Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Does It Mean?...the intentionality of questioning...

I have been intrigued by the news this week about a tiny piece of papyrus, suggesting that Jesus had a wife. Everyone is commenting on it. Is it real? Is it a forgery? Thankfully I found a link on Facebook to a webinar hosted by two New Testament Scholars at General Theological Seminary in New York City which put the debate into perspective for me.  Professors Dierdre Good and Katherine Shaner move through the aspects of the papyrus with great intentionality using established methodology to determine the authenticity of ancient manuscripts.

For example some of the indicators that authenticate this document as a late 4th century piece of Coptic/Egyptian Christian writing are: the way the papyrus is made, the torn edges of the document, the decay, holes and grain of the papyrus,  the ink, and the style of the Coptic language used. Francis Watson, Professor of Theology and Religion at Durham University in the UK has stated that this document is a forgery. Other scholars convincingly show how Watson’s methodology is faulty. I have links on the Christ Church Facebook page for you to listen to the webinar and an article on why Watson’s conclusions are wrong, if you are interested.

Professor’s Shaner and Good wonder about the significance of this document to us today? They suggest that it is an example of people in the early Christian Church trying to think with the mind of Jesus in order to understand how to be a Christian in an increasingly complex world. Certain practices such as marriage, and subsequently sex and children, were deemed by Paul to be unimportant. This is because Jesus said that in the resurrection there would be no marriage. Paul believed that Jesus was coming back soon thus marriage, sex and children were not important. But when Jesus did not come back the Christian community had some questions about:  the role of women in the church, who can be disciples of Jesus, and the role of marriage, sex, and children in Christian life. This document like the Epistles in the New Testament and other Christian texts not in the Bible are discussing these ideas by taking on the mind of Jesus and trying to think through his perspective. [i]

The writing on the papyrus is inconclusive as to whether Jesus had a wife because it appears to be discussing a broader topic of the role of women, discipleship, wives, and marriage in the life of the Christian community. The media frenzy focuses on what seems to be the most startling aspect of the document “Jesus had a wife.” Leading others to argue, “No, Jesus did not have a wife.”

 Which may lead us to wonder:

Why would it be bad if Jesus had a wife?

Or, we might wonder,  Did Jesus have women disciples?

This text, and the public debate about it, pushes at some of the current deep seated concerns in our cultural about leadership, women, human sexuality, and marriage. It also indicates that these concerns have been discussed in Christian communities for centuries.

Perhaps the best thing for us to learn from it is, it’s important for us as 21st Century Christians to ask questions.

Asking questions helps us explore the bounds of our faith and the world around us.[ii] Being able to ask and consider the questions in a public forum invites conversation. It is less crucial that we try to supply answers and more important that we listen intentionally to one another and open ourselves to ideas and possibility. It is also important that we become informed with credible scholarship and knowledge.

In a similar way each of our three readings today ask us to consider, with great intentionality, what it means to be a person of faith.

Some scholars think the Book of Esther, our first reading, is a story that was written to explain the Jewish festival of Purim. This celebration honors the deliverance of the Hebrew people from potential genocide by Persians in the 5th century before the Common Era. It appears, based on cuneiform texts that the characters in this story – Esther and Mordecai were actual people connected to King Xerxes I of Babylon.  Purim is celebrated by giving gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, a celebratory meal, a public recitation of the Scroll of Esther, prayers, drinking wine and wearing of masks and costumes. It’s a public celebration.  Purim follows a lunar cycle and falls in Feb. next year.

In summary the story is this: Esther is married to King Xerxes. The king does not know that she is Jewish. The king’s Prime Minister, Haman, has convinced the King that all the Jews in the nation must be killed in order to protect the nation. Esther, secure in her role as the Queen can remain silent and live. Or she can speak up and risk death herself. Mordecai is Esther’s cousin and holds some unknown position in the King’s Counsel. Mordecai urges Esther to speak up, to request the king change his mind and save her people. In an act of selfless bravery Esther speaks and the king listens. The Hebrew people are saved, but Haman is killed as a traitor. The Book of Esther is a protest against persecution of minority groups.  Haman is the prototype for one whose actions are motivated by prejudice and blind hatred.

In a pluralistic world like the one we live in today it is challenging to hear, within this text and the psalm that follows, the idea that God condones one segment of humanity and chooses to annihilate another. Violence in the Biblical texts is challenging to us as 21st Century Christians. We are cautioned to remember how, overall, the Bible calls us to be mindful of the injustices of the world in all the ways these injustices manifest. We are to intentionally address and correct those injustices: prejudice, hunger, poverty, and environmental waste are a few of the injustices we encounter in our daily lives.

The reading from James offers some perspective on how we can intentionally address injustice through prayer and action. Prayer is our foundation. Prayer is how we listen to God and teach ourselves how to listen to others as well. Prayer helps us to be more mindful and therefore more intentional.

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is teaching his disciples about being attentive, intentional, and mindful.  His teaching points us to recognize how the qualities of mindfulness and intentionality manifest in our lives – we can listen better, we can respond more effectively, we can see our role in situations with greater clarity, we can be less defensive and more open, we can become more compassionate, we can see others for who they are.

All of our readings this morning remind us that God acts in and through all human life. Christians have a particular lens for understanding this – we model our lives on Jesus and are called disciples.

Perhaps the question for us this morning is not, is this real? A more accurate question may be, “What does it mean to me and to you to be Jesus’ disciple?

[i] General Theological Seminary Webinar with Deirdre Good and Katherine Shaner on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”
[ii] ibid

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Autumn Regret (for a day, anyway)

For months now I have been anticipating a retreat which begins today. Unfortunately I am too sick to drive the hour it would take to get to the retreat. And, really, do my clergy colleagues want to be exposed to me and these flu/cold germs? I don't think so. I am grateful that the fever I've had for two days seems to be gone. But I am left with a thick, foggy head, coughing and sneezing...kleenex is my bff. My retreat time will be spent at home, in bed, with tea. sigh.

Instead of being able to enjoy some time in the country I offer this poem from Mary Oliver...

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
    don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
    the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
    freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
    warm caves, begin to think
of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
    inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
    the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
    vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
    its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
    the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems: Volume Two
Beacon Press

Monday, September 24, 2012

Remembering My Mother, a reflection on presence

I've been reading Terry Tempest Williams' latest book, "When Women Were Birds" - a memoir of her mother.

This is one reason memories of my mother surface within.


Friday, September 21, 2012 was the eighth anniversary of my mother's death.

My memories of her are fading. Jergen's lotion reminds me of her hands. Someone will laugh, and I think of the tone of my mother’s laugh, tossing her natural red hair, green eyes shining bright. She claimed an Irish heritage but in reality she was of Scottish descent. Arscot is the family name on her mother’s side.  Holding only a high school diploma, she had a brilliant mind and a lifelong fascination with science and space. She might have been a novelist - gifted with an penchant for detail and a natural talent for storytelling. Her ability to spin reality into her own particular version, one she could live with, was convincing albeit confusing to me. Sadly her reality change, known in psychological language as “splitting,” was the end result of a damaging childhood. Beginning at the age of four years old she was left in charge of a younger brother and sister while her parents disappeared on periodic drinking binges. Upon returning home her parents would berate her because the house was dirty and the baby needed her diaper changed. She was always the one who was supposed to pick up the pieces when her parents failed. At the age of five she contracted polio and rheumatic fever. She claimed she spent a year in bed fighting the diseases.  She lived with a damaged heart, in body and spirit.

My mother’s mother was named Agnes.  Agnes’ mother died giving birth to her, and so she was raised by her distant and depressed father and a caring aunt who never married. Pregnant in high school with my mother the course was set for a complicated mother/daughter relationship.  My mother’s father was named Roland. His dreams of becoming a football star were crushed when his got Agnes pregnant. Instead of college he married her, and my mother was born. He, like his father before him, became an engineer with the Union Pacific railroad driving the route between Salt Lake City, Utah and Green River, Wyoming. They were perpetually poor, living in a small house two doors away from the highway and a block from the Miller High-Life beer brewing factory. (Imagine the irony of a beer-brewing factory in Salt Lake City?) I have fond memories of this house and my grandparents. My memories of being loved and feeling safe stand in stark contrast to the memories my mother had of her parental home.

When she was fifteen years old my mother married the man who became my biological father. It was 1955 and they were Mormon, married in the temple.

My birth father comes from a large middle class family, he was one of ten kids, the second born I think. I remember their home, a two story ranch, large and sprawling on the side of the mountain.

At some point in time, when I was very young, my mother was hospitalized in a mental institution.  I don’t know how long she was there, but I do remember my birth father taking me and my younger brother to visit her. Somehow her parents had her committed even though she was a married mother of two. My grandmother once told me that my mother had been diagnosed a “perpetual liar.” Eventually she convinced her father to get her out, something my grandmother seemed to regret for many years. My mother had a lifelong fear, resentment, and suspicion of doctors and hospitals.

When I was two years old I remember going to the hospital to have my tonsils removed. In those days parents could not stay the night (or mine chose not too?). They put me in my pajamas and said goodnight and left. I in turn refused to go to sleep.  At some point in time my uncle, my mother’s only brother, came to the hospital with a couple of his buddies. They must have been seventeen years old. My uncle and his friends laid hands on my head and prayed for me. In my memory I feel asleep right after that prayer. 

At home, two days later, I  decided an apple was a good idea so helped myself to one. I walked into my mothers room while eating it. She was sleeping but calmly got up, called the pediatrician who made a home visit to check on me. I remember sitting on the kitchen table while he checked my throat. Apparently I was fine.  I also remember a warm summer day when my mother and her sisters were canning peaches in the kitchen and I was playing outside. I ran behind someone swinging and got hit in the head. Bleeding, I ran into the kitchen where I was cared for and comforted by my mother and my aunts. I have a scar across my eyebrow marking the wound and the memory.

I hold in tension, memories of being cared for by a loving mother with memories of being confused about reality as determined by mother, and the need to be a mother to my mother. 

My parents divorced when I was five and my brothers were four and one. My mother moved in with a girlfriend, taking one of my brothers with her. I went to live with my paternal grandparents in their home with my father and youngest brother. We had a room in the basement, roughly constructed next to a family room with a sliding glass door leading out to the backyard. President Kennedy was assassinated the year I lived there. I learned about it over the radio on the school bus as I headed to first grade. The adults in school that day were stunned silent. Televisions and radios played in the classrooms, or so it seems, and we students listened along with our teachers. I watched his funeral in that basement family room, “Puff the Magic Dragon” playing in the background. (is that a weird memory or what?) I had frequent nightmares sleeping in the basement room but was too far away from other family members to cry out. And so I covered my head and prayed. One of my brothers shared that room with me, as did my father whenever he was home.

After a year, more or less, I moved back in with my mother and two younger brothers. She was twenty-three, single with three kids. But she had managed to save enough money to rent a small basement apartment in a tiny house. 

The apartment had a kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom. I shared the larger bedroom with my two brothers. There were stairs in our room that went up to the owners’ portion of the house. Once the woman, Mrs. Healy I think her name was, came down those stairs, uninvited, to check on us. Imagine her concern with having a young single mother and three small children, in an era when divorce was rare, living below her. I felt judged by the way she looked at us and by her uninvited visits. She reminded me of the wicked witch of the west, but I am sure she was not. Looking back now, through the eyes of an adult mother with grown children, it seems to me she may have been kind and caring to take us in and worry about us.

Within another year my mother married again, and we had a new dad. Christmas that year was amazing! So many gifts including a pink Schwinn two wheel bike for me. That spring my mother gave birth to a little girl. She told us the baby died in childbirth, but years later I learned that she was given up for adoption. Apparently she tried to contact my parents, some thirty years ago, and they refused to have contact. This breaks my heart, how it must have pained her to learn this. It breaks my heart to know I have a sister I will probably never know.  She was given up for adoption because it was assumed my new father was sterile from a motorcycle accident. When my mother became pregnant, so soon after their marriage, it was assumed that the child was not his.

Another year later I had a third brother – apparently my father was not sterile. About a year later dad #2 legally adopted me and my two brothers from my mother’s first marriage. We were now one family. My biological father gave up custody of us. I think the pressure was overwhelming. My mother coached us on what to say to the judge - why “we” kids wanted this new family. What did I know? I was an obedient child. The end result is I was cut off from my biological father and his family, not to see them again for nineteen years, and never to rebuild a relationship with them.

When I was nine we moved from Salt Lake City to Nampa, Idaho. I missed Salt Lake, my family, the mountains! True there are mountains in Idaho, but in this small town the mountains were distant and the tops were flat, mesas. It was strange. My mother became depressed. The doctors gave her Valium.

A year later we moved to Wisconsin. My mother continued to be depressed. She spent all day every day for an entire year in bed. My brothers and I spent all day at school. I loved school and went even when I was sick with the flu. I much preferred to be in school than home. I read books and played the piano and my clarinet. I played outside in the tree house my father built.

Four years later we moved to Ft. Worth, Texas. I was fourteen going on fifteen that year in Texas when my parents decided to leave the Mormon Church. Their decision was based on a teaching of the church that said all families whose parents had been married in the “temple” were sealed forever as a family unit in heaven. My mother wanted the sealing of our family in heaven to be transferred from the father/husband she divorced to the father/husband she was now married too. The church refused. So we left the church.

We left the Mormon Church during my freshman year of high school. It was the school year of 1971 and 1972 and my mother bought me a subscription to MS magazine. We sang “Dixie” at football games and got our first African-American students at school, following a lengthy teaching for student and teacher preparation.  I went to concerts – Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It was common for girls to ‘faint” in the hallway. I often spent the hour of algebra class in the nurses office, and yet somehow I passed algebra.  It was a crazy mixed up time filled with racial riots, the Vietnam war, drugs and music star overdoses, and the first birth control pill.

 A year later we moved to Illinois. Two years later, at the age of seventeen, I graduated from high school and went to college. That winter (1974) my father left my mother and moved to Puerto Rico. She lost the house because he hadn’t paid the mortgage in months and left her with no money.  Two of my brothers ended up with friends in Chicago. My youngest brother stayed with my mother who moved to Southern Illinois to go to college with me. (Oh my, my mother wanted to be me!). Eventually my mother moved to Puerto Rico in a failed attempt to reconcile with my father. The divorce became even more bitter and angry. Often I was caught in the middle unable to know whose version of the truth to trust. My mother moved back to Chicago, got a job and managed fairly well for a few years.

In 1985 I married and she moved to Salt Lake City to care for her father who was dying from Emphysema. By 1992 I had two children, my grandfather died, and my mother moved back to Chicago to live with me. That did not go well. She called me “controlling.” Imagine, she is living in my house with me, my husband and our two kids. We are completely supporting her. I even give her the money she uses to buy my Christmas gift. And when I tried to manage money and make my own decisions, she became bitter and called me controlling.

 Eventually she moved into her own apartment but our relationship was never the same again.  All my life, prior to that point, I had been my mother’s defender and supporter. If you have read the “Drama of the Gifted Child” you know what I am talking about. You will understand the magnitude of the loss of self that resulted from me having that role in the family.

It was during these years, when my mother lived with me, that I returned to therapy. I started seeing a therapist several years earlier in an effort to understand my life better. Then, I was numb. I was unable to identify how I felt, physically or emotionally, in any given circumstance. Was I angry? Was I sad? Was I sick – did I have the flu? My therapist helped me feel and identify feelings and understand my mother.  I understand that she had a version of reality that was her own and my job had been to support that version of reality.  To do this I had to shut down my sense of reality and live hers. The chaos of living her reality carried with it so much internal conflict that it forced me, out of survival, to shut down my feelings and emotions.

 Despite years of work and therapy I still have occasions when I doubt my version of reality. This is usually triggered when that reality is complicated by other people who are not acting in healthy ways. Passive aggression, distorting the sequence of events of what was said or done, trigger anxiety in me as I try to set the record straight – which sometimes causes people to become even more passive aggressive. When I am angry or hurt or upset or feel like someone is being inappropriate in their behavior, I struggle to respond and not react. I struggle to function from my neo-cortex (the thoughtful reflective response) and not my limbic brain (defensive, flight or fight reptilian response).

I wish I had had a healthier mother.  Or a healthier father. Or any healthy adult role model in my life.  What I had was God. Always God - prayer and hope and God.

My mother died, from a massive heart attack, on Sept. 21, 2004. Her physical death exacerbated the complicated love I had for her. She had, for all intent and purposes, died for me after the last bout of living together in 1993. At that time, realizing the magnitude of her limitations as a mother, I grieved that she and I would never really have the kind of close loving relationship which, as a child, I thought we had. Her guarded realty left no room for me as an adult, self-differentiated woman with a husband and children of my own.

My mother died. And I disobeyed her instructions to me. She once said, bitterly, “When I die have me cremated. Do not pick up my cremains. Do not have a funeral for me. Do not put flowers on my grave. If you can’t tend to me and give me flowers when I am alive, I don’t want them when I’m dead.”

I was working at the church when I got the call that my mother had died. I drove to her apartment, worried that the police would take her body away before I arrived. I drove frantically calling my friend who knew what to expect and what I should do and who I should call. I arrived to find a police officer in her kitchen. Her roommate was pacing, distraught. She had died in the middle of the night, he found her in the morning. He, a practicing Mormon, and I an Episcopal priest went to her body and we prayed for her. She was an agnostic. From the great beyond I figured she was either grateful for our prayers or rolling her eyes.  I prayed for peace, for the repose of her soul, that she could finally be happy. He prayed something similar.  A little while later the police officer asked me to leave the room while the coroner’s office packed up her body – he thought it might upset me to watch them slip her into a black bag, like a garment bag, and take her away.

And then she was gone. 

My mother was dead.

The coroner had to perform an autopsy because she died at home. But the report confirmed a massive heart attack. I arranged to have her cremated.

Then I called my uncle, the one who prayed over me when I was two. I called my  brothers. We decided to NOT do what she asked. I got her cremains back and traveled to Salt Lake City. With my husband and kids, uncles, aunts, cousins, and my father (dad #2) – we buried her on the side of the mountain. We buried her in the same cemetery where all of our family members are buried. We put her urn in the same plot as her father’s casket. She would have liked that. She loved her dad. It snowed the day we arrived in Salt Lake but it was warm and sunny the day we buried her. I told myself that was a sign that she approved. 

It’s hard to believe that my mother has been dead eight years.

Terry Tempest Williams wrote this about her mother after her death:

Her absence has become her presence.

Terry Tempest Williams, in her recent book, “When Women Were Birds” reflects on the relationship she had with her mother.  It was the kind of relationship I wish I had with my mother. Terry Tempest Williams and were both born in Salt Lake City to Mormon families. She is two years old than I. I feel an affinity with her, given our common birth, heritage, and name, although the trajectory of our lives has been very different. The way in which her mother’s absence has become her presence is different from the way in which my mother’s absence is her presence.  My mother was absent even while living. In some ways she is more present to me now than she ever was while alive. I can appreciate all the best in her without needing to deal with and reconcile the tragic difficult parts of her.

In remembering my mother I give thanks for her life. She always tried to be the best mom she could be. I know that. Toward the end of her life she suffered and grieved that she was not able to be a better mother. She regretted the treatment of my brothers, the abuse. She saw the trajectory of her decisions and feelings and managed, to a small degree, to accept her pain and regret instead of splitting and shutting down.  She shared with me some of her remorse. 

When my mother died she was in one of her phases - refusing to answer the phone when I called, and rarely calling me. I let go of times like these. They always passed. But not this time. 

My mother died.

 But in my heart she is more alive than ever. Although I look more like my biological father, as I age I see aspects of her in my face and my body.  I have become my mother; a better, healthier, happier version of her. I think, I hope, she would be pleased.

My mother. Her absence has become her presence.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Okay Jesus, I Think I Get It....

A reflection on the readings for Proper 20B: Proverbs 31:10-31; James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

The last powerful rays of the setting sun streamed through the hospital windows as we walked down the corridor. My little two-year old self walked between my parents, holding their hands. It was 1959 and I was about to have my tonsils removed at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. I was going to spend the night in the hospital, have my tonsils removed in the morning, and go home sometime the next day. My parents settled me into my room, changed me into my pajamas, placed me into the crib and read me a story. Then they kissed me goodnight and left. Parents were not allowed to spend the night with their children.

The next several hours must have been a nightmare for the hospital staff. I stood in the crib and cried. I shook the crib across the room. I said, over and over, “I am not a baby! Get me out of this crib.” (I had a one year old brother at home; I knew what a baby was). I figured out how to climb out of the crib and did so repeatedly. When I refused to drink the night-night juice, which surely held a sedative in it, the nurses must have been at their wits end.  Finally it was dark outside and I was growing weary from my efforts to escape, but still unable to fall asleep.

About that time my uncle, my mother’s younger brother arrived. He was 17 years old and came to the hospital with a couple of his buddies from church. These three clean-cut young men leaned over my crib, placed their hands on my head, and prayed for me. They prayed for the upcoming surgery, the doctors and nurses, and for my healing. I remember being soothed by his presence, his hands on my head, and his words. I fell asleep before he left the room. The next thing I remember is my parents taking me home the next day, tonsil free.

Our readings this morning point us to consider how we: manage anxiety, engage the world around us, recognize God’s presence, and grow in wisdom.

As a two year old child, left alone in the hospital, I was understandably anxious. I reacted with what is known as the “Fight or Flight” response. My survival instincts kicked into gear and I tried to run.  My uncle’s prayers made God’s presence real to me and I calmed down. Engaging in and trusting God’s presence enabled me, even as a two year old, to respond to the situation instead of reacting.

Reacting is always emotional and defensive – we feel threatened, we react. We function from what is known as our reptilian brain, the limbic brain at the base of the head.

 It is a part of the brain that enables us to survive in the face of danger. The limbic brain does not think, it’s impulsive and reacts.

 In contrast, responding is thoughtful. When we are able to manage our emotions and allow the initial reactivity to settle down we are able to engage the part of our brain known as the neo-cortex. This is in our frontal lobe, a part of the brain that has developed over time. The neo-cortex matures when we are in our twenties – as young adults we become less impulsive and more thoughtful. The neo-cortex is the part of the brain that thinks, it is where wisdom is formed. The neo-cortex enables us to engage in abstract thinking, it’s the part of the brain we access as we develop our spiritual selves. It is the part of the brain that manages ambiguity. As a result of being able to manage ambiguity a relationship with God can be formed. The neo-cortex enables the spiritual qualities we call faith, that leap into the unknown.

Our reading this morning from Proverbs is curious. At first glance it’s kind of prickly, an ancient description of a faithful wife. But when one reads carefully a more thoughtful description unfolds – a good wife is wise; she buys land and uses it well. She is strong, organized, and capable of managing her household. She has a keen business sense and a compassionate heart. The description in Proverbs of the wise wife is a metaphor for the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom is like a wise wife: compassionate, thoughtful, resourceful, and strong. It is a powerful, earthy metaphor – when we are filled with God’s wisdom we are thoughtful, resourceful, and compassionate. The ancient Israelites believed that God was justice and justice was God.  Justice in this case meant everyone had their basic needs met. Living a God-focused faithful life meant tending to the social justice issues in one’s community –the most vulnerable in the society were cared for.

Our reading from James reinforces the idea that thoughtfulness is the core of wisdom. For James this is a spiritual process built off of noble qualities of behavior. This noble behavior is held before the early Christian community (and us!) as an invitation to engage in a conscious decision making process. We can choose to react - “conflict and disputes cause a war within.”  Or, we can choose to respond – “to be pure, peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful, fruitful, and non-partial.” The outcome, whether we react or respond, determines the harvest. Responding is thoughtful and as such our behavior yields “a harvest of righteousness” that is “sown in peace for those who make peace.”[i] James is describing our behavior when we respond from our neo-cortex, when we act wisely.

Portions from the Gospel of Mark stand in sharp contrast to the description of wisdom in Proverbs and James. The disciples are arguing about who is greatest. It is possible to argue thoughtfully, listening and responding wisely. But sometimes when human beings argue we revert to our limbic brains, we become reptilian, we want to fight and prove our point. We want to win the argument. I can just hear the disciples each arguing their point. Jesus walking along with them just rolls his eyes….

What Jesus recognizes in this exchange is how vulnerable we human beings are.

I was left to spend the night alone and vulnerable in a hospital room without my parents. Jesus has been teachings his disciples that he is going to die and they will be left alone –they too feel vulnerable. No one likes to feel frightened or threatened, regardless of whether the fear and threat is real and physical or implied and verbal. Regardless of whether our perspective, our environment, or our bodies are threatened, we feel vulnerable.  It’s no wonder the disciples were arguing over who was greatest – it was their first response to fear and grief at the risk of losing Jesus. Feeling vulnerable, fear kicks in and the disciples function from their limbic brains.

Jesus honors the disciple’s vulnerability when he asks them to consider children. In other words, he is listening to them.  In any society children are the most vulnerable. No one wants to be or feel vulnerable. Becoming vulnerable, embracing our vulnerability is counter-intuitive.  And yet Jesus is asking us to authentically, intentionally, embrace our vulnerability  - and the vulnerability of others  - as a means to acquiring wisdom.

In this reading Jesus suggests that our ability to embrace vulnerability is how we will move from our primal instincts, from reacting to responding, from our limbic brains to our neo-cortex, from defensiveness to wisdom, from conflicts and disputes to resolution, from the cravings that are at war within us to reconciliation, from wanting to be first to caring first for others.

Embracing vulnerability opens us to the possibility of God’s presence and wisdom is formed.

Embracing vulnerability leads to wisdom like welcoming Jesus leads to God.

[i] Grant David Smith, Process and Faith Lectionary blog for Sept. 23, 2012

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 ...