Sunday, July 29, 2012

Still

This morning, as I was closing windows and turning off fans, and preparing to leave after a morning of delightful worship, I felt good. I felt, grateful I felt, love. I love this place, this congregation. I walked through the silent church and gave thanks to God for leading me here. It was just an ordinary Sunday, really. But, still, it was delightful.

Now, after months of being crazy busy I am about to take some time off. I know, I can hear you say, "Didn't you just have some time off?" Certainly that is a fair statement, because I did. That time, end of June and early July, included a drive to Chicago for a family wedding followed immediately by a drive to Indianapolis to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, followed by ending my vacation three days early to come home and officiate at the funeral of a parishioner (one whom I had given significant pastoral care to over the last year).

So. All things considered, I didn't really have time off, just time away from the routine of parish ministry.

Now, in just a few days I plan to take some actual time off. My plans include: reading (Maisie Dobbs books 3 and 4 - and then I'll have to download a few more); knitting; sitting; gardening; maintaining my exercise routine; and perhaps driving to Chicago to see a few friends and family.

Leisurely.

Rest.

Still.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To be Tenderhearted, a very human struggle...

A reflection on the readings from Proper 12B: Second Book of Samuel 11:1-17 and Ephesians 3

In the four chapters between last week’s reading in 2nd Samuel and this week – there were a lot of battles, sometimes called the “Davidic Wars” – which tout David’s skill as a military leader and his rising authority as King.

Now this morning we hear the story of David, the beloved king, who having developed a rather high opinion of himself, acts with arrogance and self-entitlement – he orders another man’s wife to be brought to him. And not just any one, Bathsheba is the wife of the Uriah, a loyal warrior in David’s army. Of course Bathsheba has no choice, if she wants to keep her life she must obey the king, and so she goes to him…and we all know what that means…she ends up pregnant with David’s child.

To cover his indiscretion David first attempts to convince Uriah to leave his military post and sleep with Bathsheba, so that Uriah might be fooled into thinking that the child is his. But Uriah is a good man, loyal to his duty, and refuses to break the protocol of a warrior. David then conspires to have Uriah killed and  he takes Bathsheba as his wife. 

David pays dearly for this egregious act of arrogance – betrayal of Uriah - a loyal friend and soldier; betrayal of a married woman – an act that might have cost Bathsheba her life too. Tragically even the child dies. Although David’s first wife, Michal tried to warn David that he was becoming too arrogant, he ignored her.  (2nd Samuel 6:20).

The lectionary will skip the next seven chapters, but in them David is held accountable by the prophet Nathan, and by God, for his behavior. Suddenly cognizant of how his actions have harmed others, David becomes aware of the depth of his sin. David is humbled, makes amends, and tries to repair the damage done, to heal the brokenness he has caused. The letter to the Ephesians picks up on the theme of human struggle – it deals with the struggles we humans face as we strive to live in healthy relationships with one another and with God.

 It is unclear who the actual author of the letter to the Ephesians is – some think Paul, others think a student of Paul. There is also some debate over who the letter was intended for – some think the church in Ephesus, others think it was intended for a number of churches – primarily Gentile communities wrestling with the tradition and history of Judaism and Israel – thus the primary theme of the letter is it’s effort to bring unity between the cultural and religious practices of Jews and Gentiles and form them into Christian practices of worship and faith. The first two chapters of the book set the stage for how this author understands the unity of the church – grounded in the resurrection of Jesus – the unity of the church must be centered in reconciliation with love and grace.

Chapter three, which we heard this morning is a prayer, lifting the messiness of humanity up to God and asking God’s grace to enable us to work toward reconciliation of the broken places in our lives, and the world, through the grace of God’s love.  The prayer uses some soaring language which should just stand for what it is - indicative of a prayer from the 1st century that was aligning itself with the ancient prayers of Israel.  The brokenness of David and the lives he shattered remind us of the broken places in our lives. This prayer is a call for healing the broken places throughout time.

Chapter four, which will be read next week and the week after, offers some good instruction on how to do this – how to work toward healing the broken places, how to live with love and grace.

Listen carefully and you will hear these words:

lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil….2831Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

Perhaps the image of the cauldron, the burning flame for the 2012 Olympics in London will offer us an image of a modern day call for unity – 204 individual copper sleeves of flame rising up in unison to form one grand torch. So, each of us is called to rise to the occasion, and with tender hearts seek to heal the broken places of our lives and world.

Notes:

Sally A. Brown, Workingpreacher.org

The New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible

The Second Book of Samuel – John William Weavers

The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians – Victor Paul Furnish

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tragedy on many levels

In my homily yesterday I spoke a little bit about the tragedy in Colorado, mental health, gun control, individualism, community "soul" and corporate prayer. Some of my thoughts, although I didn't say so then, were influenced by this article in the June 22, 2012 New York Times Magazine. Some of what I spoke about was influenced by my own life experience with mental illness in family members. And, some of what I spoke about is my ongoing reflection on the extreme individualism rampant in this country and our loss of civility.

When I preached the sermon I said more than what was posted on my blog. In particular I mentioned that traversing into the realm of mental illness must be done carefully. I don't want to convey the idea that all mental illness will lead to violence to self or others. Nor do I want to convey the idea that all violence is the result of mental illness. I only wanted to suggest that people who commit heinous crimes of mass murder are living some kind of alternate reality. What I didn't say is that schizophrenia can have an initial onset in young men during their late teens and early twenties. What I also didn't say is that the ability for parents to intervene in the health care of their adult children has been eliminated with the HIPPA laws. Parents and family members are virtually helpless to do anything. The article in the NY Times magazine tells of this reality. It's a sad, honest, tragic story. Not that the end of the NY Times story has the same outcome as the recent news. But I think it points to how complicated it is to intervene and get help. (read it, it's worth it).

I'm thinking of the news report that said that the mother of the shooter in Colorado, when contacted on the phone, allegedly said, "Yes, you have the right person. I'm on my way there now." How sad is that. Any family dealing with mental illness has three primary worries: their loved one will harm themselves or take their own life; their loved one will harm others; and something tragic will happen before any effect help can be found.

And so the real tragedy in this recent event is two fold: it might help if we had laws that made automatic rifles and guns illegal. But more importantly it would be really helpful if we had better laws and means for helping people with mental illness. We need compassion and love and the ability to intervene on behalf of another when they are unable to do so.

Protecting the rights of the individual above and beyond even their own well being is simply not working. Instead it has fueled a sense of entitlement and brought it to deadly proportions. Even when it is not deadly, it is still horrible - just listen to the rhetoric spewed in this country around politics and religion - it's awful, all sense of civility is thrown out in favor of supporting individual rights to free speech and the right to bear arms. I am all for these rights, just not to the extreme we are living into them, one that pushes aside a greater good of the whole in favor of one.

I know...there are probably lots of holes in my thinking. I am not a lawyer nor am a theologian nor am I even a writer in the technical sense. I don't have the gift to build those fabulous arguments I love to read. I am just an ordinary person trying to convey my thoughts on a systemic, pervasive problem in our world today. I wish that mental illness and the ways it can manifest in addiction was really understood as illness and not stigmatized. I'm sad that a news reporter called the shooter in Colorado - "Diabolic." Really? Now he's the devil? No doubt his actions are horrible. But he is wounded, somehow. And people who love him were unable to intervene, probably unable to even discern what was happening to him as he disintegrated.

This tragedy is tragic on many levels.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nourishment for Our Souls

A reflection the propers for 11B: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and the tragedy in Aurora, Co.

Much has happened in the 2nd book of Samuel since I was last here, two weeks ago as David moves toward becoming the next king. There have been a number of battles among the tribes of Israel – divided into a northern territory called Israel and the southern territory called Judah - where the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem reside. The battles in chapters 1-5 reflect the effort it takes to reunite the northern and southern realms – Israel and Judah – into one nation, Israel. They also reflect the effort it takes to bring David fully into his reign as king over the newly united Israel. Chapter five described this union of the northern and southern territories and the anointing of David as the king of the entire nation. Chapter five continues with more battles to establish the security of Israel and David as king. David has great success with these battles. In chapter six David establishes Jerusalem as the religious center of the nation. He does this by bringing the Ark from the northern territory and settling it in a tent in Jerusalem. However the process of establishing the Ark in its new home is complicated and one of the caretakers of the Ark, Ussah, dies. This causes David to stop the move temporarily. Eventually he continues the move and the Ark, the place where God resides, is established in Jerusalem. Curiously 2nd Samuel records an argument that David has with his wife, Michal, where in she tells him he is getting too big for his own britches. David refuses to be humbled so long as the people admire him, and so he discounts his wife. The portion of chapter 7 that we read this morning includes David’s conversation with Nathan – a prophet who becomes David’s advisor.


In the reading this morning David and Nathan are arguing – David wants to build a permanent home for the Ark. Nathan argues that the Ark has never been in a permanent place. Subsequently Nathan even receives an oracle from God stating that God will build David a house. The argument against David building a permanent dwelling place for the Ark is intended to remind David, and us, that God cannot and will not be contained. In the end, God blesses David and David builds a temple for the Ark. Still, our Bible stories will show, over and over, how God cannot be contained by human constructs.

The fact that God cannot and will not be contained by human constructs speaks deeply into the tragedy of yet another shooting spree and mass killing. All of us are reeling from the reality, the images, the tragedy of the killings in Aurora, Co. Alarmingly, even as individual murder rates are decreasing mass murder rates are increasing.

(From Jay Emerson Johnson’s web page A Peculiar Faith

Rev. Dr. Jay, a theologian in the Episcopal Church who lives in San Francisco wrote a response to the tragedy on his webpage, A Peculiar Faith: “We are facing yet again another moment when U.S. citizens ponder the role of guns in our common life…. I’m not so sure that tighter gun control laws would have prevented what happened in Aurora today. But I don’t think that’s the point.

I think the point is the stress on individual liberty, that the individual reigns supreme in all matters of social and economic policy. I believe that is a form of idolatry, of replacing God with the human. Christians should say so, regardless of the policy implications.”

Both the stories we are hearing in the Book of Samuel, as well as much of the Bible, and the reality of the world today, point to the problems that occur when the individual takes precedent over the community and when God is pushed to the sidelines.

Let’s be clear – who we are as individual human beings matters. We are created in God’s image and we are valuable and precious. Putting the self second to God and community does not mean we diminish ourselves. It does mean that our sense of self-entitlement is challenged – what we want, think, need, prefer, believe – becomes part of the mix rather than the priority.

People who commit heinous crimes like mass murder are clearly people who have lost touch with reality, who are damaged or wounded or mentally ill. That does not excuse their behavior but it does mean that they are not necessarily evil in and of themselves. Their actions however are evil.

Evil is the power that draws us and pulls at us away from God - 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. Over and over the media portrays how basic civility has been pushed aside, self-entitlement prevails, 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. 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 turn 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.

The Bishop of Colorado, in his response to the tragedy posted on the Internet Episcopal site called the Episcopal Café wrote this:

“For now I write particularly to ask your prayers for those who are most directly affected by these shootings – those who are wounded, those who have died, emergency responders, medical and law enforcement personnel, and your colleagues and communities who are providing immediate pastoral care. The greatest gift we have to offer one another is indeed our collective prayer – not merely kind wishes, not simply good intentions, but deep prayer – the ability to hold, tangibly and intentionally, others in that abundant love that flows freely and gracefully within us and among us. This has substance. This has weight and heft. For it is the source of deep healing and lasting transformation. Please make this your intention, and please invite others to join you in doing the same today and in the days ahead.”

Let us pray….May God, the holy one, the Divine Giver of Life, be with us and all who suffer. May God offer us a shoulder of solace and comfort us in our grief. May God’s love be like a mantle about our shoulders, holding us in peace. May God so fill our hearts and minds with the Spirit of God’s compassion that we too will be agents of God’s healing grace in the world. May God be with those who lost loved ones, embrace those who lost their lives, sustain those who are tending to the wounded. May God heal this broken world. May we partner with God to reconcile the broken places of this world. May compassion prevail in all we do and say. Amen.







Tuesday, July 17, 2012

So, Every Day

Two of my blogging friends have had to put their dogs down. I feel this sorrow to the core of my being, the day I have to do this, too, is within sight. My Roxie is 14 years old, and showing every bit of her age. But so far the pain meds we are giving her seem to be keeping her comfortable enough. Every day is a gift.

We also have an almost 15 year old cat. Today she started to upchuck a fur ball on the sofa, we reacted by moving over to lift her off. This movement caused our momma dog, Ruby (a ten year old Viszla) to charge the cat - she does this in her self-determined role of  "momma" - making the other animals behave. But in the process of being pounced at, the cat panicked, leaped backward and fell off the sofa. A short while later we found her collapsed in front of the litter box, unable to walk straight. We were certain she had broken something. But thankfully, after a little rest and comfort, she seems to be better.
Every day is a gift.

In the last three weeks I have officiated four funerals. Each person had lived a long life, a good life.We celebrated them and gave thanks for each one. Since the end of May I have officiated five funerals, two baptisms, and a wedding. Three of the funerals took place in the same week we hosted the Worldviews Seminar - a week long seminar on world religions co-sponsored with the University of Michigan. No doubt by the time I headed off for vacation two weeks ago I was exhausted and ready for a rest.

Alas, rest was elusive. We drove to Chicago to attend a wedding - which was fun. But my computer died just days before I was to head off to lead a couple of workshops at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. (On the WordsMatter Expansive Language Project). Thankfully my colleague had all the workshop materials on her computer - so we were good. It was just a little stressful and frustrating to lose my computer. Convention was both fabulous and exhausting - all in a good way, of course. Plenty of people have written about convention so I won't bother....

Sadly I had to leave convention a day early to come home and officiate that four-in-three-weeks- funeral. 

And now I am back at work. Two weeks of work and then another round of time off. Thankfully the next two weeks of work, at least at this point, don't seem to be very busy. Let's hope so...and the next round of time off holds zero plans. I may just read, sleep, and do yoga....

Speaking of reading....Lately I am really enjoying the Maisie Dobbs series. It takes place in the early 1900's England, but is very progressive in the way women and men are portrayed. The lead character, a woman detective and psychologist, is very invested in reconciliation. It's cool, and a good story line. I love it when I find a new series to read....

So, yes. Every day is a gift. Which reminds me....there is a Mary Oliver poem on this idea...

So every day
I was surrounded
by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,

one of which was you.

Dogs, cats, parishioners, family, bloggers, books, all...a gift.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Mixed Blessings

This morning I am watching Jenna Bush Hager describe her road trip along highway 12 in Southern Utah, part of her "America the Beautiful" report on the Today Show. I made that trip a couple of years ago, although unlike JBH I was not in a classic caddie convertible. I was driving my old VW Passat Wagon with the new engine. (The engine in this car "blew" in Dec. 2009, part of the engine sludge build up that was unfortunately all too common in Passats...It cost us $5000.00 and many months of scrimping and saving to replace the engine)....






Highway 12 truly is one of the wonders of this country, a spectacular drive through Bryce Canyon



and the Escalante Staircase (or in this case, my dad's backyard from his house off of Highway 12)




 and Calf Creek....





That road trip will always be one of my favorite trips, in large part because it was taken with my son and his dog, Emmy:




Although I am on vacation this week, I will not be taking a trip like this one. I do plan to drive to Chicago for a wedding. My daughter's best friend from high school is getting married on Saturday. Sadly her mother-in-law to be is dying from ovarian cancer. She has been ill for ten years and it looks like she may not make it to Saturday. And, she has refused to allow the couple to be married in her presence because she thinks it means everyone has given up on her. Perhaps she thinks she will rebound once more, as she has three times in the past? Anyway, this will be a very difficult week and weekend, in that regard. I really hope the Pastor who is marrying this couple is helping them...

Following this emotional weekend I will drive to Indianapolis for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church...where emotions are bound to run high as resolutions are debated about things like - the budget, blessings for same gendered blessings, Open Table (baptism before receiving communion or not?)...oh my....


I may not be online much over the next week and half. But prayers are appreciated for the days ahead, a mix of blessings, celebrations, and sorrow - in other words, life.


I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism itself, of being terrified, as I was fully immersed three ti...