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.


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


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