14 December 2016

Three Lights

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
~Isaiah 9:2
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
~2 Peter 1:19
When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”
~ Luke 22:55-57

There are references to light in all three of the readings for the Tuesday of the Third Sunday of Advent.

In the first reading from Isaiah, we have light shining on people who have been in darkness, and from the context, it is understood that this is a good thing. The world is coming into joy, the rods of the oppressors have been broken and a boy child has come to bring peace to the throne of David and establish justice and righteousness for ever. This light is a joyful light of revelation and removal oppression.

In second Peter, we have passage in a letter that insists that the story of Jesus, and in particular God claiming Jesus as God's son, really happened on the holy mountain. It was not a 'cleverly devised myth'. In this case the completed prophecy, Jesus's coming, has been confirmed by the eyewitness. The fact that the prophecy has been fulfilled is to be considered as a lamp in a dark place. This struck me, because I have used an oil lamp when the power was out and when I have a single lamp burning in a dark room I cannot help but be aware of it. Unlike the steady ambient light electricity provides, an oil lamps flame glows as a point in the dark and flickers like a living thing in the moving air of a room. The idea of the lamp in the dark place seems to me then, to be something so obvious that it cannot be overlooked. It is something that would either take an effort of will to ignore or that one could become used to after it was lit and only think about it when it went out. The coming of Jesus is the light in the darkness that I should not take for granted.

In the Gospel of Luke, the light is a fire that is lit in the courtyard of the high priest's house. It is by this light that Peter is recognized by a woman and two men as a follower of Jesus and it is in that light that Peter denies his relationship to Jesus three times. The cock crows, Peter realizes what he has done, and the sun can rise-- giving a greater light than that of the fire. The light of this fire is not the joyful light of Isaiah or the persistent light of a prophecy fulfilled.

In this crowd, he is the only one who knows of Jesus's prophecy that Peter will deny him three times this night. When he hears the cock crow and realizes what he has done Peter weeps bitterly. He holds himself to account. The light of the fire he was revealed to others as a follower of Jesus and in that same light he was revealed to himself in a way that he does not like.

The great thing about Peter is that he does not accept this failure on his part. He owns up to it (otherwise we wouldn't have the story). He is disappointed in himself, but, while he denies Jesus those three times, he goes on to follow Jesus to the cross, death, and resurrection. Peter spends the rest of his life sharing both the life-story and the words of Jesus. The firelight of his denial galvanizes him into action. The dawn-light of weeping bitterly is transformed into a lifetime of service.


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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

23 November 2016

Persistent Confusion

But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
~Luke 18:34

This one line among all of the readings for Tuesday, Proper 29 lept off the page a me. Like the disciples in Luke, I struggle in my understanding of things and fail to grasp what is said.

Once, when I was a teenager, I was invited out by a friend. He asked if I would like to see teachers, which I took to mean a social visit with actual teachers. This was not beyond the range of possibility in the small town I was from, so I said sure. I was completely confused when we arrived a the movie theater and went in to see the movie "Teachers". I was too embarrassed and confused by the mis-understanding to back out, and so I saw my first R-rated movie when I was 16. I remember nothing of the movie, so terrified was I that I would get caught for breaking the rules.

I wonder how much of the disciples confusion and failure to grasp what was being said came from something like that. They each have their own expectations of who or what Jesus is and what he has come to do. It is easy to let those expectations fill in for understanding resulting in confusion and min-understanding when the other person's words or deeds don't match the preconceived notions.

The thing that struck me about the disciples, however, it that no matter how confused they get they still act. They continue to follow Jesus and he continues to upset their preconceived notions of what he should be doing. He patiently (and sometimes impatiently) explains parables, encourages them in their own missions, and gives them guidance that seems to be contrary to the social mores of their time.

They suffer great fear and doubt when the death he foretold for himself comes to pass, but they don't stop hoping that it will all be for something greater than themselves. They are not perfect advocates for his message. They are somewhat messy messengers, and they go out and do the work anyway.

Jesus has this to say about the power of persistence:

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
~Luke 11:5-8

Do the thing that you can do. Be persistent in faith and in action and follow in the best tradition of the slightly clueless disciples who paved the way for a whole new faith.

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

19 November 2016

Lowly and in Pain

Save me, O God,
 for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
 where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
 and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
 my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
 with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
 are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
 my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
 must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
  the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
 O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me,
  O God of Israel.
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
  that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
 an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
 the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
When I humbled my soul with fasting,
 they insulted me for doing so.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
 I became a byword to them.
I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
 and the drunkards make songs about me.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
 At an acceptable time, O God,
 in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
 from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
 and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
 or the deep swallow me up,
 or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
  according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant,
 for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me,
 set me free because of my enemies.
You know the insults I receive,
 and my shame and dishonor;
 my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
 so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
 and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
 and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Let their table be a trap for them,
 a snare for their allies.
Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
 and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
 and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
 let no one live in their tents.
For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
 and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
Add guilt to their guilt;
 may they have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
 let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
But I am lowly and in pain;
 let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
  I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
 or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
 you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
 and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
 the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;
 and his servants shall live there and possess it;
 the children of his servants shall inherit it,
 and those who love his name shall live in it.

~Psalm 69

The Psalm appointed for Friday speaks directly to me in a way that nearly made my hair stand on end. If you skimmed over it to get to the text of my reflection, take a few minutes to read it through line by line. I'll wait right here.

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This psalm opens with a cry for help, listing out the deep trouble the psalmist is in which range from feeling under attack to worrying that those attacks will not only harm the psalmist, but will aslo harm the psalmist's community: Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me.

Then, after the psalmist reaches the end of the recital of woe we see a change from calling out for rescue to calling out for vengance: Let their table be a trap for them.... This to me felt very 'real' after a week of tumultuous emotion. I do not known anyone who has indulged in a revenge fantasy or two when feeling as the psalmist does. However, after spending some time fantasizing about the retribution God could meet out, the tide of the pslam turns.

But I am lowly and in pain; the psalmist writes. From that moment on instead of calling for vengance and retribution, the call is for raising voice in song and rebuilding hope amoung the oppressed and needy.

I did not know how badly I needed this psalm until I read it. The way it both powerfully connected me with a human who wrote over 2000 years ago. These feelings are not new feelings and humans have been grappling with them for much of recorded history. We lose family, loved ones, status, elections, material goods, and we mourn that loss, we feel anger at loss, we wish for vengeance or retribution, but most of all we keep on trying to build and rebuild.

That is what this psalm says to me: don't stop at the wishing for vengeance stage of grief-stricken anger. Sing, put hope into words, share that hope with others and find a way to live into God's love for us, now and always.


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

24 October 2016

Facing Mortality: Do you have a will yet?

I've been writing about the need to have a will and related documentation since my housemate's mother passed away in June of 2014. She had a will and things have gone mostly okay but it is only now that my housemate is ready to close probate.

This is mostly because my housemate has very limited time to work on her mother's estate. It was recently complicated by finding out that not all of the property was transferred to her mother's sole ownership after her mother's husband passed away. It became necessary to find a copy of his will to prove that the deeds and titles should transfer to the estate and then from there to my housemate and her siblings.

All this came to mind when I read an article about an eight-five year-old gay widower who faces eviction due to improperly witnessed will. He and his partner lived together for 50+ years and now due to a will that was not witnessed by two people he stands to lose his home.  The partner's nieces and nephews stand to inherit instead by the laws of New York (which apparently doesn't allow evidence of 'intent' in the case of an invalid will).

Even if you are married and think that you are covered by intestacy laws of your county or state, not having a will means that a court gets to make all of the decisions about where your property goes. In addition, it means that probate can take a lot longer and the costs can eat into anything that was left.

Pay the money up front and get a real will done by a real attorney who specializes in wills and estates. Most will have up-front pricing so the cost will be predictable. It is the last gift you can give your loved ones. Don't leave them a mess to remember you by.

12 October 2016

What is essential is Invisible to the eye

 Magrat’s arm tingled as the power flowed up it.*Granny’s broomstick jerked forward.
 “Leave me a bit,” shouted Magrat. “I’ve got to get down!”
 “Shouldn’t be difficult,” screamed Granny, above the noise of the wind.
 “I mean get down safely!”
 “You’re a witch, ain’t you? By the way, did you bring the cocoa? I’m freezing up here!”
Magrat nodded desperately, and with her spare hand passed up a straw bag.
 “Right,” said Granny. “Well done. See you at Lancre Bridge.”
 She uncurled her fingers.
 Magrat whirled away in the buffeting wind, clinging tightly to a broomstick which now, she feared, had about as much buoyancy as a bit of firewood. It certainly wasn’t capable of sustaining a full-grown woman against the beckoning fingers of gravity.
 As she plunged down toward the forest roof in a long shallow dive she reflected that there was possibly something complimentary in the way Granny Weatherwax resolutely refused to consider other people’s problems. It implied that, in her considerable opinion, they were quite capable of sorting them out by themselves.
 Some kind of Change spell was probably in order.
 Magrat concentrated.
 Well, that seemed to work.
 Nothing in the sight of mortal man had in fact changed.
 What Magrat had achieved was a mere adjustment of the mental processes, from a bewildered and slightly frightened woman gliding inexorably toward the inhospitable ground to a clearheaded, optimistic and positive thinking woman who had really got it together, was taking full responsibility for her own life and in general knew where she was coming from although, unfortunately, where she was heading had not changed in any way. But she felt a lot better about it.
~Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters
The above quote from Terry Pratchett's novel "Wyrd Sisters" is the best description of prayer that I have ever read.

I have never believed in the slot machine version of prayer; where you put your request in the slot and either hit the jackpot or wind up with two lemons and a banana. Belief in a slot machine god leads to things like the prosperity gospel. It also leads to trying to fit God into the box created by our own desires and shaving off the bits of God that don't fit.

No matter how tenuous my relationship with the physical church has been I have never lost the impulse to turn to God in prayer. However that impulse is tempered by two contrasting ideas.

One comes from a mis-hearing of the words of a hymn. For years I thought the hymn "There's a wideness in God's mercy" by Frederick William Faber was "There's a wildness in God's mercy" this corresponded so well with the image of God conjured up in C.S. Lewis's "Narnia" books ("Not a tame lion" is something said by many of the creatures that Lucy meets when they describe Aslan to her) that it was only in the last year when my mom heard me singing it, that I learned what the words really were. I still like my own mis-heard version better.

The other comes from my understanding of free will and that God has given us all that we need to make heaven on earth. We just make bad choices as a species. A tongue-in-cheek encapsulation of my thoughts on free will and tension between wanting to talk to God, but feeling like I should also just be getting on with my work in the world is embedded in the lyrics of Andrew Ratshin's song "Just One Angel".
Why would we have free will
if he thought we'd always call
Maybe its a lack of sleep
that keeps him feeling vengeful
Mabye he'd be sweet and soft
If he could have his Sunday's off
~Andrew Ratshin, "Just one Angel"
Even with these contradictory feelings about when I should pray and what the result of that prayer might be, I come back to it more than any other spiritual discipline. Sometimes my prayers a filled with rage and loss, sometimes with unbearable joy, when my heart is full it spills out in prayer.

Like tears, prayer ends leaving me feeling both spent and calm. Prayer gives me a quiet place in the universe to pull back from the storm of the moment and put what is happening in perspective. Like Magrat, from the outside, there is no change to my aspect or circumstances after prayer. What there is, is a change in my own mental landscape.
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "The Little Prince"
 Prayer is fundamentally a way for me to look at myself and my actions in the world. It is a place where I can remind myself to strive to be the best person I can. When I fall short, when I experience injustice, when suffering touches me or those I love, prayer helps me find my courage and step back into the world, unchanged in all but the most essential ways.

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Pratchett, Terry (2009-10-13). Wyrd Sisters: A Novel of Discworld (pp. 168-169). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Faber, Frederick William (1862) "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" 

Ratshin, Andrew (2012) "Just one Angel" 

 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine (1943) "The Little Prince"

21 September 2016

More Accurately

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
~Acts 18:24-28
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In the section of Acts that is the reading for Tuesday Proper 20 it is was unclear to me what I should take away from the passage in Acts above.

We start with Paul getting dragged before what seems to be a Roman authority figure who wants nothing to do with an internal religious dispute (a theme we saw also in the crucifixion narrative with Herod and Pilate). Then we see Paul in his travels to spread the word. For all that, he does not appear to be the focus of this section.

I found it helpful to read all of chapter 18 and there I found my context for making sense of this passage, for there, in the opening line we see the first meeting between Paul and Priscilla and her husband Aquila. Their names appear both later in this section and in the greetings 3 of the letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy).

In verses 1-3 the three of them not only meet for the first time, the story says that they are all in the same trade-- they are all tent-makers. It is specifically for that reason that Paul stays with them.

After ...a considerable time in Corinth he, Priscilla, and Aquila all set sail for Syria and then When they reached Ephesus, he left them....

At this point Paul leaves Ephesus (and the story). Priscilla and Aquila are left or stay behind and take part in the religious life there.

A new, and apparently very enthusiastic man named Apollos, arrives in their midst and begins speaking about ...the things concerning Jesus. It it interesting that while the story stays that he spoke accurately, Priscilla and Aquila still take him aside and explained the Way of God ...more accurately. He knows part of the story through the baptism of John and what he knows of he speaks well of, but he does not know the whole story.

By reading back past the specific verses appointed for Proper 20, I was better able to make sense of the story and, in thinking about it, see how all three of the readings for Tuesday of Proper 20 tie together.

The Old Testament reading is Ester, not the climax of her story when she triumphs over Haman and saves her people; rather it is after she has made her decision to act and set the stage for her appeal to King Ahasuerus. As with the passage from Acts, the first time I read through the appointed section of Ester I couldn't figure out why this was the passage selected.

The Gospel is the baptism of Jesus and the jailing of John, but the focus for me after reading and thinking about the Ester and Acts readings was much more on the storytelling link between John and Jesus. In Ester, we see her preparing the way for her approach to the king. In Acts we see Priscilla and Aquila educating Apollos that John prepared the way for Jesus and that the story can't just stop with what he knows of John's ministry. John was the anticipation, Jesus is the realization.

So as Ester uses her first feast to lay the groundwork for her attempt to save the Jews from Haman, John tells all and sundry that ...one who is more powerful than I is coming and that he is only there to prepare the way.

In Acts, we see Priscilla and Aquila spending considerable time with Paul. They go from being Jewish religious refugees in Corinth (having been expelled from Rome) to becoming literal followers of Paul. They go with him, sailing across the Aegean Sea and settling in Ephesus when Paul continues on to Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia. They spent enough time with Paul to feel confident in approaching Apollos, who is described as someone who ...spoke with burning enthusiasm and who spoke boldly, and to correct his understanding of the Way of God to included not just John the Baptist's teaching but that of Jesus as well.

Their instruction makes him an even better speaker and he gains support from them and from the local congregation to follow in Paul's footsteps by going out to Achaia on a mission of his own.

In each story, we see that plans are laid and preparatory work done before action is taken. Ester holds one feast to prepare the ground for her plea to the king. John tells his followers that he is preparing the way for one who will come after. Paul, almost unwittingly, prepares Priscilla and Aquila to teach the succeeding generation of wandering disciples the 'accurate' Way of God; and they. in turn, prepare Apollos to be an even more effective evangilist than he was when he came to Ephesus.

These stores together say to me that effective action comes from both laying the groundwork in advance and then taking the risk to act on the plan. Ester makes up her mind to act, Priscilla and Aquila choose to follow Paul, Apollos harnesses his enthusiasm and listens, and John tells it like it is.

Knowing when to stop planning and start risking is where faith comes in.

18 August 2016

Experience + Reflection = Learning

Years ago I completed an excellent leadership training that was offered by the diocese of Olympia. It was a full residential week with a small group (under 30 people). It was intensive, interesting, and exhausting. I learned a lot about myself, my learning styles, and my leadership leanings in a supportive environment.

This training was my second brush with the Experience + Reflection = Learning (E+R=L) model and we used it through out the 40 hours of official training and frequently as part of informal, after hours discussions.

My first encounter with the E+R=L model was during Year 1 of Education for Ministry (EFM). My husband and I participated in a local group in Texas, in part, as a way to meet new people and socialize, as we had moved to Texas the year we graduated from college. We were struggling a lot with making friends, and with culture shock and our EFM group was mostly very nice, very thoughtful, very kind people.

I don't know that we went into great detail about the E+R=L model during our meetings. It was a little bit like an equation one learns to use by rote in math class. Helpful in very specific applications but not explored outside of those limited areas.

After a little over a year in Texas my husband's division was sold to a company in Chicago and we faced the choice of trying to stay on in Texas with very little support system, applying for jobs in Chicago and trying to move there, or returning to Washington State and moving in with my husband's parent's while we got back on our feet.

We chose Washington where many of our close friends lived and where we would have support from family. With the help of my in-law's we drove ourselves, our pets and our belongings back to Washington and moved in with them.

Six months later we were moving into our own place with two college friends. My husband found a church for us to join and we settled into our new lives. We were quickly recruited to serve on committees at our new church and progressed over the next few years to running a Sunday School and serving on the vestry. It was during this time that I found out about the leadership training and signed up for it.

During this second exposure to the E+R=L model I really started to understand what it could be used for. It tied into seminar work I had done in college. I had learned how to read, think, and talk about texts; but, I had never really thought about the process of doing so in a structured way. Having a 'formula' to use helped me frame and clarify my thoughts.
I returned from the training full of inspiration. Like any convert to a new idea, I was applying the E+R=L model to everything around me (whether it needed it or not). Over time, this evangelistic fire faded until it all but disappeared from conscious use.

After years of writing for myself and publishing on my, somewhat clunky, personal website, I was recruited to write occasional essays for the Episcopal Café. When writing for myself I only wrote when inspiration struck and my essays could be few and far between even though I enjoyed writing.

Last fall, I was asked to help fill in for a regular who wrote for Speaking to the Soul. The first few weekly essays were fairly easy to write as I had a fair amount of pent up ideas that were percolating in the back of my mind. Regular deadlines also helped prime the pump for a time.

Then my well of ideas ran dry and I still had deadlines to meet. After wresting with several false starts and ideas that went nowhere, "E+R=L" came to the rescue. I remembered the process we had used in EFM to read bible passages, identify what 'spoke' to us, and use the E+R=L model to develop our ideas by applying our experience to the passage we wished to reflect on. Suddenly I had something to write about.

Last week, those modes of thinking came to my aid once more when I wrote Listen to Live. As I read through that essay after it was posted, I realized that it opened me up to a whole different view of the Old Testament.

I used to think that the Old Testament was a collection of stories that showed the way the world used to be; and further, that it was a model world, a world that reflected the aspirations and desires of its authors and storytellers.

Thinking that way made it very difficult to read, let alone, think about, large portions of the Old Testament. There is a lot that is awful in those stories. However, when I applied the E+R=L model to my own essay and the comments of people who responded to it on the Episcopal Café, I saw a new way of understanding the Old Testament stories, starting with Judges.

The story comes to a head in Judges 17:6: In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

That phrase is repeated again as the last line of the book of Judges and gives weight to the idea that the authors of this book are writing from the future and casting back to to time to show the turmoil and chaos that existed before the coming of the Kings of Israel.

Judges and Ruth are the prequel to the foundational story of a major change in the relationship between the people of Israel, their prophets, and their God. Rather than looking at them as contemporary stories of the life and times of the Judges that represent how life should be lived, it occurred to me to look at them as backstory for how the events in the books of Samuel and Kings came to pass.

Restructuring these stories in my head as a modern novel with Judges as the backstory, Ruth as the prologue, and the books of Samuel and Kings as the main novel opened my mind to see these stories in a different light.

I no longer had to look at them through the lens of 'this is how it was and should be'. I could see these stores as the set up for the main event. They are showing the reader how very bad the situation is and why the people demand a major change from the way leadership has been called into being for generations to the rise of the Kings of Israel.

I owe that insight to the E+R=L way of looking at a text.

I didn't really understand all the ways I was already using that tool when I was first introduced to it in EFM over 24 years ago. It took additional exposure to the concepts behind it and practice with it, to teach me to use it intentionally to disassemble my preconceived ideas about a text and rebuilt my thoughts around a new revelation.

I understand that this revelation might not break new ground for anyone but me. But the process of the intentional examination of my thoughts, reading the actual text, and stripping away the accumulated notions of years opened me up to a new way of thinking about a particular text and shook me into a whole new experience.

It's a amazing feeling.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

10 August 2016

Listen to Live

I find it interesting that in the Old Testament reading for today we have a somewhat exasperated angel having to repeat himself when a husband doesn't seem to fully listen to what his wife says.

In the story, the angel appears to Manoah's wife (she has no name of her own) and tells her that though she is barren she will bear a son and she is to follow certain rules so that he shall be a nazirite to God from birth. This is the beginning of the Sampson story in Judges.

The woman tells her husband what happened and he prays to God: O, LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born. God does so, but the angel in the form of a man appears only to the wife and not to the husband or to the husband and wife together. The wife runs to get her husband so he can hear the explanation of what is to come directly from the angel.

The angel doesn't just repeat what he told the wife. The angel prefaces his words to the husband with Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. Making it clear that the angel already covered this ground with the wife. (And in my own imagining, rolls his eyes a bit with having to come back and explain everything a second time.)

The husband then offers to prepare a kid for the angel. And on my forth or fifth reading, I now wonder if that offer was in part a test to see what the being who looked like a man would do with the offer.

The story says that the husband did not know that this 'man' was an angel of God and it shows again that he does not fully trust what his wife says to him. She told him, after the first visit that: "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name;".

In this particular story the focus is on the successful birth of Sampson, so the fact that the husband did not accept the truth of his wife's testimony does not appear to have any negative impact on the husband. Of course, unlike the story of the birth of John the Baptist the husband in this story does not directly challenge the angel.

Instead he first asks for clarification of the information given to his wife and then embeds a test in an offer of hospitality. (Which makes me further wonder if this is supposed to be a form of foreshadowing for some of the later acts of his son.) 

We see this pattern of men refusing to believe the testimony of women again in the resurrection of Jesus narrative. The two Marys and Salome go to the tomb and find Jesus risen. When they try to tell the disciples they are not believed. 

What does it say, in a modern context, that women may be a the forefront of an event, but still not be believed until a man comes along to confirm the legitimacy of their experience? We see it still today. When it takes 60 women to get rape allegations against a powerful man to be taken seriously. When a skilled female athlete is identified as the wife of a male football player rather than as a competitor in her own right. When women regularly earns less across the board then men. And finally when, in the United State Congress, fewer than 20% of our senators and representatives are women.

Was the bible speaking to the lived experience of women by giving example after example of men ignoring them (and this story is actually one of the better outcomes for women in Old Testament, later Judges it gets much, much worse for women and children)?

I can point to all of the stories in the Old Testament that do everything from murder to ignore women as a symptom of the brokenness of humans with the idea that these stories show us how evil we can be; and, what a terrible idea it is to treat more than half the population as property.

Over and over again we see that when society, any society, treats some lives as valuable and some as disposable we all run the risk of having someone put us in the disposable category.

 Whether the original compilers of the Old Testament stories mean to or not, they have left us a stark legacy of what can happen when people are treated like things. In that way, Terry Pratchett said it best through one of his Discworld characters. Granny Weatherwax, as she speaks to an earnest young priest, says:
There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."

"It's a lot more complicated than that--"

"No it ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."

"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-"

"But they starts with thinking about people as things…"
~"Carpe Jugulum" by Terry Pratchett
Women are often nameless things in the bible: mothers, wives, concubines, rape victims, murder victims, women and children put the sword as part of a battle, women handed off to other men in the name of hospitality, women whose husbands are murdered, women stoned, women whose stories are only adjuncts to the men in their lives, women who are ignored, talked over, and rebuked.

Women who stand in for ideas but who are not flesh and blood (or who are way too much blood, but not much life). Only when we truly see that treating people as things always ends badly will we learn to listen to all people and honor their
lived experience.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul
on 9 Aug 2016.



21 July 2016

A Better World

Although she is but one, she can do all things
,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;in every generation she passes into holy soulsand makes them friends of God, and prophets;~Wisdom 7:27

Today we celebrate the lives of four amazing women who took the bible as a document calling for liberation.


Sojourner Truth, Harriet Ross Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Bloomer all stood up to the forces arrayed against them in their times and used their grounding in the bible as an inspiration to both speak and act on their convictions.

They were incarnations of Wisdom and modern-day prophets who not only spread the Good News but used powerful stories in both the Old and New Testament to power their own lives and the actions they took on behalf of the people living under slavery and patriarchal oppression.

They took up the biblical narrative and carried it into their own modern day. By their example, showing us that it is truly a living testament that can speak to the oppressed and give them both the hope that things as they are will not remain and that they could be agents of change.

They also all fought for freedom in their own individual ways. Ms Tubman rescued slaves and was an active spy, cook, and nurse for the northern forces in the Civil War. Ms Truth was a street preacher and founder of homeless shelters. Ms Stanton stood up against chruch teachings she felt were wrong and fought for rights for women. Ms Bloomer was active in everything from reform dress for women to advocating for progressive and reform movements.

Each woman saw a need that grew out of her own experience and then took up that cause, spread it to others and used stories from the bible and their own testimony to spread their Good News, their vision of what the world could look like.

They all worked through years of frustration and anger to find hope for a better world.

Once they found that hope they spread it as far and wide as they could, working for years through everything from physical disabilities, social disapproval, and danger to life and limb.

Through their ground-breaking work we have inherited a better world and been shown an example of how finding the good news in our own faith can give us the strength to go out and share the Good News of love and grace and change the world in the process.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway



20 July 2016

Here is the thing

Here is the thing
about galaxies, suns, and planets in their courses
about civilizations and communities,
about people.


They all end.We all end.

The dinosaurs
vanished in a blink of the eye of the universe
but the galaxies, suns, and moons spun on alone.
Not forever.


They too will stop,
winding down in the red heat death of the universe.
The incrdible life creating energy
ending in death.


If they end,
So we end.


Until that time,
Humans can wail about the coming of the end.
That is an option our self-knowelge gives to us,
fear of future.


Birthright wasted.
Using our fear of the end as a sheild against joy,
Instead of as a catalyst into delight.
Birthright redeemed.


Time rolls on,
Ends foreseen.


But not our lives.
The time given us by the great explosion of Joy
by the energy of creation, surging life,
choices to come.




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Originally published at the Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on 18 July 2016.

29 June 2016

Creative Love

Perhaps the most powerful underlying theme in both the Old Testment and New Testament of the Christian Bible is that God pays attention to humans.

Something that never seems to be questioned is the idea that we are 'in God's eye'. In story after story, God calls us back into relationship. In the Christian mythos that narrative culminates in the sacrifice of Jesus and his inclusive story of resurrection.

God is many things in both the Old and New Testaments. From punishing avenger, to angry father-figure, through beautiful wisdom, to caring leader, to bestower of grace, and back to a distant and puzzling diety.

What God never is, is absent. People may leave God, but God never does more than distance godself (Job) or withdraw favor (David). Even when God punishes (poisonous serpents), that negative attention still shows that God is paying attention to what humans are up to.
All four of the psalms appointed for Tuesday of Proper 8 speak directly to this:
When I was in trouble, I called to the LORD;
I called to the LORD, and he answered me.
~Psalm 120:1

I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
~Psalm 121:1-2

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."
~Psalm 122:1

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.
~Psalm 123:1-2
In the new testament we only 'see' God act once. When John baptizes Jesus in Mark 1:11. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In the rest of the new testament (to the best of my memory) the actions of God are shown either through angels or though what Jesus tells us of 'his father'.

From a narrative point of view, it makes me wonder if a way of looking at the new testament as a realization from God's point-of-view that alternating between punishing and praising was not working as a way to get humans to consistently follow and learn in the way God wanted. That since humans both have a need to see to believe and very short attention spans (especially relative to God) that God needed to try a different tack to get and hold our attention.

Like Jesus, we are both part of creation and apart from it. We are affected by our environment like our animal kin but we can also make deliberate and sometimes devastating changes to it. Like God at God's most punishing, we can destroy the lives of those who are weaker (human, animal, and plant alike) but we can also (much more slowly) repair that damage and build things back up.

Jesus reminds us that being apart from creation does not absolve him (and by extension us) from a responsibility to it. He demonstrates that responsibility by following through with taking up the cross, dying, and rising again. We can honor that sacrifice by trying to be the best that God hopes for us and by remembering that while God's eye may be on the sparrow, sparrows give God nearly as much trouble as humans.


God gave up god's Old Testament anger and gave us his son in love instead. May we strive to be worthy and live up to the best of our potential and be a force for love in creation.

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All psalms quoted are from: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. New York: Church Pension Fund, 2007. PDF.

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on June 28, 2016.

17 June 2016

Facing Mortality: two years on

This is the month of the 2nd anniversary of the death of my housemate's mother.

We miss her.

The responsiblities of dealing with her estate have diminished over the past year. All the outstanding bills have been paid and accounts either closed or transferred. Our housemates goal is to close probate this year and decide if keeping her mother's house is feasible or if the on-going expense of maintaining it will be too much of a drain on both her finances and her time.

It has been very helpful for her to have had the extra time that the house being fully paid for allowed, because, while the house is small, it was very full. There is still a fair amount of things to deal with, but is basically livable now and with a big push could be cleared and staged if our housemate found she really needed to sell the property.  Our housemate celebrated this milestone by going over for a visit and using the house as a base for taking a mini-vacation for the first time since it passed into her responsiblity.

At our own house, we are down to just a few boxes of mementos that our housemate is collecting to give to her family. The junk mail diminished for a time but has seen an alarming uptick in a new variation on our housemate's mother's name through the political mailings. If we had things to do over again, I don't think we would have changed her address to ours. It would have been helpful and worth the cost to set up a post office or private mail box that could be closed when probate ended.

In my own estate planning life, I have taken the opportunity that seeing probate in action has given me and I have done the following:

  • Filled out nearly all of Eric Dewey's The Big Book of Everything
  • Installed a password vault application on my computers for a year and used it to collect information on all of the account logins that I have (a lot more than I thought). Giving myself a year to do this meant that even accounts I only use rarely got documented. I then printed out that list and put it in my estate binder
  • Updated our household address database and printed a copy for the book
  • Made a plan for updating my will. At this point I am going to wait to actually update the will until after my son turns 18. That will happen this year and will remove the need for our wills to included a guardian for him.


My next steps are:

  • Follow up on making a new will after my son becomes a legal adult
  • Review the Big Book on an annual basis and keep it up to date
  • Once I have a new will and a list of personal representatives and/or trustees give them the information on where to find our estate documents.


I would strongly encourage everyone to take time to create and update an estate plan-- and most importantly communicate that plan to the people who, either by your will or the laws of your state will be tasked with dealing with your estate.

The great thing is that once you have everything set up and organized, maintaining your documents and updating them as needed is much easier than the original work to get it all set up.

We think of our housemate's mom constantly and we miss her vibrant presence, but she really does live on in her daughter and in all of the lives that she touched.

14 June 2016

The Flesh the Word Requires

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish
~Romans 1:14
And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.
~Matthew 17:16-17
Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed;
teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the awful day.
~Hymn: Glory to thee, my God, this night
Words: Thomas Ken, 1692 Music: Tallis' Canon
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
~Luke 8:3
These are the readings (and a section from a hymn) that I pulled out of the morning and evening prayer for Monday, Proper 6. I didn't so much draw inspiration from them as they raised questions in my mind.

Why does Paul say that he is a debtor to both Greeks and barbarians?

How much does it change the meaning of that paragraph when I change between the New Revised Standard (debtor) and the Revised Standard Edition (obligation) of that passage? To me, being in debt to something or someone carries more variation in meaning than having an obligation to something or someone. I can have an obligation to make dinner or do something that ties me to a particular time or place. With a debt I can owe for learning from different traditions, for being inspired, for gratitude, for money. To be a debtor to me implies not only being tied to something like obligation but also to carry something forward into the world. If I am in debt to someone who shared an idea with me, I can't repay that debt by giving the idea back to the person I got it from. I can only pay it forward into the world.

Why does Jesus call his disciples 'faithless and perverse'? They are not the Son of God, he is.

The more I think about this passage, the more I think it represents the frustration Jesus felt with his disciples just not getting it. He has been living and traveling with them, trying to get them to understand his message of love, and they keep coming back to him for more. They are never content to trust what he has just told them (and told them and told them). Jesus has explained in every way he can that he is gods love come among us. He used metaphor, parables, and straight talk. He preached sermons, healed the sick, raised the dead, and overturned th money changers table. He has whispered and shouted. He has told and he has shown. He knows how little time he has and he's fed up with how his message keeps bouncing off of his disciples. If they don't get it, if the people he spends the most time with don't understand him and what he is trying to say, how can he expect the message to get out to the world? His despair at their obtuseness boils out as rage when, yet again, they point to him as the sole center and locus of the power and love of God.

I know why the quote from the hymn spoke to me. It is how I try to live my life-- particularly the first part of the quote: Teach me to live, that I may dread the grave as little as my bed;. I desire to live life as fully as possible. For me that includes accepting the reality of death without living in fear every day. My faith helps me do that by showing me that death is the finally community. We all belong to the group of things that die and Jesus has joined us on the journey. He not only died for us, he dies with us. He gives us the greatest gift of his presence and he does not hold himself aloof from us or our mortality.

I know also why I pulled the final quote: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. It is a passage that speaks to me not only of the hope and belief that these women had for the message of Jesus but of the recognition that a message of God's love on earth doesn't spread by itself. It requires resources and organization, it requires planning, saving, and thinking ahead. And it requires trust that he people you are giving your money, time, goods to will take your offerings and use them to reach people who need to hear that God loves them and that they are can be love made manifest.

Here is the message that and exasperated Jesus was trying to get through to his disciples. He is not always going to be there to show the way and demonstrate what needs to be done.
Mary, Joanna, and Susanna understood that they were going to need to roll up their sleeves and do the daily grind needed to provide resources to get the word out.

That word is LOVE and it takes a lot of work to get the message out in a world of fear, anxiety, and hateful anger.

The world needs more Marys, Joannas, and Susannas. Will you take up their challenge and do the work to get out the Word?

-=-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at "
Bible Gateway.
This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on June 13, 2016.

08 June 2016

Joyful Choice

I was reading an article that came across my twitter feed. It was Ramadan Etiquette Guide: How to be a Non-Muslim During the Holy Month by Asma Uddin.

As I was reading it what struck me most was the author's continual return to the idea that while the process of fasting for Ramadan was not fun, it was something she accepted with joy as a celebration of her faith.
Throughout it all, we maintain an ambiance of joy and gratitude for all that God has blessed us with, and reflect on those in this world who have been given much less.
This resonated with me because I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a person of faith and to take on disciplines, vows, and rules as a part of ones religion.
So much of what I see in the news about religion is a conflict that comes out of the idea that people of faith can somehow expect others, not of their faith, to adapt society's norms to them. Nearly every conservative branch of every faith I have been exposed to seems to want to prescribe 'one right way' of living on issues, and in particular issues that control how women act and dress and live.

It has gotten to the point that when I see a woman of any faith dressing in a way that reflects that faith I wonder at who's behest she is doing it. Is it her own personal choice, a way to demonstrate her faith to herself and to the world? Or is it forced on her by her family, her culture, or her society? (and am I falling into the trap of policing what other women wear in the process of thinking about this?)

Is she embracing it joyfully or is it a job given to her by others?

What happens to a religion when it becomes a job we are loaded down with rather than a joyful choice to be embraced? How can I tell the difference?

I think that Ms Uddin's essay shows me a way and that way is through joy.

While I was hunting up the readings for this week, I got a little lost in the daily office and ended up reading the propers for year one instead of year two, but that wrong turn led me to this:
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!
And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. (What I am saying I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool, in this boastful confidence; since many boast of worldly things, I too will boast.) ~2 Cor. 11:1, 11, 16-18
and this
And there was a man named Zacchae′us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.
~Luke 19:2-6
I don't know how it was in Zacchae′us's time but in mine, a grown man climbing a tree is not a usual sight-- in fact a golfer made the news because he climbed a tree to take a shot in a tournament.

As with Zacchae′us was willing to look foolish in front of his peers (and the golf-watching world) in order get what he needed and it was his choice to do so. No one told either of them to climb the tree in order to reach salvation. Looking potentially foolish was not an assignment they were give or a rule society told them they must follow.

People of many different faiths hold to different dietary rules, wear clothes that stand out in modern society, or take vows that set them apart in some way and frankly can make one look foolish in the eyes of the world. And they are sometimes then tempted to push those rules onto others for many reasons. But this is where religions can go wrong.

Holy foolishness should never be a job you are given. It is too heavy a burden to bear when it a received job.

But when it is a choice?

Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
~Matthew 11: 28-30

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on June 7, 2016

21 May 2016

The Path of Your Feet

Take heed to the path of your feet,
then all your ways will be sure.
~Proverbs 4:26

There is a lot of good advice in the reading from Proverbs from the Daily Office, and while I am not certain that I followed the instructions in the Book of Common Prayer for finding Tuesday's readings (these are from Year 2: Proper 2 Week of the Sunday closest to May 18) I am glad to have stumbled upon this passage.

I am definitely guilty of having not 'taken heed to the path of my feet.' When I was six years old, I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and broke my left arm. I'm certain that nearly every person has a story from their life where their attention was distracted and they ran into, fell over, or fell off of something. Being rather clumsier than average, I have a long litany of inattention injuries.

As I have gotten older, and it has taken me longer and longer to recover from accidents I have become much more interested in prevention.

How do I keep from getting hurt in the first place?

My reflexive response to injury is to become passive. To stop doing anything for fear of re-injury. However, I have discovered, again through aging, that staying still for fear of injury can cause damage in and of itself. Muscle mass fades, joints freeze up and range of motion vanishes, leaving me in worse shape than before the accident.

Last year I went to a physical therapist for recurring back injuries. She checked various things and walked me through some basic exercises. My back was hurting the day I went in and I was very hesitant to try anything. She was patient and supportive and I was shocked to discover how well I could move after working (carefully) through the motions with her. Even better she gave me advice on how to prevent further injury which has been incredibly effective. Now I only wish I had talked to my doctor and gotten a physical therapy consultation years ago instead of just suffering through.

Keep hold of instruction, do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
~Proverbs 4:13

I have received instruction and I guard it. I have learned that a little of the right movement is better than too much stillness. I have learned not to wait out my pain and suffer in silence. I have learned that too little action is as damaging as too much. Most of all I have learned to take heed and listen to my pain but not to wallow in it or let it become the center of my life.

All that is true of my physical body is true of my spiritual self. Stewing in injury and outrage or becoming passive in the face of pain do not lead to healing or revelation. Daily exercise of mind and spirit are just as important as that of the body and we are seeing more and more research that shows that physical exercise helps the mind and spirit and mental exercise helps the body. As my housemate recently said: 'I don't know if I am dancing more because I feel better, or if I feel better because I am dancing more.'

Find your sure path, take heed of your feet and see where they take you.

16 March 2016

Getting it Wrong

One thing both the old and new testament share is the idea that god is constantly calling the people back into relationship.

In the Old Testament we have several examples of the people not only falling away from their relationship with god, but becoming whiny and entitled and complaining about things that they used to be thankful to have.

Today's Old Testament reading is one of those moments-- only this time god is fed up and sends serpents in to bite the people.

I have a hard time with this story on a literal level. It is difficult for me to believe that an all-knowing god would think that poisoning the people would bring about the attitude change god desired.

However, on a human level, I can understand the impulse represented in this story. I know I've at least day-dreamed about showing someone who was being (to my mind) whiny and entitled what a really bad day looks like. Sometimes when I hurt all I want to do is hit back at the world.

It helps me understand this story if I think of those times. The times when anger-- especially anger at someone I deeply love-- blinded me to the long term consequences of my actions. For in this story, god gains short-term control over the people. He has Moses make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole and says that everyone that looks at it will survive the poison and live and they do.

I say short-term control because just a few chapters later in Numbers the people drift away again into the worship of other gods. They feast and worship and lose interest in their relationship with their god.

God feels this loss even more keenly and things get messy in a very Old Testament way quickly. I can't help but think that it is in part because the people were wondering if they really could trust a god who would poison them to make a point.

We all do rash things from time to time. We are imperfect, limited beings. We are carried along in the stream of time and anything from fear of loss to exhaustion to growing pains can cause even saints (maybe especially saints?) to lash out.

This story shows me that giving in to that impulse to share pain by inflicting it damages relationships and it damages me. It destroys the trust needed in deep relationships. That is even more true when the power in the relationship is unbalanced. God to people, parent to child, boss to worker-- if I have the power and I use it to strike out at those who depend on me then I shouldn't be surprised if they wander off and find more fulfilling relationships, or at least more interesting idols.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-


Bible references are from the NRSV on Bible Gateway.