into a friendly debate. I used Richard Hooker and the founding principles of Anglicanism (Via Media), to support the ordination of gay and lesbian people. I no longer remember the sources my companions in debate used to argue in support of that one sentence in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, mostly because regardless of who was quoted or how the argument was framed, it did not persuade me to change my mind. Likewise my arguments, regardless of who I cited, failed to sway the minds of those who argued against the ordination of Gene Robinson and others.

It seems to me that, the ordination of women, changes in worship, language we use for God, and other movements of the Church, are matters of the heart for which intellectual debate is just an exercise in church history and biblical criticism. They are of the heart because they deal with how we know God, know ourselves, and know others. They are of the heart because they deal with how we understand God’s self-revelation throughout time. They are of the heart because they are matters of relationship. Relegating our discussions of these matters to intellectual discourse only, fueled by theoretical circumstances and relationships, enables us to maintain hard lines. But when we engage these matters through real lived relationships those hard lines blur. It is much more difficult to tell someone they are not worthy of serving God as an ordained person when that person has been a pastoral presence in my life. When, because of a mutual relationship, I have come to see them as God sees them and know how God is living in and through their lives.

Of course much of the head stuff had to do with how we understand and interpret scripture. Admittedly I fall into the camp of understanding scripture as a living breathing on-going revelation of God’s self. Like the Jewish art of Midrash, I appreciate turning scripture over and around and letting God invite us into new understandings. I like to wrestle with scripture – both with what the scholars tell us the scripture means and with what we as Christians living the text come to understand. It’s delightful when this is a process that allows the heart to inform the head and the head to inform the heart. When our engagement with and understanding of scripture is both an intellectual endeavor and a relationship building one.

As a parish priest I yearned for some way to enable us to move beyond the head and into the heart. To do this I invited us into dialogue. Some of our conversation took place around resources that we read. Some of our conversation took place in the context of facilitated talking and intentional listening, led by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. Some of our conversation took place with a workshop on “Human Sexuality in the Old Testament” led by a seminary Old Testament profession and “Development of Human Sexuality” led by a psychologist, professor, and Episcopal lay woman who was also a partnered lesbian.

All of these were good efforts. We learned a lot. But even still our conversation was lacking. We deepened our relationships with “one another” but not with others outside our community. I yearned for tool that would help us grow beyond ourselves.

Years later I think I have not only found that tool, but helped to create it, through the WordsMatter Language Project. You can learn more about it here. In particular I threw myself into writing a “theology of the conversation” – considering the way in which what we engaging in is relational, incarnational, and sacramental. It’s a theology that builds off of the prologue to the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2Word was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Word, and without Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in Word was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1, adapted).

Some suggest that Logos, translated here as “Word” can also mean “Discourse” or “Story” or, perhaps, even “Conversation.” The Logos, by nature, invites relationship and sharing in and within creation. Our belief in the Trinity helps us understand how the Holy Spirit enables the Logos to be activated through time. Eastern theologians use the word "perichoresis," an interpenetrating dance-like relationship, when trying to describe the Holy Trinity. That divine community of interpenetrating love continues to go outward, so to speak, inviting all creation into the dance.

As Christians the Nicene Creed is historically the way we profess our faith in a triune God, a God of relationship. In the Nicene Creed we speak of one “catholic” church. But what does “catholic” mean? Simone Weil and Teilhard de Chardin suggest a broad definition of catholic: it must include the whole world. God’s household is the whole planet: it is composed of human beings living in interdependent relations with all other life-forms and earth process. A theology of this project is inherently sacramental and incarnational: Sacrament is traditionally defined as “an outward and visible expression of an inward and invisible grace.” The world is sacramental because it is an expression of God’s Self. The world is incarnational because we know the creative Word of God, which was with God before creation, is made manifest in the world in human flesh, in Jesus. Thus, the world is a sacramental incarnational reality.

Therefore the theologies that undergird this WordsMatter Language Project and conversation guide are “Relational,” “Sacramental” and “Incarnational”: God reveals God’s self in and through creation in ongoing dynamics. One way we Christians understand God’s self-revelation is through scripture. Other ways we encounter God are through human relationships and our interdependence with creation. From these encounters with God we form language: words, images, and symbols, to convey that experience.

The season of Epiphany is upon us. A season when we are invited to explore the ways in which God reveals God’s self to us, expanding our understanding of God, self, and others. May the manifestation of God and of God’s love poured out in human flesh, bless you this year. May your conversations be rich, may your heart burst open in love, and may your heart inform your head and your head inform your heart. May you be challenged by others and may they be challenged by you to grow more deeply in faith and understanding. May we share our stories and grow in trust, hope, and compassion, even as there will remain ways we disagree. May we be guided by our dreams, inspired by God, to bring forth God’s love. And may we fear not as we journey toward the star that guides us toward the living God.

crossposted on the Feminist Theology Blog

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