Our Kiwi friend Bosco has a very busy thread up asking some very thought-provoking questions about the Eucharist in terms of our brave new virtual world; namely, "Can a "virtual Eucharist" be possible?"
I have become very intrigued by the responses on the thread, not so much whether or not the questions he poses can be answered definitively, but because to even discuss the questions requires us to ponder the definition of a "spiritual community" and the nature of the Eucharist as a communal "meal."
The bulk of the discussion gets tied up in a lot of details about various denominational theologies and canons, transubstantiation, and the like..."trees" rather than the "forest." The beauty of that is, of course, that you can spend hours and hours asserting your version of the details is "correct" because none of these doctrinal positions can be scientifically "proved." You can spend more hours
But beyond the "trees" come larger questions about the forest itself. What can we learn about "community" in our virtual world of internet social networking, blogs, and Twitter?
I think one of the things I am learning is that as much stock as we put in "physical presence", whether it is ourselves in our community of friends, or the presence of Christ in bread and wine, there is something very real that transcends physical presence. Maybe "physical presence" is not all it is cracked up to be.
Don't get me wrong; I would not trade my "live-time" real life for a totally virtual one. But I am becoming more and more convinced that my virtual life teaches me very important lessons about my real time one.
On my blog, I retain semi-anonymity. Those who wish to know who I am in real life, well...it is not hard to figure it out. Those who do not, may need to keep me faceless, body-less, genderless, and socio-economic-less in order to hear what I am saying better.
On Facebook, I have FB friends whom I've never met. I would enjoy meeting them, but if we never met, that would be okay too. I feel as if I've known them in many of the ways I know my real friends. In some ways, I can be a better "me" to them than I can my real friends because I am not having to process their body language, gestures, or other physical things that can trigger my own "emotional hooks." In understanding that, I learn better how not to let these things "hook" my own wounds in the presence of my live-time friends and learn to interact with them better and in a more holy way.
On Twitter, I have to say what needs to be said clearly and with no misunderstanding in 140 characters or less! I have to "cut through the BS" as we say in these parts.
All of these virtual environments have new ways to "miscommunicate" as well. That is a problem at times. Sometimes that LACK of body language or physical presence causes miscommunication.
What it all does, I believe, is it challenges us all to become people of a higher awareness as to "how we communicate." If we are challenged to communicate better with each other, perhaps it can also improve how we communicate with God, or how God communicates with us. This challenge is a tall one. It's both scary and exciting. But I am grateful I live in an era where I can watch it unfold!
Our Kiwi friend Bosco has a very busy thread up asking some very thought-provoking questions about the Eucharist in terms of our brave new virtual world; namely, "Can a "virtual Eucharist" be possible?"
(Psalm 8:3,4) "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"
There's no doubt, in June and early July the icon of the season for me is the lightning bug. (Fireflies, to some of y'all.) In August and early September, I replace it with meteors in the night sky. But in those long days of the beginning of summer, when it takes so long to get dark (about 8:30/quarter to nine in these parts) the lightning bugs always start showing before the stars.
When I was a kid, I used to love to catch them. Fruit jars were my collection device of choice, with a few nail holes driven through the lid. Of course, you always had to put a couple blades of grass in with them (like somehow that would magically make them feel "at home") and more than one lightning bug has been sacrificed at the altar of childhood. You never believe the jar of bugs "won't keep" until the next night until you actually kept one outside overnight and awoke to find the bugs not only "not flashing" but quite dead. There were always the "runaways" who would be trying to crawl out of the jar once you opened the lid and you accidentally squished it. Of course, the tails of the accidentally squished one made dandy "pretend rings."
The other night, when I was walking right after it turned dark, I was treated to a wonderful sight. It was just dark enough the stars had come out. Literally dozens of lightning bugs were right at the tops of the hay in my hayfield, at the interface between earth and sky. It was like the stars had come down themselves to greet me. The yellow of their tails seemed to blend right into the white of the stars in the horizon, blinking almost in rhythm to the twinkling of the stars.
There are far more breathtaking spots on Earth, but I don't believe I would trade a trip to any of them for a moment like that, within the confines of my own pasture land.
"My" land. What a misnomer. Sure, there is a deed filed with the courthouse that says I own it, but the best things on it, I can never hope to own. I don't own the owl who hangs out there. I don't own the hawks that fly overhead, nor the quail that dart through my right-of-way, nor the fox who slinks around there. I don't even own the lightning bugs.
I dearly love Tobias. His posts always make me think "beyond myself" in ways I'm not inclined to do without a spur in my flanks. (I also hope he knows I love him despite the fact I teased him for having a "nerd pocket" in a picture on Facebook, complete with notebook and more than one writing utensil.) He enters a very tricky topic, the concept of Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) here and here. I was simply struck by not just the variety of opinion, but with the care and thoughtfulness of the posters on either side of the topic. Very few came off as "overly strident" to me.
I think I have finally reached a conclusion on this topic. The short version is, "Parishes should be allowed to deal with it either way, as long as their way of "dealing with it" is not overly pushy and the "rules" are presented in a way that is couched in the way of an invitation with no strings attached."
First, I'll admit my own "gut" viewpoint on the topic.
I admit that I personally am okay with CWOB. I guess the main thing to me is that the Eucharist is such a special object of mystery, that I believe there is nothing we humans can do to it that can "harm" it. I do not believe giving it to an unbaptized person "cootie-fies" it in any way. Perhaps, quite the opposite. I believe it could very well change that unbaptized person with powers we can't even imagine.
I'll steal from Erika's comment on Tobias' first post on the topic to validate my feelings...
"A personal story: my 11 year old daughter had been very ill for a long time and doctors seemed to be unable to work out what was wrong. One Sunday in church she suddenly stood up with the rest of us and went forward to receive Communion. My wonderful priest must have seen something in her expression and just gave the bread and the wine to her, knowing she was not confirmed.
5 days later, she was diagnosed with leukaemia and started a 3 year intense treatment programme.
I have no idea what made her come forward at that moment, she cannot put it in words either. But I like to think it was a clear call from God assuring her that he was there and that he would be there with her in what was to follow.
God breaks through the barriers we try to erect, even and especially when those barriers are there for good reason. Maybe we should trust him more than we do and try to regulate access to him a little less. After all, the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden, knows who truly comes to meet him and who doesn’t, whatever membership badges the church may have bestowed on them. "
Put simply, I believe God can transform people (including the unbaptized) through sacraments. I believe Jesus would never have turned anyone down at the hypothetical rail.
Now, with that said, I believe that there is a certain amount of respect that should be given to consecrated elements. Not that people can put cooties on it, or profane it, but simply that part of appreciating its mystery can be learned through an awareness of it that comes from a "training process." I would never want to give up confirmation classes, despite the fact that my first time through as a 13 year old in a confirmation class was somewhat disastrous. But perhaps we need to change the focus. Confirmation maybe should not be focused on "getting the treat" but as a level of understanding of a bigger picture. If an expectation of baptism or confirmation is part of a parish's understanding of Eucharistic worship, it should still be "inviting" even if you would not be a "wafer-getter."
I'll steal from Kevin M. from Tobias' original post to make that point...
"Personally, (if I were a priest) I don't think I would refuse communion to someone who came forward for it. However, if I knew the person had not been baptized, I'd talk to him or her afterwards about considering being baptized.
I think I'd also put something like this in the bulletin.
"All are welcome to participate in out worship and fellowship. All are welcome to approach the altar of the Lord. All those baptized into the Body of Christ are welcome to receive communion in the Body and Blood of Christ. All those not baptized are welcome to receive a blessing and assurance of God's love, and all those desiring baptism are welcome to speak to a priest about it. All are welcome."
It's a little wordy, but I think it strikes the right balance between giving the expectations but also emphasizing that all are welcome in the church."
Honestly, I can see this both ways and can be okay with it. I have a huge respect for consecrated elements, simply because of what they mean to me. But I will be the first to admit this was "learned" behavior. My problems as a 13 year old in Confirmation class had nothing to do with that; my problem was I asked too many and too tough of questions to be handled in a setting with a class of other 13 year olds, and because I WAS 13 years old, I was rather...um...blunt in how I handled the criticism!
Now, with that said, either option has a caveat for "harm."
In CWOB, the "harm" is that the "unsure" or the one who simply does not feel personally fit for communion, by whatever means their own brain determines "fit", ends up self-segregating. That person is noticed for NOT going to the rail.
In requiring baptism for communion, the "harm" is overt "rules-based exclusion" a la the Pharisees, calling someone out, chiding them, saying "no" in a non-loving way. A loving "No" is not wrong.
I think the defining moment for me to make me decide the Eucharist was bigger than this argument was Lee Davenport's cyberfuneral that was held after his real funeral. We could all discuss/debate/argue for days whether Lee's cyberfuneral had a "real" Eucharist, or whether an Internet-live-time-consecrated Triscuit and dollup of Winking Owl Merlot constituted "consecrated elements." But I know in my heart that was one of the most "real" trips to the rail I have taken in my lifetime. Whether you believe it or not, I simply don't care. The only thing I would care about is if you had the 'nads to tell me that I did something "wrong" or that my soul was in peril for thinking it. THEN, we'd have a scrap!
The bottom line, though, is this can work either way, and perhaps our true duty in this, however we see it personally, or in a parish, is, because of our OWN Baptismal Covenant, to transmit "what the Eucharist is all about" in a loving, inviting way. The Eucharist is bigger than all of us, and no human alive can control or bind its power. Period.
(WARNING: Graphic news footage)
The word on Daily Kos is that the young woman shot to death in Tehran in this video was named Neda--"Voice." Her death certainly speaks volumes in a country where women have no voice. Her father is begging, in Farsi, for her to open her eyes. Unfortunately, they are open with the stare of death.
I got this link from my former student Hamid.
Hamid is here in the US, making a good life for himself. One sister lives in Australia. But the bulk of the rest of his relatives still live in Tehran.
When he sent me the e-mail, he had added, "I can not take it anymore.... this could have been my sister....."
Hamid has not heard from any of his relatives in Iran for a day or so now. He reported to me that the government "has been shooting down the cellphone towers, internet, and landline services." I know some people are still getting out on the ground on Twitter.
I have known half a dozen or so Iranian medical students well over the years. I know this much--1979 is still in their minds if they were alive then, or it is in their family's collective minds if they were too young to remember "The Revolution", as the all call it. The politics don't matter--they remember the bloodshed. They remember death. They remember the loss of their relatives.
I'll admit something...there is a part of me when some country in the Middle East starts up, goes, "Oh, hell, not again," and can have a tendency to be dismissive. But I can't be dismissive of this. Neda has seen to it. So has Hamid, who was one of my favorite medical students over the years, and who I know is praying his socks off for God to be with his family in these hours of fear in Tehran. It doesn't matter to me that his prayers are Muslim ones. I just know that in these next few days, my prayers will mix with his. If you have a chance, please remember Hamid's family over the next few days.
(Jesus Pez Dispenser courtesy of A Little Leaven)
Well, it all started from a thread at Elizabeth's place. Here's an excerpt from her post:
So, I was having this conversation with a friend who was very concerned about the finances of his church.
He was anxious about how they were going to balance the church budget. How to cut expenses? Where to begin? How do you define the 'non-essentials' in a church budget and what are they?
Turns out, that last question was a real humdinger!
He was trying to justify cutting the Outreach line item. That's the first place he turned with his red pen.
Really? I asked. You would start to balance the budget by first cutting Outreach?
Yeah, he says. You know. Like when you're on an airplane. The flight attendant always says In the event of an emergency place the oxygen mask on yourself first and then care for any dependent children or adults.
Well, I say, why not just cut the rector's position? I mean, except for Sunday and some sacramental acts and, perhaps, and a few pastoral emergencies, everything else can be done by volunteers. At the very least, you can cut his position in half and save yourself a ton of money.
Horrified, he says . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Are you ready for this?). . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . He says, "Whaaa? . . . Well. . . . that would be like . . . . . .
. . . (okay, here it is, swear to God this is true) . . . . . . .
. . . . . having an ice cream truck without a driver."
(A few moments of silence to let the words and images sink in).
Not "a ship without a captain."
Not, "a plane without a pilot."
Not, "a train without a conductor."
AN ICE CREAM TRUCK WITHOUT A DRIVER.
Really? I ask. Is that what you think about church and your rector?
Yes, he brightens. Of course. I go to church once a week for a spiritual treat. It picks me up. It's very important to me. It makes my whole week.
I realize that he's telling me the truth. From his heart.
I sort of stared at her post a while, and a lot of responses popped into my head...many of them with words containing 4 letters.
I had commented to her on the thread a little about my own realizations that she and her priestly peers are not simply "Eucharistic Pez Dispensers" (Hence the wonderful photo above...).
Then some other things came to mind.
Is this what people really want in their "religion?" A sweet dollop of junk food? Little pellets of Jesus candy?
It gives me those moments of "Maybe I'm all wet, here." There's a big new popular church in town that has four "campuses" (CAMPUSES? Ok, so I can be an "eternal spiritual college student?" Uh....um....). They say things on their web site like:
"We work hard at being relevant and having good bands, messages, videos, etc, but in the end, it all comes back to the simple moment that goes on between you and God, one on one."
"(We) made the decision to tighten the focus on “seekers”...to find a neutral environment that would be less intimidating. We decided to “get uncomfortable” so that others would feel “more comfortable.”
Maybe people really do want it all to be a treat. Or at least think they do.
I'm going to try to be fair here. I really do think those of us in the "liturgical tradition" don't do a really great job of seeming relevant. We do love our connection with the "ancient," and "ancient" is not cool. I am sure these more or less "non-denominational" churches have people in them who are truly spiritual people. But I also wonder how many people come in, enjoy the entertainment, and call it good for the week, with little thought the rest of the week. I wonder how many of them get "their crises solved for them" in terms of the counseling they get. I wonder how many people are begging for beef stew and realize they are being handed ice cream week after week. Most importantly, I wonder if they never disconnect "feeling close to God" with "feeling good."
I have two thoughts creeping in my brain. One is that some of the times I have actually felt closest to God emerged from my despair. The other is that in the middle of all this vocal and glitzy praise, this image of God looking down and going, "Ok, ok, so you love me...but when are y'all gonna shut up and LISTEN to me?"
It was the phrase "neutral environment" that really made me swallow hard. Neutral? What's "neutral?" ALL of the environment belongs to God. I'm assuming that they mean, "No stained glass windows, no churchy stuff, no crucifixes or crosses on the wall," stuff like that. But the "church" is not a building. It's the whole world. It's me alone in my yard with the chiminea and a fire. It's praying for those on my Facebook status updates. There IS no "neutral environment."
I have a funny prayer about this...
I pray that people tire of ice cream.
I pray that the sacraments become more than Pez to people.
But most of all, oddly enough, I pray that these big "seeker-centered, neutral environment" churches do bring in a lot of people...and that maybe that some of them, after they have an entryway to God, they come to realize of their own accord over time, with God's help, that they would like to "graduate" and leave the structured confines of their "campus" for a deeper, more inward brand of faith.
I loathe "sheep rustlers," but I have made a lifelong habit of "taking in strays." I think about my own journey that brought me to my own church. I pretty much wandered in like a stray dog, turned around three times, plopped down on the carpet, then looked up and went, "So when do we eat?" So rather than grumble at what I don't like about "church entertainment", or the whole mega-church praise thing, I think instead I will pray about the blessings of taking in strays. There are always going to be people who tire of big and glitzy, and maybe I just need to be more aware of my own skills in discerning those people, and being welcoming in an authentic way to share what has become "meat and potatoes" to me!
(Photo nicked from http://www.argophysics.com/dwyer//coffee/index.htm)
Uh...in plain English, "Blessed are You, Lord God of the Universe, creator of coffee."
This morning is a day why I am realizing why many of us regard coffee as "The 8th Sacrament."
One of the things I love about summer Saturday mornings is that I love to sit in the dewy early morning of my yard, with the chirping birds, and the wind and the sun and the clouds and the outdoor noises, and my morning coffee.
Have you ever noticed just how more powerful, how more...um...divine?...coffee smells outside, whether it is on a camping trip, or standing outside, or just any outdoor activity you want to name? Those beans just seem to emanate a smell that is literally miscible with the outdoors.
Then there is the taste of it outside. Why is it that coffee seems richer, fuller, more perfect, when consumed outside? But it does.
My walking buddy A. and I were talking about "blessings" the other day. A. is Jewish, and fairly observant at that, when it comes to his daily prayers. We were joking the other day about how there "is a 'Baruch' for everything." (The one we liked in particular was the blessing for people who look unusual...it's basically, "Blessed are You, Lord God of the Universe, who makes diversity."
Well, if the ancient Hebrews had known what coffee was, they would have blessed it.
As for me, I am truly addicted to the stuff. If I don't have some by 7:30 every morning, I will have a tremendous headache. My usual time for my first cup is 6:15 a.m. I make it when the dogs wake me up at six, and then take the dogs out. I return to my first cup. That first swallow, that first gulp, is a rush I cannot describe. I hate to admit it, but if someone put the choice in my head at 6:15 a.m. of "Orgasm? Or coffee?" I'd pick the coffee.
But coffee makes me realize the power of blessings in small packages, and in things ordinary. Thanks be to God for the day some prehistoric South Americans looked at a coffee tree and said, "Hey, let's dry those beans and grind them up and pour hot water over it and drink that stuff!"
Ok, I am now up to John 8 in my slow struggle through the book of John. Chapters 7 and 8 have been incredibly slow going for me; the "Tabernacle discourse" seems soooooo circular at times.
But, hey, let’s start off this week with one of my “favorite mysteries in the Bible,” John 8:5-6:
“Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”
I sure hope that when I finally get to have a conversation with Jesus, he has a “Frequently Asked Questions about me” sheet, and this one is on it, or else I’ll just have to ask him myself. I have always wondered what he wrote on the ground that caused the crowd to re-think stoning the woman caught in adultery.
I don’t even speculate what he might have written. I do have my “flip answer”, though, given the fact two Very Big Somethings are missing in this story...I like to joke that maybe he wrote...
“Where’s her husband, and where’s the other guy?”
Have you ever noticed in this story that neither the husband nor the lover are nowhere to be seen?
If you look in Leviticus, Lev. 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”
Ok, so where’s the guy?
Also, this story is “early in the morning.” Where’s the husband? Did he catch her? Is he trumping something up? Is he out of town? Are the Pharisees trumping something up because she smarted off to them or they just don’t like her? Did they raid her house? What’s up here?
There is something in this story that smells of “kangaroo court.”
But the fact of the matter is, whatever Jesus wrote, (and I don’t even pretend to know, honestly) it led to him telling the crowd “Ok, fine. Whichever one of y’all is sinless, go ahead and take a pot shot with a rock at her. Have at it.”
But they lost their taste for the notion. Also, do you ever notice in the story, the elders—the scribes and Pharisees—were the first to leave. Hmmmm. Wonder what THAT was all about. It leads to me seriously thinking the thing was all trumped up.
If the husband WERE there, he’d either be having a change of heart about it, begging them not to, or would be really pissed and yelling, “Yeah! Stone the bitch! She cheated on me!”
If she was caught “in the act”, well, where’s the guy? Some naked or half dressed guy certainly couldn’t get far (unless he had just pulled up his robe to do it, ha ha...I have always figured the answer to “what did Biblical people wear under their robes?” is “nothin.” hee hee) But something “just ain’t right” here. She says in verse 11 that “no one has condemned her.” Well, that’s kind of a mysterious answer since she just got hauled into court and was accused of a condemnable offense.
Or, maybe she WAS caught in the act and John just did a crappy job of putting the details in b/c he was more interested in telling the reader that the woman was “dead to rights” and was pardoned for something “she didn’t deserve to be pardoned for,” and that is sort of what Jesus is all about. I don’t know.
But this verse has a personal parallel.
There is no doubt that things have been happening to me to make me re-think my positions on a lot of things. So I guess a more personal way of asking that question is, “What did Jesus write on the ground of my being, that changes the part of my heart that condemns myself and others?”
What does Jesus write upon me that makes me change my own mind about tossing a rock at me?
What does Jesus write upon me that causes me to soften my heart about anger I might feel to others?
What does Jesus write upon me that causes me to “re-think my position” on so many things?
What does Jesus write upon me that tells me to sit still with things, to be silent, to simply “be” with God instead of rushing off to “do”?
The answer is the same...”I don’t know, and I don’t even care to speculate. I just know Jesus ended up telling me something that turned my heart.”
"...and all the blessings of this life." (From The General Thanksgiving, p. 101, Book of Common Prayer.)
This morning, I had the pleasure of enjoying "Coffee, prayer time, and wireless internet" in my sacred space in the yard, among "hide and seek" sunshine mixed with clouds and coolness, and various birds chirping in the backyard. I often close my personal prayer time with The General Thanksgiving. (Hey, that is why they call it "general"--it works for a lot of things!)
After I finished, I got to really reflecting on what all those blessings mean.
There is no doubt...I've led a "different" kind of life. I think back to a letter someone once wrote for me for the Jerry L. Pettis Scholarship (a scholarship offered by the American Medical Association, which came with the added perk of being able to attend the AMA meeting to accept it, give a tiny speech, and receive it in the presence of C. Everett Koop.) They read part of the letter when I accepted the scholarship in 1989. My "recommender" wrote: "(Kirkepiscatoid) grew up having been denied many things most of us simply take for granted, but still became an incredibly caring and compassionate person who is learning to heal others, and in the process, self-heals. In my mind, this is proof miracles happen."
(I was sooooo embarrassed at how effusive this letter writer had been, but believe me, I took it to heart!)
There is no doubt, my life has been "different." (If you are from the Midwest, you know "different" is a code word for anything from "have lived a sitcom kind of life" to "just plain weird".)
Being different is so damn painful sometimes. It creates weird “yearnings.” These yearnings make one feel sort of cheated now and then.
Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have not been denied those "normal" things, or for my life to have been more "normal." Then again, I think even the most "normal" of us feels that we are "different," and maybe that IS part of being "normal."
But you know, for all those things I feel now and then, I step back and think Jesus must have felt all of them, and maybe ten times, a hundred times worse than I feel them, and I don’t feel so bad.
Then I think in the other direction...all the things that probably never would have happened had I lived a “normal” life.
I would have never have developed the closeness I feel to my cousin J. and his family; I would have been too busy with my own family. I think about how our different adversities made us become closer with each other. Every time J. gets off the phone with me, he tells me “I love you.” He is the person I trust with my own life and my own affairs if I become incapacitated.
I would have never learned to love my friends in a way that is perhaps truer and deeper and more holy than I knew was possible. Sometimes I think that pain of "different" is simply because I am able to love in this unique way, and that I have an expectation that others are supposed to love me back in exactly the same way--what I call my "St. Jerome moments." St. Jerome was notorious for firing letters at his closest friends and proteges filled with (and I am paraphrasing), "I love you so damn much and soooo bend over backwards for your sorry asses and WHY CAN'T YOU LOVE ME AS MUCH AS I LOVE YOU, you ungrateful assholes?"
I would have never learned to love my church even though certain individuals at times, can drive me stark raving bonkers.
I would have never learned that there is this monastic side of me that is truly “a holy thing”...that maybe God’s plan for me is that I am such a "special character" (again, "character" is a Midwestern code word for "really neat but sorta irascible and difficult at times") that he has given me an opportunity to live this life that is so out of the ordinary, that it it is a blessing bestowed upon only a few people who are cut out to fulfill it.
When I step back and look at it in this way, I realize that there is an even bigger yearning that trumps all those other ones. I yearn to live the life that makes me closer to God in the way that only I am cut out to live it. I yearn to honestly hear what he is trying to tell me and learn to “trust the process.” I know I am still resisting that “trust the process”thing. I have a level of resistance that causes more “churning” than you’ve possibly ever seen.
I was musing via the Internet to one of my friends one day, that I found it odd that I have this little nucleus of blog-followers and Facebook friends that is "clergy-heavy," and was wondering out loud why that was. It was, of course, one of my "collared" friends. His answer was, "Watching you do what you do in your blog makes me realize non-clergy people really DO wrestle with the things I often think about, and the things I try to offer those I encounter in the day to day of my vocation. It affirms why I went into ordained ministry."
His very plain answer made me realize that what we do of our own when we seek to follow Jesus, when we undergo these numerous deaths and rebirths, can inadvertently lead to a degree of fulfillment of the deaths and rebirths of others...and in these inadvertent moments, love emerges. Love of our true and holy selves, love of God, love of others. If we purposefully tried to do it, it would fall flat on its face. It is "the ripple effect" personified.
I am struck all the time at how my blog friends (clergy and non-clergy) and Facebook friends and I seem to all be bound in an unseen way to the same liturgical calendar. We go through our Lenten struggles, our Advent anticipatory moods, and occasionally even our dental appointments together!
So many Christians look at being “born again” as a one-shot deal. I find that way of thinking so flat, so "un-dynamic." I am born again week after week at the Eucharist. I am born again in inadvertent acts of kindness. I am born again in silent time spent with a trusted friend. Maybe Jesus should have said, “You must be born again...repeatedly!”
Right now, a "fifth wheel" 24 foot trailer is parked out at my place that belongs to one of my local auctioneer friends.
I have been filling it up with assorted crap that I have accumulated at auctions for nine years, as well as "things I don't use anymore" and "assorted stuff that has no value to me except as "sentimental possessions." So far I have the trailer a little more than half full.
When I went to the monastery, I spent a lot of time considering what my "jubilee year" was to be all about, what my slaves were that needed to be freed. The one that had started working on me before my trip was this sense that my life was too "cluttered".
I came to a Very Big Realization. (Ok, so maybe it was an epiphany, but that word seems much more "miraculous". I decided to opt for Very Big Realization.)
The thing that most gets in my way, is that I am a chronic "hoarder."
I hoard EVERYTHING-right down to surrounding myself with worthless possessions of low value to the point my three car garage can't hold a single vehicle, and my house is starting to look like one of those places so full of books, papers, and doodads that the stuff falls over and the occupant dies in the house and no one finds them for three days. I am almost sure I learned this from my Depression-era grandparents, who could not throw anything away. Couple that with the various difficulties I had growing up in a house full of strange expectations and alcohol-fueled dysfunction. I grew into a very strange addiction--the addiction of "never being without," the addiction of collecting things of low value so that if they were broken in drunken tirades, I was not "out much". I learned to insulate my own pain with cheap things bought at auctions and deep discounts, and the more I grew into my ability to generate income, this addiction has become more obvious.
I cannot buy one or two cans of soup--I buy six. I cannot buy one tool--I buy two. I can't remember the last time I ever bought "one" of anything at the store. I bought boxes and boxes of assorted crap at auctions simply to get the one item in the box I wanted, and instead of leaving the rest at the dumpster, I took it all home and piled it up "because there might be something I needed later."
Until I started this blog, I hoarded my thoughts and feelings. But something happened when I started blogging. I thank God for the evening I was sitting dejected on the church steps and got cornered by my priest and the then-Sr. Warden.
I was feeling incredibly "bound up" while my cousin J. was trying to get custody of two of his children. The three of us got to talking, and the suggestion to me was one word..."Write." I began to feel less bound up.
This "unbinding" began to work on me in strange ways, and I am grateful for the progress to date. But I would come home and hit a wall. I would notice how "unbound" I felt outdoors in my prayer time and how much more "binding" it felt praying indoors.
Then it dawned on me. Indoors, I am surrounded with piles of junk and things I "could not get rid of because I might need/read/eat/use it later." My soul can't run free because my physical existence is bound in piles and piles of crap.
I realized I HAD to "de-clutter". Not just inside, but de-clutter my world around me. I have a lot of changes I am going to have to weather soon in my work world. I have a lot of changes going on inside of me. In order to weather them, I needed to de-clutter. Period.
I thought a lot about "possessions" when I was at the monastery. Maybe it was because I was hanging out with people who kept their possessions to a minimum. I have never required "high dollar" things. I don't have a conspicuous consumption problem. But I realized that what insulates me also smothers me. I become "owned" by things. They control my physical space. They weigh me down. But they are attractive because when I own "too much", giving them to others is easy. "Here, take it...I have another at home. I don't need it." It is a "sham generosity." I don't have to do without to give you one of something I have five more at home.
Do we really "own" things anyway? We say, "I own my house, I own my car, I own my business." Nah...really, when you get right down to it, God owns all of it. But being surrounded by lots of stuff feeds the delusion it is "yours."
I had an interesting non-coincidence in reading "A Wing and a Prayer" for our book group. Two, really. One was on page 55, when Katherine Jefferts Schiori asks, "Have you ever known a hoarder, someone who has a clinical disease that makes it nearly impossible to throw anything away? As a hoarder's home fills up with newspapers, magazines, junk mail, old shoes and plastic food containers "that might be needed someday," life gets smaller and smaller."
The other was on page 72: "Clean out the attic, the garage, and the clutter, and see how much lighter you feel, how much more centered our life becomes. We surround ourselves with other kinds of excessive protection..." and goes on to talk about those.
She hints that depression is a part of this most often...but I am pretty sure that for me, this is more about change, and my anxieties that always surround change, and the realization that I tend to hide behind my clutter rather than accept change...again, an "insulator."
I just know that to get to the next phase of where my spiritual life is going, I have to give up a lot of "ownership". I have to give up many of the delusions of control that keep me bound up and unable to ease through the things of which I have no control. A lot of this is to strip myself of unneeded and meaningless possessions, getting down to the bare metal of what I really need to live fully...and so the evisceration begins.
Who would have ever believed that a $10 skateboard from 1968 would have resulted in about $20,000 lifetime cost over a shattered front tooth? But that is probably about how far I'm in over my left top front incisor.
When I broke that tooth, my mom sobbed all evening. It took forever for my front teeth to come in...so long, in fact, they sent me to speech therapy in the first grade because they were concerned that I was going to have life long problems with the "th" sound and the "f" sound. (Good thing, too, as often as I drop the F-bomb.)
I was considered "lucky" in my family because I seemed to be growing relatively straight teeth. But a skateboard mishap in 1968 ruined all that. I knocked off roughly a little over half of my left front upper incisor. I suddenly had an "imperfect mouth." I had a silvery metal cap on it until age 15, which constantly fell off, then the next three plus decades have been a series of crowns that never seem to fit right at the margin and promote gingivitis.
My imperfect mouth upset my mother greatly. She would badger me not to "smile big" on school picture day, because the glare of that shiny silver capped tooth bugged her to no end. She would remind me how "ugly" it was, how my moment of impetuosity with a skateboard led to my having an "ugly mouth." She would badger the dentist to put me in a "white tooth." She would send me back to "retake day" for school pictures because I ignored her advice and smiled big anyway. I would smile big again. This became an annual battle. She wouldn't like the school picture, send me to "retake day", the retake also showed the glaring silver tooth, so then she just wouldn't put my school pictures in the family Christmas cards.
"If you would only smile sweetly, and not show that big ugly tooth, I could put your picture in with the cards," she would say. Then my grandmother would gather them up and put them in HER Christmas cards, muttering to herself all the while. "Dumbest thing I ever heard of...not putting your own kid's picture in the card b/c she has a temporary crown. Jesus Christ...when she grows up she'll have a permanent one. I didn't raise her that way, that's for damn sure..."
But the fact of the matter is, I have accepted my "imperfect mouth" for a long time.
I am a real puzzle to the ladies who work at my dentist's office. They all have perfect teeth. It is, of course, one of the perks of working for a dentist. They think it's a little odd that I do not want to have all my front teeth capped, or veneered, or have braces to correct the crowded lower tooth I have in front. It becomes even MORE puzzling to them when I replace the front crown and ask my dentist to "beat up the crown a bit." He always angles the bottom a little, or puts a place on the bottom that looks like a repaired chip, plays with the margin a little. I want it to look as imperfect as the rest of my teeth.
But in this world where we can have perfect hair, perfect nails, perfect teeth, perfect boobs, and tighter faces, I must seem like such an oddball. I am going gray naturally. The beauty industry would starve if they had to depend on me. I have my perfect new crown scuffed up. I am sure I seem too happy with my imperfections for many people.
But that ease with my own imperfections is also what makes me fine with not bothering to need to believe in a Bible that is "inerrant." One of the books I've been reading lately is Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. A lot of people have been upset over that book. Some people don't want to consider the possibility that when one considered the way books were copied in ancient times, that it is physically impossible for the Bible to be "inerrant." They would rather believe in magic, and claim it is a miracle. That's ok, that's their belief. But it's not one I can sign up for.
Yet I believe. I believe in the promises the Bible has in store for me. I believe that there are truths in there for me. I believe that my salvation is outlined within its covers. But I also believe that it was written by imperfect humans. It was collected into its present form rather than a bunch of scattered books by imperfect humans. It has been interpreted by imperfect humans for millenia. It is read by me, an imperfect human. Yet for all these imperfections, it is the greatest book that has ever entered my life. It's the book I could never part with. It's the book I would keep if I had to throw the rest away. In an odd way, it is its imperfect nature that binds me to it, as tightly as its cover binds it.
When people want me to believe I have a perfect, inerrant book, I turn them down on their offer. It puzzles them. It makes them wonder if I am bound for Hell for saying such a thing. It makes them question my salvation in their own minds. Well, they need to understand that I think it is "perfectly imperfect." Just like my teeth.
Time for another of those moments where Turner Classic Movies and the 1982 Hymnal collide with each other...
I was sitting here on a quiet Saturday morning, quietly having time to myself and paying bills with the movie "Mrs. Miniver" on the TV basically as background noise (I've seen it beaucoup times). Faintly in the background, I hear a familiar song as background music..."O God, Our Help in Ages Past!" I look up and Mrs. Miniver is looking up at the sky, and you hear the motors of British planes droning in the background just under the score playing the hymn.
There's no doubt this is one of the classic wartime movies of WWII, designed to meld the hearts of America to the plucky Brits in the fight against fascism. There's also no doubt that the story of how the Minivers' lives changed because of the war, the sacrifices they make, the losses they bear, and the mystical healing of a rose in a flower competition create a connection between bomb shelters and a hymn in the score.
Think about the first verse:
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:
It's no coincidence the next scene is in the home bomb shelter.
Of course, the church, and the vicar, in this film are incredibly and undoubtedly Anglican.
But it got me to thinking (as my connections between TCM and the 1982 Hymnal always do)...
What are the "stormy blasts" in my life? Oh, there are always several. They are all things that have the potential of "carpet bombing my world," and sometimes do cause damage, but I realize I always seem to rebuild. Sometimes the rebuilding has been painful and difficult, and felt like it could not happen. But somehow, something always arises from the ashes. Not always what I want, not always what I envisioned, but it always seems to be "more than enough."
A lot of my blogfriends lately have had incredibly stormy blasts. Some are still in the bomb shelter. Some are exposed to the elements, still. Some are just now emerging to the rubble. But there seems to be more of it. Is it that there is "more of it", or is it that as I grow in understanding, that I am aware of more of it and my eyes are more open to it? Maybe some of both.
But I think the rest of the verses of the hymn can say more than I can...so I invite you to listen to them and think prayerfully about all of our own stormy blasts and those of our neighbors of the blogosphere as you read them. Who comes to mind? What can you offer to them in your prayers? What does God tell you in the stillness behind the words and tune? I wish you grace and peace as you do so.
Under the shadow of thy throne,
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly, forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last,
and our eternal home!
Ok, by now, many of you know I have a habit of sitting down and relating seemingly unrelated things.
Last night I was asked to serve on a panel sponsored by MissouriCures, the advocacy group in the state that seeks to educate the public about the value of embryonic stem cell research and to try to diffuse some of the political rhetoric about their use in research.
I always wear several hats in these panel discussions. Although I am not a researcher, I often have to wear my "scientist" hat to explain the science of it all in simple terms. I have to wear my "physician" hat in terms of my beliefs that we should embrace both kinds of stem cell research (embryonic and adult) for the potential for cure. I have to wear my "incidental political advocate" hat because of previous attempts in Missouri to ram draconian legislation that would have made patients criminals for leaving the state to seek potential stem cell cures if/when they become available, and made their doctors criminals at risk of losing their medical license for advising patients of such choices should they come to pass. I wear my "caretaker" hat from my experiences of caring for someone with dementia, and years before that, caring for someone with muscular dystrophy. I wear my "person of deep faith" hat to have to explain that I don't have a faith problem with using discarded embryos that are destined for the dumpster for research.
Lots of hats.
In preparing for these talks, I often struggle to think HOW to explain all these things to the average lay person and not appear superior or speak "over people's heads." The one I constantly struggle with is how to explain that I acknowledge that these are human cells, but I am not convinced they have "personhood" at the moment of conception, nor do I really wish do define those things, but rather leave them on the table as one of God's mysteries.
Well, I had an epiphany in Hy-Vee. (I hate to admit this, but I have more epiphanies in Hy-Vee than I do in church.) I had it in the "baking" aisle, as I walked past the cans of Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.
Now, a can of Eagle Brand milk has everything in it you need to make caramel; namely, sugar and milk, (although you'd probably add butter just to keep it from sticking in the pan.) In fact, one of the fun and slightly dangerous things my grandpa used to do was show me how you could make caramel with it still in the can in a pot of water on a campfire. (Yeah, ok, so sometimes the can would blow up, but that was fun, too!)
Well, we'd never put the Eagle Brand milk in the candy aisle of the grocery store and tell people it's "caramel." Yet it has everything you need to make caramel right there, even still in the can! But it's not "caramel" until you cook it.
By the same token, a fertilized human embryo has everything you need to make a person, but it will never become a person until it attaches to the wall of the uterus and incubates. In other words, like the Eagle Brand milk, you have to "cook" it before it becomes a person.
At what point, at what exact moment does sugar and milk become caramel? Anyone who ever made a batch of caramel will tell you IT'S DIFFERENT EVERY TIME YOU MAKE A BATCH. For that matter, do I really care exactly when? No. I just want it to become caramel!
Well, that is kind of how I feel about human embryos. Every one has the potential to become a person, but they will never do that unless they attach to the uterine wall, incubate, and grow. Somewhere in that process, a person comes out of it. It's something I respect, rejoice in, and find incredibly sacred. But to get all nitpicky about exactly when, frankly, cheapens the power of it. So in that sense, I don't have a problem with using these embryos for research when the owners of them have no desire to use them for in vitro fertilization, and their ultimate destination is the medical waste bucket.
Then, as I was driving home from Hy-Vee, for some reason I got to thinking about the consecrated elements of the Eucharist. Same story. Bread, water, and wine come together on the table, and somewhere in the Eucharistic prayer, they become sacraments. Yeah, sure, we say it happens at the epiclesis, but at what moment is that, really? Or what scientific study can be done to prove that hypothesis? None, obviously. We take on faith that "something happens" that makes these elements "different." We accept this with no problem. So why is this so hard for some people to accept that the beginnings of human life are as much a mystery as the Eucharist? We have accepted ways of disposing of sacramental elements that will never be put into human mouths. What's the difference?
When it's all said and done, I think those embryos are a mystery, as powerful as the elements of the Eucharist. If they can be used for the potential of good in others, when before they were bound for the trash, I think, actually, that it is good theologic economy as well as good scientific stewardship.