18 February 2019

Walking the Walk

I was watching the Netfilx show Tidying Up based on Marie Kondo's books and saw a section on working with kids to go through toys and it reminded me of lessons I learned from working with my daughter on cleaning her room when she was little.

1. If she went through her toys, books and stuffed animals and wanted to get rid of something that I was attached to, then I had to own that attachment and move the item to my space instead of requiring her to keep it when she was ready to let it go.

2. It was always unpredictable what she would keep and what she would want to get rid of and I needed to learn not to assume that what I thought she would value was what she would value. It was important to let go of my preconceptions and let her process and choices stand on their own.

3. (and an over-arching theme of the first two) I had to let go of my own ego when it got in the way of her process. Even at a young age, she knew if she was ready to let something go. Any time I second guessed her I risked undermining her developing clear ideas of how she wanted her space and what was important to her. She knew, and her choices were right for her.

In short, I had to learn to walk my own talk. I wanted her to learn how to clean up after herself, how to maintain her own space, and how to manage her possessions in a way that served her.

I came to the task of teaching her with preconceived notions of what she would want to keep based on my own experiences and my own emotional needs. I ended up learning a lot more than I ever taught.

In one of today's lessons from the Daily Office Lectionary we have a reading from John:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.
~1 John 1:3-11

It is difficult to walk my talk at times. I may think that I want to bring my daughter up to be independent, to be able to make her own decisions; but in that moment, when she was little, it was very hard to realize that if I really wanted to teach her those lessons I would have to let go of my own ego, my own idea of the Right Way to clean, or to live.

If I sabotaged her process by telling her that she had to keep a certain book or toy, then I would be crippling the very independence I hoped to foster.

That was a very hard lesson to learn.

So, in today's reading we have a simple instruction: look for people who walk their talk when it comes to following in Jesus's footsteps.

I would say that the process of learning to have one's ideals match one's actions is lifelong. It's very easy to think about living into the words and life of Jesus and a lot harder to actually do the work to make it happen.

As a kid, I used to wonder why we said the confession of sins every week. How much trouble could I get into in one week? I tried to be a nice person and not be actively mean to anyone, why would I need to confess?

As an adult I realized that the ritual of confession does more than wipe my slate clean for the week. It, and the entire communion service, serve to remind us of the things Jesus asks us to do in our daily life. The process of reading the lessons, saying the prayers, making confession, and celebrating the eucharist brings us back to the essentials and reminds us of the fundamental relationship between us and God.

Learning to live into the ideals that Jesus gave us, is like me trying to teach my daughter how to clean and maintain her space. We come to it with preconceived notions, with our own egos, with the desire to be right.

Letting go of all of our egos and expectations is an on-going process. Having a ritual that reminds us of the ideals we are trying to manifest in our lives can help us more consistently walk in the footsteps of Jesus and learn the lessons he tried to teach while he was on earth.

If we have drifted away from the two great commandments, if our work out in the world has ground us down, then coming to church or engaging in deliberate ritual of prayer can be a touchstone, a way to reset our relationship with God and the world.

It acts a reminder that our goal is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to walk his walk.


Bible citations are from Bible Gateway using the NRSV text.

09 February 2019

Who Gathers the Outcasts

The Old Testament reading for the Friday in week 4 of Epiphany spoke very strongly to me. I am used to thinking of the Old Testament as the historical documents of Christianity. They inform my understanding of the history and tradition that Jesus and his immediate followers would have been exposed to, but they are not the focus of my own faith. That said, the inclusiveness of this passage, startled me:
Thus says the Lord:      Maintain justice, and do what is right,for soon my salvation will come,      and my deliverance be revealed.Happy is the mortal who does this,      the one who holds it fast,who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,      and refrains from doing any evil.Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,      "The Lord will surely separate me from his people";and do not let the eunuch say,      "I am just a dry tree."For thus says the Lord:To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,      who choose the things that please me      and hold fast my covenant,I will give, in my house and within my walls,      a monument and a name
      better than sons and daughters;I will give them an everlasting name      that shall not be cut off.And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,      to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
      and to be his servants,all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,      and hold fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain,      and make them joyful in my house of prayer;their burnt offerings and their sacrifices      will be accepted on my altar;for my house shall be called a house of prayer      for all peoples.Thus says the Lord God,      who gathers the outcasts of Israel,I will gather others to them      besides those already gathered.
~Isaiah 56: 1-8
What struck me the most were the particular examples used of 'outsiders' who could be gathered in were eunuchs and foreigners. From the context in the poem, both groups are 'outcasts of Israel'. Now God says that the eunuchs will be given: "a monument and a name better than sons and daughters;" and the foreigners: [God] will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar."

Both groups are assured of not being separated or cut off* from God's people as long as they keep the sabbath and the covenant and refrain from doing evil.

I wonder if part of the reason they would have a 'name better than sons or daughters' is because, presumably, they chose the relationship with God and a commitment to the covenant. Unlike the children of Israel, who were raised in the faith and learned from birth all of the rituals and rules of the faith. The outsiders bring other traditions and life experience with them, and yet still choose to bind themselves to this particular God and the way of life that entails.

I was raised as an Episcopalian, not quite from the cradle since I was a toddler before my mom got around to baptizing me, and other than a brief experiment with Tarot Cards when I was in college, I've been an Episcopalian my entire life. To some extent, I have always been 'in'^. At least, I've always known the rituals, what books to use, when to stand, when to come up to the altar, etc. There has never been a time when the ritual life of the church was foreign to me. However, I think that, similar the way that learning a second language can enrich my understanding of my first language, coming to an understanding of God and with God later in life can enrich that relationship.

The closest I have come to that feeling, is to attend Anglican worship services in other countries and in languages that I am not fluent in. The structure of the worship that I am familiar with is still there, but all of the little details are different. The cues I am used to aren't there and it changes the experience of worship for me. Nearly every time, it has made the experience both more powerful and awesome. It has given me a window into the massive mystery that is God, in a way that going to my home church did not.

For me, this reading has a similar effect. Just when I think I've got God in a box and that I understand everything about my faith and relationship with God; God unfolds another aspect of gods-self and enfolds me in a Mystery.

For all of the complexity of God, the relationships are always simple: Love and inclusion are at the heart of them.
*Apparently either the translator or the original writer couldn't resist a little word play.
^With the exception that as a queer/bi person there have been times when I had to stand up for my place in 'my' faith.

© 2019 Kristin Fontaine