Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

 


(Graves at Arlington National Cemetery courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties that we now enjoy.  Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.
 --A Collect for Heroic Service, Book of Common Prayer, p. 839

Did you know that one of the earliest  recorded celebrations of something resembling what we now call Memorial day originated in the African-American community?  Yale history professor David Blight found journalistic accounts of a celebration in Charleston, S.C., conducted May 1, 1865, just weeks after Appomattox.

The Washington Park horse track became a compound for Union prisoners in the last days of the war, 257 of them from exposure and starvation, Blight said. By the end of the winter of 1864, most of the white residents had left the city. The black residents buried the dead Yankees underneath the grandstand and erected a sign: "Martyrs of the Race Course."

On May 1, they held a celebration with a parade that included local black school children and the 54th Massachusetts, the black regiment immortalized in the movie "Glory."  Unfortunately, the racetrack was later renamed for a white supremacist governor in SC, and the intent of these African-Americans to honor these deaths of Union soldiers disappeared into oblivion, until recently.  But it still remains one of the seeds of what became our present Memorial Day.

Nine states still recognize a separate Confederate Memorial Day.  After 147 years, it seems we still can't make peace with the tragic legacy of the American Civil War, and we still can't make peace with the intent of the holiday to be to remember that one of the legacies of war is the lost potential that comes with death--young people cut down in the prime of their lives.  


Now that I am middle aged, I see  this loss more fully, as people I once knew as young, vibrant, and planning to change the world are changing it, but not the way we thought we would when we were young.  We are changing it because of our generativity and wisdom--but slowly.  Very slowly.  Very quietly.  Not because of our boldness and bravado, but because of the ways we quietly endure, the ways we live our lives to say "yes" and "no" to things, the way we give of ourselves to others.  The bravery of our youth was just as important, but it was based more in idealism and our boldness to take on the world.


I see in a new way the pathos of what it means to send 18 to 25 year old people off to war.


In that sense, I find myself more and more irritated that Memorial Day in the United States has become a day for air shows and glorification of the American military-industrial complex.  Here's my heresy--hearing that stuff about "American soldiers laid down their lives for my freedom" turns my stomach the same way it does when I hear "Jesus died for my sins."


No, I'm sorry.  I don't do substitutionary atonement--neither theological nor military.


Jesus did not hang from the cross specifically with my sins in mind.  The American soldier did not lie on the battlefield dying with my particular freedoms in mind.


But before you start tossing rocks at me to stone me, please hear me out.


Rather, I believe with all my heart that Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection was to forever tear open the curtain between Heaven and Earth, between earthly corruption, and eternal life.  Just as fervently, I believe those killed in wartime died in pursuit of what I like to believe is one of the best of our American ideals--justice and freedom for all.


The trouble, of course, is we don't get it right as much as we'd like to believe.  Also, if we glorify war, and idolize our members of the armed forces as too-larger-than-life, we begin to sound like a military state--dangerously close to the mindset that led those we saw as "the enemy" to sleep beneath the ground for their ideals.


Well.  Surprise, surprise.  We don't get Christianity as well as we'd like to believe, either.

Our work as Christians is to continue to close the gap, with God's help, between God's realm and our fallen world--to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner.  Perhaps our charge on Memorial Day is not to be too enamored with the glitter and glitz of our military-industrial complex, or to glorify dying in war, but to work to see that no more young men and women are martyred on the racetrack of war.  Perhaps our charge on this day is to feed and clothe the wounded warriors and the veterans.  Perhaps it is to help them be freed from the prison of PTSD, drug abuse, and alcoholism.  Perhaps it is to close the gap between a world at peace, and a fallen world of war.



 


(12th century rendition of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 27, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Pentecost, 2012:

Psalms 118, 145
Deuteronomy 16:9-12
Acts 4:18-21, 23-33
John 4:19-26

"Sir, I see that you are a prophet."

It has to be one of the greatest understatements in the Gospel.  Unfortunately, our reading today starts at the punch line; it's the discourse preceding this that makes the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and is worth a read along with today's passage--take a few minutes to read what just precedes our text.

At the beginning of this story, the Samaritan woman is mostly delivering a load of snark at Jesus.  "Yo, dude!  Have you noticed I'm Samaritan and you're Jewish?  Like you are going to share anything with me?  Riiiigggghhhhtt....living water?  Now how you gonna do that without a bucket?  'If I knew who you were'...are you bigger than our ancestor Jacob?  Or maybe you've just been out in the sun a little too long, hmmmm?"

Generally speaking, it's also an understatement to say there was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews.  In the eyes of the Jewish people and the Hebrew scriptures, Samaritans were pagans and half-breeds.  Jews often put extra mileage on their journey between Judea and Galilee by crossing the Jordan and avoiding Samaria entirely, for fear of contamination.  Those fool enough or desperate enough to travel through Samaria would be met with bullying and taunting.  (Evidently, one of the taunts was that the Samaritans had an older copy of the Torah and that they were actually following its precepts better.)

We aren't shown entirely why this woman continues the conversation instead of kicking dirt at Jesus or hurling a rock at him, but as the conversation progresses, we see the conversation move from snark to curiosity ("Well, now, if you're serious about this living water stuff...well, it would sure save me a lot of trips to the well...") and finally outright dumbfounded awe when Jesus, out of the blue, reveals that he knows her rather checkered marital history, which is where today's reading picks up.

At this point, he has her absolute attention, and he proceeds to cut to the heart of what separates Samaritans and Jews--the "correct" spot where God chose to establish the kingdom.  For Jews, it was Jerusalem; for Samaritans it was Mt. Gerizim.  Deuteronomy 12:5 states,  "...you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there..." and uses the phrase "shall choose," implying it's yet to be.

But we're back to that business of that older Samaritan copy of the Torah again.  That manuscript describes the place God "has chosen" (implying it's already been chosen," and Samaritans identified that place as Mt. Gerizim.

Jesus goes on to tell her,  “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

What's incredibly interesting here is that it's clear Jesus has her ear, and he could have given her the "correct" answer in this dichotomy, but he doesn't.  He could say "who's right" and  "who's wrong."  It is, after all, a prophet's right to do such things.  Instead, he swings a circle big enough to hold both places--Jerusalem and Mt. Gerazim.  The circle is big enough to hold the things Jews and Samaritans were sure they knew, and the things Jews and Samaritans didn't know, yet remain hopeful for truths that are not evident at the moment.

This discourse reminds us to examine those times in our lives when we were absolutely positively sure of what the "Christian" perspective was, and our response to anything challenging it was pure snark.  How many times was our surety destroyed by being face-to-face with an unavoidable and revealed truth? Did we, like the Samaritan woman, change our attitude and approach it with awe, using it as an opportunity to hear and learn?  Or did we bristle and throw more snark at it?

Additionally, as we head into General Convention, perhaps this passage calls us to consider those things we claim to be "sure" about regarding the hot-button issues that will be facing our deputies and bishops.  Are we insistent on being on the side of "the truth," or should we be taking a cue from Jesus to draw a circle big enough to hold it all, until time passes and more truth is revealed?
 




(A Trinity of tulips taken at night at my house, ready to spring open in full bloom when morning comes)

(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, May 24, 2012) 


"In this Easter season I would encourage you to look at where you are finding new life and resurrection, where life abundant and love incarnate are springing up in your lives and the lives of your communities. There is indeed greenness, whatever the season."

--from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's 2012 Easter Message



You know, it's amazing what a 600 million dollar jackpot and a dollar can do.


Let me be clear that generally speaking, I am not hot on gambling.  I think it's one of those things in this world that has an adrenalin potential for many people, and often that means an addiction potential.  But I think in and of itself, there's nothing wrong with the occasional golf bet, or the March Madness pool in the office, or tossing a buck in now and then when the lottery jackpot gets up there in that "crazy high" range.


When a recent multi-state lottery topped 600 million dollars, I coughed up a buck like everyone else in my office, simply to join in the fun.  But what I found amazing was that for the whole day, even though we had the usual stresses in the office and the usual hassles about Fridays (namely, everyone wants their surgical pathology reports before the weekend so they don't have to make their patients wait over the weekend for results,) all of us were more cheerful than usual.  Many people who walked in the office started their conversation with "Got your ticket yet?" I lost count of the number of times people fantasized out loud about what they would do with all that money.


What struck me was that every person I met that day, when they related their fantasies, included at least one very philanthropic and generous action.  Oh, sure--there were also the typical answers about not ever going to work again, telling off the boss, etc., but the one that made people's eyes light up was envisioning the grand and magnanimous things they'd do.  They'd put the kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews through college.  They'd start funds to help people get microloans.  They'd help out the poor, the homeless, the unemployed in a variety of real ways, not just throw money at it.  They'd pay off the debts of loved ones in addition to themselves.  They'd give big money to church, to their favorite charity, or make grand anonymous gifts of cash/cars/houses to people who they knew were struggling.


In short, everyone saw themselves in that situation of being so filled with abundance that they could afford to give it away with very little worry about themselves and their own security.  Imagining this fantasy abundance made people more cheerful, more tolerant, and more detached from the need for a direct personal emotional payoff from other people.  The knowledge of their security in abundance was enough.


The other interesting thing is that no one saw anyone else's fantasies as competing with their own.  Because everyone who had bought a ticket had the same ridiculously long odds as anyone else, there was abundant room to dream and let all the dreams sit among each other, with no pressure to think someone else's dream was a threat to one's own dream.


It got me to wondering.  What would life on this planet be like if everyone could feel that abundance-filled on a regular basis?  How would it change what we chose to give, when it came to our time, our money, our emotional energy, and our temper?


How would each of us be transformed if each of us could really understand God's grace in the way we understand the value of a winning lottery ticket? What would happen to the state of the world if we could accept each others' hopes and dreams in our faith and worship communities with the same level of acceptance a community created out of a buck, six random numbers and a fantasy can create?


We have completed our forty days in the desert of Lent--forty days where we reached inside of ourselves and placed names on the pangs of longing within us, and heard the the rumblings of our spiritual hunger.  Now we are basking in the fifty days of Easter.  In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we moved from the brown, muddy season, into an explosion of color, framed by green grass that often sprang up overnight.  What do we now see in the green patches of our souls we never saw before?  Where are the dormant seeds that slumber inside of us?  How do we learn to trust that it will abundantly and lavishly bear fruit, just as surely as the green grass returns every spring, if only we make the effort to tend it?

Perhaps it starts with seeing those green spaces in ourselves and within our communities of faith, and committing to tend those green spaces.  At any rate, we have all of what remains of the fifty days of Easter to find out.












(Photo of manuscript with demon blowing horn courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 20, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Sunday, May 20, 2012:
Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
Exodus 3:1-12
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 10:17-24

Psalm 66 (BCP):

Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
    sing the glory of his Name;
    sing the glory of his praise.

 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! *
    because of your great strength your enemies
                              cringe before you.

 All the earth bows down before you, *
    sings to you, sings out your Name."

Come now and see the works of God, *

    how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.

 He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
    and there we rejoiced in him.

 In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
    let no rebel rise up against him.

 Bless our God, you peoples; *
    make the voice of his praise to be heard;

 Who holds our souls in life, *
    and will not allow our feet to slip.

 For you, O God, have proved us; *
    you have tried us just as silver is tried.

 You brought us into the snare; *
    you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.

You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
    but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

 I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
and will pay you my vows, *
    which I promised with my lips
    and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.

 I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts
with the smoke of rams; *
    I will give you oxen and goats.

Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
    and I will tell you what he has done for me.



Let me cut you in on a little secret.  I have one of those voices that...well...carries.  Now, I don't really try to be that way.  But whatever gene gives people...um..."their indoor voice"...well, my gene just has a big ol' deletion there.  It doesn't exactly lend me to being anonymous in church.  When I supplied for the Presbyterians a few weeks ago, someone at my church said "I knew when you got back from supplying b/c all of a sudden in the middle of church I heard you.  I mean, you know, it's not like we don't notice when you are gone."

Well, and another thing...I sing pretty much a full octave lower than most of the women in church.  My high school music teacher used to dump me in with the boys who sang tenor.  It's not what anyone would consider a "pretty" voice for a female.  But it's resonant, and it's loud, and in a weird way, it's kind of dichotomous, depending on who you talk to.  It doesn't sound all that great with many songs in the 1982 Hymnal.  I know one person who often teases me that she's pretty sure no one at church is going to ask us to do a duet.  Yet, I always notice she is normally not a big singer, but when she stands next to me she seems to feel a little emboldened about singing.

On the other hand, give me some of the tenor parts in many of the Taizé songs, and I sound pretty darn good.  I know one person at our Taizé service who tells me, "I always just love hearing you do the tenor parts.  It makes me feel good singing my part."

I've only had one person in my life try to shut me up when I sing in church, (he told me it was "distracting," and that it drowned out the women with beautiful delicate voices) and I remember how he would look over at me and make subtle "you are so annoying and uncool" faces.  I felt ashamed about that for a while, then one day I got tired of feeling ashamed, and I just quit looking at his reactions and sang anyway.

But there it is.  My voice.  There's really not much I can do with a lot of it, should I choose to use it.  It's taken me a lot of years to even halfway make peace with the good and the bad of my singing voice, and these days I just sing joyfully and let the chips fall where they may.  The truth is, I like being joyful in church, and if my singing and praying aloud voice is "joyful noise," well, it's just going to have to be joyful noise.

Have you ever just kicked back and thought about the beauty of the gathered voices on any given Sunday in your home parish, from the shrieking child to the most elderly patriarch? When I think back to the death of one friend in my parish and the relocation of another friend to another state, I recall acutely missing the sound of their voices among the baseline of the gathered voices--yet at the same time feeling the baseline of our typical Sunday singing simultaneously carrying me through my grief.  These days, I swear I hear those people in the background now and then.  Sometimes, I swear I hear the heart voices of the people whom I've never heard sing an actual note.  I think about the times I've heard the voices of others be tearful, and the times my own voice has cracked in awe of the beauty filling my ears.  I think about the voices I've heard grow up in the parish, from little thready sing-song child voices to voices beginning to burst open to reveal the adults they are becoming.  Somehow the mystery of all of it--the harmony and the dis-harmony, singing in tandem--works out to something bordering on saintly.

Our Psalm today invites us to simply sing from a voice focused on what God has done for us, and to listen to the voices around us.  What do we hear when we quit fretting over what we sound like?
 

 


(Floor mosaic of a the Tree of Life (as a pomegranate) from the Big Basilica at Heraclea Lyncestis. Bitola, Macedonia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 15, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Tuesday, May 15, 2012:

Psalm 78:1-39 (Morning)
Psalm 78:40-72 (Evening)
Leviticus 26:1-20
1 Timothy 2:1-6
Matthew 13:18-23

Matthew 13:18-23 (NRSV):

 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Many commentaries (particularly those of a more evangelical-type theology) liken the seeds in this parable to people--ignorant ones who are whisked away in the clutches of the devil, "backsliders," ones who can't resist the call of worldly temptations, and, of course, the pious and righteous ones.

But what if this parable is simply about what it says it is--hearing the Word in all times and all places?  Perhaps we fail to hear the power in this parable if we go straight to it being a dire warning  about eternal salvation/damnation and fail to consider  that it could be about our dull moments in our ability to perceive God's constant call to us.

As we discussed in yesterday's reflection, it's important to remember that only 25% of the seeds in this parable bear fruit.  In the first scenario (the seeds on the path) they never got a chance, the birds gobbled them up.  It makes me wonder how many times God tells us something but we were just too distracted or too anxious, or too raw, and whatever had our focus had its way with us.  In the second scenario (the rocky soil) it's easy to recall all the times in our lives when things started to take off, it all seemed good and right and clearly laid out ahead of us, but without a mentor, or an experienced guide, well...we can only get so far on our own.  The time wasn't right or the place wasn't right for it to take root.  The seeds growing among the thorns remind me of all the times we can be in toxic environments at home or work or church that choke us out, burn us out, or parasitize us.

Several studies over the years have assessed the speed at which we assimilate and retain knowledge, and it's long been known that it takes a person at least seven times of using or studying a piece of information before it's retained.  Yet the way we usually look at this parable is with the (false) assumption we can learn something the first time we hear it.  Scripture teaches us that God's call to us never lets up; it's our ability to hear and retain that is the problem.

The people who organize and present review courses for medical board exams constantly remind their attendees of the "It takes seven times to remember something," mantra. However, for two decades I have watched second year medical students studying for Part One of their boards constantly assimilating "more" study materials rather than read and re-read and re-re-read the materials they have. 

We probably have that tendency as spiritual beings, too...which is part of the beauty of the liturgy in our beloved Book of Common Prayer.  Whether it's the Nicene Creed, the Collect for Purity, or our responses, most of us have several chunks of the liturgy that we know by heart.

Repetition guards us from being swept away like those seeds sown out in the open.  It grounds us and helps us take root, so when we grow, we are supported.  It spurs us to hang out with like-minded folks rather than be caught up in the thorny world, unable to even see out, as well as calls to us to share the Good News in our thoughts, words, and actions.  It's a pretty safe bet that even under huge stress, most of us could remember something from the Book of Common Prayer.

What is heartening, though, is when something we hear in God's call to us really does take root and grow, we are so fecund and so prolific that the amount of fruit borne from the process is staggering.  When it's good, it's good--but there needs to be sustenance for that other 75% of the time.  In that sense, it is where the words in our Book of Common Prayer matter.  We hear them again and again, we know some of them in our hearts, and not only do keep us rooted to God, they send out little runners to each other and weave us into a solid mass of roots.  What we lack in depth sometimes, we gain in breadth.  If you've ever tried to pull out a bed of plants whose roots are bound up with each other, you know exactly what this means.

What are the words in the Book of Common Prayer that not only root you to God, but to each other?  How do these words assist you in hearing God's call to you a little more efficiently?
 

 


(Photo of Groucho Marx, master of "breaking the 4th wall," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Monday, May 14, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Monday, May 14, 2012:

Psalm 80 (Morning)
Psalms 77, 79 (Evening)
Leviticus 25:35-55
Colossians 1:9-14
Matthew 13:1-16

Matthew 13:1-16 (NRSV):

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

Matthew's account of the parable of the sower and the seeds displays a very revealing observation (although I wonder if this was accidental) about the teachings of Jesus.  In his account of this parable, he shows Jesus "breaking the 4th wall," as they say in the TV and movie trade.  We see Jesus first speaking to the crowds, then turning and speaking to the disciples about what he just told the crowd, and in tomorrow's reading (a continuance of this chapter) we will see him turning back to the crowd and continuing on with the parable.

The term "breaking the 4th wall" refers to a device where the main character in a dramatic work speaks directly to the audience--not just in a short aside, but in some way, actually telling the tale (or what's about to happen in the tale) to the audience.  It comes from the notion of a stage having four walls, with the fourth wall being an imaginary or iconic one separating the reality of the play from the reality of the audience.  It creates a level of meta-fiction within a fiction, and acts as a sort of Venn diagram, with the intersection being the character making those two realities meet--fully a character in the play, and fully a real person speaking directly to you and the rest of the gathered faithful.  (Sounds a little like "fully human, fully divine," doesn't it?)

In modern movies, we see this device being used in films such as Goodfellas and Fight Club, and perhaps even a little in Raising Arizona.  But the three all-time masters at this were Groucho Marx (Animal Crackers is the perfect example,) George Burns in his old TV show with Gracie Allen, and Bugs Bunny.  All three of them had a habit of looking directly into the camera and cutting you in on the secret.  One could claim that Bugs even broke a 5th wall, since he was a cartoon character, and we are treating his breaking of the 4th wall like we would a human being!

Matthew lays this chapter out in a way that allows us to enter into the story, not just as a listener to the parable, but with a choice as to which level we want to hear about the parable.  We can learn from it just as a person in the crowd that day did by simply hearing the parable's own story and not worrying about the dialogue in the middle--or, conversely, we can learn from it in the way a resident physician learns from a skilled teaching physician. ("Let me tell you how I handle this situation...You heard me when I talked to the patient and it was clear he didn't get what I was telling him...now watch when I go back in and ask the patient some questions and go back to what I said before...")

Let's start by looking at the first half of this passage.  Jesus has told the crowd, "Okay, here's a story about four situations with the sowing of seed."  It's clear from the get-go, if this were a multiple choice question, "D" is the correct answer.  Choices "A," "B," and "C," will result in a bad outcome for the seed.  Everyone wants to be choice "D."  Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Now we move to the second half.  The disciples are saying, "Why don't you just tell them outright?" and the short version of Jesus' answer is, "To teach you how I teach, so you can teach them."  He points out that the disciples are the smart kids in the classroom, but it's not about them showing their theological prowess to him.  It's about sharing the Gospel and the story of the Good News in Christ with "them"--the nebulous "other."

It's clear that 75% of the seeds in this parable will not bear fruit.  Some will never grow.  Some will begin to grow quickly, but never bear fruit.  Some will be stymied by a bad situation.  Only a quarter of the seeds will bear fruit, but the fruit they will bear, over time, will surpass our original amount of seed exponentially.  Matthew's account of this, though, by allowing Jesus to break the 4th wall and letting us hear the story in much the same way he and the disciples did, illustrates that this exponential growth happens partly because the smart kids in the class learn how to share the Good News.  They find a way to invite everyone to listen and learn on their own, to allow them to make their own insights.  They find a way to make the Good News about the people who are hungry for it, rather than using the Good News to stroke the egos of the righteous.  They become the good soil--the substrate for spontaneous growth--rather than engage in the futility of trying to control the elements.

Those of us who regularly read (or write) text studies can fall into a terrible trap.  We enjoy the intricate details of the Bible to the degree we can make our Christianity all about ferreting out the little details of the Bible and feeling good that we are so clever at it.  But too much of that puts us in peril that we will be like the seeds in choice "B"--we grow quickly, but unless we are in good soil that lets us put out roots both downward and laterally, we will bear no fruit.  Matthew, however, shows us the antidote for that--it is in following Jesus' example and breaking the 4th wall.  It's in simultaneously sharing the Good News both in the place where 75% (or more) won't "get it" at first, yet providing special care and feeding to the seeds that we notice are growing quickly.  It's in the understanding that some people are just in a place where they can't grow at the moment because their soil is too thin, or in a place where circumstances are choking them, yet we must both keep sowing the seed and offering good soil.

Where are you called to break the 4th wall in proclaiming the Good News in Christ?

 


(Jubilee calendar courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 13, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Sunday, May 13, 2012:

Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Leviticus 25:1-17
James 1:2-8, 16-18
Luke 12:13-31

Leviticus 25:1-17 (NRSV):

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.


The concept of the jubilee year in Leviticus is an interesting one, and one that is quite foreign to our modern way of thinking--that every minute of every day must be "productive."

As I grew closer and closer to age 49, the concept of a jubilee year intrigued me.  In many ways, my late grandfather had hit the nail on the head in his assessment of many aspects of human nature.  I remember him once explaining to me as a teenager that so much of how we defined "who we are" was by those ways we felt "one up" in a situation.  The rules in Leviticus for a jubilee year imply that no one is one up in a business deal.  What you see is what you get.  Your fields are rich enough that they can stand to lie fallow for a spell and live off the natural issue of them.  Consider the possibility that one's life, just as it is, turns out to be a rich and abundant one.

So I lined out the parameters for my own version of a jubilee year that would start on my 49th birthday.  I would pay off all my debts, save my house mortgage.  I would no longer leave unpaid balances on the charge card.  I would cease buying excessive things on a whim.  I would only replace the clothes that truly wore out.  I would let my penchant for "accumulating" lie fallow.

Now, I wish I could have told you that every day I woke up to sunshine and that every day of that year was an amazing, uplifting spiritual experience.  In my mind, of course, my big ego had conjured up a fantasy that my mere obedience to such a decree would cause the stars and the planets to move about me like I was the center of the universe, and I'd be blessed in ways beyond measure.  Unfortunately, several things which mostly had very little to do with me, or ones that turned out revealing I had less control than I thought, ended up stealing the show.  My best friend in town finally sold her house and moved away.  I had faced the reality that I had to give up being the sole owner of my practice and affiliate with a larger group.  The abbey where I used to go on retreats imploded.  Some perilous truths came to light in my home parish, in my workplace, in my family, and in my own soul.  Frankly, I never felt more in mortal spiritual danger, more financially impotent, and more out of balance than that year.  Had you asked me "How'd that jubilee year thing go?" on day 364 of that year, I'd have told you it was a miserable failure.

But a few years have passed now, and the wonderful thing about hindsight is that I can now tell you about the seeds that were divinely sown with essentially no input from me.  I began my online EfM class that year, which has turned out to be one of the greatest spiritual gifts I've ever been given.  Because I felt so rudderless, I began to seek stronger personal connections with people I knew a little from the Episco-blogging world and Facebook.  I began to ask for and accept help for several things that my answer had always been, "Never mind, I'll do it myself, because I can't trust anyone other than me."  I began to feel the very strong pull that God had distinct plans for me within the framework of our church.  I don't think I would have seen those graces had I continued my habit of accumulating things to feel in control.  I don't think I would have understood the beauty of the good things in my life had not several bad things created a conjunction of dysfunction.  I came to understand that a jubilee year is not about "that year."  It's about what happens after that year.

I doubt one has to wait until their 49th birthday to declare one nor claim it's too late if one's 49th birthday has passed.  Has the possibility of a jubilee year ever crossed your mind?

 


(Photo of morel "mushroom" (really not a true mushroom, but another type of fungus) from mushroomobserver.org)

Almighty God, Author of the Universe, you imbued your creation with myriad seasonal joys.  Through their brief temporal windows, open our hearts to a like-mindedness towards the fleeting moments when we can see Your heavenly realm on earth.  Grant us the same eagerness to embrace these moments in humble service to You, as eagerly as we embrace the beauty of nature.  All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, whose own short temporal window to this world gave us our salvation through the New Covenant.  Amen.
--A Prayer for the Seasonal Beauty of Nature, ©Maria L. Evans, 2012


As a longtime resident of northeast Missouri, I have to admit one of my favorite things about my rural lifestyle is the roughly four-week window that the morel mushrooms are in season.  (Yeah, I know, for any of you mycology purists out there, they are not a true "mushroom" but another kind of fungus...but "mushroom" is burned in the vernacular, so "mushrooms" they shall be.)  In these parts, morel season has at least a rough correlation to Easter season, so the two kind of go hand in hand for me.


I've been hunting morels since I was five years old--first with my dad, then for many years as an adult, and just this year I had the pleasure of going full circle by hunting them with my cousin's youngest child, who is not yet six years old.  There's something alluring about tromping around in gum boots around the woods near the river bottoms to find one of the last things on the planet that more or less defies cultivation and, in a world of near-year-round commercial produce, truly remains seasonal.  (Oh, I know one can buy those "morel kits" on the Internet, but they are not the same kind of morel we have here, and for whatever reason, they just don't taste the same.)


Morel hunting has an egalitarian aspect to it--a ten year old can be just as successful a morel hunter as an adult--maybe even better as the ten year old is a little closer to the ground.  There's definitely an intimacy with sharing a mushroom spot--we don't give our spots away to just anyone--and an intimacy with whom we share our bounty.  The people who are not into mushroom hunting think we're stark raving mad, because for those few weeks it's all we think of, and riding in the car with us often results in several stops by the side of the road to peer into ditches and briefly wander around.


I can't think of a better metaphor for the Resurrection than the humble morel.


For starters, one never knows when one will see them.  The emergence of morels starts when the overnight ground temperature consistently is over 50 degrees.  They are as whimsical as the April weather patterns.  The places one expects to see them, don't always yield results, and it changes from year to year, decade to decade.  I think back to what used to be one of my best spots in my younger days.  After the Great Flood of 1993, I haven't found squat in the way of mushrooms since--and I still try to go back to that spot every year.


Sometimes it involves days and days of faithfully going back to the same spot and looking around and coming up empty, day after day.  Sometimes it results in an abundance, filling up several plastic grocery bags full, and sometimes the best we can do is a few handfuls after a couple of hours' worth of tromping around.  They emerge out of nowhere, like magic--in the space of an hour, a barren spot can be walked by a second time and sport four or five morels.  Even the act of consuming them is a bit of an exercise in acceptance--despite soaking them in salt water to get the hundreds of gnats out of their pores who made the morel their temporary home, a person has to accept that he or she will eat a few gnats along with this delicacy.


The parallels to living a faithful life as a practicing Christian astound me.  How many times, once we've been exposed to the initial awe of the resurrected Christ, on a bright and joyful Easter Day, do we find ourselves weeks later in the humdrum of the Long Green Liturgical Season?  How many times do we yearningly look for the Resurrection and not even catch a glimpse of it, but the next day when we are totally unaware, see it in all its grand glory?  How many times have we insisted in tromping in the muck out of season, "because this is the time of year we've always done it," when in reality we were the ones out of season?  How many times have we attempted to "cultivate" the awe-inspired Resurrection Moment, and discover it's just not the same as finding it by accident?  How many times has a ten year old gotten the message of the Good News in Christ more fully than an adult?


The seasonal wonder of the lowly morel is a reminder that Resurrection simply is not of our making.  We don't control it, we don't manage it, and it defies cultivation.  All we can do is be faithful in our search for it, steward the places where we've seen it happen before, and enjoy it when it appears.

 

(Icon of Gregory of Nazianzus courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 9, 2012)

Readings for the feast day of Gregory of Nazianzus, May 9:

Psalm 37:3-6, 32-33
Wisdom 7:7-14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 8:25-32

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever.  Amen.

 
--collect from Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 365

Although we remember Gregory today mostly because of his golden-tongued oratorical skills and his ecclesiastical duties as Bishop of Constantinople, it's actually one of his big failures in life that catches my attention--his falling out with his friend Basil the Great.  It was a breach that never was repaired, from the time Gregory was sent by Basil to be Bishop of Sasima in 372 until Basil's death in 379.

Basil and Gregory had a great deal of history together, first as fellow students, later as co-ascetics and co-authors of the Philokalia, an anthology of Origen's writings.  Their combined theological minds were a great force in the understanding of Trinitarian theology at a time Christianity was threatened by the Arian heresies.  But despite Gregory's intellectual prowess in all this, he carried some serious wounds and some heavy resentments.  All Gregory ever wanted was to be a simple monk.  Yet, despite his wishes, his father insisted that he be ordained as a presbyter.  One can imagine that these resentments he held towards his father "primed the pump" when Basil, by that time, Bishop of Caesarea, had Gregory ordained as Bishop of Sasima.  This appears to have been a strategic move on Basil's part to put a heavy theological hitter in a spot that would strengthen his position against Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana, but it was definitely in the boonies.  Gregory once described Sasima as, "an utterly dreadful, pokey little hole; a paltry horse-stop on the main road... devoid of water, vegetation, or the company of gentlemen."

Gregory never got over this slight, as he perceived it.  The move irreparably tore their friendship asunder, and it was probably the theological equivalent to the breakup of the Beatles.

The story of their breakup is a reminder how old resentments and ego can create a never ending feedback loop of blame, where two people continually pace in a circle, eyeing the other, but never getting around to taking a step forward to break the pattern.  What great theological truths might have been uncovered or what knowledge could have been revealed, had they patched up their differences well enough to collaborate again?

All of us, when we think back and allow ourselves to touch our own woundedness, can recall times of irreconcilable differences with people who once were very close to us.  Ex-intimate partners, of course, quickly come to mind, but we are not exploring this fully if we only confine our thoughts to "those whom with we've shared sexual intimacy."  It's ironic that our jargon these days talks about BFF's--"Best friends forever," when at some point, the truth is very few BFF's seem to be around a decade, let alone "forever."

How many times has a resentment towards another person or situation come out sideways in our present relationships?  What great works could be accomplished if we could reconcile with those people again?  How many times does our inability to reconcile seem bound up in our own feelings more than the slight that actually caused the breach?  But more importantly, how do we take that first step towards the green grass in the center, when we've perfected pacing in a circle?




O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while 
he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer
for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them
from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them
from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from
despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their
witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be
cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus
Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge
. Amen.

--Prayer for those who suffer for the sake of conscience, p. 823, Book of Common Prayer


I'm going to be up front. Yes, Zach Wyatt is my state representative.  But I didn't vote for him.  I voted for his opponent, Rebecca McClanahan, the Democrat.  I've not been horribly impressed with his showing as my state representative.  He just punched all the holes on the Missouri GOP punch card, again and again. He railed against the state transportation dept.'s handling of our bypass, and all the time I thought, "You twit, you're one of the ones who helped cut MoDOT's funding, you get what you pay for."  As an elected official, he's not one of my faves.


But I have to say I am very, very impressed with him of late--first standing up against the proposed "Don't Say Gay" bill in Missouri, against his own party, and eventually coming out of the closet himself.


Now, that's not to say this is a huge shock in recent weeks.  First came the sudden announcement that he was not running for re-election after he had said he was running for re-election.  Now, his reasons were valid.  He only had one year of his military educational benefits left from his time in the Air Force.  He had been accepted to the University of Hawaii to study Marine Biology.  That's perfectly kosher.  But I also have that "Hmmm, I wonder..." in terms of what what going on in his decision to come out of the closet and what was going on in the back rooms of the Missouri GOP.  Whatever.


I do have to admit I did latch onto this as a minor prophet of Kirksville.  When his decision not to run was announced, I told a few of my friends, "You watch.  In a few weeks this guy is going to come out of the closet."


Next came his opposition to the proposed "Don't Say Gay" bill.  By now I was going, "Hey, everyone step back from the closet door, this is gonna be good!"


A couple of days later I got a Facebook message from one of my friends.  "You were right!  He's gay!"

But honestly, here in Kirksville, MO, this news is "not news."  I think a lot of us thought this was no big surprise.  One never knows about anyone, but one is often not surprised when some folks come out of the closet.


I've let this story alone for a few days.  I thought, "Let the guy come out in peace and quiet."  But now I feel compelled to talk, but not to Zach--he did the right thing, and he needs room to grow into that now.  It's my friends on the left side of the aisle I feel compelled to address, and I'm afraid I predicted that one too.


As I expected, when this hit the rainbow press, there would be some who would not be welcoming.  They were more inclined to just keep calling him a Republican dirtbag.  They used phrases like "he slithered out of the closet," "he's not brave, he's running off to Hawaii," "he should be ashamed for voting the way he did on certain bills during the session," etc., etc., etc.  I've heard people say he would never have done this prior to the lifting of Don't Ask Don't Tell, because he would not have risked his benefits.


But he's a lame duck now.  It's the upcoming election people should concentrate on, not Zach's past.


Do I think he's going to now miraculously turn Democrat now?  No.


Do I think he's suddenly going to start changing his attitude politically on anything?  No.


But I don't know who he will be in ten years any more than he does, and I am no judge of what will cross Zach's mind in the upcoming weeks, months, or years, as he begins to find his way with his new-found self.


Our prayer in the BCP reminds us to "Give grace to their witness and discern the truth."  I am certain this announcement is just the beginning for Zach.  I think over the next few years, he's going to have to examine many pieces of his life and witness, not just this one, and reconcile himself to them.  In a recent interview in the local paper, he said he still considers himself a Roman Catholic.  I fear now that this has gone high profile, his mother church may hassle him about that one.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  If that is the case, though, I hope he knows he has friends in the Episcopal Church.  I invite him to check us out if that is the case.


But mostly, I plan to give grace to his witness to the truth and his own conscience.  I have chosen not to judge but rather to pray.  I pray he gets many new wise insights as he grows into his true self in the sight of God.

I think back to the lesser revelations in my own life where I suffered for the sake of conscience.  I think of the times I betrayed myself in the ways many adult children of alcoholics often do--covering up the bad behavior of other people because of the rules many ACA's learn--"don't cry, don't tell, and for God's sake, don't feel."  There were people, when I did finally get around and do the right thing, would never cut me an inch of slack.  It was still too little, too late for some, and I still never should have done it, for others.  But over the years I continue to make peace with all of it.


Watching Zach in this interview, I'm seeing a calmer, less high strung, less touchy Zach.  I think he's feeling some grace in all this, and the best thing we can do right now is support him in prayer.


God bless you Zach.  I pray society is cleansed and strengthened by your witness.

 

(Grave of Rodney Dangerfield, Mr. "I don't get no respect," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Daily Office Readings for Sunday, May 6, 2012:
Psalms 24,29 (Morning)
Psalms 8, 84 (Evening)
Leviticus 8:1-13, 30-36
Hebrews 12:1-14
Luke 4:16-30

Luke 4:16-30 (NRSV):

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.




Today's Gospel is the one familiarly misquoted in our secular jargon as "A prophet is without honor in his hometown."  It's one any of us who came from small town America and left for the bright lights in the big city for any length of time probably has our own personal version to recount.


Show of hands, please...anyone heard a variation on one of these before?


"Don't be acting all high and mighty; I've known you since you were a little fool of a child."


"I know you--you're Joseph's boy.  You ain't nothin' special."


"I heard what you did in Capernum, when are you going to get around to helping anyone here?"

Yep, I thought so.


As much as I loved my late grandmother, I can still hear the "stingers" she shot my way now and then, like the time I overheard one of her friends evidently asking some sort of medical question, soliciting some roundabout advice.  "Oh, she doesn't know anything about it unless it's in a jar or cut up in little pieces to put under her microscope.  Don't even bother asking her."


The flip side, of course, is almost out of the same breath, small town America loves to tout their famous faces and link them to their hometown places.  Marceline, MO is the hometown of Walt Disney.  Little ol' Clark, MO claims the birth of General Omar Bradley.  For school children in northeast Missouri, the knowledge of Hannibal, MO as Mark Twain's hometown is etched in our DNA.


It's an interesting duality, isn't it?


One of the disadvantages we have in fully understanding the Jesus story is we get the luxury of seeing it in hindsight.  We tend to think (now, put on your best imitation of Chris Rock's voice, here...) "I mean, this is JESUS!  Who wouldn't like Jesus?"  It clouds us from understanding the possibility that Jesus might have been seen a little differently in the Nazareth street chatter.  They would have seen that Jesus more or less had ditched several of his family to follow this call as a prophet and healer.  That in and of itself wasn't the most laudable occupation of those times.  The street corners were full of "prophets" claiming all sorts of crazy things, and huckster "healers" of the tent revival variety were a dime a dozen.  People who knew Jesus as a teenager probably remembered a very different form of Jesus we think we know now.  I've yet to see any artistic renditions of a pimply-faced Jesus whose voice cracked when he opened his mouth, with smelly teenaged-boy feet. No one in Nazareth would have nominated him to be the illustration in the picture dictionary under the word "Messiah."


In that light, Jesus would have been a person who seemed, in some ways, to have rejected the way of life that the folks from Nazareth prized as a "good citizen."  He might have even seemed to be crazy or downright dangerous.  They would have been sure they knew "who he was," or at the very least, who they expected him to be, and what they were seeing was definitely not it.


Our story in Luke reminds us that there are going to be times that people who believe they know us, and a few people who actually love us very much, that even when we are truly and earnestly following Christ, are not always going to perceive us as overly "Christian."  Also, the truth is, as fallible people, we get it wrong sometimes.  That gets muddy, when we recognize there are also times we think we are truly following Christ and we were actually following our egos.  The painful truth is that following Christ and living out some shocking truths won't always be well received, and sometimes it will be resisted with reminders of the times we got it smashingly wrong.  It might even get us a hair's breadth from being hurled off the metaphorical cliff.  How willing are we to engage the truth at that price?

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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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