30 June 2018

Saints Peter and Paul

The idea I took away from my Sunday school days, was the idea the saints Peter and Paul were very much like brothers. The fought like cats and dogs about the fundamentals of the nascent Christian faith but both passionately believed in what they were building. That shared passion is reflected in the letters that tell their stories.

Today's lessons for their shared feast day encouraged me to broaden my understanding of the ideas Peter and Paul brought to the communities they worked with.

In the reading from Acts, Peter tells the story of two visions that brought him to a Gentile family. He had a vision in which he is told, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." (Acts 11:9b). At the same time, men from Caesarea had their own vision of an angel who said: "Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved." (Acts 11:13b-14)

When Peter met and spoke with them, he saw the Holy Spirit come down on them as it had with his fellow disciples. He tells this story to help his fellow apostles and the believers in Judea who were critical of him for eating with the uncircumcised.

I had always thought that it was Paul that lead the way among the Gentiles and who opened up Christianity for all who wished to follow the teachings of Jesus and that Peter was deeply opposed to it.

I think part of that idea came from the other New Testament reading for their shared feast day. In this reading, Paul comes right out and says: "On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised..." (Galatians 2:7).

Given their histories, it makes a lot of sense that Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus, would work among the circumcised; while, Paul, a Roman citizen with his 'road to Damascus' conversion, would serve the uncircumcised. They had very different life experience and had come to their faith in very different ways.

However the passage from the book of Acts is a good reminder that these two saints, while being so different, did work in tandem. The shared the goal of getting the Good News of Jesus's message of the Grace and Love of God into the wider world.

I wonder if Peter had taken to heart the experience Jesus had with both the Samaritan woman at the well and the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter.

Peter had also had the experience of hearing Jesus's parables first hand, and it would not surprise me if the vision he related in the book of Acts sprang directly from from the parable found in Matthew 15.

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” ... But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
~Matthew 15:10, 15-20

So while Paul would later come to see his role as that of the main missioner to the uncircumcised, Jesus had already planted the seed in Peter's mind that his message had the potential to reach far beyond the original disciples.

The story Peter tells also acts as a conversion experience for his audience in Judea:

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
~Acts 11:16-18

The apostles and the believers in Judea go from criticizing him for spending time with the uncircumcised, to being stunned into silence by the power of Peter's story, to praising God for giving the Gentiles such a gift.

I suspect this conversion effect could only have come from Peter. Peter had a shared background with the group in Judea and a rapport with them that Paul probably didn't have. Paul had, after all, spent the first part of his life persecuting any Christians he could get his hands on. If the same message prompting acceptance of Gentile believers had come from Paul, even if by then the Christians in Judea trusted his conversion, it might not have had the same underlying power that Peter's telling of the story had.

Peter and Paul figured out that the messenger can matter in their shared ministry of spreading the Good News. There were communities that Peter could more easily reach because of his Jewish background and his direct connection to Jesus. There were communities that 'got' Paul better because he was a citizen of Rome (and therefor of the Known World at that time). There were communities that would trust Peter because they had known him all their lives and there were communities that better related to Paul's 'road to Damascus' conversion story.

For all that the narrative of Peter and Paul can be one of battling it out for the soul of the early church, from the passages appointed for their shared feast, it is clear that they agreed on at least three things: the message of Jesus was important enough to spend (and risk) their lives on; all are welcome to follow Jesus and enter into the community of believers; and sometimes, the messenger matters.

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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

16 June 2018

The Dust of God

There is a lot to work with in the readings for Friday in the season of Pentecost, Proper 5. Not the least because it is interesting to look at the difference and similarities in translation between the Book of Common Prayer and Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
  Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me,
  O God of Israel.
...

The afflicted shall see and be glad;
  you who seek God, your heart shall live.
~Psalm 69:7, 34 Book of Common Prayer

Let not those who hope for You be shamed through me,
  Master, O Lord of armies;
Let those who seek You be not disgraced through me me,
  God of Israel.
...

The lowly have seen and rejoiced,
  those who seek God, let their hearts be strong.
~Psalm 69:7, 33 The Book of Psalms by Robert Alter*

The words that arrested my attention are similar in both texts. The psalmist is suffering from many afflictions in this psalm and is calling out to God to save them while also naming all of the suffering and uncertainly they are experiencing.

However in the midst of their own suffering, they take a moment to hope that their shame does not reflect badly on other people who wish to follow God. They express the hope that their visible suffering will not dissuade others from finding a relationship with God.

I think of this in relation to my own private theology and in a modern context. For example, I don't believe in prayer as a vending machine: put prayer in, get results out. I believe that prayer is a way to talk to God about what is going and, in the process, to bring my thoughts and desires into line with what I believe. Prayer doesn't change God, or make God act. Prayer changes me.

I also don't believe that God saves people from harm. If I believed that, it would mean everyone who dies or is hurt does so because God chose for it to happen. To me, that negates the entire concept of free will. If God is doing the choosing then nothing we can do has any meaning.

That does not mean that our will can override our circumstances or the randomness of the universe. If I die from getting run over by bus, or get cancer, or live to be 99, none of that is in my direct control, but neither is is God's choice for me. I think that God hopes I will make good decisions with my life, but in order for it to be my life, God can't step in and 'save me' from myself or from just plain bad luck. I am tiny, the universe is unfathomably large and will affect me in strange and unpredictable ways-- it the same way that a breeze blows a dust mote around. I can't choose actions of the breeze, but I can choose to remain in relationship with God while being blow along.

Going back the psalmist: if people know that I worship God and try to live by the rules God gave me, and I still visibly suffer, how can I hope to be a helpful representative of God to others?

I think the psalmist answers their own question in verse 34: The lowly have seen and rejoiced, those who seek God, let their hearts be strong.

The path to God is not easy. Life itself, with God or without, is hard. It is full of 'the slime of the deep', 'the water depths', and '[our] folly.'

But God, while respecting the boundaries of our free will, can still be a companion in our distress. The psalmist calls on God's kindness, clear sightedness, steadfastness, and compassion. God's attention to our prayers can help us rescue ourselves, not from death and destruction as that comes to everyone in time, but from losing our faith in God's abiding love for us.

One day we will all return to God. But while we are here on Earth, God lets us all find our own way, painful though that process might be. God always "listens to the needy" (Psalm 69:35a) and makes space for us inhabit as we offer ourselves in prayer.

...and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
~Ecclesiastes 12:7
-=-=-=-=-

*Mr Alter uses a different numbering system on this psalm than is used in the Book of Common Prayer.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gatewayor the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

01 June 2018

What Price Love

In reading for the daily office for today, I found verse 15 of Psalm 31 speaking to me.

My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
~Psalm 31:15

I noticed how the psalmist made a distinction between 'enemies' and 'those who persecute me' and it made me think about how often the worst damage done to people is not by enemies by friends or family.

How many of us actually have 'enemies' in reality? I would guess very few.

On the other hand, how many have had a relationship go bad, or had to learn how to create and enforce boundaries with people we thought we could trust, or had to cut off contact with a family member or friend because the relationship had become toxic? I suspect a great many more people have gone through this than have ever had an enemy.

The Psalms have a lot to say about enemies. There are over 80 references to enemies in the NRSV translation alone. Interestingly there are only 11 references to 'friend' and nearly all of those are the psalmists complaining about friends who have done them wrong*.

Looking at this, it feels like it was easier for the psalmists to complain to God about all of the evils their 'enemies' were doing to them, than to bring up issues they were having with their friends.

This is not surprising to me. It is much easier to dehumanize someone from a distance and put them into the category of 'evil enemy' than it is to stand up to friends or family who 'done you wrong' especially if those people are deeply enmeshed in your life. It is feels easier in the moment to make excuses for their behavior and hand wave it away than it is to confront them.

This is very true in close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else and risking being the one to speak up can mean risking, not one, but all of your relationships in that group. It gets even more complicated when that group is a faith-based community that tries to take seriously Jesus's command:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
~Matthew 22:36-40

If we are called to put love first, what do we do when someone in our community acts badly? The temptation is try to preserve the community by sweeping the issue or behavior under the rug and pretend that it didn't happen.

Or, if you were ever like me as an earnest 20-something, spend hours working with the person and the group to try to find a solution. Not realizing that in some situations there is no good solution that will work for everyone-- especially if any of the people involved are acting in bad faith.

It took me a long time to learn that not every relationship is worth saving. Part of what delayed my learning was the idea that I should love my neighbors, all of my neighbors. In part, my issue was a lack of understanding of the complexity and fierceness of love. My early ideas of love were a lot like the fiction I wrote at the time: everyone hugs at the end and feels better. That rather one-dimensional view of love left no room for dealing with the damage a close friend or family member could do. If there was no way to 'hug it out' because the relationship was toxic, the person was spiraling out of control, or they were abusive, what then?

How to protect myself from "those who persecute me" when those people are my friends and family and not an isolated 'enemy'?

The key, I think, is in Jesus's command itself-- we are to love others as we love ourselves. We are to love our neighbors, yes; but not at the exclusion of caring for our own needs. When we find ourselves in a relationship that is damaging, then we need to love ourselves enough to take action.

Embracing love as Jesus calls us to, does not mean embracing being passive. I firmly believe that the love Jesus talks about is an action not a feeling. It is something we are meant to do not just experience. Part of loving our neighbors and ourselves is setting healthy boundaries and calling out destructive behavior when we see it.

Jesus called us to make heaven on earth through love. To do that we need to make it clear that abuse, bad actions, and bad faith are not, and never have been, any part of love.

-=-=-=-=-

*Which makes me think that the Pslams and the Blues have a lot more in common than I ever realized.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway or the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

19 May 2018

Endurance

They shall perish, but you will endure;
they all shall wear out like a garment;
as clothing you will change them,
and they shall be changed;
~Psalm 102: 26

Once, long ago, I wrote ElfQuest fan fiction. I fell in love with the stories as a young adult and they were some of the first comics I ever read.

When I started college, one of the first friends I made came from our shared interest in the ElfQuest series. This was before the Internet, so finding people with shared interests was more a matter of luck than diligent searching. This friend introduced me to the idea of fan fiction: that people could like something so much it would inspire them to write their own stories set in the same world.

Some of the characters we were writing about were both artists as close to immortal as makes no never-mind. I became fascinated with the idea that they would outlive any artwork they made. More than that, that their subjective experience of time, might cause them to feel like a tapestry they spent years making turned to dust in the blink of an eye.

Would they go back an re-make a favorite piece that had been destroyed by time? Would their aesthetic have changed so much in the intervening decades that they would not be able to imagine re-creating something, even if it was beloved? Would they even miss something that had vanished while their attention was elsewhere?

At the time, I had a lot less life experience and a lot less knowledge about how fragile most art is. Thirty-years on, I have seen moths go through my closet and snack on handmade woolens, I have worn favorite socks until they can no longer be darned, and I have made garments that I have worn until trying to patch them leads to the results cited in the Gospel of Matthew that is part of today's Daily Office:

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.
~Matthew 9:16

Nothing tangible can endure in its original form forever, even million-year-old fossils are rock-shadows of more transient forms of life.

Like our garments, we will wear out in time. The things we make, the events we plan, the actions we take will all fade away from the world; sometimes before we ourselves do.

I wonder if that is the reason that in the same passage from Mathew that is cited above, Jesus says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matt 9:13)

Sacrificing an object, an animal, or even some of my time to God may be seen as transactional and short term. In this moment, I do X in exhange for Y. The relationship does not have to persist past the moment of sacrifice. Both sacrifice and relationship are transitory and temporary.

When Jesus calls for mercy rather than sacrifice he calls us into a state of being. Instead of giving a thing that moth and rust can destroy, he asks us to give our attention and focus; to use our energy to show mercy rather than to judge.

When we judge we put a wall between ourselves and other people. This wall of our own opinion can make it impossible to see people as human. As with the Pharisees, judgment turns fellow humans into "tax collectors" or "sinners" instead of Zacchaeus or Mary or any of the other followers who Jesus called to him by name.

We shall all perish, we shall all wear out like our favorite pair of socks but until then we can take on Jesus's request to hear and show mercy to those around us.

Doing so might be harder than making a one-time sacrifice, but it has a great potential to open our hearts and allow us to hear Jesus call us into his love by name.

-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

The psalm is from the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer containing both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

22 April 2018

Ann Fontaine, Rest In Peace

My mom, Ann Fontaine, passed away peacefully on April 18th at home after several weeks of hospice care.

We have set up a Memorial site where I can post the latest on the plans for her memorial service,  friends can share memories of her or post the dates of any local celebrations of her life they are hosting, and where we can preserve her "What the Tide Brings In" blog posts.

The site is: http://seashellseller.org



Come, Thou

As most readers already know my mom, Ann Fontaine, passed away earlier this week.

To say I will miss her greatly is an enormous understatement. I don't think I even realize how much I will miss her. I know from the many cards, emails, texts, and social media contacts that I am not the only one.

Her favorite hymn was Come Thou Font of Every Blessing". It is where she got the title for her book of reflections on daily office and it captured her feeling of being found by God.

In one of the last in-depth conversations I had with her she said she felt that her entire life, especially in the church, was all about the serendipity that was created by her relationships.

All of the opportunities she had to be active in the church came from people she already knew either inviting her to join a project or introducing her to other people.

She built relationships all her life. I knew she was ready to go the day she told me she couldn't have any more visitors.

She also said, about politics in the church, to fight the good fight for what you believe in but never make it personal and always do what you can to keep or restore relationships with people.

Her vision of the church was that you are beloved of Jesus no matter what; and there is always a place at the table for you.

She worked to help the church be a place where people could build intentional communities. She worked hard to bring Education for Ministry (EFM) to even more people through on-line gatherings, she was a strong supporter of the movement to allow for the ordination of local priests who are raised up to serve small communities that would never be able afford a full-time priest. When she ran HR Camp in the 1980's she had the kids design the rules they would live under; in the process, teaching them that many of the 'rules' in society that we take for granted can actually be changed through human effort.

The reading from the New Testament for today, speaks to the idea that it's not a bad idea to question the rules we make for ourselves, or that we become enamored of:

...why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.
~Colossians 2:20b-23

As I go forward in to the world without my mom, I hope to carry with me her understanding that much that seems fixed in the world can actually be changed with effort; that people and relationships are precious; and that standing up for what you believe in is difficult but worth doing.

I leave you with the text to her favorite hymn. She wanders no more. She is deep within God's infinite love and grace.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I find my greatest treasure;
hither by thy help I've come;
and I hope by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for Thy courts above.

~Robert Robinson set to Nettleton
Hymn #686 1982 Hymnal

-=-=-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

07 April 2018

In Waiting

I have settled in 'for the duration' with my Mom and Dad at their home on the Oregon Coast. I am helping my Dad care for my Mom as she is in the final stages of her illness.*

In our church year, we are in the time of the disciples just beginning to realize the the promise of the Resurrection has been fulfilled.

In the reading for Friday, 6 April we have the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12 where Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them see the angels at the tomb who tell the women that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but has risen.

I don't really have time for the story of the resurrection this year. My attention is focused on doing my best to keep Mom comfortable and to work with Dad so neither of us burn out while caring for her. No only are we living day-to-day, but from moment-to-moment, and from task-to task.

Mom and I were watching the new series of Call the Midwife and a line jumped out at me:

Waiting for a death is like waiting for a birth, we must find ways to occupy ourselves.
~Call the Midwife, Season 7, Episode 1.

Helping out in a household where someone needs full time care is all about doing the next thing in front of you: doing little jobs for them, washing dishes, making meals, washing laundry, picking up the mail, buying groceries, running errands all have to be done and done in a way that fits in around the energy and schedule of the patient-- because her comfort is the paramount reason all of these chores need to get done.

The thing I have found, which is reflected in the quote from 'Call the Midwife,' is that each of these necessary tasks becomes its own small ministry for my mom or dad.

At home, my husband does the laundry and I fold and put it away. Here, I not only wash, dry, fold, and put away, I spend time prepping the whites the way I know Mom likes (treat for stains, soak in Oxy-clean, wash on the bulky setting). I do each step mindfully and try to give it my full attention and it becomes a spiritual practice of its own.

When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came to the tomb with the spices they had prepared for the body of Jesus they were dealing with the practical reality of the work a death entails. In Luke's telling of the story, the women had seen Jesus at the crucified. They had watched as his body was taken down and given to Joesph of Arimathea. They had seen it laid in the tomb and they had gone home to prepare what was needful for such a burial.

They had gone from task to task, maybe not thinking beyond the needs of the immediate moment, until it was time to go to the tomb and do the work of preparing the body of Jesus according to what was proper and would do him honor in death.

When they got to the tomb, all their plans and ideas were thrown into disarray. The body of Jesus was gone and here were two angels telling them that the promise of resurrection had been fulfilled.

I wonder if some of them weren't angry at this revelation. Grief is a strange beast and I, personally, am not great about having my plans upset-- especially if I am emotionally invested in them. I could see myself being bewildered and angry at Jesus for upending my plans for the day by not staying dead.

I don't know what feelings the women had as they saw the angels and heard the good news of Jesus' resurrection; just as I don't know how I will feel when my Mom eventually becomes to weak to stay in this world with us.

I am pretty sure she won't rise on the 3rd day. (If she was planning on it, she would have told me in no uncertain terms by now.) Other than that I have no idea of what life without her will be like.

For now, I don't have to think about that. Mom, Dad and I have a pact: We live in the present moment and don't think much beyond the needs of the day.

Like the women who went home and prepared the spices after they had seen Jesus laid in the tomb, I am occupying myself and not thinking about the moment I must go to the tomb.

-=-=-=-=-

*I am very lucky to have a husband, housemate, and daughter who support and encourage me in this. I am also lucky that my Dad, my Mom, and I all seem to work well with each other in various combinations.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

24 March 2018

My Own Personal Holy Week

I am writing this week from my parent's house on the Oregon Coast. I've been down helping my Dad care for my Mom for the past two weeks. This week she entered hospice care.

Uncertantly is all around me.

I am wondering if I am feeling like the diciples felt when Jesus told them:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
~Mark 10:33-34

The disciples had seen Jesus doing miracles. They had seen him make the lame walk, free the demon-ridden, and bring Lazarus back from the dead. Suddenly he's telling them that he will be betrayed, beaten, spat upon and killed and that it will all happen very soon, when they come to Jeruselem.

None of them really knew what was going to happen. They had the words of Jesus but had not yet experienced the reality of his death and resurection.

I face my mother's inevitable death but I don't know when or how it will occur. Like the diciples I have been told what is to come but I have no actual experience of the reality. I won't know it until I meet it.

My Dad has been studying Buddism for years, working to let go and live with impermance. It has revealed his wise, kind, gentle self. I'm doing my own best to live in the moment and not worry about what is to come. This is made easier by being with my parents and being able to help from moment-to-moment.

Jesus disciples were able to stay with him until he was betrayed and taken into custody. From that moment on they could only be onlookers as Jesus was taken around the city, shuttled from authority to authority until he came before Pilate and was condemed to death by the crowd.

It is that way with my mother. She has started a journey that I can not join her fully in. I can stay by her physically and help where I can, but I can't truly understand how she is feeling and where her spirit is going.

She has always been good about living in the moment, it is natural to her. I'm trying to follow both my parent's examples and not worry about the future, but be fully present now.

Maybe like me, some of the disciples tried to live in the moment when they realized their remaining time with Jesus was short.

Based on the story of the betrayal, none of them were really prepared for the end when it came. The moment in the garden when Jesus was taken from them seems to have come as shock, even though he told them in advance that it was coming.

In the past, when I have read the gospel passages where Jesus tells the disciples about his death to come and the ressurction that is to follow, I have had the luxury of focusing on the resurection. The resurection has been a fact of my faith since I first learned to sing "Jesus Loves Me" in Sunday School.

My mom's entry into hospice care reminds me that the disciples didn't know how their time with Jesus would come to an end. Even though he told them he would rise again in three days they didn't really accept it.

We see that in the moment when they didn't believe Mary Magdalene when she told them she had seen Jesus resurrected. Nor were they any more open to the idea when the two disciples saw him next.

According to the Gospel of Mark, it was only when Jesus appeared to all eleven of them and told them to: 'go out into the world and proclaim the good news' that they believed.

To me, the story of the diciples in the lead up to the death of Jesus shows me how very human it is to not really comprehend a thing until it is actaully happening.

There is a huge uncertain gap between theory and practice. My mom and I had many discussions about death after she was diagnosed but now that we are walking the actual walk much that seemed certain is no longer so.

What does give me comfort, is the fact that the disciples, for all their faults, fears, and disbelief managed to muddle through it all.

If they could do it, so can I. I will live on 'in sure and certain hope of the ressurection', one of my favorite phrases in our Book of Common prayer.

Even more so, it is my hope that I will be able to live on in my mom's example. To live as fully as I can in the moment, to let the future take care of itself, to speak truth to power, and to try to make the world we live in now a better place and not wait for the hereafter.

10 March 2018

Active Atonement

TW: for discussion of sexual harassment and abuse.

I've been thinking a lot about atonement and forgiveness in the light of #MeToo movement. It was horrifyingly unsurprising to see the magnitude of sexual harassment and sexual violence in our culture through a twitter hash-tag. Unsurprising because, at least in my experience all of my female friends have stories about being harassed or violated. Some of my male friends do as well, and I don't know how many more might have been but are afraid or ashamed to share their own stories.

Horrific because the fact that sexual violence permeates our culture is not news to most women, LGBTQ people, or people who are marginalized for any reason. Sexual harassment and abuse is an expression of power, rage, and/or control and is never really about sex. The people who wield sexual harassment or abuse already have the power (though they may not admit it to themselves).

#MeToo and the Harvey Weinstein scandal seem to represent a tipping point in our culture. We, all of us, have been made aware of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, and are finally ready to listen to the survivors and take action.

Some actions will be taken in the courts, some in public, some at work places, and some of the work will be done in the church.

This brings me to confession, atonement, and forgiveness. Sometimes, as Christians, there is a temptation to skip right from confession (or sometimes accusation, if the abuser is caught rather than confessing) to forgiveness. In particular, survivors of abuse who report it are sometimes pressured to 'forgive' the abuser-- to let it go and move on.

This is not an act of faith or a way to 'heal' a community. This is yet another form of abuse the survivor endures at the hands of their community and the people who should be acting to protect them.

I think this emerges because people are fundamentally lazy and the work of atonement, the real work needed to bring healing to the survivors and, hopefully, to find a path back to humanity and grace for the abuser, is difficult.

It means calling people, people we might otherwise love or respect, to account. It means listening to survivors (some of whom are not as charming or loved as the abuser). It means disruption in the short term, if the abuser is a priest or person of power in the congregation. It means fear of loss, that not only might the community be damaged by this but that it might be lost all together.

However, if we skip the all-important work of atonement we only invite further destruction further on down the road.

Secrets kept in a community can eat away at it like acid; over time destroying bonds of trust.

The survivor of abuse who is told to forgive instead of having their claim fully investigated and action taken against the abuser is further damaged by the community.

Frequently they are forced out of their community by this failure of atonement. The community is further damaged both by rumors that spread in such situations and by the survivor taking their story out to the world and sharing how they were abused and then driven out.

In the short term the lazy impulse to skip atonement may seem like the easy way to solve a problem; however, like an untreated stain that sets in the dryer, failing to tackle the sin of abuse right away only makes the problem worse and much harder to fix in the future.

Jesus didn't call us to take the easy road. He showed us how hard the work of atonement can be when he died a painful death on the cross. He didn't shortcut the process and skip right to the resurrection. We can't have the resurrection without the death.

We can't have forgiveness without confession and atonement. Atonement must take place and like the death on the cross it will be messy and painful.

However, Jesus gave us another gift. He gave us the grace of God to sustain us through difficult times.

There is no shortcut to justice and true forgiveness for the sinner, but there is the promise of grace and the hope of resurrection if the work is undertaken faithfully and with a true desire to atone.

No one can force this work on another and even if an abuser starts the work of atonement the community should act to protect the survivor(s) first.

This may mean taking difficult steps to remove an abuser from a place of power or to evict them from the community. Allowing an abuser to stay in power just because they say they are working on atoning is not atonement, it is enabling them to escape consequences.

We must not use the idea of the importance of forgiveness to shield abusers. We must not give into the temptation of laziness to make our own lives more comfortable in the short term by asking the survivor to be the scapegoat carrying our sins away from us.

We must confront abusers in our midst, call them to account, and remove them from power.

We should confess to survivors that we as a community failed them by allowing an abuser the power to hurt them.

We can atone as a community by taking action to remove the abuser and accepting the messy disruption that such an action will entail.

Given the prevalence of harassment and abuse in our culture, we, above-all, need a plan in place to deal with it.

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Originally posted at The Episcopal Cafe on 8 March 2018.

24 February 2018

Let the Lower Lights be Shining

One of my friend's writes personal essays. Today he titled his 'When the roll is called up yonder, or queer confessions of an ex-evangelical'.

Even before I read his essay the song When the Roll is Called Up Yonder started playing in my head and rapidly turned into an earworm. I had to open my Johnny Cash gospel playlist to dislodge it while I was working.

The song that next caught my ear was his rendition of Let the Lower Lights be Shining by P. P. Bliss.

1 Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Chorus:
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

2 Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

3 Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

I loved the image of God's powerful steady light shining on us while still expecting us to shine our own, much smaller lights, out into the world.

This got me thinking about one of the bible passages that I have always had a hard time with, the parable of the ten bridesmaids:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ and while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
~Matthew 25:1-13

This passage has always seemed fundamentally unfair to me. It is the delay of the bridegroom that causes the so-called foolish bridesmaids to lose their chance to come to the banquet.

Maybe this is because I see myself, not as one of the wise bridesmaids, or as the bridegroom, but as one of the foolish bridesmaids. I am, perhaps, organized enough to show up for the wedding and I might be able to afford enough lamp oil to last until midnight, but maybe not.

I understand why the so-called wise bridesmaids might not share their oil. It makes sense to take what they do have and make it last as long as possible, but there is no reason in the story why the wise could not have paired up with the foolish. After all, the arms of the wise might have gotten tired holding the lantern all night. If they paired up with the foolish, they could take turns and not have sore arms the next day.

If we are commanded to be prepared to go with Jesus even though we know not the day or the hour, it seems to me that it is also our duty to reach out with the little bit of light we do have to help our fellow mortals find their way back to shore in safety to and into the the house of the bridegroom in joy.

In the gospel for Friday. We see Jesus calling Levi the tax collector. He doesn't just call Levi he pulls him away from his work in the tax booth. Like the other disciples before him, Levi walks away from his work to feast with Jesus.

Unlike the bridesmaids of the parable, the various followers of Jesus weren't waiting around for someone to come and call them into service. They were living and working and, like the foolish bridesmaids, weren't expecting the call to come when it did.

I wonder if the parable of the bridesmaids is almost wishful thinking on the part of Jesus. None of his own followers were exactly waiting for him to show up. None were buying extra lamp oil because he was late. He wasn't expected at all.

Still, they found a way to follow Jesus and to use their own, feeble, and wholly mortal lights to bring others to him in their own life and beyond through the writings the early church left behind.

So as the song says, "Let the lower lights be burning,". It takes all of our tiny lights to bring the steady beam of God's light in to the world and even foolish bridesmaids and silly disciples can contribute for as long as their lights last.


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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.