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.

-=-=-=-=-

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.


-=-=-=-=-

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.

10 February 2018

Wanting What We Do Not Have

I read through the service of Morning Prayer for Friday at Mission Clare and found that the part of the reading that caught my eye from from the Old Testament.

And the Lord stood beside him and said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
~Genesis 28:13-14

There are multiple times in the Old testament where God promises to spread the offspring of the person God is talking to across the face of the earth.

Back when the stories of the bible were told instead of written and even when the Old and New Testaments were compiled in written form, rewritten, and edited the human population on earth was much lower than it is today.

Today, would being told to 'be fruitful and multiply' really be a blessing?

In year one of the common era the entire human population is estimated to be between 150 million to 300 million depending on the source used.

For reference, in 2017 the entire population of Russia was estimated at 144 million (almost the low end of the year one range) and the population of the United States was estimated at 324 million (the high end of the range for year one). The world population was 7.6 billion or 25.3 times the size of the larger estimate of the human population in year one.

That means that for every one person in year one there are 25+ people today. So the place Issac stood when he dreamed of the ladder would have 25 of his descendants roaming around.

From the frequency with which the idea of one's decedents covering the ear occurs in the Old Testament it is clear something that the men conventing with God desire greatly. None of them say to God, "perhaps covering the earth with humans is not such a great plan" or "what will we all eat if there are so many of us?" or "what happens when we do cover the earth, and the population keeps growing?"

More humans, and in particular more humans who are their direct descendants seems to be a good thing from their point of view.

I wonder why?

From my perspective the human impact on the earth and all of God's other creatures has not been good overall. We have driven creatures like the woolly mammoth to extinction by over hunting. We have destroyed other creatures by eliminating their habitat, killing them for their fur or feathers, or introducing invasive species into their habitat who either eat them or out-compete them.

What benefit did Abraham, Issac, and Jacob see to an expanding world population of humans? Was it just their own posterity? Was it that they saw more humans as creating a better life for everyone (more hands to make work easier)?

These thoughts make me think of two songs that are in my music library. The first is by Sinead O'Conner and the second by U2. Both have similarities to psalms. Ms O'Conner's song "I do not want what I have not got" reminds me of plain-sung psalms in church both in the plaintive melody and the repetition in the lyrics. The song by U2, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" starts with the idea of following an individual to find something and grows to thoughts of a more universal nature.

Ms O'Conner's song has a sad feeling to it, almost a sense of loss and longing that contradict the words that say she has what she needs. However, she does focus on the idea that what she currently has is good and has value.

U2's song has an upbeat melody, implying that even though they have not yet found what they are looking for, they might some day.

Both reference ideas from the bible in their lyrics.

It seems to me that wanting what we have not got is a part of the human condition. There is the old adage that "The grass is always greener on the other side..." However, once we get to the other side the way back might look better than it did when we left.

I wonder what Issac would think of the world if he could see it today. Would he still want his descendants to cover the earth like the dust does? Would he rejoice in our numbers? Or, would the world he grew up in seem like a treasure he had lost among the sea of humanity that live in modern times?

There is no way to know.

What we can do is acknowledge our human tenancy to want what we do not have and to not fully value what we do have. This can lead to greed and avarice as we see in the story of Exodus and throughout the bible. If we have God, why would we need idols of gold?

Instead of looking to the new and novel, and wishing we had that we can look at what we have now: our bread, our wine, each other, our faith and rejoice in them.


-=-=-=-=-
Song: I do not want what I have not got by Sinead O'Conner (lyrics here) Song: I still haven't found what I'm looking for by U2.

All bible quotes are from either 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

27 January 2018

Taste and See

Reading just the snippets of text provided by the Lectionary or the Daily Office gives me the chance to focus my attention on a small part of the bible. This frees up my mind to look closely at the text instead of skimming over entire sections.

However it can also be confusing or remove important context from my view. In the readings for Friday, 26 January about half of Genesis 17 is used for the reading.

The first part starts out clearly enough-- we see God telling Abraham about God's plan to give Sarah a son and Abraham's reaction (verses 15-22).

In the second half of the reading we have Abraham suddenly deciding to circumcise all the males in his household including his 13-year-old son Ishmael and all of the slaves in his house.

The reading as presented gives no context for Abraham's actions. The text says that God had said for him to do this, but that instruction is not included in this section so it seems to come out of the blue.

I ended up skipping back to the beginning of chapter 17 in order to find out what was going on.

This is not a bad side-effect of reading a small portion of the text. For me, the bible can be a bit mind-numbing to read. If I try to approach it like a modern book my eyes start to glaze over. Reading a small snippet and then expanding my reading to text on either side helps me engage with that text. I go in search of answers questions the original text has raised instead of passively absorbing the words as I go.

In the text for Friday reading just the text provided encouraged me to read further and to really think about what I was reading.

I ended up wondering about the choice the writer of this section of Genesis (and all the editors who came after) made to focus on the idea that the child-to-come would be first and foremost Sarah's child. Several times in this short passage the wording points out that the child that God will make a covenant with is the child that Sarah will bear, Abraham is almost an afterthought. If anything, Abraham spends his time in this passage pleading that Ishmael, his son by Hagar, not be forgotten.

And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!”
~Genesis 17:18

Ishmael was Abraham and Sarah's idea and solution to the problem of their barrenness. God does not accept their solution. I find it interesting that the child God wants to make a covenant with must be the child of both Abraham and Sarah. Sarah must be included as far as God is concerned. God is willing to listen to Abraham's plea and to make a place of Ishmael but God's focus is on the coming child by Sarah.

I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’
~Genesis 17:16

If I had read through all of Genesis in one go, I might have skimmed over this passage. I would have missed the opportunity to think about the exact words used and to come up with my own interpretation.

A year or three from now, I might re-read this section of text and come up with a new interpretation, a new understanding of the words presented for that day's reading.

Like a rich dessert, I find it helpful to take the Old and New Testament in small bites.

The interest, the joy even, of reading a short passage and really thinking about my own thoughts and feelings about that passage and seeing how they change over time as I learn and grow.


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All bible quotes are from either 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

06 January 2018

Hero of the Moment

In the readings for Friday's Daily Office three of the major figures of the bible are mentioned. First, in the Old Testament reading we have the introduction of Noah. Then, in the New Testament, we have a mention of Moses. Finally in the Gospel we have Jesus himself in doing his first official miracle-- changing water into wine.

All three of them share, not only mythic status, but a life of ups and downs in their relationships to their followers. They are heroes one moment and goats the next.

Noah listens to God, builds the ark and saves a selection of birds, animals, and humans. He demonstrates his faith. However, once the boat is empty and the vineyard is planted he drinks to excess and ends up at odds with his youngest son, who has seen him at his worst and gossiped about it with his brothers. He divides his own family into slaves (Ham's son Canaan), masters (Shem), and people to 'make space for' (Japheth). A fine dysfunctional ending to a story of a man who saved his family from a flood, only to wind up dividing them after giving into his own weakness.

In the New Testament reading Moses and the disobedient people who followed him are referenced. I was reminded that Moses, as a result of his own disobedience, was not allowed to enter the promised land. It was his successor Josuha who lead the people across the Jordan, leaving Moses buried in Moab.

Finally we have Jesus who initially refuses his mother's request that he help out, but who changes his mind. However, he uses the stone water jars that are intended to hold water for the Jewish rites of purification. I wonder what the owner of the jars though when he found them full of wine? Was he grateful for the wine or dismayed that the jars were used. Would they have to be cleaned after such a use? Would Jesus go from hero of the hour to someone who made a lot of work for other people? As he goes on in his ministry we see him struggle, like Moses, with recalcitrant disciples and women who call on him to be even more than he intended.

This past summer I saw the movie Dunkirkin the theater. One of the things I kept noticing throughout were moments of heroism that went unnoticed by those around the hero. It occurred to me that being a hero is not a permanent state, it is the action of a moment and after that moment has past the next decision needs to be made.

This is much like Moses and the people who followed him into the Exodus: one day they affirm their relationship to God and their determination to make it through the desert, the next they are dancing around a golden calf because they think they have been deserted by both God and Moses.

After seeing the 'Dunkirk', I stumbled upon the saying: Failure isn't fatal and success isn't final. Which seemed to encapsulate the feeling that the movie had evoked.

For some of Moses's followers failure to follow God was fatal. But in most cases in our lives failure isn't fatal, failure gives us a chance to change and make new decisions in the future.

The other half of the saying: 'success isn't final.' is a reminder that a moment of success is not permanent, we can fall just as easily as we rose. We see that in Noah-- he succeeded in bringing his family and the animals he was charged with saving safely through the flood-- only to experience disgrace and loss while rebuilding his world.

Jesus has several failures, both of his own faith in his ability to carry through his work and in his ability to communicate his vision of God's Kingdom to his own followers. However, he persists through those failures to redeem us all at the end through his sacrifice. He finds success and resurrection through his choice to persist and hold to God's plan for him.

All three of these figures had tough rows to hoe and none of them made it through their complicated relationships with God, their followers, and their own understanding of their lives without falling and failing. They had their moments of being the hero and doing the right thing at the right time. Then that moment passed and they had to make their next choice.

So it is with all of us. Hero or Failure is not a permanent status while we live. We will have moments when we rise to the occasion and moments when we fall on our face.

There may be times when we, like Jesus, are tempted to say that our hour has not yet come. It is work to take action, to find the jars and fill them with water. It would be easier to put things off to another day. Heroes become so by choosing to act, by making a choice to do. They may still fail but failing to act guarantees failure.

Noah, Moses, and Jesus, in their most heroic moments choose to act, to accept the job God had given them to do in the moment. They may have failed to be heroes in every moment but they got the bulk of their jobs done. Noah saved his family and the animals that God asked him to. Moses got his people out of Egypt and to the banks of the promised land. Jesus consented to death on the cross and brought God's grace to us all through his death and resurrection.

Our own role in God's creation is likely much less grand but no less important. Our own doubts and fears link us to these great ones who failed at times to be all they could be in the eyes of God. When we fall we can follow their example and try again to find our relationship with God and the right choice to make in the next moment.


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

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf